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Bernie Sanders Scolds Benjamin Netanyahu: ‘Palestinian Lives Matter’

Bernie Sanders Scolds Benjamin Netanyahu: ‘Palestinian Lives Matter’

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called on the United States to be an arbiter of peace in the escalating conflict between the Israeli government and the Palestinian people.

Photo by Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Sanders upped the ante by distinguishing himself as one of the only prominent American lawmakers to voice concern over the rights of Palestinians, who are usually overlooked in discussions about peace in the Middle East.

“No one is arguing that Israel, or any government, does not have the right to self-defense or to protect its people. So why are these words repeated year after year, war after war? And why is the question almost never asked: ‘What are the rights of the Palestinian people?'” Sanders posited in an editorial published in Thursday’s New York Times.

“And why do we seem to take notice of the violence in Israel and Palestine only when rockets are falling on Israel? In this moment of crisis, the United States should be urging an immediate cease-fire. We should also understand that, while Hamas firing rockets into Israeli communities is absolutely unacceptable, today’s conflict did not begin with those rockets,” wrote Sanders, who noted that Israel is an occupying force inside Palestinian territory.

“Palestinian families in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah have been living under the threat of eviction for many years, navigating a legal system designed to facilitate their forced displacement. And over the past weeks, extremist settlers have intensified their efforts to evict them,” Sanders said.

“And, tragically, those evictions are just one part of a broader system of political and economic oppression. For years we have seen a deepening Israeli occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and a continuing blockade on Gaza that make life increasingly intolerable for Palestinians. In Gaza, which has about two million inhabitants, 70 percent of young people are unemployed and have little hope for the future,” he added.

Sanders also levied intense criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose tenure has been marred by allegations of corruption as well as hawkish opposition to recognizing the human rights of Palestinians:

Further, we have seen Benjamin Netanyahu’s government work to marginalize and demonize Palestinian citizens of Israel, pursue settlement policies designed to foreclose the possibility of a two-state solution and pass laws that entrench systemic inequality between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

None of this excuses the attacks by Hamas, which were an attempt to exploit the unrest in Jerusalem, or the failures of the corrupt and ineffective Palestinian Authority, which recently postponed long-overdue elections. But the fact of the matter is that Israel remains the one sovereign authority in the land of Israel and Palestine, and rather than preparing for peace and justice, it has been entrenching its unequal and undemocratic control.

Over more than a decade of his right-wing rule in Israel, Mr. Netanyahu has cultivated an increasingly intolerant and authoritarian type of racist nationalism. In his frantic effort to stay in power and avoid prosecution for corruption, Mr. Netanyahu has legitimized these forces, including Itamar Ben Gvir and his extremist Jewish Power party, by bringing them into the government. It is shocking and saddening that racist mobs that attack Palestinians on the streets of Jerusalem now have representation in its Knesset.

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Sanders said that the United States has a unique and crucial role to play in determining the path for Israel and Palestine – and that both nations deserve to live in peace.

“Israel has the absolute right to live in peace and security, but so do the Palestinians. I strongly believe that the United States has a major role to play in helping Israelis and Palestinians to build that future. But if the United States is going to be a credible voice on human rights on the global stage, we must uphold international standards of human rights consistently, even when it’s politically difficult,” said Sanders.

“We must recognize that Palestinian rights matter. Palestinian lives matter.”

The full op-ed is available here.

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