Blinken hedges on Israel war crimes report – National & International News – FRI 10May2024


Sec. of State Blinken’s watered-down report on Israeli war crimes contradicts damning findings by UN, human rights orgs, and many of his own staff.

State Department report hedges on whether Israel has committed war crimes with US weapons

Back in February, President Biden ordered Sec. of State Antony Blinken to deliver a report to Congress assessing whether Israel has violated international humanitarian law with US weapons in Gaza. The report, known as National Security Memorandum 20 (or NSM-20) was due on May 8, but the Wednesday deadline came and went with no report. The much-anticipated report was published at last today.

The report found it was “reasonable” to assess that Israel had used US-provided weapons in Gaza in a manner “inconsistent” with Israel’s obligations under international law and had not followed “established best practices for mitigating civilian harm”. However, the report stopped short of reaching a firm determination that Israel had committed war crimes, citing “incomplete” information. Such a determination would necessarily have both political and legal implications that would make it less tenable for the US to continue supplying Israel with offensive weapons. 

On the secondary question – whether Israel is obstructing the flow of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip – the report was equally ambivalent. While the report acknowledged that the aid Israel was allowing it was “insufficient,” it noted a “substantial increase” in more recent deliveries.  “We do not currently assess that the Israeli government is prohibiting or otherwise restricting the transport or delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance,” the report stated.

Report contradicts findings by US officials and int’l observers

The official findings of the NSM-20 contradict recent reports from State Department officials, the UN and international human rights groups. 

The UN special rapporteur for human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories recently found  “reasonable grounds” to believe that Israel is committing a genocide in Gaza. Last month, leaked internal State Department memos revealed that four State Department bureaus had reported to Sec. Blinken that Israel’s assurances that it was using US weapons lawfully were not “credible or reliable”. Many current and former State Department officials say the transfer of weapons to Israel is unlawful. 

Those leaked memos also revealed findings by State Department officials that Israel was restricting humanitarian aid. Just three days ago, Human Rights Watch reported that Israel is still flouting orders issued by the International Court of Justice in January (and again in April). HRW found that Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has violated international humanitarian law and that Israel continues to obstruct the flow of aid into Gaza, despite a growing famine. The ICJ issued an emergency order last month, reiterating its demand that more aid be allowed in.

Today, the South African legal team who originally brought the genocide case against Israel at the ICJ called on the court to issue an emergency order for Israel to withdraw from Rafah. Israel’s Rafah invasion commenced this week despite international outcry and a threat from Biden to halt delivery of bombs and artillery shells. However, today’s equivocal NSM-20 report may provide Biden more legal and political cover to resume weapons shipments if he wishes.

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