Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Helicopter, Bombs, and Occupation: Paid for by U.S. Taxpayers


It's pretty well known and undisputed that the United States provides lots of money to Israel. In the 2011FY, the United States has budgeted to give $3 billion in military aid to Israel. This budget was part of a 1997 agreement to provide 30$ billion in military aid to Israel over a span of 10 years.

Josh Ruebner, of US Campaign to End the Occupation, provides some critical analysis on this expenditure of money by the U.S. Government:
If U.S. weapons were going to Israel for a good purpose, then perhaps a coherent guns versus butter debate would be appropriate. However, Israel repeatedly misuses U.S. weapons to commit grave human rights abuses against Palestinians who are forced to live under its illegal 42-year military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.

During the Bush Administration, Israel killed at least 3,107 innocent Palestinian civilians, according to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem. Israel also injured thousands more innocent Palestinians and destroyed billions of dollars of Palestinian civilian infrastructure including homes, schools, factories, government buildings, and even Palestine's only airport. The severity and scale of this killing and destruction were made possible by hi-tech U.S. weapons provided to Israel at taxpayer expense.

And during Obama's first year in office, Israel continued to misuse its stock of U.S. weapons to entrench its apartheid policies toward Palestinians by maintaining its illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip -- collectively punishing its 1.5 million Palestinian residents by severely restricting the flow of humanitarian relief -- and building illegal Israeli-only colonies on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

So to personalize this a bit, I'll bring you back At-Tuwani, in occupied Palestine. Just yesterday, I was sitting on a hillside with a shepherd when we saw a large gathering of Israeli soldiers on an adjacent hill. There were close to 15 soldiers which is large gathering, especially when they seem to be sitting on a hill without a purpose. The shepherd began to speculate that the soldiers were going to conduct a training exercise. Sure enough, after about 20 minutes, the soldiers put a big orange triangle (similar to what you see behind a semi-truck that has pulled off to the side of the road) on the apex of the hill. A growing buzz came from the southwest and we saw two large helicopters coming towards us.


They slowed as they reached the hillside, hovering 10 meters above the ground and remaining perfectly still. It was a bit too far away for me to see well, but the shepherd told me there were soldiers repelling down and also soldiers getting pulled back up in the choppers.


After another round of choppers came and performed the same maneuver, the choppers left the scene, probably to go wreck sound and visual havoc on another peaceful area in rural Palestine.


The United States is providing Israel with $30 billion over a 10-year span to buy stuff like this, and the United States is providing helicopters to Israel so they can do stuff like this (and far worse stuff, see Operation Cast Lead - Winter 2008/2009 where hundreds of children were killed & see the Occupation at large).

After the helicopters left, the shepherd I was with asked me an unassuming question, seemingly without a motive. "Sammy, where does Israel get those helicopters from?"

"Well, actually, they get them from us in America."

The shepherd laughs and smirks, "yeah I know, Sam. I just wanted to see if you knew."

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In order to provide a little perspective on what $30 million could provide (other than lots of freaking helicopters and other war toys), I will point you to some data from the U.S. Campaign's website Aid to Israel.

The $3 billion that is earmarked for the Israeli military in 2011 could have:
  • Provided more than 364,000 low-income households with affordable housing vouchers OR
  • Retrained 498,000 workers for green jobs OR
  • Provided early reading programs to 887,000 at-risk students OR
  • Provided access to primary health care services for more than 24 million uninsured Americans.
To be even more regionally specific, from 2009-2018 Sacramento city taxpayers will pay $79,518,669.79 to the Israeli military. Yes, that is nearly 80 million dollars. This money could have been spent instead to:
  • Provide 966 households per year w/affordable housing grants OR
  • Provide 1,320 job seekers per year w/green jobs training OR
  • Provide 2,351 children per year w/early reading education OR
  • Provide 64,398 people per year w/primary health care.
Over the same span of time, San Diego city taxpayers will put out $283,363,861.67 in military aid to Israel. This money could have been spent instead to:
  • Provide 3,441 households per year w/affordable housing grants OR
  • Provide 4,704 job seekers per year w/green jobs training OR
  • Provide 8,378 children per year w/early reading education OR
  • Provide 229,482 people per year w/primary health care.
See the Aid to Israel map to search by your own state, city, congressional district, or county. And also, if after reading this you say, but yeah the United States has the right to give money to Israel (I mean it is the only democracy in the middle east, right?), I mean, it's America's prerogative...think again.

Congress passed the Arms Export Control Act in 1976, Ruebner explains that this act:
strictly limits foreign countries from employing U.S. weapons for any purpose other than "internal security" or "legitimate self-defense." Building apartheid walls and colonies to maintain a foreign military occupation, enforcing a medieval blockade, and killing and injuring innocent civilians by the thousands certainly cannot be considered legitimate and is self-evidently not for domestic security.
The Arms Export Control Act also states that consideration must be given to whether the arms provided could "increase the possibility of outbreak or escalation of conflict." I assure you that funding the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands increases the possibility of escalating the conflict, in fact, that is putting it lightly. The continuation of the occupation is a 100% money-back guarantee that the middle east will be a royal mess and lots of people's lives will be a living hell.

Click here to tell Congress that you oppose this expenditure of money.

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