On Tuesday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib
questioned President Joe Biden
about his continued financial and diplomatic support for the Israeli government, despite the fact that the death toll
of Palestinian civilians continues to rise amid ceaseless attacks.
Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress
, met the president on a tarmac in Detroit
with fellow Michigan
Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell. Biden and Tlaib were seen speaking for several minutes before shaking hands, but reporters were unable to hear their conversation.
Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress, has been one of the most vocal critics of Israel's airstrikes
. (AP/Evan Vucci) pic.twitter.com/h2HPnGLh0q— The Recount
(@therecount) May 18, 2021
According to an aide to Tlaib, the congresswoman told Biden that Palestinian human rights are not negotiable and that the president must do more to protect civilian lives. The Michigan Democrat also reiterated that the status quo is enabling more violence and death, and that the current and long-standing US approach of “unconditional support” for the Israeli government and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is enabling more violence and death.
“The United States cannot continue to give the right-wing Netanyahu government billions of dollars each year to commit crimes against Palestinians
,” the aide said, referring to the $3.8 billion in annual aid Congress sends to Israel. “Atrocities like bombing
schools cannot be tolerated, let alone carried out with weapons supplied by the United States.”
Tlaib's concerns echo those expressed in her speech last week on the House floor, in which she and several other progressive Democrats
condemned Palestinians "being killed as the world watches" and the failure of US leaders, including Biden, to recognize or act.
should watch Rep. Tlaib's entire speech on what is being done to the Palestinian people and share it with their family and friends
pic.twitter.com/7YusNFZYX5— Corey Atad (@CoreyAtad) May 13, 2021
“To read the statements... you’d hardly know Palestinians existed at all,” Tlaib said Thursday, referring to the president’s press releases in which he says Israel has a “right to defend itself” against rockets fired by the Palestinian militant group Hamas
but makes no mention of Palestinians killed by the Israeli military.
“No child, Palestinian or Israeli, whoever they are, should ever have to fear that death will fall from the sky,” she added, asking, “How many of my colleagues are willing to say the same, to stand for Palestinian human rights as they do for Israel? How many Palestinians have to die for their lives to matter?”
The exchange outside Air Force One on Tuesday was part of an "important dialogue," Dingell told The New York
Times, adding that, while it was a "compassionate, honest discussion," Biden "doesn't deal
with these kinds of issues in public, and he doesn't negotiate in public."
While speaking at a later event in Dearborn, which is 47% Arab American, Biden praised Tlaib (though repeatedly mispronouncing her name as “Rashid”) and said he has committed to trying to keep her family in the West Bank safe. However, he did not mention Gaza
or the immediate need for widespread protection for Palestinian civilians.
During his speech in Dearbon, Joe Biden addressed @RashidaTlaib directly, saying, "From my heart, I pray that your grandma and family are well. I promise you, I'll do everything I can to see that they are, on the West Bank. You're a fighter, and God thank you for being a fighter." pic.twitter.com/0elsfsCLL1— Al Jazeera
“I want to say that I admire your intellect, I admire your passion, and I admire your concern for so many other people,” he said. “From the bottom of my heart, I pray that your grandma and family are well, and I promise you that I will do everything in my power to ensure that they are, on the West Bank.”
However, Biden has refused to publicly condemn the violence against Palestinian civilians. White House press secretary Jen Psaki
has been telling reporters for more than a week that the president wants to engage in “quiet diplomacy” through phone calls to regional leaders, but he has publicly and vehemently defended Israel in its attacks.
The White House issued a carefully worded statement Monday saying that Biden “expressed his support for a ceasefire” during a phone call with Netanyahu, but stopped short of calling for one. Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that he has no intention of participating in a cease-fire.
The statement came after 29 Democrats and one Republican
in the Senate
issued letters urging an immediate cease-fire, and after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
(D-NY), a longtime supporter of Israel, issued a similar call. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(D-Calif.) issued a similar call on Tuesday.
However, Biden's lukewarm support for a potential cease-fire was overshadowed by the fact that his administration approved the sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel, raising concerns among Democrats who have criticized Israel's airstrikes, which kill Palestinian families at a disproportionate rate. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) urged Biden to halt the sale.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY) said Monday that he would send a letter to the Biden administration
requesting a delay in the sale to allow for more time for congressional review; however, the congressman said Tuesday that he would no longer do so after the White House committed to briefing and better engaging lawmakers on future sales.
Protests against the planned eviction
of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem
's Sheikh Jarrah prompted Israeli police
to attack Palestinian civilians and worshippers at Al-Aqsa mosque
during Ramadan, escalating the region's long-running violence.
The unrest prompted Israeli airstrikes into Gaza, where Hamas governs, as well as Hamas rockets, the majority of which were intercepted in the air by Israel's missile defense system, known as "Iron Dome," preventing the mass casualties seen around the world on Palestinians who do not have the same protection.
According to the Israeli government, Hamas rockets killed a dozen Israelis, including two children
, while Israeli airstrikes killed at least 218 Palestinians, according to Al Jazeera. Of the 63 Palestinian children killed, 11 were receiving psychosocial care from the Norwegian Refugee Council to help them process the trauma of the occupation.
“As an immediate measure, we appeal to all parties for an immediate ceasefire so that we can reach those in need and save more civilians,” said NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland. “But the truth is that there can be no peace or security as long as there are systemic injustices. The siege of Gaza must be lifted, and the occupation of Palestinians must end if we are to avoid more trauma and death.”