Neve Gordon writes: Several months ago, a young woman working in Kibbutz Dorot’s carrot fields noticed a piece of paper lying on the ground with a short inscription in Arabic. It looked like a treasure map. She put it in her pocket. Some time later, she gave it to her friend Avihai, who works for Breaking the Silence, an organisation of military veterans who collect testimony from Israeli soldiers to provide a record of everyday life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Avihai was in the middle of interviewing soldiers about their experiences during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip last summer. He recognised the piece of paper as a leaflet that had been dropped by an Israeli plane above Palestinian neighbourhoods in the northern part of the Strip; the wind had blown it six miles from its intended landing point.
The leaflet helps explain why 70 per cent of the 2220 Palestinians killed during the war were civilians. The red line on the map traces a route from a bright blue area labelled Beit Lahia, a Palestinian town of 60,000 inhabitants at the north edge of the Strip, and moves south through Muaskar Jabalia to Jabalia city. The text reads:
Military Notification to the Residents of Beit Lahia
The IDF will be undertaking forceful and assertive air operations against terrorist elements and infrastructure in the locations from which they launch their missiles at the State of Israel. These locations include:
From east Atatra to Salatin Street. From west [unclear] to Jabalia Camp.
You must evacuate your homes immediately and head toward southern Jabalia town along the following road:
Falluja Road, until 12 noon, Sunday 13 July 2014.
The IDF does not intend to harm you or your families. These operations are temporary and will be of short duration. Any person, however, who violates these instructions and does not evacuate his home immediately puts his own life as well as the lives of his household in danger. Those who take heed will be spared.
‘The significance of this leaflet,’ Yehuda Shaul, the founder of Breaking the Silence, told me, ‘cannot be appreciated fully without reading our new report.’ The report is made up of 111 testimonies, provided by around seventy soldiers who participated in the fighting.
One thing is immediately clear from the interviews: the IDF’s working assumption was that once the leaflets were dropped, anyone who refused to move was a legitimate target: [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Testimonies provided by more than 60 Israeli soldiers who fought in last summer’s war in Gaza have raised serious questions over whether Israel’s tactics breached its obligations under international law to distinguish and protect civilians.
The claims – collected by the human rights group Breaking the Silence – are contained in dozens of interviews with Israeli combatants, as well as with soldiers who served in command centres and attack rooms, a quarter of them officers up to the rank of major.
They include allegations that Israeli ground troops were briefed to regard everything inside Gaza as a “threat” and they should “not spare ammo”, and that tanks fired randomly or for revenge on buildings without knowing whether they were legitimate military targets or contained civilians.
In their testimonies, soldiers depict rules of engagement they characterised as permissive, “lax” or largely non-existent, including how some soldiers were instructed to treat anyone seen looking towards their positions as “scouts” to be fired on. [Continue reading…]
The Times of Israel reports: Israel reportedly hit several targets belonging to Hezbollah and the Syrian army in a series of air attacks Saturday morning in the Kalamun area on the border between Syria and Lebanon.
According to a report in the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya, a first Israeli Air Force strike took place Wednesday, allegedly targeting two sites believed to have been Syrian army missile depots.
On Saturday, according to a report in al-Jazeera, the Syrian targets were divisions 155 and 65 of the Assad army, in charge of “strategic weapons.” Al-Arabiya reported that the targets were Scud missile depots housed in the military bases. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Hackers have managed to penetrate computer networks associated with the Israeli military in an espionage campaign that skillfully packages existing attack software with trick emails, according to security researchers at Blue Coat Systems Inc.
The four-month-old effort, most likely by Arabic-speaking programmers, shows how the Middle East continues to be a hotbed for cyber espionage and how widely the ability to carry off such attacks has spread, the researchers said.
Waylon Grange, a researcher with Blue Coat who discovered the campaign, said the vast majority of the hackers’ software was cobbled together from widely available tools, such as the remote-access Trojan called Poison Ivy.
The hackers were likely working on a budget and had no need to spend much on tailored code, Grange said, adding that most of their work appeared to have gone into so-called social engineering, or human trickery.
The hackers sent emails to various military addresses that purported to show breaking military news, or, in some cases, a clip featuring “Girls of the Israel Defense Forces.” Some of the emails included attachments that established “back doors” for future access by the hackers and modules that could download and run additional programs, according to Blue Coat. [Continue reading…]
Bel Trew reports: The fighters in Gaza are preparing for a new war every day. It could come at any time: In the past few weeks, Israeli planes and drones have been increasingly circling the 26-square-mile coastal enclave. The Israel Defense Forces have repositioned troops at the eastern borders, an area almost entirely flattened during last summer’s 51-day war.
“The war could start any minute,” says Abu Mujahid. “There is a lot of kinetic movement, so all the fighting groups evacuated the bases, we’ve postponed training sessions, and many of the men have moved underground.”
“There are people right now under your feet,” his wiry second-in-command, Abu Saif, 28, adds with a toothless grin.
Gaza today is a powder keg waiting to explode. The key aspects of the cease-fire agreement that ended the war last summer remain unfulfilled — both Israel and Hamas feel that only more violence can force their enemy to assent to their demands. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of Gaza has stagnated due to Israeli restrictions on letting material into the territory, as well as the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, sapping Gaza residents’ hope for a better future and leading them to believe that there is no alternative but armed struggle. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera: Just a quarter of the $3.5bn in aid pledged to rebuild Gaza in the wake of last summer’s devastating war has been delivered, according to a new report.
The report from the Association of International Development Agencies, released on Monday, found that only 26.8 percent ($945m) of the money pledged by donors at the Cairo conference six months ago has been released, and reconstruction and recovery have barely started in the besieged coastal enclave.
“The promising speeches at the donor conference have turned into empty words,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam, which was among the report’s signatories.
“There has been little rebuilding, no permanent ceasefire agreement and no plan to end the blockade. The international community is walking with eyes wide open into the next avoidable conflict, by upholding the status quo they themselves said must change.”
Eve Fairbanks writes: On 15 August last year, five weeks into the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Hagai El-Ad, the director of B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, appeared on a morning radio show to discuss the conflict. Throughout the fighting, B’Tselem did what it has done for 25 years since it was founded during the first Palestinian intifada: document human rights violations by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza. It compiled film and testimony gathered by volunteer field researchers on the ground, tallied daily casualty figures that were used by the local and international press, and released names of individual Palestinians killed by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
B’Tselem’s founders intended it to serve a purpose unlike any other organisation in Israel’s fractious political atmosphere: to provide pure information about the Israeli military’s treatment of Palestinians, without commentary or political agenda. But by last summer, this stance had become a source of controversy. For many Israelis, identifying human-rights violations by the Israeli military, but not its enemies, was tantamount to treason. When B’Tselem tried to run radio ads listing the names and ages of 20 Palestinian children killed in Gaza, Israel’s national broadcasting authority banned them on the grounds that they constituted a political message masquerading as neutral information. A group called Mothers of Soldiers Against B’Tselem was formed; Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, endorsed one of their protests.
That morning on the radio, the host, a journalist named Sharon Gal, pressed El-Ad over and over to agree that he believed Hamas is a “terrorist organisation”. El-Ad reminded Gal that B’Tselem, by its very core principles, declined to make that kind of characterisation because it believed doing so would be a political act. “We’re talking about armed Palestinian organisations; that is the professional term, and we criticise their activities when they are illegal,” he said. Gal responded that Israel was locked in a battle for its survival; at such a moment, he argued, refusing to call Hamas a terrorist group was a political – and disloyal – act. Newspaper columnists were still talking about it a month later. “Hagai El-Ad has essentially become a Hamas apologist,” one declared.
Three and a half months after the end of the Gaza war, in early December, I met El-Ad at Talbia, a wine bar beneath the Jerusalem Theatre. Forty-five years old, he looks barely over 30. He has a soft, almost hushed voice, glasses that press down on the tops of his ears, making them flop over like wings, and a frequent, mirthful smile. “Don’t sneeze,” he laughed, as a waitress propped a cork under a wobbly leg of our table, creating a fragile balance. El-Ad arrived at B’Tselem last May after spells as the director of Jerusalem Open House, Jerusalem’s premier gay-advocacy group, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
B’Tselem, in Hebrew, means “in His image,” from the line in the Book of Genesis: “And God made man in His image.” El-Ad possesses a fierce belief in Israelis’ ability – and duty – to live up to their human godliness by being just and manifesting an expansive empathy. “I self-identify as a Jew who cares deeply about the Jewish future and the Jewish identity,” he told me. “To be Jewish is to treat people with dignity.” He grew up in Haifa, on the Israeli coast, and takes as the basis for his personal creed an anecdote from a visit Golda Meir paid to the city during the 1948 Israeli war for independence, when she noted that scenes of Palestinians fleeing their homes reminded her of images of Jews fleeing Poland before the second world war. “If Golda Meir could notice the similarities,” he said, smiling, “then anybody can recognise Palestinians as human beings who ought to be treated with equal rights.” [Continue reading…]
The Daily Star reports: Within the space of a few hours, two Israeli soldiers were dead, and Wednesday had turned from just another weekday to the day that Lebanese started asking themselves: Are we about to see a repeat of 2006?
That year saw a full-on war with Israel develop following a deadly cross-border attack by Hezbollah on an Israeli patrol. The 2006 war, which ended up costing more than 1,000 lives and severely damaging infrastructure across the country, came after years of “tit-for-tat” incidents between the two sides as part of a carefully calibrated game for which both sides thought they knew the rules.
The name of the unit that attacked an Israeli convoy in the occupied Shebaa Farms Wednesday, killing two and wounding seven others, was the Qunaitra Martyrs – a clear reference to the airstrike last week on a Hezbollah vehicle in Qunaitra, Syria.
That attack killed six party fighters, including the highly symbolic Jihad Mughniyeh – son of assassinated commander Imad – and a senior Iranian military figure. Everyone knew that Hezbollah would have to retaliate.
As a result, most have interpreted the Shebaa Farms incident as part of the contained mini-war between the two sides. But could Hezbollah have been looking for something more following such a bold and humiliating attack on its troops in Syria? Or could their response accidentally have paved the way for something bigger, as it did back in 2006, due to unpredictable internal Israeli factors?
“Never rule out war between these two antagonists,” said Bilal Saab, a senior fellow for Middle East security at the Atlantic Council. “But Hezbollah has already done what it wanted to do: a limited, deadly and precise attack.”
He pointed to the significance of Hezbollah’s decision to respond to the Qunaitra attack from the Shebaa Farms, a heavily disputed territory in the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights that Lebanon claims as its own.
“The very choice of geography shows the organization does not want to escalate,” Saab said. “It’s cautious, the choice of Shebaa, it means we are back to the previous rules of engagement, which were stable until 2006, when everything broke down.”
“It didn’t attack inside Israel, or inside Syria in the Golan Heights. Hezbollah is not after major escalation, if it was, it could have done much, much more, and Israel understands this,” he added. [Continue reading…]
Ron Ben-Yishai writes: Hezbollah’s “achievement” Wednesday was to shed the blood of Israeli soldiers. Even by Lebanese criteria, this is barely a tactical achievement. For Israel it is – and rightly so – hard to come to terms with the death and injury of its soldiers, but grief in itself does not justify a move that would cause tens and hundreds of deaths and injuries on the Israeli side if and when a third Lebanon war breaks out. This is a cold and cruel consideration – but someone has to do it.
Another consideration is the composition of the government and cabinet. After the dismissal of the Yesh Atid and Hatnua ministers, the security cabinet is purely rightwing; it is devoid of legitimacy and a balance that is vital to decisions on war and peace.
The final consideration concerns the upcoming elections. If the present government decides on a harsh response that would trigger a major escalation, it would almost immediately be accused of dragging Israel into a political war designed to serve the ends of Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett. No rational arguments, strategic justifications and considerations of national pride would help Israel’s current political leadership. They would suffer a defeat at the polls.
The Daily Star reports: Hezbollah fighters attacked an Israeli military convoy Wednesday in the occupied Shebaa Farms, in south Lebanon, killing at least two soldiers and wounding seven, in retaliation for Israel’s recent airstrike in the Golan Heights.
A U.N. Spanish peacekeeper was also killed in the heavy exchange of fire that followed the Hezbollah attack, as UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Luciano Portolano urged “maximum restraint” from all parties to prevent escalation on the Lebanese-Israeli frontier.
Media reports had earlier said that four Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack.
A security source told The Daily Star that 30 shells were fired from the Israeli side across the Lebanese border following the 11:30 a.m. attack that struck a convoy, destroying at least two vehicles. Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said the attack destroyed 9 vehicles.
Hezbollah claimed the attack on the Israeli military convoy in a statement.
“At 11:25 [Wednesday morning] the Qunaitra Martyrs unit targeted with appropriate missile weapons an Israeli military convoy comprising several vehicles and [transporting] Zionist officers and soldiers causing the destruction of several vehicles and inflicting many casualties on the enemy,” the brief statement read.
According to Israeli media, a number of Israeli Army troops were being treated with “light-to-moderate wounds” at a hospital in Safed.
About two hours after the initial attack, Israeli warplanes carried out mock air raids over the scene of the attack as their soldiers lobbed shells into Shebaa Farms and the surrounding hills.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to make Hezbollah “pay” for the attack.
“Those behind the attack today will pay the full price,” Netanyahu said, after cutting a trip to Sderot short to visit the Defense Ministry for “consultations.” [Continue reading…]
IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly reports: Syria’s claims that Israel carried out airstrikes on 7 December appear to have been confirmed by amateur video footage and images of the wreckage of an Israeli munition recovered in the southwest of the Arab country.
The Syrian authorities have claimed that Israel carried out two airstrikes: one at Damascus International Airport, the other near Al-Dimas, a town near the Lebanese border.
The claim was corroborated by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that monitors the conflict in Syria using a network of sources. It reported that 10 explosions were heard near Al-Dimas and that a warehouse area was targeted at the airport. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: When called to return to Gaza to help out in al-Shifa hospital, doctor Mads Gilbert was denied access with valid papers.
Gilbert told Al Jazeera that he was turned away at the Erez border crossing after Israeli authorities deemed him a “security risk”. After asking for an explanation, Gilbert was threatened with arrest.
Al Jazeera spoke with Gilbert about these events and what is happening beyond the checkpoint.
Al Jazeera: Did you just get a note from the Israelis saying you are no longer allowed to come back?
Mads Gilbert: No, actually, I had been in Gaza in June for three weeks on an assignment for the UN and they had applied for a multiple entry visa for me, which I got from the Israeli army. It was a multiple entry visa valid until the 11th of November. So I went in on that to do the job for the UN, stayed for three weeks, wrote up the report and went home to Tromso in Norway to pick up my call in the helicopter.
It is a week-long call. While I was on call in my helicopter, the bombing started. I went back to Amman over the Allenby Bridge to Erez. I showed my papers in the guard house, and he called up and he said ‘you are not allowed in’. I told him that my papers are valid and he said ‘no, we have a security problem with you and I can’t tell you what’.
So I called the commander at Erez and he was very cross and he said ‘we have orders from the higher authority of security and we have a security problem with you’, so I asked if they can tell me what the problem is and he said, ‘it’s none of your business and if you don’t leave the premises we will call the police, I will arrest you’.
So I called my ambassador and I called Tel Aviv. My diplomatic missions there and my minister of foreign affairs called them and they said ‘there is no way he is getting in’.
So I returned to Norway and the Norwegian authorities, my minister for foreign affairs, formally inquired and asked why and they only get the response that there is a security issue from Shin Bet Mossad.
Interestingly, the minister for foreign affairs has been protesting this denial of entry formally; they do not accept it. They have asked Israelis to reverse this denial, citing that it is inconceivable and unacceptable that humanitarian staff should not be allowed in to support Palestinians in a difficult situation on the medical side.
AJ: What do you think the reason is for them not letting you in?
MG: I think the truth is the security risk because when I, as a white medical doctor with blue eyes and white hair, tell the real story of the realities in the sharp end of the Israeli attacks, the Palestinians change from being terrorists to being humans, the numbers change from being numbers to being people, and the children appear as yours and my children. [Continue reading…]
Amira Hass reports: Israel prevented experts from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch from entering the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge, and it still is preventing them. As a result, no independent professionals (for example, a certain retired British military officer) have been able to check in real time the army’s claims and versions; for example, about weapons caches or firing near or from inside UN buildings.
If the Israel Defense Forces and its legal advisers were so sure they were adhering to international law, why were they scared to let these experts enter Gaza – alongside the many journalists who were allowed in?
It could very well be that every word in the IDF spokesman’s recent statement on the decision to investigate “exceptional incidents that occurred during Operation Protective Edge” is truthful. But these words – true or not – are just a veneer covering the problematic layers of Protective Edge and all Israeli military operations against the Palestinians.
The IDF, its lawyers and its commanders hold a monopoly on information from Israeli theaters of war because of the IDF’s technological superiority. So they also hold a monopoly on concealing information, telling untruths and dismissing the findings of Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups – and of course on ignoring Hamas’ claims. [Continue reading…]
During the Israeli attacks on Gaza this past summer, U.S. officials were unusually vocal. After shelling killed four young Palestinians on a beach, for example, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called it “horrifying.” “The tragic event makes clear that Israel must take every possible step to meet its standards for protecting civilians from being killed,” she said. Asked whether Israel was doing enough on that count, Psaki replied: “We believe that certainly there’s more that can be done.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called it “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible” when Israeli shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza killed 16 civilians. Israel, he said, “can and should do more to protect the lives of innocent civilians.”
“We feel profound anguish upon seeing the images of suffering from Gaza, including the deaths and injuries of innocent Palestinian civilians, including young children, and the displacement of thousands of people,” said Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. On July 22nd, she offered this running tally of the misery:
“In Gaza, the toll of the violence has been devastating. More than 600 Palestinians have been killed, the large majority civilians, including at least 59 women and more than 121 children. More than 3,700 more have been injured. Thousands of homes have been damaged, many totally destroyed. And more than 100,000 people have been displaced. As the destruction mounts, some 35,000 Palestinians who need food have not yet been reached. 1.2 million people have little or no access to water or sanitation. And behind every number is a real person, perhaps even a child. The suffering is immense.”
By the time of the late August ceasefire, six Israeli civilians and a Thai national had been killed by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, while 1,462 Palestinian civilians had died as a result of Israel’s war, according to the United Nations.
But while the administration and State Department were rebuking Israel (albeit mildly), and the president himself was expressing “serious concern” about the growing number of Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza, the Pentagon was replenishing the Jewish state’s dwindling ammunition stockpile without the approval of either the White House or the State Department. “We were blindsided,” one U.S. diplomat told the Wall Street Journal.
Since then, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey (who has recently seemed to ignore, if not defy, his commander-in-chief when it comes to Iraq War policy) has offered his own dissenting assessment of Israeli conduct during the most recent campaign in Gaza. Instead of using terms like unacceptable, indefensible, or horrifying, Dempsey claimed that Israel had gone to “extraordinary lengths” to limit civilian casualties. “I can say to you with confidence that I think that they acted responsibly,” he told the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. In fact, Dempsey suggested that the U.S. military could learn a thing or two from the Israelis, noting that the Pentagon dispatched a “lessons learned team” of senior commissioned and noncommissioned officers to study the methods the Israel Defense Forces employed in Gaza.
In her latest piece for TomDispatch, filmmaker Jen Marlowe suggests that Israel’s 2014 Gaza campaign, like the 2008-2009 campaign before it, might not be the optimal model for the U.S. (or any other) military. In a striking piece of reportage, she offers a counter-narrative to the one advanced by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Chronicling one family through a night of terror and more than five years of loss, she walked streets on which Dempsey has never set foot and surveyed the rubble he’ll never see to shed light on what life in Gaza is like for civilians caught in the path of war. Nick Turse
No exit in Gaza
Broken homes and broken lives
By Jen Marlowe
Rubble. That’s been the one constant for the Awajah family for as long as I’ve known them.
Four months ago, their home was demolished by the Israeli military — and it wasn’t the first time that Kamal, Wafaa, and their children had been through this. For the last six years, the family has found itself trapped in a cycle of destruction and reconstruction; their home either a tangle of shattered concrete and twisted rebar or about to become one.
Jeff Moskowitz reports: Over the summer, in the middle of a two-month-long Israeli-Palestinian war, representatives of some of the biggest names in tech crammed into the stairwell of a Tel Aviv skyscraper to wait out Hamas rocket fire. Wearing Sequoia Capital name tags and TechCrunch T-shirts, they squeezed against one another, passing the time by talking about the Paris startup scene and the success rate of Iron Dome, Israel’s missile defense system.
They came to Tel Aviv for the demo day of a uniquely Israeli brand of startup incubator: one conducted by graduates of Israel Defense Forces Unit 8200 – the Israeli NSA. It was a fitting reminder of the close ties between Israel’s Silicon Wadi (the nickname for Israel’s startup ecosystem) and the country’s military establishment.
The 8200 is the largest unit in the Israeli army. It’s responsible for signals intelligence, eavesdropping and wiretapping, as well as advanced technical jobs and translating work. It is also widely acknowledged as producing a disproportionately high percentage of Israel’s tech executives and startup founders, including the brains behind Check Point Software Technologies, NICE Systems, and Mirabilis (creator of the proto-instant messaging system ICQ) – three of the biggest Israeli tech companies. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: The highest-ranking U.S. military officer said on Thursday that Israel went to “extraordinary lengths” to limit civilian casualties in the recent war in Gaza and that the Pentagon had sent a team to see what lessons could be learned from the operation.
Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged recent reports criticizing civilian deaths during the 50-day Gaza war this year but told an audience in New York he thought the Israel Defense Forces “did what they could” to avoid civilian casualties.
Israel was criticized for civilian deaths during the conflict, including by the White House. More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed during the fighting, most of them civilians and many of them children, according to U.N. and Palestinian figures.
A Human Rights Watch report in September accused Israel of committing war crimes by attacking three U.N.-run schools in the enclave, while Amnesty International said in a report released on Wednesday that Israel showed “callous indifference” to the carnage caused by attacks on civilian targets. [Continue reading…]