06.02.21

Reed, Whitehouse Press Sec. Blinken to Take Urgent Action on Gaza Humanitarian Crisis

17 U.S. Senators call on Biden Administration to boost humanitarian funding & urge Israel to allow materials needed for reconstruction and humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) joined Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and 14 of their Democratic Senate colleagues urging U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to immediately take steps to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The 17 U.S. Senators penned a joint letter urging Secretary Blinken to support immediate emergency relief and humanitarian access, robustly fund humanitarian efforts, and restore the U.S. diplomatic presence on the ground. Van Hollen, Reed, and Whitehouse were joined in sending the letter by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).

The Senators write: “As you well know, there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza before the fighting began, and these recent hostilities have significantly aggravated the dire humanitarian emergency on the ground. According to recent reports, the fighting has damaged 17 hospitals and clinics in Gaza, wrecked the only coronavirus test laboratory, sent fetid wastewater into its streets, broke water pipes serving at least 800,000 people, disconnected a desalination plant that provides fresh water to 250,000 people, damaged or closed dozens of schools affecting some 600,000 students, cut off electricity, and forced 91,000 Gazans to flee their homes. More than 71,200 civilians sought protection inside of UNRWA's schools during the conflict.”

They continue: “We must address this humanitarian emergency while supporting a durable ceasefire and a return to international diplomacy. To that end, we request that you take four immediate steps:

1. Support Emergency Relief: Press all sides to allow for unfettered emergency relief distribution, emergency repairs to essential infrastructure, and for families to receive food and water, access to medical care, and attend to other emergency needs. Announce new bilateral funding for humanitarian and development assistance to address urgent needs, including access to safe water and wastewater treatment, and encourage other donors, including Israel, the EU and GCC countries, to do so as well.

2. Support Humanitarian Access: Ensure the opening of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings, so that critical humanitarian personnel, including trauma coordinators and security advisors, can enter and that emergency relief items, including fuel and building materials, can be brought in to address the growing needs of the civilian population. The U.S. should also work to ease on an emergency basis, and ultimately lift, the harsh restrictions on freedom of movement that block Gazans from accessing critical health care, visiting family members, and accepting educational and other opportunities outside the Gaza Strip.

3. Robustly Fund Humanitarian Efforts, including fully funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency: UNRWA is the largest humanitarian actor on the ground and together with other US and international NGOs is providing critical health and other services to address the impact of the COVID-19 crisis in Gaza and the West Bank. We request that you restore funding for UNRWA to the previous annual funding levels of $360 million and robustly support forthcoming emergency appeals, following all applicable US laws and vetting standards for recipients and implementing organizations.

4. Restore the U.S. Diplomatic Presence on the Ground: A number of key posts, including U.S. Ambassador, Consul General, and USAID Chief of Mission remain empty, or duties are being covered by “acting” officials. These posts are critical to our diplomatic engagement with both Israel and the Palestinians and to managing U.S. humanitarian and development assistance programs and should be filled with permanent appointments as soon as possible.”

The full text of the letter is available here.