By Linda Gradstein
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
KALANDIYA, West Bank (JTA) — The U.S. congresswomen get off the bus and stand in the chilly shadows of the Kalandiya crossing point between the West Bank and Jerusalem.
It’s late morning, well past the rush hour when thousands of Palestinians congregate here, and only a few dozen Palestinians stand in line. To cross, the Palestinians go through a series of metal turnstiles and wait with their documents until they are called, one by one, to approach the Israeli soldiers sitting behind bullet-proof barriers.
One Palestinian man strikes up a conversation.
“I have American citizenship but I am not allowed to travel through Ben Gurion Airport because I have a Palestinian ID card,” Hamad Hindi of Louisiana tells the congresswomen. “We are seen as guilty of something because we are Palestinian.”
After crossing to the Palestinian side, the congresswomen — part of a trip to Israel and the West Bank organized by the J Street Education Fund — head to Ramallah.
“This is a ticking bomb waiting to go off,” says Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) “There must be some other way to do this. After so many years there should be some resolution for this issue.”
The congresswomen clearly are moved by their experience at the checkpoint, and that’s the point.
J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbying group that heralds itself as a left-wing alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is trying to present an alternative to the usual pro-Israel fare on congressional missions to Israel. The trip last week included six U.S. congresswomen and a group of women from the Women Donors Network, a coalition of women involved in progressive and social causes.
A spokeswoman for J Street, Jessica Rosenblum, said the trip was part of the organization’s overall effort to promote a two-state solution.
“Our hope is that this and future delegations will help to open up and deepen the conversation in Congress about American policy in the Middle East,” Rosenblum told JTA. “In particular,” she said, the trips are meant to “encourage participating members to convey to their colleagues the urgency of the situation and the need for sustained and vigorous American engagement to reach a two-state solution.”
Over six days, the delegation met Israelis and Palestinians, both leaders and “ordinary women.”
Among the Palestinian business leaders the group met in Ramallah was Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American entrepreneur who says he has had difficulty acquiring an Israeli residency permit.
“I really appreciate what J Street is doing — it’s a breath of fresh air that there is not one line of thought in the American Jewish community,” he told the delegation. “We are at a fork in the road. Either there will be a two-state solution or it will be too late.”