Were common household items purchased with tax-exempt charitable funds used to help the Israeli army kill Palestinians in Gaza?
On Tuesday, The Electronic Intifada reported on a lawsuit filed by several US citizens against the US Treasury.
The complaint alleges that the government agency is allowing billions of dollars of tax-exempt charitable donations to flow to the Israeli army and support the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem.
One of the lawsuit’s specific claims is that “tens of thousands of Palestinians have had their homes either confiscated or demolished by settlers armed with sophisticated military hardware purchased with funds coming from these US tax-exempt entities.”
The lawsuit says that the funds have been used to purchase night-vision goggles, sniper scopes and guard dogs for Israeli settlers as well as to set up “sniper schools.”
“The settlers use the military hardware to threaten and intimidate their Palestinian neighbors, in some cases murdering them, hoping that they will abandon their homes and olive groves,” the lawsuit claims.
It says that tax-exempt funds have also benefitted the Israeli military, but it does not say that such funds were used to buy military gear for the army.
The video above, however, provides evidence that equipment likely purchased with tax-deductible US donations was used in Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians including 551 children.
In the video, members of the Israeli army’s Golani Brigade preparing to deploy to Gaza during the assault thank donors to an organization called Connections Israel for donations they have made.
Among the items purchased with the donated funds are headlamps – which are seen in the video being distributed to soldiers – that the soldiers say they use in raids on homes in Gaza.
“Here we are in the field with the soldiers,” a narrator says. “We are giving them various items they require. They have some headlamps, some shirts, some socks, some underwear, some deodorant.”
An unnamed man who identifies himself as a soldier in the Golani Brigade adds: “I want to say thank you to all of you for your donation and contribution to our unit.”
A second soldier, also unnamed, says in what may be a South African accent, “thank you so much for the donations. Really, it warms our hearts and operationally it makes us better. We’ve got headlamps which we can use in order to open houses and use for operations.”
Majda Sulaiman Khuday gave a horrific account of what can happen when the Israeli army invades a Palestinian home. Badly injured by Israeli shelling of the Gaza village of Khuzaa in July 2014, she and her husband were held captive as Israeli soldiers denied her medical care, ransacked their house and blew a hole in its wall.
The video was published by Connections Israel, which solicits tax-deductible donations through its website.
The group says it was founded in 1998 “to provide the IDF [Israeli army] soldiers with much needed equipment and supplies, foster and strengthen personal relationships between soldiers and the Diaspora, and gifts to raise the morale of the soldiers.”
The organization also supports so-called “lone soldiers” – individuals from around the world, usually Jewish, who join the Israeli army.
There are currently about 2,800 “lone soldiers” in the Israeli army, many from North America and Europe.
Connections Israel is registered as a charity in Israel. It also raises money through a separate organization called American Friends of Connections Israel that was granted US tax-exempt status in 2013. Financial data for 2014 and 2015 have not yet been published.
Given that Connections Israel says it was established in 1998, it has likely been receiving gifts from other US donors for many years.
The most recent financial report for the Israel-based Connections Israel says the organization received 180,000 Israeli shekels ($46,000) in donations from domestic and foreign sources in 2013 and a similar amount in 2012.
Connections Israel is just one of perhaps hundreds of pro-Israel organizations soliciting tax-exempt charitable funds in the US, many of which raise millions every year.
But in this video it has published compelling evidence that such groups are providing direct material support for the Israeli army’s violence against Palestinians.
“B’ezrat Hashem [With God’s help], we can win this war and finish and bring peace to the whole of the Middle East,” one of the soldiers says in the video.
“If you’re looking for some adventure and some excitement in your life, this is definitely the best place to be,” the soldier with the possible South African accent concludes.
But for Palestinians, Israel’s massive assault was anything but a fun “adventure.”
The UN’s independent investigation of the assault found that the mass destruction and killing inflicted by Israel, often amounting to war crimes, “may have constituted military tactics reflective of a broader policy, approved at least tacitly by decision-makers at the highest levels of the Government of Israel.”
Most of that destruction and killing was done with weapons provided by the US government.
But at least some part of it was apparently made possible by “charitable” donations directly from US citizens.
Dena Shunra contributed research.