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Billions in military aid failed to bring peace to Israel-Palestine

A child in the West Bank village of Touba. Photo: AFSC
Palestinian activists wrapped in chains in solidarity with prisoners in Israeli jails confront heavily armed Israeli soldiers during a weekly nonviolent demonstration against the separation wall, Al Ma'sara, West Bank. Photo:

War isn’t working

Since World War II, the U.S. has given more military aid to Israel than to any other country. Partially because of this aid, Israel’s armed forces constitute one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.

President Obama pledged as recently as March 2013 that the U.S. would continue its multi-year commitment—a 10-year, $30 billion military aid package agreed upon in 2007, running through 2018—subject to the approval of Congress.

But what is the impact of this military aid on Israeli and Palestinian civilians: has it made either one safer and more secure?

There are voices on both sides that object to the actions enabled by U.S. aid—to the daily practices carried out by the Israeli military in the occupied Palestinian territory with military equipment paid for by the U.S. The aid has had a cost in civilian lives and infrastructure, and has supported illegal settlements and other discriminatory and violent practices toward the Palestinian population.

Talking with Israelis who are willing to speak out about the deepening militarization of Israeli culture and with Palestinians who can testify to the destructive effects of current military aid, we hear strong voices illustrating why further military aid is counterproductive to finding a durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Can the security of one people come at the expense of denying basic rights to another?

Men and women have the right to live their lives … free from fear of violence, oppression and injustice.
—U.N. Millennium Declaration

Zvi, teacher

Thirty-five year old Zvi, an Israeli combat pilot turned classroom teacher, was over 10,000 feet off the ground when he first acknowledged to himself that he opposed funding for weapons. 

It was just a few days after five children had been killed during the bombing of an ammunition warehouse. It weighed on his mind that they were disregarded as mere collateral damage. He struggled with what he would do if he received a similar command. That’s when he knew he wanted to leave the military to become a teacher.

It was a difficult moment of insight to reach, he explains. When you are “only allowed to think under specific guidelines,” it is difficult to liberate your mind and see things from a different perspective, he says. 

Now a history teacher in Tel Aviv, he has found that history books offer only a very specific perspective, and that the army is closely related to the education system. He has seen how soldiers work as teachers’ aides, come to talk to students, and offer boot camps at school, and how a colonel who has led a platoon in combat can easily get a job leading children in a classroom, regardless of educational background. 

Zvi says that individuals are pressured by the system, friends, family, and the desire to be good citizens—and that this pressure is so strong because there is no acceptable way of challenging this line of thinking, leading children to “become agents of the system,” he says.

Zvi questions the motives of people in control of the economy and politics, and whether they would want to end the conflict and demilitarize society. “It is a justification for the elite to remain in power and benefit from the occupation,” he says of the deep militarization of his society.

Sarah, teacher

Sarah, an Israeli who served in the army at age 18 and now, at 30, is on the reserve list, has also seen ways that army service changes how people think. 

“You follow orders,” she says. “Israeli society does not question how you live. People are less likely to challenge the values and principles.”

If ordered, she will refuse service, though it means facing a prison sentence.

She says that spending money on weapons is not the solution, but that funds should go instead toward creating more cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Like Zvi, she feels that a different political culture among the Israeli public is badly needed. “The problem not only is what the army does to Palestinian society, but also the ability to question things,” she says.

Mohammed Mousa, Palestinian farmer

Mohammed Mousa’s (Abu Tayel) brother is the head of the village council in al Majazin in the occupied West Bank, one of 12 villages in the south Hebron hills that are all slated for demolition. The area is inhabited by 1,622 Palestinians who rely on farming and husbandry of sheep and goats for their livelihoods. 

Mohammed retells how, two months ago, the Israeli army informed the villagers that access to the grazing land would be forbidden between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. every Monday, because the area was designated by the Israeli occupying forces as “Firing Zone 918.” Israeli evacuation orders were issued to remove the inhabitants. 

“It is strictly forbidden for any human or cattle to move during the designated times, while the Israeli army has the chance to test its weapons using live ammunition, wreak havoc, spread terror and fear among our children and adults. Training includes helicopters hovering in the skies, tanks firing at targets, and regular live ammunition…

“More than half of the family members are children under 18 years of age, and we all wait in silence and fear until the military exercises are over. We are denied of living with dignity, in an inhuman way. We have the right to live, [but] we are threatened with eviction and our grazing area is limited to almost nothing.”

Many of the Palestinian inhabitants used to come to the villages only seasonally, when they lived in one of the nearby towns, closer to general public services. But these days, they ensure that there is constantly a family or two present, for fear of being denied access to return if they leave. 

“Kids have to walk a distance of 4 kilometers to the nearest school and at times, they encounter the Israeli Army hummer which either impedes their advancement or asks them to return home.”

Um Ali, caregiver

Um Ali with one of her grandchildren.

Um Ali, 65, is responsible for the well-being of 50 extended family members in another village called Touba in the West Bank. 

Although Touba does not fall within the 918 firing zone, demolition orders on their tents and shelters were issued.

“The military is not seeking to create security in the area, but rather to prepare for war,” she says.

Military security harms human security

Given that equality is one indicator of a more peaceful society, military “security” harms both the Israeli and the Palestinian capacity to build real human security. 

As it is now, U.S. military aid to Israel and support for the militarization of Palestinian security forces only serve to sustain the occupation. This aid does not help build peace. U.S. policy must change, and U.S. military and militarized aid should be rechanneled to non-military ends, such as investment in business, health care, and education, either at home or abroad. AFSC’s Israel and Palestine programs are working to raise awareness of the necessity of making these changes while also working to end Israel’s occupation and build peace in the region. 

As Zvi, Sarah, Mohammed, and Um Ali can attest, there is still a long way to go.

*A note on names in this article: Names of Israeli teachers are pseudonyms. The teachers we interviewed are unable to give their real names due to a government regulation that forbids teachers from criticizing the education system.