We Asked Every U.S. Senator About Israel Killing 17 Palestinians and Shooting Hundreds More

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On Friday, the Israeli military killed 17 Palestinians and wounded hundreds more during a protest for Palestinian rights that had been planned for weeks and attended by tens of thousands. In a since-deleted tweet from Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces said they knew “where every bullet landed”—that none of the deaths were mistakes.

The Israeli military claimed that soldiers only shot those who were approaching an off-limits border fence walling off Gaza. But in one disturbing video, a Palestinian teenager can be seen running away from the fence and being shot by sniper fire.


While protests in Gaza are common, it’s rare for them to end with so many injured and dead. U.S. leaders have remained nearly universally silent on the issue.

Over the weekend, the United Nations Security Council attempted to condemn Israel’s actions and begin an inquiry into the violence, but the U.S. blocked the statement. Walter Miller, a U.S. representative to the U.N., said Palestinian protesters were “bad actors” using the protests “as a cover to incite violence.” Any permanent member of the Security Council can veto a measure, but the U.S. has done it most frequently when the rest of the Council has condemned Israel — at least 44 times, including last December, when President Trump announced the U.S. Embassy would be moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.


Until Tuesday, Bernie Sanders was the only U.S. senator to comment publicly on the issue. The U.S. authorizes billions of dollars in military aid to Israel each year, and because every senator votes on this aid, we figured they might have a comment on the situation.


The most significant response we got was from an aide to Senator Patrick Leahy, who has expressed concerns about the Israeli military’s actions before. He questioned whether the actions of the Israeli military should be considered in relation to a law preventing the U.S. from assisting “units of foreign security forces where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights.”

Journalist Erin Corbett and I called, emailed, and followed up with all 99 U.S. senators (there’s a vacancy in Mississippi because Thad Cochran stepped down due to health issues). Here’s what they told us.


This post will be updated as responses come in.


Lisa Murkowski (R), Alaska:

“The Senator is traveling for work in rural Alaska with little to no cell service,” press secretary Hannah Ray said. “So unfortunately I won’t be able to provide you with anything.”


Michael Bennet (D), Colorado:

Press Secretary Laurie Cipriano asked if any other senators had given a comment and added, “I don’t know that we will be able to get a comment by your deadline. Do you want to extend your deadline?” (We offered to extend the deadline and have not heard back.)


Bill Nelson (D), Florida:

“I’m not sure. I haven’t spoken with the Senator but will look into it and see what I can find out,” said Jackie McGuinness, Nelson’s deputy press secretary.


Tammy Duckworth (D), Illinois:

“I’ll check in with the Senator to see if she wants to comment,” said Sean Savett, Duckworth’s press secretary.


John Kennedy (R), Louisiana:

“The Senator is traveling,” said Michelle Millhollon, Kennedy’s communications director.


Jeff Merkley (D), Oregon:

“Unfortunately, at the moment it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to get ahold of Senator Merkley for comment by your deadline. I’ll let you know if that changes.” (We offered to extend the deadline, and did not hear back.)


Mike Lee (R), Utah:

“We’re not going to have any comment on that,” said Conn Carroll, communications director for Senator Lee.


Patrick Leahy (D), Vermont:

An aide to Senator Leahy, who did not want their name used, sent us the following statement:

“Senator Leahy is concerned about the use of live ammunition against protestors wherever it occurs. He is currently part of a Senate delegation for visits overseas with NATO officials and other leaders, but upon his return he will want to know why the defense forces believed the use of live ammunition resulting in the deaths of at least 17 people was justified and whether the Leahy Law applies to the units responsible for these deaths.”


The Leahy Law prevents the U.S. from giving aid to units of foreign governments that participate in “gross violations of human rights.”

Bernie Sanders (I), Vermont:

Sanders had been thus far the only Senator to comment on the situation, and his press person referred us to his previous statements. He told CNN that Israel had “overreacted” and said that, “the situation in Gaza remains a humanitarian disaster.”


On Facebook, Senator Sanders said, “The unrest in Gaza will not end until the people there see hope for a decent future.”


Maria Cantwell (D), Washington:

“The Senator is traveling across Washington state,” said Reid Walker, her director of communications.


Joe Manchin (D), West Virginia:

“No,” Jonathan Kott, Manchin’s communications director said (and then hung up the phone).


The following Senators did not return multiple requests for comment:

Doug Jones (D), Alabama

Richard Shelby (R), Alabama

Dan Sullivan (R), Alaska

Jeff Flake (R), Arizona

John McCain (R), Arizona

John Boozman (R), Arkansas

Tom Cotton (R), Arkansas

Dianne Feinstein (D), California

Kamala Harris (D), California

Cory Gardner (R), Colorado

Richard Blumenthal (D), Connecticut

Chris Murphy (D), Connecticut

Tom Carper (D), Delaware

Chris Coons (D), Delaware

Marco Rubio (R), Florida

Johnny Isakson (R), Georgia

David Perdue (R), Georgia

Brian Schatz (D), Hawaii

Mazie Hirono (D), Hawaii

Mike Crapo (R), Idaho

Jim Risch (R), Idaho

Dick Durbin (D), Illinois

Joe Donnelly (D), Indiana

Todd Young (R), Indiana

Chuck Grassley (R), Iowa

Joni Ernst (R), Iowa

Pat Roberts (R), Kansas

Jerry Moran (R), Kansas

Mitch McConnell (R), Kentucky

Rand Paul (R), Kentucky

Bill Cassidy (R), Louisiana

Susan Collins (R), Maine

Angus King (I), Maine

Ben Cardin (D), Maryland

Chris Van Hollen (D), Maryland

Elizabeth Warren (D), Massachusetts

Debbie Stabenow (D), Michigan

Gary Peters (D), Michigan

Amy Klobuchar (D), Minnesota

Tina Smith (D), Minnesota

Roger Wicker (R), Mississippi

Claire McCaskill (D), Missouri

Roy Blunt (R), Missouri

Jon Tester (D), Montana

Steve Daines (R), Montana

Deb Fischer (R), Nebraska

Ben Sasse (R), Nebraska

Dean Heller (R), Nevada

Catherine Cortez Masto (D), Nevada

Jeanne Shaheen (D), New Hampshire

Maggie Hassan (D), New Hampshire

Bob Menendez (D), New Jersey

Cory Booker (D), New Jersey

Tom Udall (D), New Mexico

Martin Heinrich (D), New Mexico

Chuck Schumer (D), New York

Kirsten Gillibrand (D), New York

Richard Burr (R), North Carolina

Thom Tillis (R), North Carolina

John Hoeven (R), North Dakota

Heidi Heitkamp (D), North Dakota

Sherrod Brown (D), Ohio

Rob Portman (D), Ohio

Jim Inhofe (R), Oklahoma

James Lankford (R), Oklahoma

Ron Wyden (D), Oregon

Bob Casey (D), Pennsylvania

Pat Toomey (R), Pennsylvania

Jack Reed (D), Rhode Island

Sheldon Whitehouse (D), Rhode Island

Lindsey Graham (R), South Carolina

Tim Scott (R), South Carolina

John Thune (R), South Dakota

Mike Rounds (R), South Dakota

Lamar Alexander (R), Tennessee

Bob Corker (R), Tennessee

John Cornyn (R), Texas

Ted Cruz (R), Texas

Orrin Hatch (R), Utah

Mark Warner (D), Virginia

Tim Kaine (D), Virginia

Patty Murray (D), Washington

Shelley Moore Capito (R), West Virginia

Ron Johnson (R), Wisconsin

Tammy Baldwin (D), Wisconsin

Mike Enzi (R), Wyoming

John Barrasso (R), Wyoming

Correction: This post initially said that Israel receives “tens of billions” in U.S. military aid every year. While the U.S. did sign a $38 billion military aid package with Israel in 2016, that package covered a ten-year period. Israel is due to receive around $3.8 billion a year from the package—still by far the most military aid the U.S. gives to any country.