A group of 13 Democratic U.S. Senators have joined calls for a “short-term cessation of hostilities” between the Israeli military and Hamas, citing concerns about the risk this fighting poses to civilians in Gaza.
On Thursday, Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) signed onto a joint statement calling for this temporary pause in the fighting. Their calls for this pause come nearly a month after Hamas gunmen breached the Israel–Gaza barrier on Oct. 7 before killing hundreds of people in southern Israel and taking more than 200 people back to Gaza as hostages.
In the weeks since the Hamas attacks, the Israeli military has restricted the flow of food, water, fuel, and electricity into the Gaza Strip and carried out airstrikes and some limited ground assaults into the confined territory. Amid this Israeli military campaign, reports have emerged of thousands of people being caught in the middle of the fighting and killed.
“Israel has the right and obligation to defend itself against Hamas, whose leadership continues to state clearly that their goal is the complete annihilation of Israel,” the statement from the 13 Democratic senators reads. “Israel also has the obligation, pursuant to international law, to conduct that defense in such a way as to minimize harm to civilians and allow humanitarian aid to reach those who are suffering. We acknowledge the increased burden that this necessarily places on Israel to accomplish these obligations.”
Exact estimates of casualties and the parties responsible are difficult to confirm, but an Oct. 31 United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) report assessed as many as 3,450 children are among those who have been killed in Gaza since Oct. 7. The Israeli side has advised Gazans to move south if they wish to avoid being caught in the middle of Israel’s military campaign against Hamas, but some United Nations officials have warned that the southern parts of the Gaza Strip lack the food, water, and medical resources for the 1.1 million people who’d likely need to relocate.
“The failure to adequately protect non-combatant civilians risks dramatic escalation of the conflict in the region and imposes severe damage on prospects for peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians,” the senators wrote.
The bloc of Senate Democrats said the goals of this momentary pause in the fighting should be to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza “under strict and necessary oversight,” and to increase focus on efforts to free hostages taken by Hamas. The senators stated another goal is to allow time for discussions between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and the international community about strategies to reduce the long-running conflict between Israel and Palestinians.
In his own statement on Thursday, Mr. Murphy expressed doubt that the Israeli military would be able to achieve a goal articulated by numerous Israeli officials, which is to eliminate Hamas.
“It’s time for Israel’s friends to recognize that the current approach is causing an unacceptable level of civilian harm and does not appear likely to achieve the goal of ending the threat from Hamas. I urge Israel to immediately reconsider its approach,” Mr. Murphy wrote.
Democrats Say They’re Joining Biden
The Thursday statement by the 13 Democratic senators follows President Joe Biden’s recent show of support for a pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas.
In the early weeks of the Israel–Hamas conflict, Secretary of State Antony Blinker said “freezing things in place where they are now would allow Hamas to remain where it is and to repeat what it’s done some time in the future.” The president and other members of his administration had also suggested Hamas should release all hostages it has taken as a precondition before the administration would back calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. Last week, President Biden even said civilian deaths are “the price of waging a war,” prompting criticism from the Council on American–Islamic Relations.
In an Oct. 30 letter, the National Muslim Democratic Council (NMDC)—an organization of Muslim Democrats—called on President Biden to back calls for a ceasefire by 5 p.m. on Oct. 31, or risk losing their support in the next election.
President Biden did not meet the NMDC’s specific deadline for action on a ceasefire, but the issue came up again during a Nov. 1 campaign event in Minnesota, when a female protester who claimed to be a rabbi again called on the president to support a ceasefire. President Biden responded by saying, “I think we need a pause. A pause means give time to get the prisoners out.”
“We join President Biden in his call for a short-term cessation of hostilities,” the 13 Democrats wrote in their Thursday press statement, appearing to reference his comments at the campaign stop the day prior.