State Department report cites ‘credible’ Israeli violations of international law, but recommends continuing military aid


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. State Department told Congress there were credible reports that Israel had violated international law in its war against Hamas, but recommended against cutting defense assistance to the country.

The report, published Friday, cited steps Israel has taken to mitigate harm to civilians, and noted the difficulty the Israeli military faces while fighting Hamas, a terror group that has embedded itself among civilians in the Gaza Strip.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency obtained a copy of the report, which also assessed the compliance of six other countries with international law. The report said, “It is reasonable to assess that” Israel has violated “obligations or… established best practices for mitigating civilian harm.”

Within minutes of the report’s release, progressives were demanding that President Joe Biden limit arms transfers to Israel, which recently began an invasion of the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. Republicans, by contrast, were chastising him for going too far. Biden is already under fire from much of the pro-Israel community for suspending the delivery of large bombs to Israel last week, and has faced months of backlash from progressives for his support of Israel.

The report stems from a national security memo Biden issued in February seeking an assessment of Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law. 

The report cited what it said were credible reports by nongovernmental organizations about the sometimes fatal risks their staffers encountered in Gaza. Hundreds of thousands of Gaza civilians have been displaced and thrown into humanitarian crisis by Israel’s strikes on Hamas. 

The report said Israel did not take adequate measures to coordinate with the humanitarian aid groups, a process known as deconfliction. That issue drew global attention when an Israel strike unintentionally killed seven aid workers with the World Central Kitchen

The report also addressed what it said were credible reports of abuse of captive Palestinians.

“Despite regular engagement from humanitarian actors and repeated [U.S. government] interventions with Israeli officials on deconfliction/coordination procedures, the IDF has struck humanitarian workers and facilities,” the report said. “While Israel repeatedly committed to improve deconfliction and implemented some additional measures, those changes did not fully prevent subsequent strikes involving humanitarian workers and facilities during the reporting period.”

Despite that assessment, the report recommended against cutting aid to Israel, a longstanding demand of Biden’s progressive critics. According to the report,  while the U.S. Intelligence Community “assesses that Israel could do more to avoid civilian harm,” it also “has no direct indication of Israel intentionally targeting civilians.” 

The report also argued against cutting aid because Israel is willing to coordinate with the U.S. government and undertake measures to mitigate harm to civilians. “IDF officials have shared” with U.S. counterparts “details about their targeting processes, including an extensive sensitive site list, legal advisors embedded in the target approval process, and investigation protocol for incidents of unanticipated collateral damage,” the report says.

The report also repeatedly notes that Hamas initiated the conflict, hides behind civilians and continues to seek Israel’s destruction. 

“Israel has had to confront an extraordinary military challenge: Hamas has embedded itself deliberately within and underneath the civilian population to use civilians as human shields,” it says. “Hamas intentionally uses schools, hospitals, residential buildings, and international organization facilities for military purposes. It has constructed a vast tunnel network beneath this civilian infrastructure not to protect civilians, but to hide its leaders and fighters and from which it stages and launches attacks.”

The report sparked pressure from left and right. Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a leading proponent of conditioning aid to Israel, told reporters that the report provided “clear, independent evidence” that the Israeli government has not been forthright with the Biden administration, according to Al Monitor.

Republican Sen. James Risch of Idaho, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused Biden of seeking to placate progressives. “The administration is attempting to placate voters on the far left at the expense of a close ally in the midst of its justified war with Hamas terrorists,” according to a statement obtained by Jewish Insider. 

Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, the Jewish pro-Israel stalwart who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the report’s conclusion — but said it undercut the decision to stop sending large bombs to Israel. He said in a statement that the report “has raised concerns” but that it advocates “that military assistance to support Israel’s security remains in the U.S. interest and should continue.”

 “In this regard,” he added, “I differ with President Biden’s recent decision.”

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