October 6, 2014
Senator Charles Schumer
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
780 Third Avenue
New York, N.Y. 10017
Dear Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand:
We are two organizations of Jewish New Yorkers who write to ask that you take action to enforce provisions of federal law that require the termination of aid to any unit of a foreign military for which there is credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. During the recent Israeli operations in Gaza, world leaders, human rights organizations, and journalists have all described actions by units of the Israeli military that would constitute gross violations of human rights. Accordingly, we ask you, as our Senators, to first, initiate Senate hearings that will investigate these reports of human rights violations, and, second, if the hearings demonstrate that U.S. is supporting those units, to seek implementation of the provisions of federal law that provide for termination of that aid.
As for the applicable law, it begins with this unequivocal declaration: “[A] principal goal of the foreign policy of the United States,” according to the Foreign Assistance Act, “shall be to promote the increased observance of internationally recognized human rights by all countries.” Eventually, to give practical effect to that declaration, the Act was amended by the “Leahy Law,” 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.”
We believe that there is undeniably credible evidence that military units of the Israel Defense Force committed gross human rights violations during their military operations in Gaza from July 7 to July 29. According to the UN, during that time, Israel killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, of whom at least 1,400 were civilians and some 500 were children. Approximately 108,000 were left homeless; 133 schools and 23 health facilities were also damaged. Israel struck the Gaza Strip’s sole power plant and its water supply system, limiting the access of hundreds of thousands of residents to electricity and clean water.
One operation, in particular, drew international attention. On July 20, Israeli military units attacked the residential neighborhood of Shejaiya in Gaza City, killing at least 17 children. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Israel’s attack on Shejaiya “atrocious.” Ten Israeli human rights organizations expressed “serious concern” about “the potential violation of the fundamental principles of the laws of war, specifically the principle of distinguishing between combatants and civilians.”
The extraordinary number of civilian deaths throughout the Gaza operation lends credible support to the concern expressed by the Israeli human rights organizations. In addition to the large number of attacks on Gaza’s infrastructure and to vital aspects of its economy, there is a credible basis for the charge made by many impartial observers that units of the IDF engaged in that most serious of human rights violations, namely, collective punishment. Adding credibility to that charge is a 2010 report of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which said that, by punishing the Gazan population “for acts for which they bear no responsibility,” Israel has engaged in “collective punishment imposed in clear violation of [its] obligations under international humanitarian law.”
World leaders spoke harshly of the actions taken by units of the IDF in Gaza. UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon called the attack on Shejaiya “atrocious,” said an attack on a school being used as a UN shelter a “criminal act and a moral outrage” and a “gross violation of human rights,” and warned, in general, that Israeli attacks on Gaza raised “serious questions about proportionality.” Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, when asked about the IDF operation in Gaza, said, “I think it’s a massacre.”
You might say that all of these characterizations of Israeli conduct in Gaza are contested. Israel has said that the devastation it inflicted on the people of Gaza was justified by military necessity. However, two of the world’s most respected independent human rights agencies, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have investigated numerous locations where human rights violations were charged and found little evidence of military justification for the indiscriminate loss of life and property damage in those places.
All that is to say that there is credible information that U.S. foreign assistance is going to military units of the IDF that have been implicated in gross violations of human rights. The Leahy Law is unequivocal: The Secretary of State must insure that no assistance shall go to such units.
By enacting the Leahy Law, Congress sought to insure that American dollars do not promote human rights violations. The Secretary of State has failed to act. It is, therefore, up to the Congress to do whatever possible to insure that the law is obeyed. We urge – we demand – that you call for prompt Senate hearings to investigate this matter.
on behalf of Jews Say NO! and Jewish Voice for Peace/NY