-Mark Hage, Vermonters for Justice in Palestine

In early June, over half of the 2020 presidential candidates provided videos of support for the American Jewish Committee at its 2019 Global Forum in Washington D.C..  You can view them at the AJC website.

The AJC is well known for its deep support of Israel and its strident antipathy to the global movement to boycott Israel over its human rights abuses against Palestinians and violations of international law.

On AJC’s website we find this statement: Around the world—from the hallways of the UN in New York, to the corridors of the European Union in Brussels, and to the countries of Asia—AJC advocates for Israel at the highest levels.

According to If Americans Knew (IAK), “All the candidates except two spoke in support of Israel, many claiming it is an important American ally. The only candidates who did not mention Israel were Tulsi Gabbard (D – HI) and Corey Booker (D-NJ), whose videos focused on opposition to antisemitism. (In the past, Booker has been extremely outspoken in his support for Israel.)”

IAK reported this about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s comments at the forum:

Sanders spoke of his Jewish ethnicity and pointed out that as a young man he had lived in Israel for a number of months. He emphasized that he “believes absolutely and unequivocally in Israel’s right to exist in peace and security” and said, “to oppose the reactionary policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu does not make anyone anti-Israel.”

At the same time, Sanders spoke of the “Palestinian people crushed underneath a military occupation now over a half century old, creating a daily reality of pain humiliation and resentment.”

He said: “I do not know how peace can be achieved in that region when in the Gaza Strip poverty is rampant – 53 percent of the people are unemployed….”

Many other candidates, including California Senator Kamala Harris, spoke proudly of their support for Israel.  Harris mentioned her past record of working for Israel and made clear her intention to extend this work into the future.  In her words:

As a member of both the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I am deeply involved in ensuring the American-Israeli relationship remains strong.

I will do everything in my power to ensure broad and bipartisan support for Israel’s security and right to self-defense, that is why I strongly support America’s security assistance to Israel and I am committed to strengthening the American Israeli security and defense relationship.”

Israel receives over $10 million per day in US military aid.  A bill before the Senate would give Israel a 10-year package worth a minimum of $38 billion.


Dean Issacharoff, Former Israeli Occupation Soldier Why He Broke His Silence

It is hard to describe how proud I was to be accepted into the special unit of the Nahal Brigade. Once enlisted, it took a year and three months to transform a team of idealistic teenagers into combat-ready fighters.

We marched endless nights, learning how to navigate geographical terrain, camouflage ourselves into our surroundings, and search and destroy Syrian tanks. Once we finished our training, we were sent to the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank.

There were no Syrian tanks to be found there, just Palestinians who we policed. Instead of camouflaged ambushes against enemy combatants, we set up checkpoints and searched Palestinian families; instead of navigating difficult terrain, we were sent to arrest Palestinian teenagers who threw stones.

After a few months of arrests and checkpoints with my team, I was sent to an officers’ course and graduated as a first lieutenant assigned to command a platoon of infantrymen in the segregated city of Hebron.

Although Hebron is no more violent or oppressive than the rest of the West Bank, it is special in that it is the only Palestinian city that has a settlement right in the city centre – 850 settlers living in a city of 230,000 Palestinians.

As a result of the settlement, and according to the Israeli Defence Forces policy of segregation, we were ordered to maintain ‘sterilised’ streets where Palestinians aren’t allowed to set foot.

 The Palestinians who lived in houses on sterilised streets had their doors welded shut and were expected to find alternative ways to leave their homes.

I spent four months in Hebron until we were sent to Gaza. We boarded buses with our combat gear, knowing we were about to take part in a full-fledged ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Our instructions were simple: we were told that pamphlets had been distributed warning people to leave, and so we could assume that all innocent civilians had fled the area.

Therefore, we were told that we should shoot to kill anyone over the age of 15. Whether they were armed or not.

Sometimes I can still smell the burnt rotten carcasses of farm animals who were abandoned by their fleeing owners and caught under the rubble left by our armoured bulldozers.

I finished my army service in 2015, and the last thing I wanted to do was deal with all that I had experienced. I thought I would travel the world and then start my studies – that was until I received a phone call that changed my life.

My little brother, then a soldier in the infantry, called to proudly announce that he too would be sent to serve on the segregated streets of Hebron, just as I had.

It was then that I realised that the occupation didn’t end with my army service – it has been the daily reality of millions of Palestinians and thousands of soldiers for more than 51 years now.

I knew that my little brother would go through the same process of moral degradation that we all go through as soldiers in the territories.

At first, I hated shooting school children with rubber-coated bullets when they threw stones at checkpoints. They were, after all, children. But after a few months in Hebron, we would high-five each other every time we hit one.

The sad truth is that soldiers want to hit the target, regardless of who it is or how old they are.

It was that phone call that led me to contact Breaking the Silence and speak openly about my army service for the first time in my life.

Breaking our silence about our military service is our way to take responsibility for what we did – and fight to end the occupation.

We must prevent another generation of Israelis from being sent to harm Palestinians and another generation of Palestinians from growing up under the occupation without basic rights.

That is the only way to protect the right of both peoples to live in dignity.

Dean Issacharoff served in the Israeli army as an officer in the Nahal Brigade in Hebron and in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. 
 He now works as the spokesperson for Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli veterans who speak out about the injustices of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. 
 The statement above was excerpted verbatim from a longer opinion piece