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Israel forces demolish Palestinian buildings in the Masafer Yatta neighborhood of southern Hebron, West Bank on August 14, 2017.

Israeli forces demolish Palestinian buildings in the Masafer Yatta neighborhood of southern Hebron, West Bank on August 14, 2017. (Photo: Mamoun Wazwaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Progressives Urge Biden Admin to Prevent Destruction of Palestinian Homes in West Bank

"The members of Congress who signed this letter are making it clear that we must hold the Israeli government accountable for its blatant violations of Palestinians' rights."

Kenny Stancil

More than a dozen House Democrats on Tuesday implored the Biden administration to immediately do everything in its power to prevent Israeli forces from destroying additional Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank.

"Forced displacement and transfer by Israel of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta... would amount to a war crime."

Led by Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, fifteen progressive lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in which they called on the U.S. State Department "to exert all available diplomatic pressure" to ensure that Israel does not follow through on its illegal plan to dispossess more than 1,000 Palestinians of their homes in the Masafer Yatta region.

"The Biden administration and Congress must hold the apartheid government of Israel accountable for its atrocities against the Palestinian people," Bush told Jewish Currents. "We must do all we can to ensure the Palestinian community of Masafer Yatta can stay in their homes and live in safety and freedom."

Although Palestinians in Masafer Yatta have been living under the threat of violent expulsion by the Israeli military for decades, a final ruling by the Israeli High Court on May 4 greenlit what Jewish Voice for Peace Action described as "one of the largest forcible transfers of Palestinians from their land since 1967."

In the four weeks since the court handed down its decision in the decadeslong case, evictions and home demolitions have already started to take place—"yet another example," said JVP Action, "of ongoing ethnic cleansing by the Israeli government."

Israel's recent bulldozing of several Palestinian homes and other buildings in Masafer Yatta, and its plan to destroy dozens more in the region's 12 villages, is a clear violation of human rights and international law, the lawmakers said.

"Forced displacement and transfer by Israel of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta would be a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and would amount to a war crime," says Bush's letter, which was co-signed by Democratic Reps. André Carson (Ind.), Mark DeSaulnier (Calif.), Jesús "Chuy" García (Ill.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Hank Johnson (Ga.), Betty McCollum (Minn.), Marie Newman (Ill.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Mark Pocan (Wis.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Mark Takano (Calif.), and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.).

Alluding to President Joe Biden's statement that "human rights should be central to United States foreign policy," the signatories urged Blinken to take the following concrete steps:

  1. Immediately send the strongest diplomatic message possible to Israel not to expel the indigenous Palestinian residents of villages of Masafer Yatta (so-called Firing Zone 918);
  2. Call on the Israeli government to end all military training exercises and building activities that will pressure or force the residents of the historic villages of Masafer Yatta to permanently or temporarily leave their homes, or that would otherwise make life unlivable;
  3. Publicly state that any action by the Israeli government to forcibly transfer Palestinian residents of Masafer Yatta would be a war crime in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention; and
  4. If Israel proceeds with its plans to forcibly displace the indigenous Palestinian residents, the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Israel should immediately, pursuant to the oversight and accountability required by the Leahy Law and the Arms Export and Controls Act, send observers to document the mass transfer, including details of the military units involved in these operations and the use of any U.S. weapons.

"Hollow words of concern from the Biden administration are not enough," Beth Miller, political director of JVP Action, said in a statement. "Palestinians in Masafer Yatta are under daily threat from the Israeli military, living the terrifying reality that their homes could be destroyed at a moment's notice, with funding from the U.S. government."

"Hollow words of concern from the Biden administration are not enough."

"The members of Congress who signed this letter are making it clear that we must hold the Israeli government accountable for its blatant violations of Palestinians' rights," Miller added.

JVP action is one of 65 civil society organizations that have endorsed the letter. Other supporters include American Friends Service Committee, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Just Foreign Policy, and Win Without War.

In addition, more than 2,500 people have written to their members of Congress in recent days to express support for Bush's letter and to demand that the Biden administration intervene swiftly to halt the Israeli government's attacks on Palestinians in Masafer Yatta and hold it accountable for war crimes.

According to an analysis published last year by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "U.S. law is clear: all countries receiving U.S. aid must meet human rights standards, and countries violating these standards are liable to be sanctioned and ineligible for U.S. funding."

On top of being the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. military aid since 1945, "Israel is the only recipient of U.S. aid whose uses of those funds are not monitored by the U.S. government," Jewish Currents reported.

The outlet added:

Israel is required to spend about three-quarters of its yearly $3.8 billion on U.S.-made weaponry, and its occupation of the West Bank is directly enforced with U.S.-made material, like sniper rifles and helicopters. From 2009 to 2018, no fewer than 272 Palestinians were likely killed by Israeli soldiers using U.S.-made weaponry, Jewish Currents' Alex Kane has reported. Israel similarly enforces its blockade of Gaza using U.S. aid and weaponry, like guided bombs and F-35 combat jets.

As the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace made clear in its report, the lack of monitoring by U.S. authorities "makes it nearly impossible for the Departments of State and Defense to properly implement Leahy Law vetting requirements."

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