Awaiting activists, police to deploy extra forces at TLV airport

Posted: July 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off

The Israeli authorities are determined not to let any visitor who would declare his desire to come to the West Bank enter the country this Friday. In a statement made yesterday, PM Netanyahu’s office called the planned attempt by hundreds of activists to conduct a solidarity visit in the Palestinian Territories “an effort to undermine Israel’s right to exist”

As we have reported here on Sunday, A coalition of organizations has made public its intention to have hundreds of international activists land at Ben-Gurion airport this Friday, July 8th, and openly admit their intention to visit the Palestinian Territories. The campaign has been named “Welcome to Palestine.”

Israel controls all entries and exits to the Palestinian Territories. Until now, visitors coming in solidarity with the Palestinians–and even non-political visitors–had to conceal their destination when questioned at the airport, or risk immediate deportation. A couple of years ago, American scholar Noam Chomsky was denied entry to Israel at the Jordanian border, after declaring his intention to give a lecture at Ramallah’s Bir Zeit University.

Though the intention of the international activists to visit the West Bank has been known for sometime, it was only picked up by the Hebrew media in the last couple of days. Citing security officials, Israeli papers have reported on special deployment of police forces at Ben-Gurion international airport to take place from Thursday.

A police source told the daily Maariv that an effort will be made to locate the activists before they board their flights to Israel. “Those who will try to disturb public order will be dealt with,” a spokesperson for the Foreign Office told the site Walla.co.il.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office has released a statement declaring that the arrival of the protesters “is a continuation of the efforts to undermine Israel’s right to exist.” Netanyahu ordered the Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharomowitz (Israel Beitenu) to handle the preparation of all security agencies to the arrival of the activists. Aharonowitz will conduct a joint session of senior police officials tomorrow, the Army Radio reported.

“We will block those Hooligans from entering the state,” Aharonowitz told the press today.

The local media has labeled the event as “the air flotilla.”

The Israeli warning doesn’t seem to deter the activists from coming, though it is nor clear how many of them did buy tickets to Tel Aviv, and how many of those will be able to pass through the security questionings at the gate and board their flights.

In an article at the British Guardian, Sam Bahour, a coordinators of the Right to Enter campaign, called Israel’s threat to deny visitors entry to Palestine “disturbing” and “shocking”:

…more than 300 international activists plan to arrive in Tel Aviv during the week of 8 July at the invitation of 30 Palestinian civil society organisations, to participate in an initiative named “Welcome to Palestine”. Delegations from France, Great Britain, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, the USA, Japan and several African countries are expected.

Upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport, the invited guests, all from countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel, will make no secret of their intent to go to the occupied Palestinian territory. This nonviolent act, a civil society tsunami of sorts, only comes after Israel’s restriction of movement and access to and from Palestine for Palestinians and foreigners has exhausted all established channels that carry the responsibility to uphold international law first and their domestic laws second.

Israeli anti-occupation activists are planning to conduct their “welcoming party” at the arrival hall of TLV airport.


Triumphant over flotilla, Netanyahu is stronger than ever

Posted: July 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

With no threat from his political rivals and no pressure from Washington, the Israeli PM is enjoying the best weeks of his career. Yet his rightwing politics are likely to bring a much bigger change than his supporters care to imagine

If Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu could have one wish, I guess it would be to conduct general elections tomorrow. Between the cheers of his obedient followers in Congress and his success in preventing the Gaza-bound flotilla from sailing to the Strip, the Israeli prime minister is enjoying the best weeks of his term, possibly of his entire career.

Unlike in the first two years of his term, Netanyahu finally seems in control. The Greek decision to prevent the flotilla from sailing has taken everyone by surprise, but as it turned out, the PM has been preparing the ground for some time.

Haaretz quoted yesterday  an Israeli diplomat saying that Netanyahu “Netanyahu has become Greece’s lobbyist to the European Union.”  Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou returned the favor yesterday: As the American boat “Audacity of Hope” was about to leave the port of Athens, the authorities issued an order prohibiting all flotilla vessels from sailing. It is very unlikely that the Greeks would have dared stopping a Canadian or American ship without permission from their respective governments, so one could speculate that other administrations–and most notably, Washington—stood by Netanyahu’s side. For a politician often portrayed as hated and despised by world leaders, this is no small thing.

The Israeli morning papers are likely to praise the Prime Minister tomorrow. Netanyahu’s numbers are will go up again, and his coalition will become safer than ever before. Unlike in his first term, Netanyahu is now able to communicate his messages both to the center and to his base on the Israeli right. Politicians around Netanyahu recognize that. On Friday, dovish Likud minister Dan Meridor backed the PM in an interview to Maariv – and he is just one of the former rivals who now praise Netanyahu.

Kadima, the Knesset’s biggest party, failed so far to produce its own agenda, and its leader, Tzipi Livni, was revealed as a shallow politician. Besides repeating talking points regarding government policies, Livni did not make one substantial move that would challenge the government. Furthermore, the fight over Labor leadership has taken the predictable ugly turn, ensuring that the winner will get a fragmented and bitter party that would make his life miserable and suffer another blow at the elections.

Defense Minister Barak polls zero Knesset seats, which means he depends on Netanyahu for his political survival, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman waits the Attorney General’s decision regarding his corruption charges, and Shas’ Eli Yishay is too busy with the return of former party leader Aryeh Deri to cause the PM any trouble. As far as Netanyahu can see, the horizon is clear.

Netanyahu might be the strongest Israeli PM in the last two decades—stronger than Sharon and Rabin—despite not having their IDF record, charisma or leadership skills. He is for sure the best survivor: General elections are due to take place on autumn 2013, and by then, Netanyahu will be the longest serving Israeli PM since David Ben-Gurion.

Yet the Middle East has a strange way of turning your victories against you. Netanyahu has no vision, and his politics resemble troubleshooting. It’s no wonder that his goals are the subject of an endless guessing game.

It seems that ultimately, Netanyahu wishes to secure Israeli control over as much as possible of the West Bank, understanding that he won’t be able to control it all forever. If that is the case, his policies are likely to backfire: It was Netanyahu’s rejectionism that got the world’s attention to nature of the occupation; it’s his backing of the settlements that will ensure Israel is unable to force a quasi-state on the Palestinians (since there will be no room left for even this kinda of a state); it’s Netanyahu’s successful manipulation of the US Congress that proved the limits of the administration’s and the State Department’s ability to serve as an honest broker between Palestinians and Israelis and left Jews in the States torn apart and bitter; and it’s his coalition’s anti-democratic legislation that shows the need to an overhaul reform regarding the Jewish character of the Israeli state.

In short, The Prime Minister is winning every battle on his way to lose the entire war. As long as his poll numbers are high and his republican backers are happy, I guess he would be the last to care.

One final note: While everyone’s eyes were on the Greek ports, the people of Bil’in celebrated the removal of the security barrier erected by Israeli on their land six years ago. Back then, the thought that a few hundred villagers will be able to defeat the Israeli military establishment seemed delusional; now everybody is talking about the challenge of a Palestinian unarmed revolt. There are undercurrents at play which are not always easy to detect, and this is a lesson Netanyahu and his shortsighted admirers would do well to remember.


Flotilla: Even state officials say Netanyahu, IDF spread lies

Posted: June 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

According to government sources, the army doesn’t have any evidence that the flotilla activists are planning violent resistance, yet it publicly accuses them of conspiring to murder soldiers

Flotilla activists preparing weapons for their encounter with IDF soldiers (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

Flotilla activists preparing weapons for their encounter with IDF soldiers (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

The top story in two of Israel’s leading daily papers yesterday was a bombshell: The IDF unveiled plans by flotilla passengers to kill soldiers trying to stop the ships from getting to Gaza.

Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely read paper, ran a headline declaring “Flotilla activists set to kill,” which was attributed to military sources (but only in the fine print). The story declared, “Intelligence information revealed violent plans.” In the inside pages, the headline declared that this flotilla is considered to be “more violent than the previous one.”

Maariv’s top story covered the same topic: “IDF intelligence reveals: Lethal acid on flotilla boats.” The free paper Israel Hayom had a smaller headline in the front page. “Fear: Flotilla activists will try to kill soldiers.” Haaretz is the only paper that didn’t give the story such prominence in its print edition, but it was the top headline on the paper’s website throughout the previous evening. The Jerusalem Post’s headline read “IDF: Some flotilla activists planning to kill soldiers.

You can view all front pages of the Hebrew papers in this pic, taken from the media blog Velvet Underground. Yedioth and Maariv are the bottom two.

Front Pages of Israeli papares, June 28 2011 (photo: velvet underground blog)

Front Pages of Israeli papares, June 28 2011 (photo: velvet underground blog)

Chemical Weapons? Against the Israel Navy Seals, Air Force and war ships? Even as a suicide mission, it sounded too fantastic. And how could this flotilla be “more violent,” when the notorious IHH, whose members were on the Mavi Marmara last year, cancelled its participation? Who exactly is going to execute the soldiers with the lethal acid, 64- year-old Alice Walker? It was the kind of propaganda no thinking person could believe, yet the entire Hebrew media – even Haaretz! – went for it.

Luckily, it didn’t take Max Blumenthal to debunk this one. The media’s tone today was entirely different. Government sources have told Maariv that the so-called “intelligence information” was a spin by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, reflecting “a Hasbara [propaganda] hysteria.”

“It’s unthinkable that in cabinet meetings we receive information according to which there are no threats of violent actions from the flotilla activists or [indication of] the presence of terror elements on the ships, and that at the same time, senior political sources, including the army, feed the media with information that is the exact opposite of what we were given.”

Information that the media was only to eager to swallow, one should add.

A day too late, Yedioth Ahronoth’s military correspondent was the voice of reason in his paper:

“There isn’t a shred of evidence that extreme elements will initiate resistance against IDF soldiers. There is no knowledge of the existence of firearms on the ships.”

The damage, however, was done. The reports of the murderous intentions of the flotilla activists traveled around the country and across the world. Not for the first time, a group of unarmed European and American activists traveling on old yachts was presented as a threat to the security of the region’s superpower. The only question is: for how long will the world continue to buy these kind of stories?

Maariv’s story today offers a comment from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office, claiming the information that was passed to the media came from IDF spokesperson unit. In response to my question today, the IDF spokesperson’s office made it clear they stand behind the information that was released yesterday.


Lift the blockade on Gaza, talk to Hamas

Posted: April 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments »

It’s easy to forget Gaza. The strip is sealed from all directions, and only few can enter or leave it. Since the raid on the flotilla, more food is allowed in—at least that’s what Israel claims—but for all other purposes, the closure persists.

There are no reports in the mainstream media on life in Gaza. Very few journalists travel there. The only exceptions occur during military escalations, or when an event like the murder of Vittorio Arrigoni takes place. When you only hear of people in the context of war and murder, it’s very hard to think of them as human beings.

In modern Hebrew, “go to Azazel” (“לך לעזאזל”) means “go to hell.” Azazel is a biblical name that represents either a real place near Jerusalem or a demon. But the first part of the name, “Aza”, sounds and is written exactly like the Hebrew name for Gaza (עזה). So you could sometimes hear people say “go to Aza” (“go to Gaza”) as an abbreviation for “go to hell.”

Sometimes this use is intentional: It is not uncommon to read comments on the internet calling for a lefty or an Arab to “go to Aza,” and when Palestinian MK Hanin Zuabi was attacked by other Knesset Members for her support of the flottila, she was told by several MKs to go to Aza—one of them even telling her this in Arabic. It’s interesting that Zuabi wasn’t “sent” to Ramallah or even Jenin, but to Aza. Those MK’s clearly wanted Zuabi to leave the Israeli Parliament, but they also wanted her simply to go to hell.

In short, for many Gaza is hell, a demonic place which represents your deepest fears and to which you send—at least in your mind—your worse enemies. In a way, the rise of Hamas to power in Gaza made it easier to maintain this mythical view of the strip. Gaza is hell, and it is governed by the devil. Building walls around it and shooting anyone who comes near them actually makes sense this way. You don’t want to devil to spread its evil doings.

————–

We’re told that the aim of the blockade on Gaza is to “contain” the problem and ultimately, bring Hamas down. Even Israeli leftists sometimes think that this is the only way to have peace: You should negotiate with the Palestinian Authority and fight Hamas. It all sounds so very logical. I’m no fan of Hamas, as I don’t care for any religious ideology, but there is something about this theory which feels too self-centered and rooted in this mythical view of Gaza and its people. In short, I am not convinced. I don’t have a solution for the immediate political and diplomatic problems, but I there are a few questions which nobody seems to be asking.

Looking back, wasn’t it better to let Hamas enjoy its victory in the 2006 elections? People argue that Hamas is not ready to abandon the armed struggle and become a political movement – but when it actually did, the election results were canceled and the political leaders of Hamas put under Israeli arrest. So instead of political confrontation, the fight between Hamas and Fatah became a civil war. Shouldn’t we encourage the politicization of Hamas, as oppose to its militarization, as we do now?

Second thought: Isn’t isolating the strip just making Hamas stay in power?
This is pretty obvious—when Gaza is disconnected from the world, and no elections take place, who is there to challenge Hamas? And how exactly could one do so? It seems to me that by isolating Gaza, we are actually making it much easier for Hamas to exercise complete control.

If we break Hamas (I’m not sure how this can be done, but still)–are we going to like those who will replace them? What if it is a group like the Salafi who killed Vitorrio?

What is there to be lost from talking to Hamas? This is something I really don’t get. Even if Hamas is all about destroying Israel, who says that by talking to it we are excepting its views or even aiding it in any way. Some might think we shouldn’t “legitimize” Hamas – yet to me it seems that Hamas, having won the general elections, is seen by Palestinians as a legitimate political force, and does not need Israel’s approval. More over, it seems that currently, talking to Israel is a way to delegitimize a Palestinian leader, and not the other way around.

As for the rockets, nothing prevents Israel from retaliating against them, even if it’s in the process of negotiating with Hamas or with a united Palestinian government (which I think is the best option). More than anything, the rockets seems like a desperate attempt to get attention – and such attempts are likely to go on, even if Israel develops more high-tech defensive systems or retaliates with more force. You cannot lock up more than a million people and expect nothing to happen. What positive incentive do you leave them with? Needless to say, I don’t support Hamas’ goals or its tactics of targeting civilians. I just wonder, what other options do the people have right now if they want the world to hear their voice and take them seriously?

————–

The blockade is not just a stupid policy, it’s simply morally wrong. Locking up 1.5 million people in an open air prison in order to bring a political change of their leadership cannot be justified. It does not advance peace, but rather convinces people that Israel is exercising forms of control over the Palestinians even after leaving some of the territory intended for their state. It actually makes people wonder how independent will a Palestinian state be, and quite rightly so.

I think we should begin by remembering the real people living in Gaza. When I was a kid, we used to see the day workers from Gaza in the street corners, waiting to be picked up by their employees. It was a form of exploitation and economic control, yet there was contact between Palestinians and Israelis that made it harder to dehumanize the people of Gaza the way we do now.

More than anything, I get the feeling that people simply want Gaza to disappear—not very different from those who want the Jews to disappear from the Middle East—and until it does, we prefer to communicate with its people by ways of bombs and rockets. After all, it’s a form of dialogue we think we have the upper hand in.

But Gaza won’t disappear. Quite the opposite. As one Fatah member I once met told me, Gaza might even be the center of everything. It is populated mostly with refugees, who carry the memory of the 48′ Nakba. It’s the place where the first Intifada started. It is the largest urban center in the land, after Tel Aviv. Gaza is not hell, nor it is heaven. It’s a place with real people, who deserve to be free from oppression and fear.

Lift the blockade now. It’s the right thing to do.


The Goldstone Report: more important than you think

Posted: January 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

With each passing day, the publication of the Goldstone Report seems like a key event in shaping the political and diplomatic trends that currently dominate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A new book – to which I contributed an article dealing with the Israeli reaction to the report – takes a fresh look at the findings and the political significance of the UNHRC fact-finding mission to Gaza

Justice Richard Goldstone's report ended up serving as the major evidance in the persecution of Israeli human rights organizations (photo: United Nations Information Service - Geneva)

Justice Richard Goldstone's report ended up serving as the major evidance in the persecution of Israeli human rights organizations (photo: United Nations Information Service - Geneva)

When I checked out the web page for the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (more popularly known as the Goldstone Report) for the first time, one thing bothered me immediately: the report was posted only in English.

Furthermore, the executive summary and the conclusion chapter, which were available in six languages (Chinese and Russian among them), were not translated to Hebrew. There was a media summary and a press release in Hebrew on the site, but I couldn’t get the documents opened. If the UN Human Rights Council wanted to communicate a message to the Israeli public, it failed on its very first step. As a result, while most people have a definite view on the report, very few have actually read it. It’s a shame, because the Goldstone Report not only makes for a fascinating reading, but is also one of the most important documents to be published on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years.

The Goldstone report was the first evidence in what has since become a pattern – the failure of the Israeli leadership to register diplomatic achievements following the use of military power. Israel had no troubles achieving its victory in Gaza. One could argue – as many Israelis do – that operation Cast Lead helped deter the Hamas from launching more missiles on Israeli towns. Yet it also made Israel more isolated than ever in the world. The military operation boosted the BDS movement, mobilized public opinion in support of the Palestinians, and led to the Gaza-bound flotilla last spring, which resulted in a partial lifting of the blockade on the Strip.

The Goldstone report played a key role in these developments. Even though the report was rejected by Israel, the United States and for a brief moment, even by the Palestinian Authority (under Israeli-American pressure), it proved powerful enough to change regional politics. Some people claimed that operation Cast Lead cured the IDF from the effect of the unsuccessful confrontation with the Hezbollah in 2006, but Goldstone also caused Israel a diplomatic trauma. Now, when Israeli leaders consider sending their troops to another military operation against the Palestinians or in Lebanon, it’s Goldstone that they have in mind. The report served as an important lesson for the Palestinians as well: it proved that they can apply considerable pressure on Israel by bypassing Washington and taking their case to the international community and to international organizations. That strategy is echoed in president Abbas’ recent unilateral effort to gain international recognition of an independent Palestinian state in the 1967 borders.

The publication of the report also turned out to be a key moment for Israel’s limited democracy (I use the term “limited democracy” because of the absence of full political rights to Palestinians under Israeli control). The report itself was widely rejected in Israel, even as more and more events cited in it led to criminal investigations and in some cases, to prosecution of soldiers and officers. If anything, Goldstone made Israelis more hostile and suspicious of the international community.

Even more important was the use of the report in the persecution of human rights organizations and activists. A few months after it was made public, rightwing movement Im Tirzu spread the (false) claim that 92 percent of the evidence in the Goldstone report came from Israeli human rights organizations. Im Tirzu demanded to put legal limits on the activities of these organizations, and in some cases, even ban them completely. Lately, the Knesset has decided to answer this call by forming a special investigative committee that will look into the actions of leftwing NGOs. This might turn into a major showdown in Israeli politics, as all opposition parties decided not to cooperate with the Knesset’s probe.

In both cases, the Palestinian and the Israeli, we have yet to fully grasp the lasting political effect of the Goldstone Report.

I covered some of the initial reaction in Israel to the report in an article for the recently published “The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation” (Nation Books). The book, edited by Adam Horowitz, Lizzy Ratner and Philp Weiss, features articles by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, Moshe Halbertal, Laila El-Haddad and others. Most importantly, it holds the report itself. As I said, even if you have already made up your mind to reject Goldstone’s finding, it’s a document worth reading.


Flotilla: Inquiry panel tough on NGO representatives, easy on IDF generals

Posted: November 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

A critical review of the protocols of the Turkel Committee, assigned to investigate the raid on the Mavi Marmara which left 9 dead, reveals a deep pro-IDF and government bias by committee members

One of the great favors the Obama administration did Benjamin Netanyahu last year (another one for which it received very little credit) was its support for an Israeli-led inquiry on the flotilla incident.

The Turkel committee – led by a former Israeli Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel and joined by two international observers – was meant to prevent another Goldstone-style report. When the committee was formed, American and Israeli officials assured the world that “Israeli democracy is well capable of investigating itself,” and therefore, no international inquiry is necessary.

Perhaps it’s time to revisit these statements.

A critical review of the Turkel Committee protocols by the Israeli blogger Tom reveals some disturbing elements in the Committee’s work, and especially its treatment of the different witnesses who appeared before it.

The Turkel Committee heard only two of more than 600 passengers on board the Mavi Marmara.  Both of them weren’t involved in the actual battle. At the same time, the committee heard at least ten senior Israel officials, including PM Benjamin Netanyahu, defense minister Ehud Barak, chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi (twice) and several other senior generals (the committee is not allowed access to soldiers and officers who took part in the raid, so it had to settle for the official IDF report).

Apparently, there were striking differences in the ways the Turkel committee treated Israeli officials and generals, passengers, and Israeli human rights activists. The latter were not involved in the raid itself, and were only called to provide background on the situation in Gaza, yet it seems that for some committee members, they represented the real enemy. A Mavi Marmara passenger and Israeli activists who testified before the committee were subjected to hostile interrogations; Army Generals and senior officials, on the other hand, were met with praises and flattery by committee members.

“I want to praise (the army) for the (investigative) work it did,” one committee member told IDF chief of staff Ashkenazy during his testimony. “The efforts you took (in presenting the committee with a full picture on the situation in Gaza) were inhuman,” said a committee member to another general. “The work you did deserves much appreciation,” a committee member told the Foreign Office’s director general. An official statement by the committee spokesperson refers to another general’s testimony as “impressive” and “thorough.”

At the same time, NGO representatives were met with anger and hostility by committee members. “You are bothering us by coming here,” says committee member General (ret.) Amos Horev to Jessica Montel of B’Tselem, “stick (in your testimony) to humanitarian issues.”

Tom counted the words on the Turkel protocols, and then compared the proportional space given to the testimonies of IDF and government officials to that allowed to representatives of human rights organizations. The results are striking: the generals were allowed to speak with little or no interruptions, while the human rights representatives were stopped and questioned frequently.

Here are Tom’s findings for 13 protocols that were posted on the committee’s Hebrew website:

Witness   |   percentage of witness’ account during testimony   |    percentage of committee members’ interruptions

Politicians:
PM Banjamin Netanyahu     85.5            14.5
DM Ehud Barak                        92.1            7.9
MK Tzipi Livni                          82.8            17.2

IDF Generals
Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazy
(First testimony)                    86.8        13.2
(Second testimony)               84.9        15.1
Army Prosecutor Avichay Mandelblit    83.2        16.8
Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot          83.3        16.7

Bureaucrats
Yossi Gal (Foreign Office)            66        34
Yossi Edelstein (Interior Office)        71        29
Benni Kniak (Prisons Commander)        82.1        17.9

human rights representatives
B’Tselem                                                 57        43
Physicians for Human Rights        64.4        35.6
Gisha (free passage to Gaza)          53.8        46.2

Tom notes (my translation):

The amazing thing here is the remarkable consistency of the figures. Heaps of texts (the protocol of the testimony of IDF Prosecutor Avichai Mandelblit, for example, has more than 30,000 words), different witnesses with different positions, no less than seven committee members (…) that may raise questions, and still, a clear pattern regarding the treatment of witnesses emerges: at the top are the senior politicians, who get to speak virtually nonstop; in fact it’s not a testimony but more like a speech (…) slightly below them are senior military personnel – they also get to speak almost without interruption, with each receiving more than 83 percent of the total testimony time (…). Senior bureaucrats, especially the foreign ministry director general, are interrupted more often, but they also don’t have too much to complain about. And who got the harshest treatment? Representatives of human rights organizations – B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, Gisha. B’Tselem and Gisha representatives got (to speak during) just a little over half the time of their testimony (…).

This is worth some more pondering. After all, it is the political and the military leadership that should be the center of the committee’s work. It’s their decisions which are studied. Human rights organizations were invited to the committee to give general background on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. They were not under investigation there (…). The actual state of affairs should have been exactly the opposite: Turkel Committee representatives were to intervene much more during the testimonies of the generals and politicians: to ask them to clarify, explain and elaborate. The testimonies of representatives of human rights organizations were to be used only for general background, not as a basis for cross-examination.

So, what do you think the Turkel report will look like?


Flotilla | IDF spokesperson spins Mavi Marmara video for local political purposes

Posted: August 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

After weeks in which Israel refused to release the media confiscated form the journalists on the Gaza-bound flotilla, a short clip is posted on the IDF radio site, just at the perfect timing for Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi’s needs

Israeli chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi testified this week before the Turkel committee, the investigating panel Israel has formed to look into the events surrounding the deadly raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.

In what seemed like a strange coincident, while Ashkenazy was testifying, IDF Radio released another short clip from the videos taken on the the Mavi Marmara and later confiscated by the army. This new video, it was claimed, shows Arab Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi “in the presence of armed men on board the ship”. The Israeli media immediately jumped on the story, and Ashkenazy was temporarily forgotten.

MK Zoabi, who was on the Mavi Marmara, was the target of unprecedented public outrage in the Jewish public. She was almost physically attacked by Knessent Members, and later striped of some of her privileges as a member of the Israeli Parliament.

The head of the IDF Spokesperson unit, brigadier general Avi Bnayahu, is the closest ally of Chief of Staff Ashkenazi, among high ranking officers.

As can be seen below, the clip the IDF released was heavily edited. MK Zoabi is seen passing on the deck when two men with sticks are passing, later she is seen with other men carrying sticks, but this is apparently after the IDF soldiers boarded the ship. Yet the headlines describing the clip in the Hebrew media declared that unlike what Zoabi told reporters after the raid, “She knew the passengers were armed“. Even Haaretz site claimed that the film proved MK Zoabi knew of the existence of weapons on the ship.

Leaving aside the fact that calling people carrying sticks and polls armed – especially when they face battle ships and commando soldiers – is taking it a bit far; there is little doubt on my mind that by releasing the film IDF spokesperson tried to provoke public anger against an Israeli Member of Parliament in order to silence the growing criticism over the army’s performances, and especially the talk regarding the actions of Chief of Staff Ashkenazy, who remained at his home and didn’t supervise the attack from Central Command in Tel Aviv.

If the Israeli army had serious allegations against MK Zoabi, he should have turned them to the state prosecutor’s office, rather than post them on the IDF radio’s site (As far as I know, it’s the only Mavi Marmara video not released officially on the army spokesperson’s site, but through the radio station). But it is the timing tells the real story: there hasn’t been a Maramara clip released in weeks now, and suddenly, when the chief of staff faces some public criticism, suddenly there are new “evidences” Israelis must see.

These are not easy days for the IDF’s commander, who is caught in an ugly public battle with defense minister Ehud Barak over the identity of his successor. Barak whishes that GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant will take over the Israeli army and Ashkenazi wants anyone but Galant. Affairs turned toxic last week after channel 2 published a document detailing a PR campaign to boost the chances of Galant winning the job (Galant claimed the document is fake and that this is a set-up intended to smear him). This led to a police investigation, and current suggestions are that the source for the leaked document was army spokesperson Avi Bnayahu.

It seems that Bnayahu, maybe even Ashkenazy, used the oldest trick in the handbook for the Israeli politician: Faced with troubles, find an unpopular Arab and attack him.

————————

The release of the new video by the Army spokesperson – this time, it seems, not to help Israel’s case in the world but for the army’s local political needs – should remind us that Israel is still holding the evidences that could have shed light on the events that took place on the Mavi Marmara and led to the death of nine people.

As they were led off the ships in the Israeli port of Ashdod, around 60 journalists who were present on the Gaza-bound flotilla had all their electronic items taken from them and all recorded media confiscated, never to be returned. Kürşat Bayhan, a Turkish reporter, told Zaman newspaper that he tried to hide his camera’s flash memory card under his tongue, but it was discovered and confiscated during a medical examination. Iara Lee, a Brazilian-American filmmaker who managed to smuggle out of Israel an hour-long video, said in a news conference at United Nations that another memory card she had was discovered and taken from her.

During the days following the raid, IDF spokesperson released short clips which appeared to have been taken from the footage confiscated from media representatives. These segments – who appeared to have backed some of Israel’s claims regarding the events – were released without stating who them, were and when.

At the time, I contacted the army spokesperson in request for an official explanation regarding the detention of journalists present on a foreign vessel and the confiscation of their recorded material.

In an official comment, IDF spokesperson stated that all media was taken from the journalists “for security reasons”, and that it was used later by the army “due to false allegations that were brought up.”

The army spokesperson chose not to comment on my question regarding the legal ground for these actions.


British PM Cameron: Gaza is a prison camp

Posted: July 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

In a visit to Turkey, newly appointed British Prime Minister said that the attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla was “‘completely unacceptable”

This is from the Telegraph’s report:

Today Mr Cameron said: ”The situation in Gaza has to change. Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions.

”Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.”

And he added: ”The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable.

”And I have told PM Netanyahu we will expect the Israeli inquiry to be swift, transparent and rigorous.”

PM David Cameron’s senior coalition partner, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats, referred in the past to the Israeli siege on Gaza as “a living nightmare” for more than a million Palestinians.

I think we should pay attention to these declarations. Israel has lost the battle in the UK’s public opinion long ago, and now it seems that the new British government is moving toward a more critical approach of Jerusalem as well. This is happening at a time when Washington is taking Israel’s side both in regards to Gaza and to the talks with President Abbas. PM Benjamin Netanyahu was able to contain the pressure from president Obama by using the political battle in the United States and making Israel a major issue for the Republicans, but elsewhere his government is getting more isolated by the day.

In the months to come, it will be interesting to see whether the British could lead Europe into playing a larger role in the region, and what effect this would have on the US policy.


Israel looking for strong women to handle next flotilla, a flash game on the Gaza blockade, and other stories

Posted: June 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I’m going on vacation until the end of June, so I probably won’t be blogging that much. Meanwhile, here are a few things worth checking out.

● Israeli pundits agree: the flotilla has won, Netanyahu governments (and I might add the Obama administration) lost. From now on, it’s all political damage control.

● Maariv: Concern in the American Administration over the age of two of the members of the Turkel committee, who was appointed by PM Netanyahu to look into the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.

● Ad in an Israeli newspaper: private contractor looking for women volunteers with “great physical strength and motivation” to help deal with the passengers of future flotillas (h/t Richard Silverstein).

238527_hezbollah-gaza-flotilla-women-wanted-ad

● More evidences of misuse of flotilla passengers’ credit cards (Hebrew)

“Safe Passage”: The flash game Gisha organization has created in order to inform the world of the measures Israel is taking as part of its separation policy between the Gaza strip and the West Bank.

The story of prisoner X: The man in Israel’s Ayalon prison, whose identity no one knows. Initial report on him was published on Ynet, only to be removed later from the site due to a government gag-order.

● Speaking of gag-orders, writer and Israeli Arab activist, Ameer Makhoul, who is charged with espionage, has written a public letter from his jail. The full charges against Makhoul were never made public, and his trail is being conducted behind close doors, with some of the “confidential material” not allowed to be viewed even by his own attorneys.

● We often here the argument of “Arab rejectionism”, meaning that Palestinian leaders rejected all the generous peace offers that were handed to them by Israeli leaders. But what about Israeli rejectionism? Why, asks Akiva Eldar in Haaretz, hasn’t Israel responded to the Arab peace initiative?


Flotilla | what to make of the IDF “hit list” story?

Posted: June 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Other flotilla related news from Israel: army declares all recordable media was confiscated from journalists on ships “for security reasons”; Defense Minister Barak losing key supporter in his party

On the hours following the Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla, there were rumors of an Israeli “hit list” that has fallen from the pocket of one of the soldiers.

The Turkish TV even had some pictures of the list:

Later on, we learned that the passengers who attacked the ship were able to take three IDF soldiers (apparently an officer and two commandos) as prisoners and held them for 15 to 30 minutes. It seemed that the list was taken from these soldiers.

On the Iara Lee footage you can see one of the passengers showing the list to the camera (44:18 min), saying that:

“We got pictures of challenger 2 [apparently a code for ship name]… it came from the Israelis. Different ships and who’s on them, who to concentrate on… they have pictures of who they wanted.”

The last page shown on this film (45:22 min) – actually it’s the first page in Hebrew, which is read from right to left – reads “List of Passengers and Ships.”

The head of the Turkish organization IHH, Bulent Yildirim, whose name was on the list, referred to it as a “hit list”, claiming the IDF’s intention was to kill the 16 people listed on it. Another one of the names is that of Palestinian-Israeli leader Sheikh Raad Saleh, who was rumored to have been killed on the hours following the attack. As it turned out, one of the casualties looked very much like Saleh, and that, together with his name on the IDF list, caused the confusion.

I don’t think this was a hit list. Killing the passengers on the ships, with so many witnesses around, seems like an absurd idea – and the way things unfolded shows it very well. It would have been much easier to get to these people anywhere else in the world.

To me the list looks more like a standard intelligence document with name of suspects needed for arrest/questioning. The IDF calls them Bingo Lists. I think the army wanted to put its hands on these people, or even just inform the soldiers who they are, so that they take some care when dealing with them. In the days following the deportation of the passengers, there were reports in the Israeli press from unnamed army sources, who ere extremely upset that some of the people on the Mavi Marmara were released. We can assume that they meant the people on the Bingo List.

Still, the list tells us something very important: that the IDF knew who was on the ships – and that it even considered some of the passengers as hostile, possibly even terrorists. So how can we explain the IDF’s claim that the soldiers were surprised by the attack on the first soldiers that landed on the upper deck?

One rumor I heard is that the army simply blew it. They came to arrest people, but the whole operation was poorly planned and executed. According to this theory – and it’s no more than a theory – the whole “surprise” narrative was born to cover for Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and especially navy commander Eliezer Marom, who personally supervised the operation from one of the Israeli ships. If the Israeli public knew the whole story, the theory goes, it would have been their neck on the line.

——————————-

There are more testimonies of misuse of credit cards that were confiscated by the IDF from the flotilla’s passengers. The IDF also continues to use the videos it confiscated form the journalists and passengers for its own propoganda purposes.

Some 60 journalists were arrested by Israel following the raid on the ships, and all their recordable media confiscated by the army. I contacted IDF spokesperson asking for official comment on these matters for an article I published in Ha-Ir magazine this weekend (Hebrew scan here). The response I got was that the confiscation was done “for security reasons”.

——————————-

Defense Minister Ehud Barak will be going to Washington next week. Barak is the administration’s favorite guy in the government, and the White House is counting on him to force Netanyahu into concessions. This strategy has failed so far, and even Barak’s few remaining allies in his party are giving up hope on him.

Labor party strongman Benjamin Ben-Eliezer was quoted today saying that if the government doesn’t come up with its own peace initiative “in the next few weeks”, he would join the fraction calling for the party to leave the government. Ben-Eliezer was Barak’s most important supporter in his party, but relations between the two cooled after Ben-Eliezer supported an international probe into the raid on the flotilla.

It seems that Netanyahu’s government is beginning to feel some real pressure, and currently Barak is its weakest link.