Tuesday, March 13, 2012

U.S. dollars and supplies to Israel are wasted effort

By Mike Coogan, Legislative Coordinator, US Campaign
Tuesday, March 13, 2012

In recent days, a 19-year-old Palestinian was critically wounded when the Israeli military fired a U.S.-supplied high-velocity tear-gas canister at his head, one in a long series of attacks against civilians using these U.S.-supplied "crowd-control items."

These canisters, meant to be fired from long distances to disperse nonviolent crowds, are often fired by the Israeli military toward civilian demonstrators at very close range. This makes them more akin to salt-shaker-size bullets than nonlethal crowd control items, and the repeated misuse of these canisters has had devastating consequences on both Palestinian and American civilians.

In February 2009, while working in the Palestinian West Bank, I was on the receiving end of one such canister during a weekly demonstration in Nil'in. Had it been inches to the left, I probably wouldn't be writing this today. Two weeks later, an American from California, Tristan Anderson, was shot and critically injured with a high velocity tear gas canister. Today, Tristan is still paralyzed, disfigured and blind in one eye.

Recently I met Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. Ben Ray Luján to ask for an investigation into the continued misuse of U.S.-supplied high-velocity tear-gas canisters against demonstrators, as required by U.S. law. The meetings were cordial, but their responses were tentative at best.

During one of the constituent breakfasts that Sen. Udall's office graciously hosted recently, I had the opportunity to meet the senator, his staff and other constituents. I spoke with people from organizations who work in early education, care for our veterans, and run summer youth space programs that stimulate interest in math and science. Sadly, every group was faced with shrinking budgets and increasing needs.

Over the next 10 years, New Mexico taxpayers will foot the bill for $107.8 million of the $30 billion that the U.S. is scheduled to give Israel in military aid under the current Memorandum of Understanding. Can New Mexico really afford to subsidize Israel's occupation and gross human rights abuses while budgets for early education, veteran's benefits and programs that promote interest in science and math get slashed?

In addition to violating Palestinian human rights, unconditional military and diplomatic support for Israel undermines U.S. interests, regardless of how you define them. If you worry about free market stability and preferential access to world energy supplies in the Middle East, read recent statements by Gen. David Petraeus, now director of the CIA, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, or current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, all of whom indicate that unconditional support for Israel is undermining our pursuit of those goals.

U.S. rhetoric about support for human rights and equal accountability under the law should match our actual policies. Read the State Department's annual country report that decries Israel's systemic discrimination and human rights record. Watch Rain of Fire, a report that documents Israel's misuse of U.S.-supplied white phosphorous against civilians in Gaza.

Unless we define U.S. interests as Israel's ability to engage in self-destructive and wantonly irresponsible behavior, the current policy is morally wrong, financially unsound and strategically bankrupt.

I hope Sen. Udall and Rep. Luján will seriously consider using our tax dollars to meet New Mexico's unmet domestic needs, and not to purchase more weapons for Israel to use against Palestinian civilians demonstrating for their human rights and equality.

Mike Coogan grew up in Santa Fe and graduated from Desert Academy in 2003. He is now the legislative coordinator for the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. He lives in Washington, D.C.