Part 15 of a series recounting the findings of South African jurist Richard Goldstone’s UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.
Bethlehem – Ma’an – At midnight on 10 January 2009, Israeli soldiers violently entered the home of Mahmoud Al-Ajrami, where he and his wife were sheltering underneath the stairs.
Soldiers threw a grenade and entered the house shooting. What Al-Ajrami says transpired over the next 48 hours left him with two fractured vertebrae as a result of beatings, and was one of four cases in which civilians were used as human shields that Richard Goldstone’s UN inquiry investigated.
These civilians were allegedly forced to enter houses at gunpoint in front of or, in one case, instead of soldiers. Two incidents took place east of Jabaliya.
The case of Mahmoud Al-Ajrami
Al-Ajrami, a former foreign minister, testified in Gaza City last June. He resigned when Hamas took over and has not worked since. He, his wife and 15-year-old daughter lived in a house west of Beit Lahiya. His home was directly hit for the first time on 2 or 3 January 2009, according to him by tank shells and by missiles fired by Apache helicopters, which seriously damaged external and internal walls.
“I don’t know why the Israeli army did what it did, especially since I was in a civilian house. There wasn’t one bullet fired from my house or from the neighboring houses,” he recounted. “And I asked this question to one of the officers later … this question still challenges me.”
Tanks that came into the area were initially positioned around 500 meters north of his house. As he told Goldstone, Al-Ajrami had decided not to leave because of his father’s experience of leaving his home in Israel and not being able to return. But he decided that this was proving too difficult for his daughter. He called a taxi and his daughter moved to the house of an uncle in a safer area.
“The soldiers came in while firing and guns shooting. … At one point we were facing them, so I started talking to them in a loud voice, telling them, ‘we are here, we are the owners of this house, we are civilians,’ and my wife was saying more or less the same. …”
An officer ordered Al-Ajrami to lift his robe (he was in nightclothes) and turn around. “I was there with my wife, wearing pajamas and bathrobes, because this was January and you know it’s very cold, and these are the coldest days of the year in Palestine,” he said.
“One of them – actually there were about 20 to 25 soldiers inside the house, and like I said, we were in the corner, although we tried to get closer to them – and one of them yelled at us in broken Arabic and I couldn’t understand him … So when I got closer to him, he pointed his gun at me with the laser beam, of course, pointing at me, so I moved my hands and said, ‘please, just stop, stop, don’t shoot. I don’t understand what you need, what you want.’ …
“His first question was ‘what are you doing here,’ and I said, ‘this is my house, this is my home and it’s quite natural to be at home, and I don’t know, frankly speaking, what are you doing here, because my presence here is natural, your presence is not natural.’ So he insulted me, using extremely crude words and he said, ‘you have to remove your shirt, turn around.’ I did, and he – maybe he expected me to be carrying a bomb … Then he asked me to move ahead. …
They were then taken to a neighboring house where soldiers took his ID card and checked it on a laptop.
“And then he said, ‘well, you’re going to stay with us’ and he started then asking the questions, ‘I’m gonna give you five minutes and then you will have to tell us in detail where is [captured Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit. Where are the Hamas tunnels located and where are the Hamas militants, where are the rockets’ and so on.”
Al-Ajrami responded that he could not provide that information because he did not know, that he was previously a member of the Fatah administration. “So he said, ‘well, I’ll come back to you.’ … He told me, ‘if you don’t speak we will take you and we will kill you,’ and I remember exactly what he said, ‘if you don’t talk we will take you and shoot you,’ and he repeated the same sentence over and over again. So I said, ‘I don’t have any information. I don’t know what I can tell you.'”
According to Goldstone, the soldier responded: “You are Hamas; Hamas killed all Fatah and others in Gaza, so you must be Hamas.” Al-Ajrami insisted that he was a civilian. The officer told him again that he had five minutes in which to give him information or he would be shot. Five minutes later, Al-Ajrami again responded that he did not know anything about the questions asked.
“So he said, ‘what do you do.’ I said, ‘I work as the assistant of the minister.’ He said ‘which minister,’ I said ‘the foreign minister.’ So he said, ‘then you’re the assistant of Dr Mahmoud Al-Zahar, the [de facto government] foreign affairs minister.’ I said, ‘well, I worked with all of the ministers of foreign affairs.’ We stopped there and then he said ‘you’re a Hamas member’ and I said, ‘no, this is my job as a diplomat at the foreign affairs minister. I don’t belong to any party.’
“Then he said, well, ‘you don’t want to speak,’ and I said, ‘no,’ so he yelled at me and he was extremely angry. He started insulting me, he insulted my mother, using words, extremely offensive words that nobody can imagine. So I said, ‘look, you can take me wherever you want, I can’t do anything about it. You’re an army, you have your forces, your tanks are stationed here …’
Al-Ajlami was handcuffed and blindfolded. Two or three soldiers took him by the shoulders and forced him to walk in front of them. His wife tried to go with him but they pushed her back into the room. It was by now around 2am. “My wife had her hands tied, was hanging to my robe, and she said ‘please take me with him’ and she was screaming and she said, ‘I’m not going to leave him, take me with him.’ One of the soldiers pushed her back, so she fell on the ground and he said, ‘no, you are not to move.’ So I left.
‘I thought they were going to shoot me’
The soldiers took Al-Ajlami up to the second floor of the building and threw him off. He landed on rubble and fainted. When he came to, he had severe pain in his right side and had difficulty breathing. He found out later that he had broken four ribs and he had severe bruising down his right leg.
“I didn’t expect that I was going to be thrown off the second floor, and of course, it goes without saying, I couldn’t do anything about it. …
It was raining and still dark. Four soldiers forced him to stand. He was moaning with the pain but did not want them to hear. “I didn’t want to scream. I tried to hold myself, I tried to restrain myself. They put me up and I had to walk but I was in extreme pain. I realized that I could not walk; that the right side, there were a lot of bruises and I saw them later when I reached the hospital.”
The soldiers pushed him against a wall and walked away. He thought they were going to shoot him. He was still blindfolded. “I tried to look from underneath the blindfold, I saw the soldier’s feet, and I heard [from a witness] later on that when they brought him to join me, he saw them holding their guns and pointing their guns at me and he thought that they were going to shoot me and shoot him also.”
Early the next morning, the soldiers took him and another man (whom he subsequently found out to be his neighbor Abbas Halawa) and forced them to walk in front of them. Al-Ajrami was blindfolded and a gun was held to the back of his head. He thinks that there were around 25 soldiers behind him and the other Palestinian man. Having walked in this way for a while, both he and the other man were forced to enter several houses with the soldiers taking cover behind them. They did not find anyone in any of the houses.
“I had a lot of difficulty walking and it was rough road. It was difficult to walk on that road and my movements were extremely difficult and we were blindfolded, our hands were tied. This is in addition to the acute pain I was feeling. I spoke to one of the Israeli soldiers who was behind me, and of course, we could feel the guns on our heads, also on the broken ribs on my back, and I told him I’m in extreme pain and he insulted me and he said ‘just walk, go, go,’ he said.
“Now, there were both of us, Abbas Halawa and myself and we kept walking, and when we got closer to a house, and because we could still see that, they would just push us ahead, meaning that they were hiding behind us. And on more than six or seven occasions they started shooting. So whenever they heard a strange noise and it was windy, because it was wintertime, they would start shooting. And we went on like this until we reached a a military location where there were a lot of tanks, also machine guns, soldiers.”
After searching several houses, the soldiers, Al-Ajrami, and Halawa walked north toward Dogit, a former settlement. He could hear the movement of tanks and see tank positions. Both men were forced to sit on the ground. They were left there without food, water or blankets. “They threw us on the floor next to each other with Mr Abbas Halawa and we stayed like this until the morning.”
At around 10am, soldiers took Halawa for interrogation. “I kept just writhing and writhing because of the pain, it was extremely cold. I was trembling and shivering. … It was around 11:00am and the soldiers came and took me. I told them don’t touch my right arm because I’m in extreme pain and I could not stand up, so they carried me.”
During that and the following day, Al-Ajrami was interrogated, once by a senior officer. “I realized that I was face to face with an Israeli officer, blond guy, blue eyes, in his 50s. I think he’s a general, I didn’t pay attention to his rank. And I felt, somehow, questioning myself why I was put that way, as if I were a terrorist. … And he said ‘look me in the eyes, I’m an intelligence officer, and I can understand whether you lie or not because we study psychology.’ I said, ‘I also have a PhD in mental health,’ and he just nodded and I think he didn’t feel happy about it, because he replied in a very, very harsh manner.
“And he repeated the same questions, again, and when I gave him the same reply again, he said that Hamas killed everybody and I laughed and he asked me about the whereabouts of Gilad Shalit and the rockets and what have you. … I said, ‘why are you treating me that way.’ He asked me to approach. I said, ‘I can’t.’ He said, ‘why.’ I said, ‘because one of your soldiers [threw] me off the second floor.’ He asked the soldiers to drive me forward where there was a boulder of debris and all soldiers there and tanks were coming and going and rockets were falling from the aircraft and the atmosphere was quite tense.
“And he said, ‘this is your house’ and I looked at the sea, to see that my house was there because it was on a hill. ‘Yes,’ I told him … he said that it was a beautiful house. I said, ‘your soldiers destroyed it,’ and he said, ‘we explicitly did that so as to give you a lesson because you elected the number one enemy of Israel, and I said, what’s my fault, what’s my guilt.’ He said, ‘as long as you are alive, you should know that the IDF is there and it is coming.’
“Then there was another officer who intervened and said ‘take him away’ and they brought me back to the ground, and that interrogation was repeated four or five times through the day and night and I was just in the open without any food or water and without any medication, whatsoever. And the next day the interrogation was repeated with me.”
On the second day, Al-Ajlami was taken to the edge of the camp and told to walk back south into Gaza City. “I walked southward toward my house and it was about 1pm and about 100 meters from that point, one of the soldiers took scissors and he cut the plastic handcuffs and they took away the blindfold and they put it in his pocket and then he asked me to go south, not to my house, and to head toward Jabaliya. I said, well, and at that moment I [thought] I was breathing my last because of thirst. I asked for some water. One of the soldiers gave me a small bottle of water and it had a black thread around it, and he said ‘take it’ and I had some water.
Then I said, ‘where should I go, should I go alone.’ He said, yes, ‘but I’m among your soldiers and this is just like an execution process.’ The other insulted me at least ‘go to hell and get lost;’ this is the least I can say.”
Al-Ajlami was able to reach the outskirts of the city and was helped by a stranger to reach a relative’s home, from where he was taken to Ash-Shifa Hospital. On returning to his house, he found it ransacked and vandalized. Many items of value had been stolen, including jewelry and electronic equipment.
The case of Majdi Abd Rabbo
Majdi Abd Rabbo, a man aged 39 at the time of the incident, is married and the father of five children. He is PA intelligence officer.
Abd Rabbo recounted that, at around 9:30am on 5 January 2009, he heard loud banging on the outer door of the house. He asked who was at the door and someone responded in Arabic, ordering him to open the door. He opened the door and saw in front of him a handcuffed Palestinian man, who was intentionally not identified by name in Goldstone’s report.
A group of around 15 soldiers stood behind the Palestinian man. One of the soldiers was holding a weapon to the man’s head. The soldiers pushed the man to one side and four soldiers pointed their weapons at Abd Rabbo. They ordered him to undress down to his underwear. He was then told to dress again and they pushed him into the house.
The soldiers ordered him to call his children one by one. He started with his eldest son, aged 16, who was ordered by the soldiers to strip naked. The same process was followed with the two other sons, aged nine and eight. He then called his daughter, aged 14, who was told to press her clothes to her body and turn around. His wife, who was holding their baby daughter, was also told to press her clothes to her body, and then to take the baby’s trousers off.
Abd Rabbo stated that the soldiers then forced him to walk in front of them as they searched the house, room by room, holding a firearm to his head. They questioned him about the house behind his. He told them that the house was empty and the owner had been absent for four years working in the Sudan. There was a small gap between the two houses, but they were joined at the roof. The soldiers gave him a sledgehammer, the kind used to break stones, and told him to break a hole through the dividing wall. This took around 15 minutes.
From the roof, the soldiers entered the house, pushing Abd Rabbo ahead of them down the stairs while they watched over his shoulders. They had descended only a few steps, however, when the soldiers apparently detected some movement, started shouting, pulled Abd Rabbo back and rushed back into his house over the roof. He heard some gun shots.
The soldiers ran out into the street, forcing Abd Rabbo and the other man with them while they were shooting. Both were taken into an adjacent mosque, where there were a large number of soldiers with military equipment. They were forced to sit down and then handcuffed.
The soldiers used the raised area of the mosque, from where the imam leads prayers, to fire at Abd Rabbo’s house and the houses next to it. He shouted at the soldiers to stop, as his family was still in the house. A soldier told him to shut up or they would shoot him. The shooting continued for around 30 minutes. After a lull, the soldiers warned that there would be a huge explosion and, indeed, about three minutes later there was a huge explosion. The explosion was followed by intensive gunfire and artillery shells.
In the meantime, he had been forced to break a hole in the wall of the mosque and into the neighboring house. He had then been interrogated about his knowledge of Hamas and the location of tunnels. Subsequently, he was taken and detained together with neighbors, men and women, in another house.
When the shooting stopped, soldiers came to fetch him. He was taken to the road near his house. There were numerous soldiers standing next to it, including some officers. He saw a senior officer talking to the soldiers who raided his house, and the officer then came to speak to him, through an interpreter.
‘This is not my job, I don’t want to die’
The soldier said that they had killed the fighters in the house and told him to go inside and come back with their clothes and weapons. Abd Rabbo protested, saying that he just wanted to find out if his family was safe. The officer told him to obey their orders if he wanted to see his family again. He refused to go, and was kicked and beaten by soldiers with their weapons until he gave in.
He approached the house from the street. The entrance was destroyed and blocked by rubble. He went back to the officer and told him that he could not get in. The officer told him to go through the roof instead. He went into his own house, which he found empty, except for a soldier. This reinforced his anxiety about the fate of his family. At this point, there was no major damage to his house. He crossed the roof and went down the stairs into the other house. He was scared that the fighters would shoot at him and shouted, “I am a Palestinian, a neighbor. I am being forced to come into this house.”
In a room at the bottom of the stairs he found three armed young men wearing military camouflage and headbands of the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. They pointed their weapons at him. He told them that the soldiers thought they had been killed and had sent him to check. He said he was helpless as they had taken his wife and children. The men told him they had seen everything, and asked him to go back and tell the soldiers what he had seen.
He went back outside, again crossing over the roof of his house. As he approached the soldiers, they pointed their weapons at him and ordered him to stop, strip naked and turn around. After he dressed again, he told them what he had seen. Initially, the soldiers did not believe him. They asked how he knew that they were Hamas militants and he explained about their headbands. The soldiers asked about their weapons. He replied that they were carrying Kalashnikovs. The officer told him that, if he was lying, he would be shot dead.
He was handcuffed and taken back to the family house for detention. At around 3pm, he heard gunfire for around 30 minutes. The soldiers came back for him and took him to the same officer. This time he noticed different soldiers present with different military equipment. Through the translator, the officer told him that they had killed the militants, and told him to go in and bring back their bodies. Again he refused, saying “this is not my job, I don’t want to die.”
He lied to them, saying that the three militants had told him that if he came back, they would kill him. The officer told him that, as they had already killed the militants, he should not worry. He added that they had fired two missiles into the house, which must have killed the militants. When he still resisted, he was beaten and kicked again, until he went into the house via the roof again.
He found the house very badly damaged. The bottom part of the stairs was missing. He again went in shouting, to alert the militants if they were still alive. He found them in the same room as before. Two were unharmed. The third was badly injured, covered in blood, with wounds to his shoulder and abdomen. They asked him what was going on outside and he told them that the area was fully occupied and the soldiers had taken numerous hostages, including his family.
The wounded man gave him his name and asked him to tell his family what had happened. Abd Rabbo promised to do so if he survived and later did so. Another told him to tell the Israeli officer that, if he was a real man, he would come to them himself.
Abd Rabbo returned to the soldiers, who again forced him to strip naked before they approached him. He told the officer that two of the militants were unharmed. The officer swore at him and accused him of lying. Abd Rabbo then repeated the message from the militant, at which the officer and four other soldiers assaulted him with their weapons and insulted him.
The officer asked for his ID card. He replied that it was in his house but gave him the number. The officer checked it via an electronic device. Three minutes later the officer asked him if it was true that he worked with the head of the PA’s intelligence services, which he confirmed. The officer asked him if he was a supporter of Mahmoud Abbas and a Fatah affiliate. He said he was.
The soldiers brought Abd Rabbo a megaphone and told him to use it to call the fighters. He initially refused but did so under threat. As instructed, he told them to surrender, that the Red Cross was present and they could hand themselves over. There was no response.
By then, night had fallen. Abd Rabbo was again handcuffed and taken back to the house. Thirty to forty minutes later, he heard shooting and a huge explosion. Soldiers came to tell him that they had bombed the house and ordered him to go in again and check on the fighters.
Israeli forces had floodlit the area. Abd Rabbo found both his and the neighbor’s house very badly damaged. He could not use the roof of his house to enter the neighbor’s house, as it had collapsed. He went back to the soldiers, who again made him strip, this time to his underwear. He asked where his family was and said that he could not reach the fighters because of the damage to the houses. He accused the soldiers of destroying his house. The officer said that they had only hit the neighbor’s house. He was then handcuffed.
Until this time, Abd Rabbo had been given no food or water, and it was very cold. After a while, his handcuffs were removed, he was told to dress and taken back to the family house, to the room where he found that other people were being held. All the men and boys in this room were handcuffed and their ankles were tied. A soldier came with some drinking glasses and smashed them at the entrance to the room where they were being held. After smashing the glasses, the soldier left again.
Abd Rabbo had developed a severe headache. Another detainee, who spoke Hebrew, called a soldier to say that he was sick and needed medicine. The soldier told him to keep quiet or he would be shot. A woman tied a scarf around his head to ease the pain.
At around 7am, he was taken back to the soldiers outside. He was questioned about the number of fighters in the house. He confirmed that he had seen three.
Two young Palestinian men from the neighborhood were brought over. A soldier gave them a camera and told them to go into the house and take photos of the fighters. The two tried to refuse, and were beaten and kicked. About 10 minutes later, they came back with photos of the three fighters. Two appeared to be dead, under rubble. The third was also trapped by rubble but appeared to be alive and was still holding his firearm. A soldier showed Abd Rabbo the photos and asked if these were the same people. He confirmed they were.
A soldier took the megaphone and told the fighters that they had 15 minutes to surrender, that the neighborhood was under the control of Israeli forces and that, if they did not surrender, they would hit the house with an airstrike.
Fifteen minutes later, a soldier came with a dog, which had electronic gear attached to its body and what looked like a camera on its head. Another soldier had a small laptop. The handler sent the dog into the house. A few minutes later, shots were heard and the dog came running out. It had been shot and subsequently died.
At around 10:30am on 6 January 2009, a bulldozer arrived and started to level the house, demolishing everything in its way. Abd Rabbo watched it demolish his own house and the neighbor’s house. He and the two young men were told to go back to the family house. They heard shooting.
At around 3pm, Abd Rabbo was taken back close to the site of his and his neighbor’s house. He told the Goldstone mission that he saw the bodies of the three fighters lying on the ground in the rubble of the house.
The soldiers then forced him to enter other houses on the street as they searched them. All were empty. The soldiers forced him to go into a house alone initially and, when he came out, sent in a dog. During the house searches he managed to find some water to drink, the first drink he had had for two days. At midnight, the soldiers took him back to the family house.
On 7 January, all the men and boys were taken from the family house and transferred to the house of a cousin of Abd Rabbo’s in the same neighborhood. There were more than 100 men and boys, including members of his extended family, aged between 15 and 70. The women were being held elsewhere. Abd Rabbo’s immediate family members were not there, and he learnt that no one had seen them. He remained extremely anxious about their safety.
At around 11pm, the men and boys in that house were told that they were going to be released, and that they should all walk west toward Jabaliya, without turning left or right, on threat of being shot. They found Izbat Abd Rabbo Street severely damaged. Abd Rabbo went to his sister’s house in Jabaliya, where he was reunited with his wife and children.
Abd Rabbo told the Goldstone mission that he and his family were traumatized by what had happened to them and did not know what to do now, having lost their home and all their possessions. His children were all suffering psychologically and performing poorly at school. Five months later, Majdi Abd Rabbo was still having nightmares.
Nora Barrows-Friedman, The Electronic Intifada, 11 January 2010
University students demonstrate at Hampshire college. (Hampshire SJP)
In 2009, Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, became the first American higher educational institution to successfully pressure its Board of Trustees to divest from Israel-tied mutual funds. The victory came three decades after the college similarly disinvested from funds linked to apartheid South Africa. Across North America, student-led Palestine activism groups have used the methods formulated by the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) “to implement divestment initiatives against Israel, similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era, until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with international law.” Hampshire College’s divestment move was a victory for the students and the administration of Hampshire College, and an inspirational model for hundreds of activism groups across North American campuses.
But despite the expanding and momentous student-led BDS movement, open dialogue around the reality of the situation in occupied Palestine continues to be an uphill battle for many professors inside the classrooms. Educators who openly align with the BDS movement, or speak out against Israeli-US policy in Palestine and the region, are being harassed, threatened, blacklisted, denied tenure and fired from their academic posts.
Denied tenure at Ithaca College
Margo Ramlal-Nankoe, former professor of Sociology at Ithaca College in New York, said that after she started addressing issues of human rights abuses in occupied Palestine — especially after the start of the second Palestinian intifada — she was warned by faculty members at the college that she was “risking” her career and “would suffer repercussions from the administration.” Ramlal-Nankoe told The Electronic Intifada (EI) that the verbal threats eventually led to alleged racist and sexist attacks, and an open death threat from a faculty member who protested Ramlal-Nankoe’s support of a department colleague whose husband was Palestinian. “He [made] a cut-throat gesture with his hand across his neck to me,” Ramlal-Nankoe said. She was later denied tenure in 2007. With the tenure review board voting unanimously against her, alleging she did not “fit in the department,” faculty colleagues had encouraged the board to “stop hiring third-world elites,” and told them that Ramlal-Nankoe’s position in the department should instead go to a “native-born American.”
“My tenure debacle started in 2005,” Ramlal-Nankoe told EI. “I received a strong majority vote in support of my tenure in 2005 from the Sociology Tenure Committee. However, the Dean committed violations in my tenure review and denied me tenure. I appealed the dean’s decision and the violations by him and a minority in the Sociology tenure committee. After I won the appeal in April 2006, the provost halted my tenure review and proposed to have a new tenure review in 2007 to correct the violations. This provost was fired soon after his decision.”
Ramlal-Nankoe attributed the core of the attacks and her denial of tenure to her support of Ithaca College’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group, her organization of a series of Palestine-Israel-themed speaking events on campus (including guests such as Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi, EI’s Ali Abunimah, and former UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq Denis Halliday) and her public criticism of Israel’s ongoing military occupation and violations of human rights in Palestine. The college’s Hillel organization was also aggressive in its attacks against on-campus criticism of Israeli policy.
Furthermore, Ramlal-Nankoe alleged that the college’s dean of the Humanities and Sciences Department at the time of her tenure denial, Howard Erlich, was “known” for his personal retaliation against faculty and staff who he considered to be “too sympathetic” to the Palestinian cause). She also asserted that Erlich denied funding requests for educational programs on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, classifying them as “anti-Israeli.” Ramlal-Nankoe added that at this time, Erlich had stated to her that his son was serving in the Israeli army.
Professor Ramlal-Nankoe has filed a lawsuit against Ithaca College, but it has not been resolved, she said, despite lengthy appeals and publications. Her case is now under investigation by the New York State Human Rights Commission and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
North Carolina State University case
Film studies professor Terri Ginsberg, similarly fired in 2008 by North Carolina State University (NCSU) in what she says was a punishment for her outspoken criticism of “Zionism, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and US Middle East policy,” believes that institutionalized censorship on the Palestine-Israel issue in the academic realm is eerily reminiscent of the McCarthy era of the 1950s and ’60s. “So many of the dynamics and methods of discrimination perpetrated against today’s scholarly critics of Israel and US Middle East policy derive from and continue, in updated fashion, practices initiated and implemented during that shameful period,” she says.
Ginsberg told EI that she was strongly encouraged to apply for the tenure track position at NCSU because of her strong academic service record and favorable student evaluations. But when she began publicly criticizing US-Israeli policy in the Middle East inside and outside the classroom, the administration retaliated against her and she was “punished with partial removal from — and interference in — duty, non-renewal of contract and rejection from a tenure-track position.” She remarked that since then, her entire professional academic career has been crippled. “I have been veritably blacklisted from the university classroom, ostracized by many of my colleagues, and have been forced to endure unnecessary, unwarranted economic hardship and psychological distress,” Ginsberg said.
Ginsberg also filed a legal complaint against NCSU, accusing the administration of discrimination and violation of the North Carolina Constitution, alleging freedom of speech violations and employment prejudice.
Terri Ginsberg’s legal counsel, Rima Kapitan, told EI that she expects NCSU to file a response to the lawsuit soon. Kapitan added, “The pervasiveness of restrictions on Palestine-related speech in today’s academic climate is shocking, given our Constitution’s speech protections and our society’s idealistic conception of academia as a bastion of open dialogue and debate.” Scare tactics on campuses by administrations and outside Zionist-aligned groups, Kapitan asserted, have resulted in widespread “self-censorship” by untenured or adjunct professors. Combined with a paradigm in which campus administrators and program coordinators take “neutral” stances on the so-called Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kapitan said that “voices critical of Israel are often either banned or are not permitted unless they are heard alongside Zionist perspectives …[Academia] is a very dangerous climate for critics of Zionism.”
Working alongside discriminatory academic administrations are right-wing Zionist groups, such as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) and Campus Watch. Campus Watch in particular has been a strong force behind smear campaigns against university professors such as Terri Ginsberg. Campus Watch describes itself as a “project of the Middle East Forum” that “seeks to have an influence over the future course of Middle East studies” on US college campuses. However, it has been instrumental in vilifying and discrediting distinguished, well-known academic critics of Zionism and Israeli policies such as Norman Finkelstein (denied tenure in June 2007 from DePaul University), and Joel Kovel (fired from Bard College in 2008 in what Koval claimed was a thinly-veiled attempt by the college to categorize the firing as a necessary and nonpolitical budget cut). The Middle East Forum (MEF) is a right-wing think tank based in Philadelphia that “define[s] and promote[s] … US interests in the Middle East [including] fighting radical Islam; working for Palestinian acceptance of Israel; robustly asserting US interests vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia; and developing strategies to deal with Iraq and contain Iran.” Daniel Pipes, director of the MEF and a top neoconservative American academic, was quoted in 2001 by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs as saying, “the Palestinians are a miserable people … and they deserve to be.”
Ginsberg said that because of the hostile climate within certain academic structures, combined with external pressure by these so-called watchdog groups that seek to silence criticism of Israeli policy, academic workers are made to “self-censor in order to locate and retain albeit meager employment, producing a chilling environment for permanent faculty as well … Meanwhile, non-conforming Jewish voices and perspectives continue to be held with suspicion and condemnation, not least when they articulate solidarity with the oppressed.”
She said that her academic and intellectual work was highly influenced by her Palestine activism, and “greatly enhanced” her ability to make “informed, well-rounded scholarly judgments about the conflict’s academic and cultural expression, discern true from false facts about it, and convey them to my students and in my writing — writing which would also begin to analyze the ensuing, heightened suppression of academic speech critical of Zionism and US Middle East policy.”
Slashed from the classroom but undeterred in her political activism, she continues to pursue “scholarly, activist and public intellectual work on Palestine/Israel and on Middle Eastern culture in critical light of US and European policy and attitudes toward the region.”
Fight for academic freedom
Ramlal-Nankoe’s and Ginsberg’s battles come at a time when there are both controversies and victories in the fight for academic freedom. In New York, Nadia Abou El Haj, professor of Anthropology at Barnard, became the focus of an online petition to deny her tenure, organized in part by a Barnard graduate who lives in the illegal Israeli settlement colony of Maale Addumim in the occupied West Bank. Despite external pressure, Barnard granted El Haj full tenure in 2007.
Additionally, Joseph Massad, EI contributor and professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University, was finally granted tenure in 2009 after a years-long public struggle. Massad was the favored target of pro-Zionist student groups who sought to dismantle his tenure application in 2005 by discrediting him in the media in an attempt to pressure the tenure review board. After Columbia’s decision to grant Massad tenure, The New York Post and The Huffington Post, among many other media outlets, ran pieces decrying the outcome. Anna Kelner wrote in The Huffington Post: “[W]hen Columbia University granted tenure to Joseph Massad … the University jeopardized its long-standing commitment to cultivating and supporting its Jewish student population.”
EI also reported on the controversy surrounding Professor William Robinson at UC Santa Barbara, who, after emailing his students with a sharp critique of Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip last winter, was accused by pro-Zionist student groups (backed by the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center) of faculty misconduct; but the case was thrown out by university officials in June of 2009.
Hindering the debate
However, Ramlal-Nankoe and Ginsberg are still worried. They believe that by attacking, censoring and firing professors because of their political activism specifically on this issue, university students are disallowed the broad-based political education necessary to understand the reality in Israel-Palestine.
“The overall situation in this respect will only deteriorate unless, in contrast to the McCarthy era, public and academic outcry, organized protest and transformative praxis are marshaled to bring about a constructive reversal in the current, nefarious trend,” Ginsberg observed. “The … Gaza Freedom March is one such protest, the BDS movement yet another. But we should not, at the same time, ignore troubles on the home-front. Persons dedicated to teaching the history and culture of Palestine justice struggles, for prime instance, must be allowed to do so unhindered by the fear and economic insecurity wrought by a higher educational system in which academic freedom has sadly devolved almost completely into academic ‘free enterprise.'”
Professor Margo Ramlal-Nankoe agrees. “The repercussions on faculty who dare to speak out against injustices [are] abysmal and contradict and defeat, in my opinion, the whole purpose of education and critical inquiry. In other words, it is anti-education.”
Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University Richard Falk, who is currently the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, said he, too, is concerned about “diverging trends in relation to academic freedom for those who express sharply critical views of Israel [and] Zionism”
“My only advice [to professors], having been attacked for several decades,” Falk added, “is to make yourself as invulnerable as possible in relation to the standard expectations that prevail in universities: publish in scholarly venues, teach reliably and with receptivity to diverse opinions, and be a useful colleague, but do not abandon your conscience or your identity as an engaged citizen with critical views.”
Falk told EI that the growing BDS movement, specifically within the academic and cultural boycott call against Israeli apartheid, is an effective course of action amongst educators and cultural workers of conscience. “There seems to be diverging trends in relation to academic freedom for those who express sharply critical views of Israel or Zionism,” Falk remarked. “On the one side there is growing sympathy for the Palestinian struggle, and this is exhibited by the spreading BDS campaign. On the other side, there are increased efforts by organized Zionist groups to exert covert and overt pressure on university administrations to punish those seen as critics of Israel. As a result, we can expect some inconsistent outcomes in this period.”
Currently, according to the US Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) campaign, more than 450 American educators and 125 writers, journalists, artists and musicians (including this writer and EI’s Ali Abunimah) have signed onto the national statement. The BDS campaign is gaining ground as academics stand up for their beliefs — and resist the aggressive political pressure — within American educational institutions.
Nora Barrows-Friedman is the co-host and Senior Producer of Flashpoints, a daily investigative newsmagazine on Pacifica Radio. She is also a correspondent for Inter Press Service. She regularly reports from Palestine, where she also runs media workshops for youth in the Dheisheh refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.
11 January 2010
Mere words cannot express my admiration for Viva Palestina and those who devote their efforts to it. I love the way they shamed – and not for the first time – the great powers and their gutless leaders.
And for his pains the British MP George Galloway has been declared persona non grata in Egypt. How heartbreaking for him.
Given past disagreements, and the stubborn refusal of this latest convoy to be derailed, it was never going to end in hugs and kisses from President Mubarak’s henchmen, or fond messages of “Come ye back soon, George.”
What really matters is that they delivered the life-saving goods when the armies and navies of the so-called “free world” wouldn’t even think about it. And they did it with style in the face of Egypt’s tantrums.
The nervous Egyptian authorities allowed exhausted convoy members only 30 hours inside Gaza to say hello, distribute their aid and take a rest. Sad and wobbly regimes simply cannot handle a few hundred humanitarians so they accuse them of “incitement” and “hostile acts”, and throw them out.
Now we hear grumbles from some activists that criticizing Egypt diverts attention from the real culprit. But Israel’s evil machinations would find little success without the Egyptian government’s cooperation. There should of course be free movement of goods and people through the Gaza-Egypt border. Instead, Mubarak signed up to the US-Israel-EU conspiracy to keep the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip bottled up and helpless to resist what many are calling a slow genocide. In so doing, Egypt joined the worst offenders against international law, the UN Charter and the codes of decent conduct. It is time the spotlight fell on Cairo even if it means momentarily taking it off Tel Aviv and Washington.
Mubarak has slithered even further into the Middle East swamp of iniquity by constructing an iron Death Wall designed to create a hermetic border seal and inflict even more misery on his Muslim bothers and sisters, and the Christian community.
The Egyptian president is certainly not part of any solution. He has become a problem.
As for Mr Galloway, when can we expect to see him receive an official pat on the back for doing what the British government’s poseurs were too cowardly to do: bringing humanitarian aid to trampled people Britain still has a residual responsibility for?
Mr Galloway speaks of more convoys setting out for Gaza from Venezuela, Malaysia and South Africa. But Egypt has just announced that convoys, regardless of their origin, are no longer welcome. Instead, it is introducing a new “mechanism” whereby all aid for Gaza must in future be handed over to the Egyptian Red Crescent as soon as it arrives at the port of El-Arish. It will then be processed and passed on (if you can believe that) to the Palestinian Red Crescent.
Nobody trusts the Egyptian authorities to do this in an honest and transparent way. Besides, donors and fund-raisers often have direct links with charitable organizations inside Gaza and the West Bank. They would not wish to see the fruits of their labour and other people’s generosity disappear into some distribution “black hole”.
Britain still blames Hamas for Gaza’s suffering
And what says the British government, which never seems able to get anything right these days?
The Foreign Office’s “clear advice” is against all travel to Gaza. Why, when they should be facilitating travel to Gaza and applying sanctions against anyone who hinders it?
“The suffering of Gazan people is compounded by the violent and irresponsible actions of Hamas,” says the Foreign Office. “We are concerned by the recent upsurge in incidents of Hamas confiscating aid and obstructing the efforts of international aid organizations in Gaza.” We keep hearing these accusations but never proof. Gaza is on a war footing, under crippling blockade and in continual crisis. Hamas, the de facto government, runs the health service and is almost certainly best placed to know where medical supplies are needed most. Obviously they’ll step in when aid arrives.
Viva Palestina are at least as well informed about the situation in Gaza as the Foreign Office. Would convoy activists really go to so much trouble if Hamas was seizing everything they delivered?
Britain, while eagerly offering the services of the Royal Navy to help Israel stop “smuggling” into Gaza, won’t use its ships to spare the Gazans a slow death from starvation and prevent a public health catastrophe.
It is time our servants Brown and Miliband explained, carefully and logically, exactly what their problem is with Gaza and its democratically elected rulers so that the rest of us can try to understand – if indeed there is anything beneath the layers of pro-Israel “crapaganda” worth understanding.
Go by sea
Events now seem to be prodding Viva Palestina to change tack. Perhaps it Is too simplistic to suppose that Gaza needs to be sea-fed like any other coastal community. But should humanitarian relief teams continue to seek access by land crossings that are controlled by militarized thugs bent on destroying Gaza’s population and halting any convoy in its tracks?
Deal direct. Surely that must be the aim. And do it in the name of God. A large armada of boats led by a multi-faith alliance demanding freedom of the seas and the right to an armed escort, could be the best vehicle. The United Nations should provide the necessary security arrangements to check the cargoes as they are landed in Gaza.
It would require considerable courage. Whether religious leaders have the balls for it is doubtful, even when the highest moral purpose is being served, but they might surprise us. A sprinkling of politicians could be relied on but the higher echelons know which side their bread is buttered.
Israel, Egypt, the US and the UK might wish to airbrush Mr Galloway out of the picture, but that’s unthinkable. He’ll be nominated for the next Nobel Peace Prize and seen as a million times more deserving than the fraud in the White House.
Yes, the REAL international community – that’s ordinary folk like you and me and Viva Palestina and everyone and his dog around the globe – are finally beginning to assert themselves against the corrupt power freaks that strut the world stage.
Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.
Bridget Chappell writing from Nablus, occupied West Bank, Live from Palestine, 11 January 2010
Anan Subih’s children in their damaged home.
The brutal killing of three Palestinian men by Israeli military forces in Nablus last month on 26 December 2009 sparked grief and outrage across Palestine and brought the northern West Bank city to a standstill as thousands mourned the lethal attack. However, their voices are drowned out yet again by a well-played hand of Israel’s propaganda machine and repeated by the mainstream media.
On the eve of the one-year anniversary of Israel’s winter invasion of Gaza, a force of several hundred Israeli soldiers entered Nablus and invaded the homes of Ghassan Abu Sharkh, Raed Sarakji and Anan Subih where they were executed in cold blood in front of family members. A statement by the Israeli military alleged that an operation was carried out to arrest the men suspected of involvement in the killing of an Israeli settler, Meir Avshalom Hai, two days earlier.
The portraits of the targeted men — armed perpetrators of another injustice — painted by the military’s statements have exploded throughout Israel’s media and beyond, subsequently footnoted by Israeli police’s forensic results, reporting a match between a rifle seized in the invasions and the weapon used to kill Hai, a rabbi and resident of the Shave Shomron settlement.
This postmortem revelation, which has not been verified by independent sources, raises alarming questions of Israel’s “shoot first, ask questions later” policy. It also echoes the disparities between the statements of the Israeli military, repeated by the Israeli and international media, and the testimony of the victims’ family members, which were collected by a handful of local media agencies and human rights organizations.
Ghassan Abu Sharkh’s wife, shot in the foot.
Ghassan Abu Sharkh’s brother Diyaa Abu Sharkh said Israeli military forces stormed their home in Nablus’ Old City at 12am. Sharkh’s wife and four children were forced outside and the entire family was handcuffed, whereupon Sharkh’s eldest son was kicked and beaten by soldiers with the butts of their guns. As Sharkh descended, unarmed, from the stairs inside in hopes of surrendering, soldiers immediately opened fire on him, riddling his body with bullet holes. Outside, Israeli soldiers continued to brutally beat Sharkh’s son while their counterparts prevented Red Crescent ambulances from entering the area.
According to Tahani Jaara, the wife of Raed Sarakji, the Israeli military then forced their way in to their home in the Old City at 2:30am, where Sarakji was shot in the head immediately. The force of the close-range fire was so great that it caused his head to split in two. As his pregnant wife ran forward to catch his falling body she was shot in the foot. Only at this point did soldiers confirm the identity of the man just executed, ordering his wife to hand over both their IDs and mobile phones. Soldiers opened fire once again on his now lifeless body, then ordered his wife to summon their children to behold the grisly remains.
Half an hour later, Israeli soldiers entered Nablus’ Ras al-Ain neighborhood. Quickly occupying several homes surrounding the house of Anan Subih, soldiers began firing anti-tank missiles at the upper levels of the building, blowing a giant cavity between the third and fourth stories. Farid Subih, brother of Anan, reported that soldiers entered the house on foot, firing live ammunition and destroying property as they forced family members out in to the street. Subih was found hiding in the rubble created by rocket blasts, where he was immediately executed.
A spokesman for the Israeli army claimed that after the men “refused to leave their houses and surrender, we entered. They continued hiding and endangering our soldiers, which made the shooting imperative.” How these three men sleeping at home with their families endangered an overwhelming armed military force is unclear. As is the justification for brutally excessive force employed lethally against the targeted men and wantonly upon their family members, including children.
The Israeli military’s trigger-happy strategies for the “liquidation” of those deemed a security risk have resulted in the tragic loss of hundreds of civilian lives in so-called “targeted killing” operations, as a result of both mistaken identity and the excessive use of force employed, such as the launching of missiles from aircrafts, tanks or missile launchers at densely populated areas. Although this did not occur during the 26 December Nablus incursion, it is particularly disturbing that the Israeli military issued a post-execution clarification of at least one of the slain men’s identities.
Israel’s long history of such extrajudicial killing operations carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) reached its height during and after the second Palestinian intifada. Israel’s assassination policy resulted in the deaths of 754 persons from December 2000 to June 2008 in 348 operations. As reported by the Palestine Centre for Human Rights in July 2008, 521 of those killed were targeted and 233 were bystanders.
Categorical execution without trial constitutes state terrorism, whatever statements military spokespeople may peddle regarding Israel’s exhaustive quest for “security” and the means necessary to enforce it. Whether or not Israeli intelligence’s suspicions of Sarakji, Sharkh and Subih were well-founded, the cold-blooded execution of these and hundreds of other victims are a grave departure from a human’s right to due process. Israel’s tired accusations of terrorism against those it kills are rarely supported by evidence, and only a handful of cases of those killed on these grounds have ever been investigated; fewer still have been accountable for their actions.
There are still plenty of questions left unanswered and will likely remain that way forever. Two groups of two factions, at entirely opposite ends of the political spectrum, claimed responsibility for the attack on the settler: the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade associated with the Fatah party and the fundamentalist Islamic Jihad.
Of the three men, Sarakji, released from a seven-year prison term last January, was the only one officially wanted by Israel for suspected involvement in the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade. In contrast, according to his brother, Subih had surrendered his arms and received a full governmental pardon some years ago, while Sharkh’s wife states her husband’s only link to armed struggle was through his brother, who was assassinated by Israeli forces in 2004.
Israel’s attempt to depict their actions as the standard routine of criminal inquiry is clearly a farce. However admissible the findings of the victim’s armed involvement may be in a court of law, it amounts to little when those accused have already been tried and found guilty by the barrel of a gun. Whether these men were guilty or innocent — they were executed without trial in cold blood. They leave behind traumatized children, grieving families and thousands of ex-prisoners and fellow citizens wondering who will be next.
All images by Bridget Chappell.
Bridget Chappell is an Australian activist and writer who has been working with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine since August 2009. She is based in Nablus.
By Iqbal Jassat | January 11, 2010
As the media focus fades away from Egypt and the unprecedented brawl that occurred in the streets of Cairo, it is likely that the world will yet again be treated to Mubarak’s routine antics at Sharm al-Sheikh.
The Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh often serves as the setting for Mubarak to distract global attention from his political failures. It is here that he usually appears in a fake mask to don the appearance of a “peace-maker”, ostensibly to pursue “peace” on behalf of the Occupied Palestinians.
To add further mockery he usually has Mahmoud Abbas in tow to keep nodding his head in approval. Of course the seat on his right is usually reserved for whichever butcher in Israel may have been elected leader of the colonial-settler state.
And peeping over his shoulder will be the incumbent US Secretary of State, ensuring that the American puppet does not stray from the carefully worded pro-Israeli script. After all, the script would be prepared by a bunch of neo-conners or their hangers-on who share the view most recently expressed by New York’s Ed Koch, that Muslims are terrorists.
Thus room only for pliant betrayers such as the PA’s American-backed Fatah elite – not for movements such as Hamas listed by the US as terrorists! They and the rest of Palestine’s freedom fighters who are not exiled or are in the dungeons of Israel and the West Bank, courtesy of Abu Mazen, are in fact the target of proceedings at Sharm al-Sheikh!
Five years ago during February 2005, Mubarak hosted Ariel Sharon who on the eve of the summit at Sharm el-Sheikh even announced a willingness to declare that Israel would cease military activities against all Palestinians. There was optimism all round as well as the hollow rhetoric of Abu Mazen along the line of “… A new opportunity for peace is born today in the city of peace”.
What utter rubbish! Hoodwinking public opinion and raising false expectations has been a favorite pastime of the Palestinian Authority.
Mainstream western media was as usual quick to applaud this false dawn.
What they chose to ignore was Sharon’s public instruction to Abu Mazen to act against the resistance: “…To dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, to disarm and subdue it once and for all”.
The so-called “breakthrough” and the promise of “calm and hope” was no more than the artful trick of deception of which past and current Israeli leaders are known for.
It didn’t take long for Sharon to display his fraud. A day after the summit a twenty-year-old Palestinian in Gaza was shot dead from an Israeli army post near the settlement of Atzmona. A day later, another Palestinian was shot and killed as he was driving through the neighbourhood of Wadi al-Haramiya near the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Not surprising, mainstream western media ignored these two routine shootings. What attracted their attention and grabbed headlines was when Hamas fired mortars and Qassam rockets at an Israeli settlement in Gaza in response to the shootings.
The international media led by US media blamed Palestinians for “breaking the ceasefire” only two days after the Mubarak brokered agreement as Sharm el-Sheikh – without any reference to the shootings!
Gaza’s suffering prior to the December 2008 bloodbath and following it with the on-going siege is reflective of a tragic narrative that sadly has been compounded by unfair and irresponsible media reports.
Mubarak’s role as Israel’s gatekeeper is similarly unaccounted by US media organizations. That many hundreds of American activists mobilized in Cairo against his high-handed approach in keeping the Rafah border gate sealed, did not warrant US media attention. It’s a tendency that says to the Occupied Palestinians that while we will apply pressure on you, we will retain absolute silence on Israeli brutality.
Meanwhile Mubarak will hand out gold-etched invitations to the paparazzi of western media as soon as he decides to sponsor another round of shadow boxing at Sharm al-Sheikh.
– Iqbal Jassat is chairperson of the Media Review Network (MRN), an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.
By Laura Rozen | Politico | January 10, 2010 07:57 PM EST
There are signs that negotiations with Iran over a nuclear fuel swap have resumed despite the expiration of the end-of-year deadline for a deal set by President Barack Obama.
While the Obama administration has stepped up talk of expanding sanctions on the regime’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iranian news reports and U.S. official sources say that Iran has recently returned a formal counter offer to swap low enriched uranium, or LEU, in exchange for nuclear fuel cells produced in the West.
The proposal comes as Iranian news reports say the foreign ministry has announced the halting of uranium enrichment for two months as a good-will gesture. Outside observers have not confirmed that claim.
A U.S. nonproliferation hand confirmed Sunday that Iran had offered a formal response in late December or early January. While the Iranian fuel-swap response was said to have been conveyed by the highest levels of the Iranian government, U.S. officials contacted Sunday gave no public indication that they have any interest in the counter-offer.
“The Iranians have been saying different things for weeks, but what matters is whether they will accept the IAEA’s proposed TRR deal, which they agreed to in principle on October 1 but then walked away from,” an administration official said. “They know what they need to do to satisfy the international communities concerns and to date they have not done so.”
The Tehran Research Reactor proposal, or TRR, calls on Iran to immediately send 1,200 kg of its LEU to Russia, and France would in return supply Iran with nuclear fuel cells for medical use. The plan would have left Iran without enough fissile material to enrich for use in a nuclear weapon, putting time back on the clock for international negotiations on the nation’s nuclear program.
Iran’s counter-offer also proposes sending the 1,200 kg abroad – probably to Turkey – but in batches, starting with a first shipment of 400 kg. The offer seems to establish Iran’s willingness to export the LEU out of the country, which would satisfy a key Western condition.
“My understanding is that they [U.S. officials] have not given up on the TRR deal,” one Washington Iran hand said on condition of anonymity Sunday. “They need it. So if there was a chance of salvaging something …. They still want to get a deal.”
“As long as under no situation over the next year there is enough LEU to produce a bomb, whether Iran ships out the fuel in one, two or three batches, is just a logistical issue,” he said.
NSC nuclear czar Gary Samore and his shop and the U.S. mission to the IAEA in Vienna would be best placed to handle talks about a deal, it was suggested.
One source told POLITICO that an agreement between Iran and the “P5+1” – as the group composed of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. is known – could be announced in “the very near future.”
While Iranian negotiators tentatively approved the TRR deal in October, the proposal came under fire in the Iranian parliament, and Iran hadn’t until now formally replied to the offer.
The closed nature of Iran’s nuclear program and the political upheaval there since the disputed June elections have made it difficult to interpret the nature of that silence, which could be a delaying device, a failure to achieve consensus with the government, or an attempt to win domestic political points by holding out on a deal until after the deadline had passed.
The U.S., for its part, has been working to balance a level of support for political dissidents in Iran with its negotiations with the government on its nuclear program.
Buried deep in Iranian news reports last week was a quote attributed to Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, seeming to indicate that Iran has stopped enriching uranium at all for two months as a good will gesture:
“On the request of certain impartial countries who asked Iran not to enrich uranium for two months in order to give the West some time to respond, [Mehmanparasat] said, ‘To show our goodwill to the international community, we agreed with this request, and one month has passed since that time and one month is left,’” the Tehran Times reported last Monday. “’If the other side responds to Iran’s request in the remaining time, we will start the work. Otherwise, we will make the necessary decision.’”
Nonproliferation experts contacted Sunday said they were not aware of a halt to Iran’s uranium enrichment.
In its analysis of the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report, however, the nonproliferation group ISIS noted that Iran was holding its enrichment rate steady and was not using all of the centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment facility. But it wasn’t clear if technical problems or a political decision or something else accounted for the unused centrifuges.
“There’s a lot more uncertainty now about whether the slow-down in the operation of centrifuges has its origins in technical difficulties, the change in leadership of the Iranian nuclear program, or an Iranian decision to deliberately slow the program down in order to give diplomatic solution a chance to work,” ISIS’s Jacqueline Shire told POLITICO Sunday.
The administration official did not say whether the U.S. had indications that Iran had halted or drastically slowed down its uranium enrichment.
The Iranian proposal to send the LEU to Turkey, a Muslim nation that’s been increasing its economic ties to Iran, could help set the stage for any agreement.
“I believe that Turkey can be an important player in trying to move Iran” away from what the U.S. and other nations suspect is a nuclear weapons program, President Obama said after meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House in December.
© 2009 Capitol News Company, LLC
Project on Government Oversight | January 7, 2010
If your kid accidentally blew apart a building, would you give them less supervision? This hands-off approach is exactly what the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is doing by giving the contractors who manage the nation’s eight nuclear weapons sites (Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Nevada Test Site, Sandia National Laboratory, Savannah River Site, Pantex, Y-12, and the Kansas City Plant) a six-month break from many regularly scheduled oversight reviews.
On December 18, 2009–two days after researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) accidentally blew apart a building, causing an initial estimate of $3 million in damage–NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino signed a directive “placing a six-month moratorium on NNSA-initiated functional assessments, reviews, evaluations and inspections.” Project on Government Oversight (POGO) saw this directive coming, as DOE and NNSA have initiated reforms to put contractors in charge of their own oversight, “Reforming the Nuclear Security Enterprise.” POGO is not convinced that this moratorium is so temporary, and is interested to know what NNSA is going to do with all of the federal full time employees at the site offices and headquarters it no longer needs as a result of this directive.
Getting a hiatus from regular reviews are many of the areas that have had recent serious problems—security, nuclear safety, cyber security, Material Control and Accountability (MC&A), contractor assurance systems that relate to contract oversight, property accountability, and nuclear weapons quality. For example, the weaknesses with Los Alamos’s MC&A program were so significant it took NNSA more than a year and a half to resolve them. Additionally, it was NNSA, not the contractor that found that Los Alamos treated its loss of more than 67 computers merely as a property management issue, and not as a potential lapse in cyber security. Over the last few years, POGO has also discovered countless security and safety incidents at Los Alamos, Livermore National Laboratory, Pantex, and Y-12, that the contractors had not provided oversight sufficient to prevent and resolve the problems. In the past, a senior manager at Los Alamos and his sidekick went to jail when the procurement system got out of control. Now, the directive exempts Los Alamos from a procurement management review.
“It seems foolish for NNSA to abdicate its management, given the last few years of debacles at the labs,” says POGO Senior Investigator Peter Stockton. “NNSA needs to recognize its role in overseeing the labs, as that was one of the major reasons it was created.”
NNSA’s new approach to federal safety and security oversight is irresponsible—stopping it in its entirety for six months. POGO would instead like to see NNSA make a New Year’s resolution to conduct smarter, more rigorous oversight of its labs. Such a move could prevent some of the costly contractor errors that occurred in 2009, such as Los Alamos’s Plutonium Facility (PF-4) needing to stop its main operations for more than one month, once again, because of the contractor and NNSA’s inadequate oversight of its fire suppression system.
New Corp honcho Rupert Murdoch has been known to refer to those running the web as “plagiarists” and “parasites,” threatening to remove all of his content from search engines like Google (especially if Bing is willing to pay up). Many wondered if he was bluffing, but now the process seems to have begun, with the Times Online blocking aggregation of its stories.
As a consequence of this action — apparently the first change to the Times Online’s blocking policy since May 2008 — two million visitors to NewsNow.co.uk every month will no longer find headlines and links to content on the Times Online site in their news search results.
According to Struan Bartlett, Managing Director and Chairman of NewsNow: “It is lamentable that News International has chosen to request we stop linking to their content and providing in-bound traffic and potential subscribers to the Times Online and right now it looks as though NewsNow has been singled out. We note that no other major search engine has been blocked by NI in this manner. NewsNow is not fundamentally different to other news search engines that are part of the Internet infrastructure, such as Google News and Yahoo. Why block us and not them?”
The blocking has been technically implemented via the robots.txt protocol, a convention for requesting search engines, web spiders and other web robots refrain from asking for pages from all or part of a website.
Whether this will be the first domino in a line of things to come remains to be seen — Google News is, of course, far more noteworthy than a “homegrown” UK aggregator — but it is certainly a move in the direction previously threatened by Murdoch and his companies. But if it does happen, expect a far larger outcry when Murdoch and crew start blocking sites that steer the internet conversation.
Analysis by Gareth Porter*
WASHINGTON, Jan 10 (IPS) – The New York Times reported Tuesday that Iran had “quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex” in a vast network of tunnels and bunkers buried in mountainsides.
The story continued a narrative begun last September, when a second Iranian uranium enrichment facility near Qom was reported to have been discovered by U.S. and Western intelligence. The premise of that narrative is that Iran wanted secret nuclear facilities in order to be able to make a nuclear weapon without being detected by the international community.
But all the evidence indicates that the real story is exactly the opposite: far from wanting to hide the existence of nuclear facilities from the outside world, Iran has wanted Western intelligence to conclude that it was putting some of its key nuclear facilities deep underground for more than three years.
The reason for that surprising conclusion is simple: Iran’s primary problem in regard to its nuclear programme has been how to deter a U.S. or Israeli attack on its nuclear sites. To do that, Iranian officials believed they needed to convince U.S. and Israeli military planners that they wouldn’t be able to destroy some of Iran’s nuclear sites and couldn’t identify others.
The key to unraveling the confusion surrounding the Qom facility and the system of tunnel complexes is the fact that Iran knew the site at Qom was being closely watched by U.S. and other intelligence agencies both through satellite photographs and spy networks on the ground well before construction of the facility began.
The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), the political arm of the Mujahideen E Khalq anti-regime terrorist organisation, held a press conference on Dec. 20, 2005, in which it charged that four underground tunnel complexes were connected with Iran’s nuclear programme, including one near Qom.
NCRI had created very strong international pressure on Iran’s nuclear programme by revealing the existence of the Natanz enrichment facility in an August 2002 press conference. A number of its charges had been referred to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for investigation.
It is now clear that there was nothing in the tunnel complex at Qom related to the nuclear programme when the NCRI made that charge.
Given the close ties between the MEK and both the U.S. and Israel, however, Iran’s decision makers had to be well aware that foreign intelligence agencies would focus their surveillance in Iran on the tunnel complexes that the MEK had identified.
U.S. and European officials have confirmed that systematic surveillance of the site by satellite photography began in 2006.
What happened next is a particularly important clue to Iran’s strategy. According to multiple sources, an anti-aircraft battery was moved to the base of the mountain into which the tunnel complex had been dug.
That was a clear indication that Iranian officials not only knew the site was under surveillance but wanted to draw attention to it.
That move prompted serious debate within the intelligence community. French security consultant Roland Jacquard, who had contacts in the intelligence community, recalled to Time magazine last October that some analysts suggested that it could be a “decoy”, aimed at fixing intelligence attention on that site, while the real nuclear facilities were being built elsewhere.
If Iran had believed the site was not under surveillance, there would have been no reason to move an anti-aircraft battery to it.
That anti-aircraft battery was evidently intended to ensure that foreign intelligence would be watching as construction of a new facility continued at Qom. Satellite imagery that has been obtained by the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, D.C. shows that construction of the facility began sometime between mid-2006 and mid-2007, according to satellite imagery interpretation specialist Paul Brannan of the ISIS.
Of course intelligence analysts could not be certain of the site’s precise purpose until a later stage of construction. A senior U.S. intelligence official revealed in the Sep. 25 briefing that the analysts were not confident that it was indeed an enrichment facility until sometime in spring 2009.
Meanwhile, the Iranians were providing foreign intelligence agencies with clear evidence it would use a “passive defence strategy” to protect its nuclear facilities. In a statement on Iranian television Sept. 24, 2007, the Chairman of the Passive Defence Organisation, Gholam Reza Jalali, said the strategy would “conceal and protect the country’s important and sensitive facilities, [which] would minimise their vulnerability…”
Jalali revealed to Mehr news agency Aug. 24, 2007 that a nuclear installation monitored by the IAEA was part of the plan. As the New York Times reported Tuesday, tunnels have been built into mountains near the Isfahan uranium conversion complex.
News media have consistently reported that Iran informed the IAEA about the Qom facility in a letter Sep. 21 only because the site had been discovered by Western intelligence.
But a set of Questions and Answers issued by the Barack Obama administration the same day as the press briefing admitted, “We do not know” in answer to the question, “Why did the Iranians decide to reveal this facility at this time?”
In fact, Iran’s Sep. 21 letter the IAEA, an excerpt of which was published in the Nov. 16 IAEA report, appears to have been part of the strategy of confusing U.S. and Israeli war planners. It stated that the construction of a second enrichment facility had been “based on [its] sovereign right of safeguarding…sensitive nuclear facilities through various means such as utilization of passive defense systems…”
As Time magazine’s John Barry noted in an Oct. 2 story, the letter was read by intelligence analysts as suggesting that among the more than a dozen tunnel sites being closely monitored were more undisclosed nuclear sites.
A few days later, the Iranian daily Kayhan, which is very close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said the announcement of the site had helped to foil plans for a military strike by the West, because “the multiplicity of facilities is a very effective defensive action”.
That statement hinted that Iran was able to complicate the task of U.S. and Israeli military planners by introducing uncertainty about where additional nuclear facilities might be hidden.
The New York Times article on Iran’s tunnel complex indicates that Iran’s strategy has succeeded in influencing debates in Israel and the United States over the feasibility of a devastating blow to the Iranian nuclear programme. The Times called the tunneling system “a cloak of invisibility” that is “complicating the West’s military and geopolitical calculus”.
It said some analysts consider Iran’s “passive defense” strategy “a crucial factor” in the Obama administration’s insistence on a non-military solution.
One indication of that the Iranian strategy has had an impact on Israeli calculations is that Maj. Gen. Aharon Ze’evi Farkash, the head of intelligence for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) from 2002 to 2006, supported an attack on Iran by the U.S. Air Force – a standard Israeli position – at a meeting at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy last October.
But Farkash warned that Western intelligence still may not know about all of Iran’s nuclear sites. In other statements, Farkash has opposed an Israeli strike.
*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.
Press TV – January 11, 2010
Israel has approved plans for construction of a barrier along the border with Egypt, a move that clearly indicates that it wants to remain a religious apartheid regime.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that the decision was taken to secure Israel’s “Jewish character”, BBC reported on Monday.
The new barrier will be built along two parts of the border —near the Red Sea city of Eilat and on the edge of the Gaza Strip.
The project is set to cost $270 million and will take two years to complete.
Israel has also been building a controversial barrier in and around the occupied West Bank in recent years.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague declared that the West Bank barrier is illegal and should be removed.