The village of Madama has been targeted weekly by settlers from the illegal Israeli settlement of Yitzhar. On 1 July they set another fire that burned approximately 500 olive trees. A local farmer was clearing weeds and shouted for help when he witnessed approximately twenty Israeli settlers between the ages of fifteen and twenty years old burning the land. The settlers hit the farmer over the head with a stone at close range, causing him to lose consciousness. The farmer was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
The Palestinian fire brigade, stationed in the nearby village of Burin, intervened to try and stop the fire but came under attack by ammunition from the settlers and the Israeli army, forcing them to retreat. Three other farmers from the village of Huwwara were injured by soldiers and were also taken to the hospital. The fire continued to burn for many hours. The Palestinian witnesses believe the settlers were intent on destroying nearby olive groves. According to testimonies by firefighters and villagers, four Palestinians were injured and taken to a nearby hospital following this attack by Israeli settlers.
The fire destroyed hundreds of dunams (one dunam is equal to 1000 square meters) of agricultural land belonging to the Palestinians. This attack is just the latest in a series of weekly provocations carried out by the settlers and the Israeli occupying forces in the area surrounding the city of Nablus. The Palestinian firefighters intervening to stop the fire were prevented from doing so by the settlers with the support of the Israeli army.
The illegal colony of Yitzhar has targeted Burin, Asira Al Qiblia, Oreef, and Huwwara in addition to Madama in the past, with witnesses testifying that settlers have caused similar arson attacks. In late May the southern part of the village of Madama lost 5 donums of farmland rich with wheat and various vegetables after illegal settlers and the Israeli military prevented Palestinian fire trucks from reaching a similar arson case.
Despite Troop Surge, Taliban Attacks and US Casualties Soared
Data on attacks by armed opposition forces and U.S. combat casualties since the U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan was completed last summer provide clear evidence that the surge and the increase in targeted killings by Special Operations Forces have failed to break the momentum of the Taliban.
The Taliban and allied insurgent organizations launched 54 per cent more attacks and killed or wounded 56 per cent more U.S. troops over the nine months from last October through May than in the comparable period a year earlier, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Defense and by the highly-respected Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO).
The nearly 1,571 attacks in May recorded by ANSO, which exceeded the previous monthly peak total of 1,541 attacks in September 2010, was achieved four months earlier in the fighting season than the previous peak.
The number of attacks in June was two per cent less than in May, according to the latest ANSO report published on the organisation’s website Sunday.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said last June that U.S.-NATO forces would have to demonstrate “progress” by the end of calendar year 2010 or face a collapse in public support.
But the Taliban responded to the surge with a carefully planned strategy to maintain much higher levels of offensive operations through the period from October through December, which normally drop off from the high point of the offensive. The war plan for 2011 was aimed at pushing the level of attacks to new highs earlier in the year than ever before.
Even as the monthly level of Taliban attacks was going down in the last quarter of 2010, the number of Taliban IEDs planted and direct or indirect fire attacks during the quarter was 130 per cent higher than in the same period of 2009, as shown in a graph in the April 2011 DOD report on Afghanistan.
That increase in attacks recorded by the Pentagon relative to the previous year matches almost exactly the increase of 132 per cent in U.S. casualties in Afghanistan in the fourth quarter relative to the same period in 2009, according to casualty data provided to IPS by the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO).
The JIEDDO data show the number of U.S. troops killed in action increased by 56 per cent from 80 in the last quarter of 2009 to 125 in the same period of 2010.
But the little-noticed number of U.S. troops wounded in action was 1,446 in the final quarter – a 140 per cent increase over the 601 wounded in the comparable period of 2009.
Virtually all of the 33,000 additional U.S. troops announced by President Barack Obama in December 2009 had arrived by the beginning of September 2010, so that the major increases in Taliban attacks and U.S. casualties relative to the previous year came after the U.S. and NATO were deploying their peak level of combat capacity.
Both DOD and ANSO data show that major increases in Taliban attacks and U.S. casualties continued into the second quarter of 2011.
ANSO data show 2,740 attacks in the first quarter of 2011, 53 per cent higher than the 1,791 attacks in the first quarter of 2010. DOD’s April report shows roughly 5,060 attacks for the most recent first quarter, compared with 3,618 for the comparable period last year – a 40 per cent increase.
ANSO data show just under 1,200 attacks in April and nearly 1,571 attacks in May – 43 percent more than the 1948 attacks in April and May of 2010.
The ANSO attack data include only those which are regarded as having a significant impact on security, thus excluding hundreds of unexploded IEDs and other incidents counted by DOD.
ANSO’s reporting is supported by the European Commission, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
U.S. casualties during April and May totaled 958, compared with 750 a year ago, according to JIEDDO’s data.
The total of 3,416 U.S. troops killed or wounded for the eight-month period since September 2010, according to JIEDDO data, represents a 54 per cent increase over the casualties in the comparable period a year earlier.
No other NATO country releases monthly totals for wounded in action in Afghanistan, although the UK updates the cumulative total monthly. The Canadian military asserts that it does not want to give Taliban insurgents information on the effectiveness of its attacks.
The Pentagon asserted in its April 2011 report that in the previous six months, operations by U.S. and NATO troops as well as Afghan security forces had “broadly arrested the momentum of the insurgency in much of the country”. But it cited only one concrete indicator of such a shift – a reduction in insurgent indirect fire attacks in the Regional Command East.
But indirect fire has never been more than a tiny fraction of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, and a province-by-province breakdown of attack numbers in the ANSO report on the first quarter of 2011 shows that the Taliban had increased the total number of attacks in Khost, the pivotal province in the Eastern region during the quarter to 326, compared with just 147 during the comparable period of 2010.
Another key province in the Eastern region, Paktya, saw insurgent attacks of up to 124 in the quarter compared with only 14 the year before, and total attacks in both Paktika and Kunar were up 12 per cent and eight per cent respectively over the previous year.
General David Petraeus, who had remained silent on the data on the increase in Taliban attacks and U.S.-NATO casualties since last September, suggested to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius last week that the surge was now beginning to pay off, because the level of violence in “recent weeks” was down five per cent from a year ago.
That comment revealed that Petraeus has been desperately looking for even the slightest evidence that the pattern of annual increases in Taliban attacks was being broken.
But the short-term dip in the level of attacks he cited is scant reason for believing that the pattern has been broken. In previous years, two months in the late spring or earlier summer with little change in the level of attacks have been followed by one or more months with large increases over the previous month.
In fact, the post-surge Taliban operations have continued a pattern that has been consistent over the past five years: a gradual increase in the number of attacks from the low point at the end of the previous year’s campaign in January or February to a high point in August or September, followed by a gradual decline in attacks from October to February.
The new low point is always significantly higher, however, than the year before.
This year, the level of attacks at the low point in February was 45 per cent higher than the low point of 2010, which was in turn 38 per cent higher than the one in 2009.
The Taliban leadership appears to have been making a point to Petraeus and the Pentagon: “The level of our offensive operations cannot be slowed by your military operations against us.” And as the U.S. and NATO troop level begins to ebb, the ability of the Taliban to mount even higher numbers of attacks can only continue to grow.
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist with Inter-Press Service specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam“, was published in 2006.
John McCain has found a new talking point: the growing division within the Republican Party over the nation’s military forays abroad. He referred again to the split up in a panel on Afghanistan yesterday in Washington at the Institute for the Study of War, just a week after telling ABC’s Christiane Amanpour that “there’s always been an isolationist strain in the Republican Party, that Pat Buchanan wing.”
But yesterday he introduced a few new terms. Now the tension within the party is between “the Eisenhower Republicans and the Taft Republicans, the internationalists and the isolationists.” Forget that Eisenhower’s 1961 Farewell Address is a document quoted frequently by some in the so-called isolationist wing of the party.
McCain further expressed worry about the nation’s declining appetite for the internationalists’ grand crusades for democracy. “I am very concerned about our long-term ability, and willingness, to fund” war efforts abroad, he said.
McCain was joined on the panel by Senator Joseph Lieberman and retired Army General Jack Keane. Lieberman is known for defending his interventionist positions in a nasty Democratic primary battle in 2006, while Keane was a chief architect of the surge strategy in Iraq.
The trio were put in a tough position when a retired soldier in the audience—a former Green Beret who fought in Afghanistan—asked “What is good enough?” to call the mission in Afghanistan a success. McCain defined winning in broad terms, saying that America can finally leave when national security threats are gone, and when there is some kind of stability in the region.
General Keane seemed to acknowledge the hazy nature of Senator McCain’s response, saying, “These are ambiguous types of wars that we’re fighting” and “protracted, unconventional wars test the mettle of democracies.”
Yet the General, to his credit, tried to be more concrete: “What’s good enough is an Afghanistan security force that can cope with the violence there.”
But Lieberman’s response was the most radical of the three. “We hesitate to use words like victory and defeat anymore,” he said. He also claimed that Americans were focusing too much on Al-Qaeda. “We’re fighting an ideology,” he insisted.
Meanwhile, McCain gave a new partisan name to the current approach in Afghanistan, calling it the “Obama-Biden strategy.” He claimed the Administration’s plan will make it “extremely difficult to carry out a successful counter-insurgency strategy” in Afghanistan.
But the Senator forgets that most Americans don’t want a counter-insurgency strategy at all. They just want out.
One of the obsessive demands Israel keeps invoking these days is that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for a possible peace settlement of the conflict in the Middle East.
Israel doesn’t spell out the real motives behind this increasingly incessant demand. However, it is widely believed that Israel is seeking Palestinian consent, however tacit it may be, for the adoption of institutionalized racism against its non-Jewish citizens, including the 1.7 -million strong Palestinian minority, which constitutes more than one fourth of Israel’s total population.
This institutionalized racism, many of whose virulent aspects are already rampant in Israel, ranges from systematic discrimination against non-Jews (presumably to encourage them to emigrate) to reserving the “right” to expel as many Palestinians as it takes to maintain Israel’s Jewish identity.
Israeli leaders and apologists keep invoking the largely discredited mantra that Israel is both a Jewish and democratic state. However, in light of reality today, including the recent approval by the Knesset of manifestly racist laws against non-Jewish citizens, it is amply clear that Israel cannot be both Talmudic and democratic at the same time.
The two are simply an eternal oxymoron that can never be reconciled. According to both the Old Testament and the Talmud, non-Jews living under Halacha or Jewish religious law ought to be enslaved as water carriers and wood hewers in the service of the master race, the Chosen People. Racism toward non-Jews could reach the point of having them exterminated in genocidal wars if the rabbinic authority deemed them hostile.
A recent book entitled King’s Torah, which was endorsed by several prominent rabbis in Israel, explicitly permitted the killing of innocent non-Jews, including children, if the non-Jewish population was deemed hostile or posing a potential or future threat to Jews.
Rabbis who opposed the book readily admitted that while the content of the book was perfectly compatible with Jewish law, the book was politically incorrect since it could encourage Gentiles to hate Jews.
Readers shouldn’t think this writer is evoking ancient canards that are both anachronistic and irrelevant. Only a few months ago, Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, the fundamentalist haredi Jewish party, was quoted as saying that all non-Jews have the status of donkeys and that the Almighty created them solely so that they will serve the master race, the Jewish people.
Yosef is not a marginal figure in Israel as he enjoys the allegiance and loyalty of hundreds of thousands of followers.
Shas is also a chief coalition partner in the current Israeli government headed by Benyamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Minister of Interior, Eli Yeshai is affiliated with Shas and is widely thought to be at Yosef’s beck and call.
In an effort to blur or hide the real goals behind its rather sinister designs against its large Palestinian minority, Israeli leaders often use seemingly innocuous phraseology and euphemisms to connote what they have “in store” for the Palestinians.
For example, they speak of “two states for two people.” Some honest people might be prompted to view this refrain as logical and harmless. However, they would change their minds once they discover that what Israel has in mind is one state, namely Israel, that would devour at least 80% of historical Palestine while the remainder would presumably go for the Palestinian state-let, an infinitely deformed entity, lacking real sovereignty as well as both territorial contiguity and economic viability.
Obviously, such a scandalous “peace deal” would be a real liquidation of the Palestinian cause which is why most if not all Palestinians would reject it outright.
In addition to the existential risks and dangers facing the very survival of Israel’s Palestinian community, there are many other fatal implications of a possible Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
A key implication is that millions of Palestinian refugees, who had been uprooted from their homes and villages in what is now Israel in 1948, would have to kiss their right of return good-by.
Needless to say, the right of return is the crux of the Palestinian tragedy and is firmly sanctioned by international law through UN resolution 194.
The liquidation of the right of return, besides being a scandalous breach of justice, would leave the embers of the conflict alight for many, many years to come, pending a more a humane solution of the conflict.
More to the point, it is highly doubtful if the Palestinian leadership, e.g. the PLO, would be able to convince a large number of refugees to give up their right to repatriation to their former towns and villages in Israel.
In addition, recognizing Israel, let alone recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, implies a Palestinian consent to ceding land, real estate and other property belonging to Palestinians in Israel. According to various estimates, 85% of land in pre-1967 Israel belonged to Palestinian landowners and proprietors many of whom still have pertinent land deeds and ownership registration documents, some dating back to the Ottoman era.
Finally, there is no doubt that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state could lead to a serious deterioration in the status of Islam and Christianity in Israel where religious places of immense importance belonging to the two faiths are located.
This prospect is especially worrying in light of the continued drift amongst Israeli Jews to right-wing Jewish nationalism, with conspicuous fascist overtones. (One Israeli cabinet minister was quoted a few months ago as saying that “we already live in a fascist state.”)
It is abundantly clear that Israeli demands for a Palestinian recognition of Israel as an exclusive Jewish state is a red-herring tactic aimed at escaping peace and avoiding meeting its requirements, including giving up the spoils of the 1967-war.
Moreover, it is equally clear that the Palestinians are under no legal or moral obligation to recognize Israel’s purported right to remain Jewish than the international community was to keep apartheid in South Africa.
For all the above reasons, the Palestinians must never even contemplate recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. After all, Israel, according to international law, is the nation-state for at least two-million non-Jews of whom Palestinians make up the vast majority.
The PLO doesn’t represent these Palestinians and has no right to speak on their behalf, let alone reach agreements affecting their very existence and survival.
Khalid Amayreh is an American-educated Palestinian Journalist based in the West Bank town of Hebron.
Britain’s Arrest of Sheikh Raed Salah
He is an Islamic “preacher of hate” whose views reflect “virulent anti-Semitism” and who has funded Hamas terror operations, according to much of the British media.
The furore last week over Sheikh Raed Salah, described by the Daily Mail newspaper as a “vile militant extremist”, goaded the British government into ordering his late-night arrest, pending a fast-track deportation. The raid on his hotel, from which he was taken handcuffed to a police cell, came shortly before he was due to address a meeting in the British parliament attended by several MPs.
The outcry in Britain against Sheikh Salah has shocked Israel’s 1.3-million Palestinian citizens. For them, he is a spiritual leader and head of a respected party, the Islamic Movement. He is also admired by the wider Palestinian public. The secular Fatah movement, including Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, were among those condemning his arrest.
Many Palestinians, like millions of Muslims in the Middle East, revere Sheikh Salah for his campaign to protect Muslim and Christian holy places from Israel’s neglectful, and more often abusive, policies. They struggle to recognise the British media’s characterisation of him as an Osama Bin Laden-like figure.
Most in Israel’s Jewish majority would not have been aware of Sheikh Salah’s supposed reputation as a Jew hater either, despite their hyper-vigilance for anything resembling anti-Semitism. True, he is generally loathed by Israeli Jews, but chiefly because they regard his brand of Islamic dogma as incompatible with the state ideology of Jewish supremacism. They fear him as the leader of a local Islam that refuses to be tamed. Those Israelis who conclude that this qualifies him as an anti-Semite do so only because they class all pious Muslims in the same category.
Israeli officials detest Sheikh Salah as well, but again not for any alleged racism. His long-running campaign to prevent what he regards as an attempted Israeli takeover of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound – part of a wider “Judaisation” programme in the occupied areas of the city – has made him a thorn in their side.
In other words, Israeli Jews view Sheikh Salah as an inveterate trouble-maker and provocateur, while the country’s Palestinian minority accuse Israel of persecuting him for his political and religious beliefs.
The British media and government, meanwhile, have stumbled cluelessly into this domestic Israeli feud and, in the name of Enlightenment values, revealed their own deep prejudices. The humiliation of Sheikh Salah at the hands of the British legal system – supposedly in the interests of promoting “decency and respect” – will serve only to remind Muslims of the hypocrisy so often evident in Western policy.
The double standards are especially glaring given the British government’s recent pledge to Israel to change its universal jurisdiction laws. That move will ensure Israel’s growing constituency of suspected war criminals avoid any future threat of prosecution in the UK, receiving a far warmer welcome than Sheikh Salah.
Perhaps not surprisingly, opposition in the UK to the sheikh’s presence stems from a campaign of character assassination led by pro-Israel groups.
They have accused him of a “blood libel” against Jews, based on information from dubious sources. When these claims were aired in Israel several years ago, Sheikh Salah was investigated and charged. However, the prosecution was dropped a short time later for lack of credible evidence.
The other allegation – that he funded Hamas terror operations – relies on claims orginally made by the Israeli government in 2003 during one of his many arrests. Although the state had reportedly accumulated 200,000 recordings of Islamic Movement phone calls, they never located in the conversations the smoking gun they expected to find.
Instead Sheikh Salah languished in jail for two years while his trial dragged on, the charges repeatedly reduced because promised evidence could not be produced. Eventually he agreed to a plea bargain in return for his release. He was convicted of funding Islamic charities for widows and orphans – loosely declared “support for terror” under Israel’s punitive crackdown on all Islamic networks, including welfare groups, in the occupied territories.
Israel’s legal system, despite its reputation for presuming that Palestinian citizens are habitual security offenders, has found Sheikh Salah guilty neither of anti-Semitism nor of directly helping terrorists.
So why is Britain being even “more Israeli rather than the Israelis”, as two Arab members of the Israeli parliament caustically observed?
One reason is that Britain appears to be increasingly vulnerable to the influence of the pro-Israel lobby. Unfounded claims against Sheikh Salah were first made by the Jewish media in Britain, which has become an uncritical cheerleader for Israel, and by the Board of Deputies, Britain’s representative body for Jews.
Another reason is that the pro-Israel lobby finds it all too easy to exploit Islamophobic tropes that have come to dominate the public discourse in many Western countries, including Britain. Fears of a clash of civilisations and of Muslim immigration mean every Islamic scholar and authority is automatically assumed to be another “mad mullah”.
This approach threatens the very values it claims to be protecting. It silences those who are best placed to critique Western policies – the victims of them; and it refuses to allow the West’s most cherished assumptions to be questioned, rightfully fearing that in some cases they will be exposed as nothing more than bigotry.
It is worth highlighting a point British commentators overlooked in their coverage of Sheikh Salah. He was coming to the parliament, the cradle of British democracy, to talk not about jihad or infidels but about “building peace and justice in Jerusalem”.
His message is one Western publics desperately need to hear but one that Israel and its supporters keenly want silenced. Thanks to the British media and government, for a while longer Britons will be shielded from a real discussion.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.