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Sanders: The US Has Leverage to End the Gaza Crisis Because It Funds the War

He pointed out the hypocrisy of criticizing Netanyahu’s war while providing him another $10 billion to continue the war.

Sen. Bernie Sanders delivers a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on March 6, 2023.

Flanked by photos of hungry children and destroyed buildings, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a speech Wednesday that the Biden administration must stop merely asking the Israeli government to halt its indiscriminate bombing of Gaza and begin using real leverage to bring about an end to the war and ensure the free flow of aid to the territory’s starving population.

“The U.S. government should make it clear that failure to open up access immediately and feed starving people will result in the Netanyahu government not getting another penny of U.S. taxpayer military aid,” said Sanders (I-Vt.), who noted that “right now we have the incredible situation where a U.S. ally is using U.S. weapons and equipment to block the delivery of U.S. humanitarian aid.”

“And if that’s not crazy,” the senator added, “I don’t know what is.”

More than a dozen children in Gaza have reportedly died of malnutrition and dehydration in recent weeks as U.S.-backed Israeli forces continue to obstruct the delivery of humanitarian aid — including by firing on aid convoys and crowds of desperate people gathering in the hopes of bringing sacks of flour back to their families.

In the absence of sufficient food and clean water, many people in Gaza have resorted to eating leaves, grass, and animal feed and drinking contaminated water. Gaza’s food production infrastructure has been decimated by Israeli bombing.

“If humanitarian organizations do not intervene urgently,” one Gaza doctor said last week, “you will find people and children dying in the streets.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department admitted earlier this week that Israeli officials have blocked critical humanitarian aid, including flour, from entering Gaza. But the administration has refused to use its leverage to force the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to change course, relying instead on private meetings with Israeli officials and mild public criticism.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the Biden White House has approved more than 100 separate arms sales to Israel over the past five months, even as it has publicly expressed concerns about the staggering civilian death toll in Gaza. Citing unnamed U.S. officials, Axios reported Thursday that “the Biden administration has no plans to restrict military assistance to Israel at this time.”

Sanders said during his floor speech Wednesday that it is “absurd to criticize Netanyahu’s war in one breath and provide him another $10 billion to continue that war in the next.”

“But perhaps the most remarkable thing about this disaster is the fiction we tell ourselves here in Congress that there is nothing, just nothing, that we can do,” the senator continued. “Isn’t this awful, my goodness. Look how all of those buildings have been destroyed — 70% of the housing units, terrible. Children going hungry, terrible. Children coming down with disease, terrible. Terrible. Nothing we can do.”

“Really? Everybody knows what is happening,” said Sanders. “We see it every day in the news and we see the pictures, the emaciated children, of people bombed while they sleep. And yet Congress pretends as if we are powerless to stop it. If we had the courage to stand up to some very powerful special interests, yes, we could stop it. We could stop the destruction and we can make sure that these kids do not starve to death.”

Sanders argued that ending the war and addressing the humanitarian emergency would require the Biden administration and Congress to “use the incredible leverage we have over the Israeli government to secure a fundamental change in their disastrous policies.”

“Of course we have the leverage,” Sanders said. “We are funding the war.”

Other members of the Senate Democratic caucus have joined Sanders in recent days in criticizing the Israeli government’s restriction of badly needed humanitarian aid and demanding that the Biden administration cut off weapons shipments to Israel if it refuses to end its suffocating blockade.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said in a floor speech earlier this week that he asked the State Department why it is not applying a U.S. law that prohibits military exports to a country that is blocking the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

“I haven’t gotten an answer to the question I posed about three weeks ago,” said Van Hollen. “There is no good answer.”

Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said Wednesday that “we must face the contradiction of what we are doing.”

“We are airdropping food to famine-stricken Gaza today and supplying bombs for Israel to drop on devastated Gaza tomorrow,” said Welch. “We call for humanitarian relief, but how can that call be meaningful when aid workers are killed in their effort to deliver it and Palestinians are killed in their effort to retrieve it?”

In a social media post late Wednesday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) wrote that she hopes President Joe Biden will listen “to his close friends in the Senate even if he won’t listen to his voters.”

“This is a catastrophe and he can’t keep going down this path,” Omar added. “Grateful for these senators who are pushing him to act like a president with serious leverage.”

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