In the first congressional visit since Hamas was elected in 2006, Representative Brian Baird from Washington, Rep. Keith Ellison from Minnesota and Senator John Kerry visited Gaza yesterday. They witnessed and reported the devastation of the population and the dire need of humanitarian assistance. Rep. Ellison, Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee member and the first Muslim congress member, stated that:
People, innocent children, women and non-combatants, are going without water, food and sanitation, while the things they so desperately need are sitting in trucks at the border, being denied permission to go in – Rep. Ellison.
Aid is slowed by the blockade as Palestinians rebuild.
None of the men toured the area as representatives of the Obama administration and all refused to meet with Hamas, but they opened up a dialogue between American lawmakers and Gaza residents. Rep. Baird “wanted to witness the situation on the ground” and helped Palestinian aid workers highlight the humanitarian crisis to the BBC. Sen. Kerry, on the other hand, emphasized the problems with Hamas leadership, while touring a bombed out American school:
…Your political leadership needs to understand that any nation that has rockets coming into it over many years, threatening its citizens, is going to respond – Sen. Kerry.
As lawmakers balance the politics of Hamas and Israeli interests, the Palestinian people are left with the shocking humanitarian devastation, 5,000 home destroyed, 1,300 lives lost, and over 5,000 injured. More pointedly, Rep. Braid describes:
The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is staggering. Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed, schools completely leveled, fundamental needs such as water, sewer, and electricity facilities have been hit and immobilized. Relief agencies, themselves, have been heavily damaged. The personal stories of children being killed in their homes or schools; of entire families wiped out, and relief workers prevented from evacuating the wounded are heart wrenching. What went on here? And what is continuing to go on, is shocking and troubling beyond words. – Rep. Baird.