Welch Statement on the Ongoing Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza

Jan 22, 2024

Statement of Senator Peter Welch
Submitted to the Congressional Record
January 22, 2024

Mr. President, the October 7th slaughter of at least 1,200 innocent Israeli citizens and the abduction of 240 hostages was a monumental atrocity.  The cruelty and depravity of that massacre, especially the torture and killings of women and girls, has shocked our collective conscience.  Like others here I have consistently supported Israel’s right and responsibility to respond.  We would all like to see Hamas disappear.  But people with decades of experience in the Middle East say that is almost certainly not going to happen.  To the contrary, they warn that the Netanyahu government’s wholesale destruction of Gaza, which has caused the death of more than 25,000 of its citizens and displaced more than 1.5 million who had nothing to do with the crimes of October 7th, will increase the terrorist threat by Hamas and other violent extremist groups who share a common hatred of Israel and the United States. 

As horrifying as the October 7th attack was, neither the atrocities committed that day, nor Gaza’s dense population and Hamas’ insidious use of civilian infrastructure, justify the appalling scale of death and destruction in Gaza directed by Prime Minister Netanyahu that has ignited global condemnation. It has also failed to free the hostages whose survival becomes more precarious every minute of every day. 

The inescapable conclusion is that the Netanyahu government is not listening to either the White House or to key Arab governments that are imploring Israel to change course.  Their belief, which I share, is that the way to begin to build a safer and ultimately more stable and secure Middle East is to stop killing and otherwise mistreating innocent Palestinians.  Yet Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has rejected out of hand the right of Palestinians to have a state of their own, is stubbornly pursuing the opposite approach with no political endgame.  It is difficult not to conclude that his enemy is not only Hamas but also the Palestinian people.  To make matters worse, he reportedly denies there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. 

Last week, Netanyahu said he “needs to be able to say no, even to our best friends.”  Well, American taxpayers provided the planes and bombs and tanks, and the United States needs to be able to say no to him.  How much worse does the situation have to get in Gaza, and how much wider of a war in the Middle East, before we use this country’s considerable leverage—including withholding additional lethal aid—to get Israel to stop its bombing campaign, negotiate a ceasefire and the release of the remaining hostages, and allow the dramatic increase in food, water, and other humanitarian aid needed to prevent the widespread starvation, death, and disease the UN and other relief organizations warn is imminent? 

Mr. President, what is happening in Gaza is intolerable and we share responsibility.  In a January 17, 2024, Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled “Team Biden Needs a Reset on Israel,” David Levy, with whom I had the privilege of traveling to the Middle East some years ago, makes the case more effectively than I could.  I hope President Biden and his top advisors read it.  I ask unanimous consent that it be printed in the Record.

The New York Times: Team Biden Needs a Reset on Israel

Jan. 17, 2024

By Daniel Levy

Mr. Levy is the president of the U.S./Middle East Project and a former Israeli peace negotiator.

Back in 2001, in a visit to the illegal West Bank settlement of Ofra, an out-of-office Benjamin Netanyahu, apparently unaware he was being recorded, boasted to his hosts that “America is a thing you can move very easily — move it in the right direction.”

At the time, Mr. Netanyahu was talking about his experience with the Clinton White House; he had undermined Washington-led peace efforts during his first stint as Israel’s prime minister. But more than 20 years later, Mr. Netanyahu’s assessment feels uncomfortably familiar.

Since the Biden administration pledged its early and unwavering support to Israel following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks, Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly slow-walked Washington’s behind-the-scenes requests regarding the war, including that Israel use greater restraint in prosecuting its war in Gaza, avoid provoking a broader regional conflagration and work to forge a postwar path toward peace.

Read the full Op-Ed in the New York Times.