In a recent piece in The New York Times, Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren tells of a gala evening, a dinner party designed to showcase American largesse to Palestinian food producers. The event prompts her to pose a question: “What does Washington buy for the Palestinians anyhow?”
Her answer comes in the following paragraph, where she reports that the United States appropriated $440 million for Palestinians this year. Nearly half of that goes to pay debts; $70 million is for “security”; and the rest is for such things as infrastructure, water projects and private enterprise ($21 million), which includes $6 million for food production.
It is this last category that Rudoren addresses in her story, which is pegged to a dinner hosted by U.S. Consul General Michael Ratney in Jerusalem. She writes that American money has supported West Bank producers of strawberries, salt, olive oil, herbs, dates, wine and vinegar.
This is all very well, but there is a subtext to the story that Rudoren fails to address. Palestinian commerce has been strangled by the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, an occupation that the United States facilitates with massive amounts of aid to Israel. Israeli officials hold up Palestinian trucks at checkpoints, causing grapes and strawberries to rot before they reach market. They place obstructions in the way of exports, prevent workers from reaching their jobs and confiscate vital land and resources for settlements.
Rudoren writes, for instance, that wine for the consulate dinner came from the first bottles produced by a brewery (now also a winery) in the West Bank village of Taybeh but fails to say that Taybeh is threatened by the loss of water resources to three surrounding illegal Jewish settlements. It now receives water only three days a week, an impossible situation for a brewery.
Taybeh Brewery survives with the help of a franchise in Germany. Another enterprise mentioned in the Times story, Canaan Fair Trade, manages with the help of dedicated supporters in the United States and Europe. Most indigenous business ventures, however, struggle on their own under the crippling effects of Israeli oppression.
The results have shown up in the data. A World Bank study, for instance, shows a $3.4 billion loss to the Palestinian economy due solely to the fact that Israel has made large swaths of West Bank land off limits to farmers and other producers. Compare this to the $21 million U.S. support for private enterprise, and the American help to farmers appears both absurd and hypocritical, little more than a band aid applied to a bleeding artery.
As for the news that $70 million in U.S. aid goes to “security,” rest assured that this is not security for Palestinians; it is for Israel. A Congressional Research Service report on aid to Palestinians (the report avoids using the word “Palestine”) lists three objectives in supplying U.S. funds to Palestinians, and first among them is “to prevent terrorism against Israel.” This means training and using Palestinian Authority services to keep other Palestinians in check, all for the benefit of Israel.
There is no mention of protections for the Palestinians, although the numbers show that they are at much greater risk than the Israelis. Reports show that so far this year 24 Palestinian civilians have died at the hands of Israeli security forces. (The latest was a 7-year-old boy killed by an Israeli bomb in Gaza.) By contrast, only one Israeli civilian had been killed by Palestinians as of April 30. Moreover, Israel has demolished an average of 15 Palestinian structures each week in 2014, leaving 629 people without shelter. Who, we might ask, is suffering from terrorism?
Palestinians recognize the irony in U.S. funding for showcase projects while American money supports the occupiers who impose a brutal regime on their society. This was apparent to a group of us visiting the West Bank in 2011, soon after the United States vetoed a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements, thus contradicting its own policy and standing in isolation with Israel against the rest of the world powers.
As our bus passed through a village, we saw a plaque announcing a “gift from the American people to the Palestinian people,” which had been funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It commemorated the construction of a public park in Kufor Ni’meh. Spray-painted in bold red across the plaque was the single word “VETO.”
The villagers who took aim at the plaque were aware that USAID paid for turnstiles and cages that serve as cattle pens for Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints. They also knew the meaning of the U.S. veto at the UN, and they were not to be bought off by the token gift of a public park.
In her story, Rudoren takes up the issue of just what U.S. aid does in the occupied Palestinian territories, but she fails to examine why the Palestinian economy needs life support. She also stops short of asking a related question: Just what does Washington buy for the Israelis?
This is a subject the Times would rather not address. Readers might object if they knew that more than $8 million a day in U.S. taxpayer money goes to Israel, all of it for military aid, with no strings attached. Place this alongside the aid to Palestine, and the lopsided nature of the relationship becomes stark. The daily ration of military aid for Palestinians is precisely $0.