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Falsified US State Department Report Inspires Yet Another Resignation

Above photo: Palestinians among the rubble following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip. Photo from October 21, 2023 by Hosni Salah.

Stacey Gilbert, a former senior civil military advisor in the U.S. State department bureau of population where she dealt with refugees and migration, has recently resigned from her position. Her departure on Tuesday comes after the publication of a falsified report which concludes, despite disagreement from the experts who drafted the report, that Israel has not prevented aid from entering into the Gaza Strip amid widespread famine and humanitarian disaster. Additionally, contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAid), Alexander Smith, stepped down from his position this week, making the list of U.S. officials who have resigned explicitly citing Biden’s Palestine/Israel policy nearly ten.

The document in question is 46-page national security memorandum 20 (NSM-20) which Gilbert and other experts had been working on up until very close to its completion when access to the report was then restricted to “higher levels.” Those who had drafted the memorandum were unable to view it until it had been published. Gilbert explained she was shocked by the inaccuracy of the document after there had been general agreement among her and others who had worked on the report that, although there are other factors such as military operations that have affected delivery, the role Israel had played in preventing life-saving food and medical supplies from entering the Strip was evident.

Gilbert said, “There is consensus among the humanitarian community on that. It is absolutely the opinion of the humanitarian subject matter experts in the state department, and not just in my bureau – people who look at this from the intelligence community and from other bureaus. I would be very hard pressed to think of anyone who has said [Israeli obstruction] is not an issue. That’s why I object to that report saying that Israel is not blocking humanitarian assistance. That is patently false.”

The report’s absolution of Israel’s role in blocking aid from crossing the border into Gaza is especially concerning when considering a clause in the Foreign Assistance Act. This provision would require the United States government to suspend security assistance and, more important, arms sales to any country found to be interfering with delivery of U.S. aid. The negligence of top-level officials involved in the publication of NSM-20 does not stop there.

Although the report is meant to “‘obtain certain credible and reliable written assurances from foreign governments receiving [U.S.] defense articles and, as appropriate, defense services’ that they will abide by U.S. and international law,” the first page in the section discussing Israel’s compliance to these assurances is dedicated to condemnation of non-state affiliated Hamas, the impossibility of the battlespace in the densely populated Gaza Strip and reiterations of U.S. support for Israel’s unequivocal right to defend itself.

The number of Palestinian civilian casualties is undermined by the alleged affiliation of the Gaza Health Ministry with Hamas, yet Israeli officials are still considered credible as they claim to uphold International Humanitarian Law while, as the document says, “…credible reports of alleged human rights abuses by Israeli security forces, including arbitrary or unlawful killings, enforced disappearance, torture, and serious abuses in conflict” emerge.

“Israel has a sophisticated system for identifying where civilians are located in order to try to minimize civilian harm. However, UN and humanitarian organizations have reported Israeli civilian harm mitigation efforts as inconsistent, ineffective, and inadequate, failing to provide protection to vulnerable civilians who cannot or chose not to relocate, including persons with disabilities, persons receiving medical treatment, children, and the infirm. Humanitarian organizations reported further that phone/SMS messages were ineffective during IDF-generated telecommunications blackouts, and civilians received insouciant notice, inaccurate or vague information on where people should go, and on safe evacuation routes.”

NSM-20, page 26

This paragraph alone is a clear indication of how Israel has violated international humanitarian law; blacking out telecommunications and then sending phone/SMS messages which detail where the next air strike would be is essentially the same thing as not notifying civilian populations at all. If Israeli drone footage and self-published IDF videos are not enough to prove that mitigating civilian casualties is not a priority of the Israeli government’s, it is evident from the short list of incidents included in the report on pages 23, 24 and 25.

However, if, according to the report, “IDF personnel are trained to U.S. standards on civilian harm mitigation,” the U.S. efforts to reduce civilian harm in Iraq should be indicative enough of this lack of concern.

Finally, Julia Borger at the Guardian writes, “The NSM-20 report found that it was ‘reasonable to assess’ that Israel had used US weapons in a way that was ‘inconsistent’ with international humanitarian law, but that there was not enough concrete evidence to link specific US-supplied weapons to violations.”

The report itself reads, “Limited information has been shared to date in response to USG inquiries regarding incidents under review to determine whether U.S. munitions were used in incidents involving civilian harm. However, certain Israeli-operated systems are entirely U.S.-origin (e.g., crewed attack aircraft) and are likely to have been involved in incidents that raise concerns about Israel’s IHL compliance.” Yet, there is evidence that U.S. munitions were just recently used in the bombing of displacement camps which claimed the lives of many Palestinians seeking shelter in what Israel had previously defined as a safe-zone.

As the situation in Palestine becomes more dire, and the apathy and malpractice of high-level U.S. executives more blatant, Josh Paul – former director of congressional and public affairs at the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs – claimed that there would be more resignations to come.

“I cannot do my job in an environment in which specific people cannot be acknowledged as fully human, or where gender and human rights principles apply to some, but not to others, depending on their race.”

Alexander Smith, former contractor for USAid.

Read the full report here. The section on Israel ranges from pages 18-32.

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