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Is It A Bridge Too Far? Another Attempt By Congress To Stop Israel’s Spending U.S. Aid To Beat Up on Palestinians

posted on: Apr 21, 2021

Is It A Bridge Too Far? Another Attempt By Congress To Stop Israel’s Spending U.S. Aid To Beat Up on Palestinians
Ending Israeli use of US $ to abuse Palestinians–is it a “bridge too far?”–this one connecting Israel to the West Bank Photo by Flickr

By: John Mason/ Arab America Contributing Writer

A new bill in the U.S. Congress to end Israel’s use of American aid to abuse Palestinians has all of the moral and ethical might behind what one expects of the United States. However, sadly, it is not bound to go very far towards passage, since the pro-Israel bias in Congress far overweighs any compassion towards Palestinians and their rights. Here, we review the bill and its implications for possible future progress.

McCollum bill would end Israel’s use of U.S. aid to destroy Palestinian homes and detain their youth

The U.S. government used to put constraints on Israel’s use of military aid to upset the lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories. That position has changed negatively over the years, and especially under the Trump regime, there was an upsurge of abuse. That aid was used by the Israeli military in destroying homes and arresting and detaining Palestinian youth. Through legislation, one U.S. House of Representative has been pivotal in fighting the battle to overturn Israel’s misuse of these funds. That is Rep. Betty McCollum, Democrat from Minnesota.

McCollum has sponsored several pieces of legislation since 2015, particularly to end Israel’s military practice of targeting the detention of Palestinian children. According to news source Intercept, McCollum has been “attempting to make her bills appeal to the widest swath of Democrats possible. For most others in her party, the check the U.S. wrote to Israel every year was not up for debate.” This week she is slated to introduce sweeping legislation aimed at “barring U.S. aid from subsidizing a wider array of Israeli occupation tactics, an indication of just how far the debate over U.S. aid to Israel has come in the past six years.”

Is It A Bridge Too Far? Another Attempt By Congress To Stop Israel’s Spending U.S. Aid To Beat Up on Palestinians
McCollum’s bill would end this kind of occupation tactic Photo monitordooriente.com

McCollum insists that there is nothing new in conditioning U.S. aid, reflected in numerous existing laws. Her gripe over aid to Israel is that there are no conditions applied to the $3.8 Billion aid. This, despite innumerable Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights by its military. McCollum insisted, “I don’t want $1 of U.S. aid to Israel paying for the military detention and abuse of Palestinian children, the demolition of Palestinian homes, or the annexation of Palestinian land.”

This legislation is supported by many Palestinian American human rights organizations, some liberal pro-Israel groups, and over 50% of Democratic voters, who support some form of pressure on Israel. However, most Democrats in the Congress do not support the conditioning of aid, so McCollum’s bill may not even reach the appropriate House committee for consideration. Nevertheless, the issue of Israeli human rights abuses has gained greater recognition in the Congress than previously.  

Earlier, from Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, through George H.W. Bush, U.S. military assistance to Israel was always conditioned. That aid had stipulated that it could not be used by the recipient country to commit human rights violations and which limited armed forces to self-defense. Today, the appetite generally is not favorable to place pressure on Israel to change its posture on how it treats Palestinians. Certain Jewish and evangelical Christian populations in the U.S. significantly fund efforts to support Israel unequivocally, with little or no regard for people living in occupied Palestine.

Chances to create a new reality of U.S. Policy toward Israel

Some momentum has grown in the U.S. Congress over the past few years in shaping a new policy concerning Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Members behind this new thrust, besides McCollum, include Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Mark Pocan, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Marie Newman, and Jamaal Bowman; on the Senate side, Bernie Sanders has been vocal on this issue.

McCollum’s bill, introduced this past Wednesday, is titled ‘Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act.’ Particularly disturbing to McCollum is Israeli mistreatment of Palestinian children. Middle East Eye notes, “The legislation itself delivers a damning description of Israeli abuses against Palestinians under the occupation, including the prosecution of minors in military courts.” Furthermore, justice on the West Bank is imposed by separate and unequal legal systems. One, Israeli military law, is used with Palestinians, the other, civilian law, with Israeli settlers.

Is It A Bridge Too Far? Another Attempt By Congress To Stop Israel’s Spending U.S. Aid To Beat Up on Palestinians
McCollum bill would end the arbitrary destruction of Palestinian homes Photo Portside

The McCollum bill goes much further than previous legislative attempts in bringing an end to the occupation and in giving equal rights to Palestinians. Specifically, the legislation would define the official U.S. government stance as rejecting “… any undemocratic system or act of aggression in which Israel unilaterally exercises permanent rule over a Palestinian people denied self-determination and human rights.” The legislation would also end the arrest, detainment, and prosecution annually by military courts of hundreds of Palestinian children ages 12-17, in the absence of “basic and fundamental guarantees of due process in violation of international standards.”

AIPAC assaults McCollum bill as anti-Israel and anti-peace! 

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC lambasted the McCollum bill, averring it “would condition aid to Israel, undermine U.S. interests and make peace less likely.” AIPAC, according to the publication Jewish National Syndicate, found especially egregious McCollum’s language in a letter to colleagues: “Israel has been strategically expanding settlements, committing flagrant violations of human rights against Palestinian children and families, and aggressively undermining any prospects for a Palestinian state.”

Is It A Bridge Too Far? Another Attempt By Congress To Stop Israel’s Spending U.S. Aid To Beat Up on Palestinians
The bill addresses issues of continued expansion of Israel into the West Bank Photo Amnesty Int’l-Ireland

It should not be surprising, then, that AIPAC called the bill “unnecessary and redundant,” since the aid is already conditioned, “which can only be used for legitimate self-defense and internal security.”  It also noted that Congress already has the prerogative to ask the Departments of State and Defense to assess whether U.S. funds were used in human-rights abuses.

Analysts generally predict that the McCollum bill will have little traction with moderate Democrats and Republicans in Congress, who are decisively against conditioning aid to Israel. Even President Biden, despite more support from progressives, has been firmly against conditioning such aid. Therefore, the legislation is unlikely to gain much traction.

The one silver lining in the Biden administration’s dealings with Israel-Palestine issues so far is that it has begun to dump some of former President Trump’s policies, first by renewing aid to the Palestinians cut by Trump. Of symbolic importance, the Department of State has reversed the Trump policy of following Israel in calling the territories of Palestine “disputed,” rather than the occupied territories that they are. Small steps indeed…

References

Rep. Betty McCollum leads effort to block Israel from using U.S. aid to destroy Palestinian homes,” Intercept, 4/14/2021

“US aid must not fund Israeli abuses against Palestinians, new bill says,” Middle East Eye, 4/16/2021

“AIPAC blasts bill proposed by Minnesota Rep. McCollum to condition US aid to Israel,” Jewish National Syndicate, 4/15/2021

John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He did fieldwork in an east Libyan Saharan oasis and has taught at the University of Libya-Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo. John served with the United Nations as an advisor in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID, the UN, and the World Bank in 65 countries.

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