Interview with Gilad Atzmon by Prof. Norton Mezvinsky
US Aid: The Lifeblood of Occupation
By Matt Bowles
Israel has maintained an illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (Palestinian territories) for 35 years, entrenching an apartheid regime that looks remarkably like the former South African regime.
Palestinians into small, noncontiguous bantustans, imposing closures and curfews to control where they go and when, while maintaining control over the natural resources, exploiting Palestinian labor, and prohibiting indigenous economic development.
The Israeli military (IDF)—the third or forth most powerful army in the world—routinely uses tanks, Apache helicopter gunships, and F-16 fighter jets (all subsidized by the U.S.) against a population that has no military and none of the protective institutions of a modern state.
All of this, Israel tells its citizens and the international community, is for "Israeli security." The reality, not surprisingly, is that these policies have resulted in a drastic increase in attacks on Israel. These attacks are then used as a pretext for further Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas and more violations of Palestinian human rights which makes Israeli civilians more secure; all of which further entrenches Israelÿs colonial apartheid regime. Most Americans do not realize the extent to which this is all funded by U.S. aid, nor do they understand the specific economic relationship the U.S. has with Israel and how that differs from other countries.
The aid pipeline
There are at least three ways in which aid to Israel is different from that of any other country. First, since 1982, U.S. aid to Israel has been transferred in one lump sum at the beginning of each fiscal year, which immediately begins to collect interest in U.S. banks. Aid that goes to other countries is disbursed throughout the year in quarterly installments.
Second, Israel is not required to account for specific purchases. Most countries receive aid for very specific purposes and must account for how it is spent. Israel is allowed to place US aid into its general fund, effectively eliminating any distinctions between types of aid. Therefore, U.S. tax-payers are helping to fund an illegal occupation, the expansion of colonial-settlement projects, and gross human rights violations against the Palestinian civilian population.
A third difference is the sheer amount of aid the U.S. gives to Israel, unparalleled in the history of U.S. foreign policy. Israel usually receives roughly one third of the entire foreign aid budget, despite the fact that Israel comprises less than .001 of the worldÿs population and already has one of the world's higher per capita incomes. In other words, Israel, a country of approximately 6 million people, is currently receiving more U.S. aid than all of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean combined when you take out Egypt and Colombia.
This year, the U.S. Congress approved $2.76 billion in its annual aid package for Israel. The total amount of direct U.S. aid to Israel has been constant, at around $3 billion (usually 60% military and 40% economic) per year for the last quarter century. A new plan was recently implemented to phase out all economic aid and provide corresponding increases in military aid by 2008. This year Israel is receiving $2.04 billion in military aid and $720 million in economic aid there is only military aid.
In addition to nearly $3 billion in direct aid, Israel usually gets another $3 billion or so in indirect aid: military support from the defense budget, forgiven loans, and special grants. While some of the indirect aid is difficult to measure precisely, it is safe to say that Israelÿs total aid (direct and indirect) amounts to at least five billion dollars annually.
On top of all of this aid, a team from Israelÿs finance ministry is slated to meet with U.S. government officials this month about an additional $800 million aid package which the Clinton administration promised Israel (and the Bush administration later froze) as compensation for the costs of its withdrawal from Lebanon. The U.S. also managed to find another $28 million in the 2001 Pentagon budget to give Israel to purchase "counter terrorism equipment."
According to the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE), from 1949-2001 the U.S. has given Israel a total of $94,966,300,000. The direct and indirect aid from this year should put the total U.S. aid to Israel since 1949 at over one hundred billion dollars. What is not widely known, however, is that most of this aid violates American laws. The Arms Export Control Act stipulates that US-supplied weapons be used only for "legitimate self-defense."
Moreover, the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act prohibits military assistance to any country "which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights." The Proxmire amendment bans military assistance to any government that refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to allow inspection of its nuclear facilities, which Israel refuses to do. To understand why the U.S. spends this much money funding the brutal repression of a colonized people, it is necessary to examine the benefits for weapons manufacturers and, particularly, the role that Israel plays in the expansion and maintenance of U.S. imperialism.
A very special relationship
In the fall of 1993, when many were supporting what they hoped would become a viable peace process, 78 senators wrote to former President Bill Clinton insisting that aid to Israel remain at current levels. Their reasons were the "massive procurement of sophisticated arms by Arab states." Yet the letter neglected to mention that 80 percent of those arms to Arab countries came from the U.S. itself.
Stephen Zunes has argued that the Aerospace Industry Association (AIA), which promotes these massive arms shipments, is even more influential in determining U.S. policy towards Israel than the notorious AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) lobby. AIA has given two times more money to campaigns than all of the pro-Israel groups combined. Zunes asserts that the general thrust of U.S. policy would be pretty much the same even if AIPAC didn't exist: "We didn't need a pro-Indonesia lobby to support Indonesia in its savage repression of East Timor all these years."
The "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel must be understood within the overall American imperialist project and the quest for global hegemony, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For example, 99% of all U.S. aid to Israel came after 1967, despite the fact that Israel was relatively more vulnerable in earlier years (from 1948-1967). Not coincidentally, it was in 1967 that Israel won the Six Day War against several Arab countries, establishing itself as a regional superpower. Also, in the late 1960s and particularly in the early 1970s (this was around the time of the Nixon Doctrine), the U.S. was looking to establish "spheres of influence"-regional superpowers in each significant area of the world to help the U.S. police them.
The primary U.S. interest in the Middle East is, and has always been, to maintain control of the oil in the region, primarily because this is the source of energy that supplies the industrial economies of Europe and Japan. The U.S. goal has been to insure that there is no indigenous threat to their domination of these energy resources. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the U.S. made the strategic decision to ally itself with Israel and Iran, which were referred to as "our two eyes in the middle east" and the "guardians of the gulf." It was at this point that aid increased drastically, from $24 million in 1967 (before the war), to $634 million in 1971, to a staggering $2.6 billion in 1974, where it has remained relatively consistent ever since.
Israel was to be a military stronghold, a client state, and a proxy army, protecting U.S. interests in the Middle East and throughout the world. Subsidized by the CIA, Israel served U.S. interests well beyond the immediate region, setting up dependable client regimes (usually military-based dictatorships) to control local societies. Noam Chomsky has documented this extensively: Israel was the main force that established the Mobutu dictatorship in Zaire, for example. They also supported Idi Amin in Uganda, early on, as well as Haile Selasse in Ethopia, and Emperor Bokassa in the Central African Republic.
Israel became especially useful when the U.S. came under popular human rights pressure in the 1970s to stop supporting death squads and dictatorships in Latin America. The U.S. began to use Israel as a surrogate to continue its support. Chomsky documents how Israel established close relations with the neo-Nazi and military regimes of Argentina and Chile. Israel also supported genocidal attacks on the indigenous population of Guatemala, and sent arms to El Salvador and Honduras to support the contras. This was all a secondary role, however.
The primary role for Israel was to be the Sparta of the Middle East. During the Cold War, the U.S. especially needed Israel as a proxy army because direct intervention in the region was too dangerous, as the Soviets were allied with neighboring states. Over the last thirty years, the U.S. has pursued a two-track approach to dominating the region and its resources: It has turned Israel into a military outpost (now probably the most militarized society in the world) that is economically dependent on the U.S. while propping up corrupt Arab dictatorships such as those in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. These regimes are afraid of their own people and, thus, are very insecure. Therefore, they are inclined to collaborate with the U.S. at any cost.
Prospects for activism
Since the end of the Cold War, the nuclear threat associated with direct intervention in the Middle East has disappeared and the U.S. has started a gradual and direct militarization of the region. This began with the Gulf War—putting U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia (the primary source of oil), among other places—and has continued through the current ‘war on terrorism.’
Although U.S. aid has not decreased yet, there have been other observable shifts. The first obvious one is the mainstream media reporting on the conflict. Although there is still, of course, an anti-Palestinian bias, the coverage has shifted significantly in comparison to ten years ago. This has been noticeable in both journalistic accounts of Israeli human rights abuses and the publication of pro-Palestinian op-eds in major papers such as the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.
There are also some stirrings in the U.S. Congress. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) requested that President Bush investigate whether Israel's use of American F-16s is violating the Arms Export Control Act. Further, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) recently complained about giving aid without conditions: "There are no strings on the money. There is no requirement that the bloodshed abate before the funding is released." Other elected representatives are slowly starting to open up to the issue as well, but there is a long way to go on Capital Hill.
The most important development, however, has been the rising tide of concern and activism around the Palestinian issue in the US left. The desperate plight of the Palestinians is gaining increasing prominence in the movement against Bush's "war on terrorism," and it is gradually entering into the movement against corporate globalization.
For years the Palestinian cause was marginalized by the left in America. Since this intifada broke out 17 months ago, that began to shift significantly and has moved even further since September 11. With the new "anti-war" movement, there has come a deeper understanding of U.S. policy in the Middle East and how the question of Palestine fits into progressive organizing.
In Durban, South Africa last September, at the UN Global Conference Against Racism, one of the most pressing issues on the global agenda was the Palestinian struggle against Israelÿs racist policies. 30,000 people from South Africa and around the world demonstrated against Zionism, branding it as a form of apartheid no different than the system that blacks suffered through in South Africa. Shortly after, the U.S. and Israel stormed out of the conference.
In Europe and America, a range of organizations have risen in opposition to Israeli apartheid and in support of Palestinian human rights and self-determination. Just over the last year or two, organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine, based at the University of California at
Berkeley, have begun organizing a divestment campaign, modeled after the campaign that helped bring down South African apartheid. SUSTAIN (Stop U.S. Tax-funded Aid to Israel Now!) chapters in a number of cities have focused their efforts on stopping U.S. aid to Israel, which is the lifeblood of Israeli occupation and continued abuses of Palestinian rights.
Many Jewish organizations have emerged as well, such as Not in My Name, which counters the popular media assertion that all Jewish people blindly support the policies of the state of Israel. Jews Against the Occupation is another organization, which has taken a stand not only against the occupation, but also in support of the right of Palestinian refugees to return. These movements, and particularly their newfound connection with the larger anti-war, anti-imperialist, and anti-corporate globalization movements, are where the possibilities lie to advance the Palestinian struggle.
The hope for Palestine is in the internationalization of the struggle. The building of a massive, international movement against Israeli apartheid seems to be the most effective and promising form of resistance at this time. The demands must be that Israel comply with international law and implement the relevant UN resolutions. Specifically, it must recognize that all Palestinian refugees have the right to return, immediately end the occupation, and give all citizens of Israel equal treatment under the law.
We must demand that all U.S. aid to Israel be stopped until Israel complies with these demands. Only when the Palestinians are afforded their rights under international law, and are respected as human beings, can a genuine process of conflict resolution and healing begin. For all the hype over peace camps and dialogue initiatives, until the structural inequalities are dealt with, there will be no justice for Palestinians and, thus, no peace for Israel.
Matt Bowles is a member of SUSTAIN—Stop US Tax Funded Aid to Israel Now.
The above article was originally published in the March/April issue of Left Turn magazine.