March 27, 2020

Warren and Van Hollen Lead Senators in Urging the State Department to Provide Humanitarian Assistance to the Palestinian People to Fight Coronavirus

Existing conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, compounded by a COVID-19 outbreak, would further endanger the health of Palestinians; Trump Administration continues to withhold aid to the Palestinians despite $75 million in humanitarian funds appropriated by Congress in December

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) led a letter to Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo urging him to take every reasonable step to lawfully provide medicine, medical equipment, and other necessary humanitarian assistance to the West Bank and Gaza Strip (Palestinian Territories) to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic. The senators noted that President Trump has offered assistance to other countries fighting the coronavirus, such as North Korea and Iran. Joining the letter are Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

As of March 24, there are at least 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank, and the first two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Gaza. A quarantine facility has been established on the Gaza side of Egypt's Rafah crossing. However, Gaza, with a population of approximately 1.8 million people and one of the most densely populated areas of the world, remains a humanitarian catastrophe, has a weak public health system, and has been subject to a blockade and border restrictions since 2007. Additionally, since January 2018, the Trump Administration froze nearly all U.S. aid to the Palestinian people.

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Appropriations Act included $75 million for humanitarian and development assistance for the Palestinian people. Despite that appropriation, and in the face of a COVID-19 outbreak in the West Bank and the beginnings of one in Gaza, it appears the Trump Administration has not reconsidered its policy of ceasing all bilateral assistance to the Palestinians and all contributions to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), which supports the basic health care needs of millions of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, and surrounding countries. 

"Given the spread of the coronavirus in the West Bank and Gaza, the extreme vulnerability of the health system in Gaza, and the continued withholding of U.S. aid to the Palestinian people, we are concerned that the Administration is failing to take every reasonable step to help combat this public health emergency in the Palestinian Territories," the lawmakers wrote.

The lawmakers have requested a response to their letter no later than April 3, 2020, asking what steps the Administration is taking or planning to help provide the Palestinian people with access to adequate medicine, medical equipment, personnel, and other resources to combat the coronavirus; whether the Trump Administration will obligate $75 million in Congressionally-appropriated aid to the Palestinians, some of which could help them address public health needs; whether the State Department is coordinating with UN relief agencies, foreign governments, NGOs, or other entities to facilitate the delivery of critically needed medical aid to the Palestinian people to combat the coronavirus; how many medical facilities in the West Bank and Gaza are capable of treating and, if medically necessary, quarantining infected patients and medical personnel; and whether the Administration has consulted with the Israeli government regarding the need to ease existing restrictions on the import into Gaza of medicines and critical health related materials and equipment.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Senator Warren has pressed the Trump Administration to respond effectively to deliver the robust set of resources needed to address this emergency in Massachusetts and nationwide, including a faster expansion in diagnostic testingmedical supplies and care capacity, and support for state and local governments to be able to help people quickly. A week ago, she put out a plan to respond to the economic hardships brought on by the coronavirus crisis -- proposing at least $750 billion in stimulus money to save our economy and help families. Building on the proposals she laid out, she worked to ensure student loan debt cancellation and a critical increase in Social Security and disability benefits are a core part of the stimulus package Democrats negotiate. Senator Warren was also the first to lay out a detailed list of conditions tied to any taxpayer-funded bailouts, such as requiring companies to keep workers on payroll, implement a $15 minimum wage, permanently ban stock buybacks, prohibit CEO bonuses, and more. Her efforts are focused on ensuring stimulus money reaches the people who need it most in this crisis -- workers and families -- and bringing much-needed structural change to our economy. In addition, Senator Warren sent a letter to the Department of the Treasury and the Department of State expressing concern about the coronavirus outbreak in Iran and seeking assurances that U.S. sanctions on Iran are not hindering humanitarian transactions that would help counter and contain the spread of the disease in that country.