Palestinian demonstrator lies on ground after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops, Gaza, 20 April (Reuters)
WASHINGTON – Across the US, states are struggling to meet vital national needs, from infrastructure investment to schooling, food security to healthcare and housing.
In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its four-year report card on the condition and performance of the nation's aviation, bridges, rail and other infrastructure. The score: an abysmal D+. The ASCE estimated that a $2 trillion investment is needed across various infrastructure categories to maintain a state of good repair and earn a B grade.
Oklahoma, for example, "is consistently ranked at or near the bottom of multiple lists as having the worst bridges in the nation," the ASCE points out. Fifteen percent of its bridges are structurally deficient and considered a hazard to drivers and an impediment to economic growth.
Yet the state gives $35m annually in weapons to Israel – taxpayer dollars that could be allocated to create 68,400 infrastructure jobs. Depending on the states priorities, it can use the funds to hire more than 430 school teachers, or provide food assistance to 23,200 Oklahomans, or secure healthcare to 14,700 uninsured children.
The funds allocated to Israel in weaponry and the budgetary trade-offs can be found through a new resource unveiled recently by the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, a Washington, DC-based coalition of Palestine advocacy and solidarity groups.
This tool can be used for moral and humanitarian issues to demonstrate our country's complicity in the killing of unarmed civilians.
– Connie Hammond, JVP
The interactive tool on militaryaidtoisrael.org can disclose to Americans just how much they are paying each year for weapons to Israel and what programmes could be funded instead to benefit their state. For a deeper dive, citizens and activists can find out the annual allocation of military aid to Israel by Congressional district, county and even city.
According to the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, US taxpayers will give Israel $38bn-worth of weapons over ten years – up until 2028 – as stipulated in a bilateral agreement inked in 2016.
For instance, every year, Ohio gives $108.3m from its taxpayer money to Israel in weapons — more than three times what Oklahoma state allocates. The funds could be used to create some 1,500 clean energy jobs or provide food assistance to 72,000 people, in addition to other alternatives.
'Bloody military response'
Some activists say they want to use this tool to help reorient state and local budgetary priorities and to free up money for social services, while also ending funding for weapons used to oppress Palestinians in the occupied territories.
“The Central Ohio Chapter of JVP regularly visits offices of Senators and Representatives in their local offices,” said Connie Hammond, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, a Jewish pro-Palestinian activist group. “We will use this tool to demonstrate what it means to key programmes that they support in our communities.”
“Even beyond the monetary issue on the cost burden to Ohio taxpayers for military assistance to Israel, this tool can be used for moral and humanitarian issues to demonstrate our country's complicity in the killing of unarmed civilians, and the continued occupation of Palestine and blockade of Gaza.”
Since 30 March, Palestinians have been staging sit-ins and peaceful marches by the fence that separates Israel from Gaza, in the lead-up to the commemoration of the Nakba – the “catastrophe” that led to the exile and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians that accompanied the creation of the State of Israel.
Relatives in Gaza mourn 17-year-old Palestinian protester Tahreer Wahba who was shot in the head by Israeli forces (Reuters)
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 37 Palestinians in Gaza, including four children and a journalist, have been killed by Israeli forces. Another two Palestinians were killed after crossing the fence, and Israeli authorities continue to withhold their bodies.
More than 4,900 have been injured, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, most with injuries to the lower limbs.
The protesters are demanding an end to the blockade imposed by Israel since 2007 and to uphold the right to return to the homes from which they were expelled. The large number of casualties among unarmed demonstrators, most of whom were killed by live ammunition, has raised concerns among rights groups and calls for independent investigations.
“Israeli soldiers were not merely using excessive force, but were apparently acting on orders that all but ensured a bloody military response to the Palestinian demonstrations,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The result was foreseeable deaths and injuries of demonstrators on the other side of a border who posed no imminent threat to life.”
Calling for accountability
In the US, pro-Palestine supporters have been pushing to hold Israel accountable by pressuring their lawmakers to take action on Gaza. They cite American laws that require foreign states being sold US-made weapons not to misuse them on civilians.
Some rights groups want these laws enforced on Israel, but very little measures have been taken by legislators to ensure thats the case. Only a handful, such as Minnesota Democratic Representative Betty McCollum and independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, have even criticised Israels use of deadly force in the coastal enclave.
“This map is a tool for local activists to engage their members of Congress,” said Josh Ruebner, policy director at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
This map will be a tool to help activists pass local city council resolutions to end US weapons to Israel and redirect that money to unmet community needs.
– Josh Ruebner, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
“This is especially useful in discussing accountability for Israel's violations of US weapons laws in the current context of the Great March of Return, where Israel is using US weapons to kill unarmed Palestinian protesters.”
So far this year, local Palestine solidarity activists have engaged in campaigns in cities such as Durham, North Carolina to demand human rights screenings for city investments and to end police exchanges with Israel.
Last week, Durham became the first US city to ban its police department from training with Israels military.
Durhams city council said in a resolution, which it passed unanimously, that it “opposes international exchanges with any country in which Durham officers receive military-style training since such exchanges do not support the kind of policing we want here.”
The tool, Ruebner said, will help continue building this type of “intersectionality work” between Palestinian solidarity activists and other social justice groups.
“Building political power from the municipal level upward is an important component to changing federal-level policies that sustain Israel's oppression of Palestinians,” he said.
“This map will be a tool to help activists pass local city council resolutions to end US weapons to Israel and redirect that money to unmet community needs, thereby furthering this process.”