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Originally published March 30, 2010 at 3:57 PM | Page modified April 7, 2010 at 8:09 AM

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Bruce Ramsey / Times editorial columnist

Congressman Brian Baird stands up for the people of Gaza

Seattle Times columnist Bruce Ramsey interviews Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver., about his criticism of Israel and his interest in the people of Gaza.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

A news story, Feb. 15:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The United States should break Israel's blockade of Gaza and deliver badly needed supplies by sea, a U.S. congressman told Gaza students.

The congressman was Brian Baird. Many of his colleagues go to Israel, few to Gaza — and none as often as he. The southwest Washington Democrat likes to see things for himself. He went to Iraq, and changed his opinion of U.S. strategy there.

Why Gaza? In an interview, Baird recalled a speech some years ago by Israel's current premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). To Baird, the speech was "thinly disguised racism" — and he recoiled from it. When the crowd applauded, he and his wife walked out.

Then there was Rachel Corrie, who in 2003 was killed in Gaza while trying to block an Israeli bulldozer from wrecking a Gazan house. The Corrie family lives in Baird's district.

Many of his friends "are very distressed" with his criticism of Israel, Baird said. "But if they would see what I have seen and could meet the people I have met, they would change their position."

He recalled his visit to Gaza in February 2009, after Israel's invasion. The American International School had been "a beautiful school, with a Western curriculum." Israel had flattened it, Baird said, "using bombs made by us." A U.S. military man told him of finding a phosphorus shell from the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama.

By Israel's count, the final death toll of the war on Gaza was 1,166 Gazans and 13 Israelis — a kill ratio of 90-to-1. By the Gazans' count the ratio was 111-to-1.

Israel said it was defending itself, against rockets — homemade pipe-bomb-type rockets. These had been fired by Gazan hotheads against the Israeli town of Sderot to protest Israel's quarantine. The rockets hadn't killed any Israelis, but they might have.

All sides in war claim self-defense. Maybe because Baird is a psychologist he is less inclined to accept such claims at face value. He recalled the reaction of Israeli generals and rightist politicians when he disputed them: How dare you question us?

Keep pushing on them, he said, "and something more pernicious comes out." They will say, "Don't lecture us about humanity after all you've done."

Netanyahu once reminded an interviewer who was pushing him that the British and Americans had firebombed Dresden. Years ago, on a radio show, when I condemned Israel for taking Palestinian land, my host asked if I would give New Mexico back to the Mexicans.

It is a telling argument. A conqueror's argument. You don't hear it, though, unless you peel off the wrapping paper of "defense." And Congress won't do that.

Baird recalled the vote on the Goldstone report, in which jurist Richard Goldstone listed human-rights violations on both sides of the Gaza war. Goldstone has big credentials from his work in Bosnia and Rwanda. And he is Jewish. But he criticized the Israeli military — and the House quickly voted to dismiss his report. All of this state's representatives voted against the report except Baird and Seattle Democrat Jim McDermott, a psychiatrist.

"Colleague after colleague denounced a report they had never read, about a place to which they had never been," Baird said. "I read the Goldstone report. All of it. I found it credible."

Baird is not running for re-election.

Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is bramsey@seattletimes.com

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