Israeli arms maker wins “unprecedented” contract at US-Mexico border

Elbit Systems, a contractor for Israel’s wall in the West Bank, just secured a $145 million contract with the US government at the US-Mexico border.

Issam Rimawi APA images

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

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How Israel profits from US border militarization

Gabriel Schivone: Well, the significance of the bill is enormous, because it represents one more opportunity for the US government to transfer public funds, taxes, into the private sector. It gives them a huge excuse to do that. And this is unprecedented in just the amount — these sorts of transfers happen all the time, with justifications of counter-terrorism especially, and immigration enforcement after [11 September 2001] skyrocketed.

In the mission statements of the US Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection there’s nothing really about immigration, it’s all about “terrorism” — “we’re stopping terrorists from crossing the border, coming into the country, bringing their weapons of mass destruction.” So, regularly, this is the dominant narrative of allowing to transfer this huge money over and to fill these policies with contracts.

But this one, as I said, is unprecedented. It’s just enormous. And when the Elbit news was reported by the business press and some in the progressive media and The Electronic Intifada, AlterNet, the thing that people kept missing — or, at least a few mentioned it and others didn’t mention it at all — was a single line from this analyst that I quoted from the original business press, Bloomberg, who said that the contract of $145 million would be expected to increase to around $1 billion if the immigration bill, if the package goes through.

Now, that to me is the most significant part of this news, and it was buried. So I wanted to focus on that and report on it and just put in lots of analysis and reporting, and focus on that one point. Because I feel like that’s the crux of the discussion, especially one that’s being missed by everybody. And this is what we should be talking about — specifically, Israel’s role. And there are lots of global actors who are helping the United States to smash undocumented migrant communities and communities of color, border communities on both borders — increasingly on the northern border, it’s raising to a frightening level — but Israel is a major one which is just growing and growing and growing.

This is something that we’re going to continue to see, especially if we ignore these trends. We ignore them at our peril unless we do something about it and stop it.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Gabe, if you could talk about what it looks like at the US-Mexico border now, and what this $145 million deal with Elbit Systems aims to do, exactly.

GS: Okay, well this specific contract — that’s a good question to recognize at first, as well. It’s one contract with one country at one place at the border so far. Arizona is the initial area where these Integrated Fixed Towers [are] — they’re sensor-based surveillance, large towers that are part of the Customs and Border Protection’s plan that Congress has approved — and it’s been a long time coming. Elbit actually beat out some major players, US-based major firms like Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

So, Elbit is already big — it’s Israel’s largest, non-governmental, private security firm — but it’s also becoming more and more of a major player here. Its US subsidiary is based in Ft. Worth, Texas, called Elbit Systems of America. In fact, at the latest trade show a few weeks ago … there are these trade shows all along the border where the Border Patrol in uniform, other military brass and corporate executives and other technocrats are peddling their products and representing companies large and small, getting together in this arena to show off their products and these prototypes. The whole arena will be filled with them, and there are these meetings going on, and keynote speeches — Israeli military and corporate executives have been an increasing presence at these sorts of trade shows, and the most recent one, when you walked into the arena, there’s this huge banner that went across the doors, with a big American flag on one side and an Israeli flag on the other, and it said “Elbit Systems of America.”

This was right after the contract was announced, so it was perfect timing to just parade the whole relationship that’s booming with Elbit. So Elbit has these towers, and Arizona’s the first [to implement it] by Nogales, which is about 60 miles from where I’m sitting right here at the University of Arizona in Tucson in the borderlands — and it’s expected to take the Integrated Fixed Tower project and just expand it across the border, just like all of the other systems projects like surveillance and other types of military-style infrastructure.

NBF: Gabe, you write that the surveillance systems have been “battle-tested” against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank; can you talk about how Palestinians have been used essentially as guinea pigs by companies such as Elbit Systems? There’s also been the use of Israeli-made drones along the US-Mexico border; can you talk about both of those [issues]?

GS: Yeah. So the idea of the occupied territories as a laboratory is Israeli-created, and it’s been around a long time. In fact, the source that I used for that article goes back to the early 1980s, when I first saw that phrase used — “battle-proven” or “battle-tested.” And that was reported by mainstream US media when Israel’s role started to step up in Guatemala and in the outright genocide of indigenous Maya peoples, for which the general who was at the time one of the commanders during the worst part of the atrocities, during the period of the United Nations’ Truth Commission report came out and said between 1978 and 1984 was the worst period of the atrocities and the most amount of deaths — we’re talking about at least 200,000 dead during the hostilities between the early 1960s to the mid-1990s, ‘78 through ‘84 was the most amount. We’re talking about 150,000 out of 200,000 just in a few years’ period.

Efrain Rios Montt was the general who came to power in a coup, touted as a bloodless coup in March of 1982, and he had an interview with ABC News, and he said that his coup was so successful “because our soldiers were trained by Israelis.” And the Israeli press was reporting at the time 300 Israeli advisors were on the ground, helping execute that coup.

A lot of this was covered in a really good book by a scholar and a journalist named Milton Jamail and Margo Gutierriez; the title of their book was It’s No Secret: Israel’s Role in Central America. And as they say in the opening pages, the reason why they named it that was because most of their sources came from US mainstream media. And this was, like they say, no secret — it was there, but it wasn’t talked about. Israel played a leading role in the genocide, the most horrific sorts of atrocities imaginable, and these soldiers in Guatemala were trained by Israel. There was one military advisor — I was looking at his interview the other day — a [husband and wife] team, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, wrote a book called Dangerous Liaisons, and they interviewed this military advisor. So it’s one thing for Rios Montt to say that “our soldiers were trained by Israelis,” it’s one thing for Israeli press to report it — 300 of them — but it’s another thing to actually get it from the mouth of one of them.

They had this exclusive interview with him and you get to see what the motivations are and why he’s there, this advisor was getting $5,000 for every six-week contract, training every single high-ranking officer in the Guatemalan army above the rank of captain. He said that he was originally in the Israeli Border guards, that’s where his job is, and he’s so far away from home but he doesn’t miss his home because he found the work to be fascinating and the company to be congenial.

This was a soldier on the ground at the bottom of the whole policy of supporting monstrous regimes like Guatemala and others who were massacring people left and right, dissidents and indigenous people, but his sentiment echoes those at the top who are saying that it’s a matter of survival of the Israeli people, the Jewish people specifically, they [use] this kind of language, to partner up with these regimes no matter what they’re doing. Because it also wasn’t a secret what Guatemala was doing at the time.

You’ll have the heads of Israeli military industries saying things like if the state has approved of the sales to go through, my conscience is clear. That’s a quote from Michael Shurr, he’s one of those leaders.

So this advisor says the same thing. He says, “I don’t care what the gentiles do with the arms,” — the gentiles being non-Jews — “the main thing is that the Jews profit.” These sorts of really cold and calculating statements show you a frightening portrait into the motivations and justifications toward the human people on the ground.

Speaking about my article, that’s one critique of this article. In my piece, I was going over the companies and going over the contracts, and going over policies and why things are, but one thing that’s missing and what I’m working on now, are the human stories — those who are the corporate leaders, the others on the ground at the US-Mexico border, the Israeli-Americans who are driving this industry. What are their motivations, what are their justifications? I’m looking into that now, and where this article leads off is where I’m looking into now.

I’ve had interviews with various CEOs and vice-presidents of companies who are surprisingly willing to talk to me. I don’t know if they Googled or not, and saw this article, but maybe they don’t care — they’re getting their name out there, their company’s [name].

In terms of drones, the [Israeli-made] Hermes were the first batch of drones to actually fly over the borderland sky. That was back in 2004. And today, according to a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson, the “predator program” as he called it is run by US Predator B drones. He said he didn’t know what happened to the Israeli Hermes drones. So, that’s changed a little bit. It doesn’t mean that no Israeli drones will ever be again over the skies, and who knows where those original Israeli drones are right now; they could be in a warehouse somewhere or something — Elbit has been getting sales left and right all around the world. Especially in Latin America, they have some major clients there.

There was just recently an arms deal in the Philippines. Even before the Elbit contract with the Department of Homeland Security, they had a recent contract with various US military forces. Just the other day, it was with the US Army — they had a $12 million contract. This was a big one, this $145 million, it was a major one, but they have this all the time. Elbit is a major company, but it’s really a large representative of the larger scheme of Israeli security companies that are entering more and more into the US marketplace for border security. They call it the “border security industrial complex.”

NBF: Gabe, briefly, why has the Senate bill stalled in the House, and do you expect it to pass anyway?

GS: I feel like it’s anybody’s guess at this point, really. Ostensibly, [as] it’s portrayed in the media — and there’s some truth to it of course — the Republican-controlled House is what’s stalling it, and the so-called “Gang of Eight” is the one who wrote it, half of them are Republicans, half of them are Democrats, and they wrote it and that was last summer.

Lots of major liberal or mainstream immigration groups wanting immigration reform jumped on board, despite the fact of how much militarization was part of the package — it was a big compromise. And it hasn’t been passed. And it grows ever unlikely that it’s going to pass at all. But in a way, it doesn’t matter for Israel whether or not it’s passed, because as we saw with this contract, the money is there and the justification continues to be there with what direction US policy is moving in.

It really depends on the more that domestic costs are raised by those that are organizing dissent in the streets. There’s a national movement that I opened with that is cropping up everywhere across the country. And it doesn’t show any signs of stopping, in fact it only promises to grow more drastic, more extreme, more traumatic to the status quo, as it should. And it looks like it will until Obama does something. He doesn’t need Congress — he could stop deportations tomorrow. There are so many things that could happen.

End transcript.

The scars of Deir Yassin

Dina Elmuti: My grandmother is a survivor of the Deir Yassin massacre.

Sixty-six years later, her scars still bear witness.

Deir Yassin is a name permanently inscribed in the Palestinian narrative. Friday, 9 April 1948 is a date forever engraved with infamy. The Deir Yassin massacre is a turning point in Palestinian history, remaining a symbol of dispossession, ongoing erasure and humanity’s capacity for cruelty.

When I was in Palestine this summer, my grandmother pointed to the stone home in Deir Yassin where she was born 76 years ago — and my eyes caught a glimpse of a pale scar on her arm. The nostalgia in her voice was so strong, I could almost see the barbaric scenes of terror as if they were being projected from a movie reel onto a screen in front of us.

Today, a psychiatric hospital occupies the center of Deir Yassin village, restricting access to its fortified stone homes standing out defiantly against the grid of generic Israeli settlement buildings constructed on stolen land.

The village was once home to around 750 people. Located outside Jerusalem and a few hundred meters to the west of the Jewish-only settlement of Givat Shaul, it was known for its peaceful reputation and primary industry of stone quarrying.

By sunrise on 9 April, the Zionist terrorist organizations known as the Irgun and Stern Gang had raided the village and stormed homes, slaughtering as many people as possible. The victims included unarmed elderly men, pregnant women and children.

Large piles of smoking and charred bodies were thrown into a pit, homes were filled with bodies riddled with bullets and walls were splattered with blood.

Each spring, almond trees in full bloom filled the air with the sweet fragrance of their blossoms. By evening that Friday, the suffocating stench of blood and burning corpses permeated the air instead.

More than 100 people were murdered that day. But the carnage was not gruesome enough for the perpetrators who exaggerated the death toll to reporters as more than double in order to incite panic and terror throughout the country.

With the motive of mass expulsion, Deir Yassin marked the implementation the Zionist policy to terrorize and erase the indigenous people from all of Palestine — not just Jerusalem. This ultimately led to the exodus of more than 750,000 people from their homes. Today, Palestinians constitute the largest refugee population in the world at more than 5.3 million.

My grandmother pointed over to a basketball court and park where the stone quarry once stood. Closing my eyes, I tried to commit the details of this place to memory.

I opened my eyes to the unsettling reality of settlers standing on the balcony of my grandmother’s home. There are no words to describe the agony of knowing that in order for settlers to now call this place home, they first had to erase its rightful owners from their consciousness.

“My father built that house, stone by stone,” she said. “The morning of the massacre, I raced up the steps to get Jamal [her younger brother] from his crib. On my way down, I slipped on bullet casings, cutting my arm as we fell.”

Outside, she and her four younger siblings ran into their teacher, Hayat al-Balbisi. “She bandaged my right arm and grabbed my left,” my grandmother said. “Taking Jamal from my arms, she ran towards the group of people fleeing the village towards Ein Karem [a nearby village]. She instructed us to stay with the group before rushing back to help a wounded man. I looked back towards her and our home one last time.”

Al-Balbisi, a village teacher, established a first-aid area that morning to treat wounded villagers. She helped countless people survive the massacre before a Zionist terrorist shot her in the head outside my grandmother’s home. She was 18 years old.

Following the massacre, refugees fled to East Jerusalem, carrying little more than the incomprehensible memories of murder and destruction.

“When we reunited with my mother after three days, she told us about how the Zionists kept her and other women prisoners in the bakery, proudly waving around large daggers wet with the blood of others,” my grandmother said.

My grandmother’s cousin, Naziha Radwan, was six at the time of the massacre. She survived by covering herself in her grandmother’s blood, hiding beneath stiffened bodies and pretending to be dead.

Walking along the dirt path, my grandmother pointed to the home of her paternal aunt, Basma Zahran, and recounted another tragedy.

“She and her four children were shot and their bodies were burned in there,” my grandmother said. “Three little girls and a newborn baby boy, only a few hours old.”

Shaking her head in disbelief, she added, “Prior to the massacre, we were on good terms with the Jews in Givat Shaul. We shared food, celebrated together, paid condolences to one another, babysat for each other. There was peace here before the Zionists came and destroyed everything.”

A gentle breeze filled the air as we picked almonds from the tree my great-grandfather planted. I felt reawakened by the palpable bond to this land which remains unbreakable and non-negotiable.

Disturbed by the sight, a settler came over and demanded to know what we were doing. The irony was not lost on my grandmother.

“I’m picking almonds from my tree,” my grandmother said, “planted outside my home.” The settler left quietly, shrinking in my grandmother’s presence.

Moments like these remind me that not only tragedy permeates the soil here, but also hope. Palestine was never an empty “land without a people,” and it never will be.

Aggressors assume that survivors will forget. They fool themselves more than anyone else. Our narratives remain indestructibly woven into the fabric of our existence, grafted onto our bones and configured into our DNA, passed down from generation to generation.

We will never forget what happened in Deir Yassin on 9 April 1948. We will keep on telling our stories.

End transcript.



Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).