Sen. Chris Murphy, one of the most influential Democrats on foreign policy in the upper chamber, denounced Israel on Thursday for its continuous siege on Gaza that has killed at least 9,000 Palestinians over the span of weeks and led voices around the world to demand a cease-fire.
In a statement, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee member decried Hamas militants’ Oct. 7 attack that killed roughly 1,400 people in Israel, and maintained his position that Israel has a “right and an obligation to defend itself.” But the Connecticut Democrat stressed that Israel’s current military approach, which human rights groups have described as ethnic cleansing, is resulting in a concerning number of civilian deaths.
“It’s time for Israel’s friends to recognize that the current operational approach is causing an unacceptable level of civilian harm and does not appear likely to achieve the goal of permanently ending the threat from Hamas,” Murphy said.
“As we have learned from America’s own counterterrorism campaigns, disproportionately large numbers of civilian casualties come with a moral cost, but also a strategic cost, as terrorist groups feed off of the grievances caused by civilian harm.”
Murphy, a key ally of President Joe Biden, stopped short of calling for a cease-fire despite global protests and humanitarian organizations demanding one. Biden and his team have pledged unwavering support to Israel but recently began urging a “humanitarian pause” in the violence so that civilians in Gaza can receive aid like food, water and medicine — things that Israel cut off.
Earlier on Thursday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) initially told CNN that he believes it is time for a cease-fire in Gaza, becoming the first senator to call for such a move. When pressed later, Durbin clarified that he is calling “for a humanitarian pause, which is equivalent to a temporary cease-fire.”
After Murphy’s statement, fellow committee member Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) also called for a “mutually agreed-upon humanitarian pause,” stressing that the “scale of human suffering right now is untenable.”
While the U.S. government is still overwhelmingly supportive of Israel and its military actions, officials’ latest statements reflect a slow, potential shift in attitudes regarding the violence.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been steadfast in refusing a cease-fire, said on Thursday that “nothing will stop” his troops from destroying Gaza. The Israeli government has also done little to stop the escalating settler violence and raids on the occupied West Bank, where Hamas does not rule.
My new Gaza statement:
"It's time for Israel's friends to recognize that the current approach is causing an unacceptable level of civilian harm and does not appear likely to achieve the goal of ending the threat from Hamas. I urge Israel to immediately reconsider its approach." pic.twitter.com/dVpGrjJFdp
— Chris Murphy 🟧 (@ChrisMurphyCT) November 2, 2023
“I share Israel’s desire to destroy the threat from Hamas,” Murphy wrote in his statement. “But the way in which the current campaign is being waged – most recently evidenced by the terribly high human cost of the strikes on the Jabalya refugee camp – suggests that they have not struck the right balance between military necessity and proportionality.”
According to the Gaza Health Ministry, more than 9,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since Oct. 7, most of them women and minors. Over 3,700 Palestinian children have been killed in the last month, and the territory’s overcrowded hospitals are running out of supplies.
More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are displaced due to the heavy bombardment. Israeli forces have urged Palestinian civilians to flee to other areas of Gaza, only to bomb those very areas. Israel has bombed several refugee camps — including the one that Murphy mentioned, Jabaliya, for two consecutive days this week, killing dozens of Palestinians.
“The current rate of civilian death inside Gaza is unacceptable and unsustainable,” Murphy said. “I urge Israel to immediately reconsider its approach and shift to a more deliberate and proportionate counterterrorism campaign.”
“This does not mean that Israel should stop fighting Hamas, but it must take concrete steps to end the current widespread harm to innocent people and children inside Gaza.”