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Blowback: Weapons of Mideast oppression, 'Made in U.S.A.'

March 3, 2011 |  3:43 pm

Patrick Connors, a member of Adalah-NY: The New York campaign for the Boycott of Israel, a New York City-based group advocating for Palestinian rights, takes on a Feb. 22 Los Angeles Times article. If you also have a bone to pick regarding a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed and would like to participate in Blowback, here are our FAQs and submission policy.  

Tear Gas

The Times' Feb. 22 article, "Britain, Italy condemned for Libya ties," provides helpful insight into the uproar caused by British and Italian military aid to Libya. However, readers would be well served by further information on how, with our government's support, U.S. companies have provided military and crowd-control equipment that has propped up authoritarian governments throughout the Middle East.

Rather than seeing the U.S. as spreading freedom, Arabs who have taken to the streets have experienced "Made in U.S.A." tear gas used by repressive governments to kill and maim unarmed protesters and crush popular movements for justice.

For unarmed Arab protesters in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Pennsylvania may seem to be the tear-gas capital of the world judging by the labels on the canisters fired at them. Combined Systems Inc. (CSI) is headquartered in Jamestown, Pa., and NonLethal Technologies Inc.'s home is in Homer City, Pa. The apparently defunct Federal Laboratories was based in Saltsburg, Pa.

The recent wave of deaths and injuries from tear gas began in the West Bank. Jawaher Abu Rahmah died on Jan. 1 after she was overcome by tear gas the day before at a protest against Israel's construction of its illegal wall and settlements on the farmland of the village of Bil'in. CSI tear-gas canisters littered the village. Jawaher's brother, Bassem Abu Rahmah, was killed in 2009 in Bil'in when he was shot directly in the chest during a peaceful protest by an Israeli soldier with an extended-range CSI tear-gas canister.

Also in 2009 in the neighboring village of Ni'ilin, American citizen Tristan Anderson was left partially disabled after he was shot in the head by an extended-range tear-gas canister from CSI. In May 2010, New York art student Emily Henochowicz lost her left eye when she was shot in the face by an Israeli soldier with an aluminum tube tear-gas canister, very likely made in the U.S.

In Tunisia, Lucas Mebrouk Dolega, a 32-year-old photographer from France, died on Jan. 17 after being hit by a tear-gas grenade fired at close range by Tunisian police. On Feb. 6, a Tunisian protester was killed when he was shot in the head with a tear-gas canister. Photos and news reports have shown that CSI is a major tear-gas provider for Tunisia.

In Egypt, Agence France Press reported on Jan. 28 that "Dozens of the canisters made by [CSI subsidiary] Combined Tactical Systems in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, were fired at crowds on one Cairo street on Friday … with the security forces sometimes firing them straight at demonstrators." Human Rights Watch staff reported seeing dead protesters in Alexandria with "massive head wounds from tear-gas canisters we were told had been fired directly at their heads at close range."

In Bahrain, according to news reports and photos posted online, peaceful protesters have been shot at with tear gas from NonLethal Technologies and Federal Laboratories. In Yemen, CSI tear gas has reportedly been used on protesters.

The U.S. gives billions in military aid annually to these countries — $3 billion to Israel, $1.3 billion to Egypt, $155 million to Yemen, $20 million to Bahrain and about $15 million to Tunisia. The U.S. State Department at a minimum approves the export and sale of tear gas by U.S. companies to these governments.

The American-made tear gas is a symbol of U.S. policy in the Middle East that has supported repression and cheap oil at the expense of human rights, and has favored Israel and Arab autocrats who tempered criticism of Israel's many abuses of Palestinian rights.

Americans should follow the example of people in Britain and France and demand that the State Department stop approving the sale of tear gas and other weapons that are being used by repressive governments in the Middle East, including Israel, to deny basic freedoms and rights.

We also need to demand that U.S. companies such as CSI and NonLethal Technologies ensure that their products are not being sold to governments that will use them to violate basic human rights. Death, injury and the denial of freedom and basic human rights in the Middle East should no longer be made in the U.S.A.

--Patrick Connors

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Blowback archive

Photo: An Israeli soldier (not pictured) fires a tear gas canister towards Palestinian protesters during a demonstration against Israel's controversial separation barrier in the West Bank village of Maasarah, near the biblical town of Bethlehem on Feb. 18, 2011. Credit: Abed Al Hashlamoun / EPA

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