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As Israel Vows “Annihilation” of Rafah, Democrats Urge Biden to Withhold Aid

The lawmakers say Biden must withhold weapons that could be used for an assault on Rafah.

Palestinians, including children, collect remaining belongings from the rubble of destroyed houses after Israeli attacks on the house belonging to the Abu Gali family as Israeli attacks continue on Gaza Strip on May 1, 2024, in Rafah, Gaza.

A group of House Democrats is urging the Biden administration to use “all tools possible” — including withholding military assistance to Israel — to prevent an Israeli assault on Rafah as Israeli officials are pledging “total annihilation” of Rafah and other neighborhoods in Gaza.

In a letter sent Wednesday in an effort led by Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) and Madeleine Dean (D-Pennsylvania) and signed by 55 House members, the lawmakers warned that an assault on Rafah would have horrific consequences and even further plunge the U.S. into violating international and domestic law in its military support of Israel.

“We write with urgency to say: an offensive invasion into Rafah by Israel in the upcoming days is wholly unacceptable,” the lawmakers wrote. “We now urge you to enforce U.S. law and policy by withholding certain offensive weaponry or other military support that can be used for an assault on Rafah, including the offensive weaponry and aid already signed into law.”

Rafah, in the southernmost part of Gaza, is currently sheltering about 1.5 million people, close to three-quarters of the population of Gaza, after Israel forcibly evacuated the population to the South and declared Rafah the last “safe zone” in Gaza, even as it has bombed the city and assaulted other “safe zones.”

Not only would an invasion of Rafah have a “catastrophic” toll on Palestinian civilians, there are also as many as 130 Israeli hostages, including around six Americans, whose lives would be put at risk, the lawmakers pointed out.

“An Israeli offensive in Rafah risks the start of yet another escalatory spiral, immediately putting the region back on the brink of a broader war that neither Israel nor the United States can afford,” the lawmakers wrote.

“U.S. law and policy conditioning the use of security assistance on upholding human rights exists to protect both innocent lives and keep partner governments from disastrous missteps — it is vital to enforce their terms,” they continued. “If the Israeli government will not uphold international law and protect civilians, then the United States must act to protect innocent life.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Israel plans to invade Rafah regardless of the result of negotiations for temporary pauses and hostage releases, as part of their plan to eliminate the possibility of a Palestinian state and wrest complete control over Gaza in the future.

Israeli officials have vowed that the raid will be devastating for the Palestinians trapped there. On Monday, Israeli Finance Minister and security cabinet member Bezalel Smotrich promised that there would be nothing left of Rafah afterward.

“There are no half measures. [The Gazan cities of] Rafah, Deir al-Balah, Nuseirat — total annihilation,” Smotrich said.

“‘You will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven,’” Smotrich continued, referencing a Bible verse in which God commands the death of everyone in Amalek, a nation which opposed the ancient Israelites. References to this verse have been used to justify many massacres throughout history, and Israeli officials’ invocation of it now has been cited by South Africa in its recent ICJ case to demonstrate Israel’s genocidal intent in Gaza.

This raid would come in defiance of President Joe Biden, who has reportedly urged officials against raiding Rafah but has still refused to draw red lines in terms of military aid.

Smotrich’s Monday remarks have been highlighted by advocates as a dangerous show of Israeli officials’ determination to continue the genocide at all costs.

“In case the Israeli government’s genocidal intent in Gaza was unclear to anyone despite its daily war crimes against the Palestinian people, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s words should serve as another wake-up call,” Council on American-Islamic Relations National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper said in a statement. “The intent of the Netanyahu government has always been Palestinian land without Palestinians, and violence has always been the route to achieve that heinous goal.”

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