Senate Democrats Seek to Place Humanitarian Conditions on US Military Aid to Israel

Sen. Elizabeth Warren said that U.S. military aid for Israel ‘cannot be a blank check to a right-wing Netanyahu government.’
Senate Democrats Seek to Place Humanitarian Conditions on US Military Aid to Israel
The Capitol building at sunset in Washington on Nov. 2, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Ryan Morgan

A group of Senate Democrats is seeking to impose humanitarian and war crimes compliance standards as a condition for foreign military aid Congress is currently considering for Israel.

On Thursday, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Dick Durbin, (D-Ill.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), announced work on legislation to require countries receiving U.S.-provided weapons certify they are using these weapons in compliance with U.S. and international humanitarian laws and the law of armed conflict.

The senators are proposing this legislation as an amendment to a $111 billion spending supplemental to provide new security assistance to Ukraine and Israel, additional spending for allies and partner nations in the Indo-Pacific region, and some funding for new border and immigration personnel.

The Democrats’ amendment could add a new layer of complexity to already challenging negotiations on the supplemental spending bill. Republicans have argued more spending misses the mark on border security and have instead insisted stricter border enforcement policy changes are needed for their support.

While the $111 billion spending supplemental covers a range of foreign military aid objectives, several of the Democrat senators raised particular concern about funding for Israel amid its ongoing military operations in the Gaza Strip against the Hamas terrorist group.

“It is imperative that all assistance to Israel abide by U.S. and international law, prioritize the protection of civilians, assure the provision of desperately needed humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, and align with a long-term vision for peace, security, and two-state diplomatic solution,” Mr. Markey said on Thursday.

Ms. Hirono similarly stressed that while supporting Israel’s military operations, the U.S. must “continue working to create the conditions for a two-state solution,” which would result in a Palestinian state.

Ms. Warren went so far as to warn that U.S. military aid for Israel “cannot be a blank check to a right-wing Netanyahu government,” which she said “has demonstrated a gross disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians.”

Growing Humanitarian Concerns

The new amendment comes as some Democrats have expressed growing concerns about the humanitarian costs of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.

It’s difficult to independently confirm the exact number of civilian casualties and determine the responsible parties for such casualties during an active conflict like the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Health Ministry has estimated more than 17,000 Palestinians killed and more than 46,000 wounded in the two months of fighting, but the organization does not clearly distinguish Hamas fighters from civilian noncombatants.

The U.S. and Israeli governments have also called into question the reliability of the Gaza Health Ministry’s numbers, as the organization operates under the auspices of Hamas’ political control of the Gaza Strip. The current conflict began after Hamas gunmen breached the Israel-Gaza barrier on Oct. 7 and proceeded to kill hundreds of people across southern Israel.

On Oct. 17, the Gaza Health Ministry asserted that Israeli air forces were responsible for a blast at the Ahli Arab Hospital. The Gaza Health Ministry further asserted hundreds of civilians were killed in what it claimed to be an Israeli airstrike. The Israeli side denied any involvement in the blast and subsequent U.S. and Israeli intelligence assessments attributed the blast to a misfired rocket launched by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.

On the other hand, the Israeli military has claimed credit for other military strikes that have led to disputes over whether they had actually hit Hamas combatants or civilians.

On Oct. 31, the Israeli military carried out an airstrike near Jabalia they said eliminated multiple Hamas targets. The Gaza Health Ministry, on the other hand, insisted the strike hit civilians in a designated United Nations refugee center and killed civilians.
On Nov. 3, the Israeli military also announced one of its aircraft intentionally struck an ambulance they claim was being used by a Hamas cell. Hamas officials denied the claims its fighters were using the ambulance, and the Gaza Health Ministry instead asserted the vehicle was being used to evacuate people wounded in the ongoing fighting. The Hamas-controlled Ministry further asserted 15 people were killed and 60 more were wounded in that particular strike.
“I stand by Israel and I also join my colleagues in insisting on the clarity that Israel’s enemy in Gaza is Hamas - not the children, not Palestinian civilians,” Ms. Heinrich said on Thursday.

Democrats Split on Aid Conditions

While several Democrats have expressed their concerns about the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, other Democrats have pushed back on talk of tying military aid to new humanitarian reporting requirements.
“Conditioning aid is not something you do in an emergency situation with an ally,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told CNN last week, when asked about tying aid for Israel to humanitarian and law of armed conflict compliance requirements.

Ms. Schultz added that the U.S. side is already effectively communicating with Israeli counterparts about the need to limit civilian casualties.

“We don’t condition aid on an ally, and we’re not going to try to micromanage their defense,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told The New York Times last week, when asked about aid conditions.

Some Republicans are also likely to oppose conditional military aid to Israel.

“For anyone who needs to hear it again: the conflict unfolding today is between a sovereign democracy that takes great pains to avoid civilian casualties and terrorist butchers who go out of their way to inflict civilian casualties and put their own civilians in harm’s way,“ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a Senate floor speech last week. ”Israel deserves the time, space, and resources to restore its security. And I will stand by our ally 100 percent.”

“If Senate Democrats want to vote to tie the hands of Israeli soldiers as they defend their country against vicious terrorists, I welcome such a debate.”