2018 PFIG Recipient Isabelle Foley
Journal Entry #1
My name is Isabelle Foley and I am a rising Fourth Year at UVA. I am pursuing a double major in Foreign Affairs and Religious Studies, as well as a minor in French. This summer, I am working as a Government Affairs intern at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)
CMEP is a non-profit, ecumenical organization that advocates for U.S. policies that promote just peace in Israel and Palestine. In order to achieve this goal, CMEP works to educate Americans on the Middle East conflict and peace advocacy, elevate the voices of those who are promoting peace in the Middle East, and help constituents meet with their congressmen and members of the government to advocate for just U.S. policy. As a government affairs intern, I am particularly involved with the last of these three strategies: congressional advocacy.
My first month at CMEP has been a whirlwind. Only a few days into my internship, I found myself making impactful contributions in a fast-paced working environment. I knew immediately that this organization was a good fit for my academic interests and career aspirations. In general, my responsibilities include preparation for and attendance at legislative activates. This means scheduling meetings with congressmen or their staffers, and sometimes accompanying constituents on these meetings. Because of the CMEP staff’s expertise, the organization serves as a resource for those who are looking to get involved in peace advocacy. We provide constituents with information, literature, and media so they can be more informed on current issues; and ultimately, we facilitate their meetings with their representatives so they can advocate for U.S. foreign policies that they support. CMEP’s current summer campaign, “Document Detention,” focuses on the mistreatment of Palestinian youth in the occupied territories, who are subjected to mistreatment and human rights violations while detained in the Israeli military court system. I have spent the last few weeks researching this issue, writing and sending informational emails to our subscribers, attending hill briefings and meetings with other organizations that focus on this issue, and tracking relevant legislation as well as the appropriations process for the upcoming fiscal year.
A lot of my work this month has focused on CMEP’s annual advocacy summit, And Still We Rise. This summit took place in June and highlighted women—primarily religious leaders—from the U.S. and the Middle East who have dedicated their careers to advocating for peace in Israel and Palestine. For two days I listened to these amazing activists give their testimonies and share stories of their experiences in the region. The last day of the summit, Advocacy Day, was dedicated to training the attendees on meeting with their representatives, and ultimately joining them at some of the meetings. In preparation for this day, I spent almost two weeks contacting over 50 congressional offices, scheduling meetings with members and staff, creating individualized schedules for summit attendees, and preparing literature for the meetings. On Advocacy Day, I had the opportunity to accompany two women to meetings with the offices of Congressmen Norcross, Senator Booker, and Senator Menendez. We spoke about issues such as the detention of Palestinian youth and the freeze of U.S. humanitarian aid to the West Bank and Gaza. The main focus of the House meeting was H.R. 4391, a bill on child detention introduced by Congresswoman Betty McCollum and the first Palestinian human rights legislation ever to be presented to Congress. The experience of getting to know these two women and partnering with them in promoting just action on these important issues was the highlight of my first month at CMEP, and I expect of my entire internship.
In the upcoming weeks, I will continue to organize feedback from the Advocacy Day meetings and oversee future congressional meetings and events related to H.R. 4391, Document Detention, and humanitarian aid. I look forward to more hard work and new learning experiences.
Journal Entry #2
When the CMEP office re-opened following the Fourth of July holiday, I transitioned into some new and exciting projects. First, I helped to launch an advocacy campaign related to humanitarian aid for the West Bank and Gaza. The different aspects of this campaign included research, creating informational materials, and setting up a support page on our website. I wrote an overview of the current policy under the Trump Administration and drafted short letters of concern that constituents can send to their congressmen. Some projects I am currently working on include in-depth legislative research and social media for our summer campaign.
I am heavily involved in CMEP’s Summer 2018 campaign, Document Detention. I have continued researching and writing about H.R. 4391 (mentioned in my last entry) and, more specifically, the conditions and treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military custody. Because of my previous experience studying American criminal justice and interning with public defenders, I have been eager to explore the intersection of Middle East policy, human rights, and child law. While the full enjoyment of civil liberties and rights is still a work in progress in the American justice system (particularly for indigent defendants), the systematic denial of some of these basic rights is a much bleaker reality in the occupied territories. Some of the most common human rights violations include physical and mental abuse, the denial of legal counsel, and excessively punitive remand and sentencing practices. Regardless of who one believes is at fault, I think anyone would be heartbroken for the children who are the victims of this system. And yet, one of the biggest difficulties in advocating on this issue is that people are distracted from those victims by their typical vilifications of either the State of Israel or the Palestinians and their broader stances on the conflict. While it initially seems unfathomable that such fundamental rights for children stir opposition and controversy, I am reminded of the unparalleled emotion attached to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to sit on roundtables, join conference calls, speak to congressional staff, and attend a meeting at the State Department. While the specific topics of these events varied, they all intersected with the various aspects of CMEP’s mission and approaches to peacebuilding in the Middle East.
The three major policy issues I have engaged with this summer are (1) humanitarian aid and the current freeze on USAID/UNRWA aid to the West Bank and Gaza, (2) child detention and justice for Palestinian youth in Israeli military detention, and (3) demolition and forcible transfer in the occupied territories. Through my ongoing research, as well as my interactions with experts and advocates, I continue to grow more and more passionate about these issues. While oftentimes I am overwhelmed with frustration and disheartenment, I have gained a profound appreciation for those for whom this conflict is a daily reality and who continue nevertheless to advocate for peace and justice. As someone who isn’t quite sure of their post-graduation educational or career path, this exposure has helped to reveal new career prospects and to clarify my goals for the future.
In the month of August, I am looking forward to attending congressional meetings with CMEP, as well as scheduling meetings with my own representatives to discuss issues related to Israel and Palestine that are close to my heart.
Journal Entry #3
With a little over one week left at Churches for Middle East Peace, I realize the great depth and breadth of experience I’ve had in the past two months.
Working at CMEP, I’ve gained a practical skillset in several respects. In addition to operational tasks suited for any organization—social media and outreach, for example—I’ve learned about practices that are specific to non-profits. I’ve worked extensively on Salsa, a nonprofit ERP through which I’ve assisted with donor management and events. I have become more adept at scheduling, organizing constituent groups, and interacting with other organizations.
I’ve also learned a good deal about grassroots advocacy in a general sense. One of my culminating projects is a ‘101 Guide’ for grassroots advocacy, which includes step-by-step instructions and resources on how to schedule meetings with your representatives, what to say during meetings, how to follow up, how to participate in town halls, and how to write letters to the editor. I’ve contributed to CMEP’s advocacy campaigns by writing sample letters to representatives and appeals that can be used by constituents who wish to lobby their members of Congress. Finally, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with legislative and State Department staff at various levels. I believe that this advocacy experience will serve me well in both personal and career endeavors.
My exposure this summer to Congress, Middle East experts, and advocates for peace and justice is completely unparalleled. While it is impossible to predict the exact trajectory of my career path, I am sure that Israel/Palestine advocacy will remain at the heart of my future pursuits. I am extremely grateful to the staff at CMEP, as well as the Parents Fund, for the most valuable learning experience of my life.