House Refuses (Overwhelmingly) To Encourage Gaza Peace
After weeks of neglecting the issue, the U.S. House finally addressed the crisis in Gaza.
But the overwhelming majority of members abandoned Israelis and Palestinians who are seeking peace in the region and endorsed an over-the-top "Supporting Israel in Its Battle with Terrorist Hamas" resolution that a statement from Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich's office criticized as "incomplete because it does not address the humanitarian crisis of Palestinians in Gaza, fails to insist on an immediate ceasefire, and neglects Israel's potential violation of the Arms Export and Control Act which governs U.S. arms exports to foreign countries."
In a letter sent January 6 to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Kucinich expressed particular concern about Israel's possible violation of AECA and more generalized concern about the U.S. response to the crisis.
"In Gaza, the United Nations gave the Israeli army the coordinates of a UN school, and the school was then hit by Israeli tank fire, killing about forty. The UN put flags on emergency vehicles, coordinating the movements of those vehicles with the Israeli military, and the vehicles came under attack, killing emergency workers. The Israeli army evacuated 100 Palestinians to shelter, and then bombed the shelter, killing thirty people.," wrote Kucinich in that letter to Rice.
"Emergency workers have been blocked by the Israeli army from reaching hundreds of injured persons. Today's Washington Post: 100 survivors rescued in Gaza from roads blocked from Israelis. Relief agencies fear more are trapped, days after neighborhood was shelled," Kucinich continued. "Today, the U.S. Congress is going to be asked to pass a resolution supporting Israel's actions in Gaza. I'm hopeful that we don't support the inhumanity that has been repeatedly expressed by the Israeli army. The U.S. abstained from a UN call for a ceasefire. We must take a new direction in the Middle East, and that new direction must be mindful of the inhumane conditions in Gaza."
Kucinich cited the letter in explaining his vote against the House resolution, which was backed by 390 House members (Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 221 other Democrats, along with 168 Republicans.
Only five members of the House opposed the resolution: Kucinich and California Democrat Maxine Waters, Wisconsin Democrat Gwen Moore, West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall and Texas Republican Ron Paul.
Another 22 Democratic members voted "present." They included: Arizona's Raul Grijalva; California's Sam Farr, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Loretta Sanchez, Pete Stark, Diane Watson and Lynn Woolsey; Georgia's Hank Johnson; Hawaii's Neil Abercrombie; Michigan's John Dingell and Carolyn Kilpatrick; Minnesota's Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum; Oregon's Earl Blumenauer and Pete DeFazio; Maryland's Donna Edwards; Massachusetts' John Olver; New Jersey's Donald Payne; New York's Maurice Hinchey; Virginia's Jim Moran and Washington's Jim McDermott.
Grijalva and Woolsey are the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Kucinich and Lee are former co-chairs. And Waters, Moore and most of those voting "present" are members.
Many of those who voted "present" Friday expressed concern about the resolution's language.
Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, told the House:
Madame Speaker, I come to the floor today torn about this resolution. Though I welcome resolutions by Congress to express support for the people of Israel and Gaza at this difficult time, this resolution does little to move toward a stable and durable peace in the Middle East.
I cannot vote against this resolution because I believe every country in the world has the right to defend itself.
I have been to Sderot and I have seen first-hand both the physical and emotional destruction caused by the rocket attacks launched by Hamas.
Israeli citizens living near the Gaza border have been repeatedly harassed and live daily in fear. Hamas, a terrorist organization founded with the goal of destroying Israel, has launched more than 6,000 rockets and mortars into Israel since 2005.
Last fall I voted for a resolution specifically condemning these rocket attacks into Israel.
At the same time I cannot vote for this resolution because it barely mentions the human suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza.
Over 750 people have been killed, including 250 children and 50 women, with over 3,000 people injured.
And even before the recent Israeli military operation, life for the people of Gaza had become increasingly unliveable -- with shortages of food, fuel and basic medical supplies.
The 1.4 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip existed in a state of dreadful isolation, cut off from the world, often including the world's media.
Earlier this year the people of Gaza broke through the walls separating Gaza and Egypt simply to purchase groceries.
We need to have compassion for the people of Gaza and the tremendous human suffering there.
That is why I will vote "present" on this resolution concerning the current conflict in Gaza.
History has shown that ground troops and air strikes have not resolved conflict in the Middle East. If we try to resolve conflict with military might and nothing else, then we will be no safer than we were before.
Diplomacy is necessary to save lives and yield a lasting peace with security.
The United States government, together with international partners, must play an active role in pursuing real peace with security in the Middle East.
Even some members of the House who voted for the resolution seemed ill at ease with the message it sent.
Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, a frequent ally of Kucinich, Ellison and other CPC members of foreign policy issues, voted for the resolution and then issued a statement that seemed to distance herself from it:
The current violence in Gaza is of great concern to me and many of my constituents who have called or written to express their opinions and sorrow. Today, I voted in support of H. Res. 34, recognizing Israel's right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza, reaffirming the United States' strong support for Israel, and supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. I want to be clear that my vote in no way condones the loss of innocent civilian lives or any disruptions in humanitarian assistance reaching Gaza. I firmly believe it is imperative that both Israel and Hamas work together toward a durable and sustainable cease-fire, and I am hopeful that the incoming Obama administration will lead an effort to forge a lasting peace in the Middle East. My heart goes out to the many innocent victims of this conflict.
Unfortunately, such nuances get lost when headlines around the world read: "US House Backs Israel Over Gaza," "US Congress Votes to Back Israel" and "US House Overwhelmingly Passes Resolution Supporting Israel's War."
Those in Israel and Palestine who have been trying to promote both a ceasefire and renewal of the Middle East peace process got no help from Congress Friday.
Keith Ellison explained the unsettling nature of the signal that was sent when he noted that, while he believes Israel has a right to defend itself and has in the past voted for resolutions highlighting that right: "For the U.S. Congress to simply reiterate its statement that Israel has a right to defend itself, to me misses the critical issue before the world at this moment, which is the humanitarian crisis."
© 2009 The Nation