WASHINGTON - A group of around 30 demonstrators from the left-wing Jewish group "If Not Now" gathered Monday in front of the office of Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) to protest Israel's use of deadly force against thousands of Palestinian demonstrators on the Israel-Gaza border in recent weeks. The demonstrators called on Cardin, one of the most senior Democratic Senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to denounce Israel's response, specifically its use of live ammunition to keep Palestinian protesters away from the border fence between Israel and Gaza.
The protesters blocked the entrance to Cardin's office and asked: "How many more lives need to be lost until you will speak up about the violence in Gaza?" Cardin is slated to speak before the annual J Street conference in Washington later on Monday afternoon.
Five participants were briefly detained during the demonstration, which took place as an increasing number of Democratic legislators in Washington have spoken out against Israel's handling of the events on the Gaza border. The most prominent Senate voice on the issue has been Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who said two weeks ago that "the killing of Palestinian demonstrators by Israeli forces in Gaza is tragic. It is the right of all people to protest for a better future without a violent response."
Sanders also said that "the situation in Gaza remains a humanitarian disaster. The U.S. must play a more positive role in ending the Gaza blockade and helping Palestinians and Israelis build a future that works for all." On Friday, Haaretz reported about a letter Sanders is circulating among fellow Senators, asking the Trump administration to take steps to improve the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza.
Sanders' letter mentioned an assessment made earlier this year by senior IDF officers who warned "the humanitarian crisis increases the chances of incidents at the border fence that can turn deadly," such as the events of the past two weeks. It further says that "Israeli security officials also believe conditions in Gaza could worsen to the point of a total collapse of order in the territory, leading to all-out confrontation between and among various Gazan factions and Israel."
Last week, five Democratic members of Congress published a joint statement calling on the Israeli military "to exercise utmost restraint in the use of deadly force and to fully comply with international law" in its response to the Gaza protest. The five, Mark Pocan from Wisconsin, Parmila Jayapal from Washington, Keith Ellison from Minnesota, Barbara Lee from California and Henry Johnson from Georgia, also called on the demonstrators in Gaza "to carry out their right to assembly nonviolently."
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The members wrote: “we strongly reject the dangerous contention made on April 8 by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman that ‘there are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip.'" In addition, they wrote that they "applaud" Israeli human rights groups for "urging IDF forces to fully comply with international law and exercise utmost restraint in their use of deadly force. Such measures must only be used as a last resort to stop an imminent threat to life.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also spoke up about the Gaza situation, telling the website The Intercept "that she was "deeply concerned about the deaths and injuries in Gaza" and that "the Israel Defense Forces should exercise restraint and respect the rights of Palestinians to peacefully protest.” Another senior Democrat who has addressed the protests is Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) who said: "this violence is exceptionally destructive for both the Palestinians and the state of Israel. It must end. Violence is not the pathway to reconciliation."