I helped kill a Palestinian today.
If you pay taxes to the U.S. government, so did you.
And unless the policies of the U.S. government change, tomorrow will be no different.
It is easy for Americans to decry the “cycle of violence” in Palestine, but until we acknowledge our own part in that violence, there is little hope for a just peace in Palestine or the Middle East.
The first step is to abandon the mythology that the United States is a “neutral broker for peace” in the conflict. A new report by the Institute for Southern Studies shows that in the one-year period after the Sharm el-Sheikh peace agreement in September 1999, the U.S. government pumped $3.6 billion worth of arms into Israel — an odd policy for a country playing a supposedly neutral role.
So, when we hear on the news that Israeli tanks are rolling through the cities and refugee camps of the West Bank, we should remember those tanks were made in the United States and purchased by Israel with U.S. aid. The Israeli jets and helicopters used in the assault are American F-16s, Blackhawks and Apaches. Machine guns, grenade launchers, missiles and bombs — made in the USA, paid for with our tax dollars — are being used to crush the Palestinian people. That means we must face two realties:
First, the current Israeli attack on West Bank towns is not a war on terrorism, but part of a long and brutal war against the Palestinian people for land and resources. If Israel is serious about ending terrorism, it would end its 35-year illegal military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Until it demonstrates a willingness to do that, Israeli calls for peace ring hollow and its attempts to achieve security through force will only make it less secure.
Second, Israel’s war against the Palestinians would not be possible without U.S. military and economic support — $3 billion a year in direct aid. While the whole world stands against Israel’s occupation, our government provides the political and diplomatic cover that allows Israel to flout international law. Specific Israeli policies sometimes draw mild criticisms from U.S. leaders, and those criticisms have grown stronger in recent days as Israel has ignored calls for a pullback of forces. But Israel can continue to ignore the international consensus — and the U.N. Security Council resolutions calling on it to end the occupation — because of U.S. support.
U.S. officials recently have distanced themselves from the extreme violence of the Sharon government and the Likud Party, but it is folly to think all would be fine if only a Labor Party government were in power. The differences between the two major parties in Israel are more of style than substance. Take the question of settlements in the occupied territories.
We are told repeatedly that Israel desperately wants peace. If that is true, why has the number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza almost doubled since the Oslo peace process began nearly a decade ago? Given that those settlements are one of the most serious obstacles to a peaceful solution, why would the Israeli governments — Labor and Likud alike — expand settlements in territory it illegally occupies during a so-called peace process?
The ultimate solution to the conflict in the Middle East is a regional peace conference under an international banner that takes seriously international law. There must be regional arms control, which should be part of a movement to reduce the insane levels of armaments globally (of which the United States is the leading salesperson). The most important contribution the United States could make is to stop blocking that process.
But right now, the United States can help defuse the immediate crisis by using the leverage its aid to Israel provides. We the American people should pressure our government to make a clear statement: Israel must not only end its current brutal offensive but also must take meaningful steps to end the occupation, and the United States must withdraw support from Israel until it agrees to do so.
If we fail to do that, then we cannot escape the knowledge that Americans are partly responsible for the next missile fired into a Palestinian town, the next shell lobbed into a Palestinian home, the next Israeli bullet that cuts down an innocent Palestinian.
Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, a member of the Nowar Collective, and author of the book Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream. His pamphlet, “Citizens of the Empire,” is available online here. He can be reached at email@example.com.