Archive | May 20th, 2011

A CRITIQUE OF REPORTING ON THE MIDDLE EAST

NOVANEWS

[Image from CNN]

[Image from CNN]

I’ve spent most of the last eight years working in Iraq and also in Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, and other countries in the Muslim world. So all my work has taken place in the shadow of the war on terror and has in fact been thanks to this war, even if I’ve labored to disprove the underlying premises of this war. In a way my work has still served to support the narrative. I once asked my editor at the New York Times Magazine if I could write about a subject outside the Muslim world. He said even if I was fluent in Spanish and an expert on Latin America I wouldn’t be published if it wasn’t about jihad. 

Too often consumers of mainstream media are victims of a fraud. You think you can trust the articles you read, why wouldn’t you, you think you can sift through the ideological bias and just get the facts. But you don’t know the ingredients that go into the product you buy. It is important to understand how knowledge about current events in the Middle East is produced before relying on it. Even when there are no apparent ideological biases such as those one often sees when it comes to reporting about Israel, there are fundamental problems at the epistemological and methodological level. These create distortions and falsehoods and justify the narrative of those with power.

According to the French intellectual and scholar Francois Burgat, there are two main types of intellectuals tasked with explaining the “other” to Westerners. He and Bourdieu describe the “negative intellectual” who aligns his beliefs and priorities with those of the state and centers his perspective on serving the interest of power and gaining proximity to it. And secondly, there is what Burgat terms as “the façade intellectual,” whose role in society is to confirm to Western audiences their already-held notions, beliefs, preconceptions, and racisms regarding the “other.” Journalists writing for the mainstream media, as well as their local interlocutors, often fall into both categories.

A vast literature exists on the impossibility of journalism in its classic, liberal sense with all the familiar tropes on objectivity, neutrality, and “transmitting reality.” However, and perhaps out of a lack of an alternative source of legitimation, major mainstream media outlets in the West continue to grasp to these notions with ever more insistence. The Middle East is an exceptionally suitable place for the Western media to learn about itself and its future because it is the scene where all pretensions of objectivity, neutrality towards power, and critical engagement faltered spectacularly.

Journalists are the archetype of ideological tools who create culture and reproduce knowledge. Like all tools, journalist don’t create or produce. They are not the masters of discourse or ideological formations but products of them and servants to them. Their function is to represent a class and perpetuate the dominant ideology instead of building a counter hegemonic and revolutionary ideology, or narrative, in this case. They are the organic intellectuals of the ruling class. Instead of being the voice of the people or the working class, journalists are too often the functional tools for a bourgeois ruling class. They produce and disseminate culture and meaning for the system and reproduce its values, allowing it to hegemonize the field of culture, and since journalism today has a specific political economy, they are all products of the hegemonic discourse and the moneyed class. The working class has no networks within regimes of power. This applies too to Hollywood and television entertainment and series: it is all the same intellectuals producing them. Even journalists with pretensions of being serious usually only serve elites and ignore social movements. Journalism tends to be state centric, focusing on elections, institutions, formal politics and overlooking politics of contention, informal politics, and social movements.

Those with reputations as brave war reporters who hop around the world, parachuting Geraldo-style (Anderson Cooper is the new liberal Geraldo) into conflicts from Yemen to Afghanistan, typically only confirm Americans’ views of the world. Journalism simplifies, which means it de-historicizes. Journalism in the Middle East is too often a violent act of representation. Western journalists take reality and amputate it, contort it, fit it into a predetermined discourse or taxonomy.

The American media always want to fit events in the region into a narrative of American Empire. The recent assassination of Osama Bin Laden was greeted with a collective shrug of the shoulders in the Middle East, where he had always been irrelevant, but for Americans and hence for the American media it was a historic and defining moment. Too often contact with the West has defined events in the Middle East and is assumed to drive its history, but the so called Arab Spring with its revolutions and upheavals evokes anxiety among white Americans. They are unsettled by the autogenetic liberation of brown people. While the Arab Spring may represent a revolutionary transformation of the Arab world, a massive blow to Islamist politics and the renaissance of secular and leftist Arab nationalist politics. But the American media has been obsessed with Islamists, looking for them behind every demonstration, and the uprisings have been often treated as if they were something threatening and as if they had led to chaos. And all too often it just comes down to “what does this mean for Israel’s security?” The aspirations of hundreds of millions of freedom seeking Arabs are subordinated to the security concerns of five million Jews who colonized Palestine.

There is a strong element of chauvinism and racism behind the reporting. Like American soldiers, American journalists like to use the occasional local word to show they have unlocked the mysteries of the culture. The chauvinism issue was discussed a lot during Desert Storm, where journalists started to use “we.” Liberals won’t say “we” but they are still circumscribed by Imperial, white supremist paradigms. “Wasta” is one such word. One American bureau chief in Iraq told me that Muqtada Sadr had a lot of wasta now so he could prevent a long American presence. Inshallah is another such word. And in Afghanistan, it’s pushtunwali, the secret to understanding Afghans. Islam is also treated like a code that can be unlocked and then locals can be understood as if they are programmed only through Islam.

Arab culture and Islam are spoken of the way race was once spoken of in India and Africa, and it is difficult to portray Arabs and Muslims as the good guys unless they are “like us”: Google executives, elites who speak English, dress trendy, and use Facebook. So they are made to represent the revolutions while the poor, the workers, the subalterns, the majority who don’t even have internet access let alone Twitter accounts, are ignored. And in order to make the revolutions in Tunisia and especially Egypt seem non threatening, the nonviolent tactics are emphasized while the many acts of violent resistance to regime oppression are completely ignored. This is not just the journalists’ fault. It is driven by American discourse, which drives the editors back in New York and Washington.

To understand the environment journalists inhabit, the interlocutors, translators, and fixers they rely on to filter and mediate for them and the nature in which they collect information, accounts, and interviews. One of the popular myths about reporting in Iraq is that journalists stayed in the Green Zone, the walled off fortress neighborhood that housed the American occupiers and now houses the Iraqi government along with some foreign embassies. This is not true. Throughout the occupation almost no journalists actually inhabited the Green Zone. They stayed in green zones of their own creation, whether secure compounds or intellectual green zones, creating their own walls. The first green zone for journalists was the fortress around the Sheraton and Palestine hotels in Baghdad, which was initially guarded by American soldiers and later by Iraqi security guards. The New York Times soon constructed its own immense fortress, with guard dogs, guard towers, security guards, immense walls, vehicle searches, so too BBC, Associated Press, and others. Then there were was the Hamra hotel compound where many bureaus moved until it was damaged in an explosion in 2010. CNN, Fox, al Jazeera English had their own green zone, though freelancers like myself could rent rooms there. And there is one last green zone, which is a large neighborhood protected by Kurdish peshmerga where middle class Iraqis and some news bureaus live.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with staying in a secure compound. Foreigners are often targeted in conflict zones and authoritarian countries and you want all those privileges that local victims of violence (i.e. the population) are not afforded: You want to go to sleep at night without wondering whether men will kick down your door and drag you away, or whether you should go to sleep with your clothes on so that if a car bomb hits you won’t be caught sleeping naked under a pile of rubble. You want to eat “decent” food and have running water, constant electricity, internet access, conversations with colleagues. A journalist doesn’t have to live like an impoverished local. But the less local life you experience the less you can do your job, and this is what readers need to understand. The average person anywhere in the world goes to work and comes back home. He knows little about people outside his social class, ethnic group, neighborhood, or city. As a journalist you are making judgments on an entire country and interpreting it for others, but you don’t know the country because you don’t really live in it. You spend twenty hours a day in seclusion from the country. You have no basis for judgment because to you Iraq is out there, the red zone, and the pace of filing can make this even harder.

Most mainstream journalists have since 2004 treated reporting in Iraq like a military operation, going out on limited missions with a lot of planning, an armored car, a chase car for backup, in and out, do the interview and come back home to your green zone. Or they would more often just make the trip to the actual green zone where officials are easy to meet and interview, where you can enjoy a drink, socialize with diplomats, and feel macho because you live in the red zone. But in their artificial green zone they are still sheltered from life, from Iraqis and from violence.

They did not just hang out, sit in restaurants, in mosques and husseiniyas, in people’s homes, walk through slums, shop in local markets, walk around at night, sit in juice shops, sleep in normal people’s homes, visit villages, farms, and experience Iraq like an Iraqi, or as close as possible. This means they have no idea what life is like at night, what life is like in rural areas, what social trends are important, what songs are popular, what jokes are being told, what arguments take place on the street, how comfortable people feel, what sorts of Iraqis go to bars at night. Hanging out is key. You just observe, letting events and people determine your reporting. They also did not investigate, pursue spontaneous leads, develop a network of trusted contacts and sources. Dwindling resources and interest meant bureaus had to shut down or reduce staff and only occasionally parachute a journalist in to interview a few officials and go back home.

And since they don’t know Arabic they literally cannot read the writing on the wall, the graffiti on the wall, whether it is for the mujahedin, for Muqtada Sadr, or for the football teams of Madrid or Barcelona. It means that if they talk to one man the translator only tells them what he said and not what everybody around him was saying; they don’t hear the Sadrist songs supporting the Shiites of Bahrain, or hear the taxi driver complaining about how things were better under Saddam, or discussing the attacks he saw in the morning, or the soldiers joking at a checkpoint, or the shopkeeper cursing the soldiers. In fact they don’t even take taxis or buses, so they miss a key opportunity to interact naturally with people. It means they can’t just relax in people’s homes and hear families discuss their concerns. They are never able to develop what Germans call fingerspitzengefuhl, that finger tip feeling, an intuitive sense of what is happening, what the trends and sentiments are, which one can only get by running one’s fingers through the social fabric.

A student of the Arab world once commented that any self-appointed terrorism expert must first pass the Um Kulthum test, meaning has he heard of Um Kulthum, the iconic Egyptian diva of Arab nationalism whose music and lyrics still resonate throughout the Middle East. If they hadn’t heard of her then they obviously were not familiar with Arab culture. In Iraq an equivalent might be the Hawasim test. Saddam called the 1991 war on Iraq “Um al Maarik,” or the mother of all battles. And he called the 2003 war on Iraq “Um al Hawasim,” or the mother of all decisive moments. Soon the looting that followed the invasion was called Hawasim by Iraqis, and the word became a common phrase, applied to cheap markets, to stolen goods, to cheap products. If you drive your car recklessly like you don’t care about it another driver might shout at you, “what, is it hawasim?” If you don’t make an effort to familiarize yourself with these cultural phenomena then just go back home.

Relying on a translator means you can only talk to one person at a time and you miss all the background noise. It means you have to depend on somebody from a certain social class, or sect, or political position, to filter and mediate the country for you. Maybe they are Sunni and have limited contacts outside their community. Maybe they are a Christian from east Beirut and know little about the Shiites of south Lebanon or the Sunnis of the north. Maybe they’re urban and disdainful of those who are rural. In Iraq, maybe they are a middle class Shiite from Baghdad or a former doctor or engineer who look down upon the poor urban class who make up the Sadrists, so your translator will dismiss them as uneducated or poor, as if that makes them unimportant. And so in May 2003 when I was the first American journalist to interview Muqtada Sadr my bureau chief at Time magazine was angry at me for wasting my time and sending it on to the editors in New York without asking him, because Muqtada was unimportant, lacking credentials. But in Iraq social movements, street movements, militias, those with power on the ground, have been much more important than those in the establishment or politicians in the green zone, and it is events in the red zone which have shaped things.

You don’t understand a country by going on preplanned missions; you learn about it when unplanned things happen, when you visit a friend’s neighborhood for fun and other neighbors come over. You learn about it by driving around in a normal car, not an armored one with tinted windows. That’s when Iraqi soldiers and police ask you to hitch a ride and take them towards their home. A few months ago soldiers at a checkpoint outside Ramadi asked me to give one of their colleagues a ride to Baghdad. He was from Basra. In addition to the conversation we struck up, what was most revealing was that a soldier outside Ramadi felt safe enough to ask a stranger for a ride, whereas before he would not have even carried his ID on him, and that a stranger agreed to take a member of the security forces. I’ve since given rides to other Iraqi soldiers and policemen.

Over the last year there have been a slew of articles about whether the Iraqi security forces are ready to handle security for themselves, but these have all been based on the statements of American or Iraqi officials. Journalists have not talked to Iraqi lieutenants, or colonels, or sergeants; they have not cultivated these sources or just befriended them, met them for drinks when they were on leave, sat with them in their homes with their families. So the views of the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi soldiers and policemen who man checkpoints and go on raids are not written about. Meeting with them also lets you understand the degree to which sectarianism has been reduced in the security forces while corruption and abuses such as torture and extra judicial killings remain a problem. And just traveling around the country since 2009 would reveal that yes, Iraqi security forces can maintain the current level of security (or insecurity) because they have been doing it since then, manning checkpoints in the most remote villages, cultivating their own intelligence sources, and basically occupying Iraq. The degree to which Iraq remains heavily militarized has not been sufficiently conveyed, but since 2009 Iraqi security forces have been occupying Iraq, and the American presence has been largely irrelevant from a daily security point of view.

And then there are the little Abu Ghraibs. The big scandals like Abu Ghraib, or the “Kill Team” in Afghanistan, eventually make their way into the media where they can be dismissed as bad apples and exceptions and the general oppression of the occupations can be ignored. But an occupation is a systematic and constant imposition of violence on an entire country. It’s twenty-four hours of arresting, beating, killing, humiliating, and terrorizing and unless you have experienced it it’s impossible to describe except by trying to list them until the reader gets numb. I was only embedded three times over eight years, twice in Iraq for ten days each and once in Afghanistan for three weeks. My first embed in Iraq was in October 2003, six months after I first arrived. I was in the Anbar province. I saw soldiers arresting hundreds of men, rounding up entire villages, all the so-called military aged men, hoping somebody would know something; I saw old men being harshly pushed down on the floor, their hands tied tightly behind them, children screaming for their daddies while they watched them bloody and beaten and terrified, while soldiers laughed or smoked or high fived or chewed tobacco and spit on the lawn, while lives were being destroyed. I know one of the men I saw arrested died from torture and countless others ended up in Abu Ghraib. I saw old men pushed down on the ground violently. I saw innocent men beaten, arrested, mocked, humiliated. These are the little Abu Ghraibs that come with any occupation, even if it’s the Swedish girl scouts occupying a country. Many journalists spent their entire careers embedded, months or even years, so multiply what I saw by hundreds, by thousands and tens of thousands of terrorized traumatized families, beatings, killings, children who lost their fathers and wet their beds every night, women who could not provide for their families, innocent people shot at checkpoints.

Then there are the daily Abu Ghraibs you endure when you live in an occupied country, having to navigate a maze of immense concrete walls, of barbed wire, waiting at checkpoints, waiting for convoys to go by, waiting for military operations to end, waiting for the curfew to end, military vehicles running you off the road, fifty caliber machine guns pointed at you, M16s pointed at you, pistols pointed at you, large foreign soldiers shouting at you and ordering you around. Or maybe in Afghanistan the military convoy runs over a water canal, destroying the water supply to a village of thirty families who now have no way to live, or they arrest an innocent Afghan because he has Taliban music on his cell phone like many Afghans do, and now he must make his way through the afghan prison system.

But if you are white and/or identify with white American soldiers then you ignore these things. If you identify at even the deepest level with US fetishizing of militarism and the myth of the heroic US GI, they just don’t occur to you. And so they never occur to your readers. Likewise you never think of how your average Yemeni or Egyptian or Iraqi deals with their own security forces on a daily basis because you focus on the elite level of politics and security and your cars don’t get stopped at checkpoints because you have the right badges. You don’t get detained by the police because you have the right badge. Until you get beaten up by regime thugs like Anderson Cooper and then you can become a hysterical opponent of Mubarak and crusader for justice. Television reporting is overprotective of the celebrity correspondent; they barely go out, they just embed, and they do their live shots on the street inside their safe compounds, while making the story more about the celebrity correspondent rather than the story. Then they show the “back story” about the journalist and his work rather than the story.

Robert Kaplan, a terrible writer and great supporter of imperialism, said one smart thing by accident when he criticized journalists for not being able to relate to American soldiers because journalists represented an elite while soldiers come from rural areas, went to public schools, and come from the working class (we’re not supposed to use that word because everybody in America thinks they’re middle class). But equally they cannot relate easily to the working classes anywhere, and so they gravitate to the elites. Focusing on elites and officials is a problem in general, not just in Middle East coverage. An American official visiting the region warrants articles about the region, but it is not studied empirically in its own context. People in power lie, whether they are generals, presidents, or militia commanders. This is the first rule. But at best journalists act as if only brown people in power lie and so they rely on the official statements of white people, whether they are military officers or diplomats, as if they should be trusted. The latest example is the Bin Laden killing, when most mainstream journalists lazily relied on US government “feeds”; they were literally fed an official version that kept on changing, but this is business as usual.

One reason for the failure of journalists to leave their green zones may be a combination of laziness and aversion to discomfort. But in Iraq, Afghanistan, other developing countries and areas of conflict in some countries, you have to leave your comfort zone. You might prefer an English-speaking whiskey-drinking politician over six hours of bouncing along dirt roads in the heat and dust in order to sit on the floor and eat dirty food and drink dirty water and know you’re going to get sick tomorrow, but the road to truth involves a certain amount of diarrhea.

When there are no physical green zones journalists will create them, as in Lebanon, where they inhabit the green zones of Hamra, Gumayzeh, or Monot, which shelters journalists from the rest of the country, giving them just enough of the exotic so they can feel as if they live in the orient, without having to visit Tripoli, Akkar, the Beqa, or the majority of Beirut or Lebanon where the poor live. Like other countries, Lebanon has a ready local fixer and translator mafia who can determine the price and allow a journalist who parachutes in to meet a representative of all the political factions, drink wine with Walid Jumblat and look at his collection of unopened books (including one I wrote) and unread copies of the New York Review of Books while never having to walk through a Palestinian refugee camp or Tariq al Jadida in Beirut or Bab al Tabaneh in Tripoli and see how most people live and what most people care about.

A green zone can be the capital city or a neighborhood or a focus only on officials, as long as it shields you from the red zone of reality, or poverty, of class conflict, of challenges to your ideology or comfort. In Egypt even before the revolution Cairo got most of the media’s attention, but during the revolution journalists barely ventured outside Tahrir square. Egypt is 86 million people, its not just Tahrir; it’s not just Cairo or Alexandria. Port Said and Suez were barely covered, even though Suez was such a key spark in the revolution. In Libya at first everything was new and everybody was an explorer and adventurer, but now the self-appointed opposition leadership is trying to manage the message so you can be lazy and just refer to their statements. Yemen was totally neglected, but when people came it was almost always just to Sanaa. And Yemen’s capital has its own green zone in the Movenpic hotel, situated safely outside the city. Now Yemen is portrayed as if it were two rival camps demonstrating in Sanaa even though the uprisings started long before (and were much more violent) in Taez, Aden, Saada and elsewhere. Yemen is viewed mostly through prism of the war on terror, through the American government’s prism, rather than the needs and views of the people. But if you spend any time with the demonstrators you realize how unimportant al Qaeda and its ideology are in Yemen, so that they don’t even deserve an article. And you would do well to remember that even though the Yemeni franchise of al Qaeda is portrayed as America’s greatest threat, AQAP’s record is little more than a failed underwear bomber and a failed printer cartridge bomb.

American reporting is problematic throughout the third world, but because the American military/industrial/financial/academic/media complex is so directly implicated in the Middle East, the consequences of such bad reporting are more significant. Journalists end up serving as propagandists justifying the killing of innocent people instead of a voice for those innocent people. Our job should not be about speaking truth to power. Those in power know the truth, they just don’t care, and they serve systems greater than themselves anyway. It’s about speaking truth to the people, to those not in power, in order to empower them, or unfortunately, sometimes to leave them feeling bitter and cynical.

This piece was first delivered as a talk at Jadaliyya‘s co-sponsored conference on “Teaching the Middle East After the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions.”

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63-YEARS OF ZIONIST HOLOCAUST

NOVANEWS

 

Israel turned the Nakba into a 63-year process

Israel crowns itself as the winner in the global competition of victimhood; yet it manufactures methods of oppression and dispossession.

By Amira Hass

How natural it is for Israeli spokesmen to assert that the Nakba Day marches from Syria and Lebanon were the product of incitement and foreign calculations. The state, which bases its existence on 2,000 years of longing for and belonging to this country, shows contempt toward palpable displays of belonging to and longing for the same country of those who we expelled 63 years ago – and of their descendants.

The memorial day for the Holocaust, and the memorial day for the Nakba, are behind us. So the time has come to write about them both. “Holocaust” and “Nakba” are mistaken definitions, because they do not distinguish between natural disasters and man-made catastrophes. But the definitions gained currency. So too did negative attitudes, such as the denial of the historical occurrence and its political implications. For example, that Jewish survivors became refugees in their own lands of birth, or that Palestinians in the diaspora and those who remained in the country share a close bond.

Another example would be the refusal to acknowledge the suffering endured by the other. Here it will be said “the Arabs started the war”, and there it will be said “the Jews caused the Nakba – the expulsion of the Palestinian people from its homeland, whereas the Palestinians bear no responsibility for the Holocaust – the genocide of the Jewish people.”

In a private, personal sense, the Holocaust did not become the “past;” for those who survived it, it continues until they die. Something of this ever-painful continuousness is dictating – to a greater or lesser degree – our own lives, as the offspring of the survivors.

In contrast, with regard to the Jewish collective that came into existence after 1945, the Holocaust has a beginning and an end. The Allies’ victory before Germany had time to extinguish additional Jewish communities, the establishment of the State of Israel, Germany’s acknowledgment of the murder industry it established – all such events marked the end of this chapter of history.

The same for individual Palestinians, their beloved one who were murdered by Jews or killed in battles, the painful uprooting from homes – never turned into sheer memory. But 1948 is just a first chapter in a series that hasn’t ended yet. For those who haven’t experienced expulsion and bereavement – Israel provided ample opportunities to share such fate.

How much skill has Israel displayed in the wrong-doing to refugees in Gaza? How many times a week do the “present absentees,” refugees who live within the borders of the state, pass by lands which were given to Jews at the behest of the legislators’ cunning? What are the statistics of chronic poverty and structural discrimination faced by the “Arab sector” in Israel, and by Palestinian Jerusalemites, if not a nakba by other means?

And what is the sickening similarity between the pressuring of Bedouin away from Negev lands today and the removal of 1948 refugee Bedouin in the Jordan Valley? How is it that after 1967 tens of thousands lost their right to live in the West Bank (including Jerusalem ) and the Gaza Strip? Israel did not overcome its instinct to expel, and is today focusing on the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Every Jew in the world, whether a citizen of the U.S. or Morocco, has rights in this one country, from the river to the sea, that we denied to those who live in it today, and those who were born in it and grow old as refugees in Lebanon or Syria. And the Oslo process? Israel devised it as a stratagem to impose the solution of reservations.

Israel makes capital out of the six million to justify policies of destruction and expulsion not just in the past, but in the present and future. As the state which claims to be the heir of the Holocaust martyrs, Israel crowns itself as the winner in the global, historical competition of victimhood. Yet it manufactures methods of oppression and dispossession of the individual and the collective, methods which turn the Nakba into a continuing, 63-year process.

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GAZA HOLOCAUST: NAZI’S BREAKING THE SILENCE

NOVANEWS

Former Israeli soldiers break the silence on military violations

 

Testimonies posted on YouTube by campaign group describe routine harassment and humiliation of Palestinian civilians.

 

Israel's three-week offensive in Gaza

Campaign group Breaking the Silence has met with a hostile response from Israel, especially after it published testimony by soldiers who took part in the war on Gaza in 2008-09. Photograph: Ali Ali/EPA

Transgressions by the Israeli army in the occupied Palestinian territorieswill be disclosed by a group of former soldiers in an internet campaign aimed at raising public awareness of military violations.

Video testimonies by around two dozen ex-soldiers – some of whom are identifying themselves for the first time – will be posted on YouTube. The campaign by Breaking the Silence, an organisation of former soldiers committed to speaking out on military practices, launches with English subtitles on Monday.

Some of the former soldiers describe the “neighbour procedure”, a term for the use of Palestinian civilians, often children, as human shields to protect soldiers from suspected booby traps or attacks by militants. The procedure was ruled illegal by Israel‘s high court in 2005.

Others speak of routine harassment of civilians at checkpoints, arbitrary intimidation and collective punishment.

Idan Barir, who served in the artillery corps, describes in his testimony how an officer forced Palestinian civilians to crawl in a “race” towards a checkpoint near Jenin in the West Bank during the 2000 olive harvest. Only the first three out of “teams” of eight were allowed to pass.

Another, Itamar Schwarz, says Palestinian homes were routinely ransacked in search operations. He describes the day of the World Cup final in 2002, when soldiers confined a Palestinian woman and child in the kitchen of their home for two hours while the unit watched the game in the middle of an operation.

Arnon Degani, who served in the Golani brigade, describes the distress of a young woman who tearfully pleaded to be allowed to pass through a Jenin checkpoint in order to sit an important exam. He gradually came to understand, he says, that the Israeli army’s intention was “to enforce tyranny on people who you know are regular civilians” and to “make it clear who’s in control here”.

“Part of the silence of Israeli society is to believe these are isolated and exceptional incidents. But these are the most routine, day-to-day, banal stories,” said Yehuda Shaul, of Breaking the Silence.

Identification of the ex-soldiers willing to speak out was important, he said, “so that Israelis understand that there are people behind these stories, that in a sense we’re all involved”.

The former soldiers were aware of the potential legal and social consequences of going public, Shaul added. “They understand that they risk being prosecuted for what they’re saying. But they’re doing it because it needs to be done.”

Since Breaking the Silence was launched in 2004, it has met with a hostile response from Israel’s political and military establishment, partly targeting the anonymity of some witnesses. There have been attempts to discredit supporters and block funding, and its leaders have been subject to interrogation. Censure increased after it published testimony by soldiers who took part in the war on Gaza in 2008-09.

Schwarz, 29, who served in the Nahal infantry brigade between 2000 and 2003, told the Guardian that he had gone public with his testimony “because to me it’s important that Israeli society is exposed to the moral price and moral experience that an Israeli soldier goes through in armed service”.

The events he describes are “things that are really little, but they tell you the big picture of the occupation”.

He said his army experience was “like a scar, I carry it with me. We have to talk about it, to put it out to the world. Only then can a society deal with the moral price.”

The Israeli Defence Forces said: “The allegations made by Breaking the Silence are unfamiliar to us. The organisation has been informed, on numerous occasions, of the option of filing specific complaints including personal testimonies and other evidence through the appropriate channels. This is to ensure that their allegations are subjected to a thorough and proper legal investigation. To date the organisation has refused to provide substantiated allegations, making it impossible to properly examine their claims.”

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NATO Warplanes Attack Libyan Ships in 3 Ports

NOVANEWS

 

NYT

 

Monday, allied warships thwarted an effort by Qaddafi loyalists to use small inflatable boats packed with high explosives to threaten ships carrying relief supplies to the contested port city of Misurata, 130 miles east of Tripoli, the capital.

That episode was the third time in recent weeks in which NATO forces had confronted pro-government maritime forces off the Libyan coast, after intercepting boats laying mines in Misurata’s harbor on April 29 and defeating an attack by small boats on the port last week.

The allied attacks late Thursday against Libyan vessels in the ports of Tripoli, Al Khums and Surt were the first time in the two-month-old air campaign that the alliance had carried out planned airstrikes against Libyan ships, military officials said. NATO warplanes have previously returned fire at Libya ships that shot at them.

“All NATO’s targets are military in nature and are directly linked to the Qaddafi regime’s systematic attacks on the Libyan people,” Rear Adm. Russell Harding, the deputy commander of the NATO mission, said in a statement. “Given the escalating use of naval assets, NATO had no choice but to take decisive action to protect the civilian population of Libya and NATO forces at sea.”

Admiral Harding said that the eight vessels attacked were all “naval warships with no civilian utility.”

Allied officials here in Naples at the alliance’s southern headquarters said there were no indications that civilians were aboard any of the vessels that were attacked.

The airstrikes came as the alliance has tried to increase pressure on Colonel Qaddafi and loyalist troops by stepping up attacks against “command and control” centers in and around Tripoli that allied officials say allow the Libyan leader to direct his forces. So far, however, Colonel Qaddafi has remained defiant.

Allied officials said, in particular, that the episode last Monday underscored the need to take action against the seaborne threat. That morning, NATO sent warships and helicopters after detecting two rigid-hull inflatable boats that appeared to have come from around Zliten and were headed toward Misurata on the western coast, allied officials said.

As the allied forces approached, one of the small boats escaped at high speed back toward Zliten, abandoning the second vessel. A bomb disposal team found about one ton of explosives and two human mannequins inside the abandoned boat.

The allied warships used small-arms fire to destroy the explosives.

Qaddafi loyalists fighting a rebel army in Misurata retreated last week, losing control of the city’s airport. The shift in tactics by the Qaddafi forces to use ships to threaten civilians and civilian aid coincides with rebel gains in Misurata, alliance officials said.

A total of 21 NATO ships are patrolling the Mediterranean as part of an arms embargo against Libya.

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Russia–IsraHell’s military attache was ‘industrial spy’

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Russia expels Israel’s military attache claiming he helped leak technological secrets to Israeli companiesAFP , Thursday 19 May 2011

Russia expelled Israel’s military attache at its Moscow embassy because he engaged in industrial espionage, an unnamed secret service official told the state RIA Novosti news agency on Thursday.

The source said air force Colonel Vadim Leiderman helped Israeli companies with links to the military illegally obtain sensitive technology from Russia.

“As far as Colonel Leiderman’s detention is concerned, this deals entirely with industrial espionage — or rather, his overly active work on behalf of certain Israeli companies on the Russian market,” the security source said.

The Russian foreign ministry added in a brief statement that Leiderman was “caught red-handed” while trying to receive secret information on May 12.

Russia then sent a protest note to Israel and expelled Leiderman, the ministry statement said.

Israel’s Haaretz daily said the Soviet-born Leiderman’s detention was the first incident of its kind to occur between the two countries in nearly two decades.

The Israel Defence Forces angrily denied the spying allegations.

“Security authorities in Israel completed a thorough investigation and concluded that these (spying) claims were unfounded,” the Israeli defence ministry said.

Israel’s state-run Channel One television said Leiderman was arrested in apparent breach of his diplomatic immunity while sitting at a cafe.

Russia and Israel enjoy close economic ties based on the Jewish state’s vast ex-Soviet diaspora.

But Russia is also a key arms supplier to the Arab world and continues to sell advanced missile systems to Syria that Israel fears make their way to the Shiite Hezbollah movement in neighbouring Lebanon.

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Obama to aides: Netanyahu will never do what it takes to achieve Mideast peace

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Comment reported in New York Times comes amid growing tensions between Washington and Jerusalem over the U.S. President’s backing of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders.

Haaretz

U.S. President Barack Obama does not think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will ever make the concessions necessary to achieve a Middle East peace deal, the New York Times cited Obama aides as saying on Friday.

The comments attributed to associates of the U.S. president comes amid what is turning become into a veritable war of words between Israel and the U.S., following Obama’s Mideast strategy speech on Thursday in which the American leader voiced his support for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders.

Following Obama’s speech, Netanyahu, who is set to meet the U.S. president later today, said Thursday that Israel would object to any withdrawal to “indefensible” borders, adding he expected Washington to allow it to keep major settlement blocs in any peace deal.

“Israel appreciates President’s Obama commitment to peace,” Netanyahu said, but stressed that he expects Obama to refrain from demanding that Israel withdraw to “indefensible” 1967 borders “which will leave a large population of Israelis in Judea and Samaria and outside Israel’s borders.”

In what seems to be a response to Netanyahu’s comments, Obama aides told the New York Times that the U.S. president did not believe Netanyahu will ever be willing to make the kind of concessions that would lead to a peace deal.

Those comments, which seem to heat an already intense atmosphere between Netanyahu and Obama, comes just hours before a fateful meeting between the two leaders in the White House on Friday.

Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor expressed disappointment Thursday in regards to Obama’s Mideast policy speech, saying he failed to propose a serious plan for achieving Mideast peace.

“Today, the president outlined his hopes for Mideast peace – a goal that we all share – but failed to articulate a serious plan for achieving this goal,” Cantor said in a statement. “This approach undermines our special relationship with Israel and weakens our ally’s ability to defend itself.”

“The President’s habit of drawing a moral equivalence between the actions of the Palestinians and the Israelis while assessing blame for the conflict is, in and of itself, harmful to the prospect for peace. In reality, Israel – since its creation – has always proven willing to make the sacrifices necessary for peace, while the Palestinians on numerous occasions have rejected those offers.”

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Nazi Gestapo’s troops shoot Gazan protesters

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Israeli troops have opened fire on Palestinian demonstrators in the besieged Gaza Strip, injuring several anti-occupation protesters.

Hundreds of Palestinians and pro-Palestinian activists were holding an anti-Israeli march near the border fence when the shooting occurred. At least three protesters were wounded by gunfire and many others suffered from tear gas inhalation, a Press TV correspondent reported on Friday. 

The rally dubbed “March of Anger and Return to Palestine,” was part of Nakba Day (Catastrophe Day) protest rallies, marking the 63th anniversary of Israeli occupation of Palestine.

A Facebook group named “Third Palestinian Intifada (uprising)” had earlier called on Palestinians and activists in all countries surrounding the occupied Palestinian lands to join the protest march after Friday Prayers.

It had also asked the acting Palestinian Authority chief, Mahmoud Abbas, to join the cause.

On Sunday, thousands of Palestinians gathered in the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, and on Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria to mark Nakba Day.

At least 10 people were killed and over 110 others were wounded after Israeli soldiers opened fire on thousands of Palestinian refugees who were holding a symbolic march towards their homeland on the Lebanese side of the border.

In Syria’s Golan Heights, at least 12 protesters were killed and 30 others were wounded by Israeli military fire.

Israeli troops also shot dead and wounded many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

In 1948, Israeli forces displaced some 700,000 Palestinians, forcing them to flee to different neighboring countries. They also wiped nearly 500 Palestinian villages and towns off the map.

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Obama Speech Hints at Openness to Assad’s Ouster

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Syrian Ruler No Longer Seen as Vital for ‘Stability’

antiwar.com

In his much hyped Mideast speech earlier today, President Obama made no bones about the fact that near-term US interests sometimes run afoul of the cause of pro-democracy protesters in the Middle East. Most saw this as a nod to Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt et al, but perhaps less appreciated was the US position on Syria.

Despite being a popular bogeyman regime for US officials, the Assad government in Syria has also been quietly supported as a “stabilizing” influence, with officials extremely concerned of what might happen if the nation saw actually free elections.

But with protesters in the streets and Assad increasingly unable to control them, Obama made the unusual move of saying that he must follow through with promised reforms or leave office.

Wheher anythings comes of this remains to be seen, but as with the revolution in Egypt US officials seem to be late in the game in realizing that a once cherished dictator can no longer tamp down inconvenient calls for free elections. Though the public distancing from Bashar Assad will be much easier than the one from Hosni Mubarak, it is no less dramatic a shift in US policy.

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Netanyahu associate: Obama detached from reality

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Prime minister’s associate slam US president’s speech, says ‘he didn’t deliver the goods,’ fails to understand Mideast realities. Israeli PM prepared for confrontation with Obama over vital issues, Netanyahu’s aides say

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s associates expressed their disappointment with Barack Obama’s speech Thursday, with one aide saying that the US president is detached from regional realities.

The PM’s associates told Ynet early Friday that Netanyahu, who departed to the US Thursday night, is prepared for a confrontation withPresident Obama on vital issues.

Referring to the US president’s Mideast policy speech, a Netanyahu associate said: “He (Obama) didn’t deliver the goods…Obama apparently does not understand the reality in the Mideast.”

The PM’s aides added that Obama’s historic speech lacked many key points and that his address was “bad for Israel.” Netanyahu himself issued a quick response to the speech earlier, demanding that the president reaffirm previous US pledges that Israel will not be asked to withdraw to the 1967 borders in the framework of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

In his Washington speech, Obama said that a Jewish, democratic state must be based on the 1967 borders, with territorial tradeoffs. The president voiced his objection to the Palestinian intention to seek UN recognition of statehood in September, but refrained from addressing the contentious issue of Palestinian refugees.

Obama also refrained from harshly slamming the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement, and reminded Netanyahu that the international community was getting tired of a process that has not culminated in a peace deal.

A Netanyahu associate told Ynet that the president apparently “forgot the conditions set forth by the International Quartet, which Obama himself endorsed.”

The aide added that Obama did not meet any demand set forth by the prime minister, referring to Netanyahu’s recent speech where he declared that Israel will not give up settlement blocs and maintain a military presence along the Jordan River.

Obama also did not address in his speech the issue of Palestinian recognition of the Jewish State as a pre-condition for negotiations.

“Netanyahu is willing to offer painful concessions. In his Knesset speech, the prime minister went far,” a Bibi associate said. “He contends with a problematic rightist coalition. We expected Obama to understand this and take these issues into consideration in his speech.”

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Zio-Nazi regime Announces Major illegal Zionist Settlement Expansion in Occupied East Jerusalem

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Announcement, Rebuke of Obama Speech Set Tone for Netanyahu Visit

antiwar.com

Within hours of President Obama’s speech giving lip-service to the notion of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, Israel’s Interior Ministry held a vote approving a massive expansion of two settlements within occupied East Jerusalem.

East Jerusalem was captured by the Israeli military in 1967. Though their claim has never been recognized, Israel claims the territory is part of an “eternal, undivided capital.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mocked the notion of withdrawing to the 1967 borders around the same time as the vote.

Netanyahu is expected to arrive in the US some time early Friday, but it will likely be the rebuke and especially the Interior Ministry vote that will set the tone. Interestingly enough the Interior Ministry isn’t even under Netanyahu’s Likud Party’s direct control. Rather it is the far-right Shas Party, one of the coalition partners, which holds this ministry.

Though officials within the ministry have repeatedly denied that settlement announcements are in any way “timed” by external events this is far from the first time that such an announcement has come out at a particularly inopportune time for the prime minister. Last March Israel announced a major settlement expansions to coincide with the visit of Vice President Joe Biden, and announced other expansions in the wake of Netanyahu making claims about the prospect of a peace deal.

Though few US politicians will likely make anything of the announcement publicly, it will severely undercut what was supposed to be the expected goal of the Netanyahu visit, which was to convince the US that despite all evidence to the contrary, Israel is not sabotaging the administration’s failing peace efforts.

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