Israel use of American weapons in Gaza violates humanitarian law: US memo

Ahram Online , Sunday 28 Apr 2024

Senior US officials said they do not find "credible or reliable" Israel's assurances that its use of US-supplied weapons in Gaza adheres to international humanitarian law, according to an internal State Department memo seen by Reuters.

A Palestinian child stands amid the debris of a house destroyed by overnight Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: AFP


Under a National Security Memorandum (NSM) issued by President Joe Biden in February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken must report to Congress by May 8 whether he finds credible Israel's assurances that its use of US weapons does not violate American or international law.

At least seven US State Department bureaus had sent their contributions to an initial "options memo" to Blinken, by 24 March, Reuters said.

Parts of the memo, which has not been previously reported, were classified.

"Some components in the department favored accepting Israel's assurances, some favored rejecting them and some took no position," a US official said.

A joint submission from four bureaus – Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Population, Refugees and Migration; Global Criminal Justice; and International Organization Affairs – raised "serious concern over non-compliance" with international humanitarian law during Israel's prosecution of the Gaza war.

The assessment from the four bureaus said Israel's assurances were "neither credible nor reliable," the news agency confirmed.

It cited eight examples of Israeli military actions that the officials said raise "serious questions" about potential violations of international humanitarian law.

These included repeatedly striking protected sites and civilian infrastructure, "unconscionably high levels of civilian harm to military advantage," taking little action to investigate violations or hold to account those responsible for significant civilian harm, and "killing humanitarian workers and journalists at an unprecedented rate."

According to Reuters, the bureaus' assessment also cited 11 instances of Israeli military actions the officials said "arbitrarily restrict humanitarian aid," including rejecting entire trucks of aid due to a single "dual-use" item, "artificial" limitations on inspections, and repeated attacks on humanitarian sites that should not be hit.

The Memorandum on Safeguards and Accountability was issued after Democratic lawmakers began questioning whether Israel was abiding by international law.

It imposed no new legal requirements but asked the State Department to "obtain credible and reliable written assurances" from countries receiving American-funded weapons that they are not violating international humanitarian law or blocking US humanitarian assistance.

It also required the administration to submit an annual report to Congress to assess whether countries adhere to international law and not impede the flow of humanitarian aid.

The State Department received in March Israel’s required written assurances that its use of US-supplied defense equipment does not violate such laws.

If Israel’s pledges are found wanting, Biden has the option at any point of suspending any further US arms transfers.

Human Rights Watch and Oxfam have called on the Biden administration to rule that any Israeli assurances are “not credible” and to impose the “immediate suspension” of arms transfers. They issued a joint report documenting what they said were clear “violations of international humanitarian law, deprivation of services critical to the survival of the civilian population, and arbitrary denial and restrictions of humanitarian aid.”

Early in April, the UN Human Rights Council demanded a halt in all arms sales to Israel, calling for Israel to be held accountable for possible war crimes.

UN experts already warned that "any transfer of weapons or ammunition to Israel that would be used in Gaza is likely to violate international humanitarian law and must cease immediately."

“All States must ‘ensure respect’ for international humanitarian law by parties to an armed conflict, as required by 1949 Geneva Conventions and customary international law,” the experts said.

“States must accordingly refrain from transferring any weapon or ammunition – or parts for them – if it is expected, given the facts or past patterns of behaviour, that they would be used to violate international law,” they added.

“Such transfers are prohibited even if the exporting State does not intend the arms to be used in violation of the law – or does not know with certainty that they would be used in such a way – as long as there is a clear risk,” they continued.

Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, concluded in her report "Anatomy of Genocide" that Israel has carried out acts of genocide in Gaza, warned of "ethnic cleansing," and recommended that UN members “immediately implement an arms embargo and sanctions on Israel."

In February, a Dutch appeals court ordered the Netherlands to halt the export of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel, finding that there was a “clear risk” that the parts would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law, as “there are many indications that Israel has violated the humanitarian law of war in a not insignificant number of cases.”

The International Court of Justice, ruling on an action brought by South Africa, ordered Israel to take action to prevent the possibility of genocide in its war in Gaza.

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