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Looking for ways to cut budget? Start with the billions given to Israel

Published: Sun, August 14, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

Finally some type of debt agreement has been reached — a pitiful one, to say the least — and the S&P rating agency and stock market apparently agree. This was a terrible debt agreement, but we must take it in stride, and I commend Congressman Tim Ryan for voting against it.

As expected, conversations and debates have already begun about where we should be cutting our spending. Here’s an unlikely suggestion, recently proposed by the Tea Party: cut foreign aid to Israel. At the very least, until they comply with U.S. demands. As an American living in Palestine through November, the waste of our tax dollars by Israel could not be any more obvious.

Several estimates of the total amount of funding the U.S. has given Israel since 1948 range from of $109-120 billion. Direct foreign aid is currently over $3 billion a year, in addition to several billions in direct military funding. Contrary to U.S. policy, Israel is the sole country that is permitted to use 25 percent of the billions in military aid received from the United States to purchase directly from their own weapons manufacturers. Because of this, Israel has become one of the world’s largest exporters of fire arms, often selling to entities the U.S. prohibits arms sales to; for instance, China.

It is true that Israel is only one of many nations (by far the largest recipient) currently receiving foreign aid. But there’s a catch: other nations comply with U.S. demands, whereas Israel does not. American economic assistance allows the Israeli government to allocate part of its budget to the advancement and maintenance of illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank, many of which, according to Israeli military figures and Palestinian records, are built on privately owned Palestinian land. These colonies have been deemed illegal by many international bodies, and in the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, they are “illegitimate.” Over 500,000 individuals from Brooklyn, Europe, Russia and other pockets of the world have illegally colonized this land.

With unemployment at 9.1 percent, a severely weak economic recovery, and now a budget that’s going to cut spending right when we need it most, it is every American’s patriotic duty to question where our money is going, and to whom it is going. Unfortunately, the United States has a double standard on this policy of foreign aid: when the Palestinians announced they want to seek independence at the U.N. in September from the illegal Israeli military occupation of Palestine, President Obama threatened to cut off funding because the Palestinians were “avoiding negotiations.” Yet we continue to fund Israel.

Where is the value added? As an economics professor, I tend to view things through the cost-benefit lens: the political and economic costs of funding Israel far outweigh the benefits.

Hanna Kassis, Birzeit

The writer is a Girard native living temporarily in Birzeit in the West Bank.


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