Two members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) wrote a letter to President Barack Obama on Friday in which they called "for a lifting of the blockade on Gaza" in the wake of an attempt to break it this week.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the CBC, and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), one of two Muslim members of Congress, said that the blockade has helped contribute to a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
The blockade has become the center of attention following an attempt by a Turkish-based, pro-Palestinian flotilla to break it on Monday.
After warning the ships not to sail to Gaza, Israeli commandos boarded the vessels, where they were attacked. Nine of the activists on the ships died and several Israeli soldiers were injured.
Obama in an interview on Thursday said that the blockade has prevented Palestinians in Gaza from developing economically. But he also recognized that Israel has upheld the blockade in order to prevent weapons from reaching Hamas, the Islamic extremist group bent on Israel's destruction that controls the small area of land.
He also said that the incident runs against Israel's long-term security goals.
Lee and Ellison's letter is one of the few calls from members of Congress to lift the blockade. Most lawmakers, including members of the Democratic and Republican leadership, have backed Israel's right to uphold the blockade, even if they condemned the violence that occurred.
Lee's spokeswoman, Nicole Williams, said that the letter spoke for Lee and Ellison alone, and is not a caucus-wide stance.
The two lawmakers cast themselves as Israel's allies while making the case that the blockade is not in the Jewish state's best interests.
"As friends of Israel, we are concerned for Israel’s security and we believe that an undernourished and unemployed Gazan population does not promote this goal," they wrote. "Israel’s long-term security interests are not served by the blockade of civilian goods to Gaza, as it provides fodder for those who promote extremism against innocent Israelis."
Full letter is below:
June 3, 2010
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President,
As Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, we are deeply troubled by the military action aboard the aid flotilla en route to Gaza earlier this week, resulting in the death of nine civilians, including one American. We welcome your call for full disclosure of the facts of this incident. We also ask you to do two things: first, do everything in your power to support a thorough investigation into the incidents on the flotilla; second, call for a lifting of the blockade on Gaza.
This tragedy did not need to happen. We are dismayed by the use of force, both by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) members and the individuals on the Mavi Marmara ship, that left both IDF soldiers and individuals from the flotilla injured. We denounce the use of unnecessary force and we believe that no good can come out of the harming of innocents. With that in mind, we strongly support the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s call for a prompt, credible, impartial, and transparent investigation.
The United States must also work with its allies to address the on-going humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Recent events are undoubtedly linked to the counterproductive blockade on Gaza, which punishes ordinary citizens, and strengthens Hamas’ control over commerce. The Israeli blockade on Gaza has left more than 80 percent of Gazan dependent on some form of food aid. Cement is still being prevented from entering and as a result, many of the schools and homes destroyed in the ongoing conflict have not been rebuilt. This situation is unsustainable, and undermines the efforts of peacemakers seeking to improve the lives and security of both Israelis and Palestinians.
As friends of Israel, we are concerned for Israel’s security and we believe that an undernourished and unemployed Gazan population does not promote this goal. Israel’s long-term security interests are not served by the blockade of civilian goods to Gaza as it provides fodder for those who promote extremism against innocent Israelis. In your historic Cairo address one year ago, you stated: “Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society…the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security.”
We could not agree more.
United States leadership in the Middle East must show a commitment to ending the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We urge you to take this tragedy as a catalyst to end the blockade on Gaza and to honor the dead and wounded on both sides by working to ensure a full, fair, and transparent investigation. Further, the United States should take immediate steps to ensure that this incident does not escalate into broader violence in the region.
We still believe that a durable, meaningful two-state solution is possible and we remain deeply committed to this goal. We look forward to working with you toward that end.
Barbara Lee Keith Ellison
Member of Congress Member of Congress