Press Release

Welch Reacts to State Department’s NSM-20 Report

May 11, 2024

BURLINGTON, VT – Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) released the following reaction to the Department of State’s National Security Memorandum 20 (NSM-20) report, which found that it was “reasonable to assess” that U.S. weapons were used by the Netanyahu government and the Israeli security forces in ways inconsistent with international humanitarian law: 

“Late Friday, the State Department released its assessment of Israel’s assurances on its use of U.S. weapons and access to humanitarian aid, as required by National Security Memorandum-20.

“While Secretary Blinken concluded that it is ‘reasonable to assess’ that there have been instances when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) used U.S. weapons to violate international humanitarian law (IHL). This acknowledgment is historically significant and a step towards accountability. However, the assessment does not do justice to the wholesale destruction and appalling number of civilian casualties that the IDF has inflicted on Gaza and its people.  While the Secretary states that Israel has significantly improved access to humanitarian aid, the head of the World Food Programme recently described the situation in Northern Gaza as a full-blown famine and the Rafah border crossing is now blocked. 

“The situation in Gaza is complex because of its dense population and Hamas’ use of civilian infrastructure.  But the pattern of statements by Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the conduct of the IDF, have demonstrated callous disregard for the rights of Palestinian civilians – rights protected under international law and reflected in our own defense policies.  

“The State Department’s assessment of the catastrophe that has befallen Gaza and its people – the result of Hamas’ barbaric attack on October 7th and Israel’s shockingly disproportionate response – is deeply troubling.  If such use of American weapons and ammunition is seen to be largely within the bounds of IHL, then what do we say when the armed forces of other countries, who are not U.S. allies, inflict disproportionate casualties on civilians, which is happening in multiple other conflicts around the world?  If the flow of humanitarian aid to 2 million desperate people is impeded every step of the way while Israel’s Prime Minister flatly denies it, why would we accept his government’s assurances? When aid and health workers are killed, week after week, how can we treat it as anything but repeated violations, when they are explicitly protected by the laws of law?  

“The Secretary’s assessments will only be seen by the Netanyahu Government as—at most—a slap on the wrist; it risks setting a dangerous precedent for future uses of U.S. weapons and munitions.  

“The facts are undeniable. The Netanyahu government has created a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, supplied and perpetrated with U.S. planes, bombs, tanks, and firearms.  Like many in Vermont and across America, I oppose this – which is why I voted against the National Security Supplemental package. Israel’s invasion of Rafah is only compounding this crisis.  Aid is not flowing as it should now and the suffering is worsening, despite the State Department’s glass-half-full assessment.   

“The Leahy Law, a legacy of my predecessor Senator Patrick Leahy, holds all countries to the same standard. It appears the State Department is holding one country to a different standard, not only under our law but also under international law. “As I have said before, it is long past time for the U.S. to stop financing a war strategy that was deeply flawed from the beginning – a strategy of death and destruction with no vision for a peaceful future.  Today our immediate priorities should be to resume negotiations to free the hostages, to prevent further loss of innocent lives among the one million displaced Palestinians trapped in Rafah, and to save wounded children who are dying because they can’t get the medical care they need.”