Bernie Sanders
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks on the Senate floor on February 15, 2023.
(Photo: YouTube/screenshot)

Bernie Sanders Says First Priority in Gaza Must Be to 'Stop the Bombing'

Amid mounting global demands for a cease-fire, the U.S. senator advocated for a "humanitarian pause" and an end to Israel's indiscriminate air assault.

With over 8,500 Palestinians already killed in Israel's war on the Gaza Strip, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to argue that the priority "right now must be to stop the bombing and bring in as much humanitarian aid as possible."

Sanders (I-Vt.) again advocated for a "humanitarian pause," or a temporary halt to hostilities for delivery of essentials and possible evacuations, rather than calling for a cease-fire, or a long-term suspension of fighting, which a small group of progressive House Democrats—and people worldwide, including hundreds of staffers from his presidential campaigns—have been demanding.

Congress, the Biden administration, and the rest of the world "must take action" to address the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, where over half of the 2.3 million population is displaced and residents have dwindling supplies of essentials, the senator said. He noted that "medical facilities there are in nightmarish conditions, with hundreds of babies in incubators and patients on life support at risk of death should the generators that sustain them run out of fuel."

In the three weeks since Israel declared war following attacks in which Hamas-led militants killed as many as 1,400 Israelis and took more than 200 hostages, Sanders has repeatedly stressed the importance of ensuring that humanitarian aid reaches Gaza, including by blocking passage of GOP legislation that he warned would worsen the crisis.

"Killing innocent Palestinian women and children in Gaza will not bring back to life the innocent Israeli women and children who have been killed by Hamas."

The senator, who briefly lived in Israel in the 1960s and said a few years ago that he is "proud to be Jewish" but "not actively involved in organized religion," has also faced criticism from some Palestinian rights advocates for not going further in his recent remarks about the Israeli assault of the besieged enclave—which legal scholars have called "genocide."

Palestinian American writer and analyst Yousef Munayyer said in response to the Wednesday speech: "How many dead Palestinians is enough for Bernie Sanders to call for a cease-fire? We learned today that it is higher than 8,000, how high it actually is is still not known."

Sanders, in his 18-minute address, acknowledged Israeli and Egyptian blockades of Gaza over the past couple of decades, which led to living conditions that "were horrific and inhumane" long before Hamas' October 7 attacks. He said that "if we are serious about bringing freedom and dignity to the Palestinian people, that is a situation that can never be allowed to be returned to. The Palestinian people are entitled to much more than that."

The senator called out Hamas as "an authoritarian terrorist organization" that is guided by a "fundamentalist ideology" and rules by force while "stockpiling arms and war material, taxing the desperately poor population, and stealing resources to build tunnels and rockets."

He also highlighted pre-war conditions in Israel, noting that the nation "had the most right-wing government in its history," with "a Cabinet that included outright racist ministers who consistently dehumanize the Palestinian population" and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicted for "a litany of corruption charges."

"Before the war, this right-wing Israeli government had systematically undermined the prospects of peace," Sanders said, citing various policies including settlement expansion and pointing to the recent surge in violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.

"Rage and revenge do not make useful policy," he warned Israel, recalling the U.S. response to 9/11. "Killing innocent Palestinian women and children in Gaza will not bring back to life the innocent Israeli women and children who have been killed by Hamas."

Sanders declared that "Israel has the right to defend itself and destroy Hamas terrorism" but does not have the right to kill thousands of civilians or endanger millions by cutting them off from necessities. He added, "That type of action against a helpless and impoverished population is morally unacceptable and in violation of international law."

In addition to calling for an end to Israel's indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, the restoration of water and power services, and an influx of humanitarian aid from around the world, Sanders said that "Israel must also begin the process of laying out a political strategy."

"Such a strategy must include as minimum first steps a clear promise that Palestinians displaced in the fighting will have the absolute right to safely return to their homes, a commitment to broader peace talks to advance a two-tier, two-state solution in the wake of this war, an abandonment of Israeli efforts to carve up and annex the West Bank, and a commitment to work with the Palestinian Authority to build genuine governing capacity," he said.

"The United States must make it clear that these are the conditions of our solidarity," he continued. The U.S. gives Israel nearly $4 billion in annual military aid and President Joe Biden recently requested over $14 billion more in response to the current war.

Sanders on Tuesday led a small group of senators who argued that any funding bill for humanitarian and military crises abroad must include an equal amount "to address the urgent and growing emergencies facing the American people at home."

He and some of those same senators also sent a Wednesday letter to Biden asking for responses to several questions related to the emergency funding request and stating that "the United States must take a leading role in charting out a future that respects the lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike."

This post has been updated with the letter to U.S. President Joe Biden.

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