After an initial four-day “humanitarian pause” in Israel’s airstrikes and ground assault in Gaza, the temporary truce negotiated by Qatar has been extended, resulting in, as of Nov. 28, in Hamas’ release of more than 80 hostages and the freeing of 180 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. Hamas continues to hold some 160 hostages the terrorist group seized during their Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 men, women and children.
After seven weeks of Israeli air attacks and ground operations, the situation in Gaza, according to the UN Secretary General’s spokesperson, has “taken an appalling toll that has shocked the world.” The Ministry of Health in Gaza reports that as of Nov. 27 at least 14,800 Palestinians — mostly women and children have been killed during hostilities. Under terms of the temporary pause in fighting, more aid trucks carrying emergency provisions of food, water, medical supplies and fuel have been permitted to enter Gaza, but the supplies are wholly inadequate to meet the need of Gaza’s 2.3 million people.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Hassan El-Tayyab, legislative director for Middle East policy and advocacy organizer with The Friends Committee on National Legislation. Here he discusses his group’s work advocating for a return of all the hostages, unfettered aid access, and negotiations to achieve a permanent Gaza ceasefire.
HASSAN EL-TAYYAB: You know, after weeks and weeks of horrific violence, it’s very welcome news right now that Israel and Hamas have agreed to exchange dozens of hostages and commit to a pause in the fighting, although brief. These exchanges, I think, acknowledge the inherent value of every single civilian, whether they’re Israeli or Palestinian.
But the deal is an important step. But it’s just not enough. And every humanitarian aid organization right now is pleading and begging for a permanent ceasefire. So we have to use this moment to keep building momentum to get the permanent ceasefire, a return of all hostages, unfettered aid access and really a pathway for peace for all Israelis and Palestinians.
And, you know, that has to happen with diplomacy. I just do not see a way or a pathway for a military solution in this. And that’s why we are urging for diplomacy, restrain the escalation, respect for international law and really working to address the core issues underlying all of the violence.
You know, folks might have different opinions about what that is and that ultimately that’s the nature of this conflict. But, you know, we have to look at the systemic oppression of Palestinians over generations and generations. Decades. And to see that this is an unsustainable situation. And if we want to move forward just the loss of life that we are seeing in Gaza right now is unprecedented. And it’s happening so quickly. These civilians are going to be facing just such an uphill battle to get their lives back together for years to come.
And that’s even if we reach a permanent ceasefire tomorrow. So we have got our work cut out for us.
SCOTT HARRIS: Israel’s military goal is to destroy Hamas. That’s their statement. And they haven’t backed away from that at all. They say once hostages are free, the airstrikes and ground assault by the Israeli army will resume in Gaza. Does President Biden and the U.S. Congress have any leverage over Israel in this situation to effectively push for a permanent ceasefire?
HASSAN EL-TAYYAB: There really is a lot of leverage that we have and leverage that is not being used. I keep hearing that while the U.S. has publicly really given Israel the bear hug, privately, they are pushing and we do know that. But we need to take the behind the scenes conversations and actually start pushing publicly.
And then, you know, the administration has called for more aid. They’ve called for a lot of things. And for this war to be conducted, you know, in the bounds of international law. That’s not happening. We’re seeing war crimes unfold before our eyes on social media, on CNN, we see the IDF spokespeople in many of the war crimes on air live.
And so we need to, One, start calling out what we’re seeing and then saying, Okay, well, they’ve asked for the right things, but then what? If international law and U.S. law is not being followed, some of the levers we have are, you know, economic, diplomatic pressure.
There’s also this supplemental as we speak. There are furious negotiations going on behind the scenes on what’s going to be in that $14.5 or so billion aid package to Israel, where Republicans are pushing to slash all humanitarian assistance to Gaza. So right there, we need to keep aid in. Whatever is passed, they urgently need it.
And Two, more and more senators are now opening up the question about conditioning aid and saying, you know, one, we’re not going to give you this military funding unless things dramatically change on the ground.
You know, and I think that’s a strong place to stand. We are also pushing, I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds for a longer conversation, but there’s a provision of the Foreign Assistance Act called 502b and this is one other potential vehicle to require state to report on human rights abuses and actually open up the door to conditioning, restricting or halting altogether if senators so choose, military aid to Israel.
And I think that is a really interesting tool that any single senator — whether Sen. Murphy, Sen. Sanders and others — could really tomorrow introduce this bill and call into question the entire aid package to Israel. So I think it’s really important that we stay focused on ceasefire, but also take a look at what other levers we have.
If a new arms sale is notified, we can certainly do resolutions to block those as well. Rep. Omar, she led a resolution, H.J. Res. 1 or 2 to block PGM or precision-guided munitions. So you know, we’re trying to build support for that legislation and really just keep the drumbeat going that U.S. weapons shouldn’t be used to violate human rights anywhere, whether it’s in Gaza, whether it’s in the West Bank, whether it’s in Yemen, whether it’s in Iraq, whether it’s in Syria. Just you name it, we cannot support any sort of human rights violations and we need to get tougher on that.
For more information, visit the Friends Committee on National Legislation at fcnl.org.
Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Hassan El-Tayyab (14:14) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.
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