Van Hollen, Merkley Press for Action Following Trip to Rafah Crossing, Egypt, Jordan

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), both members of the Senate Appropriations and Foreign Relations Committees, released the following statement after their visit to Egypt and Jordan:

“The humanitarian disaster in Gaza is worsening by the day. Innocent Palestinians are on the verge of starvation, injured children are having their limbs amputated without anesthesia, sewage is spilling onto the streets, and health officials are warning of the imminent outbreak of cholera and other diseases. Over one million displaced people have been crammed, without adequate shelter, into the southernmost city of Rafah – on top of the approximately 280,000 Gazans already living there. Hundreds of thousands of others are trapped in northern Gaza, cut off from essential lifelines. This catastrophic situation is entirely man-made, and it must end.

“Last week, we visited the Rafah crossing and also met with dozens of individuals and organizations who have decades of experience providing humanitarian relief in conflict zones around the world — from Syria to Yemen to Ukraine to Sudan to Burma. They told us they have never witnessed a humanitarian disaster of the scale and severity we see in Gaza today. The overwhelming sentiment was one of extreme frustration at the inability to do their jobs. Humanitarian workers are ready to meet the challenge of saving lives as they have in other crises, but the unique restrictions they are facing in Gaza are preventing them from doing so.

“Urgent steps are required to expedite the safe and unhindered delivery of assistance to those in need. We call on the Netanyahu government in Israel to implement three changes immediately: 1) streamline the system through which humanitarian aid is screened and transported into Gaza; 2) resume the regular flow of essential commercial goods into Gaza in order to restock stores with food and other vital items; and 3) fix the broken ‘deconfliction’ process inside Gaza to ensure humanitarian organizations – including their operating sites and their workers’ movements – are safe as they conduct their life-saving missions. It is unacceptable that hundreds of health and humanitarian workers have died while providing assistance in Gaza.

“To be sure, there is much room to improve the logistics for the delivery of goods from the Egyptian side of the border and other parts of the humanitarian supply chain; however, it is clear from what we witnessed, and the first-hand accounts that we heard, that decisions made by the Netanyahu government have erected a variety of barriers that are preventing the delivery of sufficient life-sustaining goods from reaching innocent Palestinians in Gaza.

“Following Hamas’ horrific attack on Israeli villages that killed more than 1200 Israelis, Israel has every right to eliminate the military threat of Hamas. But the way in which they do so matters. Despite repeated entreaties from the President Biden and members of his administration, the world continues to witness a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and unacceptably high levels of civilian casualties. Today, over 23,000 Palestinians have been killed, two-thirds of them women and children. We believe that a humanitarian cessation of hostilities is required to address the suffering of innocents and focus on the release of the hostages. Until then, it is imperative that the United States government demand that the Netanyahu government lift the impediments to the delivery of basic goods needed to sustain life in Gaza. In the coming days, we will continue to share and seek implementation of the specific changes that are necessary to achieve this.”

The Senators’ congressional delegation (CODEL), which focused on the conflict in Gaza and delivery of humanitarian aid, began in Egypt with meetings with President Al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry. That day, the Senators also met with the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Herro Mustafa Garg, members of the U.S. Embassy team in Egypt, and the Secretary General of the Arab League Aboul Gheit. The next day, the Senators traveled to Al-Arish, a staging point for aid to Gaza located in northern Sinai and then visited the Rafah crossing, the first U.S. lawmakers to do so. During their time at Al-Arish and the Rafah crossing, the Senators met with the humanitarian aid teams on the ground providing relief to Gaza, including members of UNRWA, the World Food Program, and the Egyptian Red Crescent, and toured the warehouses currently holding aid packages and rejected aid. At Rafah, the Senators met with U.S. consular staff and spoke with many who had just crossed over from Gaza, including a Palestinian family, international medical professionals, humanitarian workers, and a truck driver waiting to go through the crossing. Their last day in Egypt, the Senators received briefings from the U.N. agencies providing assistance in Gaza, including OCHA, WFP, UNICEF, WHO, and UNRWA, as well as nonprofit organizations working to assist Palestinians in Gaza, including Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Corps, Save the Children, MED Global Empowerment Mission, CARE USA, and Anera. Finally, in Egypt, the Senators met with Multilateral Force and Observers Representative Bradley Lynch. The Senators then traveled to Jordan where they met with King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Safadi as well as the U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Yael Lempert and the U.S. Embassy Jordan team. They also visited a project of the Queen Rania Foundation and met with U.N. agencies in Jordan, including UNRWA Director General Philippe Lazzarini and U.N. Resident Coordinator Sheri Ritsema-Anderson.