Human Rights Groups Call for Suspension of US Arms Supplies to Israel

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By Thalif Deen

NEW YORK | 21 March 2024 (IDN) — As the disproportionate death toll of Palestinian civilians reach over an estimated 30,000—in retaliation for the October 7 killings of 1,200 Israelis by Hamas—there is a continued growing demand for the suspension or restriction of US arms to Israel.

The US, which is the primary arms supplier, is being indirectly held responsible for the killings, and also, for the devastation and destruction of Gaza.

“The Biden administration should follow US law and immediately suspend arms transfers to Israel”, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam said March 19.

The two organizations have submitted a joint memorandum to the US government regarding Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law including with US weapons and the blocking of US-funded humanitarian assistance.

“There are good reasons why US law prohibits arms support for governments that block life-saving aid or violate international law with US weapons,” said Sarah Yager, Washington director at Human Rights Watch.

“Given ongoing hostilities in Gaza, the Israeli government’s assurances to the Biden administration that it is meeting US legal requirements are not credible,” she argued.

The Oxfam-Human Rights Watch memorandum summarizes a wide range of Israeli violations of international humanitarian law, deprivation of services critical to the survival of the civilian population, and arbitrary denial and restrictions of humanitarian aid since the Hamas-led attacks on Israel on October 7, 2023.

Some of the examples include:

  1. The use of US-supplied white phosphorus in military operations in Lebanon and Gaza in October;
  2. The Indiscriminate or disproportionate strikes on or near several major hospitals between October 7 and November 7, as well as a strike on a marked ambulance that reportedly killed 15 people and injured 60;
  3. The systematic blocking of assistance, including aid substantially provided by the US, from reaching about 300,000 Palestinians remaining in northern Gaza;
The bombardment and significant destruction of Oxfam and partner organizations’ water infrastructure rendering much of it inoperable.

Oxfam and Human Rights Watch said in their memorandum that they “are confident that the examples they cite reflect “a broader pattern of conduct than is currently being assessed by the US Government.”

In a report last month—comparing Israeli bombings with US attacks in Middle East conflicts—the New York Times pointed out that the aerial bombs used by American forces against the Islamic State (ISIS) in urban areas in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria were 500-pound weapons.

But, in contrast, “Israel’s liberal use of very large weapons in dense urban areas” included American-made 2,000-pound bombs that flattened buildings, houses and an apartment tower in Gaza while killing thousands of Palestinians.

“It’s beyond anything that I’ve seen in my career” Marc Garlasco, a former intelligence analyst at the Pentagon, was quoted as saying.

Which triggers two questions: would Israel have survived militarily without the $130 billion in weapons and military assistance provided by the US since Israel’s creation in 1948. And should Israel be charged with war crimes, along with US, the primary arms supplier to Israel?

Meanwhile, amid the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, US Senators. Bernie Sanders, Chris Van Hollen, Jeff Merkley, and five Democratic colleagues in the Senate last week sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to enforce federal law by requiring Netanyahu’s government to stop restricting humanitarian aid access to Gaza or forfeit U.S. military aid to Israel.

In the letter, the senators made clear that Netanyahu’s interference in U.S. humanitarian operations in Gaza violates Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, also known as the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act.

The law states: “No assistance shall be furnished under this chapter or the Arms Export Control Act to any country when it is made known to the President that the government of such country prohibits or otherwise restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance,” according to a press release from the office of Senator Sanders.

To President Biden, the senators wrote: “According to public reporting and your own statements, the Netanyahu government is in violation of this law. Given this reality, we urge you to make it clear to the Netanyahu government that failure to immediately and dramatically expand humanitarian access and facilitate safe aid deliveries throughout Gaza will lead to serious consequences, as specified under existing U.S. law.”

“The United States should not provide military assistance to any country that interferes with U.S. humanitarian assistance,” the senators continued.

“Federal law is clear, and, given the urgency of the crisis in Gaza and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated refusal to address U.S. concerns on this issue, immediate action is necessary to secure a change in policy by his government.”

Elaborating further, Oxfam and Human Rights Watch say that on March 15, the Israeli government submitted its most recent “assurances” to the US State Department that it is not arbitrarily blocking US humanitarian assistance and not violating international humanitarian law as part of its compliance with National Security Memorandum-20 (NSM-20).

NSM-20 establishes that foreign security partners such as Israel submit assurances to the Departments of State and Defense that they are not arbitrarily blocking US humanitarian assistance and not violating international humanitarian law. The secretaries of state and defense then need to determine whether these assurances are credible.

“Oxfam has repeatedly sounded the alarm that Israel’s ongoing bombardment and siege, and its actions to prevent access for humanitarian aid, have escalated a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” said Scott Paul, associate director for peace and security at Oxfam America.

“We have laid out clearly for the Biden administration why any assurances from Israel that they have not delayed, restricted, and impeded aid into Gaza cannot be relied upon. Despite this, the United States has continued to provide Israel with deadly weapons. The time has long passed for the Biden administration to end lethal arms sales to Israel, and we call on them to do so now and work to end the death and suffering in Gaza.”

The joint submission is being released as famine is imminent in northern Gaza and a high risk for the rest of the strip if Israel persists in its hostilities and restriction of humanitarian access. The United States and other countries have resorted to airdrops and a temporary seaport—a product of Israel blocking aid from entering via more effective and safe land routes, the groups said.

Oxfam and Human Rights Watch urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to consider expected future violations when determining the credibility of the Israeli government’s assurances.

“Oxfam and Human Rights Watch believe a suspension of arms transfers to Israel is necessary so long as there is an overriding risk that they are being used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and US law and policy,” the groups said in their report. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: An Israeli soldier carries a shell at a position of a self-propelled howitzer deployed in northern Israel bordering Lebanon, on Oct. 18, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/JINI via Xinhua)

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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Disclaimer: Human Rights Groups Call for Suspension of US Arms Supplies to Israel - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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