U.S. Representative Marc Pocan Visits the West Bank
During his time in Congress, U.S. representative Marc Pocan has been vocal about the Israel-Palestine conflict. In June 2017, he was the only congressional sponsor of a briefing on Capitol Hill about “life for Palestinian children under Israeli military occupation.” In April 2018, Pocan wrote a joint letter asking Israel to permit Congress to enter Gaza after his request for entry was denied in a delegation to the West Bank. When in July 2019, The House of Representatives voted to pass a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and to endorse a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict, Pocan was among 17 House Democrats who voted against the resolution.
Most recently, in November 2021 Pocan traveled to Israel and the Palestinian territories on a five-day congressional delegation sponsored by J Street, a U.S. nonprofit Israeli advocacy group. They met with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid as well as with President Issac Herzog, ministers Merav Michaeli and Essawi Frej, lawmakers and military representatives, and Palestinian Authority officials like Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh.
The delegation traveled to Israel’s southern border to talk about the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the effects of rocket fire on Israeli border communities, the effect of the Iron Dome, and the human rights crisis in Gaza. In September 2021, a vast majority of Democratic House members voted in favor of $1 billion in supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. It passed by a huge margin.
A few House members opposed to Israel’s policy in the Palestinian territories voted against the funding. However, Pocan was not one of them. And perhaps this is the reason his position on the Israel-Palestine conflict is so finessed —he has managed to gain support from both Jewish leaders in the U.S. and Palestinian activists abroad: two demographics that sometimes have colliding viewpoints.
Winning the Support of Two Different Demographics
Local Jewish leaders praised Pocan’s support for the Iron Dome, which he has called a “de-escalation” tool, decreasing the need for Israeli retaliatory strikes against Gaza. They have also applauded his advocacy on other issues not necessarily related to foreign policy, such as fighting antisemitism.
However, Pocan has taken a lot of criticism from both pro-Israel advocates (for his criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians after the delegation visit) and Palestinian rights activists (for his Iron Dome vote).
“For some folks who are watching this maybe for the first time in their life, who have come on to this in the last year or two,” he said, “a lot of those folks are some of the most vocal against Iron Dome because they’re just tired of how we’ve had our policy,” Pocan recently told Jewish Insider.
“I have this kind of finessed position, because my main goal is to make sure we don’t have to send American men and women over there in order to risk their lives,” Pocan said. “I also want to make sure that we have humanitarian conditions, and we don’t have loss of life [in the Palestinian territories].”
A Highly Publicized Visit to the West Bank
In November, the delegation also visited the West Bank, which was a key part of the trip and the ability of the representatives to understand the situation in Palestine. Pocan was perhaps most affected by meeting with both an Israeli settler movement representative and visiting Hebron and an Area C Palestinian community in the South Hebron Hills.
Pocan returned from the J Street-sponsored trip invigorated but received little traction in Congress since November. Since early 2020, J Street has fashioned itself as a major voice in the U.S. on the Israel-Palestine conflict. They’ve used their power to attempt a more active role in holding Israel accountable for its part in the conflict and pushing the Biden administration to do the same. Like Pocan, J Street has also aligned itself with legislation designed to facilitate a two-state solution.
Perhaps what was most controversial about the trip were Pocan’s comments on social media after his visit to the West Bank. After traveling to the Palestinian village of Susya, Pocan wrote on social media that he and the other representatives would be watching to make sure no violence occurs this weekend or anytime.” He posted a photo of himself with U.S. representative Jamaal Bowman and Palestinian activist Nasseer Nawajah after they discussed “Israeli settler violence to his village.”
A Letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Inspired by visiting the West Bank on November 18, Pocan released the following statement in response to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that Israeli West Bank settlements do not violate international law.
“Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal. Once again, the Trump administration is taking a massive step backwards and endangering any hopes of peace in the region with this destructive action. Reversing on decades-long bipartisan U.S. policy opposing the settlements in the West Bank is a blatant attempt to help Prime Minister Netanyahu—not promote peace in the region.
With every policy they announce, this administration has made it clear: they don’t want peace, they want instability. This announcement is one in a series of destabilizing decisions made by this administration—from cutting Congressionally-approved humanitarian funding to Gaza and the West Bank to moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem—these actions don’t bring us any closer to peace. We need to pass House Resolution 326 and reaffirm our opposition to settlement expansion, support for a two-state solution, and opposition to the annexation of the West Bank.”
Supporting Justice for both Israelis and Palestinians
U.S. Representative Marc Pocan embodies someone who supports justice and security for both Israelis and Palestinians. His recent November visit to the West Bank showed that he is not going to disregard Palestinians. Pocan is a symbol of hope and an indication of movement toward support of the human rights of all people in Israel/Palestine.