Amnesty Int’l urges Obama to halt further exports to Israel

11 April 2009

From Ma’an News Agency

Bethlehem – Ma’an – The United States sent a massive new shipment of arms to Israel despite evidence that US weapons were misused against civilians in the Gaza attacks, Amnesty International revealed on 1 April.

The human rights organization said about 14,000 tons worth of arms and munitions sent to Israel on the Wher Elbe, a German cargo ship chartered and controlled by the US Military Sealift Command, docked and unloaded its cargo on 22 March at the Israeli port of Ashdod, about 25 miles north of Gaza.

Amnesty called on US President Obama to suspend future arms shipments to Israel until there is no longer substantial risk of human rights violations.

The Pentagon confirmed the successful unloading of the ship, which left the United States for Israel on 20 December, a week before the start of Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

According to the Amnesty report, the ship carried 989 containers of munitions, each of them 20 feet long with a total estimated net weight of 14,000 tons.

“Legally and morally, this US arms shipment should have been halted by the Obama administration given the evidence of war crimes resulting from military equipment and munitions of this kind used by the Israeli forces,” said Brian Wood, arms control campaign manager for Amnesty International. “Arms supplies in these circumstances are contrary to provisions in US law.”

Amnesty International has issued documented evidence that white phosphorus and other weapons supplied by the United States were used to carry out serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes in Gaza. The human rights organization provided comprehensive details on munitions used in the fighting in a 37-page briefing paper, Fueling Conflict: Foreign Arms Supplies to Israel/Gaza, in February.

Asked about the Wehr Elbe shipment, a Pentagon spokesperson confirmed to Amnesty International that “the unloading of the entire US munitions shipment was successfully completed at Ashdod [Israel] on 22 March.” The spokesperson said that the shipment was destined for a US “pre-positioned ammunition stockpile” in Israel.

Under a US-Israel agreement, munitions from this stockpile may be transferred to the Israeli military if necessary. A State Department official told Amnesty that Israel’s use of US weapons during the Gaza conflict is under review and efforts are being made to ensure that Israel complied with US law. A conclusion has not yet been reached.

“There is a great risk that the new munitions may be used by the Israeli military to commit further violations of international law, like the ones committed during the war in Gaza,” said Wood. “We are urging all governments to impose an immediate and comprehensive suspension of arms to Israel, and to all Palestinian armed groups, until there is no longer a substantial risk of serious human rights violations.”

“The United States government now has ample evidence from the Gaza attacks indicating that the arms it is sending to Israel have been misused to kill and injure men, women and children and to destroy hundreds of millions of dollars of property. It can no longer send weapons to Israel while ignoring these facts,” said Curt Goering, senior deputy executive director, Amnesty International USA, who was in the region during the Gaza crisis.

The United States was by far the largest supplier of weapons to Israel between 2004 and 2008. The US government is also due to provide 30 billion US dollars in military aid to Israel, despite the alleged misuse of weaponry and munitions in Gaza and Lebanon by the Israeli military. President Obama, according to published reports, has no plans to cut the billions of dollars in military aid promised to Israel under a new 10-year contract agreed in 2007 by the Bush administration. This new contract is a 25 percent increase, compared to the last contract agreed by the previous US administration.

Amnesty International has documented suspected war crimes committed by the Israeli military and by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza. On 15 January, Amnesty International called on all governments to immediately suspend arms transfers to all parties to the Gaza conflict to prevent further violations being committed using munitions and other military equipment.