When it comes to this summer’s Israeli bombardment of Gaza and the slaughter of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including 500 children, it’s easy to wonder if American apologists for Israeli atrocities are living in an alternate reality. But those supporting the apartheid occupation and oppression of Palestinians and those of us opposing it do agree on one point: Israel’s occupation could not continue without the US government’s support, funding and weapons.
Yet the depth of US complicity in Israeli human rights abuses can be shocking to even the fiercest critics of US aid to Israel. A rare glimpse into how the United States has protected Israel from accountability for its crimes is seen in a set of government documents obtained by the Center for Constitutional Rights in response to a FOIA lawsuit concerning Israel’s raid of the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla; the Center recently released comprehensive guides to the documents, along with several hundred pages of newly released documents.
The 2010 flotilla was a humanitarian effort to bring desperately needed supplies like medicines, wheelchairs, generators and rebuilding supplies to Gazans who live cut off from the world by an illegal Israeli blockade. Israeli forces killed nine people aboard the flotilla, including United States teenager Furkan Doğan. What the 8,500 pages of documents reveal is of particular interest as efforts for accountability for this summer’s devastating attacks begin and activists are preparing for another flotilla this fall that will bring aid to the besieged inhabitants of Gaza.
According to Department of Defense documents released to CCR, within days of the May 31, 2010, attack on the Gaza flotilla, instead of heeding international calls to condemn and investigate the Israeli forces responsible for the murders, the United States started planning with the Israeli military how to better deal with future flotillas using “less belligerent” techniques. Despite the DOD’s internal concerns that such collaboration could be “perceived as US complicity with the Israeli blockade,” as part of the response in the months after the flotilla attack, the United States sent its Seal Team Four to conduct an exchange with an Israeli unit.
This may be just the tip of the iceberg: The full nature of US support remains secret due to the lack of transparency regarding where US training and funding to Israel is ending up. The State Department itself has admitted that when it comes to Israel, there is no mechanism to track which units receive US funding. It’s critical to be able to track and share this information, in part because such aid may be in direct violation of the Leahy Laws, which bar US assistance to foreign forces where there is credible information that a unit or individual has engaged in gross human rights violations.
Instead of providing this training, the US should have been seeking accountability for the attack in which a US teenager was shot in the face at point blank range after he already lay wounded. But when it came to the only independent international inquiry into the attack, the UN Human Rights Council’s Fact-Finding Mission, not only did the United States vote against the resolution to investigate, but the country tried to derail it. One cable noted that the US Mission in Geneva, where the council is located, had “explored ways to ‘turn off ‘ the flotilla fact finding mission” and that “we very strongly favor having this fact finding mission (FFM) fall away.”
The author recommended urging the FFM to not make any “assessments in regards to actual violations,” essentially trying to thwart the UN inquiry’s mandate and to remove any opportunity for accountability. Instead, the United States supported the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Inquiry, which was not designed to make any independent findings of fact and which the US characterized as being focused “appropriately on the future” and the prevention of future incidents, rather than on accountability.
Along with training Israeli forces and shielding them from accountability, the US tried to prevent organizers from setting sail again, apparently at Israel’s request. Documents released earlier this month show US efforts in 2010 to identify and prevent US registered boats from sailing to Gaza and note that there is “White House level interest and engagement” on the issue. But the most notable effort occurred in early 2011, in response to Israel’s request “to support their efforts to counter plans for another flotilla in late May.” The State Department sent a cable directing Embassy officials in dozens of countries to contact their host governments, seek information about the flotilla plans and organizers, and urge its “prevention” through imposing inspections of vessels, “suspension and/or revocation of mariner credentials, termination of voyage, and criminal or civil penalties for negligent operation of vessels.”
When flotilla plans progressed anyway, the US pressured governments to close ports or block some vessels from sailing. Ships were placed under surveillance by security teams reporting to the State Department and DOD, and the US Navy classified at least one boat as a “contact of interest,” a term often used to describe a potential threat.
As Gaza struggles to rebuild in the face of staggering destruction and a fast approaching winter, it’s critical that the US government stop reinforcing the legitimacy of Israel’s blockade and other human rights abuses in Gaza. Time and time again, the United States puts its kid gloves on when dealing with Israeli atrocities, and then trains Israelis on how to best enforce its illegal blockade, stop protest before it happens or steer the international community toward an ineffective inquiry that attempted to placate international outrage while ensuring no one was held accountable.
The US expresses mild concern about the Israeli military’s tactics at the same moment it transfers munitions and gets out its checkbook to send the country more taxpayer dollars. But Israel’s brutality has shown that the soft approach just doesn’t work, and, if anything, only adds to Israel’s sense of impunity.
The United States must use its influence to challenge the brutal status quo of Israeli domination over Gaza and must stop supporting, funding and arming Israel, or at the very least, specific units that have committed gross human rights violations.