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Israel violating US and international law, ex officials say

Israel violating US and international law, ex officials say

An independent task force has given a detailed report of alleged Israeli war crimes to the Biden administration

Reporting | Middle East

Israel’s attacks in Gaza reflect a “systematic disregard for fundamental principles of international law” and “raise grave concerns regarding the [Biden] Administration’s compliance with both U.S. and international law,” according to an explosive new report from a prominent group of former U.S. officials and legal scholars.

“The Israeli government [has] demonstrated a clear pattern of negligent targeting along this campaign, [as well as] indifference and callousness to civilian harm and suffering and a disregard for international law,” Wes Bryant, an Air Force master sergeant and a targeting expert who contributed to the report, said during a Wednesday press conference.

“Their campaign has been executed in a manner wholly inconsistent with U.S. targeting methodologies and best practices,” Bryant added, noting that “the majority of strikes” that he has reviewed would not have been approved by U.S. officials.

The report, which the group submitted to the State Department last week, is meant to inform the administration’s thinking ahead of a May 8 deadline to determine whether Israel’s actions in Gaza have complied with U.S. law regarding arms transfers. Members of the task force also plan to brief members of Congress on the results of their inquiry next week.

The State Department’s report would force a suspension of certain U.S. weapons transfers to Israel if its findings reflect the publicly available evidence included in the task force’s report, the authors say. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is reportedly planning to block a notorious Israeli unit from receiving U.S. military grant aid due to allegations of human rights violations.

As the task force released its report, President Joe Biden was set to sign off on an additional $17 billion in military aid for Israel, part of a broader aid package for U.S. partners abroad. The package also blocks funding for the primary United Nations aid organization operating in Gaza, a measure that could further complicate the humanitarian crisis on the ground.

Josh Paul — a former State Department official who resigned in protest last year — led the inquiry alongside Noura Erakat, a Palestinian-American legal scholar. Other members of the task force include Bryant and Charles Blaha, who led the State Department’s human rights bureau until August of last year. Legal experts Adil Haque and Luigi Daniele also contributed to the report.

From a list of thousands of different incidents, the task force identified 16 cases in which it could conclude with high certainty that Israeli forces used American weapons in attacks that likely violated the laws of war or U.S. targeting standards. In 11 of the 16 cases, the report found that Israel has still not identified its intended target or justified its attack.

One alleged violation came on Oct. 10 of last year, when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) flattened a six-story residential building in Gaza City with a U.S.-made bomb, killing 40 civilians and failing to hit the apparent target — a low-level Hamas militant who was not home at the time. A similar set of strikes killed at least 106 civilians near the Nuseirat refugee camp on Oct. 31, the report notes.

The task force also cited the recent killing of seven international aid workers from World Central Kitchen, as well as a November attack on a clearly marked ambulance that led to 21 casualties, including five children.

The task force found several Israeli violations of a U.S. law that bans the provision of U.S. weapons to any state that blocks the flow of American humanitarian aid. The report notes that Israel has repeatedly refused U.S. demands to increase the amount of aid entering Gaza, adding that the IDF has directly attacked humanitarian convoys on several occasions.

The aid-related violations are notable given the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where famine has begun to take hold. Multiple members of Congress have called on the Biden administration to cut off certain military aid to Israel under the law.

Following the recent Israeli killing of Western aid workers, Israel says it plans to increase the flow of aid into Gaza. A United Nations tracker showed a slight uptick in the number of humanitarian trucks entering the besieged strip, but aid groups say the amount of aid entering the strip remains far too low to slow the growing famine.

The task force’s report highlights the difficulties of the Biden administration’s attempt to balance its desire to show ironclad support for Israel with widespread outrage at the IDF’s actions in Gaza, which have left at least 34,000 Palestinians dead and displaced nearly everyone living in the strip, according to local officials.

In response to pressure from prominent lawmakers, led by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), President Joe Biden issued a memorandum in February mandating that the U.S. get assurances from partners that their use of U.S. weapons does not violate U.S. or international law. The memo also forces the State Department to report to Congress by May 8 on whether those assurances are credible.

The White House may have hoped that the war would be over by the time it had to submit the upcoming report. But, with no ceasefire in sight, the administration will now have two options: ignore a mountain of publicly available evidence of Israeli violations, or acknowledge that the IDF’s actions should disqualify it from receiving U.S. weapons.

Paul says there is “room for skepticism as to whether” the Biden administration’s report will “accurately reflect” the available evidence of alleged Israeli violations, especially “given the constant assertions from podiums in the White House, the Pentagon and State Department that the U.S. has not identified any violations of international law by the Israel Defense Forces.” But he and his colleagues hope that their independent report will add pressure on the White House to recognize the impact that U.S. weapons are having in Gaza.

“In our report, we detail a number of clear, credible and compelling incidents that should certainly be included in the administration's upcoming reporting to Congress,” Paul said at a Wednesday press conference. “These are just the tip of the iceberg but demonstrate the inescapable truth of how U.S.-provided weapons and security assistance are being used by Israel.”

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops ground operation in Gaza on Nov 12, 2023. (IDF handout via EYEPRESS via Reuters)

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Israel-Gaza Crisis