U.S.-Mexico Border: An Israeli Tech Laboratory


Migrants running from tear gas fired by American border agents near the fence at Tijuana. (Credit: Hannah Mckay/Reuters)

Brittany Dawson, PALESTINE SQUARE, December 6, 2018

When hundreds of Central American migrants arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, in late November, planning to claim asylum in the United States, U.S. Customs and Border Protection closed the San Ysidro border crossing in anticipation of their arrival. In protest of the closure, asylum seekers rushed the fence separating Mexico and the United States, and border patrol agents fired tear gas at them through the fence. Images of children and their families running through clouds of CS gas went viral on social media. Palestine solidarity activists speculated that the agents used the same U.S.-manufactured tear gas as is used by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) against Palestinians and has been used against activists in the United States from Standing Rock to Ferguson, MO.

Such collaboration between U.S. and Israeli defense establishments is not new. In 2004, Hermes drones manufactured by Israel’s Elbit Systems were the first unmanned aerial vehicles deployed at the U.S. southern border. A decade later, Customs and Border Protection awarded the company’s subsidiary, Elbit Systems of America, a $145 million contract to construct its integrated fixed towers system in Nogales, Arizona. And in October 2017, when camera crews gathered in San Diego, California, for the unveiling of President Donald Trump’s border wall prototypes, the only foreign contractor on display was ELTA, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries.

In an interview published in the Journal of Palestine Studies, excerpted below, I spoke with journalist and author Gabriel Schivone about the use of Israeli technology at the U.S.-Mexico border and beyond. Schivone has published widely on issues of human rights and homeland security technology along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as on the Israeli arms trade in Central America, the Mexican drug wars, and other topics. His book Making the New “Illegal”: How Decades of U.S. Involvement in Central America Triggered the Modern Wave of Immigration (forthcoming from Prometheus Books) includes a chapter on Israel’s military role as a proxy for the United States in Guatemala’s “Dirty War.”

Subscribe to the Journal of Palestine Studies to read the complete interview on the Journal’s website.

[From the Journal of Palestine Studies | The Great March of Return: An Organizer’s Perspective]

One issue on which the United States and Israel have been cooperating for a while is the U.S.- Mexico border. When Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, he promised to build a “great wall” and to make Mexico pay for it, which ignored the fact that the wall already existed, both physically and virtually through all kinds of security technology. How did this come about?

I’m glad you point that out, because nobody else will—the media, both major political parties, and even, detrimentally, some activists, as well as others, all act as if the wall hasn’t existed for most of our lifetimes, yours and mine. […] Yet this wall and all these barriers have been here for twenty-five years. In 2006, they were greatly expanded when the Israeli giant Elbit was brought in as a subcontractor through Boeing’s $1 billion award to provide the “virtual wall” system under the Secure Fence Act of 2006 signed by [President George W.] Bush. After five years and a billion dollars spent, the Obama administration scrapped the sluggish and expensive project in 2011. But then in early 2014, they gave Elbit’s U.S. subsidiary, Elbit Systems of America, a new $145 million contract to build the integrated fixed towers project, a similar “virtual wall” concept, to provide fifty-two Israeli surveillance towers all across southern Arizona along the border with Mexico.

Other examples of Israeli technology and expertise on the border include Israel’s NICE Systems, which provided CCTV surveillance technology to notorious Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio (who was found guilty of racially profiling Latinos in 2013) for one of his jails in 2000; the Golan Group, a huge Israeli conglomerate, which did a training program for a select group of ICE agents in 2007; and a squad of Israeli Hermes drones, which were the first drones used to patrol the southern border skies, in 2004. These are just a few of the examples.

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The Palestinian Right of Return



November 29, 2018

Today is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Over 7 million Palestinians are refugees – scattered around the globe. In the face of incredible hardship and oppression, Palestinians continue to demand the implementation of their rights – including the right to return to their homes from which they were forcibly displaced 70 years ago.

As the US government’s cuts to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) have put millions of Palestinians at risk, it is crucial now more than ever to learn about and campaign for the rights of refugees. On this day of solidarity, please watch and share this video, which explains what we mean when we talk about the Palestinian right of return.

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This year, when Palestinian refugee rights had all but disappeared from public consciousness in the West, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip came together in a groundswell of collective action through the Great Return March. Tens of thousands of Palestinians living under an illegal and devastating military blockade showed the world that they have not given up on their struggle for freedom and justice. Return is a core demand of these demonstrations that continue every week, even after they have faced unprecedented militarised repression at the hands of Israel’s military.

Please share this video to help raise the voices of Palestinians struggling for justice.

In solidarity,
Ryvka Barnard
Senior Campaigns Officer – Militarism and Security
War on Want

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 13, 2018

House Democrats Condemn Trump Administration’s Actions Harming the Palestinian People

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan (WI-02), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Betty McCollum (MN-04), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), and Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) today released the following statement condemning the Trump Administration’s recent actions harming the Palestinian people.

“We are alarmed by the Trump Administration’s blatant attempts at exacerbating the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories. The punitive measures employed by President Trump are intended to use the Palestinian people as pawns on the negotiating table for his administration’s failed attempts to bring stability to the region.

“In the last month, the Administration has slashed $25 million of US assistance to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, rescinded $200 million in Congressionally allocated humanitarian aid to Gaza and the West Bank, and halted all U.S. funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). By cutting these important aid programs, the Trump Administration will only exacerbate tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians, while further diminishing opportunities for lasting peace.

“Further, the Trump Administration has failed to push back on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s demolitions of Palestinian communities in the West Bank, like Khan Al Ahmar. We must remind our ally, Israel, that approving the destruction and upheaval of Palestinian communities slowly deteriorates the prospects for a peaceful and just resolution to the conflict.

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UNRWA Crisis: Beyond Dollars and Cents

Zaha Hassan, Palestine Square | Institute for Palestine Studies, August 3, 2018

“Continuing services to refugees is a right, not a handout.”

This was the message last week of one of the thousands in Gaza who came out to protest the UN Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) decision to not renew 154 employment contracts in the occupied Palestinian territory. Despite UNRWA’s best efforts, it has not been able to make up its current $250 million budget shortfall resulting from the U.S. decision to slash its contributions to the refugee agency.

Almost 12,500 Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on an UNRWA paycheck, which in many cases helps sustain more than just the nuclear family in the enclave where the unemployment rate is over 40%. It is unclear whether there will be enough funding for the 262,000 children in Gaza’s UNRWA schools to return to their classrooms this academic year.

The existential threat facing UNRWA is deliberate, and so are the dire consequences for the 5.3 million registered refugees it serves. President Donald Trump and his Middle East Team headed by advisor, Jared Kushner, have latched onto the idea that humanitarian relief may be used as leverage to force the Palestinian leadership back to a negotiating table set by Israel. Leaked details of the Kushner-crafted peace plan indicate that it is nothing more than a souped up, donor-infused version of the status quo that Israel seeks to have legitimated with the signature of President Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian leader has infuriated the Administration by refusing to engage with it on these terms and so the Administration—along with the Republican-controlled Congress—has been tightening the financial noose around Palestinians.

[From the Journal of Palestine Studies | UNRWA and the Refugees: A Difficult but Lasting Marriage]

The idea of weaponizing humanitarian assistance provided to Palestinians is not new but it has never before found the currency it now has in the White House. Of late, right-wing think tanks, pro-“Greater Israel” Washington lobby groups and the “no daylight between Israel and the U.S.” politicians have been peddling the fiction that humanitarian relief to Palestinian refugees has been growing by leaps and bonds. They argue that aid money that maintains the camp infrastructure and enables the provision of essential services and work opportunities perpetuates refugeehood.

Of course, no Palestinian, or any other person for that matter, chooses to live as a stateless person in the squalor of a refugee camp dependent on food aid. The plight of Palestinian refugees is a result of a concerted effort by pre-state Zionist leaders and successive Israeli governments to avoid reaching a political solution based on international law and precedent. One need only look back on the remarks of Abba Eban, Israel’s representative to the UN, during the debate over whether the UN ought to accept Israel’s twice-rejected application for UN membership. Eban, though loathe to definitively state that Israel would permit the return of the 750,000 Palestinian refugees to their homes, promised that Israel would take no action “inconsistent with the resolutions of the [UN General] Assembly and the Security Council.” Furthermore, he stated that the refugee issue could only be solved within the United Nations and that acceptance of Israel as a member would make it easier to reach the desired political solution. He argued, however, that the timing for refugee return was premature; a peace agreement between Israel and the Arab states was required first so that borders could be established and repatriation could be implemented.

Seventy years and two peace agreements between Israel and two of its Arab neighbors later, Israel has neither defined its borders nor allowed a single Palestinian refugee to return home. Palestinian refugeehood started with Israel’s depopulation of 418 Palestinian villages, expelling approximately 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, and it will only end when Israel is compelled to implement repatriation and reparations. This is what the international community required of Israel in 1949 as a condition for its admittance as a member of the UN.

[From the Journal of Palestine Studies | Between Occupier and Occupied: UNRWA in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip]

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A Vengeful and Shortsighted Act

Palestinians waiting to cross the border to Egypt in May. (Adel Hana/Associated Press)

New York Times Editorial, September 1, 2018

The Trump administration has offered various explanations for cutting aid to the Palestinians and stopping all contributions to the United Nations agency that supports five million Palestinian refugees: They need to learn to help themselves. Other Arabs should pay. Most of them are not really refugees and should stop claiming a right to return to what is now Israel. This will push them to the negotiating table. They’re not grateful enough.

These excuses range from petty to downright dangerous. Does Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, who is supposed to be preparing an Israeli-Palestinian “deal of the century,” really believe that slashing assistance to the Palestinians and stripping them of their status as refugees will compel them to accept whatever one-sided plan he cooks up or teach them to show proper respect for Mr. Trump?

Most important, does Mr. Trump understand or care that his administration has effectively abandoned the critical role his predecessors have tried to fulfill as peace brokers in the Middle East, while remaining Israel’s major friend and ally? Does he recognize that depriving Palestinians of any hope of outside mediation or support, and making their lives more miserable, could well lead to another round of violence?

The decision to stop all funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, formally announced on Friday, goes far beyond questions of respect or negotiating tactics. It affects an agency that provides critical schooling, health, food and other services for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The United States finances about a third of the budget, or about $350 million a year. The planned cut to the agency, moreover, follows an announcement last week that the State Department is cutting $200 million in other aid to Palestinians in the West Bank, primarily intended for development and infrastructure projects.

The administration is also demanding a steep reduction in the number of Palestinians recognized as refugees, depriving them of any claim of a right to return, among the chief questions past administrations have sought to resolve through diplomacy.

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Wishing away Palestinian refugees: End of US’ UNRWA aid explained

‘Doomsday scenario’ could unfold unless Palestinian agency replaces US funding within 30 days, spokesperson says.

Al Jazeera, 01 Sep 2018

The UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) has called the decision by the Trump administration to no longer commit funding “deeply regrettable” and “shocking”.

Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the United Nations Relief Works and Agency, said on Saturday Friday’s move would affect “millions of people” including “some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised on this planet”.

For nearly 70 years, UNRWA has provided lifesaving assistance to more than five million Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories, as well as Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

But over the past year, the US government has made it increasingly clear it considers the work the organisation does, and who it considers as refugees, to be an obstacle in the protracted Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In January, a month after President Donald Trump sparked widespread international condemnation by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the White House decided to cut $65m in aid to UNRWA.

It was later reported that the Trump administration had withheld about $305m in funding, and only delivered $60m to UNRWA.

UNRWA told Al Jazeera it spent the next eight months scrambling for financial assistance, and was only able to continue operating after large contributions were raised by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which donated $150m between them.

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