Groups urge Biden to halt $735m weapons sale to Israel

Moving ahead with weapons sale gives the ‘green light’ to Israeli abuses of Palestinians, rights advocates say.

People protested in New York and other US cities in support of Palestinians following a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence in May [File: Jeenah Moon/Reuters]

Peace advocates and pro-Palestinian groups in the United States are calling on President Joe Biden to halt a $735m sale of precision-guided bombs to Israel that the Biden administration has fast-tracked.

“We are knowingly transferring weapons to a country that is not only engaged in aggression but also a massive violation of human rights,” said Huwaida Arraf, co-chair of the Palestine subcommittee of the National Lawyers Guild and organiser for Palestinian rights in the US.

“Our government is enabling Israel, not just with the billions of dollars that we send to Israel, but by shielding Israel from any kind of accountability,” Arraf told Al Jazeera.

A coalition of more than 100 groups, including Churches for Middle East Peace, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Friends Committee on National Legislation and Democratic-leaning political groups Justice Democrats, MoveOn, Indivisible, and the Sunrise Movement, signed an open letter to Biden.

“The planned arms sales to Israel would send a signal of support for Israel’s recent conduct in occupied Gaza and East Jerusalem, which includes likely violations of international humanitarian law,” the groups said in the letter.

“We believe moving ahead with these sales would undermine US moral values, national security interests, and support likely violations of international humanitarian law by sending a green light for Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights,” the groups said.

The Biden administration formally notified Congress of the planned $735m weapons sale on May 5, giving legislators 15 days to raise objections. The State Department issued a licence on May 21 to manufacturer Boeing Comp to proceed with the sale.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders filed resolutions in Congress to block the sale under the US arms control law.

Those failed on procedural grounds disappointing opponents of the sale who had hoped to at least to try to force a debate and a vote in Congress, advocates said.

“These weapons sales, they are often rubber-stamped, and there is a real lack of transparency in the way that they work,” said Beth Miller, senior government affairs manager for Jewish Voice for Peace.

“We all just saw, over these last couple of weeks, exactly how the Israelis use these weapons,” Miller told Al Jazeera.

“They used them on residential apartment buildings, hospitals, to damage COVID centres and to wipe out Palestinian families.”

Over 11 days in May, the Israeli bombing of Gaza killed 253 Palestinians including 66 children and displaced more than 58,000 people from their homes. Twelve people in Israel including two children were killed by rockets fired by Palestinian groups in Gaza.

A Palestinian family in makeshift tent amid the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli air attacks during the Israeli-Palestinian fighting in Gaza [File: Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

While the weapons sale has now received key State Department approvals and Congress has not acted to stop it, it will be months before the bombs are actually delivered and the US groups are demanding Biden halt the transfer through executive action.

The US already provides $3.8bn in military aid to Israel annually and Biden supports sending $1bn requested by Israel to replenish its Iron Dome missile defence system.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz visited Washington, DC last week to push for the Iron Dome funding in a round of high-level meetings.

Biden has been a staunch supporter of Israel and he repeatedly said during the latest crisis that the US unequivocally supports Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks.

At the same time, Biden and his administration worked through diplomatic channels to obtain a ceasefire and the US has committed $75m to help rebuild Gaza following the recent Israeli bombardment.

Groups that signed on to the letter are hoping Biden, a Democrat, will heed the rising political pressure within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to hold Israel to greater account.

Proceeding with the $735m weapons sale now sends the wrong signal, said Kyle Cristofalo, senior director of advocacy and government relations at Churches for Middle East Peace, an umbrella group of more mainstream US Christian denominations.

“It’s only going to lead to more suffering and possibly more death. It doesn’t help us try to be a constructive player, to end this conflict, to encourage resolution and justice, the rights of all,” Cristofalo told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera