For months an Illinois woman, Colleen Davis Bargouthi, has been petitioning Barack Obama’s campaign and Senate offices to help her four American-born daughters, who, she says, are being held incommunicado in the West Bank by their Palestinian father. This coming Tuesday, Obama will be meeting with Palestinian leaders on the West Bank as part of his high-profile overseas trip. Bargouthi wants the senator at least to raise the issue of her daughters’ welfare during those meetings but thus far has been unable to secure help from Obama’s offices.
“This trip is being minutely choreographed and scripted for reasons I understand, but unfortunately real life sometimes intrudes,” Bob Pavich, one of Bargouthi’s attorneys, told me during a phone interview. “We are taking the step of going to the press because we’ve exhausted all other options and we are not even sure at this point whether he personally knows about the girls’ situation.”
Bargouthi’s daughters range in age from four to eleven. According to Pavich, Bargouthi traveled with the girls and their father to Ramallah in June of 2007, for a six-week visit with her mother-in-law. Pavich says that Bargouthi’s husband later told her he was keeping the girls with him in Ramallah and threw her out of the house where they were staying.
About six weeks ago, Bargouthi contacted Pavich, who took her case pro bono. Pavich turned to Anthony D’Amato, a professor of international law at Northwestern University, who has also been working on the case pro bono.
About three weeks ago, D’Amato phoned Obama’s presidential campaign, which told him to contact the senator’s local Chicago office. The local office, D’Amato was told, would have to approve the campaign’s involvement in the case.
Since then, Bargouthi, D’Amato and an attorney from Pavich’s office have had extensive communications with Obama’s Chicago staffers, including two personal meetings. Two days ago, Bargouthi went to the Chicago office and was told that staffers there couldn’t do anything at all for her. “They said she had to start from scratch with the presidential campaign,” D’Amato told me. “It’s a total contradiction and runaround.”
“We’re not asking Obama to do anything unrealistic,” Pavich said. “All we’re asking is that he call attention to the girls’ plight, but it seems like they [his staff] are being overly protective.”
D’Amato and Pavich will be holding a press conference on Monday morning at Pavich’s Chicago offices.