By Kristina Wong - 08/04/14 04:19 PM EDT
A bipartisan group of seven lawmakers is in Israel to assess the conflict with Hamas, now entering its fourth week.
"Great arriving in Israel on bipartisan visit. #israelunderfire," Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, tweeted Sunday.
The lawmaker told a local N.Y. station that he will be in Israel for about a week and a half, and hopes to learn more about the country's Iron Dome missile defense system.
The trip is being paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charitable group affiliated with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the nation’s most prominent pro-Israel lobby.
AIPAC declined to identify the others on the trip, saying it is their policy that lawmakers disclose their participation.
The trip comes amid growing criticism of Israel over Palestinian civilian casualties.
On Sunday, the State Department slammed as “disgraceful” a strike that left 10 Palestinians sheltering at a United Nations school in Gaza dead. That attack came after a strike last week hit another U.N. school, killing 16.
The Obama administration has supported Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas attacks, but also publicly urged the government to do more to prevent civilian deaths.
That criticism has some Republicans believing they have an opening with Jewish voters.
Rep. Israel, though, has been a strong public supporter of Israel, expressing concern last week over Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryInterior chief: ‘We will have climate refugees’ "Lebanizing" Syria Why Obama's 'cold peace' with Iran will turn hot MORE’s suggestion that not enough was being done to prevent civilian casualties.
After receiving critical remarks on Twitter, Israel defended himself Sunday, tweeting: "To those who send me angry tweets about my supporting Israel in Gaza, where's your anguish @ deaths of 170k Syrian civilians? Why silent?"
Over the weekend, he said he still had hope for peace despite the continuing violence, but that it could take some time for hostilities to die down.
There will be peace when Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel, and sending terrorists through tunnels to kidnap Israelis, he told News 12 Long Island.
Hamas needed to “teach their children how to put things together rather than how to blow things up," he said.