In early February, we formed the Independent Task Force on the Application of National Security Memorandum-20 to Israel, whose report we provided to the Biden Administration on April 18. The National Security Memorandum 20 (NSM-20), adopted by President Joe Biden, directs the Department of State to seek assurances from partners involved in conflict and receiving U.S. military grant assistance that they would abide by U.S. and international law and also requires the Departments of State and Defense to report to Congress within 90 days on the extent to which such partners are abiding by their assurances.

Though delegated as a task to the Executive Branch, the administration’s disregard for credible media reporting as well as recommendations from its own experts within the State Department, alleging Israeli abuses, catalyzed us to act.

The Task Force, which has worked on a voluntary basis, consists of experts on U.S. and international law, U.S. security assistance, and U.S. military best practices. For the past two months, we have combed through thousands of lines of data from credible nongovernmental organizations, ranging from human rights watchdogs to aid organizations working on the ground in Gaza.

The final report features sixteen clear, credible, and compelling incidents that should certainly be included in the administration’s upcoming reporting to Congress as well as an 18-page appendix of additional incidents worthy of examination. It also identifies multiple restrictions on humanitarian assistance, including strikes by the IDF, that trigger Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act (which bars military assistance to states impeding U.S. humanitarian aid) and should be reportable to Congress by the Departments of State and/or Defense under the terms of NSM-20.

Our findings were striking. Though Israel has attributed the 34,000 Palestinian casualties, 70 percent of whom are women and children, to alleged human shielding by Hamas, we found that in 11 out of the 16 incidents we analyzed, Israel did not even publicly identity a military target or attempt to justify the strike. Of the remaining five incidents, Israel publicly named targets with verification in two incidents, but no precautionary warning was given and we assess the anticipated civilian harm was known and excessive.

In one of the worst incidents in a strike on Gaza City on October 25, 2023, Israel nearly flattened the entire neighborhood of Al Yarmouk, including seven residential towers. In just the Al Taj residential tower, the bombing killed 91 Palestinians, including 28 women and 39 children. Israel’s only explanation was that a Hamas tunnel ran beneath the neighborhood. Not only did this attack disregard the duty to take precautionary measures and the duty to refrain from an attack where the civilian harm exceeds the military objective to be achieved, it suggests that Israel had the authority to bomb nearly all of Gaza in similar fashion which lay above 350 miles of subterranean tunnels.

Aware of the controversial terrain of international humanitarian law in asymmetric warfare, two-thirds of our report documents violations under applicable U.S. law or policy, including civilian harm mitigation in U.S. military best practices and Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act mandating no military support be given to states restricting access to humanitarian aid. In his analysis, our expert on U.S. targeting came to the same conclusion as did Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who said that the U.S. military would “absolutely not” systematically conduct strikes with a well understood high risk of civilian casualties, as the IDF have continuously.   

Our aggregate data demonstrates a broader context of systematic disregard for fundamental principles of U.S. and international law, due to reliance on the steady and sure flow of U.S. armaments. According to a high ranking former IDF officer, Israel’s combat could have achieved similar military outcomes “with 10 percent of the destruction [Israel has] caused.” He attributes this “reckless conduct” to” an absolute assumption that the U.S. will continue to arm and finance [Israel’s military operations].” Indeed, since October 7, the United States has approved over 100 Foreign Military Sales arms transfers to Israel, two of them using an emergency authority to bypass Congressional review, and none of them accompanied by any conditions or “red lines” on usage despite conditionality inherent in U.S. laws and policies.

Our findings echo the concerns recently articulated by forty House Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who have demanded that Biden halt weapons transfers to Israel. As their letter noted, “it is critical to ensure that the U.S. government is fully utilizing the expertise of State Department and DoD officials and legal experts, [including] important intelligence community assessments and data, in thoroughly assessing Israel’s actions in Gaza.”

It is our hope the Task Force’s work facilitates the drafting efforts currently under way within the administration to meet the reporting requirements of NSM-20, resulting in the overdue enforcement of applicable U.S. law as it relates to arms transfers and security assistance, and using all available means to remove all restrictions on the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

The mounting evidence before the Biden administration now pales only in comparison to the humanitarian crisis afflicting Palestinians in Gaza. As the Task Force’s work demonstrates, the facts could not be more clear. It is now up to the Biden administration to act on them.

IMAGE: Aerial view of destroyed buildings in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on April 22, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and militant group Hamas. (Photo by -/AFPTV/AFP via Getty Images)