Friday, July 3, 2009

U.S. Military Aid to Israel: Our Tax Dollars Hard at Work Kidnapping U.S. Citizens on the High Seas

“But the important thing is, is that we clearly have an issue in this region right now, piracy, and we need to work cooperatively with a whole host of countries as best we can to prevent these things from happening, and then, of course, if they do happen, to be able to prosecute these pirates.” --Robert Wood, Acting State Department Spokesperson, April 13, 2009 Remember that old TV commercial where the cartoon kid asks the wise owl how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? Well, to jog your memory in case you forgot or are too young to remember it, here it is: Just like the curious kid in the commercial, we here at the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation want to know how many steps it takes to link Israel’s human rights abuses to your hard-earned tax dollars. As the owl says, “Let’s find out!” Step #1: President Obama sent his FY2010 budget request to Congress in May, which included a near-record $2.775 billion in military aid to Israel—an increase of $225 million in aid to Israel compared with this year’s budget—despite the fact that the United States is currently in its gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Based on IRS statistics, we estimate that this amounts to an average of $17.75 for each individual taxpayer in the United States. According to Congressional Research Service, the United States has provided Israel with more than $100 billion in direct military and economic aid since 1949. Step #2: Thanks to the U.S. taxpayer, Israel purchases U.S. weapons with its yearly appropriation of U.S. military aid and wealth gets transferred from ordinary citizens to the pockets of the CEO’s of war profiteering companies. No wonder we don’t have money for things such as health care reform. To take one example of how this works, let’s look at Israel’s purchases of weapons for its navy with U.S. military aid. According to our research, Armed and Dangerous: Weapons Transfers to Israel during the Bush Administration, Israel and the Pentagon agreed upon the transfer of 4 littoral combat ships and associated components from Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Raytheon in a July 2008 contract valued at $1.9 billion. The State Department also licensed more than $230 million of naval ships and components to Israel between FY2001-2007. Step #3: Israel uses the weapons it receives from the United States at tax-payer expense to commit systematic human rights abuses against Palestinians living under Israel’s illegal 42-year military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip in violation of the Arms Export Control and Foreign Assistance Acts. Our research cited above found that Israel killed more than 3,000 innocent Palestinian civilians, often with U.S. weapons, during the Bush Administration; yet the State Department did not notify Congress once that Israel violated these laws which are supposed to sanction countries that commit human rights abuses with U.S. weapons. Israel’s misuse of U.S. weapons even extends to internationals who try to prevent the human rights abuses that it commits or who attempt to alleviate the humanitarian crises that Israel’s policies produce. Back to our naval example, yesterday Israel committed an act of piracy by kidnapping 21 human rights activists and journalists in international waters who were sailing on the Free Gaza Movement boat “Spirit of Humanity” and who had hoped to deliver badly-needed humanitarian supplies to the besieged and collectively-punished people of the Gaza Strip. As of this writing, these 21 people, including former Representative Cynthia McKinney (who was given our “Courage in Congress Award” at our 4th Annual National Organizers’ Conference in Atlanta in 2005), and International Solidarity Movement co-founders Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro (who respectively serve on our Advisory Board and who was given our “Damu Smith Memorial Activist Award” at our 6th Annual National Organizers’ Conference in Arlington, Virginia in 2007), remain detained against their will by Israeli authorities who have no jurisdiction to arrest them in international waters. You can learn more and take action to free these 21 activists by clicking here. Despite the fact that President Obama himself said that, “As part of a lasting cease-fire, Gaza's border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce,” and that the State Department sent Israel a formal diplomatic note pressing it to lift its brutal siege of the Gaza Strip, so far the Obama Administration hasn’t given a hoot about this incident (sorry, we couldn’t resist the owl pun). Well, just like the owl in the commercial, it looks like we’ve managed to connect your tax dollars to Israel’s human rights abuses with three quick licks. But, we wouldn’t be doing a very good job if we just complained about Israel misusing our tax dollars to commit human rights abuses without empowering you to take action to change the situation. In previous blog postings, we’ve showed you how we tried to take action to bring this issue to the attention of Congress. Here’s what you can do: 1. Send a letter to Members of Congress who appropriate money for U.S. foreign aid programs and ask them to cut off or, at the minimum, condition military aid to Israel. 2. If you belong to an organization, then ask it to endorse our organizational open letter to Congress, calling on it to hold Israel accountable for its misuse of U.S. weapons. 3. Join together with other constituents and meet with your Members of Congress to discuss this issue during the August Congressional recess. Don’t worry if you’ve never done this before. Sign up to organize a meeting and we’ll help you to schedule and run the meeting effectively. 4. Sign up to organize in your community to challenge military aid to Israel. Since February 2008, we’ve sent more than 1,200 organizing packets with postcards, fact-sheets, stickers, and more to organizers in 48 states and more than 600 cities. Join them today by signing up to get an organizing packet. 5. Offset your tax contribution to Israeli military occupation by making a tax-deductible contribution to the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. You can donate in increments of $17.75 to offset your tax contribution and those of family, friends, and co-workers. We’ll put your tax-deductible contribution to use by continuing our campaign to challenge military aid to Israel, so please donate today.