The demand by the US Congress to divert $50 million of President George W. Bush’s $200-million pledge of aid to the Palestinian Authority for Israeli checkpoints is something like requiring the Vatican to contribute air-conditioners to abortion clinics or divorce lawyers’ fees as part of its policy of easing the plight of Catholic women.
The new motto of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is very simple and direct: ‘From the American People.’ Recent conditions tacked onto a planned US grant from the American people is adding insult to Palestinian injury.
Diverting to Israel millions from monies promised to the Palestinian Authority in order to reinforce Israeli checkposts deep inside Palestinian territories is a multiple insult to Palestinians. Not only is it a reduction from the meager (in comparison to the billions given to Israel) grant to Palestinians; but to divert 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 aspects of the almost 40-year illegal Israeli occupation of 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 subjection and control. For the American taxpayer to reinforce these checkpoints as part of a supposed gift from the American people to the Palestinian people is a disgrace to everything good that America stands for.
Israeli checkpoints have witnessed the restriction of the movement of people and goods, a clear violation of international humanitarian law. Many Palestinian workers, students and passersby have been killed by Israeli soldiers at these checkpoints. Human rights groups have documented cases of pregnant Palestinian women miscarrying their fetus as they wait at these inhuman border crossing points.
THE ECONOMIC deprivation caused by the checkpoints accounts for millions of dollars of losses according to international financial organizations. The situation at the checkpoints has been so bad that a number of Israeli and international women peace activists formed an organization, Mahsom Watch (checkpoint watch), aimed at trying to attempt to stop the cases of humiliation and abuse carried out regularly at these checkpoints.
Israel’s Shimon Peres has often spoken about how humiliation by Israeli soldiers at these checkpoints hurts the chance of future dialogue and reconciliation. Even former US Senator George Mitchell felt that the checkpoints were a major source of humiliation and mentioned them as part of the Mitchell Plan. The road map, which incorporates much of the Mitchell Plan, calls for the removal of all checkpoints created after September 2000, not their reinforcement.
Defenders of the US Congress might claim that this money will help reduce the bottlenecks at these 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 US be supporting a travel restriction that is already declared by the US 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 US congress applauded in President 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 to Palestinians is the intention to divert a further $2 million of the amount pledged to Palestinians to 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 US 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 culturally more appropriate setting?
If these US congressional restrictions are enforced, it will be a terrible blow to the efforts of so many good people in America. If the gift from the American is coated with poison, it will be a terrible mark that will take a long time to heal.
America, please practice what you preach. Show respect to the afflicted, and don’t allow your generosity to be abused in such a humiliating way.
*Daoud Kuttab is director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah.