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Will Biden’s new NSM-20 policy save Gaza? - By Najla M. Shahwan, Jordan News

 

 

 The Biden administration should follow US law and immediately suspend arms transfers to Israel, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Oxfam said recently. 


 The two major international nongovernmental organizations on March 19, 2024, submitted a joint memorandum to the US government regarding Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law including with US weapons and the blocking of US-funded humanitarian assistance.

“There are good reasons why US law prohibits arms support for governments that block life-saving aid or violate international law with US weapons,” said Sarah Yager, Washington director at Human Rights Watch.

“Given ongoing hostilities in Gaza, the Israeli government’s assurances to the Biden administration that it is meeting US legal requirements are not credible.” She added.

The submitted Oxfam-Human Rights Watch memorandum summarizes a wide range of Israeli violations of international humanitarian law, deprivation of services critical to the survival of the civilian population, and arbitrary denial and restrictions of humanitarian aid since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023.

There are good reasons why US law prohibits arms support for governments that block life-saving aid or violate international law with US weapons,” said Sarah Yager, Washington director at Human Rights Watch.


These include the use of US-supplied white phosphorus in military operations in Lebanon and Gaza in October, indiscriminate or disproportionate strikes on or near several major hospitals between October 7 and November 7, as well as a strike on a marked ambulance that reportedly killed 15 people and injured 60, systematic blocking of assistance including aid substantially provided by the US from reaching around 300,000 Palestinians remaining in northern Gaza, the bombardment and significant destruction of Oxfam and other partner organizations’ water infrastructure, rendering much of it inoperable.

Besides, Oxfam and Human Rights Watch said in their memorandum that they were confident that the examples they cited reflected a broader pattern of conduct than is currently being evaluated by the US Government.

 Six months into an unprecedented and brutal assault on the Gaza Strip following the Oct. 7 attack carried out by Hamas killing 1,139 Israelis, Israeli inhuman military operations have already killed at least 32,142 and injured 74,412 Palestinians, brought untold suffering, immense harm to civilians and a devastating humanitarian crisis.

About 1.2 million Palestinians have been forced to take refuge in Rafah southern Gaza, where they are bracing for what might come next as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to launch a ground invasion inside the city brimming with internally displaced Palestinians.

Yet again, the impending attack raises grave concerns about US support for Israel, particularly the arms transfer the Biden administration continues to provide. However, President Joe Biden’s response — the direct result of pressure from Senate Democrats —was the National Security Memorandum NSM-20.

 NSM-20 is a policy directive that could create opportunities for the administration and Congress to ensure US-funded arms are not used in violation of international humanitarian and human rights law. Although NSM-20 does not single out Israel, it is clearly in response to its war in Gaza.

NSM-20 is a policy directive that could create opportunities for the administration and Congress to ensure US-funded arms are not used in violation of international humanitarian and human rights law. Although NSM-20 does not single out Israel, it is clearly in response to its war in Gaza.


The memorandum was issued on February 8 as part of a collaboration between the White House and Sen.

 Chris van Hollen, D-Md. who has consistently raised concerns about Israel’s conduct over the past months and sought to include an amendment to Biden’s requested emergency supplemental, which would provide Israel with $14 billion in unconditioned security assistance, and has passed the Senate.

Biden’s new memorandum, which draws from Van Hollen’s amendment, revolves around a requirement that all countries receiving US security assistance provide ‘credible and reliable written assurances’ regarding their compliance with international law. Countries engaged in armed conflict must do so within 45 days.

However, despite Israeli restrictions on humanitarian aid and its unprecedented violence against Palestinians in Gaza - an apparent violation of international humanitarian law, the Israeli government on March 15, submitted its ‘assurances’ to the US State Department that it is not arbitrarily blocking US humanitarian assistance and not violating international humanitarian law as part of its compliance with National Security Memorandum- NSM-20.

On its part, “Oxfam has repeatedly sounded the alarm that Israel’s ongoing bombardment and siege, and its actions to prevent access for humanitarian aid, have escalated a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” Scott Paul, associate director for peace and security at Oxfam America said.  “We have laid out clearly for the Biden administration why any assurances from Israel that they have not delayed, restricted, and impeded aid into Gaza cannot be relied upon. Despite this, the US has continued to provide Israel with deadly weapons.”

“The time has long passed for the Biden administration to end lethal arms sales to Israel, and we call on them to do so now and work to end the death and suffering in Gaza.” He added.

Consecutive US administrations in the past have refused to condition military aid to Israel in compliance with international law and were reluctant to do so, even in the face of credible allegations of Israel authorizing illegal settlements, carrying out indiscriminate bombing, treating detainees inhumanely, or restricting food, water, and gas to Palestinian civilians.


Besides, the joint submission has been released as the government of Israel is deliberately blocking and undermining the international humanitarian response in the Gaza Strip amid mounting catastrophic hunger in most parts of the Gaza Strip.

Oxfam and Human Rights Watch urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to consider expected future violations when determining the credibility of the Israeli government’s assurances.

 “Oxfam and Human Rights Watch believe a suspension of arms transfers to Israel is necessary so long as there is an overriding risk that they are being used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and US law and policy,” the groups said in their report.

Earlier on March 12 a joint letter to President Biden was sent by 25 NGOs expressing their deep concern regarding continued US security assistance to Israel and urged the Administration to Comply with US Law and end its support for catastrophic human suffering in Gaza.

Although President Biden’s NSM-20 memorandum aside from its loopholes and limitations is a step forward in some ways, specifically in helpful reporting requirements, it isn’t obvious how in the context of Israel, this policy avoids being another performative measure, creating additional processes that keep policymakers and lawyers in the bureaucracy busy while maintaining the status quo concerning arms transfers.

Consecutive US administrations in the past have refused to condition military aid to Israel in compliance with international law and were reluctant to do so, even in the face of credible allegations of Israel authorizing illegal settlements, carrying out indiscriminate bombing, treating detainees inhumanely, or restricting food, water, and gas to Palestinian civilians.

This has been the case even when the alleged actions run counter to relevant US law or directly contradict the explicit policies of its administration.

If applied objectively, the president’s own Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT ) Policy, the departments of State and Defense Leahy laws, and 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act -  all of which are cited in NSM-20—arguably restrict some assistance to Israel.

However, to date, public reporting and indications from US officials clearly suggest that is not happening.

Palestinians have no time to wait for more US government processes - the Israeli war in Gaza is still ongoing, and hundreds of Palestinians are being killed and wounded daily while the world watches silently.

Besides, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ready anytime to launch his ground invasion inside Rafah where Palestinians are internally displaced although Biden has been urging Netanyahu to have a plan to protect them, in most plausible scenarios, military operations in Rafah would still be destructive.

 As this crisis looms, it is hard to see NSM-20 doing much to stop it and Israel will never abide by its rules.

The Israeli government is failing in its legal responsibilities to the people whose land it occupies and is breaking one of the key provisions demanded by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – to boost humanitarian aid in light of the risk of genocide in Gaza.


Najla M. Shahwan, Palestinian author, researcher and freelance journalist. Published thirteen books and a children story collection, Recipient of two prizes from the Palestinian Union of Writers.


Disclaimer: 
Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Jordan News' point of view.

 

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