Update: The Benjamin Netanyahu government has responded angrily to the congressional letter, and Sen. Patrick Leahy has defended it. See below.
The horrifying killing of 18-year-old Hadeel al-Hashlamoun at an Israeli checkpoint in occupied Hebron last September has at last become a public issue in the U.S. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy has called on the State Department to determine whether the killing, and several other Israeli “extrajudicial killings,” violated the Leahy law against military assistance to gross human rights violators. The letter to John Kerry cites Egypt along with Israel, and is signed by ten members of Congress along with Leahy. They include Raul Grijalva, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Chellie Pingree, Eddie Beatrice Johnson, Sam Farr, Jim McGovern, Jim McDermott, and Andre Carson.
Politico has published the letter. It includes these crucial passages:
There have been a disturbing number of reports of possible gross violations of human rights by security forces in Israel and Egypt — incidents that may have involved recipients, or potential recipients, of U.S. military assistance. We urge you to determine if these reports are credible and inform us of your findings:
Israel: Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have reported what may be extrajudicial killings by the Israeli military and police of Fadi Alloun, Saad Al-Atrash, Hadeel Hashlamoun, and Mutaz Ewisa. There are also reports of the use of torture in the cases of Wasim Marouf and Ahmed Manasra.
Hadeel Hashlamoun’s killing was of course the most dramatic and appalling Israeli killing last year because it was so amply documented and the pictures were so graphic, and it took place on September 22 before the so-called intifada of knives had begun in earnest.
Here is a report on the Fadi Alloun killing by police, near Damascus Gate last October, as Alloun was being chased by a mob, after allegedly stabbing a settler in East Jerusalem.
Here is a report from EI on the killing of Saad Atrash, 19, in Hebron last October.
I would note that many of the signatories, including Hank Johnson, Andre Carson, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Raul Grijalva, are people of color; this is relevant because as Tamara Cofman Wittes said at Columbia Monday night, Israel support is slowly becoming politicized in the U.S. as the Democratic base becomes more heavily black and Latino, groups that have sympathy for the Palestinian cause. And all the signatories to this letter are Democrats.
Politico states that Jewish Voice for Peace advised Leahy on the letter. Nahal Toosi writes:
The letter’s real impact may be political: Israel’s unusual, if not unprecedented inclusion with Egypt on such an inquiry is likely to rile Israel’s allies in Washington, who bristle at the notion that the Middle East’s only established democracy could be lumped in with a notorious human rights abuser like Egypt.
Though it was sent to Kerry well beforehand, the timing of the letter’s release comes just days after an Israeli soldier was filmed executing a Palestinian prisoner at close range – setting off fury in the Arab world and launching a military disciplinary process that has many on the Israeli right fuming.
Update. The Netanyahu government is enraged by the letter.
— Ofir Gendelman (@ofirgendelman) March 30, 2016
And Leahy has responded strongly:
“The Prime Minister of Israel knows – and it should go without saying – that the United States does not provide weapons or other aid to Hamas or any other terrorist group, and that no nation more strongly condemns and works to eradicate terrorism worldwide than does the United States. There are multiple laws prohibiting such aid to Hamas and other such groups, and one reason Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid is to help defend against terrorist attacks.
“The congressional letter cites allegations of possible serious abuses, identified by respected international human rights organizations, by the military and police forces of Egypt and Israel. Under the Leahy Law it is the responsibility of the State Department to evaluate the credibility of such allegations. The Leahy Law, which has existed for nearly 20 years, applies uniformly, worldwide – no country is exempt – and it applies to specific military personnel and units, not to general security forces, when U.S. aid is involved. It has led to the suspension of U.S. aid to military personnel and units found to have committed abuses in many countries when governments fail to punish those responsible, and only when those governments themselves have failed to act. This is only fair to U.S. taxpayers, and it is necessary in upholding the rule of law that our country stands for.”