U.S. cites a litany of rights violations in Israel, Gaza and West Bank

The Gaza conflict has worsened the human rights situation in Israel, the State Department said in new report released Monday, even as officials declined to say whether they would halt U.S. aid to elements of Israel’s military over alleged abuses.

The State Department’s annual human rights report cited several reported rights violations committed in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza in 2023 by parties including the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Hamas militants and the Palestinian Authority, before and after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks plunged the Middle East into heightened instability and violence.

The resulting conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip has had a “significant negative impact” on the status of human rights in Israel, the report said. It cited credible reports of “unlawful killings” by both Hamas and the Israeli government.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Oct. 7 attacks, which killed about 1,200 people, and the subsequent death of civilians during Israel’s military response in Gaza “have also raised deeply troubling human rights concerns.”

But Blinken stopped short of announcing a decision the Israeli government has suggested could be imminent to suspend U.S. security aid to elements of the Israeli military because of alleged human rights abuses. While the Biden administration has declined to say whether it plans to bar aid to any unit under the Leahy Laws, Israeli officials have issued preemptive protests in recent days to such a move.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of Israel’s special war cabinet, over the weekend cautioned the administration against targeting the Netzah Yehuda battalion, which he said was playing an important role in Israel’s battle against Hamas and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. In 2022, the IDF disciplined several officials over the death of an elderly Palestinian American man in the unit’s custody.

Blinken said the United States would continue to make assessments about foreign nations’ records on human rights, and potentially authorize consequences for countries that fall short, regardless of their status as an enemy or partner of the United States. Washington has long been Israel’s chief ally and military backer.

“As we’re looking at human rights and the condition of human rights around the world, we apply the same standard to everyone,” he told reporters. “That doesn’t change whether the country in question is an adversary or competitor, a friend or an ally.”

Such a designation, if it occurs, would likely heighten friction between President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a moment of intense tension over Israel’s conduct of its war in Gaza and its failure to ensure civilians trapped there have sufficient food and medicine.

The report referenced the deaths of more than 21,000 people in the Gaza Strip through the end of 2023. Robert Gilchrist, an official in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, declined to specify how the department determined those figures and whether they were based primarily on numbers from health authorities in Gaza, which Israeli officials have long said are controlled by Hamas and provide exaggerated reporting.

Blinken said the State Department was continuing to assess allegations from human rights groups that Israeli forces have violated international law in Gaza, but said Israel had shown it would hold its own people and institutions accountable.

“This is what separates democracies from other countries — the ability, the willingness, the determination to look at themselves,” he said.

The report said that Israeli authorities had taken “some steps to identify and punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses” in the West Bank, where U.S. officials have long criticized the establishment of Israeli settlements and settler violence against Palestinians. The administration last week announced new penalties linked to individuals accused of stoking violence there.

But it said that Israeli authorities operating in Gaza had taken “no publicly visible steps to identify and punish officials” implicated in alleged violations there.

Because the report covers 2023, it did not address the aftermath of a high-profile incident in which Israel’s military targeted an international aid convoy in April, killing seven people. An initial Israeli investigation into that incident found the IDF violated its own regulations. At least two officers were dismissed and other officials were reprimanded.

But in many other cases where rights groups have cried foul, including Israel’s targeting of hospitals or apartment buildings in Gaza, Israel has cited Hamas’s practice of concealing militants among civilians and said its own operations comply with international law.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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