Last week, I witnessed the celebration of 60 years of Israeli accomplishments. Some posters commended Israel’s technological innovations, which include AOL and the cell phone. Others spoke of Israel’s democracy, free press and freedom of religion. There was even a poster of the $200 billion Israeli economy, which provides its citizens with one of the highest per-capita incomes in the region. No, I wasn’t strolling through the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C.; I was on Ring Mall walking through iFest, a celebration of Israel sponsored by Anteaters for Israel. The event must be praised for its optimistic celebration of culture, which gave students the opportunity to experience henna – a dye used on hair and skin – hookah and cultural foods.
However, the vibrancy that makes iFest commendable also makes the event deafeningly silent on certain issues. It allows assumptions about the history of Israel that ignore the multitudes of human rights abuses and the plight of the millions of Palestinians who suffer to make Israel the country it is today. The silence is a disservice to the academic discourse that the issue demands. To quote one of the founders of postcolonial theory, Edward Said, “Until there’s a widespread recognition and acknowledgement of what Israel cost the Palestinians and that the present identity of Israel today is fundamentally intertwined with the tragedy of the Palestinians, one caused by the other, there will never be peace, because you can’t continue to sweep away the fact that Israel was constructed on the ruins of another society and by the mass dispossession of another people who remain unacknowledged.”
Israel continues to block the supply of electricity, fuel and humanitarian assistance to Gaza, a territory that, along with the West Bank, it has occupied since 1967. Amnesty International condemns the action as “collective punishment.” The Human Rights Watch address to the United Nations Human Rights Council labeled it as “violat[ing] a basic principle of international humanitarian law.” The top UN humanitarian official, UN Deputy Secretary-General John Holmes, calls the action a “serious humanitarian crisis.” The World Food Program complained that Israeli’s policy prevented it from providing full food rations to 84,000 of Gaza’s neediest residents. The International Committee of the Red Cross affirmed virtually every human rights organization when it called the humanitarian situation for Gaza’s 1.5 million residents “critical.” Are these salient issues really worth ignoring so that we may celebrate?
But if we are to celebrate, we should give ourselves a pat on the back, as well. According to Congressional Research Services, the United States provided Israel with at least $2.5 billion in foreign aid last year, plus $1.4 billion in loan guarantees. Since 1949, Israel has received over $140 billion, much more than any other country. Why does Israel need U.S. aid when it is one of the wealthiest countries in the world? In 2007, the International Monetary Fund put Israel’s GDP per capita at $31,767, which means that we are providing aid to a country as wealthy as most other Western European nations.
To celebrate Israeli culture is one thing. Like any other culture, it deserves to be praised for its diversity and richness. However, to celebrate – or blatantly avoid – its foreign policy is another matter. If it doesn’t bother you that we neglect the history of a voiceless people under Israeli occupation since 1967 or ignore the sheer amount of aid the United States provides to one of the world’s leading human rights violators, then let me put it in numbers closer to home. In per-capita terms, the United States provides each Israeli $500 per year. To put it bluntly, that’s $500 that should be coming off our tuitions.
Ali Saadi is a second-year biological sciences major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.