Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, said there was “no realistic prospect” of a conviction, because of a conflict between the postmortem examinations carried out after the death of Ian Tomlinson last year.
The newspaper seller died following the demonstrations on 1 April 2009 in central London. The official account that he died from a heart attack was undermined when the Guardian obtained video footage showing a riot officer striking the 47-year-old with a baton and shoving him to the ground shortly before he collapsed and died.
In a written statement the CPS admitted that there was sufficient evidence to bring a charge of assault against the officer, but claimed a host of technical reasons meant he could not be charged.
Tomlinson’s stepson Paul King, flanked by his mother, Julia, said: “It’s been a huge cover-up and they’re incompetent.”
King said: “He [Starmer] has just admitted on TV that a copper assaulted our dad. But he hasn’t done anything. He’s the man in charge … why hasn’t he charged him?
“They knew that if they dragged this out long enough, they would avoid charges. They knew just what they were doing. They’ve pulled us through a hedge backwards – now we have to go on living our lives.”
The family solicitor, Jules Carey, said the decision was a disgrace and Tomlinson’s relatives would be considering whether they could mount an appeal.
“Clearly it is a disgraceful decision,” he said. “We now need to find out if there has been a lack of will or incompetence, and frankly there needs to be an inquiry into that.”
The family, who went to the headquarters of the CPS in London to be told of the decision, had wanted a charge of manslaughter to be brought against the officer, who was named in media reports as PC Simon Harwood.
In a detailed letter setting out its reasons, the CPS said that the actions of the officer – seen striking Tomlinson with a baton then shoving him to the ground in the footage – were grounds for bringing a charge of assault.
It said: “The CPS concluded that there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of proving that the actions of PC ‘A’ in striking Mr Tomlinson with his baton and then pushing him over constituted an assault. At the time of those acts Mr Tomlinson did not pose a threat … There is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of proving that his actions were disproportionate and unjustified.”
But the CPS went on to explain the obstacles to a prosecution posed by the subsequent postmortems.
The first police account, that he died from a heart attack, was confirmed by a pathologist, Freddy Patel, in the initial postmortem.
But a second postmortem, conducted by Dr Nat Carey on behalf of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), found Tomlinson had died from internal bleeding.
Today the CPS said it could not bring a manslaughter charge because the conflicting medical evidence meant prosecutors “would simply not be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that there was a causal link between Mr Tomlinson’s death and the alleged assault on him”.
It said it could not bring a charge for criminal assault because too much time had elapsed; a charge must be brought within six months. The CPS also ruled out bringing charges of actual bodily harm and misconduct in public office.
Tomlinson had his hands in his pockets and his back to the officer when he was hit. The video footage suggests that no other police officer went to his aid and it was left to a bystander to lift him to his feet. He appeared to stumble about 100 metres down Cornhill, clutching his side, before collapsing a second time.
Police initially led Tomlinson’s wife and nine children to believe he died of a heart attack after being caught up in the demonstration. In statements to the press, police claimed attempts by officers to save his life by resuscitation had been impeded by protesters.
The IPCC said it would now pass its file to the Met, which will consider whether the officer should be disciplined. An inquest will examine the circumstances of Tomlinson’s death and the case could be reconsidered by prosecutors after it is concluded.
A Metropolitan police spokesman said the force offered its “sincere regret” over the death of Tomlinson. He said the officer could still face misconduct proceedings once the force receives the IPCC report.
The CPS announcement comes five years to the day since another landmark incident involving police use of force. On 22 July 2005, officers shot dead Jean Charles de Menezes after mistaking him for a terrorist who was about to detonate a bomb. Then, the family of the innocent Brazilian criticised the CPS for failing to bring criminal charges against any individual.
The Tomlinson family have criticised the time it took the CPS to reach its decision.
The first investigation was conducted by the IPCC. Its officials are understood to have reached a clear view as to whether enough evidence existed to support criminal charges.
They were able to complete their inquiries in just four months and submitted a file to the CPS by August.
Key to the investigation were hundreds of hours of footage and thousands of images shot by bystanders at the protest, which enabled them to piece together Tomlinson’s last 30 minutes alive.
CPS officials had assured the family they would decide on whether to prosecute the officer – and on what charge – by Christmas 2009.
The CPS has given various explanations for the delays, and claims it has had to return to the IPCC for clarification several times on different issues.
It is also understood that there have been complications surrounding the evidence of an expert witness.
The IPCC itself was late in mounting an inquiry, claiming there was nothing suspicious about the death for almost a week until the release of footage of the incident obtained by the Guardian forced a U-turn.
Patel is facing the General Medical Council accused of giving questionable verdicts on four causes of deaths, several of which later turned out to be suspicious.
Dr Carey, who carried out the second postmortem examination on Tomlinson, today criticised Patel at the GMC, where Patel’s disciplinary hearing began last week.
The hearing focuses on his actions during postmortem examinations of a four-week-old baby, a five-year-old girl and two women.
The panel was told that Carey had been called to examine the exhumed body of the five-year-old after concerns were raised about the initial recorded cause of death.
Patel had concluded there were “no significant marks of violence”. But Carey said the death was due to a “severe head injury” likely to have been inflicted by the “actions of a third party”.
At the start of this afternoon’s evidence, the panel was told by the hearing’s legal adviser to ignore any of today’s media reports involving Patel, who denies misconduct.
Video footage showing Ian Tomlinson being struck by a police officer – Link
April 6, 2009
April 17, 2009
August 5, 2009
The northern Gaza Strip area of Beit Lahiya is famous for its agriculture. The climate, the sandy clay soil and the fresh water supply create an ideal environment for growing fruit here, and the practice has become a deeply-engrained way of life for Beit Lahiya farmers like Abdulfattah al-Khateeb, who has been growing strawberries here for more than 25 years. Although the Gaza Strip is amongst the most densely-populated places on earth, here luscious green fields spread out in vast tracts. Yet it is clear that as Abdulfattah gazes out onto his land his minds is troubled: Abdulfattah’s concern is unique in that it is not with growing his crops, but rather whether his crops will be able to reach the market once they are grown.
In order to realize even a modest profit, Abdulfattah must sell his strawberries in the West Bank, Israel and Europe, as he did for over 20 years. Since 2007, however, Israel has enforced a complete and continuous closure of all border crossings into and out of the Gaza Strip, effectively cutting the coastal territory off from the rest of the world. Now, like the countless tons of his strawberries which have since been left to rot while waiting in vain at the Israeli border, he fears that his business and his livelihood may perish as a result of the closure.
Before the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip in 1967, this area was so renowned for its citrus production that the fruit produced here was known throughout Palestine as “yellow gold.” Under the control of Israel, however, itself a major citrus producer, farmers in Beit Lahiya and throughout Gaza were forced to abandon their crops — many orange groves were bulldozed by Israeli forces — and instead grow flowers and strawberries and other crops that adhere to Israel’s “security concerns.” The Beit Lahiya farmers adapted, and soon they were producing strawberries of such a high quality that their fruit was being exported to Israel, the West Bank and upscale retailers in Europe; they are “the best strawberries in the world,” according to Abdulfattah, who also used to head the Beit Lahiya Strawberry Farmers Society.
Now, however, Abdulfattah and other farmers in Gaza are being forced by Israel to abandon their crops yet again, although this time there is no recourse in shifting production to another, “safer,” fruit or vegetable. Under the current form of the illegal Israeli-imposed closure, farmers in Gaza can no longer export their produce outside the Gaza Strip, and they are facing further restrictions on the types and amounts of products they can grow. The effects have been disastrous. Before the imposition of the total closure of the Gaza Strip on 14 June 2007 — itself only a more stringent form of a closure policy in place since the early 1990s — the Gaza Strip produced almost 400,000 tons of agricultural products annually, one third of which was intended for export. Despite the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which set a target for exports for Gaza at 400 trucks per day, only 259 trucks have left the Gaza Strip with goods in the last three years. Accordingly, since 2007, farmers in Gaza have reported a 40 percent decrease in income: in 2008 alone, farmers in the Gaza Strip lost an estimated US $6.5 million.
Without the ability to export their products to markets in the West Bank, Israel and Europe, farmers like Abdulfattah face a domestic market for agriculture characterized by artificially inflated supply, which in turn drives prices so low that Abdulfattah says he cannot survive on them: “Before 2007, one kilogram of strawberries used to cost 24 shekels on the Gaza market; now it only costs three. I can hardly continue my life with prices so low. I have to live from season-to-season, hoping that I can get good prices or maybe export some goods, and since 2007 I am forced to rely on handouts and aid,” says Abdulfattah.
At the same time, Abdulfattah is facing greater restrictions imposed by the Israeli government on his farming operation in Beit Lahiya, which contribute to rising costs of production. “The Israelis tell us how and what to plant, what to use to plant it, and where the plants we use must come from,” explains Abdulfattah. “We are forced to use Israeli strawberry plants, even though they are more expensive [15 shekels as opposed to four shekels for Palestinian plants] and not as good [as the Palestinian plants which produced the famous Gazan strawberries]. But we use them anyways, and we even obtain the certificate that proves it, which is expensive. Even though we follow all the specifications, the Israelis don’t let our strawberries pass through the border.” Encapsulating the plight of all farmers in Gaza under Israeli occupation, Abdulfattah adds emphatically: “when we do what the Israelis want, they just create another problem.”
The consequences of the closure for farmers like Abdulfattah are more than just tough economic times: the closure threatens their livelihoods and way of life. Approximately 2,500 dunams (a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters) of land were planted with strawberry fields before 2007; this year some 1,500 remain unplanted, representing at least 300 families who will be without an income for the year. More than likely, these families will be forced to give up strawberry cultivation; half of all strawberry farmers in Gaza have already done so. Some of them will find other work, but — with unemployment in the Gaza Strip approaching 55 percent — others will surely not.
Indeed the Israel policy towards strawberry farming in Gaza, and particularly their exports, is a demonstration in the economics of occupation. The crops permitted to grow in Gaza are directly linked to the crops produced by Israel. Because of their quality — and the high consumer demand this quality creates — agricultural products from the Gaza Strip, like strawberries, are not allowed to compete with Israeli products in the Israeli markets or in markets abroad. At the same time, surplus agricultural goods produced in Israel are pushed onto the market in Gaza, further driving down prices for local farmers.
Making matters significantly worse for farmers in the Gaza Strip are the consequences of the latest Israeli military offensive, which destroyed approximately 46 percent of all agricultural lands in the Gaza Strip, estimated at approximately $269,000,000 in damages, and over $84,000,000 in damages to plant production, specifically. Not only have farmers received no compensation from the perpetrators of the damage, but Israel prevents the entry of farming equipment and machinery needed in order to rehabilitate the land.
On 4 July, the Israeli government formally announced an “easing” of the border crossings into the Gaza Strip in response to the international condemnation of the 31 May attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. While there will be an increase in the type and amount of goods that are allowed into Gaza under the new arrangement, the issue of exports remains ignored. For Abdulfattah, thus, the new restrictions represent only a marginal change in the modalities of the occupation that is suffocating his business and his way of life: “I expect nothing new [from the new Israeli policy]. Even if the Israelis decided to allow exports, I probably would not be able to follow the new restrictions they would invent for me to do so,” Abdulfattah explains, “but it won’t open anyways.”
This report is part of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ Narratives Under Siege series.
In a detailed and strongly-worded letter to Sir Peter Gibson, chosen by Prime Minster David Cameron to lead an inquiry into British complicity in the torture of British nationals and residents abroad, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, has called on Gibson to step down from his role as the judge in charge of the inquiry, complaining that “his impartiality is fatally compromised.” A copy of the letter was also sent to 10 Downing Street.
Reprieve’s analysis is certainly accurate, given that, “As the Intelligence Services Commissioner (ISC), it has been Sir Peter’s job for more than four years to oversee the Security Services,” and “he cannot now be the judge whether his own work was effective.”
Reprieve identified three particular reasons why Gibson’s recusal is required. The first is because it appears that, in a recent interview with Andrew Neil, the Prime Minister admitted that Gibson had “already conducted a secret inquiry, at the previous government’s request, into allegations of misconduct,” but “because it is secret, none of us may know what his conclusions were.”
The second reason is because, in three annual reports (from 2006 to 2008), Gibson concluded that all members of the Security Services were “trustworthy, conscientious and dependable.” As a result, in Reprieve’s words, he was “entirely prejudging the issues before the inquiry.” Reprieve also contrasted Gibson’s analysis with that of Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, in February this year, when, in ordering the government to release US documents establishing that British resident Binyam Mohamed had been tortured while in custody in Pakistan in 2002, he asserted that MI5 did not respect human rights, had not renounced participation in “coercive interrogation” techniques, deliberately misled MPs and peers on the intelligence and security committee, which is supposed to be able to scrutinize its activities, and had a “culture of suppression” in its dealings with [former foreign secretary David] Miliband and the court.”
The third reason, as Reprieve explained, is that “part of Sir Peter’s job, as ISC, was to oversee ministerial authorizations that would allow the Security Services to violate the law abroad, including sanctioning British involvement in abusive interrogations. Since evidence will be presented that such interrogations have continued during Sir Peter’s tenure, he either validated these actions, or he has been hoodwinked as ISC. Either way, he should be a witness at the inquiry.”
This is a pretty devastating analysis of Sir Peter Gibson’s unsuitably for the job, although Reprieve’s press conference today to announce its very public and very vocal opposition to his appointment drew only a bland response from Downing Street, where a spokesman “said that the Prime Minister had full confidence in Gibson.”
In his letter, Clive Stafford Smith asked Gibson:
Please could you explain how you are able to preside over an inquiry about British complicity in torture during the time period in which you were responsible for the statutory oversight of the security and intelligence services? The allegation that you will have to rule on is (with apologies for putting it so frankly) that you were either asleep on your watch or were hoodwinked. Out of fairness to victims of torture, the security services and yourself, do you believe that you can rule fairly on such issues?
At today’s press conference he reiterated his complaints, stating, as the Guardian explained, that there was a “patently obvious basis for a judge to remove himself,” and adding that, given Gibson’s evident conflict of interest, the request for his recusal was “an incredibly uncontentious issue.”
Adding that he had not “received the first whisper of a response” from the Prime Minister regarding his complaints, Stafford Smith then threw down a gauntlet to the government, stating, “If they refuse to discuss this in private, then we will spend the rest of the summer discussing it in public.”
He also confirmed that Reprieve “would look at its legal options if Sir Peter refused to step down,” as the Guardian explained, and stated:
Welcome though the torture inquiry is, the current structure is a sham. Sir Peter Gibson was perhaps the least appropriate judge to evaluate the security services. The government must get serious about learning the mistakes of the past, rather than try to cover them up, or we are in for a long, hot summer.
Bring it on, Clive! Let’s have a proper inquiry under the Inquiries Act of 2005, with a judge able to “balance the need for national security against the need for transparency,” as Reprieve requested two weeks ago — and if David Cameron refuses, let’s rally some support for a long hot summer of protest. As I explained last week, when a series of damning documents regarding British complicity in torture were released by the High Court, in connection with an ongoing civil claim for damages filed by six former Guantánamo prisoners:
The time for silence, and the time for secrecy are over. To clear the air, and to draw a line under this most lamentable period in our recent history, we need an inquiry presided over by someone who is able to “balance the need for national security against the need for transparency.” For too long now — and with baleful results — the need for national security has been allowed to override everything else, inflicting grave damage on our claims to be a civilized country, and leading to devastating effects for those caught up in a “War on Terror” with few checks and balances.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK)
Haneen Zoabi speaking in Tel Aviv, July 2010. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)
On 13 July, the Israeli Knesset voted by a large margin to strip the parliamentary privileges of Haneen Zoabi, a member of the Palestinian Israeli party Balad. The measure was a punishment for Zoabi’s participation in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. As described in the Israeli daily Haaretz, during the raging debate, Member of Knesset (MK) Anasatassia Michaeli rushed toward Zoabi and handed her a mock Iranian passport with Zoabi’s photo on it. “Ms. Zoabi, I take your loyalty to Iran seriously and I suggest you contact Ahmadinejad and ask him to give you an Iranian diplomatic passport that will assist you with all your diplomatic incitement tours, because your Israeli passport will be revoked this evening,” said Michaeli, who is a member of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s explicitly anti-Arab Yisrael Beiteinu party (“Knesset revokes Arab MK Zuabi’s privileges over Gaza flotilla,” 13 July 2010).
The debate over revoking Zoabi’s parliamentary privileges was nearly as rancorous as her appearance at the Knesset speaker’s podium in the immediate wake of the Flotilla massacre. While Zoabi attempted to relate her experience on the Mavi Marmara, where she coaxed Israeli commandoes to stop shooting and beating passengers, Knesset members from a broad array of parties leapt from their chairs to shout her down. “Go to Gaza, traitor!” shouted MK Miri Regev of Likud. “One week in Gaza as a 38-year-old single woman and we’ll see how they treat you!” barked Yohanan Plesner of the supposedly centrist Kadima party. Finally, Moshe Mutz Matalon of Yisrael Beiteinu lamented that the Israeli commandoes “left only nine floating voters” (“MK Regev tells Zoabi: Go to Gaza, traitor!,” YNet, 2 June 2010).
I met Zoabi at her office in the bustling center of Lower Nazareth on 12 June. While preparing a spread of biscuits and chocolates for me, she told me that a reporter from Nablus who met her earlier in the day had been detained at a checkpoint and had her laptop seized. Zoabi was convinced that the Shin Bet (Israel’s General Security Service) was monitoring her communications and movements as it does with many Balad Party leaders. Despite the tense climate and violent threats against her, she spoke without restraint about her experience on the Mavi Marmara, the predicament of Palestinian members of the Knesset, and what she considered the fascist direction of Israeli society.
Max Blumenthal: Were you surprised to be greeted with such hostility when you returned to the Knesset after the flotilla incident?
Hanin Zoabi: I was not so surprised. I expected to be called traitor, to be asked, “Where are your knives?” Or to be told, “You are the one who killed them!” But they shouted at me without any political argument and such shallowness. I thought, this couldn’t be a parliament, these are just gangsters. If I gave them guns, they would shoot me. I said the soldiers on the flotilla treated me more respectfully than them. At least after the soldiers killed nine people they tried to ask me for help.
MB: What does the attack on you in Knesset say about Israeli democracy?
HZ: Israel has a general atmosphere of a fascist state that has no critical sense even of its image in the world. It used to be sensitive to its image of democracy. [Knesset Speaker Reuven] Rivlin wants a liberal state and wants others to believe Israel is a democracy. But listen to what they are saying in the Knesset: that we should only pay attention to what we want to; it’s not important to pay attention to the goyim. We must believe we are the victim as if victimhood is an ideology.
MB: Are you concerned about threats to your physical safety?
HZ: This is a dangerous time and it is dangerous for Jamal [Zehalka] and others in Balad. I am worried but what worries me more is not the personal threats but the long term political effect of this campaign because it represents a delegitimization of our party and our political platform.
MB: What about the planned measure in the Knesset to strip you of parliamentary privileges?
HZ: The three parliamentary sanctions are nothing — I mean nothing — because I can still use my civic passport.
MB: When you were attacked in the Knesset, I was reminded of an incident in 1949, when the first Arab member of Knesset, Tawfiq Toubi, took to the floor to denounce Israeli army brutality against Palestinian villagers living under military rule. Jewish members of the Knesset went crazy just as they did against you, but Toubi was defended by one of Israel’s most prominent cultural figures, the socialist poet Nathan Alterman. Did any prominent Israelis speak up in your defense, and if not, why not?
HZ: Hardly anyone spoke up for me. Jamal [Zehalka] said the Knesset is the worst we’ve ever had. The guards and the workers who’ve been around the Knesset for 30 years said it’s never been this racist before. I think when you have a government led by the likes of [Foreign Minister] Avigdor Lieberman it means that the extremists are not the margins of the Knesset, they are the mainstream. Those who shouted at me were from Kadima, not from the extreme right. Even [the traditionally left-wing party] Meretz is becoming very center. And because of this it has lost power.
[Knesset Speaker] Rivlin was more afraid of hurting the image of the Knesset than of my rights being violated. There are no limits and the famous slogan of Lieberman is now the slogan of everyone: “Citizenship depends on loyalty.” He of course means loyalty in a fascist sense. Even when [Interior Minister] Eli Yishai asked to revoke my citizenship there was only one article in the Israeli media saying that this was crazy. What kind of state is this? I read just one article about this!
[Yedioth Aharanot columnist] Amnon Levy was the only one who defended me. He said what’s happening is so absurd, you should thank Haneen that she is serving in this Zionist Knesset. You should thank the Palestinians for participating in our game.
MB: Is the anti-Arab atmosphere inside Israel a new phenomenon or the acceleration of a process than began some time ago?
HZ: This is not a new process, and it didn’t begin after the flotilla. It really began after the second intifada, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Israelis went to demonstrations not to rally about internal issues but to support the intifada. This was a clear message for Israelis that the state had failed to create the model of the new “Israeli Arab.” This is what the state was trying to do, trying to create us as Israeli Arab, someone who was not 100 percent Israeli because we were not Jews but of course not 100 percent Arab either. We were told we could preserve our language and our culture but not our historical memory, our culture, or our identity except on an emotional, romantic level. Essentially we couldn’t be Palestinian.
The second intifada was the turning point. It told Israel that it might control the schools, our history and the media but they couldn’t stop us from asserting our identity. This led directly to the declaration of Yuval Diskin, the Shin Bet director, who said in 2007, we will fight against any political activity that doesn’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state even if the activities are conducted openly and democratically. He clearly was referring to Balad when he said this. By the way, no Israeli paper was shocked by his statement.
MB: The founder of the Balad Party, Azmi Bishara, was forced into exile after being accused of spying for Hizballah. Ameer Makhoul, the Palestinian civil society leader in Israel, has been placed under administrative detention and is facing similar accusations. Omer Said and many other activists are under investigation by the Shin Bet. What is the government trying to accomplish by its crackdown?
HZ: They are trying to establish borders on our political identity and say that we cannot have relations with the broader Arab world. They want to redefine the margins of democracy to exclude any political program that calls for full equality. We are calling for equality without Zionism. This is what the Balad Party says. The fact is, to demand full civic and national equality is actually to demand the end of Zionism. So we don’t hate Zionism. Zionism hates democracy.
If the state continues in the direction it is going it will actually change the rules of the game. Balad says there are clear margins of democracy. We believe in democratic values and the system and we will utilize these margins of democracy in order to suggest our vision of full equality. If Israel wants to delete these margins so my vision can no longer be legitimate in the Israeli scene I think a totally different game will develop between us and the state. In this way, the state is pushing us to a crisis. If they disqualify Balad then no Arab party would enter the Knesset and this would provoke a huge crisis. Arabs without a parliamentary role would result in a different kind of relationship between us and the state. This would be the end of democracy. But we know this is what a Jewish state will lead to — the end of democracy is an inevitable outcome.
MB: How did your prominence after the flotilla impact the situation of Palestinians in Israel?
HZ: It is possible that the flotilla was the beginning of a new historical moment. Israel enjoys keeping us [Palestinians in Israel] out of the agenda of the world. They oppressed us behind the scenes just as they conducted the Nakba behind the scenes. They continued to limit our identity and the world didn’t treat us as part of the Palestinian issue because it believed that Israel was a democracy and we were only part of it. The world only looked at the siege of Gaza. So what the Knesset did by attacking me was they showed the world who they really are. And if the world starts to pay attention, especially the part of the world that doesn’t traditionally support the Palestinians and believes Israel should be a real democracy, I hope they see from the flotilla and its implications that Israel has a deep structural problem, not a problem of policies. The problem is not an extremist government. The problem is that the largest threat to Zionism is democracy. This is the issue.
Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author working in Israel-Palestine. His articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Al-Jazeera English and many other publications. He is a writing fellow for the Nation Institute.
I received one of the coveted invitations to Tuesday’s Nixon Center’s debate between Chas Freeman and Robert Satloff over whether Israel is or is not an American strategic asset. It was a sign of the intense interest in the topic (and perhaps too in Chas Freeman) that, in the dog days of summer, it looked to be the most popular Nixon Center luncheon of the year. The guest list seemed almost scientifically balanced: in apparently equal number were representatives from the sturdy Arabist Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and several more or less like-minded organizations, as well as from AIPAC, the ADL, the JTA. But with one exception, the audience was exceedingly polite throughout.
In his prepared remarks, Chas Freeman described succinctly all that the US does for Israel, financially and diplomatically, then noted that it gets in return virtually none of the strategic benefits one typically receives from allies. Israel is so unpopular in its region that its participation in any joint project is sufficient to drive others away. For his part, Satloff claimed that Israel is America’s best bargain for ally ever. In manner, he was almost smugly confident and self assured. At the outset he talked about his reluctance at accepting the invitation, wondering whether his participation would “lend legitimacy” to a question which is out there “on the fringes, (though not only there)” . He stated that the issue of Israel’s strategic value was never debated “in the Situation Room” and nor by a “vast majority” of military leaders and national security specialists agree, across the political spectrum. I suspect if Satloff was so certain of this, he wouldn’t have bothered to come.
Like David Frum, (but for different reasons) I found the debate interesting but slightly unsatisfying. I think Freeman’s points are unassailable, but there would be many who would also be persuaded that Israel proved itself as a Cold War ally, demonstrating the superiority of American avionics (in dogfights with Syria) and, through its military strength, weakening the Soviet foothold in the region. (Walt and Mearsheimer also wrote there was much to be said for Israel’s strategic value during the Cold War.) And I would acknowledge that these points in Israel’s favor were not anticipated by the early Cold War strategists who felt, initially, that American support for Israel would be incredibly costly in geostrategic terms, in the short and medium term. Satloff of course also emphasized Israel’s technical prowess, its success in devoloping drones so Americans can strike Afghan targets from computer screens in Nevada, and its high tech industry. All very Dan Senor– though it’s never explained why Israel needs to occupy the West Bank and starve Gaza for its computer industry to thrive. Satloff seemed pleased to contrast the relative peace around Israel with the situation in the Gulf: See, Americans, for the cost of a mere $100 billion in aid, the Levant plus Egypt is relatively pacified, while the Gulf is full of war.
I think Freeman was excellent, but what I believe is his most salient point he expressed tangentially, and in segments, and in truth is not the kind of thing that can be argued well in debate, because it is grounded in sentiment and inference rather than cold facts. I would put it this way: that the nature of Washington’s alliance with Israel, and especially the extreme deference to Israeli sensibilities that seems inextricable from it, had pulled the United States into an ever expanding arc of conflict with the Muslim world, a conflict that is far from inevitable and in fact unnecessary—and that this conflict has made us a target of terrorism and has already eroded our constitutional liberties, as well as costing us hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of dead and wounded. Freeman noted that several terrorist operatives have mentioned American support for Israel as an important motivator for their actions, but they have other, also serious, reasons for their hatred. Would the United States have had troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, the residue of the first Iraq war, without Israel and its lobby? A case could be made either way. I don’t believe we would be at war with Iraq now without Israel, though the proponents of that war now work overtime to claim that no, Iran was always Israel’s preferred target. We certainly would not be working ourselves into a froth over the remote possibility of an Iranian nuclear deterrent without Israel’s prodding.
But how exactly do you quantify the cost of appearing as blatantly hypocritical (about democracy, about human rights) to hundreds of millions of Muslims? Satloff can and did claim that Arabs (quietly) support a war against Iran and say that when Arab governments complain about American support for Zionism, it is more or less meaningless. Perhaps it is; the governments are weak, autocratic, not very effective and hardly beloved by their own people.
The question period was slightly more expansive. Joe Klein (who I would depict as near neutral in this debate) asked in his signature fashion a pointed question to each figure. I asked Satloff whether his calculus might change if the two-state solution negotiation were to end (or to be generally acknowledged to be over) and Israel was seen, more clearly as a state denying political rights to four million people under occupation. His answer surprised me: there has been a two state negotiation going on since 1937 (the time of an early British partition proposal) and it’s still ongoing. He could not have made it clearer that Israel and its American spokesman enjoy the pretext of a peace process—it can go on forever!– while Israel, which got its state 62 years ago, continues to settle and seize the land it wants.
Satloff was full of condescending praise for the Obama administration for “correcting its error” of asking for a settlement freeze in Jerusalem as a prelude to negotiations. Indeed, he smugly noted that Obama had learned the error of his ways very quickly, so deserved double praise! Generally I found Satloff an interesting character, exuding confidence, expressing forceful talking points at every turn. And they all take a moment to unravel—yes, what he said is a kind of half-truth, and the other half is false. But if the statements come cascading out, expressed rapidly and cogently enough, it can work. I imagine that being in a room with Netanyahu has the same effect.
The one volatile moment came when someone with an Israeli accent (from the guest list I surmise it was Amitai Etzioni, but I’m not certain) challenged Freeman for claiming that one of the things America had learned from Israel was targeted assassination and torture. He was vehement, and mentioned (a good debating point) the Phoenix program in Vietnam. Freeman replied that he had heard first-hand from Israelis about Israeli assassinations and torture, Israelis who had grown repulsed by them. The element that isn’t revealed in the exchange is a complex one—what our interrogators have learned from Israeli ones, whether the entire Israeli colonizing discourse about Muslims, and sex and shame has fed into Abu Ghraib type atrocities. I believe it has, but connecting the dots can’t be done in a debate.
In his post on this, David Frum says that Freeman didn’t play the part of coldly calculated realist. I think there’s something to this, and Chas, though he certainly has excellent realist credentials, does argue and think in terms of values as well. So do most realists I know. Coming away from the debate, I felt more strongly that the question of Israel in the United States is going to be decided on the basis of values, as much as strategic costs and benefits. That’s a realm where Israel as a democracy has an overwhelming advantage, and where Israel as an apartheid occupier has none whatsoever.
Earlier this month, activist Rachel Marcuse spent 10 days in Israel as part of the Taglit-Birthright program — a fully sponsored trip for young North American Jews to learn more about the country. She went to bear witness and ask questions about the Israeli state’s treatment of Palestinians, and to learn about other complex issues in Israel today. After the program, she spent another 10 days elsewhere in Israel and the West Bank of Palestine talking to Israeli Jews, Arab Israelis, international activists, and Palestinians. This is the first of a seven-part series on what she found.
I arrive at Newark Airport, just outside New York City, at 10 a.m. on a hot day in late June and stumble around — exhausted from the past day of traveling from Vancouver — trying to find my group. I spot a huddle of 20-somethings, some with shockingly large suitcases, sitting near the El Al Airline check-in, and zone-in on Hannah — the only one in the crowd carrying a backpack. We do the standard “What’s your name?” and “Where are you from?” and it becomes clear immediately that we’re going to be friends. I exhale.
Gathered together by the organizers, our first team icebreaker has us tell the group of 40 our names, city of residence and describe the theme of our bar or bat mitzvah. I didn’t have a bat mizvah. “Well, then tell us what your theme would have been if you had had one” one of our friendly 25-year-old group leaders says.
“I’m Rachel Marcuse, or Rachel four of five,” I say, a little shocked that there are five Rachels on the trip; it seems a little excessive even for such a common name. “I’m from Vancouver. I’m the token Canadian bumped from another trip, so I’m happy to be with you guys… um… I guess my theme would have been dancing if I’d had a bat mitzvah.” It turns out I’m not the only one who hasn’t gone through the Jewish rite of passage. For those who are officially Jewish adults, the most popular theme for those born between 1983 and 1985 was unquestionably “under the sea.” Yay, Disney!
At the first El Al Airlines security check, I’m bombarded with rapid-fire questions, all examining my Jewishness. No, I don’t know my Hebrew name. Why am I going on this trip? To see Israel (don’t say Palestine, I repeat in my head to myself). How do I celebrate high holidays? Well, I’m really more culturally Jewish. But, um, my parents met in Israel when they were both working for dance companies in Tel Aviv. The questioner looks dubious. Most participants get one interrogator. I get two. The fact that I’m on Taglit-Birthright seems to be my saving grace.
Taglit or Birthright, as it’s translated from the Hebrew, is my “gift” from the Jewish people. It’s also a free trip to the Middle East — 10 days in Israel, all expenses paid save for some lunches and tips. Taglit is funded by North American Jewish organizations, philanthropists and the Israeli government. (Offering this information wins me 100 shekels for snacks in a Q and A at the orientation session, although, perhaps unsurprisingly, everyone receives the money in the end.) Taglit seems to have the ultimate aim of convincing young North American Jews to “make aliyah,” i.e., to ascend to the “homeland” or at least take a more active role in their Jewish communities at home, presumably in a way that will support the State of Israel.
As a progressive, secular, non-Zionist Jew, I hadn’t thought much about doing Birthright — or at least, figured I could always do it the next year. Now 26, however, it’s the last year I’m eligible. I struggle with the decision to go — it’s free for me, but do I even want to contribute in a small way to the Israeli economy? (We later learn that our contribution isn’t so small — Taglit injects some $500 million U.S. into the Israel economy each year.) I go into the experience with an intention to bear witness and ask questions — after all, what could be more Jewish?! I’ll write about Birthright and extend my visit to Palestine… and see if I can be of some use. Plus, it’s a free trip…
So, here I am, on El Al on my way to Tel Aviv. Amazingly enough, economy class is full and I’m bumped up to executive class. I figure it might be good travel karma for my bad trip the day before, a day of luggage delays and a missed flight. Sadly, I don’t get to partake of the excessive booze options — even ice wine is served! — as Birthright prohibits drinking on the plane. I figure it’s too early to start being a troublemaker.
I’m incessantly hit on by my seatmate, an Israeli real estate developer who upgraded from economy because the Taglit kids in the back were so loud. The El Al first officer joins in the flirtation. They warn me that Israeli men will be very aggressive and comment on my sleep drool. I blush. They comment on that, too.
We arrive in Tel Aviv at 7:30 a.m. and are hit by a wall of heat and humidity upon leaving the plane. Customs is remarkably easy and we get on the bus. It will pretty much be our home for the next 10 days.
We’re driven to an outdoor shop and greenhouse just outside of Tel Aviv for orientation. We’re met by the director of the trip provider that has organized this particular tour. He’s a gregarious, no-bullshit American who made aliyah eight years past. I’m worn out from the two days of traveling and soften to him quickly. He asks how many of us are worried about being on a bus with 40 people for 10 days. “How about with 40 Jews for 10 days?” he asks, only sort of joking. Finally, he asks how many of us are worried about being bombarded by Israeli propaganda. A couple of people raise their hands. It seems that I’d ended up, somewhat accidentally, on the most moderate of the Birthright trips.
According to the straight-up Denver-born director, this Taglit trip provider prides itself on “plurality.” Apparently, this is the only trip provider that builds in a visit to an Arab village to talk about “co-existence.” There will be no visit to Palestine itself, though, and no Palestinian perspective included in any shape or form. I immediately sense that there will be many attempts to out-reasonable us. There will be no obvious brainwashing here.
I start to think about when I might “out” my politics. It turns out, it will happen the next day…
Rachel Marcuse is a Vancouver-based activist, facilitator and apparatchik. The executive director of the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE), a municipal political party, she also freelances, focusing on facilitation skills, youth-engagement and strategic planning. Her views do not necessarily represent the positions of any organization whatsoever. She can be found on Twitter at rachelmarcuse.
DAMASCUS: Khaled Mishaal, the head of Hamas’s political bureau, has explained Wednesday that his Movement follows firm and well-studied strategies in dealing with the Israeli occupation, the internal Palestinian social fabric, and the international community.
In an interview with the Jordanian Al-Sabeel newspaper, Mishaal said that his Movement doesn’t reject negotiations with the enemy as an option but he explained that the Israeli occupation is an extraordinary condition being a foreign body implanted in Palestine uprooting millions of Palestinian people out of their homes at gunpoint. Such a situation made negotiation with the Israeli occupation as the only option something unacceptable because it was proven that negotiations without having force to back your stand is a waste of time, he elaborated.
“The Palestinian negotiator now is negotiating with the Israelis, coordinating with them in terms of security, and giving them all that they need for gratis, so what would compel the Israelis in this case to give anything good in return”, Mishaal said stressing that resistance for the Palestinian negotiators must also be a strategic option in order to give strength to their stands.
“Negotiation is a tool and tactic to serve the strategy and not a strategy per se, and at the same time, it is not an alternative for the resistance and the strategy of confronting the occupation,” he underscored, adding that many offers came to Hamas in the past to sit and negotiate with Israeli officials but the Movement refused.
Mishaal also reiterated Hamas’s firm stand not to recognize or give legitimacy to the Israeli occupation in Palestine despite the strong regional and international pressures on the Movement, adding that it is a clear and decisive stand for Hamas.
Nevertheless, he agreed that the Israeli occupation, by searching for and pressing for recognition, knows it was and still is an illegitimate entity that built itself on the ruins and the land of other people, pointing out that the PLO headed by the Fatah faction had recognized the Israeli occupation but reaped nothing for that recognition.
“We want to make it clear for the entire world that we won’t recognize the legitimacy of somebody that usurped and still is usurping our lands, killed and still is killing our people”, The Hamas leader pointed out.
Moreover, Mishaal enumerated a number of reasons for the American and Israeli rejection of Hamas’s proposal of establishing a Palestinian state on the Palestinian lands occupied in 1967 and having a long-term truce with the Israeli occupation without giving it the legitimacy on the rest of the Palestinian land, including the US and Israeli belief that they have the power and the supremacy, the weak Arab and Palestinians who offered them more tempting proposals although at the expense of the legal rights of the Palestinian people, and the incitement from certain Arab and Palestinian parties against the Movement.
Furthermore, Mishaal made it clear that Hamas has no problem with the Jews or Judaism, but it has a problem [with] and fights the Zionists who stole the Palestinian land and expelled its people.
On Hamas’s international relations, Mishaal highlighted the importance of such relations, saying that Hamas exploits its international ties to explain the just Palestinian cause, and to prove that the Zionist project isn’t only dangerous to the Palestinians but rather to the entire world, pointing out that his Movement achieved good results in this regard.
In addition, Mishaal explained that Hamas is a resistance Movement fighting for the liberation of Palestine and doesn’t care how enemies classify it, stressing that Hamas will never abandon the Palestinian national constants and the legal rights of the Palestinian people on their homeland.
He also underlined that Hamas’s battle is against the Israeli occupation and that the Movement had never joined any alliance against any Arab or foreign country.
As far as Hamas’s view toward the Palestinian Christians, Mishaal said that Hamas deals with Palestinian Christians in a brotherly manner and based on the Islamic teaching of respecting their faith, citing a number of Palestinian Christian figures who are struggling for the Palestinian just cause, including Archimandrite Atallah Hanna, and Archimandrite Hilarion Capucci among others.
“Our followers have supported and voted for Christian candidates in Gaza and the West Bank during the PA legislative elections in 2006 like Husam Al-Taweel,” Mishaal emphasized.
Finally, Mishaal stressed the role of Palestinian women in the struggle against the Israeli occupation, adding that Hamas holds Palestinian women in high esteem being partners with the Palestinian men in that struggle, “and we are always working to develop the Palestinian women’s role in this regard”.
“There are tens of Palestinian women incarcerated in the Israeli jails, and many of them are serving long-imprisonment terms”, he said.
As if the preponderance of discriminatory laws already swelling the Israeli legal system were not enough, the Israeli parliament — the Knesset — is slated to debate a fresh instalment of anti-Arab draft laws aimed at “reasserting the Jewish nature of Israel”.
One of these draft laws, tabled by a pro- settler party called Habayt ha Yahudi, or the Jewish Home, would force all citizens and would-be citizens of Israel to declare their loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state. The draft law specifically targets Palestinians married or wishing to marry other Palestinians who are already Israeli citizens — ie Palestinians living in Israel proper.
A declaration of loyalty to “a Jewish state” is not just a procedural matter. It implies, for Arabs or others, recognition of one’s inferiority vis-à-vis Jewish citizens of the state. Indeed, the ramifications of such recognition are enormous and far-reaching.
Israel usually claims to be both a Jewish and democratic state. However, it is widely known that the “democratic” epithet is preserved for Jews, not Arabs, and that the state can’t be both “Talmudic”, as demanded by the growing Jewish religious sector, and democratic, as asserted by secular segments, given the intrinsic contradictions between the two concepts.
Democratic dismissed, the “Jewish” epithet leaves non-Jews living in Israel as a Jewish state, even if they happen to be indigenous inhabitants, estranged and unwanted, by virtue of being non-Jews. Their status as “citizens” is not owed to the laws of the land, but mainly to Jewish magnanimity and/or charity.
“This legislation [is] organised racism whereby citizenship is granted in exchange for recognition by a citizen of his inferior status as a second or third class citizen,” said Arab Knesset member Ahmad Tibi.
Tibi, who denounced the new draft laws as “products of a depraved mentality,” said the camp that holds power in Israel is trying to communicate a message to more than 1.5 million Arabs in Israel proper that “if you want to have your rights guaranteed and if you want to live freely and happily, then you will have to leave this country.”
Tibi responds: “But we won’t leave this country, because this country is our country. We were born here, our forefathers were born and are buried here.”
Another Arab Knesset member, Hanin Zubi, scoffed at Israel’s notion of democracy, calling it “a joke”. “How can democracy be practised or even survive in a fascist environment?” The Knesset, Zubi said, “is becoming a fascist Jewish club, which is why it is difficult for free voices to be heard.”
Two weeks ago, Israeli Jewish MPs ganged up on Zubi while speaking at the rostrum of the Knesset, with some extremist Jewish lawmakers calling her obscene names and even trying to drag her to the ground for defending her participation in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. The Israeli navy brutally attacked the flotilla on 31 May, killing at least nine aid activists and injuring many, drawing angry reactions around the world.
Zubi’s family has been living in the city of Nazareth since time immemorial. The Jewish MP who assaulted Zubi is a recent immigrant from the former Soviet Union who doesn’t even speak fluent Hebrew.
But if the Knesset is a reflection of the state of affairs permeating Israel, and if the Israeli parliament is succumbing to an extremist onslaught, Israel itself — government and society alike — is embracing what is widely now deemed “fascism” in a most cordial manner.
This week, an Israeli court in Jerusalem decided to keep Sheikh Mohamed Abu Tir in jail for refusing to leave the city of his birth. Sheikh Abu Tir, who spent more than 25 years in jail for his opposition to the Israeli occupation, was elected in 2006 as a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council representing East Jerusalem. However, an Israeli judge recently issued a decree banishing Abu Tir from East Jerusalem for affiliation with a “terrorist organisation” — in reference to the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, an arm of Hamas.
Abu Tir denied that he was a member of Hamas, saying he was representing the people of Jerusalem who elected him and that he took part in an election that was okayed by Israel and closely monitored by the United States and the rest of the international community. His argument was rejected by the Israeli judge. Abu Tir was then asked to pay $95,000 in bail. He refused, prompting the Israeli authorities to return him to jail.
Abu Tir, like dozens of other Islamic lawmakers, had just spent 48 months in jail for taking part in the 2006 elections. Following his release, the Israeli domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, demanded that he leave his hometown within one month. He refused to heed the order, arguing that Jerusalem was his hometown and the city of his birth, and that nothing would make him leave his hometown.
Abu Tir’s lawyer Osama Al-Saadi described the trial of his client as “political and ideological from A to Z.” “This is part of the battle over Jerusalem. They are trying to convince themselves that the Palestinians of Jerusalem are only temporary citizens who can be expelled at any time.” Al-Saadi underscored the stark discrimination against the Arab community in a state that doesn’t stop claiming to be democratic.
“Imagine a Jew who is affiliated with a terrorist organisation, or who belongs to an outlawed Jewish political party. Would he ever be banished from Israel, irrespective of the enormity of his crime?” “You see the mendacity of this slogan, that Israel is a ‘democracy’? Do democratic states expel citizens because they adhere to a different religion?”