US Weapons Shipments to Israel Are Enabling War Crimes

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Joe Biden is fast-tracking weapons shipments to Israel to support its assault on Gaza. The types of weapons being sent have been used repeatedly by the Israeli military to attack and kill civilians during the last 15 years alone.

By Stephen Semler

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch called for an arms embargo on Israel and armed groups in Palestine, “given the real risk that they will be used to commit grave abuses,” an organizational statement said. “Providing weapons that knowingly and significantly would contribute to unlawful attacks can make those providing them complicit in war crimes.”

The Biden administration is doing exactly that. A recently leaked internal document from the Pentagon reveals the weapons the Biden administration is fast-tracking to Israel in support of its military offensive in Gaza. Based on my review of forensic investigations published by human rights and news organizations, these same types of weapons have been used repeatedly by the Israeli military to attack and kill civilians during the last fifteen years alone.

Doctors, paramedics, and rescue workers were constantly under fire from Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead in 2009. In January of that year, the Israeli military killed three paramedics and a child in Gaza using US-made Hellfire guided missiles; the paramedics were near a clearly marked ambulance with flashing lights and were wearing recognizable fluorescent vests. As a forensic report notes:

At the spot where the paramedics and the child were killed, Amnesty International delegates found pieces of the paramedics’ fluorescent vests strewn on the ground and stuck on trees, and remnants of at least two Hellfire missiles, which are usually launched from helicopters. The label read “guided missile, surface attack” and the USA is cited as the weapon’s country of origin.

The Israeli military also killed ten civilians sheltering in a school in Gaza in August 2014 using a Hellfire missile. According to the leaked document, the Biden administration just sent Israel two thousand of these missiles.

The August 2014 strike was part of a string of attacks by the Israeli military on United Nations–run schools. In one such attack on July 30, 2014, the Israeli military killed twenty people when it shelled a UN-run girls’ school using 155mm artillery shells. The UN said it had notified the Israeli military about the school’s location seventeen times beforehand, including “just hours before the fatal shelling”; the school also had a clearly visible UN flag. The Biden administration recently transferred fifty-seven thousand of these munitions to Israel, per the leaked Pentagon document.

On July 24, 2014, the Israeli military killed thirteen people, including six children, when it fired 120mm mortar rounds at the Beit Hanoun Elementary School. This school was also UN-run and clearly marked with a UN flag. The Israeli military was notified by the UN of the school’s coordinates twelve times, including at 10:56 a.m. on the day of the attack. Joe Biden just sent Israel four hundred of these mortar rounds.

Israel has used both the 155mm shells and 120mm mortar shells to launch white phosphorus — a brutal incendiary weapon capable of burning straight through flesh, bone, and even metal — at targets in Lebanon in 19822006, and 2023, as well as repeatedly in densely populated areas in Gaza, including in 2009 and 2023. The Israeli military first denied using white phosphorus in 2009 before admitting it later. Israel has denied using it this year too, despite forensic evidence indicating that it clearly did. Protocol III of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons prohibits using white phosphorus near civilians, but Israel isn’t party to it.

The leaked document also shows an Israeli request for M4 assault rifles, the same type of rifle an Israeli army marksman used to murder journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May 2022. M4s feature prominently in a pending $34 million sale of US assault rifles to Israel, which has received some press attention because of Israel’s practice of arming settlers and encouraging them to attack Palestinians.

Over the summer, armed settlers carried out pogroms all across the West Bank, and this fall, Israeli officials recently began arming thousands of Israeli civilians in over a thousand locations, including settlements, to function as “alert teams” — i.e., militias. In late October, Israel’s national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, posted photos of him handing out assault rifles to civilians at a political event. Since October 7, the UN reports that two hundred Palestinian civilians, including fifty-two children, have been killed in the West Bank.

Joe Biden’s unconditional support for Israel’s military offensive has yielded predictable results. Israeli leaders openly endorse collective punishment, and Israel’s military is acting accordingly by intentionally targeting schools, hospitals, and apartments. A child is killed every ten minutes in Gaza, which has been described as “hell on earth” by UN leaders. The US president’s willingness to provide the exact same types of weapons Israel has used in the past to kill innocent civilians is a new moral low — and a clear rejection by Biden of international law.

Stephen Semler is cofounder of Security Policy Reform Institute, a grassroots-funded US foreign policy think tank.


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