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Palestinian man sits in rubble in Gaza

A Palestinian man sits on the rubble of a destroyed house in the Gaza Strip after 11 days of violence in May. (Photo: Mahmoud Issa/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Biden Urged to Push Israeli PM to End 'Systematic Human Rights Abuses'

The demand comes as Biden is set to have his first meeting with the far-right Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Andrea Germanos

When President Joe Biden sits down Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet, he must press for an end to the Israeli government's "flagrant abuses and violations of international law" including ongoing settlement expansions and other violence against Palestinians, leading human rights organizations told the U.S. president.

The demand—delivered in a letter dated Wednesday and signed by Amnesty International USA executive director Paul O’Brien and Amnesty International Israel executive director Molly Maleka—came ahead of Biden's first meeting with Bennett, head of the nation's ultra-regressive New Right party.

A critic of a two-state solution, Bennett is also firmly opposed to the Iran nuclear deal. He previously announced his intention to make Iran the focus of his meeting with Biden, saying Sunday that he would present to Biden "an orderly plan that we have formulated in the past two months to curb the Iranians, both in the nuclear sphere and vis-à-vis regional aggression."

"As a substantial ally and backer of Israel’s government and security forces, the U.S. must make clear publicly and privately that these violations will not be met with silence."

Originally scheduled for Thursday, the White House meeting was postponed following the explosions near Kabul's international airport that left scores dead.

According to Amnesty, Biden should put Palesinian rights at the forefront of the meeting agenda, pointing in their letter to "the Israeli government’s systematic human rights abuses in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)."

"As a substantial ally and backer of Israel's government and security forces," the groups wrote, "the U.S. must make clear publicly and privately that these violations will not be met with silence."

The letter points to a number of such sweeping violations, including recent and violent forced removals of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

"So far in 2021, Israeli forces have demolished at least 625 structures in the occupied West Bank, forcibly displacing 896 Palestinians; hundreds more face pending evictions," the letter states. "Just from July 27th to August 9th, authorities demolished 57 buildings, displacing 97 Palestinians, overwhelmingly children. This far outpaces the rate from 2020, showing that the systemic abuses are only accelerating."

"Previous administrations made clear that these forced removals are unacceptable," the groups said, "this one must do the same."

Further recent violations include the "disturbing wave of repression and brutality against Palestinians by Israeli security forces, including targeted campaigns of sweeping discriminatory arrests, torture and unlawful force."

"Authorities indefinitely detain thousands of Palestinians without charge or trial, including 157 Palestinian children," the letter also noted, and "Palestinian civilians, including children, protesters, and human rights defenders, are regularly subjected to unlawful trials in military courts, raids, harassment, torture, and travel bans – including Amnesty staff."

The groups also reminded Biden of the 11-day assault on Gaza in May that killed 260 Palestinians during which Israel's "unlawfully disproportionate use of force devastated a civilian population already suffering from previous attacks and the suffocating blockade." The letter further noted:

Amnesty documented multiple cases of indiscriminate targeting of Gazan civilians by Israeli airstrikes, in some cases wiping out entire families. Over 8,000 Gazans remain displaced, 123 health facilities and 72 schools suffered significant damage, and hundreds of thousands lack access to clean water after airstrikes destroyed critical infrastructure. Deliberate attacks on civilians’ homes, medical facilities, public infrastructure, and schools not verifiably used by the military are war crimes, and Israeli forces’ grave violations demand open investigation. So far, authorities have provided no evidence in many such strikes of Hamas presence, let alone accountability.

Israeli actions are also impacting Palestinian rights with regards to the coronavirus pandemic, the letter argues.

"Israeli authorities have failed their obligation under international law as an occupying power to ensure the right to health and access to adequate medical care—in this case, vaccines—for Palestinians," the letter states. While data this week shows 63% of Israelis are fully vaccinated, just 8% of Palestinians are, the groups noted. What's more, the letter said, Israel was the first country to administer booster doses—"an immoral decision when millions in the territories it occupies have not even received a single dose."

"It is painfully clear that without pressure and demands for accountability from the U.S.—including cutting military funding to the Israeli government and sanctions—the Israeli government will continue to violate Palestinian rights."

Specific demands Biden must make to Bennett, says Amnesty, are for the Israeli government to end forced evictions of Palestinians, support international probes into alleged Israeli war crimes, and end the Gaza blockade.

Other human rights organizations have similarly urged Biden to seize the meeting with Bennett as an opportunity to advance Palestinian rights.

In a joint statement released Thurday, groups including Adalah Justice Project, IfNotNow, and Jewish Voice for Peace Action said that "if President Biden truly wants to center justice and human rights in U.S. foreign policy, he must finally condemn and take action to end U.S. diplomatic support and military funding for the Israeli government's ongoing and systemic violations of Palestinian human rights."

"It is painfully clear that without pressure and demands for accountability from the U.S.—including cutting military funding to the Israeli government and sanctions—the Israeli government will continue to violate Palestinian rights," the groups said. "Our tax dollars should be invested in life affirming policies like housing and healthcare, not harm to communities around the globe."

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