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Representative Ayanna Pressley questions US aid to Israel ‘that is used to demolish Palestinian homes’

Representative Ayanna Pressley.
Representative Ayanna Pressley.Erin Clark/Globe Staff/file

As violence escalated this week in Israel, Representative Ayanna Pressley on Thursday joined the ranks of US politicians denouncing the Jewish state for attacks against Palestinians, and criticizing the US for sending the country billions of dollars in aid “that is used to demolish Palestinian homes, imprison Palestinian children, and displace Palestinian families.”

“Palestinians are being told the same thing as Black folks in America — there is no acceptable form of resistance. We are bearing witness to egregious human rights violations,” Pressley said on the House floor Thursday evening.

Likening the condition of Palestinians to Black Americans protesting police violence, she suggested the US should consider conditioning aid to the country, questioning, “if our budgets are a statement of our values, what do we value? Whose lives do we value?”

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“We cannot stand idly and complicitly by and allow the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people to continue,” Pressley said. “I am committed to ensuring that our government does not fund state violence in any form, anywhere… The question at hand is should our taxpayer dollars create conditions for justice, healing and repair, or should those dollars create conditions for oppression and apartheid?”

In the long-contested region, the recent escalation of violence began in the wake of Israeli efforts to force Palestinians out of parts of the city. During Ramadan, a holy month in Islam, Israeli police raided Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in the world for Muslims, setting off a skirmish in which Muslim worshippers threw rocks and police shot tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades. More than 330 Palestinians and at least 21 police officers were wounded.

In response, Hamas, a militant group that controls Gaza, fired rockets at Israeli cities including Jerusalem, injuring six civilians, according to the Israeli military. Israeli military responded with airstrikes into Gaza. More than 100 Palestinians, including 27 children, have been killed in the Gaza Strip in recent days, Al Jazeera reported.

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Now, street violence has broken out between Jews and Arabs, with riots and attacks on businesses and vehicles.

The International Criminal Court is watching the region for potential war crimes.

The US has sent a diplomat to the region to urge de-escalation and “bring calm,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said this week. As the US treads carefully, the conflict has created a tricky political situation for many Democrats, including the one who occupies the White House. President Joe Biden was criticized by leading progressive Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a fellow member with Pressley of the so-called Squad of four progressive women of color in Congress, all elected in 2018 — for “taking the side of the occupation” after he spoke with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, and said the country has the right to defend itself.

The conflict comes amid a shift in the Democratic party, as sympathies especially among its younger voters increasingly align with the Palestinian plight. In the wake of the Trump presidency, Democrats have moved to the left on Israel, leaving many progressives furious with the administration’s response.

Pressley’s speech drew attention from the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, an organization she has had a positive working relationship with in recent years.

“We agree with Representative Pressley that everyone deserves to live free from fear and to know peace, and we are troubled that her speech did not reflect a belief that these conditions apply to Israeli citizens being indiscriminately targeted by rocket fire from a US-recognized terrorist organization,” JCRC said in a statement to the Globe.

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Earlier this week, Senator Ed Markey faced criticism from his own supporters, who said his reaction to the conflict perpetuated a false equivalence between the two sides, which have a clear power imbalance.

More than 500 groups and individuals that supported Markey’s reelection last year — including the Sunrise Movement, state Representative Erika Uyterhoeven, and Cambridge City Councilor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler — condemned Markey for characterizing the conflict as a “both sides” issue.

For her part, Pressley was among a group of 25 House members who demanded in a letter Wednesday that the Biden administration step in on behalf of Palestinians, telling Israel to “desist from its plans to demolish Palestinian homes” and, if it does not, send observers to document the forced displacement, including its use of any US weapons. Other signatories included Ocasio-Cortez, and Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

In a speech on the House floor this week, Tlaib, Congress’ only Palestinian-American member and another Squad member, condemned the administration, saying, “to read the statements from President Biden, Secretary Blinken, General Austin and leaders of both parties, you would hardly know Palestinians existed at all.”

In 2019, Pressley was the only member of the “Squad” to vote to condemn a boycott Israel movement. In 2020, she condemned Netanyahu’s plans to annex areas of the West Bank. She has said she supports a two-state solution in the region.

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Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.