Flotilla | The case against an Israeli-led investigation (part II)

Posted: June 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

By agreeing to an Israeli legal panel that would look into the attack on the flotilla, the US administration might end up saving Netanyahu’s government

In a previous post I tried to explain why I think an Israeli-led investigation will not result with a credible account of the events concerning the attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla. The facts that Israel has already tempered with the evidences; that it cannot be expected to collect testimonies from the passengers that it has attacked and arrested; and that the whole affair occurred on foreign territory, make the very idea of an Israeli investigation absurd, at least from a legal point of view.

Since than, the UNHRC decided to form a fact-finding mission, similar to the one that produced the Goldstone report, and the international pressure on Israel to agree to some sort of inquiry has mounted.

Yesterday (Monday), Israeli media reported that the government has presented the White House with its preferred model of investigation, and since there was no formal comment on the issue from both Jerusalem and Washington, we can assume that the two sides are negotiations this very idea.

According to media reports, the Israeli government wishes to form a legal panel of some sort, on which a couple of international experts will serve as observers. Israel will have veto power on the identity of the observers, and they will not have access to confidential military material.

The committee will concern itself mainly with legal issues such as the legitimacy of the blockade on Gaza, the flotilla’s attempt to break it and Israel’s decision to capture the ships. It will not have access to soldiers or officers, and would have to settle for the report the army’s internal probe will produce. It is not clear whether the committee will collect testimonies from the flotilla’s passengers, and if so, how it will be done. According to one of the ideas I heard, the foreign observers will be in charge of this part. However, most reports in Israel don’t even mention this issue.

Israel’s legal system has already ruled that the siege on Gaza is legal, and Israel’s Supreme Court approved limiting gas, electricity and food supply into the strip. Therefore, Israeli leaders can expect that almost any Israeli legal scholar will declare the attack on the flotilla legal as well according to paragraph 67(a) of the San Remo Manual on Armed Conflicts at Sea, even if it occurred on international water. The international observers that will serve on the panel would only make this claim even more credible. In other words, the committee won’t serve as an investigating panel, but as an Israel’s defense attorney.

But we should always understand Israel’s international policy (or any country’s, for that matter) in the context of its internal dynamic, and this is where this legal panel carry the real benefits for Israeli leaders.

Right now, the Israeli public is mostly united behind its government and military. But such moments don’t last long, and there are already calls for a civilian inquiry into the decision making process that led to the attack – and even into the attack itself. There calls are likely to intensify as time passes.

Civilian committees carry tremendous political risks to both generals and political leaders. More often than not, the reports they produce lead to the resignation of senior government ministers. Such was the case with the Agranat committee after the 1973 war, the Kahan committee which investigated the massacre at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps (1982) and the Winograd committee that looked into the 2006 war in Lebanon. A tough report might force defense Minister Ehud Barak to resign – and without Barak, Netanyahu won’t be able to hold on to an extreme rightwing coalition for ling. This could end up being the break the US was hoping for.

On the other hand, a panel that would look into the legal aspects concerning the attack is not likely to produce a politically dangerous report. The panel’s aim will be to defend Israel from the world, but its by-product will be defending top decision makers from the public anger, and containing political damage.

In other words, by agreeing to an Israeli legal probe of the attack, the White House would end up strengthening Netanyahu’s government, and who knows, even saving it from collapsing or from having Kadima from entering the coalition on a peace platform.

From what I read, it seems that all the administration wants right now is to put the entire flotilla affair behind it, as there are much bigger concerns it deals with, especially at home. By doing so, instead of gaining some political capital from its decision to be on Israel’s side in the days following the attack, it now stands the risk of making a political mistake that would hunt it for the months, possibly years, to come.


Flotilla | New Mavi Marmara pictures raise more questions regarding IDF attack

Posted: June 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Turkish paper Hurriyet published pictures of captive IDF soldiers inside the Mavi Marmara (see them here) during the Israeli raid on the ship. IDF spokesperson already declared that “this is clear proof of Israel’s repeated claims, that the boat was carrying mercenaries, whose sole purpose was to kill the soldiers.”

But to me these pictures raise even more questions. It seems that the people on the Mavi Marmara actually kept the soldiers alive – rather than “lynch” them, as Israel claims. This might also explain why the battle against unarmed civilians took so long: Could it be that the nine casualties weren’t just the result of an attempt to protect the life of the soldiers at the moment they were attacked, but rather the outcome of a violent rescue operation?

Since the Gilad Shalit kidnapping, there is a standing order in Israel not to let any IDF soldier to be captured alive, even if it means risking his own life – let alone the life of the people around him.

Another thought: could it be that the bullet injuries few IDF soldiers suffered occurred during this rescue attempt?  Maybe it was IDF shots that caused them?

Here is another picture, posted on the IHH flickr page, showing passengers treating a wounded IDF soldier. I don’t know if this pic is real or not, but if it is, it might back the claim that the passengers were trying to defend themselves rather kill the soldiers:

flotilla

As long as the IDF doesn’t release it’s version of the events and all confiscated material, we have no way of knowing what happened on the Mavi Maramra. But as passengers’ testimonies are released and more material is coming out, the army’s version seems to have more and more holes in it.

UPDATE: Alon Ben David, channel 10 military correspondent, gave last night an unofficial account of events from army sources: attack on the ship started on 4:30 AM, with 15 soldiers going down the ropes to the upper deck. The first three were captured in the lower deck. After one minute the soldiers opened fire and took control of the upper deck.

At 4:35 another team arrives by helicopter. At 4:50 the army starts taking over the ship. At 5:00 the army announces it has control over the ship’s bridge. The soldiers in the lower deck escape from their captives: two jump to the water, and the third reach the front of the ship and awaits there for the other commandos to rescue him. According to a report from Al-Jessira (quoted here in Ynet), the third soldier didn’t escape; IDF commandos broke into the room he was held in and shot the passengers surrounding him.

There is no official IDF version of the events yet.

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Israel has rejected United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s idea for an international commission of inquiry into the raid. According to this offer, the inquiry committee would have been led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer (an expert on maritime law), with an Israeli representative and a Turkish one serving under him.

Yet Prime Minister Netanyahu informed the government today (Sunday) that he would not agree to such an investigation. Netanyahu also said that the world is beginning to open up to the Israeli view of last week’s events.

The Israeli dilemma is simple: reject an international committee, and you risk having another Goldstone report, based entirely on the evidences of the flotilla’s passengers. Accept the committee, and you risk ending up with a report which will condemn Israel and enjoy world wide credibility. There is also a problem with the IDF, which opposes to having soldiers testify in front of any sort of civilian committee, Israeli or international. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who finally agreed to some sort of investigation in order to ease up the pressure on Israel, still firmly object to having soldiers testify before it.

Israeli leaders also have their own political concerns, which further complicate things: a civilian Israeli committee might force them to resign, while an international inquiry won’t have personal implication on them.

The solution Israel is hoping for is an Israeli-led investigation, with an international observer, preferably an American, sitting on it (but staying out of the room when security issues are discussed). Zeev Segal, Haaretz’s legal expert, wrote in favor of such a solution this morning.

I explained here why the international community should not accept an Israeli-led investigation.

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The talk of the day in Israel was the decision by Boston Rock group The Pixies to cancel their gig in Tel Aviv planned for this Wednesday. The Pixies are very popular with my generation of Israelis (I had tickets), and this was supposed to be their first show in Tel Aviv. But the real issue is that Israelis are extremely troubled by the idea of an international boycott. Producer Shuki Weiss, who booked the show, called the pressure on bands not to perform in Israel “cultural terrorism“.

Most pundits and talking heads I heard today said that it was a PR failure, rather than a policy one, which led to pressure on Israel these days (here is an example from Israel’s most popular columnist). Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman decided, like many Israelis, to put the blame on the left and the Israeli Arabs.

More and more it seems that Israelis simply don’t understand why the world is mad at them. As Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz today, the one place IDF propaganda actually worked very well is Israel, where both the media and the public now views the attack on the flotilla as an heroic success story.

British Author Iain Banks also decided to join the boycott on Israel. He explains why in a letter to the Guardian:

Writers and artists refusing to visit Israel, and the cutting off of as many other cultural and educational links with Israel as possible, might help Israelis understand how morally isolated they really are. It would be a form of collective punishment (albeit a mild one), and so in a way an act of hypocrisy for those of us who have criticised Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people in general and those in Gaza in particular, but appeals to reason, international law, UN resolutions and simple human decency mean – it is now obvious – nothing to Israel, and for those of us not prepared to turn to violence, what else can we do? For the little it’s worth, I’ve told my agent to turn down any further book translation deals with Israeli publishers. I would urge all writers, artists and others in the creative arts, as well as those academics engaging in joint educational projects with Israeli institutions, to consider doing everything they can to convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation, preferably by simply having nothing more to do with this outlaw state.

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News and Suggested reading:

NY Times: Washington Asks: What to Do About Israel?

Our own Freedom Fries: A right-wing group has asked Elite, Israel’s largest coffee manufacture, to change the name of its popular  Turkish Coffee [link in Hebrew].


Flotilla attack, day 3 | Waiting for the US, as more ships are headed to Gaza

Posted: June 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Almost a riot in the Knessset as Jewish house members try to prevent Arab MK Zoabi from speaking:

Israelis behind the government, for now: Maariv daily paper published a poll in the morning, showing that 63 percent of the Jewish public think that the flotilla should have been stopped by other means, and that about half the public think Israel should establish its own inquiry committee to investigate the events at sea.

Still, support for Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains high, and a clear majority thinks that none of them should resign. This figure, however, might be a bit misleading. At times of national crisis or under international pressure the Jewish public in Israeli tends to rally behind its leaders and generals. Only later, when the initial shock passes, people start asking questions. They don’t necessarily become more dovish – quite the opposite sometime – but they might turn their anger at the leaders. This is exactly what happened after the 2006 war in Lebanon.

Media continues not asking questions regarding IDF clips: a new film released today shows activists throw plates and  a firecracker at the soldiers (watch here). but didn’t the IDF earlier claimed the boats arrived only after the commandos dropped on the mavi Marmara? so who took that video from upper deck? If this is confiscated footage, why not say so? (h/t: Dimi Reider).

Update: United Nation says Flotilla journalists’ equipment was confiscated by IDF soldiers.

More ships to come: As the Rachel Corrie makes its way to Gaza. Organizers of the flotilla declared they raised the money for another ship, named Freedom II. There are some indications that Turkey is looking to diffuse the tension with Israel, so it’s not clear whether this ship will sail, but if it does, Israeli and US decision makers will face a major challenge, as the whole world will be closely watching this time. IDF sources boosted earlier this week that they will meet the coming ships with even more force, but these seems like empty words, intended for the ears of the public at home.

Administration under pressure: the flotilla incident caught the White House at a delicate moment. It hard for it to publicly denounce Israel, because the US was part of the failed Gaza policy, and it obviously can’t support it. The ball is in the American court right now: Will they cast their weight behind the calls for an international probe? Will they work to defuse tension between Turkey and Israel? One thing is clear – the White House and State Department need to act, before things escalate even further.

Godlstone report, round II? The UN Human Rights Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution this afternoon, on whether to send an international committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding Israel’s operation on the Gaza-bound flotilla. this is the same UN body which sent the Goldstone comittee to Gaza. I think it might be a good idea to let some other organization lead the investigation this time, so it wouldn’t suffer from the results of delgitimizing campaign Israel initiated against the Goldstone report.

UPDATE: UNHRC resolution regarding investigation passed. US, Netherlands and Canada Italy opposed it.

opinion round-up (I highly recommend the first item):

Fania Oz-Salzberger (daily Beast): “The army in which I served, which will soon enlist my children, is only good for one thing: to fight those who are aiming a gun at me. Not those who dislike me, demonize me, or hope to see me dead.”

Michael Godween (NY Post): President Obama should do what any American president would — protect our friend and ally from the predators who want to devour it.

Michael Tomasky (Guardian): this event really could be a tipping point in America.

Mark Steel (Independent): It’s time the Israeli government’s PR team made the most of its talents, and became available for hire.

Jeremiah Haber (The Magnes Zionist): Once again, you have the “progressive-on-everything-but-Israel” syndrome. When will that change? Probably not for some time now.

One more thing: more than 48 hours have passed since the raid on the Mavi Marmara took place, and Israel still hasn’t released the names and nationality of all casualties.

more opinion, news and video in this morning’s post.


Attack on Gaza flotilla: Passengers’ accounts coming out, Israel faces political, diplomatic fallout

Posted: June 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Passengers on board the Gaza flotilla are released by Israel, and their account of the raid is coming out. Here is Huwaida Arraf, and American citizen, talking to CNN:

the Crisis with Turkey: Both Yedioth and Maariv daily papers report today that the decision to release the detained passengers was also a result of a firm action by Turkey, who sent three military planes to Israel and demanded that they return with all their citizens, even the wounded ones. It was reported today that Israel decided to sent home family members of its embassy staff in Ankara because of the hostile atmosphere in the Turkish capital.

there are also reports that Turkey declared that future Gaza bound Vessels will have military escort. I haven’t seen this on any major media organization, and it sounds a bit exaggerated, but Israelis were speculating on such scenario in the last couple of days.

Nicaragua suspends diplomatic ties with Israel because of the attack on the flotilla.

Opinion Round-up:

New York Times editorial: The questions raised by an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla demand an immediate and objective international investigation.

David Ignatius (Washington Post): Israel has been unable to resolve the Gaza mess on its own; it should turn now to the Security Council for help. That begins with a U.N. investigation of what happened off the Israeli coast.

Robert Fist (Independent): Something has changed in the Middle East these past 24 hours – and the Israelis (given their extraordinarily stupid political response to the slaughter) don’t seem to have grasped what has happened.

Aluf Ben (Haaretz): The attempt to control Gaza from outside, via its residents’ diet and shopping lists, casts a heavy moral stain on Israel and increases its international isolation.

George Packer (New Yorker): The flotilla was bait, and Israel took it—a classic triumph of civil disobedience over state power.

Thomas Friedman (New York Times): both Israel and Turkey have gotten out of balance lately, and it is America’s job to help both get back to the center — urgently.

I also liked Ann Telnaes’ cartoon on the Washington Post.


Death at Sea | the attack on the Gaza flotilla (live blogging)

Posted: May 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, war | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments »

2:50 AM: finally, going to sleep. I will post at least another media round up in the morning.

2:05 AM: the finger pointing begins. Ynet quotes [Hebrew] unnamed government ministers claiming the army guaranteed them that taking over the ships would end with no casualties. One senior cabinet minister said: “we didn’t understand how explosive this story is.”

Senior IDF official was quoted saying the all scenarios were presented to the cabinet before PM Netanyahu left for north America. “the responsibility lies with the political level.”

0:30 AM: MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad) who was on board the Mavi Marmara, is interrogated at the Ashdod police station. Sheikh Raed Saleh is also interrogated.

Earlier this evening, some 500 people demonstrated in front of the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv, protesting the Turkish involvement in organizing the flotilla and Ankara’s recent hostility towards Israel. the demonstration received extensive coverage in the Israeli media.

11:42 PM: Weapons found by IDF on Mavi Marmara: knifes and sticks (IDF spokesperson picture here).

11:05 PM: It seems that the government and the army got their message through, at least here in Israel. The last two graphic videos released clearly showed the soldiers being attacked, and are going to have an enormous effect on the Jewish public, as such images always do.

These images will be used by Israel in its PR counter attack in the US and Europe, and might have some effect there as well, though people will surly wonder what reaction the army expected when he sent commando unit on a civilian ship in international water.

As the last passengers of the Mavi Marmara leave the ship, the day’s drama comes to an end, but the diplomatic and political game only begins. There are reports of another ship – the Rachel Corrie, heading from Irland – on its way to Gaza; Israel haven’t released the names and nationality of the passengers killed in the attack; the Security Council is meeting. Questions might be raised even in Israel, once the initial shock passes. More important, we have yet to hear testimonies – and we might even get some new pictures and videos – from the passengers of the Mavi Marmara, something that is bound to have an effect on public opinion, in Israel and outside.

I will follow events here in the next few days, focusing as always on the Israeli angle. I will also try to add some of my own analysis, something I didn’t find the time to do today.

10:18 PM: Dozens of Ultra-Orthodox demonstrated in Jerusalem in protest of the Israeli attack on the flotilla [link in Hebrew]. They carried signs reading  “Zionist ד= pirates”.

9:48 PM: Evening analysis round-up:

Dan Ephron (Newsweek): Israeli Attack highlights failure of Gaza blockade.

Jo Klein (Time): This is an insane use of disproportionate force. It is a product of the right-wing radicalization of the Israeli government.

Andrew Sullivan (Atlantic): The disproportionate use of force, the loss of life, the horrifying impact of the blockade of Gaza in the first place: it makes Israel look like a callous, deranged bully, incapable of accepting any narrative that it cannot control and responding instinctively with disproportionate violence.

Adrian Blomfield (Telegraph): Under the stewardship of Benjamin Netanyahu, its abrasive prime minister, Israel has developed an extraordinary knack for inopportune timing.

Gideon Rachman (financial Times): “three particular angles for the Israelis to worry about. First, that there will be some sort of new intifada. Second, the continued deterioration in their relationship with Turkey. Third, their fraying ties with the Obama administration” [I don't agree. there won't be Intifada over this. the major problem is Europe and world public opinion, not US].

Yossi Melman (Haaretz): the government acted in such a tragic and stupid way, it’s hard to even understand it [Hebrew].

9:40 PM final casualties report from IDF spokesperson: 9 civilians killed, 7 soldiers injured, out of which four soldiers were moderately wounded, and three lightly wounded. The number of injured civilians wasn’t reported.

9:10 PM: estimated 2,000 people at tel Aviv protest in front of defense department.

8:55 PM: 7th eye (Israeli media watchdog organization): Yedioth Ahronoth daily knew but wouldn’t publish vast IDF top brass opposition to the raid on the flotilla [Hebrew].

8:50 PM: IDF posted another very graphic video in which the activists are shown attacking the soldiers landing to the Mavi Marmara. Passengers’ video supposedly show IDF shooting on board Mavi Marmara even after the ship raised a white flag.

8:40 PM: The Maramra docked in Ashdod, and the passengers are being detained by Israeli authorities. So far, there were no violent clashes. According to reports in Israel, the activists will be deported soon.

In New York, the UN  security council began its discussion.

6:45 PM: The Mavi Marmara is about to enter the Israeli post of Ashdod, while some demonstrations take place in Israel: a few hundreds are protesting the attack on the flotilla in the Arab town Um El-Fahem. Small protests are scheduled for 7.00 in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There were also pro-IDF protests in Ashdod and in Haifa.

6:15 PM: Opinion and analysis round-up: there is a growing gap between what’s the talking heads are saying in Israel rigth now – focusing on the threat to the soldiers lifes and the insuffianct force that was sent to take control over the Mavi Marmara – to what’s going on in the world, where this is viewed as a brutal attack on civilians on international water, or as Moshe Yaroni puts it, Israel’s Kent State.

David Horvitz (Jerusalem Post’s editor): A race to contain the damage: The “humanitarian aid” flotilla was clearly a perniciously well-conceived initiative, for which Israel prepared inadequately.

Blake Hounshell (Foreign Policy): It’s not hard to imagine boycott campaigns gaining momentum, damaging the Israeli economy and isolating the country diplomatically, especially in Europe.

MJ Rosenberg (Huffington Post): Israel is in trouble. At the present rate, the remarkable accomplishment that is Israel will be lost because the right (i.e, Netanyahu, AIPAC, etc) prefers the settlements, smashing Gaza and building in Arab East Jerusalem to Israel itself.

Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy): It is difficult to fathom how the Israeli government could have thought that this was a good way to respond to a long-developing public relations challenge, but its actions will certainly fuel its evolving international legitimacy crisis.

Avi Trengo (Ynet): When Israel conveys a sense of weakness is it any wonder that a mob would charge at a commando and attempt to lynch him?

Richard Spencer (Telegraph): Whether on land or now at sea, there is a terrible symmetry to Israel’s engagement with the Palestinians and those who support them.

Rafi mann (Seventh Eye): The Palestinian Exodus [Hebrew].

5.00 PM: IDF completed search of Mavi Marmara, no weapons discovered except for the two pistols that were taken from the soldiers (channel 10).

4:57 PM: IDF spokesperson: 9 activists killed on Mavi Marmara, 7 soldiers injured. Ynet: 31 activist injured.

4:55 PM: It’s Official: PM Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his trip to Washington and will not meet president Obama, but rather return home to handle the crisis. It was speculated that part of the reason is the will to avoid the scheduled press conference with the president, in which the President will be forced to condemn the attack in the presence of the Israeli PM.

4:35 PM: IDF releases video and report of the events:

4:15 PM: CRIF, the representative council of the organized Jewish community in France, declared the events “not good news for peace,” and expressed its regret on the death of civilians.

4:00 PM: Israeli media framing the incident as one in which the soldiers were the victims of an organized, surprise attack (the fact that it was the IDF soldiers who boarded the ships on international waters is hardly mentioned). There are more and more descriptions on channel 1 and 2 of the knifes and bats that were used against the soldiers.

The IDF just started releasing videos of the demonstrators rushing to the soldiers as they board the ship. According to most pundits, the mistake the IDF did was not applying enough force, and boarding the ship with a small force, not fully armed.

This is Ron Ben-Yishay, Ynet’s military correspondent, that was on one of the Israeli navi ships:

Our Navy commandoes fell right into the hands of the Gaza mission members. A few minutes before the takeover attempt aboard the Marmara got underway, the operation commander was told that 20 people were waiting on the deck where a helicopter was to deploy the first team of the elite Flotilla 13 unit. The original plan was to disembark on the top deck, and from there rush to the vessel’s bridge and order the Marmara’s captain to stop.

(…)

Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.

However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapons.

3:10 PM: Two of the smaller ships arrived at the Ashdod post. The Marmara, – the main ship on which the fight occurred – is not expected to arrive before 7PM. Israeli press speculates on possible danger to soldiers and Israeli civilians from the protesters on the ships. Riot police and anti terror units are on their way to Ashdod. Early reports claim that 16 protesters were arrested.

3:00 PM: Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Channel 10:

“As time passes, it becomes clear we found weapons in the ships. The events move now to the diplomatic front. All our messages were passed to the Foreign Media.

“Regarding relation with Turkey: we did not initiate any confrontation; we hope there won’t be damage to relations. This wasn’t a peace flotilla, it wasn’t a humanitarian flotilla. IDF spokesmen will publish material that will prove that there were terrorist personal and arms on the ships. This is our message to the world.”

2:50 PM: Channel 10: soldiers boarded the main ship with paintball guns and were immediately in danger for their life. they had no choice but to move to live ammunition.

2:40 PM: Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Navi Commander Eliezer Marom held a press conference in which they gave the first Israeli official explanation to the day’s events. Barak declared that the flotilla organizers are to blame for the casualties.

“The soldiers were attacked after arriving at one of the ships. Some were injured by serious physical violence on the part of the protestors.

“In light of the life-threatening situation, the soldiers were forced to use crowd dispersal means and firearms,” said Barak, adding that some of the casualties were killed by firearms. According to Barak, 10 soldiers were injured in the incident, some from firearms and some from cold arms.

“The IHH organization, which was behind these unruly ship, is a violent and radical organization acting under the cover of humanitarian activity.”

2:30 PM: Israel Ch1 military reporter: Islamic leader Raed Salah “alive and well” – reports of him injured and in surgery are a case of mistaken id.

2:15 PM: commentary round up:

Bradley Burston (Haaretz): We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege, which is itself becoming Israel’s Vietnam.

Aluf Ben (Haaretz): Netanyahu should stop US trip, come home and form an official commission of inquiry. excuses that activists were armed won’t work [Hebrew].

Ian Black (Guardian): Israel’s bloody interception of the Gaza flotilla looks like a disastrous own goal… this was a gift to Israel’s worst enemies.

Amos Harel (Haaretz): If rumors are confirmed that Muslim leader Raed Salah is among casualties of Israel’s raid on a Gaza aid convoy, the country’s Arab population could explode.

Glenn Greenwald (Salon): If Israel’s goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt as possible, how could it do a better job?

Shmuel Rosner (Jerusalem Post):  PR – as important as it might be – is not all in life (…) If force had to be used as to prevent the flotilla from going into Gaza – if there was no way around it – than PR becomes a secondary issue and will have to be dealt with later.

1:50 PM: CH 10 TV defense correspondent Alon Ben David at Ashdod: Rioting expected to continue at port. Some passengers still locked in cabins. Channel 10 site: Arabs from Haifa among casualties.

1:40 PM: Israeli Foreign Office warned Israelis from trips to Turkey. Those already here are advised to stay in hotels. Turkey canceled three planned military maneuvers with IDF. Greece also canceled its planned maneuver with Israeli air force.

1:30 PM: Turkish ambassador leaving for Ankara.

12:30: Deputiy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon accuses Flotilla organizers of having ties to Hamas and AL-Qaeda. Regarding the attack, the Foreign Ministry web site stated that:

According to reports from sea, on board the flotilla that was seeking to break the maritime closure on the Gaza Strip, IDF forces apprehended two violent activists holding pistols. The violent activists took these pistols from IDF forces and apparently opened fire on the soldiers as evident by the empty pistol magazines.

As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including live fire.

12:10: Leftwing protests scheduled for 6 Pm in Jerusalem; 7 Pm in Tel Aviv (in front of the Defense Ministry on Kaplan st.); 7 Pm in Haifa. Some protesters are on their way right now to Ashdod and Haifa ports, to which the flotilla boats are headed.

12:00 AM: Ynet: two soldiers badly injured during the attack on the ships. 7 civilians in Israeli hospitals.

11:40 AM: Haaretz: Raad Saleh injured, not dead, hospitalized in Tel Hashomer (Tel Aviv). UPDATE: ynet reports that according to army sources, Salah is on one of the boats, only slightly injured.

video: MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad) calling for help in English and Hebrew from the attacked ship.

Ynet: 15 died on Ships.

10:50 AM: We woke up to the news of the violent takeover of the flotilla by IDF soldiers, and to the rumors that Sheikh Raad Salah, the Israeli-Palestinian Muslim leader, is among the 10 casualties. Regardless of one’s political views and what comes out of this incident, these are horrible news. It seems that the government really blew it this time. Violence looks almost inevitable, and who knows what will follow.

After a few hours of silence, Army and government spokesmen started commenting on the affair, declaring that the people on the boats “tried to lynch the soldiers“. But the spins won’t work here. Even without knowing what really happened, so much is clear: when you keep more than a million under siege for years – even if you make sure they don’t starve to death, as Israelis constantly remind us they do – some people are bound to try and break this siege. And when they do, if you send the commando at them in the middle of the night – and on international water! – there will be consequences, and there might be casualties.

I will keep updating this post as news come.

This is an insane use of disproportionate force. It is a product of the right-wing radicalization of the Israeli government


UK | Nick Clegg on Israel, Gaza

Posted: May 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, war | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

How might the rising power of Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, reflect on the UK’s Middle East policy?

POLITICS LibDems 7

Four days to go to Britain’s general elections and the Tory majority is far from being certain. It is clear that the conservatives will end up with more votes than any other parties – and it seems that Labour will eventually come second – but the nomination of the PM might still depend on Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats.

The UK is not the most important actor in the Middle East, but it still carries some weight, especially due to its close relations with the US. Many of the calls for boycott and the attempts to arrest and prosecute senior IDF officers come also from Britain.

Mr. Clegg has been a bit ambiguous on Middle East issues recently, echoing the White House’s position that “Israel’s long term peace and security will depend on reaching a settlement with the Palestinians”. But he did have clear positions in the past, especially on Gaza, where he doesn’t share the American administration’s support for the Israeli-Egyptian siege.

On December 22, Mr. Clegg wrote in an op-ed for the Guardian that:

The legacy of Operation Cast Lead is a living nightmare for one and a half million Palestinians squeezed into one of the most overcrowded and wretched stretches of land on the planet. And as Israel and Egypt maintain a near total blockade against Gaza, the misery deepens by the day.

This is not only shocking in humanitarian terms. It is not in Israel’s or Egypt’s interest, either. Confining people in abject poverty in a tiny slice of territory is a recipe for continued bitterness, fury and radicalism.

And what has the British government and the international community done to lift the blockade? Next to nothing. Tough-sounding declarations are issued at regular intervals but little real pressure is applied. It is a scandal that the international community has sat on its hands in the face of this unfolding crisis.

Mr. Clegg’s signature was the first in a letter to the editor of the Guardian on December 2009, which called for “British government and the international community to apply meaningful pressure upon Israel to abide by UN security council resolution 1860, to end this flagrant abuse of international law and lift the blockade.”

During operation Cast Lead itself, Mr. Clegg went even further, calling for Britain to stop arming Israel, and for the suspension of the Israel/EU agreement.

…for too long the EU has been an economic giant which acts as a political pygmy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. EU Foreign Ministers have the chance this evening for once to take action and not just issue words.

“EU Foreign Ministers must immediately suspend the proposed new agreement with Israel. The deal cannot proceed until there is a transformation of the conditions on the ground in Gaza.

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It is my opinion that only fierce diplomatic pressure might cause Israel’s leaders to confront the rightwing and the settlers and withdrawal from the West Bank (with or without an agreement) or, alternatively, annex the territories and give full citizen rights to the Palestinians. This is in the long term interest of both Israelis and Palestinians. I also believe that Israel should lift its siege on Gaza and end the humanitarian crisis there. I support Mr. Clegg’s positions, and hope he will stick to his words after the elections as well.


Now that the gag order is lifted, we should remember what’s at the heart of the Kamm affair

Posted: April 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, war | Tags: , , , , , | 23 Comments »
anat kamm

Anat Kamm at court

The gag order over the Anat Kamm case has been lifted today. This ends the first stage of this affair, in which Israel’s security authorities tried to prosecute and jail a citizen behind closed doors, without the public even hearing about the case. Due to collective effort by bloggers and activists in Israel and elsewhere, they failed.

But the case itself isn’t over yet. Ironically, the lifting of the gag order might actually hurt Anat Kamm, as the authorities try to change the public framing of the case from that of freedom of speech and due process to espionage. This was the massage in the briefing that was personally given by the head of Shin Beit Yuval Diskin to Israeli reporters today.

Link to English translation of the Indictment against Anat Kamm

Public atmosphere is extremely hostile to both Anat and Haaretz newspaper right now. Ynet, Israel’s most popular news site, has called her “the soldier spy”, and their military analyst, Ron Ben-Yishay, accused her of risking the life of Israeli soldiers.

This is the time to remind people what’s at the heart of this matter: Anat Kamm did Israeli democracy a great service. She exposed the fact that senior IDF generals, including Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, knowingly violated our own supreme court ruling by ordering the assassinations of Palestinians even when it was possible to arrest them, and when it was known innocent people might be killed. Again, this is not about Left or Right. It is about generals defying court orders.

The IDF and Shin Beit want the world to forget this. This is why they wanted to keep this case in the dark, and this is why they will work twice as hard to turn the public against Anat.


Haaretz’s reporter flees to London after revealing illigal IDF tergeted killings

Posted: April 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, war | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

This is from the UK’s Independent:

An Israeli journalist is in hiding in Britain, The Independent can reveal, over fears that he may face charges in the Jewish state in connection with his investigation into the killing of a Palestinian in the West Bank.

Uri Blau, a reporter at Israel’s liberal newspaper, Haaretz, left town three months ago for Asia and is now in London. Haaretz is understood to be negotiating the terms of his return to Israel with prosecutors, according to an Israeli source, who declined to be identified, because of the sensitivity of the situation.

The news of Mr Blau’s extended absence comes just days after it emerged that another Israeli journalist, Anat Kam, has been held under house arrest for the last three months on charges that she leaked classified documents to the press while completing her military service.

More details here. I hope I will be able to write more on this story in two weeks.


Breaking the Silence exposes humiliation of Palestinians, violence and theft by IDF soldiers

Posted: January 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, Uncategorized, war | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Anti occupation group Breaking the Silence published a new set of testimonies, this time from female soldiers who served in recent years in the Palestinians territories. These include stories of humiliation, systematic violence, cruelty and theft by IDF soldiers. The Palestinians who were harmed by those acts were innocent civilians, or in the worse cases illegal workers in Israel or stone-throwers. They weren’t suspect of any terrorist activity against Israelis.

You can read some of the testimonies on Ynet (A good word to Israel’s most popular news site for posting the story in English as well. I wonder what people would have said if it was published on mainstream US media). On the Hebrew version of the article, you can also hear one of the testimonies.

Even though we heard such stories before, some of the stuff is not easy to read or listen to. It seems that in some IDF units, hurting Arabs became a way to gain respect and admiration of fellow soldiers. Some female soldiers, suffering from a lower statue to begin with, apparently did their best to show they don’t fall short from men in this field. This comes from one of the testimonies:

“A female combat soldier needs to prove more…a female soldier who beats up others is a serious fighter…when I arrived there was another female there with me, she was there before me…everyone spoke of how impressive she is because she humiliates Arabs without any problem. That was the indicator. You have to see her, the way she humiliates, the way she slaps them, wow, she really slapped that guy.”

In some cases, it seems that violence was kept secret from commanders, at least from the officers in charge (though most officers know more of what’s going on with their soldiers than they care to admit). In other cases, commanders took part in the acts:

Another female soldier’s testimony, who served at the Erez checkpoint, indicates how violence was deeply rooted in the daily routine: “There was a procedure in which before you release a Palestinian back into the Strip – you take him inside the tent and beat him.”

That was a procedure?

“Yes, together with the commanders.”

How long did it last?

“Not very long; within 20 minutes they would be back in the base, but the soldiers would stop at the post to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes while the guys from the command post would beat them up.”

This happened with every illegal alien?

“There weren’t that many…it’s not something you do everyday, but sort of a procedure. I don’t know if they strictly enforced it each and every time…it took me a while to realize that if I release an illegal alien on my end, by the time he gets back to Gaza he will go through hell… two or three hours can pass by the time he gets into the Strip. In the case of the kid, it was a whole night. That’s insane, since it’s a ten minute walk. They would stop them on their way; each soldier would give them a ‘pet’, including the commanders.”

One of the worse cases described is that of a child who’s arms and legs were supposedly broken by soldiers. This is hear-say evidence, but even the fact that it was never reported nor investigated teaches us something about what’s going on in the territories.

“I don’t know who or how, but I know that two of our soldiers put him in a jeep, and that two weeks later the kid was walking around with casts on both arms and legs…they talked about it in the unit quite a lot – about how they sat him down and put his hand on the chair and simply broke it right there on the chair.”

Read the rest here.

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As I said, this is not the first time these kinds of testimonies are published. Personally, I would have rather these soldiers reporting the acts as they happened or refusing to serve in the WB and Gaza altogether, but as I know form my own experience, it is never that simple. Sometimes you don’t fully understand what’s going on, and even if you do, going against your peers – as well as your commanders – in a combat unit is difficult in a way it’s hard even to begin explaining for those who never served.

Altogether, it’s better to talk late than never. It’s especially important given the fact that there are many people – especially Israel’s supporters in the US – who still believe that Palestinians’ lives are basically OK, that the IDF is “the most moral army in the world”, and all this crap. You can go on supporting Israel or thinking that Israel has no choice but to hold on to the territories and keep the siege on Gaza, but at least be honest enough to look at the price of these policies. I would expect Israel’s supporters – if they are really honest – to be the first to listen to the people of Breaking the Silence. Read the rest of this entry »


Gaza Mathematics

Posted: January 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, war | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments »

How cruel is the Israeli siege on Gaza? the IDF spokesperson’s tweets can give an idea.

I follow the IDF spokesperson on twitter (tweets are in English, btw). Every few days, there is an update there on the humanitarian aid and fuel trucks intended to pass through the Erez crossing point into Gaza.

Here are some examples:

Jan 14: #IDF: 108 aid trucks and supply of fuel and natural gas scheduled to cross into #Gaza today. Erez Xing open.

Jan 13: 171 aid trucks and a supply of fuel scheduled to cross into #Gaza today. Erez Xing open.

Jan 11: 74 aid trucks and supply of fuel and natural gas scheduled to cross into #Gaza today through Erez Xing

There are some Israelis who Re-tweet these messages to their followers. Some Israeli embassies do that too. I guess they see it as further evidence to Israel’s claim that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza because of the siege. But the truth is that these numbers tell a totally different story.

There are no natural resources in the strip and hardly any food is grown there, so all the population is dependent on supply of food, fuel and gas from the outside. The economy is on hold since the war, and 80 percent of the people live on humanitarian aid.

According to the CIA factbook, there are 1,551,859 people living in Gaza.

Let’s take the best day of the month, according to the IDF. That was Jan 13, in which 171 trucks crossed the border into Gaza. That’s 171 trucks for 1.5 million people, or one truck for 9,075 people (1,551,859 divided by 171). Now imagine having to feed, give clothing and supply heating and power to 9,075 people – like the population of a not so small US town – with a single truck. Read the rest of this entry »