Washington- On September 19, Arab American leaders of Palestinian descent met with Democratic National Committee Chairman (DNC) Howard Dean and Democratic state party chairs Harry Mitchell (AZ), Denny White (OH) and Karen Thurman (FL) in the West Bank city of Ramallah to discuss the economic and political situation facing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the role of Arab Americans in the Democratic Party, and role of the United States in securing a just peace.
Sam Bahour, a business consultant for Applied Information Management and Trustee of Birzeit University, noted that the meeting, facilitated by the Arab American Institute, was taking place �at the political ground zero of the Middle East.� �It would not be an exaggeration,� he continued, �to say that this single issue, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or its resolution thereof, has the potential to shape US foreign policy in the entire region for decades to come.�
The group expressed to the Democratic leaders that, as Arab Americans, they �put [their] families and children in the midst of this conflict in hopes of contributing to a brighter future for all Palestinians.� They reiterated that �more than anyone else, [they] yearn for the future to bring stability, prosperity and most importantly, normalcy to Palestinian lives.�
With regards to the private sector and trade, Tareq Maayah, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Palestine Information Technology Association of Companies, advised Dean that the Israeli occupation continues to restrict and interfere with high-tech imports because products earmarked for importation to Palestine continue to suffer delays under ongoing Israeli �security checks.�
Maayah also explained that Israel continues to control, in both Gaza and the West Bank, the Palestinian electromagnetic spectrum limiting licensed operators in Palestine�s telecommunications sector.
Also of importance to Palestinians and Palestinian Americans are travel and business restrictions levied by Israel on US citizens who hold Palestinian Identity Cards. Jamal Niser, Chairman of the Palestine Diaspora Investment Company, reminded Dean that while US-Israeli agreements, dating back to the 1950s, allow US citizens the freedom to travel in the country, in reality, Israel refuses to acknowledge Palestinian-Americans as US citizens if they carry Palestinian IDs.
Also discussed was Israel�s refusal to allow Palestinian-American experts to travel to Palestine and contribute to the state building process. Palestinian-Americans are often given 3 month tourist visas at the discretion of the immigration clerk at the point of entry into Israel/Palestine.
Dean expressed interest in the business environment for Palestinian women. Souzanna Uri, a female executive and successful businesswoman in Palestine, explained that gender equality was well developed and in her opinion surpassed the rest of the Arab world. She acknowledged that there was room for improvement, but that, overall, gender equality was not an issue.
Dean also inquired about the dwindling number of Palestinian Christians living in Palestine. Basam Khoury, a Jerusalem native, explained that due to the Israeli occupation in Jerusalem, Palestinian Christian (predominantly middle-class families with the means to emigrate) numbers had shrunk from nearly 20 percent of the population to two percent. Khoury expressed that internally Palestinians rarely differentiate between religious beliefs.
As the meeting concluded, the group also expressed to Dean that, �as Americans who have chosen to come to Palestine to be part of the state-building process, we are confident that you will understand that when we advise that US policy toward this conflict needs a serious redress, we say this with the utmost sense of civic responsibility.�
Before Dean departed, the group presented Dean with a handmade Palestinian embroidery piece that was entirely made in Palestine by women workers.
Sam Bahour, Business Consultant, Applied Information Management; Trustee and treasurer at Birzeit University; Director at the Arab Islamic Bank
Bishara Dabbah, Consultant - Banking & Finance, Currently preparing studies to establish a new Investment Bank in the Palestinian Territories
Jamal Niser, Chairman of the Palestine Diaspora Investment Company
Hanna Quffa, CPA, CFE, lecturer at the Accounting Department, Faculty of Commerce, and Economics at Bir Zeit University
Souzanna Uri, General Manager, Franchise and Operations Pal International Foods (Checker�s & Baker�s Dozen)
Tareq Maayah, Chairman of the Board of Directors � Palestine Information Technology Association of Companies (PITA), Chairman of the Board of Directors � Palestine Information and Communication Technologies Incubator (PICTI); Managing Director � EXALT Technologies
Basam Khoury, General Manager, Pharmacare and National Company for Ago Industries (Zayt) for Olive Oil
Dr. Ziad Awad, Deputy General Manager, PADICO
Founded in 1985, the Arab American Institute (AAI) is a nonprofit organization committed to the civic and political empowerment of Americans of Arab descent. AAI provides policy, research and public affairs services to support a broad range of community activities.