Amid a continuing blockade in the Gaza Strip due to the ongoing war with Hamas, progressive members of Congress have signed an open letter to White House officials urging them to take note of what has been described as a violation of international law.
Dated October 13, it comes as the death toll in the conflict has reached into the thousands on both sides, including civilians. Roughly 20 Americans are missing, an unknown number are among the roughly 200 hostages held by Hamas, and more than 15,000 overall casualties have been reported since the Islamist Palestinian group invaded southern Israel one week ago.
The new letter, which takes a moderate stance on the U.S. government’s largely unqualified support for Israeli interests, nevertheless calls attention to human rights abuses and the potential for further war crimes.
“We unequivocally condemn Hamas’ shocking and horrifying terrorist attack on Israel. This is the worst perpetration of violence inflicted on the Jewish people since the Holocaust,” reads the letter from more than 50 members of the House of Representatives and the delegate from the District of Columbia.
“We urge those carrying out military operations to follow international humanitarian law and protect innocent civilian lives on both sides.”
Of particular concern to the signatories is Israel’s recent announcement that all civilians in northern Gaza should evacuate to the south within 24 hours, which was followed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) invading Gaza on Friday evening.
The IDF had previously been battling the coalition of Arab military groups in Gaza, Lebanon, and the West Bank by means of airstrikes and engagements within Israeli territory.
Concerns of civilian loss of life have largely been brushed aside by leaders of the State of Israel, with President Isaac Herzog appearing to tell reporters on Friday that the idea of innocent Palestinian civilians is largely inaccurate.
“It's an entire nation out there that's responsible. It is not true, this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true,” he said.
“They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime, which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.”
International observers have also criticized Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s announcement on October 9 of a “total” blockade and “complete siege” in Gaza, which cut off the electrical grid and has prevented the transfer of water, food, and fuel into the region. Such actions are considered illegal under international law by the United Nations—which has noted war crimes committed by Hamas and Israel in the past week of fighting.
The American legislators appealed in their letter to the lives of the Palestinian civilians, who have lived under U.S.-backed apartheid conditions for decades.
“We strongly believe that Israel’s response must take into account the millions of innocent civilians in Gaza who themselves are victims of Hamas and are suffering the consequences of their terror campaign,” the letter reads.
Among the signatories on the letter are a number of Catholics, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who was joined by several of her fellow members in the progressive Democratic bloc known as “The Squad.” Though none of the signers are Eastern Orthodox—the largest Christian group in Palestine—the House’s sole Eastern Catholic member, Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, did append her name. Rep. André Carson of Indiana was the letter’s sole Muslim signatory.
The letter’s addressees, President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have largely sidestepped any criticism of Israeli military actions, and a communique leaked on Friday detailed the State Department’s restrictions on U.S. diplomats speaking of “de-escalation/ceasefire,” “end to violence/bloodshed,” or “restoring calm.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, a Black Catholic, traveled to Israel on Friday to “underscore the United States' unwavering commitment to support Israel,” according to a release from the Department of Defense.
As the war machine continues to rev up stateside, Christian leaders in Gaza have themselves called for peace, with the pastor of Gaza’s only Catholic church noting that Pope Francis has been in consistent contact as local Christians take shelter in the parish.
“He expressed his closeness and offered his prayers,” said Fr Gabriel Romanelli, IVE of Holy Family Catholic Church, who is currently in Bethlehem due to the conflict.
“I thanked him for his call for a ceasefire and a stop to all violence, all terrorism and all war."
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.
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