Armed and Dangerous: U.S. Weapons Transfers to Israel


Video and Edited Transcript
Mr. Josh Ruebner
Transcript No. 364 (6 March 2012)



6 March 2012
The Palestine Center
Washington, DC


Mr. Josh Ruebner:

Good Afternoon. Thank you so much, Yousef [Munayyer], for hosting this event here at the Palestine Center. It’s wonderful to be here with you all this afternoon and to be able to present this policy paper, which is the first ever policy paper of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation here at the Palestine Center, which is such an integral part and member of our coalition.

On January 16, 2007, a ten year old school child, her sister and two friends were leaving school to buy sweets after successfully completing a math exam in their school in Anata in East Jerusalem. Israeli border police opened fire on a group of boys nearby. The ten year old girl ran away from the confrontation and was struck in the back of her head and died two days later. An Israeli pathologist concluded that she was killed by a rubber-coated metal bullet.

Her name is Abir Aramin. Abir’s case represents everything that is so  fundamentally wrong with this policy of providing U.S. weapons to Israel but one that we almost here nothing about. Because in this country, we hear about how U.S. weapons to Israel are needed for Israel’s self defense. How Israel is a small country surrounded by hostile regimes and a hostile neighborhood and that without this U.S. weaponry, Israel could not survive. And in fact, we hear a lot more if we listen to members of Congress about what they say are the supposed benefits of providing U.S. weapons to Israel. Here’s [U.S.] Representative Steve Rothman of New Jersey. He wrote in an op-ed in 2010 that, “The argument that American military aid to Israel is damaging to the U.S. is not only erroneous, it hurts the national security interests of this country and threatens the survival of Israel.”

Former [U.S.] Representative Glenn Nye from Virginia said on the floor of the House of Representatives that, “A safe homeland begins abroad, and Israel has long been central to that security. For instance, it is because of Israel’s strength and cooperation, that the U.S. no longer has to constantly keep a carrier strike group in the Mediterranean, allowing us to use our forces more judiciously.”

However, as our policy paper demonstrates, far from these U.S. weapons being used by Israel in so-called self-defense, these weapons are misused as in the case of Abir to entrench Israel’s illegal military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip and to commit the systematic human rights abuses against Palestinians that it does every single day.

As a result, these U.S. weapons are being used by Israel in violation of U.S. law, as we will see. And military aid to Israel far from being a strategic benefit to the United States, is actually a growing political, economic and strategic liability.

In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, there are approximately 4.3 million Palestinians. And, if the one bullet fired from the one gun that killed Abir back in 2007 can do so much harm, then think about how much damage the entire arsenal of U.S. weapons provided to Israel can have upon Palestinians and do have upon Palestinians living under Israel’s military occupation. Just between 2007 and 2009, the United States and the State Department, in particular, licensed the export of more than 47 million rounds of ammunition to Israel at U.S. tax-payer expense. That’s enough bullets to injure or kill every single Palestinian living under Israeli military occupation ten times over.

This policy paper that we’re launching today details the scope of U.S. weapons given to Israel at tax-payer expense over the past decade, the 2000’s, and documents the devastating impact that these weapons have had upon Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. And sadly and tragically, Abir’s story is one of just thousands that have been repeated, that Palestinians have suffered under Israeli military occupation.

From September of 2000 through December of 2009, the Israeli military killed at least 2,969 unarmed Palestinians who took absolutely no part in hostilities, including 1,128 children under the age of 18. These statistics are from B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. [Slide] And, as you can see from this graph, sometimes we think that all the sophisticated weaponry that the United States provides to Israel is what’s responsible for killing Palestinians on such a brutal and systematic scale. But actually, what’s true is that most of these killings are done in a very short-range way, in a very personal way, through small arms and small arms gunfire. You can see that small arms gunfire killed more Palestinians than helicopters, tanks, fighter jets, drones, house demolition, armored personnel carriers and all other weapons systems employed by Israel combined.

Now again, the population of the Occupied Palestinian Territories is approximately 4.3 million people. To put that in perspective, the current population of the United States is just above 313 million. Now we all, of course, remember the shock and the horror and the devastation of the tragic events of September 11 [2001]. The level of political violence that Palestinian civilians have suffered under Israeli military occupation over the last decade would be the same as us in the United States experiencing 72 versions of September 11 or one attack on that scale every six weeks.

From 2000 to 2009, the United States during the same amount of time that Israel killed these at least 2,969 unarmed civilians, appropriated more than 24 billion dollars of U.S. tax-payer dollars for weapons to Israel. Of that amount, roughly five and one quarter billion dollars was spent by Israel on its own domestic arms industry. This is a unique exemption in the law that allows Israel to spend up to 26 percent of its allotment of U.S. aid on its own weapons. All other countries have to spend 100 percent on U.S. weapons manufacturers. This 22 percent accounts for what Israel spent on its own domestic arms industry with U.S. tax-payer dollars and then the  bulk of the money appropriated, the nearly 19 billion dollars, was spent through U.S. arms transfer programs. To put this into a bit of perspective, this amount of money is the equivalent to 3,175 dollars for every single Israeli man, woman and child.

There are three main weapons transfer programs through which Israel received the weapons that it used with this tax-payer dollar. The first one is Foreign Military Sales. That’s a government to government sale approved by the Pentagon, and these are the big-ticket items. Things like tanks, things like helicopter gunships, things like fighter jets, the big expensive weapons platforms. The second form, and the most populous of the weapons distributed to Israel over the last decade are what’s known as Direct Commercial Sales. These are corporation to government sales which are regulated and licensed by the State Department. [Slide] The first weapons program accounted for more than 95,000 weapons valued at ten billion dollars, so you can see, relatively, that each weapon is expensive; whereas the Direct Commercial Sales accounted for 670 million weapons amounting to 8.5 billion making each weapon less expensive. And then finally there’s a program known as Excess Defense Articles which is a program run through the Pentagon which basically enables foreign countries to get used U.S. military equipment that the United States no longer has a use for. Israel received 42 million dollars worth of weapons through this program, most of which were Apache helicopter gunships.

In total, these three programs add up to almost 19 billion dollars worth of weapons and more than 670 million weapons, rounds of ammunition, and related equipment. These weapons ranged from the truly mundane and everyday—one used food steamer valued at 2,100 dollars—all the way up to the most sophisticated and advanced of U.S. weapons systems.  [Slide] Here, 93 F-16 D fighter jets were given to Israel valued at 2.5 billion dollars; and quite literally, every possible weapon that you can think of in between these two extreme examples. Our research found that United States transferred to Israel nearly 500 different types of weapons over the last decade, making it virtually inconceivable that the Israeli military could do anything, even the most routine task, like set out on a patrol, without utilizing U.S. weapons.

We have a website,, that details these weapons transfers, that documents precisely how many and the value of each single weapons system was transferred to Israel over the past decade. But, more importantly, from a human rights perspective, the dramatic impact, the devastating impact that these weapons transfers had upon Palestinians. And you can go to this website and see exactly how these Palestinian civilians have been killed, with what weapons. And you will see how they match up to the exact same types of weapons systems that the United States is providing to Israel.

In our policy paper we present a few different case studies to zero in on how some of these weapons systems are actually being misused by Israel against unarmed civilians, one of which is the very important weapon of tear gas. Since 2009, Israel has killed at least five Palestinian civilians and has gravely injured at least two U.S. citizens with tear gas including Bassem Abu Rahmah. On April 7, 2009 this activist from the West Bank village of Bil’in was shot in the chest with a high-velocity tear gas canister and died. His sister Jawaher [Abu Rahmah] died on January 1 of 2011 after inhaling copious amounts of tear gas that were fired into her village by the Israeli military on the previous day.  Tristan Anderson, a resident of Oakland, California, was shot directly in the face with a high-velocity tear gas canister in the West Bank village of Ni’lin on March 13, 2009. The high-velocity tear gas canister pierced a hole through the front lobe of his brain, leaving him paralyzed and blind. In a similar fashion, Emily Henochowicz, a 21 year-old student from right here in Potomac, MD was also directly shot in the face with a high-velocity tear gas canister on May 31, 2010 as she protested Israel’s illegal and devastating assault upon the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. She lost her left eye as a result of this attack. [Slide] And then finally, in December of last year, activist Mustafa Tamimi of the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh was shot and killed with a tear gas canister, and you can see that the incident was actually caught on camera. You can see the gun pointing out of the back of this Israeli armored personnel carrier. And you can see the projectile actually being fired in midair that a second later strikes him in the face and eventually kills him.

Evidence exists that Bassem, Jawaher, Tristan, Emily and Mustafa were either injured or killed by high-velocity tear gas canister produced by Combined Tactical Systems Inc. [Slide] Combined Tactical Systems Inc. is located in Jamestown, PA and if you look closely at this picture you can see flying next to the American flag is indeed an Israeli flag. These are the types of tear gas canisters that are exported by Combined Tactical Systems. The markings on this one says in Hebrew “40 mm rounds special extended range series 0509 USA.”  Between 2000 and 2009 the State Department licensed the export of more than 595,000 tear gas canisters and “riot-control equipment” to the Israeli military. [Slide] That’s that picture times 10,000 to give you a sense of just how many tear gas canisters are being exported to Israel with tax-payer dollars.

In this policy paper we present other case studies, like this one, on the impact that specific weapons have on Palestinian civilians. For example, Caterpillar bulldozers and the demolition of Palestinian homes, white phosphorus ammunitions which were used during Israel’s brutal attack on Gaza in 2008 and 2009. And in addition to these civilian fatalities, we also include information about how U.S. weapons are being misused by Israel to commit additional human rights abuses such as the systematic injuring of innocent civilians, the deliberate destruction of Palestinian civilian infrastructure, the dramatic and draconian restrictions on Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement, and, of course, how these weapons help Israel entrench and expand its whole illegal settlement project in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Those were some numbers and some facts and some statistics on the value and the quantity and the scope and the impact of U.S. military aid to Israel on Palestinians in the past decade. And when you think about the devastation that those weapons caused in the past decade, it gets even more scary and of concern and more dramatic when you realize how many more weapons are going to go to Israel over the course of the next decade. In 2007, the United States and Israel negotiated a memorandum of understanding to provide Israel with a total of 30 billion dollars in weapons between 2009 and 2018. [Slide] You can see what the projected levels of military aid for each year are supposed to be under the terms of this agreement. We’re now just now into the 2013 budget process and you can see that the anticipated amount of money there is 3.1 billion dollars. This is an average annual increase of 25 percent above where previous levels of military aid were before this agreement was signed. Or to think about it in dollar terms, that’s 3,950 dollars for every single Israeli man, woman and child.

Now, in addition to looking at the human rights implications of these weapons transfers to Israel, we also look in this policy paper at the legality of them. There are two laws that are supposed to govern how U.S. foreign assistance is given and how U.S. weapons are supposed to be used by the recipient country. The first law that I want to draw your attention to is called the Foreign Assistance Act. Here is a quote from the Foreign Assistance Act about U.S. policy.  “The United States shall, in accordance with its international obligations as set forth in the Charter of the UN [United Nations] and in keeping with the constitutional heritage and traditions of the United States, promote and encourage increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the world without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.” The law goes on to say that, “a principle goal of the foreign policy of the United States shall be to promote the increased observance of internationally recognized human rights by all countries.”

Now, notice the language here. This is a very blanket formulation. It applies to each country across the board; there are no special exemptions for countries that we consider allies. There are no special exemptions for countries that have powerful lobbying organizations that advocate for it in this country. This is a blanket prohibition about how U.S. foreign policy should only be used to promote the observance of human rights.  And notice too, that it says human rights are for everyone. And I’ve challenged the State Department on this before and they’ve agreed with me that yes human rights apply to every single individual on the earth, including Palestinians. There’s no exception in this law that exempts Palestinians from having their human rights promoted by the United States as a principle goal of our foreign policy.

Now, if a country violates the Foreign Assistance Act, if U.S. foreign assistance is not going to the promotion and the protection of human rights, as is envisioned in the Foreign Assistance Act, what happens then? Or, what’s supposed to happen? “No security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” And the State Department itself, in its annual report on the human rights practices on foreign governments, recognizes that yes indeed Israel does commit systematic human rights violations against the Palestinian people. And in fact, if you look at this past human rights report for 2011, it actually comes very close to calling Israel an apartheid state. Not in those words, but in pointing out the fact that Israel engages in systematic discrimination against Palestinian people, which is the very international definition of apartheid; it’s discrimination based on someone’s religion, ethnicity or national heritage.

The second law that is supposed to govern how the United States provides military weapons to foreign countries is the Arms Export Control Act. The Arms Export Control Act sets very clear limitations on how U.S. weapons can and cannot be used. It says that weapons can be used “solely for internal security, [or] for legitimate self-defense.” Now, in Israel’s case when it’s using these weapons in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, of course it’s not being done for internal security. Not even the United States recognizes Israel’s claim that the Occupied Palestinian Territories are “disputed.” Even the United States official policy is to recognize this as foreign military occupation not done for internal security, and certainly not for legitimate self-defense. Of course, every single country has the right to engage in self-defense. But, it’s never legitimate to commit human rights violations against an occupied people that are in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It’s never legitimate self-defense to derogate from your responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect and promote the interests of the people who you are occupying. That can never be considered legitimate, not under any standard of international law or human rights practices.

Now again, this law sets out very clear consequences for what’s supposed to happen when a country is not using U.S. weapons for these very narrow purposes only. No credits, guarantees, sales, or delivery of weapons can be extended to a foreign country if it’s “in substantial violation – either in terms of the quantities or in terms of the gravity – of the consequences regardless of the quantities involved.” Now what that means in simple English is that you are not eligible to receive weapons if you have used these weapons outside of the very narrow restrictions found in this law.

Let’s take a look, quickly, to see how these laws have been implemented by the United States around the world. And unfortunately there are very many cases in which these laws should have been invoked but have not been. [Slide] But, here’s a world map showing countries that have either had their military or economic aid package conditioned, reduced or sanctioned completely for violating these laws. And with the possible exception of Zimbabwe—which was put under an arms embargo I believe in 2002 by the United States, and I don’t believe was receiving U.S. weaponry anyway—all of these countries are probably ones that we would consider to be allies at the time at which they were sanctioned. And in fact, the United States doesn’t tend to either give or sell weapons to countries that it believes are not friendly or are hostile. And some of you may be surprised to see that yes indeed Israel is on this map of countries that have been sanctioned by the United States. In fact, our research showed that since the [late U.S. President Dwight D.] Eisenhower administration, the United States has either threatened to cut off aid to Israel, conditioned aid to Israel or actually sanctioned Israel or cut off aid on at least ten separate occasions. President Eisenhower has the record, he did it three times; once in 1953 and twice in 1956.

In 1975 [the late U.S. President] Gerald Ford reassessed U.S. policy to Israel and held up the delivery of weapons for six months in order to pressure Israel into withdrawing from territory that it had occupied during the 1973 war. [Former U.S. President] Jimmy Carter threatened to cut off cluster bombs to Israel twice, after they were misused against Lebanese civilians in 1978 and 1979. [Slide] And some of you might be surprised to see [the late U.S. President] Ronald Reagan up here. He actually sanctioned Israel twice; once by suspending to Israel the delivery of F-16s, after Israel’s attacks on Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, and again in 1982 cut off the shipment of U.S. cluster bombs to Israel for six years as a result of Israel misusing these weapons yet again in Lebanon. [Former U.S. President George H.W.] Bush Sr. restricted how loan guarantees could be used by Israel and reduced the amount available to Israel for the amount that it spent on its illegal settlement enterprise. And, like father like son, [former U.S. President George W.] Bush Jr. did the exact same thing when the loan guarantees were renewed in 2003.

However, since that time and, despite the fact that since that time Israel has killed these thousands of unarmed Palestinian civilians, and despite the fact that our research turned up at least five occasions when members of Congress or the Department of State either asked for an investigation or actually began an investigation into Israel’s misuse of these weapons, despite all of that since that time, not once has the State Department notified Congress that yes indeed Israel has violated these two laws.

[Slide] Here’s a picture of [U.S.] Vice President [Joe] Biden meeting with Israeli Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu in March of 2010. You may remember that this visit occurred right in the aftermath of Israel announcing the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem which was widely interpreted in the U.S media as a “slap in the face” to the United States. Here’s what Biden said during his trip to Israel. The United States will hold Israel “accountable for any statements or actions that inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of talks.” This seems to me to be a pretty good approach for how the United States should engage in a mixture of carrots and sticks to get what it wants out of Israel to advance its foreign policy objectives. And in fact, all foreign policies are crafted in mind of having carrots and sticks at you’re disposal to get the other country to advance your objectives.

Let’s see how this reality or this pledge of accountability has worked in actuality. Two months after Israel killed 1,400 Palestinians during Operation Cast Lead, instead of sanctioning Israel for misusing U.S. weapons in such a blatant way; instead of sanctioning Israel for what Amnesty International called Israel’s war crimes, and accused the U.S. of fueling the conflict by sending these weapons to Israel; instead of sanctioning Israel for its weapons two months after Cast Lead, [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama actually delivered 300 containers of weapons to Israel just two months afterwards.

Instead of Israel abiding by the United States’ demands, in line with international law, that it freeze its settlements as setting the right preconditions for resuming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Israel has done just the opposite and in fact increased settlement expansion at a time when the United States was trying to restart these negotiations. And in fact, when they broke down because Israel continued to expropriate Palestinian land, did President Obama use that as an opportunity like, Gerald Ford did, to reassess U.S.-Israel relations? No. In fact, what he offered Israel was not sanctions, but what New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called, a bribe; a bribe of three billion dollars worth of additional F-35 fighter jets, anti-missile defense systems  and more. And of course, all of this is backed up by a very obedient and subservient Congress that quite literally gets up to applaud everything that Israel’s prime minister has to say.

So you really have a situation in which the Obama administration keeps on adding up carrots to this pile and keeps on providing Israel with more and more incentives for its bad behavior and more and more incentives for its rejection of U.S. foreign policy goals. And so what does this do? Well, naturally for the recipient country, it creates a condition where you have no incentive to abide by what the policy wishes and demands of the United States are, especially when you’re backed up by the lobbying power of groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee which is, of course, meeting today and going on the Hill today to lobby for more weapons to Israel.

Aside from politics, in this day and age we have to ask ourselves whether we can afford military aid to Israel, economically. We’re now fifteen trillion dollars plus in debt, we have vast numbers of people living in poverty and unemployment, who lack health care, who lack access to affordable housing, and our infrastructure is crumbling. With the same amount of money that we provide in weapons to Israel and which we have to take out a debt for to pay anyway, we could be training 500,000 unemployed people for green jobs. We could be providing 24 million people in this country who lack healthcare with primary healthcare services.  We could fund 350,000 families, low income families, with affordable housing vouchers. Or we could provide 900,000 children who are at-risk with early reading education programs. There’s a real budgetary trade-off for the very real money that we are giving in these weapons to Israel.  And if you look on our website,, we have an interactive map where you can go and you can look up your state, your congressional district, your county and your city to see exactly how much money your community is providing in weapons to Israel, and what that money could fund for unmet community needs instead.

Beyond the political calculations, beyond the economic calculations, the U.S.-Israel relationship is really epitomized by the provision of weaponry to Israel also has growing negative strategic ramifications as has been stated by Obama administration officials. [Slide] Here’s former CENTCOM, or [United States] Central Command commander and current C.I.A. [Central Intelligence Agency] director, former General David Patraeus testifying before the Senate Arms Security Committee in 2010 about the impact of the U.S.-Israel relationship. He said, “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the Area of Responsibility of CENTOM,( that’s the Middle East and Central Asia), and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.  Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”

So far from what I showed you at the beginning of these members of Congress arguing that U.S. weapons to Israel are a strategic benefit to the United States, people who actually know military matters and are responsible for strategic military thinking in this country, come to quite the opposite conclusion; that it’s damaging to U.S. strategic interests. Patraeus said this all about one year before the outbreak of the Arab Spring, by the way.

Now, Israel has always relied on a number of different rationales and justifications for its relationship with the United States.  Of course, there was the role it played in the Cold War as an ally of the United States, Israel’s supposed worth to the United States as an ally on the “War on Terror,” which was questioned by General Patraeus on that previous slide. All that’s falling by the way-side and all that Israel was left with was this notion that it’s “the only democracy in the Middle East.” Well, with the outbreak of the Arab Spring, even this last argument is losing a lot of its saliency as democracy hopefully becomes firmly implanted in the Arab world as democracies hopefully take root throughout the region.  [Slide] And as Arab popular movements try, as in this cartoon here, to break free of the grip of U.S. foreign policy in the region, this notion that the United States can rely on Israel as a strategic ally in the region is becoming an argument that holds less and less water.

So if U.S. weapons to Israel have such a devastating impact on Palestinians—they’re clearly being misused in violation of U.S. laws—if other countries including Israel have been sanctioned by the United States in the past, and if this U.S. military aid to Israel is losing its political, economic and even strategic justifications, then why does this foreign policy of ours continue? And I think a large reason why it does is because of the 14,000 people attending the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an organization that’s the most powerful component of the Israel lobby but certainly not the only component of the Israel lobby.  As we know, the Israel lobby is comprised of dozens if not hundreds of different organizations. And of course this policy is backed not only by the lobbying power of the Israel lobby, but also by the interest of the military industrial complex. This presents us with a significant challenge as people who are concerned about peace and justice and human rights because we clearly have some powerful lobbies to take on.

But I’m happy to report that, despite the power of these lobbies, despite the power of the military industrial complex, the movement for accountability against Israel’s human rights abuses, the movement for a reorientation of U.S. policy toward Palestine/Israel to support human rights, international law and equality, and to end U.S. weapons transfers to Israel as a sanction for Israel’s illegal and immoral behavior to the Palestinian people is growing. It’s growing stronger by the day and despite the power of these lobbies and despite the amount of money being thrown at initiatives to counter organizations like ours, efforts like boycott and divestment, initiatives on college campuses, within churches, despite all of this, we are winning by changing the discourse.  We are winning by isolating Israel’s behaviors and saying that the are illegitimate and by standing up as citizens and saying that we want our country’s foreign policy to be better.

I leave you with the stirring words of U.S. Citizen Rachel Corrie, who was killed on March 16 of 2003 as she stood nonviolently to protect a Palestinian home from being demolished in Rafah in the Gaza Strip, and was run over by the Israeli military with a Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer provided to the Israeli military at U.S. tax-payer expense.

Before she was killed, Rachel wrote home that, “The international media and our government are not going to tell us that we are effective, important, justified in our work, courageous, intelligent, valuable. We have to do that for each other, and one way we can do that is by continuing our work visibly.” Help us to continue our work visibly by taking action today; by signing these postcards to President Obama to end U.S. military aid to Israel and redirect the money to unmet community needs. And for those of you who are watching at home, you can do so by going to our website,

Thank you very much.

Josh Ruebner is the National Advocacy Director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a national coalition of more than 380 organizations, including The Palestine Center, that works to end U.S. support for Israel’s illegal 44-year military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, and to change U.S. policy toward Palestine/Israel to support human rights, international law, and equality.
This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.