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Did Biden really suspend weapons shipments to Israel?

TOPSHOT - Boys watch smoke billowing during Israeli strikes east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 13, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

In the last days, Israel has ramped up its genocidal assault on Palestinians in Rafah and across Gaza, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee from where they had been taking shelter. But nowhere in Gaza is safe.

The Biden administration has moved to pause a shipment of heavy weapons to the Israeli government because of concerns over its plans to invade Rafah. But now, House Republicans are pushing forward a despicable bill that would force those arms shipments to go through, effectively putting the Israeli government above international and U.S. law. 

Use this tool from our sister organization, JVP Action, to write your members of Congress now and demand that they oppose the Israeli Security Assistance Support Act.

Did Biden really suspend weapons shipments to Israel? 

During an interview with CNN on May 8, Biden said for the first time that his administration was suspending a shipment of arms to Israel. “I made it clear that if they go into Rafah…I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically,” the President remarked, admitting that “Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs.” 

“We’re going to continue to make sure Israel is secure,” Biden continued. “We’re not walking away from Israel’s security. We’re walking away from Israel’s ability to wage war in those areas.”

The shipment in question includes 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs, weapons that would cause incomprehensible devastation in an area as densely populated as Rafah. 

During a Senate hearing that same day, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin emphasized that “We’ve been very clear … that Israel shouldn’t launch a major attack into Rafah without accounting for and protecting the civilians.” However, like Biden, Austin hedged the administration’s threat by insisting that the U.S. remains “absolutely committed to continuing to support Israel in its right to defend itself.”

Let’s be clear: The suspension of any shipment of arms to Israel is a long overdue step. It’s a sign that the Biden administration is feeling the pressure of our demands.

It’s also not nearly enough. The suspension of a single shipment of arms to the Israeli government will not impact their ability to wage an all-out offensive in Rafah, where over a million displaced, traumatized, and starving Palestinians have taken shelter in overcrowded tent camps. U.S. weapons continue to be used by Israel to commit genocide in Gaza, and other U.S. weapons shipments continue to go through.

At the highest level, impunity persists. A much-anticipated State Department report released last Friday pointed to a number of incidents that raise “concern” but nevertheless concluded that Israel is not blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, and that “individual violations” of international law do not necessarily undermine a country’s “overall commitment” to respect for international law, “so long as that country is taking appropriate steps to investigate and where appropriate determine accountability for IHL violations.” 

There is ample evidence to conclude that the Israeli government is deliberately blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza and using U.S. weapons to carry out war crimes. It is nothing short of absurd that a government on trial for genocide would be capable of or willing to impartially investigate the abuses it is accused of perpetrating.

What’s happening in Gaza?

As the Biden administration’s ultimatum to Netanyahu makes headlines, Israel’s genocide in Gaza is reaching its final and most dangerous stage. 

In the last week, Israel’s relentless onslaught has intensified across the besieged enclave. In the north, the Israeli military used tanks and bulldozers to invade Jabaliya Refugee Camp, where thousands of displaced Palestinians have taken shelter, forcing them to flee once again. In Central Gaza, strikes on a home and an UNRWA school sheltering displaced Palestinians inside Nuseirat Refugee Camp killed 40 Palestinians, including children. In Rafah, over 360,000 people have fled since evacuation orders were issued a week ago — but they have nowhere safe to go. In one image, families are seen sheltering inside what remains of an UNRWA school, its walls and windows blown out. 

Full-blown famine has already set in, and these forced evacuations should be understood for what they are: death marches. Now that the Rafah border crossing has been closed for a week, meaning no aid is getting into Gaza, an already-dire situation has been made even more desperate. 

Gaza’s hospitals — or what remains of them — are running out of the fuel they need to keep operating. And the Israeli military continues to deliberately target aid workers. On Monday, an Israeli strike killed a U.N. employee traveling in a U.N. marked vehicle to the European Hospital in Rafah. Meanwhile, at a border crossing from the Occupied West Bank, hundreds of Israelis destroyed aid bound for Gaza as Israeli soldiers looked on.

What do we do now?  

The enormous pressure being exerted by the Palestine solidarity movement is getting to Biden. Our movements have fundamentally shifted the discourse around U.S. support for Israel and have pushed even centrist Democrats to the left. Our opposition — pro-genocide hate groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — might have more money than us, but there’s more of us than them. And it shows. 

Over the weekend, dozens of Duke students walked out of their commencement to protest Jerry Seinfeld being selected to deliver their commencement address. Seinfeld has repeatedly professed his support for Israel’s genocide, and more recently, his wife donated $5,000 to the armed vigilantes that violently attacked pro-Palestine protesters at UCLA. Pro-Palestine protests also took place at commencement ceremonies at UC Berkeley, University of Colorado, Denver, and elsewhere. 

Student protests have now spread to multiple European countries, with encampments springing up at Cambridge, Oxford, the University of Vienna, Leipzig University, University of Amsterdam, and dozens of other colleges. In Sweden over the weekend, thousands marched to protest Israel’s participation in Eurovision, and Israeli singer Eden Golan was met with boos as she took the stage. 

Pausing a single shipment of U.S. weapons to Israel, while a step in the right direction, will do little to deter the Israeli government’s genocidal onslaught in Rafah. The administration has already acknowledged that Israel has amassed enough troops for an invasion to commence. We need a full arms embargo now.

But it’s clear that the narrative has changed, and that matters in terms of what we can win. The demands we can reasonably make of Congress have shifted left; months ago, we were calling for a ceasefire, but today, members of Congress also have to answer whether they support continued weapons for Israel in the midst of a genocide. 

Biden is keenly aware of how his continued support for Israel’s genocide is souring public opinion against him. As it becomes more difficult for Israel to skirt accountability, Biden will be forced to confront what we’ve been demanding for months: A complete halt of all U.S. weapons to Israel.

What we’re reading

This report from Human Rights Watch shows that the Israeli strike that killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers in March “was far from an isolated ‘mistake.’

It documents eight incidents in which “aid organizations and UN agencies had communicated with Israeli authorities the GPS coordinates of an aid convoy or premises and yet Israeli forces attacked the convoy or shelter without any warning.”

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