Bernie Sanders (AP/Charlie Riedel)

Bernie Sanders is right: Even U.S. State Department says Israel used disproportionate violence in Gaza

The U.S. government joins the U.N. and rights groups in confirming that Israel used indiscriminate force in Gaza


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Ben Norton
April 22, 2016 5:15PM (UTC)

Bernie Sanders has faced bitter attacks in recent weeks for criticizing Israel.

On multiple occasions, the presidential candidate has condemned the Israeli military's summer 2014 attack on the densely populated Gaza Strip, which he described as disproportional and indiscriminate. Critics, including opponent Hillary Clinton, have in turn blasted Sanders for his remarks.

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But the United Nations, leading human rights organizations and even a new report by the U.S. State Department confirm that what Sanders has said is absolutely correct.

In an interview in early April with the editorial board of The New York Daily News, Sanders noted “most international observers would say that the attacks against Gaza were indiscriminate and that a lot of innocent people were killed who should not have been killed."

“We cannot ignore the reality that you have large numbers of Palestinians who are suffering now, poverty rate off the charts, unemployment off the charts, Gaza remaining a destroyed area,” he added.

Sanders faced further backlash for mistakenly saying in the interview that more than 10,000 Palestinian civilians were killed in the 51-day war, confusing the number of Palestinians injured — more than 11,200 — with the number killed — more than 2,250, roughly two-thirds of whom were civilians, including more than 550 children, according to the U.N.

In the Brooklyn presidential debate, Sanders corrected the death count and stood by his statements, reiterating that Israel carried out "a disproportionate attack."

His opponent, hawkish former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, refused to condemn Israel's actions, instead blaming the Palestinian militant group Hamas for the violence in Gaza, upon which Israel has imposed a blockade for almost a decade, a siege that U.N. experts say is illegal.

As Salon reported after both events, Sanders' comments are correct. The United Nations and numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, have confirmed the same in detailed reports.

But it is not just human rights organizations and the U.N. that agree. Even the U.S. government has likewise acknowledged the undeniable truth echoed by Sanders.

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In its 2015 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, the U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor acknowledges Israel’s unlawful killings, excessive force, torture and systemic discrimination against Palestinians.

In a section on the 2014 Gaza war, the U.S. State Department writes: "NGOs continued to accuse Israel of using disproportionate force and indiscriminate fire to counter the threat posed by rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, resulting in unnecessary and excessive civilian casualties."

It cites a report by Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, which it says "concluded that the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] took a broad definition of what constitutes a 'military objective,' targeting buildings without specific information about the effective contribution they made to military action and the clear advantage gained by destroying them."

Continuing its summary, the U.S. government notes the B'Tselem report found that the "IDF violated the 'principle of proportionality'; and that, despite touting of its process of warning residents with phone calls, leaflets, and 'knocks on the roof' that they were in imminent danger, these warnings were ineffective in many instances."

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The U.S. State Department also draws on a report by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, which it says found "that attacks were characterized by heavy and unpredictable bombardments of civilian neighborhoods in a manner that failed to discriminate between legitimate targets and protected populations and caused widespread destruction of homes and civilian property."

Israel's "attacks were unlikely to have been the result of decisions made by individual soldiers or commanders" and "Israeli warning mechanisms were inadequate," the U.S. government notes, citing the Physicians for Human Rights-Israel investigation.

It continues its summary of the report adding: "Israeli forces failed to take the requisite precautions that would effectively enable the safe evacuation of the civilian population, including provision of safe spaces and routes" and "authorities often denied coordination of medical evacuation and that there were many reported attacks on medical teams and facilities."

The State Department furthermore acknowledges that, according to the human rights organization Defense for Children International — Palestine, at least 535 Gazan children were killed by Israeli attacks, nearly 68 percent of whom were 12 years old or younger.

The U.S. government report again cites DCI-Palestine, noting it "found overwhelming and repeated evidence that Israeli forces committed grave violations against children amounting to war crimes. This action included direct targeting of children by Israeli drone-fired missiles and attacks on schools."

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The State Department report, at a bulky 124 pages, additionally thoroughly details the Israeli government's “abuse of Palestinian detainees, including children, particularly during arrest and interrogation; austere and overcrowded detention facilities; improper security detention procedures; demolition and confiscation of Palestinian property; limitations on freedom of expression, assembly and association; and severe restrictions on Palestinians’ internal and external freedom of movement.”

Pro-Israel pundits and politicians may lambaste Bernie Sanders for his criticisms of Israel, but reports by the world's leading institutions and even the U.S. government confirm that what Sanders said is undeniably accurate.

Subsequent admissions by Israeli veterans who fought in the war that they shot innocent Palestinians because they were bored, or that they were ordered to target “anyone you spot that you can be positive is not the IDF,” to attack “any person you see” and to “shoot to kill,” only further show how correct Sanders is.

The Vermont senator and self-declared democratic socialist has promised to pursue a “level playing field” on Israel-Palestine, breaking with Democratic Party dogma. He may face extreme backlash for this commitment, but it is a commitment based fundamentally on truth.


Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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