Al-Hewar Center Panel Explores How to Address
the Issues of Jerusalem and Palestine
to the American Public
During the month of May, 1998, the Al-Hewar Center in Vienna, Virginia, hosted several discussions and events related to the 50th anniversary of the nakba or catastrophe which befell the Palestinians in 1948 upon the creation of Israel and the ensuing loss and occupation of their land. One of the featured events was a panel discussion on May 20, 1998, about how talk to Americans about the issues of Jerusalem and Palestine so that they can better understand the reasons for the struggle over this land. The panelists featured at this event were: Mr. Richard Curtiss, the Executive Editor of the respected magazine, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and a retired Foreign Service Officer; Mr. Ra’afat Dajani, the Executive Director of the American Committee on Jerusalem, a coalition of Arab-American organizations dedicated to educating the American public and policy makers about the issue of Jerusalem; and Dr. Murhaf Jouejati, an expert on Middle East affairs. The event was moderated by Dr. Ayman Al-Ouri.
The Cost of Israel to the American People
By now many Americans are aware that Israel, with a population of only 5.8 million people, is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, and that Israel’s aid plus U.S. aid to Egypt’s 65 million people for keeping the peace with Israel has, for many years, consumed more than half of the U.S. bi-lateral foreign aid budget world-wide.
What few Americans understand however, is the steep price they pay in many other fields for the U.S.-Israeli relationship, which in turn is a product of the influence of Israel’s powerful U.S. lobby on American domestic politics and has nothing to do with U.S. strategic interests, U.S. national interests, or even with traditional American support for self-determination, human rights, and fair play overseas.
Besides its financial cost, unwavering U.S. support for Israel, whether it’s right or wrong, exacts a huge price in American prestige and credibility overseas. Further, Israel’s powerful U.S. lobby has been a major factor in delaying campaign finance reform, and also in the removal from American political life of some of our most distinguished public servants, members of Congress and even presidents.
Finally, the Israel-U.S. relationship has cost a significant number of American lives. The incidents in which hundreds of U.S. service personnel, diplomats, and civilians have been killed in the Middle East have been reported in the media. But the media seldom revisits these events, and scrupulously avoids analyzing why they occurred or compiling the cumulative toll of American deaths resulting from our Israel-centered Middle East policies.
Each of these four categories of the costs of Israel to the American people merits a talk of its own. What follows, therefore, is just an overview of such losses.
First is the financial cost of Israel to U.S. taxpayers. Between 1949 and 1998, the U.S. gave to Israel, with a self-declared population of 5.8 million people, more foreign aid than it gave to all of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, all of the countries of Latin America, and all of the countries of the Caribbean combined – with a total population of 1,054,000,000 people.
In the 1997 fiscal year, for example, Israel received $3 billion from the foreign aid budget, at least $525 million from other U.S. budgets, and $2 billion in federal loan guarantees. So the 1997 total of U.S. grants and loan guarantees to Israel was $5.5 billion. That’s $15,068,493 per day, 365 days a year.
If you add its foreign aid grants and loans, plus the approximate totals of grants to Israel from other parts of the U.S. federal budget, Israel has received since 1949 a grand total of $84.8 billion, excluding the $10 billion in U.S. government loan guarantees it has drawn to date.
And if you calculate what the U.S. has had to pay in interest to borrow this money to give to Israel, the cost of Israel to U.S. taxpayers rises to $134.8 billion, not adjusted for inflation.
Put another way, the nearly $14,630 every one of 5.8 million Israelis had received from the U.S. government by October 31, 1997, cost American taxpayers $23,241 per Israeli. That’s $116,205 for every Israeli family of five.
None of these figures include the private donations by Americans to Israeli charities, which initially constituted about one quarter of Israel’s budget, and today approach $1 billion annually. In addition to the negative effect of these donations on the U.S. balance of payments, the donors also deduct them from their U.S. income taxes, creating another large drain on the U.S. treasury.
Nor do the figures above include any of the indirect financial costs of Israel to the United States, which cannot be tallied. One example is the cost to U.S. manufacturers of the Arab boycott, surely in the billions of dollars by now. Another example is the cost to U.S. consumers of the price of petroleum, which surged to such heights that it set off a world-wide recession during the Arab oil boycott imposed in reaction to U.S. support of Israel in the 1973 war.
Other examples are a portion of the costs of maintaining large U.S. Sixth Fleet naval forces in the Mediterranean, primarily to protect Israel, and military air units at the Aviano base in Italy, not to mention the staggering costs of frequent deployments to the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf area of land and air forces from the United States and naval units from the Seventh Fleet, which normally operates in the Pacific Ocean.
Many years ago the late Undersecretary of State George Ball estimated the true financial cost of Israel to the United States at $11 billion a year. Since then direct U.S. foreign aid to Israel has nearly doubled, and simply adjusting that original figure into 1998 dollars would send it considerably higher today. Next comes the cost of Israel to the international prestige and credibility of the United States. Americans seem constantly astounded at our foreign policy failures in the Middle East. This stems from a profound ignorance of the background of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, which in turn results from a reluctance by the mainstream U.S. media to present these facts objectively.
Toward the end of the 19th century when political Zionism was created in Europe, Jews were a tiny fraction of the population of the Holy Land, much of which was heavily cultivated and thickly populated, and certainly not a desert waiting to be reclaimed by outsiders.
Even in 1947, after half a century of Zionist immigration and an influx of Jewish refugees from Hitler, Jews still constituted only one third of the population of the British Mandate of Palestine. Only seven percent of the land was Jewish-owned. Yet when the United Nations partitioned Palestine in that year, the Jewish state-to-be received 53 percent and the Arab state-to-be received only 47 percent of the land. Jerusalem was to remain separate under international supervision, a "corpus seperatum" in the words of the United Nations.
One of the myths that many Americans still believe is that the initial war between the Arabs and Israelis broke out on May 15, 1948 when the British withdrew and military units from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Syria entered Palestine, allegedly because the Arabs had rejected a partition plan that the Israelis accepted.
In fact, the fighting began almost six months earlier, immediately after the partition plan was announced. By the time the Arab armies intervened in May, some 400,000 Palestinians already had fled or been driven from their homes. To the Arab nations the military forces they sent to Palestine were on a rescue mission to halt the dispossession of Palestinians from the areas the U.N. had awarded to both the Jewish and the Palestinian Arab state. In fact history has revealed that the Jordanian forces had orders not to venture into areas the U.N. had awarded to Israel.
Although the newly created Israeli government didn’t formally reject the partition plan, in practice it never accepted the plan. To this day, half a century later, Israel still refuses to define its borders.
In fact, when the fighting of 1947 and 1948 ended, the State of Israel occupied half of Jerusalem and 78 percent of the former mandate of Palestine. About 750,000 Muslim and Christian Palestinians had been driven from towns, villages and homes to which the Israeli forces never allowed them to return.
The four wars that followed, three of them started by Israel in 1956, 1967, and 1982, and one of them started by Egypt and Syria to recover their occupied lands in 1973, have been over the portions of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt which the Israelis occupied militarily in those wars, the other half of Jerusalem, and the 22 percent of Palestine – comprising the West Bank and Gaza – which is all that remains for the Palestinians.
It is the unwillingness of successive U.S. governments to acknowledge these historical facts, and adjust U.S. Middle East policies to right these wrongs, that has resulted in such a devastating loss of international credibility. Americans, who once were identified with the modern schools, universities and hospitals they had established throughout the Middle East starting more than 150 years ago, now are identified with U.S. misuse of its veto in the United Nations to condone Israeli violations of the human rights of the Palestinians living in the lands Israel has seized by force. The Israeli occupation violates the preface to the United Nations Charter banning the acquisition of territory by war. What the Israeli government has been doing in the occupied territories also violates the Fourth Geneva convention, which forbids the transfer of populations to or from such areas.
Governments of Middle Eastern countries which once looked to the United States as their protectors from European colonialism, now find it very difficult to justify maintaining cordial relations with the United States at all. Friendly Arab governments are jeopardized by their U.S. alliances, and the fall of one, the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq, was directly attributable to its premature withdrawal of its armed forces from Palestine during the 1948 fighting, and its subsequent membership in a military alliance with the U.S. and Britain.
Even our European and Asian allies have joined in deploring the perpetual American tilt toward Israel. In a recent vote on a U.N. General Assembly resolution calling upon Israel to curb further encroachments on Palestinian lands by Jewish settlers, only the United States and Micronesia voted with Israel. Of the 185 U.N. member nations, all of the others, without exception, voted against Israel or abstained.
Yet Americans seem oblivious to such examples of how their Israel-centered Middle East policies are isolating the United States in the world.
Next is the cost of Israel to the American domestic political system. In December 1997, Fortune magazine asked professional lobbyists to select the most powerful special interest group in the United States. They chose the American Association of Retired Persons, which lobbies on behalf of all Americans over 60.
In second place, however, was the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israel’s official Washington, D.C. lobby, with a $15 million budget – the sources of which AIPAC refuses to disclose – and 150 employees. AIPAC, in turn, can draw upon the resources of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a roof group set up to coordinate the efforts on behalf of Israel of some 52 national Jewish organizations.
Among those organizations are groups such as B’nai B’rith's Anti-Defamation League (ADL), with a $45 million budget, and Hadassah, the Zionist women’s group, which spends more than AIPAC and sends thousands of Americans every year to Israel on Israeli government-supervised visits.
Both AIPAC and the ADL maintain secret "opposition research" departments which compile files on politicians, journalists, academics and organizations, and circulate this information through local Jewish community councils to pro-Israel groups and activists in order to damage the reputations of those who dare to speak out and thus have been blackballed as "enemies of Israel." In the case of ADL, police raids on the organization’s Los Angeles and San Francisco offices established that much of the information they had compiled was erroneous, and thus slanderous, and some also was illegally obtained.
In the case of AIPAC, this is not the organization’s most controversial activity. In the 1970s members of AIPAC’s national board of directors set out to form deceptively named local political action committees (PACs) which could coordinate their efforts in supporting candidates in federal elections. To date, at least 126 pro-Israel PACs have been registered, and no fewer than 50 PACs, like AIPAC, can give a candidate who is facing a tough opponent and who has voted according to AIPAC recommendations up to half a million dollars. That’s enough money to buy all the television time needed to get elected in most parts of the country.
What is totally unique about AIPAC’s network of political action committees is that they all have deceptive names. Who could possibly know that the Delaware Valley PAC in Philadelphia, San Franciscans for Good Government in California, Cactus PAC in Arizona, Chili PAC in New Mexico, Beaver PAC in Wisconsin and even Ice PAC in New York are really pro-Israel PACs. So just as no other special interest can put so much hard money into any candidate’s election campaign as can the Israel lobby, no other special interest has gone to such elaborate lengths to hide its tracks.
Some of America’s wisest and most distinguished public servants have been kept from higher office by the blackballing of the Israel lobby. One such leader was George Ball, who served the Kennedy administration as Under Secretary of State and the Johnson administration as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Given his unmatched brilliance in forecasting international developments, there is no doubt that he would have become secretary of state had he not publicly expressed the skepticism about the U.S. relationship with Israel which most Americans involved in foreign affairs privately feel.
In membership meetings which journalists are not allowed to attend, AIPAC presidents have boasted that the organization was responsible for the defeats of two of history’s most distinguished chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – Democrat J. William Fulbright of Arkansas and Republican Charles Percy of Illinois. The list of other Senators and House members for whose election defeats AIPAC takes credit is too long to recount.
There is good evidence also that had it not been for complex maneuvers by the Israel lobby, including encouragement of third party candidates and unrelenting partisanship by pro-Israeli syndicated columnists and other media figures, Democratic President Jimmy Carter probably would have been reelected in 1980, and Republican President George Bush almost certainly would have been reelected in 1992.
The cost to our political system of losing national figures who refused to allow U.S. domestic political interests to dictate U.S. foreign policy has been enormous. So long as AIPAC and other powerful lobbies continue to thwart meaningful efforts on behalf of campaign finance reform, Americans will continue unknowingly paying such costs.
Finally, there is the cost of Israel in American lives. References to the attack by Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats on the USS Liberty in which 34 Americans were killed and 171 wounded on the fourth day of the Six-Day War of June 1967 often are met by disbelief. Very few Americans seem to have heard of the attack on the ship operated by the U.S. Navy for the National Security Agency to monitor Israel and Arab military communications during the fighting.
The Israeli government claimed it was a case of mistaken identity. The members of the crew and other naval officers who were stationed in the Mediterranean and in Washington at the time state that it was a deliberate attempt to sink the ship and blame Egyptian forces for the disaster. It is the only such event in U.S. Naval history the cause of which has never been formally investigated either by Congress or by the Navy itself.
Major losses of American lives at the hands of Arab forces opposing Israel are better known. These include the loss of 141 U.S. service personnel in the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1984. They also include the loss of several U.S. diplomats and local employees of the U.S. government in two bombings of the American Embassy in Beirut. Other such events include the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, the taking of U.S. hostages in Beirut of whom three were killed, the deaths of Americans in a series of Middle East related skyjackings, the deaths of 19 U.S. service personnel in the bombing of the Al Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and the 1997 assassination of four U.S. accountants working for an American company in Karachi.
All of these incidents, and many more in which Americans have died, resulted directly from one-sided U.S. support for Israel in its refusal to participate in the land-for-peace settlement with the Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors envisioned in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. The U.S. has given lip service to that resolution since November 1967. But in practice the U.S. has done nothing to force Israel to comply, even though the resolution has been accepted by the members of the League of Arab States. That U.S. hypocrisy fuels rage and frustration throughout the Middle East and South Asia which will continue to take a toll of American lives until Israel finally gives back the lands it occupied in 1967, or the U.S. stops subsidizing Israeli intransigence.
Claims that there are positive aspects of the U.S.-Israeli relationship seldom stand up to scrutiny. During the Reagan administration it was labeled for the first time a "strategic relationship" conferring benefits on the U.S. as well as on Israel. The idea that Israel – smaller in both area and population than Hong Kong – can offer the United States benefits sufficient to offset the hostility that relationship arouses among 250 million Arabs living in a 4,000-mile strategic swath of territory stretching from Morocco to Oman is ludicrous. It becomes even more ludicrous when one realizes that the relationship also has alienated another 750 million Muslims who, together with the Arabs, control more than 60 percent of the world’s proven oil and gas reserves. Apologists for Israel also describe the U.S.-Israeli cooperation in weapons development. The fact is that the one or two successful joint weapons programs have been largely U.S. financed, while for their part the Israelis have repeatedly sold to rogue nations U.S. weapons turned over at no cost to Israel.
It is a sad but proven fact that the Israeli government also has obtained secret U.S. military technology which Israel has sold to other countries. For example, after the U.S. sent Patriot missile defense batteries on an emergency basis to help defend Israel during the Gulf War, the Israelis seem to have sold the Patriot missile technology to China, according to the U.S. State Department’s inspector general. As a result, the U.S. has been forced to develop a whole new generation of missile technology able to penetrate the defenses China has developed as a result of the Israeli treachery.
Perhaps the most hypocritical rationalization offered by friends of Israel is that U.S. special treatment is justified because Israel is "the Middle East’s only working democracy" and that Israel and the U.S. have many basic institutions in common. In fact, Israeli democracy does not work for non-Jews. In contrast to the United States, where by law all citizens have equal rights regardless of religion or ethnic origin, Muslim and Christian citizens of Israel do not have equal rights with regards to military service, the extensive social benefits available to veterans of Israeli military service, or even in terms of Israeli tax rates imposed on Arab citizens and Israeli government expenditures in Arab communities within Israel.
Further, Israeli citizenship is not available to the Muslim and Christian Palestinians driven from their homes in Israel in 1948, nor to their descendants. But a Jew, born anywhere in the world, can have Israeli citizenship for the asking.
Perhaps most shocking is the little-known fact that by now 90 percent of the land in Israel proper is held under restrictive covenants barring non-Jews, even those with Israeli citizenship, from owning the land or from earning a living on it. Unfortunately, the land held under such covenants is increasing, not decreasing. It would be difficult, therefore, to find two countries more profoundly different in their approaches to basic questions of citizenship and civil and human rights as are the United States and Israel.