Israeli forces attacked women farmworkers and international human rights activists with heavy gunfire during three days’ wheat harvest in the southern Gaza Strip. The Israel-imposed “buffer zone” illegally claims over 30% of Gaza’s arable farmland. In Khoza’a village, east of Khan Yunis, substantial wheat remains unharvested despite severe poverty and food shortages, as a result of the attacks.
Tuesday, the first day of harvest, did not take place inside the 300m “buffer zone”. However, snipers approached the harvest in Israeli military Jeeps on two occasions, shooting live ammunition around five women who were crouching to hand-collect the wheat with four International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activists. The women laid down in the wheat during the attack but did not leave, and harvest continued after the Jeeps had left. Activists communicated the non-threatening nature of the work to soldiers with a megaphone.
A more severe attack was levied Wednesday, as the harvest continued within 300 meters of the fence. 5 ISM activists and 2 journalists were present as Israeli military Jeeps approached at 7 a.m. and fired several rounds, similar to the previous day. At 8:30, the Jeeps parked on a small hill near the fence. Snipers stood atop the Jeep closest to the workers, with a clear view of the obviously non-threatening hand-harvest. Israeli snipers then rained over 50 rounds on the women, activists and journalists, causing the women to crawl along the ground and shriek with fear. Rounds of live bullets hit within a meter of
people’s heads, meaning any deviation would almost certainly hit someone. The harvest finished at 10 a.m.
Thursday, the final day of harvest, was cut short by two gunfire attacks at 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. Roughly 20 rounds were fired very close to the farmers and 3 ISM activists present. The women were evidently more fearful of attack, and those present agreed that a third attack was imminent and would target them. This proved a correct assumption as, soon after finishing at 8:45, 4 jeeps arrived and remained at the fence. The wheat will likely remain unharvested.
“We were shot at repeatedly with live ammunition; the deafening fizz and crack of the bullets flying past our ears”, states ISM activist Adie Mormech. “The women courageously returned after each attack. On the last day, after snipers had already come twice and fired many rounds quite close, it was clear that someone would be intentionally hit if we stayed. Consequently, the wheat will not be harvested. It is infuriating that this violence continues against what is clearly a peaceful endeavor to farm the third of Gaza’s arable land which is patrolled by the Israeli military.”
While unemployment levels hover near 42% in Gaza and 60% of its 1.5 million residents lack food security,¹ Israel’s illegal buffer zone greatly exacerbates the humanitarian crisis. 30% of Gaza’s arable farmland, and some of its most fertile, lies within the buffer zone.² Farmers who attempt to work in the zone face live fire and crop destruction. The number of crops grown in the zone has consequently been reduced from a diverse range to wheat and other less labor-intensive harvests, which further negatively impacts the nutrition and economic condition of Gazans. An additional 17% of farmland was destroyed in Israel’s war of aggression,³ making 47% (nearly half) of Gaza’s farmland now marginally usable.
The buffer zone has also reduced Gaza’s fishing zones to 1-3 miles offshore. In the first four months of 2010, 19 naval attacks led to two shootings and three arrests, as well as numerous confiscations of fishing equipment. The narrow fishing zone, in which over 3,600 fishermen work daily, is gravely over-fished.²
Israel’s decision to instate a 300-meter buffer zone is in violation of Oslo Accords, and people are routinely shot as far as two kilometers from the border. Israeli attacks in the buffer zone injured 50 persons and killed 14 between January and April 2010. In the past twelve months, at least 220 Israeli attacks have been carried out, with 116 coming since the beginning of 2010 (as of April 30th).²
Al-Jazeera | June 12, 2010
This week Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post brings you a special episode on the military and the media, from Hollywood shoot-em-ups to Pentagon-sponsored spin doctors. Plus a look at the video war games that are literally putting youngsters in the line of fire.
Propaganda is at its most effective when the audience does not know it is being manipulated and one of the best, glitziest examples of that is when propaganda is delivered on the big screen in the guise of a Hollywood blockbuster.
The US army, navy, air force, marine corps, coast guard, and even the department of defence itself have established a beach-head in Hollywood. For as long as there have been movies, the US government has collaborated with filmmakers to ensure that their view of the world was shared with audiences around the world.
From Frank Capra and Walt Disney to Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay, Hollywood directors have for many years consulted closely with the US government and military to bring greater authenticity to their movies. In return for their advice, personnel and even equipment, the US military gets a slickly produced feature length advertisement that airs across the world.
Our Newsdivide this week examines how the US military trades access and equipment in exchange for a hand in shaping the big-screen perception of America’s armed forces, if not the country as a whole.
Quick hits from the media world in Newsbytes: War films that win accolades from critics but fall flat with audiences; puppets of the Pentagon – retired generals go on the offensive on television talk shows; and can GE, a company involved in making missiles in addition to TV comedies, be objective in their reporting of war?
Video war games
Our feature story this week takes a look at the video war games used as recruiting tools.
Modern warfare can at times resemble a video game, with technology that allows armies to launch attacks and watch the results from computer consoles hundreds or thousands of miles away. And game-makers are getting better and better at simulating the sights and sounds of the war zone experience.
The gaming shelves of video stores around the world are crammed with titles like Call of Duty are heavily influenced by contemporary conflict scenarios – often from the Middle East.
The Listening Post’s Robin Armstrong examines a trend that is putting the graphic reality of war on the computer screens of young people around the world.
KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian businessman who was held without trial for three years under a tough security law has won a record $1m compensation in a verdict welcomed by activists yesterday.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court awarded 3.3 million ringgit in damages to Badrul Zaman P S Mohamed on Thursday after declaring that his three-year detention from 1991 was unlawful and unconstitutional, state news agency Bernama reported.
Badrul was held under Malaysia’s controversial Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for indefinite detention without trial, over his alleged involvement in issuing fake travel documents to foreign workers.
“I think it’s a harsh and oppressive act on the part of the deputy minister,” Judge Mohamad Hishamudin Mohamad Yunus said, referring to the minister who ordered his detention, Bernama reported.
Badrul and his lawyer could not be reached for comment.
The ISA, which dates back to the British colonial era, was originally intended to be used against communist insurgents but has been used against alleged terrorists as well as government opponents in recent years.
Activists lauded the verdict, saying it bolstered their campaign to abolish the law and to seek the release of current ISA detainees.
“We welcome this landmark decision. If you read the judgement, you will find there is no justification to use the ISA anymore — it is time to repeal the ISA,” the Abolish ISA Movement coordinator E Nalini said.
“Detention without trial is unconstitutional. Everyone has the right to have a fair trial under the constitution,” she added.
Roger Cohen is the rare columnist at NYT who makes an occasional effort to bring some objectivity to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, how far does his objectivity go?
Consider his piece of June 10, “Modern Folly and Ancient Wisdom.”
I have selected a few excerpts for comment.
“Israel’s bloody interception of the Mavi Marmara and its motley crew was crass — another example of the counterproductive use of force — but nothing about it could justify the Turkish prime minister’s outrageous statement that the world now perceives “the swastika and the Star of David together (italics mine).”
Why does he speak of the “motley crew” on the Mavi Marmara? First, is ‘crew’ the appropriate word for the humanitarian activists on a ship bringing relief to people under blockade. ‘Crew’ has unpleasant connotations. Let us consult the Oxford English dictionary. Originally, it meant “an augmentation or reinforcement of a military force.” Now, by extension, it means “Any organized or associated force, band, or body of armed men.”
In addition, why is this a ‘motley’ crew? Does he mean heterogeneous? In fact, most were Turkish. Why then are they “motley?” The word has a bad odor. The OED concurs. Consider two entries in the OED. Entry one: “Of a thing or collection of things: composed of elements of diverse or varied character, form, appearance, etc. Freq. with implication of poor design or organization (italics added).” And entry two: Of a gathering or group of people: consisting of people of diverse or varied appearance, character, etc.; miscellaneous. Freq. depreciative (italics in the original).
Now consider this: Israel’s behavior was merely “crass – another example of the counterproductive use of force.” So Cohen disapproves of Israel’s behavior because it is “crass” (stupid) and “counterproductive” to Israel. Nothing worse. On the other hand, the Turkish prime minister’s statement is “outrageous.” Criticism aimed at Israel is “outrageous” but Israeli massacre of humanitarian activists is merely “crass.”
There is a myopia too behind Cohen’s anger at the Turkish prime minister’s statement. He claims, “there is nothing about it [the illegal Israeli massacre of civilians]” that can justify Erdogan’s statement. Is Erdogan’s outrage a response only to the attack on the Flotilla – or is the world’s perception of Israel slowly catching up to its long history of settler colonialism, ethnic cleansings, illegal wars, countless massacres of civilians, and wars daily threatened against Lebanon, Syria and Iran? Such myopia is inexcusable in one who should be better schooled in the Middle East.
“Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the bristling leader who has given Kemal Ataturk’s secular Turkey an Islamic tinge and an eastward-looking inclination, should know better than to invoke the Nazis when speaking of a state that emerged from the ashes of European Jewry (italics mine).”
Israel as “a state that emerged from the ashes of European Jewry” That’s a page out of Israeli hasbara. Using the Holocaust to justify the creation of Israel and the ‘right’ of Israel to immunity from international law. The Zionist movement was launched when Adolf Hitler was barely eight years old. Inside the supportive shell of the British occupation of Palestine, the Zionists in Palestine had already created the infrastructure of a Jewish society and state by the early 1930s, again long before the Holocaust. I am sure Roger Cohen knows all this: but does it matter to the way he thinks about Israel?
“But it is still a liberal democracy, home to a level of debate and openness unknown elsewhere in the Middle East (italics added).”
Is Israel “still a liberal democracy?” Consensus on that claim is fast disappearing, even in partisan Western societies. Then follows something inexcusably lame: he compares Israel to the despotisms supported by and allied to the USA and Israel. Look Israel is still a liberal democracy: just compare it to the despotic monarchy of Saudi Arabia.
“Its tactical lurches, often violent, do not add up to a strategy; they have resulted in a shocking erosion of Israel’s stature.”
Given what Israel is – an apartheid society, a garrison state founded on ethnic cleansing, a state that still practices ethnic cleansing, a nuclear-armed state threatening warfare against its neighbors – why should the erosion of Israel’s “stature” be “shocking.” Shouldn’t persons of liberal and humane values welcome this erosion? Not so Roger Cohen of the New York Times.
Enough said: if this is what comes from the pen of a self-consciously liberal and humane Zionist, what can we expect from the rest of the “motley crew?”
M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University, Boston. He is author of Israeli Exceptionalism (Palgrave, 2009) and Challenging the New Orientalism (IPI, 2006). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bethlehem – Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh rebuffed an Israeli media report Sunday alleging President Mahmoud Abbas called for the continuation of Gaza’s blockade during a recent meeting with his US counterpart.
“President Abbas had raised the issue of the necessity of lifting the blockade as a matter on a par with the fate of the peace process,” Abu Rudaineh told the Palestinian Authority-run WAFA news agency.
Israel’s siege on the Gaza Strip is being discussed with Arab and international leaders, the spokesman said, urging the international community to “take advantage of the current atmosphere” following an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid fleet to lift the blockade “which will end suffering and create a good chance for reviving the peace process.”
‘Another attempt to deflect Israeli responsibility‘
Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Ereket, who accompanied Abbas on his US visit, further denounced the report on Sunday, saying it was “yet another disinformation attempt aimed at distorting facts and deflecting Israel’s responsibility to end the illegal and inhuman siege on Gaza,” a statement read.
“President Abbas has been demanding complete and unconditional lifting of Israel’s illegal siege over Gaza, which he reiterated during his recent meetings with World leaders.”
The Israeli daily Haaretz reported Sunday that Abbas is opposed to lifting the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip because it would bolster Hamas, allegedly putting forward his stance to Obama during their meeting last Wednesday at the White House.
“The issue has been and will continue to be the main focus in all our discussions until our people in Gaza are free and the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem is ended,” Erekat said.
Describing the report as “absurd” and baseless, the PLO official said it “lacks any credible source, can be so irresponsibly published.”
“The illegal blockade has nothing to do with the Hamas since Gaza has been closed long before Hamas took control. Israel must end its unlawful blockade. Until then, Israel has certain obligations under international law to provide for the local population,” Erekat said.
Instead of honoring its obligations under international law, “Israel is blocking humanitarian aid flotillas from reaching Gaza, and collectively punishing millions of innocent civilians in blatant disregard to international law.”
“We will never countenance this or any other such illegal Israeli conduct and will continue to advocate against it and call for an international investigation,” the official added.
Erekat was among the delegation of Palestinian officials accompanying Abbas during his US visit, meeting with the Obama administration’s senior officials to discuss the latest developments in the Middle East, as US Middle East envoy George Mitchell continues to mediate indirect talks between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.
Following the meeting, Obama described Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip as “unsustainable” as well as the current state of affairs in the region, calling on Israel to allow more goods and services into the coastal enclave.
Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defense Minister, canceled a trip to an arms trading fair in France at the last minute, after French survivors of the Israeli attack on a humanitarian aid mission two weeks ago said they plan to file a lawsuit against the state of Israel for war crimes.
The French humanitarian aid activists said they will file the lawsuit against Israel in the International Court of Justice in the Hague for the actions of Israeli forces which boarded and attacked ships in international waters on a humanitarian aid mission, killing nine. They demanded that French police have Barak arrested at the airport upon his arrival in the country.
A spokesperson for the French activists, Lillian Glock, told reporters, “I speak on behalf of a group of international lawyers who will go to the International Court of Justice on the Israeli attack on the aid ships what constitutes without doubt a war crime and justifies our move in the International Court of Justice.”
Glock added, “Israel needs to stop this bloody escalation and the only solution is international law. We want to stop Israel and punish the leaders who participated in this process. Our move is aimed at specific persons, mainly leaders, as well as those who carried out the orders, because it is not possible to hide behind a chain of command. The peace activists who were transporting essential goods to Gaza are protected under UN Security Council Resolution 1860 condemning the blockade, and therefore these activists did not violate the law”.
Originally Barak had refused calls to cancel his trip to France, during which he was scheduled to open a new ‘Israeli booth’ at the Eurosatory arms fair in Paris, which opens this week. The arms fair itself has come under fire by peace activists in Europe as the showcase event of the ‘Merchants of Death’, as they term international weapons dealers. Several years ago, peace activists bought a tank and attempted to drive it into the fair to disrupt the event, and security has been increased significantly since then. A Fox News report on the arms fair two years ago claimed that the Israeli booth boasted the most scantily-clad women carrying weaponry that Israeli arms companies and the Israeli government hoped to sell in the international market.
In his last trip to Paris, Ehud Barak was criticized by the Israeli state comptroller for his extravagant expenses at the Paris Air Show in 2009. According to expense reports of the trip, Barak booked one of the most expensive hotels in Paris, and one-third of the rooms booked were not used. The State Comptroller’s report found that $254,000 was spent on empty rooms and other entirely superfluous expenses.
JERUSALEM // Israeli authorities are pressing ahead with plans to build a courthouse complex on a large historic Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem that is already at the centre of protest over plans to locate a museum there.
The proposed courthouse is expected to provoke stiff opposition, especially from Islamic groups, after it was revealed that an excavation last year for the Museum of Tolerance, close by, unearthed as many as 1,500 Muslim graves.
Dorit Beinisch, the president of the Supreme Court, who last year expressed reservations about the location of the new courthouse, is reported to have lifted her objections recently. According to Meir Margalit, a Jerusalem city councillor, municipal officials said they had assured the judge that no graves had been discovered at the new site during excavations.
However, a spokeswoman for the Israeli antiquities authority, which is responsible for carrying out such digs, said in an interview that ancient graves were found at the proposed courthouse site when a trial excavation was conducted two years ago, and that the discovery was reported to the government.
Archaeologists and Islamic groups point out that the courts were similarly misled when they approved the museum project in 2008, after they had been promised that only “a few dozen graves” would be found at the site, not many hundreds.
“The municipality and government simply can’t be trusted on this issue as has been amply demonstrated over the Museum of Tolerance plans,” Mr Margalit said. “They have a history of not acting in good faith.”
The courthouse plan is certain to revive a long-running controversy over what Muslim organisations have called Israel’s “desecration” of the Mamilla cemetery, which lies just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls. The graveyard dates back 1,000 years and, according to Islamic tradition, includes the resting places of the Prophet Mohammed’s companions and tens of thousands of Saladin’s warriors.
Plans for a Museum of Tolerance, unveiled in 2004 by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a US Jewish group that has built a similar museum in Los Angeles, provoked a row that has yet to abate.
Palestinian families whose relatives are buried in Mamilla and the Islamic Movement, the main group representing religious Muslims in Israel, lost their legal battle against the museum in the Supreme Court in October 2008.
But they are to revive their legal action after an investigation by the liberal Haaretz newspaper last month revealed major irregularities in a dig to prepare the site for the museum’s construction. The groups also believe the investigation provides them with ammunition against the courthouse plan.
According to Haaretz, the antiquities authority oversaw a five-month excavation last year at the museum site that was carried out in record time as three teams did shifts around the clock amid great secrecy to excavate graves and rebury the remains nearby.
No Palestinians were employed, and all workers had to sign a confidentiality agreement. They were searched for any electronic devices, including phones, before entering the site, were not allowed to leave during their shift, and were watched at all times by security cameras.
The measures, the Haaretz report suggested, were designed to ensure that no word leaked out about the large number of graves found there or that promises to the courts about treating the graves with the utmost respect were being violated.
Workers told the paper that, faced with a large number of graves exposed in five layers down to the bedrock, Israeli officials cut corners and hurriedly dug out ancient skulls and bones, some of which disintegrated in the process.
The paper published photographs appearing to show that remains had been stuffed into cardboard boxes rather than removed using advanced techniques the antiquities authority had proposed.Gideon Sulimani, a senior archaeologist with the antiquities authority who carried out initial excavations, told Haaretz: “They call this an archaeological excavation but it’s really a clearing-out, an erasure of the Muslim past. It is actually Jews against Arabs.”
Rafi Greenberg, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, was also critical. “In another country, they would devote years to such an excavation, and also build a special lab to analyse the results.” He accused the antiquities authority of betraying its role as the guardian of the country’s historical assets.
Haaretz’s investigation has worried observers that similar deceptions may be employed in the case of the courthouse.
Kais Nasser, a lawyer for seven Palestinian families and for an Islamic charity opposed to the museum project, said he would petition the courts to reverse the museum ruling and ask them to block the courthouse plans.
“The graves have already been removed, but we hope to persuade the courts to order that the remains be returned and this uniquely important site rehabilitated,” he said.
“Be sure that, if the courthouse goes ahead, as many graves will need to be removed as the 1,500 that were unearthed for the museum.”
A new courthouse in Jerusalem has been under consideration for at least a decade, Mr Margalit said, but it had been difficult to find a large enough site in such a crowded city. A spokesman for the municipality termed the new court complex “a strategic project to strengthen the centre of the city”.
A school is currently on the site proposed for the courthouse, close to an area known as Independence Park. Mr Margalit said the authorities may have found graves when they dug the school’s foundations in the 1970s and kept the information secret.
Prof Greenberg said claims that there were no graves under or close to the school were “ridiculous”.
He added that at both sites there was a wealth of other important antiquities that were being ignored or destroyed by the current excavations. He said they included an Iron Age house, an aqueduct and a dam built across what was once a valley.
Bethlehem – Three fountains in Tel Aviv were colored bright red late Friday in what activists called a reminder to the Israeli public that its Gaza siege is causing bloodshed.
The Committee Against the Siege, which organized the action, raided three central fountains in Tel Aviv. Graffiti was made in protest of the deadly siege on the Gaza Strip.
In four years, “more than 2,600 Palestinians were murdered by the Israeli army” … “Last week we witnessed how the Israeli army also stretches its hand toward civilian ships in international waters,” the group stated.
“The only solution for the end of this bloodshed is the lifting of the blockade and the end of the occupation through negotiations and not unilateral acts,” the committee added.
Responding to calls by the Palestinian Workers Union and other calls by different workers unions and organizations around the world, the Norwegian Ports Union decided to join its Swedish counterpart in boycotting all Israeli ships starting on June 15.
The workers will not be loading or unloading Israeli ships docking in their ports. The decision came coherent with the stances of ports workers, while polls in Norway revealed that nearly half of the Norwegians support this act.
The Port Workers Union in Norway said that the boycott would be for two weeks, while the Swedish boycott would continue until June 24.
The Palestinian Workers Union voiced appeals to Arab, regional and international workers union to take serious stances against the Israeli violations, and its deadly attack against the Freedom Flotilla leading to dozens of casualties among nonviolent international activists transporting aid supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip.
Furthermore, workers unions in South Africa, which is an affiliate with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), also joined the calls for boycotting Israel but, so far, did not declare an actual boycott of Israel.
Workers Unions in Palestine welcomed the stances of Norwegian, Swedish, Greek, British, Canadian and South African unions in denouncing the Israeli attack against the Palestinians and the activists, and the ongoing illegal Israeli siege on Gaza.