Congress is considering a bill that would significantly slow down humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip amid ongoing airstrikes and a ground invasion by Israel that have left at least 8,000 dead and strained critical resources in the already besieged Palestinian territory.
The debate over the bill comes two weeks after its sponsor said U.S. officials should make all efforts to slow down any humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza and suggested that there is no distinction between civilians — including children — and the militant group Hamas that massacred some 1,300 Israelis in an October 7 surprise attack.
The original text in the bill — the Hamas International Financing Prevention Act, or H.R. 340 — allowed a humanitarian exemption to provide food, medicine, and medical devices to civilians in Gaza. During committee markup, Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., the sponsor, offered an amendment to remove the language and replace it with a provision that would require President Joe Biden to issue a case-by-case waiver to approve humanitarian aid transfers.
“Any assistance should be slowed down — any assistance,” Mast had said in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the bill last month. “Because I would challenge anybody in here to point to me, which Palestinian is Hamas, and which one is an innocent civilian? Which is the child that was poking other Israeli children?” — a reference to a viral video allegedly showing Palestinian boys prodding an Israeli Jewish hostage in Gaza — “And which ones exactly are the innocent ones? … It should absolutely be every effort made to slow down any perceived assistance that’s going there.”
“Any assistance should be slowed down — any assistance.”
Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., offered another amendment to reinstate the exception allowing for ease of humanitarian aid transfers. The Jacobs amendment was voted down on party lines after the American Israel Public Affairs Committee sent out a recommendation urging members to vote against it. (AIPAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
During floor debate on the resolution on Wednesday, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said he was appalled by Mast’s comments during the committee hearing last month and that the decision to remove the provision “amounts to intentional collective punishment.”
While he unequivocally condemned the October 7 attack and fully supported past sanctions on Hamas, Castro said, there is a distinction between Hamas and innocent Palestinian civilians. “Our efforts to hold Hamas accountable must not come at the expense of those innocent civilians,” he said.
The State Department and the Treasury Department supported the original bill language to exempt humanitarian aid deliveries for food, medicine, and life-saving supplies from broader restrictions, he added. “At times here, we need to speculate about the motivations behind specific legislation and legislative decisions. In this case, however, it’s part of the committee record,” Castro said, going on to quote Mast’s committee hearing remarks.
“The decision to intentionally remove this provision was a choice to hurt people in Gaza who are not responsible for this conflict,” Castro said, adding that he would support the bill if its original humanitarian exemption were restored. “But I cannot in good faith support a bill that amounts to intentional collective punishment against the people of Gaza, nearly half of whom are children.”
Mast replied by doubling down and claiming that no Palestinian is innocent. “I would encourage the other side to not so lightly throw around the idea of innocent Palestinian civilians, as is frequently said,” Mast said. “I don’t think we would so lightly throw around the term ‘innocent Nazi civilians’ during World War II. It is not a far stretch to say there are very few innocent Palestinian civilians.” Members who vote for the resolution might not understand that the bill slows down rather than eases the transfer of humanitarian aid, according to two senior Democratic staffers familiar with the bill, given that the language replaced the original humanitarian aid exemption with a waiver provision.
A vote on the bill is scheduled for this evening.