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Israel’s Palestinian Minority Thrown into a Maelstrom

By Jonathan Cook | June 16, 2010

The first reports of Israel’s May 31 commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla surfaced among the country’s 1.4 million Palestinian citizens alongside rumors that Sheikh Ra’id Salah, head of the radical northern wing of the Islamic Movement of Israel, had been shot dead on the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara. Salah is alive, but at the time his demise seemed confirmed when it emerged that large numbers of police had been drafted into northern Israel, where most of the Palestinian minority lives, in expectation of widespread violence.

At the first spontaneous demonstrations in the north, participants expressed shock that Israel had killed international peace activists in international waters — a rumored number of 20 dead later dropped to nine. But in a community used to intermittent bouts of extreme violence from Israel’s security forces, few seemed to doubt that the order might have been given to execute Salah. The sheikh, who has repeatedly been arrested and is facing a series of trials, has long been public enemy number one among Israeli Jews for his campaign to protect the Haram al-Sharif from what he regards as an attempted Israeli takeover. The Haram al-Sharif is a compound of mosques in the Old City of Jerusalem that includes al-Aqsa and is believed by Jews to be built over two ancient Jewish temples. Half-jokingly, a protester in Nazareth wondered aloud whether a military commander had overheard the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ask: “Who will rid me of this turbulent sheikh?”

Breaking the Siege of Gaza

The flotilla, which was attacked more than 60 miles off Israel’s coast early in the morning, was not the first to bear aid for Gaza, but it was the first to include a delegation of Palestinian leaders from inside Israel. Palestinians are roughly one fifth of Israel’s population. Most of the main Israeli-Palestinian political factions and institutions were included: Salah and his counterpart in the Islamic Movement’s more moderate southern wing, Sheikh Hamad Abu Da‘bas; Muhammad Zaydan, head of the Higher Follow-Up Committee, the umbrella body dominated by local mayors; and Hanin Zu‘bi, a first-term member of the parliament, the Knesset, from the nationalist Tajammu‘ party (Balad in Hebrew). Alongside them was Lubna Masarwa, a resident of Kafr Qara‘ in northern Israel and an activist with the Free Gaza Movement, which organized the aid convoy.

Before they set off, the group of Palestinian-Israelis knew their participation would upset a broad swath of Israeli Jewish opinion. Since 2006, when Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections, Israel has been progressively tightening a blockade of Gaza to the point that today only a few dozen items are allowed in and less than a quarter of the cargo trucks that once entered the enclave each day are still permitted to do so. The policy has become more severe as its goal has become less clear: Is it to stop “arms smuggling” by Hamas, as Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shinbet, Israel’s secret police, claimed on June 15; or to wage “economic warfare,” as suggested by a recent Israeli document, punishing Gaza’s inhabitants for voting for Hamas; or to act as leverage on Hamas to stop rocket fire on nearby Israeli communities, although such attacks all but ceased long ago; or to force the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas since 2006? Most Israeli Jews do not seem overly concerned which justification is deployed.

Meanwhile, in strenuously denying aid agency reports that the blockade has created a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Israeli officials have left the Jewish majority to conclude that those who oppose the blockade do so because they support Hamas — “a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of Israel,” as commentators regularly remind the public. It was therefore hardly surprising that, a few days before the flotilla set sail for Gaza on its stated mission to “break the siege,” the popular news website Ynet claimed that Knesset member Zu‘bi would be traveling on a ship alongside “prominent Hamas-affiliated activists,” while the headline asked rhetorically: “MK in Service of Hamas?”

But what Zu‘bi and the other Palestinian-Israeli leaders probably could not have appreciated was that this flotilla, unlike its predecessors, was about to make waves not only domestically but internationally. They were about to be thrown into a maelstrom of events that would provoke denunciations from around the globe, turn a spotlight on the legitimacy of Israel’s blockade, tear apart Israel’s key regional alliance with Turkey and further embarrass a weak US administration that is desperately trying to breathe life into a sham Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” as its own occupations, in Iraq and Afghanistan, continue to falter. As a result, the participation of Palestinian-Israelis in the flotilla dangerously reinforced the Jewish majority’s perception of the minority as a fifth column.

War and Loyalty

‘Adil Manna‘, a Palestinian historian at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, notes that, when Israel feels isolated and under threat, “it becomes much more intolerant of criticism from inside the country, from the [Palestinian] Arab minority especially. Dissent is seen as a strategic danger.” And Israel has rarely felt so isolated or perceived its international standing to be so threatened.

The raid on the flotilla, in which eight Turks and a dual Turkish-American citizen were killed and dozens of other passengers wounded by Israeli commandos, followed two regional confrontations involving Israel still at the forefront of the international community’s memory: a month-long clash in 2006 with the Lebanese political party-cum-militia Hizballah, in which more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians were killed; and a three-week assault on Gaza in 2008-2009 in which some 1,400 Palestinians died, again most of them civilians. An international consensus regarded the large-scale loss of civilian life in both confrontations as constituting at the very minimum a “disproportionate” Israeli response, whereas Israel maintained it had a right to wage its own version of the “war on terror.” A UN-mandated report on the Gaza attack by Richard Goldstone, a respected international jurist, tipped the balance of world opinion decisively against Israel by suggesting that, while both Israeli forces and Hamas had committed war crimes, Israeli forces had committed the bulk of them.

As international opprobrium has grown, Israel has subjected the leaders of its Palestinian citizens to ever greater scrutiny, not only over their positions on the long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinians but also on Israel’s regional confrontation with Hizballah and wider confrontation with the international community. In the minds of most Israeli Jews, the question of where the Palestinian minority stands on these issues overlaps with the question of whether Palestinians can be trustworthy citizens. Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, and his Yisrael Beiteinu party rode to success in the 2009 general election, winning 15 seats and becoming the third largest faction in Knesset, by exploiting popular suspicions of the minority with the campaign slogan, “No loyalty, no citizenship.”

The issue of the minority’s loyalty had been widely debated since the beginning of the second intifada, in October 2000, when Palestinian citizens protested in support of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Police entered their towns and villages to greet the demonstrators with rubber bullets and live fire, killing 13 and injuring hundreds in a few days. Those events were misleadingly presented by the Israeli leadership as an internal uprising by rebels conspiring with the Palestinians under occupation to overthrow the state from within.

But the 2006 bombardment of Lebanon and the later attack on Gaza have been equally significant for majority-minority relations, expanding the dimensions of the loyalty debate. The Jewish majority perceived these two confrontations as the salient battles in a clash of civilizations that pitted Israel against the region and its aspiring hegemon, Iran. The Palestinian minority, on the other hand, regarded the confrontations as further proof that Israel was a militarized and militaristic state with an insatiable appetite for territory and no ability to make peace with the Palestinians and its other neighbors. This unbridgeable gulf in worldviews was bound to set Palestinian citizens on a collision course with their own state.

The Enemy Within

In the summer 2006 Lebanon war, Palestinian communities, like Jewish ones, came under Hizballah rocket fire from southern Lebanon. Although 18 Palestinian citizens were killed in the north, the minority’s political sympathies remained largely with Hasan Nasrallah, Hizballah’s leader, throughout. Most Palestinian citizens were impressed by Nasrallah’s knowledge of the Israeli political scene and grasp of their experiences inside a Jewish state, and also believed — unlike their Jewish compatriots — that Israel, not Hizballah, had willed the hostilities. But even after a truce was called in its battle with Hizballah, Israel entered a new phase of conflict with its Palestinian citizens. The first major political casualty would be Azmi Bishara, the outspoken leader of the Tajammu‘ party, who had been a thorn in Israel’s side for a decade with his popular campaign to reform Israel from a Jewish state into a “state of all its citizens.” In the wake of the 2006 war, Bishara found himself facing a new and potent “one-size-fits-all” accusation of spying for Hizballah. The charge, publicized by the Shinbet while he was abroad in the spring of 2007, left him in exile.

The Gaza attack of 2008 further stoked suspicions of Palestinian citizens’ disloyalty. Reflecting the polarization of majority-minority worldviews, demonstrations against Israel’s three-week attack on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, were organized and supported chiefly by the Palestinian minority.

Historians have noted the decades of quietism from the Palestinian minority that followed Israel’s establishment in 1948. That trait can be attributed, initially at least, to the destruction of Palestinian society before and during the 1948 war: Most Palestinians left in the new Jewish state following the flight of 80 percent of their compatriots lived in poor, rural communities that had little direct involvement in national politics and were administered by the Israeli army until 1966. For two decades, Palestinian society would struggle to regenerate a leadership under the strictures of military rule. When a leadership did belatedly emerge in the late 1970s and 1980s, the minority’s representatives remained largely passive, awaiting directions from the PLO leadership in exile. In essence, they needed an answer to the question of what ultimate goal the Palestinian struggle aspired to: Was it to liberate the minority from its compromised existence in a Jewish state, presumably in some variation of the one-state model, or to trade the minority for peace in a partitioned territory?

When the answer came with the 1993 Oslo accord — they were to remain inside Israel as an ethnic minority — the Palestinian leadership responded with a tentative civil rights movement aimed at ending Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state. Bishara’s “state of all its citizens” slogan would be the rallying cry through the late 1990s. But the October 2000 events showed in lethal fashion that Israel was not ready to concede, or even debate, the privileges enjoyed by the Jewish majority. Change was not going to occur from within.

Looking to the Outside World

Faced with Israeli intransigence, the Palestinian minority’s leadership began looking outside Israel for support. Civil society organizations led the way by focusing on advocacy that highlighted the minority’s plight to international bodies such as the UN and the European Union. In quick succession in late 2006 and early 2007, two Palestinian NGOs, Mada and Adalah, and the Higher Follow-Up Committee each published a separate position paper in English — collectively nicknamed the “Vision Documents” — that argued for Israel’s transformation into a liberal democracy. The Shinbet signaled clearly that it regarded these documents as an “existential threat” to Israel. With the approval of the attorney general, the Shinbet’s director, Yuval Diskin, issued a stark warning to the authors: “The Shinbet is required to thwart subversive activity by elements who wish to harm the nature of the State of Israel as a democratic Jewish State — even if they act by means of democratically provided tools — by virtue of the principle of ‘defensive democracy.’”

This political backdrop was on view as Palestinian NGOs in Israel not only led non-violent demonstrations against Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 but also highlighted to the world the police repression of their protests, which led to the arrest of many hundreds of activists, including children. The involvement of Israeli-Palestinian NGOs in assisting the Goldstone investigations in 2009 only fueled the sense among Israeli Jews that the minority had been unmasked as a fifth column. And almost as background music to these developments, the separate prosecutions of two Palestinian MKs have gathered steam: Muhammad Baraka, head of the joint Palestinian-Jewish Communist party, Jabha (Hadash in Hebrew), is charged with attacking security personnel during protests; and Sa‘id Nafa‘, a Druze member of the Tajammu‘ party, is to stand trial for traveling to Syria with a delegation of Druze leaders.

In addition, since Cast Lead, Israeli-Palestinian NGOs have deepened their solidarity with Palestinians under occupation by becoming actively engaged in a fledgling international movement to boycott Israel. Their intimate familiarity with the self-defined Jewish state and their direct experiences of institutional discrimination make them persuasive advocates for such a boycott, as Israel’s leadership appeared to appreciate. It was not surprising, therefore, that in May Amir Makhoul, head of Ittijah, an umbrella organization for Palestinian civil society groups in Israel, became the latest major public figure to run afoul of the Shinbet.

During Cast Lead, Makhoul had been called in for interrogation by the Shinbet over his role in organizing the protests, and threatened that, if he continued his activities, he might be “disappeared to Gaza.” His brother, ‘Isam Makhoul, a former Jabha MK, said he now regarded that threat as tellingly prophetic. In early May, Amir Makhoul was arrested and effectively “disappeared” when a blanket gag order was imposed on his detention. The gag was only lifted when word spread on the Internet. After nearly two weeks, during which time Makhoul was denied access to lawyers and says he was repeatedly tortured, the Shinbet had the confession they were seeking. (At the same time, another community activist, ‘Umar Sa‘id, was arrested. Apparently his confession will provide a vital link in the Shinbet’s claims against Makhoul.) In a pattern now becoming familiar, Makhoul was charged with spying on behalf of Hizballah, supposedly providing the Lebanese militia with the locations of security facilities and, more vaguely, helping it with analyses of Israeli society and political trends.

Kidnapped on the High Seas

Following the May 31 attack on the flotilla, Palestinians inside Israel waited anxiously all day for news of Sheikh Ra’id Salah’s condition, and that of the other four Israeli-Palestinian participants, as nearly 700 peace activists were forcibly brought to the Israeli port of Ashdod on their captured vessels. As the world debated the finer points of maritime law, Palestinian citizens who are Muslims wondered whether their state’s act of piracy — or “state-sponsored terrorism,” as the Higher Follow-Up Committee referred to it — had included executing their spiritual leader. In Umm al-Fahm, Salah’s home town in northern Israel, stone-throwing youths and police briefly clashed. Apparently keen to preempt further damage to Israel’s image from the sheikh’s presumed death, the Israeli media reported that commandos had fired at Salah in an act of self-defense, after shots had been seen coming from his cabin. Later, Salah’s wife was escorted to a hospital operating room by Israeli officials who appeared to believe the sheikh was the seriously injured man on the operating table. He was not.

A little more than 24 hours after the Israeli navy’s raid, it emerged that Salah and three other Israeli-Palestinians had been remanded into custody for a week, while suspicions that they had attacked the commandos were investigated. The next day, June 2, as Israel was forced to release the international peace activists under severe US and Turkish pressure, Adalah, a legal center for the Palestinian minority, pointed out that the four were facing “selective” investigation and possible prosecution for alleged acts committed outside Israel’s jurisdiction. The courts released them to a week of house arrest, though they are still being investigated for possession of weapons and conspiracy to commit an offense, and are banned from leaving the country. Salah’s release provoked a flood of complaints from Jewish politicians. A typical response came from Yisrael Hasson, of the supposedly centrist Kadima party and a former deputy head of the Shinbet, who equated the release of Salah with that of the late Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, founder of Hamas. “In 1997 Bibi [Netanyahu] and Lieberman released Sheikh Yasin, and in 2010, they’re releasing Salah,” he said. (Yasin was assassinated by Israel in 2004.)

In his court appearance, Salah confirmed the minority’s suspicions of an attempted assassination, saying the “soldiers tried to kill me. They fired in the direction of someone else they thought was me.” Salah’s deputy, Sheikh Kamil Khatib, claimed Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak had plotted to kill the sheikh.

One of the first people on the flotilla to be released, on the morning following the commando attack, was Hanin Zu‘bi, after police were advised that her parliamentary immunity ruled out her continuing detention. In the short time she was held, however, she says she was interviewed three times by police, who questioned her about possessing a weapon. Zu‘bi hurried back to her home town of Nazareth to hold a press conference. She offered an account of the commando raid that would be substantiated by the other passengers after their release but at this early stage was chiefly notable for conflicting in almost every respect with a narrative being hastily constructed by Israeli officials. Israel, which had seized all the passengers’ cameras and video equipment, slowly released heavily edited, and in some cases doctored, video and audio footage to try to support its claims. (Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian-American in the convoy, identified her own voice in recorded transmissions said by Israel to be from the Mavi Marmara. But Arraf had been aboard a smaller vessel.)

Israel argued that many of the passengers had been armed with knives and even guns; that they had attacked and tried to “lynch” soldiers who arrived “almost barefoot,” as minister Benny Begin told the BBC; that several soldiers had been “kidnapped” and their lives put at risk by armed passengers; and that the soldiers had held off opening fire until the last possible moment, when their lives were in substantial danger. To make this improbable story seem more plausible, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, also claimed that many of the passengers, particularly the Turkish contingent belonging to an Islamic humanitarian organization, were really terrorists allied with al-Qaeda — an allegation the Foreign Ministry eventually had to withdraw, though the claim that there were terrorists on board the Mavi Marmara was maintained.

Zu‘bi, by contrast, argued that their ships had been attacked far out in international waters in darkness, creating confusion and panic; that the navy had opened fire on the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara, where most of the activists were, before a single commando had stepped onto the deck; that she was sure there were no weapons on board the Marmara and that a later search by the navy that she witnessed revealed none; that two of the three bodies she saw had gunshot wounds to the head, indicating executions (later autopsies in Turkey would reveal five had wounds to the head, and that the nine dead had been shot a total of 30 times, often from close range); and that she had witnessed two passengers slowly bleed to death after her attempts to alert the soldiers in Hebrew were ignored. She concluded: “Israel had days to plan this military operation. They wanted many deaths to terrorize us and to send a message that no future aid convoys should try to break the siege of Gaza.”

Fisticuffs in the Knesset

A brief but stormy debate between Palestinian and Jewish MKs on Israel’s attack on the aid flotilla took place the next day, June 2, but was cut short by Matan Vilnai, the deputy defense minister, who transferred it to the less public arena of the foreign affairs committee. Zu‘bi, however, managed to revive the debate in the chamber by demanding her right to make a five-minute statement. The ensuing scenes took aback even seasoned politicians such as Yossi Sarid, a dovish former minister. He observed: “For the first time in its history, the Knesset came dangerously close to fisticuffs, with only a small step separating an exchange of words and an exchange of blows.”

Many MKs, including ministers, had left the chamber in protest as Zu‘bi rose to speak. As she stood at the podium, a deputy speaker who had been left in charge struggled to contain the outpouring of loathing directed at Zu‘bi as Jewish parliamentarians shouted the epithets “traitor,” “terrorist” and worse at the novice legislator. Anastasia Michaeli, a far-right MK from Lieberman’s party, charged the podium and was intercepted by security guards as she tried to grab Zu‘bi. (Michaeli was later invited to address an anti-violence conference sponsored by the Interior Ministry in which she defended her actions, saying: “I couldn’t allow myself to stay silent. I acted out of a conviction that we will not allow anyone to harm Israel’s sovereignty.”) After five minutes of pandemonium, the speaker, Reuven Rivlin, arrived to try to restore order. Despite a dozen MKs being ejected, Zu‘bi barely uttered a few sentences, between long enforced pauses as MKs spewed out abuse and personal insults — including one who yelled “Check if she has a knife!” — before Rivlin brought her speech to an abrupt end.

Some observers were surprised that the insults hurled at Zu‘bi were not restricted to the right-wing MKs. In fact, legislators from the opposition Kadima party were as vehement and abusive in their denunciations. One, Yulia Shamalov Berkovitz, called out that the Palestinian MKs were “parliamentary spies.” Zu‘bi, an articulate woman who previously headed a media monitoring center, deftly pressed the buttons most likely to produce uproar in the Knesset. In her brief address, she told the MKs that it was a “mitzvah,” or Jewish holy commandment, to join the flotilla and break the siege of Gaza; she called for an international inquiry to hold Israel to account; and she demanded the return of photographs and video footage confiscated from the passengers, noting that this evidence would prove who was telling the truth about what had occurred.

Sarid, the former leader of Israel’s tiny left-Zionist party, Meretz, may have been appalled by the behavior in the chamber but he was no more sympathetic to Zu‘bi than the rioting MKs. He did not accuse her of treason like the right wing, but he was equally dismissive of her participation in the flotilla. He blamed her for grandstanding and, smugly positioning himself as if separating disputatious children, castigated her in the same terms as her near-assailant Michaeli. “Don’t think for a moment that the vitriol on either side was born of genuine outrage. Everything was pre-planned and calculated to gain the public’s adoration, whatever the constituency,” he observed.

A Darker Agenda

Sarid’s putdown was by far the gentlest treatment Zu‘bi would receive at the hands of Jewish politicians, public and the local media. In a poll conducted by Tel Aviv University for Ha’aretz, 80 percent of Israeli Jews said they thought Zu‘bi should be punished for joining the flotilla. Shortly after her Knesset appearance, a Facebook page in Hebrew was set up calling for her execution, quickly garnering thousands of members who appeared unashamed to put their names to such a campaign. Death threats poured into Zu‘bi’s office — more than were ever sent to Azmi Bishara, according to Zu‘bi’s assistant who once ran Bishara’s office — and flowed at a lesser rate into the offices of the other Palestinian MKs as well. Overnight Zu‘bi had swept Salah from the top slot in the Jewish majority’s list of monsters. Knesset officials outfitted Zu‘bi with a bodyguard after the Shinbet reported that it was aware of more than a dozen concrete plots to kill her.

The focus in the days following the commando raid has been chiefly on Zu‘bi. Eli Yishai, the interior minister and demagogic leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, got the ball rolling by announcing that he was applying to the attorney general for approval to revoke Zu‘bi’s citizenship. Legal safeguards should mean he is unlikely to succeed, but the struggle to do so will strengthen the right and weaken the already besieged legal establishment in Israel. Yishai has also promised to present legislation to revoke the citizenship anyone defined as a traitor, saying of such a bill: “I believe most of the people support this and that the Supreme Court will accept it.”

In a further indication of the right’s ascendancy, the Knesset’s house committee agreed a week after the attack on the flotilla to strip Zu‘bi of several parliamentary privileges, including banning her from leaving the country by confiscating her diplomatic passport and denying her the right to claim legal costs — moves that are designed to look as though the ground is being prepared to put her on trial. State prosecutors told the committee that she is still being investigated for attempting to enter a closed military zone (that is, Gaza) and violence against commandos. Yariv Levin, head of the committee and a senior member of Netanyhu’s Likud party, claimed: “The committee’s decision expresses the feelings of the entire nation that harsh steps should be taken against MKs who harm Israel Defense Forces soldiers and question our ability to be here. MK Zu‘bi now knows that she will be made to foot the bill for her behavior.”

The campaign to denigrate Zu‘bi, as Levin’s comment and Yishai’s proposed bill suggest, has been hijacked by a darker agenda of suggesting more generally the treachery of the Palestinian leadership in Israel and, mostly implicitly so far, the Palestinian citizens whom they represent. The most significant move against the minority since the commando raid was the submission of a bill — already nicknamed the “Zu‘bi law” — that would allow a sitting MK to be expelled from the parliament if he or she does any of the following: deny Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state; incite racism; or support the armed struggle of a terrorist group. Given the highly distorted definitions used in Israeli political discourse, such legislation could easily be used to expel all ten of the Palestinian MKs serving in Palestinian parties or the joint Palestinian-Jewish Communist party. The bill’s backers appear to believe that this may be a more effective way to ban the Palestinian parties than their previous attempts during general election campaigns through the partisan Central Elections Committee. The courts have consistently, if narrowly, overturned the Committee’s decisions.

The Zu‘bi law is only the latest in a steady stream of what have been termed “loyalty laws” submitted since Netanyahu came to power in 2009. Ja‘far Farah, director of the Mossawa advocacy group for the Palestinian minority, says 23 bills have been proposed to limit the freedoms and rights of Palestinian citizens or their leaders over the past year. The flagrantly anti-democratic nature of these bills has resulted in most being rejected at an early stage by a ministerial committee on the advice of legal officials. But as pressure builds — and incidents like Makhoul’s arrest and Zu‘bi’s defense of the aid flotilla outrage the Jewish majority — breaches in the dam are widening. The Nakba Law, which can be used to end state funding for any organization or institution that commemorates the dispossession of the Palestinians in the 1948 war, is the most notable to have passed. Many similar loyalty bills directed at the minority and their leaders are in the pipeline. One being considered would require MKs to swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and Zionist state, and another would revoke the citizenship of anyone convicted of spying or terrorism.

In a commentary in the liberal Ha’aretz newspaper, Ruth Gavison, a distinguished law professor and founder of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the oldest and largest human rights group in the country, hinted at an emerging Jewish consensus against the Palestinian minority that cuts across all Jewish political divisions. While denouncing the demagoguery of the right, she observed that “it can be argued — even if it is not necessary to do so — that participation in international activities likely to embarrass the state and thwart its policies (such as unofficial visits to enemy states) should be seen as reason enough to prevent a person from serving as a member of Knesset, in accordance with reasonable judicial review process.”

Darker Still

Unlike the case of Operation Cast Lead, protests by Palestinian citizens against the lethal raid on the aid flotilla have been mostly muted, apart from the brief period when it appeared that Salah might have been killed. The relative quiet may in part reflect the short timeline of the events: The last peace activists had been deported within three days. But the strength of feeling among the minority was evident from the strict observation of a general strike called for June 1 by the Palestinian leadership. More likely, the reluctance by Palestinian citizens to come out onto the streets to protest can be ascribed to the current political climate in Israel. When Palestinian students demonstrated alongside small numbers of Jewish left-wing activists in the main universities, their numbers were dwarfed by counter-demonstrations by right-wing students, mobilized by a rapidly growing nationalist youth movement called Im Tirtzu. The defining image of Israel’s reaction to the commando raid was of mobs of young right-wing Jews, almost lost in a sea of blue-and-white flags, baying through the night in fury at the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv.

If the blockade on Gaza is justified in the minds of Israeli Jews as collective punishment of the enclave’s Palestinian population for supporting Hamas, a similar skewed logic is being applied to Israel’s Palestinian citizens. According to this thinking, those who sent Zu‘bi to the Knesset and those who revere Salah should be held accountable — and punished — for their representatives’ actions. The minority seems only too aware that the calls to expel Zu‘bi from the Knesset or revoke her citizenship will not end there. A poll by Haifa University in May showed that 62 percent of Palestinian citizens feared they are under threat of expulsion from Israel. And Israel’s mood is likely to grow darker still.

For background on tensions between Palestinians in Israel and the state, see Peter Lagerquist, “Recipe for a Riot: Parsing Israel’s Yom Kippur Upheavals,” Middle East Report Online (November 2008).

For background on the October 2000 events, see Jonathan Cook, “Impunity on Both Sides of the Green Line,” Middle East Report Online, November 23, 2005.
For background on Azmi Bishara’s case, see Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, “They’re Hounding Bishara Because He’s Right,” Middle East Report 243 (Summer 2007).

Jonathan Cook is a journalist based in Nazareth. He is author of Blood and Religion (2006), Israel and the Clash of Civilizations (2008) and Disappearing Palestine (2008).

June 16, 2010 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | Leave a comment

Afghanistan – The Longest Lost War

James Petras – 16, June 2010

Introduction:

Despite almost a decade of warfare, including an invasion and occupation, the US military and its allies and client state armed forces are losing the war in Afghanistan.  Outside of the central districts of a few cities and the military fortresses, the Afghan national resistance forces, in all of their complex local, regional and national alliances, are in control, of territory, people and administration.

The prolonged unending war has become a major drain on the morale of the US armed forces and undermined civilian support in the US, limiting the capacity of the White House to launch new imperial wars.  The annual multi-billion dollar military expenditures, are exacerbating the out-of-control budget deficit and forcing harsh unpopular cuts on social programs, at all levels of government.  There is no end in sight, as the Obama regime keeps increasing the number of troops by the tens of thousands and military expenditures by the dozens of billions but the resistance advances, both militarily and politically.

Faced with rising popular discontent and demands for fiscal restraint by a wide spectrum of banking and citizen groups, Obama and the general command have sought “partial exit” via the recruitment and training of a large scale long term Afghan mercenary army and police force under the direction of US and NATO officers.

US Strategy:  The Making of an Afghan Neocolony:

Between 2001-2010 the US military expenditures total $428 billion dollars; the colonial occupation has led to over 7,228 dead and wounded as of June 1, 2010.  As the US military situation deteriorates, the White House escalates the number of troops resulting in a greater number of killed and wounded.  During the past 18 months of the Obama regime more soldiers were killed or wounded than in the previous eight years.

The White House and Pentagon strategy is premised on massive flows of money, arms and an increase in the number of surrogates, mainly subsidized warlords and puppet western educated ex-pats.  The White House “development aid” involves, literally, purchasing the transient loyalties of clan leaders.  The White House attempts to give a veneer of legitimacy by running elections, which enhance the corrupt image of the incumbent puppet regime in Kabul and its regional associates.

On the military front, the Pentagon launches one “offensive” after another, announcing one success after another, followed by a retreat and return of the Resistance fighters.  The US campaigns disrupt trade, agricultural harvests and markets, while the air assaults targeting “Taliban” and militants, more frequently than not end up killing more civilians celebrating weddings, religious holidays and shoppers at markets than combatants.  The reason for the high percentage of civilian killings is clear to everyone except the US Generals:  there is no distinction between “militants” and millions of Afghan civilians since the former are an integral part of their communities.

The key and ultimately decisive problem facing the US occupation is that it is a colonial enclave in the midst of a colonized people.  The US, its local puppets and its NATO allies are a foreign colonial army and its Afghan military and police recruits are seen as mere instruments perpetuating illegitimate rule.  Every action, whether violent or benign, is perceived and interpreted as transgressing the norms and historical legacies of a proud and independent people.  In everyday life, every move by the occupation is disruptive; nothing moves except by command of the foreign directed military and police.  Under threat of force, people fake co-operation and then provide assistance to their fathers, brothers and sons in the Resistance.  The recruits take the money and turn their arms over to the Resistance.  The paid village informants are double agents or identified by their neighbors and targeted by insurgents.

The Afghan collaborators, Washington’s closest allies, are seen as corrupt traitors; transient rulers who have their bags packed and US passports in hand, ready to flee when the US is forced to exit.  All the programs, “reconstruction” funds, training missions and “civic programs” have failed to win the allegiance of the Afghan people, now as in the past as well as in the future, because they are seen as part of the US military occupation ultimately based on violence.

Ten Reasons Why the Afghan Resistance Will Win:

The Resistance has deep roots in the population – family community, linguistic and cultural ties which the US does not possess nor can “invent”; nor can these ties be bought, traded or replicated by their Afghan ‘collaborators’ or imposed by propaganda.

The Resistance has fluid borders and broad international support especially with Pakistan but also with other anti-imperialist, Islamic groups who provide arms and volunteers and who engage in actively attacking the logistical transport supply lines of US-NATO military in Pakistan.  They also pressure overseas US client regimes like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia opening multiple fronts.

Widespread infiltration, voluntary, active and passive support of the Resistance among the US recruited and trained Afghan military and police results in crucial intelligence on troop movements.  Desertions and absenteeism undermines “military competence”.

The scope and breadth of Resistance activity over-extends the imperial armies at its current strength and causes it to rely on unreliable Afghan security, who have no stomach for killing their brethren, especially when directed against communities with relatives or ethnic kin.

Resistance allies are more loyal, less corrupt and reliable because of deeply shared beliefs.  US allies are loyal only because of ephemeral monetary gratification and the temporary presence of US military force.

The Resistance appeals to the people in the name of a return to law and order in everyday life, which preceded the disruptive invasion.  The US promise of positive outcomes following a successful war, have no popular resonance after a decade long destructive occupation.

The US has no belief system that can compete with the religious-nationalist-traditionalist appeal of the Resistance to the vast majority of village, small town and displaced rural population.

The Resistance’s support of Iraqi, Palestinian and other anti-imperialist forces has a positive appeal among the Afghan people who have seen the destructive results of US wars in Iraq and proxy wars in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.  The US backed Israeli assault of Lebanon and the humanitarian ship destined for Palestine and the highly visible presence of Zionist militants in the US government, repels the more politically aware opinion leaders in Afghanistan.

Afghans have, by force of circumstances, longer staying power in resisting the US military occupation, than the US people who have other, far more pressing needs and the US military with growing commitments in the Gulf.

The Afghan Resistance does not normally kill civilians in combat missions since the US troops and NATO are clearly identified.  Whereas, the opposite is not true.  The Afghans who are part of the villages in occupied communities are subject to assassinations by “Special Forces” and drone bombings.  In these circumstances ordinary people suffer the same military assaults as Resistance fighters.

A Failed Mission: The Incapacity to Build a Reliable, Effective Afghan Mercenary Army

A US government audit published in late June of this year demolished the Obama regime’s claims that it is succeeding in building an effective Afghan mercenary army and police capable of buttressing the current client regime in Kabul. The Report, based on a detailed analysis and field observations argues that the Obama Pentagon relies on “standards [which are] woefully inadequate, inflating the abilities of Afghan units that Mr. Obama called “core to our mission” (Financial Times, June 7, 2010, p1). In other words, Obama continues to play the con game, which he inaugurated during his electoral campaign with his phony promises of ‘change’ and “ending the wars”, and continued with his bail out of Wall Street in the name of ‘saving the economy’. He followed up by escalating the war in Afghanistan by sending 30,000 more troops and increasing military and police expenditures to $325.5 billion, approximately 132% higher than the last year of the Bush Administration (Congressional Research Service, FY 2010 Supplemental for Wars … June 2010).

The Obama regime’s phony claims of progress were based on self-serving bureaucratic and technical criteria, rather than the actual fighting performance and behavior of the Afghan mercenary army. The military command’s reports and progress reports were based on how many courses were taught, the length and breadth of training and the amount and quality of arms and equipment supplied to the Afghan troops. As the number of Afghan units passing the “training missions” increased from zero to 22, between 2008 – 2009, the Pentagon claimed extraordinary progress. To correct the errors, the Pentagon has turned to “field assessments by commanders” – which is also failing, since the officials have a vested interest in inflating the performance of the Afghans mercenaries under their command in order to secure promotions and merit badges. The Obama regime plans to increase the Afghan military from 97,000 in November 2009 to 134,000 in October 2010, to 171,000 in October 2011 a 75% increase in two years (Congressional Research Service 2010, p 13). The same increase occurs with the police: from 93,800 in November 2009 to 134,000 in October 2011 a 43% increase.

Obama’s claim that the war is gradually being handed over to the US “trained” Afghan army is fully belied by two other basic facts. The White House has requested $1.9 billion – double the 2009 level under Bush – for military construction of new bases and installations for a “long term presence” (which the con-man Obama claims does not mean a “permanent presence”). Secondly, using the familiar double-talk of the Obama regime, Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff now argue that Obama’s campaign promise of beginning the retirement of troops in July 2010 really means “a day we start transitioning … not a date we’re leaving”, which would be based on “conditions on the ground … a several year process” (Gates Testimony before Senate Armed Services Committee, December 2, 2009). In plain English “transitioning” is not “leaving”. It means staying, fighting and occupying Afghanistan for decades. It means adding more troops, building more bases. It means spending another $400 billion over the next 5 years. And it means doubling the number of American soldiers killed and wounded over the next 3 years, from over seven thousand to fourteen thousand.

The criteria of ‘success’ in Afghanizing the war is belied by the growing Americanizing of the bases, combat troops and expenditures. The reason is that the Afghan army figures are as phony as Obama’s promises. The number of US personnel is growing because the Afghan political puppets are so corrupt, ineffective and despised by their people that Washington has to surround them with “monitors”, “advisers” and “operatives” who in turn are totally incapable of relating to the needs and practices of the communities. Increased US “aid” has led to greater corruption, more unfulfilled promises and greater animosity from the would be popular recipients.

The fundamental problem is that this is an American war and that is why Afghan units suffer a 50% reduction of strength due to at a minimum, a 20% desertion rate, admitted by US military officials (Congressional Research, op cit, p.14). In other words, the Afghan recruits, take the money and their arms and return to their villages, neighborhoods, families, and perhaps not a few, use their military training, joining with the National Resistance. With such high levels of disaffection among Afghan recruits and even officials it is not surprising that the Resistance has such high quality intelligence on US troop movements. Given the degree of disaffection it is not surprising that some of the US intelligence collaborators are double agents or vulnerable to exposure and execution. Faced with a billion dollar recruitment program with high rates of desertion and the “turning of guns on their mentors,” the White House, Pentagon and Congress refuse to recognize the reality that the imperial occupations is the source of the resistance of almost the whole people. Instead they call for more trainees, more funds for “training programs”, more “transparent” mercenary contractors.

The reality is that with a bigger American occupation, with escalating military expenditures, the Resistance is growing, surrounding the major cities, targeting meetings in the center of Kabul and rocketing the biggest US military bases around the country. It is clear that the US has lost the war politically and is in the process of losing it militarily.

Despite the most advanced military technology, the drones, the Special Forces, the increase in the number of trainees, advisers, NGOers and the building of more military bases, the Resistance is winning. The White House by adding to the millions of displaced and murdered and maimed Afghans is increasing the hostility of the vast majority of the Afghans. Civilian killings are turning more and more of their military recruits into deserters and “unreliable” soldiers. Some of whom are ‘turned’ into committed combatants for the ‘other side’. As in Indo-China, Algeria and elsewhere, a popular, highly motivated guerrilla resistance army, deeply embedded in the national-religious culture of an oppressed population is proving more resistant, enduring and victorious over an alien high tech imperial army. Obama’s ‘rule or ruin’ Afghan War, sooner rather than later, will ruin America and end his shameful presidency.

James Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York. He is the author of 64 books published in 29 languages, and over 560 articles in professional journals, including the American Sociological Review, British Journal of Sociology, Social Research, Journal of Contemporary Asia, and Journal of Peasant Studies. He has published over 2000 articles.

June 16, 2010 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Illegal Occupation, Militarism | 2 Comments

Russia against unilateral Iran sanctions

Press TV – June 16, 2010

A senior Russian parliament official has expressed opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran after EU members made a decision to unilaterally impose additional embargoes on Tehran.

Chairman of the Russian Federation Council Sergei Mironov told the weekly Novy Vzglyad that Russia is opposed to unilateral sanctions against Iran and those firms and countries working in collaboration with the country, IRNA reported.

The Russian official said such measures fall outside the framework of the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions against Iran.

The opposition comes as Moscow — Iran’s longtime energy and trade partner — voted in favor of a US-drafted UNSC resolution for a fourth set of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear activities.

Mironov’s comments followed that of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in which he warned the US and EU against imposing unilateral sanctions on Iran.

In a recent telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Russian minister “expressed concern over coming reports about the intentions of the US and the European Union to go beyond a collective Security Council position on Iran and to impose unilateral sanctions.”

The decision by the US and EU for the imposition of new sanctions on Iran comes as Tehran rejects Western accusations of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, arguing that the International Atomic Energy Agency in numerous reports has confirmed the non-diversion of nuclear material in the country.

June 16, 2010 Posted by | Wars for Israel | Leave a comment

The NYT and the Flotilla Inquiry

Another Compromised Reporter

By ALISON WEIR – June 16, 2010

The New York Times, whose regional bureau chief has a son in the Israeli military, reports that Israel has just appointed a panel charged with investigating its attack on an aid flotilla that killed nine aid volunteers, including a 19-year-old American.

Isabel Kershner, who is an Israeli citizen and has refused to answer questions about her possible family ties to the Israeli military, writes the report.

Kershner reports that the White House hailed the announcement of the panel as an “important step forward,” stating that “the structure and terms of reference of Israel’s proposed independent public commission can meet the standard of a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation.”

In her story, Kershner reports that the panel will include eminent Irish Nobel Peace Laureate Lord David Trimble as an observer, but omits the fact that Trimble is a leader of the newly formed pro-Israel organization “Friends of Israel” and is close to Netanyahu associate Dore Gold.

Irish journalist Patrick Roberts writes, “This is a little like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.”

Kershner reports that the other foreign observer is Brig. Gen. Ken Watkins, former judge advocate general of Canadian Forces, but fails to mention that Watkins is known for stonewalling a 2009 House of Commons investigation into Afghan prisoner abuse.

One House of Commons member commented at the time about Watkins’ lack of cooperation with the investigation: “Obviously the cover-up continues.”

Kershner informs readers that the panel will be led by a retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice, but fails to mention reports that he does not believe in such a panel and opposed foreign participation.

Kershner reports in the bottom half of her story that Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper calls the proposed panel a “farce,” but does not mention that this is a longstanding pattern for Israeli governmental investigations (and lack thereof) into military human rights abuses. For example:

° From 2001 through 2006 the Israeli State Attorney’s office received more than 500 complaints about abuse of interrogees. There was not a single criminal investigation.

° In 2005 Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem released a report entitled “Israeli military grants impunity when soldiers kill Palestinian civilians,” finding that although Israeli soldiers had killed at least 1,694 Palestinian civilians, including 536 minors, only one soldier had been convicted of “causing the death of a Palestinian.”

° In 2009 eleven Israeli human rights organizations released a joint report in which they called on the Israeli government to “Stop whitewashing suspected crimes in Gaza.”

° In 2010 B’Tselem found that the Israeli military’s “cover-up of phosphorous shelling in Gaza proves army cannot investigate itself.” An Amnesty International report concurred in this conclusion, finding that Israel’s investigations into Cast Lead had not met “international standards of independence, impartiality, transparency, promptness and effectiveness.”

In her story Kershner reports Netanyahu’s allegation that the blockade “is necessary to prevent Hamas from smuggling in weapons or materials needed to make them, and to weaken Hamas control.” She goes on to acknowledge that “there is a growing consensus abroad that the blockade has taken a toll mainly on civilians,” but neglects to report the fact that Israeli closures of Gaza preceded the election of Hamas and that the “toll” is massive and calamitous.

She also fails to include any of the vast evidence for such a consensus, for example:

Nearly 99 percent of Gaza’s 4,000 fishermen are now considered either poor (making between $100 and $190 a month) or very poor (earning less than $100 a month); there are acute, sometimes lethal shortages of fuel, cash, cooking gas and other basic supplies; 98 percent of industrial operations have been shut down since 2007; and 3,500 families are still displaced from last year’s invasion due to Israel’s blockade on building materials.

Although the Israeli government has failed to investigate itself honestly and thoroughly through the years, a great many respected international human rights organizations from Christian Aid to the Red Cross have done so, documenting a pattern of widespread human rights abuses by the Israeli military.

In 2006 independent researchers Patrick O’Connor and Rachel Roberts found that since fall 2000:

“[T]hree of the leading human rights organizations focusing on Israel/Palestine – Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Israeli organization B’Tselem – published 76 reports focused primarily on Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights, and four reports primarily focused on Palestinians abuses of Israeli or Palestinian rights. This weighting suggests that Israel has committed a disproportionate share of the human rights violations.”

During this time, the New York Times published two news stories on reports documenting Israeli human rights abuses and two stories on reports documenting Palestinian human rights abuses.

In other words, in its “even-handed” style, the New York Times covered fifty percent of the reports on human rights abuses committed by Palestinians, while covering under three percent of those detailing human abuses perpetrated by Israelis.

Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew and a board member of the Council for the National Interest. She can be reached at contact@ifamericansknew.org

June 16, 2010 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | 3 Comments

Zoabi refuses to cooperate with Zionist investigation committee

Palestine Information Center – 15/06/2010

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: MK Hanin Zoabi, one of the participants in the Freedom Flotilla, said that she will not cooperate with a committee ratified by the Israeli government yesterday, which would investigate facts related to the Freedom Fleet massacre.

A statement issued by the Zoabi’s office on Tuesday provided that neither she nor any others who participated in the Flotilla will trust or cooperate with the committee, because it was “formed to find a legal justification for violations of law against the Flotilla committed by Israeli occupation forces.

Zoabi strongly criticized the Israeli government’s decision to form this committee, saying it aims to deplete international anger and demands to form an international investigation committee as provided by international law.

Palestinian government spokesman in Gaza, Taher Al-Nunu, confirmed in a statement on Monday that the Palestinian government disapproves of the Israel-formed committee, adding that it is an obvious attempt by Israel to evade consequences of the crime committed in international waters against peace missionaries en route to Gaza, and to exonerate the Israeli army of responsibility for its crimes.

He added that there is no substitute for an international investigation according to international standards to prosecute the perpetrators of this crime before international war crimes courts.

The government has called on the international community and related organizations to reject Israel’s plan and to assign an international investigation committee under the supervision of UN control to probe the Israeli crime, especially since the United Nations Council for Human Rights had endorsed the formation of this committee.

June 16, 2010 Posted by | Deception, War Crimes | 1 Comment

   

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