US senator calls on Kerry to probe Israel for rights violations

“We urge you to determine if these reports are credible and to inform us of your findings,” the letter said.

March 30, 2016 18:55
3 minute read.
IDF soldiers stand guard during a demonstration by Palestinians

IDF soldiers stand guard during a demonstration by Palestinians against the closure of the main road in Jabaa area south of the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont has asked US Secretary of State John Kerry to investigate Israel over “a disturbing number of reports of possible gross violations of human rights” in the country, citing alleged extrajudicial killings of Palestinians by IDF soldiers.

The letter – also signed by 10 members of the House of Representatives, but endorsed by none of Leahy’s compatriots in the Senate – expresses concern over claims that both Israel and Egypt are allowing their forces to kill with impunity.

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Should either country be found by the US government in violation of human rights, a law authored by Leahy in 1997 would require the State Department and Department of Defense to cut foreign assistance.

Leahy raised similar concerns over Egypt’s behavior last year, questioning in a letter to Kerry whether US funds should be suspended under the law at that time given the nature of Cairo’s operations against terrorist groups in Sinai. No aid was suspended.

This appears to be the first time the Democrat from Vermont seeks to apply the “Leahy Law” to Israel, over “specific allegations” of human rights abuse.

“Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have reported what may be extrajudicial killings by the Israeli military and police of Fadi Alloun, Saad al-Atrash, Hadeel Hashlamoun and Mutaz Ewisa,” the letter reads. “There are also reports of the use of torture in the cases of Wasim Marouf and Ahmed Manasra.”

“We urge you to determine if these reports are credible and to inform us of your findings,” the letter said.

Kerry has not yet responded to the letter, but is preparing to, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday. “Our assistance to Egypt and to Israel is and will remain in full compliance with the law,” he said.

While Kirby said he could not make a “judgment” on whether Israeli forces had recently committed human rights abuses, he noted that Israel’s government has condemned recently surfaced video evidence of one possible extrajudicial killing, a case currently before Israeli courts.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who almost never gets into public spats with US lawmakers, responded to Leahy’s letter by saying that his complaints should be directed against those who “ incite youngsters to commit cruel acts of terrorism.

“The IDF and the Israel Police do not engage in executions, ” Netanyahu said. “ Israel’s soldiers and police officers defend themselves and innocent civilians with the highest moral standards against bloodthirsty terrorists who come to murder them.

“ Where is the concern for the human rights of the many Israelis who have been murdered and maimed by these savage terrorists, “ he asked.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid wrote a letter to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), calling on him to “speak up and make clear that these views [in Leahy’s letter] do not represent the Democratic Party in any way.

“A clear statement distancing the leadership and the Democratic members of Congress from these spurious allegations will send a clear message that the US and Democratic Party stand by Israel,” Lapid wrote. “It is saddening to see Democratic members of Congress seeking to use this wave of terrorism to undermine Israel’s national security by calling to stop crucial military aid to Israel. They are willing to put the lives of every Israeli at risk by weakening our armed forces.”

Lapid said Leahy’s letter consists of “outlandish claims” and pointed out that in recent months terrorists have murdered dozens of Israelis and wounded hundreds.

“Terrorists have stabbed a pregnant woman, shot a young man in a bar in Tel Aviv and driven cars into groups of civilians standing at bus stops. In dealing with this latest assault on Israel, the IDF and the Israeli police have acted with the utmost professionalism in extremely difficult circumstances... and acted exactly the way any sovereign nation would expect their security services to behave, adhering to international law and the highest moral standards,” Lapid wrote.

MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) called the letter “disgraceful.”

“Israel thoroughly investigated all of the cases mentioned in the letter and found that the accusations were baseless,” Oren said. “Unfortunately, Senator Leahy and the congressmen who signed the letter do not care about the human rights of 33 Israelis and two Americans killed by Palestinians since October.”

Oren called on the Democratic Party and its candidates for the presidential nomination to condemn and distance themselves from Leahy’s “false accusations.”

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

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