01.28.09

Statement On The Shurrab Family

MR. LEAHY. Mr. President, we have all seen the photographs of houses, schools and other civilian infrastructure destroyed in Gaza, and the reports of civilian deaths, including over 400 children, and many thousands more injured. Behind each of these statistics is a story of a family tragedy. I want to take this opportunity to talk about one that has touched the lives of Vermonters, and which should cause each of us deep concern.  

Amer Shurrab is arecent graduate ofMiddlebury College, which is located not very far from my home in Vermont.  Amer is also a Palestinian, whose family was living in Gaza during the recent Israeli invasion. His father, Muhammed Kassab Shurrah, is a farmer who grows fruits and vegetables on a small plot of land. 

On January 16th, Amer’s father and brothers were returning home with provisions from their farm during the 3 hour humanitarian cease-fire that was in effect that day. Although there was apparently no indication that the route was unsafe for a civilian vehicle carrying civilian passengers, Israeli soldiers fired from a civilian house at their car as it passed for reasons that remain unknown. In a panic, Amer’s brother, Kassab, already wounded, got out of the vehicle and was shot a total of 18 times and died a short distance away.  Israeli bullets also hit Amer’s father and younger brother Ibrahim, who were unable to leave the car to get medical attention because Israeli soldiers refused to allow movement in or out of the area.

Muhammed tried everything he could to save his son Ibrahim, who was bleeding to death before his eyes. He phoned a hospital with his cell phone, but the hospital told him the Israeli Army was preventing an ambulance from reaching them. He called relatives, who contacted the Red Cross on his behalf to ask for assistance, but the Red Cross had to wait for assurance from Israeli authorities that an ambulance would get through unscathed, assurance which was not forthcoming. He spoke with several members of the press, including the BBC, who even broadcast his plea for help. But an ambulance could not reach them until 22 hours after the incident, even though the hospital was located less than a mile away. By this time, Ibrahim had died in his father’s arms. Israeli troops reportedly looked on and ignored Muhammed’s pleas for help.  

This case cries out for an immediate, thorough, credible and transparent investigation by the Israeli Government. Any individuals determined to have violated the laws of war should be prosecuted and appropriately punished. In addition, it is important that the U.S. Embassy determine whether any Israeli soldiers who were equipped by the U.S. violated U.S. laws or agreements governing the use of U.S. equipment, both in relation to this incident and others involving civilian casualties. This should include the use of white phosphorous in heavily populated areas, which is alleged to have caused serious injuries to civilians.

Mr. President, this is a heartbreaking story. My thoughts and prayers go out to Amer Shurrab and his family and friends, and to the families of other civilians, Palestinian and Israeli, who died or suffered other grievous losses in this latest escalation of violence. 

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