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Wikileaks blows the cover off the war in Afghanistan

Posted: 25 Jul 2010

Whistleblowing in the age of the internet. From the Guardian:

A huge cache of secret US military files today provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.

The disclosures come from more than 90,000 records of incidents and intelligence reports about the conflict obtained by the whistleblowers’ website Wikileaks in one of the biggest leaks in US military history. The files, which were made available to the Guardian, the New York Times and the German weekly Der Spiegel, give a blow-by-blow account of the fighting over the last six years, which has so far cost the lives of more than 320 British and more than 1,000 US troops.

And what are some of the stories being revealed? From the Guardian article, “Secret CIA paramilitaries’ role in civilian deaths“:

Shum Khan was a deaf and dumb man who lived in the remote border hamlet of Malekshay, 7,000ft up in the mountains. When a heavily armed squad from the CIA barrelled into his village in March 2007, the war logs record that he “ran at the sight of the approaching coalition forces … out of fear and confusion”.

The secret CIA paramilitaries, (the euphemism here is OGA, for “other government agency”) shouted at him to stop. Khan could not hear them. He carried on running. So they shot him, saying they were entitled to do so under the carefully graded “escalation of force” provisions of the US rules of engagement.

Khan was wounded but survived. The Americans’ error was explained to them by village elders, so they fetched out what they term “solatia”, or compensation. The classified intelligence report ends briskly: “Solatia was made in the form of supplies and the Element mission progressed”.

Behind the military jargon, the war logs are littered with accounts of civilian tragedies. The 144 entries in the logs recording some of these so-called “blue on white” events, cover a wide spectrum of day-by-day assaults on Afghans, with hundreds of casualties.

They range from the shootings of individual innocents to the often massive loss of life from air strikes, which eventually led President Hamid Karzai to protest publicly that the US was treating Afghan lives as “cheap”. When civilian family members are actually killed in Afghanistan, their relatives do, in fairness, get greater solatia payments than cans of beans and Hershey bars. The logs refer to sums paid of 100,000 Afghani per corpse, equivalent to about £1,500.

US and allied commanders frequently deny allegations of mass civilian casualties, claiming they are Taliban propaganda or ploys to get compensation, which are contradicted by facts known to the military.

But the logs demonstrate how much of the contemporaneous US internal reporting of air strikes is simply false.

Read the files on the Wikileaks website here.

Facebook prohibits the word ‘Palestinian’

Posted: 25 Jul 2010  

The folks at Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet thought they’d create a Facebook page only to discover: Facebook blocks the term “Palestinian”! (H/t Jillian C York.)

Are Palestinians the only group so blocked from making pages? Well, not really… after a little fiddling around, I discovered that al-Qaida Refugee ResearchNet and Nazi Refugee ResearchNet are filtered too.

It does seem a bit odd, however, that a population of up to 12 million people, receiving more than a billion dollars in international aid, recognized by the UN, and enjoying a degree of formal diplomatic recognition from the United States — is placed in the same filtered category as Nazis and al-Qaida.

I’ve sent an email to Facebook customer service—we’ll see what they say.

Just to be sure, I tried myself to create a “Palestinian sports” page — not allowed.

Jacob Weisberg sees the power of BDS, and is scared

Posted: 25 Jul 2010

“Don’t boycott Israel,” says the headline in Newsweek.

Jacob Weisberg, editor-in-chief at Slate and author of the piece calls a boycott a “repellent idea” with consequences that are “intrinsically vile.” But pointing out the “sheeplike, liberal opinion” of celebrities like Meg Ryan is unlikely to break up the flock. Indeed, Weisberg must vastly overestimate his own degree of influence in Hollywood if he imagines that his protestations will have more effect than do celebrities influence each other.

His appeal is perhaps not an effort to shepherd celebrity opinion but a reflex expression of alarm as he witnesses the boycott movement rapidly acquiring critical mass. Support from politically uninformed but socially influential celebrities is important because it signals the point at which the Palestinian cause rises above its regional, ethnic, religious and historical boundaries, and is being adopted as a humanitarian cause.

Weisberg, in a chaotic effort to marshall his arguments claims:

The stronger case against a cultural boycott of Israel is based on consistency, proportionality, and history. That supporters of this boycott seldom focus on China or Syria or Zimbabwe — or other genuinely illegitimate regimes that systematically violate human rights — underscores their bad faith.

The bad faith that proponents of an Israel boycott are supposedly exhibiting is that they are singling Israel out; that Israel as a target of a boycott is a target of victimization. Any fair-minded person would see how much Israel, China, Syria and Zimbabwe have in common and treat them similarly… Oh, but maybe that isn’t exactly what Weisberg’s trying to say.

As a good liberal, Weisberg isn’t eager to play the anti-Semitic card and he doesn’t see an anti-Semitic trend in Hollywood, but he goes ahead and makes the accusation anyway by saying that the boycott movement “is hard to disassociate from anti-Semitism — even if Ryan and Costello intend nothing of the kind.”

There is an issue here that I suspect touches a raw nerve for Weisberg and many others and it’s not thinly disguised anti-Semitism; it’s the power of social exclusion.

The boycott — at least a particularly ugly form of boycott — is the Israel lobby’s favorite weapon. Attacks on critics of Israel are invariably ad hominem attacks — the campaign against Judge Richard Goldstone being among the most vociferous of such denunciations. This isn’t about vigorous opposition to ideas; it’s about the effort to destroy people — their reputations, their careers, and their social standing.

Weisberg sees the same spirit in the boycott movement:

What they’re saying is, “We consider your country so intrinsically reprehensible that we are going to treat all of your citizens as pariahs.”

The subtext: It’s not about what we do; it’s about who we are.

This is how Israel washes away its sins — and it’s a way of refusing to face the charge upon which the boycott movement rests: that Israel continues to deny the Palestinians their fundamental rights for freedom, equality and self-determination. If this denial of human rights leads to Israel’s increasing isolation, this is a path that Israelis have chosen. Israel is not a victim of an unjust world or an ill-conceived boycott movement.

This is cross-posted at Woodward’s site, War in Context.

Israeli BDS bill would turn opponents of the regime into enemies of the state

Posted: 25 Jul 2010  

For many years now, Israel has boasted about being “the only democracy in the Middle East.” It has never been a democracy: it has systematically discriminated against its non-Jewish citizens (for example, it was only this week that Arab villages gained access to public transit), and in order to support the racial purity laws indirectly, it granted clerics control over all aspects of personal life. It permits the existence of courts where women are inherently inferior to men and their testimony is inadmissible. There is no law in Israel that guarantees the freedom of speech, which relies only on Supreme Court decisions, and the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty intentionally left out the right to equality. Israel has never pretended that all its citizens are equal….

Concurrently, the first of three readings of a proposed law voted in a prohibition on calling for a boycott of Israel. As has happened a lot recently, this proposed law defines the West Bank as part of Israel-proper, which has far reaching significance.

Taking a look at the MKs who propose the law, we see quite a long list of the center-right mainstream, from Dalia Itzik, former Speaker of the Knesset and the most prominent MK on the list, to ultra-orthodox Moshe Gaffny. That last name is something of a surprise: the ultra-orthodox are the most active boycotters in Israel. That’s alright, though: the law states (at the end of its preamble) that “the balance between the public good and the best interest of the state and individual liberties is expressed by limiting the definition of the considerations of the individual who sets out to purchase a product or service as a boycott under this law.” In other words, if you boycott a particular company because it is cruel to animals, or because your rabbi told you to boycott it, or because your conscience won’t let you uphold the way it uses anorexia-promoting models in its ads, or because it uses slave labor – that would be fine. Only a boycott protesting the existence of the Israeli occupation is prohibited.

The law forbids Israeli citizens to promote, encourage, or provide information which makes it possible to maintain a boycott of “Israel” – in other words, the Israeli occupation and the persons benefitting from it. It makes possible automatic damages and fines. It makes possible, and in fact requires action against any “foreign national entity” – which would be the Palestinian Authority – if it harms the settlers’ livelihood. The most interesting item here is Section 8(ii): “Despite the content of subsection (i), any person who initiated a boycott or encouraged participation in a boycott under paragraph 2 during the year preceding the publication of the Law, it will be a refutable assumption that this person is still an initiator of a boycott or still calls for a boycott even after the date of the publication of the Law.” In other words, in contrast with nearly all the laws of the State of Israel, this law is a retroactive law, which will penalize people for actions they took before it was made into law. The settlers and the settler collaborators must be quite stressed out.

The proposed law prohibits non-violent protests and determines that it will be legal to boycott anything in Israel – which is how they obtained ultra-orthodox support – except for settlers and the occupation. That is pretty much the only case where non-violent protest is prohibited. Former Haaretz editor David Landau has already called other parliaments to boycott the Knesset due to this law. If it passes, it will be very hard to denounce people who employ violence against the occupation, its emblems and the people who enforce it. After all, they will have been barred from non-violent forms of protest.

The preamble to the law makes the claim that an American law prohibits boycotting of Israel and of other friendly states, and that it behooves Israel to be at least as vigilant as other states. But that is not exactly right: the law prohibiting boycotts, which is actually an amendment to the U.S. code of export regulations – does not prevent any citizens or corporations from boycotting anything, including Israel. It forbids their participation in a boycott organized by a foreign government. In other words, if we were to create an Israeli equivalent, it would forbid Israelis to participate in the boycott organized by the Palestinian Authority, against Israeli products (although it is doubtful that the Knesset has or even wants authority over the West Bank), but it would not prevent their organizing such a boycott on their own, as it is their right to do so, as sovereign citizens who do not wish to support an unjust policy of their government.

This law, however, has little to do with appropriate conduct. It is a law that chills speech and imposes fear; it is designed to turn opponents of the regime into enemies of the state, people who by even expressing their opinion become the legitimate targets of any Jew in Yitzhar, who can peel ₪ 30,000 right off of them without having to prove that damage has been done to him. The courts may well knock down this law, and it certainly has a long way to go in Knesset committees. The good news is that if it does indeed pass, it will significantly enhance the chances of many Israelis to obtain political asylum visas in many countries, because it will remove Israel from the list of democratic countries in an absolute and final manner.

The average Israeli will not, of course, understand why. Nor will he ever understand.

Editor’s note: for a few hours this piece carried the wrong byline. Apologies to Yossi Gurvitz!

His post in Hebrew was originally published at Yossi Gurvitz’s blog, Friends of George; translation by Dena Shunra of Shunra.net.

Let the apologies to Goldstone begin

Posted: 25 Jul 2010

I missed this. After the Israelis came out with their lame investigation saying that they would indict several officers and soldiers in four cases arising from the Gaza conflict of ’08-’09, a fairminded South African columnist, Allister Sparks, published an important piece a few days ago, calling on South African rabbis to apologize to Judge Richard Goldstone for slamming Goldstone’s report last year.

The significance of the piece was explained to me by a friend: “This is an important statement recognizing that even the Israeli Gov’t is finding truth to the report’s findings—–it’s the beginning of a vindication of Goldstone… So why isn’t it all over the place that some of the findings in the report–a report that had been totally trashed by the Israeli gov’t and friends–are proving to be true? …Shouldn’t we challenge the overall attack on Goldstone and the report — like the SA rabbi being called to make a public apology?”

Great point. Here is Sparks’s case. Beautiful story about Naude, beautiful writing:

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein… chastised Goldstone for “doing great damage to the state of Israel”. He should have recused himself instead, Goldstein said, and taken no part in the investigating mission.

I have had difficulty understanding what the chief rabbi meant by this.

Goldstein is a trained lawyer as well as a rabbi. Did he mean that no Jew, however professionally disciplined — and Judge Goldstone’s legal reputation is among the highest in the world — can be objective when it comes to a matter involving Israel?

And if so, does that involve Jews individually or collectively as well, or just the interests of the state of Israel? Or did he mean that it is a Jewish person’s inherent duty either to set aside his professional ethics and find in favour of the state of Israel regardless of the merits of a case or, if that is unacceptable, to recuse himself? But that for a Jew to find against Israel is traitorous?

…I am reminded here of the conflict between the Dutch Reformed Church and Beyers Naude over the issue of apartheid.

I attended the Dutch Reformed Church service in Linden, Johannesburg, at which Naude had to respond to the church leaders’ demand that he choose between the church’s doctrine of support for apartheid and his commitment to the nonracial Christian Institute he had founded.

In other words, Naude was forced to choose between his moral principles and his loyalty to his own people and their church.

I heard Naude announce his decision that memorable day before the glitterati of Afrikaner nationalism in the packed pews before him. Smilingly, boldly, he told them simply: “I choose God before man.”

In other words, principles, truth and justice before ethnic or group loyalty. It was the defining moment of that great man’s life.

So I ask the chief rabbi that same question today: what is your choice? Then, at the level of plain human decency, don’t you think, Chief Rabbi Goldstein and those members of the Orthodox Jewish community and the South African Zionist Federation whom you lead, that you owe Judge Goldstone an apology? A public, abject apology.

Update: Helena Cobban was likely the first, Stateside, to note this piece, last week.

Freeman says special friendship has damaged US ‘values… influence, leadership, credibility’

Posted: 25 Jul 2010  

Pulse has posted a transcript of Chas Freeman’s comments on Israel as a strategic liability at the Nixon Center the other day. Boy can this guy write. Here’s an excerpt. I never heard the Johnson-Goldwater datapoint before, got to look it up. –Weiss

We need to begin by recognizing that our relationship with Israel has never been driven by strategic reasoning. It began with President Truman overruling his strategic and military advisers in deference to personal sentiment and political expediency. We had an arms embargo on Israel until Lyndon Johnson dropped it in 1964 in explicit return for Jewish financial support for his campaign against Barry Goldwater. In 1973, for reasons peculiar to the Cold War, we had to come to the rescue of Israel as it battled Egypt. The resulting Arab oil embargo cost us dearly. And then there’s all the time we’ve put into the perpetually ineffectual and now long defunct “peace process.”

Still the US-Israel relationship has had strategic consequences. There is no reason to doubt the consistent testimony of the architects of major acts of anti-American terrorism about what motivates them to attack us. In the words of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is credited with masterminding the 9/11 attacks, their purpose was to focus “the American people … on the atrocities that America is committing by supporting Israel against the Palestinian people….” As Osama Bin Laden, purporting to speak for the world’s Muslims, has said again and again: “we have … stated many times, for more than two-and-a-half-decades, that the cause of our disagreement with you is your support to your Israeli allies who occupy our land of Palestine….” Some substantial portion of the many lives and the trillions of dollars we have so far expended in our escalating conflict with the Islamic world must be apportioned to the costs of our relationship with Israel.

…[Israel] is so estranged from everyone else in the Middle East that no neighboring country will accept flight plans that originate in or transit it. Israel is therefore useless in terms of support for American power projection. It has no allies other than us. It has developed no friends. Israeli participation in our military operations would preclude the cooperation of many others. Meanwhile, Israel has become accustomed to living on the American military dole. The notion that Israeli taxpayers might help defray the expense of U.S. military or foreign assistance operations, even those undertaken at Israel’s behest, would be greeted with astonishment in Israel and incredulity on Capitol Hill.

Military aid to Israel is sometimes justified by the notion of Israel as a test bed for new weapons systems and operational concepts. … It has come to specialize in bombing civilian infrastructure and militias with no air defenses. There is not much for the U.S. Air Force to learn from that. Similarly, the Israeli navy confronts no real naval threat. Its experience in interdicting infiltrators, fishermen, and humanitarian aid flotillas is not a model for the U.S. Navy to study. Israel’s army, however, has had lessons to impart. Now in its fifth decade of occupation duty, it has developed techniques of pacification, interrogation, assassination, and drone attack that inspired U.S. operations in Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, Somalia, Yemen, and Waziristan. Recently, Israel has begun to deploy various forms of remote-controlled robotic guns. These enable operatives at far-away video screens summarily to execute anyone they view as suspicious. Such risk-free means of culling hostile populations could conceivably come in handy in some future American military operation, but I hope not. I have a lot of trouble squaring the philosophy they embody with the values Americans traditionally aspired to exemplify.

It is sometimes said that, to its credit, Israel does not ask the United States to fight its battles for it; it just wants the money and weapons to fight them on its own. Leave aside the question of whether Israel’s battles are or should also be America’s. It is no longer true that Israel does not ask us to fight for it. The fact that prominent American apologists for Israel were the most energetic promoters of the U.S. invasion of Iraq does not, of course, prove that Israel was the instigator of that grievous misadventure. But the very same people are now urging an American military assault on Iran explicitly to protect Israel and to preserve its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. Their advocacy is fully coordinated with the Government of Israel. No one in the region wants a nuclear-armed Iran, but Israel is the only country pressing Americans to go to war over this.

Finally, the need to protect Israel from mounting international indignation about its behavior continues to do grave damage to our global and regional standing. It has severely impaired our ties with the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. These costs to our international influence, credibility, and leadership are, I think, far more serious than the economic and other burdens of the relationship.

Against this background, it’s remarkable that something as fatuous as the notion of Israel as a strategic asset could have become the unchallengeable conventional wisdom in the United States. Perhaps it’s just that as someone once said: “people … will more easily fall victim to a big lie than a small one.” Be that as it may, the United States and Israel have a lot invested in our relationship. Basing our cooperation on a thesis and narratives that will not withstand scrutiny is dangerous. It is especially risky in the context of current fiscal pressures in the United States. These seem certain soon to force major revisions of both current levels of American defense spending and global strategy, in the Middle East as well as elsewhere. They also place federally-funded programs in Israel in direct competition with similar programs here at home. To flourish over the long term, Israel’s relations with the United States need to be grounded in reality, not myth, and in peace, not war.

Service with meaning– the IDF

Posted: 25 Jul 2010

Ynet has a story on 23 American Jews who are volunteering to serve in the IDF. Rahm Emanuel did something like this once, and so did Jeffrey Goldberg.

Until a year ago, [Nathaniel] Schlakman’s future seemed quite clear. He worked out five times a week in order to get accepted into the Marines. However, he ultimately landed two months ago at Ben Gurion Airport with the first group of soldiers organized by Aish Machal.

“I couldn’t keep sitting on my couch in my spacious house, watching on television how IDF soldiers are defending Israel, which is also my country,” he explained.

“I studied history, and I understood that all the big disasters, from the Inquisition to the Holocaust, happened because we didn’t have a country of our own, and we had nowhere to go. I decided that if I’m going to serve, it has to have meaning.”

“Nathaniel told me that if he’s going to take a bullet, he’d rather take one in Israel, for the country,” said Aharon-Yosef Katsof, who found Schlakman in the religious school in which he studied...

Yakov Kroll, 20, whose dream is to serve in Givati, arrived in Israel after two years of studying accounting and real estate at a Santa Monica college.

“I have always asked myself what I can do for the country,” he said in fluent Hebrew, which the volunteers obtained during a six-week preparatory course in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. “I thought that if I’d be a lawyer, maybe I could sue Iran, or if I’d work in public relations, I could do hasbara (public relations) for the country. But ultimately, I understood that there is only one way to truly contribute to the country, and that is the military.”

Katsof met with Kroll’s father in Beverly Hills at the home of a real estate magnate who wishes to remain anonymous. “He funds us,” said Katsof, refusing to provide any additional details. “I told the father, ‘I have a program that fits your son to a T,’ and that was enough.”

Al-Awda: two-state solution would only prolong oppression

Posted: 25 Jul 2010  

Al-Awda, the Palestinian right to return coalition, has released a statement about the way forward in Palestinian solidarity that says that BDS has changed the playing field, and BDS is aimed at one democratic state in historic Palestine. Here is the portion of the statement that opposes a two-state solution– against those who say that visions of one state are “unrealistic.” Myself I’m somewhat agnostic, but I recognize the importance/creativity of the statement, at a time when the 2SS has collapsed, but a belief in its vitality is maintained against all evidence inside US power circles (and an oath of that belief is a requirement for access):

First, the principle of self-determination means, above all, that decisions about what is or is not “realistic” belongs to those who live under oppression, rather than their sympathizers — however well meaning. “As in the struggle against South African apartheid,” writes Omar Barghouti, “genuine solidarity movements recognize and follow the lead of the oppressed, who are not passive objects but active, rational subjects that are asserting their aspirations and rights as well as their strategy to realize them.”

Second, is there any social justice movement that has not seemed “unrealistic” or even impossible? Yet, circumstances change rapidly and unpredictably; what was fantasy yesterday often comes true tomorrow. It is enough to remember the long decades that preceded the abolition of slavery, the civil rights victories of the 1960s, or the collapse of colonialism and apartheid in southern Africa.

Third, the “Two-State Solution” is itself realistic only as ratification of a fractured, Israeli-controlled Bantustan; a “Two-Prison” solution, as Palestinian activist Haidar Eid bluntly describes it. This has been the Israeli and U.S. goal since the beginning of the “peace process”; indeed, anyone looking to catch glimpse of a future Palestinian “state” need look no further than the systematic strangulation of Gaza and continued “Judaization” of the land on both sides of the 1948 “Green Line.” In that sense, the most dangerous aspect of this solution is precisely that it is possible.

Finally, “pragmatism” at the expense of justice is always an illusion. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously pointed out, true peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.

Haaretz: Sheikh Yassin would have cut deal for statehood

Posted: 25 Jul 2010  

This piece is cited in David Hirst’s recent book, Beware of Small States. A year ago, Haaretz interviewed Zvi Sela, a psychologist who was a police officer in ’95-’98, when he met the imprisoned Sheikh Yassin, a founder of Hamas (who was assassinated Israel in 2004) (h/t Reem Mokhtar):

“There was no terrorist attack or abduction in those years that was not planned, managed and commanded from within the prisons. That is where the senior figures were, including Sheikh Yassin. He was paralyzed in the legs and arms, and was capable only of moving his head, but he was a very powerful figure. He exercised tremendous control over what went on in the prison and outside, too.”

Adding that this was a turbulent period of terror attacks, Sela explains that his goal in the encounters was “to collect information about the Palestinian cells and organizations, to thwart the attacks outside. In that capacity I met with Yassin. We held him in Hadarim Prison [near Netanya] on the third floor in harsh conditions. We gave him a very hard time. He was not allowed visits and we kept him tightly locked up for almost five years. He was held in a narrow room where the temperature was 45 degrees [Celsius] in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. His blankets were dirty and smelled. That’s how he lived. I found him to be a very smart man, and also very decent. We engaged in a war of minds. We knew that after every battle between us someone would die, either on my side or on his side.”

What did you talk about?

Sela: “Business – intelligence…. I always told him, ‘Stop blowing up buses, stop murdering women and children.’ He replied: ‘Tzvika, listen, we had good teachers: You established a state thanks to your military power. The dead I take from you are for the sake of establishing a state, but you are killing women and children for the sake of the occupation. You already have a state. You are dirty and hypocritical. I have no interest in destroying you – all I want is a state.”

So the father of the Hamas movement told you he recognized the State of Israel?

“Yes. He was smart and brave. Cruel, but credible. He gave his life in the war for the freedom of his people. I tend to think that if we had tried for an agreement with him, we would have succeeded. He thought the reason the Israelis were dealing with [then PLO leader] Yasser Arafat is that they were very smart, because we knew we would get nowhere with him. In his opinion, Arafat was thoroughly corrupt.”

Did your conversations produce anything concrete? Did he ever provide you with vital intelligence?

“After I held conversations with him for two years, the powers-that-be told me: ‘Go to Yassin and ask for the body of the missing Israeli soldier Ilan Sa’adon. In return Israel is ready to release him.’ Yassin knew where the body was. He told me, ‘There is no Jew in the world who knows about my grandchildren, my children, my yearning for freedom. You, Zvika, are the only one who knows the truth about how I live and how much I want freedom. But to offer me freedom in exchange for a body is humiliating. I will give you the body because you are asking, I understand the family’s pain, but promise me you will not release me in return for it. Promise me that if I die in prison, you will be sure to tell my family how much I loved them, how much I dreamed of being able to smell their scent.'”

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