With U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set to make an unprecedented and controversial trip to an Israeli settlement in the illegally occupied West Bank of Palestine this week, more than 40 House Democrats on Tuesday collectively called on him to condemn the Israel Defense Forces' recent razing of an entire Bedouin community in the region, which left dozens of people homeless during a rainstorm and was blasted as a blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In early November, as global attention was fixed on the U.S. presidential election, IDF troops bulldozed 76 structures in the Jordan Valley hamlet of Khirbet Humsa. Critics of the destruction included Yvonne Helle of the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) along with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who said that "this a grave crime--in direct violation of international law," and accused the Israeli government of ethnic cleansing.
Omar was among the U.S. lawmakers who signed on to the letter (pdf) to Pompeo, which was led by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), the outgoing co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. His fellow CPC co-chair, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) were also signatories. Castro is one of three congressmen vying to become the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee--his bid is backed by 47 progressive organizations.
\u201cThis week, @SecPompeo is visiting an Israeli settlement in the Occupied West Bank.\n\nI led 40 of my colleagues demanding that he condemn the demolition of 76 structures in Khierbet Humsah\u2014the largest demolition of Palestinian homes in a decade\u2014and stop any further displacements.\u201d— Rep. Mark Pocan (@Rep. Mark Pocan) 1605642883
In a statement, Pocan called Pompeo's planned visit to the Israeli settlement of Psagot "unprecedented and disgraceful," according to The Hill . The congressman also accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau of using the U.S. election--which President Donald Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden--to cover up "gross human rights atrocities."
"Destroying homes and displacing 41 Palestinian children demonstrates a clear act of aggression by the state of Israel and is intentionally oppositional to securing peace or a two-state solution in the region," he said. "There is no excuse for the de facto annexation of Palestinian land, and America cannot remain silent in the face of these human rights abuses any longer."
\u201cAlso on the letter of note: @AOC, @RashidaTlaib, @PramilaJayapal, @RoKhanna, @JoaquinCastrotx (who wants to be HFAC chair), @AyannaPressley, @IlhanMN\u201d— Alex Kane (@Alex Kane) 1605639334
\u201cNotable: this is a broad coalition of Dems on this letter. It includes those who demand conditioning aid to Israel and those who haven't signed on to conditioning aid bills that @BettyMcCollum04 has authored.\u201d— Alex Kane (@Alex Kane) 1605639334
Citing the IDF's actions in Khirbet Humsa, the letter urges Pompeo "to communicate with the Israeli government immediately to condemn the demolitions and to secure a commitment ending future displacement efforts," and argues that "creeping annexation cannot be a policy that the U.S. government supports if we wish to see peace in the region."
"This single act was the largest Israeli displacement of Palestinians in four years, behavior only made possible by continued silence from the American government," the letter says. "This is a grave humanitarian issue that demands your immediate attention and our collective condemnation. The need for engagement by the U.S. government is particularly urgent due to the renewed threat of demolition against the Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar and the possibility that several additional villages in the region of Masafer Yatta will be demolished."
The lawmakers also request to be informed about whether U.S.-sourced equipment was used in the Khirbet Humsa demolitions, and note that their message to the secretary "echoes a prior request made to you by 64 members of Congress on March 16."
That letter urged the Trump administration to "work to prevent unlawful home demolitions and the forcible transfer of civilians everywhere in the world and prevent the use of U.S-origin equipment in this destructive practice."
The lawmakers said Tuesday that "the administration's silence to that congressional letter, and Israel's recent actions, is deafening."
Pompeo--a key player in the Trump administration's close relationship with the Israeli government--is planning to visit a winery in the Psagot settlement and the Golan Heights, according to Axios . The secretary's travel plans were slammed on Sunday by Palestinian Authority spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh.
"Pompeo's decision to visit Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is a provocation to the Palestinian people and leadership," Abu Rudeineh said. He called the trip "a blatant disregard to the resolutions of the international community" and accused the Trump administration of being a "fundamental partner in the occupation of the Palestinian lands."