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PHOTOS: This tear gas brought to you by the U.S.A.

Text by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

A Bethlehem-area activist hangs U.S.-made tear gas grenades, used by the Israeli military in nearby Aida Refugee Camp, on trees decorated for Christmas in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, West Bank, December 2, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

On the same day that Bethlehem’s minister of tourism noted that the US government provided $400,000 to decorate the city for Christmas, local activists brought a few more US-sponsored ornaments to show to visitors in this West Bank town at the height of its tourist season. The activists delivered used tear gas grenades — that had been fired by Israeli forces at Palestinian youth less than two kilometers away in Aida Refugee Camp that same day — and hung them on a tree in Manger Square. One activist from Aida Camp was arrested for his participation in the action by Palestinian police, but released after a few hours.

Most of the crowd control weapons deployed by the Israeli military against Palestinians are part of the Combined Tactical Systems (CTS) product line made by a US company, Combined Systems Inc. (CSI). Pick up a used tear gas cartridge or concussion grenade at any demonstration, and you’re likely to find the initials “CTS” stamped on them somewhere (though the rest of the labeling is typically in Hebrew). But during recent clashes in Aida Camp, Israeli forces have been leaving behind cartridges labeled completely in English. These labels contain complete CTS contact information, including the Pennsylvania mailing address, telephone, and fax numbers. They also bear that proud slogan, “Made in U.S.A.”

A spent tear gas cartridge lies on the ground near Aida Refugee Camp following clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli forces, Bethlehem, West Bank, November 29, 2013. The cartridge, a Combined Tactical Systems (CTS) weapon made by the U.S. company Combined Systems Inc. is labeled with full contact information including an address in Jamestown, Pennsylvania. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

A child holds a spent tear gas cartridge labeled “Made in U.S.A.” as Bethlehem-area activists displayed U.S.-made crowd control weapons in Manger Square, West Bank, December 2, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

The youth who clash with Israeli soldiers stationed at the separation wall which divides Bethlehem’s land don’t need to be told that the U.S. arms Israel. Most of them know that the silenced Ruger .22 caliber rifle that was used by an Israeli sniper atop the wall to shoot two Palestinian youth last Friday is also made in the US. But because many of those not on the receiving end of such weapons are less familiar with their origins, the activists, led by members of the local Popular Resistance Committees, sought to raise broader awareness among the throngs visiting Bethlehem at Christmastime. In addition to the used grenades, the activists hung signs reading, “This is the USAid to the Palestinians,” and “US military industrial complex, stop making our Christmas hell by sending us your aid and sending Israel your guns.”

Palestinians evacuate a youth shot with live ammunition by Israeli forces during clashes in Aida Refugee Camp in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, November 29, 2013. Several days of clashes followed the killing of three Palestinian militants by Israeli forces in Yatta. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

But US-made crowd control weapons used by Israel can be just as dangerous as live ammunition. The labeling on the tear gas cartridges even includes the following warning: “Danger: Do not fire directly at person(s). Serious injury or death may result.” Yet there is extensive video evidence of Israeli soldiers firing directly at people, which led to the deaths of Bassem Abu Rahmah in Bil’in and Mustafa Tamimi in Nabi Saleh. As recently as last week, dramatic target’s-eye-view footage showed an Israeli soldier firing directly at a B’Tselem photographer.

A spent tear gas cartridge lies on the street in Aida Refugee Camp following clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli forces, Bethlehem, West Bank, November 28, 2013. Numerous Palestinians have been killed or severely injured by tear gas grenades fired directly at them by Israeli forces. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

But despite such misuse of military aid — amplified on a far greater scale with more powerful hardware used in Gaza in recent years — the US government has shown little desire to hold Israel’s use of its weapons accountable to human rights standards, as required by American law. The US government now gives Israel $3.1 billion in aid every year — more aid than it gives any other country in the world — and most of it is military. Since 1948, the US has provided Israel with at total of $233.7 billion in aid, after adjusting for inflation‏.

A sign hung by activists on a tree in Bethlehem’s Manger Square among used tear gas and concussion grenades reads, “This is the USAid to the Palestinians.” (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Moreover, the US also provides aid to the Palestinian Authority, though with far more conditions and as a proxy force for preserving Israeli security. US aid to the Palestinian Authority has averaged $500 million, including approximately $100 million in non-lethal security assistance. Indeed, the youth from Aida Camp often face PA riot police guarding the separation wall, sometimes even standing between camp youth and Israeli soldiers.

Palestinian Authority police (foreground) attempt to prevent Palestinian youth from clashing with Israeli forces (background) in Aida Refugee Camp in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, November 29, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Unlike US aid to Israel, according to the Congressional Research Service, the PA’s “aid is subject to a host of vetting and oversight requirements and legislative restrictions.” Congress also frequently punishes the PA by withholding aid. In 2011 the government withheld as $200 million after the PA first sought statehood recognition at the UN, and again in 2012, when Palestine successfully achieved UN “non-member state” status. Yet despite Israel’s repeated violations of UN resolutions, international law, and US policy, its military aid continues uninterrupted, and has even increased under President Obama.

Banners with the USAID logo hang on walls around Manger Square in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 3, 2013. (photo Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

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    1. Danny

      Kerry’s first order of business after the “talks” finally blow up: Stop all shipments of such “combined tactical systems” to Israel, as well as other ‘systems’ – tactical or otherwise – that may be used to persecute the Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        You mean so that we will have to use live ammo to stop Arabs from lynching soldiers?

        Reply to Comment
    2. When we were in Palestine with the Christian Peacemaker Team, 1997, we picked up a spent teargas cartrage made in Scranton Pennsylvania

      Reply to Comment