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Israel-Palestine war: Protesters heckle Blinken at hearing over US aid to Israel

Seven activists arrested at national security funding request which would allocate $14.3bn to support Israel's military efforts
Activists hold up hands with red paint to symbolise that Biden has blood on his hands in reference to Israel's killing of Palestinians in Gaza, during a Senate hearing on 31 October 2023 (Supplied)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

A group of protesters repeatedly interrupted a US Senate hearing on Tuesday where Secretary of State Antony Blinken and defence secretary Lloyd Austin were speaking about a $106bn budget request, of which $14bn would go to Israel amid its bombing campaign and ground invasion of Gaza.

Numerous protesters repeatedly yelled "Ceasefire now!" with their hands covered with red paint - a reference that the Biden administration had "blood on its hands" - over Israel's killing of Palestinian civilians.

One at a time the activists waited for Blinken to begin his testimony before shouting over him.

"Not one senator is calling for a ceasefire, shame on you all!" one protester yelled. 

After several individual disruptions, the large group stood up and shouted: "Blinken you are funding genocide!" and "Blinken you have blood on your hands!"

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"From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go! Defund genocide! Let Gaza live," the group chanted, referencing the budget requesting allocating funds to the US southern border.

Gabriela Viera, a senior advocacy manager at Detention Watch Network, told MEE that "militarising our borders and incarcerating migrants has never made our communities safer, and neither has propagating this agenda abroad".

Seven activists were arrested for their participation in the protest. A separate disruption was also organised by the anti-war group CodePink.

During each moment of disruption, Blinken stopped his speech to wait for the activists to be removed before continuing. Then, near the end of his speech, he made a vague appeal to the protesters.

"I also hear very much the passion expressed in this room and outside this room. All of us are committed to the protection of civilian life," Blinken said after many of the activists were forcibly escorted out of the room.

Follow Middle East Eye's live coverage of the Israel-Palestine war here

The protest, organised by Muslims for Just Futures, Detention Watch Network, and several other progressive groups, is one of many disruptions organised by pro-Palestine activists across the country.

In Cambridge, Massachussets, around 200 protesters demonstrated outside of the Israeli arms maker Elbit Systems. Nine people were arrested, according to local news reports.

Biden refuses to back ceasefire

The Biden administration has refused to call for a ceasefire to the conflict so far and has instead offered support to Israel's aerial bombardment of Gaza and a ground incursion of the Strip.

Israel's campaign was in response to an attack launched on southern Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza on 7 October, which resulted in the deaths of 1,400 Israelis.

So far, more than 8,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli air strikes, including 3,542 children and 2,187 women. Massive air strikes on the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza on Tuesday killed at least 100, with some Palestinian officials estimating as many as 400 were killed or wounded. 

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"When it comes to a ceasefire in this moment you're exactly right, that would simply consolidate what Hamas has been able to do and allow it to remain where it is, and allow it to potentially repeat what it did," Blinken told the hearing on Tuesday.

Last week, the Biden administration put forward the emergency budget request, which would include money for Ukraine's fight against Russia, funds for the US southern border, as well as money for Israel.

While the bulk of the funding is for Ukraine, it still includes a hefty $14.3bn for Israel.

MEE previously reported that the budget request includes funds for the "potential needs of Gazans fleeing to neighbouring countries".

In a 20 October letter, the Office of Budget and Management said the current crisis "could well result in displacement across border and higher regional humanitarian needs and funding may be used to meet evolving programming requirements outside of Gaza".

The letter, coupled with a push for Egypt to open a humanitarian corridor and the reluctance of US officials to call for Israeli restraint, has raised fears that the White House is endorsing the mass displacement of Palestinians from Gaza.

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