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Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the central Gaza Strip on March 22, 2024.
The State Department cited “credible” reports of incidents that went against international humanitarian law, but noted that Israel is facing an “extraordinary military challenge” in its National Security Memorandum on the war in Gaza. Abdel Kareem Hana/AP

‘A Slap in the Face’: Human Rights Groups Blast the State Department’s Report on Israel

The report said it “is reasonable to assess” that Israel has broken international humanitarian laws in Gaza but concluded U.S. military aid to Israel does not need to stop.

International human rights groups said the State Department’s report on the war in Gaza, which concluded that the United States does not have to cut off military support to Israel, missed the mark.

“The report is a slap in the face to the Palestinian and international human rights and humanitarian organizations that provided firsthand accounts and evidence — backed by experts within the administration — on the assumption that their input would be evaluated in good faith,” Oxfam CEO Abby Maxman said in a statement in response to the findings in the national security memorandum.

Amnesty International, the only nongovernmental organization with personnel on the ground in Gaza, documenting and conducting independent investigations on Israel’s actions, was similarly disappointed in the United States’ findings.

“This is the international version of sending thoughts and prayers,” Amnesty International said to NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The report, which trickled out late Friday night, said it “is reasonable to assess” that Israel’s heavy use of “U.S.-made defense articles” has been used “in instances inconsistent with its international humanitarian law obligations or with established best practices for mitigating civilian harm.”

It also cited “credible” reports of incidents that went against international humanitarian law, but noted that Israel is facing an “extraordinary military challenge,” citing Hamas’ presence in schools, hospitals and other critical civil infrastructure.

Beyond international groups, the report divided Democratic lawmakers in Washington. Those who have been more critical of Israel’s tactics in Gaza said the report fell short of its intended purpose.

“The Administration created a tool to promote accountability but has come up very short in its implementation,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen said in a statement. “When it comes to applying international law and human rights, you can’t cherry-pick the facts and the law. Today’s report also indicates a continuation of a disturbing pattern where the expertise and analyses of those working most closely on these issues at the State Department and at USAID have been swept aside to facilitate a predetermined policy outcome based on political convenience.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, too, said that the administration should halt military aid to Israel altogether.

“Israel has broken international law, it has broken American law, and, in my view, Israel should not be receiving another nickel in U.S. military aid,” Sanders said during an interview on “Meet the Press.”

The report did not address the “rate of use of unguided munitions” or the destruction of civilian infrastructure, as some lawmakers told NOTUS they were hoping to see addressed.

Meanwhile, others who have been supportive of the U.S.’s role in the war praised the report.

“While the most recent report regarding Israel under the NSM-20 has raised concerns, I agree with its assessment that Israel has not violated International Humanitarian Law,” Sen. Ben Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “Military assistance to support Israel’s security remains in the U.S. interest and should continue.”

The Biden administration has recently withheld several types of bombs and larger munitions from delivery to Israel. “Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs,” President Joe Biden said last week.

Over the weekend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States has struggled to make a “definitive assessment” of any individual incident. The report notes that the Israeli government has limited access to outside groups or personnel.

Blinken also confirmed that the U.S. government has not seen any “credible plan” from the Israeli government that would avoid unnecessary civilian casualties in Rafah.

The UN and other humanitarian NGOs have described Israel’s ability to mitigate civilian harm as “inconsistent, ineffective and inadequate.” The State Department’s report also noted that the U.S. intelligence community has assessed “that Israel could do more to avoid civilian harm.”

Republicans have escalated their frustration with the Biden administration for halting the delivery of a specific set of bombs.

Rep. Michael McCaul, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that he wasn’t surprised by the conclusion of the report, saying the “self-imposed reporting requirement is wholly redundant and unnecessary.”

“President Biden’s national security policies are precisely backwards,” Sen. Ted Cruz said on X. “He is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get resources into Gaza, which he knows Hamas will seize while cutting off Israel.”

John T. Seward is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.