The Texas Observer spoke with Rania Masri and Jordan Green of the Institute for Southern Studies during the Austin stop of their Peace Through Justice Road Tour. Masri, an environmental scientist and human rights activist, is the director of the Institute’s Economic and Environmental Justice Program. Green, a journalist, has been associated with the group since 1997. The latest issue of the Institute’s magazine, Southern Exposure, focuses on the defense industry in the South. Green’s article “Arming the Occupation” details how the South accounts for 66 percent of U.S. military support to Israel. Texas in particular has a long and close relationship with Israel; total exports from all Texas industries in 2000 topped $490,000,000. In their May tour, the two, along with Director Chris Kromm, visited Atlanta, Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, and Asheville, North Carolina. The Institute for Southern Studies is based in Durham, North Carolina.
Texas Observer: What has changed in U.S. weapons development since George W. Bush ascended to the presidency and since September 11?
Jordan Green: The attacks of September 11 provided the perfect pretext to accelerate programs of militarization, which were clearly part of Clinton’s foreign policy. The effects are more intensified, violent, and brutal under Bush. But I don’t see that it would have necessarily been different under a Gore Administration.
The new military budget that Bush proposed was something along the lines of a 33-percent increase. I think we can expect it to go through.
Rania Masri: If we combine North Korea, Iraq, and Iran’s military budgets, it totals 12 billion dollars. Just the increase that “W” and Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld want is 48 billion dollars. So, the military increase is greater than the military budgets of the three nations that make up the alleged “Axis of Evil,” and it is greater that what any single country in the world spends on its military budget.
TO:Why did you organize the Peace Through Justice Road Tour?
JG: We started investigating the military-economic ties in the South immediately after September 11, because we knew that there was going to be a huge militarization of our society, and we found out that Texas, particularly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, is the arsenal hotspot of the country. Also we’ve come out with some research on the South’s military armament ties to Israel, which turned out to be pretty interesting.
RM: Sixty-six percent of all the weapons that we as taxpayers give to Israel are produced in the South, and 97 percent of those are produced in Fort Worth, Texas. So, approximately 58 percent of all the weapons that we as a nation give to Israel are from Fort Worth, Texas.
Whether we like it or not, we as American taxpayers are literally funding the 54-year-old apartheid in Israel and the 35-year-old apartheid in the Occupied Territories.
We have to get the South to realize that not only is militarization drastically affecting us domestically, but it is also directly leading to death and destruction overseas. We have a responsibility to change our involvement from one that is negative and destructive to one that is positive and empowering.
TO: How did the South come to be responsible for so much of the nation’s weapons development and manufacturing?
JG: It’s been disproportionately represented since World War II, because of the economic stimulus program to get the South out of the Great Depression. Last year, Texas won nearly 28 billion dollars in Department of Defense contracts. This compares to about one billion dollars for New York.
The defense armaments industry is clustered in the South in three key southern states: Texas, Florida, and Virginia. While this industry is rising slightly in other regions, it is rising quite dramatically in the South.
TO: If you exclude the 1.3 billion-dollar award that Fort Worth-based Lockheed Martin Aerospace received last year to produce 52 F-16s for Israel, is Texas still the top recipient of defense contracts in the South?
JG: Absolutely. The Joint Strike Fighter contract, which is the largest defense contract in history, was won by Lockheed Martin last October. That will primarily go to their plant west of Fort Worth. The total contract is 200 billion dollars to build the next generation of fighter jets for NATO, and basically the United States’ array of allies. (Currently we sell the F-16 fighter jet to Israel, which is the last generation.) The first segment of the contract was 20 billion dollars.
It may not seem like the 1.3 billion-dollar contract for fighter jets to Israel is all that substantial. But the amount of arms transfers for the F-16 program to Israel totals between four and five billion dollars over the past five years.
TO: How does Lockheed Martin always make out so well?
JG: We should bear in mind that Lockheed Martin has two former executives in Bush’s cabinet–Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi–and that one of their board members, Douglas H. McCorkindale, is the president of Gannett Media, whose flagship paper is USA Today, a newspaper that shapes our political discourse and the way we consider foreign policy questions.
Although significant, Lockheed Martin is not the only important weapons contractor. There is Ray-theon, Northrop Grumman, and Boe-ing. Boeing also profits immensely from the occupation of Palestinian lands through its production of Apache helicopters in Mesa, Arizona, which are used on a daily basis against Palestinian civilians and the refugee camps in the Occupied Territories.
TO: What correlation exists between the money that Texas weapons manufacturers receive and the way Texas politicians vote?
JG: Southern representatives tend to be more hawkish than the rest of the country, and Texas certainly fits that. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has a zero percent rating on Peace Action’s voting record score card.
It means she voted in favor of every military deployment and every military weapons program that was proposed. Senator Phil Gramm has an 11 percent ranking. The representatives that are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area all rank very low for peace issues.
What I would say about Texas is that there is a particular economic relationship of the elites that is driving these major expenditures. The defense industry is very closely related to the energy and the oil industry. For instance, Halliburton Company, which was formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, just won a contract to build the forward deployment bases for the next nine years wherever President Bush decides to take the anti-terrorism war. In the last decade, that came to two-point-five billion dollars for them. Now, it will certainly be much more.
RM: Representative Dick Armey, from the Dallas area and the majority whip in Congress, quite unfortunately has recently stated on “Hard Ball,” a cable talk show, that he clearly supports the mass expulsion of Palestinians from occupied Palestinian territories that are a part of Israel.
People in Dallas are planning an event to respond to these statements, but I would request that all constituents in Texas put a lot of pressure on this representative to get him to realize that what he is asking for is mass genocide.
TO: Besides Texas weapons manufacturers, what other ties are there between Texas and Israel?
RM: Texas has a pretty close relationship with Israel. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, which is a resource that the Israeli government provides, nearly 300 Texas companies do business in Israel. The main Texas companies that have benefited from investment in Israel include the Agar Corporation, CompUSA, Compaq Computer Corporation, Fortune Indus-tries, and Bell Helicopters.
There is cooperative research conducted between Israel and the University of Texas, both the medical center and the University of Texas at Houston, Texas Tech, Rice, Texas A&M, Baylor Medical School, and numerous other Texas institutions.
TO: One non-Texas company you focus on is Caterpillar. What is their role and why focus on them?
RM: Caterpillar is based in Illinois and it supplies one of the most dangerous weapons to Israel–custom-made bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes.
Caterpillar doesn’t benefit much financially from the sale of bulldozers to Israel. At the same time, Caterpillar is interested in having a good public relations image. I personally believe that a campaign against Caterpillar would be extremely successful in getting Cater-pillar to change its position.
TO: Tell us how the anti-apartheid South Africa divestment movement in the 1980s relates to your efforts aimed at Israel.
RM: The campaign to dismantle apartheid in South Africa greatly benefited from the divestment movement in the United States. It helped to accelerate the process of bringing down apartheid.
What we have in Israel is apartheid. Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has stated that there is “apartheid in the holy land.” Michael Ben-Yair, the former Israeli attorney general, has stated there is apartheid in the Occupied Territories.
Within Israel, there is a different set of laws for Jews and non-Jews. Within the occupied Palestinian territories, there is a firm set of apartheid rules, a completely different set of laws for Jewish settlers and indigenous Palestinian populations, who basically have no rights and no legitimacy in the courts.
When we look at the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, initially there wasn’t that much awareness in the United States about apartheid in South Africa. But people became aware of what was happening through the divestment movement.
That is what we are hoping to do–through a divestment movement, increase awareness of Israeli apartheid and the occupation.
TO: How does the divestment movement work?
RM: We have the right by law to know where [public institutions] are putting their money and their endowments, to know what kind of retirement bonds they have. We can go to The University of Texas to demand to find out where they are investing their money.
There already are 40 universities across this country that are working on a national divestment movement from Israel. The main one is in Berkeley. It’s been started by an organization called Students For Justice in Palestine, arguably the strongest pro-justice organization working on Palestine and Israel in this country. It was through their amazing organizational work for divestment with Israel that we have had so many other universities join their ranks.
In the South, we have met with people at Georgia Tech. They are very interested in taking this forward. We had an extremely productive meeting in Fort Worth and Dallas, where they are starting to work on getting the city council in Dallas to pass resolutions calling for divestment from Israel, condemning the war crimes that occurred in Jenin, demanding a truly just policy for people on both sides.
Austin writer Stefan Wray produces programs for community radio and cable access TV, and runs a web site called Iconmedia, (www.iconmedia.org).