Archive | August 12th, 2011

A.Loewenstein Online Newsletter


BDS activists in Australia such a threat that the Israeli government wants in

Posted: 10 Aug 2011

What a sad Zionist state. Rather than focusing on ending the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, activists for a free Palestine in Australia are framed as the greatest threat to public safety and an existential threat to the Jewish state itself. If only.

Here’s Kim Bullimore in Electronic Intifada with useful background to the rising establishment campaign against peaceful protests for Palestinian rights:

Trade union and community representatives spoke at the rally on 29 July before the crowd marched through the city. In spite of repeated threats of mass arrests by Victoria Police — and the deployment of police horses in one of the shopping centers — the protest marched into both the Melbourne Central and Queen Victoria centers, staging peaceful sit-ins in front of the Max Brenner stores located within.

Two day earlier, on 27 July, the Victorian police confirmed during a bail variation hearing at the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria (local District Court) for some of the activists arrested on 1 July that a decision had been made to arrest the protesters before the demonstration. This decision was made after discussions with Zionist organizations, the Victorian government, shopping center managements and state and national management of Max Brenner.

In April, the Australian Jewish News (AJN) reported that the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) had made representations to the Victorian police. According to the AJN, JCCV president John Searle had “called on the police to stamp down harder on aggressive protesters” (“Police questioned as protests turn violent,” 15 April 2011). Similar calls for a government and police crackdown on BDS protests against Max Brenner in Sydney were made in June by former AJN journalist Walt Secord, who is now a member of the NSW State Parliament (“Police called to action on BDS,” 24 June 2011).

On July 29, the same day as the BDS action against Max Brenner in Melbourne the Australian Jewish News carried a “debate” piece between Vic Alhadeff, the CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, and Ted Lapkin, a former staffer with the key pro-Israeli lobby group in Australia, the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. The piece reveals that the various calls for police and government crackdown on BDS activism was part of a “nationally coordinated strategy” developed with and backed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry (“BDS: To protest or not to protest?”).

Arguing against any Zionist-organized BDS “counter” protest, Alhadeff writes: “It is important for the community to be aware that our response to BDS forms part of [a] coordinated national strategy. Furthermore, this strategy is endorsed by counterparts abroad and Israel’s Foreign Ministry.”

Alhadeff outlined this coordinated national strategy in response to BDS, stating that it “included, but is not limited to, engagement with civil society and politicians, patronage of boycotted outlets, cooperation with police, shop owners and center managers and exposure of the motives behind the BDS movement.” According to Alhadeff, Zionist policy in response to BDS should be one which seeks to “speak softly” but to also carry “a suggestion of a big stick.”

During cross-examination by Robert Stary, the lawyer representing the activists, Michael Beattie, an operational support inspector with the the Victorian Police, conceded that both Melbourne Central and Queen Victoria shopping centers were “public places” and that neither center prior to 1 July had sought any civil injunctions to prevent entry to the public places inside.

The cross-examination by Stary also revealed that the main reason that police had decided to criminalize the actions against the Israeli companies was because they had been well-organized, coordinated and effective.

Victorian Police acknowledged that the demonstrations had been peaceful, that solidarity activists hadn’t damaged property and there was no record of police or any member of the public being injured.

According to the testimony given by Inspector Beattie, the police had specifically sought to target the leadership of the protests, in particular those activists the police perceived as “operating a command and control function,” in order to diminish the possibility of well-coordinated demonstrations — and to ensure “no protesters go to property and disrupt targeted business or additional businesses.”

According to Inspector Beattie, “the protesters had their own way” for too long and a “decision [was] made to draw a line in the sand and make arrests.” Another police officer, Senior Sargent Andrew Falconer, also gave testimony at the court hearing and acknowledged that police infiltrators had been sent to pro-Palestine solidarity meetings in order to monitor the activity of BDS activists.

Murdoch’s mob-friendly environment; thugs stick together

Posted: 09 Aug 2011

Michael Woolf on The Family with a whole lotta scruples:

In my biography of Rupert Murdoch, I referred to News Corporation as Mafia-like, provoking the annoyance of my publisher’s libel lawyers. I explained to them that I did not mean to suggest this was an organized crime family, but instead was using “mafia” as a metaphor to imply that News Corp. saw itself as a state within a state, and that the company was built on a basic notion of extended family bonds and loyalty.

But just because it’s a metaphor doesn’t mean it isn’t the real thing, too.

Well-sourced information coming out of the Department of Justice and the FBI suggests a debate is going on that could result in the recently launched investigations of News Corp. falling under the RICO statutes.

RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, establishes a way to prosecute the leaders of organizations—and strike at the organizations themselves—for crimes company leaders may not have directly committed, but which were otherwise countenanced by the organization. Any two of a series of crimes that can be proven to have occurred within a 10-year period by members of the organization can establish a pattern of racketeering and result in draconian remedies. In 1990, following the indictment of Michael Milken for insider trading, Drexel Burnham Lambert, the firm that employed him, collapsed in the face of a RICO investigation.

Among the areas that the FBI is said to be looking at in its investigation of News Corp. are charges that one of its subsidiaries, News America Marketing, illegally hacked the computer system of a competitor, Floorgraphics, and then, using the information it had gleaned, tried to extort it into selling out to News Corp.; allegations that relationships the New York Post has maintained with New York City police officers may have involved exchanges of favors and possibly money for information; and accusations that Fox chief Roger Ailes sought to have an executive in the company, the book publisher Judith Regan, lie to investigators about details of her relationship with New York police commissioner Bernie Kerik in order to protect the political interests of Rudy Giuliani, then a presidential prospect.

Partly, the company has escaped legal scrutiny because this is a boys-will-be-boys sort of story. News Corp.’s by-any-means aggressiveness has become so much a part of its identity that it seemed almost redundant to find fault with it. Everybody knew but nobody—for both reasons of fear and profit—did anything about it; hence its behavior has become, however unpleasant, accepted.

And partly, it’s because the fundamental currency of the company has always been reward and punishment. Both the New York Post and Fox News maintain enemy lists. Almost anyone who has directly crossed these organizations, or who has made trouble for their parent company, will have felt the sting here. That sting involves regular taunting and, often, lies—Obama is a Muslim. (Or, if not outright lies, radical remakes of reality.) Threats pervade the company’s basic view of the world. “We have stuff on him,” Murdoch would mutter about various individuals who I mentioned during my interviews with him. “We have pictures.”

Similarly, the Post and Fox News heap praise and favors on partisans, who in turn do them favors (the police, in New York as well as London, receive and return the favors).

This reward and punishment has translated into substantial political power, both in terms of regulatory advantages and, too, in the ability of the company to shield itself from the kind of scrutiny that it has taken a perfect storm of events to have it now receive.

It’s all about the organization. It’s an organization all about doing what Rupert wants you to do, or doing what you imagine Rupert wants you to do, or doing what you imagine your boss imagines Rupert wants done. There are few companies as large as News Corp. that are so devoted and in thrall to one man. There are few companies which, over so long, have so assiduously hired the kind of people who would be in thrall to one man. Indeed, News Corp. can be quite a disorganized and scattered company, and yet its driving premise, what unites and motivates this oft-times gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight enterprise, is to do as Rupert would have you do.

“You don’t get it,” Rupert’s son-in-law, Matthew Freud, the infamous London PR man, told me almost a year ago. “If there was a conspiracy in the company, the conspiracy was to keep Rupert from knowing.”

Freud’s convoluted formulation answered a question I hadn’t asked and suggests that 10 months before the Milly Dowler revelations and the bottom falling out of the scandal, Murdoch intimates were sensing how close this could come to the center and essence of their lives. Indeed, it’s not clear why you would have to conspire to keep someone from knowing what he did not know, nor why you would, unprompted, make admitting to a cover-up a main thesis of your defense.

You wouldn’t—except if you understood (and Freud is one of the people within the company to have a gimlet-eyed understanding of it) that everything that happens at News Corp. is systemic, that this is an organization predicated on a certain view of the world that fosters a certain behavior (that might turn weaker stomachs), that its nature runs from the top to bottom and bottom to top. And that the necessary and desperate and ultimate strategy has to be an effort to protect the man at the center of it all. Because there is nothing without him.

Sydney Morning Herald editorial endorses fence-sitting on UN Palestine vote

Posted: 09 Aug 2011

Perhaps we should be thankful for small mercies but such thoughts are written in a bubble, utterly removed from the fact that a two-state solution will never happen. Occupation is Israel’s only reality:

The United Nations General Assembly vote next month for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state is designed to put pressure on Israel, in a direction Israel itself says is the best solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. This is the creation of a separate state for them in the territories outside the 1967 border of Israel (with some minor land swaps). An affirmative UN vote would not produce a Palestinian state. It would signal a world impatient with the stubborn reluctance of the Israeli political right to accept this compromise in its quest for complete control of Jerusalem and more of the West Bank lands.

The vote calls on the heads and hearts of Israel’s friends, such as Australia. As the Herald reported yesterday, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd, and his department are advising that Australia should abstain from the vote. The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, may be inclined towards a vote against it. Whether this is the case, we believe Rudd’s advice is the sound course – and hardly radical – even though the various supporters of Israel in Australia seem to have lobbied intensively against it.

The decision should not be obscured by two side issues. One is Rudd’s quest for election by the UN membership to one of the rotating seats on the Security Council. A win would not be worth having if it meant casting aside the values and interests on which our foreign policy rests, which include support for a secure Israel. Nor should it be seen in the light of leadership issues between Gillard and Rudd, as something on which Gillard should assert pre-eminence. It must be a decision calculated to help advance security for Israel and to gain a place in the sun for the Palestinians.

The Labor government has already brought Australian policy back to a better balance, from which we are in an improved position to join international efforts to achieve faster progress towards peace. On returning to power under Rudd, it reverted to support for UN resolutions calling on Israel to stop expanding Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories and calling for the Geneva Conventions to apply in those occupied lands. For several years previously, the Howard government had voted against or abstained in these votes, putting Australia in the company of mini-American dependencies such as Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands. The switch put us back in better company, and we should stay there – where we are more likely to help Israel and its main backer, the United States, grasp the two-state nettle.

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Mondoweiss Online Newsletter


Slouching toward theocracy: Tehran and Tel Aviv may have something in common

Aug 10, 2011

Paul Mutter

A friend of mine who graduated from journalism school in Iran several years ago (and is now living and working in the U.S.) recently returned from a trip back there, only to learn this:

Iranian University Drops 13 Humanities Majors

“The Etemaad newspaper reports that the country’s top humanities university will only offer courses in law, Arabic language and literature, Persian language and literature, theology and Islamic studies, ECO insurance and tourism administration.

“Journalism, political science, sociology, history, philosophy, communications, pedagogy, accounting, administration, education administration, pedagogy for special needs, early childhood education and economics have been omitted from the offerings at Allameh Tabatabai University . . . .

“The humanities became a target after Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, blamed the widespread protests that followed the 2009 presidential elections partly on the millions of students enrolled in humanities departments across the country. He said the courses need to be taught by professors committed to Islam, which are lacking in university faculties.

“Minister of Education Kamran Daneshjoo has also announced that the curricula in all humanities department are being reviewed with regard to Islamic values.”

Once again, Iran’s leadership is imposing religious orthodoxy on its people, ostensibly as a moral order in keeping with the “will of the people,” but in actuality as a way to further stifle free-thinking individuals who might contest their grip on power.

Of course, it is impossible we could ever see something like this happening in Israel. Iran onlypretends to be a democracy, while Israel is a democracy! Right?

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

If the Israeli right’s newly proposed Basic Law to define Israel as a Jewish state does become law, they will certainly have the Iranian model to crib off of in making civil society conform to religious orthodoxy. Not that the Israeli right needs any pointers: the Basic Law is a witch’s brew of frightening policy proposals, but its key tenet can be boiled down to this: from this moment on, preserving Israel’s “Jewish character” trumps Democracy. The Basic Law is a witch’s brew of frightening policy proposals, but its key tenet can be boiled down to this: from this moment on, preserving Israel’s “Jewish character” trumps Democracy. Or as MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), the bill’s drafter, explained to Haaretz, the law is designed to provide courts with the legal framework to rule in favor of “the state as the Jewish nation state … in situations in which the Jewish character of the state clashes with its democratic character.” It also stipulates that Jewish law — or Jewish-style Sharia, to put a rather sharp point on it — should serve as the the guiding influence for the legislature and the courts in instances where no other law exists. As the bill states: “If the court sees a legal question requiring a ruling, and finds no solution in legislation, custom or clear analogy, it will rule in light of the principles of freedom, justice, integrity and peace in Jewish heritage.”

One of the main groups behind this Basic Law, the neoconservative Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS), has close ties to the like-minded Hudson Institute think tank in the U.S. and has worked with Im Tirtzu, among other organizations on the right, to demand the removal of “radical leftist” “post-Zionist” content from liberal arts programs (it already is happening, it seems – at Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion Universities, for starters) and allow the Knesset to conductpolitical inquiries against Israeli nonprofit groups whose work has riled the right (B’tselem, for example).

MK Elkin, readers may recall, recently proposed a bill that would give greater conservative oversight of judicial appointments to a committee dominated by Yisrael Beitenu MKs. He was also one of the chief architects of the recently-passed Boycott bill as well as several other legislative stink-bombs (including the bill requiring NGOs to disclose their foreign funding) which are still pending.

With the enshrinement of “Jewishness” in a Basic Law (and so far there’s every indication the bill will pass), Israel is on course to take another giant step toward theocracy.  So what will happen to all those Israelis who would rather not conform to the right’s (and it’s allied rabbinical legal reviewers‘) position, be they Muslims, Christians, Druzes – or even non-orthodox Jews?

Reform Jews have noted (albeit in an entirely different context from this debate) that the Supreme Court of Israel ruled in 1986 that sectarian disputes among Jews cannot be allowed“to drive a wedge into the people who dwell in Zion, and divide it into two peoples, Jews and Israelis,” but this legislation could open the door to such a reality – in addition to perpetuatinginstutional discrimination and disenfranchisement of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians.

Fortunately, the bill’s backers have already considered these concerns: “The state is permitted to allow a community, including people of another faith or nation, to maintain a separate community,” reads the legislation. Well, crisis averted! After all, no matter how second-class an Arab (or Jew) might be treated in Israel, flying Israel second-class is better than flying Arabany-class.

But what specific examples of “justice,” “integrity” and “peace” do the bill’s backers have in mind for those who don’t possess sufficient Jewishness in Israel? A general idea might be gained from comments MK Elkin has made in the past: “In the struggle for Gush Etzion in 1948, the Jews fought for a Jewish Jerusalem. In the present struggle for the hills of Judea and Samaria . . . the struggle is for the future of the Jewish state, no more and no less. For there is no room on these hills for two states. It’s either us or them. And so, each hill says ‘We are here’ – and if us, it’s us, and not them.”

Perhaps Foreign Minister Lieberman is looking for sites to locate that “separate community” as we speak?

Postscript: The journalism program at Allameh Tabatabai University is (was) Iran’s oldest collegiate journalism program. A public university, Allameh Tabatabai University is regarded within Iran as the country’s top scientific institution.

Hillel fears it is being ‘marginalized’ by young Jews because of its fierce support for Israel

Aug 10, 2011

Philip Weiss

Inspired by the Israeli tent protests, Hillel, a militantly pro-Israel Jewish campus life organization, is going to put up tents on 20 campuses this fall for students to talk about Israel. The quote in my headline, from Hillel’s president, at the end of excerpt, is another sign that the Jewish mainstream realizes it is losing the young, who want to base their lives on progressive values, and see that Israeli society has intolerant rightwing tendencies. From JTA(and thanks to Magnes Zionist):

 “The purpose of the tent is to grapple with the challenges that Israel is facing and that will play out on college campuses,” said Sharon Ashley, head of the recently formed Center for Israel Engagement, which operates under Hillel’s auspices….

“The tent has got flaps, but at the same time it’s open,” Wayne Firestone, Hillel’s president, said in his plenary address at the conference. “It’s open in the sense that we want to be open and inviting to students that want to engage in conversations about Israel that we are so passionate about, and we refuse to allow ourselves to be marginalized and polarized by those on the edges and outside the tent.”

Savage murder of musician Ibrahim Qattush shows Syria’s dictatorship is brutish, uncouth, macabre

Aug 10, 2011

Philip Weiss

Beautiful piece on Syria by Rana Kabbani in the Guardian. What an amazing transformation Syria is undergoing, and more and more people say, Assad is finished. It is only a matter of how long and how much cruelty he subjects his society to. Makes Mubarak’s “no-mas” look altruistic. Kabbani (thx to Elly Kilroy):

Though all the undemocratic regimes of the Arab world are unremittingly cruel, Assad’s must stand out as the most inventively macabre. Its brutish, uncouth, illiterate and famously greedy Shabbiha death squads are being bussed around the country, with orders to rape, loot, burn, and kill. It is they who pull out the fingernails of young boys, they who torture them to death, castrate their bodies, only to force their grief-crazed parents to recant their accusations on the state’s propaganda television.

It was them who killed Ibrahim Qattush – the amateur musician who became an overnight sensation and the revolution’s youthful voice, when he composed some of its rousing chants and ditties. Qattush’s throat was cut out, as it was where the regime visualised his songs came from. Such literalism in its crimes is very much part of the way this crudest of power structures seeks to present itself.

In the past five months of Syria’s agony some international pundits have made it their business to cheer for Bashar, swallowing his black propaganda line that “aprés moi, le deluge” of the Salafi bogeymen. But facts on the ground are more eloquent: every single minority and ethnicity across Syria has risen in revolt, repelled by the war crimes it has been witness to…

What will the Assads and their extended family be remembered for? Their prisons, mass graves, scorched earth policy; their denaturing of Syrian society into a place of suspicion and fear; and their ugly creation of a North Korea without the bomb? Their illegal enrichment, corruption, arrogance and vindictiveness?

Syrians deserve better and will win their freedom the difficult way, as other peoples have.

White House edits photo caption, taking Jerusalem out of Israel

Aug 10, 2011

Philip Weiss

Good catch by the unreconstructed neocons at the Weekly Standard: two hours after Daniel Halper posted a White House caption from more than a year ago that characterized Jerusalem as part of Israel–

Vice President Joe Biden laughs with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, Israel, March 9, 2010.

–the White House removed the word Israel from the caption.

Halper was posting the photo to argue that even the White House knows that Jerusalem is in Israel (he’s evidently a Zionist, engaged in our politics on matters that are helping to destroy the American image in the Middle East). A bit of spine on the White House’s part, huh? I think Obama hates Netanyahu and can’t wait for a second term to sock it to him.

Progressive Jewish congregation will host ‘conversation’ on boycott (a year after it decided issue was too hot)

Aug 10, 2011

Philip Weiss

This is significant. A year after a very progressive Brooklyn congregation decided to sidestep a boycott debate as too inflammatory, it will have that debate after all. At the time, I remember writing, Why is it that churches have to host these debates? What’s wrong with the Jewish community, why can’t the debate happen in synagogues? Well, now the debate is coming inside.

Below is a letter to the congregation from its highly-regarded rabbi, Ellen Lippmann (announcing the “conversation” on September 15, a big day). Last year Lippmann signed a rabbis’ letter opposing boycott of a beauty store in Brooklyn selling Ahava products– a letter that described boycott as a tool of blacklisting. It appears that Lippmann’s position has shifted somewhat, and she now regards this as a very important discussion. She cites the anti-boycott law in Israel that has upset so many liberal Jews, notably the Forward and Peace Now.

For me, the pain (and revelation) of this incident is the extreme sensitivity that you will see Lippmann bringing to her community, her awareness that absolute opponents of boycott are in her community and she must be kind to them. Which demonstrates the degree to which conservative voices exist even in very progressive Jewish circles; for I am sure that many of the same fears re Israel’s enemies that we generally ascribe to rightwing Jews will be voiced on September 15. I.e., these are matters that transcend traditional political distinctions and are intertwined with Jewish identity questions (how safe are we in the west? who will look out for us?). But I’ll shut up and give the floor to the excellent rabbi:


Dear Kolot,

I am writing to let you know about an event Kolot’s Executive Committee has agreed we will co-host: a September 15 Open Jewish Conversation about Cultural Boycott of Israel. I am writing now because this week the planners are sending out Save the Date emails and fliers, which you may see, and I therefore want to give a little background:

Last year, we at Kolot decided not to host an evening about boycott because we had a sense from many of you that the issue was very sensitive and might inflame too many passions within our community. At that time, we had a lively email conversation among a large group of members, including many members of Kolot’s Israel-Palestine reading group. The single most repeated comment then was that, regardless of whether a Kolot member thought there should be some organized boycott of Israel or there should not be or was undecided, Kolot should be a place where open conversation about boycott (and many other things) could take place. This felt especially true to some in the group who knew about other Jewish communities or institutions that were shutting down or refusing to open such conversations. “That should not happen at Kolot,” people said. This should be a place where open, respectful conversation is possible.

With your voices much in mind, we therefore thought this fall might be a time to hold an open conversation. So when the independent planners who have organized a couple of other such discussions around the city came to us to ask about us hosting an open conversation, I asked our Executive Committee (the folks at Kolot who help decide about when and how we host, co-sponsor, et al) and they agreed with the understanding that it must be a truly open conversation.

Kolot President Cindy Greenberg and I then met with the planners and told them of our decision, repeating the caveat that this must be a truly open conversation, not just a debate between two clear sides, AND that we hoped Kolot members would be among the speakers. They agreed, and we have planned our open conversation for September 15, 2011, soon after September 11 and before the High Holydays (Erev Rosh HaShanah is Wednesday, September 28). [Separate note: We are trying to hold our 8th annual Children of Abraham Peace Walk on September 11, and will get more information to you.]

Kolot member and expert filmmaker Lynne Sachs will be on the panel, as will Kolot friend and extraordinary saxophonist Roy Nathanson (whom you may know as one of the musicians who play as we carry the Torahs on the Holydays). Neither hold a hard and fast opinion and both have been thinking deeply about the questions about boycott. Other speakers will be listed on the flier that will be going out shortly.

I know it is sometimes tempting to stay away from these kinds of discussions, as any of us may feel afraid of confrontation and escalating tension, or we’d prefer not to hear opinions that are very different from our own. My hope is that this will not be a fearful event, but a time we can all listen and learn and think about where we stand on an issue that is very present in our world. There are many ways to engage with Israel and its issues. This is only one. But it is one that may make each one of us learn something new. At a time when Israeli has passed an anti-boycott law, when the Palestinians are hoping to have a vote at the UN for a Palestinian state, when several Kolot members and families were in Israel and Palestine this summer, I hope many Kolot members will be here for this September 15 discussion.

In hope, Rabbi Ellen Lippmann

The story of Silwan

Aug 10, 2011


VIDEO: Silwan targeted

AIC 9 Aug — Over 55,000 Palestinians live in Silwan, 50 percent of whom are under the age of 18. In recent years, Jewish-Israeli settlers have gradually moved into the neighborhood, bringing with them private security guards, and an increased Israeli police and military presence. In the last year, major clashes have erupted between Palestinian youth and Israeli forces, children are regularly arrested and taken in for interrogation and community leaders have been under extreme pressure. Ultimately, the entire neighborhood is being targeted.

And more news from Today in Palestine:

PHOTOS: Images reveal the extent of construction violations in Wadi Hilweh
Silwan, Jerusalem (SILWANIC) 9 Aug — The following images reveal the continuing Israeli construction work in Wadi Hilweh, despite a Supreme Court ruling that the work be halted. These photos, obtained by Silwanic, show a newly-drilled set of holes. Another collapse occurred in Wadi Hilweh Street yesterday. Residents have sought to secure the safety of their streets themselves by fitting an iron cover over one of the holes, in the hopes of preventing further personal and vehicle damage. Vast amounts of construction rubble has been left unshifted from the pavement, making the streets impossible for residents to enjoy amidst the dust.
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Woman threatened with exile, children held in vendetta against Jerusalem family
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (PIC) 9 Aug — In an apparent vendetta against Jerusalem native Nasser Abu Sanad, the Israeli occupation authorities have arrested four of his sons and are pursuing banishing his wife to Jordan. His sons, ranging in age from 13 to 18 years, have all been arrested on suspicion of throwing stones at Israeli occupation forces. Abu Sanad himself spent seven years in Israeli custody and was just recently released. With regards to his wife Ala al-Hadira, she is wanted by the occupation authorities for allegedly staying in Jerusalem illegally. They seek to exile her to Jordan. The woman left for Jordan seven years ago to visit her mother but was not allowed to return.

Egyptian ambassador breaks fast with exile-threatened Jerusalem politicians
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (PIC) 9 Aug — Egyptian ambassador to the Palestinian territories Yasser Othman has broken fast with the exile-threatened Jerusalem politicians as the men mark their 405th day in asylum. Accompanying the ambassador was his deputy Tariq Abdul-Hamid. They joined scores of local Jerusalemites for nighttime prayers … The men, who are sitting in at the Red Cross in the city’s Sheikh Jarrah district, showed appreciation for the visit and expression of concern,

IOF bulldozes Palestinian land east of Al-Khalil to expand settlements
AL-KHALIL (PIC) 9 aug — Israeli occupation forces (IOF) bulldozed 19 dunums of Palestinian land in Baka‘a area to the east of Al-Khalil on Monday in preparation for annexing them to nearby Jewish settlements, local sources said. They said that the IOF soldiers, accompanied by police and border police forces and civil administration officials raided the area and destroyed part of the irrigation network and confiscated it. The sources noted that the act was the second of its kind and targeted lands owned by two Palestinian citizens. They charged that the step was meant to evict the farmers out of their land and to annex it to the nearby settlements of Kharsina and Kiryat Arba. The Baka‘a is the most fertile area in the region and its farmers are constantly harassed by Jewish settlers.

Otherwise occupied – the spirit of sacrifice / Amira Hass
Haaretz 8 Aug — Ilana Dayan told her listeners last week that the tent protesters can learn a lot from the settlers; a disturbing new report about dwindling Palestinian population in Area C confirms her remarks, though probably not in the way she intended … These remarks by Dayan offer a good lesson for those seeking social justice: Don’t look at individual matters like the size of the settlers’ mobile homes and villas, or their niceness. Focus on the policy that makes it possible to place mobile homes and build single-story homes and Jewish neighborhoods and housing for Jews and permits individual ranches, and two meters away from them razes Palestinian tents and houses. On both sides of the Green Line, but lack of space obliges us to focus on its eastern side.
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‘Dozens’ of settlers enter West Bank holy site
TEL AVIV, Israel (Ma‘an) 9 Aug — Thirty settlers living in the West Bank city of Hebron entered the Tomb of Othniel illegally on Tuesday, Israeli news reports said. Police and military forces evacuated the settlers who entered in protest of an army order rescinding permission to visit, the Israeli news site Ynet reported.
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Extremist Jews invade Al-Aqsa Mosque for the second day
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (PIC) 9 Aug — Under heavy police protection, Jewish settlers for the second day are provocatively roaming the Islamic Al-Aqsa Mosque as they mark Tisha B’Av, in memory of the destruction of the alleged Temple. Since 7am Tuesday, police have been seeing that Jews enter the mosque through the Mughrabi gate in back-to-back small groups in numbers larger than those who entered the mosque a day earlier. The intruders have been roaming in the mosque’s courtyards and prayer areas as Israeli police have threatened to prosecute and eject any Muslims who approach them. Reports show that Muslims observing I’tikaf at the mosque have even been forced out. Turmoil has enveloped the Muslim worshipers, and they have responded to the provocation by chanting “God is greater” in the faces of the intruders.

Israeli settlers still wary leftist bodies stand behind the social protest / Akiva Eldar
Haaretz 9 Aug — Settler leaders understand levels of government construction in West Bank are controversial in wake of protests over lack of housing; Yeshiva Har Bracha head Rabbi says settlers wary of protests’ socialist trends that will privilege ‘a large and hostile Arab minority.’
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Israeli forces

Israeli police officers caught taking bribes for permitting smuggling from Palestinian Authority
Haaretz 9 Aug — In most cases, police charge around NIS 1,000 to let a vehicle through a checkpoint without examination, according to indictments; majority of cases are in the Jerusalem area.

IOF troops round up 17 Hamas supporters in Al-Khalil including 5 brothers
AL-KHALIL (PIC) 9 Aug — A big number of Israeli occupation forces (IOF) stormed Al-Khalil city at dawn Tuesday and launched a wide-scale arrest campaign in lines of Hamas cadres and supporters, Palestinian sources said. They said that the invading forces encircled four suburbs then started to break into homes and arrested Hamas leader Ayed Dudeen, who was recently released from prolonged administrative detention, and five brothers from the Qawasmi family … The soldiers arrested Ezzat Al-Natshe and his brother, the brothers Asem and Asy Al-Qawasmi, and Jalal Yaghmur, who was preparing for his wedding, along with his uncle and cousin …
In the village of Sa‘eer, the IOF soldiers broke into the home of Akram Jabarin and wreaked havoc on it before taking away a number of young men in the village.

Israeli military invades Ni‘lin village 7 August 2011
Ni‘lin Sons 8 Aug — On the 7th of August at 2:30am, 13 military jeeps entered the village of Ni‘lin, took control of its southern region, and proceeded towards the nearby village of Qibya to arrest a Palestinian following an aggressive raid the previous night. Locals curious about the raid  have yet to ascertain why the man was arrested. This comes following an incitement to escalate tension by the Israeli military in a raid the previous night at 11:20 pm, when two military jeeps raided the town of Ni‘lin from the opposite side of the illegal Israeli separation wall through the adjacent fields, and began firing loud flares into the air, resulting in brush fires across these fields.
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Medics: Elderly woman injured by Israeli fire in Gaza
GAZA CITY (Ma‘an) 9 Aug — A 75-year-old Palestinian woman was injured by Israeli fire on Tuesday in the central Gaza Strip, medics said. Medical officials said the woman sustained moderate injuries after she was fired on by Israeli soldiers east of Juhor Ad-Dik. Witnesses said Israeli army tanks crossed the border into Gaza and clashed with Palestinian fighters before retreating.
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Video: Gaza struggles with electricity crisis
PressTV 9 Aug —  Under Israeli blockade for over five years, Gaza’s electrical crisis continues unabated.  As a result, Gaza experiences outages of up to 12 hours a day, severely disrupting normal functioning of humanitarian infrastructure. The situation is specially hard during the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan. Most Gazans are forced to have their Iftar meals at dark with many unable to even cook a meal due to power outages. According to the Palestinian Non Governmental Organization network (PNGO), it’s incumbent on Israel as the occupying power to provide for the needs of the people, including adequate power, what it hasn’t done in 44 years.
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Qassam fighters confront Israeli military infiltration
GAZA (PIC) 9 Aug — Palestinian resistance fighters of the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, confronted a special Israeli force that was sneaking into Juhr Al-Deek, south east of Gaza Strip, on Tuesday. Local sources told the PIC reporter that a group of the Qassam Brigades detected the infiltrating Israeli army unit near the garbage dump in Juhr Al-Deek. The sources said that the Qassam fighters fired mortar shells and an RPG projectile that directly hit the unit, adding that the unit withdrew after probable casualties. [no way to tell if this last is true, since the Israeli army doesn’t acknowledge such casualties]

2,000 Palestinians flee Libya violence
GAZA CITY (Ma‘an) 9 Aug — The Palestinian general consul in Alexandria Jamaal Al-Jamal said Tuesday that over 2,000 Palestinians have returned to the Gaza Strip from Libya as a consequence of the unrest there. President Mahmoud Abbas has given instructions to the relevant authorities to facilitate the return of others, he said, adding that Palestinian embassies in Tripoli, Alexandria and Cairo were coordinating with each other to assist their return … Over 34,000 Palestinian families live in Libya, numbering around 150,000 people.
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Gazans campaign to save the children of Somalia / Philip Weiss
Mondoweiss 7 Aug — If an Israel terrorist sent a bag of potato chips to the starving people of Somalia, the New York Times would have put that on the front page and US TV news networks would have scrambled to interview the guy.  Yet, the people of Gaza (who are still under siege), have been organizing a collective campaign to help the people of Somalia and I did not see anything about it in the Western press.  (The poster above says:  From Gaza…hand in hand:  Let us save the children of Somalia”).

While in Gaza: the other Gilad Shalits / Johnny Barber
8 Aug — Even in Gaza, Shalit’s name comes up often. I attended the weekly demonstration of prisoners families held outside the ICRC every Monday. Mothers, fathers, wives, and children hold photos or posters of loved ones imprisoned in Israel for months, years, some for decades. A gentleman, recognizing I was from the U.S., said sarcastically, “Don’t these people know there is only one prisoner? His name is Shalit.” Since 1967, 700,000 Palestinians have been “detained” by Israel. Currently 7000 people are imprisoned. 37 of them are women; over 300 of them are children. When I visited the Ministry of Detainees in Gaza City I was challenged by the minister to name another region of the world where such a ministry was needed.
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InGaza: Seeking leisure in Gaza under siege / Eva Bartlett
[with photos] 9 Aug — On any given evening, Gaza’s small downtown pedestrian area, the Jundi, is crowded with adults and children. Many are fleeing the heat of their homes during the regular power cuts. The majority are there for want of something to do, even if that means merely sitting on the park’s simple concrete benches to talk and sip tea. Snack vendors sell roasted nuts and seeds, and tea and coffee sellers circulate with flasks of sweet mint tea and spicy Arabic coffee. In recent years, mimicking New York City’s Central Park, three horses and the old-fashioned style carriages they pull, also circulate the park.
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Decision to release prisoner who finished sentence rescinded
RAMALLAH (PIC) 9 Aug — Israeli occupation authorities have retracted a decision to release prisoner Alaa Tahir Samar, 28, from Jenin governorate, after his eight-year prison term came to an end a few days ago. Sources among prisoners in the Negev prison said Samar was informed that he would be released on Thursday. The prison administration has yet to give a reason why it has taken back the decision. Prisoners deem the move as part of a psychological warfare in response to a farewell ceremony that prisoners launched ahead of Samar’s release.
In a separate development, an Israeli court sentenced Monday Hamas leader and former Aqaba mayor Mustafa Saeed Abu Arra to six months in administrative detention after the public prosecutor failed to pin an indictment on him … It has been one year since Abu Arra has been released from spending two years in administrative prior to his recent arrest.
Meanwhile, Amjad Beshkar, from the Askar refugee camp east of Nablus, has been sentenced to a second term of six months in administrative detention, the ISFHR added.The Ofer military court has thrown out the extension and is working on preparing an indictment, but it is expected that the Israeli intelligence agency will appeal the court’s decision in the next few days.

Rights group calls for release of Al-Bireh mayor’s daughter
BETHLEHEM (Ma‘an) 9 Aug — A Palestinian prisoners’ rights group on Tuesday called for the release of Bushra Al-Tawil, the daughter of the mayor of Al-Bireh, who has been held by Israeli authorities for a month without charge. Israeli forces arrested Al-Tawil, 18, on July 6, 2011 after a raid on her family home in Al-Bireh. No explanation was given for her arrest, and more than a month later she has not been charged with any crime, human rights network for Palestinian prisoners UFree said.
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Ain al Hilweh refugees reeling after latest clashes
SIDON, Lebanon 9 Aug : Residents of the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh are devastated by the extensive damage to their property after hours of armed clashes between local groups in the camp which left six wounded over the weekend, two of whom are said to be in a critical condition. Saturday’s altercation, which was the most violent in a year, pitted gunmen from Fatah against Islamists from Jund al-Sham, which is allied to the Al-Qaeda-inspired group Fatah al-Islam. Thirteen year-old Salah George and youth Ahmad Mubarak are on life support systems.
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Bias / Discrimination

‘Train ticket? We don’t serve women here’
Ynet 9 Aug — Haredi woman seeking to purchase light rail ticket in one of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods sent to stand located two blocks away. Her husband, on the other hand, receives full-service treatment
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Israeli nursing school rescinds ban on speaking Russian and Arabic
Haaretz 9 Aug — The Health Ministry has instructed the School of Nursing in Ashkelon, part of the city’s Barzilai Medical Center, to withdraw an order banning students from speaking any language other than Hebrew on campus.
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Political / Diplomatic / International

Arab states to head UN in September
WASHINGTON (Ynet) 9 Aug — Two Arab states will head the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly in September, the month which is expected to see a vote on recognition for a Palestinian stateLebanon will serve as president of the Security Council in September and Qatar will head the General Assembly for one year as of next month.
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Erekat denies Palestinian plans to delay bid for UN recognition
Haaretz 9 Aug — Chief Palestinian negotiator tells WAFA that ‘the recognition train has already left for New York’; Al Sharq Al-Awsat reports that the PA wants to delay UN bid, fearing cutoff of U.S. aid to West Bank.
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Palestinians study UN status options
BETHLEHEM (Ma‘an) — Permanent Palestinian observer to the United Nations Riyad Mansour said Tuesday that the option of changing Palestine’s status from “observer entity” to a “non-member state” is still being studied. Mansour told the Italian news agency AKI that becoming a non-member state “does not invalidate the right to become a member state as recommended by several UN resolutions such as resolution 181 in 1947.”
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US ‘deeply concerned’ by Israel’s approval of East Jerusalem construction
Haaretz/AP 9 Aug — U.S. criticism comes days after EU’s Catherine Ashton and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat criticized Israel’s decision to approve the building of 930 homes in Har Homa neighborhood.
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Barak: Don’t cut funding to defense budget
TEL AVIV, Israel (Ma‘an) 9 Aug — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday said Israel should not cut funding for the military because “security-wise we don’t live in Switzerland of Finland.”
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Israel ‘deploys drones’ over offshore gas fields
JERUSALEM (AFP) 9 Aug — Israel has deployed drones to keep watch on gas fields off its northern coast, fearing attack by the Hezbollah militia from neighboring Lebanon, the Jerusalem Post daily reported on Tuesday. The fields lie in a part of the Mediterranean that is claimed by Israel for gas exploration and production, but Lebanon says the fields lie within its territorial waters.
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Analysis / Opinion / Human interest

‘Recently I was someone, now I’m nobody’ / Mats Svensson
Pal. Chron. 8 Aug — I have visited Muhammad around sixty times. But it is only now that we begin to really talk to each other …  Over a long period of time we came to meet several times each week. We sat on his porch when the dragon passed and lay down heavily in front of his house. The dragon that shut out the light, which meant that the sun set already at three pm, making the view over the old city disappear. For him, it meant that everything died, plans, dreams and a possible future. ”Recently I was someone,” he says again. He says it with heavy and sad eyes. I had just thought about leaving, I had completed my visit, I wanted to return to Jerusalem, I was going to the American Colony in the evening. But I stayed and began to listen to someone who no longer felt that he was somebody … He would like to show me everything he is proud of, his expertise. “But Mats, I cannot show you that. I can’t even show you what I have done. I can’t bring you to the people who are grateful for what I have built. I have no rights left, I cannot even bear the fruit of what I own. Perhaps the most difficult is the fact that I cannot care for my 102 olive trees. Well, I can take care of two. You can see them through the window. The other 100 are a few kilometers from the checkpoint between Abu Dis and Bethlehem. But they are too close to an Israeli settlement. The last time I tried to harvest the trees was eight years ago. I was driven away like a dog…”
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Haaretz editorial: Netanyahu must distance himself from Lieberman
9 Aug — …It seems that even Netanyahu is not inclined to listen to the foreign minister’s bizarre suggestion to abandon the West Bank to anarchy, a step that would force Israel itself to bear responsibility for the welfare and fate of all the citizens in the area. But if Netanyahu does not distance himself from the attempt of one the most senior ministers in his government to spread belligerence, he will not be able to fulfill his obligation to ensure peace and security.
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Focus USA – American idyll / Natasha Mozgovaya
WASHINGTON (Haaretz) 9 Aug —  There are about 500,000 Israelis living in the U.S. and many of them have likely asked themselves in the past few weeks if they would be among those setting up tents on Rothschild Boulevard or pushing a stroller in a protest …Israelis living in the U.S. for years seemed to be as befuddled as Americans seeing reports about the tent cities on CNN. Do the Israelis, with 5.8 percent unemployment, know that in the U.S. unemployment is stuck over 9 percent? Would they try to complain about the rent in Manhattan? What do they expect the government to do? Don’t they want to solve first the Palestinian-Israeli issue? Those who came to the U.S. more recently were divided among those who said they vividly remembered the feeling of helplessness and anger, with both partners working and having no chance to buy an apartment in the middle of Tel Aviv, even if they were natives of the city – and those who said, well, that’s nice, but enough of the mothership’s troubles.
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Severed cables lead to 12-hour communication blackout in Gaza

Aug 10, 2011


Ma’an News

Paltel executive manager Ammar Al-Aker told Ma’an that Israeli bulldozers destroyed a fiber-optics cable near the border that cut mobile, Internet and international landline services for over 12 hours beginning late Tuesday.

Al-Aker said bulldozers struck several cables, the first of which was located eight meters underground. Backup cables 20 meters deep also sustained damage, eventually taking the entire network offline.

Close Enough to Touch: A view from Ramallah

Aug 10, 2011

Sam Kestenbaum

Ramallah’s Al-manara Square in 2007. (Photo: FLIckr)

In the small, dimly lit Archeological Museum of Ramallah, a timeline of the city and its surrounding villages is pasted on the wall. It runs through all of the major periods in ancient and modern history. On display in the three-storey museum are brittle artifacts dug from the nearby hills—bowls, tools and statues.

Firas Aqel, the thin, clean-shaven Palestinian director of the museum, acts as its curator, too. “We’ve been through many stages of history, different people ruling the land, as you can see,” he says and points at the timeline.

“The Crusaders, then the Turks, then the British were here. The Jordanians and now we have Israel,” he says. “Through all of this, the Palestinians have been in this area. People have been living in these hills. We’re in the land.”

There may have been people here, but Ramallah of the past was very different from today’s overcrowded, bustling city; there wasn’t too much here. For most of its history, Ramallah has been a small, pastoral town, nestled in the quiet hills to the north of Jerusalem.

Ramallah’s size, with a municipal population of around 30,000 and a regional population of nearly 300,000 is a recent development. Its principal status, as the cultural and economic center, and political capital of the Palestinian West Bank, is also new. It wasn’t always this way.

A Place of Refuge

To understand the character of the city, we have to go back in time, to the 16th century, when a group of Christians settled in Ramallah from present-day Jordan.

They were fleeing religious strife—sectarian disagreements between Muslims and Christians—and came west looking for peace. They found it here. This is the folktale that is told (in a few different variations) by older residents, and it’s become an important narrative for the city, commemorated by statues in the city’s central square. Ramallah’s first residents were exiles.

They built their new homes on the ruins of old, crumbling crusader castles and worked as farmers, shepherds and blacksmiths. Their town grew, slowly and steadily. Powers shifted, but Ramallah stayed free of regional politics and strife.

In the 19th century, the British came to Ramallah and occupied the city by military force, but also brought electricity, modern infrastructure and jobs to the small city. When the British Mandate ended, Israel declared its statehood and life in Ramallah changed again.

“In 1948, the population of Ramallah doubled,” says Khaldun Bshara. Bshara is the author of a number of books and articles about architectural restoration and cultural preservation in the West Bank, including an essay called “The Palestinian Spaces of Memory’s Role in the Reconstruction of New Collective Narrative in the Nation Building Process.”

“The birth of this city as we know it,” Bshara says, “was a result of the Nakba.” Al-Nakba, or “The Catastrophe,” was the exodus of over 750,000 Palestinians.

Palestinian refugees, many coming from coastal cities like Jaffa and Haifa, Bshara explains, made their way to Ramallah. Refugees set up camps on the outskirts of the town or moved into homes in the city. There are four official refugee camps in the Ramallah area, Ama’ri, eir Amma, Jalazon and Qalandia, formed in ’49.

Following the creation of Israel, the West Bank went under Jordanian rule. That changed in ’67, after the 1967 War, when the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, were occupied by Israeli troops.

“In 1971, Israel redefined the borders of Ramallah,” Bshara says “And at the same time there was a strategic limiting of Ramallah’s growth. They defined where and how the city would develop. During occupation, growth of the city came to a halt. You had to apply for building permits and jump through hoops,” he says.

“A lot of other things changed, too,” Bshara continues, “We lost a lot of our fundamental freedoms. Moving from place to place became harder.”

Close Enough to Touch

Ramallah means “God’s Hill,” or “The Heights of God,” and is a mixture of Aramaic and Arabic. Ram is an Aramaic word for hill, and Allah is the Arabic name for God. The city is built on a cluster of small hills, bunched together. The city is at a higher altitude than Jerusalem and the air is always slightly cooler.

If you stand on one of the taller hills, you can see far into the surrounding landscape. Rolling, rocky hills spread in all directions, dotted with low, gnarled trees.

Israel’s seperation wall is nearby, too, and settlements crouch on high lands in the distance. Some days, you can see Jerusalem’s skyline. On clear, crisp nights you can also see all the way to Tel Aviv, where the coastal city’s lights fall away into the expanse of the Mediterranean. Few Palestinians in Ramallah have been to the ocean or Jerusalem, but from here, these places feel close enough to touch.

From al-Manara Square, the central roundabout in downtown Ramallah, Jerusalem is exactly 14.63 kilometers away. This precise distance is printed on a blue ceramic plaque posted in the square, a reminder of how close we are to the old, sacred city.

Every morning, the military checkpoint at Qalandia is a congested mess, as Palestinians with proper Israel-issued identification attempt to pass into Jerusalem to either work or—on Friday—pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque. There are also East Jerusalem Palestinians who have jobs in Ramallah; they’ll attempt to pass through the checkpoint in the afternoons, retuning home after a day’s work. It can take hours to go through the checkpoint.

“Jerusalem is our original city,” Sameeh T. Hammoudeh, a professor of Political Science from Birzeit University, says.

“Israel has encouraged us to forget about Jerusalem and to think of Ramallah as our capital,” he explains. Palestinian institutions and political organizations are barred from East Jerusalem, he notes.

“But if we had any say—if we could choose our capital—of course it would be Jerusalem,” Hammoudeh tells me, “not Ramallah.”

Palestinians in Ramallah cling to their memories of Jerusalem, or Al-Quds in Arabic, “The Holy.” It’s always been a sacred symbol; here, it’s taken on a powerful nationalistic, significance.

There are four official UN refugee camps in Ramallah, and other, unofficial neighborhoods where more refugees live, too. On the walls of a camp to the east of the city center, there are spray-painted Palestinian flags, and one colorful wall-sized mural of the Dome of the Rock.

Handcrafts shops in Ramallah’s teeming city center sell traditional khaffiyehs, hand made dresses and embroidery. One wall hanging depicts Handala—the iconic young, barefoot, cartoon refugee drawn by Naj al-Ali—next to a Palestinian flag. “Home is Where the Heart is,” is embroidered in colorful letters.

“The West Bank was Choked.”

Almost every corner of the city is being developed. In downtown Ramallah, surrounding al-Manara square, shops are stacked on top of each other. Streets are cluttered and bustling. Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank in large part is what caused Ramallah to grow to its now-swollen size.

To some extent during the first and definitely during the second intifada, the West Bank “was strangled,” Dr. Adel Yahya says. Yahya is the author of “Palestinian Refugees: 1948-1998” and director of the Palestinian Association of Cultural Exchange, an organization that leads tours through the occupied West Bank (“We don’t deal with politics on our tours,” he says, “just cultural history. But inevitably we run into soldiers.”)

“Nablus was strangled during the second intifada. Hebron has since been strangled from within. The West Bank was choked. All of the business moved to Ramallah,” Yahya says. Conditions here are easier; there is a relative peace.

The construction of the separation wall in 2002 and the institution of military checkpoints put further strain on the West Bank economy. The regular growth of Israeli settlements—there are now officially 120 settlements in the West Bank, and another 100 unofficial outposts—has put a very real pressure on Palestinian cities. Bypass roads, open only to settlers and Israeli military, isolate the Palestinian West Bank into separate sections and further limit movement and growth.

Ramallah, thanks in part to international aid, quickly recovered from the damage done during the second intifada. There are still some parts of the city where you can tell the city was under military siege, but not many. The city is growing, but it is an uneven, untenable growth.

“When you look at the city, it looks like it’s developing. It looks good. But if you look close, Ramallah’s infrastructure is not suited for this,” Yahya tells me. “It’s crowded. It’s polluted. The economy cannot grow coherently. This isn’t sustainable.”

“Where’s the State?”

Despite U.S. President Barak Obama’s words of warning, and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s rigid, uncompromising position about “indefensible borders,” Mahmoud Abbas, whose offices are located here in Ramallah, will likely go forward with a Palestinian bid for state recognition at September’s U.N. meeting. The State of Palestine, if it will be recognized, will be based on the ’67 borders and East Jerusalem will be the capital.

In Ramallah, some Palestinians remain hopeful, but wary. They have good reason to remain skeptical. They’ve seen this before. “How many times have we declared our statehood?” Bshara asks. Expectations are not high because “there’s a severe imbalance of power,” Hammoudeh explains.

“Israel has the sovereignty,” Hammoudeh goes on. “Even if the whole world acknowledges a Palestinian state, Israel is still occupying us. They have control over our land, our economy, our politics. The U.N. vote is a political move, a moral, ethical gesture—which we need—but that’s all.”

“Maybe they’ll recognize a state,” he shrugs. “But what state? Where’s the state?”

“It’s not likely that we’ll see immediate results,” Yahya adds, “but we’ll corner the U.S. and put pressure on Netanhayu.”

“We don’t have an airport, we pay taxes to Israel, we don’t have our own borders,” Bshara says. “Why announce our independence when we are still occupied? Our land is sliced up into sections; we are limited to our cities. We can’t move freely.”

Ramallah’s Deputy Mayor, Mahmoud Abdullah, wears a neat three-piece suit and is generally optimistic about municipal development. (Sidewalks are being widened in parts of Ramallah; gardens are being planted.) But he is worried that conditions in Ramallah and the West Bank could become worse after September. “Israel could choose to make life harder for us, not easier,” he says. “It’s up to them.”

“The Beacon”

Abu Suffiyan works in a men’s clothing shop near al-Manara Square. He’s lived in Hebron and Jerusalem, but now calls Ramallah home. He came here to work and to raise his family. Business isn’t great, he says, but it’s manageable.

“In al-Khalil, what the Jews call Hebron,” he explains, “the situation is too hard. So I came here.” Abu Suffiyan looks from his shop windows into the swarming al-Manara Square, the heart of Ramallah.

On the edges of the square there are two banks—a Bank of Palestine and an Arab Bank—a fresh juice stand and a popular shawarma shop. There are also a cluster of other stalls selling spices, soap, hats, sponges and sweaters; the goods sprawl onto the sidewalk. Shops are stacked on top of each other; every crevasse and alleyway reveals another storefront or business.

Over the bustle of the square, the call to prayer sounds from the Jamal Abdel Nasser Mosque, one block away. The mosque is one of the biggest in the West Bank, after al-Aqsa.

The six main arteries of the city converge at al-Manara. One block away you can catch buses to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jericho, Hebron and all of the villages in between.

During the British Mandate, Ramallah’s electricity was distributed from al-Manara, and this is how the square got its name. There used to be a small iron box sitting in the middle of the square with a light bulb mounted on top “about the size of a watermelon,” Naseen Shahen writes in “A Pictorial History of Ramallah.”

When the light was turned on, the entire square was illuminated. If you were walking in the dark, the light from the square could guide you, from blocks away. People started calling it al-Manara, “The Beacon,” and the name stuck.

A sculpture of lions, said to represent one of Ramallah’s founding Christian families, was put up in the ’50s. It was removed in ’83 when the city was under full Israeli-control, but a new, bigger set of sculptures—again of the same symbolic lions—was put up in ’93.

From Abu Suffiyan’s shop, he has a clear view of the traffic circle around al-Manara, where boys climb on top of the faded, stone lions and pose for pictures. Abu Suffiyan’s looking for better work, he says. His job doesn’t pay too well and the hours are gruelingly long.

“I need a better job. Really. The pay is too small, even here in Ramallah,” he says.

He’s standing in the doorway, on the street, during a lull in the workday. It’s late afternoon, almost dusk. “But it won’t go on forever. Something will come up for me,” he says. “Things will change, little by little.”

Abu Suffiyan lives in sight of Jerusalem—where his brother and sister live—but can’t go there himself. He also spent one year in prison, for defending himself against an attack from extremist, West Bank settlers. His life, like many here, has been directly affected by the conflict.

Ramallah’s citizens, like Abu Suffiyan, share something with the original 16th century refugees. They’re leaving conflict behind, and on top of yesterday’s ruins, hoping to move on and make a new life. And maybe, eventually, a state.

Someone comes into the store and Abu Suffiyan greets them. “Salaam alaykum, tfadal,” Peace be with you, welcome.” It’s Saturday night, and in al-Manara, the stream of traffic is steady.

Lights from coffee shops shine around the square and the smell of argilla wafts through the air. Evening prayer has begun at the mosque and three of four stories above, someone has pushed their windows open wide. Their radio is on, playing an Arabic dance song, and the pulsing melody lifts into the night.

Sam Kestenbaum is an American writer and editor based in the West Bank. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Jerusalem Report and The World of Chinese. He is a regular contributor to The Palestine Monitor and Tikkun Daily.

Even Washington Post does story on 81 House Reps to Israel. Will network news follow?

Aug 10, 2011

Philip Weiss

The news that 81 members of Congress are junketing to Israel and Palestine has hit a nerve. My wife was shocked to hear the number, and she’s a good barometer; the Atlantic wire is on it, and even the Washington Post has done a story, by Al Kamen. Though it is weak in its refusal to ask the question, Why are these people doing this? (We all know why; but is that any excuse for journalistic indifference?) The story emphasizes the fact that the junket is being paid for by AIPAC offshoot, the American Israel Education Foundation.

Also, here is Jonathan Tobin at Commentary, doing an I-am-Israel-lobby-hear-me-roar post. That’s the thing about the lobby. When you attack them, they deny it exists, and then they love to flex their muscles, with the usual laughable disclaimer that the reps are representing American public opinion:

at a time when Israel is confronted by a White House cooler to the Jewish state than any in the last two decades, Congress is the backstop that gives Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu the ability to say “no” to President Obama on security concessions. Far from being a minority point of view imposed on the country, the broad-based nature of the pro-Israel coalition cuts across the deep partisan divide in Washington and is deeply ingrained in the political culture of the United States.

Obama has followed up on his May ambush of Netanyahu with a summer of diplomatic pressure on Jerusalem. But the Congress, which in this case is a good reflection of American public opinion on the Middle East, stands ready to act as a brake on the confused foreign policies put forward by Obama.

Be careful when you play that Jewish card

Aug 10, 2011

Philip Weiss

Jerry Haber is perturbed that a flotilla activist, Gabe Schivone, characterized himself as Jewish in an op-ed and said he was representative of a movement among young Jews of casting off Zionism, and then his Jewishness was questioned (by a friend’s letter), and Schivone admitted that he made the claim because of vague Jewish ancestry in Mexico. I am not sure how much to care about the question. I am a little irritated by anyone putting on airs, and certainly we have seen lots of people deploy their Jewishness, to gain standing in this issue… I’ve seen people claim Arab ancestry with the same goal… In the end, as Haber says, the religious identity of the speaker doesn’t affect the issue. And our goal here is to get more and more people in this conversation, regardless of their origins. Everyone counts. And yet, if you care about identity politics, this is an interesting question. Here is the meat of Haber’s argument:

I don’t know Gabe Schivone, though I have associates who have been impressed with the young man. But his case raises several issues that should be considered separately.

First, playing the Jewish card. Jewish critics of Israel have been accused of cynically exploiting their identity in order to establish “credibility.” This is not a serious criticism because the phenomenon, if it exists, is rare.

On the contrary, most Jewish critics of Israel who emphasize their Jewishness do so because it is part of their identity, and often closely tied to their demand for social justice, their desire to dissociate themselves as Jews from a Jewish ideology that they abhor, etc. Many Jewish critics of Israel — and here I would put many people I know from Jewish Voice for Peace, of which Schivone is an active member — are motivated not only by their concern for human rights, but by their feeling a special responsibility as Jews for the plight of the Palestinians, and because this treatment does not reflect values they consider to be Jewish. Their critics may consider this misguided, but it is not a cynical exploitation of their Jewishness.

In fact, many non-affiliated Jews have become more Jewish because of their association with the struggle for Palestinian rights. I recently heard a talk from Hebrew University demographer Sergio dellaPergola, who acknowledged this phenomenon. Opposition to Israeli policies often increase a sense of Jewish identity.

But with Schivone we are not talking about a nominal Jew who becomes more Jewish through his pro-Palestinian activism. We may be talking about a person whose Jewish ancestry (if he has it) became more significant to him as he began to associate with Jews on campus. I have seen that happen time and time again; students who are not Jewish according to conventional demarcators may feel more and more Jewish if they hang with Jewish crowds, go to Hillel or Chabad (neither of whom excludes non-Jews). I knew one gentile who faithfully attended orthodox services, who had no intention to convert to Judaism, but who felt close to traditional Judaism as a bat Noah (a gentile who has accepted what rabbinic Judaism says is incumbent upon them). Sure, she didn’t claim to be Jewish, but she let Jewish tradition define who she is and what she should do. In America, today, the parameters of Jewish identity are shifting, and demographers count Jews according to multiple criteria (one criterion counts you as a Jew if you live in a household in which there is a Jew).

Had Schivone said, “I am an American of Jewish ancestry who has become more and more attached to Jews and Judaism through my work with JVP” I would see no problem with that. The problem is that he misrepresented himself by calling himself Jewish; he simply is not Jewish according to the most liberal criteria, no more than Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who claims Irish ancestry, is Irish-American. And by not being forthcoming — and then by playing the Jewish card — he has damaged his credibility.

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Gadhafi’s son, reported killed, appears on TV



BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Libyan state television on Wednesday broadcast images of a man it said was Moammar Gadhafi’s youngest son, footage that looks to undercut rebel claims of his death at a time when the opposition is showing signs of strain and disarray six months into its battle with the Libyan leader.

The images of Khamis Gadhafi, who commands one of the best trained and equipped units in the Libyan military, come as the rebel leadership, known as the National Transition Council, grapples with fallout from the killing of its top military chief, Abdel-Fattah Younis, possibly by other rebels.

The rebels had claimed on Friday that the younger Gadhafi was killed in a NATO airstrike on the western front-line town of Zlitan — a report that Tripoli dismissed as an attempt to deflect attention from Younis’ killing. Younis’ body was found two weeks ago, dumped outside the rebel’s de facto eastern capital, Benghazi, along with the bodies of two colonels who were his top aides. They had been shot and their bodies burned.

Tensions over Younis’ death spurred the leaders to sack their own Cabinet late Monday and on Tuesday order the movement’s various armed factions to integrate in hopes of imposing some order.

“One good thing that could come of Younis’ assassination is that the rebels will try to get the groups together and develop a coherent military force,” said Libya expert Ronald Bruce St John. “Then they will have a better chance to overthrow Gadhafi.”

Khamis Gadhafi’s appearance at a Tripoli hospital on Tuesday, if genuine, would make the first time he has been seen in public since the reports of his death. The younger Gadhafi was shown visiting several people wounded in a NATO airstrike. The footage could add to the troubles of the opposition, raising questions about the veracity of their reports even as they try to shore up their image after Younis’ killing through the Cabinet reshuffle.

The United States welcomed the their reorganization. The State Department said it was a sign the national council, which the U.S. and others recognize as Libya’s legitimate government, is using Younis’ slaying as an opportunity for “reflection” and “renewal” by firing its executive committee.

The Libyan revolt began in mid-February, with the rebels quickly wresting control of much of the eastern half of the country, as well as pockets in the west. Six months on, the conflict has settled into a stalemate.

The rebels have failed to budge the front lines in the east since April, and have made only minor gains from the pockets they control in the western Nafusa mountains and the port city of Misrata. Gadhafi, meanwhile, continues to control the rest of the west from his stronghold in Tripoli, despite continued NATO airstrikes.

Then in late June, Younis was killed outside Benghazi, deeply shaking the opposition’s leadership and their Western allies, who have heavily backed them.

It also rattled a public in rebel held areas that has already grown frustrated by a lack of progress on the battlefield.

Wary of its slipping support, the National Transitional Council moved this week to restore public confidence and reassert its authority over the armed forces in the wake of the Younis slaying. Both moves appear aimed at diffusing tensions over the Younis killing. If they succeed, it may mean a quicker advance to toppling the Gadhafi regime.

On the military front, national council chief Mustafa Abdel-Jalil on Tuesday ordered all fighters to be incorporated into the national liberation army individually, not as a unit.

Numerous groups of armed volunteers operate in eastern Libya. Some — but not all — of these armed battalions have been collected under an umbrella group called the Revolutionary Brigades recognized by the national council alongside the National Army, which is made up of volunteers and ex-military personnel. Among the Revolutionary Brigades is the Islamist group, Obaida bin Jarrah, which has been blamed for Younis’ death.

It was not immediately clear whether the numerous armed factions would heed the call to join the regular rebel army.

On the political front, the council on Monday dismissed the movement’s executive committee — essentially a government Cabinet — after an investigation indicated that “administrative mistakes” led to Younis’ killing.

Both moves reflect just how deeply the rebel camp was shaken by the death of Younis, who served as Gadhafi’s interior minister until he defected in the spring, bringing his forces into the opposition ranks. His move raised hopes among rebels and Western allies that the uprising could succeed in unseating Gadhafi. But some rebels remained deeply suspicious that he retained loyalties to Libyan dictator.

According to an officer with the rebels’ internal security forces — the official security force of the national council — who spoke with The Associated Press, the council ordered Younis’ arrest after a letter surfaced connecting the commander to Gadhafi. But he suggested the killing had not been authorized by the council and was instead an act of vengeance by rebels.

The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said Younis was brought back to the Benghazi area and held at a military compound when he was summoned to the Defense Ministry for questioning.

As they left the compound, two men from the security team escorting the detainees opened fire on Younis from their car with automatic weapons, said the officer, who was at the compound and saw the shooting. He said the two men were members of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade and shouted that Younis was a traitor who killed their father in Darna, an eastern town that was once a stronghold of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

“People want to know why he was arrested, why was the warrant signed. … Someone has to be held responsible and pay the price,” said Faraj Najem, a London-based Libyan analyst.

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Iran to name street after Rachel Corrie


American activist Rachel Corrie

The City Council of Tehran has announced that a street in the Iranian capital will be named after the American activist, Rachel Corrie.

During a session on Tuesday, the council ratified a proposal to name a street after the activist, who is viewed by many as an epitome of resistance against Israel, Fars news agency reported.

According to the proposal, the 27th street of Tehran’s municipal District Six will be named after Rachel Corrie.

Corrie, a 23-year-old American activist from Olympia, Washington, and a member of the International Solidarity Movement, was crushed to death in the Gaza Strip by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003, when she intervened to prevent a Palestinian home from demolition.

The Israeli Army claimed her death was due to the bulldozer driver’s restricted angle of view. Eyewitnesses, however, say there was nothing to obscure the driver’s view.

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US promises terrorist group PJAK financial and military aid


Party for Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) terrorists, file photo

Reports say the US has recently promised to provide the Party for Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) terrorist group with military and financial aid.

Last week, four US military officials stationed in Iraqi’s Kurdistan Region met with members of the PJAK and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) along with a representative from the Iraqi Kurdistan’s Democrat Party, a Press TV correspondent reported.

In the meeting, the US military officials promised to supply PJAK with weapons and financial aid.

The US has also provided the terrorist group with remote-controlled mines and advanced communications equipment.

Members of the PJAK terrorist group — an offshoot of the PKK — regularly engage in armed clashes with Iranian security forces along the country’s western borders with Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

PJAK launches its attacks from Iraq’s Qandil Mountains in the areas under the control of Kurdistan Regional Government.

The PJAK and PKK had previously laid mines in Sardasht heights near Iran’s border with Iraq.

The US has recently opened a consulate in the north of Iraq, and American military forces have been deployed to numerous bases in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.

Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) deployed 5,000 military forces in the northwest of the country along its common border with Iraqi Kurdistan, and has been fighting the PJAK terrorist group over the past weeks in order to establish security and stability in the area.

Through the efforts of Iranian forces, security has been restored to some extent in the region.


PJAK kills 5 Iranian security forces

Five Iranian security forces have been killed when their vehicle was ambushed by members of the terrorist group of the Party for Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) in northwest Iran, an official says.

The governor of the northwestern city of Maku told Fars news agency on Tuesday that the ambush took place near Turkey’s border in Chaldoran region in West Azarbaijan province on Monday.

Hamid Ahmadian said that the bodies of the Iranian security forces have been laid to rest in Maku.

Earlier in the day, a spokesman of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government decried the illegal activities of PJAK terrorist group on Iraqi soil.

General Jabbar Yawar said, “We have repeatedly said that Kurdistan’s soil should not be used by any group or country against our neighbors.”

On July 17, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) disbanded a terrorist cell linked to the PJAK, killing at least five members of the group.

During another operation on July 25, IRGC forces killed 35 members of the terrorist group, and captured some of the PJAK members.

Iran has recently deployed 5,000 military forces in the northwest of the country along its common border with the Iraqi Kurdistan region.

Members of the terrorist PJAK group — an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party — regularly engage in armed clashes with Iranian security forces along the country’s western borders with Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

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‘Saudis seek civil war in Syria’


The Saudi Arabian defense Ministry has formed a council on Syria with the aim of steering the Arab state toward a “civil war,” a veteran Arab journalist says.

The newly-established body is tasked with dispatching weapons to armed gangs in Syria over land and waterways of its neighboring states, said the journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, IRNA reported on Wednesday.

The committee also pursues Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic activities and propaganda against the Syrian government, he added.

The prominent investigative journalist, who has connections with diplomatic circles and Arab embassies, reiterated that the United State has ordered Riyadh to meddle, control and direct popular demonstrations across the Arab world.

Interestingly enough, the Saudi government has adopted a double-standard policy in carrying out its schemes, he asserted.

On the one hand, Riyadh violates the UN charter and dispatches military forces to Bahrain to help the Bahraini regime quell anti-regime protests, and on the other hand, they attempt to prevent the spread of such popular protests into their own territory, he maintained.

Yet, in dealing with countries like Syria that currently have no popular protests but are enmeshed in curbing armed gangs, Saudi Arabia inflames tensions and supplies weapons to  rebel groups in such countries, the journalist continued.

The Arab journalist touched upon US endeavors to instigate violence in the region, saying since the start of popular uprisings across the Arab world, the Saudi government has been trying to follow Washington’s orders in Syria and lure Syrians to take a stand against President Bashar al-Assad.

However, lack of any societal inclination for an anti-government demonstration among the Syrian nation prompted Riyadh to provide armed groups with financial support and weapons, he went on to say.

The veteran journalist underscored that the armed groups, which are blamed for plunging the country into chaos, are members of extremist groups that have been involved in terrorist activities in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan for years.

The Western-backed Saudi government is trying to use the Syrian conflict to its advantage in order to increase its influence in the region, he concluded.

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US launches anti-Kadhafi offensive in Africa after NATO massacres 85 Libyans



BENGHAZI, Libya — The United States has launched a diplomatic offensive against Libya after NATO’s recent massacre of 85 villagers in air strikes in support of rebels.

American diplomats are visiting several African countries as part of efforts to urge leaders to press Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi to leave power immediately, officials in Washington said on Tuesday.

Several African states, having benefited financially from Kadhafi’s policies, have been reluctant to call for him to step down, and have criticised the NATO-led military campaign in Libya.

Gene Cretz, the US ambassador recalled from Libya shortly before Kadhafi launched his bloody crackdown on the opposition in February, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Donald Yamamoto arrived Monday in Addis Ababa, headquarters of the African Union, State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.

They “are in Africa to meet with African Union members to discuss the crisis in Libya and the need for Kadhafi to relinquish power now,” he told AFP.

They also met Mahmud Jibril, leader of Libya’s opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) who was visiting Ethiopia.

Kadhafi, meanwhile, said world powers would be held responsible for the “ugly massacre committed by NATO” on the village of Majer where 85 people were killed, Libya’s official JANA news agency reported.

Majer, 10 kilometres (six miles) south of Zliten 120 kilometres east of Tripoli, was attacked late on Monday to try to help rebel fighters enter the government-held city from the south, government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said.

“After the first three bombs dropped at around 11:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Monday, many residents of the area ran to the bombed houses to try to save their loved ones. Three more bombs struck,” he told reporters on an organised visit.

Thirty-three children, 32 women and 20 men from 12 families were killed in the “massacre,” Mussa said.

Reporters attended the funerals of victims and saw 28 bodies buried at the local cemetery where hundreds of people vented their anger against NATO, “the spies and the traitors,” an AFP correspondent said.

In the hospital morgue, 30 bodies — including two children and one woman — were shown along with other bodies which had been torn apart.

NATO, which launched its air campaign at the end of March under UN resolutions to protect civilians against Kadhafi’s forces, insisted the raids were “legitimate” and said it had no evidence of civilian deaths.

“We do not have evidence of civilian casualties at this stage,” the NATO spokesman for the alliance’s Libya campaign, Colonel Roland Lavoie, said from his Naples headquarters.

NATO raids south of Zliten were against two former farms used for military purposes by Kadhafi forces, he said. “This was a military facility clearly… NATO takes extreme precaution not to harm innocent civilians living or working nearby.”

JANA said Kadhafi sent a message to the heads of state of UN Security Council members saying “they should bear responsibility for the ugly massacre carried out by NATO in Majer.”

He was quoted as saying “there has never been such a massacre throughout the history of wars.”

Rebels fighting around Zliten said on Monday they were running low on ammunition as they struggled to hold off an assault by loyalists.

The rebels, advancing from the nearby port city of Misrata, punched into the centre of Zliten a week ago. But they later pulled back to the edge of the city of 200,000 inhabitants.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, at least two rebels were killed in fighting on Tuesday around the oil town of Brega in eastern Libya, a rebel spokesman said.

NATO said it had hit nine targets in the Brega area on Tuesday, listing them as a military facility, one tank, four armed vehicles and three multiple rocket launchers.

The alliance also said it hit nine anti-aircraft systems and eight surface-to-air missile systems in Tripoli.

On the diplomatic front, France said new EU sanctions were imposed on Kadhafi’s regime. Canada and Denmark, which have both recognised the NTC, also expelled pro-Kadhafi diplomats, officials said.

And the United States said it has transferred the Libyan embassy in Washington to the NTC, which it has recognised as Libya’s de facto government.

On Wednesday, JANA quoted Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim as saying British Prime Minister David Cameron should step down as he had “lost all legitimacy” because of the riots shaking Britain since Saturday.

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It’s Still Occupied Territory




By Philip Giraldi

That twenty per cent of the House of Representatives will be spending its recess holiday on American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) paid tours of Israel does not seem to have made the mainstream news. The tours, one consisting of 26 Democratic congressmen headed by House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, and two others of 55 Republicans, one led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, are ostensibly intended to provide congress with a “deeper understanding” of the situation in the Middle East. Sure it will, but one suspects the understanding will be in one direction only.

Cantor is trying hard to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House by moving to the right on both the economy and on foreign policy, where his views are strictly Israel-first wrapped in the usual neocon packaging incorporating assertive projection of US national power. In November 2010, he met privately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pledged that the Republican Party would serve as a “check” against any unwelcome initiatives by President Obama. At the time Cantor was not yet Majority Leader of the House but his offer to support a foreign leader against the president of his own country went unchallenged and did not in any way impede his march onward and upward. Cantor is now also setting himself up as a darling of the tea partiers in the wake of the recent government debt ceiling debacle.

Meanwhile back on Capitol Hill, other friends of Israel were busy prior to recess, also without any mainstream media coverage. Two congresswomen from Florida, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have introduced legislation that will allow Holocaust survivors living in the United States to receive federal funds to help them stay in their homes, rather than having to move to an institution. The bipartisan bill places survivors on a special list of elderly citizens receiving preferred treatment through a grant program to help them with their transportation and other needs.

“As a nation that upholds the values of freedom, liberty and justice, we have a moral obligation to acknowledge the plight and uphold the dignity of Holocaust survivors to ensure their well-being,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We must do all we can to honor their struggles and their lives by improving their access to transportation to get them where they need to go, and improve their home-care options so that they can have peace of mind. This bill does just that, and it’s time to make it happen.”

Americans who really like Israel and everything that pertains to it are certainly free to express their views, but there is something unseemly and even grotesque about the continuous promotion of foreign and ethnic group interests ahead of those of the United States and other American citizens. AIPAC is a lobby dedicated to maintaining uncritical US government support for a foreign country and it can be argued that Washington entered into at least one foreign war because of it. The congressmen who accept the junkets should be asking themselves whose interests they are really serving. At a time when both Democrats and Republicans are openly discussing cutting medical benefits for ordinary Americans, it is also difficult to understand what twisted thinking supports allocating additional taxpayer provided special medical benefits to some medicare recipients based on events that took place thousands of miles away from the US more than sixty-six years ago.

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Report: US to tell Assad he must go


State Department sources say Washington’s efforts to reason with Assad over; White House expected to present new hard-line policy on Syria

The Obama administration is preparing to explicitly demand the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad and hit his regime with tough new sanctions, US officials said on Tuesday, signaling that American efforts to engage the Syrian government are finally over.

The White House is expected to lay out the tougher line by the end of this week, possibly on Thursday, according to officials who said the move will be a direct response to Assad’s decision to step up the ruthlessness of the crackdown against pro-reform demonstrators by sending tanks into opposition hotbeds.

President Barack Obama and other top US officials had previously said that Assad has “lost legitimacy” as a leader and that he either had to spearhead a transition to democracy or get out of the way.

They had not specifically demanded that he step down. The new formulation will make it clear that Assad can no longer be a credible reformist and should leave power, the officials said.

At the same time, the Treasury Department is expected to expand sanctions against Assad and his inner circle.

Although the officials would only speak anonymously, the State Department on Tuesday telegraphed the planned shift in policy, saying the administration’s two-year attempt to work with Assad, pull Syria out of Iran’s orbit and transform it into a regional partner for peace and stability is over.

“You can’t have any kind of partnership with a regime that does this kind of thing to innocents,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

‘Assad violence abhorrent’

The assessment in some ways confirms the obvious, yet the bluntness of the message reveals the administration’s exasperation with a regime it has tried to reach out to despite a history of tense relations stemming from Syria’s close ties to Iran, and the Assad dynasty’s support for Shiite militants who have fought Israel and US-backed governments in Lebanon.

Nuland said that Obama and his team came into office two years ago seeking to “turn the page and have a fresh start in many places where relations had been difficult.”

The policy with regard to Syria has been unpopular with many in Congress. Republicans in particular have assailed Obama’s decision to appoint an ambassador to Damascus after a five-year absence, calling it an unwarranted reward for the Assad government’s anti-American positions. Their criticism has grown stronger as Syria’s violence has continued.

The administration has reacted defensively, insisting that Ambassador Robert Ford was providing valuable information on the tumult across Syria while offering US solidarity with the protesters and an incentive for change to the government,  better ties with the United States if it would follow the example of Egypt and begin a democratic transition process.

Nuland added that the US’ engagement with Syria was now essentially limited to telling Assad that “what he’s doing is disgusting, is abhorrent, is dangerous and is taking his country in the wrong direction.”

“In the case of Syria, the message from 2009 was: If you are prepared to open Syria politically, if you are prepared to be a reformer, if you are prepared to work with us on Middle East peace and other issues we share, we can have a new and different kind of partnership,” she said. “And that is not the path that Assad chose.”  

“If you offer engagement and… your partner chooses to spend their time and energy repressing and violating the human rights of their own citizens, in any such situation there are limits to what the US can do. We’re seeing it in Syria now,” Nuland said.

International pressure on Syria grows; U.S. to demand Assad’s departure

In response to escalation of Syria’s crackdown on pro-reform demonstrators, U.S. State Department signals that efforts to engage the Syrian government are over.

Syrian President Bashar Assad came under a new barrage of international pressure with the Turkish foreign minister urging him to stop killing protesters and U.S.officials saying the Obama administration is preparing to explicitly demand his departure.

Even as Assad held more than six hours of talks with the visiting Turkish minister on Tuesday, his military unleashed fresh attacks on restive areas, attacks that activists said killed more than 20 people.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he met the Syrian leader for more than six hours in the capital Damascus and discussed “concrete steps” to end the violent crackdown on protesters. Rights groups say about 1,700 people have been killed since March. An aggressive new military offensive that began with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan a week ago has killed several hundred.

Speaking to reporters on his return to Turkey, Davutoglu said the talks were cordial but did not say what specific steps they had discussed or whether Assad had agreed to consider them.

“We discussed ways to prevent confrontation between the army and the people and tensions like those in Hama in the most open and clear way,” Davutoglu said, referring to the Syrian city that has become a flashpoint in the 5-month-old uprising against Assad’s autocratic rule. “The coming days will be important to see if the expectations are being met. We hope that internal peace and calm is achieved and steps for reform are taken.”

Assad rebuffed the pressure to scale back the crackdown. Instead, Syria’s state-run news agency said he told Davutoglu the government will relentlessly fight “terrorist groups” … a term Syrian authorities often use for government opponents even though most of those killed are unarmed, peaceful protesters.

SANA said Assad also pledged to press ahead with reforms. But promises of reform of have rung hollow against the backdrop of the crackdown.

In Washington, officials said the administration will call outright for Assad to give up power and hit the regime with tough new sanctions. The State Department signaled for the first time that American efforts to engage the Syrian government are finally over. The White House is expected to lay out the tougher line by the end of this week, possibly on Thursday.

The officials said the move will be a direct response to Assad’s decision to step up the ruthlessness of the crackdown against pro-reform demonstrators by sending tanks into opposition hotbeds. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations.

President Barack Obama and other top U.S.officials previously had said Assad has “lost legitimacy” as a leader and that he either had to spearhead a transition to democracy or get out of the way. They had not specifically demanded that he step down. The new formulation will make it clear that Assad should leave power.

Other countries are also stepping up the pressure. Envoys from India, Brazil and South Africa were expected to meet with Syrian officials in Damascus on Wednesday, part of a broad diplomatic push to stop the killings.

Diplomatic pressure has done little so far to stop Syria’s regime, a close ally of Iran that is used to international isolation.

But Davutoglu’s visit was a significant message because Turkey until recently had close ties to Damascus. Ankara has become increasingly critical of its neighbor over the crackdown that has sent thousands of Syrian refugees flooding across the border into Turkey. As of Tuesday, there were 7,258 Syrians living in Turkish refugee camps.

Syria had been emerging from international isolation before the uprising broke out, and its burgeoning economic and political ties to Turkey were helping open up the country. Turkey, NATO’s biggest Muslim member, shares a 545-mile (877-kilometer) border with Syria.

Syrian troops launched fresh assaults on several restive cities and town, including in Idlib province near the Turkish border. Two prominent Syrian activist groups said 22 people, including eight children, were killed across the country. The reports could not be independently confirmed.

A rights activist near the central city of Hama said military operations in the town of Tibet el-Imam just north of the city killed at least five children, four of them from the same family.

“They were playing in the fields when they were struck by gunfire,” said the activist, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Syria has blocked nearly all outside witnesses to the violence by banning foreign media. It also has restricted local coverage that strays from the party line that the regime is fighting thugs and religious extremists who are acting out a foreign conspiracy.

“The situation in Syria is heading to the point of no return,” Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr said in Cairo.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the U.N. Security Council to escalate pressure on Syria by imposing an arms embargo and more targeted sanctions. The calls came ahead of a key UN Security Council debate set for Wednesday at which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is to deliver a report on Syria.

A Security Council statement issued on Aug. 3 unanimously condemned Syria’s authorities for “widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians” but the presidential statement is not considered binding.

“Any honest examination of the facts of the horrific situation in Syria should be more than sufficient to persuade the Security Council to come up with a legally binding resolution, not just a meek statement,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for Middle East and North Africa.

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Mossad’s Miracle Weapon–Stuxnet Virus Opens New Era of Cyber War


By Holger Stark

The Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, attacked the Iranian nuclear program with a highly sophisticated computer virus called Stuxnet. The first digital weapon of geopolitical importance, it could change the way wars are fought — and it will not be the last attack of its kind.

The complex on a hill near an interchange on the highway from Tel Aviv to Haifa is known in Israel simply as “The Hill.” The site, as big as several soccer fields, is sealed off from the outside world with high walls and barbed wire — a modern fortress that symbolizes Israel’s fight for survival in the Middle East. As the headquarters of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, this fortress is strictly off-limits to politicians and journalists alike. Ordinarily, it is the Mossad that makes house calls, and not the other way around.

The agency’s strict no-visitors policy was temporarily relaxed on a Thursday in early January, when a minibus with darkened windows pulled into a parking lot in front of a nearby movie theater. The journalists inside were asked to hand over their mobile phones and audio recorders. Meïr Dagan, the powerful head of the Mossad, had invited them to the facility. It was his last day in a position he had held for seven years. On that January day, the journalists were there to document his legacy: the Mossad’s fight against the Iranian nuclear program.

He spoke passionately about the risks of a possible military strike against Iran, saying that he believed that such an attack would lead to a conflagration in the region that would include a war with Hezbollah and Hamas, and possibly with Syria. And anyone who believed that a military strike could stop Tehran’s nuclear program was wrong, said Dagan. It could slow down the program, he added, but only temporarily. For this reason, the outgoing Mossad chief was against bombs — but in favor of anything that could set back the Iranian nuclear program without starting a conventional war.

Delay was the new magic word. And to that end, the Mossad head had created a miracle weapon that everyone in the room on that January day knew about, but which Dagan did not mention by name: Stuxnet.

Stuxnet, a computer virus that can infiltrate highly secure computers not connected to the Internet, a feat previously believed to be virtually impossible, entered the global political arena more than a year ago, in June 2010. The virus had attacked computers at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, where scientists are enriching uranium, and manipulated the centrifuges to make them self-destruct. The attack penetrated into the heart of the Iranian nuclear program.

Stuxnet is the world’s first cyber-weapon of geopolitical significance. Frank Rieger of the legendary German hacker organization Chaos Computer Club calls it “a digital bunker buster.” The virus represents a fundamentally new addition to the arsenal of modern warfare. It enables a military attack using a computer program tailored to a specific target.

One year later, there is not an Internet security firm or government of a major country that is not addressing Stuxnet and its consequences, as well as taking action as a result. To learn more about Stuxnet and understand what is behind the virus, SPIEGEL traveled to Israel — the country where the cyber-weapon was invented.

Following the Trail

The Israeli branch of the US computer security firm Symantec is housed in a nondescript modern complex in Tel Aviv, a 15-minute drive from Ben Gurion International Airport. Sam Angel, the head of Symantec Israel, meets visitors in the underground garage and takes them to the conference room on the fourth floor. At the beginning of his PowerPoint presentation, Angel says: “Stuxnet is the most sophisticated attack we have ever seen. This sort of an attack, on a mature, isolated industrial system is completely unusual.” He projects a map onto the wall, showing the countries where such an attack has taken place: Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia and Belarus, where a man named Sergey Ulasen discovered Stuxnet.

Ulasen, who works in the research and development department at the VirusBlokAda security firm in Minsk, received what seemed to be a relatively mundane email on June 17, 2010. An Iranian firm was complaining that its computers were behaving strangely, shutting themselves down and then rebooting. Ulasen and a colleague spent a week examining the machines. Then they found Stuxnet. VirusBlokAda notified other companies in the industry, including Symantec.

When the engineers at Symantec got to work, they came across two computers that had directed the attacks. One of the servers was in Malaysia and the other was in Denmark, and they were reachable through the addresses and They had been registered, under a false name and with a forged credit card, through one of the world’s largest Internet registration companies, a firm based in the US state of Arizona. Symantec rerouted the incoming and outgoing communication at the two servers to its computer center in Dublin, which enabled it to monitor the activity of the virus. Whoever had launched Stuxnet had gotten away, but at least Symantec could follow the trail they had left behind.

The rerouting of communication made it possible to obtain an overview of the countries in which the virus was active. According to that analysis, Stuxnet had infected about 100,000 computers worldwide, including more than 60,000 in Iran, more than 10,000 in Indonesia and more than 5,000 in India. The inventors programmed Stuxnet so that the virus, as a first step, tells the two command-and-control servers if the infected computer is running Step 7, an industrial software program developed by the German engineering company Siemens. Step 7 is used to run the centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz facility.

The plant near Natanz, located in the desert 250 kilometers (156 miles) south of Tehran, is protected with military-level security. The aluminum centrifuges, which are housed in bunkers, are 1.8 meters (5 foot 10 inches) tall and 10 centimeters (four inches) in diameter. Their purpose is to gradually increase the proportion of uranium-235, the fissile isotope of uranium. There is a rotor inside the centrifuges that rotates at a speed of 1,000 times per second. In the process, uranium hexafluoride gas is centrifuged, so that uranium-235 accumulates in the center. The process is controlled by a Siemens system that runs on the Microsoft Windows operating system.

Part 2: Security Holes and Red Herrings

The ruse that makes the attack possible is as simple as it is ingenious. Stuxnet takes advantage of a security hole in Windows that makes it possible to manipulate the system. As a result of this programming error, the virus can be introduced into the system through a USB flash drive, for example. As soon as the drive is connected to a computer in the system, the installation begins unnoticed.

Stuxnet initially searches for anti-virus programs. The code is designed to circumvent them or, if this is not possible, to de-install itself. For a long time, one of the priorities was to leave no traces.

In a second step, Stuxnet lodges itself into the part of the operating system that manages USB flash drives, where it establishes a checksum, the exact purpose of which is unclear. The infection stops when this sum reaches the value 19790509. Symantec speculates that this is some sort of code. When read backward, the number could represent May 9, 1979, the day Habib Elghanian, a Jewish businessman, was executed in Tehran. Is this a coincidence? A provocation? Or a deliberately placed red herring?

It is still unclear how exactly the Israelis were able to get the virus into Natanz. In the jargon of computer experts, previously unknown security gaps like the hole in the Windows operating system are called zero-day exploits. Searching for these vulnerabilities is a combination of hacker challenge and business model. Knowledge is valuable, and there is a black market in which a previously unknown vulnerability can be worth $100,000 (€70,000) or more. Stuxnet exploits no fewer than four of these digital jewels.

 ’A Blue-and-White Operation’

Symantec manager Sam Angel believes that it is impossible to write a code like Stuxnet without having intimate knowledge of the Siemens system. “There is no black market for exploits involving Siemens software,” he says. “It’s not used widely enough.” How, then, did the Mossad acquire the information about the technology in use at Natanz?

It has been openly speculated that the Americans may have helped the Mossad. There is a US government research institution in Idaho where scientists study the Siemens control technology used in Iran; the basic research for Stuxnet could have taken place there. After that, the virus could have been tested at Israel’s nuclear research center near Dimona in the Negev Desert.

Israeli sources familiar with the background to the attack insist, however, that Stuxnet was a “blue-and-white operation,” a reference to Israel’s national colors — in other words, a purely Israeli operation. They believe that a secret elite unit of the military intelligence agency programmed a portion of the code, leaving the Mossad to do the rest. The Mossad was also apparently responsible for smuggling the virus into Natanz. The same sources claim that the Mossad tried to buy a cascade of centrifuges on the black market, without success. In the end, an Israeli arms manufacturer, with the help of foreign intelligence agencies, supposedly managed to build a model of Natanz where Stuxnet was tested.

The operation was ready to begin in the summer of 2009. The attackers unleashed Stuxnet at 4:31 p.m. on June 22, 2009. The attack targeted five Iranian organizations and was launched in three waves. After the first wave, a second strike took place in March 2010, dealing a heavy blow to the Iranians. The third wave followed in April. According to Symantec, the targets were not directly related to Iran’s nuclear program, but some of the target organizations were on United Nations sanctions lists. Some 12,000 computers were infected in the five organizations alone.

Stuxnet is programmed to delete itself from the USB flash drive after the third infection, presumably to prevent it from spreading explosively, which would have been noticed immediately. The goal of the cyber-weapon is to sabotage its targets in a sustainable, rather than spectacular, manner.

Another trick, which gives the virus the semblance of legality, shows how complex the design is. It involves digital certificates, which are issued on the Internet by companies that test the activity of a server or a program and certify that it is not malicious. If a program can show that it has such a certificate, then it is allowed access to a system. The Taiwanese firms Realtek Semiconductor and JMicron Technology are among the firms that issue such certificates.

In January 2010, a version of Stuxnet turned up that had been signed with a digital certificate from Realtek. This was followed, in July 2010, by a version signed with a JMicron certificate. Both certificates had been stolen. This theft alone is an operation that requires either a physical burglary at the headquarters of both companies, or the kind of hacker attack that very few programmers worldwide are capable of performing, because these certificates are additionally secured and encoded.

Only a State Could Produce Stuxnet

An analysis by a European intelligence agency classified as “secret,” which SPIEGEL has seen, states that it would have taken a programmer at least three years to develop Stuxnet, at a cost in the double-digit millions. Symantec, for its part, estimates that the tests in the model facility alone would have occupied five to 10 programmers for half a year. According to the intelligence analysis, “non-governmental actors” can be “virtually ruled out” as the inventors of Stuxnet. Members of Germany’s Federal Security Council, a government committee for defense issues whose meetings are secret, felt the same way when the council met in Berlin on Nov. 25, 2010.

Stuxnet shows what can happen when potent attackers are at work, said then Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, who is now German defense minister. Anyone who is willing to invest that much money and resources, Maizière added, knows what he is doing. The council members agreed that a sovereign state had to be behind the virus.

De Maizière’s staff noted that 15 vulnerabilities are found in standard computer programs every day, and that tens of thousands of websites are infected worldwide on a daily basis. At the end of the meeting, the council decided to establish a national cyber defense center. “The experiences with the Stuxnet virus show that even key areas of industrial infrastructure are no longer safe against targeted IT attacks,” a government cabinet paper later stated.

The virus has fundamentally changed the way we look at digital attacks. The US government recently issued a new cyber war doctrine that defines a cyber-attack as a conventional act of war. The Stuxnet code, which is now accessible to the public, could inspire copycats, Roberta Stempfley of the US Department of Homeland Security warned last week.

Last year the British government adopted a new security strategy, for which it approved funding of 650 million pounds (€565 million or $1,070 million). The cyber world will become “more important in the conflict between nations,” Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said in a speech in Jerusalem in February. “It is a new battleground, if you like, not with guns but with something else.”

Part 3: Success Comparable to Cracking Enigma

The Mossad views Stuxnet as a great success, comparable to the cracking of Germany’s Enigma cipher machine by the Poles and Britons in World War II. The Israeli military isn’t as euphoric. It argues that the fact that Stuxnet was discovered was a high price to pay, despite the setback it dealt to Iran’s mullah-led regime.

And it was a painful setback indeed. An Iranian IR-1 centrifuge normally spins at 1,064 hertz, or cycles per second. When the rotors began going haywire, they increased their frequency to 1,410 hertz for 15 minutes and then returned to their normal frequency. The virus took over control again 27 days later, but this time it slowed down the rotors to a frequency of a few hundred hertz for a full 50 minutes. The resulting excessive centrifugal force caused the aluminum tubes to expand, increasing the risk of parts coming into contact with one another and thereby destroying the centrifuges.

Six cascades containing 164 centrifuges each were reportedly destroyed in this manner. Authorities on the Iranian nuclear program, like David Albright of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), believe that Stuxnet destroyed about 1,000 centrifuges. Iran has admitted that its nuclear program was set back. According to Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s civil defense organization, the program suffered “potentially major damage.”

Former Mossad chief Dagan achieved his goal of sabotaging the nuclear program without triggering a new war in the Middle East. But Iran still has 8,000 other centrifuges, and the more modern, second-generation IR-2 centrifuges, which are equipped with carbon fiber rotors, can operate smoothly even at 1,400 hertz. They are not affected by the existing version of the sabotage software. The Mossad could be in need of a new virus soon. Using it would constitute the next round in a clandestine cyber war.

 ’People Had Never Seen Anything Like Stuxnet Before’

Two young Israelis who work indirectly for the government are sitting in one of Tel Aviv’s modern cafés. The men run a company that handles jobs for the Mossad and Shin Bet, the domestic intelligence agency. They smile and say that digital attack, not defense, is their discipline. They are part of a global hacker elite. According to rumors circulating in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the men did some of the groundwork for the Mossad in the development of Stuxnet.

“People had never seen anything like Stuxnet before, except in movies,” says one of the hackers. “Now they can see that it’s real.” His voice is filled with pride when he says: “In the small community of attackers, none of this was really new.” Almost all of the vulnerabilities had already been used in a past attack, the hacker says, but they had never been used at the same time. He explains that the real challenge in staging an attack with a virus like Stuxnet is to penetrate into a system that is not connected to the Internet.

What are the consequences of Stuxnet?

The two men are silent for a moment; they see things from the attacker’s perspective. “The discovery of Stuxnet was a serious blow to us,” one of them says. “We find it particularly upsetting, because a successful method was disclosed.”

The inventors of Stuxnet apparently had many more plans for their product. Symantec has since discovered another version of the Stuxnet virus, which contains even more complex code and is designed to target modern Siemens control technology, but which had not been activated yet. Stuxnet, say the people at Symantec, “is the type of threat we hope to never see again.”

That wish is unlikely to come true.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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