Commentary by Chippy Dee, Photos © by Bud Korotzer
The Brooklyn Law School Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, Brooklyn for Peace, and Students for Public Interest sponsored a program at the Brooklyn Law School entitled, U.S. Military Aid to Israel…is it legal? Moral? Political? In 2007 the U.S. agreed to increase military aid to Israel to $30 billion over the next 10 years. Is this a worthwhile use of taxpayer dollars? The speaker was Josh Ruebner, the National Advocacy Director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a national coalition of more than 300 organizations working to change U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality. He is a former Analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service, a federal government agency providing Members of Congress with policy research and analysis. He holds a graduate degree in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
During the 2008-2009 massacre in Gaza the U.S. was supplying weapons to Israel. Amnesty International refers to these arms transfers as “fueling the conflict”. In the period 1949 to 2007, $101 billion of U.S. aid went to Israel. In 1999 the U.S. and Israel created a Memorandum of Understanding phasing out economic aid over the next 10 years and increasing military aid. The military aid grew to $2.5 billion a year. For the period 2009 to 2018 it was being increased by 25%. In 2010 Israel will get $2.775 billion from American taxpayers.
In the Bush years military “sales” to Israel amounted to over $31 billion – $25,203,000,000 in foreign military sales, over $6 billion in direct sales by the State Department, and 36,048,510 in excess defense sales – most of the excess sales money going to the Israeli air force and navy.
This has had a huge impact on Palestinian civilians. In very recent years 2,086 civilians have been killed, including 723 children. Most have been killed by gunfire (low technology) and helicopters with missiles. Last winter, in Gaza, “Operation Cast Lead” alone killed 1,387 civilians, injured 5,500 civilians, and destroyed 4,000 homes. Israel still has not allowed any reconstruction there so residents are facing another winter in tents or in the bombed out shells of their former homes. U.S. weapons were used: F16, Apache, and Cobra helicopters gunships, almost 200 million gallons of JP-8 aviation fuel, naval combat ships worth $1.9 billion, missiles worth $1.3 billion, small bombs worth $77 million, and ground invasion vehicles worth $450 million. Some weapons contained depleted uranium which causes cancer and birth defects. White phosphorus, illegal if it targets humans because it produces horrific burns that cannot be arrested, was also transferred to Israel from the U.S. The containers of white phosphorus that burned children and adults in Gaza had markings, “Made in Pine Bluff, Arkansas”. After Obama took office, 300 containers of White Phosphorus were delivered to Israel in March, 2009.
For 2010 the requested $2,775 billion in military aid to Israel is being increased. The Goldstone Report was condemned by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, calling it “unbalanced, one sided, and basically unacceptable.” Goldstone accused Israel of using disproportionate force, of committing human rights violations, war crimes, and collective punishment in Gaza. The report states that Israel’s weapons are very sophisticated, so there could not have been so many civilian deaths if civilians were not deliberately targeted. The House of Representatives passed HR867 condemning the Goldstone Report. Goldstone offered to speak to the House and answer any of their questions but they would not allow him to do so.
There are laws that govern arms transfers. The Arms Export Control Act states that transfers are limited to “internal security” and “legitimate self-defense”. Israel uses the weapons outside the borders of the state – they are used in the Palestinian territories, the West Bank and Gaza. Human rights violations, war crimes, and violating international law cannot be considered self-defense. The Foreign Assistance Act states that there should be no military assistance to any country violating human rights. The “Leahy Law” (not an actual law) states that there should be no military aid given to any country where there is documented human rights abuses by a military unit of that country. There is such documentation in Israel. None of these laws are enforced regarding Israel.
Mr. Ruebner had several policy recommendations. The supporting of the Israeli “self defense” rationale has made the U.S. complicit in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. Israel violates all the laws concerning the export of weapons. Ruebner asked, what is accomplished besides death and destruction? It certainly hasn’t brought peace. The blockade of Gaza is collective punishment against a population that is going without food, fuel, medicine, housing, and building supplies. In the conflict between the Obama Administration and Netanyahu regarding further colonization of the West Bank, Israel is winning. ISRAEL SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR IT’S VIOLATIONS OF THE ARMS EXPORT CONTROL ACT AND SENDING ANY FURTHER ARMS SHOULD BE MADE CONTINGENT UPON THEM FOLLOWING THE LAWS. The Obama Administration, Congress, and the State Department are not doing any investigations into Israel’s violations. Congress must condition future military aid to protect innocent Palestinians from being killed by American weapons. And the weapons should not be used in the occupied territories. Both the U.S. and Israel should acknowledge that international law does not recognize the right of preemptive war. It cannot be used as an argument for self defense.
Josh Ruebner gave a well thought out and comprehensive analysis of what U.S. military aid to Israel entails and what is being done with that aid. It appears that the American people are getting only death and misery for their money, along with the ire of most of the people in the world. $31 billion would also buy us schools, hospitals, and homes for the homeless. Yet despite the ugly consequences, administration after administration, fully aware of the illegality and immorality of Israel’s actions, continues the policy. WHY? Mr. Ruebner did not address that question. But until we understand all the ‘whys’ we will not be effective in changing this policy that we are being forced to be complicit in.