Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 2006, pages 22-23
U.S. Aid to Palestinians Vital to Repair Effects of U.S. Aid to Israel
By Delinda C. Hanley
AMERICAN taxpayers may be unaware that their hard-earned dollars are playing a highly visible role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. But graffiti painted on Israel’s “annexation wall” clearly spells it out: “Apartheid Wall Paid for With U.S. Tax Dollars.” U.S. aid to Israel also has been used to construct checkpoints and commercial crossings that have strangled the Palestinian economy. Israel closed many of these crossings at the height of the winter export season for fruits and vegetables. As a result, farmers in Gaza alone lost $20 million when tomatoes, flowers, strawberries and other crops rotted in trucks. In 2003-2005, before Israeli settlers withdrew from Gaza, soldiers bulldozed orchards and destroyed the region’s $27 million-a-year citrus industry.
Tax-exempt Jewish American charities heavily fund settlements built for Jews only which now sprawl across West Bank hilltops and Jerusalem. U.S. government aid to Israel, $3 to $4 billion annually for decades, helps Israel pay the bills for its costly occupation, including helicopter gunships, tanks, high-tech weapons, Caterpillar bulldozers, and armed-to-the-teeth soldiers and settlers.
U.S. taxpayers’ largess has no preconditions. As a result, Israel is free to use American tax revenue for military operations which destroy Palestinian roads, water tanks, sewage lines, electrical poles and police stations, not to mention shops, homes, orchards and lives. If Americans halted U.S. aid until Israel complied with U.N. resolutions, recognized Palestine, ceased all terrorism, and withdrew from the occupied territories, the result would be peace.
Surrounded by sickening evidence of their government’s one-sided support of Israel, American visitors, not to mention Palestinians, would despair if it weren’t for signs popping up in the West Bank and Gaza. The signs—posted near schools, community centers, libraries, clinics, playgrounds, waste water treatment projects, new roads and other infrastructure repair schemes—read: This project “has been generously donated by the American people through USAID under the JOBS Program through ANERA.” The U.S. Agency for International Development and American Near East Refugee Aid, and other American organizations are providing jobs and hope in a region sorely in need of both. The resulting good will makes one proud to be an American even in a land that this nation has helped Israel impoverish.
Jericho’s gregarious Deputy Mayor Ali Dana and city council member Sameer Johar, a math and physics teacher at nearby Ein Sultan refugee camp, point with pride to the modern hotels, restaurants, boulevards and historic sites that used to draw tourists from around the world. “Every centimeter tells a story in Jericho,” notes Dana. “It’s an encyclopedia of history.”
Thanks to an Israeli checkpoint and frequent closures, however, most visitors now stay away. It’s often impossible for local farmers and merchants to get the lush fruit, dates and vegetables that grow in Jericho’s rich soil and mild climate past those checkpoints. Jericho’s economy is shattered.
“We hate no one. We want a fair and peaceful life. Israel should also want to make peace with us,” says Deputy Mayor Dana. “You can’t throw a party in a starving neighborhood. You need to share food. Peace is as necessary as food. You can’t have progress without it. We don’t deny Israelis’ right to live, but we need it too. They cannot erase us from the map.”
Not so long ago, according to Moktar Abu Mohammed, Palestinians fetched water from canals or carted water by donkey to their homes. Israelis evicted Abu Mohammed from Dawaimeh, a village east of Hebron, and resettled him in the Ein Sultan refugee camp outside Jericho. He showed off recent improvements U.S. aid helped to make in the bleak but immaculate camp. But, of course, he still misses his village: “Given a choice of all the palaces in the world, a Palestinian would prefer to live in a cave in his homeland,” Abu Mohammed explained.
Thanks to a joint USAID-ANERA project, Ein Sultan residents can now turn on a spigot and get clean water at home. Visiting Americans are treated like celebrities and thanked profusely for helping Palestinians: “You’re American? Drink tea with my family. Come see our new sink. We have a modern bathroom.”
This is not charity. Palestinians, who are a proud people did the work, and received badly needed paychecks for their labors. Each resident also helped pay for his own water meter, and Abu Mohammed and other members of the refugee camp’s water co-op print and distribute water bills. American funds may have helped build the infrastructure, but Palestinians have taken it from there.
Librarian Mai Fawzi Helal glowed with pride as she pointed out meeting rooms, desks for computers, and rows of mostly empty shelves in Jericho’s new municipal library, another joint USAID-ANERA project. A now familiar sign also adorns the courtyard of the Fatima Az-Zahra Girls School. American tax dollars and donations doubled the size and renovated an overcrowded school. A sunny, freshly painted library, with dog-eared children’s books, some in English, tempt readers. “Now we need some sports equipment and new books,” Principal Intisar Bali hinted.
Thanks to Israel’s recent lobbying efforts, U.S. aid, both governmental and private, may soon end. American plaques, gifts, and grateful Palestinian smiles may disappear from the West Bank and Gaza. To punish Palestinians who voted for a Hamas government, the U.S. government has frozen a planned $234 million aid package and demanded the return of another $50 million in unspent funds. This followed the Israeli cabinet’s decision to hold on to $50 million a month in taxes and duties collected from Palestinians.
Americans and Israelis have vowed that no money will go to a Hamas government unless Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist, dismantles its terrorist organization, and agrees to work toward a peace settlement.
This past February Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced H.R. 4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act 2006. The resolution could restrict U.S. humanitarian aid; designate Palestinian territory as a “terrorist sanctuary”; trigger restrictions on U.S. exports; and even prohibit Palestinian diplomacy or representation in the United States. A milder version of the bill, Concurrent Resolution 79, is also wending its way through the Senate.
Since 1993, Palestinians have received more than $1.7 billion in U.S. economic assistance via USAID projects. U.S. organizations, like ANERA, United Palestinian Appeal, AMIDEAST, Kinder USA, the Near East Foundation, Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Mercy Corps, and others have worked to repair the infrastructure Israel has crushed over the years.
To add insult to injury, on Feb. 20 the U.S. Treasury Department froze the assets of the Ohio-based nonprofit charitable organization, KindHearts, a longtime advertiser in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. The government claims the organization has contributed aid to Hamas-affiliated organizations. Similar post-9/11 actions against Muslim charities caused untold hardship to Palestinians. Most charges were dropped after lengthy and costly court cases.
Two dozen Arab American and humanitarian groups held a day-long summit on Palestinian aid in Washington, DC on Feb. 17. Following the summit, Dr. Ziad Asali of the American Task Force on Palestine, Dr. James Zogby of the Arab American Institute, and ANERA’s Dr. Peter Gubser spoke to reporters at the National Press Club about the humanitarian and political consequences of suspending U.S. aid.
“This is not the time to walk away from the Palestinian people,” Zogby argued. “The notion that this money goes to the Palestinian Authority, and will therefore benefit Hamas, is wrong. Funds go to U.S. and Palestinian private contractors and civil society institutions. Suspending this aid would do grave damage to Palestinian society and cause the U.S. to become even more isolated from Palestinian moderates.”
Impoverishment and loss of dignity of the Palestinian people “have been major causes of loss of hope and radicalization,” Asali pointed out. “The last thing the Palestinians need is an economic crisis.”
Added Gubser, “In these increasingly challenging times, the U.S. should remain fully engaged with the Palestinian people. It’s in our national interest to do so as we seek a solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. And as the welfare of the Palestinian people continues to decline, we have a powerful humanitarian reason to maintain America’s substantial assistance program in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Until Israel stops oppressing Palestinians, it’s essential for the United States to remain engaged. On Feb. 22 Israeli army bulldozers protected by armed soldiers destroyed a U.S.-funded public park and children’s playground and swimming pool in Azzun, near the West Bank town of Qalqilya. USAID contributed $80,000 for the $120,000 project which is now rubble.
If polled, U.S. taxpayers likely would prefer to use $400 million to fund playgrounds, water projects and good will rather than $4 billion for Caterpillar bulldozers, tanks, hatred and injustice. ❑
Delinda C. Hanley, a former Peace Corps volunteer, is news editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.