US, British lawmakers condemn Israel’s “horrific” massacre in Gaza

Palestinians mourn over the body of Yazan al-Tubasi at his funeral in Gaza City on 15 May, a day after he was killed by Israeli occupation forces during protests along Gaza’s eastern boundary.

Mahmoud Ajour APA images

Members of the US Congress are making some of their strongest statements ever condemning Israel after its massacre of dozens of unarmed civilians in the occupied Gaza Strip on Monday.

This comes amid growing international disquiet over the bloodshed.

“I am deeply saddened by the horrific slaughter of at least 52 Palestinian protesters and injuries to thousands more by Israeli forces,” John Yarmuth, a Democratic House member from Kentucky, wrote on Facebook.

“No doubt this will spark claims that Israel has a right to defend itself – and it does. But this has nothing to do with defense,” Yarmuth added. “We are witnessing the use of unabated brutality and force against civilians to stifle civil unrest. America must expect and demand more from its close allies.”

Yarmuth went on to claim that the “disingenuousness” of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem is part of a “pursuit of peace” is “exposed by the Israeli soldiers meeting expected protesters onsite with gunfire at close range.”

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy issued a statement laying some blame on “both sides,” but made a rare call for Israel to be held to account.

“Shooting protesters, many of whom were reportedly unarmed or throwing rocks which did not justify such a disproportionate response, is deplorable,” Leahy said. “It should be thoroughly investigated and anyone responsible, including those who gave the orders, held accountable.”

Leahy urged that the State Department apply to Israel the US laws that prohibit aid or training to foreign military units found to be responsible for human rights violations.

Very few US lawmakers have spoken out at all since Israel’s first massacre of Great March of Return protesters on 30 March.

But those who are breaking the near silence are being more forthright than ever.

House member Betty McCollum wrote this week on Twitter that the opening of the embassy and the “killing of dozens of Gaza protesters advances Netanyahu’s agenda of occupation and oppression of Palestinians.”

The Minnesota Democrat has been an increasingly vocal supporter of Palestinian rights who last year introduced an unprecedented bill to bar the use of US military aid for Israel’s detention, abuse and torture of Palestinian children.

Danny Davis, a veteran of the civil rights struggle and a Democratic House member from Illinois, called the latest massacre in Gaza a “human rights catastrophe.”

“Fifty-two Palestinians killed, and Netanyahu describes it as a ‘glorious day,’” California Democrat Ro Khanna tweeted. “Even the staunchest supporters of Israel would be appalled by the moral obtuseness of that statement.”

And five more Democrats issued a joint statement expressing how they were “shocked and dismayed by the lethal force used by Israeli troops against mostly unarmed protesters.”

The lawmakers – Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Pramila Jayapal of Washingon, Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Henry “Hank” Johnson of Georgia – also reiterate the statement four of them signed last month backing Israeli human rights groups that have urged soldiers stationed near the Gaza boundary to defy illegal orders to open fire on unarmed civilians.

Bernie Sanders decried the “staggering toll” to Palestinians from weeks of Israeli gunfire against civilians. “Hamas violence does not justify Israel firing on unarmed protesters,” the Vermont senator added in a Facebook post.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein called the death toll in Gaza “heartbreaking.”

“The humanitarian situation in Gaza is desperate,” the Democrat added. “Instead of cutting aid, the Trump administration must restore our leadership role and do what it can to alleviate the Palestinians’ suffering.”

Feinstein also criticized the embassy move, stating that it “should have been resolved as part of peace negotiations where both sides benefit, not just one side.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s propaganda is aggressively blaming Palestinians in Gaza for their own deaths, a message eagerly pushed by the Trump administration.

But even Israel’s staunchest supporters in Congress remain unwilling to publicly toe this line.

A search of congressional social media accounts on Monday turned up no statements of support for Israel’s violence, although a handful of lawmakers expressed delight at the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem.

And this front page in New York’s Daily News suggests that traditional US media taboos on criticizing Israel may be crumbling – a possible Trump effect.

Ambassadors summoned

On Tuesday, Ireland and Belgium summoned Israel’s ambassadors to express concern over the killings in Gaza and to call for an international inquiry.

This followed decisions by South Africa and Turkey to withdraw their envoys from Tel Aviv.

The Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq welcomed these steps as “significant diplomatic gestures [to] reaffirm states’ condemnation of the crimes committed by the Israeli occupying forces in the besieged Gaza Strip.”

But while these moves reflect slightly stronger rhetoric, there is still no indication of concrete measures to hold Israel accountable, through, say, sanctions or moves to prosecute war crimes.

Separately, Al-Haq wrote to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini denouncing her statement calling for “proportionality” in Israel’s use of force – in other words justifying Israeli violence.

“Rather than emboldening Israel, the European Union must stand united in its renouncement of Israeli suppression of demonstrations and the unjustified killing and injury of Palestinians,” the letter states.

Al-Haq calls on the EU to sever its trade and military agreements with Israel that effectively reward and encourage its crimes.

Corbyn’s caution

In the UK, opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn described the slaughter in Gaza as “an outrage that demands not just international condemnation, but action to hold those responsible to account.”

He faulted the response from Western governments including the UK as “wholly inadequate.”

Corbyn urged the lifting of the blockade of Gaza and affirmed that “Labour is committed to reviewing UK arms sales to Israel while these violations continue.”

But that fell well short of Palestinian demands for an immediate two-way arms embargo on Israel.

Corbyn, a long-time campaigner for Palestinian rights, has been under constant assault from Israel lobby groups over bogus claims that anti-Semitism is rife in the Labour Party.

This campaign has been aimed at discrediting Corbyn and silencing, smearing and expelling from the party supporters of Palestinian rights.

Corbyn’s initial reaction to Israel’s 30 March killings of protesters in Gaza was notably lacking in any call for action – a sign that the assault by Israel lobby groups had forced him into a defensive crouch.

Meanwhile, two of the Israel lobby groups involved in the smear campaign against Corbyn, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Labour Friends of Israel, have continued to blatantly push Israel’s talking points blaming Palestinians for their own deaths:

Despite such propaganda, dozens of British lawmakers joined protests against the killings in Gaza or expressed their condemnation on social media:

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.