Soldier solidarity drives Israeli abuse of Palestinians


Claire Zhang

From Ferguson to Jerusalem, innocent people cry “hands up, don’t shoot.”

American politics is divisive and polarized, but you don’t need us to tell you that. It’s perplexing then to see numerous politicians, even supposed progressives, show undying support for Israel.

Elizabeth Warren, justifying her vote to increase defense spending in Israel, stated that civilian casualties are the “last thing Israel wants.” Kamala Harris even remarked that support for Israel should be “a nonpartisan issue.”

From the statements of these politicians, one could assume that Israel is a peaceful nation without a recent history of human rights abuses or reduction of civil liberties. One could surely assume that Israel is a helpless nation that relies on U.S. funding to protect itself.

Of course, as is the case with most things in politics, nothing could be further from the truth.

Usual assumptions of the purpose of large scale military assistance to Israel is built upon the idea of a moral imperative to help the Jewish people. Israel must be “protected”, as it is the home of the Jewish people and a “safe haven” from the anti-Semitism that plagues the world. Any legitimate criticism of the state is dismissed as anti-Semitic rhetoric, while in fact the converse is true. Associating all Jewish people with the crimes of Israel is an affront to the principles of Judaism. Recently, a British member of Parliament said that being anti-capitalist was anti-Semitic. This statement is the real violence because it reinforces racist tropes that ‘Jews are bankers’ and surrounded by capital.

In America, this is clearly seen on both sides of the aisle. Democratic establishment leaders are bringing a resolution to be voted on in the House to condemn Rep. Ilhan Omar’s statement on Israel under the guise of condemning anti-Semitism. What Rep. Omar did was criticize the influence of the pro-Israel lobby,  American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

It’s no surprise that the president and his administration are racist, and the president’s tacit endorsement of white supremacists is an extension of anti-Semitism. When former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “Hitler … didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons … I think when you come to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” before referencing “Holocaust Centers,” there was swift backlash to this statement, but rather than take concrete steps to resolve anti-Semitism, Spicer released a statement saying that he had apologized to Sheldon Anderson, a rich Jewish Republican mega-donor. In sum, when the president’s administration offended Jews, the normal recourse in American politics was to call the richest Jewish person they could find and apologize  — and this action went uncondemned.

The anti-Semitism that can be seen even in politicians that support Israel makes it seem rather unlikely that billions of dollars of military assistance and unwavering diplomatic support could continue for decades on the basis of a moral imperative, which historically has mattered far less in the eyes of the U.S. when compared to other areas of benefit.

And the idea that Israel actually needs U.S. support to remain safe has never even been true. The U.S. only began to earnestly provide military assistance to Israel after Israel established itself as the regional power after the  Arab-Israeli War and began to rule over a large Palestinian population.

In addition, Israel is not the beacon of middle eastern democracy the U.S. would like to portray them as. Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, portrays the state as distinct from authoritarian regimes and embattled by the anti-liberal presences of other regional powers. This is not true. Israel, from a foreign policy standpoint, is also an aggressor. They frequently threaten Iran in flippant and  irresponsible ways, such as tweeting “Mean Girls” GIFs at the country. Israel is by no means a democracy, and the unconditional defense of the nation ignores the abuses that the state endorses.

In Israel, communities are segregated and Palestinians are denied freedom of passage throughout their own homeland. Settlements are extremely complicated on a macro political level, but on a micro level, any reasonable observer can see the myriad human rights abuses that go unrectified.

Recently, an United Nations observer concluded that Israeli forces deliberately targeted children and people with disabilities, killing hundreds and maiming more.

According to scholar Jasbir Puar, Israel renders Palestinians “perpetually debilitated, yet alive, in order to control them.” The Israeli Defense Forces  have a deliberate policy to shoot to maim, rather than to kill, in seeming adherence to a strong belief in humanitarian rights and minimizing violence to “terrorists” or “real threats. In a Palestinian refugee camp, youths in the camp report that the Jewish lead officer said, “I will cripple half of you and let the other half push your wheelchairs.”

But this practice allows Israel to hide its infliction of violence on Palestinians; while casualties may be reported in the international order, injuries, even permanent ones, are not.” The Israeli Supreme Court recently refused to rule that it is unlawful for soldiers to shoot unarmed civillians. The violence against Palestinians committed by security forces is alarmingly similar to the disproportionate violence in the U.S. inflicted upon the black population by the police. It should be no surprise then that the U.S. ignores police brutality both at home and abroad.

Israel allows Palestine to exist to appease the international community while cutting their population and settling onto their land. The settlements are specifically designed to cut Palestinian communities off from essential networks and important land; the best schools and hospitals are largely inaccessible. There are, legally, two systems of law. One, for Jewish people, supports freedom of expression and movement, and the other, for Palestinians, prevents them from being granted basic human dignity. Recently, the government prevented a coalition of Arab political parties from running in the elections.

The question of why we support Israel, a country that condones violence against Palestinian children and drug tests on Palestinian prisoners, remains perplexing. Even experts are divided. Some blame the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC and others see it as the remnant of a Cold War buffer against communism. Maybe it’s to combat jihadism in the region. One of the most advocated explanations is that Israel and U.S. share a common ideology.

We agree. But that ideology is not democracy, but settlerism.

Israel may seem like a distant figure in politics, another Middle Eastern country the U.S. supports. The U.S. and Israel are nations created by fiat — from the charter of a British King establishing the colonies to the same imperial empire signing the Balfour Declaration, proclaiming a “national home for the Jewish People” in Palestine.

The American people love and respect their historical story of coming to the wilderness and the grand narrative of manifest destiny. As such, we have been “primed,” as Cecilie Surasky, Deputy Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, puts it. In this way, the story of Israel mirrors the story of the U.S. Under this narrative, genocide and human rights abuses can easily be justified, just as they were in the U.S. Israel, by nature, is an extension of a colonial empire upon the Palestinian people.