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.

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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.


Flotilla | why did Israel take credit cards, money, from passengers?

Posted: June 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

White house accepted the idea of an Israeli-led probe, but Jerusalem and Washington are still at disagreement over nature of the investigation

Almost two weeks since the IDF attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla, the government is yet to announce what form of civilian investigation it will conduct (the army has already started its own probe).

Reports in the Israeli media indicate that the reasons for the delay include disagreement with the White House over the investigating committee’s authorities. It seems that the US accepted the idea of an Israeli-led probe with international observers,and the problem is Jerusalem’s insistence that soldiers and low-level officers will not testify, and that the committee won’t have a legal authority to subpoena witnesses and material, and to issue conclusion regarding decision-makers. In other words, Israel wants the committee to deal with legal matters only. This way Netanyahu and Barak hope to contain political fallout from the raid both at home and abroad.

I believe the US should stay away from such an investigation – rather then lend it its own credibility and rescue the government from the trouble it brought upon itself – but it seems that the White House already decided to stand by Netanyahu, even if it means damaging relations with Turkey. The question for the US now is how to form an investigating panel that would look credible enough to European leadership.

UPDATE: PM Netanyahu confirmed reports that former Supreme Court justice Yaakov Tirkel will head the Israeli probe. Netanyahu didn’t announce the creation of the committee itself yet, probably due to disagreements with the US over the authorities of the comittee.

Haaretz’s editorial: “The government’s efforts to avoid a thorough and credible investigation of the flotilla affair seem more and more like a farce.”

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Here is something an investigating panel should look into: It seems that Israel’s security forces confiscated all personal items from activists when they got off the ship. According to MK Hanin Zoabi, as well as other reports [Hebrew], credit cards, money and electronic gear were taken from the passengers, with almost none of them returned. I saw no official Israeli response on this issue, and there is at least one report of misuse of a confiscated credit card.

The flotilla’s passengers broke no low. Yet some of them were beaten, held in custody against their will, and had their valuables taken from them. Who should answer for this?

It should also be noted that Israel still holds almost all the photographed material from the Gaza flotilla – including tapes confiscated from journalists – editing it and releasing only what suits its own PR effort. Regardless of what we think happened on the Mavi Maramara or who is to blame for it, in the name of truth and freedom of press alone, the world need to make Israel hand back all confiscated videos and photographs.

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Filmmaker Iara Lee have posted more then one hour of raw footage she was able to hide from the soldiers and smuggle out of Israel. You can watch the entire video on NYT’s The Lede blog. Here is a 15 minutes long edited version:

You don’t see much of the fight here, but you can get a feeling of the minutes after the soldiers took control of the upper deck. It seems likely that at least some of the casualties were shot later, during the soldiers’ attempts to find and rescue the two or three commandos held in the lower deck.

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. Soldiers are instructed to use whatever means necessary to prevent another soldier being taken hostage, as such an event always turn into a major strategic problem for Israel. I wonder what orders were the soldiers given once it was clear that at least a couple of the commandos are missing.

Towards the end of the posted video, you can here MK Hanin Zoabi calling the soldiers to hold their fire.

● Believe it or not: Netanyahu’s and Liberman’s approval ratings surged this week.


Gaza flotilla | Things the IDF doesn’t want us to know

Posted: June 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , , , | 25 Comments »

The videos released by IDF from the Mavi Marmara are controlling the news cycle in Israel for the past 48 hours. Their effect has been tremendous: They silenced all questions on the operation, and had the public rally behind the government and the army, as the Maariv poll shows. They made Israelis go out to the streets, demonstrating in front of the Turkish Embassy and having smaller rallies around the country.

But Incredible as it may seem, it’s been almost three days since the army raided the ship, and we know nothing on the attack itself, except for the fact that some of the men on the Mavi Marmara stormed the soldiers as they descended from the helicopter to the upper deck. We also have reason to believe that this attack was planned in advance, but that there were no firearms involved.

In other words, we only know what Israel wanted us to know.

At this point it is extremely important to say what we don’t know: We don’t know the names and nationality of the killed passengers (UPDATE: Turkey released some details). we don’t know for sure how many people were injured. We don’t know where they were killed, when, and how they died. we don’t know if and when people were given medical treatment. There were security cameras on deck, but Israel doesn’t show us what they filmed, except for the material which serves its purposes. The night vision clips released by the army end just before the shooting begins.

We don’t know what happened before the civilians attacked the commandos. There were passengers claiming soldiers opened fire before they even boarded the ship, but we don’t know if that’s true.

Most important, we don’t know anything about the battle itself – if it was a battle. It seems that it was a long one, since we have short recording, in which you can hear Israeli MK Hanin Zoabi calling for help and begging the soldiers in Hebrew and English to stop shooting (It’s the second clip on this page). At this time there were already passengers hurt, and one can assume that the attack on the soldiers ended. But the shooting went on.

Some of this information could have been available had the IDF not confiscated all material from the Mavi Marmara. What’s even worse is that the army is now editing the films and releasing it in a way which suits its own narrative. This film, shot from the upper deck, seems to have been taken by a camera crew or a passenger on board the ship. The film embedded below, showing the passengers getting ready for the Israeli attack was taken from the ship’s security camera.

Here is a good post regarding the IDF clips on the New York Times lede blog. Robert Mackey notes in it that the images the army released lack context. My only remark is that they were deliberately taken out of context.

The way Israel is withholding information is very troubling. If the army has nothing to hide, why not release the material? Naturally, Israel is also refusing to address the bigger questions, such as why the flotilla was attacked in international waters, and if so, whether the passengers actually had the right to resist the soldiers’ attempt to board their vessel.

The worse effect of this PR war is on the Israeli public, which now views the entire flotilla as a terrorist enterprise. One can see the effect of this nationalistic mood in the way the members of Knesset almost physically attacked MK Zoabi today (video here). In fact, the government’s campaign was so successful, many protested the release of the detained passengers, claiming “the terrorists” should be “brought to justice”.

All this leads to the conclusion that only an internationally led investigation might shed some light on the events on the Mavi Marmara. Even so, the chances the IDF will give full access to the materials and soldiers are slim at best.


Attack on the flotilla: the day after

Posted: June 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

2:15 AM: As the second day following the attack on the Gaza bound flotilla comes to its end, the Israeli public is standing behind its government and military. But things might still change, as the country will go on facing international pressure and the fingerprinting among top government and army official will increase.

The international community demands an inquiry, again. After its campaign against the Goldstone committee, it’s clear that Israel won’t like an external investigation, but this time it might not be easy to avoid one. The question will be, as always, the White House’s position. So far it’s been a very careful one, expressing regret on the loss of life, but not condemning the raid. Israel couldn’t have hoped for better.

From here it also seems that Israel was able to get some of its message through today, at least in the US. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon briefed hundreds of Jewish community leaders today, and as long as they feel that Israel is under attack, they might try to fight any measures from being taken against it. But the American Jewish community is changing, and it seems that most of it is getting tired from the policies of the current Israeli government. The real effect of the attack on the Mavi Marmara will be felt there once the initial storm passes.

The affair itself is far from being over: Israel has yet to finish releasing the detained passengers, which will finally be able to tell the story from their point of view. It was said that Israel confiscated all cameras and phones, so I don’t know if we will get any new material from the time of the attack. So far, the IDF only released the clips showing the soldiers being attacked, and not anything that followed. I guess they have a good reason for that.

Israel also needs to make public the names and nationality of all casualties. There were reports that at least four of them are Turkish nationals, and possibly one or two others are Arab-Israelis.

2:10 AM Amos Oz in a NYT Op-Ed:

Even if Israel seizes 100 more ships on their way to Gaza, even if Israel sends in troops to occupy the Gaza Strip 100 more times, no matter how often Israel deploys its military, police and covert power, force cannot solve the problem that we are not alone in this land.

1:15 AM Opinion and comments round-up (some of this stuff was posted much earlier today, but I didn’t have time to get to it):

David Grossman (Guardian): “No explanation can justify or whitewash the crime that was committed, and no excuse can explain away the stupid actions of the government and the army.” [this article appeared also in Hebrew in Haaretz].

Alan Dershowitz (Huffington Post): “The moment any person on the boat picked up a weapon and began to attack Israeli soldiers boarding the vessel, they lost their status as innocent civilians.” [this article apeared also in Hebrew on Maariv]

Peter beinart (Daily Beast): “Don’t blame the commandos for the flotilla disaster. Blame Israel’s leaders, who enforce the cruel and corrupt Gaza embargo, and their supporters in America.”

Helena Cobban (Just World News): “Israel should also be required to provide a full accounting of what happened to all those who were killed or injured, and to cooperate with the international inquiry.”

Andrew Sullivan (Atlantic): “Time after time, Netanyahu just pwns Obama; and the US president just lets it happen.”

Seth Freedman (Guardian): Flotilla activists had ample opportunity to defuse the situation before the IDF arrived – instead they decided on violence.

M.J. Rosenberg (TPM cafe): “The administration barely uttered a word of criticism yesterday. The whole world was appalled but we only asked for an investigation.”

Read also rep. Anthony Weiner strongly defends Israeli attack on flotilla, in a conversation with the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent.

1:00 AM: Under international pressure, Israel will release most of the flotilla’s passengers, including those who were on the Mavi Marmara. There are conflicting reports as to whether those who attacked the soldiers will be released. Ynet.co.il claims that Israel will go on detaining them, while Maariv and Haaretz say they will be released as well. I estimate that Maariv is right, and only few might be detained any further.

Haaretz: The White House demanded a “credible and transparent” investigation into the Israel Navy raid of the flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip.

00:50: IHH launches an information site on the Gaza flotilla.

10:45 PM: Something I couldn’t avoid noticing since yesterday: all the material released by Israel is from one minute (!) during the battle. The soldiers’ testimonies refer to this timeframe as well. But events on the Mavi Marmara lasted, according to reports, several hours. Even at this early stage, if Israel wants its version to have some credibility, it needs to start explaining what happened from the minute the soldiers took their first shot, until they held their fire.

10:15 PM Ynet’s military correspondent has a report claiming that the people who attacked the soldiers on board the Mavi Marmara had “direct and indirect ties” to the Global Jihad. According to the IDF, they pre-planned the assault, and even had bullet proof vests and light weapons.

Some of the suspects were found to be carrying large sums of money. Others had Kevlar vests and gas masks; and all were found to be carrying weapons such as knives, metal clubs and slingshots. Several of the suspected were wounded by IDF fire.

Investigators have already concluded that this was the group that planned the violent resistance, which centered on the Marmara’s top deck.

IDF also released another clip, this time a recording of the radio transition prior to the moment when the soldier opened fire. While I post it here, I must say that it’s very hard to conclude anything from these clips, as the IDF doesn’t reveal any material concerning the actual shootout, and according to reports, even confiscated all recording devices the passengers on the Mavi Marmara had.

10:05 PM Labor junior MK Daniel Ben Simon joins the calls for the resignation of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

10:00 PM Another diplomatic crisis on the way? Ireland officially requested Israel to let the Rachel Corrie, with 15 activists on board, into Gaza. Haaretz reports:

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen urged Israel to let the vessel to finish its mission. The ship was carrying 15 activists including a northern Irish Nobel Peace laureate.

“The government has formally requested the Israeli government to allow the Irish-owned ship … to be allowed to complete its journey unimpeded and discharge its humanitarian cargo in Gaza,” Cowen told parliament in Dublin.

21:50 PM A few small pro-IDF rallies took place in several towns in Israel, including Jerusalem, Kiryat Shmone, Karmiel, Gush Etzion (West Bank), Beer Sheva, Maalot, Raanana, Netivot and Natanya. Each of the rallies had between a few dozens to a few hundred protesters. Demonstrations against the attack on the flotilla took place in the Arab town Arabe, in Jaffa, and in several other Arab towns. Pro-IDF protesters clashed with Palestinian supporters of Raed Saleh in Ashkelon, were the Shikh was brought before a district judge.

4:20 PM Amos Oz: Israel is turning into the new South Africa.

Celebrated Israeli author Amos Oz said today on IDF radio that Israel is becoming the new South Africa:

“We are placing ourselves under an international siege, which is more dangerous for us than the siege on Gaza in dangerous to Gaza.

“Israel is turning into South Africa in the Apartheid days – a country which the world’s nation wouldn’t want to buy its goods, wouldn’t want to visit, and that will be thrown out of international organizations. We will become a pariah state that nobody wants anything to do with

Oz said that there was no reason to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza, and added that Israel is not only losing the media battle, but also the moral battle.

4:00 PM The flotilla got its first victory: The siege on Gaza have been partly lifted, after Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing until further notice, allowing goods and people to travel in and out of the strip.

Egypt has been facing mounting pressure from pro-Palestinian groups and opposition elements for its support for the Israeli siege on the strip. So far president Hosni Mubarak allowed Rafah crossing to be opened only on for limited periods, claiming that he wouldn’t let Israel make Gaza an Egyptian problem.

2:30 AM Guardian: Journalists on the flotilla were censored and arrested by Israeli forces.

Irish Times reports that Rachel Corrie, the last ship of the Gaza flotilla is due to arrive at Gaza territorial waters. No official word has come out of Israel concerning this ship, but army sources told Maariv that the ship would be treated in the same way the other ships were handled.

2:00 AM Maariv is reporting that unnamed “senior ministers” are calling for Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s resignation over the Mavi Marmara fiasco [link in Hebrew].

Some more commentary from the world:

Glenn Kessler (Washington Post): Condemnation of Israeli assault complicates relations with U.S.

Jeffrey Goldberg (Atlantic): the disappearance of Jewish wisdom.

Stephen Walt (Foreign Policy): Will the Obama administration show some backbone on this issue?

Leslie H. Gelb (Daily Beast): Israel was right.

12:30: Israel might have sabotaged the engines of some of the vessels in the Gaza flotilla, but not the Mavi Marmara’s. Haaretz reports that in a testimony in front of the Knesset’s Foreign and Security affairs committee, Colonel Itzik Turgeman of the IDF command stated that some of the ships were treated in what he described as “a gray way”.

According to colonel Turgeman, the Mavi Marmara wasn’t sabotaged so a humanitarian crisis wouldn’t break in it when the ship will run out of food and water, and because towing it to Israel would have taken too long.

Head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, said in the Knesset that “Israel is becoming from an asset to a burden on the US”.

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11:00 AM: During the night, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla and calling for an investigation, as well as the immediate release of the captured vessels and the their passengers. It seems that Israel will not complicate things further and all foreign passengers will be deported in the next few days.

The Israeli passengers might face charges (though most of them have been released by police). MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad) was interrogated twice and proceeding against her, which began in the Knesset prior to the attack, will probably resume. There are also calls to press charges against Sheikh Raed Saleh, already one of the least popular Arab public figures with the Jewish public. Saleh is still under arrest.

Israel is yet to release the names and nationality of the passengers killed in the attack. Yedioth Ahronoth reported this morning that most of them are Turkish nationals. The paper claimed that six of the 9 casualties were identified as ones who took part in the assault on the soldiers.

Attorney Avigdor Feldman filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court demanding the immediate release of the flotilla passengers, and allowing them to sail to their original destination in Gaza. Feldman claim the attack on the flotilla was done without legal authority (my guess is that it’s more of a political move. The court will not intervene in these matters, and Feldman knows that).

Israel’s morning papers frame the entire incident as a trap the government stepped into. Yedioth’s front page headline is “the trap” and Maariv follows with “The failure and the heroism”, referring to the soldiers that were put in risk. The rightwing Israel Hayon also view the events from the soldiers’ perspective: “Soldiers facing Lynch“, the headline says. as one might expect, the only ecception is the Liberal Haaretz, which calls for a state inquiry committee which will investigate the decision-making process, and “decide who should pay for this dangerous policy”.

opinion round-up:

Jerusalem Post’s editorial is dismissing some of the public and internationl outrage, caliming “IDF response to violence could have been worse.”

Ari Shavit (Haaretz journalist known until not very long ago for his good relations with Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu): “During the 2006 war in Lebanon I concluded that my 15-year-old daughter could have conducted it more wisely than the Olmert-Peretz government. We’ve progressed. Today it’s clear to me that my 6-year-old son could do much better than our current government.”

Zvi Mazel (Foreign Office veteran writing for Jpost): “We are facing a full-blown diplomatic crisis (…) we can’t expect help or even assistance from anyone. But if that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is. The biblical words from Numbers 23:9 come to mind: wLo, the people shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations.’”

Gidon Levi (Haaretz): “If Cast Lead was a turning point in the attitude of the world toward us, this operation is the second horror film of the apparently ongoing series.”

Caroline Glick (Jerusalem Post): “A straight line runs from the anti-Israel UN resolution passed last Friday and the Hamas flotilla.”

Yossi Sarid (former minister and head of Meretz, writing in Haaretz): “Seven Idiots in the Cabinet.”

(Sarid is refering to the top decision making forum in Netanyahu’s government, whose members are Barak, Netanyahu, Liberman, Eli Yishay (Shas), Beni Begin and Dan Meridor (Likud) and deputy PM Moshe Yaalon from Likud. The final go ahead to yesterday’s operation was given in the “7 forum” prior to Netanayhu’s departure for North America – an issue that will surly be discussed in the days to come).

Ofer Shelah (Maariv military correspondent): “Israel is being portrayed as a country which acts violently, without thought, and out of a permanent existential fear” [Hebrew].

Yedioth Ahronoth’s top political correspondent, Nahum Barnea, and senior pundit Sever Plotsker are attacking the government this morning, and Plotsker – that reveled yesterday that Yedioth didn’t publish information regarding vast concerns the army had over the operation – is calling for Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s resignation. Military correspondent Alex Fishman is claiming that the even with its consequences, “the operation was the right thing to do.” (Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely read daily paper, doesn’t post editorials online, so I can’t link to its articles).

Amnon Abramowits, Channel 2 senior political commentator, is calling in an op-ed in Yedioth for PM Netanyahu to immediately form a different coalition that would have new diplomatic policies, both in Gaza and in the West bank.