For decades, the Israeli military has occupied the West Bank. Palestinians living in the area face invasive checkpoints, limited freedom of movement and military violence. Government leaders and the settler movement are steadily annexing portions of the West Bank, cutting off Palestinians from land and vital resources. Such provocative actions on the part of the Israeli government, military and settlers violate Palestinian human rights and exacerbate the conflict. These violations of Palestinians’ basic human rights and international law continue to foster deep tensions between Palestinians and Israelis and inflict suffering on thousands of civilians.
In May 2021, the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem received global attention as Israeli settler organizations sought to evict Palestinian residents from their homes. Young people across the globe took notice and spoke out. But the campaign to push out Palestinians has not ended. Just last month, Israeli police barged into a Palestinian family’s home in Sheikh Jarrah, assaulted and arrested the family members and then demolished their house, leaving them displaced and without a home to return to. Though the threatened evictions and demolitions in Sheikh Jarrah are recent and well-publicized, violence perpetrated by Israeli forces has long been a central facet of everyday life for Palestinians living in occupied territory.
On the surface, the issue of home demolitions in Sheikh Jarrah may not seem like a concern for Americans in Michigan. Yet all of us in the United States are complicit in this egregious act. Each year the United States gives $3.8 billion to Israel in military aid. This makes Israel the largest overall recipient of U.S. aid since World War II. Although recipients of U.S. aid are not supposed to use it to commit human rights violations, the lack of transparency around and restrictions on Israel’s use of U.S. aid means that Israel could be using American money and equipment to demolish Palestinian homes and expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Thankfully, Members of Congress are starting to shine a light on this problem. This past fall, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., introduced a bill that would restrict how Israel can use U.S. aid. The bill changes the current practice of providing Israel with a blank check, and prevents American taxpayer dollars from being used to fund human rights abuses such as home demolitions or settlement expansions. Notably, the bill does not change the amount of money that Israel receives from the U.S., but rather implements accountability measures to ensure that we are not funding the entrenchment of the occupation. Changing the status quo isn’t singling out Israel; rather, we are merely asking for them to be treated the same as any other country.
In addition to placing restrictions on U.S. aid to Israel, the bill reverses a number of harmful Trump-era policies. It recognizes that settlements are illegal under international law and calls for reopening the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s office in D.C., as well as the reopening of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem in order to better maintain diplomatic relations with Palestinians. The bill would authorize funding for organizations that promote human rights and democracy in the occupied Palestinian territory, while encouraging people-to-people grassroots organizing that connects Israelis and Palestinians.
Though the situation may often seem bleak, there are tangible steps that we can all take to protect human rights and work towards a brighter future for both Palestinians and Israelis. As both American citizens and University of Michigan students, we have the power to let our representative, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, know that we oppose the human rights abuses that are occurring in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. We must stop our taxpayer dollars from fueling the occupation, and ensure that we are doing everything possible to promote justice and lasting peace for both peoples. You can view the letter urging Dingell to support Levin’s bill, and sign it here. By working together, we can unite our voices and make the legislative change we want to see.
This op-ed was written by members of J Street UMich. J Street UMich can be found on Instagram @jstreetumich or emailed at email@example.com.