Senators challenge Biden: Halt US arms to Israel or break the law amid Gaza’s aid blockade crisis

Image Credit: Graeme Jennings/The Associated Press (File)

A coalition of US senators has taken a firm stand against the Biden administration, demanding an immediate halt to military aid to Israel unless the Netanyahu government ceases its obstruction of aid deliveries to the Gaza Strip. With Gaza under the shadow of incessant Israeli bombing, the situation has spiraled into a humanitarian disaster, with children among the most affected, facing starvation and dire conditions.

Led by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the group has issued a stark warning that underlines the severity of the unfolding crisis in Gaza, described as “nearly unprecedented in modern history.” They argue that the Israeli government’s systematic blockade of humanitarian aid violates US law, particularly Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which mandates the cessation of aid to countries that hinder the transport or delivery of US humanitarian assistance.

Despite the Biden administration’s repeated affirmations of its commitment to humanitarian aid and the numerous confirmations by the United Nations and aid organizations of Israel’s significant role in the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, concrete actions to address this have been lacking. U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller’s non-committal response to inquiries about whether Israel’s actions constitute a “breach” of the Foreign Assistance Act highlights the administration’s reluctance to confront this issue head-on.

The senators’ letter to President Biden makes it clear: “According to public reporting and your own statements, the Netanyahu government is in violation of this law.” They urge immediate action, stressing that the US should not support any country that interferes with its humanitarian efforts. “Federal law is clear,” they emphasize, signaling the urgency for a shift in policy by the Netanyahu government to avoid “serious consequences” as specified under existing US law.

This plea from the senators arrived just hours after the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported Israel’s refusal of a truck “loaded” with humanitarian aid, allegedly due to the inclusion of scissors in children’s medical aid kits. This incident is but one in a series of Israeli actions blocking desperately needed assistance from reaching Gaza.

Israel’s tightening grip on Gaza’s aid channels has intensified since October 7, following a Hamas-led attack. This has prompted the US, Israel’s largest arms supplier, to quietly approve more than 100 separate weapons sales to Israel since October, without imposing any substantive consequences on the Netanyahu government for its role in civilian casualties or the obstruction of humanitarian aid.

Alternative strategies by the Biden administration, such as airdropping aid into Gaza and the proposal to construct a temporary port off the enclave’s coast, have been met with skepticism by aid groups, which argue these measures fall short of averting an impending famine.

Recent reports suggest that President Biden “will consider conditioning military aid to Israel” should a ground invasion of Rafah occur.