Tags: amnesty | israel | embargo

Amnesty Int'l Calls for U.S. Arms Embargo Against Israel

Thursday, 26 Feb 2009 05:24 PM

By Nicole Jansezian

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Amnesty International has called on the Obama administration to immediately suspend weapons sales to Israel after the human rights organization said it found that most of the weapons Israel used in the Gaza Strip were manufactured in the United States.

“To a large extent, Israel's military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with U.S. taxpayers’ money,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East. “The Obama administration should immediately suspend U.S. military aid to Israel.”

Israeli officials say the report robs Israel of its right to self defense.

Amnesty’s report, “Fueling Conflict: Foreign Arms Supplies to Israel/Gaza,” also calls on the United Nations Security Council to “impose immediately a comprehensive ... arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups.”

The group accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes in its 38-page report, but focused heavily on Israeli actions and American weapons used in the Gaza Strip. Amnesty researchers found that weapons fragments in school playgrounds, hospitals and in homes were mostly made in America, the report said.

In a statement, Israel's Foreign Ministry slammed the report calling it a biased version of events during and leading up to Operation Cast Lead, which left 1,300 Palestinians dead. The report neglected to mention Hamas’ use of civilians as human shields, the statement said.

“Hamas openly and in an organized fashion uses women and children to protect military targets, and booby-trap homes and public buildings,” the foreign ministry said. “The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) never intentionally targeted civilians.”

The report also called for halting arms sales to Hamas, but admitted that “Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups have smuggled small arms, light weapons, rockets and rocket components into Gaza, using tunnels from Egypt into Gaza; this weaponry has been acquired from clandestine sources.”

Hamas’ weapons, funded by Tehran and other Arab regimes, are illegally supplied through tunnels connecting the Strip to Egypt.

NGO Monitor, a watchdog group of non-governmental organization, said, “Amnesty’s attempt to equate the transfer weapons to Israel for legitimate defense, with clandestinely smuggled arms to a terrorist organization, is defamatory, immoral and absurd.”

NGO Monitor Director Gerald Steinberg said the report was “clearly part of a campaign to deprive Israel of the means to defend itself.”

But the report could gain traction in the U.S. After a visit to the region last week, Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., said he planned to recommend the U.S. reassess its military support for the Jewish state. Baird, who visited Gaza with Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said he was troubled by the American origin of Israeli weaponry.

“We need to use every pressure available to make these needed changes happen,” he said. “If our colleagues had seen what we have seen, I think their understanding of the situation would be significantly impacted. They would care about what happened to the Palestinians.”

Danny Reisner, a legal advisor to the Israel Defense Forces, countered accusations that Israel committed war crimes and noted that Israel suspended the war every day to allow humanitarian aid trucks into Gaza.

“People are complaining that war crimes are being committed - and I agree,” he said. “War crimes are being committed by Hamas.

“They are waging war. Therefore we can respond within the realm of war. The other side does two things fundamental to the problem: they don’t abide by the rules and they don’t identify themselves as combatants.”

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.

The Amnesty report questioned a 10-year agreement ending in 2017 in which the U.S. would provide $30 billion in military aid to Israel. Israeli defense officials said they were concerned, especially ahead of U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell’s arrival in Israel today, that President Barack Obama will cut military aid to Israel.

“Mitchell is a known opponent of the outposts and the settlements,” a senior defense official told The Jerusalem Post. “The Americans may try to use the military aid as a way of pressuring the new government into dismantling outposts and freezing construction in settlements.”

Meanwhile, the British government is being sued by pro-Palestinian groups for selling weapons to Israel. The suit, filed this week, accuses the government of flagrantly breaching international law by continuing British export of arms to Israel. The Foreign Office said that the British government “monitors the situation in Israel with care in considering applications for arms export licenses.”

This case calls for suspension of arms to Israel and for the European Union to suspend a preferential trading agreement with the Jewish state. It also calls for the arrest, on the basis of war crimes, of Israeli agents visiting England. Lawyers for Al Haq, a Palestinian charity representing 30 families in the case, said more legal action is planned against Israel.

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