US declares Israel ‘a major strategic partner’

A Palestinian child, wounded in an Israeli strike on a compound housing a UN school in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, is pictured at Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahia early on July 30, 2014. AFP / Mohammed Abed

US lawmakers voted unanimously Wednesday to pass legislation making Israel a “major strategic partner” of the United States, deepening a bilateral bond that has recently shown signs of strain.

In a voice vote, the House approved the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014, which expands cooperation in defense and security, energy, research and development, business, agriculture, water management and academics.

The measure reflects “the sense of Congress that Israel is a major strategic partner of the United States,” and declares Washington’s “unwavering support” for Israel as “a Jewish state.”

The roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict date back to 1917, when the British government, in the now-famous Balfour Declaration, called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the holy city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Zionist state – a move never recognized by the international community.

The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously in September, now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The legislation would expand the US weapons stockpile in Israel by some $200 million in value, to a total of $1.8 billion, so that the Pentagon can be better prepared to conduct military operations in the volatile Middle East.

It also crucially allows Israel to use the weapons in the event of an emergency, as it did this summer during its operation “Protective Edge” in Gaza.

Earlier this year Congress dramatically increased US funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, to $351 million for fiscal year 2015 from $235 million the previous year.

Veteran Democrat Eliot Engel noted how the bill was aimed in part at helping Israel maintain a “qualitative military edge” over its adversaries.

“We must always be working to ensure that our support for Israel keeps pace with the threats proliferating against the country — from Iran to Hamas,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce added in a statement.

For 51 days this summer, during the so-called “Protective Edge” operation, Israel pounded the Gaza Strip – by air, land and sea – with the stated aim of ending rocket fire from the coastal enclave.

According to UN figures, at least 505 Palestinian children were killed during the 50-day assault. The cumulative death toll among Palestinians is at least 2,180, at least 70 percent of whom were civilians. On the Israeli side, 66 soldiers and six civilians died during the conflict.

UNRWA said 138 of its students were killed during the Israeli aggression, and the organization’s spokesperson Christopher Gunness said an additional 814 UNRWA students were injured and 560 have become orphans due to the Israeli onslaught.

The agency also said over 241,000 children are in need of psychological support.

Moreover, according to the UN, as many as 80,000 Palestinians homes were damaged or destroyed during the days of hostilities, a higher figure than was previously thought, and over 106,000 of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents have been displaced to UN shelters and host families.

“Israel is a bright light in a very, very dark region,” Engel asserted on the House floor shortly before the vote.

Since September 2000, following the Second Intifada, at least 9,100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, including 2,053 Palestinian children, the equivalent of one Palestinian child being killed every 3 days for the past 14 years.

Since 1967, more than 850,000 Palestinians have been held in Israeli prisons and detention facilities.

In 2013, the UN children’s fund (UNICEF) reported that Israel was the only country in the world where children were “systematically tried” in military courts and gave evidence of practices it said were “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.”

Over the past decade, UNICEF noted that Israel has detained “an average of two children each day.”

About 6,500 Palestinians, including 300 children, are now being held in Israeli prisons, 1,500 of whom are suffering from life-threatening illnesses.

Moreover, the legislation also requires the Obama administration to move toward allowing Israel to be included in the top-tier category for license-free exports of certain US technologies and products, and it places Israel on the US list of countries that participate in the visa waiver program.

Israel is widely believed to possess a substantial nuclear arsenal, which it does not officially acknowledge.

On Tuesday, a UN General Assembly committee responsible for global security passed on an Egypt-drafted resolution demanding that Israel give up its nuclear arsenal and put its nuclear facilities under international oversight.

Entitled “The risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East,” the non-binding draft resolution, obtained the support of 161 states against five others including the United States, while 18 countries abstained from the vote.