Sat 22-June-2024

Biden sanctions a few Israeli settlers, but what about the 1000s of US citizens in occupied Palestine?

Saturday 11-May-2024

The entire issue between the Palestinians and Israelis is about Israel’s occupation of Palestine; occupier and occupied. It’s not rocket science, and if the so called “two-state solution” is to see the light of day, Israel’s illegal Jewish settlements and settlers must leave the West Bank and East Jerusalem for a viable Palestinian state to be established.

The United States knows and believes this much, and yet it is still the main political, economic and military backer of the Israeli occupation. Reaching the ultimate goal of two states living in peace side by side is the tricky thing in all of this, and it appears that nobody, not even the US, is doing enough to get there. In fact, while preaching about the two-state solution, the US is helping to sustain the occupation state and its illegal settlement program.

In February and again in mid-March, the Biden administration took tiny steps and tried to market them as “strategic” milestones in America’s Middle East policy intended to show that it is helping “two states” become a reality. The truth is, though, that the so-called “solution” has over the decades become an empty slogan for the simple reason that it is no longer feasible.

So, what did Joe Biden do to try to convince us that he is serious about solving the longest running occupation since World War Two?

His administration sanctioned a total of six settlers’ leaders for their crimes against Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank, including land theft, the killing of livestock, the burning of their homes and, yes, murder. The Western media, almost without exception, portrayed the measure as an “unprecedented” and “serious” shift in US policy, as if it meant the end of the Israeli occupation. Which it wasn’t.

If any US president was serious about the two-state solution, then Biden or one of his predecessors should have done this years ago. The US has, after all, called since 1967 for the end of Israeli settlements and always described them as an obstacle to peace. Even if Biden had sanctioned hundreds rather than just six settler thugs, to many observers it would be a failed attempt by the White House to mask the more serious issue of the settlers’ presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the first place. It is, after all, a war crime under international law to move people into an area occupied after a war.

Despite this, according to the UN Human Rights Council report in March 2023, there are an estimated 700,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and another 25,000 estimated to live in the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Given the Gaza war and the thousands of foreign fighters, including mercenaries, flocking to “defend” Israel against the legitimate resistance of the Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation, it is very likely that the number of settlers has risen and will continue to do so. At the current levels, this means nearly 10 per cent of Israel’s population live in illegal settlements which, in turn, means that they are not only an obstacle to peace, but also an impassable road block to any potential negotiations aiming to bring the issue to a just conclusion. By way of comparison, when we talk about Israeli settlers we are talking about more people than live in the US state of Wyoming, and more than 17 times the entire population of Liechtenstein, an independent country in Western Europe. Settlement population is double the combined people living in three European countries put together; Liechtenstein, San Marino and Iceland. This is not a small “obstacle” to peace.

What the world rarely hears about is the fact that many of these settlers are US citizens, both Jewish and others, who support the occupation state. The most recent figures indicate that there are between sixty and eighty thousand Americans living in the illegal settlements built, in the main, on Palestinian land taken by force. That is nearly 15 per cent of the total settler population who are not only living on stolen land, but also committing an average of five attacks every day against Palestinian civilians. The number of such attacks has increased by more than half since the Hamas cross-border incursion last October.

Furthermore, since 2018, under an earlier fascist Netanyahu-led government, restrictions on gun ownership for settlers were almost abolished, making it easier for them to arm themselves. By January 2023 there were an estimated 180,000 settlers armed with, at least, a pistol. It is their “right” to defend themselves, according to far-right National Security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. Over one third of the armed settlers live in settlements in the West Bank. Racist thug Ben-Gvir has been calling for more arms for settlers, and he has been criticized within Israel for trying to create a settler militia answerable only to himself. When settlers attack Palestinians, by the way, they usually do so with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) standing by to help out, just in case. If the IDF does not get involved directly in such attacks, it does nothing to stop them either.

For Biden to sanction only six individuals from this “militia”, which has become an important part of the Israeli killing machine, is hypocritical and scandalous.

The US president is insulting our collective intelligence.

Of course, sanctions, like the travel ban to the US, do not apply to US passport holders. This means that up to 80,000 US Israeli settlers can go “home” at any time, no matter what they might be guilty of doing in the occupied territories. Their financial assets in the US are unlikely to be seized, even if someone did try to obtain a court order to this effect. Practically speaking, therefore, American settlers are exempt from any punitive or restrictive measures whatsoever.

Most importantly, though, the US sanctions do not include settler leaders who are currently serving as ministers in the Israeli cabinet, namely Ben-Gvir and the equally extreme right-wing Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who was born in the occupied Golan Heights, before moving to his current residence in the illegal Beit El settlement.

However, the greatest contradiction in the US sanctions on Israeli settlers is revealed when we examine their funding sources. Never has any US president, including Joe Biden, taken any measures to interrupt, let alone stop, the flow of dollars from US citizens and NGOs not only to illegal settlements, but also to the IDF, even as it is engaged in genocide. Israel already gets $3 billion of US taxpayers’ money in the form of military aid from the US government every year. All private “donations” to Israeli causes, however small, are tax exempt. After 7 October, according to a Guardian investigation, rich donors have pledged $5.3m to the IDF and settlers. Dozens of US-based charities collect donations for their Israeli counterparts and a lot of this money ends up helping settlements in one way or the other.

Sanctioning a few thugs is neither a fundamental policy change nor having an impact in any meaningful way on the ferocious war that Jewish settlers continue to wage against Palestinian civilians in an effort to force them to leave their land. Yet again, US policy vis-a-vis apartheid Israel exposes itself as a hypocritical farce which sees billions of tax dollars spent on Israel while hundreds of thousands of American citizens depend on welfare for survival.

-Mustafa Fetouri is a Libyan academic and freelance journalist. He is a recipient of the EU’s Freedom of the Press prize. His article appeared in MEMO.

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