Rep. Ayanna Pressley speaks at a press conference

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol December 8, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Pressley, Raskin Lead Call for Biden to Oppose 'Forced Expulsion' of Gazans

Sixty House Members said such an action "would only exacerbate the trauma and pain Palestinian civilians in Gaza are already experiencing... and cause more regional tension and conflict for decades to come."

Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Jamie Raskin led an effort to ask the U.S. State Department to reinforce its commitment to opposing the "forced transfer" of Palestinians from Gaza to neighboring countries.

In a letter signed by 60 House members and sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, the lawmakers both praised the Biden administration's "strong opposition" to any plans to displace civilians from Gaza and asked the State Department to "reiterate" its position.

"Any forced expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza would only exacerbate the trauma and pain Palestinian civilians in Gaza are already experiencing as a result of this conflict and cause more regional tension and conflict for decades to come," the lawmakers wrote.

"The United States must ensure that there is no question that Palestinian civilians who wish to remain in the Gaza Strip have the right to do so."

In the letter, the legislators expressed concern over statements and reports indicating plans from Israeli officials to force the residents of Gaza into Egypt. For example, they pointed to a November report finding that the Israeli government had tried to organize international backing for such a plan while hostilities continued.

The House members noted that Israel's bombardment and invasion of Gaza has already led to the internal displacement of more than 1.8 million Gazans—nearly 80% of the total population. This is on top of the nearly 25,000 people killed and more than 62,000 wounded by Israel's bombardment and ground invasion since October 7.

"The displacement of Palestinians in Gaza is a devastating consequence of the Israeli military's indiscriminate bombing campaign… we cannot allow that displacement to become permanent," Pressley toldHuffPost on Friday.

Those displaced within Gaza already face a "humanitarian crisis" due to a lack of fuel, food, water, and medicines among deteriorating sanitary conditions and the spread of infectious diseases, the representatives said in the letter.

"The Israeli government must urgently increase the amount of humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip in order to address this humanitarian catastrophe," the lawmakers wrote. "If Palestinian civilians choose to leave Gaza voluntarily in search of safety, they must be guaranteed to be allowed to return. Many in Gaza fear that any temporary displacement would become permanent. The United States must ensure that there is no question that Palestinian civilians who wish to remain in the Gaza Strip have the right to do so."

The lawmakers further asked for clarification about a line in a funding request sent by President Joe Biden to Congress on October 20 of last year, which asked for money to "address potential needs of Gazans fleeing to neighboring countries."

"In light of the president's recognition of the importance of preventing Palestinian displacement, we aim to prevent any confusion or misinterpretation that this funding request could in any way signal U.S. support for potential transfer of Palestinians out of the Gaza Strip," they wrote. "We ask for a clarification of the U.S. position on this question and that you continue to make clear American opposition to any forced transfer of population to both the Israeli government and the Palestinian people."

A National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson told HuffPost in October that the funding request was not intended to endorse forcible population transfer, which would be in violation of international law.

"That is just one of a number of the potential listed justifications on that page of the request and is after assistance for those displaced within Gaza and the West Bank," the spokesperson said. "It's included because the U.S. government prepares for all possible contingencies, such as if people become displaced and flee to neighboring countries, not because we think that this will happen or is likely to happen."

The spokesperson continued: "We requested humanitarian aid funding from Congress because we are prioritizing the humanitarian needs of Palestinian civilians. While we do support safe passage for Palestinian civilians, the U.S. does not support forced displacement of Palestinians to neighboring countries."

The letter came the same day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the U.S. during a televised press briefing and said that he did not support the creation of a Palestinian state after the war.

"Ideological extremism is destroying prospects for peace," Raskin wrote in response on social media. "Most Americans will support a pragmatic peace strategy to free the hostages, provide aid to the population of Gaza, launch the two-state solution, and put Hamas terror and right-wing fanaticism behind us."

On Friday, Biden and Netanyahu spoke for the first time in almost 30 days, Politico reported. The White House said the timing of the call after Netanyahu's remarks was not planned.

"The president still believes in the promise and the possibility of a two-state solution," NSC spokesperson John Kirby said at a White House briefing, as Politico reported. "He recognizes that it's going to take a lot of hard work. It's going to take a lot of leadership there in the region, particularly, on both sides of the issue and the United States stands firmly committed to eventually seeing that outcome."

When asked on Friday if he thought a two-state solution was impossible while Netanyahu remained in office, Biden answered, "No it's not."

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