Congress: As the War on Gaza escalates, Declare Your Own Ceasefire!

Congress should not be undercutting President Obama and Secretary Kerry in their efforts to obtain an unconditional ceasefire in Gaza; instead it is fueling the conflict with more one-sided resolutions.

As the grim numbers coming out of Israel and Palestine – particularly from the besieged Gaza Strip – mount with every passing hour, and as evidence of war crimes once again accumulates, obtaining an immediate ceasefire and stilling the “guns of august, 2014” should be the most pressing goal of US foreign policy.

Sadly, the US House and Senate have other priorities.

Since the start of Israel’s third deadly incursion into the blockaded and resource-starved Gaza Strip, our Congress has rushed out one “Unanimous Consent” measure after another, giving Israel unconditional approval for any military action it unleashes.  These unvoted resolutions are designed to put US politicians as being collectively on record, while not holding individual lawmakers accountable for what their “green light” actually results in: thousands of dead and injured noncombatants and a terrorized enclave facing a humanitarian catastrophe.

Wednesday, as the Abu Hussein girls’ school in the Jabaliya refugee camp became the latest UN-designated refuge to be struck by Israeli shells (at least the sixth incident in which an UNRWA school has been hit) and 20 more Gazans – mostly women and children – were killed, the Senate was busily passing S.Res. 526 (“A resolution supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas.”) The measure denounces the UN Human Rights Council (“a pro-terror group” according to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen).  It seeks more military aid for Israel. And it ignores altogether Israel’s role in the suffering – the deaths of over 850 Palestinian civilians (of whom at least a quarter are children); the displacement of up to 440,000 Gazans; attacks on public infrastructure that have caused life-endangering shortages of water, power, medicines, sewage, sanitation and healthcare services.

In blaming the victims, Congress echoes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when he told CNN: “They [Hamas] want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can… They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead, the better.”  This grotesque deflection of culpability does not impress the rest of the world: when the UN Human Rights Council voted last week to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate violations of humanitarian law, the US was alone in its opposition – with no support from the UK, France, Germany, Japan nor any of the other 42 member nations. 

The atrocities in Gaza are unfolding daily on hundreds of millions of screens across the globe  …but Congressional attention is elsewhere.   In the past month alone:

S.Res.498 (passed) and H.Res.657 (passed) (“Support for the State of Israel as it defends itself against unprovoked rocket attacks”)

S.Con.Res.41 (pending) and H.Con.Res.107 (passed)

(“Denouncing the use of civilians as human shields by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in violation of international humanitarian law” – quoting extensively from treaty protocols that Congress has refused to ratify for decades!)

S.Res.517 (pending) (“Support for Israel’s right to defend itself and calling on Hamas to immediately cease all rocket and other attacks”)

H.R. 5235 (“Emergency Iron Dome Replenishment Act”) and S.2648 (an “Emergency Supplemental”) both increase “Iron Dome” funding and will likely be voted on soon – perhaps as a stand-alone bill).  Note that the hundreds of millions of US dollars spent on anti-missile technology frees up an equal amount of Israeli funds for procurement of offensive weaponry.

Elizabeth Warren this week  signed on to the "US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act"
Elizabeth Warren this week signed on to the “US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act”

Finally, S.462 (“United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014”) – in the works for more than a year – has been re-introduced as S.2673 and is now backed by 80 senators, now including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. In addition to conferring the unique status of “Major Strategic Partner,” it also gives Israel access to trade privileges, technologies, academic and industrial cooperation, and support for entry into the US “Visa Waiver Program.”  And it boosts to $1.8 Billion the value of US arms stockpiled in and available to Israel.  Its passage would be another curt rebuke to the calls of human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, for an embargo on weapons transfers to Israel.

While the “U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act” was a bad idea before “Operation Protective Edge” laid waste to Gaza, its passage in the midst of an escalating slaughter will cast the US as an accessory to potential war crimes in world public opinion.

This weekend Congress begins its August recess.  It cannot come soon enough.  Every measure on the Palestine-Israel conflict that has been enacted this month has been one more salvo at the edifice of international humanitarian law.

Our senators and representatives should know that, however deplorable the actions of Hamas and the IDF may be, Congress bears responsibility of its own for the ongoing carnage:

  • By effectively endorsing Israel’s policy of collective punishment and Israel’s disproportionate and manifest indiscriminate killing;
  • By ignoring any causal relation between a 9-year siege and Hamas’ violent reaction;
  • By voting military aid to Israel (now set to exceed $3.3 billion in FY15 — some 20% of Israel’s military budget);
  • By working at cross-purposes with President Obama’s recent efforts to bridge the ceasefire conditions of the belligerents; and
  • By failing to reflect a growing diversity of US popular opinion on the morality of Israel’s conduct in the war.