WASHINGTON – Eighty-three Democrats from the House and the Senate on Thursday urged U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to actively prevent Israel from evicting more than 1,000 Palestinians from the Masafer Yatta villages in the West Bank
"We are deeply concerned that this relocation of Palestinian families from homes they have lived on for generations could spark violence, is in direct violation of international humanitarian law, and could further undermine efforts to reach a two-state solution," the lawmakers, led by Rep. Melanie Stansbury and Sen. Jeff Merkley, warned Blinken. The letter is a rare bicameral warning against Israeli actions, signed by 20 Democratic senators and 63 representatives across the party's ideological spectrum.
Israel's High Court approved in early May the eviction of some 1,000 Palestinians from eight villages in the southern West Bank, after a two-decade legal dispute over land that has been repurposed by the Israeli army as a firing zone, and where Palestinians have lived for generations.
Until the High Court's ruling, a court order was in effect that allowed residents to remain there, but prohibited them from building additional structures. All construction in this area is therefore considered illegal, and the Israeli authorities periodically demolish structures there. Palestinian residents have also been the target of settler violence with increasing frequency over the years.
"As supporters of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, we believe such evictions undermine our shared democratic values, imperil Israel's security, and disregard Palestinian human and civil rights,” the lawmakers added, flagging both Blinken's general May 2021 remarks on the need to avoid steps that could inflame tensions and State Department spokesperson Ned Price's recent remarks on the evictions, specifically.
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"Evicting Palestinian people from their homes is inconsistent with international humanitarian law, according to Articles 49 and 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and inconsistent with efforts to reach a two-state solution," they noted, urging the Biden administration to prevent both the evictions and further military training exercises in the area. They further asked the administration to encourage Israel to approve Masafer Yatta master plans so Palestinians can build and maintain homes, schools, and infrastructure as well as sustain their lands.
"With President Biden visiting Israel in late June, it is critical that the Administration respond quickly to ensure that this momentous trip can deliver concrete steps toward peace," the lawmakers stressed.
Biden is expected to visit Israel toward the end of June, in what would be his first visit to the Middle East since assuming office.
"With this letter, members of Congress are making clear to the administration that the deteriorating situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory requires urgent attention – and that deeply harmful acts of displacement and de facto annexation must be confronted,” said J Street’s Director of Government Affairs, Hannah Morris, adding “as the president prepares to travel to the region in June, lawmakers are strongly encouraging him to defend the rights and long-term interests of both Palestinians and Israelis."