Palestinians inspect damaged residential buildings where two Israeli hostages were reportedly held in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024. Photo credit: © Abed Rahim Khatib/dpa via ZUMA Press

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WhoWhatWhy is reprinting here, in full, the remarks made today by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) regarding Gaza — explaining why he voted against the security aid package. We believe his comments are newsworthy, yet may not be widely reported. 

Mr. President, I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss a matter of enormous consequence that is not being adequately covered in the mainstream media nor here in the Senate.

And that is that right now, today, in Gaza, we are witnessing one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern history. It is unfolding before our very eyes and we must not run away from that reality.

And I am very sorry to say but we in the United States are deeply complicit in what is happening in Gaza. What we do in Congress right now could well determine whether tens of thousands of people live or die.

Let us very briefly review what has happened in the last four months.

On October 7, Hamas launched a horrific terrorist attack that killed 1,200 innocent Israelis and took more than 230 hostages and more than 100 of those hostages still remain in captivity today.

That is what started this war. And as I have said many times, Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas terrorism. But it does not have the right to go to war against the entire Palestinian people. And that, tragically, is what we are seeing.

As of today, Israel’s military campaign has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians and injured some 68,000; two-thirds of whom are women and children.

Unbelievably, 1.7 million people have been driven from their homes; nearly 80 percent of the population. That is more than twice the population of my own state of Vermont.

These people displaced have no understanding as to where they will go tomorrow or whether in fact they will ever return to their communities. That is where they are now. Pushed out of their homes, hungry, desperate, no understanding of where they will be in the future.

The devastation caused by Israeli bombardments is unprecedented in modern history. Some 70 percent of the housing units have been damaged or destroyed.

The Israeli bombing attacks have destroyed most of the infrastructure in Gaza. There is no electricity there and very little clean water.

Bernie Sanders, Gun Sense Forum, IA

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum hosted by Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, IA. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

There are virtually no places where people can buy bread or other basic necessities as most of the bakers have been destroyed or shut down.

Raw sewage is now running into the streets and communication is very difficult because there is little or no cell phone service.

Despite the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have been injured, there are no fully functional hospitals in Gaza and just one in three is operational at all.

Amid repeated attacks on health care facilities, doctors and nurses — with extraordinary courage — are bravely working to save lives, even with inadequate and sporadic electricity or basic medical supplies.

Israel bombing and the onerous restrictions placed on aid entering Gaza means that only a tiny fraction of the food, water, medicine, and fuel that is needed can get into Gaza. And even when supplies get across the border, very little of that aid can reach beyond the immediate area around the Rafah crossing from Egypt.

Mr. President, let us take a deep breath and understand what all of this means for the men, women, and children who are in Gaza today, right now.

Not only have they been driven from their homes, not only have those homes been damaged or destroyed, not only are they unable to access the medical care or the clean water they need, but — unbelievably, horrifyingly, hundreds of thousands of children today in Gaza face starvation.

Let me repeat: hundreds of thousands of children face starvation.

The United Nations says that 1 in 10 children under the age of five in Gaza is already malnourished, and the entire population is at imminent risk of famine.

What every physician knows is that malnutrition in small children causes permanent physical and cognitive damage. It stays with them for their entire lives.

In other words, even if the world ended today, large numbers of children in Gaza will have suffered physically from what has happened for the rest of their lives.

And that’s not to mention the extraordinary psychological damage that these kids have gone through.

Can you imagine what it means to be five years old, seeing buildings collapsing, people dying, suffering from hunger and thirst?

That’s what these kids are going through today.

Mr. President, if nothing changes, we will soon have hundreds of thousands of children literally starving to death before our very eyes.

And, believe it or not, the situation could become even worse.

Right now, 1.4 million people — more than half of the population of Gaza — are squeezed into the area around Rafah right up against the Egyptian border.

This week, President Biden acknowledged the severity of this crisis. He said that Israel’s response in Gaza “has been over the top,” and added that “there are a lot of innocent people who are starving. There are a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying. And it’s got to stop.”

Rafah was a town of just 250,000 people before the war.

Now, there are 1.4 million people there — more than five times the original population. These people are packed into crowded UN shelters or sleeping out in tents. It is a daily struggle for them to find food or water.

And in the midst of all of this horror and suffering, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the leader of Israel’s extreme right-wing government, has announced that Israel will soon launch a major ground offensive against Rafah — where 1.4 million people are located.

What that means is that Netanyahu will soon be forcing these people — already living in extreme desperation — to evacuate once again.

And nobody has any idea as to where they will go.

These families — already exhausted, traumatized, and hungry — will once again be displaced, with no plan as to how they will survive.

Mr. President, I struggle to find words for this cruelty.

And let me state once again that what is happening in Gaza now is funded by US taxpayer dollars.

These are our bombs and our military equipment that is being used. We are complicit. This is not just an Israeli war. It is an American war.

Mr. President, Prime Minister Netanyahu says all of this is necessary.

He says that Israel will only accept “total victory” in this campaign.

Yet asked recently what “total victory” would look like, he said — chillingly — that it is like smashing a glass “into small pieces, and then you continue to smash it into even smaller pieces, and you continue hitting them.”

The question that we must ask ourselves is: how many more children and innocent people will be smashed by Netanyahu in the process? And why is the United States helping to fund this humanitarian disaster?

It is quite clear that, beyond total destruction of Gaza, Netanyahu has no plan.

This week, President Biden acknowledged the severity of this crisis. He said that Israel’s response in Gaza “has been over the top,” and added that “there are a lot of innocent people who are starving. There are a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying. And it’s got to stop.”

The President is absolutely right. It does have to stop. But if that is the case, then why in God’s name are we now contemplating legislation that provides $10 billion to the Israeli war machine to continue Netanyahu’s war?

President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken have been trying to negotiate an agreement where Israel pauses its military operation, Hamas releases the remaining hostages, and massive humanitarian aid comes in to help desperate people.

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We all hope this deal comes together.

But Netanyahu is resisting this proposal. In my view, he is trying to prolong the war to cling to power. Most Israelis rightly blame him for creating this crisis and want him out.

But if Netanyahu prolongs the war, he can avoid accountability for his disastrous leadership.

And that is why Netanyahu is ignoring almost everything that President Biden and Secretary Blinken are saying.

He, this week, dismissed the hostage deal as “delusional” and brushed aside US concerns about expanding the ground offensive to southern Gaza.

There is a simple question that must be asked: How does it happen that, despite waging an horrific war which has caused massive suffering; despite ignoring the wishes of the President of the United States and, in fact, virtually the entire world community; how does it happen that the US Congress is about to send another $10 billion of unrestricted military aid to Israel — no strings attached?

It is beyond comprehension to me that Congress would reward Netanyahu, even while he ignores everything the President of the United States says.

Netanyahu is the leader of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, a man who has dedicated his political career to killing the prospects of a two-state solution.

And yet, this bill will give him a blank check, paid for by the American taxpayer.

It’s hard to believe, but that is exactly what this bill will do.

And what’s even harder to understand is that, in the midst of this almost unprecedented humanitarian crisis, this legislation before us actually contains a prohibition on funding for UNRWA, the largest UN agency operating in Gaza and the backbone of the humanitarian aid operation. UNWRA is the organization that actually gets food across Gaza.

Israel’s allegations against the agency are serious, and they are being investigated seriously.

But you don’t starve two million people because of the alleged actions of twelve UNRWA employees.

Mr. President, the whole world is watching. Netanyahu is starving hundreds of thousands of children. We in America cannot be complicit in this atrocity.

As long as this bill contains money to fund Netanyahu’s cruel war, it must be defeated.

Thank you, Mr. President, I yield the floor.


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