Vermont’s Congressional delegation calls for humanitarian aid for Palestinians, urgent stop to civilian casualties
Vermont’s two U.S. senators visited leaders of the United Nations this week to discuss the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
In the past month, Israeli airstrikes have killed thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, most of them women and children.
Israel has also targeted hospitals in Gaza, damaged or destroyed up to a third of the buildings there, and severely limited or totally cut off food, water and fuel.
These actions are part of what Israel says is its effort to destroy Hamas. It's in response to a Hamas attack on Oct. 7 that killed roughly 1,200 people in Israel. Hamas also took more than 200 people hostage.
In an interview Tuesday, Sen. Peter Welch told Vermont Public he thinks Israel’s focus should be more targeted attacks against identified Hamas leaders.
“Rather than the destruction of infrastructure that's going to make any kind of normalcy impossible for the innocent Palestinians,” he said.
On Monday, Welch and Sen. Bernie Sanders met with the head of the U.N. General Assembly, António Guterres, and representatives from Israel, Egypt and H.E. Riyad H. Mansour, the ambassador of the Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the U.N.
Sanders separately spoke with U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
“Our goal remains to do everything we can to stop the indiscriminate bombing which has caused massive civilian casualties, bring in desperately needed humanitarian aid, and protect innocent people in Gaza,” Welch and Sanders said in a statement released on Monday. “This is a humanitarian catastrophe, and we need action now.”
In their statement, Welch and Sanders highlighted the growing urgency to protect civilian lives in Gaza. However, both stopped short of calling for a cease-fire, which most members of Congress are also refusing to do.
Meanwhile the United States and the Group of Seven have called for a “humanitarian pause.” While closely related, neither term is defined under international law. Pentagon officials have said a pause would be shorter and aid-focused, whereas a cease-fire would likely entail third-party negotiations and could hold indefinitely depending on the scope of the agreement.
The third member of Vermont’s delegation, U.S. Rep. Becca Balint, has stuck to the term “humanitarian pause.”
In a statement released Friday, Balint wrote:
“An immediate humanitarian pause to the fighting in Gaza is needed to get all necessary supplies to Palestinians in desperate need. We must reduce human suffering and preserve the lives and safety of civilians in Gaza. During this humanitarian pause Hamas must immediately release all hostages.”
Balint added that she was “heartbroken by Hamas’ brutal attack on civilians and support[s] Israel’s right to defend itself. Hamas still poses a clear and present danger to Israel.”
But both Balint and Welch say Israel risks losing support if its military doesn’t take steps to reduce civilian casualties.
"Any Israeli military strategy that ignores the human costs of its actions could backfire by undermining Israel’s standing in the world and further fan the flames of violence in the region," Balint said in the Friday statement.
In a social media post on Monday, Balint reiterated the human cost of Israel's attacks on Gaza and wrote “the bombing must stop.”
Hospitals under siege. Millions of people displaced. Gaza left with little food, water and fuel. Thousands of Palestinians, many of them children, killed.— Rep. Becca Balint (@RepBeccaB) November 13, 2023
This crisis cannot be ignored. Civilian bombing must stop.
Last week, Balint faced hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters when they called for a cease-fire outside of a fundraiser for her in Burlington.
VTDigger reported that Balint acknowledged the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights, but that she also said a cease-fire was not something Hamas would agree to.
According to VTDigger, a meeting between Balint and the protest organizers was set for this week.