Gaza, O Gaza

On Friday, on the southern border of Gaza, not far from the Mediterranean coast, young men are dumping wheelbarrows full of reddish-brown sand onto makeshift new dunes on the edges of what just happens to be the well-defined district of the famous smuggling tunnels.

We are on the Gaza side of Rafah,

The sand is coming up from deep underground, in sturdy bright blue-plastic containers lifted by pulleys. At one tunnel excavation site, two young men were at the surface, around the a rounded tunnel hole about a meter in diameter. There was absolutely no barrier, nothing, to prevent anyone from slipping and falling into the hole that went down farther than the eye could see. The two men at the surface said there were six men working underground, cleaning out a tunnel that had been damaged in an earlier Israeli airstrike. Three middle-aged men were seated in a tent structure where guns are visible inside, erected just next to the tunnel hole. They stood up and craned their necks to see who was visiting, then turned away and went back to whatever it is they were doing.

The scene is astounding. The tunnel district is compact, well-defined grid, with allocated plots on each of which are structures covered with plastic sheeting, like booths at a Christmas fair, or the campsite of the performers of a circus. There are no visitors other than us. A double tanker truck are being filled with gasoline, and one is waiting, while the smell of fuel is in the air. Two boys are selling red and white packs of Marlboro cigarettes from a basket. What do you want, they ask? Is there Coca Cola, we ask? Later, they answer. Live sheep came through the tunnels earlier in the day in another area nearby. An ice cream seller (the product is in a cooler covered with towels, and the sugar cones are stacked neatly beside) goes up and down the grid, between the rows of tunnel holes.

And, it is terrifying. At any moment, an Israeli airstrike could hit. There is no effort at all to hide this highly-dangerous activity, and the growing piles of sand around the perimeter of the tunnel district are a dead give-away.

Another nightmare scenario is that the ground could collapse right under our feet. There are so many tunnels being dug, so close together. The earth is not solid anymore, here.

UPDATE: In fact, I’ve just learned that YNet has reported that: “Israeli aircraft on Friday launched two separate strikes on smuggling tunnels situated along Gaza’s border with Egypt. The army said direct hits were identified. A Palestinian health official said one person was slightly injured in one of the strikes. The strikes came shortly after a Qassam rocket fired by Palestinians from north Gaza Thursday evening hit near a kibbutz in the Negev region, without causing injury or damage. A few hours prior to that attack IDF forces apprehended a number of Palestinians who allegedly approached the security fence in south Gaza … On Thursday Palestinian sources said two people were killed when a smuggling tunnel collapsed. Three other smugglers were reported missing”.
Ali Waked and Reuters contributed to the report, which was published here.

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D-9 bulldozers and the 2002 IDF "incursion" into Jenin Refugee Camp

From a link in a post on Angry Arab’s blog here dated 6 July 2008, I found this appalling item on Uri Avnery’s Gush Shalom website, a translation of an article from Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper of an interview with someone without any experience who drove a D-9 bulldozer in Jenin (Palestinian) Refugee Camp while on reserve duty during the IDF incursion in 2002.

The article is entitled “I made them a stadium in the middle of the camp“.

It shows what can happen if you care only for your own people, for your own side … and feel almost nothing for the others.

And it may explain what happened in Gaza in the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead — maybe an unmanned bulldozer was considered more merciful, more accurate, and more obedient of orders than this, which happened in the confines of the Jenin Refugee Camp in 2002.

But, let’s start first with the Gush Shalom comments, which are posted on its website here, following their translation of the interview:
“This is the incredible, self-told Story of Moshe Nissim, a fanatic football fan and a permanent troublemaker, who begged his commanders in the reserves unit for a chance to take part in ‘the action’. By ‘action’ he was referring to the wide scale destruction carried out by the Israeli army in many Palestinian locations, especially in the Jenin Refugee camp. He was sent into Jenin, riding a 60 ton demolition bulldozer – and equipped with 16 years of pent-up personal frustration, plenty of whisky and only two hours of training on that armored tool. ‘Enough training to drive forwards and make a flat surface’, as he himself testifies in the interview … Of course, it is unconceivable, that the British army would send a drunken and frustrated Manchester fan into Belfast riding a D-9 bulldozer. Therefore, the really troubling questions must be directed at the system that sent him into Jenin on this mission of destruction. This system is the Israeli army.
1. What kind of army puts a 60 ton, multi-million dollar demolishing bulldozer in the hands of such a person, who has not operated one before?
2. How could his rampage go on, without being stopped by any of the officers, at any rank?
3. How can such an army insist it is the ‘most moral army in the world’?
4. Does this interview shed more light on Israel’s refusal to have its actions in Jenin investigated?
5. What did happen in Jenin?”

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Jenin Palestinian Refugee Camp and the Holocaust

On Israel’s Independence Day, according to the Jewish calendar, today, there was a total closure of the West Bank, with certain exceptions, including journalists.

Despite the 45-minute wait just to enter the Qalandia checkpoint from Jerusalem, caused by extra “security” measures — and tightened restrictions at several checkpoints along the way — I went along with a group of colleagues who were filming interviews first in the Jenin (Palestinian) Refugee Camp, in the West Bank, and then in Wadi Ara, a Palestinian-Arab city in Israel’s Galilee region.

The purpose of the trip was to follow up on an interesting human dilemma caused by a complete collapse of mutual comprehension.

A month earlier, some 13 kids from Jenin Refugee Camp taken by their music teacher, Wafaa Younis from Wadi Ara, to sing and play violin for an Israeli audience of about 30 mostly-elderly people at the Holocaust Survivor’s Center in the city of Holon, south of Tel Aviv. 

Neither the music students nor their parents were informed in advance that the audience would
include aging Israeli survivors of the Holocaust — the World War Two genocidal “program” that
deliberately, methodically, and bureaucratically first dehumanized, then exterminated some six million Jews in Nazi-run concentration camps in several European countries then occupied by German troops under orders from Adolph Hitler and his henchmen. There were reports that Wafaa Younis had tried to explain on the way to the performance, but that the message did not get through due to chaos on the bus. [Well, but why wait until they are on the bus? If the intention was really to get the message through, this could have been done…]

Anyway, nor were the Israeli audience informed in advance that the performance would be by Palestinian kids from the West Bank — “a rare sight in Israel these days”, as Haaretz newspaper later wrote, wryly, here .

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Israel's Remembrance Day

This is the day that Israel marks as its Memorial Day, or Remembrance Day.

Haaretz reported that “The total number of those who have been remembered by this Memorial Day is 22,570 [n.b., mainly fallen soldiers but also civilian victims of terror attacks]. The dead who are counted date from 1860, when Jews first settled outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem”. Haaretz added that, according to the Defense Ministry, “133 soldiers and civilians died during the past year either in the course of military service or as civilian casualties of hostile activity”. This Haaretz report can be read in full here

In another article published on this day, Haaretz has repprinted a very famous and very striking photo — looking into the eyes of a young Palestinian just moments before his death — with a brief commentary from the photographer who took it.

Alex Libak or Alex Levac - his photo that exposed a Shin Bet lie

The photographer, Alex Levac, wrote: “I’m returning here to my infamous Bus 300 photo, in which one sees – obviously alive and well – one of two Palestinian hijackers whom the Shin Bet security service claimed had been killed during a hostage rescue. I wouldn’t think of bringing the subject up again if it hadn’t been for the changes in Israeli attitudes toward the Palestinians over the last 25 years. The photo shocked the country in 1984 because it was proof of the lies and criminal acts of the security apparatus. Who would respond these days with the same powerful emotion to the murder of two Palestinian bus hijackers as we did in those innocent times when every injury to a Palestinian, not to mention a killing, led to an investigation? Since then, mutual hatred has only worsened and summary executions have become routine. We have long become insensitive to death, of Jews as well as Palestinians”.

The photographer ended with these words: “A short philosophical remark is in order here about the essence of photographs. The power of this photo lies in what it doesn’t show, the moment after, the moment when skulls were smashed, an act former Shin Bet agent Ehud Yatom later admitted to. The moment of the unbearable lightness of death”.

But, he also wrote in his commentary that “the thought that evokes the greatest sadness is whether we can say with certainty in 2009 that the Israeli media is the watchdog of democracy”. This commentary can be read in full as posted here.

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Israeli flags are flying in the West Bank

For the first time ever,maybe, Israeli flags are flying from the lamp posts in the West Bank along the Palestinian Road 60, from just outside the settlement of Adam up to the illegal outpost of Migron. They were put there to mark celebrations for Israel’s 61st Independence Day, just the way they were put on the streets of Jerusalem and elsewhere inside Israel proper.

But these flags are is in the middle of the West Bank.

Yesterday, Israeli flags were put on the lamp posts at the interchange between Road 60 and the road going to the Beit El settlement (or to the Beit El military courts and civil administration offices — or to the Beit El DCO checkpoint, where diplomats, staff members of international organizations, journalists, and Palestinian VIPs can pass through. It’s a much longer route in and out of Ramallah, but it’s much more serene, and less stressful, and a much more scenic route, than going through the awful Qalandia checkpoint).

These Israeli flags I’m writing about in this post are not to mark Israeli checkpoints or military bases. They were put on lampposts, as if it’s a perfectly normal thing to do, deep inside what is internationally recognized as occupied territory.

Was torture used knowingly to extract false information … to justify invasion of Iraq?

A NYTimes oped piece today suggests that “Perhaps some new facts may yet emerge if Dick Cheney succeeds in his unexpected and welcome crusade to declassify documents that he says will exonerate administration interrogation policies [on harsh interrogation techniques — meaning torture] . Meanwhile, we do have evidence for an alternative explanation of what motivated Bybee to write his memo that August, thanks to the comprehensive Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainees released last week. The report found that Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: ‘A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful’. As higher-ups got more ‘frustrated’ at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, ‘there was more and more pressure to resort to measures’ that might produce that intelligence.

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Rice approved waterboarding of Al-Zubayda

Yes.

It emerged last week that in July 2002, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had authorized waterboarding of al-Zubayda, a Palestinian-born suspected member of al-Qayda captured in Pakistan in March 2002 — who then may have implicated “the mastermind of 9/11” under torture, while recalling something he had watched on Al-Jazeera television.

Then-Vice President Dick Cheney was also apparently involved, while “then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell were largely left out of the decision-making process” according to a report from Washington by the McClatchy newspaper group that looked into a “narrative” to explain its memos (dated 2002-2005) to the CIA authorizing such techniques, and posted Wednesday on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Web site.

The McClatchy report stated that “Cheney couldn’t be reached for comment. Rice, through an aide, declined to comment”. The report can be reached in full here.

According to a report from the AP late on Saturday, “After Rice provided the critical authorization, formal legal approval for Zubayda’s waterboarding came a few days later in an Aug. 1, 2002, Justice Department memo … Days after that, the waterboarding of Abu Zubayda began. He would undergo the technique, now deemed torture by Attorney General Eric Holder, 83 times that month“.

The Pentagon has photos of the interrogation sessions in which tactics that appear to be torture were used. The Washington Post reported that some of the photos will apparently be released by the end of May (see below for more).

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Roxana Saberi: "She was always busy reading and doing her research"

The fiancé of imprisoned Iranian-American freelance journalist Roxana Saberi — who was convicted of espionage after a one-day trial and sentenced to years in jail — has written an open letter calling for her release. The fiancé, a prominent Iranian Kurdish filmmaker, Bahman Ghobadi, wrote, among other things, that “She was always busy reading and doing her research. Nothing else. During all these years I’ve known her, she wouldn’t go anywhere without letting me know, nor would do anything without asking my advice. To her friends, her family, everyone that surrounded her, she had given no signs of unreasonable behavior. How come someone who would spend days without going out of her apartment, except to see me; someone who, like a Japanese lady, would carefully spend her money, and had sometimes trouble making a living; someone who was looking for a sponsor to get in contact with a local publisher so her book would be printed here (in Iran); could now be charged with a spying accusation?!” The open letter was published on the New York Times blog here.

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has expressed deep disappointment at Saberi’s conviction and sentencing. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for a speedy reviewl of the conviction in which Saberi will be able to mount a full defense.

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One child pirate sobs in New York court – other pirate suspects appear in Kenya court without proper clothing

ABC news reported a couple of days ago that “The surviving Somali pirate suspect from the attack on the U.S. flagged merchant ship Maersk Alabama sobbed in a Manhattan courtroom today where a judge determined that he will be tried as an adult. There is still some confusion over the actual age of Abdulwali Muse, whose mother claims he is 16 years old, but whom the government believes to be older”.

Yes, he might be 17.

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IDF says it investigated thoroughly and found its soldiers operated according to international law in Gaza — with a few intelligence or operational errors

On 22 April, the IDF released a report on “the conclusions of five investigative teams assigned to investigate events relating to the conduct of IDF soldiers during Operation Cast Lead”.

Unsurprisingly, after a thorough investigation of “a number of issues which were brought to general attention (by, amongst others, international organizations and the international and Israeli media) — [n.b., the international media was barred from Gaza almost every day from early November 2008 until 23 January 2009, and the Israeli media has been banned since Israel’s 2005 “disengagement”], the IDF found that “throughout the fighting in Gaza, the IDF operated in accordance with international law” …

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