Why We’re Suing the U.S. Treasury Department
by Susan Abulhawa
Janet McMahon: As we
heard this morning, one manifestation of Israel’s influence on this
country is the failure of government agencies not only to guard the
interest of American citizens, but to even enforce the law.
Our next speaker, Susan Abulhawa, is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury Department for allowing tax-deductible contributions to go to illegal Israeli settlements.
The attorney who filed that and another lawsuit against Sheldon Adelson, Friends of the IDF, and others who actually make those contributions is here with us today. And I’d like to ask Martin McMahon—who is no relation to me, as far as I know—to stand up so people will know who he is if they want to talk to him more about the details of these cases. So he’ll be available for the rest of the afternoon for those of you who want to speak to him. Thank you.
Martin McMahon: Thank you so much. [Speaks off-mic] Nothing is possible without great plaintiffs like Susan coming up.
Janet McMahon: And I’d like to add to that that Susan Abulhawa is a wonderful novelist, poet, and essayist. Her debut novel, Mornings in Jenin, became an instant international bestseller and was translated into 27 languages. Her most recent novel, the Blue Between Sky and Water, has likewise been translated into 26 languages thus far. She’ll be signing copies of her book in the exhibition hall following this panel. Susan’s first poetry collection, My Voice Sought the Wind, was published in 2013, and she has contributed to several anthologies. Her essays and political commentary have appeared in print, radio, and digital media internationally.
In 2001, before she left a career in neuroscience research to become a full-time writer, Susan founded Playgrounds for Palestine, a children’s organization dedicated to upholding the right to play for Palestinian children. Last July at the Allenby Bridge in Jordan, Israel denied her entry to Palestine, where she had planned to build two new playgrounds and visit possible new sites. Somehow I suspect she will not be deterred.
It’s a great pleasure to introduce Susan Abulhawa.
Susan Abulhawa: Thank you to the Washington Report and to all of you for being here, and especially to Martin McMahon. It’s an honor to share the stage with my comrades, Maria and Tareq and Huwaida, and listening to Tareq and Maria just now makes me feel like we are winning.
As you heard, I’m here because I’m a plaintiff in Martin’s lawsuit. But I’m not a lawyer. I’m a writer, and I’m all about narrative. So I’m going to talk about why I joined this lawsuit, because I think bringing it back to Palestine, no matter how much we know about it, is always so important.
First to the question at hand: whether Israel’s influence is good or not for the United States, I think the answer to that largely depends on which United States we’re talking about. There is the U.S. of the civil rights movement and Dr. King. Then there’s the U.S. of the Klan and the Grand Wizards. There’s the U.S. of revolutionaries and warriors like Malcolm, Harriet Tubman, Crazy Horse, Black Hawk, Geronimo, Huey Newton, Angela Davis, Kwame Touré. And then there are the architects of the financial crisis who made off with billions of dollars and people’s lost homes and lost savings. There’s the U.S. of intellectual giants like W.E.B. Du Bois, Howard Zinn, Alice Walker, Edward Said, and Chomsky. And then there are the likes of Friedman and Fox News.
The United States I’m briefly going to touch on belongs to the latter grouping. It is some of the wealthiest, most privileged Americans like the Falic family—I assume it is not pronounced “phallic”; the Schottenstein family, owners of American Eagle Outfitters; the Book family, owners of Jet Support systems, who funneled billions of tax-exempt money to finance the persistent incremental theft of Palestine. The theft of another people’s ancestral lands, of our homes, our history and heritage; the theft of our culture, our food, our memories, our cemeteries, our churches, our mosques, our orchards, our olive groves—all so they who have so much can also have an extra country, so that every Jewish person in the world may be accorded an entitlement to dual citizenship, one in their own ancestral homeland and one in mine.
This colonial enterprise or population change can be visualized through maps showing the expropriation and the dramatic transfer of land ownership, such that the native sons and daughters of Palestine are now relegated to what amounts to less than 11 percent of our historic homeland, arranged as an apartheid waterless archipelago of ghettos.
But as Grant showed us this morning, such images of the settler colonial reality have not permeated U.S. popular imagination, principally because U.S. media gives a disproportionate platform to Zionist voices who repeat tired mantras about terrorism to manufacture fear and its resultant alignment of loyalties, tired mantras about negotiations and peace overtures, living side by side, lofty and emotional verbiage that’s carefully orchestrated precisely for American ears in order to create the false narrative of parity—one that paints a highly militarized colonial enterprise as a victim of the principally unarmed, defenseless and besieged native population that they occupy. It is an extraordinary and breathtaking inversion of the historic and forensic record.
So while a mythical narrative of biblical proportions dominates U.S. airways, newspapers, radio, film and literature, I’d like to give you a glimpse of what they’re actually doing. These actions are predicated on an ideology explicitly articulated by Zionists in the highest offices, particularly to each other, and often when they think no one is listening. It is a language of supremacy, of the wholesale negation of another people’s humanity. It is replete with various permutations of the word colonize and with words like transfer.
From the very beginning, Theodor Herzl said spirit the penniless population across the border, that the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a founding member of Zionism, did not mince words. He said Zionism is a colonizing adventure. Rafael Eitan, who we heard about earlier today, said when we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle. And the current Israeli prime minister, in a moment when he thought no one was listening, said Israel should have exploited the repression of demonstrations in China, when world attention focused on that country, in order to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the territories.
Yitzhak Rabin, the Nobel Laureate and father of break Palestinian bones doctrine, said Israel will create in the course of the next 10 to 20 years conditions which would attract the voluntary migrations of Palestinians. Rabin uttered those words in the 1980s—and, indeed, Israel has created those conditions. Here is a glimpse of what he was talking about. As with all colonial projects, a foundational aim is to create a docile, subjugated native population without rights or without recourse, a broken humanity that’s good for cheap labor.
They start terrorizing us at a young age. At any given time, Israel typically holds hundreds of Palestinian children in administrative detention, where they are interrogated and tortured without charge, without trial, without their parents, without a lawyer, without an advocate. They’re often kidnapped on their way to and from school, playing in the streets and throwing rocks at tanks, as they have a right to do, or pulled from their beds and dragged away in the middle of the night. They’re shot and murdered or maimed wherever they stand.
Israel systematically targets Palestinian education. They bomb schools directly and close them down regularly, raid them, fire on students, often inside their classrooms. They impede the ability of students and teachers to physically reach their classrooms. In addition to checkpoints, road barriers and closures, violent settlers often prevent young and old alike from reaching their destinations, whether it’s school, work, shopping, a family visit, a funeral, a field, a mosque or a church, a wedding or any place to be in any moment to complete a day of living.
They demolish our homes one by one, evict whole families, whole neighborhoods. Israel is perhaps the only nation in the world that creates homelessness as a matter of national policy. At the same time that native families are pushed out, Jewish foreigners are imported from all over the world to take their place. Since 1967, 25,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed, internally displacing over 200,000 Palestinians. Fifteen thousand of those homes were demolished since the signing of the Oslo accords in ’93. Since that year, 53,000 new Jewish settler homes have been built on land confiscated from Palestinians.
They destroy our precious ancient olive trees that we have loved and nurtured for centuries and which have sustained and defined so much of our lives in return. Nearly one million olive trees have been uprooted, cut, burned—a lone statistic, a holocaust in itself. A life-giving earth transformed into a graveyard for broken and burned trees.
They steal Palestinian water. They pump it out from aquifers beneath Palestinian land and then they allocate it on the basis of religious affiliation. What Palestinians are accorded of their own water is sold to them at prices several folds more compared with what Jews in the same area are charged. In 2013, an Al Haq report demonstrated how 550,000 illegal Jewish settlers used five times more water than the 2.6 million Palestinians in the same area. Palestinian access to water is further limited by Israel’s denial of Palestinian water development. It is nearly impossible for us to get permission to dig new wells. And further, what wells and cisterns already exist are frequently damaged or destroyed by Israel. The assault on Gaza’s drinking water is so severe that 90 percent of the ground water in Gaza now is unfit for human consumption.
Israel rules with color-coded ID cards, with massive surveillance of voice data, of movements, of habits, of hopes and secrets. They have color-coded license plates, and segregated roads, and segregated buses. Implementation of Israeli apartheid goes to the smallest details of life, including even cell phone coverage. While Israeli settlers in the ’67 occupied territories enjoy 3G and 4G coverage, Palestinians are limited to 2G—a limitation with massive economic implications, designed to perpetuate economic dependency on Israel. And yet, in the United States, financial support of such policies are catalogued as charitable.
So much of this system of ethno-religious supremacy has been made possible by external funding—both governmental and by an estimated 30,000 nongovernmental, so-called charitable organizations. In the U.S., tax-exempt groups have poured billions of dollars into subsidizing population change. A 2002 study by Dr. Thomas Stauffer estimated that $50 billion to $60 billion had been transferred from the U.S. charities to Israel over a 20-year period, from 1980 to 2002. Similarly shocking numbers were revealed in a 2013 study by the Forward that looked at 3,600 U.S. tax-exempt groups funneling money to Israel.
A Haaretz investigation reported in a four-year period—between 2009 and 2013—that 50 U.S. tax-exempt organizations alone funneled more than $220 million to exclusively Jewish settlements in Palestine. The Hebron Fund that you see is one example. This is a Brooklyn-based group that provides approximately half of the Hebron settler community’s funding. Between 2009 and 2014 it transferred $5.7 million to the settler community of just a few hundred individuals who live in the midst of 220,000 Palestinians.
This small but heavily armed and guarded settler outpost among nearly a quarter of a million Palestinians has acted as a paramilitary force, terrorizing local inhabitants into leaving. This community further has well-documented connections to terrorism and human rights abuses. They have been accused of crimes including theft, harassment, murder, assault, destruction of property. They’ve been involved in gunfire, attempts to run people over, poisoning of a water well, breaking into homes, spilling of hot liquid on the face of a Palestinian, and the killing of a young Palestinian girl.
Another organization is this one, Honenu—I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing that correctly, I don’t really care. Donations to this organization go primarily to legal aid and family support for accused, confessed, or convicted Jewish terrorists. Among their beneficiaries was Ami Popper, who murdered seven Palestinian laborers in 1990. He pulled them out, lined them up, and shot them along the wall. They’ve provided support for members of a terrorist underground that attempted to detonate a bomb at a girls’ school in East Jerusalem in 2002.
Other high-profile accused or convicted terrorists who have received funding from Honenu include the settlers who kidnapped to beat, tortured, and then burned alive 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir from Shuafat in 2014. Also the settlers who firebombed the home of the Dawabsheh family, killing 18-month old Ali along with both of his parents, and severely burning his older brother.
Another organization is the Central Fund of Israel (CFI). This is an umbrella charity that operates out of a textile company that’s owned by the Marcus Brothers in the Manhattan garment district. It has received money from the likes of Ace Greenberg, Kirk Douglas, Michael Milken—the “Junk Bond King.” In 2014 alone, they sent $25 million to Israel.
Philip Weiss, who’s with us today, reported in Mondoweiss that CFI provides funding to a yeshiva that’s headed by Rabbis Shapira and Elitzur. These guys co-authored a book called The King's Torah, in which they make it clear that the commandment, thou shalt not kill, applies only to Jews who kill Jews. The bulk of the text in this book is a rabbinical instruction manual explaining the ways of kosher murder for non-Jews. Non-Jews, the book explains, are uncompassionate by nature and, therefore, attacking them may “curb their evil inclinations.” The book permits the killing of infants and children of non-Jews since, “it is clear that they will grow up to harm us.” These are things that are funded by U.S. tax-exempt dollars. In the interest of time, I think I’m going to skip through some of these.
These are only a few examples in a large body of evidence showing how financial transactions from tax-exempt organizations are used to fund ethno-religious supremacy and entitlement, with its consequent displacement and destruction of native Palestinian life. It does not include a whole other ecosystem of synagogue- and church-giving to Israel.
So, I think the more appropriate question to ask today is whether specific actions, protocols, laws and political adventures bend our collective human experience toward justice, toward universal dignity and moral evolution. The forcible removal of an entire nation, a deeply rooted people, in order to replace them with others from around the world, people whom the new state deems a better form of human, is itself a form of moral regression.
European Zionists conquered Palestine, a place that already had an ancient history that had produced an extensive society whose character formed organically over thousands of years of documented habitation, conquest, pilgrimages, births of religions, religious conversions, marriages, rapes, enslavement, settlements, wars, crusade, commerce, travel and natural migrations of known tribes like the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Mamluks, the Syrians, Hebrews, the Romans. They all passed through our lands and became of us, as we became of them, and we never left. We were always there, until the turn of the century, when European Zionists arrived with guns and hatred and made of us a homeless refugee people, an exiled and an occupied terrorized people.
We were and we remain the children of that patch of earth, of that history. We belong to that place where are buried our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and on down the line. We did not arrive there a few years ago from Poland and Belarus, or Russia, or Florida, France, England, Germany—or any other place from which the vast majorities of Israelis hail. We do not have hundreds of years of European history, of documented life and achievement in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere, and the whole world knows it. But our humanity is nothing to them. It is as if we are vermin in the eyes of American Zionists financing the destruction of Palestine.
The dismantling of our society is happening today in 2016. That’s I why I joined Martin McMahon’s initiative to sue the U.S. Treasury, so that they might investigate these organizations, so that my American compatriots might be moved to shut them down. I joined this lawsuit because I see it as a way to confront power when we are mostly powerless, when we are so outgunned, outmoneyed, outmaneuvered, outconnected. I joined because I believe that confronting power with truth is the least one can do with the privilege we have. When so many who are a fraction of my age are risking their young lives to confront heavily armed soldiers with rocks, when grown men and women with nothing but their bellies to protest waste away as hunger forces the body to eat itself. I joined this lawsuit because I believe in the United States of the Civil War heroes, of its warriors and intellectuals, because the cause of Palestine is squarely in the categories of this America.
I will close with one last quote by Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who, despite his abhorrent supremacist ideas, clearly understood something fundamental about Palestinians. He said this about us: “They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico, or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. Palestine will remain for the Palestinians not a borderland, but their birthplace—the center and basis of their own national existence.”
But unlike the destruction of the Aztecs and the Sioux, we are not yet outnumbered. Our anguish is audible to global civil society and the moment portending our existential peril is now.
So, the question, then, for this audience is: which United States do we want to prevail? Thank you. [Standing ovation]