The Economics of an Occupation

 Palestine Jenin Raid

Early in July 2023, Israel launched a massive military onslaught on the refugee camps in Jenin in the Occupied West Bank in Palestine. The attack was the biggest in 20 years, in which Israel used its military arsenal to the full against unarmed civilians. It left immense devastation of lives and infrastructure in its trails. Destruction on this scale takes years to repair, while there is no antidote to the trauma, fear and despair suffered by the thousands who witness such disasters.

The Jenin attack, unfortunately, is part of a pattern that is too despairingly familiar: allegations of ‘terrorism’ by Israel, violent raids on grounds of suspicion, demolitions of properties triggering protests, use of force against protesters, escalation and finally full scale military assault. In the past decade, this pattern has been enacted in a vicious cycle several times.

Israel frames its use of military force as its ‘War against Terrorism’, and hence gets approval and support from its international allies who emphasize Israel’s need for security as an overriding, legitimate national objective.

While there is a complex set of factors underlying Israeli aggression against Palestinians including the religio-political ideology of Zionism, racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, the economic dimension to the narrative makes for some interesting, vital analysis. Israel’s military-industrial complex was the subject of research by analyst Mehdi Hasan in an MSNBC ‘Mehdi Hasan Show’ episode ‘Exporting War’ streamed on May 19, 2023. In his analysis, Hasan presented thoroughly researched facts showing how Israel’s weapons industry drives its military campaign in Palestine.

The Israeli economy is among the most successful stridently Capitalistic economies in the world. Quite unsurprisingly, one of its most thriving industries is its arms or weapons manufacturing industry. In his book ‘The Palestine Laboratory’, economic expert Antony Loewenstein has argued that Israel has developed world class weapons technology which is marketed to the world after being ‘battle tested’ in Palestine. He states: “Cashing in on the IDF brand has successfully led to Israeli security companies being some of the most successful in the world.”[1]

In one instance, Israel used the raw footage of a drone attack on Gaza in a promotional video for its war machinery. Andrew Feinstein[2], a global arms trade expert investigated the drone strike and discovered that the particular strike shown in the advertisement had killed a number of Palestinian civilians including children.

Hasan cites the alarming fact that in the year 2021, Israeli arms trade rose from $ 3 billion to $ 11.3 billion, making it among the top four arms exporters in the world. Israel’s military exports also include sophisticated technology like biometrics and face detection tools as well as spyware. These are sold to autocratic, totalitarian regimes and occupations all over the world, even though Israel prides itself for being the greatest democracy in the Middle East.[3]

Loewenstein states that Israel’s war in Palestine has two-fold benefits for Israel: firstly, Palestine serves as a laboratory or testing ground for Israel’s manufactured weapons. Secondly, the countries that purchase Israeli ‘battle-tested’ weaponry and all the global stakeholders that benefit from the arms trade are less likely to oppose Israel’s wars. It therefore acts as a sort of ‘insurance policy’ for Israel to continue its military aggression and perpetuate what is already the longest occupation in modern history.

For Loewenstein, even the ‘Abraham Accords’ of 2020 which normalized relations between Arab-Muslim states and Israel had important economic-military dimensions. The accords also function as arms deals and military pacts as well as trade partnerships. The UAE and other Arab states part of these US-sponsored normalization deals have been desperate to drive their economies forward by opening trade and making military partnerships with the greatest economic power of the Middle East- Israel. Arab signatories of the Accords have greatly benefitted from Israel’s sophisticated military technology. The profits this has brought to Israel by facilitating trade with neighbours hence reducing transport costs have also been immense. Palestinians consider the Abraham Accords as a stab in the back, putting the Palestinian struggle for liberation on the backburner for material gains.

India, a close ally of Israel has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of Israel’s arms trade and weapons technology. Weapons proliferation to India serves to intensify tensions in South Asia with neighbouring Pakistan with which India is in an age-old dispute over the Muslim territory of Kashmir held under Indian military occupation since partition in 1947.[4]

As a close ally and partner, Israel also serves as a precedent-setter modeling methods and strategies that are aped by India to perpetuate its occupation of Kashmir.[5] India has often attempted to replicate Israel’s strategies used in Gaza in Occupied Kashmir, such as the policy to resettle Hindus in the Muslim-majority region in order to upset demographics. This is similar to the settlement of Israeli Jews in Palestinian lands.[6]

Another flashpoint where Israel-supplied technology and military resources have been put to use is the US-Mexico border.[7] The heavily guarded area has become a major site for the work of Israeli security and surveillance companies. The money-inflow to Israel as a result continues to finance raids and military assaults on Palestinian civilians. It is a vicious cycle.

Recognizing the power of Israel’s military-industrial complex and the economics of the Israeli occupation, human right activists and Palestinian community leaders launched the ‘BDS Movement.’[8] BDS is an acronym for ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’. The aim of the movement is to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians through awareness of how Israel’s trade and exports help to finance the wars of Israel in Palestine.

Since all efforts at peacemaking and conflict resolution have failed to stem the bloody tide unleashed by Israel, the international community should consider the adoption of punitive measures against the Israeli economy. This includes targeted boycotts, divestment initiatives as well as sanctions on Israeli trade and arms shipments.

Targeted boycotts of a few enterprises directly associated with the Israeli war machinery work much more effectively than broad-based blanket-boycotts which are often practically difficult to maintain. For most successful outcomes, only those Israeli and international companies should be boycotted that are actually complicit in the occupation. For instance, the Caterpillar Incorporation supplies the machinery employed for Palestinian home demolitions. The Hewlett-Packard (HP) company supplies technology for surveillance of Palestinians. Siemens Corporation is the most prominent enterprise active in the construction of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory. The Euro-Asia Interconnector helps supply electricity to Europe from Israel, bringing tremendous economic boons to the latter. AXA is the biggest investor in Israeli banks. Puma sponsors Israeli sports teams helping to improve the Zionist apartheid state’s image globally. Soda Steam is actively complicit in Israel’s policy of displacing the indigenous Bedouin-Palestinian citizens of Israel with a long history of mistreatment of Palestinian workers. Ahava cosmetics has its production site, visitor center and main store in an illegal Israeli settlement. (The information about brands to boycott can be verified and details accessed from https://bdsmovement.net/get-involved/what-to-boycott)

While being bombarded by news of tragedy upon tragedy in Palestine, we often feel powerless as individuals to somehow mitigate the suffering. However, understanding the economics of the occupation and the efficacy of economic measures to curb the growing oppressive power of Israel may enable us to make a small difference in our individual capacities- one step at a time- by participating in the worldwide BDS campaign against Israel.

[1] Loewenstein, Antony: ‘The Palestine Laboratory’- How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World, https://www.versobooks.com/en-gb/products/2684-the-palestine-laboratory

[2]Feinstein is a former South African politician currently in the UK. He is the Executive Director of Corruption Watch UK and chaired the Aids charity Friends of the Treatment Action Campaign, and lectures and writes on South Africa and the global arms trade.

[3] The Times of Israel, ‘Israel ranked world’s 10th largest weapons exporter in the past ten years: https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-ranked-worlds-10th-largest-weapons-exporter-in-past-five-years/

[4] Middle East Eye, ‘India and Israel: The Arms Trade in charts and numbers’: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/india-israel-arms-trade-numbers#:~:text=Between%202014%20and%202021%2C%20India,and%2068%20unarmed%20Heron%201s.

[5] Anger over Indian diplomat calling for ‘Israeli model’ in Kashmir, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/11/28/anger-over-indias-diplomat-calling-for-israel-model-in-kashmir

[6] “Sometime in late November 2019, a serving Indian diplomat in the United States, while addressing a gathering of Kashmiri Hindus, averred that “Kashmiri culture is Indian culture; it is Hindu culture” and espoused the Israeli model of West Bank settlements as the way forward. Though the Indian government did not officially support this policy of apartheid, it also conveniently did not distance itself from the remarks made by its serving envoy in his official capacity.” – Bhasin, Anuradha, “Bringing the Israeli model to Kashmir”, Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2020/6/20/bringing-the-israeli-model-to-kashmir

[7] Dawson, Brittany: US-Mexico border, An Israeli tech Laboratory, December 6, 2018. https://www.palestine-studies.org/en/node/232052

[8] https://bdsmovement.net/

Maryam Sakeenah is a Pakistan-based independent researcher and freelance writer on International politics, human rights and Islam. She divides her time between teaching high school, writing, research and voluntary social work. She also authored a book ‘Us versus Them and Beyond’ analyzing the Clash of Civilization theory and the role of Islam in facilitating intercultural communication.

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