Editor's note: This article corrects an error and adds some updates to an earlier version that appeared yesterday.
The Israeli peace movement is coming back to life, and it's a very courteous movement indeed. When activists
find things marked "Made in USA" lying on the ground they deliver them directly to the U.S. ambassador to Israel.
The other night they returned a
bunch of empty tear gas canisters, all marked "made in USA," fired by Israeli soldiers in the
West Bank. They're used to break up nonviolent
protests against the Israeli-built wall that is tearing Palestinian life apart.
Apparently the ambassador did not appreciate the courteous
gesture. The police quickly arrived, broke up the action, arrested eleven
people, and found a way to keep them jailed on trumped up
But these canisters, and the Israeli soldiers who shoot them,
don't discriminate against Palestinians. American-made tear gas canisters are
used against American citizens too.
Just a few days before Bassem Abu Rahmah was killed by a tear
gas canister blow to the chest, an American volunteer with the International
Solidarity Movement, Tristan Anderson, was hit in the head by the same kind of canister in the village of Nil'in. Anderson survived, though surgeons had to
remove part of his brain. Another American, Emily Henochowicz,
lost her eye in June, 2010 when she was hit by a tear gas
canister during a protest at a West Bank
The Israelis used two kinds of tear gas canisters on New
Year's Eve when Jawaher Abu Rahmah died.
One photographed by Joseph
spokesman for the Popular Struggle Coordination
Committee., had the letters "CTS" stamped on
CTS, Combined Tactical Systems, is a brand name used by (or
subsidiary of) Combined Systems Inc. based in
Jamestown, Pennsylvania (though the American company is
owned by an Israeli, according to Dana). There's plenty of evidence
Israelis get tear gas from CSI. It was a CTS canister that killed Bassem Abu
The Israeli military also used lethal high-velocity
projectiles at Bil'in, the kind that
struck Bassem Abu Rahmen and Tristan Anderson, although they are supposedly banned by the Israeli
Defense Forces. These are also made by CSI. An aluminum canister like the
ones made by CTS took out Emily Henochowitz'
The grenade photographed at the New Year's Eve protest appears
to be what CTS calls a "Tear-Ball
activist who was there, Jeff Klein, was
photographed holding a Tear-Ball Grenade that he says had the letters "CTS"
stamped on it. It spins
through the air and then bounces along the ground, so no one can
the gas will spew out. CSI says that the Tear-Ball can be loaded with either CS
(a strong tear gas), OC gas (more commonly known as pepper spray), or CN gas
Ha'aretz, Israel's most respected newspaper,
reported that Jawaher was killed by CS gas. "Protester death shows IDF may be using most
dangerous type of tear gas," the headline read. It's the kind of gas the
Israelis usually use, the report explains, even though "there have been reports
of several deaths caused by the inhalation of CS."
However after Jawaher died her cousin Hamde Abu Rahmah
said, "We deal with tear-gas on a regular basis but
the amount that they used and the strength was something we have not yet seen."
Others at the New Year's Eve protest agreed. One said that the gas
felt "like a million blue shards of glass tearing at your alveoli and
shredding your eyes. ... Every breath tears at your insides; vicious animals live
in your lungs. I'd rather not breathe than take one more anguished, searing,
charred breath. Then, you don't have a choice; you can't breathe."
eyewitness reported that the Israelis laid down barrages
of tear gas both in front and behind groups of protesters, trapping them, and
the gas "remained effective even when it was no longer visible in the air. You
would think you had moved away from it and suddenly you couldn't breathe."
Ahmad el-Jobeh believes it was pepper spray that cost him his eyesight when he was accidentally caught up
in Israeli repression of a protest in Silwan, an Arab section of Jerusalem where Jews join
Palestinians regularly to protest the destruction of Arab homes and construction of Jewish
dwellings. There's no doubt that some tear gas canisters used in Silwan,
whatever is in them, are marked "Made in U.S.A." and say clearly that aiming
them at people can be lethal.
What's worse, the gas in some of them, at least, is past its expiration
date and thus even more dangerous.
The IDF is
trying to deny
for Jawaher Abu Rahmah's death, claiming she was not even at the protest. But
there are eyewitnesses who saw her there, saw her taken away in an ambulance,
and can disprove virtually every
piece of the
IDF's concocted story. With so many past instances of IDF cover-ups proven
false, it's hard to take this self-serving story seriously. The editors of
Ha'aretz assume it's not true. And some Israeli military
officers dismiss it as "mere thoughts."
But the most telling fact is that the debate about the IDF story
has provoked more interest in Israel than Jawaher's death itself.
The dominant concern in Israel is not for the obvious evils of the
occupation but for Israel's public image.
The IDF is in a bizarre position -- telling the world to ignore
the unprovoked tear gas attack, ignore the wall that Israel's Supreme Court has
ruled illegal in Bil'in, ignore the confiscation of Palestinian land to enlarge
settlements that the whole world says as illegal, and see Israel as totally
innocent simply because Jawaher was at home when the Made-in-USA gas killed her.
Suppose she was in her home in the small village, a few hundred
yards from the front of the protest. Tear gas does float through the air. Even
if the Israelis could prove their claim true, the IDF's PR barrage and the focus
on that one detail of the story shows a depressing moral bankruptcy.
The victims of all these tragedies were strictly nonviolent
and posed no threat to the Israeli soldiers. The centrist Israeli newspaper
Yedioth Aharonoth reported that the protesters "did not provoke the
soldiers" who fired the tear gas that killed Jawaher Abu Rahmen. You can see her brother Bassem's death,
in chilling detail, in a video that shows Israelis clearly shooting without any
Israeli authorities inevitably blame rock-throwing Palestinian
youths for inciting violence, and U.S. mass media journalists like the
New York Times' Isabel Kershner often spin the story the same way. But eyewitnesses in every one of
these cases confirm what you can see for yourself in the award-winning film
the rock-throwing doesn't start until long after the Israelis have
started firing, it does no real harm to the well-armed Israelis, and local
leaders beg the youth to desist.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salem Fayyad has recently
what all fair-minded observers see: Palestinians in the West Bank are now overwhelmingly committed to keeping
their struggle against the occupation nonviolent. And, as even the conservative
editors of the Wall Street Journal have recognized, Hamas is moving in the same
direction in Gaza.
"We don't seek vengeance against Israel," a
surviving brother of Jawaher and Bassem Abu Rahmah told Ha'aretz. "They are
people just like myself. We want the return of our lands, and the struggle won't
end until our property is restored."
As long as the Israelis occupy the West
Bank, though, they have don't have the option of nonviolence. A
military occupation is inherently an act of violence and it has to be maintained
by violence. As Gandhi taught us, you can't support injustice with nonviolence.
The Israelis will never lack for weapons of violence, it
seems. The ones they can't make themselves they get abroad -- mostly in the
United States, mostly paid
for by us, the U.S. taxpayers, to the tune of at
least $3 billion a
year. And good 'ol American technology is
always ready to give the buyer a wide range of "new, improved" products to
Now isn't there a law prohibiting U.S. military
aid and American military equipment being used overseas for human rights
violations? Hey, I'm just asking. Given a Republican majority in the House,
though, it hardly matters. The GOP is even more determined than the Democrats to
let the Israeli military have its way.
So what's a citizen to do? There is a growing
boycott/divestment/sanctions (BDS) movement aimed at Israel. But can
we boycott the tear gas makers? Though they make an amazing variety of other
products too, all are used by military forces, or by police departments. Nothing you'd be likely to buy.
However you might check whether your local police department
is patronizing Combined Systems, Inc. with your tax dollars. CSI
says that it
innovative line of less-lethal munitions" -- less lethal than what? -- "and
crowd control products to domestic law enforcement agencies under its law
enforcement brand name, CTS." Even the moderate Jewish peace group J Street, which has serious reservations about BDS, says
it takes a positive
targeted boycotts aimed only at the occupation.
Street itself is more interested in putting
pressure on the Obama
to take "a bolder, more assertive approach" to the peace process. It wants the
U.S. to lean on the Israelis and
Palestinians to quickly negotiate the borders of the new Palestinian state. If
the parties can't do it themselves (which seems likely) the U.S. should
present its own proposal, J Street says -- an
idea that's rapidly gaining a lot of
There's no need for peace activists to decide between
supporting a targeted boycott and a U.S. peace plan, nor to squabble over
which approach is better. The two paths can, and should, be taken
simultaneously. They reinforce each other. Israeli and American BDS supporters will keep
calling attention to U.S. complicity in the repression and
killing of Palestinians. The embarrassments to the U.S. -- like the protest at the American
ambassador's home in Israel -- will keep on mounting.
Eventually, the Obama administration will find it impossible to let the conflict
The U.S. government has played a central
role in perpetuating this injustice. The U.S. government
must take responsibility for righting the wrong and ending the killing. It's one
of those happy occasions were morality and self-interest both dictate the same
government can guide (to put it politely) the Israelis to make fundamental
changes because ultimately Israel must bend to U.S. wishes, if the Obama
administration asserts itself strongly enough. Whether that happens depends
strictly on the administration's political cost-benefit calculus.
Boycotts may or may not ever make the Israelis change their
policies. But they might make U.S. companies stop dealing lethal material to
Israel. And political pressure -- if
it's strong and smart enough -- can make the administration change its ways.
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