"Allah Yerhamu" – the link between Rachel Corrie's death and the Kufr Qassim massacre

Allah Yerhamu – May God have mercy on him.

Thia is an Arabic phrase spoken after the news of someone’s death.

A communication over military radio between D-9 bulldozers operating in Gaza when American activist Rachel Corrie was trying to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian home in the spring of 2003. Corrie had just been crushed to death.

Rachel Corrie was, of course, female, a point the good doctor makes below in discussing a significant part of the military radio communications which were somehow missing from the transcript, and which only emerged when the audio was recently played in court. Rachel, an American student, was 23 years old on the day she was killed.

A trial in Haifa district court last week heard testimony from the D-9 bulldozer driver and his military commanders this week about what happened from their point of view.

Several fascinating and bitterly witty blog posts have been written about the trial, which opened last March in Haifa, by Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh, a retired physician from Arrabeh village in the Galilee, who has been attending the trial as a public witness. Dr. Kanaaneh wrote his report of the long-awaited Israeli military testimony in the court in Haifa last week, and posted on his own blog on Monday 18 October, here and then picked up on the Mondoweiss blog.

Rachel Corrie’s parents and her sister have been attending every session of the trial — as, apparently, have U.S. Consulate officials.

In his post, Dr. Kanaaneh makes a chilling link between Rachel Corrie’s death in Gaza seven years ago, and the Kufr Qassim massacre 54 years ago — and explains that the expression “Allah Yerhamu” is the connection:

Hussain Abu-Hussain, the Corries’ lawyer … spent the whole day trying in vain to trick witnesses of the murder of the late ISM volunteer into telling the truth. But the relevant portions of those witnesses’ memory were hermetically sealed behind an impermeable wall of forgetfulness. Limited in my scope of knowledge and understanding to the field of medicine, I am intrigued by the mystery of what effective mind-altering drugs the Israeli Defense Forces have at their disposal to wipe out selective segments of their soldiers’ recall and to effect such precise lacuna of brain damage. Hussain and his fellow international human rights legal expert, Jamil Dakwar, spent the morning interrogating the young and aggressive head of the Military Police unit that had investigated and dismissed as incidental and irrelevant the fact of Rachel’s death in close proximity to two IDF D-9R Caterpillars operating in the Gaza Strep. Despite his striking alertness and wide-eyed combative demeanor on the witness stand, he still lapsed into a state of amnesia when a question crept to within touching distance of the prohibited black hole of truth. On more than one occasion he would throw up his hands in a dismissive private gesture of exasperation to the judge as if in intimate private conversation with him. He seemed to do that every time he felt that he had succeeded in debunking a clever ploy by Abu-Hussain or in adequately deflecting another of the latter’s attempts at reminding him of details he had consciously forgotten. He confirmed, albeit indirectly, the statement previously made in court by one of his colleagues to the effect that “in war there are no civilians.” But he did so in such a circumspect and disconnected manner that the judge seemed to miss the point, for He (and the capital here is intentional, for that is how He seems to consider His position in the domain of His court of judgment) did not display any sign of distress or aggravation in line with what I have come to expect neurologically. Abu-Hussain grilled this witness on the specific point of what rules and regulations there existed on the subject of operating a D-9 in the presence of civilians in the area. The witness, whose name, Shalom, said it all, wavered between the written prohibition of operating the Caterpillar as a battle implement in close vicinity of civilians and the definition of what constituted a war arena and who were civilians and who were not and under what circumstances, etc. etc. ad infinitum. All that Abu-Hussain could prove was that it is very difficult to trick a man who is intent on forgetting to remember.

Continue reading "Allah Yerhamu" – the link between Rachel Corrie's death and the Kufr Qassim massacre

The Joan of Arc of the Knesset

It was a strikingly ugly act, an act of  public bullying, that made the soul cringe.

It was excruciating to watch.

This is incendiary and divisive stuff, in a country that has trouble managing minority-majority relations.

Even writing about this group ganging-up against one individual human being causes revulsion.

Haneen Zoabi, elected member of the Israeli Knesset for the Arab/Palestinian National Democratic Assembly [a/k/a the Balad Party and as Tajamua] , stood in the Knesset  last week to face her public punishment  for having participated in the Freedom Flotilla sailing towards Gaza that was stopped by an Israeli naval assault on 31 May in which 8 Turkish men and one American-born high-school student were shot and killed.

Fewer than half of the 120-member Knesset plenary participated in the 34 to 16 vote (total vote = 50, out of 120) to withdraw several parliamentary privileges, including Zoabi’s diplomatic passport, her right to leave the country, and her right to reimbursement for any legal defense. Not even all the 65 Knesset members who are counted as “far-right” participated in this vote.

But very few did anything to try to stop the continuing verbal assault, and public humiliation: though Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin did express his personal regret, he abstained in the vote (as Haaretz noted in an editorial. And mondoweiss blog now mentions that Uri Avnery reported noticing some “half-hearted protest” made by Haim Oron of Meretz).

Zoabi was told she had caused shame and disgrace to her family and to the Knesset.   In earlier raucus Knesset hearings, the 41-year-old politician from Nazareth (apparently, her Muslim parents sent her to a Catholic school) was called a traitor, and in the next breath was blamed for not being married.  One other female Knesset member (Anastasia Michaeli, born in Russia) had to be physically prevented from attacking her on 2 June, and harassed Zoabi by holding up an oversize replica of an Iranian passport with Zoabi’s photo and name on it.  Death threats have been made.

It is impossible to imagine that the scenario would have been the same if Zoabi had been a man, or if she had been Jewish.

Continue reading The Joan of Arc of the Knesset

Violence was used on all the Flotilla ships + afterwards too

In the aftermath of the Israeli raid on Freedom Flotilla that began before dawn on Monday, we were informed that the only one of the six ships on which there had been violence was the large Turkish-owned passenger ship Mavi Marmara (carrying at least 600 persons, including one baby, and almost the entire accompanying press corps).

The Israeli military apparatus controlled the whole process from the moment of the raid at sea until Tuesday afternoon, when the first small group of released Flotilla participants arrived home and began talking. More were released on Wednesday.

Once the Israeli government mobilized and ordered all detainees returned, it became clear how fast the country can move, when they really want to — in fact, they can turn on a dime.

By this morning, almost all of the 700 or so detainees have left Israel.

Until then, we were told there was violence on only one ship, the Mavi Marmara. “The remaining five ships docked at Ashdod as requested and have followed IDF instructions”, the Jerusalem Post reported late on Monday, here.

Now, from reports trickling out, we know that there was violence on all the ships, and during the entire processing process afterwards. Passengers (some, often targetted randomly) were beaten indiscriminately. What were initially called “electric prods”, now being referred to as “tasers”, were used abundantly — even on journalists trying to finish up their last reports on board the Mavi Marmara.

The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia — whose photographer, Kate Geraghty, was “tasered” when Israeli commandos boarded the Challenger on Monday morning — has done a sidebar on the tasers, published today and entitled Victims get more than a stunning, in which the paper’s Health Editor writes: “TASER victims are incapacitated by pulses of electricity that trigger muscle spasms and such overwhelming pain they invariably fall over. And while the manufacturer, Taser International, portrays the gun-like devices as a gentler form of law enforcement – designed to block ”co-ordinated actions” while protecting vital organs – they have been associated with heart irregularities, miscarriage and eye damage.   Taser’s barbed electrodes, which shoot from the device at 55 metres per second and deliver up to 50,000 volts of electricity, have penetrated people’s brains, lungs and throats, and have been associated with sudden deaths. They do not have to make contact with the skin as the electrical jolt can penetrate thick clothing…

Continue reading Violence was used on all the Flotilla ships + afterwards too

Shock sets in

Shock is setting in, a day after the Israeli interception of the Freedom Flotilla at sea in the eastern Mediterranean on Monday morning.

The IDF still has not released names or numbers of those who were killed, injured, or detained yesterday.

Israeli reports now say that the IDF has confirmed that there were “more than” ten deaths on board the ships — but the actual number has not yet been made public.

Overnight, all police in the country have been called up, and all leaves cancelled, for deployment today, as the High Follow-Up Committee of Arab Citizens in Israel have declared a general strike.

There are unconfirmed reports that at least 5 Arab citizens of Israel are among the dead. The influential and respected (by his peers, though feared and detested by others in Israeli officialdom) Sheikh Raed Salah was on board the Freedom Flotilla, and was wounded in the Israeli naval assault, and hospitalized. He has not been seen or heard of since, and the true extent of his injuries is unknown at the time of this writing. Haaretz is reporting this morning that Sheikh Salah was “interrogated” by Israeli police in Ashdod yesterday. Israeli Arab MK Haneen Zoabi was also on board the Mavi Marmara, and she has not been seen or heard of since yesterday morning’s operation). At least one right-wing MK (by definition, this indicates not Arab) has called Zoabi treasonous for her statements, and called for her arrest when she returned to land.

The IDF has just announced that that the “humanitarian aid” (what the IDF includes in that is yet not clear) that was found on board the six ships intercepted at sea yesterday will be transferred to Gaza this morning via Kerem Shalom — this has never happened faster. In fact, this is lightning speed, indicating the pressure that Israeli officials feel themselves under as a result of their extra-territorial military operation against the Freedom Flotilla just over 24 hours ago.

Last night, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent around a legal backgrounder (see our previous post here) arguing that the Israeli naval operation was ordered enforce the government’s (or, the military’s) declared (but apparently specially-expanded-for-the-occasion) naval blockade of Gaza.

Why? Because Hamas is in charge in Gaza.

The Israeli representative at the UN during an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council called at Turkey’s request to deal with the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla, Daniel Carmon, said in the Council session: “What kind of humanitarian activists demand to bypass the United Nations, the Red Cross and other internationally recognized agencies? …What kind of peace activists use knives, clubs and other weapons to attack soldiers who board a ship in accordance with international law?” A UN summary of the meeting reported that Carmon “asked what kind of activists embraced Hamas and terrorist organizations that openly shunned a two-State solution and called for Israel’s destruction. ‘The answer is clear. They are not peace activists; they are not messengers of goodwill. They cynically use the guise of humanitarian aid to send a message of hate and to implement violence … “Let me be very clear, this was not a peaceful protest. The Insani Yardim Vakfi [IHH] people on-board one of the ships were not humanitarian activists’.”

So, there it is, the justification for the Israeli military assault yesterday on the Freedom Flotilla.

Earlier, the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (who had rushed to New York to present his country’s complaint to the Security Council, said in the meeting: “Today, we observed, through live coverage, an act of barbarism, where provision of humanitarian aid has been punished through aggression on the high seas … Today, many humanitarian aid workers went back in body bags …Israel has blood on its hands”.

According to a UN summary of the meeting, Davotoglu said that “International law dictated that, even in wartime, civilians were not to be attacked or harmed. The doctrine of self-defence did not in any way justify the actions taken by the Israeli forces. High-seas freedom was one of the most basic rights under international maritime law, including international customary law. No vessel could be stopped or boarded without the consent of the captain or the flag State. The law permitting such action in exceptional cases was clearly stated. Any suspected violation of the law on the part of the vessel and its crew did not absolve the intervening State of its duties and responsibilities under applicable international law. ‘To treat humanitarian aid delivery as a hostile act and to treat aid workers as combatants is a reflection of a dangerous state of mind, with detrimental effects to regional and global peace’, he said … He pointed to official statements made claiming that the civilians on the ships were members of a radical Islamist group, saying he was saddened to see a State stoop so low as to lie and struggle to create pretexts that would legitimize their illegal actions. The flotilla was made up of civilians of many faiths and countries, representing the conscience of the international community. ‘We must be able to show that use of force is not an option, unless clearly stated in law’, he said, adding that Israel must be prepared to face the consequences and be held accountable for its crimes. He called on the Israelis to express their dismay over this wrongdoing, and take steps to reinstate their status as a credible partner and responsible member of the international community … ‘This is a black day in the history of humanity’.”

[Remember what Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said to Israeli State President Shimon Peres on stage at the Davos World Economic Forum on 29 January 2009, right after the IDF’s Operatri0n Cast Lead in Gaza? “You are killing people”…  Still, not as bad as returning the Israeli  phrase used when refusing to release Palestinian “terrorists” who are said to have “blood on their hands”… Tuesday, Erdogan himself addressed the Turkish Parliament, and reportedly also said today what his Foreign Minister said at the UNSC meeting in NY on Monday, that what happened during the naval raid was a “massacre”, and that Israel has “blood on its hands”… UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post later reported that Erdogan said to Parliament that “Turkey’s hostility is as strong as its friendship is valuable,” he said. “Israel in no way can legitimize this murder, it cannot wash its hand of this blood”.]

The big mover in the expanded coalition of organizations that made up the Freedom Flotilla was IHH, a Turkish humanitarian relief organization with distinctly Islamist tendencies.

One Israeli think tank has been sending out analysis since early April strongly implying (when it didn’t state it explicitly) that this Freedom Flotilla expedition to Gaza was being led by a bunch of “terrorists”, in particular IHH.

The unfortunate truth is that for many Israeli officials — and, as a result, for much of the Israeli media and the public which follows its line — Islamist almost necessarily equals “terrorist”.

As we reported here several weeks ago, Israel arrested (at the main Bethlehem checkpoint) and eventually deported back to Turkey the IHH organizer in the West Bank, Izzet Shahin, who may have registered as a student of Hebrew at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in part to facilitate his entry and stay in Israel.

The IHH leadership claimed to have the support of the Turkish government (which occasionally made statements that seemed to confirm this), but in the end, the Turkish government was shocked, shocked, at what happened yesterday — and may or may not have said (the reports are not very well sourced), in the heat of the moment yesterday, that the next Flotilla will be escorted by Turkish warships.

IHH maintained an entertaining and useful live + streaming website of events on board the Mavi Marmara, a passenger ship which was also the largest boat in the Freedom Flotilla, carrying an assortment of TV journalists and crews working in several languages, and not fewer than 600 passengers — including a year-old-baby.

During this live streaming, there were occasional bursts of enthusiasm from various Islamist members of the expedition, including a group from Jordan, and from other Muslim countries.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon — who is scheduled to hold yet another press in about an hour-and-a-half in Jerusalem (maybe this time to answer questions from international journalists, as yesterday he would only entertain those from Israeli journalists) — cited, two days ago, some of the chanting from these Islamist expedition members as proof of the absolute evil of the Freedom Flotilla’s intentions.


Oh, and by the way, UNSG BAN Ki-Moon yesterday said: “I condemn this violence … It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place … I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation.”

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Tarancosaid, at the Security Council meeting that “today’s bloodshed would have been avoided if repeated calls on Israel to end the counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza had been heeded … the blockade is unacceptable and counterproductive and must end.”

In Geneva,  UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that “nothing can justify the appalling outcome of this operation … I unequivocally condemn what appears to be disproportionate use of force, resulting in the killing and wounding of so many people attempting to bring much-needed aid to the people of Gaza, who have now been enduring a blockade for more than three years … [the] almost unanimous international view that [s that] the continued blockade of Gaza is both inhumane and illegal … [and it] lies at the heart of so many of the problems plaguing the Israel-Palestine situation, as does the impression that the Israeli Government treats international law with perpetual disdain.”

Princeton University Professor Emeritus Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, said that “Israel is guilty of shocking behavior by using deadly weapons against unarmed civilians on ships that were situated in the high seas where freedom of navigation exists, according to the law of the seas … [and it] essential that those Israelis responsible for this lawless and murderous behavior, including political leaders who issued the orders, be held criminally accountable for their wrongful acts”.

Falk added, according to the UN news release, that the blockade of Gaza is a “massive form of collective punishment … [and] Unless prompt and decisive action is taken to challenge the Israeli approach to Gaza all of us will be complicit in criminal policies that are challenging the survival of an entire beleaguered community”.   All this and more can be read here.

Overwhelmed with grief

Grief. Grief. Too much grief.

They didn’t think Israel would do it — they didn’t believe Israel would use overwhelming force against the Freedom Flotilla.

The Israeli Navy reportedly intercepted the Freedom Flotilla in international waters — it’s last reported position (at 04:30 GMT) before the IDF attack, was at Latitude:32.64113, Longitude:33.56727

Does it do any good to hold demonstrations now? These protests should have been going on for the past few days — demanding that the Flotilla ships get through to Gaza with their passengers cargo in safety.
AP says the largest number of deaths in the storming of the ships were Turkish (six killed). Five were Israeli citizens — Israeli Arab Palestinians, from Haifa, on board the Flotilla. Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern Islamic Front movement, a figure particularly loathed by the Israeli political echelons, is in very serious condition after being shot in the head. He underwent surgery at Tel Hashomer hospital. Later Israeli reports contradicted this news, and said Sheikh Salah received only minor injuries.

Israeli Arab communities will hold a general strike on Tuesday.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning.

Turkey called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council (Turkey is presently one of the non-permanent Council members), and for a meeting of NATO.

UPDATE: The Turkish Foreign Minister went to UNHQ/NY to present his country’s case at the UN Security Council meeting.

Turkey recalled its Ambassador from Israel, and Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan and Egypt were among the countries which summoned the Israeli Ambassadors in their capitals.

AP reported that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “It should be known that we are not going to remain silent in the face of this inhumane state terrorism”, and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Turkey was canceling three joint military drills and that a Turkish youth soccer team currently in Israel would be brought home.

According to another report by AP, “The White House said in a written statement that the United States ‘deeply regrets’ the loss of life and injuries sustained … and was ‘currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy’.”

Meanwhile, yet another AP story reported that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli naval commandos who raided a Gaza aid flotilla “were under attack and acting in self defense … Netanyahu says Israel wanted to check the cargo to ensure it contained no weapons. He says this was done successfully with five ships, but the sixth did not cooperate. He says hundreds of people on board that ship beat, clubbed and stabbed soldiers, and there was a report of gunfire”. This news report is posted here.

Netanyahu was due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday, but the meeting has been cancelled as Netanyahu, who was in Canada, is flying back to Israel to deal with the crisis that followed this Israeli attack.

He said before leaving that “we regret the loss of life”, and he wished a speedy recovery to those injured — including four Israeli soldiers, he said. He said, rather disingenuously, that Israel tries to bring in all kinds of humanitarian goods – “any kind of goods meant for peace” — to Gaza, while keeping out weapons that could be used against Israel.

The IDF later reported that seven of its soldiers were wounded.

Commentators have noted that the Freedom Flotilla — and the tragic denouement of its mission — have put the spotlight on Israel’s policy of restricted supplies to Gaza, and on Israel’s restrictions of movement into and out of the Gaza Strip.

Americans for Peace Now (APN) has joined its “sister organization”, the original Israeli Peace Now, in “expressing outrage at the way Israel’s government is dealing with people who challenge its policies”. The two organizations calleerd “for an end to the radicalization of the Israeli government’s language and policy.”

“It is becoming increasingly common for Israeli officials and pundits to refer to challenges to its policy as ‘terrorism’ – we hear terms like ‘economic terrorism’ used to describe a Palestinian Authority effort to boycott products made in Israeli settlements, ‘popular terror’ to describe non-violent protest, and ‘cultural terror’ to describe pressure on international artists to cancel appearances in Israel. This past week we heard terms like ‘violent propaganda’ to describe the Gaza flotilla, even before any clash when it acts in genuine self-defense. It also makes almost inevitable the kind of tragedy that is unfolding today”, said an APN statement issued Monday, which can read in full here.

There are very contradictory reports of how events happened this morning.

Flotilla participants said that shots were fired at the ship even before Israeli commandos rappelled down to the deck from hovering helicopters. But, when the commandos landed on the ship, they said they felt their lives were in danger — see the IDF Youtube video here — and then greater force was used. But, what did the IDF think would happen when those first commandos dropped from the sky?

All of the deaths reportedly were on on the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying at least 600 people.

Out of 80 people taken from the boats on shore at Israel’s Ashdod Port at last report, 16 were already transferred to Beersheva Prison for “non-cooperation”. UPDATE: Haaretz is reporting that at least 32 of the Flotilla participants have been jailed.

UPDATE: Israeli Arab MK Haneen Zoabi, of the Balad (country”) party, who was also on board the Mavi Marmara, has reportedly “been removed from her boat” and is unharmed. [Was she released?] Yesterday, right-wing Knesset members said Zoabi should be arrested and tried for treason…

Three Israeli human rights organizations — Adalah, Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel — have filed a habeas corpus petition with the Israeli Supreme Court concerning the Flotilla Participants who are being held either in tents at Ashdod Port pending deportation or at Beersheva prison, asking for the names of those who have been killed or injured, and the names and locations and status of those who are detained.

Another Israeli human rights organization, GISHA, said in a statement that it “expresses sorrow at reports that dozens of civilians have been killed or injured during the Israeli military’s interception of boats bound for the Gaza Strip, carrying humanitarian assistance and hundreds of foreign and Israeli activists, including elected representatives. This incident is proof that despite claims to the contrary, Israel never ‘disengaged’ from the Gaza Strip but rather continues to control its borders – land, air and sea. Gisha notes that Israel cannot maintain such control while at the same time renouncing responsibility for its effects on the 1.5 million human beings whose access to the outside world has been cut off nearly hermetically for the past three years. International law requires Israel to permit the kind of access necessary for Gaza residents to live normal, dignified lives. It would be better for all concerned – Israel, Palestinian residents of Gaza, and those seeking to visit Gaza – if Israel would allow the regular and free passage of people, raw materials for industry, building materials, and export goods in and out of Gaza, subject only to concrete, individual security checks”.