B’Tselem’s battle to be Israel’s conscience

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…]

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Escalation would benefit neither Israel nor Hezbollah

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.

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Hezbollah ambush kills at least 2 Israeli soldiers

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…]

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Israeli missile found in Syria after airstrikes

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…]

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Palestine minister’s autopsy results disputed

Al Jazeera reports: A Palestinian official has said that the autopsy on Ziad Abu Ein’s body proves that Israel’s actions led to the death of a Palestinian minister, while Israel disagrees with the findings of the same autopsy.

Abu Ein died on Wednesday shortly after an Israeli border policeman shoved and grabbed him by the throat during a protest in the occupied West Bank.

Thousands of Palestinians attended his funeral in Ramallah on Thursday. Israel has beefed up its security forces in the West Bank as fresh protests were expected over the minister’s death.

The head of the Palestinian civil affairs, Hussein Al Sheikh, told a Palestinian radio that the autopsy, which was carried out overnight, showed Abu Ein died because of a beating by Israeli soldiers and inhaling large amounts of tear gas, adding that Israelis delayed his transfer to the hospital.

He also said the Israeli forensic expert, who was present at the postmortem, agreed to the findings of the autopsy.

However, the Israeli side rejected agreeing to the findings.

“Israeli officials said that heart attack was the reason why the minister died, adding that it might have been brought on when was he grabbed in the neck by an Israeli soldier,” Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from West Jerusalem, said. [Continue reading…]

Human Rights Watch: Multiple witnesses have described how a senior Palestinian official who died on December 10, 2014 had been assaulted by at least three Israeli border police. The witnesses all stated that the official, Ziad Abu Ein, 55, had not used any force against the Israeli forces, and that the security forces were suppressing a peaceful demonstration against Israel’s unlawful West Bank settlements. The evidence of the witnesses all suggested that Abu Ein could not reasonably have been seen to pose any threat to the security forces, meaning the assaults on him were unlawful.

The border police had blocked Abu Ein, the Palestinian Authority minister responsible for dealing with Israeli settlements and the separation barrier in the West Bank, and a group of about 120 other people from reaching an area near Turmus Ayya, a Palestinian town north of Ramallah, where they planned to plant olive trees. Four witnesses said that the protest was peaceful, accounts that video recordings and photographs of the confrontation by news media and protest participants corroborated.

“Israeli forces marked Human Rights Day by assaulting Palestinians peacefully attempting to plant olive trees, including a senior official who posed no physical threat and then died,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Israel’s allies should demand accountability for the assault, and for an end to the illegal settlement land-grabs that Abu Ein was protesting.”

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Doctor Mads Gilbert: ‘I saw beheaded children in Gaza’

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…]

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Why is Israel preventing human rights experts from entering Gaza?

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…]

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Jen Marlowe: One family, two doors, nowhere to run

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 TomDispatchfilmmaker 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.

[Read more…]

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Cybersecurity unit drives Israeli Internet economy

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…]

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Subcontracting repression in the West Bank and Gaza

Sabrien Amrov and Alaa Tartir write: Jerusalem is aflame with what the Israeli writer Uri Avnery has called an “intifada of individuals,” as outbreaks of deadly violence have followed what began with Palestinian protests over fears of encroachment by Jewish extremists on the site in the Old City known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Five Israelis were killed last week in an attack on a synagogue. Palestinian citizens of Israel, meanwhile, are in turmoil over the Nov. 8 police shooting in northern Israel of a 22-year-old protester, which was caught on videotape.

Yet the occupied West Bank shows no signs of an uprising, and the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, has declared that there will be no third intifada. Under Mr. Abbas’s increasingly authoritarian rule, this guarantee is based largely on the authority’s close security collaboration with Israel.

The Palestinian security forces were created under the Oslo Accords, ostensibly to support the Palestinian state-building project. Initially, those forces were understood by the population to exist for its defense. During the second intifada in 2002, Palestinian security forces confronted the Israeli Army using their light weapons. Israel responded by largely destroying the Palestinian Authority’s security infrastructure. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military chief praises Israel for limiting civilian casualties in recent war on Gaza

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…]

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Israeli forces displayed ‘callous indifference’ in deadly attacks on family homes in Gaza

Amnesty: Israeli forces have killed scores of Palestinian civilians in attacks targeting houses full of families which in some cases have amounted to war crimes, Amnesty International has disclosed in a new report on the latest Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip.

Families under the Rubble: Israeli attacks on inhabited homes details eight cases where residential family homes in Gaza were attacked by Israeli forces without warning during Operation Protective Edge in July and August 2014, causing the deaths of at least 104 civilians including 62 children. The report reveals a pattern of frequent Israeli attacks using large aerial bombs to level civilian homes, sometimes killing entire families.

“Israeli forces have brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes, displaying callous indifference to the carnage caused,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

“The report exposes a pattern of attacks on civilian homes by Israeli forces which have shown a shocking disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians, who were given no warning and had no chance to flee.” [Continue reading…]

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Israeli troops kill Palestinian murder suspects accused of slaying teens

“We opened fire, they returned fire and they were killed in the exchange” — is this how Israelis attempt to arrest criminal suspects? By first shooting at them?

Reuters reports: Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday and the military said they were members of Hamas responsible for the killing of three Israeli youths in June, an attack that led to the Gaza war.

Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha, both in their 30s, were shot dead during a gun battle after Israeli troops surrounded a house in the city before dawn, the army and residents said. Israel had been hunting the men for three months.

Kawasme and Abu Aysha were suspected of carrying out the kidnapping and killing of the three teenage seminary students, who were abducted while hitchhiking at night near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank on June 12.

The military said army and police forces were trying to arrest the two suspects when a firefight erupted.

“We opened fire, they returned fire and they were killed in the exchange,” Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said.

The Times of Israel reports: Palestinian security cooperation with Israel enabled Israel to target and kill two Hamas operatives suspected of kidnapping and killing three Israeli teenagers in June, a Hamas official in Gaza charged on Tuesday.

Salah Bardawil said in a statement published on Hamas’s official website that “the success of the Israeli occupation in assassinating the perpetrators of the Hebron operation [sic] early Tuesday morning was due to the security cooperation in the occupied West Bank.”

By killing Marwan Kawasme and Amer Abu Aysha rather than arresting them, Israel has avoided the politically risky process of putting them on trial — a trial which might have highlighted that the two men were not following directions from Hamas and thus Netanyahu’s pretext for the most recent war on Gaza was baseless.

That the killings happened at the very same time that the international media is firmly focused on U.S. airstrikes in Syria must surely just be a coincidence. Right?

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Israeli drone conference is features aircraft recently used to attack Gaza

Quartz: A few weeks after Israel and Hamas signed an open-ended truce to end their nearly two-month-long war in Gaza, Israeli defense contractors are parading weapons used in the conflict at a conference in Tel Aviv. The annual Israel Unmanned Systems conference, which began Sunday and runs through Friday (Sept. 19), is jointly hosted with the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. According to its website, attendees include “senior officials from commercial and government entities” from Europe, Asia, North and South America.

The conference’s sponsors include the largest Israeli private defense contractors, among them Haifa-based Elbit Systems. Elbit’s Hermes 450 (pdf), a “multi-role tactical high-performance unmanned aircraft system” (UAS)—in other words, a battle drone—operated this summer in the Gaza Strip, and may have carried out attacks. [Continue reading…]

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Veterans of elite Israeli intel unit refuse reserve duty, citing mistreatment of Palestinians

The New York Times reports: Denouncing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians under occupation, a group of veterans from an elite, secretive military intelligence unit have declared they will no longer “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians” in required reserve duty because of what they called “our moral duty to act.”

In a letter sent Thursday night to their commanders as well as Israel’s prime minister and army chief, 43 veterans of the clandestine Unit 8200 complained that Israel made “no distinction between Palestinians who are and are not involved in violence” and that information collected “harms innocent people.” Intelligence “is used for political persecution,” they wrote, which “does not allow for people to lead normal lives, and fuels more violence, further distancing us from the end of the conflict.”

The letter, revealed Friday in Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper as well as The Guardian in Britain, echoes similar periodic protests by reservists over the years, including a group of 27 pilots who refused to participate in what Israel calls targeted assassinations, and 13 members of the vaunted commando unit known as Sayeret Matkal, both in 2003. But it is the first public collective refusal by intelligence officers rather that combat troops. Unit 8200 has a special role in Israeli society as a coveted pipeline to its high-technology industry.

“After our service we started seeing a more complex picture of a nondemocratic, oppressive regime that controls the lives of millions of people,” said one of the group’s organizers, a 32-year-old sergeant major who was on active duty from 2001 to 2005. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because the military prohibits Unit 8200 members from being publicly identified. [Continue reading…]

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Noam Chomsky: The fate of the Gaza ceasefire

Is there nowhere on the face of the Earth where opinion polls aren’t taken? In the wake of the 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza, parts of that tiny strip of land now look, according to photographs, like a moonscape of destruction. At least 10,000 homes were obliterated and thousands more damaged; at least 175 major factories were pummeled into the dust. Its only power plant was destroyed, damaging electricity, water, and sewage systems. Large apartment houses, as well as the ministry of education, schools, and other sites, were hit and sometimes reduced to so much rubble. It was all part of a massive Israeli assault on Hamas, several of whose senior leaders were assassinated, but also on the Palestinian population, involving what looked like collective punishment for its support of that organization or simply living in proximity to it. And indeed, with almost no hope of rebuilding much of their world any time soon, you might think that Palestinians would hold the Hamas leadership at least somewhat responsible for the destruction that has rained down, as assumedly the Israelis wanted them to. But a recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), begun in the last day before the ceasefire took hold, and carried out, in part, amid the rubble that is now Gaza, suggests otherwise.

It finds that Palestinian opinion couldn’t be clearer.  Support hasn’t been this high for Hamas since 2006, when it won a fair and square democratic election. If a presidential vote were held today, the pollsters of PSR discovered, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would beat Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas hands down. Here are just a few of the findings: “79% [of Palestinians] believe that Hamas has won the Gaza War; 3% believe Israel came out the winner; and 17% believe the two sides were losers… If new presidential elections are held today and only two [candidates] were nominated, Haniyeh, for the first time since we have started asking about his popularity about eight years ago, would receive a majority of 61% and Abbas would receive 32%. [The] vote for Haniyeh stands at 53% in the Gaza Strip and 66% in the West Bank. Abbas receives 43% in the Gaza Strip and 25% in the West Bank… A majority of 53% believe that armed confrontation is the most effective means to establish a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel. Only 22% believe negotiation is the best means to establish a Palestinian state and 20% believe that popular non-violent resistance is the most effective route to statehood.”

As historically has often been the case, massive bombings and other assaults do not destroy the support of populations for movements or governments, but tend to solidify it. In other words, Israeli policy is reducing civilized life for Palestinians in a major way and yet increasing the urge both to fight on and the desire for revenge. It’s an ugly pattern and, as TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky (whose latest book, Masters of Mankind, is due out this week) indicates today, it’s been going on in this same fashion for a remarkably long time, as Israel continues to gobble up Palestinian lands on the West Bank, while working to hem Palestinians in yet further in the Gaza Strip. Tom Engelhardt

Ceasefires in which violations never cease
What’s next for Israel, Hamas, and Gaza?
By Noam Chomsky

On August 26th, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) both accepted a ceasefire agreement after a 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza that left 2,100 Palestinians dead and vast landscapes of destruction behind. The agreement calls for an end to military action by both Israel and Hamas, as well as an easing of the Israeli siege that has strangled Gaza for many years.

This is, however, just the most recent of a series of ceasefire agreements reached after each of Israel’s periodic escalations of its unremitting assault on Gaza. Throughout this period, the terms of these agreements remain essentially the same.  The regular pattern is for Israel, then, to disregard whatever agreement is in place, while Hamas observes it — as Israel has officially recognized — until a sharp increase in Israeli violence elicits a Hamas response, followed by even fiercer brutality. These escalations, which amount to shooting fish in a pond, are called “mowing the lawn” in Israeli parlance. The most recent was more accurately described as “removing the topsoil” by a senior U.S. military officer, appalled by the practices of the self-described “most moral army in the world.”

[Read more…]

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For Israel, the beginning of wisdom is to admit its mistakes

Avi Shlaim writes: Israel has a habit of justifying its actions in the occupied Palestinian territories, however illegal and indecent, in the name of security. But denying any security to the other side only perpetuates the conflict.

Five days after reaching a ceasefire with Hamas to end the latest round of fighting in Gaza, the Israeli cabinet decided to appropriate 988 acres of land on the West Bank, near the place where three Israeli teenagers were recently abducted and murdered, to make way for another illegal Jewish city. This is the biggest land grab in three decades. As the justice minister, Tzipi Livni, pointed out: “It was a decision that weakens Israel and damages its security.” What it proves, if further proof is needed, is that Israel’s leaders are determined to prevent a two-state solution to the conflict.

Operation Protective Edge, which came to an end after 50 days of fighting, was the third and deadliest war in six years between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that rules Gaza. Israel lost 66 soldiers and six civilians. On the Palestinian side, the war left 2,104 dead, mostly civilians, and 12,656 injured; 17,000 houses were destroyed or damaged; 520,000 people, out of a population of 1.8 million, were displaced. The damage to buildings and to the civilian infrastructure, estimated at $6bn, will take many years to repair.

What did Israel gain by unleashing the deadly firepower of the IDF against the caged population of this tiny coastal enclave? Virtually nothing. [Continue reading…]

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The Hannibal Directive: How Israel killed its own troops and massacred Palestinians to prevent soldiers’ capture

Max Blumenthal writes: In the southern city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 1, 2014 is known as Black Friday. This was the day the Israeli military bombarded the city with almost every mode of destruction available to it, from F-16 missiles to Apache rockets to naval shelling to drone strikes and mortars.

Bulldozers ripped down homes at random while tanks barreled through neighborhoods, shelling anything in sight. In a matter of hours, at least 500 artillery shells and hundreds of missiles were dumped on the city, almost entirely in civilian areas. By the end, at least 190 people had been killed, so many that unequipped local hospitals were forced to store their corpses and body parts in ice cream coolers.

The target of the operation was not necessarily Rafah’s civilian population, though attacking it was part of the Israeli military’s underlying logic. Instead, the army apparently aimed to kill one of its own. Indeed, Israeli forces had invoked the Hannibal Directive, opening up an indiscriminate assault on the entire circumference of the area where one of its soldiers, Lt. Hadar Goldin, was allegedly taken captive by an ambush team from the Hamas military wing known as the Qassam Brigades.

It was one of possibly three instances during Israel’s 51-day war with Hamas that it initiated the Hannibal Directive. [Continue reading…]

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