In recent years, U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum has tried to push a debate in the United States about the billions of dollars Washington sends to Israel every year.
The Minnesota Democrat wants to know more about where the money is going, while ensuring that Israel does not use U.S. military assistance to commit human rights abuses against Palestinians.
Last month, McCollum introduced his latest bill, which seeks to ensure that U.S. aid is not used in abuses against Palestinian children, the destruction of Palestinian property, the withdrawal of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank, or Israel’s attempts to further annex Palestinian land.
The proposed legislation has the support of more than a dozen members of Congress and dozens of Palestinian, human rights and Jewish organizations, including J Street – and has wiped out the anger of Israeli supporters, who argue the bulk support package ($ 3.8 billion annually) is needed to protect the United States’ main ally in the Middle East.
While it would not have enough votes to approve it, Palestinian defenders say the proposal is opening a much-needed debate around U.S. aid to Israel and Israeli rights abuses against Palestinians.
McCollum’s effort has also gained renewed attention this week as Israeli authorities they threaten to evict several Palestinian families of the Sheikh Jarrah district of East Jerusalem illegally occupied to make way for Jewish settlers.
Police violence against Palestinians a #SheikhJarrah those who only want to stay in the houses where they have lived for generations are state-sponsored persecutions. No US taxpayer dollars should support the annexation of Palestinian land or the destruction of Palestinian homes. # HR2590
– Representative Betty McCollum (@ BettyMcCollum04) May 6, 2021
“Police violence against Palestinians in #SheikhJarrah who only want to remain in the homes where they have lived for generations is a state-sponsored persecution,” the McCollum tweet posted on May 6th. of Palestinian houses “.
Talking to Al Jazeera by email before latest violence in Jerusalem, McCollum explained his bill and what he hopes to achieve.
Al Jazeera: Why is this bill necessary?
Betty McCollum: Millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are under repressive conditions under Israeli military occupation that systematically violate their human rights. U.S. military aid to Israel allows for occupation. My bill prohibits U.S. funds from supporting or allowing human rights abuses.
$ 1 of U.S. taxpayer funds should not be used to violate the human rights of the Palestinian people living under Israeli military occupation.
Al Jazeera: The measure has drawn considerable attention in Congress and among groups working on Israeli-Palestinian issues in the US. Why do you think the idea of conditioning US aid to Israel is so controversial?
McCollum: In Congress, Israel is seen as a special democracy that shares our values as well as important bilateral security goals. But the Israeli military detention of Palestinian children, the demolition of Palestinian homes, and the unilateral annexation of Palestinian land are actions that the American people do not support and do not reflect our values.
The dehumanization of the Palestinian people has been such an effective narrative that 75 percent of Congress wants absolutely no restrictions on U.S. military aid to Israel, effectively supporting the systemic repression of Palestinian society.
Al Jazeera: Have you seen any change among U.S. lawmakers regarding Washington’s unconditional support for Israel? If so, how do you explain these changing attitudes?
McCollum: There is a basic group of very brave colleagues who look for the facts and tell the truth. They are willing to stand up for Palestinian rights because they recognize Palestinians as human beings who have rights and deserve to be treated with dignity. The majority of Congress believes it is appropriate to demonize the Palestinians and support Israeli policies of systemic persecution. There is also a group uncomfortable with Israel’s actions, but who are unwilling to challenge the status quo.
The change will not be made overnight or by a single bill. It will come when the American people stop tolerating the use of our tax dollars to support the systemic persecution of the Palestinian people, and public pressure on elected officials is significant enough to bring about change.
Al Jazeera: Recently more than 300 members of Congress signed a letter asking for help from Israel be unconditional. “Reducing funding or adding conditions on security assistance would be detrimental to Israel’s ability to defend itself from all threats,” he says. What is your answer to that?
McCollum: By refusing to establish clear restrictions on U.S. military aid to Israel, Congress is effectively giving the green light to Israel for abusing the human rights of Palestinian children, demolishing Palestinian homes, and annexing Palestinian land.
Congress knows that systemic persecution and human rights abuses are being perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people and this letter says, “We don’t care and in fact we will continue to look the other way.”
Al Jazeera: What level of support do you think your bill has in Congress?
McCollum: The goal of my bill is to recognize the humanity of the Palestinian people and condemn their repression. At a time in U.S. history where systemic racism and discrimination in our own country are being exposed and rejected, why does our government help fund the repression and abuse of the Palestinian people?
I hope that civil society, religious groups, and civil and human rights defenders will pressure Congress to restrict U.S. support for the military occupation of Israel and the dehumanization of the Palestinian people.