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Upsetting the US-Israel Apple Cart

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Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Columbia University. The desire to return and reclaim their homes have kept Palestinian hopes alive for 76 years. For all that time they have had few allies. They have now realised an ally in the worldwide Palestinian solidarity movement. Through their actions, American students have demonstrated that they understand what many in positions of authority do not – that it is a duty, an obligation in and to democracy to resist unjust laws and unjust policies, the writer says. – Picture: via @maryamalwan TW Page

By M Reza Behnam

The desire to return and reclaim their homes have kept Palestinian hopes alive for 76 years. For all that time they have had few allies.

Students on campuses across the United States have “upset the US-Israel military apartheid apple cart” – a plan long in the making whose aim has been Israeli control over all of historic Palestine. Israel’s plan to claim every inch of it is stated unequivocally in the Likud Party Platform of 1977. It reads, “between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty”.

For challenging Israel’s brutal settler-colonial project and genocide in Gaza, pro-Palestinian demonstrators have felt the wrath of Israel’s supporters in government, education and corporate media.

Administrators at distinguished universities like Columbia, Emory and the University of California, Los Angeles have resorted to force to suppress demonstrators calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and for their universities to divest from companies with ties to Israel. And at UCLA, administrators and law enforcement failed to act as counter-protestors violently attacked pro-Palestinian encampments.

Students have experienced first-hand the repressive nature of the state when it wants to quash a message. They have learned how practised in domination the United States and Israel are.

The Palestinian solidarity encampments have unnerved those who wield power because they are a symbol of unity and resistance against oppression. It is interesting to note that the white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally of 2017, as vile as it was, did not evoke the same heavy-handed response from administrators and police.

On August 11 of that year, hundreds of white supremacists marched through the University of Virginia campus chanting Nazi and antisemitic slogans. Although aware of the unsanctioned march, university officials and law enforcement took minimal action to prevent disorder and violence. Very few arrests were made and just a handful of far-right protestors and counter-protestors were subsequently convicted on charges of assault or disorderly conduct.

In contrast, more than 2,400 protestors on US campuses have been arrested since the police crackdown at Columbia University on April 18 sparked a wave of student activism. Ironically, some of the students arrested, who pay $67,264 a year in undergraduate tuition, were charged with “trespassing”.

President Joe Biden’s response to the student protests is predictable. America’s self-professed Zionist president has been more critical of US students for protesting against genocide in Gaza than he has been of the perpetrator. In his May 2 address on campus unrest, Biden never mentioned Gaza nor did he comment on Israel’s scorched earth campaign, the source of the “unrest”. When asked if the protests have forced him to reconsider his policies, Biden brusquely stated “no”.

Israeli bombs have killed 13,000 Palestinian children and orphaned 19,000. Biden has been silent in the face of these atrocities. He was not so mute after the October 7 Palestinian incursion into Israel. Within a week he was on his way to Tel Aviv to hug Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reaffirm his commitment to protect Israel.

The Palestinian solidarity movement has made it possible to finally tell and share the true story of Palestine in the United States. For eight decades, Israel, inoculated by Washington, the corporate media and threats of being labelled antisemitic, have successfully kept the story of Palestine and its people from the American public.

Aware that it has been losing control of its invented narrative, the Israeli regime has looked to its stakeholders in the United States and the West to suppress the message and messengers. In a desperate attempt to quell the growing pro-Palestine protests, on 24 April 2024, Netanyahu publicly called on US officials to use greater force to crackdown on American demonstrators, whom he compared to Nazis and described as “antisemitic mobs” who “have to be stopped”.

Israel’s advocates at US universities, government and media have responded to Netanyahu’s plea. Using the decades-old Israeli playbook on how to discredit the opposition, justify violence and distract from the message, they have drowned out protestors’ demands by falsely portraying them as antisemitic, threats to safety, ill-informed and infiltrated by “outside agitators”.

The events of the last six months make it absolutely clear that the United States cannot be an honest broker when it comes to Israel. One example, among many, was the US reaction to recent reports that the International Criminal Court (ICC) might issue arrest warrants for senior Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, over the regime’s atrocities in Gaza.

A worried Netanyahu went so far as to that if the ICC issues arrest warrants, he will take retaliatory measures against the Palestinian Authority. In 2021, Palestinian human rights organisations submitted their case regarding Israeli war crimes in Gaza to the Court.

A number of Israel’s champions in the US Congress (of both parties) have pressured the ICC not to act, threatening retaliation and drafting legislation should the Court go forward.

Biden has stated that the United States does not support the ICC investigation and has incorrectly claimed that the Court has no jurisdiction in this case. Because of US complicity in Israeli war crimes, the ICC could issue arrest warrants for American political leaders, diplomats and military personnel.

Interestingly, although not a member of the ICC – established in the Hague in July 2002 to prosecute war criminals – the United States has made certain to protect itself and its allies from potential prosecution.

In August 2002, for example, the US Congress passed and President George W Bush signed the American Service members’ Protection Act of 2002, nicknamed “The Hague Invasion Act”. It is so named because it would allow the president to order the US military to “rescue” American officials and military personnel, as well as allied officials, including Israel, being held in ICC custody in the Hague.

In defence of Israel, the United States has been willing to violate its own laws, as well as international laws. The Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act, for example, establish provisions governing military sales to foreign consumers and governments.

Section 502(B) of the Foreign Assistance Act prohibits security assistance to “any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognised human rights”. Despite Israel’s merciless onslaught in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, the United States has provided an additional $15 billion in unconditional military aid to Israel.

Such US practices have tarnished what remains of its international stature.

In yet another effort to please the pro-Israel lobby, silence criticism of Israel and shutdown protests, Congress, on April 30, passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which broadens the legal definition of antisemitism to include the “targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity”. If signed into law, opposing Zionism and criticising Israel would qualify as antisemitism.

According to 320 members of the House of Representatives who voted for HR 6090 (91 opposed), Israel alone is above criticism. In addition, the proposed legislation would violate the right to free speech enshrined in the first amendment to the US Constitution.

Abetted by the United States, Israel’s sacrosanct logo emblazoned across the American political, economic and military landscape has allowed it to amass power, be absolved from judgment and to carry out, unimpeded, genocide in Gaza today.

On the international stage, the United States has had a long history of providing absolution and cover for Israel’s crimes against humanity in Palestine. Since 1972, it has cast its veto 53 times in the United Nations Security Council against resolutions or condemnations critical of Israel.

In Washington’s latest move to dash Palestinian hopes for some semblance of self-determination, the United States, on 18 April 2024, vetoed a Security Council resolution recommending full membership in the United Nations for the State of Palestine. The administration did so while concomitantly professing to be conducting diplomatic efforts to create a Palestinian state when the carnage ends.

Unlike student protestors and their allies who know that there can be no business as usual as long as genocide in Gaza continues, the United States, however, presses on as though Israel, in its present form, has a future in the Middle East.

Proponents of a “Free Palestine” are aware that their advocacy may come at an economic cost and a police record. A price many are willing to pay especially when they have two worthy examples to draw on.

Rachel Corrie, a 23-year old college student from Olympia, Washington, was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Rafah on March 16, 2003.

Corrie’s legacy has endured in Palestine. Mothers and fathers have named their daughters after her and olive trees have been planted in her name. Evergreen State College, where she was a student, is the first US university to completely divest from Israel.

Aaron Bushnell, an active-duty member of the US Air Force, was 25 years old when he self-immolated on February 25, 2024 outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. His last words as the fire consumed him were “Free Palestine”.

Before self-immolating, Bushnell said, “I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest. But compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonisers – it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal.”

Officials in the Palestinian city of Jericho announced on March 10, 2024, that they had named a street in his honour, as they had for Rachel Corrie in Ramallah in the West Bank.

Nineteen Americans were awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Biden in May 2024. Even if they had lived, it is doubtful that Rachel Corrie and Aaron Bushnell would have been chosen. Both gave their lives in order that Palestinians might finally live free.

The desire to return and reclaim their homes have kept Palestinian hopes alive for 76 years. For all that time they have had few allies.

They have now realised an ally in the worldwide Palestinian solidarity movement. Through their actions, American students have demonstrated that they understand what many in positions of authority do not – that it is a duty, an obligation in and to democracy to resist unjust laws and unjust policies.

Dr M Reza Behnam is a political scientist specialising in the history, politics and governments of the Middle East. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle