PREPARED REMARKS: Sanders Forces Unprecedented Vote to Begin to Address Humanitarian Disaster in Gaza

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) this evening forced a first-of-its-kind Senate floor vote on a resolution under Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act. An overlooked tool of Congressional oversight, Section 502B(c) allows Congress to direct the State Department to provide a human rights report and other information on any country receiving U.S. security assistance. Sanders’ resolution would require a report examining any human rights violations that may have occurred in the course of the military campaign being carried out by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Sanders’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below and can be watched live here:

M. President,

We will soon be voting on a resolution requesting information on Israel’s human rights practices under Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act.

There has been some confusion as to what this resolution does and does not do, so I would like to say a few words about why it is critical that this resolution comes to the floor, why it’s imperative that this resolution be passed, imperative that we have this debate and this recorded vote, and why Congress must have the information requested in this resolution.

Very sensibly, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended, requires that any security assistance or military equipment provided by the United States to any country must be used in line with internationally-recognized human rights. This is not a radical idea and something I hope we all agree with. This Act prohibits assistance to any government that engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations. That is U.S. law. – established some 50 years ago. Not a new idea.

The Act also provides Congress with several oversight tools to ensure that this law is followed. One such tool is Section 502B(c), which allows Congress to direct the State Department to provide information on the human rights record of any country, any country, receiving U.S. military assistance.

M. President, that is what this resolution does – in line with 50-year-old existing law. It directs the State Department to provide any credible information it may have on potential violations of internationally recognized human rights by Israel in its military campaign in Gaza. It focuses on the denial of the right to life caused by indiscriminate or disproportionate military operations, as well as by restrictions on humanitarian access. It also asks for information on steps the U.S. has taken to limit civilian risk in this war, a certification that the Leahy Laws are being fully applied, and a summary of the arms and munitions provided to Israel since October 7th.

This is a simple request for information. That is all this resolution is about. This resolution does not alter aid to Israel in any way. It simply requests a report on how U.S. aid is being used. This is a very modest, common-sense proposal and frankly hard for me to understand why anyone would oppose it.

So, M. President, we will soon be voting on a very simple question: Do we support asking the State Department for information on whether human rights violations may have occurred using U.S. assistance in Israel’s military campaign? That’s it! That’s what this resolution is about. It is not controversial and should be passed in large numbers.

This is not the case today. The State Department will provide a report: the information requested in this resolution is straightforward to provide and is critical to Congressional oversight. The State Department should have it readily available, as required under current U.S. law and policy. Further, in the highly unlikely event the 30-day deadline is not met by the State Department, the law allows Congress to pass a measure continuing aid.

After the report is received, Congress may then consider any changes it deems necessary to security assistance to the country in question. Any such resolution must pass both Houses of Congress and be signed by the President.

But, again, what we are voting on today is simply a request for information.

M. President, let me say a few words as to why this resolution is necessary. These rather horrific photos behind me say it all.

First, it is necessary because of the scale of the destruction in Gaza, the indiscriminate nature of the military campaign, the humanitarian catastrophe that is now occurring and the limits on humanitarian access – food, water, medical equipment and fuel.

Second, because of the extensive use of U.S. weapons in attacks that have killed thousands of civilians. Much of the destruction that has taken place in Gaza has been done with U.S. weapons.

(And third, because of the extreme statements and unclear intentions of the Netanyahu government.)

M. President, it’s been more than 100 days since this war began with the horrific Hamas terrorist attack which killed 1,200 innocent Israelis and took more than 200 hostages, over 100 of whom are still being cruelly held in captivity.

And while there is no question in my mind that Israel has the right to defend itself and go to war against Hamas, who started this terrible situation, Isreal does not have the right to go to war against the entire Palestinian people and innocent men, women, and children in Gaza. Tragically, that is what we’re seeing.

As we all know, the military campaign being waged by the right-wing Netanyahu government has led to massive destruction and widespread civilian harm. This has been, far and away, the most intensive bombing campaign of the 21st century. And as President Biden has said repeatedly, and the press and human rights monitors have exhaustively documented, this bombardment has been largely indiscriminate.

The results of this bombing campaign have been catastrophic.

Since October 7th, over 24,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli bombs and over 60,000 have been wounded. Seventy percent of these victims have been women and children. It is believed that thousands more lie buried under rubble of destroyed buildings in Gaza.

Since the beginning of this war 1.9 million Palestinian men, women and children have been driven from their homes – 85% of the total population of Gaza. They do not even know today if they are going to be returned to their homes! These are impoverished people who have no idea as to what their future is or whether they will ever be able to return to their homes.

Despite the sharing of coordinates with Israeli forces, 40 UN facilities have sustained direct hits, 61 UN installations have suffered collateral damage and 150 UN workers have been killed.

The UN reports that over 234,000 housing units have been damaged and more than 46,000 homes completely destroyed in Gaza, amounting to nearly 70 percent of the housing stock, a figure confirmed by academic analysis of satellite radar data. That means, and this is rather an incredible reality, that the destruction of Gaza after 100 days has surpassed the destruction of Dresden during World War II, where half the homes in that city were destroyed, and is beyond the damage in dozens of other German cities subjected to years of bombing during that war.

Today, not only are the vast majority of people in Gaza homeless, but they lack food, water, medical supplies and fuel. A recent UN report indicates that half of the population of about 2.2 million are at risk of starvation and 90 percent say that they regularly go without food for a whole day. The parents then go out of their way to make sure that the children eat first. The chief economist at the World Food Program said the humanitarian disaster in Gaza was among the worst he had ever seen. Aid groups say that in the coming weeks, the entire population could face famine.

M. President. Let’s be clear. The reason as to why this resolution must be passed is that, today, right now, as we speak, hundreds of thousands of children in Gaza, innocent children,are starving right before our eyes. We cannot continue to turn away. We must act.

Tragically, despite the efforts of the UN and others, despite the growing humanitarian crisis we are seeing, it has actually gotten harder to get aid to people in need. Aid groups say humanitarian access actually deteriorated in January, compared to December. Trucks are crossing the border, much too slowly, much too few, but even these trucks can’t go beyond the immediate border area because the Israelis won’t let them proceed safely.

That’s the situation as it stands today. Humanitarian workers who’ve spent decades serving in war zones say that this catastrophe goes beyond anything they have ever seen before.

And, M. President, let me repeat. This is not some tragedy taking place in Asia or Africa, God knows there are tragedies happening all of the world. This is a tragedy in which we, the United States of American, are complicit. Much of what is happening right now is being done with U.S. arms and equipment. In other words, whether we like it or not, the U.S. is complicit in the nightmare that millions of Palestinians are now experiencing.

The Wall Street Journal reported on December 1st that the U.S. had provided at least 15,000 bombs and 57,000 artillery shells to Israel, including more than 5,400 huge 2,000-pound bombs that can flatten entire neighborhoods.

The Washington Post reported that, in just six weeks after October 7th, Israel dropped more than 22,000 American-supplied bombs on Gaza. CNN reported that nearly half these bombs were unguided so-called “dumb bombs”.

So. M. President. That’s where we are today. 24,000 Palestinians in Gaza are dead – 2/3 of whom are women and children and 60,000 have been wounded; 70% of the housing stock has been damaged or destroyed; and almost 2 million people are trying to survive with inadequate supplies of food, water, medical supplies or fuel. And the humanitarian situation is getting worse by the minute. Hundreds of thousands of beautiful children now face starvation.

M. President, given the scale of the destruction and the extensive use of U.S. arms in this campaign, Congress must act.

That is why we must pass this 502B resolution. We must ensure that U.S. aid is being used in accordance with international human rights and our own laws.

M. President, a vote for this resolution is simply to request more information on a tragic situation that the American people care deeply about. That’s it. Go back home I say to my colleagues. Red states, blue states, this suffering is on the minds of the American people. A vote against this resolution essentially says: “I don’t want more information. I don’t want to know how U.S. military aid is being used. I don’t want to know what responsibility the U.S. may have in this humanitarian disaster. I want to bury my head in the sand.” Frankly, M. President, no matter what you’re view on this war may be, even if you don’t agree with me, we cannot bury our heads in the sand.

The truth is that since that terrible day on October 7th when Hamas attacked Israel, the Senate has had little meaningful debate on this war, despite the horrific toll and the deep concerns of many Americans. We have passed symbolic resolutions, but we have not considered a single measure that grapples with the unprecedented destruction, the humanitarian crisis, or the use of American weapons in a military campaign that has left so many dead, wounded and displaced.

No matter what happens on this vote I know that this will not be the end of this debate. It is just the beginning.

Finally, M. President, I would like to say a word about this resolution’s broader importance.

Right now, we are focusing on Israel, as we should, given what’s going on in Gaza. But, in general, what this provision does is extremely sensible. It demands accountability as to how U.S. military aid is used, and whether the recipients of that aid abide by international law and our own human rights standards. That is true for Israel, for Saudi Arabia and for any country that receives U.S. military aid. Frankly, I hope this vote is the first of many as we take a hard look at how our military aid is being used.

Therefore, M. President, pursuant to 22 U.S.C. 2304 and in accordance with the provisions of Sec. 601(b) of the International Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Act of 1976, I move to discharge the Committee on Foreign Relations of the further consideration of S.Res. 504, a resolution requesting information on Israel’s human rights practices pursuant to section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.