Obama Must Do More to Hold Israel Accountable for Gaza Blockade
June 3rd, 2010
The following analysis provided by US Campaign National Advocacy Director Josh Ruebner:
a March 2010 visit to Israel/Palestine, during which Israel announced
plans for the construction of 1,600 additional housing units in its
illegal colonies in occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem, an irate Vice
President Joe Biden pledged that the Obama Administration would hold
Israel “accountable for any statements or actions that inflame tensions
or prejudice the outcome of talks.”
Israel’s May 31 act of
aggression on international waters against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla,
an operation which killed nine humanitarian activists, injured dozens,
and resulted in the abduction, detainment, and deportation of hundreds,
has tested the Obama Administration’s commitment to its pledge of
Israel’s combined naval and air assault against
the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, an international convoy of six ships laden
with 10,000 tons of desperately needed humanitarian aid for the 1.5
million blockaded Palestinians of the occupied Gaza Strip, exposed the
piratical nature of Israel’s attempt to stifle international activism
to break its illegal blockade of Gaza, as well as its flouting of the
UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea specifically and international law
In its response to Israel’s attack on the Gaza
Freedom Flotilla to date, the Obama Administration has combined a
reticence to directly condemn Israel’s actions with recognition that
Israel cannot continue the current intensity of its blockade of the
Gaza Strip in the long-run. The subsequent ledger tallies up the
positive and negative aspects of the Obama Administration’s response so
On the Positive Side
* The United States indirectly condemned the attack via the United Nations.Security Council statement
condemning Israel’s attack, and insisting upon a “prompt, impartial,
credible and transparent investigation conforming to international
standards.” White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs reiterated U.S.
support for this statement during a June 1 press briefing.
* The Obama Administration has conceded that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip cannot proceed as currently structured.
The worldwide condemnation of Israel’s attack on the flotilla and its
blockade of the Gaza Strip have finally broken through the Obama
Administration’s heretofore piecemeal advocacy efforts to press Israel
to allow in certain additional items through the blockade. Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton dubbed the situation in Gaza “unsustainable and
unacceptable” in a June 1 press conference. After the attack on the flotilla, the State Department also for the first time insisted that Israel allow reconstruction materials into the Gaza Strip.
* The State Department has poked holes in Israel’s propaganda.
Israel has made risible claims that the organizers of the Turkish
contingent of the flotilla were affiliated with international terrorist
organizations such as al-Qaeda. The main Turkish organization involved
in the flotilla, IHH (Humanitarian Relief Foundation), is not listed as
a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States, as confirmed by
Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley, who pointedly refused to
validate Israeli claims, during his June 2 daily press briefing.
* The United States has distanced itself from Israel’s attack. In response to a question from the Washington Post,
the State Department confirmed that it had multiple communications with
Israel prior to its attack, during which “We emphasized caution and
restraint given the anticipated presence of civilians, including
American citizens.” The diplomatic niceties of this statement
notwithstanding, its import is to publicly signal that the United
States considers Israel’s attack disproportionate and unacceptable.
On the Negative Side
* The Obama Administration has refused to directly condemn Israel’s attack.President Obama spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hours after the attack,
and only went as far as expressing “the importance of learning all the
facts and circumstances around this morning's tragic events as soon as
Explaining why the United States voted against a June 2 UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning the assault, Assistant Secretary of State Crowley
stated “we considered this to be a rush to judgment. I would call
attention in the resolution that it actually condemned the attack by
Israeli forces before Israel or anyone else has had the opportunity to
fairly evaluate the facts. So that is the reason why we voted no.”
this same reasoning, wouldn’t the Obama Administration be premature in
its condemnation of British Petroleum (BP) for the ongoing Gulf of
Mexico oil spill catastrophe?
* The United States has fought hard against internationalizing the investigation.
The Obama Administration is displaying an unbelievably naïve faith that
Israel can investigate and punish itself for its violations of human
rights and international law. In a June 1 press conference,
Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Alejandro
Wolff stated that the United States has “every confidence that Israel
can conduct a credible and impartial and transparent, prompt
investigation internally.” This same reasoning was deployed a day later
by the State Department to rationalize the United States voting against
the UN Human Rights Council setting up an independent fact-finding
Just as BP can’t be trusted to investigate and punish
itself for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and just as it is completely
apropos for an outside body—the Department of Justice—to lodge criminal
charges against it, neither can Israel be trusted to investigate and
punish itself for its own criminal acts.
* The Obama Administration is still not opposed to Israel’s blockade of Gaza per se.
Although the State Department has issued positive statements pressuring
Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza, it has not denounced the blockade
itself. As is widely recognized, Israel’s blockade of the 1.5 million
Palestinian civilians who live under Israeli military occupation in the
Gaza Strip is an illegal form of collective punishment, which is
considered a war crime under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva
U.S. attempts at making Israel’s blockade of the
Gaza Strip more palatable only renders the United States a colluding
partner in Israel’s war crime, an act which in and of itself is a
violation of the United States’ responsibility to enforce the terms of
the Geneva Conventions.
At times, the Obama Administration has
even displayed a shocking callousness regarding the seriousness of
Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and ignorance about the
severity of its blockade of Gaza. Speaking on the June 2 edition of the
Charlie Rose Show,
Vice President Biden wondered aloud, “So what's the big deal here?”
before going on to insinuate that humanitarian activists were really
arms smugglers and that Israel would surely let in reconstruction
materials into Gaza of its own free will.
This mixed bag reveals
an Obama Administration deeply conflicted about how to respond properly
to Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and its ongoing
blockade of the Gaza Strip. On the one hand, it is clearly not pleased
with Israel for the viciousness of the assault and understands that a
full-scale blockade is no longer tenable. On the other hand, it has
reverted to the default U.S. position of shielding Israel from
accountability in international institutions and refraining from
critiquing Israel’s odious underlying policies.
To live up to
its promise to hold Israel accountable, the Obama Administration must
do much more in response to the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and
its ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip. The following are four policy
recommendations that, if implemented, would bring United States policy
into alignment with the rest of the international community and
principles of human rights and international law:
condemn Israel's attack against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and support
an international investigation of it.
2) Initiate a domestic
investigation into Israel’s violation the Arms Export Control Act
(AECA), and immediately end all military aid to Israel as a consequence
of it violating this law.
The AECA stipulates that U.S. weapons
can be used only for “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.”
Since Israel engaged in act of aggression in international waters, it
is self-evident that Israel violated this law.
details of the attack emerge, it is also becoming clear that Israel
misused U.S. weapons to injure and kill U.S. citizens. Israel killed Furkan Dogan,
a 19 year-old U.S. student, with four bullets to the head and one to
the chest, and beat at least two U.S. citizens, Huwaida Arraf of
Washington, D.C., and Dr. Paul Larudee of El Cerrito, California, the
latter of whom required hospitalization. Another U.S. citizen, Emily
Henochowicz, was shot in the face
with a tear gas canister by the Israeli military while protesting the
flotilla massacre near the Qalandia Checkpoint in the West Bank. She is
recovering in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and has lost her eye as
well as requiring reconstructive surgery.
The United States has
provided the Israeli navy and air force with weapons through Foreign
Military Financing (FMF) budget allocations that were, or may have
been, used in this attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. According to
the Jerusalem Post,
the Israel Air Force used three Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters
to transport its commandos to the ships. The Israel Air Force is
reported to have 49 of these combat helicopters.
the United States has transferred additional weapons to the Israeli
Navy that may have been used in violation of the AECA during its attack
on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. In July 2008, the Defense Security
Cooperation Agency (DCSA) notified Congress
of a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to Israel of four littoral
combat ships (LCS-I variant), associated equipment, and services valued
at up to $1.9 billion. The Israeli Navy is also reported to have three
Sa’ar 5-class corvettes built in the United States.
press reports indicate that Israel may have used U.S. guns, ammunition,
night vision goggles, and crowd dispersal weapons in its attack on the
Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
Israel’s misuse of U.S. weapons in its
attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla is only the latest in a long string
of human rights abuses committed by Israel with U.S. taxpayer-funded
arms. During the Bush Administration, Israel killed more than 3,000
innocent Palestinian civilians, according to the Israeli human rights
organization B’tselem, often with U.S. weapons.
seems like a solid moral return on a $30 billion taxpayer investment in
Israeli occupation and apartheid. To learn more about how much money
your community gives to Israel in military aid, what that money could
be used for instead to fulfill unmet needs in your community, and how
you can take action to end military aid to Israel, click here.
3) Pressure Israel to end its illegal blockade of the occupied Palestinian Gaza Strip.
4) End U.S. support for Israel's illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.
week marks 43 years since Israel occupied these Palestinian
territories. Israel’s barbaric assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla has
refocused the world’s attention on the urgency of ending Israel’s
illegal blockade of Gaza and its decades-long occupation of Palestinian
territories. Moral outrage at Israel’s actions—and U.S. support for
them—can be turned into constructive action by clicking here.