Most recently, they’re wearing the uniform of the Israeli state, willing participants in the onslaught of Gaza’s population. American volunteers have contributed to the deaths of at least 633 Palestinian civilians since the recent conflict began. Of the 30 Israelis killed, it has emerged that at least two had dual US citizenship.
So how does the United States respond? To start with, by sending more Americans.
Less than 24 hours after his Fox News “hot mic” episode, US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo on Tuesday, dissecting the situation with the predictable Western refrain about Hamas’ bad behavior and Israeli’s “right to defend” itself.
“We’re here working because we’ve seen too much blood shed on all sides,” said Kerry.
But it was his addition of “including the death of two American citizens” as his voice trailed off that confirmed one of the conflicts most unrecognized hypocrisies: American citizens are systemically encouraged to fight, oppress, and kill Palestinians.
Forget how America lectures Arab governments about “cracking down” or “stemming the flow” of Arab foreign fighters to Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan. For those American volunteers in Israel, there will be no FBI dragnet back home to trace their voyages from Newark to Tel Aviv. No interviewing of neighbors to understand what motivated the departed to don foreign fatigues and raise a rifle at someone they’ve never met. Not to mention being placed on the mother of all no’s-the “no fly” list. Definitely no monitoring synagogue sermons or AIPAC conventions, unless they’re invited speakers and they’re up next.
Fortunately for Israel’s American volunteers, they will also be spared the indignity faced by Muslim-Americans of FBI surveillance stings-as chronicled in this recent this recent Al Jazeera investigation – to inveigle US citizens to fight or injure others abroad who aren’t deemed “bad guys.”
No, there are just three ways that American-Israeli foreign fighters run afoul of the law. First, if they join the “wrong” side, most readily defined as Hamas. The US classifies this resistance group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and sanctions it for “threatening to disrupt the Middle East peace process“. Odd considering Netanyahu has done more than his share to kill that very process. And when was the last time you saw any US citizen prosecuted for supporting (or being!) violent Israeli settlers or being members of extremist groups like Kahane Chai?
Criminal penalties or a loss of citizenship could theoretically result from those serving in Israel were it proven they intended to relinquish U.S. citizenship upon enlisting. It would be considered treason were US-Israeli fighters to directly attack the United States.
Lastly, it’s still a federal criminal offense to murder a US citizen abroad. While it’s still too early to tell whether the deceased US-Israeli fighters Sean Carmeli or Max Steinberg had killed any dual Palestinian-American citizens while fighting in Gaza, you can rest assured that there will be no investigation.
Indeed, one can safely say these American “jihadis” (isn’t that what we normally call those heading for a fight over there?) will be in the clear.
They probably had zero plans to ditch their passports when they took up arms for Israel. Just ask Rahm Emmanuel, who volunteered twice in the Israeli Defense Forces. He later became President Obama’s Chief of Staff and Mayor of Chicago.
How perverse is this: Carmeli and Steinberg might have even had a shot at becoming top-secret cleared US diplomats-even mediators to the very conflict they once participated in with weapons. Just review the story of Martin Indyk, America’s Mideast Peace Envoy, who was himself a volunteer (albeit civilian) during Israel’s 1973 war and who later was a top official at its US-based advocacy operation, known as AIPAC.
But on the final threshold were Carmeli and Steinberg fighting the United States and committing treason? Their defenders would argue not.
But if you study all Al Qaeda rhetoric before 9/11 and the innumerable other groups that have sprouted up since, unqualified American support for Israel-diplomatic, financial, and yes, military aid-remains a key grievance and recruitment device to attract people to attack and kill Americans.
So while Netanyahu’s killing machine obliterates Palestinian kids playing soccer on Gaza’s beaches, have no doubt that there are Arabs and Muslims wanting to exact revenge on both Israel and the United States.
That Carmeli and Steinberg fought to deepen that anger means they were also inciting Arabs and Muslims to hate Americans, posing risks to all citizens whether traveling abroad or walking freely at home.
In a parallel universe where logic prevails, the US might do something about it.
But in today’s America, the support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians is institutional. There will be no closing of US-based charities and NGO’s that openly raise tax-free money for Israeli settlers. The IRS will continue to allow this indirect subsidy for hostile activities in contravention of stated US foreign policy (you know, “they’re an obstacle to peace”). There will be no effort to “de-radicalize” America’s foreign fighters for Israel when they come home. On the contrary, they might even stand a chance of becoming civil servants or elected officials in positions of authority where they can secrete their bias into US policies.
That is what Secretary Kerry meant to say when paid homage to Israel’s American war dead: the system he is part of mourns you. But that does not necessarily mean America or Americans do.
We can only hope others might understand that distinction.
This article was first published on The Huffington Post.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.