Since Israel’s creation in 1948, the United States has supported Israel’s occupation of historic Palestine by providing more than $158 billion in non-inflation-adjusted assistance, beginning with a $100 million loan/grant in 1949 for Israel’s economic stabilization. U.S. assistance and weapons sales to Israel were first codified in the 1952 Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement Act and then formalized in the Foreign Assistance Act, then most notably, the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) which outlines the procedures and requirements for weapons sales. Since 2008, economic assistance has been phased in favor of military assistance. U.S. military assistance, in the form of weapons, coordination, and technology has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into “one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world” according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS). (link)
10-Year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
In 2016, the U.S. and Israeli governments entered into their third 10-year MOU concerning military aid, spanning from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2028. As per the MOU, the United States committed to supply, contingent upon congressional appropriations, $38 billion in military aid to Israel. This sum consists of $33 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grants and an additional $5 billion dedicated to missile defense funding for the Iron Dome and David’s Sling.
Weapons provided by the United States
Under other agreements and the MOU, the United States has provided Israel with a range of advanced and basic weaponry adding to Israel’s arsenal of rifles, teargas, batons, bulldozers, tanks, and other weapons used by the Israeli military against the Palestinian people and it’s neighbors as well as more advanced weaponry including 362 U.S.-built F-16 warplanes, 36 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, 100 other U.S. military aircraft, including the KC46A Pegasus multirole tanker, at least 45 Apache attack helicopters, M-109 howitzers, and M270 rocket-launchers. The United States also has helped Israel develop, fund, supply, and operate David’s Sling (aka Magic Wand), a short/medium-range system designed to counter long-range rockets and slower-flying cruise missiles, and Iron Dome, which is a short-range anti-rocket, anti-mortar, and anti-artillery system, which experts say allow Israel to act with impunity without fear of repercussion.
Israel Uses U.S. Aid in War Crimes and Human Rights Violations
Palestinians and human rights organizations have long accused Israel of using American-made weapons and foreign aid to commit war crimes. Recent examples include Israel’s massacre of peaceful “March of Return” protesters at the Israel–Gaza border, where Israeli soldiers killed 183 Palestinians with live ammunition and wounded over 6,100; the 11-day assault on Gaza in May 2021, during which Israel utilized U.S.-funded weapons like the Mk-84 bomb, resulting in the death of 313 Palestinians, including 71 minors—236 in Gaza Strip, 232 of them during Operation Guardian of the Walls, and 77 in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). In 2022, Israel was once again responsible for the deaths of 49 Palestinians, including 17 children. Furthermore, since 1967, Israel has employed American-supplied Caterpillar bulldozers to demolish over 18,000 Palestinian homes, deepening concerns about the use of U.S. aid and weaponry.
U.S. Law Prohibits Weapons From Being Used in Human Rights Violations
Section 502B(a)(2) of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) (22 U.S.C. §2304(a)(2)) stipulates that, except for special exceptions authorized by the President, security assistance cannot be provided to countries whose governments repeatedly engage in significant human rights violations. “Security assistance” encompasses the sale of defense items or services, offering credits or loan guarantees under the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), permitting exports to foreign military or security forces, and certain types of aid under the FAA. “Gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” include acts such as torture, severe mistreatment, lengthy detention without charges, forced disappearances, or the denial of fundamental rights to life, liberty, and safety. The executive branch holds the authority to determine if a foreign government excessively violates human rights and should be denied security assistance. However, this decision is rarely made, and the executive branch is not obligated to inform Congress when invoking Section 502B to halt arms sales.
The Leahy Law, an essential part of the FAA, serves to further reinforce the prohibition of providing security assistance to human rights violators. There are two provisions under the Leahy Law: one applies to the Department of State’s foreign assistance programs, and the other applies to the Department of Defense’s training programs. These provisions require the U.S. government to vet foreign military and security forces before providing assistance or training, ensuring that no support is given to units or individuals who have committed gross human rights violations. The Leahy Law is a critical tool in promoting accountability and adherence to human rights standards by foreign forces receiving U.S. assistance.
Sanders and Bowman Letter
To this end, Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Jamaal Bowman recently led a joint letter alongside 12 other lawmakers urging President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to investigate if Israel is using U.S. weapons for human rights abuses against Palestinians. The letter refers to the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act, which restrict the use of U.S. weapons to self-defense and forbid their use in human rights abuses. Their effort is among the latest developments in advocating for end-use monitoring of U.S. weapons by Israel.
The Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act
This bill, which was introduced in the 117th Congress would prevent U.S. taxpayer funds from being used by the Government of Israel to support the military detention of Palestinian children, the unlawful seizure, appropriation, and destruction of Palestinian property, and forcible transfer of civilians in the West Bank, or further annexation of Palestinian land in violation of international law. The first bill to explicitly create restrictions around U.S. foreign assistance to Israel and garnered 32 cosponsors, around ⅙ Democrats in the House of Representatives.
Conclusion and the Recognition of Apartheid
However, despite the recent advancements in Palestinian human rights advocacy, many argue that Congressional and many activist efforts do not go far enough. Many Palestinians, solidarity activists, and academics have recognized the “apartheid” character of Israel for decades. And there has recently been a notable shift in mainstream organizations and a growing willingness for figures to openly recognize the state of living for Palestinians as apartheid. Yet this has yet to be reflected on Capitol Hill, or elsewhere in the government halls in Washington.
Support efforts led by Senator Sanders and Congressman Bowman to monitor and hold Israel accountable for its use of American weapons and aid in violations of Palestinian human rights.
Support legislation, led by Betty McCollum and other Members of Congress conditioning foreign assistance to Israel from being used to violate Palestinian human rights.
You can read more about Israel’s practice of apartheid from prominent human rights organizations that have written on the subject below:
- Amnesty International published a 280-page report in February 2022, accusing Israel of maintaining an apartheid system against Palestinians, constituting a crime against humanity. (link)
- Similarly, Human Rights Watch released a 200-plus page report in April 2021, concluding that Israeli officials are committing crimes against humanity through apartheid and persecution of Palestinians. (link)
- B’Tselem, Israel’s largest human rights organization, which concluded in January 2021, that Israel is an apartheid regime. (link)
- United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Rima Khalaf statement concurring that Israel is engaging in apartheid. (link)