Conflict of Interest: Americans in the IDF


By Mohamed Mohamed

In the latest unrest gripping the Occupied Palestinian Territories, 21-year old Tuvya Weisman was stabbed and killed. Weisman was an Israeli settler and off-duty sergeant in the IDF, but he also happened to be a US citizen.

The US State Department issued the following press statement regarding the attack:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the attack that took place yesterday in the West Bank that resulted in the death of US citizen Tuvya Weisman. There is no justification for terrorism. This horrific incident again underscores the need for all sides to reject violence, and urgently take steps to restore calm, reduce tensions, and bring an immediate end to the violence.”

Putting the utility and morality of such acts aside, an inconvenient yet honest question to ask is why was Weisman, an American, serving in the IDF? More specifically, why is an American allowed to serve in the military of a foreign state that continues to expand illegal settlements on land occupied for almost half a century?

In order to avoid political arguments about the international legal status of Israeli settlements, the US State Department has avoided explicitly labelling them as “illegal.” Instead, official US statements tacitly condemn Israel by rejecting the “legitimacy of continued settlement activity.” At the same time, the US indirectly legitimizes Israeli occupation and the settlements by allowing American citizens to freely serve in the IDF. Further, not only do Palestinians live under military occupation and are ruled by Israeli military laws, Israeli settlers even commit acts of violence against Palestinians while under the outright protection of Israeli forces.

Regarding dual citizenship and compulsory foreign military service, the US State Department advises the following:

“Military service by US nationals may cause problems in the conduct of our foreign relations since such service may involve US nationals in hostilities against countries with which we are at peace. For this reason, US nationals facing the possibility of foreign military service should do what is legally possible to avoid such service.”

Weisman, along with roughly 1,000 Americans serving in the IDF, did not follow this advice even they could easily avoid such military service. If they simply wanted to live in Israel, they could have immigrated under the Israeli “Law of Return,” which allows all Jews to settle there but does not require them to become Israeli citizens (a person may declare within three months of arrival that they do not wish to become a citizen). By avoiding citizenship, they would avoid serving in the IDF.

The US has repeatedly tried to portray itself as an “honest broker” of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but actions speak louder than words. Allowing US citizens to participate in Israel’s occupation machine blatantly contradicts this self-proclaimed title, as if billions of dollars in financial and military assistance to Israel is not enough. Of course, this is just another one of the many double standards concerning US relations with Israel.

Despite receiving such extensive US support, Israel does not seem to contribute much to the so-called US-Israeli friendship that American politicians are fond of mentioning. While the US is willing to sacrifice the lives of its citizens in IDF hostilities against Palestinians, Israel instead engages in “alarming” levels of espionage against the United States. It used stolen information to undermine US diplomacy and also sold stolen American military technology to China. Israel routinely denies entry to American citizens, it murdered American peace activist Rachel Corrie with a bulldozer, and in 1967 it killed 34 American sailors in an attack on the USS Liberty while it was in international waters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has even selfishly commented that the September 11 terrorist attacks were good for Israel. From the perspective of America’s national interests, it is clear that allowing US citizens to serve in the IDF is highly questionable at best.

As the official US positions states, there is no justification for terrorism. However, there is also no justification for 49 years of Israeli occupation and oppression of four and a half million Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza, not to mention the institutionalized discrimination that Palestinian citizens of Israel have endured for almost 68 years. The State Department was quick to condemn the attack that caused the death of Tuvya Weisman, but it failed to acknowledge the toxic conditions that would even motivate two juveniles to carry out such a terrible attack in the first place.

Israel has blamed the latest wave of violence on Palestinian incitement, but what about its own incitement against Palestinians? The current generation of Palestinian youth was born and raised under Israeli occupation, as were their parents and even their grandparents. They are forced to live under martial law with few economic opportunities, their freedom of movement is severely restricted, they have unequal access to water, and they must withstand countless other violations of their basic rights. At the same time, a foreigner such as Tuvya Weisman is welcome to not only colonize their land, but also to participate in the military apparatus that continues to subjugate them. How does Israel honestly expect Palestinians to react to such a humiliating state of affairs?

Would the State Department look favorably upon American citizens joining Russian forces in their occupation of Abkhazia or South Ossetia? That seems highly unlikely.  Of course, the United States is also unlikely to single out Israel and prevent Americans from serving in the IDF. However, due to conflicts of interest that could easily arise from joining a foreign military, Washington would be diplomatically wise to ban its citizens from enlisting in any sovereign force, unless they choose to relinquish their American citizenship. Otherwise, its policies will continue to legitimize the aggression and injustices committed by oppressive states such as Israel.

Mohamed Mohamed is Finance, Grants, and Development Manager at The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center. The views expressed are his own.