US Senators Say Biden Must End Arms Sales if Israel Keeps Blocking Aid

Humanitarians warn that hunger has reached catastrophic levels in northern Gaza. Credit: UNRWA
  • Opinion by Jake Johnson (washington dc)
  • Inter Press Service

"The severe humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza is nearly unprecedented in modern history," the eight senators—led by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)—wrote in a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden.

"Your administration has repeatedly stated, and the United Nations and numerous aid organizations have confirmed, that Israel's restrictions on humanitarian access, both at the border and within Gaza, are one of the primary causes of this humanitarian catastrophe."

The senators argued that the Israeli government's systematic obstruction of aid deliveries violates U.S. law, pointing specifically to Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The law states that "no assistance shall be furnished... to any country when it is made known to the president that the government of such country prohibits or otherwise restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance."

Biden administration officials have admitted that Israel is impeding aid deliveries to desperate Gazans. But when asked last week whether Israel's actions amount to a "breach" of the Foreign Assistance Act, U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said he would "have to go back and look at the language of that text."

"It's not something that I've spent a lot of time looking at," he added.

The senators wrote to Biden on Tuesday that "according to public reporting and your own statements, the Netanyahu government is in violation of this law."

"Given this reality, we urge you to make it clear to the Netanyahu government that failure to immediately and dramatically expand humanitarian access and facilitate safe aid deliveries throughout Gaza will lead to serious consequences, as specified under existing U.S. law," the letter reads. "The United States should not provide military assistance to any country that interferes with U.S. humanitarian assistance."

"Federal law is clear," the senators added, "and, given the urgency of the crisis in Gaza, and the repeated refusal of Prime Minister Netanyahu to address U.S. concerns on this issue, immediate action is necessary to secure a change in policy by his government."

The senators' letter was made public hours after the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said Israel turned away a truck "loaded" with humanitarian aid because there were scissors in children's medical aid kits—just one of many examples of Israel blocking the delivery of badly needed assistance.

Israel has limited the flow of aid to Gaza for years, but its siege has become much more restrictive since October 7, when Israel began its latest assault on the Palestinian territory following a deadly Hamas-led attack.

The U.S., by far Israel's biggest arms supplier, has yet to impose any substantive consequences on the Netanyahu government for its mass killing of civilians or obstruction of humanitarian aid. The Biden administration has quietly approved more than 100 separate weapons sales to Israel since October.

Instead of using its leverage to force Israel's hand, the administration has resorted to airdropping aid into Gaza and planning the construction of a temporary port off the enclave's coast—steps that aid groups say won't be anywhere near enough to avert famine.

Citing four unnamed U.S. officials, Politicoreported Monday that Biden "will consider conditioning military aid to Israel" if it launches a ground invasion of Rafah, a small city near the Egyptian border where more than half of Gaza's population is sheltering.

Brian Finucane, senior adviser for the U.S. program at the International Crisis Group, wrote in response to Politico's reporting that "U.S. law and policy already impose conditions on military aid to Israel as well as every other country."

"The Biden admin has just refused to enforce those conditions so far," he added.

Source: Common Dreams

Jake Johnson is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams.

IPS UN Bureau

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