You surely know that the White House in its wisdom has condemned the Israeli shelling of the U.N. school in Gaza that killed 15 or 20 civilians or more (accounts vary). Obama’s press secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday that Israel wasn’t living up to its high standards:
But the shelling of a U.N. facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible. And it is clear that we need our allies in Israel to do more to live up to the high standards that they have set for themselves.
Meantime, Navi Pillay of the UN Human Rights Council made a statement that was far stronger; she said such attacks have occurred time and time again, and she called for international legal accountability for Israel at last, or there would be more schools blown up (thanks to Phyllis Bennis):
For the past week I have been looking at the previous fact-finding missions. They’re all out there, the same kind of attacks occurring now on homes, schools, hospitals, UN premises.
None of this appears to me to be accidental. There have been clear warnings issued to Israel by these very eminent commissions of inquiry. Plus follow-up commissions of inquiry.
Therefore I would say they appear to be defying, deliberate defiance of obligations that international law imposes on Israel. We cannot allow impunity. We cannot allow this lack of accountability to go on.
Every legal system, every just system in each one of our countries is based on the principle that to avoid a recurrence of crime, you investigate, prosecute & punish.
That has not happened here.
At the State Department briefing yesterday, the reporters to their credit heard the official line of condemnation and then many of them asked, What’s next? If you watch the briefing’s first half hour, you will hear one reporter after another ask whether there aren’t going to be consequences for Israel’s action. Many of them ask about suspending aid: That’s what you did with Egypt when it slaughtered civilians. There’s a sense in these questions that there may be growing public pressure on the administration to do something, that some newspapers and public figures (I almost wrote politicians) will call for suspending aid.
Here are some excerpts of the reporters’ questions, with the occasional response from Marie Harf of the State Department.
QUESTION: Are there any policy implications for this?… I mean is it business as usual with Israel after you’ve condemned this shelling? … I mean [the] overall U.S. relationship with Israel. Is there any consequence to the fact that this happened, or are you saying this is a bad thing, we condemn it, but let’s move on, everything else can remain normal? And I say this in the context of this approval ..last week or whenever it was — of the – right, of the additional ammunition…
QUESTION: Do you – are you – do you know at – if any point during the review at the State Department, if even a concern – if any concerns were raised about this transfer?
MS. HARF: I am happy to check. I am not aware of the internal discussions that were had around this until the decision was made, but I can check with our folks…
QUESTION: By continuing to resupply ammunition that is being used in this conflict, what – you say that you’re concerned about the civilian deaths, most of which these deaths are civilian deaths. But don’t you think that those two aims are working at cross purposes?…
QUESTION: How do you think that continuing to supply ammunition is not furthering this conflict?
MS. HARF: Because that’s a simplistic reading of what this military-to-military relationship is like. We resupply allies and partners and friends that we have a military-to-military relationship with when there are requests to do so. That is an ongoing process and a fairly routine process
QUESTION: But when you – when the Egyptians were cracking down the civilian population earlier this year or last year, you quietly suspended resupply to them.
MS. HARF: They are totally different situations, Elise.
QUESTION: Well, why is it totally different?
MS. HARF: Wholly different situations. Our relationship with Israel – our military-to-military relationship is a very strong one….where, as you know, we suspended a large amount of assistance after what happened politically in Egypt.
QUESTION: Fine. But isn’t part of that strength of the relationship being able to say that we think that –… the asymmetry of this conflict is getting out of hand?…
QUESTION: Have they said that they’re not going to use this latest batch of stuff that you’re giving them in the current conflict?…
QUESTION: Do you not worry about the optics of American-supplied ammunition being used in Gaza and possibly causing even more deaths? Does that not – in a situation where the American reputation in the Arab world is already not great — do you not worry about those optics?…
QUESTION: But Marie, on a – from a policy perspective, when you just said in answer to Elise’s question how different it is from Egypt, can you explain how it is? Because at the time, I remember State Department saying that we have a very strong military-military relationship with the Egyptian military… But it took – the Administration took a long time and then finally suspended delivery of items specifically because they were upset about how those items were being used against a civilian population…
QUESTION: But how – why is it wholly different from what we’re looking at now in terms of weapons being used against a civilian population, which you’ve said is a concern to the Administration?..
MS. HARF: Well, in Egypt, they were using them against their own people. In Israel, they are using them against a terrorist organization to fight a terrorist organization, which we believe is in legitimate self-defense. That’s different, say —
QUESTION: But causing mass civilian casualties —
MS. HARF: Which we’ve said they need to take more steps to lower those numbers.
QUESTION: But using —
MS. HARF: So, A, those are —
QUESTION: — supplies that the United States is continuing to provide —
MS. HARF: I understand the crux of your question, but they’re not comparable situations. In Egypt, you had a government cracking down on its own people. In Israel, you have a government fighting an external threat that’s coming from Gaza that is from a terrorist organization. Those are in no way equivalent situations.
UNRWA is saying that Gaza is on the verge of collapse. There is no power. There is no water. The hospitals are not working, or working on a very minimal power supply. Everything is falling apart. Are you concerned that we are maybe on the verge of a huge human catastrophe there?
I’ve seen about six or seven instances where the Israelis have said that they saw rocket fire coming from that area, and the targets that ended up being hit were not legitimate Hamas targets.
Well, there are places for them to go, but then those places are being targeted also.
is there any thought, given the fact that these – it is so densely populated, that these people have nowhere to go, that even the places that they are going in shelters are being targeted, is there any consideration of any type of safe haven places where you can send these refugees?
So I haven’t heard discussion about that. But look, we believe there should be safe places for civilians in Gaza, period.
You seemed to say that in – the context was different because in Egypt, the Egyptian military was going after its own civilians, or Egyptians and that Israel is different because it’s defending itself from an outside threat. So can we just limit this to the civilian – innocent civilian casualties? There were some in Egypt, people who got caught up in thePeople who, as the government was cracking down on violence or whatever – that people got caught up. I don’t understand how it’s okay for a government to shoot and kill its own people – I mean, it’s not okay for a government to shoot and kill its own people, but it is okay to kill innocent civilians —
MS. HARF: We condemn all civilian casualties.
QUESTION: Are they not comparable in terms of your arms transfer regulations, or are they not comparable at all?
MS. HARF: The situations are just actually not comparable at all.
QUESTION: Okay. So —
MS. HARF: Some of the same principles may apply at times in both, but the situations are just not comparable.
QUESTION: Marie, if you —
MS. HARF: They’re just not at all.
QUESTION: — is there any consideration on any level of reconsidering the delivery – not the contracts, but the delivery – of any military supplies to Israel right now? I mean, it’s not without precedent to withhold certain armaments because you don’t like the way they’re being used.
MS. HARF: Not that I’ve heard….I think we’ve been clear that we are committed to our security relationship with Israel.