Israel’s economic interests come first, airline safety considerations second

The FAA has lifted its ban on U.S. airlines flying to Israel. It issued this statement last night:

The FAA has lifted its restrictions on U.S. airline flights into and out of Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport by cancelling a Notice to Airmen it renewed earlier today. The cancellation is effective at approximately 11:45 p.m. EDT.

Before making this decision, the FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has followed the FAA’s lead — sort of.

EASA had previously recommended that airlines refrain from using Ben Gurion. Now they recommend that National Aviation Authorities should “base their decisions for flight operations to and from Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport (LLBG) in Israel on thorough risk assessments, in particular using risk analysis made by operators.” They say that their revised recommendations are based on “information provided by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Israel and following coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.”

Individual airlines may still choose to avoid Israel. In its most recent statement, Lufthansa said: “At the present time no adequate authoritative new information is available that would justify a resumption of flights.”

Hamas has pointed out that since the airport is being used by Israeli military aircraft, it remains a military target.

Israel’s military use of a civilian airport must also mean that by Israel’s definition of the term, passengers and staff at Ben Gurion are being used as “human shields.”

What kind of “new information” could the Israeli government have provided in order to reverse the FAA’s earlier decision? Was it this?

“We knew about that rocket,” said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. “We were tracking it for about three minutes, our Air Force. We could have taken it down, but because we saw that it wasn’t going to hit inside the airport, we let it through.”

When the rocket struck Yehud, just north of the airport, Col. Effi Mishov, the commander of the Dan district in the Home Front Command, said: “The Iron Dome is a great answer to the threat, but it is not 100 percent effective.”

Was Mishov lying when he suggested that the rocket had slipped past Iron Dome, or was Regev lying when he said “we let it through”?

Regev’s claim is wildly implausible. If the air force was tracking the path of this rocket with pinpoint accuracy, then they could see it was going to land in a residential neighborhood. Their mission isn’t just to protect the airport; it is to protect Israelis. Moreover, if they believed they could allow a rocket to come down so close to the airport without airlines and aviation authorities seeing this as a security threat, the Iron Dome operators must be delusional.

Mishov provided the only plausible explanation: the missile shield is not completely effective. No such shield exists in Israel or anywhere else.

Given that no evidence has been presented which could lead anyone to conclude that the safety risk at Ben Gurion airport is any less today than it was yesterday, it seems reasonable to infer that the FAA yielded to political pressure.

Meanwhile, Hamas spokesman Osama Hamden is hopefully correct in saying that the partial closure of Israel’s vital gateway to the world should give Israelis a better idea of what it means to live under siege.

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Israel Air Force didn’t see any need to protect Tel Aviv suburb from rocket strike

Following yesterday’s rocket strike that resulted in most foreign airlines cancelling flights to Ben Gurion International Airport, the Israeli government says they let the rocket through without intercepting it because they could see it wasn’t going to hit the airport.

The Jerusalem Post reported:

Similarly to an incident last week, when a large chunk of shrapnel crashed through the roof a house in the Tel Aviv area, this strike was also in a run-down neighborhood of dilapidated houses.

It would appear that for low-income Israelis, their government doesn’t believe it’s worth the expense of firing Iron Dome missiles that may themselves be worth more than the houses likely to be destroyed. The government appears to have as little regard for the occupants of those houses.

“We knew about that rocket,” said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. “We were tracking it for about three minutes, our Air Force. We could have taken it down, but because we saw that it wasn’t going to hit inside the airport, we let it through.”

In an interview on CNN, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had just flown to Israel on El Al, said: “If you don’t feel safe here, I don’t know where you would feel safe.”

He also said: “If you have a standard [like the FAA is applying to Ben Gurion] you would close every airport in the United States. You’d close down every airline.”

Really?

Yehud, where the Hamas rocket struck yesterday, is on the north side of the airport. That means that during its descent, the rocket almost certainly passed within hundreds of feet of aircraft touching down, taking off, taxiing on the runway, or at their departure gates.

What Bloomberg is calling an “overreaction” by the FAA would by most people’s standards be a prudent and necessary response to what was in fact a very close call.

If what Mark Regev said is true — that the rocket was being tracked — then however effective Iron Dome might be when deployed, the judgement of its operators seems to be severely impaired.

Meanwhile, when Bloomberg claims that Israel is the safest country in the world, how does that square with the repeated claims that Israelis are living in an intolerable situation?

It would appear that what really worries Israel more than Hamas is a hit to the economy and a dip in tourism.

Everybody seems comfortable, everybody thinks they are well protected by a army and an air force that knows how to fight and is out there trying to protect them. And when they walk down the streets and they send their kids to school and they go to the parks, when they get to a concert, they feel safe.

Who cares about the rockets? Just don’t shut down the airport.

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I do not want to be a number

Atef Abu Saif writes: Despite a long night of bombing, I woke early Tuesday morning to the sound of voices drifting through the window of my room, newly displaced people taking refuge in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency school across the street. In the last two weeks thousands have been forced to leave their homes on the coastal side of Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun to avoid being killed by a shell from a tank or a warship. They have brought with them little but their desire to survive and have traveled toward Jabalia, the neighborhood I have lived in all my life. Jabalia is itself a refugee camp, established after the 1948 Nakba when thousands of were forced to leave their villages and towns across the country that was Palestine. Already the most densely populated camp in the Gaza Strip, Jabalia is now receiving a new wave of refugees after 66 years.

From my window, which overlooks the school, I can see old women, exhausted, sitting down on the little steps in front of the playground, their children clinging to them, many of them crying; old men are looking nervously up to the sky where drones are still hovering, making a noise that they will not forget in the years they have left. The UNRWA man is trying to organize everything in this chaos. Monday night was a terrible chapter in the history of Gaza—especially for the eastern part of Beit Hanoun. Tanks moved in from the border toward the residential areas, destroying everything in their paths, erasing every building, every school, every orchard. You do not know whether the next shell will fall on your head. When you will be reduced to another number in the news. You think about what it means to disappear from the world, to evaporate like a drop of water, leaving no sign of your existence, and the thought drives you mad.

A shell killed a family of six people three days ago. Cousins of my neighbor Eyad. They were sitting around their food waiting for the prayer to break their fast. The four children were killed instantly, and the parents were mortally injured. Eyad told me that one of the dead girls vanished completely; they found no sign of her body. No bones, no arms, no legs. Nothing that might suggest it belonged to her, that a little girl of 9 years existed in this place just a few seconds ago. Apparently the rocket hit her body directly. [Continue reading...]

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Israel provoked this war — Obama must end it

Henry Siegman writes: There seems to be near-universal agreement in the United States with President Barack Obama’s observation that Israel, like every other country, has the right and obligation to defend its citizens from threats directed at them from beyond its borders.

But this anodyne statement does not begin to address the political and moral issues raised by Israel’s bombings and land invasion of Gaza: who violated the cease-fire agreement that was in place since November 2012 and whether Israel’s civilian population could have been protected by nonviolent means that would not have placed Gaza’s civilian population at risk. As of this writing, the number killed by the Israel Defense Forces has surpassed 600, the overwhelming majority of whom are noncombatants.

Israel’s assault on Gaza, as pointed out by analyst Nathan Thrall in the New York Times, was not triggered by Hamas’ rockets directed at Israel but by Israel’s determination to bring down the Palestinian unity government that was formed in early June, even though that government was committed to honoring all of the conditions imposed by the international community for recognition of its legitimacy.

The notion that it was Israel, not Hamas, that violated a cease-fire agreement will undoubtedly offend a wide swath of Israel supporters. To point out that it is not the first time Israel has done so will offend them even more deeply. But it was Shmuel Zakai, a retired brigadier general and former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division, and not “leftist” critics, who said about the Israel Gaza war of 2009 that during the six-month period of a truce then in place, Israel made a central error “by failing to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians in the [Gaza] Strip. … You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they are in and expect Hamas just to sit around and do nothing.” [Continue reading...]

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Ukraine rebel commander acknowledges fighters had BUK missile

Reuters reports: A powerful Ukrainian rebel leader has confirmed that pro-Russian separatists had anti-aircraft missiles of the type Washington says were used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

In an interview with Reuters, Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok Battalion, acknowledged for the first time since the airliner was brought down in eastern Ukraine on Thursday that the rebels did possess the BUK missile system.

He also indicated that the BUK may have originated in Russia and could have been sent back to remove proof of its presence.

Before the Malaysian plane was shot down, rebels had boasted of obtaining the BUK missiles, which can shoot down airliners at cruising height. But since the disaster the separatists’ main group, the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk, has repeatedly denied ever having possessed such weapons. [Continue reading...]

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Israel scrambles to restore foreign flights to Tel Aviv

Reuters reports: Israel tried on Wednesday to get U.S. and European commercial flights to Tel Aviv restored after some carriers suspended services, insisting its main airport there was safe despite being targeted by Palestinian rockets.

Israeli authorities emphasised the success of the Iron Dome interceptor system in protecting Ben Gurion Airport from rockets fired by militants in the Gaza Strip, as well as a precautionary narrowing of air corridors since fighting erupted on July 8.

However, Israel also said foreign airlines could use an alternative airport deep in its southern desert. [Continue reading...]

ABC News reports: The FAA announced today that they have not lifted their ban against travel to or from Tel Aviv’s airport and will prohibit travel to the country for an additional 24 hours.

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Inside Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State

The New York Times reports: When his factory was bombed in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, the businessman considered two bleak options: to remain at home and risk dying in the next airstrike or flee like hundreds of thousands of others to a refugee camp in Turkey.

Instead, he took his remaining cash east and moved to a neighboring city, Raqqa, the de facto capital of the world’s fastest growing jihadist force. There he found a degree of order and security absent in other parts of Syria.

“The fighting in Syria will continue, so we have to live our lives,” said the businessman, who gave only a first name, Qadri, as he oversaw a dozen workers in his new children’s clothing factory in Raqqa.

Long before extremists rolled through Iraq and seized a large piece of territory, the group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria took over most of Raqqa Province, home to about a million people, and established a headquarters in its capital. Through strategic management and brute force, the group, which now calls itself simply the Islamic State, has begun imposing its vision of a state that blends its fundamentalist interpretation of Islam with the practicalities of governance.

In time, it has won the surprising respect of some war-weary citizens, like Qadri, who will accept any authority that can restore a semblance of normal life. Rebel-held areas of Aleppo, by comparison, remain racked with food shortages and crime. But there is a darker side to Islamic rule, with public executions and strict social codes that have left many in this once-tolerant community deeply worried about the future.

In Raqqa city, traffic police officers keep intersections clear, crime is rare and tax collectors issue receipts. But statues like the landmark lions in Al Rasheed Park have been destroyed because they were considered blasphemous. Public spaces like Al Amasy Square, where young men and women once hung out and flirted in the evenings, have been walled off with heavy metal fences topped with the black flags of ISIS. People accused of stealing have lost their hands in public amputations.

“What I see in Raqqa proves that the Islamic State has a clear vision to establish a state in the real meaning of the word,” said a retired teacher in the city of Raqqa. “It is not a joke.” [Continue reading...]

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Obama’s reluctance to arm rebels elsewhere stiffened by attack on MH17

Bloomberg reports: The downing of a Malaysian passenger aircraft in Ukraine may stiffen Obama administration resistance to providing heavy armaments to rebels — or even besieged governments — seeking U.S. help in hotspots around the world.

In the wake of the Malaysia Airlines disaster, President Barack Obama has raised the risk that weapons could be misused in his discussions with aides about the U.S. possibly arming fighters it supports, according to an administration official familiar with the discussions.

The U.S. says a Russian-made missile probably fired by the pro-Russian insurgents brought down the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet in Ukraine, killing 298 people.

The separatists also have shot down military aircraft. In the latest attacks, separatists downed two Ukrainian fighter jets in Donetsk, the same eastern region where flight MH17 was hit, the Ukraine defense ministry said today.

The lethal success of the Ukrainian rebels now is playing into White House calculations of U.S. arms assistance. Aid to the Syrian opposition, as well as to the governments under siege in Ukraine and Iraq, is part of the discussion, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. [Continue reading...]

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The war in Gaza threatens Egypt too

Shibley Telhami writes: Cairo’s efforts to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, according to conventional wisdom, have largely been dictated by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s animosity toward Hamas. After all, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Sisi’s government has declared a terrorist organization and regards as a serious threat.

That is why, this argument goes, the Egyptian ceasefire proposal ignored Hamas’ conditions and why the Israelis so quickly supported it. The proposal called for an immediate ceasefire. Only then would the terms be negotiated, including Hamas’ demands for an end to Israeli attacks, an end to the blockade of Gaza and the release of rearrested Palestinians who were freed in a prisoner 2011 exchange.

The story is far more complicated, however, for both Sisi and Egypt. Because the longer the war goes on, the more Gaza becomes a domestic problem for the Egyptian president. One he does not want.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry speaks with Egyptian President al-Sisi in CairoIndeed, the fighting provides an opening for Sisi’s opponents. At a minimum, it creates a distraction the Egyptian president does not need now — he has said his priorities are the economy and internal security. So Sisi has a strong interest in ending the war, particularly since Hamas and its allies are exhibiting far more military muscle than anyone expected.

But Sisi is facing a number of major complications triggered by the war. [Continue reading...]

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What Turkey can teach Israel

Mustafa Akyol describes what led to the resolution of Turkey’s decades-long struggle against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK): Reaching this tenuous peace wasn’t easy. First, Turkey had to overcome its own nationalist establishment, which had always dismissed liberals’ calls for a political solution. Their preferred method was a “military solution,” which meant, in the words of a prominent general, “killing all terrorists one by one.”

That was the strategy of the Turkish top brass throughout the 1990s, when military-dominated governments led a brutal counterterror campaign that included extrajudicial killings by death squads and the destruction of more than 3,000 Kurdish villages.

Supporters of this military solution claimed that the P.K.K. survived only because foreign governments supported the insurgent group to serve their own interests, and because of the P.K.K.’s violent fanaticism. But where did that fanaticism come from?

Their answer was that the Kurds were a people prone to violence by nature. They had a crude, harsh and militant culture. Why, otherwise, were some Kurdish mothers raising their sons to be guerrillas, and not doctors or lawyers? The state had no choice but to speak to them with the only language they understood — force. It is a very similar refrain to what one hears when Hamas is discussed in Israel.

Yet, in Turkey then, as in Israel today, there was a gaping hole in this argument: It did not take into account Turkey’s oppression of the Kurds, which was of course the primary cause of the P.K.K.’s militancy. The Turkish state for years denied this oppression, insisting that Kurds were Turkish citizens with equal access to government services. However, Turkey had still banned their language, denigrated their culture, and responded to their political grievances by authoritarian diktat.

The Kurds were not angry at Turkey because they were innately prone to violence. They were angry because Turkey had done something grievously wrong to them. And a peace agreement became possible only when the Turkish public and the state acknowledged this fact.

If Israel is ever going to achieve peace, Israelis will have to overcome their own self-righteous hawkishness as well — and abandon the intellectually lazy reflex that explains Palestinian militancy as the natural product of Arab and Islamic culture’s supposedly violent nature. [Continue reading...]

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Rabbi Dov Lior calls for destruction of Gaza

International Business Times reports: An Israeli right-wing rabbi has legitimised the destruction of Gaza “so that the south [of Israel] should no longer suffer”.

Dov Lior, a Zionist religious leader and chief rabbi of the West Bank’s illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba, wrote in a religious ruling that according to the Torah Jews in the time of warfare may use “deterrent measures to exterminate the enemy”.

The attacked nation “is permitted to punish the enemy population with whatever measures it deems proper, like blocking supplies or electricity,” Lior wrote, according to Haaretz. “It may bomb the entire area based on the judgment of the war minister and not wantonly put soldiers at risk.”

“The defence minister may even order the destruction of Gaza so that the south should no longer suffer, and to prevent harm to members of our people who have long been suffering from the enemies surrounding us,” he wrote.

After the first direct hit by a rocket in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area since Israel’s assault on Gaza began, residents in the area echoed Lior in advocating genocide. The Jerusalem Post reported:

[A] crowd of locals huddled in front of the cameras of the Israeli and foreign press, calling for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to “erase Gaza,” with one resident saying “don’t be a woman, Bibi, get rid of Gaza. Just like they don’t want the Jews here, we don’t want Arabs either.”

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NBC ‘witch hunt’ to enforce an Israeli-centric view of the attack on Gaza

Max Blumenthal writes: MSNBC contributor Rula Jebreal’s on-air protest of the network’s slanted coverage of Israel’s ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip has brought media suppression of the Israel-Palestine debate into sharp focus. Punished for her act of dissent with the cancellation of all future appearances and the termination of her contract, Jebreal spoke to me about what prompted her to speak out and why MSNBC was presenting such a distorted view of the crisis.

“I couldn’t stay silent after seeing the amount of airtime given to Israeli politicians versus Palestinians,” Jebreal told me. “They say we are balanced but their idea of balance is 90 percent Israeli guests and 10 percent Palestinians. This kind of media is what leads to the failing policies that we see in Gaza.”

She continued, “We as journalists are there to afflict the comfortable and who is comfortable in this case? Who is really endangering both sides and harming American interests in the region? It’s those enforcing the status quo of the siege of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank.”

Jebreal said that in her two years as an MSNBC contributor, she had protested the network’s slanted coverage repeatedly in private conversations with producers. “I told them we have a serious issue here,” she explained. “But everybody’s intimidated by this pressure and if it’s not direct then it becomes self-censorship.”

With her criticism of her employer’s editorial line, she has become the latest casualty of the pro-Israel pressure. “I have been told to my face that I wasn’t invited on to shows because I was Palestinian,” Jebreal remarked. “I didn’t believe it at the time. Now I believe it.”

An NBC producer speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed Jebreal’s account, describing to me a top-down intimidation campaign aimed at presenting an Israeli-centric view of the attack on the Gaza Strip. The NBC producer told me that MSNBC President Phil Griffin and NBC executives are micromanaging coverage of the crisis, closely monitoring contributors’ social media accounts and engaging in a “witch hunt” against anyone who strays from the official line. [Continue reading...]

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Inside Anonymous’ cyberwar against the Israeli government

Mother Jones reports: The shadowy hacker collective known as Anonymous has announced it will launch a round of cyber-attacks this Friday against the Israeli government, in retaliation for Israel’s ongoing military intervention in Gaza. This onslaught would add to a wave of cyber assaults staged in recent weeks by hackers largely from the Middle East, Asia, and South America, who are supporting “OpSaveGaza,” an Anonymous-backed campaign targeting Israeli government websites that has succeeded in temporarily taking down the sites of the Israeli defense ministry and the Tel Aviv police department.

This isn’t the first time Anonymous has zeroed in on Israel; the collective has been launching cyber-attacks against the country for several years, with mixed results. “As a collective ‘Anonymous’ does not hate Israel, it hates that Israel’s government is committing genocide & slaughtering unarmed people in Gaza to obtain more land at the border,” an Anonymous spokesperson, using the Twitter handle @YourAnonCentral, tells Mother Jones. The spokesperson notes that there has never been any Anonymous action taken against Palestinian targets, including Hamas, the outfit governing Gaza and launching rocket attacks against Israel.

The most recent round of cyber-attacks began in early July, and the Anonymous spokesperson claims that collective members sabotaged “thousands” of Israeli websites. Several of the sites targeted were indeed down recently. The International Business Times reported last week that “numerous Israeli government homepages have been replaced by graphics, slogans, and auto-playing audio files.” On Monday, hackers leaked a list of log-in details they claim belong to Israeli government officials, but the government hasn’t confirmed this. [Continue reading...]

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Israel has told Gazans to seek safe shelter, but many say there is no such thing

The Washington Post reports: Ordinary people in the Gaza Strip have been told by Israel they are being used as human shields by Hamas. Leaflets dropped from the sky and phone calls have warned them to flee the fighting immediately.

But many Gazans want to know: Flee where?

In the past two days, Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire have struck an evacuation shelter, cemeteries, a school, mosques and al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah, where four people were killed. The border crossings to Egypt and Israel are closed to Palestinians.

“You tell me where should we go,” said Nael al-Safadi, a refrigerator repairman who at sunset Monday heard a teeth-rattling explosion and ran from his house to find a head lying on the sidewalk outside.

It might have belonged to one of the 10 members of the al-Kilani family who were killed. The family had just moved into a high-rise across the street in central Gaza City when the top six floors were smashed by missiles. [Continue reading...]

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Israel may have committed war crimes in Gaza, says UN human rights chief

The Guardian reports: Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has warned that Israel may have committed war crimes in its offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, where hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been killed in the past two weeks.

Pillay told an emergency debate at the UN human rights council (UNHRC) in Geneva that Israel had not done enough to protect civilians.

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay said, citing air strikes and the shelling of homes and hospitals. The killing of civilians in Gaza, including dozens of children, raised concerns over Israel’s precautions and its respect for proportionality, she said. [Continue reading...]

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Israel’s right of self defense

Daniel Levy writes: Israeli self-defense does not include the right to (again) kill hundreds of Gazan civilians, to bomb hospitals or even to warn people to evacuate buildings when there is nowhere for them to go. The Israeli government’s attempt to a priori blame Hamas for all losses and thereby absolve itself of responsibility for casualties cannot be accepted.

Take a step back from this latest escalation. Most Gazans are refugees, their roots lie in the war and expulsion of 1948. From 1967 they lived under direct Israeli occupation and under blockade ever since, almost for the past decade.

Israel is not offering Gazans “quiet for quiet.” When Hamas ceases to fire, when it is “quiet,” Israel returns to normality, but Gazans remain cut off from the world, denied the most basic daily freedoms we take for granted.

Step further back to the West Bank, where the Palestinian strategic alternative to Hamas is pursued. The Fatah movement of President Abbas recognizes Israel, pursues peaceful negotiations and security cooperation. That is met with entrenched Israeli control, ever-expanding settlements, and Israeli military incursions into Palestinian cities at will.

So what would you do under such circumstances? Perhaps start by not denying another people’s rights in perpetuity, including the right to self-determination.

George Bisharat notes: [S]elf-defense cannot be claimed by a state that initiates violence, as Israel did in its crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, arresting more than 400, searching 2,200 homes and other sites, and killing at least nine Palestinians. There is no evidence that the terrible murders of three Israeli youths that Israel claimed as justification for the crackdown were anything other than private criminal acts that do not trigger a nation’s right of self-defense (were an American citizen, or even a Drug Enforcement Administration agent killed by drug traffickers on our border with Mexico, that would not entitle us to bomb Mexico City).

Hamas and other groups began to intensify rocket fire only after Israel’s provocation. Prior to that, Hamas had proved itself a reliable partner for calm along the Gaza border, withholding rocket fire for nearly two years and largely curbing attacks by other groups.

Israel is also apparently violating the principle of distinction, that requires armies to attack only military targets. By attacking civilian officials and Hamas political figures in their homes, and striking hospitals, water and sewage lines, and other civilian infrastructure, Israel has abandoned distinction. Unsurprisingly, 75 percent of Palestinian victims have been civilians.

Ghada Ageel writes: [W]hile states have the right to defend themselves, so do people under occupation. Despite the Israeli claim that it no longer occupies Gaza, Israel effectively controls the strip – particularly the air and sea – and, in conjunction with Egypt, the borders, too.

When Israel demands that Palestinians flee their homes, is it not legitimate self-defense to say Israel did this once before and will pass through my neighborhood over my dead body?

Seventy percent of Palestinians in Gaza are refugees. We are in Gaza because Israel expelled over 700,000 Palestinians in 1948, including my grandmother and grandfather and both my parents from Beit Daras.

With over 600 Palestinians killed in the current assault, most of them civilians, a far-reaching cease-fire is now needed.

Hamas can hold a cease-fire just as it did in November 2012. The real question is whether Israel will give up its brutal control of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, allowing people to move and export products to grow our economy, and live with a semblance of freedom from occupation after years of Israeli siege and subjugation.

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Iraqi leader Maliki loses backing of Sistani and Iran for new term

The Wall Street Journal reports: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is losing political support for his bid for a third term from core backers, including the country’s Shiite religious establishment and ally Iran, say Iraqi officials.

The shift, officials said, is prompting members of the premier’s own alliance to reconsider their support and dimming the prospect of his stay in power.

In recent days, high-level delegations of Iranian military officials and diplomats held a flurry of meetings in Baghdad and the Shiite religious capital Najaf, where they were told that Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, has lost the confidence of all but his most loyal inner circle, Iraqi officials with knowledge of the meetings said.

One Iraqi official briefed on the meetings said Iranian representatives signaled during their visit that Tehran has “really started to lean away from Maliki as a candidate.”

Also critically, Mr. Maliki’s bid to stay in office has, say prominent Shiite politicians, run into opposition from Iraq’s top Shiite spiritual authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has become central to the grinding talks between political blocs to form a government. [Continue reading...]

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Tariq Abu Khdeir interviewed by Chris Hayes

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