WASHINGTON – Twenty-five House Democrats signed a letter urging U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to publicly condemn the planned eviction of Palestinians from homes in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on land claimed by Jewish settlers and exert diplomatic pressure on Israel to prevent the acts from taking place.
The number of signatories on the letter, which has been circulated for nearly a week by Reps. Marie Newman and Mark Pocan, is significantly higher than what sources had been expecting, reflecting the steadily growing disapproval of the displacement plans within the Democratic Party.
The criticism among Democratic lawmakers comes as tensions in Israel have reached a boiling point, with near unprecedented numbers from various wings of the party offering rare, unqualified support for Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah as well as criticism of Israel’s treatment of protesters in Jerusalem.
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Newman and Pocan are co-sponsors of recent legislation introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum that specifies various actions Israel may not finance with U.S. taxpayer funding, while also calling for additional oversight of how aid is distributed. Destruction of Palestinian property is one specific prohibition detailed in the bill, with McCollum saying that “U.S. assistance intended for Israel’s security should foster peace and must never be used to violate the human rights of children, demolish the homes of Palestinian families, or to permanently annex Palestinian lands.”
They were joined on the letter by co-sponsors of the McCollum bill, including Reps. Pramila Jayapal, Betty McCollum, Rashida Tlaib, Raul Grijalva, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Andre Carson, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Cori Bush, Judy Chu, Ayanna Pressley, Bobby Rush and Eddie Bernice Johnson.
They were also joined by several lawmakers who are not co-sponsors of the McCollum bill, including Reps. Gerald Connolly, Jared Huffman, Peter Welch, Judy Chu, Alan Lowenthal, Veronica Escobar, Jackie Speier, Anna Eshoo, Chellie Pingree, Debbie Dingell and Hank Johnson.
“Palestinian families have every right to live safely in their homes. That’s why I’ve led my colleagues in a letter calling on the State Department to immediately condemn these heinous actions by the Israeli government against Palestinian families in East Jerusalem. America must defend human rights everywhere,” Newman said in a statement. The letter states that “Israel’s plans to demolish Palestinian homes in Al-Bustan and to evict Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah are in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
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Detailing the longstanding American opposition to Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, the lawmakers urge the Biden administration to “immediately send the strongest diplomatic message to Israel to desist from its plans” while publicly reiterating that the U.S. policy on home demolitions dating back to the Richard Nixon administration remains in effect.
The lawmakers also call for an expeditious review of previous congressional requests for the State Department to investigate whether Israeli home demolitions using U.S. weapons violate the Arms Export Control Act, adding that the U.S. Embassy to Israel should “send observers to document Israel’s forced displacement of Palestinians, including details on the military units involved in these operations and the usage of any U.S. weapons for purposes of oversight and accountability regarding Leahy Law and AECA violations.”
The AECA says that U.S. weapons are sold only for legitimate self-defense, while the Leahy Law prohibits U.S. funding from equipping or training foreign military forces suspected of human rights abuses or war crimes.