Rep. Veronica Escobar

Reps. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) (center) and Greg Casar (D-Texas) (left) and two dozen other House Democrats are taking the Biden administration to task over its claim that Israel is using U.S.-supplied weapons legally against Palestinians.

(Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

House Dems Voice 'Deep Concern' Over Biden Claim That Israel Is Legally Using US Arms

A letter from 26 lawmakers notes the "stark differences and gaps" between what Biden administration officials say and the opinions of "prominent experts and global institutions" accusing Israel of genocide.

More than two dozen House Democrats on Tuesday challenged the Biden administration's claim that Israel is using U.S.-supplied weapons in compliance with domestic and international law—an assertion made amid an ongoing World Court probe of "plausibly" genocidal Israeli policies and practices in Gaza.

Citing "mounting credible and deeply troubling reports and allegations" of human rights crimes committed by Israeli troops in Gaza and soldiers and settlers in the occupied West Bank, 26 congressional Democrats led by Texas Reps. Veronica Escobar—who co-chairs President Joe Biden's reelection campaign—and Joaquin Castro asked U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines "whether and how" their agencies determined Israel is lawfully using arms provided by Washington.

"We write to express our deep concern regarding the U.S. Department of State's recent comments regarding assurances from the Israeli government, under National Security Memorandum (NSM) 20, that the Israeli government is using U.S.-origin weapons in full compliance with relevant U.S. and international law and is not restricting the delivery of humanitarian assistance," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Cabinet members.

The letter acknowledges the "grave concerns" of institutions and experts around the world regarding Israel's "conduct throughout the war in Gaza, its policies regarding civilian harm and military targeting, unauthorized expansion of settlements and settler violence in the West Bank, and potential use of U.S. arms by settlers, in additional to limitations on humanitarian aid supported by the U.S."

The legislators noted Israeli attacks on aid convoys, workers, and recipients—like the February 29 " Flour Massacre" in which nearly 900 starving Palestinians were killed or wounded at a food distribution site—and "the closure of vital border crossings" as Gazan children starve to death as causes for serious concern.

While the lawmakers didn't mention the International Court of Justice's January 26 preliminary finding that Israel is "plausibly" committing genocide in Gaza, their letter highlights the "stark differences and gaps in the statements" made by Biden administration officials and "those made by prominent experts and global institutions"—many of whom accuse Israel of genocide.

The lawmakers' letter came amid reports of fresh Israeli atrocities, including a drone strike on a playground in the Maghazi refugee camp in northern Gaza that killed at least 11 children. Eyewitnesses described a "horrific scene of children torn apart."

While Biden has called out Israel's "indiscriminate bombing" in Gaza—much of it carried out using U.S.-supplied warplanes and munitions including 2,000-pound bombs that can level whole city blocks—his administration has approved more than 100 arms sales to Israel, has repeatedly sidestepped Congress to fast-track emergency armed aid, and is seeking to provide the key ally with billions of dollars in addition weaponry atop the nearly $4 billion it gets annually from Washington.

This, despite multiple federal laws—and the administration's own rules— prohibiting U.S. arms transfers to human rights violators.

According to Palestinian and international officials, more than 110,000 Palestinians have been killed or wounded by Israeli forces since October 7. Most of the dead are women and children. At least 7,000 Palestinians are also missing and presumed dead and buried beneath the rubble of hundreds of thousands of bombed-out homes and other buildings.

Around 90% of Gaza's 2.3 million people have been forcibly displaced in what many Palestinians are calling a second Nakba, a reference to the ethnic cleansing of over 750,000 Arabs from Palestine during the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948.

A growing number of not only progressive lawmakers but also mainstream Democrats are calling for a suspension of U.S. military aid to Israel.

On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who was criticized earlier in the war for not calling for a cease-fire—stood beside a photo of a starving Gazan girl while declaring "no more money for" the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his "war machine."

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