US funding 'Israeli state terrorism' in military deal

Al Jazeera speaks to three Palestinian victims of US military aid to Israel, as a record $38bn deal was signed.

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    'With this $38bn, America is giving Israel the green light to kill Palestinians' [File: The Associated Press]
    'With this $38bn, America is giving Israel the green light to kill Palestinians' [File: The Associated Press]

    Last month, the United States signed a $38bn record military aid deal with Israel, described as the "largest single pledge of military assistance in US history to any country". Traditionally, US military aid is provided to Israel on the provision that the bulk of the money is spent on United States war machinery and weapons.

    As such, many of the warplanes, rifles and bullets that Israel uses against Palestinians, often in ways that may amount to human rights violations, are manufactured and supplied by the US.

    While US domestic law under the Foreign Assistance Act states that "no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognised human rights", no US administration since 2000 has held Israel accountable.

    The US has continued providing unprecedented amounts of military aid to Israel, the largest recipient of US foreign aid, in violation of its own domestic laws and international human rights laws.

    Al Jazeera speaks to three Palestinians whose lives have been impacted by the US decision to turn a blind eye to Israel's misuse of US-manufactured and supplied tear gas, bulldozers and munitions to commit human rights violations against Palestinians. 

    Ahmed Abu Rahmah, 42, Bilin, Occupied West Bank  

    Abu Rahmah lost two of his younger siblings in 2009 and 2011 to tear gas grenades thrown by Israeli soldiers at unarmed protesters.

    A Pennsylvania-based company, Combined Systems Inc, has for years supplied Israel with tear gas, a non-lethal means for crowd dispersal and control. Israel, however, has repeatedly used tear gas in close range of unarmed protesters who posed no threat to the soldiers, often injuring and even killing them. Here is Abu Rahmah's story: 

    On April 17, 2009, the village of Bilin went out on its weekly nonviolent protest against the construction of the Separation Wall on our land. My brother, Bassem, went out like every other protester, alongside international and Israeli peace activists, to demonstrate.

    The Israeli occupation forces began firing live ammunition and tear gas at us.

    One of the young girls in the protest was wounded, so my brother began shouting at the soldiers. Less than a minute later, one of the soldiers fired a tear gas grenade directly at Bassem's chest from approximately 30 metres away.

    When launched, these grenades can go as far as 500m with full force. The canister pierced his chest and went straight to his heart.

    He was immediately transferred to a hospital in critical condition.

    On the way to the hospital, we got a call from the doctors saying my brother had been killed. I was in complete shock. To this day, my family and I have not come to terms with the fact that Bassem has left the world.

    Palestinians carry the body of Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahmah during his funeral in the West Bank village of Bilin [Fadi Arouri/Reuters]

    We lost the will to live after Bassem was killed. My sister is suffering from a psychological crisis; she takes medicine on a daily basis and visits a psychiatrist regularly.

    Every element of happiness in our home was gone.

    I blame America directly for supporting and supplying Israel. The US is to blame for every Palestinian child killed at the hands of Israel.

    But this is the situation of the Palestinian people. It's very difficult. It is our basic right to protest peacefully against the occupation of our land.

    The bigger disaster was when my younger sister, Jawaher, was killed in a similar incident. Her death destroyed my family. 

    On January 1, 2011, Jawaher was participating in another Bilin protest.

    The army began firing gas grenades. She inhaled a large amount of gas, and she died while hospitalised on the same day. We filed a case against the army, and nothing happened.

    We never expected that my siblings could be killed from tear gas. 

    We still weep for Jawaher and Bassem. We are hurt. It was like they were killed yesterday.

    We filed court cases against the Israeli military for both my siblings, and both cases were closed on the pretext that there wasn't enough evidence, despite there being video footage of the incidents, which they said was fabricated.

    Family of Jawaher Abu Rahmah mourn her death [Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]

    The gas grenades that the Israeli soldiers throw bear the label 'made in the USA' on them. Everyone knows - all Palestinians know - that these are American weapons.

    With this $38bn, the US is giving Israel the green light to kill Palestinians. With this money, Israel buys more weapons and tools to kill the Palestinian people.

    We are being occupied by American weapons.

    It is telling Israel that it has the right to kill. We are being occupied by American weapons. We have proposed several peace plans to Israel, and it refuses because it continues to receive so much support from the US.

    I blame America directly for supporting and supplying Israel. The US is to blame for every Palestinian child killed at the hands of Israel.

    We still go out every week to nonviolent protests. Palestinians are exposed to death daily. I go out on protests, and I will tell you, I am afraid. We can die at any moment. But this has become our reality. We are always targeted. Even when we are at home, even when we are sleeping. We are sometimes hit with gas grenades in our homes as punishment.

    Mahmoud Omar al-Shobi, 54, Nablus  

    Since 1967, Israel has demolished more than 48,000 Palestinian homes and other structures vital to a family's livelihood in the occupied Palestinian territories, comprising of occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Caterpillar Inc, an American heavy-machinery company, supplies the Israeli army with bulldozers used by Israel to illegally tear down Palestinian homes, uproot olive trees, kill civilians and construct the annexation wall. Through the foreign military aid provided by the US to Israel, Caterpillar continues to sell D9 bulldozers to Israel knowing they would be used to violate international humanitarian law. 

    When asked by Al Jazeera to comment about Israel's use of the bulldozers, Caterpillar responded that while they do not excuse the use of their products "in any way that is unsafe, irresponsible, or unlawful" they "cannot monitor the use of every piece of Caterpillar equipment around the world". 

    Caterpillar document from 2001 appears to show the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency [DSCA] approving funding worth $32m for bulldozers under the US military aid programme to Israel [Center for Constitutional Rights]

    In April 2002, Mahmoud Omar al-Shobi, 45, lost eight of his family members when Israel used CAT bulldozers to demolish their home in Nablus while they were inside. The demolition came as part of the Israeli army's military invasion of Nablus during the second Palestinian uprising (known as the Intifada). Here is al-Shobi's story: 

    We had been hearing of the Israeli invasions of Palestinian cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jenin. And then they came to Nablus. My family and I live in the Old City. On the 4th of April, 2002 , Nablus was placed under military curfew and movement in the streets was forbidden.

    The army intensified the siege on the city. They would shoot at anyone who would poke their head out of the window. A day earlier, on April 3, I told my parents to come stay at my house, but they refused. They wanted to hold onto their home. 

    The Israeli army knew that my family was inside the house. They did not care about any one - not child, woman or man.

    Staying at my parents' house were my brother Samir, his pregnant wife Nabila and their three children, four-year-old Anas, seven-year-old Azzam, and nine-year-old Abdullah, and my 85-year-old father and my two sisters, Fatima and Abir. 

    The Israeli army knew that my family was inside the house. They did not care about anyone - not child, woman or man. On April 5, I lost contact with my sister Abir. I couldn't go out to look for them because of the curfew - they would not let us.

    Eight days later, when the curfew was briefly lifted, I tried to go out to see where they were. I began searching through the rubble, using spoons, forks and hammers to dig for my family until I found their bodies.

    I found that the Israeli army had razed our house to the ground, killing all eight of my family members.

    The al-Shobi family home in Nablus after it was razed to the ground by CAT bulldozers in Aprill 2002. Rescue workers and neighbours search under the rubble for Mahmoud's family [Nazeeh Darwazeh/The Associated Press]

    The CAT bulldozers buried them alive.

    We found their bodies in a circle, with the children on their laps, as to protect them. 

    On April 19, the Israelis allowed us to bury our dead. This shows that the US administration is guilty of terrorism even more than the Israeli government. They are funding state terrorism. These were civilian victims. Eight people from one family. They had no excuse to kill them. How can a four-year-old child or an 85-year-old man be guilty?

    The US-Israel military deal just means more destruction, displacement, terror and killing for Palestinians. All these negotiations and peace talks, especially Oslo, have meant more torture for Palestinians.

    Eight people from one family killed - where is the peace? Where is the protection of civilians?

    The Israeli army responded to the killings, alleging it had no knowledge of razing the Shobi family's home to the ground. In 2005, Shobi filed a court case against Caterpillar, Inc for "aiding and abetting war crimes and human rights violations", along with four other Palestinian families and the parents of Rachel Corrie, a US citizen killed by an Israeli soldier who ran her over as she attempted to protect a Palestinian home from being razed in Gaza.

    In 2007, the court dismissed the case, ruling that it did not have jurisdiction to decide as Caterpillar's bulldozers were paid for by the US government; any decision made would mean impermissibly intruding on US foreign policy decisions.

    Palestinians pray near a truck containing the bodies of Mahmoud's eight family members [Abed Omar/Reuters]
    Hamed al-Shobaky, 26, Gaza  

    During Israel's 2014 war on Gaza, in which more than 1,400 civilians including 500 children were killed, the US government gave Israel access to its own arms stockpile despite the high levels of civilian casualties, reports of Israeli war crimes and indiscriminate attacks. The US supplies Israel with warplanes, warships, missile interceptors, as well as ammunition, among other things.

    Hamed al-Shobaky, a 26-year-old journalist, was severely wounded in Israeli artillery shelling at Souq al-Bastat, a market in al-Shujaiah neighbourhood, on July 30, during the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza. Here is Shobaky's story:

    They had announced a four-hour humanitarian ceasefire, so we went out to cover a workshop. We found a house full of dead and wounded people. We went there quickly to cover what was happening. There were 10 people killed from the same family. 

    The ambulances and civil defence had already arrived, so we began transferring the bodies. 

    And then the shells came raining down on us. The attacks were indiscriminate. They were directly targeting us and everything around us - from the trees to the people. All the ambulances were also hit. Twenty-five people were killed and 200 others were wounded in the massacre.

    An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires towards the Gaza Strip on August 1, 2014 [Reuters]

    My legs were hit. We were left bleeding on the ground for about 30 minutes. I couldn't feel my legs any more. I wasn't afraid. Yes, the wound was critical, but when we initially headed out, we were carrying our lives in the palms of our hands.

    We were going out knowing that we could become martyrs at any moment. 

    I had to get four surgeries, in Gaza and in Cairo, where I spent more than 50 days. I had suffered trauma to both my knees from shrapnel, damaged arteries and had tears in my tendons. I had to have metal implants placed in my leg. Now, I have one nail left in my bones. 

    I am still suffering from the injury. I can't fully bend my knee or sit on my legs. If I want to pray, I can't bend my knees like that and sit on the floor.

    Hamed al-Shobaky shortly after he was hit trying to transfer bodies into ambulances in the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza [Courtesy of Hamed al-Shobaky]

    It will be very difficult for my knee to return to normal.

    We are not surprised about the $38bn. The US will spend all it has just to safeguard Israel's security. Americans send bombs and rockets made in the US, and they test them out to see the extent of their power and impact in Gaza.

    I blame America, but I also blame the Arab and the Muslim world, and the international community for allowing Israel to practise terrorism against the Palestinian people.

    I ask the international community and human rights NGOs to play their role in protecting journalists.

    Journalists in Gaza are targeted before any armed fighter. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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