My bill would stop US aid from funding Palestinian suffering

Palestinian men check items in a classroom at a school hit during shelling at the Zeitun neighbourhood in Gaza City (Thomas Coex - AFP)

Betty McCollum

The Nation  /  June 4, 2021

HR 2590 would restrict US military aid to Israel from being used to demolish homes, annex Palestinian land, or imprison Palestinian children in military detention facilities.

On April 22, a letter signed by 331 members of Congress was sent to the House Appropriations Committee calling for the unconditioned appropriation of $3.8 billion in US military aid to Israel. Their letter stated: “U.S. support for Israel makes the region a safer place and bolsters diplomatic efforts aimed at achieving a negotiated two-state solution, resulting in peace and prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Here are the facts: There is no Israeli-Palestinian peace process, making the prospect for a two-state solution appear bleak. Shared peace and prosperity have been buried by Israel’s systematic dispossession and annexation of Palestinian communities and land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, recent clashes on Israeli streets between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens, and repeated outbursts of violence between Israel and Hamas.

The purpose of the congressional letter, championed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is not peace but to send an unambiguous signal to Prime Minister Netanyahu that Israel can act with impunity and US taxpayer dollars will keep flowing.

Let me be clear: Israel has legitimate security concerns. Hamas’s firing rockets from Gaza into Israel is an attack that I condemn unequivocally. But Israel can act in the name of “security” without being hampered by any of the conditions or limits placed on US military aid that would normally be imposed on nations committing human rights abuses. Our tax dollars should not support Israel’s military occupation, expanding settlements, detaining Palestinian children, demolishing Palestinian homes, annexing Palestinian lands (formally or de facto), and bombing Gaza into oblivion.

We are at an inflection point, and the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people can no longer be ignored. Over the past few weeks there has been an unprecedented outpouring of support for Palestinians and their freedom struggle. Tens of thousands of Americans of all backgrounds and faiths have taken to the streets to rally for Palestinian rights and to end the systematic violence associated with the Israeli occupation. The movement for justice is active; it is growing; it will get stronger—and it includes advocating for Palestinian rights.

In Congress, there is also action. A small but growing group of progressive Democrats committed to human rights for everyone, at home and abroad, are elevating the inherent and universal human rights of Palestinians and Israelis alike to live in freedom with the right to self-determination. We recognize the humanity and dignity of Palestinian families and their generations of struggle to survive occupation, maintain community, and dream of freedom.

We are also advancing legislation. The Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act (HR 2590) is a bill I’ve introduced along with 20 courageous colleagues. The bill restricts US military aid to Israel from being used to demolish homes, annex Palestinian land, or imprison Palestinian children in military detention facilities. HR 2590 places the bare minimum of restraint on Israel’s blatant violations of international humanitarian law. HR 2590 is supported by more than 150 civil society, human rights, and prominent Jewish, Muslim, and Christian organizations demanding action.

This is a serious piece of legislation that openly and directly promotes Palestinian rights. Yet, in a Congress that enables Israel’s occupation, this bill is unlikely to even get a committee hearing or a floor vote. I see HR 2590 as a vehicle for political activism; a tool to energize and mobilize Americans who reject oppression, violence, and discrimination. It is also a litmus test of sorts, to give members of Congress an opportunity to demonstrate to their constituents that not a single dollar of US taxpayer funds should be used to violate the human rights of the Palestinian people or to support the failed status quo.

The power to elect leaders to Congress who demand change rests with regular citizens with good hearts, strong voices, and the commitment to take action for justice and human rights. So how does change happen? With a first step. It happens deliberately, with determination and a commitment to never quit. I’ve had colleagues who support civil rights at home and human rights around the world tell me my bill is going nowhere and it’s a waste of time. But Americans who support Palestinian rights and oppose Israeli military occupation don’t think of it as a waste of time.

In 1972, Representative Ron Dellums (D-Calif.) introduced the first anti-apartheid bill in Congress. I am sure he didn’t think of that as a waste of time. Yet even with support from the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus, it took nearly 14 years before the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 became law, imposing sanctions on the white government of South Africa. The years of protests, education, activism, and political persuasion resulted in a law that helped end the evil of apartheid.

Congress can support Israeli security—and ensure peace, prosperity, and equality for both Palestinians and Israelis. But that cannot be achieved by maintaining a destructive status quo. The United States must hold Israeli and Palestinian political leaders accountable if Palestinian and Israeli families are going to live without the threat of violence, the oppression of occupation, or the separate and unequal conditions of apartheid. The time for change starts right now, and it starts with the American people telling their elected leaders that respecting the human rights of the Palestinian people is not an option—it is a priority.

HR 2590 currently has 24 cosponsors (as of May 27, 2021): Rep. Rush, Bobby L. (D-Ill.-1); Rep. Davis, Danny K. (D-Ill.-7); Rep. Carson, Andre (D-Ind.-7); Rep. Newman, Marie (D-Ill.-3); Rep. Omar, Ilhan (D-Minn.-5); Rep. Pocan, Mark (D-Wis.-2); Rep. Grijalva, Raul M. (D-Ariz.-3); Rep. Tlaib, Rashida (D-Mich.-13); Rep. Pressley, Ayanna (D-Mass.-7); Rep. Bush, Cori (D-Mo.-1); Rep. Bowman, Jamaal (D-N.Y.-16); Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, Alexandria (D-N.Y.-14); Rep. Garcia, Jesus G. “Chuy” (D-Ill.-4); Rep. Johnson, Eddie Bernice (D-Tex.-30); Rep. Jayapal, Pramila (D-Wash.-7); Rep. Blumenauer, Earl (D-Ore.-3); Del. Norton, Eleanor Holmes (D-D.C.-At Large); Rep. Evans, Dwight (D-Penn.-3); Rep. Huffman, Jared (D-Calif.-02); Rep. Watson Coleman, Bonnie (D-N.J.-12); Rep. Pingree, Chellie (D-Me.-1); Rep. Welch, Peter (D-Vt.-At Large); Rep. Chu, Judy (D-Calif.-27); Rep. Payne, Donald M., Jr. (D-N.J.-10)

Congresswoman Betty McCollum represents Minnesota’s Fourth Congressional District in the US House of Representatives; she serves as chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense