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Senate Passes Bill to Defund UNRWA as Israel Assaults Last “Safe” Place in Gaza

Sen. Bernie Sanders was the only senator to vote against the bill’s passage in all 10 procedural votes it underwent.

The U.S. Capitol building is seen reflected in rain puddles on February 11, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

The Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that would send an additional $14 billion in assistance to Israel’s genocidal assault of Gaza and permanently defund the foremost humanitarian aid group for Palestinians in Gaza and beyond, with only three members of the Senate Democratic caucus voting against the bill’s passage after an all-night session.

The final vote for the bill was 70 to 29, with 22 Republicans joining most Democrats in approving the legislation. In addition to funding Israel’s genocide, the bill would send $60 billion in aid to Ukraine and allocate several billion more to humanitarian aid in response to world crises. Horrifyingly, the bill would defund the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, without which aid groups say humanitarian efforts in Gaza will disintegrate.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) has said that he opposes the bill due to the lack of inhumane anti-immigration measures, making it unlikely to pass into law.

Democratic caucus members Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Peter Welch (D-Vermont) voted against the bill, citing Israel’s siege and assault of Gaza.

“Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu has repeatedly said that the goal of Israel’s military efforts is ‘total victory.’ Yet asked recently what total victory would look like, he responded chillingly by saying that it is like smashing a glass, quote, ‘into small pieces, and then you continue to smash it into even smaller pieces and you continue hitting them,’” Sanders said on Sunday, in one of his multiple speeches on the Senate floor advocating against the bill’s passage.

“The question that we as Americans and as the United States Congress must ask is, ‘how many more children and innocent people will be smashed by Netanyahu in this process?’” he said. Sanders was the only Senate Democrat to vote against passage of the bill in all 10 procedural votes the Senate took on the bill, according to a tracker created by members of the Democratic Socialists of America.

As the Senate worked to pass the bill over the weekend and into Monday night, Israel launched a series of attacks on Rafah, a city along the southern border of Gaza in one of the only supposedly “safe” zones left, killing dozens. Between Israel’s raids of refugee camps and hospitals, its relentless bombing, and its brutal starvation and disease campaign, Palestinians currently have few avenues to escape death in Gaza; as of Tuesday, the death toll stands at over 28,000, with over 12,000 children killed.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), one of the only senators who has called for a ceasefire but who voted for the bill’s passage on Tuesday, highlighted the horrors that Palestinians are facing in a speech on the Senate floor on Monday.

“By all accounts, the situation in Gaza has gone from nightmare to pure hell,” Van Hollen said.

“Kids in Gaza are now dying from the deliberate withholding of food,” he continued. “That is a war crime. It is a textbook war crime. And that makes those who orchestrate it war criminals.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Sen. Ed Markey voted against the bill, when he voted for its passage. The story has been corrected.

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