As Congress approaches consideration of President Biden’s national security supplemental funding request, it becomes increasingly critical for legislators to emphasize that all recipients of US foreign assistance adhere to established US and international human rights laws.
October 7th 2023 marked the most traumatic day in Israel’s history, with Hamas launching a devastating attack that shattered the nation’s sense of security. Over 1,200 Israelis were killed on that horrible day, more than a hundred Israelis are still captive in Gaza, and forensic investigators continue to unveil the extent of the horrors inflicted on the victims. Israel’s initial military retaliation was justified and internationally endorsed, but now, three and a half months later, over 25,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza. Israel’s military campaign has created a severe humanitarian crisis, with widespread hunger, lack of drinking water, inadequate medical care, and extensive destruction. Approximately 75% of Gaza’s population, or 1.7 million people, are estimated to be displaced, many of them forced to move repeatedly.
Like so many of us, President Biden has been trying to find the right path forward. How to protect Israel and its right and need to defend its own citizens, while also urging the Israeli government to minimize the loss of civilian lives and address the growing humanitarian crisis. The President has urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to draw down the campaign in Gaza and has described the widespread bombing as “indiscriminate.” He has also continued to send Israel emergency military aid, including weapons that are being used in this current war. In addition to that, his supplemental funding request to Congress includes another $14.3 billion in military assistance. Given what we have seen take place in Gaza over the last three months, I believe it is essential that any military aid come with explicit guardrails to ensure its usage aligns with existing US and international law. This is consistent with aid that the United States gives to other countries and it should be true of our aid to Israel as well.
In recent years, there has been growing sentiment on Capitol Hill in support of a shift in the aid relationship between the United States and Israel. More and more legislators have been vocal about the pressing need for accountability regarding Israel’s use of US-provided equipment. Stricter adherence to both US and international laws, particularly in protecting civilians, is imperative in the eyes of many in Washington. Congress must implement key guardrails on US security assistance to Israel, ensuring that military operations supported by US tax dollars comply with American and international humanitarian law, with measures to minimize civilian casualties. To reiterate, I am not calling for special restrictions or provisions that relate only to Israel. I am calling for American law to be equally applied, including in relation to Israel.
Recent efforts in the Senate reflect this, with Senator Bernie Sanders’ privileged resolution garnering the support of 12 Senators, a number that would have been considered staggering just a year ago. Now, as the Senate is making strides toward a vote on the national security supplemental, Senator Chris Van Hollen is leading a growing number of senators in support of an amendment mandating that countries receiving weapons comply with US law, international humanitarian law, and the law of armed conflict when using US-supplied weapons. This amendment also adds scrutiny and transparency by requiring the President to report to Congress on the use of US-funded military equipment in accordance with international law and U.S. end-use monitoring programs by each country receiving security assistance.
Contrary to misleading characterizations, this amendment does not condition aid to Israel. While Americans for Peace Now supports conditioning aid to Israel, this amendment focuses on ensuring accountability and adherence to international law without posing conditions to providing aid.
US assistance to Israel is grounded in a commitment to its security and future as a democracy, representing a bedrock principle of US foreign policy. However, this assistance must align with our values, as demonstrated by efforts from Senators Van Hollen and Sanders. The path to a better future for Israelis and Palestinians lies in a political agreement and an end to the conflict. Assistance to Israel is a powerful tool that can and should be used to ensure the long-term security of both the Israeli and Palestinian people.