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US ignores Israeli 'war crimes' for domestic politics: ex-official

As the former director of congressional and public affairs at the US State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Josh Paul helped oversee arms transfers to US allies for 11 years
— Washington (AFP)

Domestic policy concerns are leading US officials willfully to ignore Israeli "war crimes" -- and to stifle dissent over arming the country -- a former senior State Department staffer who quit in protest told AFP Wednesday.

Josh Paul caused a stir in Washington when he resigned last month, one of the more high profile protests at US policy from within the State Department.

In an interview, he said that while many officials are disturbed by the actions of the Israeli military as it responds to Hamas's October 7 surprise attack, they turn a blind eye to rules governing arms transfers, which demand consideration of whether US weapons will be used to violate international law.

As the former director of congressional and public affairs at the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Paul helped oversee arms transfers to US allies like Israel for 11 years.

"It is my opinion that Israel is committing war crimes in its actions in Gaza right now. And it's not just my opinion. I've actually heard from officials across government, including elected officials at a very senior level, who share that opinion but aren't willing to say it in public," he said.

Yet the United States keeps supplying weapons "where it was clear -- and as we have seen -- that they were going to be used to kill so many civilians," he said.

"Criticism of Israel is often seen as a third rail in American politics, particularly in Congress," Paul said. "And this is a deterrent to US officials to come out and say in public what they believe in private."

Current fighting between Israel and Hamas, which governs the besieged Gaza Strip, was sparked by the bloody October attack by Hamas fighters on Israeli soil, in which they killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.

The Israeli bombardment of the Palestinian territory, followed by an ongoing ground invasion, has killed more than 11,500 people, also mostly civilians, health officials in the Hamas-run territory have said.

- Weapons pipeline -

As international outrage at the toll of Israel's response has mounted -- prompting allegations by observers that both sides have committed war crimes -- Washington has stood steadfast behind its key Middle Eastern ally.

That includes bolstering the weapons pipeline to Israel's military.

In the past, there has been internal State Department debate on transferring US arms to countries with checkered human rights records, including certain Israeli military units, Paul said. But no longer.

"There was no space for any discussion or debate around this concern, as there had been in every other issue I've been involved in previously in the bureau," he said. "We were just being told to move arms as quickly as we could."

The rules restricting arms transfers are loose, Paul said, leaving space for policymakers, in a "willful" manner, "to simply not decide" whether the Israeli military has violated human rights in Gaza.

Protests and acrimonious debates have flared across the country over the ongoing war, especially on US college campuses, and both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic crimes have increased, according to the Justice Department.

Paul said the levels of division within the US government -- including elected officials -- are comparable to the tension ahead of the country's 2003 invasion of Iraq.

But he cautioned that stepping down wasn't an option for most government employees, who can't risk losing their health care or salaries.

"There is the risk of it being a career killer if you resign on this particular issue."