Washington, DC – Palestinian rights advocates in the United States have condemned a recent visit to the US capital by Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, renewing their calls for an end to unconditional US military aid to Israel.
US Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters last week that Israel would be requesting $1bn to “replenish” its Iron Dome missile interception system, as well as buy munitions for the Israeli air force, in the aftermath of 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian faction that governs the Gaza Strip.
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The Israeli bombardment of the besieged Palestinian territory killed 235 Palestinians, including 67 children, and displaced at least 58,000 Palestinians. Twelve people in Israel, including two children, were killed by rockets fired by Palestinian groups in Gaza.
“The State Department is already trying to rush through $735m in additional weapons sales on top of the annual $3.8bn American taxpayers provide Israel every year,” Mohamad Habehh, a national development coordinator with American Muslims for Palestine, told Al Jazeera.
“To come to the United States and ask for another $1bn after the wholesale destruction of Gaza, after the murder of over 60 children, is unfathomable.”
Reports of a meeting between Gantz and US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on Thursday morning did not indicate whether Israel’s expected request for $1bn in military aid had been made formal.
Gantz tweeted that he discussed “protecting Israel’s QME” with Sullivan. QME stands for “qualitative military edge”, denoting Israel’s technological and military superiority that the US for decades has helped finance through generous aid packages that critics say embolden the Israeli government to act with impunity in the occupied Palestinian territories.
“American tax money should not be spent financing apartheid and ethnic cleansing, especially when there’s so much need right here in the United States,” said Habehh.
The National Security Council said in a statement that during the meeting, Sullivan emphasised the Biden administration’s “commitment to strengthening all aspects of the US-Israel security partnership, including support for the Iron Dome System”.
“Mr. Sullivan highlighted the importance of ensuring that immediate humanitarian aid is able to reach the people of Gaza,” the statement also said. On May 25, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced that the US would provide $38m in humanitarian assistance to Palestinians.
But to some Palestinian rights advocates, the gesture feels empty.
“So you give a few million dollars to Palestinians for humanitarian aid, but then you sell hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons to the country that is oppressing them?” said Laura Albast, a Palestinian-American activist with the Palestinian Youth Movement who attended a small demonstration outside the White House against Gantz’s visit and the expected aid request on Thursday afternoon.
“Biden said he was going to stand up for human rights. We’ve gone to the streets to march in the tens of thousands, we’ve signed petitions, we’ve raised our voice against Israeli crimes of apartheid. But it’s clear that Joe Biden doesn’t care about us or the human rights of Palestinians,” Albast told Al Jazeera.
She added that she has relatives in Gaza whose home was destroyed during an Israeli bombing last month. “They are all safe, thank God,” she said. “But their home is totally destroyed. Where will they go now?”
US aid to Israel
US military aid for Israel has long been considered a cornerstone of the country’s foreign policy, and the substantial political influence of pro-Israel groups has helped create a strong, bipartisan consensus in support of the billions of dollars Washington sends to Israel each year.
But Palestinian advocacy groups say that they are witnessing a changing discourse around Israel-Palestine in the US, and that public opinion is shifting among Democratic Party voters – even if that shift has yet to reach the leaders of the party establishment.
Nevertheless, progressive Democratic Party members are increasingly outspoken in their criticism of the military aid. When the Biden administration announced its intent to sell Israel an additional $735m in munitions – a revelation that was first reported on during the Israeli assault on Gaza – several progressive members of Congress tried to block it.
A bill has also been introduced by Representative Betty McCollum that seeks to ensure that US aid money is not being used to facilitate Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes, detention of Palestinian children, and confiscation of Palestinian land, among other actions.
“My colleagues are rushing to give the Israeli military another billion dollars to fund apartheid, meanwhile our education system, our healthcare system, our housing system all remain underfunded,” Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush said in a recent tweet, in reference to Gantz’s visit. “Our communities need that $1 billion. Send it to us instead.”
Meanwhile, on May 23, more than 500 Democratic staffers and others who worked on Biden’s presidential campaign signed a letter calling on his administration to take a firmer stance against Israel and do more to uphold Palestinian rights. “As you tweeted last month, ‘No responsible American president can remain silent when basic human rights are violated.’ We could not agree more. That is why we ask you to unequivocally condemn Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians,” the letter states.
For Palestinian-American activists, such signs are an encouraging indication that their years of organising are starting to bear fruit. “Things are starting to change,” said Habehh. “For so long American aid to Israel has been a total blank check with no conditions, and when that’s the case, why would Israel ever change its behaviour?”