Though the fatalities in the latest flare up between Israel and Hamas – about 285 Palestinians and two Israeli killed so far – dwarf those in other conflicts, the American public needs to pay particular attention to what’s happening there. The US is not merely an onlooker here: we are directly involved in militarily supporting the Israeli side to the tune of $3 billion per year.
And the prognosis is not good: Human Rights Watch weighed in recently saying "Israeli air attacks in Gaza investigated by Human Rights Watch have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war." And the UN estimates that more than three-quarters of those killed in the Israeli raids – largely using US arms – over the past week are civilians.
These figures are a Godsend for terrorist recruitment. Unfortunately, any terrorist backlash against Israel will also very likely be directed at America since US munitions on US-supplied planes – paid for by US taxpayers – are often used in the raids.
Of course Hamas should also stop its indiscriminate rocket firings into Israel. But having to lecture the same "Thou Shalt Not Kill Civilians" mantra to the government of one of our closest allies and a militant group simultaneously is beyond shameful.
Washington’s support for Israel – or any other country – ought not be unconditional. Certainly, any nation is allowed to defend itself. But no nation should resort to war crimes in attempting to do so. And the way Israel is going about its "self-defense" is not particularly smart: by killing mostly civilians it is creating a longer term terrorism problem for itself. And for America.
Not only is it not smart, it may be against US law.
The US Arms Export Control Act dictates the conditions under which foreign countries may use US military hardware or services. These include “internal security” or “legitimate self defense.” But the law specifically prohibits actions that “increase the possibility of an outbreak or escalation of conflict.” By killing mostly civilians in a disproportionately heavy-handed response and thereby sowing the seeds of yet more terrorism, Israel has undeniably escalated the conflict. In fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu has openly stated that he intends to escalate the conflict.
One of the Israeli government’s cabinet ministers clearly stated, "We are moving from Iron Dome to an iron fist.”
In about a week of fighting, Israel has carried out more than 1800 air-strikes. By comparison, so far this year the US has carried out about 865 air-strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
All this begs the question: is our involvement in this fight worth the eventual "collateral terrorism" we might incur? Unconditional support of heavy-handed Israeli actions may be earning us little more than a bullseye on our back. It is also alienating the US – and Israel – from regional allies like Jordan and Turkey who cannot be seen to have cordial relations with Israel any longer.
To be sure, cutting off military support to Israel will not eliminate anti-US terrorism overnight but it is a step in the right direction, and it may somewhat reduce anti-US terrorism. Even if one less American dies because we cut off arms for Israel that would be worth it.
A simple cost-benefit analysis is needed. We need to ask what we gain from unconditionally supporting Israel’s military versus what we lose.
The bottom line is that America doesn’t really have a dog in the Gaza fight. We can and should act as peace brokers but we should not add armaments to the inflammable situation, especially if the way the arms are being used by Israel violates the Arms Export Control Act.
In fact, weaning Israel off of US aid may prove beneficial: with less free military hardware at their disposal, the Israeli government may be forced to make the necessary compromises to obtain a lasting peace. Too many hammers in the Israeli toolkit seems to be leading them – counterproductively – to see their regional problems as nails.
Lastly, military support of Israel is extraordinarily expensive to US taxpayers. The $3 billion American taxpayers send to the Israeli military every year could be much better used at home in these tough economic times. Israel is not a poor nation – it can pay for its own battles.
What you can do: Contact your representative in congress and let them know you are concerned about the escalation of the Gaza conflict and possible war crimes there. Ask them to investigate whether Israel’s use of US-supplied armaments are consistent with the Arms Export Control Act.
Dr. Yousaf Butt is director of the Emerging Technologies Program at the Cultural Intelligence Institute. The views expressed here are his own. Reprinted from Truthout with the author’s permission.