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Israel-Palestine: 140 progressive groups in US urge Biden to uphold international law

Joint statement calls on the US president to prevent 'potential war crimes' in the displacement of Palestinians in Jerusalem
Israeli police walk near the Dome of the Rock during a crackdown on Palestinian protesters
Israeli police near the Dome of the Rock, during a crackdown on Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem's Old City, 7 May 2021 (Reuters)
By Ali Harb in Washington

Since taking office in January, US President Joe Biden has vowed to pursue a foreign policy that centres on human rights and advances the "rules-based" system in respect of international law.

And now, as Israel pushes to displace Palestinians in Jerusalem, in violation of its obligations as the occupying power, progressive groups are urging the US president to uphold the stated principles of international law and condemn human rights violations against Palestinians.

On Friday, 140 progressive groups released a joint statement calling on the Biden administration to denounce efforts to evict Palestinian families in Jerusalem and "exert the utmost diplomatic pressure to prevent these potential war crimes from taking place".

The statement, signed by prominent advocacy groups on the left, including MoveOn, the Working Families Party, the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats, comes amid growing frustration in progressive circles with the Biden administration's unquestioning support for Israel.

In their statement, the groups cited the United Nations' assessment that the displacement campaign in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood may constitute a war crime.

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"This takes place in the broader context of Israel's ongoing policy to forcibly remove Palestinians from their homes through eviction, home demolition, and displacement, with the express intent of pushing Palestinians out of Jerusalem in order to create and maintain a Jewish majority and supremacy in the city," they said.

'Ethnic cleansing'

Palestinian rights advocates say the eviction campaign in East Jerusalem amounts to ethnic cleansing.

"Ethnic cleansing is a serious crime, and tepid discouragements or expressions of concern from the Biden administration fall drastically short of what this moment calls for," Omar Baddar, a Palestinian-American analyst, said in a statement.

"If we're going to mean what we say in stating that human rights come first in this administration's foreign policy, then it's time to hold Israel accountable and condition US military aid on Israeli compliance with its obligations."

Israel's effort to force Palestinian families out of their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, based on Jewish claims of ownership dating back to the Ottoman era, has exploded into a huge crisis across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Israeli military has been bombing Gaza for days and Hamas is firing rockets towards Israel. The violence has killed more than 120 Palestinians and nine Israelis. 

In East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military has cracked down violently on Palestinian protesters, and repeatedly raided al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site. On Friday, the Israeli military killed at least seven Palestinians in the West Bank.

Violent confrontations are also taking place between Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel, amid growing tensions.

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The Biden administration has adopted the pro-Israel stance of its predecessors of both parties, backing the Israeli government while calling for de-escalation. 

Washington has voiced "concern" about Israel's displacement campaign and killing of Palestinian civilians - without condemnation or explicit calls for the Israeli government to change course.

Top US officials, and Biden himself, have repeatedly expressed support for what they call "Israel's right to defend itself".

On Thursday, Biden said Israel's air strikes on Gaza had not been a "significant over-reaction" to rocket attacks by Hamas. 

The progressive groups, however, denounced Israel's violence against Palestinians, including in Jerusalem and at al-Aqsa specifically.

"We are horrified by Israel’s use of disproportionate and deadly force against Palestinians in Gaza which have already resulted in the killings of dozens of Palestinians, including children," the statement said. 

"This comes within the context of Israel's 14-year illegal blockade on Gaza which has created an open air prison with severe shortages of life-saving medicines, food, electricity, and clean water, making life unsafe and unbearable. 

"We call on the Biden administration to condemn this violence and address its root causes: Israeli blockade and occupation."

Call to 'uphold international law'

The statement's signatories also include Progressive Democrats of America, Jewish Voice for Peace, Win Without War, Our Revolution, the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights and the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church.

The organisations invoked Biden's own pledge to protect human rights internationally.

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"The Biden administration has repeatedly stated that it intends to center its foreign policy around respect for human rights and international law," they said in the statement. 

"We therefore call on the administration to uphold international law and act in accordance with the urgency of the moment to prevent the Israeli government’s forced displacement of thousands of Palestinians."

Late on Thursday, several Democratic Congress members took to the floor of the House of Representatives to defend Palestinian human rights, criticising the Biden administration's stance on the conflict.

"The United States must acknowledge its role in the injustice and human rights violations of Palestinians," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most prominent Democrats in Congress, said. "This is not about both sides. This is about an imbalance of power."

Numerous influential progressive groups have released their own statements on the crisis, criticising Israel, in a break with the Democratic president.

"The struggles Palestinians face are deeply tied to racial and housing justice, and movements for Indigenous sovereignty," the Sunrise Movement, an environmental advocacy group, said in a series of tweets earlier this week.

"Fighting against settler-colonial violence and ethnic cleansing shouldn’t be controversial. The only option is doing what’s right."

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