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PostPosted: Tue Feb 13, 2024 9:55 am 
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Dem senator calls Israeli leadership "war criminals," votes to send them $14 billion anyway

Ryan Grim, The Intercept

By now you probably know the heartrending story of Hind Rajab, and if not, I hesitate to be the one to tell you about her. But her story needs to be as widely known as possible. Two weeks ago, on January 29, Hind, a 6-year-old girl, climbed into a car with her aunt, uncle, and cousins. They were doing what so many Palestinians have been doing for the past four months: trying to find the least unsafe place possible. Safe zones are dangerous. Moving toward safe zones is dangerous. Staying put can be fatal. With Israeli troops approaching, the family decided to flee, some in the car, some on foot.

Hind and her family quickly came under fire. Her older cousin called the Red Crescent, pleading to be rescued. The call was cut off as she was killed along with the rest of her family by Israeli gunfire. Only Hind remained alive. Wounded, she called the Red Crescent back, begging to be rescued. She was scared of the dark, she told them, and it was getting late. “I’m so scared, please come,” she said.

The distraught dispatcher told her over the course of a three-hour call that they couldn’t dispatch rescuers until they had approval from the Israeli forces. Without that approval, the rescuers could be struck. As we reported earlier with the killing of Al Jazeera cameraman Samer Abu Daqqa, often those approvals can be fatally slow to come.

Finally, permission was granted, and two medics were sent in an ambulance. Dispatchers heard a terrible noise, and then lost contact with the medics. Since then, the world has been on edge, praying for news of Hind’s successful rescue, but fearing the worst. Finally, Israeli forces withdrew from the area, and on Saturday morning, Hind’s surviving family ventured back to the neighborhood. There, they found the decomposing victims of the Israeli attack. Hind was dead. Just yards away were the charred ruins of the ambulance and the impossibly heroic medics.

Hind’s life and death, her courage and her fear, had captivated the globe. Her killing was also an unspeakable war crime. The Israel Defense Forces can’t say it was the unfortunate but unintended consequence of a strike on a terrorist, because we know that the Red Crescent was in direct communication with the IDF, which therefore knew that an ambulance was heading to those precise coordinates to rescue a little girl. Somebody pulled the trigger — or pressed the button — that ended their lives. Somebody higher up signed off on it, if the snippets of cockpit and drone operator recordings from previous Israeli assaults represent standard practices. As we speak, somebody — perhaps many people — inside the IDF knows who committed this spectacular atrocity and is staying silent.

Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesperson, spoke with unusual emotion about Hind’s killing at the daily briefing on Monday afternoon. "We are devastated about the reports of the death of Hind Rajab. I will tell you that I have a little girl that is about to turn 6 myself and so — it is just a devastating account, a heartbreaking account for this child and of course there have been thousands of others who have died as a result of this conflict.”

He then volunteered that the U.S. was demanding a timely investigation. “We have asked the Israeli authorities to investigate this incident on an urgent basis. We understand that they are doing so, and we expect to see those results in a timely fashion and they should include accountability measures as appropriate,” he added.

The reporter who raised Hind’s killing noted that U.S. weapons appeared to be involved and asked if that was a particular concern. Miller said that no matter whose weapons were used, it shouldn’t have happened.

From there, Associated Press reporter Matt Lee jumped in to ask whether the State Department had ever gotten any results after it demanded Israel investigate the blowing up of the Islamic University of Gaza. Miller said they had not and moved on.

When I got a chance later in the briefing, I referred back to Lee’s question and suggested that he wasn’t merely asking about the investigation into the university bombing that has gone nowhere. “Matt’s point, though, is that you’ve urged a lot of investigations and a lot of accountability and we don’t have evidence of them coming back with accountability,” I said. “Should there be a second-level investigation into her killing?” I’m not exactly sure what I meant by “second level” — it’s sometimes awkward for me to watch the clips back and wish I could phrase something differently — but something independent, something with higher jurisdiction, like the International Criminal Court, would be appropriate.

“It’s hard to comment on a second level before we’ve concluded the first level,” Miller responded. “We want to see the government of Israel investigate this matter. If they find somebody behaved inappropriately or in violation of the law, we want to see accountability. And I wouldn’t want to speculate on what further measures might be appropriate before that first step has been completed.”

I can’t promise much, but I can promise we’re not going to let this one rest.

Had the ambulance sent to rescue Hind not been incinerated by the IDF, she would have still faced the challenge of starvation. Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who is a leader in the Democratic foreign policy establishment, gave an extraordinary speech on the Senate floor on Monday night, excoriating the Netanyahu government for deliberately blocking aid to civilians. He and Sen. Jeff Merkley traveled to the Egypt side of the Rafah crossing around five weeks ago, and Van Hollen came back livid at Israel’s deliberate stalling of aid. On the Senate floor, he said that he had recently heard reports that children are now beyond starving and are actually dying of starvation. He texted Cindy McCain, the head of the World Food Programme, and asked if the rumors were true. He quoted her response to him: “This is true. We are unable to get in enough food to keep people from the brink. Famine is imminent. I wish I had better news.”

He drove the point home: “Kids in Gaza are now dying from the deliberate withholding of food. In addition to the horror of that news, one other thing is true: That is a war crime. It is a textbook war crime. And that makes those who orchestrate it war criminals,” he said, adding that he had recently spoken with officials at humanitarian relief organizations. “Every one of them, every one, has stated that their organizations have never experienced a humanitarian disaster as dire and terrible as the world is witnessing in Gaza.”

He went on to say that three weeks ago, he met with officials at the State Department to ask why they were not enforcing a section of the Foreign Assistance Act that blocks security assistance to countries that hinder the delivery of U.S. humanitarian aid. That law clearly applies to Israel, Van Hollen said, but the State Department has yet to respond to him.

Van Hollen pulled no punches. “What should the United States do when the Netanyahu government refuses to prioritize the release of the hostages?” he asked, attacking Benjamin Netanyahu for going on an American Sunday show to announce that despite Joe Biden’s pressure, he’d still be launching an assault on Rafah, the southern Gaza city that is home to some 1.3 million huddling and starving Palestinians.

The senator’s speech pulsed with moral clarity — until it petered out into a stumbling rationale for his forthcoming yes vote. He would still be voting to send some $14 billion to the people he had just described as “war criminals,” he said, because the bill also included $60 billion for Ukraine’s war effort and humanitarian aid for Sudan, Gaza, Ukraine, and elsewhere. (It also ponies up $8 billion for a Taiwan war effort.) He acknowledged that the aid money wouldn’t be worth anything to the Palestinians if Netanyahu wouldn’t let it in, and he pleaded with Biden to pressure Netanyahu to do so. But if even this level of moral clarity from somebody like Van Hollen isn’t matched with any action, it’s hard to see why those pleas will be heard this time.

When the roll was called, only Sen. Bernie Sanders and Merkley, Van Hollen’s companion on that recent trip to Rafah, voted no. It needed 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, and thanks to significant opposition from Republicans, it only got 66. A small bloc of Democrats could have blocked it and forced the Senate to consider each spending piece separately.

Now it heads for the buzzsaw of the dysfunctional House of Representatives, where Speaker Mike Johnson says he won’t take it up because it doesn’t include border provisions. That’s laugh-out-loud stuff, since it was Johnson who insisted the bill not include the border deal the Senate came up with. Johnson said the House will now write its own legislation, so who knows where this aid package heads next. Either way, the slaughter continues, and the legislation the Senate approved bans U.S. funding for United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the main relief and works agency in Gaza.

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