US State Department staffer who resigned over Gaza says colleagues urged her to speak out

Annelle Sheline tells The National that many US government employees are unhappy over Washington's handling of Gaza war

US State Department official condemns Gaza policy after announcing resignation

US State Department official condemns Gaza policy after announcing resignation
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Annelle Sheline initially planned to resign "quietly” from her job as a US foreign affairs officer in protest against Washington's unconditional support for Israel and the war in Gaza.

But after several of her colleagues – who also disapprove of President Joe Biden's handling of the conflict – urged her to speak up, she decided to resign publicly last week in an op-ed carried by CNN.

“Trying to promote human rights in the Middle East had just become so difficult as a result of US policy and US support for what Israel is doing in Gaza,” Ms Sheline told the National.

“I wasn't really able to do my job any more, the job I'd been hired to do. And on the other hand, I didn't want to be associated with this government any more."

Ms Sheline's resignation is the latest example of dissent among government employees over the Biden administration's refusal to put conditions on military aid to Israel, or use its significant influence to bring about a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and allow more aid into the besieged enclave.

Josh Paul, a State Department official involved in handling arms transfers, resigned in October, saying he could no longer back continued military assistance to Israel.

He earlier told The National that he was “in awe” of Ms Sheline's courage.

Ms Sheline, 38, began working for the State Department a year ago in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, where her focus was North Africa.

Growing up in North Carolina, Ms Sheline became interested in the Middle East after the 9/11 attacks. She studied Arabic at university and moved briefly to Egypt. She then went on to obtain a doctorate and worked in academia for several years.

The work of her office at the State Department, she said, was directly affected by US support for Israel, because key partners refused to work with Washington owing to its arms policies regarding Israel.

“Members of civil society didn't want to be in touch with the US government, or it would just be extremely dangerous for them to be in touch with the US government,” she said.

About 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in the enclave since the start of the war, according to Gaza's health authorities.

War leaves Gazans hopeless during Ramadan - video

War leaves Gazans hopeless during Ramadan

War leaves Gazans hopeless during Ramadan

Amid Israel's refusal to ease the entry of humanitarian aid into the enclave, the UN says famine is imminent. At least 30 people, most of them children, have died of starvation in recent weeks, according to health authorities in the enclave.

On Tuesday, an Israeli air strike on Deir Al Balah killed seven aid workers, forcing the non-profit World Central Kitchen and at least one other organisation supplying critical food assistance to pause their operations in Gaza.

The staggering death toll and the worsening humanitarian crisis have caused intense anger around the world, including in the State Department.

Since the start of the conflict, dozens of staff members from various US agencies have signed dissent cables, written letters and planned walkouts in protest.

Feds United for Peace, a group that represents federal workers from 30 US government agencies and departments, has demanded a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

“There were certainly many people inside the State Department who are so distraught by what's happening,” Ms Sheline said.

Many of her former colleagues have worked on accountability measures that could be introduced, should the Biden administration decide to change course, she added.

“The hypocrisy of ongoing US support for Israel against the civilian population of Gaza, really, has just been very difficult for people who want to believe in what the US says it's supposed to stand for,” she said.

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She added that many of her former colleagues were considering resigning but felt they could not due to personal, professional or financial reasons.

Spokesman Matthew Miller said State Department respected diverging opinions and that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has instructed his team to make sure that people had an opportunity to make their views known.

"There is a broad diversity of views inside the State Department about our policy with respect to Gaza, just as there is a broad diversity within the State Department about our policy in a number of important foreign policy issues, as there is a broad diversity of views and opinions throughout American society about this issue and others,” Mr Miller said at a news briefing last week.

Washington gives $3.8 billion a year in military assistance to Israel, its closest ally in the Middle East.

Mr Biden, a staunch supporter of Israel, twice bypassed Congress to facilitate additional arms sales to Israel. In February, the Senate passed a major supplemental package deal that includes $14 billion in additional aid.

In recent days, US media have reported that the Biden administration is pressing Congress to approve the transfer of $18 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Israel.

Ms Sheline said she wanted the US to follow its own legal provisions, known as Leahy Laws, that bar Washington from providing military assistance to foreign security forces if they are violating human rights.

This would mean "cutting off military assistance to Israel," she said.

Ms Sheline added that she has been encouraged by the many forms of protests in the US over its Gaza policy, which have included efforts by Arab and Muslim Americans in Michigan to get more than 100,000 voters to cast “uncommitted” ballots in the Democratic primary elections in February.

Activists in other states, including Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin, were later able to convince tens of thousands of voters to join the movement.

“I do think there's a shift happening,” Ms Sheline said. “I worry, it may be too little too late, given the numbers of people being killed, the fact that those numbers are likely to just keep going up, the levels of starvation and the likely impending invasion of Rafah.

“I hope that by my going public, I have contributed to some of this public pressure. But I don't think it's enough.”

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Updated: April 04, 2024, 5:29 PM