Is Hamas accusing British journalist detained in Gaza of looking for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit?

Freelance British Journalist Paul Martin — apparently a documentary filmmaker — was detained yesterday at a courthouse in Gaza City by Hamas authorities on “suspicion of breaking local/’Palestinian’ laws”, and Gaza’s Attorney General has now ordered him held for 15 days.  Martin is reportedly now in Gaza City’s central prison.  As the AP reports, this is “an unprecedented step against a foreign reporter since the Islamic militants seized control of Gaza in 2007”.

The AP report noted that “Hamas has prided itself in ending the lawlessness of vigilante gunmen, and has largely stayed clear of foreign journalists since seizing the territory in 2007. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Mr. Martin’s arrest signaled a change in policy. The Interior Ministry statement said foreigners are welcome in Gaza, but that ‘anyone who tries to violate the security of Gaza will be held accountable’.”

Ma’an News Agency reported this morning that the spokesman of what they editorially refer to as the “de facto Ministry of Interior” in Gaza, Ihab Al-Ghussein, “told Ma’an that an arrest warrant for Martin was issued following the confession of a defendant charged with collaborating with Israel. The defendant ‘has confessed against the British journalist and said he [Martin] violated Palestinian law and the security in Gaza’, Al-Ghussein said”.

However, as Ma’an noted, Martin was detained as he arrived to testify at the trial of the man whose accusations were then used as the basis for Martin’s arrest. Ma’an described the man as “a Palestinian fighter accused of collaborating with Israel, a journalist present at the courthouse in Gaza City told Ma’an”.

Ma’an reported that ” ‘This person [the Palestinian] was accused by the government of being a collaborator with the Israeli side. Our colleague [Martin] came as a witness to testify in favor of this guy’, the journalist said. Martin arrived in Gaza with evidence proving the accused man had fought against the Israeli military, the journalist added. ‘Suddenly, the court announced that the reporter said something that is against the law, and it jailed him for 15 days for investigation’, according to the journalist, who said Martin had interviewed the accused man during Israel’s assault on Gaza [n.b. – the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead], which began in late December 2008″.

Ma’an reported additionally that “Palestinian security sources told the German news agency DPA that Martin was accused of giving information to ‘hostile parties’. The British national was being held in Gaza’s central prison, although it was not clear if he had yet been charged with any crime, DPA reported”. This Ma’an report can be read in full here.

Then, there was a brief report from a Palestinian media source this morning saying that Martin has been accused of trying to locate IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit who has been held somewhere in Gaza since his capture in a cross-border raid in late June 2006, for which Israel has made numerous retailatory attacks, including destruction of the Gaza Power Plant a few days after Shalit’s capture. After Israel’s unprecedented three-week military operation against Gaza from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, which was ended by two unilateral cease-fires (Israel’s and Hamas’), the Israeli Government has declared on several occasions that it will not lift the controlled closure of all border crossings into the Gaza Strip until Shalit is safely returned home.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has not been allowed to visit Shalit during his almost four-year captivity so far, but there were a one or two letters transferred in recent years between Shalit and his parents, and a more recent videotape showing Shalit alive and relatively at ease with his captors, exchanged through intermediaries who include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

It was noted in a comment on Facebook last night that Martin has, in the past, reported for the BBC and for The Times of London [see these two reports dated November 2007 here and here].  The BBC has just reported that Martin has written for the two British news organizations.  Additional news reports indicate that Martin also contributed to the Daily Mail.

A representative of the British Consulate has visited Martin in jail, and the British Consulate in Jerusalem has expressed concern about the situation.

The Foreign Press Association in Israel has just released a statement calling for Martin’s release: “The Foreign Press Association is deeply concerned with the arrest of British filmmaker and journalist Paul Martin, in Gaza by Hamas authorities. We expect the Hamas as we do all parties, to respect the rights of every journalist on assignment to work without fear of being arrested. The Foreign Press Association hereby requests the Palestinian Authorities in Gaza to immediately release Paul Martin”.


[An illustrative story: when I arrived in Gaza in mid-June 2007, as soon as the Israeli military authorities re-opened the Erez terminal used for human crossing in and out of Gaza, just after the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Authority Preventive Security forces in the Gaza Strip, I walked with my colleagues through the battered concrete corridors in the no-man’s land between Erez and the point where Israelis allow Gazans to approach Erez, which were still filled with miserable Palestinians desperate to get out, together with those who had just missed appointments for vital cancer treatment in Israeli medical institutions.  There was a stench of urine, people appeared desperate, and some more energetic and enterprising young men were tearing apart the physical infrastructure of the canopy and the adjacent toilets and other rooms, piece by piece and pipe by pipe.  When we finally got through that area of hell-on-earth, we arrived at an area where a few Gazan taxis were waiting.  The parking area was more empty than normal.  Suddenly, a white vehicle bristling with young men carreened into the parking area and approached us.  Some of the men in the car were wearing all-black chinos.  Others looked like Afghans or Pakistanis, with multiple layers of vests over long shirts over robes.  The driver, all in crisp black, recognized us as journalists and offered to show us fighters shooting off a rocket or two.  We politely declined.  Then the driver asked if we wanted to speak to Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent who was by that time already in captivity by some groups not entirely controlled by Hamas.  The driver took out his mobile phone and thrust it in our direction:  “I just spoke to him half an hour ago”, he said.  We thanked him, but declined again.  There was a moment of tension.  Then, I asked where they got the nice white vehicle.  The driver and some of the passengers laughed.  “From Abu Mazen!” (Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the driver shouted in glee.  Then they all drove off and left us safely alone to proceed with our Palestinian “fixers”, who had arrived by that time, to take us into downtown Gaza City…]


The Israel Project, an organization based in Washington and Jerusalem which works to influence media coverage of this region, has helpfully put together a little press release of journalists kidnapped in the Gaza Strip.  Paul Martin, of course, has not been kidnapped, but rather arrested — and by Hamas.  The list compiled by The Israeli Project all dates from the period before Hamas was in charge in the Gaza Strip.  Still, it’s interesting, and here it is:

Journalists Kidnapped by Palestinian Militants in Gaza since Sept. 2004:

* March 12, 2007 – BBC correspondent Alan Johnston is kidnapped by a Gaza-based clan calling itself the Army of Islam. This group is thought to have ties to al-Qaeda. Johnston’s captors released a video on the Internet demanding that Britain release several Muslim prisoners including Islamist al-Qaeda cleric Abu Qatada.

* Jan. 7, 2007 – Jaime Razuri from Agence France-Presse is kidnapped and released almost a week later. The kidnappers were not identified.

* Oct. 23, 2006 – Emilio Morenatti, an Associated Press photographer, is kidnapped by unidentified Palestinian gunmen and released on the same day.

* Aug. 27, 2006 – Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni and New Zealand-born cameraman Olaf Wiig are held for two weeks by a previously unknown group identified as the Holy Jihad Brigades. They were released unharmed after being forced to convert to Islam.

* March 15, 2006 – Caroline Laurent, reporter for the French-language weekly ELLE; Alfred Yaghobzadeh, photographer for France’s Sipa Press; and Yong Tae-Young, a correspondent for South Korea’s KBS are kidnapped from the Al-Dira Hotel in Gaza. Palestinian Security Services claim the kidnappers are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The journalists were released within 22 hours.

* Oct. 12, 2005 – Dion Nissenbaum and Adam Pletts of Knight Ridder News Service (now McClatchy Newspapers) are abducted by renegade members of the Fatah party. The journalists were freed later that day.

* Sept. 10, 2005 – Journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi of Corriere della Serra ( Italy ) is abducted in the town of Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip. He was released the same day.

* Aug.15, 2005 – Journalist Mohammad Ouathi, a French citizen of Algerian origin is kidnapped and released a week later. No group claimed responsibility.

* Jan. 8, 2005 – Ramon Lobo and Carmen Secanella, reporters for Spain’s El Pais, are kidnapped briefly by Palestinian militants in Gaza’s Khan Younes refugee camp.

* Sept. 27, 2004 – Riad Ali, producer for CNN is abducted at gunpoint and released the following day. Ali claims that the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades was behind his kidnapping but the militia has denied the allegations.

The above list, of journalists kidnapped in Gaza from September 2004 until March 2007, was prepared by The Israel Project.

DEPORTATION is a violation of the Road Map

Deportation — which Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are still trying to make a condition for the release of certain Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel, in exchange for IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Palestinians since the end of June 2006 — is a violation of the Road Map.

The Road Map was written — and endorsed by the UN Security Council — in 2003, after deportation was devised as the solution to the exit of Palestinian gunmen and other Palestinians who had sought refuge in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem during an Israeli raid which became an extended seige.

The deportation of those 29 or so Palestinian men was thought to be for a period of one year, but they are almost all still in exile seven years later, some in Gaza (they survived last winter’s IDF military onslaught), and others in Europe. Those Palestinian men were pressured or persuaded to accept the deportation agreement that had been negotiated — and thus, it became a “voluntary” deportation.

But, since the adoption of the Road Map, which both the Palestinians and the Israelis (despite the 14 reservations listed separately by Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) have accepted, deportation (voluntary or not) has become a violation of the terms of the Road Map — just as much as is the requirement to maintain a settlement freeze.

It’s right up there at the start of Phase I.

Under the heading “Security”, the Road Map says that: the “GOI [Government of Israel] takes no actions undermining trust, including deportations, attacks on civilians; confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction; destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure; and other measures specified in the Tenet work plan”…

The Road Map, which can be read in a number of places including on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs here.

In case anyone has forgotten, the Road Map introduces itself as “a performance-based and goal-driven roadmap, with clear phases, timelines, target dates, and benchmarks aiming at progress through reciprocal steps by the two parties in the political, security, economic, humanitarian, and institution-building fields, under the auspices of the Quartet [the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia]. The destination is a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005 … A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty, and through Israel’s readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established, and a clear, unambiguous acceptance by both parties of the goal of a negotiated settlement as described below. The Quartet will assist and facilitate implementation of the plan, starting in Phase I, including direct discussions between the parties as required. The plan establishes a realistic timeline for implementation. However, as a performance-based plan, progress will require and depend upon the good faith efforts of the parties, and their compliance with each of the obligations outlined below”.

Leonard Cohen in Ramallah?

Leonard Cohen might not be Michael Jackson, but he has a devoted, even passionate, following in various parts of the world.   Israel is one of those places.

The occupied Palestinian territory is not.

Yet, an announcement has been made that Leonard Cohen will perform in Ramallah in late September — a day after he performs on 24 September in Israel’s Ramat Gan stadium near Tel Aviv, with a seating capacity of 50,000.

Leonard Cohen’s appearance in Ramallah was, in fact, added as an afterthought, in response to the boycott calls for him to avoid performing in Israel.

Instead of cancelling the Israeli show, it was apparently thought that adding a Palestinian one might add some “balance”. But, it might be too late for that.  The situation is too polarized.

Now, both performances — part of Leonard Cohen’s multi-city and nearly year-long World Tour 09, with more mileage and events than Michael Jackson’s 50-concert revival in London — are in question, due to a small but growing international campaign to boycott Israel.

For Palestinians, it would be better if Leonard Cohen didn’t perform in Israel at all, and would only come to Ramallah (or Gaza).  But that’s more on the level of political symbolism, because Leonard Cohen is not at all well known among Palestinians.

Consideration was given to hosting the Leonard Cohen Palestinian concert in the 9,000-seat Feisal Husseini football stadium (upgraded to international standards with EU funding) in ar-Ram, right next to a particularly in-your-face section of The Wall which runs right down the middle of what used to be the main street between Jerusalem and Ramallah.  But, it was apparently then decided that it would be better to have the concert in Ramallah’s Cultural Palace (built with Japanese funding), a smaller and enclosed venue, right next to the hilltop where Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish is buried (and where he gave his final performance on 1 July 2008).

After initial planning, a Palestinian opposition emerged, with objections to hosting Leonard Cohen in Ramallah (that is, if he still intends to perform in Israel).  Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza earlier this year has only intensified the moral outrage on the Palestinian side.

The search for a solution has been put in the hands of Qaddura Fares, one of a group identified as “Young” Fatah leaders, and head of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, “If there were peace”, there would be no problem, Fares indicated in an interview in his Ramallah office last week —  but, he said, “there is no atmosphere for peace” right now.

Qaddura Fares said that his suggestion was that Leonard Cohen should come if he would agree to sing for the release of Palestinian prisoners (there are over 11,000 of them, including several hundred children) — and for the release of the Israeli soldier who is believed to be still held captive somewhere in Gaza, Corporal Gilad Shalit.  “Yes, why not?”, Qaddura Fares said, and smiled.  “All of them are prisoners, and they have the right to be free”.

He indicated that Leonard Cohen’s agents/promoters have “accepted the idea”.  There is also a proposal, he said, that Amnesty International should somehow be involved. There are still a lot of problems, Qaddura Fares noted.  “A lot of intellectuals and artists have refused to come to Israel because of the boycott call.  And so, for the Boycott Forum, we would be making an obstacle for their progress if Leonard Cohen comes to Tel Aviv and Ramallah”.

He said that “if Leonard Cohen comes “just for summer, and for love, maybe it would be a mistake.  But, Israel has been dealing with out prisoners as if they were killers and terrorists, and if Leonard Cohen comes to sing for their release, then maybe it will recognize that they are freedom fighters.  Maybe if he comes for such a sensitive issue, it will be useful for Palestinians and for Israelis”.

Qaddura Fares noted that a group of Palestinian intellectuals asked to meet him to discuss the issue, and he agreed.  “They tried to convince me it’s a mistake to bring Leonard Cohen.  They promised they would bring famous singers who would visit only Palestine and not Israel”. Why hadn’t these Palestinian intellectuals brought these singers before?  Qaddura Fares replied that he had asked them the same question.  He recounted that he told them: “Every Monday I go to the Red Cross and sit with the mothers and wives of the prisoners — between 20 and 50 women come every week.  But never did I see these intellectuals there.  And, I said to them, “What’s the problem if we invite Leonard Cohen.  We can continue our discussion”.

But, Qaddoura Fares said, he would leave the decision up to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club — and that he wanted “a collective decision”, meaning near unanimity, or at least no opposition.  Then, he said, “I can organize Fatah and other groups to support the invitation”.

The decision is imminent, Qaddoura Fares said.

Continue reading Leonard Cohen in Ramallah?

Carter and Hamas discussed details of prisoner swap

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter discussed details of a prisoner-swap plan with Hamas leaders during a just-concluded visit to the region, according to the head of the Carter Center Office in Ramallah, Timothy Rothermel. 

There was apparently disagreement between Hamas and Carter on this  – and not only on Carter’s proposal for a 30-day unilateral Hamas ceasefire. 

Carter apparently put forth a new list of Palestinian detainees to be exchanged, according to Rothermel, for IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, who has been detained somewhere in Gaza since June 2006. 

Carter’s list, which Rothermel said Carter drew up himself, included members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and of the former National Unity Government who are in prison, as well as women and children. 

But, Rothermel said, Hamas leaders did not agree on Carter’s list, “because they had been working with their own list for quite some time”.   According to Rothermel, Carter “said he could try to understand it, as there had already been commitments to other people and families”. 

Israel’s Channel 10 Television News broadcast an interview with Carter on Monday in which Carter said that a letter from Shalit will soon be transferred to Shalit’s parents in Israel — through the Carter Center Office in Ramallah. 

Carter also asserted, in his comments to Channel 10 television,  that Shalit is well, and that there are plans to transfer Shalit to Egypt, “where he’ll certainly be safe and maybe visited by his parents”, Carter said, as soon as “the first phase of the prisoner exchange is fulfilled”. 

Negotiations over Shalit’s release have been prolonged, and complicated. 

Israel’s Debkafile wrote Monday that the only achievement of Carter’s mission was Hamas’ agreement to let Shalit write a letter to his parents.  Debkafile added that “As for the US politician’s effort to obtain the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier held incommunicado by Hamas for nearly two years, he reported that Egyptian officials said Israel had agreed to release 1,000 Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails, but only accepted 71 on the list submitted by Hamas”.

Shalit was seized near the Kerem Shalom crossing where the south-eastern corner of Gaza intersects with both Israel and Egypt.  In retaliation, the IDF blew up Gaza’s only power plant – saying rather incongruously that the lack of electricity would make it harder for Shalit’s captors to move him around undetected.  Shalit’s capture was followed by a Hizballah attack on IDF soldiers near the Shebaa Farms area where Israel’s border intersects with Lebanon and Syria.  Two Israeli soldiers seized then by Hizballah are still missing.   In response to that attack, Israel launched what it has come to call the Second Lebanon War.  Recent unconfirmed reports have suggested these two Israeli soldiers may in fact now be dead.  

Gershon Baskin, Co-CEO [with Palestinian editor Hanna Siniora] of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), wrote about the negotiations with Hamas in the Jerusalem Post on Monday that “There is a package deal on the table. In the first stage Israel will have to release some 450 Palestinians from Israeli prison”. 

Baskin gave some details – including of his own involvement in the negotiations:  Although kidnapped by what are apparently three separate groups, Hamas has been charged with the negotiations, pretty much since the beginning of the negotiating process. Hamas issued its demands very soon after the abduction of Schalit. The only compromise that Hamas has shown since that time concerns the release of information on his welfare and actual proof that Gilad is alive and well. Initially Hamas demanded the release of all Palestinian women and minors in Israeli prisons, numbering some 450, in exchange for information … On September 9, 2006, 75 days after his abduction, a hand-written letter from Gilad finally reached the hands of the Egyptian mediators who at that time were still based in Gaza.   Hamas was led to understand that there would be some kind of confidence-building measure undertaken by Israel following the release of that letter. On September 12, 2006 it was announced that an Israeli military court had ordered the release of 16 Hamas politicians being held since the kidnapping … At the end of the day, the court order was reversed and none of the Hamas politicians were released at that time. The captors of Schalit immediately passed on a message (to me) that Israel was not taking the situation seriously and was in fact endangering the life of Schalit.   The very first messages that I was requested to deliver to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert concerning Schalit included Hamas demands for a package deal that would include a full bilateral cease-fire and the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons. To the best of my knowledge, those demands have not changed in the past 667 days and to the best of my assessment they will not change. It took quite some time, but Hamas did also eventually release a list of names of Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. Recently I did receive some indication that Hamas might be willing to lessen the number (not significantly) but not what they call the “quality” of the prisoners, if the package deal is completed. Now, the package that they are talking about includes not only a full bilateral cease-fire for Gaza and the West Bank but also the opening of the Rafah border with Egypt and at least one of the crossings between Gaza and Israel (most likely Karni) and the prisoner exchange”…

Baskin added: “In my assessment, Hamas will not release Schalit without a cease-fire agreement. They perceive Schalit to be the life insurance policy that they are holding for the Hamas leaders in Gaza. They will not give up that policy without having a cease-fire in place. They demand a cease-fire in the West Bank as well because they assess that if there are Hamas and other leaders killed in the West Bank the cease-fire in Gaza will immediately breakdown as well. They are demanding a policy of economic revival because with the continuation of the economic siege on Gaza a cease-fire won’t hold as well”.  

Carter’s trip was put together rather quickly, Rothermel suggested.  It had originally been planned that Carter would travel with two other members of “The Elders”, a group formed by South Africa’s Nelson Mandela on his 80th birthday in 2007, including former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson (herself a former President of Ireland).  However, apparently because Israel was not happy, The Elders announced on 8 April that this trip would be “postponed”.   At that point, former President Carter decided to come on his own, as head of the Carter Center, Rothermel said.

Rothermel worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for 25 years, before retiring from a post in Jerusalem at the end of 2005.  Before joining the UN, Rothermel worked on the staff of former U.S. Congressman Bradford Morse, who in 1979 shepherded the first U.S. agreement to funnel aid for projects in the occupied Palestinian territory, with P.L.O. input and suggestions, and with Israeli concurrence, despite the ban at the time on doing business with the P.L.O. – but only on condition that the money would go only through the UNDP, and not the P.L.O. 

Rothermel returned in March on behalf of the Carter Center for a two-month trial period in Ramallah, and said he may come back again after he returns to the States in May, if the Carter Center decides that it would be useful. 

Asked if Carter had met Fatah leaders while in the region, Rothermel said he had met a number of personalities while in Ramallah, including some affiliated with Fatah, some with Hamas, and some independent. 

“He would have had extensive consultations with President Abbas, but Abbas was not here”, Rothermel said.  “My guess is that there will be some contact when Abbas is in Washington, he added. 

In the meanwhile, Rothermel said, Carter met on April 15 with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and had a “debriefing” with Fayyad again on Monday morning.

They discussed the formation of a government of National Conciliation which would contain only persons acceptable to both Fatah and Hamas, and which would have a unified security service. 

Rothermel noted that when he was with UNDP, Fayyad was at the International Monetary Fund, and “we were friends.  I respect him”, Rothermel said – though he declined to give any evaluation of Fayyad’s government.

Although Carter was denied Israeli permission to go to Gaza during this trip, Rothermel said that he was able to go in about two weeks ago. 

Rothermel said he had to walk in through the Erez crossing, which he said did not bother him as much as what he saw in Gaza.  The electricity was available even in his hotel only for a few hours a day.  Hotels, international organizations, and wealthy people in Gaza have stand-by generators, Rothermel said, but there is no diesel fuel available on the market to make the generators work.  “I was told that there are no more operations in the Gaza hospitals”, Rothermel said, “and food supplies are running low”.   He said he was able to get some transportation in Gaza due to support from his former colleagues at UNDP. 

Apparently because of his position that Hamas should be included in the present post-Annapolis peace negotiations, and his intention to meet Hamas leaders, Carter was boycotted by most members of the Israeli government during this trip.  Rothermel said that Carter commented, “It’s the first time in 30 years that none of my security has been provided by the Israeli government”.   (Rothermel did say that he noticed Israeli police cars accompanied Carter on some of his movements in Israel on his return Sunday night and in his appointments around Jerusalem on Monday).

But, Rothermel said, Carter was very warmly welcomed by the president of the Israeli Council on Foreign Affairs, David Kincaid, at a meeting on Monday.  Introducing Carter, Kincaid said that “What President Carter brokered in Camp David had the single most important impact on the life of Israel”.  Kincaid also said that some Israelis may object to the title of Carter’s most recent book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid”, but that no Israelis objected to what Carter wrote in the book’s dedication: “To our first grandchild, with hopes that he will see peace and justice in the Holy Land”.