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Challenging U.S. military aid to Israel

I do not question whether there is a natural affinity between Israelis and Americans. I question, however, whether the nature of our friendship with Israel is coming at a larger cost not only to our interests but also to our values.

At first I ignored the videos of people pouring ice on their heads. It seemed like a pointless stunt – like those old chain emails that demanded you forward the email to 10 others or something terrible would happen to you in the future. Soon enough, though, the Ice Bucket Challenge took over my Facebook feed and I had to start paying attention. And on Sunday afternoon I was tagged: I had 24 hours to publicly pour ice on my head or pay $100 to the ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Association.

If the success of the ALS Challenge has shown us anything, it is that social media can serve as an effective tool to engage otherwise uninterested parties in a cause worth discussing and a problem worth confronting. It is, no doubt, the unpredictability of this disease – it is blind to race, class and political orientation – that makes it so frightening, and thus a simple cause to get behind. So, like the millions across the United States, I accepted the challenge.

An Israeli artillery fires a shell towards the Gaza Strip from their position near Israel's border with the Gaza strip on July 24, 2014. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

An Israeli artillery fires a shell towards the Gaza Strip from a position near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip on July 24, 2014. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

I did not shoot my ALS Challenge video in the United States, but rather in Jerusalem. The deaths here over the past two months are anything but random. Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel were killed by people who resented what the three represented: the occupation. Mohammed Abu Khdeir was killed by Yosef Haim Ben David in an act of political reprisal. That such deaths served as pretenses for armies and militias to put other civilians in harms way demonstrates that death here is calculated, cynical and discriminatory.

Though I am an American Jew, I have no family in Israel and, therefore, no relatives who have been called up and forced to fight, kill and potentially die in a conflict that few of the current enlistees chose to be a party to. And while I have many Palestinian friends, most of them are Israeli citizens from towns and cities in the Galilee and the Triangle. I personally know no one in Gaza who has died, been injured or displaced. I know more people with ALS. For me, in my small apartment in West Jerusalem where I read in preparation for my second year of graduate studies, this conflict, in a daily sense, is very far away.

But I am nonetheless responsible for what is happening here.

Each year my government provides Israel with approximately $3 billion in military aid, which is used to purchase hardware from the United States, or to fund homegrown defense projects such as the Iron Dome missile defense system. Whether Israel targets civilians, or whether groups in the Gaza Strip put them in harm’s way is a question that only those actively involved in the hostilities there can say for sure. What is beyond question, however, is the role that American taxpayer dollars have on Israel’s ability both to wage war in Gaza and to defend Israeli civilians against rockets shot by groups in the coastal strip.

A spent tear gas grenade casing lies on the ground near Aida Refugee Camp following clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli forces, Bethlehem, West Bank, November 29, 2013.

A U.S.-manufactured spent tear gas grenade casing lies on the ground near Aida Refugee Camp following clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli forces, Bethlehem, West Bank, November 29, 2013 (photo: Activestills)

There is a diversity of opinion within Israeli society, a fact that gets drowned out with the receipt of military aid – a sum that goes to a small group of individuals with a disproportionately large say in the conversation. Sadly, that’s how military aid works. Think about Iran before the revolution: In the 30 years of the United States backing Iran, could we have done more to materially support the diverse groups that opposed the shah and, thereby, assist in their transition to representative government? Yes.

The situation here is no different. Former soldiers are serving time in jail for refusing to serve in Gaza. Dissidents across the country are protesting daily against this war, risking arrest, injury or death. Media outlets critical of the Israeli assault on Gaza rarely make mention of this point and instead portray all Israelis as brutal savages looking for conflict at every turn.

I do not question whether there is a natural affinity between many Israelis and Americans. I question, however, whether the nature of our friendship with Israel is coming at a larger cost not only to our interests but also to our values: Does democracy flourish when walls are built? Do markets run free when territories are under economic siege? Does destruction on a mass scale breed moderates among the population experiencing it?

The Ice Bucket Challenge requires its participants to nominate three friends to take the plunge. In that spirit, I nominate my representatives on Capitol Hill, Congressman Jim Himes (CT-4) and Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy to jumpstart a discussion in congress that debates the overall effects and efficacy of this aid. You have 24 hours to accept the challenge.

Corey Sherman is a journalist and student. Follow him on Twitter at @shermancoreya and on Instagram at @cs_herman.

Related:
Amid Gaza war IDF buys ammunition from U.S. stock in Israel
The world is letting Israel get away with it again
IDF reservist sentenced to military prison for refusing draft

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    COMMENTS

    1. “I do not question whether there is a natural affinity between many Israelis and Americans.”

      Sure, but what if the basis of that “natural affinity” is our identities as ethnically-cleansed, settler-colonial states? “Affinity” can as easily be a bad thing as a good one.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Average American

      I absolutely question a natural affinity between USA and Israel. Alot of people question it. Money better spent at home on public schools. Our soldiers killed and maimed for Israel (remember Iraq? “Bad intelligence” from Israel.). And our equipment blown up and our treasure spent. Why? How bout Israel use their own? Because then they would look too much like Germany’s famous expansion in the name of a racially-defined nation?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Whiplash

      Do you not just love American hypocrisy? The American writer suggests support of Israel does not mesh with American interests and values. Israel is a long time alley which is not another Czechoslovakia to be discarded for political expediency.

      The writer should be asking by what values does the US live and if American lives up to Israeli values in war time.

      In Afghanistan and Iraq the United States used the same weapons as Israeli is using on its enemies in Gaza. In Afghanistan and Pakistan Hell Fire missiles and drone rockets struck houses and market places killing foe and civilian in great numbers. How many wedding parties did American planes take out? In Al-Sadar City the Americans walled off a portion of it, heavily shelled it and heavily damaged a major hospital there to take out an enemy position next to it. Americans routinely tortured prisoners, sexually abusing some of them. Americans were filmed randomly shooting Iraqis and laughing about it.

      Andrew McDonald Exum was quoted in a Huffington Post story saying the American kill ratio of civilians to terrorist was 50 to 1, and not 1 to 1 as Israel has claimed its ratio. Leon Watson in the Daily mail said only 1 in 50 killed in Pakistan by US strikes is a terrorist.

      Policy Mic goes further:

      “there are estimates as high as 98% of drone strike casualties being civilians (50 for every one “suspected terrorist”). The Bureau of Investigative Journalism issued a report detailing how the CIA is deliberately targeting those who show up after the sight of an attack, rescuers, and mourners at funerals as a part of a “double-tap” strategy eerily reminiscient of methods used by terrorist groups like Hamas.”

      So maybe the American writer should ask the American government to stop supporting itself.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Average American

      Why is Israel a long time ally? For example oil is the reason we are “allies” with Saudi Arabia. What is the reason for being allies with Israel? And what do you mean during wartime? Israel has perpetually been in wartime. It needs war and an enemy to feed its ultra-nationalism.

      Reply to Comment
    5. What is the reason for being allies with Israel? And what do you mean during wartime? Israel has perpetually been in wartime.

      Reply to Comment

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