Democrats Urge Blinken to Pressure Israel on Palestinian Evictions in Jerusalem

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People hold a vigil to mark Land Day in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, the month before last.
People hold a vigil to mark Land Day in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, the month before last.Credit: AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo

WASHINGTON – House Democrats are urging U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to exert diplomatic pressure on Israel to prevent the eviction of Palestinians from homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers in Jerusalem.

A letter circulated by Reps. Marie Newman and Mark Pocan and made public on Friday 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."

Dozens of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood have faced potential eviction for years, amid intensified efforts from right-wing settler groups that assert the land was owned by Jews before 1948, when Israel was founded. The threat of eviction has led to frequent protests.

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 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.

Newman and Pocan are both 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."

Several other of the bill's co-sponsors besides McCollum — including Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar, Andre Carson and Jesús "Chuy" García — have made individual statements calling on the U.S. to get involved, asking the State Department to condemn "ongoing Israeli police violence against Palestinians," with Bush saying, "I know what it's like to be brutalized for simply advocating for my own humanity." 

Rep. Debbie Dingell, who is not a co-sponsor of the McCollum bill, also decried the "forced displacement of Palestinians," urging that any U.S. involvement continue efforts toward lasting peace. Tlaib also issued a petition directed to the State Department and the Department of Defense demanding that the evictions be halted.

Americans for Peace Now backed the letter, urging supporters to contact their local representatives and ask them to sign onto the letter. 

The IfNotNow progressive movement said: “Jerusalem should be a city of coexistence, but Israeli policy has turned it into a city of cruelty. We applaud these members of Congress for demanding action by Secretary Blinken, including to make sure Americans are not footing the bill for displacing these Palestinian families. We urge every Democratic Representative who claims to support human rights to sign this letter and co-sponsor HR 2590, the Palestinian Children and Families Act, which would make sure American funds are not used to detain Palestinian children, demolish Palestinian homes, and steal Palestinian land.”

"We are deeply concerned about the potential eviction of Palestinian families in the Silwan neighborhood and in Sheikh Jarrah, many of whom have lived in those homes for generations," State Department Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter said. "As we have consistently said, it is critical to avoid unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions or take us further away from peace, this includes evictions, settlement activity and home demolitions."

Porter added that the U.S. is also deeply concerned about the heightened tensions in Jerusalem. "As we head into a sensitive period in the days ahead, it will be critical for all sides to ensure calm and act responsibly to de-escalate tensions and avoid violent confrontations," she said.

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