Statement from New York City Council Members Stephen Levin, Brad Lander, and Justin Brannan

We are heartbroken by the tragic loss of Palestinian lives on the Gaza/Israel border this week. As those who support Israel’s right to exist in safe and secure borders, who support the right to Palestinian self-determination in a Palestinian state, and yearn for peace between the two, we feel compelled to speak out.

Cycles of violence in the Middle East go back generations, with competing claims of dispossession, aspirations for statehood, and failures to recognize the other side’s legitimate claims. It is the responsibility of leaders to break those cycles. Unfortunately, we are witnessing the opposite. 

Responsibility for the tragedy belongs to both Hamas and the Netanyahu government. While the Great Return March began as a non-violent protest by Gazans expressing their legitimate anguish with desperate living conditions, it was largely co-opted by Hamas, a terrorist organization that cynically diverts precious resources from desperately-needed improvements in civil society to terror operations, refuses Israel’s right to exist, and uses its own people as human shields. In fact, Hamas itself now claims that the majority of those killed this week were members of Hamas.

However, this does not absolve Israel of responsibility. Israel has a responsibility to ensure that whenever the IDF engages with Palestinian protests, all efforts are taken to avoid civilian casualties. Israeli authorities knew for many weeks that yesterday’s protests would come, that protesters would attempt to breach the border fence, that the timing would coincide with the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, and that the world would be watching. The question remains why they did not prepare a plan to avoid civilian deaths or carry out such a plan more effectively.

Israel has a right to defend itself and its borders. We recognize the challenge Israelis face in combating militants who hide amongst civilian protestors, and that many of those killed yesterday were militants. However, Israel also has a responsibility to avoid civilian casualties. The fact is that many unarmed civilians, some children, have been killed and hundreds, if not thousands, have been injured in recent weeks by live fire and tear gas, and that is unjustifiable.

The failure of leadership here is staggering. Trump and Netanyahu staged the moving of the American embassy as a triumphalist provocation. Abbas still engages in rank anti-Semitism. And Hamas continues to exploit its own people and seek Israel’s demise. 

Still, we deeply believe that the future in Israel and Palestine belongs to those seeking peace, those who understand the basic humanity of their neighbor, those who are willing to do the arduous work of alleviating the desperate conditions in Gaza and strengthening regional security and coexistence. We in America and the international community owe those peacemakers our support.