FAQ #2: What Is US Policy Toward the Palestinian People and Israel?

November 30, 2022
  1. How do US weapons to Israel harm Palestinians?

BIG PICTURE: The United States provides more taxpayer-funded weapons to Israel than any other country in the world. In fact, in most years, the US gives more weapons to Israel than all other countries in the world combined. Since World War II, Israel also has been the largest cumulative recipient of US funding. Giving these weapons to Israel, especially on such a large scale, makes the US directly complicit in Israel’s daily and systematic violation of Palestinians’ human rights.

  • Israel uses US weapons, including fighter jets and helicopter gunships, in its frequent attacks against Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip. Israel has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians in these attacks since 2009, and has destroyed thousands of homes and other civilian infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, mosques, and businesses. 
  • Israel uses US-made Caterpillar bulldozers to destroy Palestinian homes and build Israeli-only settlements on stolen Palestinian land. Not only are US weapons critical in Israel’s theft of Palestinian land in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; they are also frequently used by Israel to injure and kill Palestinian civilians in the West Bank.


  • Since 2000, Israel has killed nearly 5,000 Palestinians who took no part in hostilities, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. Israel killed many of these Palestinians with US weapons. 
  • In the 2022 budget request, Israel received 53% of total Foreign Military Financing (the technical budgetary term for taxpayer-funded weapons), meaning that Israel got more US weapons than all other countries in the world combined through the regular budget.
  • Instead of giving Israel $3.8 billion of weapons each year to commit human rights abuses against Palestinians, we could instead fund 47,000 school teachers, or fund 51,000 clean energy jobs, or provide 653,000 students with Pell grants, or provide healthcare to 1.6 million uninsured children, or provide food assistance to 2.5 million people.

ZOOM IN: Weapons to Israel | IMEU Policy Backgrounder


 2. Shouldn’t human rights be at the center of US policy?

BIG PICTURE: The Biden administration has committed rhetorically to centering human rights in US foreign policy. But when it comes to Palestine/Israel, the Biden administration has continued long-standing policies of enabling Israeli human rights abuses against Palestinians by failing to apply relevant US laws and enabling Israel’s abuses through diplomatic protection at the UN. Even when Israel has committed gross human rights violations against Palestinian Americans, the United States has failed to hold Israel accountable. This selective concern with human rights is most evident when we compare US policy toward Russia’s military occupation, annexation, and war crimes in Ukraine with Israel’s military occupation, annexation, and war crimes in Palestine.    

  • The United States enables Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians by giving Israel weapons, by vetoing resolutions in the UN condemning Israeli human rights abuses and by criticizing and attempting to block UN investigatory bodies, by refusing to acknowledge this is an issue of an oppressor and the oppressed, and by failing to take any meaningful action to pressure Israel to halt policies, such as settlement expansion, which the US claims to oppose.
  • Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians violate US law. The Foreign Assistance Act prohibits the US from giving any type of funding to a country that engages in a systematic pattern of gross violations of human rights. The Arms Export Control Act limits the use of US weapons primarily to internal security and legitimate self-defense, as well as a few other narrowly defined uses. The “Leahy Laws” prohibit US weapons from going to any military unit that has committed a gross human rights violation. However, in the case of Israel’s well-documented systematic human rights abuses against Palestinians, none of these laws have ever been invoked to hold Israel accountable for its actions.
  • Even when Israel has killed American citizens, the US often has failed to even investigate these cases, much less hold Israel accountable. In 2022, Israeli soldiers killed Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while she was reporting, and 80-year-old Omar Assad while returning from a visit with family members in his village. In previous years, Israel killed US citizens attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and to protect Palestinian homes from being destroyed. Except in the case of Shireen Abu Akleh, no investigation has ever been launched into any case of a US citizen being killed by Israel.       

 ZOOM IN: Accountability for Russia, Impunity for Israel in US Policy | IMEU Policy Analysis


3. Does the US also provide assistance to Palestinians? 

BIG PICTURE: Under the Biden administration, the US resumed its long-standing bipartisan policy of humanitarian support for the Palestinian people, which was mostly ended during the Trump administration. The US provides budgetary assistance to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which provides social services, such as education and health care, to Palestinian refugees. The US also provides bilateral economic aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip through USAID-contracted projects. In the past, the US has also trained and equipped Palestinian Authority (PA) security services that have been implicated in the torture of Palestinians. While humanitarian aid for Palestinians is important, it cannot be a substitute for the implementation of long-denied Palestinian rights and freedoms. US aid also should be carefully constructed so as not to entrench Israeli military rule and increased PA repression.       


  • Between April 2021 and March 2022, the US gave $417 million to support social services for Palestinian refugees through UNRWA, $75 million in development projects through USAID, and $20.5 million for recovery aid for COVID and Israel’s 2021 attack on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Total US development and humanitarian support for the Palestinian people over the course of that year was about 11% of the amount of weapons the US gave Israel during that period.

When President Biden visited the occupied Palestinian West Bank and Israel in July 2022, he announced further commitments to provide an additional $316 million for the Palestinian people largely to support health care, social services through UNRWA, and food security. However, Israel has failed to implement most of the measures the president touted on this trip that are meant to strengthen the Palestinian economy.