53 US lawmakers warn of Israel’s use of collective punishment in Gaza

Palestinian families try to continue their life amid rubbles, damaged and destroyed buildings by Israeli attacks in Beit Hanoun, Gaza (Mustafa Hassona - Anadolu Agency)

Middle East Monitor  /  August 20, 2021

Fifty-three House Democrats have warned of the grim humanitarian situation in Gaza in a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in which they denounced Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians in the besieged enclave and the occupation state’s banning of essential material that are vital to ease Palestinian suffering.

“The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza is untenable,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter praised by progressive American Jewish groups. “Ensuring that Palestinians residing in Gaza receive humanitarian aid is vital to securing the well-being of Gaza’s 2.1 million residents,” the letter continued.

Led by Democrat members of Congress Mark Pocan and Debbie Dingell, the letter which comes three months after Israel’s 11-day onslaught on the Strip which killed more than 250 people including women and children, called for securing changes that are “vital to addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”

The lawmakers said that Gaza’s humanitarian situation has been “exacerbated by the recent hostilities between Hamas and Israel” and “left an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians in need of humanitarian assistance.”

“Unfortunately the recent Israeli air campaign in Gaza has only worsened living conditions, inflicting $380 million in damage to the beleaguered strip and necessitating $485 million in immediate humanitarian and reconstruction aid,” said the letter referring to a recent report by the UN, the World Bank and EU.

The letter called on Blinken to work with Israel and Egypt on issuing clear guidance on materials allowed into Gaza and to review the efficacy of the existing Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism agreement. With Israel having effective control of Gaza, the occupation state has the ultimate say over what goes in an out of the besieged Strip. It’s often been accused of denying essential material including basic foods to punish Palestinians.

Decrying the lack of clarity regarding which construction materials are prohibited from entering the Gaza Strip, the lawmakers said that Israel “selectively ban materials that it considers having ‘dual use’ — any item it claims could have a military application.” They highlight vital materials that have been classified as dual use such as water disinfectants, desalination units and electricity generators.

Israel’s restriction of Gaza’s fishing zone to six nautical miles was also condemned by the lawmakers as a form of collective punishment. “Although the restriction was recently reversed, the decision to collectively punish the people of Gaza by unilaterally restricting its fishing zone remains extremely concerning,” said the letter, urging Blinken “to work with the Israeli government to refrain from such harmful and illegal actions.”

Wednesday’s letter is one of several sent to officials in the Biden administration in recent months highlighting Israel’s aggression against Palestinians. In June, 73 US lawmakers urged President Joe Biden to undo his predecessor’s pro-Israel policies.

In May, 25 Democratic members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to Blinken calling on him to pressure Israel to halt the planned forced eviction of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. A month before that US lawmakers submitted a draft bill to prevent Israel using US tax dollars to target children.