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Undeterred, two Freedom Flotilla ships head to Egypt

By Saed Bannoura | IMEMC News | July 17, 2011

After weeks of threats by the Israeli and US governments, sabotage by unknown parties, and a public relations campaign by the Israeli government aimed at discrediting the Freedom Flotilla in the international media, the peace activists with the Freedom Flotilla to break the siege on the Gaza Strip say they remain steadfast in their aims, and one of the original ten ships on the flotilla is now on its way to Egypt, with a second prepared to depart shortly.

From Egypt, the crew and passengers of the ships will decide whether to continue to Gaza to break the Israeli siege which, despite Israeli claims to the contrary, remains in place and continues to cripple the Gazan economy.

Due to the extended delays, which included the detention of the crews and passengers of several of the ten flotilla ships, many participants in the Flotilla have had to return to their home countries, and the others have been blockaded in a Greek port by the Greek coast guard, at the behest of the Israeli government.

But one ship managed to escape the impound by Greek authorities, as it was not docked with the others at the time of the impound. That ship, the Dignite al Karama, set sail on Saturday evening toward Egypt. The ten people on board, mainly French activists, say they have to represent the entire flotilla with their one ship, since the others remain under Greek detention.

The ship, known as the ‘Dignite al Karama’, was commissioned by French activists, and includes in its passenger list Israeli-born peace activist Dror Feiler, who is the head of ‘European Jews for a Just Peace’, Greek sociologist Vangelis Pissias, and a number of other dignitaries.

A second Flotilla ship, the ‘Juliano’ (named after slain peace activist Juliano Mer-Khamis, who was apparently killed by a Palestinian gunman while working for peace in Jenin), plans to depart the port of Heraklion as soon as it is given permission to sail to Alexandria, Egypt and join the Dignite Al Karama.

The Dignite al Karama has been docked at the port of Kastellorizo, a remote Greek island that is sympathetic to the Flotilla’s cause. In World War II, fearing German attacks, some of the island’s inhabitants fled to the Gaza Strip, where they were given refuge. The mayor of the town of Kastellorizo welcomed the activists, and authorized them to leave Greek waters.

The other ships, docked in Athens, were blockaded and impounded by the Greek coast guard after requests by the Israeli Prime Minister to his Greek counterpart, leading the activists to say that “The Gaza blockade has been extended to Greece.” A group of Spanish activists remain on hunger strike after occupying their country’s embassy in Athens.

The Freedom Flotilla aims to bring humanitarian aid and support to the people of Gaza, and to expose the four-year old blockade on the Gaza Strip imposed by the state of Israel in order to, in the words of Israeli officials, “put the people of Gaza on a diet”. Since the blockade began, unemployment levels have reached highs of 80% and malnutrition rates among small children have been estimated at highs of 40%.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Solidarity and Activism | Leave a comment

Egypt seizes cement bound for Gaza

Ma’an – July 16, 2011

EL-ARISH, Egypt — Egyptian border guards thwarted an attempt to smuggle more than 20 tons of cement into Gaza via tunnels along the border, security sources told Ma’an.

Palestinian and Egyptian smugglers were involved in the effort to bring large amounts of building materials into the besieged enclave, they added. The smugglers fled the scene.

Forces raided the area and seized 430 bags of cement, the security officials said. The cement will be sold at auction and the tunnel will be blocked by stones, they added.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture | Leave a comment

Finding Order in the Orwellian Chaos

By Eric Blair | Activist Post | April 10, 2011

It has become nearly impossible to determine the “truth” in our increasingly chaotic world.  Reality is seemingly being twisted and flipped on its head in this rapid unfolding of multi-front crises.  The world is facing a new world war in the Arab world, nuclear holocaust from the Fukushima meltdown, total economic collapse/takeover, and a stunning rise in the cost of essential commodities.

In each case, the public is being told directly the opposite of basic human understanding.  In fact, it’s so blatant that it appears to be a test to see how fast and far the collective human psyche can be warped. George Orwell would be impressed with the level of doublespeak manipulation that has taken place concerning these recent catastrophic events.

War is now classified as a humanitarian action.  Nuclear radiation is now good for your health. Private and government financial collapse is the fault of the taxpayer.  And the price for food and oil are dependent on gambling, not actual supply and demand.

Never before, that I and others can recall, have we been hit with so many crises at once with previously unacceptable explanations coming from the people’s supposed leaders.  The U.S. president can now put American soldiers into combat and spend tax dollars on war without even consulting the citizens’ elected officials. The EPA can autocratically adjust acceptable radiation levels for human health despite all evidence to the contrary.  The private bankers can demand bailouts and austerity cuts from an already ailing population who had nothing to do with their debts. The price of food and oil are allowed to be determined in Wall Street’s casino at the expense of humanity.  And we’re being told it’s for our own good, our personal safety, and our economic security.

This insane warping of morals and common sense can only occur under the direction of a force which requires mass confusion and a compromise in human morality to accomplish an unpopular agenda.  A force whose motto is “Order Out of Chaos.”  A force whose deliberate purpose for creating such calamitous situations is more consolidated control.  And clearly, it’s a force with great access to the mainstream media megaphone to propagate their desired reaction to these crises.

What’s different about these events compared to the past is their size, scope, and coalescence at the same time.  What David Icke refers to as the “Totalitarian Tiptoe” in his explanation of the establishment’s creeping tyranny through problem-reaction-solution engineering of crises, has seemingly turned into the “Last Leap.” In other words, it can’t be more obvious that we’re quickly moving toward a malevolent global dictatorship with or without the acceptance of the masses. Yet, efforts to defuse and desensitize the population with morally-conflicting messaging appear to be intensifying.

In order to induce hypnosis, a hypnotist must overload the participant’s mind with unknown “message units” to trigger the primitive survival instincts of “fight, flight, or play dead.”  As the mind attempts to interpret these foreign message units it becomes overwhelmed. The hypnotist then senses the peak of the overload and releases the subject to flee-and-play-dead with the command to “sleep.”  However, it is likely that the participant would have chosen this path regardless of the command, because the participant began the process in a relaxed position and, as a domesticated animal, has certain preconditioning to escape to flight when overwhelmed.

Once in this state of message unit overload, the part of the mind required for critical thinking is defused and the subject is willing to accept nearly any suggestion — as comically seen in stage hypnosis shows.  During this stage show by the elite, we have witnessed rabid anti-war liberals turn into lapdogs for preemptive killing.  We’ve witnessed health community officials promote a variety of poisons as normal. And we’ve witnessed free market economists promote monopoly cartels as genuine capitalism.
Accepted knowns are remarkably easy to manipulate using suggestive messaging, especially if attached to a strong emotional response like fear. Make no mistake, this method is a well-understood science; being human, we are all certainly susceptible to these manipulative techniques.  So how do we keep our moral bearings during this calculated onslaught of reprogramming?
First, we must recognize when fear, which is the most powerful of emotional triggers, is being used to influence our perception of a given policy, or reality in general.  We must not allow ourselves to feel the fear, but instead recognize it as the tool of control that it is. Once mastered, you will notice other less-potent emotional triggers being aimed at convincing your mind to accept unknowns.  You will be amazed at how many of your peers fall for it and will desperately try to argue that the fear justifies some inhumane action.
Secondly, it seems wise to drop our perceived meaning of all labels like Democrat or Republican, or capitalism or communism, etc.  And we must stop rooting for a team or blindly following a leader based on certain labels.  For example, does an aggressive war become righteous if a Democrat with a Peace Prize launches it?  Or even if religious leaders promote its cause?  Don’t be blinded by mindless groupthink that is often directed by authority in all its forms. Think for yourself.

Ultimately, we must narrowly focus our compass toward the core human beliefs of peace, love, and liberty. When our bias is always being pulled by those forces, we are less likely to be led off course. Believers in peace cannot possibly justify violence unless a direct threat requires immediate self-defense; and only then as a last resort.  Believers in love respect their neighbors as equals and would never stand for injustices perpetrated against them — socially, economically, environmentally etc. Believers in liberty would rather die as a consequence of their own decisions than have their essential freedom confined by authority.  Significantly, when our compass is dialed into these human principles, we’ll typically find ourselves in a polar conflict with the establishment version of events and desired solutions.  These extreme opposite forces allow us to see the real agenda more clearly.

Recognizing the game that is being played for our minds allows us to filter out previously unknown message units as trash so that they never bring about an overload. It allows you to live a life of your own accord.  And that is the key to transforming the prevailing system.  In other words, we can’t defeat this powerful negative force by playing into their reality.  We must, individually, live by our principles even when others frown upon it.  Don’t worry, the others will break their trance eventually, as the manufactured anger to justify war, engineered hatred of their neighbors, and the constant bombardment of injustices upon them will eventually grow old.  And you, as one living example of purity, will disprove a thousand lies.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism | 2 Comments

Blowing It: Democrats, Unable to Be a Party of the People, are Sinking Themselves

Dave Lindorff – This Can’t Be Happening – 07/16/2011

The smoking ruin that is the the Obama White House, and the rotting corpse that is the Democratic Party, have, incredibly, together been boxed into a corner by, of all things, the certifiably insane Republican Party.

This amazing situation has resulted not through any brilliant strategy on the part of the Republicans, but by the self-inflicted wounds of the Democrats.

Faced with a collapsing economy that is at serious risk of performing a reprise of the Great Depression, Congressional Democrats and President Obama were in a perfect position to grab the flag and run home with it by declaring war on unemployment and on the party that has unequivocally declared itself openly to be the standard bearer of the wealthy and powerful.

All the president and Congressional Democrats had to do was announce that Social Security, Medicare, education and programs to protect the poor were all off limits in any discussion of the federal budget, and to declare an immediate 25% cut in military spending, as called for earlier by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee.

How hard would that have been to do? The polls show it’s what the public wants. Any elected official who did this, particularly someone elected and re-elected as a Democrat, would have been hailed by voters for such a bold action.

According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in late May and released June 11, 60% of Americans correctly attribute the nation’s enormous deficit primarily to military spending, which eats up 52% of every tax dollar (Social Security and Medicare are entirely funded by separate payroll taxes, and not only have not contributed a single dollar to the federal deficit, but have been routinely borrowed from by the government to finance the deficit in the government’s operating budget caused by military spending). Only 24% blame the deficit on domestic spending other than military (and probably every one of those is a Republican or right-wing independent who likely believes that the earth was created 6000 years ago, and is flat, and who will never vote Democratic no matter what).

Military vs. Education spending around the globe

Military vs. Education spending around the globe (US in company of Iran, China, Russia, UAE and India)

That same poll showed that the vast majority of Americans (73%) object to proposals to cut the budget by reducing federal funding for social programs, or federal funding to the states for education, or by reducing Social Security benefits (59%), for example by raising the retirement age.

What the Pew poll finds Americans do support is raising the cap on income subject to the Social Security Tax (FICA), from its current meager level of $106,000, to cover all income (66% in favor). They also favor raising taxes on those households that earn more than $250,000 a year (65% in favor), and they favor getting rid of tax deductions for corporations, which have allowed many wildly profitable companies like Exxon, GE and News Corp to pay no corporate taxes despite earning billions of dollars in profits (62% in favor). They also overwhelmingly favor reducing America’s military operations overseas, where the US currently maintains over 800 bases in countries all over the world, including wealthy allies such as Europe and Japan (62% in favor).

After being deluged with poorly written, simplistic and often ideologically-driven news stories all year hyping the supposed budget “crisis,” the percentage of Americans who say they are worried about the budget deficit has crept up from 24% to 28%, but far more Americans say they are worried about the jobs crisis (38%, up from 34% in March).

If you were a political advisor in the White House, or in the Democratic Congressional Committee or the Democratic National Committee, one would think that seeing those numbers, the strategy going forward would be obvious: declare the country to be facing New Depression, call the Republican Party out as a bunch of know-nothings, end the wars, bring the troops home, slash military spending, call for higher taxes on the rich, and, in Congress, introduce a public jobs program every day of every week, forcing the Republicans to vote them down, one after another through the next election day.

But the Democratic Party, as I said, is a rotting corpse, and it certainly is not an organization that sees itself as fighting for the common man and woman.

As for the White House political team, and the president himself, they seem to have long since lost their grip on reality.

The president has been hanging around with Wall Street bankers, taking their money and their self-serving ideas, for so long now he actually thinks like them. Congressional Democrats, like their Republican colleagues, are so covetous of corporate campaign cash and lobbyist perks that, with a few exceptions, they can’t imagine crossing any corporate interests.

This is not a case of Democrats being stupid. You’d have to be far worse than stupid not to see the correct political strategy to adopt at this point.

What has happened is that the Democratic Party is no more. It is, at this point, all about current incumbents gaining the favor of the corporate elite, lulling the public into a non-voting torpor or stupor, and of course, arguing that people worried about the nation’s future should vote for them yet again because “the Republicans are worse.”

In a press conference on Friday, President Obama made some incredible statements, all demonstrably untrue. He said “We are all part of the same country,” and yet he surely knows that when it comes to the leaders of America’s biggest corporations, including GE, whose chairman Jeffrey Immelt he appointed to head his Jobs Council, this is demonstrably false. While many of these leaders may be Americans by birth, the companies they run and represent earn the majority of their revenues and profits from operations abroad, and are thus, technically speaking, foreign enterprises, with foreign interests that trump any US interests. Obama said, “We are all in this together,” speaking of the supposed debt “crisis,” but of course, he has announced himself ready to cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid programs, upon which poor and working class families depend, while leaving the rich largely unscathed. He has said it is the “will of the people” to cut the budget, but to the extent that that is even true, which is highly debatable, the will of the people is actually to cut military spending, not to cut Social Security or Medicare or even budgets for education or Medicaid.

The good news is that an increasing number of Americans appear to be finally realizing that this president is a fraud–a shill for bankers, the corporate interests and the neo-con military establishment who has just been posing as a man of the people.

The bad news is that there is little likelihood of any Third Party arising before 2012 that could seriously contest the national election, meaning that we are probably headed for either more of the same or a for Republican-led government.

The hope has to be that the blatant sell-out of the public interest and the national interest by both parties and by the president is becoming so self-evident that the American public will actually wake up from its media-induced somnolence and will abandon them both.

The institutional obstacles to such an unprecedented rebellion are of course enormous, but then, these are unprecedented times.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Militarism | Leave a comment

Crackdowns, Torture and Intimidation in Bahrain

By Stephen Lendman | July 16, 2011

Largely ignored by Washington, Western governments, and America’s media, the ruling Al Khalifa monarchy continues cracking down brutally against nonviolent protesters since civil resistance began last February.

On July 14, UK Telegraph writer Richard Spencer headlined, “Bahraini woman poet tells of torture while in custody,” saying:

Incarcerated after reciting a poem critical of government policies, “Ayat al-Qurmezi (age 20) became one of the symbols of the (ongoing) protests…. After she was arrested….she was beaten, electro(shocked) and threatened with sexual assault while in custody.”

On July 11, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) headlined, “Teachers ordeal in Bahrain: arrested, tortured, sacked, suspended and prosecuted,” saying:

Teachers and Bahrain Teachers Association (BTA) members participated in protest demonstrations, demanding respect for human rights and democratic change. As a result, they faced “arbitrary arrests, military prosecution, torture, suspensions, salary cuts, and investigation.”

BTA board members were arrested, held incommunicado with no access to family or lawyers. A month later, some were released. Others are still detained, including BTA President Mahdi Abu Deeb, charged with:

“deliver(ing) speeches haranguing and instigat(ing) protesters and inciting them against the political regime, flouting the real voluntary and lofty goals of the association.”

On June 6, Deeb and BTA Vice President Jaleela Al Salman were tried in military court charged with:

“inciting others to commit crimes, calling for the hatred and overthrow of the ruling system, holding pamphlets, disseminating fabricated stories and information, leaving work on purpose and encouraging others to do so and taking part at illegal practices.”

So far, at least 66 teachers were arrested. In addition, riot police repeatedly targeted 15 or more girls’ schools. Teachers and students were arbitrarily arrested, detained, and “physically abused.”

Other schools were also attacked. Many teachers were arrested, interrogated, intimidated, abused, charged with going on strike, participating in peaceful protests, and inciting anti-regime sentiment.

In custody, they were beaten and tortured. One female teacher said:

“Around 10 policewomen were asking me and beating me at the same time. Then they handcuffed me and kept beating me on the head and back while kicking me and stepping on my feet.”

Others were threatened with rape and beaten. A woman who had major back surgery was repeatedly kicked there after explaining her medical condition.

Many faced secretive military trials and convicted. More trials are expected. Many others were arbitrarily suspended from positions or sacked. More remain under investigation. Intimidation throughout Bahrain is pervasive.

On June 14, Human Rights Watch headlined, “Bahrain: Stop Military Court Travesty of Justice,” saying:

HRW called for ending military tribunal injustice, and “free(ing) everyone (including opposition politicians, medical professionals, students, teachers, journalists, and human rights activists) held solely for exercising their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.”

HRW’s Middle East director Joe Stork said:

“Most defendants hauled before Bahrain’s special military court are facing blatantly political charges and (unfair) trials.”

Human Rights First (HRF) on Bahrain

On July 14, a HRF press release headlined, “NEW REPORT: Despite National Dialogue Crackdown Continues in Bahrain,” saying:

The Bahraini government “continues to intimidate, torture, and detain human rights defenders, and shoot at civilians.” According to HRF’s Brian Dooley:

“Human rights defenders with whom we spoke are wary that the dialogue is (nothing) more than elaborate play-acting for the international community’s benefit.”

The report titled, “Bahrain: A Tortuous Process” presented findings based on a July 6 – 12 fact-finding mission. It included interviews with human rights defenders, other activists, victims and their families, dozens of recently released detainees, journalists, medical professionals, students, and Bahraini government officials.

In addition, HRF personnel “witnessed riot police firing on unarmed women without warning with a variety of weapons.”

Nonetheless, peaceful marches and protests continue, despite security force attacks, using sound bombs, tear gas, rubber bullets, and live fire.

Human rights defenders are prime targets, facing arrests, detentions, torture, and illegitimate trials. In fact, (on June 21) prominent activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja received life in prison in one of many show trials.

Others like him express views anonymously, fearing reprisals if go public. They also assume their phones are tapped and goings monitored. A Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights member said:

“We live under the constant fear of arrest. They can come at any time for us.”

Another activist said homes and other facilities are regularly raided, adding:

“I still wake up scared. I have clothes ready, next to the bed. I get up sometimes in the middle of the night and look out the window if I hear a noise, thinking it’s them again. It’s a permanent fear that they could come at any time, day or night.”

Human rights defenders complained about Washington’s double standard, muting its regime criticism, stressing Bahrain’s an important regional partner, ally, and home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

Disingenuously on July 2, Obama welcomed Bahrain’s National Dialogue, calling it “an important moment of promise….The United States commends King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa for his leadership in initiating the dialogue.”

In contrast, one participant told HRF:

“There are four halls, each having between 50 to 80 participants” allowed five minutes to speak. “The session ends while some still have not talked. Nothing is known about how all these chaotically dispersed talks will end up….” King Hamad has final say.

“You have it all predetermined and the final document has already been decided. These meetings are nothing more than a camouflage. It is a joke to call it a dialogue to start with.”

Based on numerous interviews, HRF reported “credible, consistent accounts of torture,” other forms of abuse and humiliation, including detainees forced to kiss photos of the king, belly dance, make animal noises, and sign confessions.

One former detainee said he was blindfolded for weeks, forced to stand for hours, wasn’t allowed to wash or pray, and was even beaten when permitted to use the toilet. Others had similar horror stories. Injured detainees were also abused, including on their wounds. Intimidation, humiliation, and forced confessions are routine.

On July 6, HRF’s Brian Dooley witnessed riot police attacking peaceful pedestrians, saying:

“People were standing in doorways, chatting….It was a calm, chatty atmosphere…. (S)uddenly riot police (with) shields appeared behind us.” With no warning, they opened fire, using “sound bombs, tear gas canisters, and rubber bullets.”

People started screaming. Some were struck, including by shrapnel. “I could see people ahead of us running, panicking. The police kept on firing at us….We were not part of a rally, or even near (one). There were a few dozen people spread out along the length of the street in small groups like ours, and the police just appeared and attacked us.”

Others told HRF similar stories, police firing on unarmed, peaceful civilians without warning. People not in detention face harassment. No one feels safe. Abuses continue regularly.

Protected by Washington, Bahrain is a lawless police state, targeting anyone seen challenging regime authority and many others for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Nonetheless, peaceful protests continue, despite punitive reprisals, including arrests, detentions, torture, show trials, and imprisonment. Nary a word from Washington complains.

A Final Comment

A new Zogby International Arab American Institute poll shows unfavorable attitudes about America. In fact, Obama’s 10% or lower approval rating surpasses Bush’s lowest level. In fact, he scores worst on Palestine and engagement with the Muslim world.

In five of six countries surveyed, Washington scored lower than Turkey, China, France or Iran. Specifically, “US interference in the Arab world” is called the greatest obstacle to regional peace and stability after Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Libya perhaps was one war too many. Waging it increased negative perceptions about America and Obama.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | Leave a comment

Murdoch scandal demonstrates that scores of people can maintain a conspiracy of silence for years

By Philip Weiss on July 16, 2011

In a week or so we will mark the 15th anniversary of the crash of TWA 800 in waters off Long Island, killing 230 people. I subscribe to the belief (bolstered by the work of scientist Tom Stalcup) that a missile brought the plane down, likely fired by mistake by an American submarine during a military training exercise that night.

One of the “problems” with my belief, people always said, was that scores of people would have been in on the truth, why didn’t any of them come forward? All the people serving on that sub, for instance. I always said– and I still do– that large groups of people can maintain such silence, if they have been successfully indoctrinated.

The Murdoch scandal demonstrates why I am right. The repulsive phone-hacking by Murdoch journalists was first exposed five years ago by the British police. At that time, only a couple of journos were implicated. Now it turns out the practice was widespread inside the Murdoch empire. Maybe even inside the U.S.?

Remember: this practice was clearly wrong and illegal. And scores of journalists were in on it, and said nothing. They feared for their jobs, they believed the Murdoch mission– who knows just why, but they were all indoctrinated.

A similar lesson can be drawn from the complicity of almost all the leading American Jewish organizations in supporting Jim Crow conditions in Israel and Palestine. They just smile and salute. Indoctrination works.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Deception, Timeless or most popular | Leave a comment

Iran lawmaker: US behind Iraq unrest

Press TV – July 16, 2011

A senior Iranian lawmaker says Tehran believes the US is responsible for the acts of terrorism carried out in Shia or Sunni-populated regions of Iraq.

“Iran considers the invaders of Iraq responsible for terrorist activities in the Shia- and Sunni-populated areas [of Iraq],” Fars News Agency quoted Deputy head of Iran’s Majlis (Parliament) National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Hossein Ebrahimi as saying on Saturday.

“[Iran] asks all the Muslims of Iraq to dash the hopes of the US through maintaining their solidarity,” he added.

The Iranian lawmaker made the remarks after three explosions targeted Muslims pilgrims near the holy city of Karbala in central Iraq, killing nine people and wounding 70 others. The blasts came as visitors are overwhelming the city to attend the celebrations marking the birth anniversary of the 12th Shia Imam, Mahdi (PBUH).

Ebrahimi described the terrorist attacks as US measures to widen the religious rifts in the violence-hit country.

“The Americans, through bombings in Karbala and [carrying out] acts of terrorism in Shia-populated areas, seek to frame Sunni brothers of acting against the Shia but the vigilance of the Shias will thwart this US conspiracy,” the official said.

The US led the invasion of Iraq in 2003, under the pretexts that former dictator Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

However, later it was revealed that not only the former Iraqi regime was not in possession of the arms, but also that the US and British leaders, who had defended the military action, knew about the non-existence of such weapons.

Over one million Iraqis have been killed during the invasion, according to the prestigious British polling group, Opinion Research Business (ORB).

July 16, 2011 Posted by | False Flag Terrorism | 1 Comment

New York Times stands by Ethan Bronner’s Facebook fabrications

By Ali Abunimah – The Electronic Intifada – 07/13/2011

Ethan Bronner speaks at UVSC, on Flickr

Ethan Bronner(Flickr)

The New York Times has told The Electronic Intifada it stands fully behind an article by its Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner despite compelling evidence that the article contains fabrications, misleading statements, and gross exaggerations.

In a series of emails between The Electronic Intifada and The New York Times foreign editor Susan Chira, the newspaper defended the article and denied that any corrections or clarifications were required. This is despite the fact that additional data presented by The Electronic Intifada shows that the central premise of the article is false.

In a 9 July article, Bronner profiled a Facebook page called YaLa – Young Leaders. The article suggested that an “enthusiastic” response to the page from thousands of people all over the Arab world indicated an upsurge of interest in coexistence with Israelis that brought to mind the “Facebook-driven revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.”

On 10 July, The Electronic Intifada cast severe doubts on many aspects of Bronner’s story.

Not only is there no evidence of a groundswell of interest in online dialogue between Israelis and Arabs, there is substantial evidence to contradict Bronner’s narrative. Additional data collected by The Electronic Intifada and presented to The New York Times found that only a handful of Facebook users had anything more than a cursory relationship with the page before Bronner’s article appeared.

Moreover, The New York Times did not respond to a direct question as to whether it believed a key anecdote in Bronner’s story, after The Electronic Intifada published evidence suggesting it is false.

This post lays out the key issues we asked The New York Times about, analyzes its responses and presents new evidence contradicting Bronner’s central narrative.

How many “active users” does the YaLa – Young Leaders Facebook page have and what does that mean?

In his article, Bronner claimed that the YaLa – Young Leaders Facebook page:

has had 91,000 views in its first month. Of its 22,500 active users, 60 percent are Arabs – mostly Palestinians, followed by Egyptians, Jordanians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Lebanese and Saudis.

The Electronic Intifada asked The New York Times for the source of this information and to define what constituted an “active user.”

We also presented The New York Times with a study we did of every post and comment on the YaLa – Young Leaders page’s Wall from 4 May through 9 July (the full study is included at the end of this post).

The study found that in total there were 146 Facebook users who made a total of 519 posts/comments on the Wall. Eighty-six of these users (58%) made only a single post/comment and another 25 (17%) made 2 comments/posts. So 75% of active users made only 1 or 2 comments or posts.

The top ten most active commenters/posters accounted for 51% of the posts/comments (265 out of 519). The most active poster/commenter was the Yala – Young Leaders page owner, while Hamze Awawde and Moad Arqoub were the third and fourth most prolific. They, along with two other top ten users were quoted in Bronner’s article.

In contrast to the claims of broad participation from across the Arab world, we found only two Facebook users who identified themselves as coming from an Arab country other than Palestine – both from Egypt. One made a single comment, and the other a small handful. Neither were among the top ten users.

In response to these data, foreign editor Susan Chira wrote:

Despite your own study, we believe the article remains factually correct. You assert that the only way to participate in a Facebook page is to “like” it. However, Facebook users can engage with a page in multiple ways, including commenting on a status update, liking a post, and other ways without “liking” the page, according to Facebook and to my colleagues who have been administrators of Facebook pages. That activity is described in the article as monthly active users. Mr. Savir shared the Facebook data with us so we could verify it, and the data does in fact substantiate our description of the monthly active users. Your own research is predicated on the “like” metric, so it does not obviate the statistic we use.

Chira did not share with The Electronic Intifada the data she says was shown to The New York Times by Uri Savir, the former Israeli diplomat and director of the Peres Center for Peace who founded the page.

Chira’s claim that Facebook users can “engage with a page” without first “liking” it (becoming a fan) was simply incorrect.

This is important because on 9 July, the YaLa – Younger Leaders page had only about 3,000 fans. It has more than doubled since then as a result of publicity from Bronner’s article.

In a follow-up, Chira acknowledged that in fact a Facebook user must “like” a page before she can post/comment on the Wall. However, Chira insisted:

it is incorrect to say Facebook users cannot see a Wall without LIKING a page or other parts of the page, including applications. It is also incorrect to say users cannot comment or share posts from a Facebook page that they do not LIKE. Users can comment and share a status update/post from a Facebook page – onto their own Facebook page – without LIKING the page.

Can’t see the forest for the trees

At this point The New York Times has completely lost sight of the forest for the trees. Let’s remind ourselves of the main thrust of Bronner’s narrative:

over the past month, the Facebook page has surprised those involved by the enthusiasm it has generated, suggesting that the Facebook-driven revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt may offer guidance for coexistence efforts as well.

Called Facebook.com/yalaYL, the site, created by a former Israeli diplomat and unambiguous about its links to Israel, has had 91,000 views in its first month. Of its 22,500 active users, 60 percent are Arabs – mostly Palestinians, followed by Egyptians, Jordanians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Lebanese and Saudis.

What any reasonable person would understand from this is that the “enthusiasm” for the page is comparable in scope and significance to “the Facebook-driven revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.”

But the only evidence cited for this is the “active user” number of 22,500 which any reasonable reader would understand to mean that thousands of people had flocked to the page to take part in the kind of discussions snippets of which Bronner quoted.

But that’s just not a true picture. An actual examination of the human interactions on the YaLa – Young Leaders Facebook page indicates that only a tiny handful of people have had anything more than a cursory interaction with the page.

Yet The New York Times insists that the fact that some Facebook users could have shared YouTube videos, photos or other innocuous posts of the kind that dominate the YaLa page to their own personal pages is sufficient to support the claim that there is a groundswell of Arab interest and participation in a project “unambiguous about its links to Israel” worthy of a full write-up on its august pages.

At the same time the newspaper ignores the actually observable human interactions that completely contradict this narrative.

Are Bronner’s lead paragraphs true?

In its original critique of Bronner’s article, this blog cast doubt on the story Bronner told in his lead:

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Moad Arqoub, a Palestinian graduate student, was bouncing around the Internet the other day and came across a site that surprised and attracted him. It was a Facebook page where Israelis and Palestinians and other Arabs were talking about everything at once: the prospects of peace, of course, but also soccer, photography and music.”

“I joined immediately because right now, without a peace process and with Israelis and Palestinians physically separated, it is really important for us to be interacting without barriers,” Mr. Arqoub said as he sat at an outdoor cafe in this Palestinian city.

The story is not credible because Arqoub was one of the earliest posters/commenters on the page soon after its official launch, and Arqoub already personally knew the other Palestinian closely involved in the site, Hamze Awawde. Both Arqoub and Awawde, as The Electronic Intifada reported, had met through their involvement an in Israeli organization called MEPEACE.

The Electronic Intifada asked The New York Times if Arqoub or Awawde were administrators or closely involved with the project, and this question:

Do you believe the story in Bronner’s lede that Arqoub was simply “bouncing around on the Internet the other day” and serendipitously happened upon this page?

Chira did not give a direct response to the latter question. However, she wrote:

On your … point about the origins and affiliations of the people Mr. Bronner quoted, I asked him to go back both to Mr. Savir and to each of the people he interviewed and check whether any of them were officially affiliated with the site or had any role in setting it up. The answer from all of them is no. The people interviewed are indeed active in interacting with the site, but they have no official role, according to Mr. Savir, Mr. Awade and Mr. Arqoub. Nor did the article state that Mr. Awade and Mr. Arqoub “were brought together by the page.” It said they are both Palestinians who have had an interest in coexistance efforts before.

Chira did not say if The New York Times examined the strong evidence that both Awawde and Arqoub were de facto administrators and representatives of the YaLa initiative in an “unofficial” capacity, nor what their relationship was with the page’s founders prior to its launch.

Nor do we know who actually administers the page if it is not Awawde or Arqoub. Savir, while the figurehead for the project, has no postings under his name.

Given the fact that the story about how Arqoub came across the site “the other day” is almost certainly false – and Chira would not stand by it – it seems extraordinary that The New York Times would rely on the word of the same sources and decline to carry out any fact-checking of its own.

Another important question Chira should ask Bronner – assuming she hasn’t: how did Bronner come upon this story? Who fed it to him?

Ignoring the grassroots, watering the astroturf

The Electronic Intifada asked in its initial posting on Bronner’s story and in the correspondence with Chira why Bronner would promote this marginal Facebook page with a small handful of active participants and ignore the real groundswell of Palestinians and Arabs who oppose “dialogue” initiatives aimed at normalizing Israel’s relations with the Arab world.

Just last week, for example, the Egyptian Independent Union Federation issued a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people that pledged to “reject any form of normal relations” with Israel, including gas supply agreements, and confirmed the trade union federation’s support for the Palestinian-led campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

Chira wrote:

in response to your objection that we failed to note the context that there are Palestinians who object to this kind of contact, the article does state, “At a time when Arabs generally shun contact with Israelis, those on the site speak openly about their desire to learn more about one another.”

Does Chira really think that noting in passing that “there are Palestinians” who object, while hyping and exaggerating a trivial dialogue initiative, substitutes for real reporting on why Palestinians overwhelmingly oppose such initiatives, and allowing them to explain their critiques and analyses?

Why does this matter?

The highly misleading narrative and dubious factual claims in Bronner’s article on the YaLa-Young Leaders Facebook page constitute serious journalistic malpractice. But instead of acknowledging this, The New York Times has dug in to defend this bogus story come what may.

Perhaps this is because acknowledging any error on the part of Bronner – or his editors – would force the newspaper to reckon with Bronner’s blatant and even more significant biases.

In January 2010, The Electronic Intifada revealed that Bronner had a serious conflict of interest: his son had enlisted in the Israeli army.

Clark Hoyt, the Public Editor of The New York Times at the time agreed with us and urged that Bronner be reassigned. The newspaper did not take their colleague’s advice.

Since then, Hoyt has sadly been proven right that the question of Palestine is simply “too close to home” for Bronner.

Last May, as Palestinians marked the 63rd anniversary of their expulsion from Palestine – the Nakba – Bronner presented a highly skewed version of history, a common Israeli propaganda refrain:

After Israel declared independence on May 15, 1948, armies from neighboring Arab states attacked the new nation; during the war that followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes by Israeli forces.

As The Electronic Intifada reported, Bronner omitted the crucial fact that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes by Zionist militias in the months before 15 May 1948 and the intervention of Arab armies – a fact that completely changes many people’s understanding of what occurred.

In an important analysis, Youssef Munayyer, executive director of The Palestine Center, showed that Bronner’s skewed reporting about the Nakba contradicted even the Times’ own contemporaneous reports from 1948.

When the Jerusalem bureau chief was confronted about this by the current public editor, Arthur Brisbane, “Mr. Bronner responded that space was limited in a short story and he wasn’t trying to recite the full history.”

So Bronner’s idea of reporting is to make sure to fill up his word allotment with information that supports Israel’s official narrative while omitting facts that are central to Palestinian history and present-day claims.

Bronner’s latest piece of shoddy journalism not only reminds us of his own inability to see the situation from outside the cozy corner of West Jerusalem, ethnically-cleansed of Palestinians, that he inhabits, but indicates that he is aided and abetted by editors who will apparently put up with any absurd claim or outright falsehood.

Public Editor Arthur Brisbane revealed a truth when he wrote:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in short, is the third rail of New York Times journalism. Touch it and burn.

Click here and scroll down for The Electronic Intifada’s study of the YaLa – Young Leaders Facebook Wall as shared with The New York Times.

Conclusion

We can conclude from this analysis that YaLa-Young Leaders was not a remarkably active or popular Facebook page.

The Electronic Intifada’s Facebook page (which has more than 13,000 fans), for example, has been as or much more active even without any celebrity endorsements of the kind this page received even prior to Bronner’s article. Moreover, interactions of the kind on the YaLa page show no remarkable level of dialogue or anything that deviates from the typical comments sections found on thousands of websites and Facebook pages (I would argue that the Wall of my personal Facebook account was probably a more active a forum for discussion including between Arabs and Israelis!).

Many of the posts on the page are messages of support/congratulations that appear to have been solicited from organizations and minor celebrities. All, except perhaps the one from Mahmoud Abbas, are Israeli. There’s no evidence of any Arab organizational buy-in.

There is nothing here that suggests thousands of “active users” nor anything that can be matched in reality to Bronner’s description which invokes the spirit of mass action of the Arab uprisings. Nor is there any evidence of participation or buy-in from beyond a small handful of Israelis and Palestinians.

Here’s what Bronner wrote:

“But over the past month, the Facebook page has surprised those involved by the enthusiasm it has generated, suggesting that the Facebook-driven revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt may offer guidance for coexistence efforts as well.”

“Called Facebook.com/yalaYL, the site, created by a former Israeli diplomat and unambiguous about its links to Israel, has had 91,000 views in its first month. Of its 22,500 active users, 60 percent are Arabs — mostly Palestinians, followed by Egyptians, Jordanians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Lebanese and Saudis.”

This is a completely misleading description, which has generated an entirely false public perception of this page.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | Leave a comment

Settlers torch Palestinian land near Nablus

Ma’an – 15/07/2011

NABLUS — Israeli settlers from the illegal settlement of Yizhar set fire to Palestinian land on Friday near the village of Burin, south of Nablus.

“A group of settlers from Yizhar had set fire to dozens of Dunams in that area,” a member of Burin’s agricultural committee, Belal Eid, told Ma’an Friday.

Residents of Burin and members from the Palestinian civil defense crew are reportedly still trying to extinguish the fire but settlers are preventing them from reaching the land, he added.

A report by the Palestinian Authority found that settler violence increased “dramatically” in June 2011, documenting 139 attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank and the destruction of over 3,600 olive trees and vineyards.

Annual figures compiled by Israeli rights group Yesh Din have repeatedly shown that nine out of 10 police investigations about settler crimes fail to lead to a prosecution.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | Leave a comment

   

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