PREPARED REMARKS: Bernie Sanders Calls Out the Absurdity and Hypocrisy of Continued U.S. Support for Netanyahu’s Horrific War

WASHINGTON, March 6 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tonight spoke on the floor of the U.S Senate about the absurdity and hypocrisy of the United States continuing to support Netanyahu’s horrific war against the Palestinian people and failure to do more to avert the unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Gaza:

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

Madam President, I think that, as human beings, we have a tendency to try to avoid thinking about horrifying situations. Who wants to think about or focus on things that are painful and terrible?

But, whether we like it or not, there is today a horrifying catastrophe unfolding in Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of children are facing starvation because of Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment and unacceptable restrictions on humanitarian aid getting across the border.

And let me remind every American and every Member of Congress, this is not some far-away natural disaster that we as Americans have nothing to do with. This is not an earthquake in Japan. It’s not a drought in Sudan. It’s not flooding in China. The reality is that we as American taxpayers are complicit in this humanitarian disaster. And, as Americans, we must end it.

First, let me briefly recap where we are today.

Madam President, Hamas started this terrible war with a brutal terrorist attack that killed 1,200 innocent Israelis and took 253 hostages, more than 100 of whom remain in Hamas’ hands, including Americans. And just the other day the U.N. reported that there is strong evidence that Hamas also committed horrific sexual assaults against Israeli women of the worst kind imaginable. Nobody will or should forgive or forget those atrocities.

As I have said many times, Israel had the right to respond to that attack and go after Hamas, but it did not and it does not have the right to go to war against the entire Palestinian people. And that is what Israel has done.

For five months now, Israel has unleashed total war on Gaza, relying on widespread bombardment, including the use of 2,000-pound bombs.

The results have been catastrophic. In the last five months, Israel has killed nearly 31,000 Palestinians and injured more than 72,000, two-thirds of whom are women and children. Two-thirds of whom are women and children.

The United Nations has had 165 staff killed by Israeli forces, more than in any other previous war. Some 364 health workers, people who are there trying to take care of the sick and the wounded, and 132 journalists, who are reporting on the situation, have been killed as well.

Madam President, as this terrible photograph shows, the Israeli bombardment has left Gaza in ruins. Seventy percent – let me repeat – 70 percent of the housing units in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed.

Unbelievably, 1.7 million people in Gaza have been driven from their homes, taken out of their homes, and sent away without really knowing where they’re going to go, or whether or not they’ll ever return, or in fact be able to return to after this disaster. And that 1.7 million people is 80 percent of the population of Gaza.

Madam President, the civilian infrastructure in Gaza has been devastated, making life unbearable for the people who reside there. There is virtually no electricity and little running water. There is not a single fully functional hospital for the 2.2 million Gazans despite the enormous medical need that the bombardment has caused. People are getting injured, no place to go.

And, Madam President, as horrible and as unspeakable as all of this destruction is, we are seeing something today that is even worse.

For months, the U.N. has warned that, because of the Israeli blockade of food and water, starvation and disease were growing threats. They warned in December that a quarter of the population of Gaza, over half a million people, were one step away from famine. Since then, Madam President, the situation on the ground has only worsened.

People have been reduced to eating leaves and animal feed. They are starving to death. They are starving to death. And in the last week, reports of children dying from malnutrition and dehydration have begun to emerge. At least 15 children have starved to death. Unfortunately, these reports are likely to be the first of many.

Despite this nearly unprecedented crisis, despite hundreds of thousands of children facing starvation, humanitarian access has actually deteriorated – deteriorated – during the last month. The needs are significantly greater, but the aid that is coming in is less.

In February, an average of 97 trucks got in to Gaza each day, down from about 150 in January, and well short of the 500 trucks per day before the war. The situation is now so desperate and so inhumane that many of the trucks entering Gaza are unable to reach their destination because they are set upon by starving people who are ripping food boxes from the trucks. In other words, people are seeing the trucks coming. They’re unable to get to the destinations that they are supposed to because starving people are fighting for food.

Madam President, let us be crystal clear about why this is happening. It is happening because Israel is not letting in enough humanitarian aid. And it’s actually that simple. They’re not letting in the food, the water, the medical supplies, the fuel, that desperate people need.

Israeli restrictions on aid mean that only a tiny fraction of what is needed is getting in to Gaza today. And even when that aid gets in, we are seeing Israeli military activities that result in very little of that aid reaching the most desperate areas.

In the north, almost no aid has gotten through, leading to the terrible incident of last week where desperate Palestinians pulling sacks of flour off of a few trucks that got through were met with gunfire from Israeli troops. Earlier in February, Israeli forces fired on a U.N. food convoy trying to reach the north despite it having been cleared by the Israelis. And just yesterday, the Israeli military turned back a World Food Program convoy carrying 200 tons of food to starving people in north Gaza.

Madam President, none of what is going on in Gaza today is a secret. Anyone who wants to know does know.

And let me share with you what some of our leading U.S. officials have said about the war and the current situation. President Biden has repeatedly called the Israeli bombing “indiscriminate” and called Israel’s response in Gaza “over the top.”

He said, “there are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people in trouble and dying, and it has to stop.”

President Biden this week said, “there’s got to be cease-fire.” “We must get more aid in to Gaza.”

He also said, “we’re going to insist, insist that Israel facilitate more trucks and more routes to get more and more people the help they need. No excuses, because the truth is aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough now. It’s nowhere nearly enough. Innocent lives are on the line, and children’s lives are on the line.” -President Joe Biden. That’s not Bernie Sanders. That’s President Joe Biden.

Vice President Kamala Harris said, “we have seen reports of families eating leaves and animal feed, and women giving birth to malnourished babies with little or no medical care, and children dying from malnutrition and dehydration.”

The Vice President also said, “the Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses. They must open up new border crossings, they must not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid. They must ensure humanitarian personnel sites and convoys are not targeted.” -Vice President Kamala Harris.

Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan have repeatedly emphasized these points to the Israelis, pushing and urging them to be more targeted, to protect civilian life, and to let water and food into Gaza so children do not starve. You’ve got the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, you’ve got the National Security Advisor saying over and over again: Israel must change its policies.

And in the midst of all of that, how has Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to those requests and those comments? Here is the American government saying one thing – how has Netanyahu responded?

Well, his response has not been complicated. He has ignored them. He has ignored what the President of the United States said, what the Vice President of the United States said, what many of us in Congress are saying, what the Secretary of State is saying, National Security Advisor is saying. He has ignored it all.

Madam President, despite all of this, despite Netanyahu’s refusal to adhere to any of the requests and concerns that our government has conveyed to him, the United States continues to pull out all the stops to support his devastating war against the Palestinian people.

Year after year, we have provided $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel. U.S. taxpayer money. More recently, the administration requested, and the Senate has approved – against my vote, I should add – another $14 billion in military aid to this right-wing, extremist Israeli government. $10 billion of that money is completely unrestricted military aid that will buy more of the bombs Netanyahu is using to destroy Gaza.

And just today – today – The Washington Post reported that the United States has delivered more than 100 military sales to Israel since the war began. That’s right. Despite the scale of the devastation, the U.S. taxpayers continue to fund this war.

And today we learned that the administration has been breaking up these armed sales to Israel into smaller tranches to avoid triggering Congressional notification requirements. That is unacceptable, and that is a brazen violation of the spirit and intent of the law.

Madam President, that is not the only way that the administration is refusing to adhere to the U.S. law.

Israel’s interference in U.S. humanitarian operations is in clear violation of section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act. And that law and its language could not be clearer, so I want everybody to hear what the law says:
“No assistance shall be furnished … to any country when it is made known to the President that the government of such country prohibits or otherwise restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance.”

That’s the law. The law is that, if a country prevents humanitarian assistance coming to these starving children, it is violating the law. It could not be clearer than it is. And I think very few people doubt that Israel is in violation of that law. Yet, the administration and the Congress do nothing.

The State Department doesn’t even pretend to apply the Leahy law to Israel, refusing to properly track U.S. arms or even identify which Israeli units receive U.S. security assistance, a basic requirement of the law and a standard applied to every other country.

Madam President, as I go around Vermont and around the country, it is my strong feeling that the American people are increasingly disgusted by the destruction of Gaza and the unbelievable misery that is befalling the Palestinian people who are there.

And the American people want it to end. They don’t want to be part of seeing children go hungry. They don’t want to be part of seeing an entire community literally destroyed.

Just the other day, and I hope my colleagues in Congress hear this – just the other day a YouGov poll showed that 52 percent of Americans agree that the U.S. should halt weapons shipments to Israel until Israel stops its attacks on Gaza. 52 percent, and a lot of people were undecided, and those who supported it was much, much less – a small minority. 62 percent of respondents who voted for President Biden agreed that the U.S. should stop shipments to Israel until Israel discontinues its attacks on Gaza, while just 14 percent disagree.

In other words, the American people in general, and those who voted for President Biden in particular, want this war ended. They want the destruction stopped.

The American people understand a simple truth that we here in the nation’s capital continue to ignore. And that is that it is absurd and hypocritical to publicly profess horror at Netanyahu’s inhumane war while, at the same time as we say how terrible it is, how awful Netanyahu is, at the same time, we ship tens of thousands of bombs to his army.

It is absurd to criticize Netanyahu’s war in one breath and provide him another $10 billion to continue that war in the next.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this disaster is the fiction we tell ourselves here in Congress and that is there is nothing, just nothing that we can do. Isn’t this awful? My goodness, look at how all of those buildings have been destroyed, 70 percent of the housing units, it’s terrible! Children going hungry, terrible. Children coming down with disease, terrible. Terrible. Nothing we can do. Really?

Everybody knows what is happening. We see it every day in the news and we see the pictures, the emaciated children and the people bombed while they sleep. And yet Congress pretends we are powerless to stop it.

Well, Madam President, the fact is this is not a natural catastrophe. This is a manmade catastrophe. And if we had the political will, and if we had the courage to stand up to some very powerful special interests, yes, we could stop it. We could stop the destruction and we could make sure that these kids do not starve to death.

But doing so will require that the United States government and Members of Congress have the courage to stand up to Netanyahu and to use the incredible leverage that we have over the Israeli government to secure a fundamental change in their disastrous policies.

Of course we have the leverage! We are funding the war! And if that’s not leverage, I don’t know what leverage is.

The current reality is, Madam President, frankly, embarrassing. I supported the President’s decision to airdrop supplies to desperate civilians in north Gaza. Airdrops will buy time and save lives. It is the right thing to do, and I’m glad that the President did it. But the truth is, there’s no substitute for sustained ground deliveries and many, many hundreds of trucks every single day getting into Gaza.

And, right now, we have the incredible situation where a U.S. ally is using U.S. weapons and equipment to block the delivery of U.S. humanitarian aid. We are funding them to stop us from doing what we want to do! And if that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is.

Madam President, it is far, far past time for us to stop asking Israel to do the right thing and to start telling Israel what must happen if they want the support of U.S. taxpayers.

Israel must open the borders and allow the U.N. to deliver supplies in sufficient quantities. The U.S. government should make it clear that failure to open up access immediately and feed starving people will result in the Netanyahu government not getting another penny of U.S. taxpayer military aid.

Madam President, the United States simply cannot allow hundreds of thousands of children to starve to death. Whether Netanyahu like it or not, the United States must do what is necessary to get supplies into Gaza.

Madam President, we all know that there will be a very long and tortuous road to achieve lasting peace in the region and self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The people of Israel have the absolute right to live in peace and security without worrying about terrorist attacks. The Palestinian people have the absolute right to self-determination, to live in peace, and to have a state of their own.

And, Madam President, I hope very much that there will be new leadership that will emerge on both sides – within Israel and within the Palestinian community – to make that happen and to achieve a meaningful peace process.

But one thing is very clear: that is, given the unprecedented humanitarian disaster that is occurring in Gaza right now, the United States must end its complicity.

With that, I yield the floor.