In October 1985, four Palestinian gunmen from the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) stormed an Italian cruise ship on the Mediterranean, holding its approximately 700 vacationers hostage while demanding the release of their comrades-in-arms from Israeli prison.
The hijacking of the Achille Lauro, during which the hijackers killed an elderly, wheelchair-bound Jewish-American man—Leon Klinghoffer—and then threw his body into the sea, ranked as one of the most ignominious acts ever committed by Palestinians.
President Ronald Reagan vowed swift action, promising that “we’re going to do everything we can to see that they [PLF hijackers] are brought to justice.” Indeed, the “Old Gipper” was as good as his word. After Egypt mediated an end to the hostage crisis by freeing the passengers in exchange for the hijackers’ safe passage to Tunisia, the United States scrambled F-14 Tomcats from the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga and forced the airplane carrying the hijackers to land at a NATO base in Sicily. After a brief diplomatic stand-off over jurisdiction between Italy and the United States, the hijackers were prosecuted and imprisoned in Italy.
To determine whether the Pledge of Allegiance’s promise of “justice for all” holds true in all circumstances, compare Reagan’s aggressive response to the killing of a U.S. citizen on the Mediterranean Sea to the tepid response of the Obama Administration in the same scenario.
On May 31, Israel interdicted, boarded, and assaulted the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, comprised of six ships carrying 700 international humanitarian activists and 10,000 tons of desperately needed humanitarian supplies to the 1.5 million blockaded Palestinian civilians living under Israeli military occupation in the Gaza Strip, in the international waters of the Mediterranean.
During this attack, Israel killed nine civilians, injured dozens more, and abducted hundreds against their will to Israel for detention and deportation. Of those killed, one was a U.S. citizen, Furkan Dogan, a 19 year-old student whose body was riddled with four gunshots to the head and one to the chest. At least two other U.S. citizens, Huwaida Arraf and Dr. Paul Larudee were beaten by Israeli forces, the latter of whom required hospitalization. Later that day, Israeli forces in the occupied Palestinian West Bank shot a 21 year-old U.S. citizen, Emily Henochowicz, in the face with a tear gas canister during a nonviolent protest against the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. She is currently recuperating in a hospital after losing an eye and undergoing facial reconstruction surgery.
In the Obama Administration’s most comprehensive statement to date on the injuring and killing of these U.S. citizens, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated on June 3:
“Protecting the welfare of American citizens is a fundamental responsibility of our government and one that we take very seriously. We are in constant contact with the Israeli Government, attempting to obtain more information about our citizens. We have made no decisions at this point on any additional specific actions that our government should take with respect to our own citizens.”
It doesn’t sound as if the Obama Administration will be scrambling fighter jets anytime soon to arrest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak for ordering these attacks against U.S. civilians.
Since the Obama Administration is having trouble deciding how to punish Israel for injuring and killing U.S. citizens, here’s a suggested first step: launch an investigation into whether Israel violated the Arms Export Control Act (AECA).
The AECA stipulates that weapons provided by the United States can only be used by foreign countries for “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.” Since Israel engaged in act of aggression in international waters, it is self-evident that Israel violated this law.
The United States has provided the Israeli navy and air force with weapons through Foreign Military Financing (FMF) budget allocations that were, or may have been, used in this attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Israel Air Force used three Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to transport its commandos to the ships. The Israel Air Force is reported to have 49 of these combat helicopters.
In addition, the United States has transferred additional weapons to the Israeli Navy that may have been used in violation of the AECA during its attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. In July 2008, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DCSA) notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to Israel of four littoral combat ships (LCS-I variant), associated equipment, and services valued at up to $1.9 billion. The Israeli Navy is also reported to have three Sa’ar 5-class corvettes built in the United States.
Press reports also indicate that Israel may have used U.S. guns, ammunition, night vision goggles, and crowd dispersal weapons in its attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. The high-velocity tear-gas canister which injured Emily Henochowicz was likely of U.S. origin as well.
How much longer should the United States be expected to underwrite $30 billion in weapons for Israeli military occupation and apartheid toward Palestinians, when these weapons are being misused not only to perpetrate terrible human rights abuses against Palestinians, but against U.S. citizens as well?
A finding by the Obama Administration that Israel violated the AECA would be the first step towards accountability and sanctions, both of which are necessary to halt Israel’s intransigence in the face of ever-expanding global opposition to its policies.
Learn more about the devastating impact of U.S. military aid to Israel, how much money your community provides, what that money could be used for instead in your community, and how to take action to end military aid to Israel by clicking here.
Josh Ruebner is the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a national coalition of more than 325 organizations working to change U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality.