Progressive Democrats Deem Israel's Planned Evictions of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta a 'War Crime'

The letter, signed by some of the fiercest critics of Israel in the House, says eviction would be 'a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention'

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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U.S. Representative Cori Bush, who led the letter protesting the Masafer Yatta evictions, at an abortion rights protest in Washington, DC, this month.
U.S. Representative Cori Bush, who led the letter protesting the Masafer Yatta evictions, at an abortion rights protest in Washington, DC, this month.Credit: STEFANI REYNOLDS - AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON—Fifteen progressive Democrats on Tuesday urged U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to send the "strongest diplomatic message possible" to pressure Israel into preventing the eviction of more than 1,000 Palestinians from the Masafer Yatta villages in the West Bank.

The letter, led by Rep. Cori Bush, follows a similar plea from 83 Democrats from both houses of Congress sent to Blinken on Thursday. Eight House Democrats signed both letters: Reps. Mark DeSaulnier, Raul Grijalva, Pramila Jayapal, Betty McCollum, Marie Newman, Mark Pocan, Ayanna Pressley and Mark Takano. The other signatures on Tuesday's letter, which contains notably sharper language, are: Reps. Andre Carson, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, Hank Johnson, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

"Forced displacement and transfer by Israel of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta would be a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and would amount to a war crime," the lawmakers wrote in the letter, first reported by Jewish Currents. The lawmakers urged Blinken to publicly describe the forced transfer of Masafer Yatta's Palestinian residents accordingly.

"If Israel proceeds with its plans to forcibly displace the indigenous Palestinian residents," the lawmakers wrote, "the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Israel should immediately, pursuant to the oversight and accountability required by the Leahy Law and the Arms Export and Controls Act, send observers to document the mass transfer, including details of the military units involved in these operations and the use of any U.S. weapons."

The Arms Export and Controls Act stipulates that U.S. weapons are sold only for legitimate self-defense, while the Leahy Law prohibits U.S. funding from being used to equip or train foreign military forces suspected of human rights abuses or war crimes.

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. The lawmakers further urged Blinken to demand Israel end all military exercises and building activities that would compel Masafer Yatta residents to leave their homes.

The demands come weeks before U.S. President Joe Biden's expected visit to Israel, in what will be his first visit to the Middle East since assuming office.

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