Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American congresswoman, asserted on Monday that unconditional US support for Israel emboldens “apartheid policies” against the Palestinians, amid escalating violence in Jerusalem.
“We must, with no hesitation, demand that our country recognise that unconditional support of Israel has enabled this erasure of Palestinian life and the denial of the rights of millions of refugees,” Ms Tlaib said.
"It emboldens the apartheid policies that Human Rights Watch has detailed so thoroughly in its most recent report, and Israel's own leading human rights group B'Tselem labelled apartheid."
"I applaud our country for reinstating support and funding for [the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees], which provides essential education, health and employment services to millions of Palestinian refugees. But we cannot, at the same time, continue to enable and finance the policies that created the Palestinian refugee crisis in the first place."
Ms Tlaib delivered her remarks during a virtual panel hosted by the Middle East Institute and Project48 to commemorate the Nakba, the Arabic word for “catastrophe” that refers to the mass displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians during the 1948 war that led to the creation of the modern state of Israel.
Her use of the word “apartheid” to refer to Israel’s policies regarding Palestinians in the occupied West Bank comes after Human Rights Watch said Israeli policies towards Palestinians in certain areas under its control constitute “deprivations” that are “so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution".
The second-term Democratic congresswoman’s comments come as tension between Palestinians and Israelis continue to escalate.
Israeli police injured more than 300 Palestinians at the Al Aqsa Mosque on Monday after firing on them with stun grenades, teargas and rubber bullets in response to worshippers throwing stones at the security forces from behind barricades.
Ultranationalist Israelis convened in occupied East Jerusalem for an annual march held every year on Jerusalem Day despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to reroute the parade away from the city’s Muslim Quarter.
Israeli settler attempts to force Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood have further contributed to the mounting tension in recent days, drawing criticism from both the administration of US President Joe Biden and members of Congress.
The Israeli Supreme Court postponed a hearing, initially slated for Monday, that could expel Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah after the Palestinian families requested that Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit weigh in on the case.
“We are seeing the Palestinian Nakba continue as we watch Palestinians in Jerusalem being physically removed from their homes under Israel’s current leader Netanyahu as his racist and violent agenda continues,” Ms Tlaib said.
The White House has also relayed its concerns about Sheikh Jarrah and the situation in Jerusalem to the Israeli government, albeit with more muted language. Mr Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, raised the issue with his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat in a call on Sunday.
"Mr Sullivan reiterated the United States’ serious concerns about the potential evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a readout of the call.
“Mr Sullivan encouraged the Israeli government to pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations.”
Several high-profile senators, including Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, have also raised concerns over the pending Palestinian expulsions from Sheikh Jarrah.
All six Arab states that have established diplomatic ties with Israel – the UAE, Bahrain Jordan, Egypt, Sudan and Morocco – have also condemned Israel’s recent actions in Jerusalem.