Major United States Republican Senator James Risch is continuing to block $50 million in economic aid to Palestinians, despite promises of help by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The prevention has delayed vital reconstruction of water resources and roads in the Gaza Strip following Israel’s 11-day bombardment of the besieged enclave in May.
Israel’s bombardment of Gaza last month demolished hundreds of buildings, causing the displacement of around 100,000 civilians and killing 254 Palestinians, including 66 children. Following the attack, Blinken met Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and pledged that Washington would provide $75 million in longer-term development and economic aid to Palestinians.
Although it had already been approved by Congress, Risch placed a hold on the funding last month, claiming he wanted to make certain the funds would not go to the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. Advocates for US aid to Palestine, however, say the holds were politically motivated.
A coalition of 145 Democratic members of congress led by Representative Jamie Raskin urged Risch to release the aid. The lawmakers, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, wrote to Risch to “respectfully request that you release your hold on tens of millions of dollars in appropriated humanitarian aid that is so desperately needed to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians rebuilding their lives in the wake of the fighting between Hamas and Israel […].”
NEW: I led 140+ @HouseDemocrats in urging Sen. Jim Risch to stop blocking millions in humanitarian aid for Palestinians. This aid was passed in FY20 & signed by the former President. As the ceasefire takes hold, we must help relieve the suffering of countless civilians. pic.twitter.com/Dz2XlS0j69
— Rep. Jamie Raskin (@RepRaskin) June 2, 2021
Risch moved to block the funds along with several other Republicans, accusing the PA of using $150 million administered by Abbas to compensate the families of Palestinians who killed Israelis in recent years. The senator was able to prevent the funding through procedures under a 2018 US Law called the “Taylor Force Act”, which allows legislators to obstruct aid to Palestinians if it pertains to the PA’s ability to make “martyr” payments.
Palestinian advocates in the US deem the Taylor Force Act as irrelevant in this case, as the $50 million being blocked is ordained for projects and developments handled by non-governmental organisations to abet Gaza’s massive rebuilding challenges.
“Setting aside the problems with the Taylor Force Act, the humanitarian aid that Senator Risch is holding up, does not trigger and is not impacted by the Taylor Force Act,” said Palestinian American human rights lawyer Huwaidi Arraf, according to Al Jazeera.
Former President Donald Trump blocked $200 million in US aid designated for the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees in 2018. The Biden administration, however, announced in April that it was restoring $150 million in funds for the UN agency.
Even with that aid, Raskin said in av letter to Risch, the extent of basic needs in Palestine is colossal.
“Gaza is experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe,” Raskin wrote. “Buildings lie in Rubble. Access to clean water and electricity is sporadic or nonexistent. Food insecurity is spreading. COVID-19 is running rampant and thousands of people have been displaced and rendered homeless. The magnitude of the crisis is staggering.”
Director of the Washington office of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Elizabeth Campbell has issued an emergency appeal for donations following the Israeli bombing in May, stating that “we need to reconstruct civilian housing that has been damaged, people have been made homeless.”
A spokeswoman for Risch confirmed on Monday that the holds remain in place despite the appeals to remove them.