US Congressional Democrats led by Mark Pocan, Jamie Raskin and Judy Chu last week wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressing the Trump administration to release already appropriated funds to assist Palestinians in Gaza.
The letter states that in September Palestinians in Gaza saw their COVID-19 case count increase by 84 percent.
The Democratic effort may be well intentioned, but in typical Washington fashion the framing is dreadful.
The 38 signers don’t simply raise their concerns on the merits of making sure a (further) humanitarian catastrophe doesn’t befall Gaza.
No, they make sure to note that what happens in Gaza is a “security” concern for Israel because apparently heading off hunger and COVID-19 in Gaza will not be taken seriously in Washington unless you establish how it intersects with Israel’s interests.
“This deteriorating situation is not just dangerous for the Palestinians living in Gaza,” they write. “In 2018, Israeli officials warned that a humanitarian crisis in Gaza could quickly lead to a security crisis for Israel.”
The anti-war group Codepink challenged the writers for failing to mention the broader context of the Israeli siege.
“Yes, Gaza does desperately need humanitarian aid,” Codepink tweeted. “But it also needs and deserves to be freed from the brutal blockade that obstructs access to medicine, food, and other important supplies.”
The Israeli siege on Gaza has now been in place since 2007.
Children beginning kindergarten that year would have graduated high school by now. They would have spent every day of their lives under occupation, most of their lives under a harsh Israeli blockade and would have survived three major Israeli military assaults that killed and injured thousands of people.
Israel’s siege has prevented countless educational opportunities for Gaza youth and cut Palestinians in Gaza off from their kith and kin in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah and just over the boundary line.
Palestinians continue to suffer and die because Israel severely restricts exit permits for them to travel outside Gaza for medical treatment unavailable in the territory’s overburdened healthcare system.
Such limitations on Palestinian horizons are certainly not a concern of the Trump administration while the siege is no longer even getting a reference from friendly Democrats.
This was not always the case.
In 2018, Mark Pocan initiated another letter that noted Israel’s “continuing control of Gaza’s air, sea, and northern, southern, and eastern borders, and its restrictions on the freedom of movement of people, legitimate goods and equipment in and out of Gaza.”
That letter had 70 signers, almost double the current one.
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar signed last week’s letter, but other key progressive representatives such as Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley did not.
The Electronic Intifada has asked Tlaib’s office if she did not sign because of shortcomings in the letter or for other reasons, but has received no response.
Congressional Democrats who want to address the devastating situation in Gaza must do more than urge humanitarian band-aid solutions.
They must demand an end to dispossession, occupation and siege. That means they must treat respect for Palestinian rights as the central issue, not merely a byproduct of looking out for Israel’s “security.”