Congressional inaction to Israeli sniper shootings of unarmed Palestinian protestors on the Gaza border devalues human life, prolongs human suffering, disregards democratic values, and as Israel’s most significant defender such silence diminishes our nation’s standing in the world.
Since March 30, each Friday, tens of thousands of demonstrators assemble near the Gaza-Israel border to participate in “The Great Return March.” The weekly protest reminds the world of the ongoing Gaza tragedy. It honors two historical events, “Land Day,” the annual commemoration of the 1976 killings of six Palestinians protesting Israeli land confiscation, and the 1948 “Nakba” that displaced and dispossessed 700,000 Palestinians of their land and homes for the creation of Israel 70 years ago.
Gaza, 25 miles long and 3.7 miles to 7.5 miles wide, borders the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt, and Israel. It is the third most densely populated area in the world. 70 percent of Gaza’s nearly 2 million Palestinian inhabitants are refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars. Today’s ten-year-olds have already experienced three major Israeli military assaults. Israel’s 2014 attacks on civilian centers killed more than 2,200 Palestinians including 500 children. During that offensive 10,626 Palestinians were wounded, including 3,374 children, of whom 1,000 were left permanently disabled. The U.N. estimated the destruction of housing for 10,000 families and an additional 89,000 homes damaged.
Israel’s assaults and blockade have placed clean water, housing, healthcare, electricity, and economic development in critically short supply. The World Bank indicated that the unemployment rate in 2014 was 43.9%, the highest in the world. It remains over 43%. A U.N. study concludes that Gaza will be “unlivable” by 2020. Little wonder tens of thousands join the weekly protest.
Israeli troops have responded to the popular unarmed protest each Friday with sniper fire, killing 49 since March 30, among them four children, Alaa a-Din Yiha Ismail Zamil, 15; Muhammad Ibrahim Ayub Ayub, 14; Azzam Hilal Oueida, 14 and Hussein Muhammad Adnan Madi, 13. Two journalists were among the 49 fatalities despite wearing flak jackets marked “Press.” Hundreds more have been wounded. B’tselem, an Israeli Human Rights organization, reminds world leaders that, “the order to shoot at civilians who pose no danger is manifestly illegal.” The organization asserts that Israeli policymakers including Prime Minister Netanyahu, the defense minister, and the chief of staff bear primary responsibility for the illegal shooting orders.
Our government has the diplomatic tools to influence Israel to stop this madness. But consistent with our nation’s previous 43 U.N. vetoes to shield Israel from legitimate international criticism our nation’s silence emboldens Israel, the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. aid, which presently totals 3.8 billion dollars per year. The threat of withdrawing financial and diplomatic support, as Presidents Eisenhower and Carter once did, proved useful in altering Israel’s conduct. Unfortunately, our present leaders imagine that uncritically embracing Israel best advances U.S. interests. Unless one believes that the degenerating Israel/Palestine tragedy serves our nation’s interest, history suggests otherwise.
Moshe Dayan, a former Israeli leader once stated: “Our American friends offer us money, arms, and advice. We take the money, we take the arms, and we decline the advice.” Nonetheless, Congress unconditionally showers Israel with our much-needed tax dollars to the detriment of Palestinians and Israelis.
U.S. policy has failed. Gaza spirals towards humanitarian crisis, and Israel’s East Jerusalem and West Bank settlement expansions have killed the “two-state solution.” Israeli human rights attorney Michael Sfard stated in his recent book, The Wall and the Gate, “A person would have to be unconscious not to pick up the whiff of apartheid everywhere there is a settlement.” Over 200 Israeli settlements now house more than 600,000 Israeli settlers in what was to be a Palestinian State.
Our nation’s fatal embrace of Israel has produced untold suffering and apartheid. President Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Israeli officials openly declare there will never be a Palestinian state. Knesset members debate future annexation of the West Bank, home to 2.5 million Palestinians. The sniper fire and siege of Gaza continues. Such actions are antithetical to furthering equality, democracy, and a just peace. Congress must stop rewarding Israel’s bad behavior and exert economic and diplomatic pressure to end the Israel/Palestine tragedy.