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Progressive Dems introduce legislation to halt Israeli arms deal

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY., introduced a bill Wednesday to halt a $735 million arms deal with Israel. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY., introduced a bill Wednesday to halt a $735 million arms deal with Israel. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI | License Photo

May 19 (UPI) -- Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan and Rashida Tlaib introduced legislation Wednesday to block an arms sale to Israel as its fighter jets continue to pound Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The progressive lawmakers have been among the most vocal in opposition to Israel's ongoing campaign targeting Palestinian militant group Hamas with airstrikes in the self-governing Palestinian territory that began the night of May 10 as tensions between the two sides over Israel's plans to forcibly displace several Palestinian families from their east Jerusalem homes erupted in violence.

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According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, at least 227 Palestinians, including 64 children, were killed while more than 1,600 others were wounded. The Israeli foreign ministry announced two civilians were killed Wednesday, lifting its death toll to 12.

The trio introduced the legislation days after The Washington Post reported on Monday that the Biden administration approved the sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel with Congress being notified of the proposed deal May 5.

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"For decades, the U.S. has sold billions of dollars in weaponry to Israel without ever requiring them to respect basic Palestinian rights," Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. "In so doing, we have directly contributed to the death, displacement and disenfranchisement of millions. At a time when so many, including President Biden, support a cease-fire, we should not be sending 'direct attack' weaponry to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu to prolong this violence."

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Tlaib, who is a Palestinian American, said the truth is that when the United States sells its weapons to Israel it does so with the understanding that they will be used to bomb Gaza.

"Approving this sale now, while failing to even try to use it as leverage for a cease-fire, sends a clear message to the world -- the U.S. is not interested in peace, and does not care about the human rights and lives of Palestinians," the Michigan lawmaker said. "You cannot claim to support human rights and peace on Earth and continue to back the extremist Netanyahu regime, it's that simple."

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The office of New York lawmaker Ocasio-Cortez said that Congress has 15 days to submit and vote on a resolution of disapproval of the arms sale, which concerning this sale concludes Thursday, but that they may still block or modify the deal up to the arms' delivery.

The resolution is supported by dozens of organizations including IfNotNow, a group of American Jews against Israel's military rule of Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

"Biden should not sell the Israeli government more missiles to fire on Gaza," it said in a tweet. "Killing Palestinian children will not make Jewish children safe."

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However, the bill met staunch criticism for pro-Israeli politicians, including New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, who held a press conference Wednesday with member of the House Republican Israel Caucus in support of the weapons sale.

"The United States must stand shoulder to shoulder with our greatest ally, Israel," he said in a statement. "There must be NO daylight, NO Equivocation and UNWAVERING recognition of Israel's inherent right of self-defense against deadly attacks from Hamas."

Dov Hiknd, former New York State assemblyman and founder of Americans Against Antisemitism, chided the Democratic politicians in a video recorded from Israel for not recognizing that each missile Hamas fires at Israel is intended to kill civilians.

"Let them come here," he said. "Let's see how fast they can run to a bomb shelters as millions of Israelis have done over the past week."

The legislation was introduced as President Joe Biden comes under increasing criticism from members of his own party to apply more pressure on Israel to agree to a cease-fire.

On Wednesday, in his strongest statement since the fighting began more than a week and a a half ago, Biden told Netanyahu by phone that he expects a "significant" de-escalation in airstrikes on Gaza starting today and to place the conflict "on the path to a cease-fire," according to a read out from the White House.

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Democratic Rep. David Price of North Carolina led 137 other members of Congress on Wednesday in demanding that Biden to facilitate an immediate cease-fire.

"Too many people have already died," the said in the letter. "More will unnecessarily perish if America does not act with the immediacy this violence demands."

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