Likening Palestinians to Blades of Grass

by Elizabeth Murray

In early 2010, one of Washington DC’s most prestigious think tanks was holding a seminar on the Middle East which included a discussion of Israel’s December 2008-January 2009 assault on Gaza which killed about 1,300 Palestinians. When the death toll was mentioned, one expert on the panel smiled enigmatically and intoned: “It’s unfortunate, but every once in a while you have to mow the lawn.”

The remark, which likened killing hundreds of men, women and children – many of them noncombatants – with trimming the grass, was greeted with a light tittering around the room, which was filled with some of Washington’s most elite, highly educated and well-paid Middle East experts. Not a single one objected to the panelist’s black humor.

On the contrary, several analysts and experts were grinning at the reference to Israel’s strategy of mounting periodic attacks on the Palestinians to cull each new generation of militants. Such is the nonchalance of Washington’s policy-advising cognoscenti toward the ongoing and systematic genocide of Gaza’s oppressed population.

The cavalier language is symptomatic of the policymaking community’s increasingly pervasive tendency to disregard and disparage the humanity of Palestinian victims of Israeli attacks, which are often waged by Israel’s high-tech drones and U.S.-supplied F-16’s. There is also a tendency to ignore or downplay Israeli war crimes.

This dangerously sociopathic attitude is prevalent whether cloaked in a cheap joke or reflected in the failure by the State Department spokesman to condemn or even acknowledge the criminality of Israel’s latest aerial and sea-based bombardment of Palestinian civilians, at least 18 of whom have been killed in the past 48 hours. Three Israelis also have died in retaliatory rocket fire.

After the latest attacks, the State Department’s statement justified Israel’s bombardment of Gaza as Israel’s “right to defend itself” against the launching of relatively primitive rockets, mostly by radical groups, from inside Gaza. Yet, while the State Department urged both sides to avoid civilian casualties, nowhere was there mention of the Palestinians’ right to defend themselves from various attacks by Israel. Apparently only one side is granted that privilege, according to the U.S. statement.

The relegation of Palestinians to a less-than-human status by Israel and the United States – especially the inhabitants of Gaza who are perpetually locked into an open-air prison and subject to an Israeli blockade – was noted by MIT professor Noam Chomsky after a visit to Gaza to attend an academic conference. In comments broadcast by “Democracy Now” on Nov. 14, Chomsky remarked:

“It’s kind of amazing … and inspiring to see people managing somehow to survive … as essentially caged animals subject to constant, random, sadistic punishment – only to humiliate them – no pretext. They [the Palestinians] would like to have dignified lives, but the standard Israeli position is that they shouldn’t raise their heads.”

Instead of a serious effort to reach a peace acceptable to both sides, Israel seems to prefer a state of endless conflict with the Palestinians. After all, the prospect of peace might require the Israeli government to treat their neighbors as equals and withdraw from territory occupied since 1967.

So, rather than making meaningful concessions, some Israeli hardliners simply promote the idea of periodically “mowing the grass,” i.e. killing the latest generation of Palestinian militants who sprout up from the injustice all around them. Perhaps that is why Israel broke an informal ceasefire on Wednesday by assassinating Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari in an air strike.

Jabari was killed hours after he received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the ceasefire, according to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who helped mediate talks between Israel and Hamas for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Jabari was a key Palestinian interlocutor in the release of Shalit, and an important intermediary for truce negotiations with groups such as the PFLP and Islamic Jihad. Such a relatively moderate figure may have been perceived as a threat to Israeli leaders who prefer to portray Hamas as rejectionist toward any peace.

These developments and the U.S. response to them are a chilling omen for those who had hoped for a change in U.S. Middle East policy after the U.S. presidential election – namely, increased pressure on Israel to halt its cruel oppression of Palestinians and obey international law.

There is still a window of opportunity for the U.S. to shift its approach before the violence spirals out of control. One also can hope that President Barack Obama is working the phones to rein in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Obama’s eerie and reprehensible silence during the Israeli assault on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 must not be repeated.

© 2012 Consortium News
http://consortiumnews.com/2012/11/16/likening-palestinians-to-blades-of-...

Elizabeth Murray served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council before retiring after a 27-year career in the U.S. government, where she specialized in Middle Eastern political and media analysis. She is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Israel’s Shortsighted Assassination

by Gershon Baskin

JERUSALEM

AHMED AL-JABARI — the strongman of Hamas, the head of its military wing, the man responsible for the abduction of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit — was assassinated on Wednesday by Israeli missiles.

Why? Israel’s government has declared that the aim of the current strikes against Gaza is to rebuild deterrence so that no rockets will be fired on Israel. Israel’s targeted killings of Hamas leaders in the past sent the Hamas leadership underground and prevented rocket attacks on Israel temporarily. According to Israeli leaders, deterrence will be achieved once again by targeting and killing military and political leaders in Gaza and hitting hard at Hamas’s military infrastructure. But this policy has never been effective in the long term, even when the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, was killed by Israel. Hamas didn’t lay down its guns then, and it won’t stop firing rockets at Israel now without a cease-fire agreement.

When we were negotiating with Hamas to release Mr. Shalit, members of the Israeli team believed that Mr. Jabari wouldn’t make a deal because holding Mr. Shalit was a kind of “life insurance policy.” As long as Mr. Jabari held Mr. Shalit, Israelis believed, the Hamas leader knew he was safe. The Israeli government had a freer hand to kill Mr. Jabari after Mr. Shalit was released in October 2011. His insurance policy was linked to their assessment of the value of keeping him alive. This week, that policy expired.

I believe that Israel made a grave and irresponsible strategic error by deciding to kill Mr. Jabari. No, Mr. Jabari was not a man of peace; he didn’t believe in peace with Israel and refused to have any direct contact with Israeli leaders and even nonofficials like me. My indirect dealings with Mr. Jabari were handled through my Hamas counterpart, Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister of Hamas, who had received Mr. Jabari’s authorization to deal directly with me. Since Mr. Jabari took over the military wing of Hamas, the only Israeli who spoke with him directly was Mr. Shalit, who was escorted out of Gaza by Mr. Jabari himself. (It is important to recall that Mr. Jabari not only abducted Mr. Shalit, but he also kept him alive and ensured that he was cared for during his captivity.)

Passing messages between the two sides, I was able to learn firsthand that Mr. Jabari wasn’t just interested in a long-term cease-fire; he was also the person responsible for enforcing previous cease-fire understandings brokered by the Egyptian intelligence agency. Mr. Jabari enforced those cease-fires only after confirming that Israel was prepared to stop its attacks on Gaza. On the morning that he was killed, Mr. Jabari received a draft proposal for an extended cease-fire with Israel, including mechanisms that would verify intentions and ensure compliance. This draft was agreed upon by me and Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, Mr. Hamad, when we met last week in Egypt.

The goal was to move beyond the patterns of the past. For years, it has been the same story: Israeli intelligence discovers information about an impending terrorist attack from Gaza. The Israeli Army takes pre-emptive action with an airstrike against the suspected terror cells, which are often made up of fighters from groups like Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees or Salafi groups not under Hamas’s control but functioning within its territory. These cells launch rockets into Israeli towns near Gaza, and they often miss their targets. The Israeli Air Force responds swiftly. The typical result is between 10 and 25 casualties in Gaza, zero casualties in Israel and huge amounts of property damage on both sides.

Other key Hamas leaders and members of the Shura Council, its senior decision-making body, supported a new cease-fire effort because they, like Mr. Jabari, understood the futility of successive rocket attacks against Israel that left no real damage on Israel and dozens of casualties in Gaza. Mr. Jabari was not prepared to give up the strategy of “resistance,” meaning fighting Israel, but he saw the need for a new strategy and was prepared to agree to a long-term cease-fire.

This war is being presented in Israel, once again, as a war of “no choice.” The people of Israel are rallying around the flag as would be expected anywhere in the world. The United States government has voiced its support of the Israeli operation by stating, “Israel has the full right to defend itself and protect its citizens.” It certainly does, but we must ask whether there is another way to achieve the same goal without the use of force.

Israel has used targeted killings, ground invasions, drones, F-16s, economic siege and political boycott. The only thing it has not tried and tested is reaching an agreement (through third parties) for a long-term mutual cease-fire.

No government can tolerate having its civilian population attacked by rockets from a neighboring territory. And the firing of thousands of rockets from Gaza into Israel must end. There was a chance for a mutually agreed cease-fire. The difference between the proposal I drafted in cooperation with my Hamas counterpart and past proposals was that it included both a mechanism for dealing with impending terror threats and a clear definition of breaches. This draft was to be translated and shared with both Mr. Jabari and Israeli security officials, who were aware of our mediation efforts.

In the draft, which I understand Mr. Jabari saw hours before he was killed, it was proposed that Israeli intelligence information transmitted through the Egyptians would be delivered to Mr. Jabari so that he could take action aimed at preventing an attack against Israel. Mr. Jabari and his forces would have had an opportunity to prove that they were serious when they told Egyptian intelligence officials that they were not interested in escalation. If Mr. Jabari had agreed to the draft, then we could have prevented this new round of violence; if he had refused, then Israel would have likely attacked in much the same way as it is now.

The proposal was at least worth testing. Moreover, it included the understanding that if Israel were to take out a real ticking bomb — people imminently preparing to launch a rocket — such a strike would not be considered a breach of the cease-fire and would not lead to escalation.

Instead, Mr. Jabari is dead — and with him died the possibility of a long-term cease-fire. Israel may have also compromised the ability of Egyptian intelligence officials to mediate a short-term cease-fire and placed Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt at risk.

This was not inevitable, and cooler heads could have prevailed. Mr. Jabari’s assassination removes one of the more practical actors on the Hamas side.

Who will replace him? I am not convinced that Israel’s political and military leaders have adequately answered that question.

Gershon Baskin is a co-chairman of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Shalit.

Copyright 2012 The New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/opinion/israels-shortsighted-assassina...

Pretending US is Uninvolved, Helpless Party in Assault on Gaza

Stop Pretending the US is an Uninvolved, Helpless Party in the Israeli Assault on Gaza
The Obama administration's unstinting financial, military and diplomatic support for Israel is a key enabling force in the conflict
by Glenn Greenwald

A central premise of US media coverage of the Israeli attack on Gaza - beyond the fact that Israel is justifiably "defending itself" - is that this is some endless conflict between two foreign entitles, and Americans can simply sit by helplessly and lament the tragedy of it all. The reality is precisely the opposite: Israeli aggression is possible only because of direct, affirmative, unstinting US diplomatic, financial and military support for Israel and everything it does. This self-flattering depiction of the US as uninvolved, neutral party is the worst media fiction since TV news personalities covered the Arab Spring by pretending that the US is and long has been on the side of the heroic democratic protesters, rather than the key force that spent decades propping up the tyrannies they were fighting.

Literally each day since the latest attacks began, the Obama administration has expressed its unqualified support for Israel's behavior (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/16/us-full-backing-israel-gaza). Just two days before the latest Israeli air attacks began, Obama told (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5ivZ8TleQE-BcFrD8eFYvC...) Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas "that his administration opposes a Palestinian bid for non-state membership of the UN". Both the US Senate and House have already passed resolutions unequivocally supporting Israel (http://www.jta.org/news/article/2012/11/16/3112036/senate-resolution-bac...), thus earning the ultimate DC reward: the head-pat from AIPAC, which "praised the extraordinary show of support by the Senate for Israel's struggle against terrorist attacks on its citizens". More bipartisan Congressional cheerleading is certain to come as the attacks continue, no matter how much more brutal they become.

In reflexive defense of Israel, the US government thus once against put itself squarely at odds with key nations such as Turkey (whose prime minister accused Israel of being motivated by elections and demanded that Israel be "held to account" for mounting civilians deaths), Egypt (which denounced Israeli attacks as "aggression against humanity"), and Tunisia (which called on the world to "stop the blatant aggression" of Israel).

By rather stark contrast, Obama continues to defend Israel's free hand in Gaza, causing commentators like Jeffrey Goldberg to gloat, not inaccurately: "Barack Obama hasn't turned against Israel. This is a big surprise to everyone who has not paid attention for the last four years" (indeed, there are few more compelling signs of how dumb and misleading US elections are than the fact that the only criticism of Obama on Israel heard over the last year in the two-party debate was the grievance that Obama evinces insufficient fealty - rather than excessive fealty - to the Israeli government). That the Netanyahu government knows that any attempt to condemn Israel at the UN would be instantly blocked by the US is a major factor enabling them to continue however they wish. And, of course, the bombs, planes and tanks they are using are subsidized, in substantial part, by the US taxpayer.

If one wants to defend US support for Israel on the merits - on the ground that this escalating Israeli aggression against a helpless population (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/opinion/trapped-in-gaza.html?hp&_r=0) is just and warranted - then one should do so. As I wrote on Thursday (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/15/israel-gaza-obama-as...), it's very difficult to see how those who have cheered for Obama's foreign policy could do anything but cheer for Israeli militarism, as they are grounded in the same premises.

But pretending that the US - and the Obama administration - bear no responsibility for what is taking place is sheer self-delusion, total fiction. It has long been the case that the central enabling fact in Israeli lawlessness and aggression is blind US support, and that continues, more than ever, to be the case under the presidency of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The US is not some neutral, uninvolved party. Whatever side of this conflict you want to defend - or if you're one of those people who love to announce that you just wish the whole thing would go away - it's still necessary to take responsibility for the key role played by the American government and this administration in enabling everything that is taking place.
Media coverage

Due to extensive travel the past few days, I've been subjected to far more television news coverage than is probably healthy, and it's just been staggering to see how tilted US media discourse is: Israeli officials and pro-Israel "experts" are endlessly paraded across the screen while Palestinian voices are exceedingly rare; the fact of the 45-year-old brutal occupation and ongoing Israeli dominion (http://www.btselem.org/gaza_strip/control_on_air_space_and_territorial_w...) over Gaza is barely mentioned; meanwhile, every primitive rocket that falls harmlessly near Israeli soil is trumpeted with screaming headlines while the carnage and terror in Gaza (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/opinion/trapped-in-gaza.html?hp&_r=0) is mentioned, if at all, as an afterthought. Two cartoons perfectly summarize this coverage:

https://twitter.com/mah4rmkk/status/269828351374553088/photo/1

http://twitpic.com/be0qxn

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/17/israel-gaza-us-policy

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

“It’s Mostly Punishment…”

Testimonies by Veterans of the Israeli Defense Forces From Gaza and the Occupied Territories
by Oded Na'aman

“There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” President Barack Obama said at a press conference last week. He drew on this general observation in order to justify Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel’s most recent military campaign in the Gaza Strip. In describing the situation this way, he assumes, like many others, that Gaza is a political entity external and independent of Israel. This is not so. It is true that Israel officially disengaged from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, withdrawing its ground troops and evacuating the Israeli settlements there. But despite the absence of a permanent ground presence, Israel has maintained a crushing control over Gaza from that moment until today.

The testimonies of Israeli army veterans expose the truth of that “disengagement.” Before Operation Pillar of Defense, after all, Israel launched Operations Summer Rains and Autumn Clouds in 2006, and Hot Winter and Cast Lead in 2008 -- all involving ground invasions. In one testimony, a veteran speaks of “a battalion operation” in Gaza that lasted for five months, where the soldiers were ordered to shoot “to draw out terrorists” so they “could kill a few.”

Israeli naval blockades stop Gazans from fishing, a main source of food in the Strip. Air blockades prevent freedom of movement. Israel does not allow building materials into the area, forbids exports to the West Bank and Israel, and (other than emergency humanitarian cases) prohibits movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It controls the Palestinian economy by periodically withholding import taxes. Its restrictions have impeded the expansion and upgrading of the Strip’s woeful sewage infrastructure, which could render life in Gaza untenable within a decade. The blocking of seawater desalination has turned the water supply into a health hazard. Israel has repeatedly demolished small power plants in Gaza, ensuring that the Strip would have to continue to rely on the Israeli electricity supply. Daily power shortages have been the norm for several years now. Israel’s presence is felt everywhere, militarily and otherwise.

By relying on factual misconceptions, political leaders, deliberately or not, conceal information that is critical to our understanding of events. Among the people best qualified to correct those misconceptions are the individuals who have been charged with executing a state’s policies -- in this case, Israeli soldiers themselves, an authoritative source of information about their government’s actions. I am a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and I know that our first-hand experiences refute the assumption, accepted by many, including President Obama, that Gaza is an independent political entity that exists wholly outside Israel. If Gaza is outside Israel, how come we were stationed there? If Gaza is outside Israel, how come we control it? Oded Na’aman

[The testimonies by Israeli veterans that follow are taken from 145 collected by the nongovernmental organization Breaking the Silence and published in Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies From the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010. Those in the book represent every division in the IDF and all locations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.]

1. House Demolition

Unit: Kfir Brigade

Location: Nablus district

Year: 2009

During your service in the territories, what shook you up the most?

The searches we did in Hares. They said there are sixty houses that have to be searched. I thought there must have been some information from intelligence. I tried to justify it to myself.

You went out as a patrol?

It was a battalion operation. They spread out over the whole village, took over the school, smashed the locks, the classrooms. One was used as the investigation room for the Shin Bet, one room for detainees, one for the soldiers to rest. We went in house by house, banging on the door at two in the morning. The family’s dying of fear, the girls are peeing in their pants with fear. We go into the house and turn everything upside down.

What’s the procedure?

Gather the family in a certain room, put a guard there, tell the guard to aim his gun at them, and then search the rest of the house. We got another order that everyone born after 1980... everyone between sixteen and twenty-nine, doesn’t matter who, bring them in cuffed and blindfolded. They yelled at old people, one of them had an epileptic seizure but they carried on yelling at him. Every house we went into, we brought everyone between sixteen and twenty-nine to the school. They sat tied up in the schoolyard.

Did they tell you the purpose of all this?

To locate weapons. But we didn’t find any weapons. They confiscated kitchen knives. There was also stealing. One guy took twenty shekels. Guys went into the houses and looked for things to steal. This was a very poor village. The guys were saying, “What a bummer, there’s nothing to steal.”

That was said in a conversation among the soldiers?

Yeah. They enjoyed seeing the misery, the guys were happy talking about it. There was a moment someone yelled at the soldiers. They knew he was mentally ill, but one of the soldiers decided that he’d beat him up anyway, so they smashed him. They hit him in the head with the butt of the gun, he was bleeding, then they brought him to the school along with everyone else. There were a pile of arrest orders signed by the battalion commander, ready, with one area left blank. They’d fill in that the person was detained on suspicion of disturbing the peace. They just filled in the name and the reason for arrest. There were people with plastic handcuffs that had been put on really tight. I got to speak with the people there. One of them had been brought into Israel to work for a settler and after two months the guy didn’t pay him and handed him over to the police.

All these people came from that one village?

Yes.

Anything else you remember from that night?

A small thing, but it bothered me -- one house that they just destroyed. They have a dog for weapons searches, but they didn’t bring him; they just wrecked the house. The mother watched from the side and cried. Her kids sat with her and stroked her.

What do you mean, they just destroyed the house?

They smashed the floors, turned over sofas, threw plants and pictures, turned over beds, smashed the closets, the tiles. There were other things -- the look on the people’s faces when you go into their house. And after all that, they were left tied up and blindfolded in the school for hours. The order came to free them at four in the afternoon. So that was more than twelve hours. There were investigators from the security services there who interrogated them one by one.

Had there been a terrorist attack in the area?

No. We didn’t even find any weapons. The brigade commander claimed that the Shin Bet did find some intelligence, that there were a lot of guys there who throw stones.

2. Naval Blockade

Unit: Navy

Location: Gaza Strip

Year: 2008

It’s mostly punishment. I hate that: “They did this to us, so we’ll do that to them.” Do you know what a naval blockade means for the people in Gaza? There’s no food for a few days. For example, suppose there’s an attack in Netanya, so they impose a naval blockade for four days on the entire Strip. No seagoing vessel can leave. A Dabur patrol boat is stationed at the entrance to the port, if they try to go out, within seconds the soldiers shoot at the bow and even deploy attack helicopters to scare them. We did a lot of operations with attack helicopters -- they don’t shoot much because they prefer to let us deal with that, but they’re there to scare people, they circle over their heads. All of a sudden there’s a Cobra right over your head, stirring up the wind and throwing everything around.

And how frequent were the blockades?

Very. It could be three times one month, and then three months of nothing. It depends.

The blockade goes on for a day, two days, three days, four, or more than that?

I can’t remember anything longer than four days. If it was longer than that, they’d die there, and I think the IDF knows that. Seventy percent of Gaza lives on fishing -- they have no other choice. For them it means not eating. There are whole families who don’t eat for a few days because of the blockade. They eat bread and water.

3. Shoot to Kill

Unit: Engineering Corps

Location: Rafah

Year: 2006

During the operations in Gaza, anyone walking around in the street, you shoot at the torso. In one operation in the Philadelphi corridor, anyone walking around at night, you shoot at the torso.

How often were the operations?

Daily. In the Philadelphi corridor, every day.

When you’re searching for tunnels, how do people manage to get around -- I mean, they live in the area.

It’s like this: You bring one force up to the third or fourth floor of a building. Another group does the search below. They know that while they’re doing the search there’ll be people trying to attack them. So they put the force up high, so they can shoot at anyone down in the street.

How much shooting was there?

Endless.

Say I’m there, I’m up on the third floor. I shoot at anyone I see?

Yes.

But it’s in Gaza, it’s a street, it’s the most crowded place in the world.

No, no, I’m talking about the Philadelphi corridor.

So that’s a rural area?

Not exactly, there’s a road, it’s like the suburbs, not the center. During operations in the other Gaza neighborhoods it’s the same thing. Shooting, during night operations -- shooting.

It there any kind of announcement telling people to stay indoors?

No.

They actually shot people?

They shot anyone walking around in the street. It always ended with, “We killed six terrorists today.” Whoever you shot in the street is “a terrorist.”

That’s what they say at the briefings?

The goal is to kill terrorists.

What are the rules of engagement?

Whoever’s walking around at night, shoot to kill.

During the day, too?

They talked about that in the briefings: whoever’s walking around during the day, look for something suspicious. But something suspicious could be a cane.

4. Elimination Operation

Unit: Special Forces

Location: Gaza Strip

Year: 2000

There was a period at the beginning of the Intifada where they assassinated people using helicopter missiles.

This was at the beginning of the Second Intifada?

Yes. But it was a huge mess because there were mistakes and other people were killed, so they told us we were now going to be doing a ground elimination operation.

Is that the terminology they used? “Ground elimination operation”?

I don’t remember. But we knew it was going to be the first one of the Intifada. That was very important for the commanders and we started to train for it. The plan was to catch a terrorist on his way to Rafah, trap him in the middle of the road, and eliminate him.

Not to arrest him?

No, direct elimination. Targeted. But that operation was canceled, and then a few days later they told us that we’re going on an arrest operation. I remember the disappointment. We were going to arrest the guy instead of doing something groundbreaking, changing the terms. So the operation was planned...

Anyway, we’re waiting inside the APC [armored personnel carrier], there are Shin Bet agents with us, and we can hear the updates from intelligence. It was amazing, like, “He’s sitting in his house drinking coffee, he’s going downstairs, saying hi to the neighbor” -- stuff like that. “He’s going back up, coming down again, saying this and that, opening the trunk now, picking up a friend” -- really detailed stuff. He didn’t drive, someone else drove, and they told us his weapon was in the trunk. So we knew he didn’t have the weapon with him in the car, which would make the arrest easier. At least it relieved my stress, because I knew that if he ran to get the weapon, they’d shoot at him.

Where did the Shin Bet agent sit?

With me. In the APC. We were in contact with command and they told us he’d arrive in another five minutes, four minutes, one minute. And then there was a change in the orders, apparently from the brigade commander: elimination operation. A minute ahead of time. They hadn’t prepared us for that. A minute to go and it’s an elimination operation.

Why do you say “apparently from the brigade commander”?

I think it was the brigade commander. Looking back, the whole thing seems like a political ploy by the commander, trying to get bonus points for doing the first elimination operation, and the brigade commander trying, too. . . everyone wanted it, everyone was hot for it. The car arrives, and it’s not according to plan: their car stops here, and there’s another car in front of it, here. From what I remember, we had to shoot, he was three meters away. We had to shoot. After they stopped the cars, I fired through the scope and the gunfire made an insane amount of noise, just crazy. And then the car, the moment we started shooting, started speeding in this direction.

The car in front?

No, the terrorist’s car -- apparently when they shot the driver his leg was stuck on the gas, and they started flying. The gunfire increased, and the commander next to me is yelling “Stop, stop, hold your fire,” but they don’t stop shooting. Our guys get out and start running, away from the jeep and the armored truck, shoot a few rounds, and then go back. Insane bullets flying around for a few minutes. “Stop, stop, hold your fire,” and then they stop. They fired dozens if not hundreds of bullets into the car in front.

Are you saying this because you checked afterward?

Because we carried out the bodies. There were three people in that car. Nothing happened to the person in the back. He got out, looked around like this, put his hands in the air. But the two bodies in the front were hacked to pieces...

Afterward, I counted how many bullets I had left -- I’d shot ten bullets. The whole thing was terrifying -- more and more and more noise. It all took about a second and a half. And then they took out the bodies, carried the bodies. We went to a debriefing. I’ll never forget when they brought the bodies out at the base. We were standing two meters away in a semicircle, the bodies were covered in flies, and we had the debriefing. It was, “Great job, a success. Someone shot the wrong car, and we’ll talk about the rest back on the base.” I was in total shock from all the bullets, from the crazy noise. We saw it on the video, it was all documented on video for the debriefing. I saw all the things that I told you, the people running, the minute of gunfire, I don’t know if it’s twenty seconds or a minute, but it was hundreds of bullets and it was clear that the people had been killed, but the gunfire went on and the soldiers were running from the armored truck. What I saw was a bunch of bloodthirsty guys firing an insane amount of bullets, and at the wrong car, too. The video was just awful, and then the unit commander got up. I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot from him.

What do you mean?

That he’ll be a regional commanding officer or the chief of staff one day. He said, “The operation wasn’t carried out perfectly, but the mission was accomplished, and we got calls from the chief of staff, the defense minister, the prime minister” -- everyone was happy, it’s good for the unit, and the operation was like, you know, just: “Great job.” The debriefing was just a cover-up.

Meaning?

Meaning no one stopped to say, “Three innocent people died.” Maybe with the driver there was no other way, but who were the others?

Who were they, in fact?

At that time I had a friend training with the Shin Bet, he told me about the jokes going around that the terrorist was a nobody. He’d probably taken part in some shooting and the other two had nothing to do with anything. What shocked me was that the day after the operation, the newspapers said that “a secret unit killed four terrorists,” and there was a whole story on each one, where he came from, who he’d been involved with, the operations he’d done. But I know that on the Shin Bet base they’re joking about how we killed a nobody and the other two weren’t even connected, and at the debriefing itself they didn’t even mention it.

Who did the debriefing?

The unit commander. The first thing I expected to hear was that something bad happened, that we did the operation to eliminate one person and ended up eliminating four. I expected that he’d say, “I want to know who shot at the first car. I want to know why A-B-C ran to join in the big bullet-fest.” But that didn’t happen, and I understood that they just didn’t care. These people do what they do. They don’t care.

Did the guys talk about it?

Yes. There were two I could talk to. One of them was really shocked but it didn’t stop him. It didn’t stop me, either. It was only after I came out of the army that I understood. No, even when I was in the army I understood that something really bad had happened. But the Shin Bet agents were as happy as kids at a summer camp.

What does that mean?

They were high-fiving and hugging. Really pleased with themselves. They didn’t join in the debriefing, it was of no interest to them. But what was the politics of the operation? How come my commanders, not one of them, admitted that the operation had failed? And failed so badly with the shooting all over the place that the guys sitting in the truck got hit with shrapnel from the bullets. It’s a miracle we didn’t kill each other.

5. Her limbs were smeared on the wall

Unit: Givati Brigade

Location: Gaza Strip

Year: 2008

One company told me they did an operation where a woman was blown up and smeared all over the wall. They kept knocking on her door and there was no answer, so they decided to open it with explosives. They placed them at the door and right at that moment the woman came to open it. Then her kids came down and saw her. I heard about it after the operation at dinner. Someone said it was funny that the kids saw their mother smeared on the wall and everyone cracked up. Another time I got screamed at by my platoon when I went to give the detainees some water from our field kit canteen. They said, “What, are you crazy?” I couldn’t see what their problem was, so they said, “Come on, germs.” In Nahal Oz, there was an incident with kids who’d been sent by their parents to try to get into Israel to find food, because their families were hungry. They were fourteen- or fifteen-year-old boys, I think. I remember one of them sitting blindfolded and then someone came and hit him, here.

On the legs.

And poured oil on him, the stuff we use to clean weapons.

6. We shot at fishermen

Unit: Navy

Location: Gaza Strip

Year: 2007

There’s an area bordering Gaza that’s under the navy’s control. Even after Israel disengaged from the Strip, nothing changed in the sea sector. I remember that near Area K, which divided Israel and Gaza, there were kids as young as four or six, who’d get up early in the morning to fish, in the areas that were off-limits. They’d go there because the other areas were crowded with fishermen. The kids always tried to cross, and every morning we’d shoot in their direction to scare them off. It got to the point of shooting at the kids’ feet where they were standing on the beach or at the ones on surfboards. We had Druze police officers on board who’d scream at them in Arabic. We’d see the poor kids crying.

What do you mean, “shoot in their direction”?

It starts with shooting in the air, then it shifts to shooting close by, and in extreme cases it becomes shooting toward their legs.

At what distance?

Five or six hundred meters, with a Rafael heavy machine gun, it’s all automatic.

Where do you aim?

It’s about perspective. On the screen, there’s a measure for height and a one for width, and you mark where you want the bullet to go with the cursor. It cancels out the effect of the waves and hits where it’s supposed to, it’s precise.

You aim a meter away from the surfboard?

More like five or six meters. I heard about cases where they actually hit the surfboards, but I didn’t see it. There were other things that bothered me, this thing with Palestinian fishing nets. The nets cost around four thousand shekels, which is like a million dollars for them. When they wouldn’t do what we said too many times, we’d sink their nets. They leave their nets in the water for something like six hours. The Dabur patrol boat comes along and cuts their nets.

Why?

As a punishment.

For what?

Because they didn’t do what we said. Let’s say a boat drifts over to an area that’s off-limits, so a Dabur comes, circles, shoots in the air, and goes back. Then an hour later, the boat comes back and so does the Dabur. The third time around, the Dabur starts shooting at the nets, at the boat, and then shoots to sink them.

Is the off-limits area close to Israel?

There’s one area close to Israel and another along the Israeli-Egyptian border… Israel’s sea border is twelve miles out, and Gaza’s is only three. They’ve only got those three miles, and that’s because of one reason, which is that Israel wants its gas, and there’s an offshore drilling rig something like three and a half miles out facing the Gaza Strip, which should be Palestinian, except that it’s ours… the Navy Special Forces unit provides security for the rig. A bird comes near the area, they shoot it. There’s an insane amount of security for that thing. One time there were Egyptian fishing nets over the three-mile limit, and we dealt with them. A total disaster.

Meaning?

They were in international waters, we don’t have jurisdiction there, but we’d shoot at them.

At Egyptian fishing nets?

Yes. Although we’re at peace with Egypt.

Copyright 2012 Breaking the Silence
http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175620/tomgram%3A_oded_na%27aman%2C_is_g...

Oded Na’aman is co-editor of Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000–2010 (Metropolitan Books, 2012). He is also a founder of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization dedicated to collecting the testimonies of Israel Defense Force soldiers, and a member of the Israeli Opposition Network. He served in the IDF as a first sergeant and crew commander in the artillery corps between 2000 and 2003 and is now working on his PhD in philosophy at Harvard University. The testimonies in this piece from Our Harsh Logic have been adapted and shortened.

NYTimes Jerusalem Chief to Have Facebook Entries Edited

Times Bureau Chief in Jerusalem Will Now Have Her Facebook Entries Edited
The new measure slams shut an important window into a journalist's assumptions, and shows how constricted Israel discussion still is
by Glenn Greenwald

While in Gaza reporting on the recent Israeli attack there, Judi Rudoren, the Jerusalem Bureau Chief for the New York Times, wrote several Facebook entries (http://mondoweiss.net/2012/11/gazans-have-aspiration-to-martyrdom-and-ha...) that caused substantial controversy. The episode began when she wrote a Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/20/world/middleeast/gazans-mourn-dalu-fam...) on the funeral of the Dalu family, ten of whom (including several small children) were killed when an Israeli bomb destroyed their house, That article suggested several times that Gazans experience relatively little grief when their family members are killed ("There were few if any visible tears at the intense, chaotic, lengthy funeral . . . the tone, far more fundamentalist than funereal, was also a potent sign of the culture of martyrdom that pervades this place . . . the mourners, except for a few close relatives inside the mosque, were neither overcome with emotion nor fed up . . . ").

But it was her subsequent Facebook entries, elaborating on that article, first flagged by Phil Weiss of Mondoweiss, which caused real controversy (http://www.fair.org/blog/2012/11/21/palestinians-and-the-proper-way-to-g...). "While death and destruction is far more severe in Gaza than in Israel, it seems like Israelis are almost more traumatized," she opined. That, she said, is because "the Gazans have a deep culture of resistance and aspiration to martyrdom." Moreover, "they have such limited lives tha[t] in many ways they have less to lose." Thus: "when I talk to people who just lost a relative, or who are gathering belongings from a bombed-out house, they seem a bit ho-hum."

She then proceeded to embrace the underlying Israeli premise about why the targeting of Palestinian journalists is justifiable ("The spokesman for Al Quds television, the office hit hardest yesterday, talked about news coverage as part of the Palestinian struggle, which is certainly different from the Western media ethic"). And perhaps most strikingly of all, she cited an article by Slate's Dahlia Lithwick, who was in Jerusalem, which described the fear Israelis and her children had from the war, and Rudoren - surrounded by unimaginable carnage in Gaza - said reading Lithwick's article about the trauma of Israelis is what produced her "first tears in Gaza".

Rudoren, to her credit, extensively engaged her critics (which included me) on Twitter and elsewhere (http://mondoweiss.net/2012/11/nyts-jodi-rudoren-responds-to-criticism-of...), and adamantly denied that the meaning attributed to her by Phil Weiss was the one she intended (the full Facebook entries were posted on his site). She also deserves credit for having gone to Gaza to tell the story of the war from that perspective (unquestionably a brave act given the behavior of the IDF) and for having provided much more balanced and high-quality reporting in her short tenure than her predecessor, Ethan Bronner, ever did (that Bronner's son was in the IDF as he was Jerusalem Bureau Chief was a source of real controversy for the New York Times -- http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/07/opinion/07pubed.html).

That said, it is certainly understandable that her comments prompted anger. For one, the idea that the primitive enemies of the west - those whom the west dominates - do not grieve their dead as intensely as westerners do has long been a grotesque trope of the colonial mindset. Gen. William Westmoreland infamously said in the 1974 documentary "Hearts and Minds" about the Vietnam War (the difficult-to-watch video is here -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huFh760p-MA):

"The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient."

As FAIR's Peter Hart wrote about Rudoren's comments (http://www.fair.org/blog/2012/11/21/palestinians-and-the-proper-way-to-g...): "It's been observed that warmakers can dehumanize an enemy by making their cultural values seem bizarre." The specific notion that Muslims love death and thus don't grieve their civilians has long been used to justify violence against them and to dehumanize them.

Whether Rudoren intended to leave this impression, the fact that so many people understood her words to convey these thoughts was significant. Weiss' conclusion about the whole affair gets to the heart of the matter: "Rudoren was posted to Israel last June with her family, and we have a couple of times now (http://mondoweiss.net/2012/07/new-nyt-correspondent-embraces-goal-of-sen... and http://mondoweiss.net/2012/10/remember-when-neocon-david-frum-slamdunked...) commented that she seems culturally bound inside the Israeli experience."

Whatever one thinks of Rudoren's comments - and I personally don't think they were malicious as much as they revealed unexamined though still ugly biases about the Palestinians - the process which ensued after the controversy arose was a healthy one. She engaged and responded to the criticism - a vital process for anyone with a significant platform, as she surely has. She was forced to confront her assumptions. Readers were able to get a glimpse of her worldview. And ultimately, as the Times superb Public Editor Margaret Sullivan reported today (http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/28/problems-with-a-reporte...), Rudoren concluded she had made at least some mistakes in what she wrote:

"Ms. Rudoren regrets some of the language she used, particularly the expression 'ho-hum'".

"'I should have talked about steadfastness or resiliency,' she told me by phone on Tuesday. 'That was a ridiculous word to use.' In general, she said, 'I just wasn't careful enough.'"

These were valuable lessons, and a healthy process, all the way around. It's exactly what social media (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/social-media), at its best, enables: an interactive process between journalist and reader (or politician and voter), rather than a stilted one-way, top-down monologue. And it revealed important truths about how this journalist thinks about the topics she covered, vital information to know.

But for precisely this reason, the New York Times is eager to stifle this window into this reality. As Sullivan reported this afternoon:

"Now The Times is taking steps to make sure that Ms. Rudoren's further social media efforts go more smoothly. The foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, is assigning an editor on the foreign desk in New York to work closely with Ms. Rudoren on her social media posts.

"The idea is to capitalize on the promise of social media's engagement with readers while not exposing The Times to a reporter's unfiltered and unedited thoughts."

Outspoken Israel supporters such as Jeffery Goldberg had previously demanded (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/02/twitterverse-to-new-...) that Rudoren stop using Twitter based on concerns that she was engaging Israel critics too much (Goldberg wrote: "I do know [Jodi's] sister, from synagogue, mainly, and I don't think Jodi is some sort of anti-Israel activist . . . But my advice to her (echoing Marc Tracy's -- http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/91408/somebody-tell-jodi-rudoren-to-stop...) is to stop tweeting as if she's a J Street official"). And now this demand that her social media activity be curtailed has been met.

Sullivan considers this a "necessary step" in light of "the spotlight that the Jerusalem bureau chief is bound to attract" (as well as due to "Ms. Rudoren's self-acknowledged missteps"), but I disagree. This gets to the heart of the key overarching myth which establishment media outlets like to maintain about themselves: that their journalists are "objective" and, therefore, expressing any subjective view or opinion is some sort of breach of journalistic propriety.

The reality is that all human beings - even including journalists - see the world through a subjective prism, and it is impossible to completely divorce one's assumptions and biases and cultural and political beliefs from one's observations and "reporting". It is far better to know a journalists' biases than to conceal them or pretend they do not exist. Having a window into what Sullivan calls "the unfiltered and unedited thoughts" of journalists is of crucial value in knowing that these biases exist and in knowing what they are - which is precisely why the New York Times acted so quickly to slam that window shut.

There's one other point raised by all of this. Note that the Times is not implementing a new policy for its reporters generally. Not all of them will have editors monitoring and editing their social media entries, even though many of their reporters are quite prolific on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.

From all appearances, it's only Rudoren who is subjected to these constraints. It is hardly a coincidence that the journalist who has these controls imposed on her happens to be the one who reports on and from Israel, the topic which continues to be the most constricted and policed in US political and media discourse. Indeed, Sullivan cited this fact as a reason such restrictions were necessary in this case, noting that Rudoren is in "one of the most scrutinized and sensitive jobs in journalism – the Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times", and adding: "Given the spotlight that the Jerusalem bureau chief is bound to attract . . . this was a necessary step."

That the New York Times is petrified that its Jerusalem Bureau Chief might express some "unfiltered and unedited thoughts" is a potent reflection of just how stifled discussion of this topic remains. Such freedom may lead to deviation from approved scripts, and when it comes to this topic (Israel), nothing instills fear in establishment media institutions more than that possibility.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/28/israel-gaza-nyt-rudo...

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Roger Waters on Palestine at UN

On behalf of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, Roger Waters spoke recently in this Youtube video in support of granting Palestine non-member observer status at the United Nations.More information at: http://www.russelltribunalonpalestine.com/en/

Post new comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer