While many in America celebrated the Fourth of July with barbecues and fireworks, U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D-District 2) spent the day touring Hebron.
“The U.S. is 241 years old. Israel is 69 years old,” he said. “When you look at the connection … there’s some similarities in terms of the struggle that we face and the things we try to do.”
Evans visited Israel for 10 days — stopping in neighboring Jordan as well — focusing on those connections.
The J Street-sponsored trip consisted of about 25 other representatives — mainly Democrats — including seven members of Congress, who met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, public officials, rabbis and locals to get a better sense of the where the country stands today.
As a new member of Congress — Evans assumed office in November 2016, taking the seat that was long held by fellow Democrat Chaka Fattah before he was convicted on federal bribery charges — he said he’s been trying to meet with various constituencies in Pennsylvania’s Second Congressional District relating to Middle East issues.
Prior to the trip, he met with representatives from AIPAC, J Street, the Zionist Organization of America and other area rabbis to analyze the American perspective of these issues.
Evans served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for 35 years, a time during which he first visited Israel during a trip by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, in 1983.
“Obviously a lot has changed,” he said. This year, he toured an Iron Dome facility, which did not exist the first time he visited.
He also met with leaders at the Knesset for the first time and revisited Yad Vashem.
“It was a great opportunity to go back to visit Israel now being in Congress,” he said. “I met with leaders and policymakers and citizens to learn about the experiences.”
Although he supports a two-state solution, Evans said the trip was more focused on people-to-people connections.
He met with Israeli and Palestinian citizens, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman to “look at the issues and challenges that we face.”
“Notice I said, ‘We,’” he continued. “The peace element — having a two-state solution — is really the answer, and trying to find a way to achieve that. And I believe the way you achieve that is really with the people on the ground, both sides working together.”
Evans also visited the Old City of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Philadelphia’s sister city.
This week, Kim Turner, Evans’ chief of staff, met with members of the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce and the Consulate General of Israel in New York to promote working together down the road.
“Israel obviously is a very important ally to the U.S. as well as stability in the Middle East. It’s important that the U.S. have a strong, lasting relationship with Israel because it’s very important in terms of the peace process,” he said.
Overall, the trip had a big impact on his continued support for peace.
“We have to continue trying to push for peace,” he said. “The peace approach is not going to be solved by the U.S., but by the people on the ground — Israelis, the PLO — and people working together. It’s really going to come from the bottom up, not from the top down.”
He sensed from all the people he met during the trip that they do want some sort of solution. Roughly 68 percent of Israelis want a two-state solution, according to a J Street poll.
“As a Christian, the aspect of those things give you some sense of renewal as a person and as a human being. That’s an aspect that should be shared with all of us no matter who you are,” he said.
“As a human, you want to make sure that there’s life for everybody,” he continued, “and they’re people working together. As a congressman, a role that I can play — now that I’ve been there and was there before and can see what’s going on — is that I think it can help me better by thinking as I face legislation that’s coming before me.”
While in Jordan, the group met with refugees and visited a youth hospital in a refugee camp, sponsored by CARE.
Of the 7.5 million people living in Jordan, an estimated 1.4 million are refugees.
“It’s one of the largest refugee populations in the world,” Evans explained, noting that the undocumented individuals hail from Syria, Iran and Yemen.
He added that Israel and its people are resilient.
“We must encourage people to work together. We can’t get caught up in titles or positions. We have to encourage people to function and work together,” he said. “We’ve got to keep pushing for a two-state solution.”
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