Two after Israel soldiers killed an estimated 60 unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza who were protesting against occupation and the provocative decision by the Trump administration to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and 12 of his Democratic Senate colleagues on Wednesday called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to "do more to alleviate the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip."
At the same time, human rights groups outraged by the massacre in Gaza also wrote to Pompeo and lawmakers, demanding a probe into the unlawful killings and the end of military aid to Israel.
"For the sake of Israelis and Palestinians alike, the United States must act urgently to help relieve the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip." —letter from U.S. SenatorsIn their letter (pdf) to Pompeo, the lawmakers said the "territory's lack of power, clean water, adequate medical care and other necessities not only exacerbates the hardships faced by Gaza's population" and only serves to exacerbate the desperation felt by those living there and the cycle of violence that continues to plague the region.
"The political and security challenges in Gaza are formidable, but support for the basic human rights of its people must not be conditioned on progress on those fronts," the letter to Pompeo notes. "For the sake of Israelis and Palestinians alike, the United States must act urgently to help relieve the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. We stand ready to work with you on this important matter."
In addition to Sanders, the letter was signed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.).
Offering one crucial and specific step, the letter urges the Trump administration to restore U.S. funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which is cut off last year. The letter also calls for the easing of restrictions on the movement of people, goods and equipment in and out of the territory, both by land and sea.
"While Israel withdrew its forces from within Gaza in 2005, its continuing control of Gaza's air, sea, and northern, southern, and eastern borders, and its restrictions on the freedom of movement of people, legitimate goods and equipment in and out of Gaza, have made the humanitarian situation worse," the lawmakers state.
The senator's letter comes a day after coalition of American and Palestinian human rights groups on Tuesday sent their letter to Mike Pompeo demanding the U.S. launch an independent investigation into the massacre and also end the nation's military aid to the Israeli government.
Citing documentation by human rights researchers, the letter notes that Israeli military units operating near the border are likely used "the U.S.-made Remington M24 sniper rifle to fire on protesters in Gaza." And the coalition reminded Pompeo that U.S. assistance to foreign military units responsible for gross human rights abuses is a direct violation of U.S. law.
"The use of lethal and other excessive force is a serious violation of international law, yet our efforts to challenge the policy from within Israel have been met with support for the status quo. The U.S. must therefore implement its own laws and refuse to enable the continuation of the open-fire policy through its military aid." —Issam Younis, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
"As Israel's main supplier of military equipment, the U.S. must realize they are fueling human rights violations," said Raed Jarrar, Middle East and North Africa advocacy director for Amnesty International USA. "The weapons used against the escalating number of those killed and injured may very likely have been U.S.-made weapons. The amount of force used against individuals not posing any imminent threat should be deeply concerning to both U.S. taxpayers and our elected officials. The U.S. government must take immediate steps to stop the delivery of arms and military equipment to Israel and demand credible investigations that meet international standards."
Issam Younis, general director of the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, also condemned the massacre carried out by the Israeli government and the backing it has received from the United States.
"Palestinians have raised their voices in peaceful demand of their basic human rights and an end to the closure and blockade of Gaza that maintains their dire living conditions; Israel responded by deploying snipers to fire onto unarmed protesters," said Younis. "The use of lethal and other excessive force is a serious violation of international law, yet our efforts to challenge the policy from within Israel have been met with support for the status quo. The U.S. must therefore implement its own laws and refuse to enable the continuation of the open-fire policy through its military aid."