Palestinians call for Protests against US Military Aid to the Israeli Occupation

Since the US-sponsored peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel recommenced last summer, Israeli forces have: authorised the approval of several thousand illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories; launched the construction of twice as many illegal housing units as in the previous year; forcibly dispersed a peaceful protest camp in the Jordan Valley; violently suppressed the nonviolent demonstrations that happen weekly throughout the occupied West Bank; demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes and structures, with demolitions now at an all time high, leaving entire families homeless and exposed to the cold; arrested hundreds of Palestinian children and thousands of adults to be held without charge or tried in Israeli military courts; and killed dozens of Palestinians in raids in the West Bank and airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, which also injured several thousand.

In addition, Israeli settlers living illegally in the occupied Palestinian territories have carried out countless attacks against Palestinians; for example, uprooting olive trees, burning cars and painting racist graffiti on homes, mosques, churches and schools. According to the Associated Press, UN figures published in January show that the annual rate of Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians has almost quadrupled over the last eight years.

Meanwhile, Palestinians were responsible for the deaths of six Israelis throughout all of last year; and militant groups in Gaza, a territory that the UN has warned may soon become uninhabitable due to the draconian siege imposed by Israel, consistently fired rockets at Israel, none of which caused any significant damage or injuries. In December, militants also planted a bomb on a bus near Tel Aviv, with no injuries reported.

Of course, all suffering is painful, but the systemic nature of Israel’s violence against the Palestinians and the suffering caused by the Israeli occupation of Palestine is extreme.

And yet, the US Congress has decided to place conditions on US aid to Palestine, not Israel, when it passed HR 3547. Furthermore, the bill HR 3868, or the “Palestinian peace promotion and anti-incitement act,” aims to further cut development aid to the Palestinian Authority, apparently because it has not done enough to confront incitement against Israel at a time when Israeli forces and settlers are committing daily crimes and humiliations with impunity.

To provide one example of the power imbalance, according to Haaretz newspaper, Israeli police recently summoned a Palestinian photographer who lives in occupied East Jerusalem for incitement because he posted on his Facebook page that the mayor of Jerusalem is “the mayor of the occupation”. The Israeli newspaper suggests that this view of East Jerusalem is more than justified when the Israeli authorities expel Palestinians from their homes, settlers illegally take over Palestinian neighbourhoods and Palestinian houses are demolished.

The new legal efforts to restrict US development aid to Palestine illustrate why so many people also say that Washington is an occupied city: the actions of US politicians clearly indicate that their primary allegiance is to the government of Israel.

US development aid to Palestine is currently about $440 million annually, slightly less than previous years allegedly due to budgetary constraints. This aid is subject to a wide range of restrictions and conditions to make sure that the Palestinian Authority spends it in a manner that Washington and Tel Aviv fully approve of.

On the other hand, US military aid to Israel is $3.1 billion annually, and with supplemental programmes, despite the budget cuts, this year US military aid to Israel amounts to at least $3.6 billion. Furthermore, the Congressional Research Service notes that: “Strong congressional support for Israel has resulted in Israel receiving benefits not available to any other countries; for example, Israel can use some US military assistance both for research and development in the United States and for military purchases from Israeli manufacturers. In addition, US assistance earmarked for Israel is generally delivered in the first 30 days of the fiscal year, while most other recipients normally receive aid in instalments.”

But despite the vast discrepancies that already exist between US aid policy towards Israel and Palestine, some American lawmakers have decided that it is appropriate to further undermine the Palestinian position while the US-brokered negotiations are unfolding.

The Times of Israel newspaper reports that HR 3547 is a package of several appropriation bills, one of which seeks to limit aid to Palestine by guaranteeing that: “the Palestinian Authority is acting to counter incitement of violence against Israelis and is supporting activities aimed at promoting peace, coexistence and security cooperation with Israel.” The US Congress approved HR 3547 with the federal budget at the end of last year.

Subsequently, the bill HR 3868 was introduced. According to the Congressional Research Service, this bill is more targeted and “expresses the sense of Congress that the Palestinian Authority has not lived up to its agreements with Israel to end incitement and should do more to prepare the Palestinian people for peace with Israel.” HR 3868 has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where it currently awaits further discussion.

The emergence of these two bills while negotiations are taking place under US auspices illustrates that American lawmakers are not interested in brokering a peace that even remotely resembles a just peace. However, they also appear at a time when Washington is becoming more and more isolated in its unquestioning support for Israel. The international community, and increasingly Western corporations, officials, churches, academics, artists and citizens, are voicing their concern and joining the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, as called for by Palestinian civil society.

Now, Palestinians are also calling upon Americans and internationals to protest against US military aid to the Israeli occupation on what is known as America’s Tax Day, 15 April. The call from the Popular Committees of Palestine, which coordinates the nonviolent resistance against Israel’s apartheid wall and illegal settlements, can be accessed here.

In reality, Palestinians are also resisting against censorship across Western societies, because politicians and the mainstream media rarely focus on the stories of the occupied. As Iyad Burnat, head of the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall, explains: “Most of the American people are unaware that the Palestinian people live under the Israeli occupation rule, and are also unaware of what is happening to the Palestinians, from killing to destruction to theft of land, and building of settlements and building of the apartheid wall.” The censorship is due to the disproportionate influence of the Israel Lobby, so “the American and European media do not show the true suffering of the Palestinian people under occupation, and all of that under the explicit support of the US government.”

Furthermore, whenever Palestinians do try to raise their voices to communicate their oppression they are brutally suppressed. After Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, the authorities passed “Order No. 101″ or the “Order regarding prohibition of incitement and hostile propaganda actions”. According to +972 Magazine, this order dictates that any assembly, vigil or procession of ten or more people requires a permit from the local Israeli occupation forces commander and imposes ten years’ imprisonment on violators. While the order applies to all Palestinians who live in the occupied Palestinian territories under full Israeli military control, Israeli settlers are subject to Israeli civil law.

This means that under occupation, it is illegal for Palestinians to protest against their occupation, while Israeli settlers are granted extraterritorial rights to openly demonstrate in support of their illegal settler movement. Furthermore, Israel uses American weapons funded by US taxpayers to ensure that the Palestinians remain silent.

Israeli forces regularly use overwhelming force to suppress any form of protest inside the occupied Palestinian territories, turning nonviolent demonstrations into clashes where “non-lethal weapons” result in mass casualties and even death. Indeed, a recent report by Amnesty International entitled “Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank” finds that Israeli forces often resort to “unnecessary, arbitrary and abusive” force against nonviolent protesters. Burnat describes how in his village “peaceful demonstrators were killed by weapons made in America.” This is powerfully documented in his brother’s Oscar nominated film Five Broken Cameras.

Burnat continues: “Many peaceful demonstrators were killed in many places in Palestine by American-made weapons, and many international activists have been participating in these demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinians; some were wounded or detained and in some cases were killed like Rachel Corrie, who was deliberately driven over by an American-made bulldozer while trying to prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes.”

The call for internationals to join Palestinians in their protest against US military aid to Israel is a call to end the Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation.

Although resistance is a long and difficult struggle, Palestinians also know that justice is inevitable. The BDS movement and the tax day protests aim to make Israel’s occupation of Palestine unprofitable, using similar tactics that helped to dismantle South Africa’s apartheid regime. Waiting for peace is no longer an option—direct action is required. As Burnat notes, “The last country to stand against the discriminating regime in South Africa was the US, and it is the only country that has not yet boycotted the Israeli occupation.”

• Article first appeared in Middle East Monitor

Sarah Marusek is an American scholar and activist based in London who has been involved in a number of grassroots and global campaigns in support of Palestinian rights. She earned her PhD in social science from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, and her research focuses on Islamic activism and other theologies of liberation. Read other articles by Sarah.