‘Congress keeps singling Israel out for impunity.’
As the civilian death toll in Gaza continues to climb, the U.S. House of Representatives has introduced a symbolic resolution–backed by the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee–blaming Hamas for the bloodshed and condemning them for the alleged use of “human shields.” But critics say this effort is just another U.S. affirmation of support and impunity for Israel, despite the fact that Israel’s fighter jets, attack helicopters, drones, and soldiers are doing the killing.
“The resolution is a rhetorical statement, but it makes things really ugly,” Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams. “This resolution says that the elected representatives of the American people are standing with the slaughter of children and not saying a word about it. When you are doing that while you are paying Israel’s bills and providing it protection in the United Nations, you are complicit.”
Brought forward by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R – Fla.), H. Con. Res. 107 denounces the “use of civilians as human shields by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in violation of international humanitarian law.” The resolution claims that “Hamas has urged the residents of Gaza to ignore the Israeli warnings and to remain in their houses and has encouraged Palestinians to gather on the roofs of their homes to act as human shields.”
But Mike Coogan, Legislative Coordinator for the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, told Common Dreams: “It’s important to note that when Palestinians fled their homes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead and went to UN shelters, Israel dropped white phosphorous on those shelters. As we have seen recently, at least two UN shelters have been bombed. There is no safe place to go in Gaza.”
The resolution supports Israel’s “sovereign right” to “defend its territory” and calls on the “international community,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Palestinian people to reject Hamas, which it refers to as a “terrorist” organization.
As of Monday afternoon, the resolution had 64 co-sponsors. The effort follows related resolutions backing Israel’s military onslaught, which passed unanimously in the House and Senate earlier this month with the strong backing of AIPAC.
Coogan said that Resolution 107 masks the fact that “it’s the Israeli government that has killed over 75 percent civilians.”
At least 1,030 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in the latest surge of violence, the vast majority of them civilians and approximately one third of them children. Over 6,000 Palestinians have been wounded, and more than 170,000 displaced and seeking shelter at United Nations facilities. At least nine children and one adult were killed when Israel launched an air attack on Gaza’s Shati refugee camp on Monday, simultaneously hitting the building complex housing Gaza’s leading hospital–Shifa hospital in Gaza City. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported late last week that at least 125,000 children are in immediate need of “direct and specialized psychological support on the basis of families who have experienced a death, injury, or loss of home over the past week.”
Forty-three Israeli soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker have also been killed.
“The term ‘human shields’ has a very specific definition which involves force–people forced into a position they do not want to be in,” said Bennis. “This is not the case in Gaza. Israelis are just loosely throwing around these terms.”
The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation released a statement declaring, “The resolution of course fails to mention Israel’s well-documented use of Palestinians as human shields. The Israeli military has used Palestinian children to open bags it believed to be bomb-laden, held children in front of soldiers to prevent youth from throwing rocks, and forced children to enter homes believed to be rigged with explosives.”
According to Bennis, Israel’s injustices go far beyond this latest surge in attacks. “Nobody is looking at the crisis in terms of origins in the context of the existing crisis of the occupation of Gaza day-to-day when there are no bombs falling,” said Bennis. “This is a besieged territory where people have no ability to run for safety.”
Peace and justice campaigners are urging people in the United States to pressure their congressional representatives to reject the resolution, and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is organizing a Capitol Hill briefing on Friday about Israel’s human rights abuses. Demonstrations against Israel’s attacks on Gaza are taking place daily across the United States and world, including protests of tens of thousands in the West Bank that have been met with deadly fire.
“U.S. Congress and government often accuse civil society of singling out Israel for accountability,” said Coogan. “But the reason civil society is singling out Israel for boycott, divestment, and sanctions is because Congress keeps singling Israel out for impunity.”