By: Dr. Aref Assaf
During his much-anticipated speech on Wednesday, President Barack Obama promised that he will be, “Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding, counter its warped ideology, improve our intelligence, strengthen our defenses, and stem the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East.”
He was referring to foreign fighters joining the ISIS/ISIL (The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). But the Middle East has been a destination for thousands of foreigners who have been serving in the Israeli Army and aiding in its military occupation of Palestinian lands.
Dying for one’s country is the ultimate sacrifice and expression of love for the homeland. Hence the memorials and the immense gratitude we bestow upon those who serve our country. The world is abuzz about Americans and Europeans serving the ISIS) now known as simply IS in Iraq and Syria. Rightfully we condemn them for their association with a militant merciless group that kills people of all faiths and persuasions. Yet we are silent, deftly silent, about the 5,500 Americans and those of other nationalities who have volunteered to serve in the Israeli Army. Many have perished while fighting for a foreign occupying country. Sean Carmeli, 21, and Max Steinberg, 24, both US citizens, were killed in the recent Israeli offensive against Gaza. Others may soon be facing charges of war crimes for their actions against the innocent civilians murdered in the Gaza Strip.
For the most part, these soldiers only encounter helpless civilians as part of the occupation forces that maintain order and ensure the security of the Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories. The US has always maintained the occupation was illegal and never recognized the sovereignty of Israel over the areas it occupied in the 1968 War.
America is becoming more visibly complicit in the crimes against Palestinian children, women and elderly. Over 2000 American citizens are currently in the Israeli army, many of whom have been engaged in direct contacts with Palestinians civilians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Serving in the Israeli Army against the Palestinians who the US has never declared war against, is a clear violation of the United States Neutrality Act, 18 U.S.C. 960, in force, as, last amended in 1976, warning that:
“Whoever, within the United States, knowingly begins or sets on foot or provides or prepares a means for or furnishes the money for, or takes part in, any military or naval expedition or enterprise to be carried on from thence against the territory or dominion of any foreign prince or state, or of any colony, district, or people with whom the United States is at peace, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”
Their actions stand to be a huge moral and legal liability for the United States. These soldiers who voluntarily move to Israel and agree to serve in the army have forsaken their worthiness of the American citizenship. Even if some may hold dual nationalities, legally they remain US citizens subject to certain restrictions and possible violations of our laws.
According to sources, what drives them to serve in a foreign army is their zeal to defend Zionist ideals that finds no room for anyone other than Jews in Israel/Palestine. It is also doubtful if any of these soldiers have ever served in the US army. These soldiers are no fewer mercenaries than the ones fighting for IS. Their loyalty is not to the US but to a foreign country.
Massive collective punishment, targeting civilians and civilian targets, disproportionate use of force are the hallmarks of the Israeli army. It is an essential element of the Israeli Army’s doctrine to cause immense civilian casualties to induce political outcomes and change the status quo- a strategy that has failed thus far to provoke a popular movement opposing Palestinian resistance movements.
At a recent stop at an Israeli military checkpoint near the Kalandia Camp crossing, I came face to face with “Levy”, a sergeant from Fort Lee, NJ. My family and I were attempting to cross into Jerusalem for which we had to present our US passports. ‘So, you are an American, too.” I was almost flabbergasted to hear what seemed for a moment to be a reassuring statement. “Yes, we are from New Jersey.” “Me too,” he replied. It was an uneasy moment to see a fellow American, wearing a foreign army’s uniform while pointing his rifle at my family and I. To him, I was the enemy and as fully documented accounts have shown, American citizens have been killed and brutally beaten by Israeli soldiers very much like Sergeant ‘Levy.”
Dual loyalties is a cause of concern in the US media. A recent confession by Ethan Bronner, a Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times that his son had served in the Israeli Army has caused some uproar at his and that of the papers’ ability to provide a balanced coverage of the Israel/Palestine conflict. The reporter for years fought to hide this little secret, admonishing his critics of simply being anti-Semitic. But isn’t it fair to say that as a father, even the most neutral journalist, cannot be expected to honestly the report the news where his son is a soldier of one party that occupied another? Certainly, Mr. Bronner’s reporting was tainted by his paternal concern for his son.
Anyone with unabashedly dual national loyalties has to be confronted. You cross the line when you serve in another country’s army, especially one that kills children as a matter of fact. They should have their American citizenship revoked and if they ever return to the US, should be charged with breaking the Neutrality Act in the US, and as anticipated by the International Criminal Court with war crimes. Unless, of course, Palestinian blood merits no value.
Dr. Aref Assaf is president of the American Arab Forum, a think-tank specializing in Arab and Muslim American affairs.