Rafah, US Weapons, UNRWA: How Biden Defends His Support for Israel in the Gaza War - Latest Global News

Rafah, US Weapons, UNRWA: How Biden Defends His Support for Israel in the Gaza War

Washington, D.C. – “It’s wrong,” US President Joe Biden said last week about the ongoing Israeli offensive against the southern Gaza town of Rafah, pledging to stop the supply of offensive weapons if the attack continued.

A week later, however, Israeli forces seized the Rafah border crossing and advanced into the city, where more than 1.5 million Palestinians are seeking refuge. Still, US media reported on Tuesday that Biden plans to push ahead with a $1 billion arms transfer to Israel, including tank shells.

Supporters say the apparent contradiction — between pressuring Israel to halt its offensive and providing more weapons — is part of a broader pattern in which the U.S. says one thing but does another.

“We have a situation where the rhetoric does not match the actions,” said Hassan El-Tayyab, legislative director for Middle East policy at the advocacy group Friends Committee on National Legislation. “It is obviously disturbing to see US complicity in these terrible war crimes.”

Biden’s comments a week earlier signaled to some advocates that Washington could finally use its influence to pressure Israel to end its abuses against Palestinians.

In a CNN interview, the president said he would stop the transfer of artillery shells to Israel in the event of a Rafah invasion, and his administration ultimately withheld a shipment of heavy bombs because of the attack.

But advocates say media reports of the $1 billion transfer raise questions about Biden’s commitment to protecting civilians in Rafah and his opposition to Israel, his longtime ally.

Here, Al Jazeera examines how the Biden administration is presenting its policies to overcome legal and political questions about its unconditional support for Israel.

Rafah invasion

Claim: The US government says Israel has not launched a major invasion of Rafah.

“We believe that what we are currently seeing is a targeted operation. This is what Israel told us. “We have not seen any progress on a major operation,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday.

Fact: The Israeli offensive in Rafah has so far driven 450,000 Palestinians from the city and further strained the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza, raising fears of catastrophic consequences.

While Israeli troops have not yet reached the densely populated city center of Rafah, Israeli tanks have penetrated deeper into the city. Last week, the State Department acknowledged that, in theory, “a series of limited operations” could constitute “a major operation.”

“It is not credible to say that the Rafah offensive has not started yet. From what we see, the Rafah invasion is happening. And it should have already crossed that red line,” El-Tayyab told Al Jazeera.


Claim: The Biden administration says it is pushing for a ceasefire in Gaza and often accuses Hamas of rejecting proposals for a deal to end the fighting.

“Israel has put on the table a forward-looking proposal for a ceasefire and hostage-taking agreement,” US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday. “The world should call on Hamas to come back to the table and accept a deal.”

Fact: The United States rejected three separate draft ceasefire resolutions in the United Nations Security Council and voted against two in the General Assembly.

Hamas has accepted a deal proposed by Qatar and Egypt that would lead to a permanent ceasefire and the release of Israeli prisoners in Gaza and a number of Palestinian prisoners in Israel. The Israeli government refused.

“What we need now is a lasting ceasefire to end this mass murder, and we must work towards resolving the deeper issues of this terrible conflict,” El-Tayyab said.

Violations of international humanitarian law

Claim: The US says it cannot definitively determine whether Israel is using American weapons to violate international law.

The Biden administration released a report last week that said Israel had provided “credible and reliable” assurances that U.S. weapons would not be used to commit abuses.

Fact: Human rights groups have documented numerous violations of international humanitarian law by the Israeli military, which makes extensive use of US weapons. These reports contain evidence of indiscriminate bombings, torture and targeted attacks on civilians.

“There is a version of reality that this government wants people to believe. And then there is a version of reality that the people of Gaza have been watching for months, with horrific images of the killing of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure, the starvation of an entire population,” Palestinian-American analyst Yousef Munayyer told AlJazeera.

“And these two realities do not correspond at all. So I don’t know what audience this theater is intended for. But I can’t imagine it will really convince anyone.”

Leahy Law

Claim: The Biden administration says it is applying “the same standards” to Israel in enforcing the Leahy Act, which bans support for foreign military units that commit abuses.

Last month, the US State Department said it would not suspend aid to any of Israel’s battalions, despite acknowledging that five units had committed serious human rights abuses.

Washington said four of the battalions had taken corrective measures to address the abuses and that the U.S. was cooperating with Israel over the fifth unit.

Fact: Experts say the U.S. has a special procedure in applying the Leahy Law to Israel, giving the country more time and leeway to address allegations of abuse.

“They have concluded that the unit has committed serious violations and that the host country has failed to take remedial action,” Raed Jarrar, advocacy director at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), told Al last week Jazeera.

“And they still haven’t cut off that unit. This is an admission that the Secretary of State is violating U.S. law.”

Defunding UNRWA

Claim: The Biden administration says it has stopped funding the U.N. Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to “comply with the law.”

The law in question is a federal funding bill passed by Congress in March that bans aid to UNRWA.

The UN agency provides vital services to millions of Palestinians in the Middle East and has played a leading role in delivering aid in Gaza.

Fact: Biden supported the funding bill and signed it into law. Washington had also withdrawn its support for the agency weeks before the bill’s passage after Israel alleged links between UNRWA and Hamas.

Last month, an independent review of UNRWA commissioned by the United Nations concluded that Israel had not provided credible evidence to support its allegations.

“Our political process has chosen to cut U.S. funding to literally the only entity that can address the level of suffering and suffering that is happening in Gaza right now,” said Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute (AAI), told Al Jazeera earlier this year.

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