Where the World's Views of America Come into Focus
By Daoud Kuttab
May 11, 2005
The demand by the U.S. Congress for $50 million of George Bush's $200 million aid package for the Palestinians to be diverted for Israeli checkpoints resembles to this writer, requiring the Vatican to buy air-conditioners for abortion clinics or pay divorce lawyer fees to ease the plight of Catholic women.
The new motto of the U.S. Agency for International Development is very simple and direct: "From the American People." But the conditions recently tacked onto a planned U.S. grant from the American people adds insult to Palestinian injury.
Diverting to Israel millions of dollars promised to the Palestinian Authority to reinforce Israeli checkpoints deep inside Palestinian territory is a multiple insult to Palestinians. Not only is it a reduction of the meager (in comparison to the billions given to Israel) grant to Palestinians; but diverting money earmarked for Palestinians to strengthen the Israeli army's occupation is a moral and political scandal.
Israeli checkpoints have been one of the most humiliating elements of the almost 40-year illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The creation of these military barriers, often manned by 19-year-old soldiers who act like bullies, is a brutal act of mass subjugation and control. For the U.S. taxpayer to reinforce these checkpoints as part of a supposed gift to the Palestinian people is a disgrace to everything good that America stands for.
Israeli checkpoints have restricted the movement of people and goods, a clear violation of international humanitarian law. Israeli soldiers at these checkpoints have killed many Palestinian workers, students and passersby. Human rights groups have documented cases of pregnant Palestinian women suffering miscarriages waiting at these inhuman border crossings. The economic deprivation caused by the checkpoints accounts for millions of dollars in losses, according to international financial organizations.
The situation at the checkpoints has been so bad that a number of Israeli and international peace groups for women formed an organization, Mahsom Watch (checkpoint watch), to attempt to stop the cases of humiliation and abuse regularly carried out at these points.
Shimon Peres has often spoken of how humiliation by Israeli soldiers at these checkpoints hurts the chance of future dialogue and reconciliation. Even former U.S. Senator George Mitchell felt that the checkpoints were a major source of humiliation, and mentioned them as part of the Mitchell Plan. The roadmap, which incorporates much of the Mitchell Plan, calls for the removal, not the reinforcement, of all checkpoints created after September 2000.
Defenders of the U.S. Congress might claim that the money will help reduce the bottlenecks at the checkpoints. As The Washington Post notes, the money is supposed to go, "to Israel to build terminals for people and goods at checkpoints surrounding Palestinian areas."
That may well be the case, but why should the U.S. be supporting a travel restriction that has been declared by the U.S. and its allies as inherently wrong? If Israel needs to keep the checkpoints for its own security, American taxpayers should not relieve Israel of the cost of its own illegal occupation.
Furthermore, helping Israel by using money pledged to the Palestinians is tantamount to rubbing salt in a wound. This is not what one would expect of a broker for peace or a champion of human rights, democracy and freedom.
Fighting tyranny worldwide was the issue that the U.S. Congress applauded in Bush's State of the Union address. Now the same Congress wants to reward tyranny. Or does tyranny have different colors?
Another issue causing deep resentment among Palestinians is the intention to divert a further $2 million of the amount pledged to Palestinians to the Hadassah Hospital. If the aim is to provide medical help to Palestinians, there are 100 other ways of doing it. Palestinian medical institutions, whether public or private, could be helped.
If giving the money directly to the Palestinian Health Ministry is a problem to some U.S. Congressmen, funds could be entrusted to a local or international NGO to spend on Palestinian medical needs as they see fit, and not as Hadassah sees fit. Alternatively, why not support the transfer of Palestinians to an Arab hospital in, say, Jordan or Egypt, where Palestinians can get good medical help in a more culturally appropriate setting?
If these U.S. Congressional restrictions were enforced, they would be a terrible blow to the efforts of so many good people in America. If the American gift is coated with poison, it will leave a terrible mark that will take a long time to heal.
The U.S. should practice what it preaches; it should show respect to the afflicted, and not allow its generosity to be abused in such a humiliating way.