I mourn the deaths of the 55 Palestinians killed today, the over two thousand wounded, and those hurt and killed in recent weeks. And as a friend of Israel— who for years played a part in efforts to combat the flow of weapons to terrorists, in modesty saving Israeli lives— I am gravely concerned for the future of Israel.
This death toll could have been avoided or greatly lessened. The 70th anniversary of Israeli Independence Day was always going to be a dangerous and violent time, even before the announcement that the U.S. would open its embassy in Jerusalem today. All expected protests, and all could sadly predict that some of the protesters would be violent— and I do not condone their violence, especially that instigated by Hamas toward its own ends.
I have worked with the Israeli military, and they are among the best trained and the best equipped military forces in the world, with superior intelligence collection and surveillance capabilities. I am confident that given different orders and rules of engagement— for instance, not to use live ammunition and to use numerous specialized riot and border control tools at their disposal— they could have protected themselves, and the security of the Israeli-Gaza border, notwithstanding Hamas-directed provocateurs among the protestors.
Instead, the violence and death toll today will play a part in continuing the cycle of violence and retribution into the future.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government must instruct his forces to exercise restraint, cease the use of live ammunition except when forces are in immediate mortal danger, and launch a transparent inquiry, in collaboration with broadly respected non-government affiliated human rights groups.
Sadly, our Administration— like the current government of Israel— has only made things worse at a dangerous time, for the basest of motives which have nothing to do with improving the security of Israelis or Palestinians, let alone the United States of America.
The Administration has openly spoken of its decision to time our move of our embassy to Jerusalem as fulfilling a campaign promise. The presence of major campaign donors like Sheldon Adelson at today’s event in Jerusalem only underlines the point. Furthermore, the Administration revealed how much this moment is about pandering to certain extremist supporters by inviting Robert Jeffress to offer the prayer at the event. Jeffress has said Muslims are going to Hell (and Jews, and Hindus, and Clinton supporters too, though he did not emphasize those today), and has called the Catholic Church (for full disclosure, my spiritual home) an instrument of Satan and corruption.
Considering all the above, the actions in both substance and tone, it will be all but impossible for the United States to play any effective role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for some time to come. Furthermore, while some governments will welcome the U.S. policy shifts on display today, other public and private foreign partnerships will become more difficult, and America’s image in the eyes of the broader world will further suffer— particularly when we next want to make a critique of human rights abuses abroad, or when we need to defend our own conduct. Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s government is decreasing the chances of a peace process toward a two-state solution or federative structure that protects the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians while also respecting democracy.
The actions today, coupled with the Administration’s exit from the Iran Deal (over the objections of both current and former Israeli and American defense and intelligence leaders), show a dangerous short-sightedness by both the current governments of the United States and Israel. I do not claim that either government initiated the longstanding tensions that have led to the horrible loss of life today, but neither are showing the leadership that either history or the security of ordinary American, Israeli and Palestinian citizens demand.
Congress must do all that it can to show our commitment to the security and prosperity of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Congress must call on the Administration to demand accountability from the Netanyahu government for the loss of life today, while renewing our commitment to Israel’s defensive security needs, especially against the threat of terrorism— which will almost certainly increase after today. We should also appropriate emergency aid to the Palestinians to assist in the sustained medical care needs of the injured today, and assistance to the families of those killed, as well as the economic losses of their communities. Congress must show the leadership that the Administration is failing to show.
Candidate for Congress, MA-3