Warnock supports Israel’s right to ‘defend its innocent citizens’ as Gaza casualties mount

Members of Israeli security and emergency services work on a site hit by a rocket in Ramat Gan near the coastal city of Tel Aviv, on May 15, 2021, following the launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement towards Israel. - An Israeli man was killed after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza hit the central city of Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, police and medics said. | GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., who also pastors the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, said Israel has a right to “defend its innocent citizens” amid escalating violence with Hamas in the Gaza Strip that has already left scores of victims, including women and children, dead.

“The tragic escalation of violence this week in Israel and the Palestinian territories is heartbreaking. I condemn the rocket attacks from Hamas and other groups against Israeli civilians and support Israel’s right to defend its innocent citizens,” Warnock said in a statement Friday, acknowledging the “deep, legitimate pain and suffering of the Palestinian community.”

“Israel has a right to defend itself from terrorism, but it also has an increased duty to prevent the death of Palestinian civilians.”

He also raised deep concern about “actions of politicians and leaders that undermine the potential for a return to final status negotiations and long-term peace.”

“Most Israelis and Palestinians want to live side-by-side in harmony. However, building peace is deeply challenging work, and any steps toward justice can be destroyed overnight,” Warnock warned. 

“I encourage the Administration to engage quickly and deliberately to act as a convener to reach an immediate cease-fire, protect the lives of civilians who are living in fear, and begin the vital work of building a just and better society for all those in the region. And in the long-term, we must all recommit to working toward a two-state solution that will preserve life and maintain peace.”

Democratic Senator-elect from Georgia, the Rev. Raphael Warnock preaches at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., on Sunday January 10, 2021. | Ebenezer Baptist Church

On Monday, the Israeli military continued air raids in the Gaza Strip days after U.S. President Joe Biden reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks during a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The escalating violence in Israel has seemingly exposed a split in Democratic unity. Some Democrat members of Congress, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, have voiced their opposition to Isreal's response. Ocasio-Cortez and others criticized Biden's response on the House floor. She accused the president of “taking the side of the occupation.”

"By only stepping in to name Hamas’ actions — which are condemnable — & refusing to acknowledge the rights of Palestinians, Biden reinforces the false idea that Palestinians instigated this cycle of violence," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. "This is not neutral language. It takes a side — the side of occupation."

Hamas began firing rockets into Israel last week after Israeli raids on the historic Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem before Jerusalem Day, which celebrates the unification of Israel in 1967. Clashes with security forces left hundreds injured. 

Last week marked the first time rocket attacks were fired at Jerusalem since 2014.

According to the White House, Biden expressed concern about the violence in the West Bank during his call with Netanyahu. 

“He expressed his support for steps to enable the Palestinian people to enjoy the dignity, security, freedom, and economic opportunity that they deserve and affirmed his support for a two-state solution,” a Saturday statement from the White House states.

“The leaders agreed to continue the close consultation between their teams and to remain in touch in the days ahead."

Biden also spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and “stressed the need for Hamas to cease firing rockets into Israel.”

“They expressed their shared concern that innocent civilians, including children, have tragically lost their lives amidst the ongoing violence. The President expressed his support for steps to enable the Palestinian people to enjoy the dignity, security, freedom, and economic opportunity that they deserve,” the White House statement added.

Tor Wennesland, the United Nations special coordinator for Middle East Peace Process, said the past week had been the deadliest escalation of conflict in seven years between Israeli military forces and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza. 

Dramatic scenes of violence have also unfolded across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, about 200 people, including 59 children, have been killed since the Israeli air raids began. About 10 people have been killed in Israel, including two children. 

Israeli official sources say that Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other militant organizations have launched more than 2,900 indiscriminate rockets from Gaza towards Israel, the United Nations reported. 

Nine Israelis, including five women and two children, and one Indian national, were killed and over 250 injured by the rockets.

In Gaza, Wennesland said humanitarian and security conditions are increasingly dire by the day. 

UN notes that Israel Defense Forces have carried out “some 950 strikes against what they said were militant targets, including weapons factories and depots, tunnel networks, Hamas training facilities, intelligence and security headquarters and offices and the homes of senior Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives.”

Israeli officials say those strikes have killed more than 100 operatives, including senior commanders. Gaza health authorities say at least 1,200 have been injured and over 34,000 people displaced from their homes as of Sunday morning.  

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Monday that while Israel has a right to defend itself, it must do all it can to ensure the safety of civilians. 

"Israeli authorities must continue taking the conscientious practice of giving advance warning of its attacks to reduce the risk of harm to the innocent," he said in a statement. 

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who called the hostilities “utterly appalling,” has called for a ceasefire.

“I am appalled by the attack on a refugee camp in Gaza, in which 10 members of one family were killed,” he said in remarks Sunday in which he also called for the protection of journalists. “This senseless cycle of bloodshed, terror and destruction must stop immediately.”

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