After Hamas Strike, Congress Wants to Sanction Terror Group’s Use of Human Shields. But Legislation Is On Ice Until New Speaker is Elected.

(Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)
October 10, 2023

House lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation to sanction the Iran-backed terror group Hamas for its use of human shields, but the critical legislation is destined to remain on ice until the Republican-controlled chamber can settle on a new speaker.

The bipartisan initiative represents the first congressional bid to hold the militant group accountable for its weekend slaughter of Israeli citizens, and underscores the paralysis caused by last week's ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Led by Reps. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) and Brad Sherman (D., Calif.), the bill would expand the White House’s power to sanction Hamas’s top leaders, as well as those affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, another Iranian-backed terror group operating in Lebanon, according to a copy of the measure obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

While the bipartisan bill is certain to attract widespread support as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle rally around Israel, it cannot be taken up by the House until a new speaker is selected. The situation will delay any action on one of the first pieces of legislation to crack down on Middle East terror groups following Hamas’s weekend attack on Israel that caught the Jewish state off guard and left more than a thousand dead and many more missing. It targets a key pillar of Hamas’s war fighting strategy, which focuses on embedding militants in heavily populated civilian areas and using them as cannon fodder. Hamas expanded this tactic during its siege on Israel, when it intentionally targeted and took hostage children, women, and elderly Israelis.

"The horrific Hamas attacks on Israel demonstrate that groups like Hamas, Hizballah, and the Palestine Islamic Jihad have always been dedicated to destroying Israel and combating American interests in the Middle East," Gallagher, a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told the Free Beacon. "Of all the malign activities of these groups, few are more reprehensible or dangerous than their use of civilians as human shields."

The legislation builds on a 2018 measure also pushed by Gallagher that authorized broad sanctions on terror groups that use human shields. The Biden administration is not fully enforcing that law, leading Gallagher and his colleagues to push a revamped version that goes further.

The latest measure extends the length of sanctions on these groups from 2023 to 2030 and gives Congress the power to force the administration into leveling economic penalties on those leading and supporting the various terror groups. It also would require the president to justify in writing any decision to waive sanctions or skirt their imposition.

"By reforming the [2018] Sanctioning the Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act and giving Congress a greater role in ensuring these critical sanctions are implemented, this bipartisan legislation sends a clear signal that the United States will severely punish this behavior," Gallagher said.

The bill specifically addresses Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel, noting that those taken hostage by the group are effectively being used as human shields. It also addresses the terror group’s decision to embed rocket launchers and weapons caches in densely populated areas throughout the Gaza Strip. Hamas does this to ensure Israeli forces unintentionally kill civilians.

"Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other groups that cynically exploit civilians as human shields are responsible for the deaths of countless Israelis and Palestinian civilians alike," Sherman said in a statement, adding that the bill will make "certain that the United States will hold terrorists accountable for their use of this disgraceful tactic."