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Restore Help for Palestinians

It's horrific to watch the suffering and killing in Gaza. It can feel discouraging, but there are things we can do. One is to ensure that life-saving aid continues to flow to the displaced millions suffering from famine, without water, without the basics of healthcare. Incredibly, Congress may be voting soon to permanently block that aid. We need to stop them.

It's mind-boggling. While Congress votes on more military aid for Israel, they are also debating blocking aid to the critical United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

This campaign is part of a concerted effort to punish Palestinians that predates October 7; the Israeli government has long opposed UNRWA as part of its policy of disposition and deprivation of the Palestinian people. This has made UNRWA funding a political football in Washington: Then-president Trump defunded the agency as part of a right-wing effort to dismantle support to the Palestinian people. Since Biden restored funding in 2021, some Republicans have been trying to block it again.

The Biden administration has now, itself, frozen the funding, after Israel accused about a dozen of the agency’s more than 13,000 employees of participating in the October 7 attacks in Israel. UNRWA acted quickly – it fired those accused and moved to investigate the charges. But the controversy has given some Democrats a rationale to join Republicans in opposing funding. UNRWA’s enemies are seizing on that opportunity to build bipartisan momentum towards a permanent ban on this lifesaving support for the Palestinian people. It’s time to step up and push back.

It’s important to understand that UNRWA is not one agency among many. Experts point out that UNRWA is “best understood as an unofficial substitute for the state in the areas where it operates.”[1] With 85 percent of Gaza’s population of 2.2 million displaced, nearly all of those people depend to some degree on UNRWA-distributed assistance. UN and European humanitarian experts call the agency an “indispensable UN body” and say that UNRWA is necessary “to deliver the nuts and bolts of social services. It is the only organization that has the reach and the bandwidth to do that.”[2]

Peace Action and its members continue to fight to end Israel’s brutal war crimes in Gaza by calling for a ceasefire and by opposing sending more arms to Israel. As Israel threatens to attack Rafah, where some 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering, we need a ceasefire immediately. But with millions of Palestinians displaced and in famine conditions we also need to unfreeze critical aid to save lives. We must focus on every avenue, and every strategy, that can end this unjust violence and suffering.

Action: Contact Reps. Kevin Mullin and Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them to reject any efforts block critical aid to UNRWA; urge them to instead support the reinstatement of funding for the agency. Also contact Sens. Alex Padilla and Laphonza Butler, and President Joe Biden, with the same request. Suggest that the suffering is too great among Palestinian civilians for any of us to ignore – made far worse when we send more arms to Israel.

[1] Why Donors Should Not Suspend Aid to UNRWA, Daniel Forti, February 7, 2024 www.crisisgroup.org 

[2] Europe warned there is 'no substitute' for UNRWA, The National, Tim Stickings, Feb 19th, 2024

Block Arms, Save Lives 

There are now two complementary strategies to restrain U.S. support for the war on Gaza.

First, we are still pushing for a ceasefire (see below), and more members of Congress are coming on board. Late last week and over the weekend, more moderate Democrats, including key Jewish congressional leaders, joined in supporting a ceasefire. They included Jamie Raskin, Sara Jacobs and Becca Balint.

Second, we aim to use the most powerful lever Congress has to impact the behavior of the Israeli government: U.S. arms transfers. The U.S. builds and finances much of Israel’s arsenal.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar introduced a measure to block a $320 million arms sale to Israel. [1] The bill, which is called a Joint Resolution of Disapproval, would revoke the export license of a type of guided bomb kit that is used in the airstrikes killing so many civilians.

The State Department notified Congress of this particular weapons transfer on October 31 – the same day Israel struck the Jabaliya refugee camp in an airstrike that killed about 50 Palestinians. The bombs that were dropped on the camp are usually outfitted with “precision” guidance systems of the type being transferred in this batch.[2] These are the type of “sophisticated” weapons that are killing civilians and destroying civilian targets.

U.S. law is supposed to prohibit the transfer of U.S. weapons to countries who use such weapons to commit human rights violations. The Biden administration actually tightened the rules on arms transfers to say that weapons shouldn’t be transferred if they are “more likely than not” to be used in atrocities.[3] Clearly, in Gaza, the killing of thousands of civilians and the destruction of schools, apartment blocks, hospitals, refugee camps etc. violates this standard. Congress can use its powers to enforce this policy.

Action: Contact Rep. Kevin Mullin or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them to work to block a pending arms shipment to Israel – in part by supporting H.J. Res. 102. Mention that the weapons in question can be used in human rights violations...which is in turn a violation of U.S. law.  

1. Omar unveils resolution to block weapons sale to Israel, The Hill, NICK ROBERTSON, November 16, 2023

2. Israel Used 2,000-Pound Bombs in Strike on Jabaliya, Analysis Shows, Christopher Coetti, New York Times, November 3, 2023

3. Unpacking Biden’s Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, John Chappell, Ari Tolany, Lawfare, March 1, 2023.

Gaza: Ceasefire and De-escalation

We remain shaken with concern for the news that has come and the news coming in every day as a result of the deadly attacks by Hamas on Israelis and the overwhelming response against the people of Gaza from Israel’s military. There very likely will never be a military solution to this ongoing conflict, and those who take on the task of finding a real solution must continue with that task even when it looks impossible.

But first there is a dire situation in Gaza to attend to.

Missouri Rep. Cori Bush and some of her colleagues  introduced H. Res 786, a straightforward ceasefire and humanitarian aid bill. The legislation simply calls for “the Biden administration to immediately call for and facilitate de-escalation and a cease-fire” and for “the Biden administration to promptly send and facilitate the entry of humanitarian assistance into Gaza.” We don’t know if either Rep. Kevin Mullin or Anna Eshoo has signed on to the resolution from Bush.

Peace Action is one of many organizations endorsing the bill; Executive Director Jon Rainwater said: “With massive human rights violations accumulating in Gaza, simply suggesting that human rights laws are important clearly isn’t enough. Indiscriminate bombing has killed hundreds of children, a starvation siege is driving a humanitarian crisis, and now mass ethnic cleansing looks to be imminent. Strong action in the form of a ceasefire is needed to prevent a historic catastrophe.”

Action: Contact Rep. Mullin or Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them to co-sponsor H. Res 786, the resolution from Rep. Bush for de-escalation, ceasefire and humanitarian assistance. Eshoo’s constituents can thank her for signing Rep. Jayapal’s recent letter calling to protect civilians, and suggest (in the case of both Reps) the Bush measure is an important next step.

Diplomacy in Ukraine

Sometimes a simple statistic can stop you in its tracks.

For instance, a recent New York Times article about deaths and casualties in the Ukraine war pointed out that:

“In just a year and a half, Ukraine’s military deaths have already surpassed the number of American troops who died during the nearly two decades U.S. units were in Vietnam.”

Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope in how some in the Biden administration and elsewhere are acknowledging that this death toll, and the grinding pace of the war, should push us to do more to prioritize diplomatic tools. One administration official told Politico that “We may have missed a window to push for earlier talks” and another said that those who had pushed for more diplomacy “had a point”.

It's time to take action, because both Reps. Kevin Mullin and Anna Eshoo joined every Democratic House member (and 90 Republicans) in voting against legislation – supported by Peace Action – by Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) that would have required a clear delineation of the administration’s war strategy, including “a diplomatic pathway...by which the United States can facilitate a negotiated cessation of hostilities in Ukraine.” It also required a briefing of the appropriate committees on “the United States strategy with respect to Ukraine and the plans for the implementation of such strategy.” Perhaps the issue of diplomacy has, sadly, got caught up in partisan politics. The measure would have theoretically delayed a small portion of aid to Ukraine if the administration failed to report to Congress, but of course the administration can work to ensure that doesn’t happen. In any case, we need to ask why all of the no votes on the measure, and we need to continue to keep the pressure building on Congress to urge the administration to prioritize diplomacy.

Of course diplomacy to end the war won't come easily; there are many obstacles in the way. Neither warring party appears ready to talk as they fight for military gains – and trust is on empty, especially after human rights violations in places like Bucha. Ukrainian officials have understandably resisted any suggestion that they should leave their people permanently under a Russian occupation that UN human rights officials claim has been marked by “dire” and “wide-ranging” violations of human rights. No one should seek to impose boundaries on Ukraine in a neocolonial fashion or press for an unjust resolution.

Ending war is notoriously hard, especially after a war goes into its second year. Though negotiation can take years, the sooner diplomacy begins, the more groundwork can be laid, and options explored and developed.

Former National Security Council Russian affairs official Fiona Hill recently said we “have to step up here…pushing forward on the diplomatic front.” She went on to say that Ukraine’s allies like the U.S. should be “preparing a diplomatic framework for something eventual and putting Ukraine in the best possible diplomatic position.”

Congressmembers also need to step up and speak up for a diplomatic initiative. Clearly there is a debate happening within the administration about ramping up diplomacy despite the obstacles.

Action: Contact Rep. Mullin or Eshoo, or whomever represents you, to 1) ask why they voted against asking the administration to report on diplomatic initiatives, and 2) tell them to come forward and call for diplomatic initiative to seek diplomatic solutions to end the war in Ukraine. Suggest they should support diplomacy to end the war before it kills tens of thousands more.

Rein in Nuclear Weapons

In January, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved their iconic Doomsday Clock ahead to 90 seconds before midnight, the closest it’s ever come to symbolic global apocalypse. Vladimir Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Tensions are rising with China. Last August, the UN Secretary-General said “humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.”

In short, the threat of nuclear war is all too real and frightening, perhaps greater than it has been since the Cuban Missile Crisis over 60 years ago, and threatening all of humanity, all we hold dear.

In January 2021, 50-plus nations (all non-nuclear weapons states) signed and entered into force the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). This past January 31, Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) re-introduced H. Res 77, “(E)mbracing the goals and provisions of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” The resolution urges the President and Congress to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by supporting common sense policies, including:

- Actively pursuing and concluding negotiations on a new, bilateral nuclear arms control and disarmament framework agreement with Russia before 2026, as well as negotiations with China and other nuclear-armed states on agreements for the verifiable, enforceable, and timebound elimination of global nuclear arsenals;

- Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first;

- Ending the President’s sole authority to launch a nuclear attack;

- Taking nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert;

- Canceling plans to replace the U.S. nuclear arsenal with modernized, enhanced weapons.

Rep. Kevin Mullin recently became a co-sponsor of H Res 77; Rep. Anna Eshoo has not yet signed on.

Action: Folks in Rep. Kevin Mullin's district can contact him to express thanks for his support of the measure. Constituents of Anna Eshoo, or of others who have not co-sponsored, can contact them and ask that they sign on. Suggest they need to show leadership and take this step toward preventing nuclear war and advancing policies that will make the world a safer place, before the unthinkable happens.

Palestinian Rights are Human Rights

Through our tax dollars, we unfortunately continue to lend support for the Israeli government’s violence and oppression of Palestinians. The unconditional support of Israel by the United States – which includes $3.8 billion per year – reinforces a militaristic policy that includes annexation, evictions, home demolitions, and the detention and torture of Palestinians…even young children.

But now we have a chance to help change this. Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) and 16 other representatives recently re-introduced the Palestinian Children and Families Act, H.R. 3103. This historic bill would help curtail any U.S. military funding to Israel that pays for the military detention of Palestinian children, the demolition of Palestinian homes, or the annexation of Palestinian land. The bill currently has 18 co-sponsors.

The Palestinian Children and Families Act creates sorely needed accountability around how U.S. tax dollars are used by Israel. It’s a modest but powerful step that boils down to one of the boldest pieces of U.S. legislation ever introduced on Palestinian human rights.

Rep. McCollum first introduced this bill in 2021, and thanks to lobbying efforts from peace and justice advocates, 32 additional members of Congress co-sponsored the bill over the course of two years. This year’s version currently has 18 co-sponsors, 16 of them on the day it was introduced. Now we need to continue to grow support for this important bill.

As we’ve seen, Congress is hardly known for staking out bold positions on Palestinian rights. The fact that this bill was even introduced has pushed the needle forward politically. Given the strong support for the Israeli military in Congress, increasing support for this legislation can put real pressure on Israeli policy. At the same time, slowly but surely, we are building greater support for Palestinian rights in Congress. Hawkish, pro-occupation organizations like AIPAC are going to come hard at this bill and its co-sponsors, and it will be imperative that we stand up to their pressure – and encourage members of Congress to do the same.

Action: Contact Rep. Mullin, Eshoo or whomever represents you, and tell them to show their support for human rights by co-sponsoring H.R. 3103, the Palestinian Children and Families Act. Suggest that it’s time to take a stand against Israeli abuses to Palestinian rights.

Hold Padilla and Feinstein Accountable

This is an alert for our members here in California: 

It’s surely the case that we have always been proud that our state has blazed a progressive trail, from climate change to anti-war sentiment (Barbara Lee literally was speaking for us when she took her lonely stand against the reckless War on Terror in 2001).

That’s why we are reaching out to our fellow Californians. Both of our Senators have really screwed over anti-war progressives and the cause of peace! (Forgive the language, but this was a real betrayal of pro-peace values.) In December, they helped block Sen. Bernie Sanders’ efforts to end U.S. complicity in the war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Thus U.S. arms and maintenance support are still used to enforce an air and sea blockade that is starving thousands and causing a massive health crisis.

Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein were two of the only Democrats to come out as publicly opposed to Sanders’ legislation that would have ended U.S. support for the war.

After their actions, alongside a couple other key Democrats, Sen. Sanders had to take a step back in his (and our) campaign to end a brutal war that is over 8 years old. Sanders pulled his bill and said he would negotiate with the administration to craft a compromise. He also said that if negotiation didn’t work, he would bring his bill back to the Senate.

Accountability is one of the most powerful forces in social change activism. As activists we can let these Senators, and their staff, know that we are watching. 

Your messages will also force them to explain themselves about this embarrassing and unpopular stance – a critical step to turning them around. Peace Action will follow that up with raising the grassroots pressure in a campaign to explain why the Senators should support Sanders’ efforts to end U.S. complicity. Their support is critical and their opposition is a hurdle we have to get over. 

The more support we have in Congress for ending the war, the stronger Sen. Sanders’ hand is in negotiations with the administration. And he has made clear that if he can’t and the administration doesn’t come up with a compromise that draws U.S. support to a close, he’ll bring his bill back to the floor. If and when he does so, we need Sens. Padilla and Feinstein to support it this time.

Our Senators work for us. Peace Action has more supporters in California than anywhere else in the country, and we need them to hear your pro-peace voice loud and clear. This campaign to end the war in Yemen is challenging. Peace Action, our members, and a few partner organizations are the voices at the forefront of it.

Action: Contact Sens. Padilla and Feinstein to tell them you know what they did to block Senator Sanders’ efforts to end the war in Yemen, and you are none too happy about it. Demand their support for any similar war powers legislation in the new Congress.

Funding for the People, a Trim for the Pentagon

This year’s U.S. military budget is at $858 billion, more than China, Russia, and the next seven countries combined. With the National Defense Authorization Act on its way to the Senate, Congress is now debating a  military budget that will being us closer to $900 billion. Meanwhile we are told there just isn’t money for healthcare, ending childhood poverty, or protecting the planet. Every year we see the Pentagon get a staggering amount of money, and it has led to wasteful military spending. In addition, the Pentagon has never passed an audit and has not been held accountable for waste, fraud, and abuse. Every year Congress and the President add more money to the Pentagon budget to procure outdated ships, malfunctioning planes, dangerous nuclear weapons, and giveaways to corrupt defense contractors at the expense of our communities.

And in mid-March, the Biden administration released a Pentagon budget request for Fiscal Year ’24 of $886.4 billion – another $28 billion increase over this year’s Congressionally approved level. Considering all of the everyday needs that are being neglected, such an amount threatens to further deprive Americans of the ability to thrive and survive.

With that in mind, East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee and Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan again introduced the People Over Pentagon Act, which would cut $100 billion from the  military budget. H.R. 1134 provides a good start – articulating the need and the ability to prioritize our resources to help Americans struggling with inflation, feed the hungry, care for the sick, cut child poverty, and fight catastrophic climate change. Reducing the Pentagon budget by $100 billion would still leave plenty to keep America safe at a level well above our country’s post-World War II average. The current state of this initiative is as another amendment to the NDAA. Now Congress just needs to develop the backbone to vote for these priorities.

Action: Contact Rep. Mullin, Rep. Eshoo or whomever represents you, and tell them to co-sponsor the Lee-Pocan amendment to cut $100 billion from the military budget. Suggest that instead of these obscene budgets for war-fighting, we should be investing in human needs and preventing a climate crisis. That would provide more national security than what has come from wealthy weapons contractors. We might have a long way to go to convince a Congressional majority of the practicality of cutting $100 billion from the military, but every vote and gesture of support is one more, not one less.

An Actual Peace with North Korea?

This July will mark the 70th anniversary of the armistice that led to the stopping of the killing that took place during the Korean War. The agreement suggested an eventual end to the war, but we are still waiting for any diplomatic initiative in that direction. We have watched as such actions began to take shape, only to be scuttled by difficult demands by the U.S. on North Korea and new sanctions when the demands were not met. North Korea, for its part, has ramped up its nuclear weapons program to a dangerous level – made more so by the volatility and threats of the ruling Kim family.

The U.S. surely doesn’t want a nuclear confrontation – the “fire and fury” rhetoric of Donald Trump is for now just a memory – but our periodic military exercises with South Korea serve to keep tensions at an unreasonable level, and the volatility has similarly remained. A continued state of war with North Korea has resulted in a lack of real diplomatic relations and a continuation of a hostile relationship.

In the spirit of changing that, CA Rep. Brad Sherman has once again introduced the Peace on the Korean Peninsula Act. H.R.1369 would direct the Secretary of State “pursue serious, urgent diplomatic engagement with North Korea and South Korea in pursuit of a binding peace agreement” to formally end the state of war. The hoped-for peace is of course meant to reduce the tensions in the region, including allowing North Korean citizens in the U.S. to visit family in their home country.

The January ROK·US·International Call to Resolve the Threat of War on the Korean Peninsula and Suspend ROK-US Combined Military Exercises (signed by 99 U.S. and international civil society organizations including PASMC) puts it quite well: “We must end the Korean war that has afflicted all members of the Korean Peninsula for over 70 years, and redirect the cost of destructive weapons to solving inequality and the climate crisis. It is time to end hostility and confrontation and strive for a peaceful and sustainable world through reconciliation and cooperation.”

Action: Contact Rep. Mullin, Eshoo, or whomever represents you, to urge their co-sponsorship of H.R.1369, the Peace on the Korean Peninsula Act. Suggest that pursuing diplomacy with North Korea is a pivotal first step to breaking through the stalemate in U.S.-North Korea relations, and reducing the heat that could lead to a nuclear confrontation.

Pardon a Whistleblower

In mid-2021, former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst Daniel Hale was sentenced to 45 months in prison under the Espionage Act, for divulging classified documents about the military’s secretive and highly controversial drone assassination program. Serving as an analyst between 2009 and 2013, He was involved in identifying, tracking, and targeting “high-value” terrorism suspects in 2012 in Afghanistan while working with the DOD’s Joint Special Operations Task Force.

In exposing the drone program, Hale gave the public access to critical information regarding a taxpayer-funded, internationally targeted killings program. The documents he provided, which were in a report by The Intercept entitled “The Drone Papers,” showed that during a five-month period in Afghanistan, nearly 90% of people killed by the drone program were not the intended targets.

Hale explained his belief to the presiding judge “that to stop the cycle of violence, (he) ought to sacrifice (his) own life and not that of another person.” The bigger issue here isn’t Hale’s decision to come forward, but the actual program itself (which government and military officials have continuously downplayed and lied about.) Clearly he felt more allegiance to humanity than he did to waging war. As for the government’s case, while prosecutors claimed Hale’s actions put “national security” at risk, no evidence emerged that what Hale revealed had resulted in any direct harm.

Hale is serving his sentence in a “communication management unit” (CMU) at the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. CMUs have been condemned by human rights experts for severely restricting inmates’ communications with their families and the outside world and have earned the nickname “Little Guantanamo.” Without intervention from the Biden administration, he will remain in prison until July of 2024.

Action: Contact President Biden and tell him to pardon whistleblower Daniel Hale. Suggest that Americans have a fundamental right to know about gross and immoral misuse of power within our government, especially at the expense of innocent lives.

Biden’s Saudi and UAE weapons sales

Sadly, last year President Biden gave the green light to continue selling Saudi Arabia and the UAE billions of dollars worth of fighter jets, armed drones, bombs, and missiles. This is a follow-up to a policy endorsed and pursued by his predecessor and by no means becoming of a new President whose policy seemed to be to stop such arms sales.

The Biden administration, in response to the horrors of the Saudi war in Yemen, had in its first days stated its intention to halt “offensive” weapons to these countries. But, as the New York Times reported earlier in April, “it will allow the sale of other matériel that can be construed to have a defensive purpose…”. In a region considered the site of perhaps the world’s worst human rights crisis, giving such nuance to the idea of weapons sales to countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE looks like throwing human rights to the winds.

On the campaign trail, Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” and promised to end U.S. complicity in the moral and strategic catastrophe in Yemen. It now appears he and his administration team may not hold Saudi Arabia and the UAE accountable without some extra pressure. That is where we need to come in.

Action: Contact President Biden and tell him to cancel any weapons sales – defensive or otherwise – to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Perhaps suggest anything less would amount to a broken promise, as well as demonstrate acquiescence in a deadly military intention – with war crimes and mass famine of Yemeni civilians.

Directory                                                                                                                            

Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121

Senator Laphonza Butler

(202) 224-3841

(415) 393-0707

https://butler.senate.gov/

Senator Alex Padilla

333 Bush Street, Ste. 3225 San Francisco, CA 94104
(202) 224-3553                   fax: (202) 224-2200

(415) 981-9369                             

https://padilla.senate.gov/contact/

Representative Kevin Mullin                             

1528 S. Camino Real, Ste. 307   San Mateo, CA  94402

(202) 225-3531                     (650) 342-0300         

https://kevinmullin.house.gov 

Representative Anna Eshoo                                                                                                 

698 Emerson Street               Palo Alto, CA 94301    

(202) 225-8104                     (650) 323-2984                           

https://eshoo.house.gov/contact

President Joe Biden

The White House 

(202)456-1111 (The comment line is open Tuesday-Thursday from 8 AM - Noon PST.)

www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

Find out who your Representative is: www.house.gov 

If you are not in California, identify your senators here: www.senate.gov