Sen. Bernie Sanders

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) presides over a hearing on March 29, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Senate Urged to Approve Probe of Israeli Human Rights Violations in Gaza

"It is past time that the United States government understand that and take account of its own role in the crisis," said one campaigner, calling for a cease-fire. "We don't have time to waste."

Support for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' privileged resolution that would require the State Department to swiftly produce a report on Israel's human rights practices amid its war on the Gaza Strip mounted ahead of an expected Tuesday evening vote in the Senate.

Introduced by Sanders (I-Vt.) last month, S.Res. 504 relies on Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act, which allows Congress to demand information on a country receiving U.S. security aid. If the resolution passes, a report must be drafted within 30 days, after which lawmakers may consider changes to foreign assistance.

The United States gives Israel $3.8 billion in annual military aid. U.S. President Joe Biden responded to the Hamas-led attack that sparked the current war by requesting a $14.3 billion package from Congress while also bypassing lawmakers to arm Israeli forces.

"The Senate must pass S.Res.504," Win Without War said on social media ahead of the Senate debate, set to start around 4:30pm ET. "If the [Biden administration] isn't following the law, it's Congress' duty to compel it to, especially as the administration rushes through emergency sales outside congressional review."

Robert McCaw, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' (CAIR) government affairs department, said Tuesday, "We call on every American who cares about human rights to urge their U.S. senators to support Sen. Sanders' call for an assessment of any human rights violations the Israeli government has committed with weapons provided by American taxpayer dollars."

Passing Sanders' resolution is "the very least the Senate should do in response to what even President Biden has reportedly described as the Israeli government's 'indiscriminate bombing' of Gaza, which has killed over 24,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children," McCaw argued. "It is imperative that the United States starts upholding the rule of law. As a nation, we must reach out to our senators, mobilize our communities, and urge their support."

Amnesty International USA also endorsed the resolution on Tuesday, with executive director Paul O'Brien saying that "in their stated intent to use all means to destroy Hamas, Israeli forces have shown a shocking disregard for civilian lives. They have killed civilians on a mass scale and pulverized street after street of residential buildings and essential infrastructure."

"Indiscriminate attacks, direct attacks on civilian objects, collective punishment are all war crimes," he stressed. "Under these circumstances, members of Congress must vote yes for a resolution that simply asks the State Department to provide relevant information and reporting for Congress to have effective oversight on whether the United States is contributing arms or assistance enabling violations of international law."

Oxfam America President and CEO Abby Maxman also urged the Senate to pass the resolution on Tuesday, stressing that "U.S. support for Israel has continued without any consideration of its contribution to the devastating siege and bombardment of Gaza."

"It is past time that the United States government understand that and take account of its own role in the crisis and to investigate whether U.S. funds and military support are being used by Israeli forces to commit human rights abuses," Maxman said, noting that tens of thousands of Gazans have been killed and most survivors are displaced and "facing catastrophic levels of hunger."

"Deaths due to preventable disease are rising, as Israel's siege of Gaza has left many without access to sanitation, medicine, food, or fuel," she added. "Oxfam continues to call for a complete cease-fire, the safe return of all hostages, and for more aid to reach Palestinians in desperate need. We don't have time to waste."

Sanders—who is Jewish but not religious and briefly lived in Israel decades ago—has faced criticism from progressives for not demanding a cease-fire. However, the senator has also fiercely criticized Israel's brutal bombardment of Gaza and made clear that he opposes giving the country billions of more dollars in unconditional military aid.

"It should not be controversial to ask how U.S. weapons are used," he said before the vote Tuesday. "We should all want this information. If you believe the war has been indiscriminate, as I do, then we must ask this question. If you believe Israel has done nothing wrong, then this information should support that belief."

In a Tuesday statement welcoming plans for the Senate vote, Americans for Peace Now (APN) explained that it "supports U.S. aid to Israel, but aid must align with U.S. values and policy priorities."

"Accountability regarding Israel's use of U.S.-provided equipment is vital, and we must ensure strict adherence to both U.S. and international laws, with an emphasis on protecting civilians," said APN president and CEO Hadar Susskind. "If you believe that Israel has not committed human rights violations in Gaza, then you should welcome this report as it would exonerate Israel from any such claims."

The Senate is set to vote on mandating the State Department report as United Nations leaders warn of rising hunger and disease in Gaza, and just days after a hearing at the International Court of Justice for a South African-led case accusing Israel of genocide.

This post has been updated with comment from Amnesty International.

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