Displaced Palestinians flee Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip

Displaced Palestinians flee Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 7, 2024.

(Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

'Friday News Dump': Biden State Dept Report Accepts Israeli Assurances​

"The report is a slap in the face to the Palestinian and international human rights and humanitarian organizations that provided firsthand accounts and evidence," said the head of Oxfam America.

Foreign policy and human rights experts on Friday sharply condemned the Biden administration's delayed report to Congress about Israeli assurances regarding U.S. weapons use in the Gaza Strip and the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The historic assessment stems from National Security Memorandum 20, which President Joe Biden issued in February. NSM-20 requires Secretary of State Antony Blinken "to obtain certain credible and reliable written assurances from foreign governments" that they use U.S. arms in line with international humanitarian law (IHL) and will not "arbitrarily deny, restrict, or otherwise impede, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance."

"With today's report, the U.S. will be complicit in even more death and suffering in Gaza."

The section on Israel—which spans about a third of the 46-page report—says that "given Israel's significant reliance on U.S.-made defense articles, it is reasonable to assess that defense articles covered under NSM-20 have been used by Israeli security forces since October 7 in instances inconsistent with its IHL obligations or with established best practices for mitigating civilian harm."

However, "we are not able to reach definitive conclusions on whether defense articles covered by NSM-20 were used in these or other individual strikes," it continues, listing examples that include the April strike that killed seven World Central Kitchen workers.

While noting that "Israel has not shared complete information" to verify U.S. weapons use, the report concludes that Israeli assurances are "credible and reliable so as to allow the provision of defense articles covered under NSM-20 to continue."

Israel also "did not fully cooperate" with the U.S. and international "efforts to maximize humanitarian assistance flow to and distribution within Gaza," the report states. While expressing "deep concerns" about Israel's action and inaction regarding much-needed relief, the document adds that "we do not currently assess that the Israeli government is prohibiting or otherwise restricting the transport or delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance within the meaning of Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act."

The report was initially due to be sent to Congress on Wednesday. Calling its release a "Friday news dump," Palestinian American political analyst Yousef Munayyer said, "This would be comical, if it wasn't aiding genocide."

Democracy for the Arab World Now executive director Sarah Leah Whitson took aim at the State Department, which she said "sinks to uncharted lows in twisting both the facts and the law to absolve Israel of responsibility for its well-documented use of U.S. weapons to commit war crimes and hindrance of U.S. humanitarian aid delivery."

"The State Department's report dutifully regurgitates every hoary defense Israel has long offered the world to justify its indefensible savagery in Gaza using U.S.-taxpayer funded military assistance," she continued. "It wants the world to reject the evidence of our eyes and ears with utterly implausible excuses."

"The State Department is seeking to create new loopholes in the law that don't exist, at once acknowledging that Israel HAS used U.S. weapons in violation of the laws of war and HAS hindered aid delivery, but excusing them from sanctions by claiming they are 'individual' violations and that Israel is remedying them," she added. "The law provides no such carve-outs from enforcement, and by the way, they're also utterly false claims."

Many critics of the war—the subject of an ongoing genocide case at the International Court of Justice—praised how detailed the document is but blasted its conclusions, which conflict with those of former State Department officials, U.S. lawmakers, and relief groups.

"The administration has once again ignored a mountain of evidence and failed to hold Israel accountable for severe violations of international and U.S. law in its conduct in the Gaza war," said Center for International Policy executive vice president Matt Duss. "This report comes as hundreds of thousands of civilians in Gaza face famine, continued bombardment, and an invasion of Rafah against U.S. warnings."

Israeli officials and forces this week have made clear that they will not cease the operation against Rafah—a southern Gaza city crowded with over 1.4 million Palestinians, most of them displaced from other areas—in response to Biden stalling the delivery of some weapons and threatening to withhold more.

While welcoming Biden's recent moves on Rafah, Duss argued that "today's report treating Israel as largely meeting its obligations under NSM-20 undercuts the administration's own efforts to protect civilian lives and facilitate a cease-fire and the release of hostages still held by Hamas. Instead, it functionally greenlights Israel's continued use of U.S. weapons in ways contrary to our law, interests, and values."

"The Biden administration must end its mixed messages and conflicting actions on Israel's conduct in Gaza, as well as in the occupied West Bank, and bring its policy in line with its rhetoric," he stressed. "It must fully and consistently enforce international and U.S. law by halting the transfer of all offensive weapons and other military assistance that Israel is using in the Rafah invasion or elsewhere to violate Palestinian rights. If this administration is serious about promoting peace and upholding human rights and international law, President Biden must finally and completely end U.S. complicity in the grievous harm being done to civilians with our aid and arms."

Oxfam America president and CEO Abby Maxman declared Friday that "despite what the Biden administration claims in today's report to Congress, it is clear that Israel is violating international law and obstructing aid into Gaza."

"In turning a blind eye, the administration is allowing Israel to continue to do so without consequence," she said. "The Biden administration published NSM-20 to hold itself and the recipients of its military aid accountable to the requirements of U.S. law, but instead it is demonstrating those laws only apply when politically convenient."

According to Maxman:

The report is a slap in the face to the Palestinian and international human rights and humanitarian organizations that provided firsthand accounts and evidence—backed by experts within the administration—on the assumption that their input would be evaluated in good faith. Most of all, it is a devastating blow to Palestinians in Gaza who have been killed, driven from their homes, and pushed into starvation by Israel's systemic abuses. They now suffer the indignity of this confirmation of the U.S. government's policy of willful blindness.

In a joint report with Human Rights Watch, Oxfam documented substantial violations of international humanitarian law and direct impediments to the delivery of humanitarian aid, including the destruction of Oxfam-supported water infrastructure and repeated delays and denials of basic humanitarian supplies. These impediments remain in place today and there is no sign of improvement going forward.

President Biden's suspension of bombs and artillery shells to stop a Rafah invasion is an important step, but not a substitute for following the law and holding Israel accountable to the basic conditions that apply to all U.S. security assistance recipients. With today's report, the U.S. will be complicit in even more death and suffering in Gaza.

Win Without War also welcomed Biden's decision to send Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "a message that Rafah is a red line by holding up weapons shipments—the absolute right call, even if much more needs to be done," the group highlighted on social media Friday. "Yet, we are incredibly alarmed by the findings in the NSM report."

"At this dire moment, we need a U.S. policy towards ending the war and protecting people in Gaza that is consistent and coherent," the organization said. "But this NSM-20 report, by dodging a determination over whether the Israeli government has committed violations, cuts against that clear message and scrambles U.S. policy."

"And it will be yet another missed opportunity to uphold U.S. law and policy governing weapons transfers—right when growing numbers in Congress are calling for exactly that," the group added. "Luckily, Congress can inject some coherence—by continuing to place informal holds on transfers of deadly weapons, and making clear that there won't be new sales until the Israeli [government] shifts course."

Correction: This post has been updated to clarify the International Court of Justice reference.

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