The Israel Lobby’s $50M Campaign Against The Iran Nuclear Deal

If the Iran deal passes, Israel loses. The Israel lobby is spending big on whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t happen.

By Richard Silverstein

WASHINGTON — The next 60 days offer a fateful window through which Congress will review the Iran nuclear deal announced last week to great fanfare by the P5+1 powers and their Iranian counterparts.

At the end of this period, both the House and Senate will vote on the agreement. Though the GOP has a majority in the latter body, it’s by no means a given that the vote will go against the deal. The Los Angeles Times reports there may be a few Republican senators who can be swayed if public opinion is running in favor.

To that end, the various groups within the Israel lobby have announced a massive PR campaign seeking to move both public opinion and the votes of individual senators against the deal.

Last week, The New York Times reported that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobby, has created a stand-alone group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, for this purpose. It plans to spend $20-40 million on the effort.

The group’s website doesn’t list staff and a board of directors. Instead it lists an “advisory board” consisting of the usual hawkish Democratic former senators, including Mark Begich, Joe Lieberman, Mary Landrieu, Evan Bayh, and former Rep. Shelley Berkley. Clearly, this isn’t an independent organization, but rather one established and controlled by AIPAC. Unlike some of groups below which are casting their nets wide, AIPAC seems to be targeting Democratic senators on the fence.

So far this year, according to U.S. Senate public records, AIPAC has spent nearly $2 million on direct lobbying, more than it’s ever spent in any previous six-month period since 1999. This is a further indication of the group’s dead-seriousness in pursuing the defeat of the Iran measure. (more…)

Richard Silverstein On Israel’s Gag Orders And ‘The Middle East’s Only Democracy’

Tikun Olam’s Richard Silverstein
The article was originally published at MintPressNews.com.
By Sean Nevins

WASHINGTON — Though it describes itself as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” the Israeli government and military regularly impose gag orders to stop domestic media from reporting on sensitive information, including the detention of Israeli citizens by Hamas in Gaza, meetings between the Israeli Defense Forces and al-Qaida fighters, and the arrest of Israeli whistleblowers.

“Israel calls itself a democracy, but it really isn’t,” Richard Silverstein, a Seattle-based journalist, told MintPress News.

In addition to being a frequent contributor to MintPress, Silverstein is also the author of Tikun Olam, a progressive Jewish blog that frequently breaks stories Israeli domestic media are prevented from covering due to gag orders.

And he isn’t the only one arguing that Israel, which controls the fate of 4.5 million Palestinians who cannot vote, isn’t a democracy: Last year, The Economist named Tunisia as the only democracy in the Middle East.

Silverstein says the Israeli government targets free speech and freedom of the press with censorship and gag orders, subverting the democratic drive.

Censorship is imposed by the military, which has a mandate to protect state security, Silverstein said, noting: “Security, as the government defines it, trumps everything.”

Censorship is likely to come into play when a journalist reports on sensitive topics — a new weapons technology like a drone, for example.

Gag orders are a broader form of censorship implemented in criminal and intelligence matters. For example, if a person is accused of rape, and the victim wants the story to be known, the lawyer representing the accused can go to a judge and argue that publication of the incident could harm his client. In this case, the judge might issue a gag order to stop any reporting on the case.

But gag orders are also used in intelligence matters, explained Silverstein, and anything that could cause political embarrassment or damage is broadly interpreted to be a threat to the government. (more…)

Human Rights Watch Report Highlights Stories of Palestinian Children Abused by Israeli Forces

As the United States government prepares to increase military aid to Israel by as much as fifty percent, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has put focus on Israeli security forces’ brutal treatment of Palestinian children.

The report includes six stories of questionable arrests and abuse six Palestinian children suffered in recent years. Neither of the children were older than 15 years-old when they were arrested.

According to HRW, there have been numerous reports by local human rights organizations and news media about arrests of Palestinian children. The frequent arrests pushed HRW to identify specific cases, interview abused children, and investigate the abuse, which had occurred.

A fourteen year-old girl, Malak Al-Khatib, was arrested on December 31, 2014, in a village in the West Bank. She was beaten by soldiers with “something like a baton,” according to her mother.

Khatib was kicked and a soldier stepped on her neck. She lost consciousness. She was put in a blindfod and endured further abuse as she was taken to a police station.

Her family had no idea she had been arrested. As Ali, her father, recalled, “She had a final exam that morning, in English, and we thought that as usual she had gone for a walk after an exam. Then the Beitin village council called to say she’d been arrested, but nobody knew where she’d been taken.”

Malak claimed the “interrogator yelled at her for two hours to confess, slammed his hand on the table, and threatened to bring in her mother and sister and arrest her father.” As is typical, if she wanted to return to her parents, she was forced to sign a “confession” that was in Hebrew, which the security forces know a vast majority of Palestinians cannot read.

Her lawyer reached a plea deal on January 14. She pled guilty to “throwing rocks at Road 60, a major road near Beitin used by Israeli settlers,” and received a two-month jail sentence and a three year suspended sentence. Her family paid a $1,560 fine.

HRW was unable to find evidence of stone throwing, and whether Malak did throw stones or not, Israeli authorities violated her rights when they refused to inform her parents she had been arrested or allow Malak to consult her parents or lawyer during her interrogation.

It also is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention to transfer Malak out of the West Bank to Israel. Although the Israeli Supreme Court has upheld this practice as lawful, it is only lawful under domestic law. It violates international standards, which Israel has adopted, and are supposed to supersede domestic law.

This abuse makes it possible for Israel to keep children from seeing their parents during their detention:

Malak’s parents, who have West Bank identification documents and are not permitted to enter Israel, were unable to see her in detention from December 31 until her release on February 12, except during five trial hearings at the Ofer military base and court complex, when they were not permitted to speak with her.

“At the hearings in Ofer, she would be brought in handcuffs. One time there was a boy with her in the dock, he was around 15 years old, also in [handcuffs]. We couldn’t call her on the phone while she was in prison,” her mother said.

(more…)

The Fire Next Time: On the Next Gaza War

Families walk through the heavily-bombed area of Shujaiya in eastern Gaza on July 27, 2014. (Photo: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam/flickr/cc)

Before Homes Are Even Rebuilt in the Ruins of the Gaza Strip, Another War Looms

By Max Blumenthal

“A fourth operation in the Gaza Strip is inevitable, just as a third Lebanon war is inevitable,” declared Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in February. His ominous comments came just days after an anti-tank missile fired by the Lebanon-based guerrilla group Hezbollah killed two soldiers in an Israeli army convoy. It, in turn, was a response to an Israeli air strike that resulted in the assassination of several high-ranking Hezbollah figures.

Lieberman offered his prediction only four months after his government concluded Operation Protective Edge, the third war between Israel and the armed factions of the Gaza Strip, which had managed to reduce about 20% of besieged Gaza to an apocalyptic moonscape. Even before the assault was launched, Gaza was a warehouse for surplus humanity — a 360-square-kilometer ghetto of Palestinian refugees expelled by and excluded from the self-proclaimed Jewish state. For this population, whose members are mostly under the age of 18, the violence has become a life ritual that repeats every year or two. As the first anniversary of Protective Edge passes, Lieberman’s unsettling prophecy appears increasingly likely to come true. Indeed, odds are that the months of relative “quiet” that followed his statement will prove nothing more than an interregnum between Israel’s ever more devastating military escalations.

Three years ago, the United Nations issued a report predicting that the Gaza Strip would be uninhabitable by 2020. Thanks to Israel’s recent attack, this warning appears to have arrived sooner than expected. Few of the 18,000 homes the Israeli military destroyed in Gaza have been rebuilt. Few of the more than 400 businesses and shops damaged or leveled during that war have been repaired. Thousands of government employees have not received a salary for more than a year and are working for free. Electricity remains desperately limited, sometimes to only four hours a day. The coastal enclave’s borders are consistently closed. Its population is trapped, traumatized, and descending ever deeper into despair, with suicide rates skyrocketing.

One of the few areas where Gaza’s youth can find structure is within the “Liberation Camps” established by Hamas, the Islamist political organization that controls Gaza. There, they undergo military training, ideological indoctrination, and are ultimately inducted into the Palestinian armed struggle. As I found while covering last summer’s war, there is no shortage of young orphans determined to take up arms after watching their parents and siblings be torn limb from limb by 2,000-pound Israeli fragmentation missiles, artillery shells, and other modes of destruction. Fifteen-year-old Waseem Shamaly, for instance, told me his life’s ambition was to join the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. He had just finished recounting through tears what it was like to watch a YouTube clip of his brother, Salem, being executed by an Israeli sniper while he searched for the rest of his family in the rubble of their neighborhood last July.

Anger with Hamas’s political wing for accepting a ceasefire agreement with Israel in late August 2014 that offered nothing but a return to the slow death of siege and imprisonment is now palpable among Gaza’s civilian population. This is particularly true in border areas devastated by the Israelis last summer. However, support for the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas that carries the banner of the Palestinian armed struggle, remains almost unanimous.

Palestinians in Gaza need only look 80 kilometers west to the gilded Bantustans of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to see what they would get if they agreed to disarm. After years of fruitless negotiations, Israel has rewarded Palestinians living under the rule of PA President Mahmoud Abbas with the record growth of Jewish settlements, major new land annexations, nightly house raids, and the constant humiliation and dangers of daily interactions with Israeli soldiers and fanatical Jewish settlers. Rather than resist the occupation, Abbas’s Western-trained security forces coordinate directly with the occupying Israeli army, assisting Israel in the arrest and even torture of fellow Palestinians, including the leadership of rival political factions.

As punishing as life in Gaza might be, the West Bank model does not offer a terribly attractive alternative. Yet this is exactly the kind of “solution” the Israeli government seeks to impose on Gaza. As former Interior Minister Yuval Steinitz declared last year, “We want more than a ceasefire, we want the demilitarization of Gaza… Gaza will be exactly like [the West Bank city of] Ramallah.”

Keeping Gaza in Ruins
(more…)

Obama Tries to End Israel’s Temper Tantrum Over Iran Deal By Offering Country More Weapons

Screen shot 2015-07-16 at 12.17.14 PM

President Barack Obama’s administration has offered to increase US military aid by nearly fifty percent in order to calm Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, who are livid as a result of the Iran nuclear deal.

“The fact that Netanyahu’s temper tantrum about the Iran deal could go towards an increase in aid is disturbing, especially as we know that US aid is being used to kill civilians in Gaza and the West Bank,” Naomi Dann, media coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace, told Common Dreams.

Discussions around what the US could give to Israel to help it tolerate the Iran deal have been ongoing for months. Israel has apparently requested “between $4.2 billion and $4.5 billion a year for the next 10 years,” which is an increase from around $3 billion a year, according to The New York Times.

Israel uses the billions to purchase US military hardware, including jets and missile defense equipment. It helps fund the country’s “Iron Dome” project.

As Rania Khalek described, a potential package could involve the purchase of “3,000 Hellfire missiles, 12,000 general purpose bombs, and 750 bunker buster bombs that can penetrate up to 20 feet, or six meters, of reinforced concrete.”

The bombs are exactly the weapons Israel uses when attacking Gaza and deliberately targets civilians, including children.

Netanyahu claimed in an interview with Steve Forbes, “I think if the deal goes through we’re in danger of war, and it might be the worst kind of war we can imagine. Because this deal will open the way for Iran not to get a bomb but many bombs. Within a decade it will be free to enrich uranium on an unlimited basis. And it will be able to make the fissile cord for dozens of bombs–indeed, hundreds of bombs–which it can then put on the hundreds of ICBMs it already has.”

“Under this deal Iran is going to get $100 billion to $300 billion, which it will be able to use to fund its terrorism and its aggression in the region–its aim being to destroy Israel,” Netanyahu added. “Given Iran’s history of aggression, I’d say that this double bonanza of a guaranteed pathway to a nuclear arsenal and a jackpot of money to continue its aggression actually makes the danger of war, even nuclear war, a lot greater.”

Netanyahu’s doomsday scenario stems from opposition to the fact that Iran will be allowed to continue to have peaceful nuclear program and sanctions against the country will be lifted for complying with a rather intrusive inspection regime. (more…)

Iran Deal Creates World’s Most Intrusive Inspection Regime

FDL alum and Emptywheel contributor, Jim White, wrote a great post today…

Iran, P5+1 Reach Historic Final Agreement, Frustrating Opponents Who Push for War

It has been nearly 20 months since the group of P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran reached an interim agreement limiting Iran’s work on nuclear technology. Progress since that interim agreement has been painfully slow (and obstructed as much as possible by Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, neocons in Congress and United Against Nuclear Iran), with a number of “deadlines” for achieving the final agreement missed. Journalists covering the final phase of negotiations in Vienna over the last two weeks eventually got so exasperated with the process that they began reporting on the number of Twizzlers consumed by the negotiators.

Fortunately, the US, led by John Kerry, with technical support from Ernest Moniz (with the backing of Barack Obama) and Iran, led by Javad Zarif, with technical support from Ali Akbar Salehi (with the backing of Hassan Rouhani) did not give up on the process. A final agreement (pdf) has now been published.

The following sentence appears in the agreement twice. It is the final sentence in the Preface and is the third point in the Preamble:

Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.

That is the heart of what the entire process has been about. Iran’s uranium enrichment work, which grew to over 18,000 centrifuges installed at two facilities, was viewed as a rapid route to a nuclear weapon. Even though no facility in Iran has been identified where enrichment was proceeding to the highly enriched levels needed for a bomb and Iran had demonstrated no ability to make a bomb from highly enriched material, “conventional wisdom” stated that Iran would only need a few months (as of the signing of the interim agreement) to produce a working bomb. Throughout the process, Iran has claimed the work was only for peaceful uses (electricity production and the production of medical isotopes). Things had gotten really ugly back in 2011 when the IAEA lent credence to claims that originated in the Laptop of Death, where Iran was accused of past work aiming at developing a bomb. By making the blanket statement that Iran will never seek a nuclear weapon, Iran is publicly acknowledging that the West will reinstate economy-crippling sanctions should evidence surface that it is seeking a weapon. Further, by saying it “reaffirms” as much, Iran is sticking to its previous claims that it has not sought a weapon in the past. Those dual points are important enough to be appear twice on the first page of the agreement. {…}

Col. Pat Lang also wrote about the vitriolic response by Bibi and UANI, et al…

The Likud government of Israel is ordering its minions in the US Congress to vote against Obama. Natanyahu, Naftali Bennett and the like are confronted with the possibility that Israel may not continue to be the chief meddler and dominant power in the ME. The threat they fear is not so much the distant improbability of Iran obliterating Tel Aviv and Haifa. The Iranians know very well that the result of such an attack would be US attacks that would truly obliterate Iran as an existing state. No, what the Israelis fear is the loss of dominance in the ME, the ability to meddle at will and do such stupid things as to act as benefactors for JAN in Syria.

Media flunkies of Likud/AIPAC have been ordered into the fight against the deal. IMO Judy Woodruff, Wolf Blitzer, Jose Diaz-Balart, Andrea Mitchell and the like are trying hard to generate opposition to Obama’s deal. The method used is often to “interview” people like Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton to give them the opportunity to attack the deal. The technique of asking “softball” questions so as to provide the chance to rave is a very old technique.

No matter. The effort will fail. The deal will be done. pl

BTW. Colonel (Ret) Larry Wilkerson appeared on TV this morning to defend the deal. He did a superb job. Kudos. pl

Here’s Col. Wilkerson talking about his CNN experience this morning and expanding on how this agreement will finally ‘shut the door’ on Bibi’s long history of fear-mongering over Iran’s nonexistent Nuclear Bomb program…

Unsilencing Gaza: One year since ‘Operation Protective Edge’

By Refaat Alareer and Laila El-Haddad

This essay is the Introduction to Gaza Unsilenced, an anthology co-edited by Refaat Alareer and Laila El-Haddad and published by Just World Books to mark the anniversary of Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. The essay is reproduced here by permission of Just World Books to whom requests for further republication should be addressed.

Gaza Unsilenced was launched July 8. Copies of the book can be ordered at justworldbooks.com/gaza-unsilenced.

On July 7, 2014, Israel launched a colossal ground, air, and naval assault on the Gaza Strip, the tiny Palestinian coastal enclave Israel controls. This was the third, and to date the worst, such assault waged by Israel against Gaza since 2008. It was an outrageous act of premeditated aggression to which the Israeli government gave the Orwellian name “Operation Protective Edge.”

In the course of fifty-one dark days, nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed; about a quarter of them were children, many of whom were deliberately targeted. [1] One hundred and forty-two families lost three or more members. About 11,000 Gaza Palestinians were injured, maimed, or permanently disfigured. Israeli bombardment destroyed or severely damaged 18,000 housing units, displacing nearly 20,000 Palestinian families comprised of about 108,000 men, women, and children. It also flattened about 17,000 hectares of crops, and decimated the agricultural infrastructure that sustains life: irrigations systems, animal farms, and greenhouses. [2]

This relentless pummeling was directed at a population still recovering from the two preceding Israeli attacks—Operation “Cast Lead” in 2008–2009, and Operation “Pillar of Cloud” in 2012—and reeling from an illegal and debilitating seven-year-long siege and blockade that shattered livelihoods and deliberately impoverished the residents (“put them on a diet,” in Israeli parlance [3]). Seventy-two percent of Gaza’s residents were described by UN bodies as food insecure or vulnerable—that is, lacking access to sufficient and nutritious food to feed their families—and nearly half unemployed. [4] This same population, along with their brethren in the rest of Palestine and abroad in diaspora, had already endured sixty-six years of displacement and dispossession, almost a half century of Israeli military occupation involving continuing settler colonialism, and decades of closures and movement restrictions.

And yet, if we are to believe the popular discourse in the mainstream Western media, Gaza “had it coming,” and by some perverse and morally vacuous logic, its residents “were to blame” for their own suffering. How do we make sense of all of this? Why would Israel see fit to pound Gaza over and over again, and more to the point, how can they get away with it? How can we truly understand the situation in Gaza, as a means to understanding the situation in Palestine more broadly? How can we understand a place that is encircled from every angle, continuously and systematically assailed to rally voters (in Israel), or to “teach a lesson,” or, in another obscene Israeli expression, to “mow the lawn” [5]—to trim those unruly, defiant hedges? Whenever Gaza is hit, it is thrust anew into the media limelight, and its residents are recast into the double roles of both victim and villain. Gaza, we fear, has been reduced to an allegory and an abstraction. We are inundated with figures and numbers attempting to depict for us what life is like in this tiniest of places. How can words convey that which numbers and images and characters and online posts cannot, no matter how valiantly? How do you provide an accurate and humanistic—a real narration—of the Palestinian story that is Gaza?

In Gaza Unsilenced, we attempt to do just this. We set out to compile a compelling collection of some of the best writing, photography, tweets, art, and poems from that harrowing time and the year that followed, to depict as truthfully and inclusively as possible what was done to Gaza, what the impact has been on both the people and the land, and how they are coping under a still existent siege.

As Palestinians from Gaza who were watching the horror unfold from abroad, we were driven by a sense of urgency, despair, and obligation to curate and edit this book, to be a conduit for voices writing from and about Gaza, as a means for changing the narrative and thereby changing public opinions, which we hope can help push the long-standing U.S. policy of blind alliance with Israel in a different direction, and ultimately, let Gaza live.

Laila, an author, activist and mother of three, originally from Gaza City, was in the United States during the assault, where she makes her home along with her Palestinian husband, who is forbidden from returning to his native land, as are millions of other refugees. Refaat, a professor of English literature, was in the middle of his PhD program in Malaysia, where he had been obliged to travel alone because the remainder of his family was unable to leave Gaza as a result of its near hermetic closure. We first met during an early 2014 book tour of the United States for Gaza Writes Back, a volume of short stories written by Refaat’s students in Gaza.

Besides being native Gazans, we both had another stake in this latest assault. Refaat had a deeply personal loss: his younger brother, Mohammed Alareer, 31, was killed by an Israeli missile in the presumed safety of his own home, leaving behind two young children and a wife. In his life, Mohammed was known as a loveable and somewhat mischievous character Karkour on the local television children’s program Tomorrow’s Pioneers. Refaat writes a deeply moving account of his relationship, and his brother’s untimely death, in the first chapter of this book (“The Story of My Brother, Martyr Mohammed Alareer”). Refaat lost four other distant relatives (three of whom were shot at short range) and eight in-laws, and dozens of his relatives lost their houses in the battered neighborhood of Shija’ia. Laila, whose aunts and uncles reside in Gaza, learned that nine members of her extended family, including five children, had been killed in a targeted Israeli strike—on the same morning in early August 2014 on which she was scheduled to participate in a Congressional briefing. Laila’s relatives were asleep inside their home when the first warning missile hit, killing half the family. They were given eight seconds to leave the house. The rest only made it as far as the outside of their house before they too were mown down.

Despite our personal losses in this ongoing ethnocide, we have been careful to avoid portraying Palestinians in Gaza as passive victims to be pitied, starving, impoverished, silenced into submission. It is our way of opening up the conversation about Gaza, of countering an Israeli narrative that has proven deadly in its ability to justify atrocities like that committed in the summer of 2014, over and over again, and of providing a forum for Gaza to speak, unsilenced and without obstruction.

Many of the pieces are new to this volume, submitted in response to a call for content, while others have been previously published on blogs and in e-zines, newspapers, and social media outlets. (For space considerations, we had to omit hyperlinks in content that was originally published online.)

Where possible, we have included photography, graphic art, and writings by Palestinians from Gaza itself—people like Dr. Belal Dabour, whose live-tweets from inside Gaza’s busiest hospital kept us awake at night, or 36-year-old mother Ghadeer al Omari (“My Son Asks if We Are Going to Die Today”), who soberly concludes, “To be a Palestinian from Gaza means that you are just a postponed target, and all you can do is wait to face your destiny.”

The pieces we chose deconstruct the pretexts, the untruths, used to justify this unspeakable attack. We sought to highlight Palestinian voices, whether from within the confines of Gaza or outside of it, in historic Palestine or in diaspora. We wanted to look at not only the human and institutional impact of the attacks themselves, but also the context, the bigger picture, especially as it relates to the remainder of the Palestinian people. Gaza is just a part of the Palestinian equation, after all. We also sought to explore how Palestinians and other people of conscience responded, whether by digital and creative means or by way of analysis, and finally, to look carefully at the aftermath of the 2014 military attack, as the slow asphyxiation of Gaza by other means continues to this day. We felt it vital to explore not only the immediate impact of the Israeli assault, but to go in depth and analyze the effects of the siege and blockade beyond 2014 and continuing with no end in sight, as part of an overarching and systematic Israeli policy to strip Palestinians of freedoms, livelihoods, and land.

A Brief History (more…)

On the One-Year Anniversary of Israel’s Attack on Gaza: An Interview with Max Blumenthal

By Glenn Greenwald

One year ago today, Israel invaded, bombed and shelled Gaza, and continued to do that for the next seven weeks. According to the U.N., at least 2,104 Gazans were killed — 1,462 of whom (69 percent) were civilians, including 495 children. A total of 6 Israeli civilians, and 66 soldiers, were killed. The shockingly high civilian death rate in Gaza included the now-iconic imagery of four young boys from the same family being killed by Israeli warships while they played on a beach in front of a hotel filled with foreign journalists.

Months after the attack concluded, U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon visited Gaza and labeled the destruction “beyond description,” far worse than prior Israeli attacks. At least 17,000 homes “were obliterated or severely damaged during the conflict,” and it will take two decades to rebuild them; that means that “nearly 60,000 people have lost their homes.” On countless occasions, entire large families of Gazans were instantly extinguished by Israeli violence. Because the population of Gaza is so young — 43 percent are under the age of 15, while 64 percent are under the age of 24 — the majority of its residents know little beyond extreme suffering, carnage, violence and war.

As harrowing as that data is, it tells only a small part of the story. Statistics like these have an abstract property to them: cold and clinical. Viewing the devastation of Gaza through their lens can have a distancing effect. They erase the most affecting facts: the stories of human suffering and devastation caused by this attack, the sadism and savagery that drove it.

That is what makes Max Blumenthal’s new book about this Israeli attack so compelling, so necessary. Entitled The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, it humanizes this event like nothing else I’ve read. Blumenthal spent weeks on the ground in Gaza in the middle of the war (during a five-day ceasefire) and after it concluded. The book is filled with very well-documented history, facts and statistics relevant to what the Israeli military calls Operation Protective Edge. And all of those are both interesting and important. But his interviews with individuals in Gaza about their lives and what they witnessed will reshape how you think about all of this even if, as was the case for me, you followed the events closely while they unfolded.

Read more at The Intercept. Here’s the audio, and here’s the written transcript.

A Month in Palestine

Tom Blanx

By Tom Blanx

This May, I travelled to the West Bank in occupied Palestine.

I had a fairly good idea of the kind of things I would see when I went, but wanted to take a closer look at what I think is an unfair and asymmetrical situation. I don’t stand against Jews or Israelis. I stand against racism, violence, oppression and ignorance, and all of those things, I think, are here.

During my time in the West Bank, I lived and worked with a Palestinian farmer who runs a Permaculture Project in a small village called Marda. I wanted to see for myself what life was like for Palestinians living under occupation and how Permaculture could help.

Knowledge is everything and with that in mind I’m sharing everything I saw, heard, thought and felt in the time I was there.

Below are excerpts from Tom Blanx’s blog. Read the full blog here.

Getting in

For those who haven’t been, Israel’s not the easiest of places to get in and out of. And if you plan on checking out the occupied territories you’ll need to be a bit creative with the truth. Despite my polite passport note from the queen, I decided not to reveal how freely I would be passing while on my travels as it would have most likely landed me straight back on British soil. This had happened to previous volunteers so the NGO I had organised the trip with had suggested that I lie.

With the help of Murad, my Palestinian friend and his friend, an Israeli who will remain anonymous, I pretended I was traveling to help and learn on a farm in the south. I probably could have said I was there for a beach holiday or Christian visit too, but a bag full of work boots and full length clothing might have been a giveaway. Murad told me to just remain calm and answer all questions confidently but it was a nerve racking and intimidating experience. Much more than I remember it being when I was 18 coming here. In the end I think I got in through by inadvertently playing dumb.

Getting into the West Bank was more straight forward. I got on a bus from Tel Aviv bus station all the way to Ari’el (An illegal settlement, next to Marda). There are no stops or checkpoints for settlers (on the way in) so all I had to do was get off before the bus turned into the settlement where Murad was waiting for me and I was in. A better understanding of his instructions, some Hebrew and useful geographical knowledge and I probably wouldn’t have ended up bang in the middle of the Ari’el in the isolating situation of looking for a Palestinian village. I haphazardly navigated my way out of on foot and was an hour late – not the look I was going for, but I guess he was going to find out what I’m about sooner or later.

Marda

Marda is in the Salfit district which is biggest producer of olive oil in Palestine. The village is effectively a ghetto, with reinforced steel gates at each end for when the army want to shut it down and a high metal fence and barbed wire around it, although some of these had been damaged and removed. There used to be resistance here, but like in lots of the rest of Palestine, occupation has become normalized. These days the village is quiet and peaceful. People work and children go to school, cats wonder around the place looking for food and donkeys everywhere sound like they’re dying. The village sits directly under the hilltop Ari’el settlement, the 4th biggest in the West Bank. Murad said he used to play there with his friends when he was young before Zionists confiscated and destroyed 9000 dunams of it, in the late 70s to build luxury homes, streets and a university for Israelis and Jewish immigrants. The juxtaposition of the two towns, is a powerful thing to see and its something that you can’t help but see, every day.

As I arrived in Marda another volunteer was leaving. Her name was Judy, a 60 year old American woman from Australia traveling by herself. I wouldn’t normally mention someones age or circumstances but I think its significant as many people think the West Bank is too dangerous to travel to and that women could be more vulnerable here. Neither are true. It was her 5th visit to Marda so I wanted to get as much information out of her as I could in the 30 minutes she had left. She gave me the dos and donts about living in Marda, how to be with Murad and told me to explore as much as I could of Palestine “You can’t characterise Palestine on what you see in just Marda as much as you can’t characterise the US on what you see in Miami.” (more…)

Hillary Clinton Pledges to Defend Israeli Apartheid & Fight BDS Movement in Letter to Mega-Donor

Hillary Clinton - June Campaign Photo

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sent a letter to media mogul Haim Saban, a mega-donor, assuring him that she would make countering the global Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel a priority. She invoked a recent terrorist attack against Jews in Paris to condemn BDS and specifically sought Saban’s advice on how to fight back.

“I am writing to express my alarm over the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or ‘BDS,’ a global effort to isolate the State of Israel by ending commercial and academic exchanges,” Clinton wrote [PDF]. “I am seeking your advice on how we can work together—across party lines and with a diverse array of voices—to reverse this trend with information and advocacy, and fight back against further attempts to isolate and delegitimize Israel.”

Clinton expressed serious concern over comparisons between Israel and South African apartheid.

“Israel is a vibrant democracy in a region dominated by autocracy, and it faces existential threats to its survival,” Clinton asserted. “Particularly at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise across the world—especially in Europe—we need to repudiate forceful efforts to malign and undermine Israel and the Jewish people. After all, it was only six months ago that four Jews were targeted and killed in a Kosher supermarket in Paris as they did their Sabbath shopping.”

The invoking of a terrorist attack against Jews in Paris is a nasty attempt to cast the growing nonviolent BDS movement as anti-Semitic. In fact, to read Clinton’s letter in its entirety, one has to believe Israel is engaged in no acts of occupation or oppression against the Palestinians and a movement is mobilizing out of hatred or baseless assumptions about Israel.

In a column for the Los Angeles Times published in May 2014, Saree Makdisi, a UCLA professor and author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, explained that apartheid is not merely used to inflame tensions. It very specifically has legal meaning, as outlined by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. (Note: The UN General Assembly adopted the convention in 1973 and most UN member states except for Israel and the United States have ratified the convention.)

From Makdisi’s column:

According to Article II of that convention, the term applies to acts “committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” Denying those others the right to life and liberty, subjecting them to arbitrary arrest, expropriating their property, depriving them of the right to leave and return to their country or the right to freedom of movement and of residence, creating separate reserves and ghettos for the members of different racial groups, preventing mixed marriages — these are all examples of the crime of apartheid specifically mentioned in the convention.

Israel engages in all of these actions against Palestinians. In fact, as Gil Maguire has shown, Israel “created an apartheid system and became an apartheid state at the end of the 1967 war.”

One of Clinton’s arguments in her letter is that BDS seeks to “punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict.” She indicates she supports a two-state solution and that can only be achieved through “direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians—it cannot be imposed from the outside or by unilateral actions.”

If anything, it is Israel which seeks to unilaterally impose a resolution and that resolution is protect and even expand apartheid.

Former President Bill Clinton shared in 2011 the reason why the “peace process” failed. According to Foreign Policy, Clinton claimed it was because of the reluctance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration to “accept the terms of the Camp David deal” and a “demographic shift in Israel” that made the Israeli public “less amenable to peace.” (more…)