US House progressives urge Pompeo to decry Israel’s razing of Palestinian hamlet

40 lawmakers sign letter slamming ‘violation of international law’ they say was made possible by US silence, demanding to know if US-sourced equipment was used in demolition

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Illustrative: Palestinian bedouins stand next to their belongings after Israeli soldiers demolished their tents in an area east of the village of Tubas, in the West Bank, on November 3, 2020. (AAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)
Illustrative: Palestinian bedouins stand next to their belongings after Israeli soldiers demolished their tents in an area east of the village of Tubas, in the West Bank, on November 3, 2020. (AAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

NEW YORK — Forty progressive Democrats in the US House of Representatives signed a letter last week urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to condemn the Israeli demolition of a wildcat Palestinian village in the West Bank and demanded to know if American-sourced equipment was used in the razing.

“This single act was the largest Israeli displacement of Palestinians in four years — behavior only made possible by continued silence from the American government,” the letter spearheaded by Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan reads. “This is a grave humanitarian issue that demands your immediate attention and our collective condemnation.”

The November 3 demolition of Khirbet Humsa rendered around 73 Palestinians, including 41 children, homeless. Critics said Israeli security forces used the US presidential election as cover to carry out the move while international focus was elsewhere.

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said the army had destroyed structures erected illegally in a military live-fire zone.

While Israeli military law forbids the expulsion of permanent residents from a firing zone, the High Court ruled that Khirbet Humsa’s residents did not meet that standard. Khirbet Humsa residents, however, rejected the court’s decision, telling The Times of Israel that they have lived in the area their entire lives.

The letter issued last Tuesday was signed by Joaquin Castro, who is a candidate to replace Eliot Engel as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and by “squad” members Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib

In inquiring into the equipment used in the demolition, the Congress members referenced a March letter to Pompeo signed by 64 lawmakers demanding that the Trump administration “work to prevent unlawful home demolitions and the forcible transfer of civilians everywhere in the world and prevent the use of US-origin equipment in this destructive practice.”

“It is imperative that in your waning two months in office human rights violations, and violations of international law, continue to be forcefully rejected by the American government. It is the only way that a peaceful, comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be achieved,” the lawmakers wrote in their more recent letter.

US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks as, from left, Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley listen during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, July 15, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Pompeo was sent the letter a day before he arrived in Israel, where he became the first US secretary of state to visit an Israeli settlement. There, he announced a new policy requiring goods produced in Israeli-controlled areas in the West Bank and exported to the US be labeled as “made in Israel” — a reversal of a decades-long US policy that differentiated between the two sides of the Green Line.

The visit and the settlement policy change was condemned by many of the Congressional letter’s signers.

The progressive pro-Israel lobby J Street issued a statement welcoming the letter as an “important sign that many Members of Congress are fed up with the Netanyahu government’s ongoing campaign of displacement and creeping annexation in the West Bank – and with Secretary Pompeo’s enabling of it.”

“Like the majority of American Jews, they are eager for a presidential administration that will forcefully reject and act to prevent such actions, which are deeply destructive to the interests of Palestinians, Israelis and the United States,” the group’s government affairs director, Debra Shushan, said.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report. 

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