Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in a speech on the Senate floor today called for a humanitarian pause so that critical aid, including food, water, fuel, and medical supplies, can reach hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Sanders’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below and can be watched here:
Let me take a minute to share with you my thoughts regarding the horrific situation in Israel and Gaza.
On October 7th, Hamas terrorists waged a barbarous attack against Israel, killing over 1,400 innocent men, women, and children. Young people at a music festival were machine-gunned down in cold blood, babies and older people were brutally murdered, and over 200 Israelis and Americans are being held as hostages. Some people describe the October 7th attack on Israel as the equivalent to the 9/11 terrorist attack against the United States. That is wrong. Israel is a small country with under ten million people. On a per capita basis, the 1,400 Israelis killed by Hamas would be the equivalent of over 40,000 Americans killed if Israel had the same size population as we do. On 9/11, as everybody recalls, we lost 3,000 people.
Let us be clear: Israel suffered a major attack and has, as do all other countries under similar circumstances, the absolute right to defend itself.
But, having the right to defend your country against a terrorist attack, and a terrorist organization like Hamas, does not mean having the right to violate international law and wage indiscriminate warfare against innocent men, women, and children in Gaza. The people of Israel have gone through a horrific and traumatic shock. It is understandable that they are furious and want to strike back forcefully. Revenge, however, is not a useful policy. Killing innocent Palestinian women and children in Gaza will not bring back to life the innocent Israeli women and children who have been killed. It will only make a terrible situation even worse and more intractable.
Let us be clear: The Palestinian people today are experiencing nothing less than a humanitarian disaster. Thousands are already dead, including many children, and more are wounded. Hundreds of thousands have been forced out of their homes. These people, deeply impoverished before this war, now lack food, water, fuel, shelter, medicine, and other basic necessities. Unbelievably, more than 400,000 Palestinians, driven from their homes, are now sheltering in densely crowded U.N.-run schools. Dozens of medical facilities have been damaged, and 35 U.N. aid workers have been killed. The aid trickling into Gaza is just a fraction of what is needed. In a few days, hospitals will run out of fuel, and ventilators and incubators will shut off. This is a desperate, desperate situation. I echo Secretary Blinken’s call for the immediate release of all hostages. He also called for the consideration of a humanitarian pause by all parties. To my mind, a pause is essential for the protection of civilians as required by the laws of war, as well as for the provision of robust supplies of food, water, and medical aid to address the growing humanitarian catastrophe.
Israel suffered a terrible attack, but the response must be carefully thought through and be carried out in line within international law. When the United States was attacked on 9/11, we allowed anger and rage to drive our response. This resulted in us making grave mistakes, in terms of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which cost us thousands of members of the U.S. military and the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in those countries. Israel has a right to defend itself and go after Hamas. But innocent Palestinians also have a right to life, security, and peace. Please remember, the last election held in Gaza was in 2006, when a majority of people in Gaza today were not yet born or could not vote. Even then, a minority voted for Hamas. Hamas is an authoritarian organization that does not necessarily represent a broad swathe of the Palestinian people, and we must not conflate all Palestinians with this terrorist organization.
Further, Israel is apparently contemplating an invasion and occupation of Gaza. I have very serious concerns about what this could mean in terms of the long-term security of Israel, the well-being of the Palestinian residents of Gaza, half of whom are children, and the hope that peace, security, and justice will at some point come to that region. In Congress, we will soon be voting on a package including billions of dollars for Israel, above and beyond the $3.8 billion in military aid the United States sends there every year. The American people have a right to know if that money will be used to defend Israel or whether it will be used for an invasion and occupation.
Israel’s proposed invasion will likely bring difficult, street-by-street fighting against entrenched Hamas fighters in a dense urban environment still populated by many civilians. Hamas will continue to use human shields and its extensive tunnel network, and will likely resort to insurgent tactics. As two experts on the subject recently wrote, “the battle will not end when Israel has reoccupied the territory. There is no Palestinian entity that Israel trusts to govern Gaza in Hamas’s stead. As a result, a military victory could mean Israel has to administer the territory for the foreseeable future. Israeli officials, in other words, will have to govern an immiserated people who see them as their enemy and who may wage a guerrilla war.”
I have serious concerns about what this invasion and potential occupation of Gaza will mean, both in terms of the long-term security of Israel and the well-being of the Palestinian residents of Gaza. In Congress, as we consider a package including billions of dollars for Israel that could fund this invasion and occupation, we clearly need much more information about Israel’s long-term plans and goals, as well as the United States Government’s assessments of those prospects.
Some of the questions that need to be answered are:
- How many innocent men, women, and children will be killed or wounded if Israel engages in an invasion and occupation?
- How many Israeli soldiers will be killed or wounded in a ground operation?
- How will many hundreds of thousands of civilians receive the food, water, fuel, and medical care they need in the midst of what could be extremely heavy urban warfare in a very densely populated area?
- How long will it take to establish military control of Gaza, and what level of insurgent activity is anticipated from that point?
- How will the success of the operation be measured?
- Are there alternative approaches to a ground invasion that would be effective in assuring Israel’s long-term security?
- What will this operation mean for the hostages still being held in Gaza?
- What political force will administer Gaza after an Israeli operation?
- Will the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have been driven from their homes be guaranteed safe return?
- What impact will the invasion and occupation of Gaza have on the international community’s support for Israel?
- How will the international community address the ongoing human needs in Gaza—and the rest of Palestine—when the shooting and bombs stop?
- What political process will follow this conflict, and what is the desired end-state in Gaza?
As Congress considers the administration’s emergency funding request, we need answers to these questions.
This is tragically the fifth conflict between Israel and Hamas in fifteen years. Clearly, a terrorist organization like Hamas cannot be the answer to the very serious problems facing the people of Gaza. Just a few months ago, thousands of people defied Hamas’ authoritarian rule to protest on the streets of Gaza. Their voices are silenced now, but there can be no long-term solution to this ongoing crisis without a serious effort to address Palestinian demands for peace, legitimate political representation, and a vibrant economy. The United States must take a leading role in charting out a future that respects the lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike.
We can start by answering the questions laid out above. And I very much look forward to receiving a briefing from the administration, in a classified setting as needed, in order for members of Congress to understand what an invasion and occupation would look like.
We are living in a horrifically difficult moment in the Middle East. I can understand the outrage that many people in Israel are feeling following the attack that killed 1,400 of their people. Now is the time in Israel and the United States for us to not allow revenge and rage to dictate our policy, but to really think this complex issue through.
Categories: Press Release