U.S. Rep. Brian Baird (D) has returned from his third trip in two years to Hamas-controlled Gaza, chastising Western governments including the U.S. for not doing enough to help the impoverished people there, according to CNN.
Baird is serving what he says his sixth and last term in Congress, and has encouraged other members of the U.S. government to visit the Gaza Strip on their own initiative to get a better notion of the situation unfolding there and act.
"If you can't see these things yourself, you're left with the official version of events," he told CNN.
Blockade and fighting have led to increased poverty
Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza since it was taken over in 2007 by Hamas, an organization both the United States and the European Union consider terrorist. Israel's assault in December 2008 to end cross-border shellings has only exacerbated the situation and the continuation of the blockade has hampered efforts to rebuild and recover the battered territory, which lags far behind the West Bank economically.
Humanitarian groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have called for the blockades to end to prevent a humanitarian disaster, but Israel has consistently refused. Though U.S. President Barack Obama has spoken out publicly for reconciliation and resumption of peace talks, Baird criticized the government for not applying more pressure for Israel to permit construction vehicles and materiel into the Gaza Strip.
Baird criticized by Israel and pro-Israel groups
The Israeli Foreign Ministry has responded harshly to Baird's commentary, according to CNN, comparing Gaza to a Berlin under Nazi control, and that the only way to help Gaza's residents is "to get rid of those who took power in a bloody coup and now rule there with the bayonet."
American-based Jewish political groups in Washington have also criticized Baird's calls for airlifts to supply Gaza, and have demanded that Obama repudiate the Congressman's statements.
Advocating for the Palestinians is NOT anti-Israel or disloyal, Baird says
Stressing that he is "a strong friend of Israel," Baird said he is simply speaking out against what he feels is an unjust policy undertaken by the Israeli government. Baird warned that continuing the blockade and prolonging the poverty and suffering of Gaza's people and their children will eventually radicalize that entire generation against Israel and the U.S.
"You don't have to condemn ... an entire population -- including hundreds of thousands of children -- or be called soft on terror," he told CNN. "You can be strong and insistent that terror cease and still protect the rights and needs of those children."