Reps. Mark Pocan and Pramila Jayapal at a press conference

Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) (left) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) (right) hold a news conference in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on May 17, 2019.

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

House Progressives to Biden: Pressure Israel to End Assault on Gaza Civilians

Israel's massive attack on Gaza "must be carried out according to international law and take all due measures to limit harm to innocent civilians," asserted 55 House Democrats.

As Israeli forces continued to lay waste to entire neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip— killing at least 1,900 Palestinians including more than 600 children—55 House Democrats on Friday urged U.S. President Joe Biden to pressure Israel to limit harm to civilians ahead of an anticipated massive ground assault on the besieged territory, home to 2.3 million people.

"We are deeply concerned about the order to evacuate over a million civilians out of northern Gaza and the devastating humanitarian consequences that would ensue," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken led by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

"As both the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights said, imposing a complete siege on Gaza and depriving 2.3 million Palestinian civilians who have nowhere else to go—half of whom are children—of food, water, and electricity, would be a violation of international humanitarian law," the letter states.

The letter urges Biden administration officials to communicate to Israel's government that its response to the Hamas-led attack that killed more than 1,300 Israeli soldiers and civilians "must be carried out according to international law and take all due measures to limit harm to innocent civilians."

The lawmakers also called on the administration to use its influence with Israel to stress that it should:

  • Work to quickly restore the delivery of food, water, fuel, electricity, and other lifesaving necessities to Gaza to ensure that innocent civilians have the basics needed for survival;
  • Collaborate with regional partners to establish a humanitarian corridor to enable the delivery of such lifesaving necessities and to allow Palestinian civilians and foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, to seek safe haven outside of Gaza;
  • Publicly discourage any hate crimes and backlash against any American—including Jews and Muslims; and
  • Ensure that supplemental funding requests to Congress include humanitarian assistance for both Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis.

"However this current conflict plays out, we feel strongly that the U.S. government and the global community must continue the tough work to achieve lasting peace in the region," the letter asserts. "The future and safety of Israelis and Palestinians are intertwined."

"We cannot achieve lasting peace and security for Israelis without addressing the humanitarian crises in Gaza and the West Bank," the lawmakers added.

Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Cori Bush (D-Mo.)—all of whom have come under fire from both Democrats and Republicans for demanding an end to Israeli occupation and apartheid in Palestine—did not sign the letter.

Tlaib, the only Palestinian American member of Congress, is the target of a censure motion filed Wednesday by Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), whose third-biggest campaign contributor during the 2022 election cycle was the powerful lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Without naming anyone in particular, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre earlier this week admonished House members for urging a cease-fire and condemning war crimes perpetrated by Hamas and Israel, calling their comments "repugnant" and "disgraceful."

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department is reportedly discouraging diplomats from mentioning specific phrases—"de-escalation/cease-fire," "end to violence/bloodshed," and "restoring calm," in official communications. This, after Blinken deleted a social media post earlier this week that encouraged a Turkish call for a cease-fire.

On Friday, Tlaib issued a statement of her own demanding the Biden administration "do more to save civilian lives."

"I am calling for immediate de-escalation and cease-fire to save countless civilian lives, no matter their faith or ethnicity. Our government must lead with compassion for all civilians," she wrote. "I believe in my heart that the majority of Americans want the killing and violence to stop. War crimes cannot be answered with war crimes."

Tlaib continued:

Millions of people in Gaza—half of them children—have been given an impossible 24-hour evacuation order, but they have nowhere to go. They have been cut off from electricity, food, and water for days. Hospitals are running out of electricity to keep babies and the injured alive. The collective punishment of Palestinian civilians is a war crime, the confirmed use of white phosphorus bombs in Gaza is a war crime, yet there are no statements demanding these violations stop from the American political establishment. It is heartbreaking to witness the blanket disregard for saving civilians—including Americans—in Gaza. President Biden has not expressed one bit of empathy for the millions of Palestinian civilians facing brutal airstrikes and the threat of a ground invasion of Gaza that would intensify this humanitarian crisis.

"I cannot believe I have to beg our country to value every human life, no matter their faith or ethnicity," Tlaib added. "We cannot lose sight of the humanity in each other."

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the U.S. military would place no conditions on weapons sold to Israel.

"This is a professional military, led by professional leadership, and we would hope and expect that they would do the right things in the prosecution of their campaign," Austin said of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

On Friday, the IDF told around 1.1 million Palestinians—nearly half the territory's population—in northern Gaza to evacuate within 24 hours ahead of an expected ground invasion. United Nations spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement that the organization "considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences."

Hamas—which governs Gaza— said Friday that an Israeli airstrike on a convoy of civilians fleeing along an IDF-sanctioned evacuation route out of Gaza City killed 70 people, mostly women and children, and wounded 200 others.

Far-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that Israel will exact a "mighty vengeance" for the Hamas-led attacks, while Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich declared that it is "time to be cruel," and parliamentarian Ariel Kallner has called for a "Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of '48"—a reference to the ethnic cleansing of over 750,000 Arabs from Palestine during the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1947-48.

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