By Jake Johnson
A trio of House progressives on Wednesday criticized the U.S. State Department for failing to provide members of Congress with a substantive update on its efforts to protect civilians in Gaza, including the hundreds of Palestinian Americans who are trapped in the enclave as it faces a massive assault from Israeli forces.
In a letter, Democratic Reps. Delia Ramírez (Ill.), Summer Lee (Pa.), and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) called on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to brief members of Congress on the status of civilians in Gaza and provide specific information about efforts to evacuate Palestinian Americans, attempts to free hostages, and negotiations to allow humanitarian aid to enter the occupied territory.
The lawmakers wrote that while they attended a classified briefing provided last week, they remain “concerned about the lack of meaningful information provided by the department on the status of civilians, particularly those in Gaza and the West Bank, and the status of American citizens in Palestine.”
Ramírez said in a statement Wednesday that she is “disappointed we still don’t have clear information on what our government is doing to protect civilians in Gaza.”
“That is why I’ve formally requested the Department of State to provide a clear response on the situation in Gaza and the status of Palestinian-Americans in Gaza,” said the Illinois Democrat.
Both Blinken and U.S. President Joe Biden have publicly stressed the need for Israel to avoid harming civilians as it attacks the Gaza Strip, but their words appear to have done little to deter the Israeli military from heavily bombarding civilian areas, damaging schools and medical facilities, and wiping out entire neighborhoods.
We must not equate innocent Palestinian lives with Hamas, and we must address the humanitarian crisis affecting Gaza’s 2.2 million people.”
U.S. Rep. Summer Lee
In just 11 days, more than 3,000 people in Gaza have been killed by Israel airstrikes and more than a million have been displaced.
“After President Biden urged the Israeli government to respect the ‘rules of war,’ Secretary Antony Blinken urged Israel to ‘take every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians.’ We have seen neither in the Israeli government’s response to Hamas’ brutal attacks,” Lee said in a statement Wednesday.
“Palestinian civilians in Gaza—half of whom are children—are not collectively guilty, and should not be collectively punished. We have seen hospitals, densely-populated areas, and even Gaza’s only border-crossing bombed,” Lee added. “We must not equate innocent Palestinian lives with Hamas, and we must address the humanitarian crisis affecting Gaza’s 2.2 million people.”
Axios reported Tuesday that Blinken has urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “allow humanitarian aid into Gaza in order to maintain international support for the Israeli operation to dismantle Hamas.” Netanyahu’s office said Wednesday that “Israel will not thwart humanitarian supplies from Egypt as long as it is only food, water, and medicine for the civilian population in the southern Gaza Strip.”
“Israel will not allow any humanitarian aid from its territory to the Gaza Strip as long as our hostages are not returned,” the prime minister’s office added.
In a statement on Wednesday, Tlaib—the first Palestinian-American woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress—invoked the names of two of her constituents who are currently stuck in Gaza as Israel continues bombing and prepares for a major ground invasion—with the help of U.S. weaponry.
“Americans like Zakaria and Laila Alarayshi are trapped in Gaza as the bombings intensify,” Tlaib said Wednesday. “They feel abandoned by their own government and in the first few days of the war, the State Department was silent and had no plan for Americans in Gaza. Now the safety of Americans is in jeopardy. We must bring all Americans home.”
Zakaria and his wife Laila are Michigan residents who were visiting family in Gaza when Hamas launched its attack on Israel, which was met with relentless airstrikes and a total blockade that has deprived Gazans of food, fuel, electricity, and other necessities.
The Palestinian-American couple is currently suing the Pentagon and State Department, alleging “disparate treatment.” As the Detroit Free Press reported over the weekend, the Alarayshis say “the U.S. government has failed to evacuate them and other Palestinian Americans from Gaza while it works to rescue Americans trapped in Israel, accusing U.S. officials of discriminating against them.”
The U.S. State Department has instructed American citizens in Gaza to move closer to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in case it is reopened. The area was hit earlier this week by what was believed to be an Israeli airstrike.
“We are scared. We can’t go to the bathroom. We can’t go anywhere,” Zakaria told the head of the Arab American Civil Rights League in a recent voicemail. “We don’t have electricity, we’re without water, there’s nothing. I think we are going to die before we leave.”
Jake Johnson is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams.
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