By Richard Edmondson
Sometimes when you’re poring over the day’s news, two seemingly disconnected stories will sort of jump out at you, and a little bell will go off, “Hey! These two stories go together.” That’s what happened to me as I looked over the past few days’ news cycle. I couldn’t resist putting the following two items together.
The first item comes from International Solidarity Movement, dated January 6:
Yesterday, ISM volunteers traveled to the area of Lifjim in East Aqraba, where shepherd Mohammed Ibrahim Abu Hamed grazes his sheep. Thirteen sheep lay dead there, foaming at the nose and mouth, one with green vomit visible – a clear case of poisoning.
Abu Hamed and the Aqraba Municipality reported seeing a settler named Assaf spread an unknown substance over the land shortly before the sheep died. As the area is under illegal cultivation by settlers, this could have indicated intentional poisoning or indirect toxicity from herbicides.
Perhaps Assaf was celebrating Chinese New Year a little early. The “Year of the Sheep” doesn’t officially begin until January 31. In any case, the story is accompanied by the picture you see at the top of this page, showing the foam from the dead animal’s nostrils; you can also go here to read the rest of the article and view additional pictures of the sheep.
The poisoning occurred on Monday of this week, and, as we are told, was preceded by a prior incident last Saturday in which armed settlers fired upon Palestinian shepherds:
On Saturday, five shepherds were out grazing their sheep in the Area B part of Aqraba when at least seven armed settlers came down and attacked them. The settlers shot at the unarmed shepherds and two were injured. A number of people from Aqraba came out with the municipality in response to the shepherds’ call. An hour later the Israeli military showed up, deployed tear gas on the crowd and arrested four shepherds, accusing them of trying to steal from the settlement.
Aqraba, a Palestinian town of slightly over 8,000 residents, is located in the northern part of the West Bank and is virtually surrounded by Israeli settlements. All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law, but that doesn’t stop the Israeli government from approving more and more of them. Settlement expansion has, of course, continued unabated under the regime of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last month fired two of his cabinet ministers and pushed to have the current Knesset dissolved. This set the stage for new elections, which are scheduled for March 17–which brings me to our second item.
According to a JTA news article reprinted Tuesday in the Times of Israel, more than 90 percent of the campaign contributions toward Netanyahu’s reelection have come from US donors. Out of a campaign chest of some $259,000, about $237,000 came from US contributors–and about half of that from just three families.
One of the families is the Falics of Florida, owners of Duty Free Americas, which operates stores in international airports, in the US and elsewhere, where consumers may buy tax-free products. In addition to Netanyahu’s reelection campaign, the Falics have funded numerous other enterprises in Israel, including settlement projects in the West Bank. I do not know whether any of these may include the settlements around Aqraba, but certainly the poisoned sheep is something you might want to keep in mind the next time you’re in an airport walking past a sparkling shop window full of merchandise.
But Israel isn’t the only country where the Falics make political contributions. They do so here at home. According to a December 28 article posted at Mondoweiss, the Falics have funded the campaigns of congressional Democrats Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Eliot Engel, as well as the 2012 presidential campaign of Governor Mitt Romney.
The Falics are one of a number of wealthy, right-leaning Jewish American families that fund Israel’s and America’s right-wing politicians and illegal settlement projects. Hundreds of millions of dollars from U.S. tax-free foundations are poured into Israeli West Bank settlements every year. Taken together, the funds that originate in the U.S. are used for everything from infrastructure to business to security, solidifying Israeli control over the West Bank and putting a Palestinian state further out of reach.
The chairman and chief operating officer of Duty Free Americas is Simon Falic, while Leon Falic serves as company president. Another member of the family is Nily Falic, the national chairperson of the Friends of the IDF. A US-based 501 (c) (3) nonprofit, the Friends of the IDF is described by Mondoweiss as “a multi-million dollar operation that gives tax-free donations to the Israeli army.”
The fact that US Jews are allowed to contribute money to Israeli soldiers and write it off of their US taxes should be of concern to all Americans. Among the projects sponsored by the Friends of the IDF is the “Adopt a Brigade” program, which provides funding to some 50 different combat battalions of the Israeli military. Money donated to this fund is used for “fun/sports days, events celebrating outstanding soldiers, celebrations of Jewish holidays, and general recreation needs,” according to Wikipedia.
One of the brigades supported is the Golani Brigade, which participated in the ground invasion of Gaza last summer and which seems to have played a particularly pivotal role in the destruction of the Shujaya neighborhood. That destruction was documented in this rather famous video, which also shows the killing of an unarmed Palestinian by sniper fire.
Prior to the sniper rounds (three hit their target altogether, two after he’s already lying on the ground), we see a group of people attempting to make their way through what in essence has been turned into a virtual moonscape by repeated shelling. It looks very much like the Golanis were enjoying lots of recreational activity that day. The video has garnered more than 2.4 million hits since being uploaded on July 21,
But let’s get back to the report in the Times of Israel. The other two families contributing large amounts of money to Netanyahu’s campaign are the Schottensteins of Ohio, owners of the American Eagle chain of clothing stores, and the Book family of New Jersey, who own Jet Support Services. Additionally, according to the article:
Others who donated the maximum amount included Shlomo Reichnitz of Los Angeles, Richard Heideman of Bethesda, Maryland, David Simon of Indiana and John Kruger of New Jersey, according to the comptroller’s records.
Most of the donations came in the last two months of 2014.
Perhaps instead of “eagles,” the Schottensteins should rename their stores after the buzzards circling over the sheep. In any event, keep in mind that many if not most of these people, in addition to funding candidates in Israel, are also using their money to buy political influence in Washington. The less people we have funding pro-Israel candidates for the US Congress, the better.
Perhaps one day the Falics, Schottensteins, and others of their kind will take their fortunes and simply pick up and move to the country they love so much. I can only think America would be better off without them.
And who knows? Maybe one day, when they die, if there is such thing as a law of karma, they will find themselves reborn as the sheep of a Palestinian shepherd. And then perhaps the words of Jesus will come to them: “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.”