Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., are asking their House colleagues to sign on to a letter to President Obama asking him to urgently address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
"The United States Congress must affirm that the legitimate security needs of Israel and the legitimate needs of Palestinian civilians can both be met," the lawmakers told their colleagues. "As it stands now, restrictions on basic building supplies, foodstuffs, and medicine have left parents unable to keep their children warm and well fed. This does not contribute to the peace process or any security need, although it may have the effect of consolidating support for those who would respond with terrorist violence."
The letter to Obama thanks the president for his "ongoing work to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and commitment of $300 million in U.S. aid to rebuild the Gaza Strip, but warns that under the current blockade, that aid "remains little more than an unrealized pledge."
It continues, "The unabated suffering of Gazan civilians highlights the urgency of reaching a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we ask you to press for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza as an urgent component of your broader Middle East peace efforts."
The letter calls for "immediate improvements" in the following areas:
* Movement of people, especially students, the ill, aid workers, journalists, and those with family concerns, into and out of Gaza;
* Access to clean water and infrastructure materials, plentiful and varied food and agricultural materials; medicine and health care products and suppliers; sanitation supplies and infrastructure materials; construction materials for repairs and rebuilding; fuel; and spare parts;
* Prompt passage into and out of Gaza for commercial and agricultural goods.
"The people of Gaza have suffered enormously since the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt following Hamas's coup, and particularly following Operation Cast Lead," the Israeli military offensive last winter, the letter says. "We also sympathize deeply with the people of southern Israel who have suffered from abhorrent rocket and mortar attacks. We recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups. This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. Truly, fulfilling the needs of civilians in Israel and Gaza are mutually reinforcing goals."
Continuation of the almost total blockade of Gaza will have "disastrous" humanitarian and political consequences, the letter warns. Easing the blockade, it says, "will not only improve the conditions on the ground for Gaza's civilian population, but will also undermine the tunnel economy which has strengthened Hamas."
"Most importantly," the letter says, "lifting these restrictions will give civilians in Gaza a tangible sense that diplomacy can be an effective tool for bettering their conditions."
The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), the Jewish American pro-peace group J Street, World Vision, Churches for Middle East Peace, Evangelicals for Middle East Peace, and the United Methodist Church are among groups urging members of Congress to sign the letter.
To date, 28 other members of Congress have added their names. The Friends Committee on National Legislation and Churches for Middle East Peace both have online action pages where the public can contact their representatives and urge them to sign on to the letter.