What Americans Should Know about The Arab-Israeli Conflict

By Delinda Curtiss Hanley
(News Editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs)

Presented at Al-Hewar Center on March 27, 2013

In my talk I would like first to describe Israel’s policies toward Palestinians both inside Israel and in the territory it occupies. I think you will see why it’s immoral for American taxpayers to continue to support Israel’s illegal occupation. I hope you can use some of these examples to help change perceptions of the Arab-Israeli conflict when you talk with coworkers or friends. Then I’d like to discuss President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Finally I’d like to brainstorm with you and get your ideas on how we can achieve an even-handed U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

Israel is a land slightly larger than New Jersey. Of course we all know when we are entering and leaving New Jersey—That isn’t the case with Israel, which has never established a legal border and keeps expanding into the occupied territories. Israel could fit into Florida—eight times. Israel’s population is about the same as Hong Kong or Switzerland. Its per capita income is greater than three-fourths of the rest of the world. U.S. taxpayers give $3.1 billion a year (or an average of $8.5 million a day) to provide military aid to Israel. I’ll speak more about our military aid later.

Our financial and diplomatic support makes us complicit when Israel practices ethnic and religious discrimination that is totally contrary to everything America stands for. Americans just don’t know about the outrages being committed by Israel against the Palestinians. There is rarely any news on TV, radio or certainly in the Washington Post about everyday Israeli racism. Perhaps that’s because anyone who criticizes Israeli policies and practices is slandered and called anti-Semitic.

Americans were appalled by racism in Apartheid South Africa—but today Americans are providing military aid to a country that is treating Palestinians far worse. In 2002 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu said, “I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.”

Everyone in this room knows that Israel demolishes Palestinian homes if they are built without a building permit, which is impossible for Palestinians to obtain. Meanwhile there are now more than 130 settlements housing over half a million Israelis in land promised to Palestinians for their state. An American Jew from New York can move to a government subsidized home in a Jewish-only settlement. Imagine if only whites could live in your neighborhood or apartment building. America has laws to prevent that. Settlers harass or even shoot Palestinians who try to farm their own land near settlements. They burn Palestinians’ olive or fruit trees or steal their crops and no one is ever held accountable.

Land is routinely confiscated from its Palestinian owners. Israel declares private Palestinian property “state land” and then releases it later to build Jewish settlements. Or the military confiscates Palestinian land to build the separation barrier or to create “secure zones” around settlements, or to build roads for “Jewish use only” to provide access to those settlements. Imagine if only whites were permitted to use our beltway.

Those roads (and Israel’s separation wall) not incidentally, isolate Palestinian towns and villages from each other.

This happened on a smaller scale, right here in Washington, DC and it was catastrophic. The Anacostia Freeway (I-295), constructed in the 1950s, carved up the neighborhood and imposed a barrier separating the historically African-American Anacostia neighborhood from the Anacostia River waterfront. In the next decades the community battled crime, drugs, joblessness and despair. A 30-year, $10 billion Anacostia Waterfront initiative is trying to repair this damage and reconnect neighborhoods on both sides of the road. I don’t see that effort happening in Palestine—unless there is peace and the roads are opened up to everyone.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza can be arrested without warrants. They are routinely beaten en route to the police station, and then tortured during interrogations until they sign trumped-up confessions written in Hebrew, a language few understand. Since the June 1967 war, Israel has arrested some 800,000 Palestinians, including about 10,000 women and 12,000 children. In fact, 40 percent of Palestinian males have been arrested at least once by occupation forces.

Israel is now holding 4,700 prisoners, including an estimated 200 children, 8 women, 14 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the sick, as well as those on hunger strikes. These numbers don’t include prisoners in administrative detention, who have never been formally charged for a crime or tried. Israel has 33 prisons and detention facilities— Israel has more prisons than universities. Israel prosecutes approximately 500 to 700 Palestinian children every year, many of them under the age of 16. Most are charged with throwing stones.

Israel’s law of return allows a Jew from any part of the world to become a citizen of Israel. But it bars even Muslims and Christians who were born in Israel from returning to live if they have been forced out of Israel or even if they have only been absent for a time. One story we aren’t hearing in our press is the case of Adam Shapiro and Huwaida Arraf, cofounders of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), who are expecting their first child in a few weeks, after 11 years of marriage. Huwaida is an Israeli citizen (in addition to a U.S. citizen). Adam, who is Jewish American, was deported from Israel and the occupied territories in 2002 because of their human rights work and banned from re-entering the country. If their son is not born in Israel he will not have Israeli citizenship and he will be denied the right to visit his homeland and all his family in Palestine. Because Huwaida is Palestinian, and not a Jewish citizen of Israel, their child will not have the automatic right to visit the country or to claim citizenship. The couple is fighting Adam’s deportation so that he can be present for their baby’s birth.

(By the way Huwaida was arrested during Israel’s attack on the 2010 flotilla, which killed nine Turkish activists including one Turkish-American. Netanyahu has apologized for that “incident.” Huwaida was beaten by Israeli police and dumped from their car in the desert. I don’t think Netanyahu has apologized to Huwaida.)

I could describe the treatment of women in some parts of Israel. In Beit Shemesh ultra-Orthodox residents have spat on schoolgirls, thrown eggs and bags of excrement and yelled insults at them. They segregate residents of Ethiopian descent.

My last example of Israel’s racism concerns football or soccer as we call it. Israel was condemned by the U.S. and Europe for its treatment of the Palestinian national soccer team, including imprisoning and assassinating players and shelling their team office in last fall’s bombing of Gaza. But now Israeli football fans have learned a lesson or two from their government.

Beitar Jerusalem is one of Israel’s favorite football teams. Last March Beitar supporters entered a shopping mall in West Jerusalem after a game and assaulted Palestinian cleaners while shouting “Death to the Arabs.” This year Beitar Jerusalem signed the first two Muslim players in team history. As a result in February fans burned the Beitar clubhouse. Today every time the Muslim players go onto the field, touch the ball or score a goal members and fans boo or walk out!

Israeli society as a whole is becoming more racist. Progressive Jews are leaving the country and extremist ultra-Orthodox Jews are becoming ever more powerful.

I could go on and on detailing Israeli human rights abuses, including its two separate school and justice systems. But it’s so depressing. Let me conclude by saying if Americans knew more about Israeli policies they would not throw their weight behind a particular religion or ethnic group. We would at least be impartial. We should uphold the basic principles of human rights.

Let’s change the subject and talk about our budget concerns here in the USA. Americans understand dollars and cents when it comes to their own wallets. The long-dreaded sequestration cuts will result in 100,000 fewer low-income children being prepared for school through Head Start, 17 million fewer “Meals-on-Wheels” delivered to seniors citizens who need food, and 1.6 million fewer unemployed Americans will receive job training. Every day we hear more about how these budget cuts will affect our defense, schools, health care, parks and other public services.

Every American taxpayer should be outraged that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its supporters have put Israel’s military aid needs above those of the millions of ordinary Americans who are being hurt by cutting domestic aid programs. AIPAC is working night and day to protect aid to Israel from facing any cuts. Israel was ranked 27th in per capita gross domestic product in 2011. Israelis have a higher average income than people in Spain, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. It can afford to pay for U.S. weapons. As it stands, American taxpayers supply 20 percent of the Israeli military budget!

The U.S. has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a joint U.S.-Israeli Missile Defense program, the Iron Dome. We’ve promised another $1 billion in 2013.We are subsidizing one of the most powerful foreign militaries in the world.

Our country continues to provide military aid despite the fact that U.S. laws such as the Arms Export Control Act and Foreign Assistance Act are designed to prevent foreign countries from misusing U.S. aid to commit human rights abuses. Israel has used American weaponry to harm people in Gaza and Lebanon. 15 Christian church leaders sent a letter to Congress in November 2012 asking for an investigation into whether military aid to Israel violates this law. Congress has not answered.

Thanks to our shameful mainstream media and corrupt elected officials—Israelis have convinced us that the United States benefits strategically from American taxpayers arming Israel with ever-increasing amounts of weapons.

In short, successive U.S. administrations, Democratic and Republican alike, have rewarded Israel for resisting peace agreements and making more than a billion of the world’s Muslims, and millions of Christians as well, into bitter enemies of all Americans. This impasse could have ended years ago if Israel truly wanted peace. Israel has never even acknowledged the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which could have ended this conflict and brought peace and prosperity to the region.

Why Israel Wants War

Israel is deeply divided between ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis. Netanyahu has recently announced the formation of the most right-wing, pro-settler government in the history of Israel. The only way Netanyahu can maintain unity in his country is by using the tried-and-true tactic used by past Israeli leaders: raising fears of a foreign enemy and warning that Israel’s existence is in peril—this time from Iran.

AIPAC is pushing through legislation to boost the U.S.-Israel “strategic alliance” and green light an Israeli attack on Iran. Israel- firsters who don’t care a fig about this country—the same ones who urged the U.S. invasion of Iraq—are goading Americans into a U.S./Israeli war on Iran Iran, a country that hasn’t started a war in hundreds of years, is repeatedly described by our own fear-mongering media as a bunch of religious fanatics who might decide to use a nuclear bomb on America or Israel.

Israel-firsters are pushing Senate Resolution 65, which “urges that if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should...provide diplomatic, military and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people and existence.” Translation: Should Netanyahu attack Iran, the Senate urges the U.S. military to join in that attack. SR 65 is a blank check to Bibi to go to war with Iran, with a U.S. Senate commitment to join him. Another war will financially ruin our country and wreck havoc in the Middle East. Supporters of Israel who do not want peace in the region will work nonstop to start yet another war and sour relations, once again, between the U.S. and the Arab world. And that war will spill over to affect Muslim-, Iranian-, and Arab- Americans in this country because our fellow citizens don’t understand geography or international politics or religion.

Obama’s Trip

Many of us were disappointed by Obama’s trip last week to Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Why did he talk about security for Israelis but not for Palestinians? We all heard Obama speak about the children of Sderot in Southern Israel. He described them as “the same age as my own daughters, who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom.” He didn’t mention the traumatized children in Gaza who have been subject to years of blockade and violent incursions or the West Bank children awakened in the night as Israeli soldiers invade their homes.

But even though our mainstream press hoped you’d miss it, in Ramallah and Amman, President Obama did compare his own daughters to Palestinians who have to deal with segregation in Israeli society. He said, “I know what hopes and aspirations I have for them…There was a time when my daughters could not expect to have the same opportunities in their own country as somebody else’s daughters. Whats true in the United States can be true here as well. We can make those changes, but were going to have to be determined.You cant tell me he doesnt know that Israel is a racist state.

Obama’s speech to the people of Israel at the Jewish Convention Center on March 21 upset many of us who believe he should have shown some tough love to Israel. He could have said “You get no more money until you agree to freeze settlement building and return to peace negotiations.” But remember he was also speaking to Americans back home, Jews and fundamentalist Christians, and others who are used to supporting Israel whatever it does.

I‘d like to think he was “using honey to catch flies,” as he praised the Zionist dream and the courage of the Israeli Defense Forces and promised unbreakable bonds of friendship with the United States.

Obama did call on Israelis to “reverse an undertow of isolation” —in other words make peace with their neighbors. He said, “The only way to truly protect the Israeli people is through the absence of war—because no wall is high enough, and no Iron Dome is strong enough, to stop every enemy from inflicting harm.”

Obama also explained to Israelis that peace is just. He said, “The Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized,” he said “Put yourself in their shoes—look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student's ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home.”

He tried to convince Israeli hardliners that “neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer,” saying, “just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.”

In Ramallah, Obama spoke at a news conference with Palestinian President Abu Mazen. “The Palestinian people deserve an end to occupation and the daily indignities that come with it,” he said, adding that Palestinians deserve “a future of hope” and a “state of their own…” He discussed settlements, the plight of Palestinian prisoners, and access to holy sites in Jerusalem with Abu Mazen. He also praised “the villages that hold peaceful protests because they understand the moral force of nonviolence.”

The following day he told King Abdullah in Jordan that Palestinians should be able to travel and enjoy privacy in their own homes. Palestinians “aren’t very different from my own daughters and they deserve the same opportunities. They deserve this cloud to be lifted from their lives -- because they can achieve and they have enormous potential, and I don't want them living under a sense of constricted possibility.”

He told his worldwide audience we can’t give up, because young Palestinians and young Israelis deserve a better future. He urged citizens to get busy, “Political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do,” and added a familiar theme from his U.S. campaign speeches in declaring, “you must create the change that you want to see.”

So now let’s brainstorm together to see how we can create changes in U.S. foreign policy. Let’s start by agreeing that restoring even-handedness to U.S. Middle East policy is the single most important thing patriotic Americans can do for their country. And if the world’s only remaining superpower begins to support peace with justice in the Middle East, that is the best thing America can do for the entire world.

1. Concerned Americans should inform their representatives in Congress that they will not support—in fact will vote against—any member of congress who accepts contributions from pro-Israel PACs. (Our magazine, the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, keeps voters informed throughout election years of the names of all such recipients on a national basis.) Next issue we’ll provide a list of every member of Congress who received pro-Israel donations.

2. Concerned Americans can also write letters to the editor of their local newspapers and local radio and television stations protesting biased media coverage, or lack of coverage, of developments in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

3. They can inform fellow members of churches, mosques, synagogues and civic organizations about the truth in the Middle East conflict, and strive through social action committees to get those organizations on record in support of an even-handed U.S. Middle East policy.

4. They can insist our government tie aid to Israel to Israeli performance at the peace table.

5. They can get involved in grassroots activism on other issues, like gun violence, homelessness, improving our schools and build relationships with other coalitions.

6. We need more journalists who can write fearlessly and knowledgably about this issue and civil rights problems at home. We need more Arab and Muslim Americans to run for public office.

7. One last story to show how one person can right a wrong:  When Montgomery County proposed choosing the controversial city of Bet Shemesh in Israel, the place where Israeli men spit on school girls, as its sister-city, Montgomery County activist, Susan Kerin got to work. She formed a grassroots organization and educated her fellow Americans on why this project should not go forward and she succeeded. The project is on hold. Choose an issue and get to work.

    8. Concerned Americans can subscribe to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and give donated subscriptions (and the books we sell on <middleeastbooks.com> to their local libraries, schools and universities. Use our postcards inside each magazine to contact your member of congress or president. For more information visit our Web site: www.wrmea.org or call 888-881-5861 to start a subscription. Or contact us at the Washington Report 1902 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009.

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