On Thursday night, the members of the Squad spoke movingly about the rights of Palestinians and the toll that violence takes on all people, in speeches that sharply criticized the U.S.’s role in funding and supporting the Israeli government’s program of apartheid, forced expulsions, and asymmetrical violence. In what the Intercept called a “historic moment on the House floor,” Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave talks that, taken together, signal a broader shift when it comes to Americans’ willingness to criticize the policy decisions of both the U.S. and Israeli governments. What was once an untouchable third rail in U.S. politics, even for many so-called progressives, is no longer unspeakable.
Tlaib, the child of Palestinian immigrants whose grandmother continues to live in the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank, began by noting that her “mere existence has disrupted the status quo.” Tlaib continued, directing her message to her House colleagues: “Palestinians aren’t going anywhere, no matter how much money you send to Israel’s apartheid government. If we are to make good on our promises to support equal human rights for all, it is our duty to end the apartheid system that for decades has subjected Palestinians to inhumane treatment and racism.”
She noted that prominent human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, are belatedly beginning to recognize Israel as an apartheid state, and she criticized the weak response of President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Reading their statements, she said, “You’d hardly know Palestinians existed at all.” Tlaib added, “Above all, there has been absolutely no recognition of Palestinian humanity.”
“I weep for all of the lives lost under the unbearable status quo, every single one, no matter their faith, their background,” Tlaib continued, her voice breaking. “No child, Palestinian or Israeli, whoever they are, should ever have to worry that death will rain from the sky. How many of my colleagues are willing to say the same, to stand for Palestinian human rights as they do for Israeli?” She added, “How many Palestinians have to die for their lives to matter?”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez echoed Tlaib’s criticism of President Biden and Anthony Blinken. “The President and many other figures this week stated that Israel has a right to self-defense, and this is a sentiment that is echoed across this body. But do Palestinians have a right to survive? Do we believe that? And if so, we have a responsibility to that as well.”
Cori Bush began by acknowledging Bassem Masri, a Palestinian American activist who was on the ground during the Ferguson protests with Bush and others. She remembered that Palestinian American activists like Masri taught others in Ferguson who were protesting the killing of Mike Brown what to do when police shot rubber bullets at them. “We are anti-war, we are anti-occupation, and we are anti-apartheid, period,” Bush said. She added, “Until all our children are safe, we will continue to fight for our rights in Palestine and in Ferguson. We stand with you in solidarity.”
Ayanna Pressley made a similar statement. “Our destinies are tied,” Pressley said, adding, “As a Black woman in America, I am no stranger to police brutality and state-sanctioned violence.” Pressley added, “Palestinians are being told the same thing as Black folks in America—there is no acceptable form of resistance.”
And Ilhan Omar began her speech by recounting her experience of war as a young child. “It is trauma I will live with for the rest of my life, so I understand on a deeply human level the pain and the anguish families are feeling in Palestine and Israel at the moment,” Omar said. She added, “The truth is, this is not a conflict between two states. This is not a civil war. Its is a conflict where one country funded and supported by the United States government continues an illegal military occupation over another group of people.”
Pressley reserved her sharpest critique for the billions of dollars in military aid the U.S. sends to Israel each year.
“Many say that conditioning aid is not a phrase I should utter here,” Pressley said, “but let me be clear: No matter the context, American government dollars always come with conditions. The question at hand is, should our taxpayer dollars create conditions for justice, healing, and repair, or should those dollars create conditions for oppression and apartheid?”
It wasn’t just the Squad who brought up the question of U.S. support for the Israeli military. Via the Intercept:
Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota rose to criticize the assault on Gaza, as did Reps. Andre Carson of Indiana, Chuy Garcia of Illinois, and Joaquin Castro of Texas.
McCollum, who has influence over U.S. foreign military aid as chair of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said she will continue to support funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system in this year’s spending bill. However, she criticized the billions of dollars in unconditioned military aid the U.S. sends Israel annually.
“The unrestricted, unconditioned $3.8 billion in annual U.S. military aid…gives a green light to Israel’s occupation of Palestine because there is no accountability and there is no oversight by Congress,” McCollum said.
McCollum continued: “This must change. Not one dollar of U.S. aid to Israel should go towards a military detention of Palestinian children, the annexation of Palestinian lands or the destruction of Palestinian homes.”