Congress quietly wedged billions of dollars of aid to Israel even as it debated for months over a measly $600 to help Americans endure the COVID downturn.
On December 21, the United States Congresspassed the COVID-19 Relief Package, as part of a larger $2.3 trillion bill meant to cover spending for the rest of the fiscal year. As usual, US representatives allocated a massive sum of money for Israel.
While unemployment, thus poverty, in the US isskyrocketing as a result of repeated lockdowns, the US found it essential to provide Israel with $3.3 billion in ‘security assistance’ and $500 million for US-Israel missile defense cooperation.
Although a meager $600 dollar payment to help struggling American families was the subject of several months of intense debate, there was little discussion among American politicians over the large funds handed out to Israel, for which there are no returns.
Support for Israel is considered a bipartisan priority and has, for decades, been perceived as the most stable item in the US foreign policy agenda. The mere questioning of how Israel uses the funds – whether the military aid is being actively used to sustain Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, finance Jewish settlements, fundannexation of Palestinian land or violate Palestinian human rights – is a major taboo.
One of the few members of Congress to demand that aid to Israel be conditioned on the latter’s respect for human rights is Democratic Senator, Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, who was also a leading presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. “We cannot give it carte blanche to the Israeli government … We have the right to demand respect for human rights and democracy”, Sanders hadsaid in October 2019.
His Democratic rival, now President-elect, Joe Biden, soon countered: “The idea that I’d withdraw military aid, as others have suggested, from Israel, is bizarre,” hesaid.
It is no secret that Israel is the world’s leading recipient of US aid since World War II. According to data provided by the US Congressional Research Service, Israel hasreceived $146 billion of US taxpayers’ money as of November 2020.
From 1971 up to 2007, a bulk of these funds proved fundamental in helping Israel establish a strong economic base. Since then, most of the money has been allotted for military purposes, including the security of Israel’s illegal Jewish settlement enterprise.
Despite the US financial crisis of 2008, American money continued to be channeled to Israel, whose economy survived the global recession, largely unscathed.
In 2016, the US promised even more money. The Democratic Barack Obama Administration, which is often – although mistakenly – seen as hostile to Israel, increased US funding to Israel by a significant margin. In a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding, Washington and Tel Avivreached a deal whereby the US agreed to give Israel $38 billion in military aid covering the financial years 2019-2028. This is a whopping increase of $8 billion compared with the previous 10-year agreement, which concluded at the end of 2018.
The new American funds are divided into two categories: $33 billion in foreign military grants and an additional $5 billion in missile defense.
American generosity has long beenattributed to the unmatched influence of pro-Israeli groups, lead among them American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The last four years, however, required little lobbying by these groups, as powerful agents within the administration itself became Israel’s top advocates.
Aside from the seemingly endless ‘political freebies’ that the Donald Trump Administration has given Israel in recent years, it is nowconsidering ways to accelerate the timetable of delivering the remainder of US funds as determined by the last MOU, an amount that currently stands at $26.4 billion.According to official congressional documents, the US “also may approve additional sales of the F-35 to Israel and accelerate the delivery of KC-46A refueling and transport aircraft to Israel.”
These are not all the funds and perks that Israel receives. Much more goes unreported, as it is channeled either indirectly or simply promoted under the flexible title of ‘cooperation’.
For example, between 1973 and 1991, a massive sum of $460 million of US funds wasallocated to resettling Jews in Israel. Many of these new immigrants are now the very Israeli militants that occupy the West Bank illegal settlements. In this particular case, the money is paid to a private charity known as the United Israel Appeal which, in turn, gives the money to the Jewish Agency. The latter has played a central role in thefounding of Israel on top of the ruins of Palestinian towns and villages in 1948.
Under the guise of charitable donations, tens of millions of dollars are regularly sent to Israel in the form of “tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” the New York Timesreported. Much of the money, falsely promoted as donations for educational and religious purposes, often finds its way to funding and purchasing housing for illegal settlers, “as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure (illegal Jewish) outposts deep in occupied (Palestinian) areas.”
Quite often, US money ends up in the Israeli government’s coffers under deceptive pretenses. For example, the latest Stimulus Packageincludes $50 million to fund the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Funds, supposedly to provide investments in “people-to-people exchanges and economic cooperation … between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of supporting a negotiated and sustainable two-state solution.”
Actually, such money serves no particular purpose, since Washington and Tel Aviv endeavor to ensure the demise of a negotiated peace agreement and work hand-in-hand to kill the now defunct two-state solution.
The list is endless, though most of this money is not included in the official US aid packages to Israel, therefore receives little scrutiny, let alone media coverage.
As of February 2019, the US haswithheld all funds to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, in addition tocutting aid to the UN Palestinian Refugees agency (UNRWA), the last lifeline of support needed to provide basic education and health services to millions of Palestinian refugees.
Judging by its legacy of continued support of the Israeli military machine and the ongoing colonial expansion in the West Bank, Washington insists on serving as Israel’s main benefactor – if not direct partner – while shunning Palestinians altogether. Expecting the US to play a constructive role in achieving a just peace in Palestine does not only reflect indefensible naivety but willful ignorance as well.
Feature photo | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement at the Israeli Knesset, Dec. 22, 2020. Yonatan Sindel | Pool via AP
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website iswww.ramzybaroud.net
How Israeli (Khazaria) Piracy Destroyed Gaza’s Once Thriving Fishing Industry.
By Ramzy Baroud.
Posted September 14, 2020 by Edward Morgan.
On August 16, the Israeli navy declared the Gaza sea a closed military zone. A few days later, a group of Gaza fishermen decided to take their chances by fishing within a mere two or three nautical miles off the Gaza shore. No sooner had they cast their nets, Israeli navy bullets began whizzing all around them.
Soon after the incident, I spoke with one of these fishermen. His name is Fathi.
“My wife, my eight children and I, we all live off fishing. The Israeli navy shot at us today and asked us to leave the sea. I had to return to my family empty-handed, without any fish to sell and nothing to give to my children,” Fathi told me.
This fisherman’s story is typical. According to the Israeli rights group B’tselem, “about 95% of fishermen in Gaza live below the poverty line”.
Gaza’s fishermen are true heroes. Against numerous odds, they brave the sea every day to ensure the survival of their families.
In this scenario, the Israeli navy represents modern-day pirates opening fire at these Palestinian men – and, in some cases, women – sinking their boats sometimes and driving them back to the shore. In Gaza, this has been the routine for almost 13 years.
As soon as Israel declared the complete closure of Gaza’s fishing zone it prevented thousands of fishermen from providing for their families, thus destroying yet another sector in Gaza’s decimated economy.
The Israeli military justified its action as a retaliatory measure against Palestinian protesters who have reportedly launched incendiary balloons into Israel in recent days. The Israeli decision, therefore, may seem rational according to the poor standards of mainstream journalism. A slight probe into the subject, however, reveals another dimension to the story.
Palestinian protesters have, in fact, released incendiary balloons into Israel which, reportedly, cause fires in some agricultural areas adjacent to occupied Gaza. However, the act itself has been a desperate cry for attention.
Gaza is almost completely out of fuel. The Strip’s only power generator was officially shut down on August 18. The Karem Abu Salem Crossing, which allows barely limited supplies to reach Gaza through Israel, has also been closed by an Israeli military order. The sea, Gaza’s last resort, has, recently, turned into a one-sided war between the Israeli navy and Gaza’s shrinking population of fishermen. All of this has inflicted severe damage to a region that has already endured tremendous suffering.
Gaza’s once healthy fishing sector has been almost obliterated as a result of the Israeli siege. In 2000, for example, the Gaza fishing industry had over 10,000 registered fishermen. Gradually, the number has dwindled to 3,700, although many of them are fishermen by name only – as they can no longer access the sea, repair their damaged boats or afford new ones.
Those who remain committed to the profession do so because it is, literally, their last means of survival – if they do not fish, their families do not eat. The story of Gaza’s fishermen is also the story of the Gaza siege. No other profession has been as directly linked to Gaza’s woes as that of fishing.
When the Oslo Accord was signed between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, Palestinians were told that one of the many fruits of peace would be the expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone – up to 20 nautical miles (approximately 37 km), precisely.
Like the rest of Oslo’s broken promises, the fishing agreement was never honored, either. Instead, up to 2006, the Israeli military allowed Gazans to fish within a zone that never exceeded 12 nautical miles. In 2007, when Israel imposed its ongoing siege on Gaza, the fishing zone was reduced even further, first to six nautical miles and, eventually, to three.
Following each Israeli war or violent conflagration in Gaza, the fishing zone is shut down completely. It is reopened after each truce, accompanied by more empty promises that the fishing zone will be expanded several nautical miles in order to improve the livelihood of the fishermen.
After the Egyptian negotiated truce that followed a brief but deadly Israeli campaign in November 2019, the fishing zone was expanded, again, to reach 15 nautical miles, the largest range in many years.
However, this respite was short-lived. In no time, the Israeli navy was sinking boats, firing at fishermen and pushing them back into the original small spaces in which they operated.
While Israel has redeployed its forces to the outskirts of Gaza in 2005, under international law it is still considered an Occupying Power, obligated to ensure the welfare and the rights of the occupied Palestinians living there. Of course, Israel has never honored international law, neither in Gaza, nor anywhere else in occupied Palestine.
In February 2018, Isma’il Abu Ryalah was killed by the Israeli navy while fishing in his small boat five nautical miles off the Gaza shore. Predictably, no Israeli was ever held accountable for Abu Ryalah’s murder. Soon after the incident, desperation – but also courage – prompted thousands of Gaza fishermen back to the sea, despite the impending danger posed by modern-day pirates masquerading as an army.
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