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Israel-Palestine war: Bernie Sanders demands Biden withdraw support for $10bn in aid to Israel

Senator called on Biden administration to support ceasefire efforts at UN
US Senator Bernie Sanders speaks to reporters before a Senate luncheon at the US Capitol on 12 December 2023 in Washington.
US Senator Bernie Sanders speaks to reporters before a Senate luncheon at the US Capitol on 12 December 2023 in Washington DC (AFP)

US Senator Bernie Sanders has sent a letter calling on President Joe Biden to withdraw his support for an additional $10bn in military aid to Israel, as a small number of lawmakers in Congress mobilise against funding Israel's war in Gaza that has killed more than 18,000 Palestinians and has left two million displaced.

The letter by Sanders, sent to Biden on Tuesday, outlined the robust military support Israel has received from the US since 7 October when the war broke out, including thousands of munitions and bombs which he said has caused Washington to become complicit in violations of international law.

"The United States government has urged Israel to change its tactics, but we have done little but ask nicely while continuing to enable that campaign," Sanders said.

"The Netanyahu government’s current military approach is immoral, it is in violation of international law, and the United States must end our complicity in those actions."

Since the war in Gaza began, the US has provided at least 15,000 bombs and nearly 60,000 artillery shells to Israel, according to the Wall Street Journal. Those figures include more than 5,400 2,000-pound bombs.

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And although the immediate fast-tracking of weapons led to the resignation of senior State Department official Josh Paul, who oversaw arms transfers, the weapons have continued to be sent over to Israel.

The Biden administration on Saturday announced it was bypassing Congress to approve a transfer of 14,000 tank shells to Israel.

Several human rights reports published in recent days have stated that US-supplied weapons have been used by Israel to target civilian populations in both Gaza and Lebanon.

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The aid cited in the letter is part of a larger supplemental security bill that reflects a funding request Biden issued in October.

Earlier this month, Sanders and a small group of senators mobilised to work on an amendment for this bill that would include conditions on military assistance to Israel.

Sanders' letter does not call for a full halt to military aid to Israel but states that US aid should only be for "defensive" purposes.

"It would be irresponsible to provide an additional $10.1 billion in military aid beyond these defensive systems as contained in the proposed supplemental foreign aid package," Sanders said.

The emphasis on defensive weapons appears to resemble the announcement made by the Biden administration in 2021 to end the sale of offensive weapons to the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen. At the time, many democrats and human rights experts questioned what distinctions could be made between offensive and defensive weapons.

Sanders backs UN ceasefire efforts

While Sanders has been critical of Israel's military conduct in its war in Gaza, he has so far not joined calls for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and has stated that Israel has a right to respond militarily to Hamas. 

However, in the letter to Biden, the US senator has called on the administration to back the ongoing efforts at the UN to end the fighting, "such as the recent resolution, vetoed by the United States, that would have demanded an immediate humanitarian ceasefire".

'Israel’s military campaign will be remembered among some of the darkest chapters of our modern history'

- US Senator Bernie Sanders

On Friday, the US used its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to block a resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

Deputy US ambassador to the UN Robert Wood told reporters ahead of the vote that the resolution was “divorced from reality” and “would have not moved the needle forward on the ground”.

"Israel’s military campaign will be remembered among some of the darkest chapters of our modern history," Sanders said in his letter.

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