Palestinian children in Rafah

Palestinians, including children, collect remaining belongings from the rubble of destroyed houses after Israeli attacks on Rafah, Gaza on May 1, 2024.

(Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu via Getty Images)

57 House Dems Call On Biden to Prevent Israeli Assault on Rafah

"An offensive invasion into Rafah by Israel in the upcoming days is wholly unacceptable."

Dozens of U.S. House Democrats on Wednesday joined Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal and Madeleine Dean in pressuring President Joe Biden to prevent a full-scale Israeli assault on Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip that's now full of over a million displaced Palestinians.

"We write with urgency to say: an offensive invasion into Rafah by Israel in the upcoming days is wholly unacceptable," states the letter from Jayapal (D-Wash.), Dean (D-Pa.), and 55 other members of Congress. "We welcome your administration's efforts to dissuade the Israeli government from this military operation, which would deepen both the humanitarian catastrophe for people in Gaza and the strategic challenges that regional and global stakeholders face in this conflict."

"We now urge you to enforce U.S. law and policy by withholding certain offensive weaponry or other military support that can be used for an assault on Rafah, including the offensive weaponry and aid already signed into law," the letter continues.

The Democrats highlighted how Israel's retaliation for the Hamas-led October 7 attack has impacted the city:

Rafah has become one of the most overcrowded places in the world. With shelters too full and insufficient, many families now live on the streets. The collapsed health infrastructure, in addition to sewage overflow and the scarcity of food, water, and medicine, has accelerated the onset of severe malnutrition and the spread of communicable diseases. Acute food insecurity is endemic in Rafah, even as the international community circulates credible reports that famine is setting in elsewhere in Gaza—all as a result of six months of military operations that you have described as "indiscriminate." In addition, we know in fact that Israeli strikes on Rafah have already occurred, including one on April 20th that killed 18 people, including 14 children.

Across the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces have killed 34,568 people and wounded another 77,765—mostly women and children—while leaving thousands more missing in the rubble of bombed buildings, including homes, hospitals, schools, and mosques.

Biden has resisted mounting global pressure to limit or fully cut off military aid to Israel, which the International Court of Justice in January concluded is "plausibly" committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. That case is ongoing.

"In addition to the catastrophic civilian toll—and risk to as many as 130 hostages, including as many as six or more Americans—an offensive in Rafah would ultimately undermine the Israeli and U.S. governments' strategic interests," the Democrats argued. "Israeli and U.S. military bases in the region have recently been the targets of repeated drone and missile attacks—a dangerous indication of how unstable the Middle East has become as a result of the Gaza war."

"An Israeli offensive in Rafah risks the start of yet another escalatory spiral, immediately putting the region back on the brink of a broader war that neither Israel nor the United States can afford," they warned. Along with calling on the president to withhold aid to Israel to protect civilians in Rafah, the lawmakers urged Biden to keep working "toward achieving a lasting cease-fire that will bring hostages home and build a path toward safety and security for all."

They also said that "it is of the utmost importance that both Hamas and Israel immediately come to the table with the international community for a mutually agreed ceasefire deal that can secure the safe return of hostages, full resumption of humanitarian aid, and the space for a negotiated, long-term peace in the region."

The letter comes a week after Biden signed a foreign aid package that included $26 billion for Israel and passed both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support. Jayapal and three dozen other Democrats opposed the Israel Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, which ultimately passed.

In a joint statement last month, the Washington Democrat and 18 of her colleagues said that "our votes against H.R. 8034 are votes against supplying more offensive weapons that could result in more killings of civilians in Rafah and elsewhere."

Israeli Prime Minister "Benjamin Netanyahu appears willing to sacrifice the hostages while inflicting extraordinary suffering on the people of Gaza. He is willing to expand this conflict to preserve his power at the expense of Israel's safety," they continued, noting concerns about an invasion of Rafah. "When faced with the question of whether to provide offensive aid to further this conflict, we believe there is a moral imperative to find another path."

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