Israel ‘needs to do more’ to stop settlers sacking Gaza aid trucks, US says

Israeli officials “need to do more” to stop settlers attacking trucks loaded with food, water and other critical supplies from entering Gaza, a State Department spokesman said on Thursday.

The remarks came after videos emerged on X/Twitter showing Israeli settlers destroying packages of humanitarian assistance held on trucks bound for Gaza.

Vedant Patel, state spokesperson, said that he could not verify the fate of the trucks seen in the video. But he added that Israeli officials “need to do more to hold actors like this accountable when action is taken that is inconsistent with what we know is important, which is getting more humanitarian aid into Gaza”.

“What I can say...humanitarian aid must not, and can not, be restricted, stopped or interefered with,” he said.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre also addressed the issue of aid convoys being blocked or harrassed on Thursday. “We remain concerned about ongoing limited operations at the Rafah boarding crossing,” she said.

“This level of aid remains insufficient,” said Jean-Pierre at her daily briefing. “And we want to continue to press Israel to increase the level of assistant moving into Gaza. I cannot speak to the prime minister or domestic politics that is for him to speak to, what I can speak to is what we have been working on doing, and how much we understand the importance of getting that humanitarian aid in. And that's what we've been doing.”

A video posted by Axios’s Barak Ravid on Twitter on Monday showed at least a dozen if not more Israelis throwing packages appearing to contain bottled water on the ground, smashing them, as they crossed from the West Bank into Israel, bound for Gaza. Other videos and news reports, such as one from Haaretz this week, have also indicated that truck drivers have been subject to assaults for participating in aid convoys.

The US continues to insist that these incidents (and the inability or unwillingness of Israeli security forces to stop them from occurring) do not amount to officially-sanctioned efforts by Israel’s government to restrict or halt the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, which would violate international law. But the State Department in particular has faced heavy criticism for that finding, in particular following the publication of a report last week which also found that in some “instances” Israeli forces could be reasonably found to have violated international humanitarian assistance laws.

In general, the Biden administration continues to tread a fine line on the issue of aid to Gaza and Israel’s treatment of Palestinian civilians. The US has repeatedly fought back against accusations that Israel (with US assistance) is committing a genocide in Gaza, and rejected the authority of an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into the matter. At the same time, White House and State Department officials have repeatedly publicly pressed Israel’s government to increase aid crossings and to take further steps aimed at protecting civilians from harm, while condemning rhetoric from rightwing Israeli politicians embracing the destruction of Gaza.

President Joe Biden drew his red line for Israel’s conduct in a recent interview with CNN, saying that he would halt the transfer of some weapons to Israel should a major military assault against the city of Rafah in southern Gaza begin. While violence has been reported in the area, State Department officials have told reporters that the Israeli operations in the area are limited and have thus far avoided population centres, skirting the president’s threat.

Israeli officials have pushed back against the US president’s warning and have vowed to move forward with an invasion of Rafah, where more than one million refugees have fled fighting that has utterly leveled large parts of Gaza’s north. More than 35,000 people, with over half being children, are thought to have been killed since the fighting began last year following a deadly Hamas terrorist attack in Israel that killed 1,152 people and resulted in hundreds being taken hostage by militants.

Over the weekend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was questioned about the US’s handling of relations with Israel during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press and denied that the US was avoiding more serious criticism for fear of angering a US ally.

“We don’t have double standards,” Blinken said.“We treat Israel, one of our closest allies and partners, just as we would treat any other country, including in assessing something like international humanitarian law, and its compliance with that law.”