Wrong Priorities in Ferguson and Beyond: We Must Invest in Communities, Not Violence

In the lead-up to the grand jury outcome in the Michael Brown murder the St. Louis and Ferguson-area police have ramped up their preparation with stockpiles of more weapons and rhetoric that contributes to the public frenzy.

Demonstrators outside Ferguson
Police Department 11/19/14

While I understand the need for security, does the narrow-minded focus on military and weapons actually make us more secure? Human security and peace economists understand that increased weaponization makes us more insecure.

Researchers for some time now have been able to understand how freedom from violence and the threat of violence, community-based economic development, authentic democratic processes and transparency increase human security. Violence and security have often been linked; human security research suggests they are mutually exclusive. Choosing violence to attain security precludes that very security for anyone who critiques violence, as thousands have learned in Ferguson. Clanging claims that we live in a great democracy that protects everyone’s rights sound awfully hollow to an unarmed protestor who has just been injured and arrested by a jack-up cop strapped with an official lethal sidearm and a legal system that affords him every benefit of every doubt.

Democracy is not just a system of voting but an approach to governing that recognizes obstacles to participation and development and listens, trying to hear what communities need. It is not ever envisioned as a system where the majority can vote itself immunity and vote the minority vulnerable to brutality committed by agents of the state. That sort of system is a false democracy. We want a real one.

Communities don’t want handouts—people want to work to determine their own futures. But many young people question the very concept of future. In the immediate aftermath of the murder of unarmed Michael Brown last August, St. Louis City police gunned down another African American youth, Kejeme Powell across the street from my parents’ home. He had a little knife and was simply depressed and told the police, “Shoot me.” They were exceedingly unprofessional and lacking even a whit of compassion as they did just that—at least six shots each. Where is the hope?

The current state of affairs concerning the outcome of the grand jury is extremely disconcerting, contributing to an increased sense of insecurity. Governor Nixon needs to appoint an independent prosecutor to avoid the perception of injustice. A real involvement of the community in plans for any grand jury outcome as hands up united suggested, or focusing on all of the positive efforts the community in Ferguson and Beyond are doing to teach nonviolence would be actions that ease the air of panic of the entire region.

People of color in the US, in general, don’t trust the legal system to bring justice. Fixing that might seem like a daunting task, but democratic theorists point out that even the smallest communities must have their needs addressed if we as a society are to maintain the promise of democracy.

The lack of real understanding of the protestors, beyond the sense that they are a nuisance, is part of the continuing failure of local and national officials. Their response continues to point out the deep racial divide and necessity of deep conversation and action. For instance, there was a demonstrationfor second amendment rights in downtown St. Louis in October where demonstrators carried guns openly. Some had three or four weapons including automatic assault weapons. This gathering of an all white crowd was not met with riot gear, but only a few police with luminescent vests. In San Franciso, exuberant Giants fans set fires broke windows and destroyed property. While police arrested some- where was the rethoric around violent whites or even the call for the national guard? Fans were excited, expressing joy, although a bit much, but Whites are allowed to be angry, express emotions. But don’t protestors, who are rightly angered over police killings of Blacks, have the same humanity to express their frustration?

I reiterate the need for dialogue, for listening to people’s truth so they can move forward. This is not just desirable, but actually required for reconciliation. If that is not what our society is about, then there needs to be a conversation about who we really are as Americans. But as it stands, the assertion by our elected leadership is that this is a democratic nation concerned with all of its citizens. My message to government officials is that all of the preparation for the violence following the grand jury; the cost of increased overtime for police, money spent on weapons and security with the threat of violence does not provide authentic security, but instead exacerbates the root causes of the protests- the inattention to the dignity of already marginalized. Governor Nixon, you and Ferguson area officials are bracing for a storm you helped to create. More

 

Israeli officer admits ordering lethal strike on own soldier during Gaza massacre

The civilian population in Gaza is “a partner of terror” that “gets what they choose,” the top commander of the Israeli army’s Givati Brigade told the Israeli press recently, after orchestrating some of the deadliest episodes of butchery visited upon the Gaza Strip this summer.

Colonel Ofer Winter

Colonel Ofer Winter also admitted to ordering the mass-bombardment of an area where an Israeli soldier was know to be in order to prevent his capture alive by Palestinian resistance fighters — an army policy known as the Hannibal Directive.

These are just two of the many incriminating comments made by Winter in a lengthy and candid interview published in a paper-only edition of the Hebrew-language Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot on 15 August.

The interview took place near the end of Israel’s 51-day bombing campaign which killed more than 2,100 people in Gaza, the vast majority of them civilians — including more than 500 children. Israel expert Dena Shunra translated the interview for The Electronic Intifada.

In addition to justifying the mass killing of civilians in Gaza, Winter applauded the carpet bombing he ordered in Rafah as a necessary punishment and repeatedly invoked religious supremacy as a leading factor in what he views as a Jewish victory in Gaza.

Rafah massacre

Just as a temporary three-day humanitarian ceasefire negotiated by Egypt and the United States went into effect on the morning of Friday 1 August, a unit of soldiers from the Israeli army’s Givati Brigade conducted a tunnel incursion in Rafah, provoking fire from Palestinian resistance fighters.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the ensuing firefight and another, Hadar Goldin, went missing. It was later determined that Goldin died in the battle, but in the immediate aftermath the Israeli army operated under the assumption that he had been captured.

Ofer Winter was napping when he woke up to news of Goldin’s possible capture. He told Yediot Ahronot’sYossi Yehoshua:

At 9 am, half an hour after I put my head down, the Deputy Brigade Commander woke me up: “come quickly, it’s best you be here.” We asked for a snapshot, we wanted information. We didn’t think there was an abduction yet. While inquiring if everyone was there, I commanded Sagiv, the Armored Forces Commander operating under my orders, to start moving from Hirbat Hiza’a, which was where he was, toward Rafah. Just then I got the message “it’s not green in our eyes” – in other words, not everyone had been found. We were missing a soldier. At 9:36, after inquiries with the battalion commander on site, I announced on the communication system the word that no one wants to say – “Hannibal.” In other words, there had been an abduction. I instructed all the forces to move forward, to occupy space, so the abductors would not be able to move.

The Hannibal Directive is an unwritten Israeli military protocol for executing captured Israeli soldiers to avoid politically painful prisoner swaps. Although its existence has been reported in the Israeli press since the 1980s, this interview with Winter appears to be the most frank acknowledgement of its use.

The idea is to prevent the captors from taking the soldier alive, effectively denying Palestinian or other Arab resistance groups a bargaining chip down the line and relieving Israeli leaders of the political fallout from having to make concessions (such as prisoner swaps) to secure the soldier’s release.

Executing their own

According to blogger Richard Silverstein, the Israeli army has implemented the Hannibal Directive on at least three occasions during this latest war on Gaza, deploying massive firepower with the intention of executing three of their own.

For the following several hours, residents of Rafah, many having just returned to their homes for what they were told would be a three-day ceasefire, were subjected to a carpet bombing campaign that left the town in ruins and 190 people dead.

An Israeli army officer told the Associated Press that soldiers pounded Rafah with 500 artillery shells in just eight hours and launched an estimated 100 airstrikes within two days.

Acting on Winter’s “Hannibal” order, the Israeli army sealed off Rafah to prevent the alleged captors from escaping with Goldin alive. Homes were flattened on top of families sheltering inside. Civilians who attempted to flee the inferno were torn to shreds by artillery. Vehicles trying desperately to evacuate the wounded were fired upon.

By 2 August, the Israeli army had killed 190 Palestinians in Rafah, including 55 children. With the morgues full to capacity, medical workers were forced to store corpses in vegetable refrigerators to accommodate the high volume of dead bodies.

As Israel laid waste to Rafah, the Obama administration called the alleged capture of Goldin, an invading Israeli soldier engaged in armed hostilities against Gaza, a “barbaric” and “outrageous” act.

“They messed with the wrong brigade”

“A lot of criticism was heard about the force you employed in Rafah, directly after the abduction,” said interviewer Yossi Yehoshua to Winter.

“Everything we did was from the understanding that we could return Hadar Goldin alive,” responded Winter. “Stop the abduction event. Come from above to the places he could come out of. That’s what we employed all the force for,” he insisted.

These claims are totally inconsistent with the reality on the ground, where the only possible intended outcome of bombing everything was to kill Goldin and his captors while collectively punishing the surrounding population in the process.

Winter continued with an even more contradictory remark, hinting that the response in Rafah was partly an act of retribution. “Anyone who abducts should know that he will pay a price. This was not revenge. They simply messed with the wrong brigade,” he said.

Then, in a stunning display of hypocrisy, Winter (who relies on airstrikes and indiscriminate artillery fire to avoid face to face confrontations with the supposed enemy and who had to be woken up from a nap to be informed that his soldiers were killed in Rafah) tried to portray Palestinian resistance fighters as cowards.

“We fought against two Hamas brigades. Where were their brigade commanders?” he asked indignantly. “I hoped they would come face to face with us, but they chickened out. They sent their men forward, causing more evil and killing. That’s not combat. There were very few places where there were fighting retreats. They left everything and escaped.”

Divine intervention

As an orthodox Jew firmly in Israel’s religious nationalist camp, Winter is making a career of mixing his brand of messianic Zionism with military aggression.

As a graduate of Bnei David, a religious pre-military academy located in Eli, an illegal Jewish-only settlement in the occupied West Bank, Winter epitomizes the mainstreaming of religiously motivated brutalityin the Israeli army. Bnei David’s goal is to replace Israel’s largely secular military elite with religious Zionists, like Winter.

On the eve of Israel’s ground invasion, Winter declared in a letter to his troops that they were fighting a Jewish holy war to punish the blasphemous Palestinians of Gaza.

Responding to criticism of the letter, Winter doubled down, telling Yediot Ahronot, “if I had to do so, I would write the same letter again, without batting an eyelid.”

The impact of Winter’s fanaticism on Palestinians in Gaza was nothing short of catastrophic.

Soldiers from the Givati Brigade under Winter’s command made up the majority of ground troops that thundered into Khuzaa, a farming community near the Israeli boundary line. With massive artillery shelling accompanied by airstrikes, the Israeli army reduced all of Khuzaa to rubble to secure a path for columns of invading tanks, jeeps and soldiers.

Cut off from the outside world for days, the residents of Khuzaa were at the mercy of Winter’s religiously-guided soldiers who carried out summary executions of both fighters and civilians and mowed down anyone trying to flee, including a wheelchair-using 16-year-old girl with epilepsy and a wounded elderly women crawling on the ground desperate for help.

Speaking about his brigade’s reign of terror in Khuzaa, Winter is cited by Yediot Ahronot as telling the ultra-Orthodox weekly newspaper Mishpacha that as the sun rose during the ground invasion, the movement of his troops remained hidden by “clouds of divine honor.”

“It was only when the homes that were supposed to be exploded were exploded and there was no longer any danger to our lives, the fog suddenly dispersed,” said Winter, insisting that the clouds were a direct intervention from God to protect the Jewish people.

Winter offered further religious explanations for his “victory” in Gaza to Yediot Ahronot.

Noting that the ground invasion coincided with “The Between the Straits Days” — a three-week mourning period observed by orthodox Jews to commemorate the ancient siege on Jerusalem and the loss of Jewish statehood — Winter opined that the overlap “was not just a coincidence.”

The Between the Straits Days end on the 9th of Av, also known as Tisha B’Av [observed on 5 August of this year], the very day that the fighting ended. It was especially on this day, a day of national mourning, that the decision was made: the IDF [Israeli military], the Nation of Israel – they won. We proved that we are a unified, determined nation and that we will not be beaten. Unitedness won. No ill words were spoken. Even the ultra-orthodox public – which cannot be taken for granted – fought with all its might from the place where it stands [meaning they prayed very hard]. I received lots of messages during the war. This is a tikun – repair – for what our ancestors have hurt. It enhanced the victory.

“The terrorists are the children” of Gaza

Despite the Palestinian blood on his hands, or more likely because of it, Winter has emerged as a hero in Israel, completely revered within the military and adored by the public.

Asked about his earlier complaints that the political and military establishment was holding him back from finishing the job in Gaza, Winter told Yediot Ahronot that he is ultimately satisfied with the outcome of the onslaught and then proceeded to brag about the carnage.

“There are hundreds of terrorists who were killed,” he boasted. “That is the message – no matter what we do, we’ll go in wherever we want to go. It is important that the enemy know this.”

“We shredded them. We can do it much worse, and it’s best for them that we not do it,” added Winter. “We gave them a much stronger beating than in Cast Lead.”

“When the Palestinians return to their home they will understand the scope of the damage Hamas has inflicted on them. Hamas used them,” he said.

Winter clarified that the enemy is not just Hamas but all of Gaza.

“This population is a hostage, but I think it is also a partner. I don’t exonerate them of responsibility so quickly,” said Winter of the 1.8 million Palestinians who inhabit the besieged coastal enclave, half of whom are children.

“True, there are some pitiable people there, but in many cases the terrorists are the children or relatives of the people who live there. In almost every home there is a son or other relative that is a partner in terror. How do you raise children in a home with explosives? In the end, everyone gets what they choose.”

“Forces of darkness”

He went on to call the Israeli assault “A just war against a cruel enemy. We, who sanctify life, fought against an enemy who sanctifies death. The forces of light against the forces of darkness.”

“This is an important statement due to the absolutism of it,” explains Israel expert Dena Shunra, who translated the article for The Electronic Intifada. “If Hamas (or Gaza as a whole) are the forces of darkness, any action is absolved. It is a Manichean sentiment similar to what we hear from the US military, and does not leave any room for ending hostilities – a war to the death.”

Winter’s warped vision of a civilian population in Gaza complicit in the “forces of darkness” essentially justifies killing them en masse, which is exactly what he did in Rafah and Khuzaa.

As a result, “[Winter] cannot walk around today without being halted, hugged, asked for a photo opportunity,” according to Yediot.

In a final address to his troops following the Gaza slaughter, Winter alluded to the next round of massacres.

“I am proud of you for everything that you have done. It is all thanks to you,” he told the soldiers. “I cannot promise you, like the song does, that this will be the last war, but I promise that this war, which is so just, will push the next war a good few years away.” More

 

Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle

What would happen if Israeli progressives and their supporters demanded an end to the military court system, or called for freedom of movement for Palestinians? The answer: a lot.

The two-state solution has long become a means (to solving the problem of the occupation) to an end. As I wrote here in the past, this change has had severe consequences as far as the Israeli political opposition is concerned. Those range from a de-facto acceptance of the status quo to a political alliance with the Right and support for all the latest rounds of violence. The excuses are always the same – that we are on the road to the two-state solution and “this is the only game in town.”

The truth is that we aren’t on the road to two states or to one state. We are deep in the status-quo solution. Israel directly controls the lives of some 4 million Palestinians (and indirectly almost two more million in Gaza), and only a minority of them have the rights of full citizens, and even then only formally. The debate over the correct term for this state of affairs (‘occupation’ or ‘apartheid’ or ‘status quo’) is not half as important as recognizing this reality itself, which is stable, institutionalized and not going to change in the foreseeable future.

As a matter of fact, a final status agreement seems as far off as I can remember. The two-state solution is highly unlikely to take place in the coming years, and there is no way of knowing what the more distant future holds. Regional events along with internal developments in Israeli society serve those who oppose an agreement. The occupation empowers those who support it.

The common wisdom in Israel today is that every territory that is evacuated will eventually become another hub for Middle Eastern anarchy. The security establishment believes that only the IDF can prevent forces such as Islamic State from crossing the Jordan River. Israel would also like to make sure that Hamas doesn’t take over the West Bank. In other words, even if a Palestinian “state” is formed, it won’t have even the minimal degree of independence. No credible Palestinian leadership can be expected to agree to that.

I also don’t see any form of international pressure that would force the two-state solution on Israel. Much of the international community is clearly unhappy with Israel’s policies of the last decade, but this is nowhere near the mobilization against South Africa in the 1980s or, more recently, Iran. In both cases the tipping point was the U.S. decision to support and impose sanctions. And while the U.S. might end up distancing itself from Jerusalem, it will continue to use its power to prevent sanctions against it. The EU is also unlikely to expend its measures beyond some steps against the settlements. So there is truly no end in sight.

Facing this new reality, Israeli progressives that supported the peace process are turning to one of a few options: There are those who join the Right in maintaining the status quo; those who continue to believe that some recent events – the war, the ceasefire, American elections, the lack of American elections, etc. – opened a “window of opportunity for peace;” while in fact there is no window, not even a crack. And there are also those who are crying, not without some perverse pleasure, that “all is lost.”

On a more positive note, I believe there is renewed recognition in Israel of the dominance of the occupation on all other political problems, in the long-term threat it presents before Israeli society. I used to hear people say that the Left should focus on social issues and leave the Palestinian problem aside, but not anymore. You even see conservatives voicing some concern over the failure to solve the Palestinian issue. In other words, there is some new recognition of the problem, but there is no political strategy to accompany it among progressives, except for continuing to bang one’s head against the peace process wall.

***

The solution is to replace the diplomatic process with a civil rights struggle, to break the occupation into pieces, and deal with each one of them: The fact that Palestinians do not enjoy freedom of movement. The fact that they have been tried in military courts for almost half a century. The limits on their freedom of speech and their right to freely assemble. The lack of proper detainee rights (including minors). The disrespect for their property rights, and, of course, their lack of political rights.

A civil rights struggle doesn’t necessarily mean a single-state solution, nor two states. Civilian rights for Palestinians can lead to any final status agreement. As I wrote here last week, there is little point in debating solutions right now.

A civil rights struggle is not a new idea, and many Palestinians have been engaging in it for a long time. But Israeli progressives and peaceniks have always placed it second only to the diplomatic process. In other words, instead of the Palestinian state becoming a means for the fulfillment of Palestinian rights, it was made the only desired political object; those rights no longer bared value once they were separated from the idea of statehood – as if because the Palestinians have no state they don’t deserve freedom of movement or a fair trial. Thus, progressives find themselves justifying an authoritarian regime in Ramallah in the name of Palestinians rights, and many other absurdities.

On a tactical level, a civil rights struggle opens the door for Arab-Jewish cooperation on both sides of the Green Line, and leaves aside the questions of statehood and historical narratives that people love to debate. Instead, it focuses on the lives of real people under occupation.

The equal rights of all men and women is such a simple and broadly accepted notion that it’s easy to explain and for everyone to understand. Israelis have adopted all sorts of revisionist readings of the conflict in recent years; for example the idea that the territories aren’t occupied because they were never claimed by any other state. But the most important problem with the occupation is the millions of people held under a military regime for decades, and not just the legal status of the land.

The target of a civil rights struggle is not the settlers, or any other Israeli community, but the state and its practices. It might not make progressives more popular with the Israeli public, but it could make their work more effective.

What could such a struggle look like? It should raise specific political demands that touch the basic liberties and rights of human beings; such as the right to a fair trial, to equality before the law, and to political representation.

The military court system is a good place to start. Military tribunals could be accepted in very specific contexts and for a limited period of time. They aren’t meant – nor could they be used – to run the lives of a civilian population for decades, as Israel does.

There is no way to justify military commanders ruling over civilian issues for half a century, the way they do in the West Bank. There is no way to justify administrative detentions. What prevents a “pro-peace” party or organization – say, Meretz or Labor or J Street – from right now demanding an end to the military court system, regardless of diplomatic developments? The fact that such an idea is not even debated demonstrates the degree to which even the “pro-peace” camp has adopted the mentality of the occupation.

What about freedom of movement? The Palestinians are held like Israel’s prisoners, not only in the West Bank but also in Gaza. It takes a permit from a military commander to allow a Palestinian to visit his or her family in Jordan. Why not demand turning this policy on its head, right now, and have the security authorities state who they forbid from traveling, and allow everybody else free passage? Surely this is a reasonable enough request?

Human rights groups have been monitoring and discussing these issues for decades, but they have yet to enter progressive politics, which is still chained to the endless peace process. Imagine what would happen if mobilization by the international community around Israeli relations with the PA or its settlement policies was directed at the rights of Palestinians.

To some this might seem like back-door annexation by Israel – an idea that most Israelis and Palestinians still oppose. But the fact of the matter is that de-facto annexation has already taken place, only without allowing the civilian population their basic human and civil rights. Recent cries over the appropriation of some 1,000 acres of land by Israel sound hollow compared to the massive human rights violations that have been taking place for decades. I actually believe that even if Israel was to hand the Palestinians full voting rights in the Knesset tomorrow we could end up with some version of a two-state solution or a confederative model, because both people here are interested in national sovereignty.

Make no mistake: Keeping the Palestinians without rights is not some temporary holding pattern on the way to a final status solution (or peace). For Israel, this is the solution. And giving Palestinians their rights will not postpone an agreement – quite the opposite. It would force Israelis to really think about the kind of future they want, alongside the Palestinians. More

 

Hamas does not equal ISIL, no matter what Israel says

An image speaks a thousand words – and that is presumably what Israel’s supporters hoped for with their latest ad in the New York Times.

Two photographs are presented side by side. One, titled ISIL, is the now-iconic image of a kneeling James Foley, guarded by a black-hooded executioner, awaiting his terrible fate. The other, titled Hamas, is a scene from Gaza, where a similarly masked killer stands over two victims, who cower in fear.

A headline stating “This is the face of radical Islam” tries, like the images, to equate the two organisations.

We have heard this line before from Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who tweeted “Hamas is ISIL” after the video of Foley’s beheading aired. In a recent speech he called Hamas and ISIL, “tentacles of a violent Islamist terrorism”.

Mr Netanyahu’s depiction of Hamas and ISIL as “branches of the same poisonous tree” is a travesty of the truth. The two have entirely different – in fact, opposed – political projects.

Members of Hamas may disagree on that state’s territorial limits but even the most ambitious expect no more than the historic borders of a Palestine that existed decades ago. ISIL, by contrast, aims to sweep away Palestine and every other Arab state.

That is the key to interpreting the very different, if equally brutal, events depicted in the two images.

ISIL killed Foley, dressed in Guantanamo-style orange jumpsuit, purely as spectacle – a graphic message to the world of its menacing intent. Hamas’s cruelty was directed at those in Gaza who collaborate with Israel, undermining hope of liberation from Israel’s occupation.

ISIL’s 20,000 foot soldiers have taken over large chunks of Iraq and Syria in a murderous and uncompromising campaign against anyone who rejects not only Islam but their specific interpretation of it.

According to reports last week, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal joined Mr Abbas in demanding the most diminutive Palestinian state possible, inside the 1967 borders.

Mr Netanyahu, meanwhile, refuses to negotiate with either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas.

In casting Hamas as ISIL, Mr Netanyahu has tarred all Palestinians as bloodthirsty Islamic extremists. And here we reach Israel’s true goal in equating the two groups.

Mr Netanyahu’s comparison has a recent parallel. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks on the US, Ariel Sharon made a similar equivalence between Al Qaeda and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Israel’s intelligence officials even called the destruction of the Twin Towers a “Hanukkah miracle”, a view echoed by Mr Netanyahu years later. All understood that 9/11 reframed the Oslo-inspired debate about the Palestinians needing statehood to one about an evil axis of Middle East terror.

Sharon revelled in calling Arafat the head of an “infrastructure of terror”, justifying Israel’s crushing the uprising of the second intifada.

Similarly, Mr Netanyahu’s efforts are designed to discredit all – not just the Islamic variety of – Palestinian resistance to Israel’s occupation. He hopes to be the silent partner to Barack Obama’s new coalition against ISIL.

Aaron David Miller, an adviser to several US administrations on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, warned in Foreign Policy last week that the rise of ISIL would pose a serious setback to Palestinian hopes of statehood – a point underscored by the far greater concerns about ISIL than the Palestinians’ plight expressed by Arab League delegates at this week’s meeting in Cairo.

How Mr Netanyahu plans to follow Sharon in exploiting this opportunity was demonstrated last week, when Israeli intelligence revealed a supposed Hamas plot to launch a coup against the PA.

The interrogation of Hamas officials, however, showed only that they had prepared for the possibility of the PA’s rule ending in the West Bank, either through its collapse under Israeli pressure or through a disillusioned Mr Abbas handing over the keys to Israel.

But talk of Hamas coups has melded with other, even wilder stories, such as the claims last week from foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman that ISIL cells had formed in the West Bank and inside Israel. Defence minister Moshe Yaalon underscored this narrative by hurriedly classifying ISIL as a “proscribed” organisation.

All this fear-mongering is designed both to undermine the Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah, and to sanction Israel’s behaviours by painting a picture, as after 9/11, of an Israel on the front line of a war against global terror.

“Israel’s demands for a continued Israeli presence [in the West Bank] and a lengthy withdrawal period will only harden further,” wrote Mr Miller.

In reality, Israel should share common cause with Palestinian leaders, from Fatah and Hamas, against ISIL. But, as ever, Mr Netanyahu will forgo his country’s long-term interests for a short-term gain in his relentless war to keep the Palestinians stateless. More

Jonathan Cook is an independent journalist based in Nazareth

 

Israel’s Video Justifying Destruction of a Hospital Was From 2009

The video clip showing apparent firing from an annex to the hospital was actually shot during Israel's 2008-09 “Operation Cast Lead,” and the audio clip accompanying it was from an incident unrelated to Al Wafa. (Screengrab: The Times of Israel)

A video distributed by the Israeli military in July suggesting that Palestinian fighters had fired from the Al Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatric Hospital in Gaza City was not shot during the recent Israeli attack on Gaza, and both audio and video clips were manipulated to cover up the fact that they were from entirely different incidents, a Truthout investigation has revealed.

The video, released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on July 23, the same day Israeli airstrikes destroyed Al Wafa, was widely reported by pro-Israeli publications and websites as proving that the hospital was destroyed because Hamas had turned the hospital into a military facility. But the video clip showing apparent firing from an annex to the hospital was actually shot during Israel's 2008-09 “Operation Cast Lead,” and the audio clip accompanying it was from an incident unrelated to Al Wafa.

The misleading video was only the last in a series of IDF dissimulations about Al Wafa hospital that included false claims that Hamas rockets had been launched from the hospital grounds, or very near it, and that the hospital had been damaged by an attack on the launching site.

The IDF began to prepare the ground for the destruction of Al Wafa hospital well before Israeli ground troops entered Gaza on July 17. On July 11, the IDF fired four warning rockets on the fourth floor of Al Wafa, making a large hole in the ceiling – the standard IDF signal that a building was going to be destroyed by an airstrike.

On July 17, the hospital was hit by a total of 15 rockets, according to Dr. Basman Alashi, Al Wafa's director. After the first few rockets, a phone call from the IDF “asked how much time do you need to evacuate?” he told Truthout. After the second and third floors were largely destroyed, the patients' rooms were filled with smoke and the hospital lost electricity, he gave the order to evacuate the hospital.

An IDF spokesman told Allison Deger of Mondoweiss that Hamas rocket launches had come “from exactly near the hospital, 100 meters near.” A slide show released by the IDF August 19 includes an aerial view of Al Wafa Hospital with two alleged rocket launching sites marked that are clearly much farther from the hospital than the 100 meters.

Even if that IDF claim of 100 meters were accurate, however, it was more than sufficient to allow the IDF to hit the launch site with precision-guided munitions without damaging the hospital. Israeli air to ground missiles, especially those fired from drones, are known to be able to hit small targets without causing collateral damage to nearby buildings. An IDF video posted on August 9, for example, shows a missile destroying what is said to be a hidden rocket launch site without harming a mosque only a few meters away from the explosion.

IDF spokesman Captain Eytan Buchman nevertheless blandly suggested that it was collateral damage from striking the launch site. He said the IDF was “left with no choice” but to “target the launcher with the most precise munitions capable of ensuring its destruction.”

On July 21, the IDF Spokesman's Office pushed its propaganda line linking Al Wafa and rocket launching sites even further, claiming in a tweet and on its blog, “Hamas fires rockets from Wafa hospital in the Gaza neighborhood of Shujaiya.” Under that headline was an aerial photo enhanced to highlight what was said to be Al Wafa Hospital, along with a red dot representing an M-75 rocket launch site that was not on the hospital grounds, but appeared to be a few meters away.

But the building shown in the aerial photo was not Al Wafa hospital, as Dr. Alashi quickly pointed out. A Google map of Al Wafa hospital shows none of the buildings resemble the one the IDF identified as Al Wafa. The building in the IDF image belongs to the Right to Life Society.

After that prevarication had been revealed, the IDF added a new claim that “the hospital grounds” had been used by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as “a post enabling terrorists to open fire at soldiers.”

The IDF said that Hamas had “fired at Israel and at IDF forces from the hospital” despite warnings from the IDF, and the IDF had been forced to attack targets on the hospital site.

The statement was accompanied by a video purporting to document the firing at Israeli troops. Based on the camera angle and altitude, the video was taken by an Israeli drone, according to a former US intelligence officer, with experience in interpreting military-related images, who analyzed the video for Truthout.

The first segment of the video is a grainy, black-and-white aerial shot of a building that starts with the legend, “Terrorists Threaten IDF from inside Wafa Hospital.” The building shown is not Al Wafa hospital, however, but an annex to the hospital that had been empty, both Dr. Alashi and Charlie Andeasson, a Swedish activist who was in the hospital when it was attacked on July 16, told Truthout.

The eight-second video shows what could be two brief bursts of fire from one of the windows on the third floor and then a third flash in a fourth story window. The former US intelligence officer confirmed that the footage of the building was selected from two different times of day. After the first three seconds of the video, the camera angle and the amount of light both change perceptibly. Nevertheless an exchange between the two voices on the audiotape accompanying the video continues as though the scene were continuous during the entire eight seconds.

The first voice heard on the audio recording says, in Hebrew, “Do you see this firing? Have spotted fires from within the house.” The English subtitles accompanying the audio add “hospital” in parentheses after the word “house,” but Seattle-based blogger on Israeli affairs Richard Silverstein, who speaks Hebrew, confirmed to Truthout after listening to the audio clip that the speaker uses the word “bayit,” which can only mean “house.”

A second voice then says, according to the subtitles, “Positive, fire from within the house.” But the speaker actually uses the term “small house” (“bayit ha katan hazeh”), according to Silverstein.

Those references to firing from a small house indicate that the audio clip was taken from an entirely different incident at another location. That device was obviously used because there was no audio of an incident involving firing from the hospital.

Dr. Alashi said he believes the eight-second video clip portrays firing from the annex that occurred in the 2008-09 Israeli attack on Gaza. “People confirmed to me that there was firing from the building then,” he told Truthout. That building was, in fact, attacked on January 16, 2009, by Israeli tanks only 70 meters away from the hospital, damaging the third and fourth floors of the building – the very floors from which the flashes are shown in the video – as the UN Fact-Finding Mission noted in its September 2009 report.

The last segment of the video showing the bombing of the Al Wafa hospital, bears the legend “secondary explosion” – meaning explosions of weapons – as each building is shown being destroyed, in line with the Israeli argument throughout the operation that Hamas stored rockets and other weapons in hospitals, schools and mosques.

The video fist shows the hospital itself being blown up, followed by heavy billowing smoke covering the entire hospital and then another flash of fire. But the former intelligence official who viewed the video said that flash indicated another Israeli missile strike on the target rather than a secondary explosion.

The clip then cuts to the destruction of the annex, again with the “secondary explosion” legend. The billowing smoke from the initial bomb explosion covers the building, and then two or three small puffs of darker smoke appear. Those puffs of smoke would suggest a secondary explosion, according to the former US intelligence officer. But he also observed that a hospital would have flammable materials other than hidden weapons that could cause the darker smoke to appear.

Given the existence of Hamas' complex network of tunnels, which provided plenty of storage space for its rockets and other weaponry, it would have made no sense for Hamas to store rockets in a hospital that it knew had already been targeted by the IDF.

In its final seconds, the video focuses in to show a square which the legend describes as a “tunnel opening near Al Wafa.” But Dr. Alashi told Truthout that it is actually a water well.

The IDF real reason for the destruction of Al Wafa hospital appears to be related to the determination to raise the cost to the civilian population of Gaza for Palestinian resistance, in line with the approach represented by its “Dahiya doctrine,” named after the Beirut suburb dominated by Hezbollah, much of which the Israeli Air Force reduced to rubble in the 2006 war.

That strategy, recognized as a violation of the international laws of war, was pursued most obviously in the complete destruction of every house in several square blocks in three separate areas of the Shujaiya district of Gaza City July 19-20. But it was also evident in IDF attacks on Al Wafa and in the series of mortar and artillery attacks on six different UN shelters from July 21 though August 3. Those attacks killed a total of 47 civilians and wounded 341, according to a survey of the incidents by The Guardian.

In none of the six cases where UN shelters were hit by IDF mortar shells was the military able to offer a plausible explanation, and in three cases, it offered no explanation whatever. More

Gareth Porter (@GarethPorter) is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing about US national security policy, and the recipient of the Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2012. His investigation of the US entry into war in Vietnam, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published by University of California Press in 2005.

 

Land grab shows Netanyahu unbowed after Gaza

With Israel and Hamas locked in military stalemate after their 50-day confrontation in Gaza, attention had returned to reviving a peace process between Israel and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

That is the context for assessing Israel’s decision to antagonise all its main partners against Hamas – the United States, Europe, Egypt, Jordan and, in practice, Abbas’ Palestinian Authority – by announcing plans this week for the biggest land grab in the West Bank in three decades.

In normal circumstances, this would look like an example of shooting oneself in the foot. But, as Israeli analyst Jeff Halper pointed out, Israel rarely abides by normal rules.

“What Netanyahu is doing looks completely counter-intuitive. It makes no sense. You would think he would want less criticism right now from the international community. He needs the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas to help him take back control of Gaza.”

Yesterday, US secretary of state John Kerry phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reportedly to demand he reverse his decision.

Barack Obama’s administration is said to have been angered not only by the decision itself – which seized 1,000 acres of Palestinian land near Bethlehem – but by Israel’s failure even to warn it in advance.

Confrontation with US

Israeli analysts have noted that the clash over the land expropriation – intended to build a fifth West Bank city for settlers, called Gvaot, south of Jerusalem – marks yet another downturn in increasingly fraught relations between Israel and Washington.

“This is a major embarrassment to the US. There it is trying to coax Abbas back into negotiations while Israel blatantly undermines its efforts,” Halper told Middle East Eye.

Israeli officials have tried to play down the seizure as nothing more than a technicality, though it has not helped their justifications that the move’s timing has been widely presented as “revenge” for the murder in June of three Israeli teenagers in a location close by in the West Bank.

Officials argue that Palestinians have no private claims on the land; that it is part of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, which, they claim, will be awarded to Israel in a final peace agreement; and that the area has long been earmarked for Israeli settlement.

In addition to Israel’s violation of international law in seizing the land, observers note that there are already five Palestinian communities there, and that the new settlement will contribute to Jerusalem’s encirclement, sealing it off from the West Bank and further damaging the prospects of a viable Palestinian state emerging.

Yesterday, Dror Etkes, an expert on the settlements for the Israeli peace organisation Peace Now, noted that the swath of land would create a territorial corridor between Israel and the Gush Etzion bloc.

Nearly a fifth of the expropriated land actually lies beyond Israel’s separation barrier, sometimes assumed to be the demarcation of its territorial acquisitiveness.

Payback for the settlers

Daniel Seidemann, a Jerusalem lawyer who specialises in land issues, told Middle East Eye that this latest decision was payback for the settlers, who had helped Netanyahu during the seven weeks of Operation Protective Edge by not opening up another front with the international community.

“During the Gaza operation, the settlers kept silent. They were like the dog that didn’t bark in the night. That was intentional. Netanyahu told them “sit back during the operation and I’ll make it up to you afterwards.”

In many ways, Washington’s opposition to this move echoes its anger at Netanyahu’s attempt in late 2012 to annex the so-called E1 area, west of Jerusalem, which also threatened to cut off Jerusalem from its Palestinian hinterland.

It remains to be seen whether US pressure will force a climbdown this time from Netanyahu, as it eventually did when he agreed to “delay” his E1 plans.

But whatever the final decision, the reality is that plans for encircling Jerusalem are constantly on the drawing board, and are making slow, incremental progress, as a report by the International Crisis Group revealed. Israeli leaders simply seek the best moment to try to browbeat Washington into submission on any particular component of the plan.

Netanyahu’s reasons for taking on the US now are likely to be complex.

Plummeting popularity

Not least in his calculations, he needs to show an achievement in the West Bank to answer the many domestic critics of his performance in Gaza.

His popularity has plummeted since he signed a ceasefire agreement. A majority of the Israeli public, and especially his supporters on the right, expected him to crush Hamas, not to negotiate terms with it.

He has also been under fire from government coalition rivals further to the right, such as Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, who have implied not so subtly that he demonstrated weakness in Gaza.

The crisis he has now provoked is undoubtedly designed to deflect a little the attention of the Israeli public and media from what are seen as his failures in Gaza and show that he is playing hardball with the Palestinians.

But possibly even more useful, Netanyahu has engineered a confrontation with the US that will remind the Israeli public of the international climate within which he must work, both in relation to Gaza and the West Bank.

Faced with another showdown with Washington, Netanyahu can claim both that he is a tough-guy and that, much better than his political rivals, he knows how to navigate the intricacies of such diplomatic entanglements. He has taken on the White House on several notable occasions before and won.

And by grabbing land near the Gush Etzion settlements, Netanyahu has also chosen an issue over which it will be difficult for local critics to berate him.

Lieberman, who is the most famous resident of Nokdim, one of Gush Etzion’s settlements, has pointed out correctly that the area Netanyahu has seized “reflects a wide-ranging consensus in Israeli society.”

Voices of dissent

Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid have been the only notable voices of dissent in the cabinet, but neither is likely to threaten the coalition’s survival by resigning on this matter.

Livni, who has cultivated strong ties to the Obama administration, has indicated that she supports the seizure in principle. Her opposition is over the timing, when Israel is isolated and needs US support in international forums.

More significant is what the decision to seize such a large area of land reveals about Netanyahu’s attitude towards Abbas and the two-state solution, as well as his approach to the international community.

Yariv Oppenheimer, the head of Peace Now, has called the move a “stab in the back … proving again that violence delivers Israeli concessions while nonviolence results in settlement expansion.”

According to polls, Hamas has surged in popularity among Palestinians since the ceasefire, and Netanyahu’s move will do nothing to revive Abbas’ fortunes.

Israel is reported to want Abbas’ assistance in taking back whatever limited control of Gaza Israel will allow, presumably as a prelude to enforcing Hamas’ disarmament. Abbas wants Gaza too, because it will strengthen his claim to being the true representative of the Palestinian people. On paper at least, Netanyahu and Abbas should be on the same page on this issue.

But the price from Abbas, as he revealed this week, is Israel’s cooperation with his newly minted peace plan, which Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat presented to Kerry yesterday.

Reports suggest the plan will echo Kerry’s original timetable and framework for the talks that collapsed in April, with nine months for the two sides to reach an agreement. Israel would be expected to withdraw from the agreed area, based on the pre-1967 borders, within three years.

However, this time Abbas will insist on no settlement building for the duration of the negotiations and there will be a tangible Palestinian threat if the process fails: unilateral moves in international forums, including pursuing war crimes trials at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Opposition to statehood

Neither option – conceding Palestinian statehood, or risking war crimes trials – will appeal to Netanyahu. But if forced to make a choice, he would probably much rather call Abbas’ bluff over the ICC than allow him a state, even a demilitarised, non-sovereign one.

Back in July, Netanyahu made clear his fundamental opposition to allowing the Palestinians the trappings of statehood in the West Bank. He stated that “there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control” of the West Bank. Noting that the West Bank was 20 times the size of Gaza, he added that he was not prepared to “create another 20 Gazas”.

In doing so, he effectively equated Abbas with Hamas, which in turn he has equated with the Islamic extremist group ISIS.

As Gideon Levy, a columnist for the Haaretz daily, has concluded: “The settlers have won. The settlements have accomplished their goal. The two-state solution is dead.”

So where does that leave Israel and Abbas?

In Abbas’ case, with a few stark choices. He could mount a more forceful campaign to win statehood at the United Nations, or he could go down the ICC route. Both would lead to a serious confrontation with the United States.

The final choice would be to hand over the keys of the Palestinian Authority, leaving Israel to pick up the mess – and the considerable bill – afterwards. That is reportedly what he told the emir of Qatar this week. If there was no agreement, “we will take the following measure: cessation of the security coordination and transfer of responsibility for PA territory to Netanyahu.”

Catastrophic scenarios

In Israel’s case, analysts see things going in one of two directions.

One possibility is that Israel will find its isolation and pariah status growing. The comparisons with apartheid will deepen, as will the paradigm shift to a one-state solution. Early signs will be a rapid increase in various forms of boycotts, such as an imminent one from the European Union on settlement produce.

It was this scenario that presumably prompted the concerns expressed in an editorial in today’s Haaretz about the latest land grab: “This is an intolerable display of arrogance and impudence, and its price is liable to be catastrophic.”

The other possibility, set out by Jeff Halper, who has been studying Israel’s system of control over the occupied territories for many years, posits an even bleaker future.

He believes Netanyahu may assume he can hold on to international support as he crushes all Palestinian hopes – military and diplomatic – of resistance to Israel’s complete dominance.

“Israel is denying the Palestinians a moment to regroup. The pressure is on them all the time, wearing them down, exhausting them as Israel takes control inch by inch.

Netanyahu, he says, may think that he can “pacify” Abbas and the Palestinians, with them coming to understand both that there is no political process and that in practice there are no countervailing forces on Israel.

“Rather than being an outcast, Israel believes it can convince everyone – the US, Europe, the Arab states – that it has the solutions. It excels in a kind of security politics, and claims to know how to beat ‘the terrorists’. Ultimately, that may gain it more credit with other states than respecting peace and human rights.”

Halper concedes that Netanyahu may be mistaken in such assumptions, leaving himself with no exit strategy when things turn sour.

Whoever is right, this week’s land grab indicates that Netanyahu is unbowed after Gaza and in no mood for making concessions. More