A talk given by Sara Olson at a demonstration in support of Palestine on July 21, 2017 in St. Paul, Minnesota
The United States has given $234 billion in aid to Israel since 1948 for the occupation of Palestine. Another $38 billion in American aid to Israel is in the pipeline for the next ten years.
Israel has become a human rights pariah around the world in its effort to eradicate the Palestinian people from their ancient homeland within its borders. Furthermore, under the Netanyahu government, peace-loving Jewish people and non-ultra-orthodox Jews worldwide find themselves politically sidelined in Israel in favor of policies cementing the establishment of a far right theocracy in the country they looked to as a beacon of international antisemitism and hope.
American aid is predicated on the supposed shared values between the United States and Israel. What are these values? Mutual disdain for Islam? Hatred and demonization of Iran? Establishment of a state religion—Judaism in Israel and, particularly under Republican administrations with the appropriate toadying under Democratic ones, evangelical Christianity bereft of the tenet of redemption in the United States? Are these examples of our shared values?
Gaza in Israel under the political control of the Hamas government has been blockaded by Israel for over a decade and has suffered all-out military assaults three times. It has been called the largest outdoor prison in the world. I’ve lived in a prison. While prisons are certainly non-rehabilitative hellholes, a modicum of human rights standards are still generally observed, even in the United States under its system of massive incarceration.
Gaza and its over two million inhabitants, suffering with an almost-total lack of electricity courtesy of the Israeli government, cannot treat its water, tend to its sick and hospitalized, preserve its small stores of food, deal with its sewage and the complete contamination of the sea off its coastline, or educate its youth. It reflects the horrific conditions of World War II, Nazi-surrounded Jewish ghettoes in eastern Europe before the Jews and other undesirables were shipped off to concentration camps for elimination. Yet, much like the people in those long-ago ghettoes, Gazans resist today.
Within Israel proper, Palestinians live under an apartheid system, a type of system of separation American presidential administrations tolerated for many years in its ally, South Africa, and in other southern African countries until apartheid’s victims, worldwide condemnation, and anti-apartheid organizing arose from American citizens within our country’s borders brought that to an end. Israel learned from that experience and has moved to stomp out the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement with the helpful conspiring of many politicians including our own governor in Minnesota, Mark Dayton.
There is a new bipartisan bill, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, that AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an extreme anti-Palestinian lobbying group) got Maryland Democratic Senator Ben Cardin is a co-sponsor that criminalizes BDS actions by American businesses with a $1 million fine and up to 20 years in prison. It violates the 1st Amendment to the Constitution.
Respect for human rights and for the humane values which Americans often cite as bedrock American values—tolerance of different religions, disdain for the establishment of a state religion, rejection of collective punishment, respect for other cultures and striving for equal opportunity for all people—all of which are under sustained assault within our own country today, demand that we stand on this corner and on many corners and proclaim to the world—never again.
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Sara Olson is a long-time activist and a member of Women Against Military Madness. She vigils regularly at Summit and Snelling in St. Paul on Fridays from 4:30 – to 5:30 with other WAMM members.