US finds Israeli military units violated human rights; withholds consequences

The State Department has determined that at least five Israeli military units were involved in gross violations of human rights, but is holding back on imposing any consequences amid discussions with the Israeli government, officials said Monday.

The State Department said the violations are specific to Israel’s military operations among Palestinian communities in the West Bank and predate Israel’s current war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

But the State Department’s determination and response signal the challenge for the Biden administration in being a key weapons supplier and military partner to Israel amid the growing global outcry over its conduct in Palestinian territories, and accusations that Israeli forces are violating international humanitarian law.

Under the federal Leahy law, the U.S. government is barred from providing weapons to foreign militaries or security units that are found to have engaged in human rights abuses or violated international humanitarian law.

State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel argued Monday that the administration is in compliance with the Leahy Law despite not imposing any restrictions on military assistance to Israel.

Patel said that while the State Department determined a handful of Israeli military units engaged in gross human rights violations, they are in discussions with the Israeli government to address the violations.

“We have seen remediation of those violations and that is, of course, what we expect of partners,” Patel said, referring to four instances.

The State Department is reviewing information provided by the Israeli government related to a fifth Israeli military unit that, Patel said, would influence what actions the administration would impose.

“We continue to be in consultations and engagements with the government of Israel. They have submitted additional information as it pertains to that unit, and we’re continuing to have those conversations, consistent with a memorandum of understanding that we have with the Government of Israel that was entered into in 2021,” Patel said.

“When conclusions are made under actions that fall under the auspices of the Foreign Assistance Act, we’re required to consult with officials from the government of Israel. And that is ongoing; we are engaging with them in a process, and we will make an ultimate decision when it comes to that unit when that process is complete.”

Patel’s remarks prompted pushback from reporters at the State Department press conference, who raised questions over Secretary of State Antony Blinken announcing he had made a determination under the Leahy law on April 19, but that the department did not address those findings for 10 days. Patel described the procedure as an “ongoing process.”

“This continues to be an ongoing process, and if at any point remediation efforts or things like that are found to be inconsistent with the standards that we find, there — of course — will be a restriction on applicable U.S. assistance. We intend to be an administration that’s going to follow the laws prescribed.”

The State Department has not made public its determination of human rights violations by Israeli units, but a report by ProPublica published April 17 said Blinken had been sitting on recommendations to sanction Israeli units for five months.

Among the incidents reported by ProPublica include reports of “extrajudicial killings by the Israeli Border Police; an incident in which a battalion gagged, handcuffed and left an elderly Palestinian American man for dead; and an allegation that interrogators tortured and raped a teenager who had been accused of throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.”

The allegations against the units come as Israel is under intense pressure and global isolation over the toll on Palestinian civilians in Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, and that comes on top of decades of scrutiny over Israel’s multiple conflicts with Hamas in the Strip.

Israel’s war against Hamas was launched in response to Hamas’s shocking Oct. 7 attack on Israel, in which the U.S.-designated terrorist groups killed about 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped hundreds more.

Israel’s ensuing campaign to wipe out Hamas has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 30,000 Palestinians, the majority believed to be women and children, but also including Hamas combatants. Tens of thousands more have been injured, and more than 200 aid workers have been killed. The humanitarian situation is described as catastrophic, with a severe lack of shelter, health care, food and water.

In January, the International Court of Justice, the United Nations’s top court, issued a provisional order saying it is “plausible” Israel has committed acts that violate the Convention of Genocide and called for immediate steps to protect against any more potential violations.

And the International Criminal Court (ICC) is reportedly weighing issuing arrest warrants for Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials — as well as Hamas officials — related to its investigation into allegations of war crimes that took place in a 2014 war.

The U.S. has said it’s not interfering in the ICC’s actions, but has expressed concern over the issuing of arrest warrants. The U.S. has also shielded Israel from global calls to impose a unilateral and unconditional cease-fire in Gaza.

Instead, President Biden’s administration is working to secure a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas to allow for the release of hostages held by Hamas, and a scale up of humanitarian deliveries to the strip.

The Biden administration continues to support Israel’s right to self-defense and goal of eliminating the threat from Hamas. But Biden has issued candid criticisms of Israel’s conduct of the war and pushed Netanyahu to direct the Israeli military to make protection for Palestinian civilians a priority.

Still, Biden is under pressure from progressive Democrats over his refusal to impose concrete costs on Israel for the suffering of Palestinian civilians.

And an explosion of protests on American college campuses criticizing U.S. support for Israel is further inflaming criticisms against Biden on both sides.

Critics on the right say he should be taking a harder line to quell the demonstrations, while pro-Palestinian supporters say Biden risks losing crucial support from young voters in November’s election if he continues to support Israel’s war.

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