As the world witnessed on May 9th, Palestinians in Jerusalem were once again stripped of their basic human rights. The right of human dignity, the right to religious freedom, and the right to live free from fear. Though a cease-fire is welcomed, the violence of occupation is ongoing. The terror being inflicted on innocent men, women, and children is going unchecked by the international community as well as major media outlets. The United States must take leadership on this issue and make it clear that such violence will never be tolerated by any nation, let alone by a long-standing ally that has received military assistance for decades.
It is important to note that this is not simply a conflict in which Israeli security forces and extremists, along with heaviliy armed settlers, are attacking mosques and targeting Muslims: Palestinian churches have also been targeted in recent years. Furthermore, the destruction of vital infrastructure affects Palestinian Christians living in the area as much as it affects Palestinian Muslims. Many healthcare facilities, including Gaza’s only COVID-19 testing lab, have been severely damaged, if not reduced to rubbles. Medical supplies are already in short supply in the Gaza Strip due to the Israeli-imposed blockade. These inhumane attacks on hospitals, clinics, and healthcare providers are a humanitarian disaster and further compound the effects of the pandemic on an already battered population. This adds another exacerbating layer to the half century of violence, abuse, and devastation of the Palestinian people.
According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, in 2016, the United States and Israel came to an agreement on a ten-year military aid package that would provide nearly 40 billion dollars of direct aid assistance to the Israeli military. Additionally, Israel was the first country aside from the United States to operate the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is considered to be the most technologically advanced fighter jet. More recently, the Biden administration has approved a $735 million arms sale package to Israel, prompting widespread condemnation, including a resolution introduced by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY 14) to block the sale. Outside of direct military aid and access to a variety of weapons systems, the Israeli military benefits from extensive joint training exercises with different branches of the United States’ military. Despite having such advanced capabilities and training, the death toll of Palestinian civilians indicates that civilians are being specifically targeted.
The “Leahy Law” prohibits the United States from using funds to assist the security forces of foreign governments that are in gross violation of human rights. Palestinians have been subjected to a barrage of attacks, which have resulted in great loss of life, including women and children, which, according to Human Rights Watch is “excessive and vastly disproportionate force to quell protests and disturbances by Palestinians”. In a blatant disregard to the sanctity of a free press, on May 15, Israel bombed a building in Gaza that was home to the offices of the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera. The offices of these international media companies were specifically targeted to make it significantly more difficult for reporters to share the atrocities they were witnessing first hand.
The conditions in Palestine require the same degree of attention and intervention we have focused in other regions, as the rights, lives, and well-being of a people are under attack physically, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically. As MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati noted, “for [the United States] to preach about religious freedom when it does not consider this to be one of the most important issues on religious freedom only means that it is losing more and more credibility, especially when the U.S. government is financing and protecting this outrageous behavior.”