by Nancy Murray
On Nov. 29, nearly 70 people defied the cold to mark the UN-declared International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People at Boston’s Downtown Crossing. ‘No More Billions for Israel’s Crimes – Fund OUR Needs in These Harsh Times’ was the theme of a rally organized by Massachusetts Peace Action, the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine, and Jewish Voice for Peace – Boston, with the co-sponsorship of the Democratic Socialists of America – Boston and the Boston Palestine Solidarity Network.
The event highlighted the nearly $130 million that Massachusetts taxpayers give Israel annually as the Commonwealth’s share of the $3.8 billion in yearly US military aid to Israel. What would taxpayers prefer – to give $130 million to Israel for weapons purchases from the bloated US arms industry that are used to oppress and kill Palestinians, or to fund health care and other urgent needs at home that have been intensified by the pandemic?
Speaking to this issue were MAPA’s Amar Ahmad, an organizer with the Raytheon Anti-War Coalition; retired registered nurse Rosemary Kean, MAPA’s co-chair and member of its Fund Healthcare Not Warfare working group, Nidal Al-Azraq, the executive director of 1for3.org who had recently returned from the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem where he grew up, environmental activist Claire Miller, the Movement Building Director for Unitarian Universalist Mass Action, and Khury Peterson-Smith, Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, who researches the impact of the ‘war on terror’, US support for Israeli apartheid and the Palestinian freedom struggle.
After the speeches the crowd accompanied by the band BABAM engaged in a spirited march to the JFK Building in Government Center, where representatives from the offices of Senators Warren and Markey received a letter which had been endorsed by 28 Massachusetts-based organizations. Among other demands, the letter urges Congress to condition aid to Israel on its human rights record.
Why Congress must stop giving Israel a blank check
Two decades of ruinous wars in the Middle East have killed up to a million people and extracted more than $6 trillion from US taxpayers, while military contractors have reaped colossal profits. The end of the Afghanistan war did not stop the Senate Appropriations Committee from proposing a $29 billion increase to the Pentagon’s budget, bringing it to some $726 billion. Included in this amount is $1 billion to replenish missile interceptors for Israel’s Iron Dome, which is now attached to the National Defense Appropriations Act FY22.
Israel’s supporters argue that the Raytheon-produced Iron Dome is ‘purely defensive’, but this ignores the extent to which it serves as a shield enabling Israel to carry out massive assaults with the most advanced military technology on what is essentially a captive and defenseless population in the Gaza Strip.
Once it is passed, this additional $1 billion will bring to nearly $5 billion the amount of military aid the US gives to a country that ranks in the world’s top 20 economies, with a per capita GDP well above that of the UK, Japan and France. If Israel considers the purchase of Iron Dome receptors from Raytheon to be an urgent matter, Israeli taxpayers can pay for it instead of making a further demand on the hard-pressed US treasury.
It is difficult to imagine that taxpayers in the Commonwealth would want to add to their yearly $130 million an additional $41 million for Israel that will end up in the pockets of Massachusetts-based Raytheon – whose head reaped $19,397,106 in total compensation in 2020 – at a time when so many of the state’s residents are struggling to feed themselves and their families, to avoid eviction, to find affordable child care and cope with rising health care costs. Hit the hardest are communities of color that have played such crucial ‘front line’ roles since the pandemic began.
Indeed, the more Americans know about how the military aid given Israel is used against Palestinians, the more likely they are to want to restrict it, as over 60% of Democratic Party voters now do according to recent polls.
US aid sustains a discriminatory apartheid system, as detailed by the Israel human rights group B’tselem, Human Rights Watch and two former Israeli ambassadors to South Africa, Ilan Baruch and Alon Liel, among many others. Mandla Mandela, the grandson of Nelson Mandela, stated in a 2017 interview, “what we have experienced in South Africa is a fraction of what the Palestinians are experiencing. We were oppressed in order to serve the white minority. The Palestinians are being eliminated off their land…and this is a total human-rights violation. I think it is a total disgrace that the world is able to sit back while such atrocities are being carried out by Apartheid Israel.”
In the years since Mandla Mandela’s comments, Israel has accelerated its building of illegal settlements. Growing numbers of Palestinians have lost their land, livelihoods and homes while the Palestinian civil society organizations that report on Israel’s human rights abuses are being silenced. The open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip, blockaded from the world for 14 years, has yet again this year served as lab to try out advanced US weapons.
On May 13, 2021, as US-made weapons were being deployed in the Gaza Strip, Rep. Ayanna Pressley spoke words from the floor of the House which the entire Massachusetts Congressional delegation should take to heart:
“The question at hand is should our taxpayer dollars create conditions for justice, healing and repair, or should those dollars create conditions for oppression and apartheid?”
Please make your voice heard if you want elected officials to fund domestic needs, and not human rights violations thousands of miles away. Tell your Members of Congress that aid to Israel should be tied to its human rights record, and that its colonizing occupation and lethal siege of the Gaza Strip must be brought to an end.
— Nancy Murray, who served as the emcee of the Nov. 29 action, is a member of the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine.