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Amnesty Int’l: Biden Must Halt Weapon Sales to Israel After U.S. Arms Used to Kill Civilians in Gaza

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A new report from Amnesty International finds the sale of U.S.weapons to Israel for use in its indiscriminate assault in Gaza is in violation of U.S. and international law. We speak to Budour Hassan, a Palestinian writer and contributing researcher to the report, who says the U.S. is “complicit in the commission of war crimes” and must “halt all arms transfer to Israel as long as Israel continues to fail to comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.” We also discuss Israel’s detention of thousands of Palestinians without charge, the inadequacy of U.S. human rights investigations into the Israeli military, and Israel’s threatened ground invasion of Rafah.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: A coalition of international NGOs are holding a global day of action today calling on all states to halt the transfer of weapons, parts and ammunitions to Israel as the death toll in Gaza tops 34,500.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Jerusalem, where we’re joined by Budour Hassan, a Palestinian writer and Amnesty International researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, contributing researcher to a new Amnesty report titled “U.S.-Made Weapons Used by Government of Israel in Violation of International Law and U.S. Law.”

Budour, thank you so much for being with us. Why don’t you tell us the conclusions of the Amnesty International report?

BUDOUR HASSAN: [inaudible] U.S.A. and response to the National Security Memorandum on Accountability and Safeguards on the Transfer of Defense Items and Other Services to Israel is based on firsthand documentation by Amnesty International of how U.S.-made weapons and U.S.-supplied weapons have been used by Israel in unlawful attacks, not just during the current war, but also in an earlier military campaign in May, where they were used in disproportionate attacks, killing civilians and injuring civilians, and where they were used — where small-diameter bombs were also used in the wanton destruction of property in cases amounting to collective punishment.

Also we cite in our research two cases where U.S.-made JDAMs have been used to decimate entire families, two entire families — the Abu Mu’eileq family in the middle area in Deir al-Balah and the Najjar family in Deir al-Balah also, back in October. A total of 43 civilians were killed in just two attacks. Amnesty International’s research did not find any evidence that there were any military targets in the area, raising doubt that the attacks were direct attacks on civilians and, as such, should be investigated as war crimes. And as such, also there is a high risk that by continuing to supply arms to Israel, the United States was fully aware that it is also supporting the commission of war crimes and it’s complicit in the commission of war crimes.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And so, Budour, has the U.S. responded in any way to your report, which came out earlier this week?

BUDOUR HASSAN: We are still waiting for a response by the U.S. The call is clear. The call is on the U.S. to halt all arms transfer to Israel as long as Israel continues to fail to comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights law. And it’s not just about the weapons that Israel is using, U.S.-made weapons. Also, Israel continues to use torture and other ill-treatment and also arbitrary detention against Palestinians, which also violates international law.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And if you could talk, Budour, about this global day of action, May 2nd, today? What prompted this call? Who all is involved?

BUDOUR HASSAN: The collective includes a variety of humanitarian organizations and human rights organizations that call for an immediate ceasefire, recognizing a ceasefire is the only way to end the man-made humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, but also calling for an arms embargo on Israel and all parties to the conflict, including freezing all arms transfer and ammunitions to Israel. And this group came together because it recognizes that it’s not just, of course, the United States. Of course, the United States is the biggest supplier of arms to Israel, but there are other countries supplying arms. There are strategic cases, litigation before numerous national courts, demanding that the courts demand that governments stop fueling this war and fueling human rights violations.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the number of Palestinians right now who are detained under what’s called the Unlawful Combatants Law. What cases have you been working on? What are the profile of those detained, the number of those detained, if there are charges against them?

BUDOUR HASSAN: Officially, Israel acknowledges that it’s currently holding 865 Palestinians from Gaza as unlawful combatants. Under Unlawful Combatants Law, Palestinians — and they are mainly from Gaza — do not know the evidence used against them, cannot challenge the legal grounds for their arrest, and they are not charged, and they cannot face a fair trial, of course. Under the amendment to the Unlawful Combatants Law, a person from Gaza can be detained for up to 45 days without even being issued an arrest order. They can spend for up to 75 days without seeing a judge.

In many of the cases — in most of the cases we have documented, we interviewed doctors, we interviewed human rights defenders and also interviewed journalists, who said that they were told that they have a lawyer to represent them, but they never saw that lawyer. They said that they could not even ask why they are being held in jail. They did not know. Two of the doctors we interviewed spent 140 days in prison without ever knowing the charges against them, without being able to challenge the grounds based on which they are being detained. Israel never substantiated the very fact that they were taken, snatched, while treating wounded in hospital, only to spend 140 days in prison and later be released without ever knowing why they were detained in the first place.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, earlier this week — and this is, of course, something that happened before October 7th — but just earlier this week, the U.S. has found five units of Israel’s security forces responsible for human rights violations, most of them committed against Palestinians in the West Bank. The State Department said this is the first time the U.S. has come to such a conclusion about Israeli forces. And again, the violations occurred before October 7th and will not impact U.S. military aid to any of the units. If you could talk about the significance of this and whether you think this may lead to similar findings following October 7th for a far larger number of Israeli security forces units?

BUDOUR HASSAN: Of course, we think that these findings came a little bit too late in the first place. And in a sense, just implicating five military units serves to exceptionalize these five units and kind of absolves the Israeli army as a whole, the Israeli military as a whole, of its collective responsibility, because we cannot speak about individual units in the army and not recognize that the Israeli military as a whole has been committing grave human rights violations against Palestinians. And these human rights violations for decades have been fueled by impunity, not just from the military advocate general and from the investigative systems of the Israeli army, but also by Israel’s judiciary, judicial system, that has been incapable and unwilling to investigate these violations. So, it’s not just a few units here and there, exactly and precisely how it’s not just about one extremist or violent settler. It’s not the problem of one violent settler, but rather the whole settlement process.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Budour Hassan, about Gaza. You have the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that the invasion of Rafah is going to take place. Can you talk about the significance of this? And also talk about the famine that people in Gaza face, the opening of the Erez border. We just interviewed two people, a rabbi, American Rabbi Alissa Wise, and the Israeli-born writer Ayelet Waldman, who were arrested there as they tried to get in aid. But now Israel is saying it’s open. What level of aid is getting in?

BUDOUR HASSAN: To open, first of all, as Amnesty International, we have been calling for opening all land crossings and allowing the unfettered access of aid into Gaza, as per, of course, the provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice. And it’s good that they are finally beginning to enter, although it’s not — nowhere near the quantity that should be entering.

But to allow meager amount of aid to enter while at the same time threatening to invade Rafah, which we know that Rafah is the main place where most humanitarian organizations are working at the moment, where more than 1.3 million Palestinians from Gaza, mostly displaced people, are staying — so, invading Rafah and threatening a ground invasion in Rafah would lead to the decimation of the whole aid system in Rafah itself. So, allowing humanitarian some or improving entry of humanitarian aid, on the one hand, but launching a ground attack on Rafah, which would increase and complicate the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, is absolutely not going to help the humanitarian situation there, of course.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And the number of prisoners who are being held, finally, Budour? I mean, on the West Bank, since October 7th, 8,000 Palestinians have been arrested?

BUDOUR HASSAN: Yeah, more than that. At the moment, there are 9,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, including 3,424 administrative detainees, people held without charges or trial, which is nearly 40% of all Palestinian detainees held in Israeli jails are held without charges or trial. In addition to those detained, many of them, of course, are being detained for organizing in support of Gaza, for trying and calling for an end to the war on Gaza.

But among those who were detained, and he’s now just under house arrest, is Palestinian human rights lawyer Ahmad Khalefa. And he was — ridiculously, he was arrested and indicted on inciting to terror because he chanted in support of Gaza and for an end to occupation. He chanted that Gaza will not surrender to the tank or to the gun. And based on that, he was indicted on charges of incitement to terrorism. He faces for up to two years in jail based on that law. And he is now under house arrest. He cannot work as a human rights lawyer. He faces the threat of being disbarred from Israel Lawyers’ Bar Association. He cannot work at the Umm al-Fahm municipality, where he has been elected as a member of municipality. And if Ahmad Khalefa ends up being convicted of incitement to terrorism for chanting, this will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

But it also kind of gives us echoes for what’s going in the U.S.A. You know, we see these attacks by and crackdown by Israeli authorities on anyone who dares to raise their voice against the war. And similarly, we’re seeing similar crackdowns in the United States against students organizing to put an end to the atrocity crimes happening in Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Budour Hassan, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Palestinian writer, Amnesty International researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We’ll link to the Amnesty report titled “U.S.-Made Weapons Used by Government of Israel in Violation of International Law and U.S. Law.”

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