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Answering the Cycle of Violence in Israel and Palestine
Sadly, tragically, we’ve been here before. The grinding decades-long oppression of Palestinians is once again spiraling into a full-blown air war and mob violence across Israel and the Palestinian territories. First, there were the recent scenes of violent attacks by settler mobs and Israeli security forces on Palestinians who were protesting Israeli home demolition policies or simply praying in houses of worship. Now, tit-for-tat between Hamas and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has escalated into indiscriminate IDF bombing of densely populated areas in Gaza. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, the death toll caused by Israeli airstrikes is at least 227, including 64 children. At least 12 Israelis including 2 children were killed in rocket attacks. We finally--for now--have a ceasefire, but we really need an end to the occupation, not more airstrikes and lives lost in the future.
The unconditional support of Israel by the United States, which includes $3.8 billion of our taxpayer dollars, reinforces a militaristic policy that includes annexation, evictions, home demolitions, and the detention and torture of Palestinians – even young children.
In the face of continued repression of Palestinians by the Israeli government and its authorities, Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum in mid-April introduced the Palestinian Children and Families Act. H.R. 2590 has three main curbs on U.S. policy, bringing together individual pieces of legislation from McCollum in the previous Congress: It would stop U.S. support for Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestinian land, demolitions of Palestinian homes, and incarceration of Palestinian children in Israeli military jails. Under this bill, our tax dollars would no longer pay for these human rights violations.
Children in the territories would perhaps be the biggest beneficiaries of H.R. 2590. Of the roughly 2.9 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, about 45 % are under 18 years of age. Like adults, they are at risk of arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment under an Israeli military detention system that denies them basic rights.
UNICEF reports that children in an Israeli military detention system face harsh treatment that is “widespread, systematic, and institutionalized throughout the process.” This includes interrogation, verbal abuse and physical and psychological violence – sometimes meant to extract confessions.
Congress is not known for staking out bold positions on Palestinian rights. The fact that this bill has even been introduced is a step 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.
Action: Rep. Jackie Speier just recently cosponsored HR 2590...her constituents can contact her to express appreciation. If your Representative is Anna Eshoo, (or someone else), urge her co-sponsorship for the bill, which defends the human rights of Palestinian children as well as allows Palestinians to keep their property as communities and as individuals. Suggest that the Palestinians deserve to live with dignity, and our tax dollars should be used to invest in their future, not their harm.
Keep a Promise: Return to the Iran Nuclear Deal
We recently passed the 100-day mark of Joe Biden's presidency and the U.S. has still not returned to the Iran Nuclear Deal. Though the American and Iranian negotiating teams have just begun a third round of talks in Vienna, they still aren't talking to each other directly. There is no time for this kind of childishness.
Meanwhile, reactionary forces in Iran, here in the U.S. and in Israel are working to kill the deal. Every day that goes by provides an opportunity for these bad faith actors to scuttle the JCPOA – or for an accident to start up a conflict. On April 27 CNN reported that Iranian Naval vessels have been harassing US Coast Guard ships in the Persian Gulf. (It certainly makes sense to ask what the U.S. Coast Guard is doing in the Persian Gulf.) The next day AP reported that the U.S. Navy fired warning shots at more Iranian ships in the gulf. Israel is strongly suspected of sabotaging an Iranian nuclear facility in Natanz and attacking an Iranian ship off the coast of Yemen – moves that are likely attempts to provoke Iran and hinder the Vienna negotiations. The president needs to resist these attempts to undermine his agenda.
Candidate Biden promised to rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal, save one of Barack Obama’s most important foreign policy achievements, and take us back from the brink of war with Iran – a place where Donald Trump put us when he recklessly left the JCPOA. Biden is already taking more than 100 days to do something he should have done on Day 1! He and the Congress need all the encouragement to do the right thing that we can give them.
Action: Tell President Biden to take greater control of the situation regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and keep his campaign promise: a return to the agreement, as negotiated, and without preconditions. This needs to include the lifting of Trump-era sanctions. Also contact Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you – as well as Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla – and tell them to express support for returning to the JCPOA. Suggest that Biden needs to keep his word and get the deal re-done.
Biden’s Saudi and UAE weapons sales
Sadly, President Biden recently 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.
Vaccine, yes – nuclear missiles, no
The first step this year in an unfathomable $1.7 trillion nuclear weapons modernization effort is the proposal for an initial $100 billion, for the Ground-based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) – projected to cost a total of $264 billion by the time it’s completed. The program’s goal is an upgrade of missile systems in silos around the U.S., mostly in the northern Midwest.
The systems and silos mostly exist to be a vulnerable “nuclear sponge” in case of an enemy attack, to which we might respond with air- and sea- based nuclear weapons. In short, the ground-based silos exist to help “win” a nuclear war – a relative term considering the resulting destruction likely done to the earth and much of its population. The possibility of a false attack warning, which has already happened more times than publicly known, would make GBSD a typically dangerous and expensive part of the nuclear “triad”. It also makes populations subject to sacrifice in areas where the silos exist.
Enter once again Sen. Markey, along with South Bay Rep. Ro Khanna, who at the end of March introduced respective versions of the “Investing in Cures Before Missiles” (ICBM) Act. The bill numbers are S. 982 in the Senate, H.R. 2227 in the House. The measure first diverts $1 billion from the proposed program to funding for a universal COVID vaccine…“a vaccine of mass prevention before another new land-based weapon of mass destruction on” as Markey put it. It redirects additional GBSD funding to prevention of future bio-threats. And it would launch an independent study to “explore viable technical solutions to extend the Minuteman III” intercontinental ballistic missile to 2050. While we would prefer no such missiles exist, that provision would stop extra money for anything new like them.
Overall, the ICBM Act takes steps to redirect funding from arms-contractors’ needs to human needs. “With all of the global challenges we face,” said Khanna, “the last thing we should be doing is giving billions to defense contractors to build missiles we don’t need to keep as a strong nuclear deterrence.”
Action: Contact Sens. Feinstein and Padilla and urge their co-sponsorship of the Senate version of the Investing in Cures Before Missiles Act. Likewise tell Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, to co-sponsor the House version. Suggest that getting rid of COVID and other possible diseases would be far better for our national security than a new $100 billion missile system.
War – A Legislative, Not an Executive Decision
Two generations of Bush presidents have started wars in Iraq, and in both cases Congress ceded that authority, through an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). Since then, we saw the privilege abused when Donald Trump used the 2002 version to justify the killing of Iran Gen. Qassem Soleimani – an act that heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Other such military actions have also been subjects for AUMF-related debate.
In early March, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) led a bipartisan group of senators in introducing S.J. Res 10, a bill to repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs. There is also a 2001 AUMF relating to the war on terrorism, but that is currently not a target of Senate legislation, with the emphasis remaining on the Iraq wars. Rep. Barbara Lee in January re-introduced bills in the House to repeal both AUMFs (and both are co-sponsored by both Reps. Speier and Eshoo), but it is the one focusing on the Iraq wars that will get more attention.
Last year Lee’s bill passed the House, but got nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate. This year, with the Democrats in control of at least the Senate agenda, the AUMF repeal will gain more traction and, perhaps with enough push, passage. President Biden has said he is willing to work with Congress on crafting a more narrow overall war authorization; for now Congress will work with the one on Iraq.
Action: Contact Sens. Feinstein and Padilla to urge their support for Senator Kaine’s S.J. Res 10, repealing the Iraq-based AUMFs. Suggest that it is time for Congress to be a counterbalance to the White House when it comes to war authority.
Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121
Senator Dianne Feinstein
One Post St., Ste 2450 San Francisco, CA 94104
(202) 224-3841 fax: (202) 228-3954
(415) 393-0707 fax (415)393-0710
Senator Alex Padilla
333 Bush Street, Ste. 3225 San Francisco, CA 94104
(202) 224-3553 fax: (202) 224-2200
Representative Jackie Speier
155 Bovet Rd., Ste 780 San Mateo, CA 94402
(202) 225-3531 fax: (202) 226-4183
(650) 342-0300 (650) 375-8270
Representative Anna Eshoo
698 Emerson Street Palo Alto, CA 94301
(202) 225-8104 fax: (202) 225-8890
(650) 323-2984 (650) 323-3498
President Joe Biden
The White House
(202)456-1111: fax: (202)456-2461
Find out who your Representative is: www.house.gov
If you are not in California, identify your senators here: www.senate.gov