More than 1,000 USAID employees sign letter backing Israel-Gaza ceasefire

Letter by US aid agency staffers says humanitarian assistance is largely ‘rendered moot’ amid intensifying violence.

Children sit by a wall in Gaza
Children sit together at a UN-run school that has been converted into a shelter for displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 25 [File: Mahmud Hams/AFP]

Washington, DC – Hundreds of staffers at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have signed a letter calling for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, as a growing number of government employees voice dissent against US support for Israel’s military offensive there.

The letter, which started circulating last week, reached 1,000 signatures on Wednesday, representing officials from across USAID’s departments and overseas missions.

“While we appreciate and acknowledge efforts by USAID to call for an urgent humanitarian response in Gaza and understand that the Agency is working tirelessly to make this happen, we must remember that humanitarian assistance efforts and life-saving aid are largely rendered moot in situations of escalating and indiscriminate bombing and violence,” the letter said.

USAID is responsible for overseeing the US’s foreign development and humanitarian aid across the world.

In the letter, first revealed by Foreign Policy magazine and The Washington Post on November 3, the employees decry the “numerous violations of international law” and the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza.

“We believe that further catastrophic loss of human life can only be avoided if the United States Government calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the release of Israeli hostages, and the restoration of water, food, fuel, and electricity to the people of Gaza by the State of Israel,” it reads.

“In the longer term, we call on the United States Government to join the international community and human rights organizations in holding all parties, including the State of Israel, to international law, which includes ending Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and settlements on occupied land.”

In a statement to Al Jazeera shared on condition of anonymity, one of the USAID staffers who authored the letter voiced particular dismay at Washington’s decision to veto a UN Security Council resolution last month calling for a humanitarian pause to the fighting.

The staff member also stressed that humanitarian aid to Gaza without stopping the war is not enough.

“Many humanitarian officials from many different conflict zones agree that aid cannot be a Band-Aid to a problem that requires a political solution. The people of Gaza need aid, but first they need the bombs to stop,” the staffer said.

“Many USAID officials, particularly those in Middle East missions and bureaus, are tired of trying to programme foreign aid and humanitarian assistance in response to political and foreign policy errors and war crimes that the US [government] is supporting.”

Bombardment and siege

The war started on October 7 after the Palestinian group Hamas launched an attack on Israel, killing over 1,400 people and taking more than 200 captives.

Israel retaliated with a relentless bombing campaign that has killed more than 10,000 people in Gaza. Settler violence against Palestinians has also soared in the West Bank amid a security crackdown by Israeli forces.

In addition to its bombing campaign in Gaza, the Israeli government has severely restricted the entry of food, water and fuel over the past month. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant promised to impose a “complete siege” on the territory, saying that his country is “fighting against human animals”.

Although the humanitarian situation in Gaza is deteriorating, US President Joe Biden has rejected calls for a ceasefire while expressing “unwavering” support for Israel. The White House has repeatedly said that it is not drawing any “red lines” that might limit the Israeli military operation.

Rights groups and the UN, however, have urged Israel to stop the bombing, which has struck hospitals, refugee camps, churches, mosques and schools sheltering civilians.

Last week, UN experts warned that the Palestinian people are at a “grave risk of genocide”, underscoring that Israel’s allies “bear responsibility and must act now to prevent its disastrous course of action”.

The UN’s Genocide Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”, including killings and measures to prevent births.

The US provides Israel with at least $3.8bn in military aid annually, and Biden is seeking more than $14bn in additional assistance to Israel this year.

USAID stresses assistance to Gaza

USAID administrator Samantha Power is an outspoken proponent of US interventions to prevent genocide across the world.

In an email about the letter, USAID spokesperson Jessica Jennings said that the agency appreciates the “ongoing dialogue” with staff and partners and welcomes its team to “share their opinions with leadership”.

Jennings also highlighted USAID’s humanitarian efforts in Gaza and the US administration’s push to deliver aid to the territory, including $100m in assistance announced by Biden last month.

“The United States continues to work with Israel, Egypt, the UN and other partners to facilitate rapid and sustained assistance flow into Gaza,” Jennings said.

“Food, fuel, water, medicine, and other essential services must be restored. While the number of trucks entering Gaza continues to increase, it is not nearly enough.”

As the fighting in Gaza intensifies, calls for a ceasefire have been growing louder within the US government.

In Congress, where the overwhelming majority of lawmakers oppose efforts to push for an end to the fighting, hundreds of staffers penned a letter urging a ceasefire last month.

“Millions of lives hang in the balance, including the 2.3 million civilians — half of whom are children — in Gaza, civilians in Israel, and Jews and Muslims around the world,” the letter, first reported by Politico, warned.

On Wednesday, dozens of staffers on Capitol Hill staged a walkout to renew that appeal.

“We demand our leaders speak up, call for a ceasefire, the release of all hostages and an immediate de-escalation now,” one anonymous staffer — sporting a medical mask and sunglasses — said in front of the US Capitol in a video shared on social media.

“We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of every single beautiful, innocent life.”

In October, Josh Paul, a senior official at the Department of State, resigned in protest against US policy towards Israel.

“Washington is giving unambiguous and unquestioned military support to Israel despite what many in the region see as a deep injustice,” Paul told Al Jazeera last month.

“We have tried to frame ourselves as an honest broker, but we’re removing what little credibility we had left in that role.”

Source: Al Jazeera