An IDF Powerpoint slideshow, presented before the Turkel committee for the investigation of the Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla, reveals the official goals of the Israeli policy regarding the Gaza strip.
The slideshow, prepared by The Administration for the Coordination of Government Policy in the Territories – the IDF body in charge of carrying out Israeli government policies regarding the civilian population in the West Bank and Gaza – deals with the humanitarian conditions in the strip; with food, water, fuel and electricity supply and with the condition of medical facilities in Gaza.
The first set of slides details the background for the current activities of The Administration for the Coordination of Government Policy in the Territories. Slide number 15 details the principles of Israeli policy:
- Responding to the humanitarian needs of the population.
- Upholding civilian and economic limitations on the [Gaza] strip.
- Separating [or differentiating, בידול] Judea and Samaria [i.e. West Bank] from Gaza – a security and diplomatic objective.
- Preserving the Quartet’s conditions on Hamas (Hamas as a terrorist entity).
Slide 20 deals with freedom of movement from and to the Gaza strip. Policy objectives are:
- Limiting people from entering or exiting the strip, in accordance with the government’s decision.
- Separating [differentiating] Judea and Samaria from Gaza.
- Dealing with humanitarian needs.
- Preserving the activity of humanitarian organizations in the strip.
- Keeping a coordinating mechanism with the Palestinian Authority.
The Israeli policy regarding Gaza could be seen as violation of official and unofficial principles of previous agreements and negotiations with the Palestinians and other parties. Gaza and the West Bank were regarded as “one entity” – though not officially declared as such – already in the 1978 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. The Oslo Declaration of Principles, signed in September 1993 and still an abiding document, specifically states that:
The two sides view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, whose integrity will be preserved during the interim period.
This declaration was ratified in following agreements from 1994 and 1995.
The recent IDF slideshow is the first time an Israeli official document publicly declares that the current policy objective is to create two separate political entities in the Palestinian territories.
Nirit Ben-Ari, spokeswoman for Gisha, an Israeli NGO dealing with the freedom of movement, export and import to and from the Palestinian territories, said that “while in Washington a Palestinian state is being negotiated and people are already discussing ‘a train line between Gaza and Ramallah‘, in reality Israel is working to separate Gaza from the West bank even further than the separation already caused by the split in the Palestinian leadership.
“This policy is aimed against civilian population and against people who have nothing to do with Israel’s security concerns. It hurts family ties, and harms any future possibility to develop commerce, education and economical life in the Palestinian society. Those policies should raise concerns regarding the intentions of the Israeli government in Gaza.”
Other slides in the IDF slideshow deals with the ways the IDF gather information on the humanitarian situation in the strip (mainly through NGO’s and media reports), how food and fuel supply is evaluated, and how the needs of the local population are calculated. According to the IDF assumptions, there are 1,600,000 people living in Gaza. The army does not occupy itself with the distribution of supply, so there is no way of knowing if the population’s needs are actually met – only that according to the IDF, enough food and water is entering Gaza.
The slideshow doesn’t deal with the export of goods from the strip, nor does it explains the mechanism that is used to determine which civilian goods could be brought in.
Slide 50 details the goods found on the Gaza-bound flotilla: medical supply, toys, school gear, construction materials and powered wheelchairs.
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.
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.
● 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).
● “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.
● 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?
“[the] commission’s conclusions were pre-determined… members of the panel did give the facts a chance to confuse them.”
(Israel’s Foreing Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on the Goldston’s commission’s report)
“Gaza flotilla probe will show the world Israel acted lawfully.”
(PM Benjamin Netanayhu talking at the start of the cabinet meeting which unanimous approved the probe).
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today the forming of an investigative commission into the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. The commission will include three Israelis and two foreign observers. The internationals won’t be bale to vote on decisions or view confidential material.
The three Israeli members were carefully chosen so that they would suit Netanyahu’s political needs. The Prime Minister wishes to keep the government intact, and not have Defense Minister Ehud Barak forced to resign. It shouldn’t be too hard with Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel heading the committee. Turkel explained his views of on such probe in an interview to the IDF radio three weeks:
“I don’t like personal recommendations. The main thing is what stands before me. I don’t want any more failures, and whether a certain person is dismissed or not, or whether his role is frozen or not is of secondary importance.”
Two elderly gentlemen will serve under Turkel: 93 years old international law professor Shabtai Rosen, and 86 years old Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Horev, who has been know for his criticism on the army in the past, but will probably not put the political leadership in danger.
In order to take care of the international crisis, add some credibility to the committee and give the US something to justify backing it with, two international observers were added to the panel. The first is Lord David Trimble, a former leader of Northern Ireland’s Ulster Unionist party, a known supporter of Israel and a member of the recently launched “Friends of Israel” group. In 2007 Mr Trimble wrote a report for the Conservative Friends of Israel in the UK, explaining that the international community should oppose to negotiations with Hamas. You can read more on his appointment in NYT’s The Lede blog.
The second international observer is Canadian Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, an expert on terrorism and on fighting none-governmental organizations. Terrorism experts usually back Israel.
This committee will probably not hear evidences from the passengers. It won’t be allowed to talk to IDF soldiers and officers, except for chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi. To gain knowledge of the events on the Mavi Marmara, it will have to rely on the army’s report – if they even let the two observers to see it. Its report will deal with the legal justifications for the siege on Gaza and with the legitimacy of the Israeli raid.
The US has welcomed the commission. The rest of the world is doubtful, which is not surprising. It’s interesting to note that the Obama Administration, who supposedly believes working with in international institutions, helped Israel bypass a UN resolution (or at least try to: we don’t know what will happen with the UNHRC planned commission).
I think the administration is simply looking to put the entire affair behind it, and go back to the diplomatic game with the Palestinian Authority. Maybe the White House hopes to get some concessions out of Netanyahu for getting him and his government off the hook. Otherwise, I can’t imagine that they really take this probe seriously, and I even guess that’s the reason they didn’t put an American observer on it – so they don’t be part of the report which will find that Israel, believe it or not, did act within its rights. But if there is something that both the US and Israel needed to understand from the past two weeks, it’s that you can’t ignore Gaza, isolate Hamas and hope the problem will just go away or sort itself somehow. In fact, both should have learned that after Cast Lead. There won’t be half a peace, just in the West Bank. And even the flotilla incident is far from being over.