Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), who wore his Israeli military uniform on Capitol Hill last month, said “there are very few innocent Palestinian citizens” during a speech on the House floor Wednesday.
While debating his bill — the Hamas International Financing Prevention Act, which recently cleared the House Foreign Affairs Committee — the U.S. Army veteran questioned the word choice of those decrying Israel’s deadly strikes on the Gaza Strip.
“I would encourage the other side to not so lightly throw around the idea of innocent Palestinian civilians, as frequently said,” Mast said. “I don’t think we would so lightly throw around the term ‘innocent Nazi civilians’ during World War II.”
The bill would allow a humanitarian exemption to give medicine, food and medical devices to Gazan civilians. Mast, during the committee markup, pitched an amendment that altered the wording, replacing it with a provision that would require President Biden to give out waivers on a case-by-case basis.
The GOP congressman previously served as a volunteer with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). His comments come just a day after an Israeli strike hit a refugee camp in northern Gaza, which targeted a Hamas commander but also killed dozens of civilians, according to Gaza officials.
The death toll in Gaza passed 8,000 this week, including thousands of women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
The Biden administration has urged Israel’s military to do it’s best to avoid civilian casualties, but it said such incidents are the price of war and has rejected calls for a cease-fire.
A group of progressive Democrats have sounded increasing alarm over the fate of Palestinian civilians as Israel began a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip over the weekend. However, Mast suggested most Palestinians were complicit in Hamas’s attack on Israel on Oct. 7, which left some 1,400 people dead, often with signs of torture or other brutality.
“There is not this far stretch to say there are very few innocent Palestinian civilians,” Mast said. “I haven’t seen the videos of the innocent Palestinian civilians that were out there trying to protect the Israelis, that were out there trying to stop the attacks, trying to get the captives returned instead of taken into tunnel systems.”
Mast, who is also the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight & Accountability, said the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, was also spreading antisemitic teachings. And he said even Palestinians who are explicitly part of Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an affiliated extremist group, could still “absolutely be considered a terrorist.”
Hamas is still holding some 240 hostages taken during its attack on Oct. 7. It has released four hostages, and Israel’s military said Monday it freed a soldier who was among the captives through its ground operations.