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Kevin ClarkeMay 02, 2024
Children gather over the destruction after an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, on April 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)Children gather over the destruction after an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, on April 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

The Weekly Dispatch takes a deep dive into breaking events and issues of significance around our world and our nation today, providing the background readers need to make better sense of the headlines speeding past us each week. For more news and analysis from around the world, visit Dispatches.

While often publicly regretting the loss of life in Gaza, the Biden administration throughout the Israel-Hamas conflict has been quietly authorizing the transfer of billions of dollars in bombs and fighter jets to Israel, according to reports from CNN and The Washington Post.

One of the latest arms deliveries included more than 1,800 MK-84 2,000-pound bombs and 500 MK-82 500-pound bombs, as well as 25 F-35A fighter jets and engines in a package worth approximately $2.5 billion. More than 100 arms shipments to Israel have been authorized by the Biden administration since Hamas provoked the latest conflict in Gaza with a terror strike on southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Some of the “made in the U.S.A.” bombs Israel Defense Forces are dropping over Gaza include 2,000-pound bombs that have been responsible for some of the most devastating—and questionable—strikes of the months-long campaign against Hamas. John Hudson, a reporter for The Washington Post, wrote: “The 2,000-pound bombs, capable of leveling city blocks and leaving craters in the earth 40 feet across and larger, are almost never used anymore by Western militaries in densely populated locations due to the risk of civilian casualties.”

In the first months of the war, Israel dropped hundreds of these weapons, according to a study in December 2023 conducted by CNN. “The use of 2,000-pound bombs in an area as densely populated as Gaza means it will take decades for communities to recover,” John Chappell, advocacy and legal fellow at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, a Washington-based group focused on minimizing civilian harm in conflict, told CNN.

Among the many controversial strikes during the I.D.F. campaign against Hamas was the detonation of a pair of 2,000-pound bombs in the densely populated Jabalia camp, near Gaza City, on Oct. 31. The explosions leveled houses and apartment buildings in Jabalia, but the Israeli military said the bombs reached their intended targets in an “underground terror infrastructure,” killing Hamas militants and specifically Ibrahim Biari, a Hamas commander Israeli intelligence believed helped plan the massacres in Israel on Oct. 7.

I.D.F. representatives defend the use of such large explosives, arguing that their force is necessary to reach Hamas’s subterranean network. Unfortunately, the large detonations are hardly surgical, often killing scores of noncombatants and devastating housing and infrastructure.

So far almost 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza by I.D.F. strikes, two-thirds of them women and children. Some 70 to 80 percent of the housing stock in Gaza has been obliterated, and critical medical, sanitation and other civilian infrastructure has been destroyed, according to the United Nations. If the Israel-Hamas war stopped today, it would take until 2040 to rebuild all the homes that have been destroyed in nearly seven months of Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives, according to a U.N. estimate released on May 2.

The death toll in Gaza, considering the power and numbers of bombs and missiles that have fallen, should not come as a surprise to anyone. According to the United Nations, when such high-explosive weapons are used over populated areas, up to 90 percent of wounded and killed are noncombatants.

The violence of the I.D.F. campaign against Hamas in Gaza has inspired renewed criticism of the apparent unwillingness of the United States to follow its own laws when it comes to military assistance and arms transfers to Israel. In recent weeks, Human Rights Watch, Veterans for Peace, Amnesty International, the humanitarian relief agency Oxfam and other groups have issued demands for the Biden administration to “follow U.S. law” and suspend arms transfers to Israel.

“There are good reasons why U.S. law prohibits arms support for governments that block life-saving aid or violate international law with U.S. weapons,” said Sarah Yager, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “Given ongoing hostilities in Gaza, the Israeli government’s assurances to the Biden administration that it is meeting U.S. legal requirements are not credible.”

The Biden administration has issued some criticism of I.D.F. tactics in Gaza and urged that its promised final offensive in Rafah be abandoned or at least seriously revised to avoid noncombatant casualties. But the administration has never turned off the arms spigot, its one sure leverage with the Netanyahu government, and continues to deliver weapons without conditions on their use.

U.S. policy thus seems at odds not only with its own laws but with other contemporary public commitments about the use of explosives in populated areas. In 2022, the United States was among the 83 nations that endorsed the EWIPA Dublin Conference declaration “on strengthening the protection of civilians from the humanitarian consequences arising from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.” The declaration reminds signatory states of obligations to protect noncombatants and civilian infrastructure under existing humanitarian law and the rules of war, and it calls on them to honor “obligations to hold accountable those responsible for violations [of humanitarian law], and our commitment to end impunity.” Israel has not endorsed the declaration.

According to the think tank Just Security: “Although the Declaration is not legally binding, it does represent a high-level commitment from the United States to implement policies designed to avoid and address civilian harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.”

Beyond the U.S. commitments suggested by the Dublin declaration, Congress is obliged under U.S. law to review arms sales and assistance programs and certify that beneficiaries of the same are respecting international and domestic law in terms of the protection of human rights and the treatment of noncombatants in conflict. Congress recently approved an aid package that included another $15 billion for military assistance to Israel (and $1 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza). In the near future, congressional and State Department oversight will presumably have to include a thorough assessment of how U.S. aid and resources were put to use in Gaza, where the bombs continue to fall.

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