WASHINGTON – Lulled by the holiday weekend, few US congressmen and government officials responded to violent clashes on the border with Gaza on Friday, either with condemnation or support for the Israel Defense Forces, after 16 Palestinians were killed protesting their plight.
In contrast to a strong reaction from the EU and UN, which called for an independent investigation of the incident, US officials largely remained silent, with only one State Department spokesperson calling on “those involved” to lower tensions.
The US blocked a resolution on Saturday at the UN Security Council, presented by Kuwait, that would have condemned Israel for the event.
The PLO’s envoy to Washington noticed the quiet.
“These atrocities deserve the strongest condemnation from the US government and action to uphold international law,” said Husam Zomlot.
At least one prominent senator, the independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, weighed in several times, calling the event “tragic” on Twitter and questioning whether Israel’s explanation for the fatal response.
Israel has said that at least ten of the 15 killed were terrorists known to Israel and that all were engaged in violence when they were shot by IDF forces. “I don’t [believe it],” Sanders said when asked to respond to the Israeli line by CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“From what my understanding is,” Sanders said, “that you had tens of tens of thousands of people who are engaged in a non-violent protest. I believe now 15 or 20 Palestinians have been killed, and many, many others have been wounded. So I think it’s a difficult situation. But my assessment is that Israel overreacted on that.”
“The bottom line here is that the United States of America has got to be involved in dealing with the terrible tragedy in Gaza,” Sanders said. “Gaza is a disaster right now.”
The Trump administration convened an unprecedented conference last month on the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, bringing together representatives from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, among others, for the first time at the White House.
At that meeting, senior administration officials said that resolving the Gaza crisis would be key to the success of their upcoming peace initiative.