U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley on Monday became the first member of Oregon’s congressional delegation to call for a cease-fire in Gaza, joining one other senator and 40 members of the U.S. House.
Merkley, a Democrat and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that he supported Israel’s right to defend itself and respond to the Oct. 7 attack in which the terrorist group Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped 240 hostages. But he objects to the way Israel responded with bombing campaigns that are estimated to have killed at least 12,000 Palestinians, including more than 4,000 children.
“After grimly witnessing accelerating body counts, many Americans, including thousands of Oregonians, have raised their voices to say more must be done to stop the carnage,” Merkley said. “I agree. So, today I am calling for a cease-fire.”
It’s an escalation for Merkley, who previously called for short-term humanitarian pauses – breaks in conflict to allow food, water and medical support into a region. Cease-fires are more formal and binding and usually include commitments to de-escalate the conflict and negotiate solutions.
Israel has agreed to four-hour humanitarian pauses, which Merkley said is not enough time to release the hostages, allow Palestinians in Gaza to move to safe zones, get foreign citizens out of the war zone and distribute food, water, medicine and fuel to civilians. Weeks, not hours, are needed, he said.
He said a cease-fire and negotiations that follow need to accomplish a number of things. On the Palestinian side, Hamas needs to immediately release all hostages – and Hamas, the militant group that took over control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, must cede control of Gaza.
Israel, meanwhile, must flood Gaza with humanitarian aid and facilitate the transport of injured civilians in Gaza to hospitals in the West Bank, Merkley said. He added that Israel must end new settlements in the West Bank and guarantee that displaced Palestinians can return to their homes in Gaza.
“Most importantly, the Israeli people and the Palestinian people must find leaders determined to partner with each other and the world to replace the cycle of hate and violence with both a long-term vision for security, peace and prosperity featuring two states for two peoples, and immediate, concrete steps toward that goal,” Merkley said.
He reflected on his first visit to Israel in 1978 and his optimism that the country would be “powerful and powerfully just.” Israel has succeeded in becoming powerful, Merkley said, but it has faltered in being a just nation.
He said Israel is making the same mistake the U.S. did after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, by responding with rage.
“By waging a war that generates a shocking level of civilian carnage rather than a targeted campaign against Hamas, Israel is burning through its reserves of international support,” Merkley said. “Too many civilians and too many children have died, and we must value each and every child equally whether they are Israeli or Palestinian. The war will damage Israel’s economy with so many workers called to military duty. It also risks undoing the relationships with Arab neighbors won through the Abraham Accords, puts the negotiations for normalization with Saudi Arabia on ice, and could trigger a regional conflict with Hezbollah and other powers. When all is taken into account, this war may decrease rather than increase Israel’s security.”
Merkley is the first member of Oregon’s delegation to explicitly call for a cease-fire, though U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, called for a pause in hostilities on Friday, saying the Israeli reaction has been “too strong for too long.” He said Hamas must release all hostages, and Israel and the international community must provide humanitarian assistance for 2 million civilians in Gaza.
“There must be a pause in hostilities,” Blumenauer said. “I am not interested in playing semantics, call it what you want: a cease-fire or a humanitarian pause. The fact of the matter is the violence must stop.”
Like Merkley, Blumenauer compared Israel’s actions to the U.S. response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“Israel is replicating the failed policy of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, creating a new terrorist for every one killed,” Blumenauer said. “Stopping the violence is the first step the United States should insist upon and assist Israel in making this possible.”
Elsewhere in the northwest, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, co-sponsored a resolution calling for a cease-fire. Her sister, former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, is running for Blumenauer’s congressional seat.