Democratic U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum, and James Oberstar sent a letter urging President Obama late last week urging him to use diplomatic pressure to resolve the blockade affecting Gaza. Spearheaded by Ellison and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., the letter acknowledges the difficult position facing Israel and notes that the blockade is strengthening Hamas. Fifty members of Congress, as well as a number of religious groups and denominations, have signed on to Ellison’s letter.
“The unabated suffering of Gazan civilians highlights the urgency of reaching a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we ask you to press for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza as an urgent component of your broader Middle East peace efforts,” the letter urges. “The current blockade has severely impeded the ability of aid agencies to do their work to relieve suffering.”
Among the groups supporting the letter: J Street, The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), The American Near East Refugee Association (ANERA), The Methodist Church, The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), and Rabbis for Human Rights.
“We also sympathize deeply with the people of southern Israel who have suffered from abhorrent rocket and mortar attacks,” the letter states. “We recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups. This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. Truly, fulfilling the needs of civilians in Israel and Gaza are mutually reinforcing goals.”
The full letter:
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
Thank you for your ongoing work to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for your commitment of $300 million in U.S. aid to rebuild the Gaza Strip. We write to you with great concern about the ongoing crisis in Gaza.
The people of Gaza have suffered enormously since the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt following Hamas’ coup, and particularly following Operation Cast Lead. We also sympathize deeply with the people of southern Israel who have suffered from abhorrent rocket and mortar attacks. We recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups. This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. Truly, fulfilling the needs of civilians in Israel and Gaza are mutually reinforcing goals.
The unabated suffering of Gazan civilians highlights the urgency of reaching a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we ask you to press for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza as an urgent component of your broader Middle East peace efforts. The current blockade has severely impeded the ability of aid agencies to do their work to relieve suffering, and we ask that you advocate for immediate improvements for Gaza in the following areas:
* Movement of people, especially students, the ill, aid workers, journalists, and those with family concerns, into and out of Gaza;
* Access to clean water, including water infrastructure materials,
* Access to plentiful and varied food and agricultural materials;
* Access to medicine and health care products and suppliers;
* Access to sanitation supplies, including sanitation infrastructure materials;
* Access to construction materials for repairs and rebuilding;
* Access to fuel;
* Access to spare parts;
* Prompt passage into and out of Gaza for commercial and agricultural goods; and
* Publication and review of the list of items prohibited to the people of Gaza.
Winter is arriving and the needs of the people grow ever more pressing. For example, the ban on building materials is preventing the reconstruction of thousands of innocent families’ damaged homes. There is also a concern that unrepaired sewage treatment plants will overflow and damage surrounding property and water resources.
Despite ad hoc easing of the blockade, there has been no significant improvement in the quantity and scope of goods allowed into Gaza. Both the number of trucks entering Gaza per month and the number of days the crossings have been open have declined since March. This crisis has devastated livelihoods, entrenched a poverty rate of over 70%, increased dependence on erratic international aid, allowed the deterioration of public infrastructure, and led to the marked decline of the accessibility of essential services.
The humanitarian and political consequences of a continued near-blockade would be disastrous. Easing the blockade on Gaza will not only improve the conditions on the ground for Gaza’s civilian population, but will also undermine the tunnel economy which has strengthened Hamas. Under current conditions, our aid remains little more than an unrealized pledge. Most importantly, lifting these restrictions will give civilians in Gaza a tangible sense that diplomacy can be an effective tool for bettering their conditions.
Your Administration’s overarching Middle East peace efforts will benefit Israel, the Palestinians, and the entire region. The people of Gaza, along with all the peoples of the region, must see that the United States is dedicated to addressing the legitimate security needs of the State of Israel and to ensuring that the legitimate needs of the Palestinian population are met.
Members of Congress
Mary Jo Kilroy