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Pressley condemns Gaza bombardment

Says U.S. Israel funding should be tied to human rights

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Pressley condemns Gaza bombardment
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley

Likening the Israeli government’s repression of nonviolent protests over the displacement of Palestinian families from occupied East Jerusalem to police brutality in the U.S., Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley on Thursday made a case for conditioning America’s $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel to its compliance with international human rights laws.

“The question at hand is should our taxpayer dollars create conditions for justice, healing and repair, or should those dollars create conditions for oppression and apartheid?” she said in a speech from the House floor May 13.

Pressley joined other Black, Latino and progressive white lawmakers in condemning Israel’s ongoing expulsions of Palestinian families and its bombardment of refugee camps and cities in Gaza, where Hamas militants have been firing rockets into Israel.

By Friday, 119 people in Gaza were killed, including 30 children, as the Israeli army pounded the densely populated area with missiles and sent in tanks and armored vehicles. More than 830 people have been wounded in Gaza.

Nine Israelis, including one child, have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza.

While many U.S. elected officials, including President Biden, have responded by affirming “Israel’s right to defend itself,” Pressley and others are calling out the Israeli government for what many see as a pattern of human rights abuses aimed at dispossessing both Palestinians living on the territories Israel has occupied in violation of international law and those who are citizens of Israel.

“The pain, trauma and terror that Palestinians are facing is not just the result of this week’s escalation, but the consequence of years of military occupation,” Pressley said from the House floor. “In Sheikh Jarrah, the Israeli government is violently dispossessing yet another neighborhood of Palestinian families from homes they have lived in for decades. We cannot stand idly and complicitly by and allow the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people to continue.”

Palestinians see the government-backed expulsion of Muslims and Christians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood as part of a longstanding practice the Israeli government has engaged in going back to 1948, when Zionist militias forced three-quarters of a million Palestinians from their homes in what is now Israel.

On April 27, the NGO Human Rights Watch released a report accusing the Israeli government of committing crimes of apartheid by exerting control over laws, land and demographics in the Palestinian territories it has militarily occupied since the war of 1967.

In recent weeks, the Israeli government seemed to ratchet up the tension on Palestinians, first on April 30 closing the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. Israeli authorities announced the closure after Israeli activists with the far-right group Lehava marched through Jerusalem April 27 chanting “Death to Arabs.”

The expulsion orders, which are currently making their way through Israel’s courts, were seen as another provocation. Although Israel is illegally occupying East Jerusalem, the government considers the area to be under Israeli control. Palestinians who have lived there for generations are often forced out, while people of Jewish descent, even those not born in Israel, are allowed to own and occupy homes there.

The Israeli government also stormed the al-Aqsa mosque May 7, attacking worshippers with tear gas and projectiles during morning prayers, injuring 200. The attack on the mosque, considered one of the most holy sites in the Middle East, sent shockwaves through the Muslim world.

In another provocation, an Israeli settler group announced they planned to march through Jerusalem on May 10 to commemorate the day in 1967 when Israel’s military began its occupation of East Jerusalem. The Israeli military again stormed the al-Aqsa mosque, this time injuring 300 worshippers.

Hamas, which governs Gaza, issued an ultimatum to Israeli forces, calling on them to end their occupation of the al-Aqsa compound. When the Israeli military remained in the compound, on May 10 Hamas militants began firing rockets into Israel and Israel responded with precision missiles that have flattened residential buildings, banks and other structures they say are supporting Hamas.

Biden, in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned the Hamas rocket attacks and “conveyed his unwavering support for Israel’s security and Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians,” according to a spokesman for the president.

New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasted the statements, made by Biden and the State Department, which appeared to blame both Palestinians and Israelis for the flareup in violence and bombardment of Gaza.

“Do Palestinians have a right to survive?” she said. “Do we believe that?”

Others, including Illinois Congressman Chuy Garcia, said the U.S. must condition its military aid to Israel on compliance with international human rights laws.

Indiana Congressman Andre Carson said, “For decades, Israel has violated international law and human rights. For too long, America has looked the other way as Israel has engaged in this horrific campaign against Palestinians.”

Pressley, too, commented on U.S. military aid to Israel.

“We cannot remain silent when our government sends $3.8 billion of military aid to Israel that is used to demolish Palestinian homes, imprison Palestinian children, and displace Palestinian families,” she said. “A budget is a reflection of our values.”