For more than fifty years, United States law has explicitly mandated a link between foreign aid and the human rights records of nations receiving that aid. The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 states that a “principal goal of the foreign policy of the United States shall be to promote the increased observance of internationally recognized human rights by all countries.” To facilitate the implementation of that goal, Congress enacted the Leahy Law in 1997, which forbids assistance to “any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights.”
While the Leahy Law has been used to revoke aid to Colombia, Nigeria, Turkey, Indonesia, and several other countries whose military units have engaged in human rights violations, all attempts to invoke the law against units of the Israeli Defense Forces (I.D.F.) have been ignored in Washington. Given that reports of such violations have been highly contested, we supported Washington’s refusal to act. In recent weeks, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has spoken out bravely on the issue, marshaling persuasive evidence concerning the behavior of the I.D.F. during its 2014 assault on Gaza that compels us to reconsider our position. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has also reversed his former position and now supports an end to United States military aid to Israel.
In response to international criticism, Israel asserted “military necessity” as justification for its devastation of Gaza in the summer of 2014. However, two of the world’s most respected independent human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, found little evidence of military justification for the widespread loss of life and property damage in Gaza.
Their conclusions were confirmed in all important respects by the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict that was prepared at the request of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The descriptions in that report of wanton destruction of such non-military targets as apartment houses, medical facilities, a police station, and sanitation and water facilities provide a compelling refutation to Israel’s assertion of military necessity.
Then there is, perhaps, the most damning fact of all: despite the Israeli army’s capacity, including the world’s most technologically advanced weaponry to detect and pinpoint military targets, almost two-thirds of the 2,251 Palestinians killed by Israel were civilians. Of those, nearly one-third, 551, were children. In addition, 11,231 Palestinians, including 3,436 children, were injured.
Senator Warren has done an important public service by bringing to the public’s attention the facts presented by the reports of these disinterested agencies. Her advocacy has led this newspaper to reassess its long-held position that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is not a matter of concern for our government.
The Foreign Assistance Act commands that foreign aid not be used to compromise human rights principles. It is time to make that command a reality with regard to United States aid to Israel.
Pursuant to the Leahy Law, the State Department should withdraw aid from military units of the Israeli Defense Forces that are responsible for the gross violations of human rights committed in Gaza in 2014. Failing action by the State Department, we support the call by Senator Warren and her colleagues for congressional hearings to investigate the link between U.S. foreign aid and Israeli human rights abuses.