Soldier’s shooting of Palestinian sets off uproar in Israel

The Associated Press reports: Amateur video appearing to show an Israeli soldier killing an already wounded Palestinian attacker sparked uproar in Israel on Sunday, reflecting the deep divisions in the country following six months of violence.

As the Israeli military pressed on with an investigation, nationalistic politicians accused the army of abandoning the soldier, while political doves bemoaned the erosion of the nation’s morals. Palestinians, meanwhile, said the shooting proved their claims that Israel is guilty of using excessive force and carrying out extrajudicial killings.

The shooting took place last Thursday in Hebron, the volatile West Bank city that has been a focal point of the latest wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The military said two Palestinians stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops shot and killed the pair. [Continue reading…]

Human Rights Watch reports: The B’Tselem volunteer who filmed the video, Imad Abu Shamsiyyeh, told Human Rights Watch in a phone interview that Israeli forces had threatened him both at the scene and later, when he went to give a statement to the military. A few minutes after he filmed the shooting from the roof of a nearby building, he said, “more journalists gathered on the roof, and the Israeli soldiers noticed us. They pointed their guns at us and screamed at us to get down. Soldiers came into the building and told the [owner] not to allow people there or the family would pay the price.”

Abu Shamsiyyeh said that after B’Tselem shared the video with military investigators, the military asked him to give a statement. During questioning at a military office in Hebron, Abu Shamsiyyeh said he felt the interrogator was trying to intimidate him to make him say that he had not filmed the video:

He told me, ‘How will you benefit from this video? It got a lot of publicity. Your name is known to everyone. Who is going to protect you and your family from right-wing Israelis? Remember you live in [Tel Rumeida], surrounded by Israeli settlers, who will be able to protect you there?’ I felt that I was being threatened. They took the original footage from me.

Abu Shamsiyyeh said he had received two phone calls on March 24 from a Hebrew-speaker, calling from a private number, but did not understand what was said. “I feel in danger and my children are afraid,” Abu Shamsiyyeh told Human Rights Watch. “I’m not letting them out of the house. I’m afraid of walking in the street.” [Continue reading…]

Anshel Pfeffer writes: It was a moment made for television. Abed Fatah al-Sharif could be seen lying on the ground in Hebron, after he and a friend had been shot while trying to stab Israeli soldiers. Still moving, 21­-year-old Sharif lay there without receiving medical attention for several minutes, until a helmeted Israeli soldier, in the presence of his officers, walked up and shot him in the head.

Just like that – what looks like a summary execution in the middle of the day, on camera.

You would have expected the killing of Sharif to be headline news around the world, not only an internal debate over the battlefield morals of the Israel Defense Forces, as it has in the last four days. The IDF Spokesman Unit was prepared for a media onslaught, notified in advance through operational channels of the incident.

By the time the footage, taken by a field worker of human rights NGO B’Tselem, landed in the journalists’ inboxes, a statement had already been prepared announcing that the soldier had been arrested and his actions, which were contrary to “the IDF’s values,” were under criminal investigation. It took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a few hours but eventually he came out with a similar statement, distancing the IDF and its values from what was seen on the screen.

But as far as the foreign media was concerned, they need not have bothered. The foreign correspondents stationed in Israel dutifully filed their reports, but in a week in which Europe was still in shock from the devastating Brussels attacks their story barely had a chance. Add to the continent’s news agenda that day the conviction in The Hague of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for charges of genocide and the American media’s preoccupation with Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency as well as with their current president, Barack Obama, watching baseball in Cuba and doing the tango in Argentina, while trying to get as far as possible from the Middle East.

When the officials in charge of Israel’s global PR saw on Friday the daily summaries of the previous 24 hours in the world media, they heaved a sigh of relief. With the exception of Al Jazeera, the Hebron killing didn’t feature prominently on any of the main news channels, in the news bulletins of major networks or on the front pages of influential newspapers. It was relegated deep in to the inside pages and low down on the websites’ home pages.

“My report got quite a lot of clicks” said one reporter for a top news-site. ”But it didn’t make it into our top-ten news stories. There was just way too much happening elsewhere.” And if the media isn’t interested, then foreign politicians and diplomats won’t be making much of a fuss either. Perhaps even if it hadn’t taken place on a such a heavy news day we may have been surprised at the relatively low level of international media interest. After all, the global audience has become inured in the last three years to much more distressing images of ISIS beheadings, immolations and explosions of prisoners.

The improved professionalism in recent years of the IDF Spokesman’s Unit’s foreign media branch also played a role. They didn’t try to duck the issue or stonewall the reporters. Any hint of a cover up would probably have generated a few more headlines. But then after all, the world has also grown sick of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and hardly expects better of us anymore.

Some Israelis are certainly happy that the world has more burning issues to deal with and may even be experiencing a feeling of schadenfreude that this time the Europeans have too many dead bodies of their own to be interested in those here. Not only is such an attitude ugly and callous, but Israelis may find that living in one of the areas where the world media has lost interest in its cruelties is not such a great a thing, even if the coverage is sometimes biased and disproportional.

A world which is no longer shocked by Israeli cruelty towards Palestinians probably won’t be that excited when the cruelty goes the other way either. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. has spent over $3.3 billion providing Israel with one of the most advanced missile defense systems in the world

The Washington Post reports: A joint exercise now being conducted between thousands of Israeli troops and the U.S. European Command represents a final test before Israel begins to deploy one of the most sophisticated missile defense systems in the world.

When it is complete, Israel’s multibillion-dollar rocket and missile air defense system will be far superior to anything in the Middle East and will likely rival, and in some ways surpass, in speed and targeting, air defenses deployed by Europe and the United States, its developers say.

The United States has provided more than $3.3 billion over the past 10 years to support the defensive system, which will be able to knock down not only ballistic missiles but also orbiting satellites.

Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama have had a strained relationship, rubbed raw by their deep disagreement over the Iran nuclear deal, U.S. ­spending on Israel’s air defenses has soared in the past decade, from $133 million in 2006 to $619 million in 2015. [Continue reading…]

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Who killed Hezbollah’s Samir Qantar?

According to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar, Samir Qantar, a Lebanese commander who had become a high-profile figure in the group, was killed by an Israeli airstrike in Damascus on Saturday.

Israeli officials welcomed the news but did not confirm responsibility for the attack.

While Hezbollah had no hesitation in accusing Israel, as Raed Omari notes, Syrian officials have been more circumspect:

Remarkably enough, the Syrian account of the incident resembled to a greater degree that of Israel – no confirmation and no refuting.

‏But the Syrian statements on Qantar’s killing were worded with a heavy Russian military presence in the background and they were inseparable from new political developments on Syria and the new international coalitions in the making.

It can’t be that the Israelis launched an airstrike on Syria now without coordination with their Russian allies who now control Syria’s airspace. And if the Syrians confirmed that Israeli jets killed Qantar, then they would appear as either having prior knowledge of the plan or have no sovereignty over their country.

Who actually killed the 54-year-old Qantar? In my opinion, Israel is a likely perpetrator but the question is how its jets flew over Syria now without being spotted by the Russian satellites and space power. The Russian silence on the incident is also worth-noting.

Meanwhile, a Syrian rebel group has released a statement claiming that they were responsible for Qantar’s death.

The New York Times quotes a Druze militia group that said the building which was targeted had been hit by “four long-range missiles.”

An Israeli columnist quotes “Western sources” claiming that Qantar was a “ticking bomb.”

The sources said Kuntar had recently not been working on behalf of Hezbollah, but rather acting with increasing independence alongside pro-Assad militias in Syria.

The attack in Damascus comes at a moment when, according to Israeli sources, “Iran has withdrawn most of the Revolutionary Guards fighters it deployed to Syria three months ago.”

Assuming that this was indeed an Israeli airstrike, it appears to have not only been aimed at an individual, but also intended to send some additional messages: that Israel is not unduly constrained by Russia’s air operations in Syria and that the Hezbollah fighters propping up the Assad regime are more expendable than their Iranian counterparts.

Creede Newton writes:

Regardless of who fired the missile, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, has already made his decision: this was Israel. Now, the question is, how will Nasrallah respond to another high-level assassination?

Some think Hezbollah’s falling popularity with the Sunni majority in the Middle East due to its meddling in the Syrian conflict could use a boost, and a conflict with Israel would help.

Others say Hezbollah is stretched, and a war with the powerful Israeli military is the last thing the Shia group needs.

Nicholas Blanford writes:

The current situation mirrors the immediate aftermath of an Israeli pilotless drone strike on 18 January in the Golan that killed Jihad Mughniyeh — son of former Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh — an Iranian general and five other Hezbollah fighters. Hezbollah struck back 10 days later with an anti-tank missile ambush against an Israeli army convoy at the foot of the Shebaa Farms hills, killing an officer and a soldier.

Following the ambush, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech that the rules of engagement that had defined the tit-for-tat conflict between Hezbollah and Israel were over.

“From now on, if any Hezbollah resistance cadre or youth is killed in a treacherous manner, we will hold Israel responsible and it will then be our right to respond at any place and at any time and in the manner we deem appropriate,” he said.

Nasrallah is due to speak Monday night and will probably reaffirm that commitment, which will ensure a state of tension along Israel’s northern border in the coming days.

The concept of reciprocity is a cornerstone of Hezbollah’s defense strategy against Israel, which may offer a clue as to the party’s response to Kuntar’s assassination. In the years following the 2006 War, Nasrallah has articulated on several occasions Hezbollah’s strategy of retaliating in kind for Israeli actions against Lebanon in a future conflict — if Israel bombs Beirut, Hezbollah bombs Tel Aviv; if Israel blockades Lebanese ports, Hezbollah will blockade Israeli ports with its long-range anti-ship missiles; if Israel invades Lebanon, Hezbollah will invade Galilee.

Even on a tactical level, Hezbollah has sought to achieve reciprocity against Israel. In October 2014, Hezbollah mounted a roadside bomb ambush in the Shebaa Farms that wounded two Israeli soldiers in response to the death a month earlier of a party military technician who died when a booby-trapped Israeli wire-tapping device exploded.

The January anti-tank missile attack against the Israeli convoy in the Shebaa Farms also sought to echo Israel’s deadly drone missile strike in the Golan 10 days earlier.

“They killed us in broad daylight, we killed them in broad daylight… They hit two of our vehicles, we hit two of their vehicles,” Nasrallah said at the time.

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Israeli army unit storms hospital and kills Palestinian

Al Jazeera reports: An elite Israeli military force that operates undercover stormed the al-Ahli Hospital in Hebron and shot dead a 27-year-old Palestinian, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said.

Abdullah al-Shalaldeh was killed by five rounds fired early Thursday after 21 members of the elite unit – known as Mustaarabin – barged into the hospital room of his cousin, Azzam al-Shalaldeh, a ministry statement said.

The commandos wanted to question Azzam – who required surgery after earlier being shot by Israeli security forces – and his cousin tried to prevent them from doing so when the Israelis opened fire. [Continue reading…]

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Israel sent aircraft into Iranian airspace in 2012, raising fears of regional war

The Wall Street Journal reports: The U.S. closely monitored Israel’s military bases and eavesdropped on secret communications in 2012, fearing its longtime ally might try to carry out a strike on Fordow, Iran’s most heavily fortified nuclear facility.

Nerves frayed at the White House after senior officials learned Israeli aircraft had flown in and out of Iran in what some believed was a dry run for a commando raid on the site. Worried that Israel might ignite a regional war, the White House sent a second aircraft carrier to the region and readied attack aircraft, a senior U.S. official said, “in case all hell broke loose.”

The two countries, nursing a mutual distrust, each had something to hide. U.S. officials hoped to restrain Israel long enough to advance negotiations on a nuclear deal with Iran that the U.S. had launched in secret. U.S. officials saw Israel’s strike preparations as an attempt to usurp American foreign policy.

Instead of talking to each other, the allies kept their intentions secret. To figure out what they weren’t being told, they turned to their spy agencies to fill gaps. They employed deception, not only against Iran, but against each other. After working in concert for nearly a decade to keep Iran from an atomic bomb, the U.S. and Israel split over the best means: diplomacy, covert action or military strikes.

Personal strains between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu erupted at their first Oval Office meeting in 2009, and an accumulation of grievances in the years since plunged relations between the two countries into crisis.

This Wall Street Journal account of the souring of U.S.-Israel relations over Iran is based on interviews with nearly two dozen current and former senior U.S. and Israeli officials.

U.S. and Israeli officials say they want to rebuild trust but acknowledge it won’t be easy. Mr. Netanyahu reserves the right to continue covert action against Iran’s nuclear program, said current and former Israeli officials, which could put the spy services of the U.S. and Israel on a collision course.

In early 2012, U.S. spy agencies told the White House about a flurry of meetings that Mr. Netanyahu convened with top security advisers. The meetings covered everything from mission logistics to the political implications of a military strike, Israeli officials said.

U.S. spy agencies stepped up satellite surveillance of Israeli aircraft movements. They detected when Israeli pilots were put on alert and identified moonless nights, which would give the Israelis better cover for an attack. They watched the Israelis practice strike missions and learned they were probing Iran’s air defenses, looking for ways to fly in undetected, U.S. officials said.

New intelligence poured in every day, much of it fragmentary or so highly classified that few U.S. officials had a complete picture. Officials now say many jumped to the mistaken conclusion that the Israelis had made a dry run.

The U.S. Air Force analyzed the arms and aircraft needed to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities and concluded Israel didn’t have the right equipment. The U.S. shared the findings, in part, to steer the Israelis from a military strike.

The Israelis weren’t persuaded and briefed the U.S. on an attack plan: Cargo planes would land in Iran with Israeli commandos on board who would “blow the doors, and go in through the porch entrance” of Fordow, a senior U.S. official said. The Israelis planned to sabotage the nuclear facility from inside.

Pentagon officials thought it was a suicide mission. They pressed the Israelis to give the U.S. advance warning. The Israelis were noncommittal.

Israeli officials approached their U.S. counterparts over the summer about obtaining military hardware useful for a strike, U.S. officials said.

At the top of the list were V-22 Ospreys, aircraft that take off and land like helicopters but fly like fixed-wing planes. Ospreys don’t need runways, making them ideal for dropping commandos behind enemy lines.

The Israelis also sounded out officials about obtaining the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, the U.S. military’s 30,000-pound bunker-busting bomb, which was designed to destroy Fordow.

White House officials decided not to provide the equipment.

Messrs. Obama and Netanyahu spoke in September 2012, and Mr. Obama emerged convinced Israel wouldn’t strike on the eve of the U.S. presidential election.

By the following spring, senior U.S. officials concluded the Israelis weren’t serious about a commando raid on Fordow and may have been bluffing. When the U.S. offered to sell the Ospreys, Israel said it didn’t have the money.

Former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who championed a strike, said Mr. Netanyahu had come close to approving a military operation against Iran. But Israel’s military chiefs and cabinet members were reluctant, according to Israeli officials. [Continue reading…]

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The ‘forensic architects’ investigating Gaza

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‘Those disguised as Arabs’

AFP correspondent, Andrea Bernardi, writes: It’s fairly common to see Israeli agents infiltrate the crowds of Palestinian stone throwers during demonstrations. I’ve witnessed this plenty of times in Jerusalem. The goal of these “mustarabiin” — literally “those who disguise themselves as Arabs” — is to stop the protesters. They usually take out their weapons without using them, or, more often, point them into the sky, as if they were about to shoot into the air.

But today, I filmed these undercover agents for the first time firing live bullets into a crowd of protesters.

I showed up to cover a “Day of Rage” that Palestinian students staged at the Bir Zeit University in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank. At the end of the demonstration, the protesters headed toward the DCO checkpoint near the Bet-El settlement, which has often been the scene of clashes between the two sides. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli cabinet approves lethal force against non-lethal threats

The New York Times reports: Israel’s security cabinet approved a series of measures on Thursday as part of a crackdown on rock throwing and firebombing by Palestinians in Jerusalem, including minimum sentences and greater leeway for the police to open fire — steps that opponents say contravene basic legal principles and may only escalate the violence.

Police officers will now be authorized to use Ruger rifles that fire .22-caliber bullets, which have less impact than other types of live ammunition but can still be lethal or cause serious injury.

Under the new regulations, police have permission to open fire not only when their own lives are threatened, as was the case previously, but also when there is “an immediate and concrete danger” to civilians, according to a government statement.

In addition, the government is preparing legislation to impose minimum prison terms of four years — the maximum is 20 years — for adults who throw rocks, homemade firebombs or shoot fireworks directly at people during confrontations. Increased fines will be imposed on convicted minors, ages 14 to 18, and their parents, and child support benefits will be revoked for jailed minors, the statement added. [Continue reading…]

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Can Netanyahu change Al Aqsa status quo?

Ben White writes: In 2014, almost 11,000 Jews entered the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. This represented a 28 percent increase from the previous year – and almost double the number of Jewish visitors in 2009. While in 2012, Jewish activists entered the compound on average once every 2 weeks, in 2013 this had become once every 4 days, and in 2014, closer to every 2-3 days.

The UN has described how this week’s confrontations were preceded by “three consecutive weeks of [Israeli forces] preventing all Palestinian women, as well as all men under 50, from entering Al Aqsa Mosque Compound during the morning hours, to secure the entry of settlers and other Israeli groups.” Last week, the Israeli government outlawed two Muslim groups, “informal movements of mostly Arab women and elderly men”, who protest Jewish activists’ visits to the compound. [Continue reading…]

Middle East Eye reports: Dozens of Palestinians were reportedly injured on Friday when Israeli and Palestinian Authority forces suppressed protests across the West Bank amid continuing entry restrictions the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.

At the Qalandiya military checkpoint, three Palestinians were shot with rubber-coated steel bullets as youth threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli forces who responded with stun grenades, tear gas and .22-caliber bullets, Maan News Agency reported.

Clashes were also reported on Friday in Hebron, Nablus, Tulkarem, Qalqiliya and near Bethlehem where PA security forces assaulted demonstrators and, according to Maan, detained 13 young people. [Continue reading…]

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Black Friday: Carnage in Rafah during the 2014 Israel/Gaza conflict

Amnesty International: On 8 July 2014, Israel launched a military operation codenamed Operation Protective Edge, the third major offensive in Gaza since 2008. It announced that the operation was aimed at stopping rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli civilians. A ground operation followed, launched on the night of 17-18 July. According to the Israeli army, one of the primary objectives of the ground operation was to destroy the tunnel system constructed by Palestinian armed groups, particularly those with shafts discovered near residential areas located in Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip.

On 1 August 2014 Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire that would take effect at 8am that day. Three weeks after Israel launched its military offensive on Gaza, thousands of Palestinians who had sought refuge in shelters or with relatives prepared to return to their homes during the anticipated break in hostilities.

In Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, a group of Israeli soldiers patrolling an agricultural area west of the border encountered a group of Hamas fighters posted there. A fire fight ensued, resulting in the death of two Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian fighter. The Hamas fighters captured an Israeli officer, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, and took him into a tunnel. What followed became one of the deadliest episodes of the war; an intensive use of firepower by Israel, which lasted four days and killed scores of civilians (reports range from at least 135 to over 200), injured many more and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and other civilian structures, mostly on 1 August.

In this report, Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture, a research team based at Goldsmiths, University of London, provide a detailed reconstruction of the events in Rafah from 1 August until 4 August 2014, when a ceasefire came into effect. The report examines the Israeli army’s response to the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and its implementation of the Hannibal Directive – a controversial command designed to deal with captures of soldiers by unleashing massive firepower on persons, vehicles and buildings in the vicinity of the attack, despite the risk to civilians and the captured soldier(s).

The report recounts events by connecting various forms of information including: testimonies from victims and witnesses including medics, journalists, and human rights defenders in Rafah; reports by human rights and other organizations; news and media feeds, public statements and other information from Israeli and Palestinian official sources; and videos and photographs collected on the ground and from the media. [Continue reading…]

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Max Blumenthal: The next Gaza war

We’ve just passed the first “anniversary” — if such a word can even be used with such a catastrophe — of Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s third invasion of the Gaza Strip in recent years. That small bit of land has now suffered more devastation than just about any place on the planet. In the wake of the third war since 2008, more than 100,000 displaced Gazans remain homeless or crowded in with relatives. Whole neighborhoods, destroyed in the conflict, have yet to be rebuilt. A year later, there is still next to no electricity, the area’s sole power plant having been taken out by Israeli air strikes, and the situation when it comes to sewage and potable water, is disastrous. Blockaded and devastated by repeated wars, Gaza’s manufacturing sector has almost disappeared, while its economy is “on the verge of collapse,” according to the World Bank. In short, by any standard, Gaza is not a livable place and yet 1.8 million people (more than half of them under 18 years old, 43% under 15) are crammed into it with nowhere to go and in most cases nothing to do. After all, Gaza now has what may be the highest unemployment rate on the planet at 44%, with youth unemployment reaching 60%.

The great Israeli reporter Amira Hass, author of the classic book Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege, recently put the matter this way: “In practice, Gaza has become a huge, let me be blunt, concentration camp… This is not a novelty… This did not start, unlike what many people think, with the rise of Hamas… This policy of sealing off Gaza, of making Gazans into… defacto prisoners, started [in 1991]… So if I want to sum up the reality of Gaza: it is a huge prison… It is an Israel-meditated, pre-meditated, pre-planned, and planned project to separate Gaza from the West Bank.”

Max Blumenthal’s new book, The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, catches the nightmare of the third war in this tiny piece of land in the last six-and-a-half years in a uniquely gripping way. In its pages, you follow him directly into the devastation of the Israeli invasion. (He entered Gaza during the first extended truce of the war.) I doubt there could be a more vivid account of what it felt like, as a Palestinian civilian, to endure those weeks of horror, massive destruction, and killing. Today at TomDispatch, he looks back on that experience and forward to what he doesn’t doubt will be the fourth war of its kind. If he’s right, then sadly, in the years to come, some reporter will be writing yet another book on a Gaza war. Tom Engelhardt

The fire next time
Before homes are even rebuilt in the ruins of the Gaza Strip, another war looms
By Max Blumenthal

“A fourth operation in the Gaza Strip is inevitable, just as a third Lebanon war is inevitable,” declared Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in February. His ominous comments came just days after an anti-tank missile fired by the Lebanon-based guerrilla group Hezbollah killed two soldiers in an Israeli army convoy. It, in turn, was a response to an Israeli air strike that resulted in the assassination of several high-ranking Hezbollah figures.

Lieberman offered his prediction only four months after his government concluded Operation Protective Edge, the third war between Israel and the armed factions of the Gaza Strip, which had managed to reduce about 20% of besieged Gaza to an apocalyptic moonscape. Even before the assault was launched, Gaza was a warehouse for surplus humanity — a 360-square-kilometer ghetto of Palestinian refugees expelled by and excluded from the self-proclaimed Jewish state. For this population, whose members are mostly under the age of 18, the violence has become a life ritual that repeats every year or two. As the first anniversary of Protective Edge passes, Lieberman’s unsettling prophecy appears increasingly likely to come true. Indeed, odds are that the months of relative “quiet” that followed his statement will prove nothing more than an interregnum between Israel’s ever more devastating military escalations.

[Read more…]

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Gaza one year after Israel’s Operation Protective Edge

Jadaliyya interviewed Nathan Thrall:
Jadaliyya (J): One year after Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, how would you describe the popular mood in the Gaza Strip? Is OPE still relevant for people, and if so, how? Do people reflect back on achievements, losses, or both?

Nathan Thrall (NT): There is widespread consensus among Gaza’s residents today that conditions there have never been worse. There is also widespread fatalism about the unlikelihood of breaking from the pattern of recurrent war with Israel. Walking in neighborhoods that were completely destroyed during the war, such as Shuja’iyya in Gaza City and parts of Beit Hanoun, I heard residents state pridefully that Israel had achieved nothing during the war and that they were ready to face Israel again. In the same breath, however, many of these same people then asked warily whether I thought a new war was coming. It’s clear that Gazans desperately want a normal life, free of war and free of the blockade. It’s also clear that they are quite likely to continue living with both.

The war looms behind the most quiet and normal scenes of daily life in Gaza. During the war, a close friend in Gaza City made each member of his family pack a small bag containing his or her most valuable documents, photographs, and belongings before placing the bag beside the front door. That way he and his wife, sons, and daughters would be able to evacuate the building quickly, without having to waste time arguing about which belongings were worth risking their lives to retrieve. Nearly one year later, those bags still sit beside the front door.

Since the war concluded there have been a number of bombings in Gaza. Some of these were Israeli airstrikes following a rocket launching that Hamas was unable to prevent. More often they were bombs detonated by Gazans, either salafi-jihadis or unidentified attackers targeting the homes and offices of Hamas and Fatah officials. In one instance in May, several died and dozens were injured when Israeli ordinance from the war exploded in Beit Lahiya. When I have been present in Gaza for some of these incidents, the first worry of Gaza residents I spoke with — in some cases, the first rumor spread among them — has been that the explosion marked the beginning of a new war with Israel.

The problems that helped precipitate the war not only remain unresolved but in many cases have become more acute.[Continue reading…]

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Israeli navy intercepts ship in flotilla sailing toward Gaza Strip

The New York Times reports: Israeli Navy forces intercepted a ship that was sailing toward the Gaza Strip early Monday to protest a maritime blockade of the coastal enclave, military officials and activists said.

The ship was intercepted in international waters and was being led to the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, a military statement said.

Pro-Palestinian activists have repeatedly sought to reach Gaza by sea, an action that Israel regards as highly provocative, to protest restrictions on the movement of both people and material in and out of the enclave. [Continue reading…]

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Operation Hannibal: Why Israel risks killing its own soldiers rather than see them get captured

Dan Ephron writes: On the morning of August 1, 2014, during the broadest Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in years, a squad of Hamas fighters emerged from a shaft in the ground near the town of Rafah and ambushed three Israeli soldiers. The Israelis, members of an elite reconnaissance unit from the Givati Brigade, had been searching for a tunnel in the area, one of a network that the militant group Hamas had built under the Palestinian territory in recent years. In humid 80-degree heat, a firefight ensued that killed two of the Israelis and one of the Palestinians. It lasted less than a minute.

The war in Gaza, which had raged for three weeks by then and claimed the lives of dozens of Israelis and some 1,500 Palestinians, seemed to be tapering off. The ambush near Rafah would have gone down as one more skirmish. But as the surviving Palestinians retreated, they did something that would turn that Friday into the bloodiest day of the summer and embroil Israel in a possible war-crimes ordeal that reverberates even now: They dragged the third Israeli, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, with them underground.

The sound of the gunfire drew other Israeli soldiers to the site, including Lieutenant Eitan Fund, the reconnaissance unit’s second-in-command. What Fund saw when he got there — bodies on a sandy road and an opening in the ground a few feet away — filled him with dread. Dead soldiers were disturbing enough, but for Israel, a missing fighter was about the worst possible outcome of any battlefield engagement. The last time Hamas had seized a soldier was in 2006: Corporal Gilad Shalit’s captivity lasted five years and set off a searing national trauma.

Fund, who was 23, had come to know Goldin during an officers’ training course. The two had also studied at the same religious seminary in the West Bank before their service. Fund radioed the details to his brigade commander, Col. Ofer Winter, and asked permission to take a squad underground. Winter instructed the lieutenant to drop a grenade and lower himself in. He then announced over the radio the start of a controversial procedure that Israel deploys when a soldier is taken captive: “Hannibal, Hannibal.”

To the military in the United States and around the world, Israel serves as a kind of laboratory for battle tactics, especially those involving counterinsurgency. Its wars with guerrilla groups like Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah — four in the past nine years — are pored over for the lessons they hold and the questions they raise. The story of Hadar Goldin raises one question in particular: How far should a modern military go to prevent one of its own from being captured?

For the United States, the answer has centered mostly on technology. Today’s American troops go into battle with portable computers and GPS devices, including a system known as Blue Force Tracking that allows commanders in Humvees to “see” their forces in the arena. Ground troops are also monitored by satellites and drones. This combination of new technologies has produced a staggering drop in battlefield captives in Afghanistan and Iraq compared with previous wars. But the risks of combat remain great: U.S. Army Sergeant Salvatore Giunta became the first living Medal of Honor recipient in the war in Afghanistan, in part, for rescuing a comrade being dragged away by the Taliban during an ambush in 2007.

Israel has its own technology, of course, but it supplements those tools with a tactic the army revived in the aftermath of the Shalit ordeal — code word Hannibal — that calls for a massive use of force when a soldier is captured. Two Israelis familiar with the wording of the classified procedure described it to me as measured and restrictive. But from conversations with others, including more than a dozen Israelis in and out of uniform, it’s clear that soldiers often interpret it as something less nuanced—a kind of signal from commanders that a dead Israeli fighter is better than a captured one. Fund seemed to share that interpretation. As he entered the shaft, he told one of his squad members: “If you see something, open fire, even if it means killing Hadar or wounding Hadar.” [Continue reading…]

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Obama administration restates its commitment to shelter war criminals

UPI reports: The Obama administration opposes bringing a United Nations report on the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip to the Security Council for a vote, the State Department said.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday the United States continues to review the U.N. report that found evidence of war crimes on the part of both the Israeli and Hamas-led Palestinian forces. Kirby said the United States calls into question the U.N. Human Rights Council’s process of appointing the investigative committee because of a “very clear bias against Israel.”

“We challenge the very mechanism which created it. And so we’re not going to have a readout of this. We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it. We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all U.N. reports,” Kirby said. “But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this.”

The 200-page report found, among other things, 1,462 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli fire, noting over one-third were children. It added a large number of families lost three or more members in airstrikes against residences. Six Israeli civilians died during the conflict. [Continue reading…]

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