Saturday, January 31, 2009

Blogging for Zion: 1000 geeks and trolls volunteer for media war in cyberspace


More than 1,000 new immigrants and foreign-language-speaking Jews are new recruits for an unofficial army of bloggers set up by the Israeli Absorption Ministry and Foreign Ministry. They've volunteered to systematically comment on controversial blogs and make sure the pro-Israel viewpoint gets prominent exposure. This is a boost to a similar cyber-campaign by CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), a Boston-based lobby which has 55,000 activists monitoring the press for articles and broadcasts critical of Israel and firing off complaints and corrections to the top editors. Last year they launched a stealth campaign on Wikipedia to counterspin whatever they perceived as anti-Semitic, anti-Israel bias. Just two days after the Israeli Defense Forces unleashed a shock and awe campaign in Gaza, the military entered cyberspace with a vengeance and put up their own YouTube propaganda channel, with footage of missile strikes. Some of their 45 videos and vlogs were removed by YouTube censors, but others have been viewed 600,000 times. Inevitably, there is an organized Electric Intifada to counter the counterspin,too.

A guest post from Itamar Eichner examines the trend:


Arye Sharuz-Shalicar, 31, whose parents emigrated from Iran to Germany, is a one-man PR show. He speaks Persian, German, English, French, and Spanish and can also get by in Russian, Turkish, Arabic, and Italian.

Sharuz-Shalicar is one of the front-line soldiers in the Ministry of Absorption’s new “army of bloggers” that was recently established in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry’s public relations department following Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.

The Absorption Ministry is recruiting new immigrants and Jews living abroad who have access to a computer and who speak a second language to a volunteer effort to improve public relations for Israel on the internet. The campaign was launched last week.

In the cross hairs are problematic blogs, talkbacks, online social networks, online polls, Youtube videos, and more.

The ministry was amazed by the massive response to the effort. More than 1,000 interested applicants contacted them, of which 350 are Russian speakers, 250 English speakers, 150 Spanish speakers, 100 French speakers, and 50 German speakers.

A range of other European languages are also represented among the volunteers: Portuguese, Swedish, Dutch, Italian, Romanian, Hungarian, Polish, Greek, Bulgarian, and Danish. Persian-, Turkish-, and Arabic-speaking Jews also offered their services. The ministry even got an application from a Chinese speaker.

Some 60% of the applicants are immigrants, old and new. The rest are Jews living in the Diaspora, Israelis living abroad, and even non-Jews who support Israel and want to help out.

The Absorption Ministry forwarded the volunteers’ details to the Foreign Ministry, which briefed them via email and provided up-to-date material on the situation, including video clips that could help them in the field.

While the Absorption Ministry is tasked with recruitment, the Foreign Ministry will be responsible for directing the volunteers online. Each time the ministry identifies an anti-Israel trend on a foreign-language blog, news site, or other website, it will immediately put out a message to the volunteers to flood the site with pro-Israel opinions.

Absorption Ministry Director-General Erez Halfon commented, “This provides an important opportunity for new immigrants, who have always been a strong Zionist nucleus, to feel like they are contributing to improving Israel’s image in the world. The foreign-language-speaking immigrants are a real asset, and it is important to take advantage of this. From our perspective, it was like an emergency call up, and I am thrilled that the response was so great.”

Noam Katz, director of the Foreign Ministry’s PR department, said, “We are in the process of thinking how to utilize these volunteers not only during conflict, but also during regular times as well.”


Miriam Schatzberger, 25, a new immigrant from Germany, joined the ranks of the ministry’s volunteers.

Schatzberger said, “I surf the German websites, and I was shocked by the anti-Israel reports. It is really smart to go on these blogs, to introduce myself as an Israeli and just to talk to them in order to try and balance out the picture.”

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Olmert Lays Cards on the Table- but how is the deck stacked after the Gaza War?


Here is what Obama's ace Middle-East envoy was told by Lame duck PM Ehud Olmert, according to the Israeli press today, when the Israeli leader laid all his cards on the table:

Israel promised to remove 60,000 settlers from the West Bank; to withdraw to the 1967 borders with border revisions so that it keeps the large settlement blocs and in return, to give the Palestinians equal territory in southern Israel; to divide Jerusalem and to transfer East Jerusalem neighborhoods to Palestinian sovereignty while establishing an international authority for the holy places; to ensure territorial contiguity for the Palestinian state by means of elevated or underground roads between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; Israel would not take in any refugees. Shimon Shiffer notes that political figures realize that this news requires all the candidates for prime minister to relate to it, particularly Kadima candidate Tzippi Livni, as she was a full partner to the negotiations.


The Palestinian Authority is said to have backed away from the negotiation table once they learned that Israeli elections are to be held in February. The West Bank Palestinians indicated they are unwilling to trust the current negotiators because it is the incoming government who would be implementing any promises--- or not. But there are signs that political pragmatists may be prevailing inside Gaza after three weeks of war, and a lasting truce may be hammered out if Hamas "unclenches its fist", in the parlance of the new US president, and cuts a deal. Without crossings open for trade as well as aid, the tunneling on the southern border will be almost impossible to stop.

"We want to be part of the international community," Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad told The Associated Press at the Gaza-Egypt border, where he was coordinating Arab aid shipments. "I think Hamas has no interest now to increase the number of crises in Gaza or to challenge the world."... Hamas politician Mushir Al-Masri, a staunch hard-liner, sounded a conciliatory note."We have our hands open to any country ... to open a dialogue without conditions," he said — clarifying that does not include Israel.


Proxies definitely are needed in these complex negotiations between politicians who won't speak to one another. Olmert also said that Israel would refuse to open the crossings into Gaza as long as the Franco-Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, is a Hamas hostage. Many Palestinians feel he is their trump card, and the only motivation for Israeli

It's instructive to look at the most recent fallout from the vaunted Northern Ireland peace agreements, for which special Middle East envoys George J Mitchell and Tony Blair have garnered enormous prestige as resolvers of blood feuds. Blood money may not be the way to buy peace or reconciliation, it turns out. In Belfast, relatives of IRA victims are saying "Not so fast" about accepting across-the-board payments of 12,000 pounds from the government.

Yesterday, a chaos of grief and recrimination re-erupted at a news conference after the announcement of payments to relatives of all 3700 people killed in "The Troubles". It is not so easy to resolve 30 years of sectarian violence that blighted Northern Ireland. The payment scheme was to include families of bungling IRA bombers who blew themselves up. On hearing this, some Protestants went ballistic, screaming at Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams, a paramilitary-turned-politician. (The violence so far has been verbal, thankfully, but this does not bode well for a peace settlement to endure.)



Cards may be on the table, but the house of cards that shuffling diplomats are constructing threatens to collapse at any moment. ANd we wonder what is tucked up the sleeves of the various players. Oy veh.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Apparition of Matriarch Rachel protected IDF soldiers inside Gaza, top Rabbis claim


Prayer: It's not exactly the kind of secret weapon that the human rights activists complain about. But it seems to be effective. Some quarters assert that the military outcome in Gaza represents a triumphal Holy War...for the Israelis.

Secular soldiers may roll their eyes, but two prominent religious leaders-- former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef of the Shas party-- both have declared that the biblical matriarch Rachel was sent to help Israeli ground troops during Operation Cast Lead. Battle tales of a gentle woman warning soldiers away from booby-trapped buildings and sniper nests have been circulating now that troops have been redeployed to this side of the border fence. Some say she shouts in Arabic, others that she whispers in Hebrew. Hallucination, apparition, holy spirit, night goggle optical illusion, whatever: the tale has been bandied about for a fortnight in synagogues, on radio, on buses and in bars. Are sleep-deprived soldiers confounding this with the otherworldly ladies in the animated Waltz with Bashir? (That's another lopsided battle from decades ago.)
Yedioth Ahronoth reports how Shas's spiritual leader described Rachel's apparition during the conflict. :

"The soldiers arrived at a house and wanted to go inside. There were three armed terrorists waiting for them there.

"And then a beautiful young woman appeared before them and warned: Don't enter the house, there are terrorists there, be careful.

- "Who are you?"

- "What do you care who I am," she said, and whispered – "Rachel."

The rabbi continued to describe how the soldiers indeed found the terrorists inside and killed them. The three were carrying guns, just like the woman said.

"Mother Rachel was called to the place, 'Go save your sons.' Ah, praised be His name! God redeems and rescues, and sends angels to save the people of Israel. How we should thank God," Rabbi Yosef concluded.


The rabbi also credited Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for funding Torah studies.
"Had it not been for that – we would not be alive," he said

As founder and spiritual leader of Shas, Rabbi Yosef is held in almost saintly regard by hundreds of thousands of Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin.

Earlier this week, former Israeli Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu had confirmed this weird mystical rumor, saying, "The story is true. I sent her." Despite frail health, the ultra-Orthodox octogenarian had prayed repeatedly at Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem.

Who needs white phosphorus?

Addendum: There have been calls to fire Rabbi Avi Ronzki, a Brigadier General in the army, for his latest devotional pamphlet which was distributed to soldiers before they went to fight in Gaza. "Go Fight My FIght" was condemnend as hate literature by "Breaking the Silence", an activist group of former Israeli combatants.

In one section, Rabbi Aviner compares Palestinians to the Philistines, a people depicted in the Bible as a war-like menace and existential threat to Israel.

In another, the army rabbinate appears to be encouraging soldiers to disregard the international laws of war aimed at protecting civilians, according to Breaking the Silence, the group of Israeli ex-soldiers who disclosed its existence. The booklet cites the renowned medieval Jewish sage Maimonides as saying that "one must not be enticed by the folly of the Gentiles who have mercy for the cruel".

Monday, January 26, 2009

O Danny Boy, the press, the press are calling...all those spoiled Crybabies

Has this man been spending too much time with Joe the Plumber, the neophyte PJTV stringer? That neocon scribe's notion that the media has "no business in it" is echoed by the head of the Government Press Office and seems to be plunging the media here into despair.

"To be honest with ya, I don't think journalists should be (allowed) anywhere near . . . war," opined Joe in Sderot. "You guys report where our troops are at, what's happening day-to-day, you make a big deal out of it. I think it's asinine... well, you don't know the full story behind it half the time, so I think the media should have no business in it."


Hmmm. The Israeli government seconds that emotion, and would prefer to strand the press corps on the Hill of Shame, or else take them on a day trip to meet the settlers. Branding foreign journalists "spoiled crybabies" unwilling to make "a little effort" to get into Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, Government Press Office head Danny Seaman (pictured above) claims, astonishingly, that foreign reporters were not banned from visiting the Gaza Strip. It's just that the crossing was closed. (He may be burnishing his rightwing mythmaking skills in a bid to be a spokesman for Bibi Netanyahu, who many believe will be elected Prime Minister next month.)

Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, the Foreign Press Association Chairman Steve Gutkin disputed this, and said the association was pursuing a petition with the High Court of Justice to arrange regular access.
"There was no ban," Seaman declared, "Israel did not want to endanger the lives of the workers at the crossings so we didn't open them, not for humanitarian reasons and not for foreign journalists."

"Those spoiled crybabies just didn't want to put a little effort in [to getting into Gaza]," he said "We never arrested anyone who went in, nor are we running after them now," which proves that it wasn't an actual Israeli policy.

"In hindsight, next time we should make it an actual policy. This week proves it. All of the reporters have been let in and they are accepting everything everyone says at face value. Maybe 3% are calling and asking for an Israeli response, or talking to the IDF spokesman. They are a fig leaf for Hamas.

"Their coverage right now is a disgrace to the profession. Instead of reporting, they are settling scores. Reporting without both sides, without a context is an abuse of the profession," he declared.

Meanwhile, Steve Gutkin, AP bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian Territories, said the Foreign Press Association was pursuing a court ruling.

"There were actually two petitions," he explained, "one for immediate access to Gaza during the operation and one for general access to Gaza even in peacetime."

"The ban began in November, even before the operation," he pointed out. "The ban constituted a severe restriction on information vital to the world."

Israel refused to open any of its crossings to allow foreign journalists into the Strip during the three-week-long operation, leading many broadcasts from international media to begin or end with a mention of the prohibition.

As a result, international viewers and media organizations were forced to rely on local Palestinian stringers, prompting concerns among Israel's supporters about objectivity.

"It was definitely the correct decision. If foreign journalists had been killed, and in such a close quarters urban combat environment that was inevitable, then Israel would have immediately been blamed," Zvi Mazel, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt and now a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) maintained.

"At the very least, the journalists would have interfered with IDF operations in ways which would have put at risk more soldiers' lives," he added.

Dr. Yariv Ben-Eliezer, director of Media Studies, The Lauder School of Government, IDC, was even more vociferous in his approval of the ban.

"In Lebanon, they let every journalist have whatever access he wanted and there was chaos, which interfered with the fighting. They changed the concept for this operation.

"I don't think the US took journalists into Grenada, or the British into the Falklands. It is our right to decide not to let them in if we believe it will help the operation," he said.

Neither Mazel nor Ben-Eliezer seemed in the least bit concerned with the negative press Israel has been receiving as reporters moved into Gaza.

Ben-Eliezer attributed the complaints about the ban to a general anti-Semitic attitude in the world.

"There is a tendency in many countries to view the Jews as the beaten, downtrodden ones. If the Jew does the beating, then that is deemed unacceptable. I would rather be accused and alive than be the favorite of the British and the others and be dead," he declared.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What's the Hebrew word for Uranus?



Granted , this headline sounds like the start of a sophomoric rude joke, and yes, boys, we do have scientific proof that we can see the rings around Uranus (nudge nudge, snigger) -- just check out the photo above.

It turns out that calling the heavenly orbs by their common Roman, ie pagan deity names, is anathema for some Israeli scientists. So today marks the start of a competition launched by the Hebrew Language Academy, which still lacks monikers for two big, cold planets in the outer limits of our solar system. Kosher nomenclature is long overdue for Neptune and Uranus. [No need to bother with Pluto, which is out of the running after astrophysicists demoted it to a lonely sub-category.] Anyone who can come up with a suitable Hebrew planetary name before May 12 should click here to submit it to a panel of judges, who will in turn submit a shortlist to a popular vote online.

For those who didn't know, here's a partial list of approved Hebrew terms for the planets (and Shabtai, it gives your name some real cachet!)


Mercury: Hama (not Hamas)
Venus: Noga
Earth: Eretz
Mars: Maadim
Jupiter: Tzedek
Santurn: Shabtai

Who knew?

The Cliche Expert Goes to Gaza (with apologies to Frank Sullivan)


For a look at the banality of words in the analysis of war, see this erudite guest post, via the blog, Jewcy. The piece was written by translator/blogger Haim Watzman, who obviously was inspired by a perennial feature in the New Yorker magazine.


Q: Why Magnus Arbuthnot! How unexpected to see you in South Jerusalem! What brings you here?

A: I have been sent by a respected and impartial NGO to investigate the carnage inflicted by Israel in the Gaza Strip.

Q: Which NGO would that be?

A: An NGO that uses an ostensible human-rights agenda as camouflage for an anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic program.

Q: So you’ve been south. What did you see there?

A: Collateral damage.

Q: Collateral to what?

A: To Israel’s right to defend itself.

Q: And what else?

A: To courageous Palestinian resistance against Zionist imperialism.

Q: What targets were hit?

A: Homes, schools, hospitals, military installations, and firing positions.

Q: How do you tell one from the other?

A: If you are Palestinian, you don’t bother.

Q: And if you are Israeli?

A: You shoot anyway.

Q: Could you be more specific? If you are a Hamas guerilla fighter, what is a legitimate military target?

A: Every outpost of Zionist imperialism.

Q: And what is an illegitimate civilian target?

A: Come again?

Q: The Israelis bombed homes and schools containing non-combatant men, women, and children.

A: They were being used as firing positions and endangering Israeli forces.

Q: How were they being used?

A: Cynically.

Q: And what the hundreds of deaths this caused?

A: They were tragic.

Q: What about the tunnels from the Gaza Strip to Egypt that Israel bombed?

A: They were lifelines for a besieged civilian population.

Q: Didn’t Hamas use them to smuggle rockets and other weapons?

A: Of course, the tunnels were a threat to Israeli security.

Q: Now that you’ve been to Gaza, what do you think of Hamas?

A: Hamas is fanatical Islamic movement sponsored by Iran that seeks Israel’s destruction.

Q: So Israel has a right to be concerned.

A: No, because Hamas is the national resistance movement of an oppressed people.

Q: And what do you think of us Israelis?

A: You are brave and determined.

Q: So you like us?

A: I suppose. Of course, you are the descendants of apes and pigs.

Q: Why did Israel invade?

A: It was provoked.

Q: And why did Hamas bombard Israel’s southern cities?

A: It was provoked.

Q: Couldn’t they have responded differently?

A: No, because the other side understands only force.

Q: What did Israel achieve?

A: All its goals.

Q: And what did Israel fail to do?

A: Finish the job.

Q: When will Hamas stop attacking Israel?

A: When it destroys the Zionist entity and liberates the al-Aqsa Mosque.

Q: And what did it inflict on Israel in this engagement?

A: A decisive loss.

Q: And what has Israel regained?

A: Its deterrence.

Q: What was the outcome of the war?

A: A cease-fire.

Q: What was the immediate cause?

A: The end of a cease-fire.

Q: Hey, where are you going?

A: Back home to a place where clichés don’t kill so many people.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Travails of a legless man filmed in fog of war



Sometimes it seems like there must be a parallel universe out there beyond the haze of white phosphorus and the fog of war. This message arrived today from a respected academic friend in West Jerusalem. It offers a window into his careening world view. There's no way of checking the veracity of this incident while IDF soldiers are forbidden to speak on the record to the press, but Dr Shlomo offers a guest blog about an exceptional battleground incident he says was filmed last week inside the Gaza Strip.(Did anyone see this on Israeli television? Is it a documentary or a fantasy/agitprop? Help us out here! ) After the sabbath, I hope he will be willing to provide a link to the documentary film he cites. As the IDF prepares its case against war crimes charges, it's interesting to contemplate these remarkable actions by Israeli troops:

A week ago, Shabbat and war were intertwined, ...and now...the war of devastating sounds and the destruction of people and places has given way to a battle of images...and ordinary people are still suffering...on both sides.

A French journalist was in Gaza before and during the war and while the war raged she created a documentary film...ordinary people and 'freedom fighters"...as the former attempted to protect life, limb, psyche and soul within an enclosed area from which there was no retreat...no salvation...from the so-called 'enemy Zionists' nor from the modern Salach din committed to spreading their faith through terror.
And in this film a scene which has been with me since Wed. night...a young Palestinian man...both legs amputated...describing over and over...that the defenders of the Hamas "faith" had come to his home ..and machine-gunned his legs...six bullets...both legs...were about to shoot and kill him when ... the Israelis appeared...an Israeli soldier picked up a board...The Gazan was sure the soldier was going to kill him... knock him dead...the soldier created a splint ...stopped the bleeding...no description of who did the amputating...nor where...questions...words...images.
And he kept on saying in Arabic till his voice cracked and the tears overcame him and he hid his face with his hands..."The Palestinians were going to kill me...the Israelis saved my life"...on and on...a close up of his wife...sitting near by.... hiding her face...crying...his two children looking bewildered...at the camera...at the French journalist...and hours after this documentary film---IMAGES and SOUNDS...was shown on Israeli TV Hamas returned and tortured him...took him away...where to?...no words to explain...and last night's news...more words...altho' the Israeli army had left Gaza, soldiers and doctors were able to secret him out of Gaza into Israel...to treat him...a Ludlum-like tale...the border check points are only opening today...did the Israelis use the tunnels created by Hamas to smuggle weapons and kidnap Israeli soldiers and to transport terror...as well as to smuggle drugs. His family was not "saved". Are they safe? What does safe mean during these promised times of "change"?

A narrative.of a single human being...not a THEM...within worlds of CHAOS...the 5 letters of chaos unable to express its smell...its sound...its touch...its sites/sights...its volume...its overbearing colors...
Chaos and uncertainty in Gaza...and in Israel...as promises are made by Saudia and Qatar to rebuild the destroyed. To rebuild what? An Abu Dubai-like paradise in lieu of the refugee camps of the most density populated place-enclosure in the world... "home" for a non-nation of human beings?

And the trucks filled with humanitarian efforts and products ar emptied by Hamas in Hamasland before they reach a population in need...so many, many needs. A new definition for "populations-at-risk"...not AT... but within...under...encased by...a new challenge for the UN as it defines what it avoids...images which "impotize"...words...phrases...accusations...reasons announced and renounced in a new declared world of expectations for change...CHANGES...CHANGES...

Hours after a new president is sworn in in the USA a second swearing in...in order to personally note where faithfully is to be stated...at the beginning...at the end...is it a process...an outcome...just a word...a behavior...a lifestyle...so many WORDS...so many options.
And here in Israeli the war of havoc gives way to the battles of political faiths. The elections are less than 3 weeks away. The three weeks of temporary 'unitedness' gives way to promises of deeds...which are not likely to be met...and to playing on people's fears. Voting for Kadima and Labor will bring one into the range of missiles and rockets...voting for Likud will bring protection...and if organized crime ran in the elections they would also bring 'protection'


A week of words...of promises...of so many images... I wish you a Sabbath of rest to experience the joys that DO exist within all of us as well as around us...to share BEING with others...to make the opportunities to do something you have not done before...and in this process to create an image that will fill your soul and be with you whenever you call upon it....a Shabbat of and for the soul and for less violating of others...who ever they are.

Shabbat shalom.

Shlomo

Obama urges Israel to open Gaza borders



The new American president, Barack Obama, has urged Israel to open its borders with Gaza, but no one expects this to happen unless a prisoner exchange goes forward. Reports that Corporal Gilad Shalit, now in his third year in Hamas's clutches, was wounded in an air strike during the early days of Operation Cast Lead have not been confirmed. His whereabouts and his health are of vital concern to Israel. Still, Obama's words are a sign that Washington is weighing the political and security costs of the Israeli-Arab conflict and maybe rethinking unconditional support of Israel. Obama is pushing the Two-State solution, it appears, but said absolutely nothing about dismantling settlements. Nevertheless, it's a big step on Day Two in the Oval Office.
Dubya, his predecessor, first publicly called for a Palestinian state in October 2001, but waited years before taking concrete action, which came to precious little. (Remember Annapolis? The Road Map? Birth Pangs ??) Well, let's watch as Barack and Hillary now replace those dancing partners George and Condi for a Waltz with Barak, the defence minister. Obama has a three-stage plan to resolve the stand-off in Palestine and Israel. It sounds so simple: top priority is for an end to the fighting, then he wants to unite the sundry Palestinian factions and finally to restart the peace process.

According to the Financial Times, this was

a speech that signalled the new US administration’s shift from Bush-era policy on the Middle East and the world as a whole. In a high-profile address on his second day in office, just hours after he signed an executive order to close the centre at Guantánamo Bay, Mr Obama proclaimed that the US would “actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians” in the wake of this month’s Gaza war.

“The outline for a durable ceasefire is clear: Hamas must end its rocket fire: Israel will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza: the US and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot re-arm,” the US president said.

“As part of a lasting ceasefire, Gaza’s border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce, with an appropriate monitoring regime, with the international and Palestinian Authority participating.”

Mr Obama and Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, also announced the appointment of George Mitchell, as the US special envoy for the Arab-Israeli conflict and Richard Holbrooke, former US ambassador to the United Nations, as representative for Afghanistan-Pakistan.

The moves signalled another shift from the foreign policy of the Bush administration, which had resisted appointing a high-profile envoy for Middle East peace. [Relying on the dubious diplomatic charm offensive of Tony Blair, instead.]

Although Condoleezza Rice, who finished her tenure as secretary of state this week, brokered a 2005 deal to allow open border crossings to Gaza, access was often shut down, with Israel citing security concerns and Hamas launching rocket attacks. The issue is set to test the authority of the new administration as it begins to grapple with the Middle East conflict.

Before Mr Obama gave his speech, an Israeli official said there would be tough conditions for any lifting of the blockade, which he linked with the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier held captive by Hamas since 2006.

“If the opening of the passages strengthens Hamas we will not do it,” the official said.

“We will make sure that all the [humanitarian] needs of the population will be met. But we will not be able to deal with Hamas on the other side. We will not do things that give legitimacy to Hamas.”

Under its ceasefire, Hamas has given Israel until Sunday to open the borders. Much of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure has been destroyed during the three-week Israeli offensive and, without building materials and other supplies, there is little hope of rebuilding the water, sewage and power networks as well as private homes and key government buildings. But many foreign donors share Israel’s concerns that the reconstruction efforts should not be led by Hamas, or enhance the group’s legitimacy.

“Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel’s security and we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself against legitimate threats,” Mr Obama said.

But in comments referring to the Gaza conflict he added: “I was deeply concerned by the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life in recent days and by the substantial suffering and humanitarian needs in Gaza. Our hearts go out to Palestinian civilians who are in need of immediate food, clean water, and basic medical care, and who’ve faced suffocating poverty for far too long.”

He called on Arab governments to “act on” the promise of a Saudi-led 2002 Arab peace initiative by supporting the Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas “taking steps towards normalising relations with Israel, and by standing up to extremism that threatens us all.”

The US has pledged an extra foreign aid package- around $1.75m to help rebuild Gaza- but it will go through the Palestinian Authority rather than give legitimacy to Hamas. As a bulwark against the vicious Middle East 'hood, billions of military aid will continue to be alloted to Israel and is expected to stay at the same lavish level.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cairo says Israel, Egypt have no information on Gilad Shalit after 3 week conflict in Gaza


Neither Egypt nor Israel knows whether an Israeli soldier held by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip for two and a half years is alive, Egypt Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said on Wednesday.

Egypt had tried to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas to release Gilad Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners before Israel began its three-week "Cast Lead" offensive in Gaza on December 27.


According to the Agence France Presse, Mussa Abu Marzuk, deputy head of Hamas politburo, told an Arabic newspaper after the war began that Shalit might have been wounded in Israeli air strikes and that the "subject no longer interests" Hamas.

"Whether Shalit is alive or not alive, this is a question that needs investigation now," Abul Gheit said.

"I have no information and I believe the Israeli side has no information, either," he said.

Israel has said it will not end its blockade of Gaza -- a key Hamas demand and the reason it cites for launching rockets into southern Israel -- unless there is progress on releasing Shalit.

Abul Gheit said the release of Shalit had been an Israeli objective when it agreed to a six-month long truce brokered in June 2008 by Egypt between the Jewish state and Hamas.

Hamas had demanded 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit. Their list included about 450 prisoners implicated in attacks against Israelis. Israel was reluctant to release prisoners with "blood on their hands."

Israel holds more than 11,000 Palestinian prisoners, the Palestinian Authority says.

Egyptian state-run news agency MENA quoted President Hosni Mubarak as saying in an October interview that Shalit was in good health and Hamas would not harm him.

"Under no circumstances should he be mistreated," he said. "Palestinians are not stupid. They must seriously consider what the consequences would be if they kill him," he said.

IDF probes improper use of phosphorus shells inside Gaza Strip


After Israeli ground troops rolled out of the Gaza Strip before dawn Wednesday, they redeployed on the Israeli side of the border, poised for action if militants violated a fragile, three-day-old truce. Journalists also are massing on the southern Rafah crossing from Egypt and at Erez,near the northern frontier of the enclave, kept at arm's length for weeks by media-savvy Israeli government officials, who discouraged the dissemination of photographs that show the extensive damage. "It's not Stalingrad. Gaza wasn't carpet bombed," the BBC observed after two correspondents finally were allowed in following the ceasefire announcement. Photographs (above and below) of shells fired at UNRWA shelters and storehouses were released today by the UN agency, which has suggested that the Jewish nation ought to be investigated for war crimes because of phosphorus use.
Meanwhile the Israel Defense Forces are examining whether a reserve paratroops brigade made improper use of phosphorus shells during the fighting in Gaza, Haaretz reports today.

The brigade fired about 20 such shells in a built-up area of northern Gaza.
Aside from this one case, the shells were used, in the army's view, in "compliance with international law."

The IDF's use of phosphorus shells has sparked great criticism both in Israel and in the international media. The army therefore appointed Col. Shai Alkalai, an artillery officer, to investigate the issue, and his probe is still in progress.

According to senior army officers, the IDF used two phosphorus-based weapons in Gaza. One, the sources said, actually contains almost no phosphorus. These are simple smoke bombs - 155mm artillery shells - with a trace of phosphorus to ignite them.

Alkalai's probe is thus focusing on the second type: phosphorus shells, either 81mm or 120mm, that are fired from mortar guns. About 200 such shells were fired during the recent fighting, and of these, according to the probe's initial findings, almost 180 were fired at orchards in which gunmen and rocket-launching crews were taking cover.

The one problematic incident was the reserve paratroops brigade that fired about 20 such shells in a built-up area of Beit Lahiya. Many international organizations say phosphorus shells should not be used in heavily populated areas. The brigade's officers, however, say the shells were fired only at places that had been positively identified as sources of enemy fire.

The 120mm shells, a recent acquisition, have a computerized targeting system attached to a GPS. Brigade commanders say they were very effective, but they were also responsible for two very serious mishaps: a strike on a UNRWA school that killed 42 Palestinians and a friendly fire incident that seriously wounded two officers.


Earlier in the month, on January 13, Israeli officials announced that one of the rockets fired by Hamas into Israel contained white phosphorus and that this posed a new threat.
It's unclear if the white phosphorous was gathered from spent Israeli weapons or if it was smuggled in through tunnels. The remaining tunnels that riddle the southern border apparently are doing a thriving business, even after the destruction of so many by the IDF bombs.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gaza War. What was it Good For? Absolutely Nothing


Gaza is not obliterated, but has emerged from three weeks of assault damaged and dismayed. As bodies get dug out, the wounded die or recover, the destruction still has to be tallied up. Rebuilding the Gaza Strip will take years and billions of dollars, and the youth who are not traumatized will be radicalized. The reputation of the Israeli army has taken some serious hits, too.
(Photo by Tyler Hicks, NYT)

So were there any winners or losers?, asks Patrick Cockburn of the Independent


What was Hamas's aim? Rocket attacks intended to force Israel to end blockade that has trapped 1.5m Palestinians inside Gaza Strip since Hamas takeover. Hamas also seeking recognition by West

What happened? Security arrangements are to be imposed on Hamas and no ceasefire agreement has been signed with the Islamists

Did they succeed? No.

What was Israel's aim? Gaza offensive launched to "teach Hamas a lesson". Some Israeli politicians called for overthrow of Hamas, while contenders in next month's election sought improved ratings

What happened? The majority of the estimated 20,000 Hamas fighters escaped with their lives. Hamas rockets were still being fired at the end of Israeli offensive when Israel declared unilateral ceasefire

Did they succeed? No.

What was Egypt's aim? To secure end to offensive through ceasefire agreement leading to truce, border security, reopening of crossings, Israeli troop withdrawal and Palestinian reconciliation

What happened? US negotiated separate deal with Israel on arms smuggling. Hamas set its own truce conditions and refused reconciliation with Fatah. Egyptian mediation deepened split between moderate Arab states and others

Did they succeed? No.

What was the EU's aim? To profit from power vacuum in US and play lead negotiating role. To map out road to peace and promise support for Palestinian leadership afterwards

What happened? Plethora of negotiators undermined EU credibility as didthe incompetence of Czech EU presidency

Did they succeed? No.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Comedian Jackie Mason unloads


The plug has been pulled on the latest war in Gaza, which was supported by 90 per cent of Israelis. The conduct of the military and the toll of civilians has caused some pro-Israelis in the diaspora to become visibly unhinged. Here's a clip of stand-up comedian Jackie Mason, who famously sued Jews for Jesus for defamation, gave Ed Sullivan the finger on live tv, and denigrated Sarah Silverman's appeals for young Jews to schlep to Florida and bring out the Democratic vote. Now the old guy is in meltdown against Jews who fear World Opinion and he rants about liberals who dare empathize with the Palestinians.

These are the real zingers. The map shows the radius that rockets from Gaza presently reach inside Israel. It's against international law to fire onto a civilian population, and Hamas militants are wrong to do this. No doubt. Talk will stop this more effectively than Israeli boots on the ground and drones in the sky remote-controlled by girl soldiers.

Dawwas: Gaza diary of 'Daddy Jeep'


Mohammed Dawwas, father of four boys, kept his sanity by writing a journal during weeks of sustained assault on Gaza, the fenced-in enclave where they all live. At two this morning, the cacophony in the skies stopped as the Israeli ceasefire took hold and the family got a little more shut-eye. Perhaps a proper bath will be possible soon. No one thinks that the grisly fighting is completely over. In fact, Qassam rockets still rain down on southern Israel. Read on:

Sunday, 11 January

Troops and tanks begin fighting in Gaza City suburbs. Around 20 rockets launched into Israel from Gaza.

'The whole night no one could sleep. Everyone is terrified. The Israelis said there would be a three-hour ceasefire and I went out with the car to buy water. My kids wanted to go with me because they hadn't left the house for days. I kept looking for more than an hour before I found some, but at that moment the bombardment started. My kids began crying and screaming. I filled up with water and drove home fast. I said, "Don't ask me again to take you out." They said, "It was a ceasefire!" I replied, "But it's a war."

Sometimes the kids joke. They give themselves names. My son Ibrahim, he's afraid, so he doesn't speak all day. They call him the Drone. Sammy, he's the F16; Ismail, he's the Apache helicopter; Imam, he is the Tank. Me, I am the Jeep.'

Monday

First Israeli reserve forces sent into action. Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, said Israel was deliberately "going wild" with military force to restore its deterrent capability.

'For the first time there is electricty when I wake up. I can listen to the news and use the electric kettle to make tea, not the kerosene stove, which smells. We wanted to go to the market so I drove through streets full of mountains of garbage, but had to make a detour because the security headquarters had been bombed, and I was driving on glass. I got some frozen meat at the market, then drove as far as Palestine Square to find a place to turn the car. Minutes later, as I arrived home, the square was bombed by the Israelis. Two people were killed and 10 injured – one of them could have been me.'

Tuesday

Israeli forces push deeper into Gaza City, with at least three Palestinians killed fleeing their homes. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, appeals for a ceasefire.

'At about 4am the phone rang. It was the Israelis again. They deliver recorded messages saying they are preparing for the next phase of their attack on Hamas, and for our safety we should follow IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] orders 100 per cent. The night was terrifying. They destroyed towers in the north of Gaza, and we live in towers in the middle. The bombardment lasted all night. They even shelled the Al-Jazeera hotel on the edge of Gaza City, about a kilometre away.

My wife got a call saying she could get two sacks of flour because she works at the UN. She should take her card and ID and go and collect it. I did it myself – thank God it was not far. Flour for any family now is very valuable. There is none in the market, or if you find it, it's very expensive.'

Wednesday

Israeli military says it hit 60 targets, including the police headquarters and rocket-launching sites. Rockets fired into Israel from Lebanon. Palestinian death toll rises above 1,000.

'We had power for a few hours in the middle of the day. Everyone watched the news on television but then wanted to stop because of all the images of bloodshed and destruction. So they changed to another channel for Egyptian soap operas, but I wanted to see the news. We flicked back and forth. I'm really worried about how this war has affected the children. They are afraid to move from one room to another. They always ask for me or their mother to go with them, even to the bathroom.

I have an Israeli friend who called to ask about the situation. He was sad about what is happening and hoped that this crazy war would end. We receive a lot of random calls of support from Arab countries. The Libyans have the go-ahead from their government to call for free.

Today an office building about 200 metres away received a call from the Israelis, warning that they were going to bomb it tonight. Now, as we prepare for night, we have our windows open everywhere in case they do it, so that we will not lose the glass. We stay in a room away from the windows that face that building. The only thing we can do is go to the first floor. That is the safest place for us. We don't know if it's going to happen.

This could be psychological war. It's difficult. When you wait for this to happen and that to happen and you don't know, that really kills you.'

Thursday

UN headquarters, a hospital, a school and a media building attacked during intense shelling. Troops push further into Gaza City amid intense fighting, but rockets continue to land in Israel.

'Last night we were worried they were going to bomb the building close to us. It didn't happen, but it gets to you psychologically. We were holding each other every time a plane passed. We are on the seventh floor of a 14-storey building. Our neighbours went downstairs to the lower floor for safety, but we stayed. There was a lot of shooting, bullets, gunfire.

Now, from the window, I can see smoke everywhere. They destroyed the UN building, including the storage room with flour and food for the refugees. It's less than a kilometre away. Now it's all destroyed and there is a huge fire. I can hear shelling, I can see the smoke from shells everywhere. I hear voices over the local radio of people calling for rescue, they want ambulances. One says, "We are in a holocaust."'

Friday

Rockets hit a mosque during morning prayers. Reuters reports 45,000 Gazans fleeing battle zones are sheltering in UN schools. Hamas rejects Egyptian-brokered truce.

'It's been calmer. We slept last night for the first time in a few days. At 4am the Israelis fired a shell near where my parents-in-law live. It blew a big hole in front of their house, broke their front windows and damaged their front door. Thank God they weren't injured. This morning the troops withdrew from the south of the city – to our relief, as we were sure they would come here next.

The silent majority, I think, have changed their mind about Hamas. They question whether to vote for them again. Some say whoever was in power the Israelis would do the same. But that is for afterwards. Right now we all stand by Hamas because we are together in this problem. Right now, the Palestinian people, are suffering and paying the price. Gaza is destroyed. It's set us back 20 years. When things are more normal, people will see the catastrophe.'



Yesterday

Over 50 air strikes. After a UN school in northern Gaza was hit, the UN Relief and Works Agency said Israel's actions should be investigated as possible war crimes.

'We have heard that some calls from "supporters" in Arab nations are from Israeli intelligence. You can tell when they are intelligence calls because they ask questions rather than just give support. I might have had one, from a woman who said she was a Palestinian from Kuwait. She asked for my name; I did not give it.

On the radio we got a report that the Dawwas building where my cousin lives was on fire. I tried to call but the mobiles are not working well. I spoke to my nephew, who had no news but promised to call. I still haven't heard from him. I hope everything is OK, that the news report is incorrect. We are waiting and hoping the Israeli government will vote to stop this war.'
It did.
Crossposted from the Independent

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ceasefire announced unilaterally


Wire reports say:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says Israel will unilaterally halt its 22-day offensive against Hamas at midnight GMT but keep troops on the ground in Gaza for the time being. (Up to 96 hours)
Government leaders voted to stop the assault during an emergency security meeting Saturday. Shortly before the meeting began, Hamas vowed to keep fighting until Israel pulled its forces out of Gaza.

More than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed since the Israeli offensive began on Dec. 27, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials. [And more than 5000 wounded.]At least 13 Israelis have also died.
Four of them were killed by "Friendly Fire". And what's the point of all this brutality? Rockets still are raining on southern Israel. No triumphalism, fellas. If anything, this bloody three weeks has strengthened Hamas. And brought world opinion against Israel for the use of phosphorous in crowded urban areas. Hey, there are three hours before the deadline looms, so the killing continues.

Says the BBC:
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has offered British naval resources to help monitor events in the Gaza conflict and stop weapons being smuggled in.He wants to help ensure protection and monitoring of the crossings into Gaza.

Mr Brown said: "We will do everything we can to prevent the arms trading at the root of the problems."
Israeli is to unilaterally halt offensive military activities in the Gaza Strip three weeks after operations began, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.

Mr Olmert's announcement came in a televised address following a late-night cabinet meeting.
He said Israel's operation in Gaza had fully achieved its aims, with Hamas badly damaged militarily and in terms of infrastructure.

Earlier, a Hamas spokesman said it would fight until its demands were met, including an Israeli withdrawal.
Mr Brown said he had been involved in talks with Mr Olmert and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.
"Germany, France and Great Britain have just sent a letter to Israel and Egypt to say they will do everything we can to prevent arms trafficking," he said."We're prepared to help move children, to take them out of the area so they can be treated elsewhere.
"We're also determined that we do everything in our power to deal with unexploded bombs so that people feel more secure in the Gaza area."

He promised that Britain would be increasing its humanitarian aid over the next five years.
Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox criticised the prime minister's offer of naval resources, saying he "must stop grandstanding and committing our already over-stretched forces to more and more missions while reducing their resources".
Mr Brown is considering an invitation to attend an international summit on Sunday in Egypt about the conflict.
Staged at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh, it will be co-chaired by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.

The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza says 1,193 people have been killed so far, including 410 children and 108 women, since the conflict began on 27 December.There were 5,300 people wounded, including 1,600 children, the ministry said.
Thirteen Israelis, mostly soldiers, have been killed during the campaign.

Gaza doctor's tragedy caught on Israeli TV - 17 Jan 09

Because Israelis were able to eavesdrop on this Hebrew-speaking doctor's personal tragedy on live tv, some were emotionally moved. In fact, the broadcasters used their army contacts to get this doctor's surviving daughters transferred over the border at Erez, so two of his wounded girls may live. (Three are dead already). This is the exception: wounded Palestinian civilians have not had access to medical care across the border in Israel for the most part; some 4998 injured are being treated inside Gaza, at hospitals and clinics that are being shelled by tanks, gunboats, attack helicopters, and F-16 fighter jets. Overkill. We can hardly bear the wait for a ceasefire. Ninety per cent of Israelis may disagree with Izzy Bee, but where is your humanity?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Pizza Obama has customers lining up in Jerusalem for a slice of the pie


They deliver. And hope the new American President will, too.

On Hebron Road, quite close to the old Green Line in Jerusalem, Pizza Obama, a strictly kosher parlour, has been in business for the past two months. The owners keep it open til 1 am, and promise they'll be prepared to take your call in the middle of the night. Now Pizza Obama is gearing up for a brisk trade on Tuesday as lots of Israeli-Americans order in while they watch the swearing-in.

The proprietor shrugged when I inquired why there were no pizza joints named for President Peres or President Abbas. Or Dubya for that matter. Famously, Israelis were rather cool to the winning Democratic candidate, with the vast majority of those preferring Hillary Clinton, or a former military man like McCain in the White House.
"Ehhhh," he said, "It's a change we need."

Maybe Pizza Obama is the ideal place to try a Hawaiian Pizza (the usually horrendous pineapple-topped kind) as a nod to BHO's home state. It might be the best one on the menu, since Israeli pizza pies often come heaped with a mix of odd ingredients, from canned corn to tuna and Jerusalem artichokes, with crusts akin to a soggy bagel. Kosher, maybe, but not necessarily appetising if you're fond of pepperoni and thin crust. The oregano is kept separate,because it's deemed an acquired taste and most locals prefer coriander. A side of hummous, anyone?

I was dumbfounded to learn how many thousands of pizzas are ordered up to feed hungry soldiers by patriotic Moms and Dads and diaspora relatives using Pizza IDF. These come piping hot from all over Israel, often from chains such as Pizza Hut, and not only from little independent parlours like Pizza Obama. All these deliveries are coordinated with security forces, too, and slices are doled out to armed forces and reservists on the Israeli side of the border. Given that so little food is let into the Gaza Strip, and the humanitarian crisis is spiralling there, it seems to be in bad taste.

Would President Obama approve?


crossposted on HuffPo

'In Rafah, they left only air to breathe--contaminated with black smoke'


The bombardment in the Gaza Strip is relentless. It's been three hellish weeks now. Jawad Harb, a CARE aid worker, describes in detail the strikes on his own neighbourhood on the border with Egypt. (It's where the IDF is obliterating houses which they fear might hide entrances to smuggling tunnels. Israeli officials are proposing that this could be a new southern DMZ as part of a ceasefire. But there are families who live here.) After CARE's warehouses and distribution sites came under heavy bombing yesterday, the charity was forced to halt distribution of fresh food and medicines funded by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid department. 88% of besieged Gaza now is dependent on humanitarian aid. If aid agencies can't distribute, then people suffer even more. For Palestinians, the death toll is more than 1100; around half are civilians; at least one third are children, according to WHO. 5,100 people have been wounded, many maimed for life. A UN warehouse was shelled, and its supplies are blazing. Five tanks of fuel complicate that tragic fire and put the homeless people sheltering there at great risk. And still the offensive goes on...

Here is the latest journal entry from Jawad, who finally got generator power and can transmit sporadically.

Two days ago, Israel warned residents in my neighbourhood to flee their houses near the border with Egypt ahead of planned bombardments of cross-border tunnels.

Yesterday, January 13th, at 3:15 p.m., it was relatively quiet. The air strikes have been every 30-45 minutes at the border, about 500 metres away from our neighborhood. A group of 20 children were playing downstairs together, including three of my kids. I was on the balcony of my house on the 2nd floor, watching the children playing hide and seek.

At 3:30 p.m., suddenly and violently, non-stop air strikes started. The border with Egypt and the nearby neighbourhood was heavily bombed. There was an air strike every five minutes, and thick black smoke 150m away from us.

After the attack started, there was an uncontrollable panic, everybody was trying to escape the chaos. People were running downstairs with whatever they managed to grab from their houses. More than 90 children of all ages were running toward the north, to nowhere, and their parents were running after them.

In the middle of this horror, I was thinking about my 86-year-old paralyzed father, who was unable to run like others.

My wife quickly gathered my children, and my older brother collected some blankets with his oldest sons. I rushed very quickly to the ground floor where my father lives. With the help of my other brother, we carried my father and quickly left the house.

“I was afraid I would be left alone to die under the bombing,” said my father, with his eyes full of tears. “Thank God, I have my sons living with me.”

There, in the road 100 metres away from the neighbourhood to the north, about 50 families – 350-400 people – were gathering in panic, including about 120 children. The air strikes continued shaking the ground under us, hiding the voices of the kids screaming and crying.

We all knew that the UN schools were full and can’t accommodate any more people.

“This evokes the old memories of Nakba,” said Abu Muhammad Shakshak, a 66-year-old retired teacher. “I was six years old when I first experienced a similar event like this. We ran along the beach and the bombing was chasing us faster than the winds.”

It was about 5:15 pm when I received a call from CARE International’s office in Ramallah. All eyes were fixed at me; people thought I had a magic solution for them while I was on phone. During the call, there were two strong air strikes, and I was shouting into the phone.

“It is getting colder here, the children will die from the cold weather,” said a crying mother to me.

I talked with the UN emergency coordinator, who promised to make a shelter camp for people if the air strikes continued and people could not go back home. I was surrounded by the homeless frightened people from my neighbourhood.

It started to get windy and colder now in the street. People started to get more worried and frightened. The bombing had not stopped, and with each air strike, many children threw themselves onto the ground, hiding their faces against the sand like ostriches, thinking if they don’t see the missiles falling, they will not get hurt.

“Are we going to be burned by the bombs like the children we watch on TV?” asked a 14-year-old child from the neighbourhood, horror in her eyes.

Parents - including myself - were hugging the children. Everyone knew I am an aid worker with CARE International, and I was trying to calm people down and letting them know that I was doing everything I could to ensure better humanitarian conditions for them.

“They destroyed everything. They only left one thing - the air to breathe, and now they are contaminating it with black smoke,” said Abu Muhammad Shakshak.

The air strikes ended at 5:45 p.m. We waited outside until 6 p.m., and then people started to move closer to their houses. An hour later, we entered our houses again, and we all packed go-bags of necessary items so we would be ready to run if the bombings started again.

The air strikes commenced again last night at about 10 p.m. and continued through the night, but further away and less intensive than what it was like in the evening. We finally slept at 5 in the morning, and were awake again at 8 am, waiting for another war day.


photos credits CARE and wire services

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's not exactly Rocket Science, but it's provoked Israeli Overkill for three weeks

Hamas rocketeers, pictured above, have provoked their neighbour.

There have been alot of earnest analogies floating around cyberspace to rationalize Israel's bloody response to Hamas rocketfire, in one case even likening the dusty lanes of Sderot to the Champs d' Elysees of Paris and Gaza to Belgium! The official government line in Jerusalem is to blame Hamas's cowardly tactics of fighting behind human shields for the 1000 fresh deaths in Gaza, including more than 320 dead children, over the past 19 days. There's a layman's term for the IDF battle strategy of a relentless 3-week assault from tanks, attack helicopters, fighter planes and gunships: overkill.

To make sense of all these comparisons, Israelity bites is sharing a provocative piece of professorial writing which appeared, of all places, in the Moonie-owned Washington Times. A ninety-something formerly conservative Texas matriarch dared us to crosspost the editorial here. "Have you the courage -- the guts -- the journalistic integrity -- the compassion to publish this op-ed for the beneficial education of our electronic community? she asked."This one ray of light may shine through the Zionist fog. See if y'all would want to walk in the Palestinians shoes for a few months, what they have been wearing for 60 years. We will never be free until truth prevails." OK, ok Marge, here's your clip:

When Israel expelled Palestinians
By Randall Kuhn in the Washington Times, January 14, 2009


"Think about what would happen if for seven years rockets had been fired at San Diego, California from Tijuana, Mexico." Within hours scores of American pundits and politicians had mimicked Ehud Barak's comparisons almost verbatim. In fact, in this very paper on January 9 House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor ended an opinion piece by saying "America would never sit still if terrorists were lobbing missiles across our border into Texas or Montana." But let's see if our political and pundit class can parrot this analogy.

Think about what would happen if San Diego expelled most of its Hispanic, African American, Asian American, and Native American population, about 48 percent of the total, and forcibly relocated them to Tijuana? Not just immigrants, but even those who have lived in this country for many generations. Not just the unemployed or the criminals or the America haters, but the school teachers, the small business owners, the soldiers, even the baseball players.

What if we established government and faith-based agencies to help move white people into their former homes? And what if we razed hundreds of their homes in rural areas and, with the aid of charitable donations from people in the United States and abroad, planted forests on their former towns, creating nature preserves for whites to enjoy? Sounds pretty awful, huh? I may be called anti-Semitic for speaking this truth. Well, I'm Jewish and the scenario above is what many prominent Israeli scholars say happened when Israel expelled Palestinians from southern Israel and forced them into Gaza. But this analogy is just getting started.

What if the United Nations kept San Diego's discarded minorities in crowded, festering camps in Tijuana for 19 years? Then, the United States invaded Mexico, occupied Tijuana and began to build large housing developments in Tijuana where only whites could live. And what if the United States built a network of highways connecting American citizens of Tijuana to the United States? And checkpoints, not just between Mexico and the United States but also around every neighborhood of Tijuana? What if we required every Tijuana resident, refugee or native, to show an ID card to the U.S. military on demand? What if thousands of Tijuana residents lost their homes, their jobs, their businesses, their children, their sense of self worth to this occupation? Would you be surprised to hear of a protest movement in Tijuana that sometimes became violent and hateful? Okay, now for the unbelievable part.

Think about what would happen if, after expelling all of the minorities from San Diego to Tijuana and subjecting them to 40 years of brutal military occupation, we just left Tijuana, removing all the white settlers and the soldiers? Only instead of giving them their freedom, we built a 20-foot tall electrified wall around Tijuana? Not just on the sides bordering San Diego, but on all the Mexico crossings as well. What if we set up 50-foot high watchtowers with machine gun batteries, and told them that if they stood within 100 yards of this wall we would shoot them dead on sight? And four out of every five days we kept every single one of those border crossings closed, not even allowing food, clothing, or medicine to arrive. And we patrolled their air space with our state- of-the-art fighter jets but didn't allow them so much as a crop duster. And we patrolled their waters with destroyers and submarines, but didn't even allow them to fish.

Would you be at all surprised to hear that these resistance groups in Tijuana, even after having been "freed" from their occupation but starved half to death, kept on firing rockets at the United States? Probably not. But you may be surprised to learn that the majority of people in Tijuana never picked up a rocket, or a gun, or a weapon of any kind. The majority, instead, supported against all hope negotiations toward a peaceful solution that would provide security, freedom and equal rights to both people in two independent states living side by side as neighbors. This is the sound analogy to Israel's military onslaught in Gaza today. Maybe some day soon, common sense will prevail and no corpus of misleading analogies abut Tijuana or the crazy guy across the hall who wants to murder your daughter will be able to obscure the truth. And at that moment, in a country whose people shouted We Shall Overcome, Ich bin ein Berliner, End Apartheid, Free Tibet and Save Darfur, we will all join together and shout "Free Gaza. Free Palestine." And because we are Americans, the world will take notice and they will be free, and perhaps peace will prevail for all the residents of the Holy Land.


Randall Kuhn is an assistant professor and Director of the Global Health Affairs Program at the University of Denver Josef Korbel School of International Studies. He just returned from a trip to Israel and the West Bank.
An IDF soldier cleans the tank treads (photo AFP)

It's also worth noting that Israel, the Middle East democracy which touts its freedom of expression and holds itself up as an example for the Arab neighbours, has arrested some 714 anti-war protestors, overwhelmingly Arabs, for speaking out against the war in Gaza. There is an impressive martial unity in a small country where more than 90 per cent are beating war drums and consider this a defensive action to safeguard security. Around 12,000 Palestinian suspects currently are held in Israeli jails, some without trial for years.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ambulance chasers and the War in Gaza


Here's Vittorio , volunteer from the International Solidaity Movement, holding forth on the atrocities in Gaza again. (His original post is here, and if you are getting tired of these grim and grisly details, imagine how it feels to live through it! ) Israeli reservists have just been dispatched into Gaza, and phase three is expected to start soon. House to house combat. It's bound to get uglier.
Can't negotiations get underway? Is Israel waiting for Dubya to shuffle off to Houston? All this bellicosity seems brutal and pointless. Joe the plumber, now blogging for some lame rightwing gig called pjtv or somesuch, came to Sderot yesterday to look macho online, but isn't expected to get close to any IDF action. It's tough to watch this combat and not be utterly sickened by the overkill. True, Hamas rockets keep peppering southern Israel, and some from Lebanon hit an old folks' home up north. A million and a half Gazans are at risk while their elected government scurries underground in tunnels and provokes their neighbour out of perversity. Izzy Bee doesn't get it.
( It harkens back to all the mixed messages of the animated film, Waltz for Bashir, the Golden Globe winner from last night.)


In Gaza, a firing squad put Hippocrates up against a wall, aimed and fired. The absurd declarations of an Israeli secret services' spokesman, according to which the army was given the green light in firing at ambulances because they allegedly carried terrorists, is an illustration of the value that Israel assigns to human life these days – the lives of their enemies, that is. It's worth revisiting what's stated in the Hippocratic Oath, which every doctor swears upon before starting to practice the profession.

The following passages are especially worthy of note: "I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity. I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity. The health and life of my patient will be my first consideration. I will cure all patients with the same diligence and commitment. I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics, or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient."

Seven doctors and voluntary nurses have been killed from the start of the bombing campaign, and about ten ambulances were shot at by the Israeli artillery. [This number has since increased to 12 paramedics dead!] The survivors are shaking with fear, but refuse to take a step back. The crimson flashes of the ambulances are the only bursts of light in the dark streets of Gaza, bar the flashes that precede an explosion. Regarding these crimes, the last report comes from Pierre Wettach, chief of the Red Cross in Gaza. His ambulances had access to the spot of a massacre, in Zaiton, East of Gaza City, only 24 hours after the Israeli attack.

The rescue-workers state they found themselves faced by a blood-curdling scenario. "In one of the houses four small children were found near the body of their dead mother. They were too weak to stand on their feet. We also found an adult survivor, and he too was also too weak to stand up. About 12 corpses were found lying on the mattresses." The witnesses to this umpteenth massacre describe how the Israeli soldiers, after getting into the neighbourhood, gathered the numerous members of the Al Samouni family in one building and then proceeded to repeatedly bomb it. My ISM partners and I have been driving around in the Half Red Moon [Red Crescent] ambulances for days, suffering many attacks and losing a dear friend, Arafa, struck by a howitzer shot from a cannon. A further three paramedics, all friends, are presently inpatients at the hospitals they worked in until a few days ago.

Our duty on the ambulances is to pick up the injured, not carry guerrilla fighters. When we find a man lying in the street in a pool of his own blood, we don't have the time to check his papers or ask him whether he roots for Hamas or Fatah. Most seriously injured can't talk, much like the dead. A few days ago, while picking up a badly wounded patient, another man with light injuries tried to hop onto the ambulance. We pushed him out, just to make it clear to whoever's watching from up above that we don't serve as a taxi to usher members of the resistance around. We only take on the most fatally wounded – of which there's always a plentiful supply, thanks to Israel.

Last night at Al Quds hospital in Gaza City, 17-year-old Miriam was carried in, with full-blown labour pains. Her father and sister-in-law, both dead, had passed through the hospital in the morning, both victims of indiscriminate bombing. Miriam gave birth to a gorgeous baby during the night, not aware of the fact that while she lay in the delivery room, her young husband had arrived in the morgue one floor below her.

In the end, even the United Nations realised that here in Gaza, we're all in the same boat, all moving targets for the snipers. The death toll is now at 789 dead, 3,300 wounded (410 in critical conditions), 230 children killed and countless missing. The death toll on the Israeli side has thankfully stopped at 4. John Ging, chief of UNRWA (UN agency for the rights of Palestinian Refugees) has stated that the UN announced they shall suspend their humanitarian activities in the Gaza Strip. I bumped into Ging in the Ramattan press office and saw him shake his finger with disdain at Israel before the cameras. The UN stopped its work in Gaza after two of its operators were killed yesterday, ironically during the three-hour truce that Israel had announced and as usual, had failed to comply with. "The civilians in Gaza have three hours a day at their disposal in which to survive, the Israeli soldiers have the remaining 21 in which to try and exterminate them", I heard Ging state two steps away from me.
Yasmine, the wife of one of the many journalists waiting in line at the Erez pass, wrote to me from Jerusalem. Israel won't grant these journalists a pass to let them in and film or describe the immense unnatural catastrophe that has befallen us in the last thirteen days. These were her words: " The day before yesterday I went to have a look at Gaza from the outside. The world's journalists are all huddled on a small sandy hill a few km from the border. Innumerable cameras are pointed towards us. Planes circle us overhead – you can hear them but you can't see them. They seem like illusions, like something in your head until you see the black smoke rising from the horizon, in Gaza. The hill has also become a tourist site for the Israelis in the area. With their large binoculars and cameras, they come and watch the bombings live."

While I write this piece of correspondence in a mad rush, a bomb is dropped onto the building next to the one I'm in now. The windowpanes shake, my ears ache, I look out the window and see that the building gathering the major Arabic media agencies has been struck. It's one of Gaza City's tallest buildings, the Al Jaawhara building. A camera crew is permanently stationed on the roof, I can now see them all bending around on the ground, waving their arms and asking for help as they're covered by a black cloud of smoke.

Paramedics and journalists, the most heroic occupations in this corner of the world. At the Al Shifa hospital yesterday I paid Tamim a visit – he's a journalist who survived an air raid. He explained how he thinks that Israel is adopting the same identical terrorist techniques as Al-Qaeda, bombing a building, waiting for the journalists and ambulances to arrive and then dropping another bomb to finish the latter two off as well. In his view that's why there've been so many casualties among the journalists and paramedics. As he said this, the nurses around his bed all nodded in agreement. Tamim smilingly showed me his two stubs for legs. He was happy he was still around to tell the story, while his colleague, Mohammed, had died with a camera in his hand when the second explosion had proved fatal. In the meantime I asked about the bomb that was just dropped on the building next door, where two journalists, both Palestinian, one from Libyan TV and the other from Dubai TV, were injured. This is a harsh new reminder that this massacre must in no way be described or recorded.
All that's left for me to hope is that among the Israeli military summit no one reads Il Manifesto, or habitually visits my blog.

Stay human
Vittorio Arrigoni

photo of paramedics outside Shifa hospital courtesy of Abid Katib, Getty Images for CARE

Nowhere to Run, nowhere to hide


Fares Akram writes from Gaza city for the London Independent. He is a war refugee with nowhere to go in the sealed enclave and his young wife is due to deliver. Here is his dispatch:

We've left our home. Like 60,000 other Gazans, we've taken our belongings and fled. Once again, we've become displaced people. Soon, there will be nowhere to run to, since nowhere in Gaza is safe. In the early hours of Saturday, the bombing got louder and closer to our home, and the rattle of machine-gun fire became more intense. The tanks were not far off.

As I lay in the dark, I heard the sound of small-arms fire and voices in the street outside. Since the Israeli offensive began, our city streets have been deserted during the hours of darkness; even the dogs that usually annoy us with their all-night barking have vanished. The voices were Palestinian militants: "Stay close to the wall!" "Go by the wall!", I could hear them shouting to each other. I didn't dare go to the window, fearing snipers, but tried listening to the radio. The FM stations run by Palestinian factions had no information, just talk about the "heroic actions" of their militants.

My thoughts went to my wife, Alaa, so, at dawn, I phoned her. Alaa is nine months pregnant and we evacuated her last week to her parents' place in the western part of the city. As I expected, she was in a state of panic.

At 6am, I looked out of the window. The entire neighbourhood was leaving. From a residential complex to the west, they were all leaving, carrying bags, mattresses, blankets, personal belongings. Cars were stuffed full of luggage, and everyone was rushing because the sound of bombing enveloped us.

I used to say we would never leave our home, but when you see everyone else on the move, how can you stay? Barely a week since my father was killed by an Israeli air strike on our small northern Gaza farm as the ground invasion began, we were facing another terrible dilemma. I thought of the Samouni family, killed last week while sheltering in a house together, and decided we had to go.

I took Alaa's jewellery, my laptop and phone, my notes and papers, and some clothes. My mother, sisters and their children drove away to take shelter at my sister's house. I walked with the people in the street.

Leaving your home like this is pitiful; you feel almost ashamed. But there's no mercy with the Israelis in this operation. Previously, they weren't so harsh on civilians. But now, although they say they target Hamas, it seems they target anyone.


I am now at Alaa's parents' house. Here, there are 100 people in a building usually occupied by 20. The whole district is overcrowded as most of those who fled other parts of Gaza have come here. But late on Saturday afternoon, the flyers warning of an escalation started landing along with the bombs. "To the residents of the Gaza Strip," the leaflets read. "The IDF will escalate its operations in the imminent period against the tunnels, military warehouses and terrorist elements all over the Gaza Strip. For your safety and the safety of your family you are required not to remain near terrorist elements, the storage of military means, or close to sites from where terrorist operations are launched."

Well, we fled our home because of the militants – or terrorists, as the Israelis call them – but now they were dropping the flyers here too. Gaza is a small place and the Israelis have shut the borders, so we can't escape. Are they simply trying to terrify us further?

In the midst of the chaos, I managed to get Alaa to see a nurse, and then to the hospital yesterday. The nurse said Alaa is going into the early stages of labour. Her blood pressure is slightly up, and she's dizzy. At the hospital, the doctor said they may induce her labour on Wednesday. For a few moments, amid the newborn babies in the maternity ward, Alaa forgot our predicament and looked joyful.

Before sunset last night, the Israeli forces dropped more leaflets urging people to phone them with information about rocket sites. I hear they are also talking about the endgame.
And we, the Palestinians, shouldn't lie to ourselves: they have achieved some of their goals. There are fewer rockets being fired across the border into Israel, and we've heard that six Hamas leaders have fled to Egypt by tunnel.

But what they have achieved has been at the expense of the Palestinian civilians. Hundreds of children have been killed or injured. They have seen their parents terrified and powerless to protect them. In the future, who will they turn to for protection? Even if the warplanes are gone by the time our baby arrives later this week, what Israel has done in the past two weeks will keep the flames of this conflict alive for generations to come.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Eyewitness to the Eyeless in Gaza



Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian who works with the International Solidarity Movement, writes powerfully from Gaza:


"Take some kittens, some tender little moggies in a box", said Jamal, a surgeon at the Al Shifa, Gaza's main hospital, while a nurse actually placed a couple of blood-stained cardboard boxes in front of us. "Seal up the box, then jump on it with all your weight and might, until you feel their little bones crunching, and you hear the last muffled little mew."

I stared at the boxes in astonishment, and the doctor continued: "Try to imagine what would happen after such images were circulated. The righteous outrage of public opinion, the complaints of the animal rights organisations…" The doctors went on in this vein, and I was unable to take my eyes off those boxes, sitting at our feet. "Israel trapped hundreds of civilians inside a school as if in a box, including many children, and then crushed them with all the might of its bombs. What were the world's reactions? Almost nothing. We would have been better off as animals rather than Palestinians, we would have been more protected."

At this point the doctor leans towards one of the boxes, and takes its lid off in front of me. Inside it are the amputated limbs, legs and arms, some from the knee down, others with the entire femur attached, amputated from the injured at the Al Fakhura United Nations school in Jabalia, which resulted in more than fifity casualties. Pretending to be taking an urgent call, I took my leave of Jamal, actually rushing to the bathroom to bend over and throw up.

A little earlier I'd been involved in a conversation with Dr. Abdel, an ophtalmologist, regarding the rumours that the Israeli Army had been showering us with non-conventional weapons, forbidden by the Geneva Convention, such as cluster bombs and white phosphorous. The very same that the Tsahal Army used in the last Lebanese war, as well as the US air force in Falluja, still violating international norms. In front of Al Auda hospital we witnessed and filmed white phosphorous bombs being used about five hundred metres from where we were, too far to be absolutely certain there were any civilians underneath the Israeli Apaches, but so terribly close to us all the same.

The Geneva Treaty of 1980 forbids white phosphorous being used directly as a war weapon in civilian areas, allowing it only as a smoke screen or for lighting. There's no doubt that using this weapon in Gaza, a strip of land concentrating the highest population rate in the world, is a crime all on its own. Doctor Abdel told me that at Al Shifa hospital they don't have the medical and military competence to say for sure whether the wounds they examined on certain corpses were indeed provoked by white phosphorous bullets.

But on his word, in twenty years on the job he had never seen casualties like those now being carried into the ward. He told me about the traumas to the skull, with the fractures to the vomer bone, the jaw, the cheekbones, tear duct, nasal and palatine bones showed signs of the collision of an immense force against the victim's face. What he finds inexplicable is the total lack of eyeballs, which ought to leave a trace somewhere within the skull even in case of such a violent impact. Instead, we see Palestinian corpses coming into the hospitals without eyes at all, as if someone had removed them surgically before handing them over to the coroner.

Israel has let us know that we've been granted a daily 3-hour truce, from 1:00 to 4:00 PM. These statements from the Israeli military summit are considered by the people of Gaza as having the same reliability as the Hamas leaders' declarations that they've just provoked a massacre of enemy soldiers. Just to be clear on this point, the soldiers of Tel Aviv's worse enemy are the very same who fight under the Star of David. Yesterday a war ship off the coast of Gaza's port picked out a large group of alleged guerrilla fighters from the Palestinian Resistance, moving as a united front around Jabalia. They shot their cannons at them. But as it turned out, they were their own fellow soldiers, with the shooting resulting in three being killed and about twenty injured. No one here believes in the truces that Israel declares, and as it happens, today at 2:00 PM Rafah was under attack by the Israeli helicopters. There was also yet another massacre of children in Jabalia: three little sisters aged 2, 4 and 6 from the Abed Rabbu family were slaughtered. Just half an hour earlier in Jabalia, once again the Red Crescent hospital's ambulances were under attack. Eva and Alberto, my ISM colleagues were on board that ambulance and managed to film everything, passing those videos and photos on to all the major media.

Hassan was kneecapped, fresh from mourning the death of his friend Araf, a paramedic who was killed two days ago as he came in aid of the injured in Gaza City. They had stopped to pick up the body of a man languishing in agony in the middle of the road, when they were under fire by about ten shots from an Israeli sniper. One bullet hit Hassan in the knee and the ambulance was filled with holes. We're now at a death toll of 688, in addition to 3,070 injured, 158 dead children and countless missing. Only yesterday, we counted 83 dead, 80 of which were civilians. Thankfully, the death toll on the Israeli side is still only at 4.

Travelling towards Al Quds hospital, where I'll be working all night on the ambulances, as I raced along on board one of the very few fearless taxis left, zig-zagging to avoid the bombs, on the corner of one street I saw a group of dirty street urchins with tattered clothes, looking exactly like the "sciuscià" kids of the Italian afterwar period. They threw stones towards the sky with slingshots, at far away and unapproachable enemy who was toying with their lives. This is a crazy metaphor, which could serve as a snapshot of the absurdity of this time and place.
Stay human
Vittorio Arrigoni


Hat tip to Ozzy Bee for this disturbing file