U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar on Thursday accused Israel of ethnic cleansing two days after Israel Defense Forces troops razed an entire Bedouin community in the illegally occupied West Bank of Palestine.
While the world’s eyes were focused on the U.S. presidential election on Tuesday, IDF troops bulldozed the Jordan Valley hamlet of Khirbet Humsa, demolishing 76 structures and leaving 74 Palestinian Bedouins—including 41 children—homeless in a bitterly cold rainstorm. United Nations humanitarian official Yvonne Helle condemned the destruction and displacement as “grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
Omar, a Minnesota Democrat and Muslim who won reelection Tuesday, took to Twitter to echo Helle’s condemnation.
“This [is] a grave crime—in direct violation of international law,” she tweeted. “If they used any U.S. equipment it also violates U.S. law,” shed added. U.S.-made Caterpillar bulldozers and other equipment are often used to destroy Palestinian homes. In 2003, American human rights activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by a Caterpillar D-9 while attempting to stop the demolition of a home in Rafah in the then-occupied Gaza Strip.
“An entire community is now homeless and will likely experience lifelong trauma,” Omar wrote. “The United States of America should not be bankrolling ethnic cleansing. Anywhere.”
Omar and two of her three colleagues in the so-called Squad—Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who is Palestinian, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)—have been rare outspoken congressional critics of Israeli policies and actions. The fourth Squad member, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), outraged Palestine advocates around the world after she voted last year to condemn the peaceful Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian human rights.
Tlaib, who retweeted Omar’s post on Friday, joined her Somali-born colleague last year in calling on Congress to reconsider the $3.8 billion in unconditional annual U.S. military aid to Israel under the terms of an assistance package finalized during the administration of former President Barack Obama. The congresswomen’s call came after the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu banned them from traveling to Israel due to their support for BDS.
Palestinians and Palestine advocates hailed Omar’s comments as courageous and “morally dignified.”
Like many settler-colonial nations including the United States, the modern state of Israel was largely founded through ethnic cleansing, often perpetrated by Jews fleeing genocide in Europe and ethnic cleansing in the Middle East and elsewhere. In 1948 and 1949, more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homeland—often by massacre or the threat thereof—and never allowed to return during the ethnic cleansing campaign known among Palestinians as the Nakba, or “catastrophe.” Hundreds of Palestinian villages were demolished and Palestinian property was destroyed or confiscated by Jews as they secured the borders of a new nation built largely on stolen land.
A second round of Israeli ethnic cleansing occurred during and after the 1967 war in which IDF troops conquered and illegally occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Syrian Golan Heights. More than 200,000 Palestinians from these areas fled or were expelled in what they call the Naksa, or “setback.”
Since then, the construction and expansion of exclusively Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem—which often entails the expulsion of Palestinians and theft or destruction of their homes and property—have been condemned as a form of slow-motion ethnic cleansing and apartheid.
Many Israelis and Jews around the world bristle at ethnic cleansing allegations. Others—including prominent Israeli historians Benny Morris and Ilan Pappé and numerous Israeli authors, journalists, and even Holocaust survivors—concur with them.
Other prominent Israeli political, media, and religious figures openly support the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Palestinians, including far-right parliament member Ayelet Shaked, who served as justice minister in Netanyahu’s Likud government from 2015 to 2019.