‘Genocide denial’: US Congress passes amendment denying Gaza death toll

Palestinian American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib said support for the legislation was ‘disgusting’

MEE staff

The shrouded bodies of people killed in Rafah during Israeli bombardment on the southern Gaza strip, are placed on a truck for burial outside Al-Najar hospital on 29 December 2023.
The shrouded bodies of people killed in Rafah during Israeli bombardment on the southern Gaza strip, are placed on a truck for burial outside Al-Najjar hospital on 29 December 2023 (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The majority of members of the US Congress, including more than 60 Democrats, have voted in favour of an amendment that would bar the State Department from using the Gaza health ministry’s count for the death toll in Gaza.

The vote pushes forward a piece of legislation that, if it passes, could further silence the discussion within the US government about the devastating impact that Israel’s war on Gaza has had on the enclave’s Palestinian population.

The amendment, a part of the State Department’s annual appropriations bill, passed on Thursday with a 269-144 vote. Sixty-two Democrats joined the vote, while only two Republicans did not vote in favour of it.

On the day of the vote, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib spoke on the floor of Congress, saying that the amendment was essentially “genocide denial”. The International Court of Justice ruled earlier this year there was a plausible case of Israel committing genocide in Gaza, after South Africa submitted a case on the issue.

“It’s disgusting that my colleagues would support legislation to prohibit US officials from even citing the Palestinian death toll,” Tlaib, the lone Palestinian lawmaker in US Congress, said on the House floor.

“They want to erase the Palestinians who are living, and now they are trying to erase the Palestinians who are dead. This is genocide denial.”

Since Israel’s war on Gaza began in October, many international NGOs as well as the United Nations have relied on the Gaza health ministry to know how many Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces.

It has been the sole source of regularly updated information on the death toll, as Israeli forces have decimated the enclave’s health infrastructure and repeatedly laid siege to several hospitals.

So far, the death toll stands at nearly 38,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom are women and children.

However, with thousands of Palestinians likely under the rubble and the ministry facing a lack of resources, health experts believe the death toll is likely to be far higher.

While the legislation would force the State Department not to use the death toll, the Biden administration had already cast doubt on it early on in the war.

“[There is] no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people were killed,” Biden said in a press conference in late October.

Those comments sparked outrage not just among Palestinians but also among rights groups and NGOs working on the ground in Gaza.

That same week of Biden’s denial of the death toll, reports surfaced that officials within the Biden administration had cited the Gaza health ministry’s death count in 20 different situation reports, with one official saying at the time that the toll was likely an undercount, not an overestimate.

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