ICYMI: Rep. Omar Provides Remarks to Address Crisis in Israel and Palestine
May 14, 2021
In case you missed it, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) provided remarks yesterday to address the ongoing human rights abuses in Israel and the Gaza Strip.
You can view the remarks below and video here.
“Mr. Speaker, as someone who has experienced war firsthand, I have a deep understanding of the suffering that comes along with it. As a child I lived through a violent civil war that destroyed my own home, ripped my family apart from each other, and killed many of my family and friends. I can still remember at just eight years old, hiding under the bed, hearing bombs go off outside my window, wondering if we were going to be hit next. It is trauma I will live with for the rest of my life. So I understand, on a deeply human level, the pain and the anguish families are feeling in Palestine—and in Israel—at this moment. And the helplessness people feel here in the United States who have family in the region, including many of my constituents. And it is for this reason that I abhor violence. Whether rocket attacks or air strikes, violence does nothing to make people more secure. It only furthers the interests of the powerful while costing lives, futures and families.
“But we must speak out truthfully and forcefully about the seeds of this conflict, and about what is happening there today. And the truth is that this not a conflict between two states. It is not a civil war. It is a conflict where one country, funded and supported by the United States government, continues an illegal military occupation over another group of people. This is not my description of it. This is the description of conservative Israeli leader Ariel Sharon who in 2003 said—quote—'To hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is, in my opinion, a very bad thing for us and for them. It is occupation,’ he said ‘you might not like this word, but it’s really an occupation.’ To understand the current conflict, we must understand how it began. In 1948, 700 thousand Palestinians were forcibly removed and uprooted from their homes in what has come to be known as the “Nakba” or catastrophe. 78 percent of their land was taken from them. Since then, 5.6 million Palestinians have been continually displaced from their homes in one of the largest and longest lasting refugee crises in human history. For decades, the United States, the United Nations, and many Israelis and Palestinians have pushed for a Palestinian state, in which the Palestinians can enjoy the same rights afforded to their Israeli counterparts. But in the past several years that hope has increasingly slipped away. The Israeli government under far-right ethnonationalist leader Benjamin Netanyahu has illegally razed Palestinians’ ancestral homes, leveled entire neighborhoods, and violently suppressed any resistance. This is all to make way for illegal Israeli settlement outposts, designed to displace Palestinians from their homes and prevent a future Palestinian state. Since 1993, when the first Oslo Peace Accord was signed, illegal settlements have increased by nearly 400 thousand. And Netanyahu has made explicit his goal to annex much of the West Bank—home to over 3 million Palestinians.
“On top of that, Palestinian movement, speech and economic activity are severely limited. Palestinians are not allowed to leave the Gaza strip except in extreme cases. Medical shortages are rampant and youth unemployment was already at 40 percent before the pandemic hit. People who protest, including young children, are routinely shot by IDF soldiers—often killed—with no consequences in Israeli courts. As a recent report by Human Rights Watch detailed, this can only be described as apartheid. All of which brings us to the current crisis. This week, Israeli authorities were planning more forced displacement in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem—home to Palestinian refugees who had already been displaced. On Thursday, settlers began harassing and attacking Palestinians who were breaking their Ramadan fast during a protest vigil in Sheikh Jarrah. The Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem joined to mock Palestinians, saying to one protester—quote—'Did they take the bullet out of your ass? It’s a pity it didn’t go in here’ he said, pointing to his head. Then on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, Israeli military forces stormed the al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, firing stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets. Over 300 people were injured, 200 of whom were hospitalized. What happened next is well known: Hamas fired rockets into Israel, which have taken the lives of 6 Israelis. And the Israeli military launched air strikes into Gaza, targeting civilian buildings, which have already killed 69 people, including 16 children.
“Let me be clear: every single death in this conflict is a tragedy. Every rocket and bomb that targets civilians is a war crime. I feel the pain of every child who is forced to hide under their bed because they fear for their life, and every parent who deals with that anguish. And I wish we as a nation treated that pain equally. But right now we are not. Instead of condemning blatant crimes against humanity and human rights abuses, many Members of Congress have instead fallen back on blanket statements defending Israel’s air strikes against civilians under the guise of “self-defense” without even a mention of the children killed, much less what happened at al-Aqsa, or in Sheikh Jarrah. When the 15-member United Nations Security Council proposed a resolution this week calling on the Israeli government to cease settlement activities, demolitions and evictions, and urging general restraint—the United States reportedly blocked it from happening. And to this day we as Members of Congress have not yet had a hearing or briefing on this conflict, or gotten answers on whether our own weaponry or money is being used to commit human rights abuses. So I must ask: When we defend Israeli citizens’ rights to peace and security, how can we at the same time ignore the 5 million Palestinians living under occupation? When we say that Israel has the right to self-defense, how can we ignore the home demolitions, settlement violence, and forced annexation of Palestinian land that happen every day? And how can we pay lip service to a Palestinian state yet do absolutely nothing to make that state a reality while the Israeli government we fund tries to make it impossible?
“I will end on this: Today is Eid, the final day of Ramadan and one of the most joyous days in the Muslim calendar. And while I would rather be spending it with my family, I know there are families who are mourning the death of their children because of this. And I owe it to them to speak out on their behalf. So I am here today to stand for our common humanity. To say that every child deserves to live a life free of violence and oppression. Every child deserves advocates for their humanity, for their safety and for their security. And it should not be controversial to say the same of Palestinian children. Eid Mubarak. Thank you.”