October 18, 2000
The Honorable Madeleine K. Albright
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Albright:
We urge that the recently announced sales of military helicopters by the United States to Israel be suspended pending full investigation of Israel’s use of such helicopters in attacks against Palestinian civilians as well as the assured cessation of such attacks. We find the sale particularly inappropriate at a time when the U.S. government is trying to stop the violence and put the peace negotiations back on track.
The undersigned organizations have worked together for over seven years to curb U.S. military sales to governments that use U.S. weapons to violate human rights standards and norms of international humanitarian law. We have previously opposed sales of attack helicopters to countries such as Turkey on this basis.
In the present case, there are credible accounts, confirmed by Israeli Defense Forces sources, of Israeli deployment of Apache AH-64 attack helicopters in clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian demonstrators (Jane’s Defense Weekly, October 11, 2000). For example, Israel has used helicopter gunships to attack residential areas of Hebron in response to gunfire from Palestinians aimed at Jewish settlements.
This apparently indiscriminate and therefore unlawful use of force by the Israeli Defense Forces has clearly added to the number of civilian casualties. The United Nations Security Council condemned the “excessive use of force” against Palestinians and reminded Israel of its obligation under international law to protect civilians. The International Committee of the Red Cross also expressed "grave concern" about the scale of violence resulting from armed confrontations, strongly condemned Israeli attacks on medical workers, and called on all parties to “respect and ensure respect for civilians.”
Recent helicopter gunship attacks follow the troubling episode last May in which Israeli forces apparently used U.S. supplied Blackhawk helicopters to destroy sections of a civilian power grid in Lebanon in clear violation of international humanitarian law and possible breach of U.S. laws on the use of U.S. weapons.
Set against this background of apparently illegal Israeli use of U.S. supplied military equipment comes the announcement of the “largest helicopter sale of the decade” to Israel, involving Apache and Blackhawk helicopters (Ha’aretz, October 3, 2000). The combined value of the pending sales is well in excess of one billion dollars, some or all of which may be paid for with U.S. funds.
The U.S. government must be consistent in its enforcement of international standards of conduct, as well as its own laws, in dealing with foreign governments. It should not supply to Israel more of the very weapons systems that have contributed to the terrible toll of civilian casualties.
We therefore call for:
· Suspension of the pending helicopter sales to Israel;
· Impartial and independent investigation of the use of U.S.-supplied helicopters by Israeli forces in attacks upon Palestinians and against the civilian infrastructure in Lebanon; and
· Reconsideration of the helicopter sales only after securing a firm commitment from Israel that it will not use these gunships in indiscriminate and other unlawful attacks against civilians.
Director, Washington Office
William S. Schulz, Executive Director
Rachel Stohl, Senior Analyst
John McCullough, Executive Director
Thomas H. Hart
Director of Government Relations
Reverand Mark B. Brown
Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs
Joe Volk, Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Joost R. Hiltermann
Executive Director, Arms Division
Director, Peace and Security Program
Institute for Policy Studies
Vivien Stromberg, Executive Director
Gordon S. Clark, Executive Director
Elenora Giddings Ivory
Director, Washington Office
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Peter Davies, U.S. Representative
National Legislation Director
Director, Arms Trade Resource Center
James Steinhagen, President
Reverend Ron Stief
Justice and Witness Ministries
Assistant General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society