Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Additional story about Ein Hod

Moshe Machover sent the story below with the Ein Hod piece we (JPN) sent out.
I asked him if it would be ok for me to send it to JPN readers and he replied: "Judit Druks, the companion of the late Shimon Tzabar, gave her willingconsent to circulating that excerpt in conjunction with your piece on thesame subject. I am sure she would be delighted if you use it, as would I."

ATB, Moshé

So, here it is:

Dear Friend,

Earlier today you may have received the message below, forwarded from Jewish Peace News.

I now re-transmit, adding a relevant passage from the unpublished autobiography of my late friend, the artist and satirist Shimon Tzabar.

Excerpt from Shimon Tzabar's autobiography

...In the mid fifties, I received a letter from the Painters and Sculptors Association, of which I was a member, saying that the government had allocated a village at the foothills of Mount Carmel, to be a village for artists. It was called Ein Hod. All I had to do to get a house there was to pay fifty Israeli pounds as a registration fee and choose myself where I wanted to live. I didn't have that amount of money, so I borrowed it from a friend, Chana Shofman, the daughter of a Likud MP. I paid the money and rushed to Ein Hod to choose a house in the country. I found a very nice Arab house, because this village had been an Arab village before. I kept this house as a weekend retreat. A few weeks later when I came to my house in Ein Hod, I walked around the village and strolled uphill along the main road. After a while, I met a Palestinian shepherd boy with two mongrel dogs. The dogs started barking at me while the boy tried to keep them away. By and by we started a conversation. The boy spoke Hebrew quite well. I asked him where he was from. He said that he was from Ein Hood. It was the same Ein Hod where I have just acquired a house. The boy told me that a few years ago, the Israeli army had come to the village and asked its people to move for a week to the next Arab village, that was a few kilometres uphill, because they were going to do some live ammunition manoeuvres around the area and did not want anyone to get hurt. Since then they were not been allowed back. That is how the village was deserted and been given to us, the artists.

I relinquished the house and asked back my I£50 registration fee, which I promptly returned to Ms Shofman.


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Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
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Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
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Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to http://www.jewishpeacenews.net

Monday, July 28, 2008

Secrets of the Olive Trees

Secrets of the Olive Trees

This article by Tom Segev in Haaretz looks briefly at the famous artist's village of Ein Hod, which was once the Palestinian village of Ayn Hawd. It is just one example of the way that the history of the Palestinian people has been suppressed in Israel, even when the physical foundation of their former villages were eagerly taken over. Noga Kadman, who is a member of Zochrot, which documents the Nakba in Hebrew (www.zochrot.org ) discusses this phenomena in her new book "On the Road Side, On the Mind Side," which was just published in Hebrew.

For an in-depth look at Ein Hod as a microcosm of this suppressed history, the 2002 movie "500 Dunam on the Moon" explores it to great effect. If you can't get your hands on a copy, the website summarizes the story of the former and current villages (http://www.500dunam.com/links.html ).

I have a personal connection to this story. Family friends have a house in Ein Hod, and last year they explained to us sheepishly that during the olive harvest residents of Ayn Hawd, who are the remaining refugees from what is now called Ein Hod, are paid to come to harvest the olives from the trees for them, trees that used to be their own.

--Rebecca Vilkomerson


http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1005291.html

The Makings of History/Secrets of the Olive Trees

The Ein Hod artists village describes itself on its Hebrew Internet site as "an ancient Israeli environment." It belongs to "a Middle Eastern culture from other times" and, according to the English-language site, visitors can "discern in the old structures the many textures and architectural forms of earlier occupants - from the Christian Crusades to the Turkish Empire."

The houses of the Arabs who lived there until 1948 are not mentioned. This is an unusual case: A recently published study shows that the kibbutzim and moshavim that arose on the ruins of Arab villages do not usually omit this fact, even if the Arab residents themselves, who were expelled and fled, are almost never mentioned, as if they had never existed.

When writing her book "Beshulei haderekh uveshulei hatoda'a" (On the Road Side, on the Mind Side), published by November Books, geographer Noga Kadman began with the assumption that the Arab villages were pushed to the margins of Israeli discourse. But when she examined internal newsletters and anniversary publications put out by kibbutzim and moshavim that had been established on the remains of these villages, she discovered an attitude of possessiveness and few moral qualms: There is no shame in living in Arabs' houses, but it isn't pleasant to mention the Arabs themselves. It is as though their history and their way of life had never existed. The takeover of the abandoned villages is often described as part of the effort to make the wilderness bloom.

"There was nothing there," members of Kibbutz Barkai write in one pamphlet that is quoted in the book. There was some mention here and there of the Arabs "bequeathing" their lands, their homes and even their furniture and household goods to the new settlers.

"Our central clothing warehouse was adorned with a number of mahogany closets from the abandoned property," states a Kibbutz Kabri publication. "Thus, we gradually equipped ourselves with a minimum of comfort."

The Arabs who came back to rescue some of their property were considered thieves, and hunting them down was a source of income, as stated in a book that Kibbutz Carmia published on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of its establishment: "They came at night to steal fruit from the orchards and go back to Gaza laden with loot ... We guarded the area of the kibbutz from them ... We would catch prisoners, bring them back to the kibbutz and the army picked them up every morning and paid us ... Inside the kibbutz there was a kind of 'jail' - a small tin shack - where they would keep the prisoners until the army took them."

Kadman found evidence of pangs of conscience in the publications of only two kibbutzim, Yiron and Sasa. A Yiron bulletin from 1949 states: "The facts show that men, women, old people and babies were murdered, villages were destroyed and burned down, with no justification."

One of the members of Sasa wrote: "I am thinking about the abandoned village Sa'sa that we entered this morning with pride and energy, and about the lives of the Arabs who lived here. I wandered through some of the decrepit houses. I looked at jugs that had been turned upside down, harvested grains, books, baby shoes, and I smelled the odor of destruction ... The comrades debated what to do about the mosque. The army had destroyed it and most of the comrades agreed that this was 'inevitable.'"

At Kibbutz Beit Ha'emek, someone wondered about the ancient olive trees, asking himself what the trees would have related about "different people and many harvests," if they had been able to speak.


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Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
------------
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
------------
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to http://www.jewishpeacenews.net

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Call for action re Israeli measures against peaceful Palestinian resistance

Activists working to end Israel's occupation of the territories it captured in 1967, to stop its severe oppression of the captive residents of these territories and to reverse the rampant militarization of Israeli state and society are often challenged by interlocutors as to the (supposed) absence of a movement of peaceful Palestinian resistance. The question, usually an insincere and confrontational dismissal, often takes on the formula, "So where is the Palestinian 'Peace Now'?" (Notably, demonstrating the entrenched ignorance behind this question, 'Peace Now' has not been a large or leading group within the Israeli anti-occupation movement for many years now).

The reality is that there are many and varied Palestinian groups and individuals working to end the occupation through peaceful means. Many of them have been at work for decades. At the best of times, they operate under extremely difficult constraints and conditions. Among other things, they are barred from moving freely from one village or town to another, not to speak of longer trips. They are denied freedom of assembly. The means of communication at their disposal are often limited and erratic, frequently blocked. Some of them live in poverty and struggle to subsist, leaving little time and energy for painstaking activism. Israel routinely blocks or confiscates their funding. Nevertheless, they go on, some of them working among Palestinians only, others creating joint initiatives with Israeli counterparts.

This peaceful and peace-seeking component of the Palestinian resistance goes systematically unreported by both Israeli and international corporate media. However, despite this erasure, such resistance has gained considerable grassroots solidarity worldwide and is viewed as a threat by Israel's leadership. Israel repeatedly targets peaceful Palestinian activists, as well as their family members, aiming to stop their activities while intimidating others who would follow their lead. Their systematic omission by mainstream media undoubtedly eases the way for the Israeli practices of harassing, injuring, imprisoning, torturing and frequently killing such Palestinian activists with impunity.

The second item below, from Haaretz (Friday, July 25), reveals a rare instance of intentionally publicized or possibly leaked "controversy among senior security officials" concerning a recent campaign against what the military described as "Hamas' civil institutions". According to Haaretz journalists Harel and Issacharoff, "some of the brass [are] arguing that [... part of] the operation was not sufficiently justified".

Exemplifying the legal infrastructure allowing Israel's arbitrary actions, "The IDF", according to Harel and Issacharoff, "has received legal authorization to confiscate income-producing assets of Hamas-affiliated groups, even if no clear link between the groups and terrorist activity has been proven".

However, Haaretz claims, "the activity in Nablus seemed to some to have gone too far [...] One senior official said he was concerned that the campaign would be seen as 'war against Islam' instead of a focused struggle against Hamas and its terror activities".

One of the measures frequently employed to undermine non-violent Palestinian organizing is termed 'administrative detention' and amounts to indefinite imprisonment without trial or charges.

The first item below focuses on the 'administrative detention' of Dr. Ghassan Khaled.

The military court that usually approves such detention as a matter of course initially found no grounds for enforcing it in his case. Later, Israel's High Court "were critical about the procedures leading to Khaled's arrest". Nevertheless Dr. Khaled currently remains in detention.

The report and request for action regarding Dr. Khaled were compiled and disseminated by The Israeli Association for the Palestinian Prisoners. The Association is led by my friends and longtime sister activists, Anat Matar (see contact details below) and Tamar Berger.

Their call for action is an attempt to muster alternative means to un-erase the issues at hand and move caring people worldwide to learn about, and act in solidarity with, the men and women unjustly and outrageously incarcerated and harassed by Israel.

Rela Mazali

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THE ISRAELI ASSOCIATION FOR THE PALESTINIAN PRISONERS

anatmatar@gmail.com ; +972528560001

20 July, 2008


Administrative Detentions

The Case of Dr. Ghassan Khaled, the law faculty of Al Najjah University, Nablus

Administrative detention is detention without charge or trial, and without informing the detainees or their lawyers of the charges against them. Moreover, neither they nor their attorneys are allowed to see the evidence.*

Administrative detention serves as a convenient tool of harassment by the Israeli regime to use against political activists and members of parliament, peace activists leading non-violent resistance to the occupation, students and other people who cannot be put to trial because of the lack of evidence against them.

In recent years, 8% of the political prisoners in Israeli jails have been administrative detainees. At present there are about 730 administrative detainees in Israeli prisons.

The iniquity of administrative detention is well illustrated by the case of Dr. Ghassan Khaled, for whom we ask your help. Please act now: disseminate this message and write letters to the authorities cited below.

Dr. Khaled was detained under administrative detention for six months. This period is due to end at the beginning of October 2008, but his arrest warrant may afterwards be renewed for additional periods of 6 months ad infinitum.

Dr. Ghassan Khaled: Personal details

Dr. Ghassan Khaled, 41, Id. 929191302, is a lecturer at Al Najjah University in Nablus. Though originally from the village of Jayyous, he lives and works in Nablus. He is a senior lecturer at the law faculty of Al Najjah University, in Nablus, specializing in international commercial law. He is married and a father of five: his oldest son is 8 years old, his youngest is 6 months. Dr. Khaled does not engage in politics. Rather, his dedication is to his work and to his family.

Dr. Khaled's father, Sharif Omar Khaled (Abu Azzam), has developed many liaisons with international and Israeli peace activists, being one of the popular leaders of the peace demonstrations against the Apartheid wall built on the land of Jayyous. His own fields – like most, in that area – are located in the western side of the wall, and he is required to present a permit in order to cultivate them. In October 2007 his permit was denied for unspecified "security reasons", and was renewed only after a strong public campaign at the beginning of 2008.

Legal status

Dr. Khaled was first arrested on the night of 16th January, 2008. For three weeks he was denied contact with his lawyer. He was interrogated under duress, and eventually was accused of "giving a service to an unauthorized body". The accusation is based on two allegations: it is claimed, first, that Dr. Khaled used to give financial aid to members of the kutla Isslamiya, Hamas' student movement; and secondly, that he gave permission to publish an academic article written by him in the journal "Mushkat al'Adalah", issued by law students at his university belonging to the Kutla Islamiya. Dr. Khaled's trial was set to 17th July. The prosecution wished to keep him in custody, but Khaled appealed and won. The military judge, Captain Azriel Levi, expressed his opinion that there was no real substance in the prosecution files. He noted that the GSS (General Secret Service; in Hebrew shabak) evidence relied on hearsay and that, according to Dr. Khaled's testimony, his article was published
without his consent. There was nothing incriminating in the secret files as well. Dr. Khaled was released on bail; his family paid 30,000 NIS and he went home, awaiting his trial.

After less than a fortnight, on the night of 30th March, Dr. Khaled was re-arrested. The judge refused to keep him in custody, claiming that his previous release and the days he spent at home proved that there was no danger in letting him go. He told the prosecutors that unless they brought some incriminating material, Dr. Khaled should be released within 24 hours. This never happened; yet –

On 3rd April Dr. Khaled was declared an administrative detainee. A judge approved the detention for six months, until 2nd October 2008. Neither Dr. Khaled nor his lawyer was informed of the procedure in advance; only the GSS representatives and the prosecutors were present. They claimed that Dr. Khaled's previous release was "the system's fault", which was corrected after 12 days.

On 1st May, after an appeal to the military court was denied, Dr. Khaled appealed to the High Court of Justice. During the hearing, on 22nd May, his lawyer, Adv. Muhammad Abed, claimed that the intelligence reports, incriminating Dr. Khaled, were unfounded. He told the judges that during his interrogation by the GSS, Khaled's investigators attempted to convince him to admit that he belonged to the Hamas party. In return, they promised to omit any charges of military activity. One GSS investigator, "Arad", said that "had he admitted he belonged to Hamas, we might believe him; but since he denies everything, we cannot believe a word he's saying and therefore suspect he is involved in military activity". Another investigator, "Doron", threatened to "ruin his life" in case he does not cooperate. Adv. Abed concluded that the GSS interrogators were seeking revenge for Dr. Khaled's refusal to cooperate with them by formally advancing their suspicion of military activity and requesting
administrative detention. Supreme Court judges Beinish, Rivlin and Jubran were critical about the procedures leading to Khaled's arrest.

Yet on 1st June, they rejected his appeal. Their decision is concise: "Upon the petitioner's permission, we examined the secret files and found that we have no reason to interfere with the decision. The petitioner is a Hamas activist who was involved in organizing a military activity that is dangerous for the area and as a result of this threat, his appeal is denied."

Dr. Ghassan Khaled was put under administrative detention in order to bypass the military judge's decision rejecting the military prosecutor's request to keep him in custody. The trial itself began on 17th July, at the military court in Salem. Due to a mistake, no witnesses were summoned. The judge, Major Dalia Kaufman, proposed a date at the end of September for the next hearing. She argued that "we are not limited in time because the accused is not in custody with regards to the present case", despite the "unrelated" fact that he is kept in administrative detention. The next hearing was eventually set to 25th August. At the moment Dr. Khaled is incarcerated in Megido prison.

*For more on administrative detention see http://www.btselem.org/English/Administrative%5FDetention/


A very similar case to that of Dr. Khaled, Abu Azzam's son, is that of Mousa Abu-Maria from Beit-Omar. Mousa is a peace activist, one of the founders of the Palestine Solidarity Project, and a leading figure within the organizers of the nonviolent demonstrations against the Apartheid wall. Like Dr. Khaled, Mousa Abu-Maria got the status of administrative detainee after the military prosecutors admitted in writing that they had not enough material for putting him on trial. He is accused of being a senior member of the Islamic Jihad. His appeal, too, was rejected. His lawyer, Adv. Gaby Lasky, has now appealed to the High Court of Justice, claiming that if Abu-Maria is indeed so senior, it is improbable that this alleged "seniority" cannot be proven and supported by open evidence. She also argues that the frequency of the use of administrative detention raises severe doubts concerning the way they are monitored by the judicial level.

Birzeit University opened a campaign against the administrative detentions of many of its students, focusing, at the moment, on the case of Omar Kassis, who was put on detention last March for three months. For details, see

http://right2edu.birzeit.edu/news/article546


The Israeli Association for the Palestinian Prisoners wishes to bring Dr. Khaled's case, as well as those of Abu-Maria and Kassis, into public attention – in order to awaken the international committee to the horrors and injustices caused by the procedure of administrative detention in general.

Please write to your representatives at parliament or congress, asking them to demand that Israel either release all administrative detainees or allow them a just trial. Please write also to the Israeli embassy in your country, protesting Israel's abuse of human rights with regard the administrative detainees.

The Birzeit campaign advises to write to the International Bar Association (IBA), asking its members and Human Rights Institute to put pressure on the Israeli Bar Association to ensure that all subjects under Israeli jurisdiction be granted the basic principles of rule of law - transparent processes which do not allow for arbitrary justice or governance - to which the IBA's Human Rights Institute (HRI) claims to be dedicated:

Fiona Paterson, Director of Human Rights Institute

International Bar Association

10th Floor, 1Stephen St

London, W1T 1AT

United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7691 6868

Fax: +44 (0)20 7691 6544


More info:

The Public Committee against Torture in Israel is currently investigating Dr. Khaled's complaints about the conditions under which he was put during his arrest and interrogation. According to his friends, he was tied for long hours to a small chair, his interrogation lasted about 20 hours a day, during which he was not allowed to eat or pray.

Ha'aretz reporter Meron Rapoport wrote about the systematic abuse that Dr. Khaled's father suffered:

http://www.palsolidarity.org/main/2007/09/05/haaretz-the-fruits-of-his-efforts-lie-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-separation-fence/

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http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1005352.html

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m

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Last update - 02:45 25/07/2008
Military allows certain Nablus mall stores to reopen

By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff

The Israel Defense Forces has decided to rescind its closure order of a mall in the West Bank city of Nablus, issued about two weeks ago.

However, the decision to reopen the mall applies only to stores whose income is not transferred to Hamas-affiliated associations.

The decision followed a meeting Tuesday among GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Gad Shamni, the governor of Nablus, Jamal Mohsein, and the head of the Civil Administration, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai. The meeting was to have been secret, but it was leaked to the press.

Mohsein told the Israeli officers that the decision to close the mall harmed the Palestinian Authority and the people of Nablus.

At the beginning of the month, Haaretz reported that the IDF's Central Command and the Shin Bet security service were making a concerted effort to shut down the dawa, Hamas' civilian infrastructure. As part of this effort, the IDF closed down a large number of Islamic charities, confiscated their property, searched their computers and seized documents from their offices. Major operations of this type were carried out in Hebron, Qalqilyah and Ramallah, and a similar operation began in Nablus two weeks ago.

However, the intensive campaign against Hamas' civil institutions has become a focus of controversy among senior security officials, with some of the brass arguing that the Nablus operation, which included closure of the mall, was not sufficiently justified. The operation also angered Palestinians and drew sharp criticism from international organizations.

The broad outlines of the campaign were approved by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But the activity in Nablus seemed to some to have gone too far, because the stores' links to Hamas were limited. One senior official said he was concerned that the campaign would be seen as "war against Islam" instead of a focused struggle against Hamas and its terror activities.

The IDF has received legal authorization to confiscate income-producing assets of Hamas-affiliated groups, even if no clear link between the groups and terrorist activity has been proven. The IDF General Staff explained that in this way, Hamas would be deprived of an essential source of income and a means of increasing its influence over the Palestinian population in the West Bank.

Also on Tuesday, Barak and senior IDF officers met with the governor of Jenin, Kadura Musa, and the commander of the Palestinian security forces, Suleiman Omran. The officials discussed the planned opening of an industrial park near Jenin, as well as operations by the Palestinian security services and easing IDF restrictions on Palestinian civilians.

Meanwhile, Palestinian sources said the PA security services had arrested a few dozen Hamas activists and suspected Hamas members in the West Bank, including 17 the Qalqilyah area and a large number around Nablus.

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Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
------------
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
------------
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to http://www.jewishpeacenews.net

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The alternative masculinity of a young Palestinian

For decades now, feminist research has identified specific versions of gender--of masculinity vs. femininity--as a key factor in the staging and maintenance of armed conflict. Certain perceptions and performances of masculinity play central roles in maintaining sufficient enlistment into the military, for instance, and in enabling combat. These are complemented and supported by distinct and equally central perceptions and performances of femininity.

The piece below, by Bassam Aramin, of the joint Palestinian-Israeli movement "Combatants for Peace", is a striking account of an alternative practice and perception of masculinity.

Aramin recounts the wanton violence and humiliation to which his 14 year old son, Arab, was recently subjected, and describes his son's resulting commitment to the dialogue and non-violence already practiced by his ex-combatant father. His commitment and consciouness, his newly formulated "willingness to talk with the other side", are viewed and contextualized by Aramin as core elements of Arab's emerging manhood.

Rela Mazali

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Bassam Aramin: The Palestinian Bar-Mitzvah

on 18 July 2008

Translated from Arabic by Miriam Asnes

http://karmalised.com/?p=3318#more-3318


My son Arab is 14, just past the age that his Jewish Israeli peers are celebrating their bar mitzvahs. This ceremony in Jewish culture is a rite of passage that marks a boy's entrance into the realities and responsibilities of adulthood. And last week, my son experienced something akin to the Palestinian bar-mitzvah.

It was a beautiful day on Friday the 12th of July when Arab went with his friends to the beach in Tiberias. He spent all of his time in the days leading up to the trip trying to convince me that I should let him go. At first I refused—he's young to be traveling so far in a group without his parents. But then I remembered the regret I still feel about the death of my daughter Abir.

Abir was ten when she was killed by the Israeli Occupation Force on January 16th, 2007 in front of her school in Anata. That morning, when she asked her mother and me for permission to play with her friends after school, I'd refused. I told her, "Don't even think of coming home late, come back right away so you can prepare for your next exam." And she answered me with the last words I ever heard from her, petulant and innocent. "Well, I'm going to be late." She was angry with me. She was late that day, but not because she met her friends. A bullet from an Israeli border patrolman found her instead, and she never came back. I regret having refused her request, not knowing that it would be her last—that she would be late despite me and despite herself.

When I saw how much Arab wanted to go, I thought of Abir and gave my permission with the condition that he look after himself and be in constant phone contact with me.

Arab and his friends Rafet, Saleh and Mohammad got themselves ready for a day at the beach, and the bus set out at 7am. There were about 45
passengers: Arab and nine of his peers, who range in age from 14 to 17; the rest were families and children and a group of girls Arab's age, all legal residents of Israel with East Jerusalem IDs. I was pleased with how happy Arab was during the time he called to check in. Arab loved Abir fiercely, and her death was an awful blow especially to him, the oldest of her siblings. I was so glad to hear joy in his voice again.

At 11pm Arab called me and said they had almost made it back and he'd be home in half an hour. But 11:30 came and went. At exactly 12am I called him, angry that he was late. He answered in a hushed voice with words that chilled me.

"There are a lot of soldiers here. The police stopped the bus, we don't know why, and we're in Jerusalem —the soldier is asking us not to talk on the phone, I'll call back later." And he hung up the phone. I didn't know why they went all the way into Jerusalem proper and where exactly they were in the city, and I was in this terrible state of not knowing what was happening to my son, trying to call him and getting no answer until an hour and a half later when he answered the phone and said quickly, "we are now in the Israeli police station, they've detained everyone from the bus, they are checking us all and I am not allowed to talk to you now and they'll let us go soon"—and again he hung up.

There are no words for the state I was in during those hours, waiting for his next call and dreading it would not come. Then at 2:30am he called again to say that they were at the Maskubiyah detention center in Jerusalem. I asked him why they were being detained, and he said he did not know. I told him, "Go up to the solider and tell him, you have to talk to my father, he does not know where I am."

He replied that he was scared to do so; they'd already beaten many of the kids there because they had talked and talking was not allowed.
"But I trust you, Dad."

I told him he was brave, and that he shouldn't be scared of the soldier. "Talk to him in Hebrew," I said. I made sure to teach all my children Hebrew from a young age. I could hear Arab go up to the soldier and tell him, "Please, can you talk to my father?" But the solider told him to shut his mouth and hang up the phone.

"If your father wants to see you tell him to come here," he said.

I was beside myself. I yelled in my loudest voice, "You murderers!
Where is my son? Do you want to kill him as you killed his sister a year ago?" I told Arab to turn on the speakerphone so the soldier could hear what I was saying, but he had a better eye on the situation and said to me, "Dad, don't be afraid. I am okay. They are going to let us go in a bit like they said; I'll talk with you soon." And he hung up.

At exactly 3am the Israeli Occupying Forces let the group go, and I waited on pins and needles until 3:40am for Arab to come home. He was exhausted, so I told him to please go to sleep and we could talk in the morning. The most important thing was that he was okay.

The next day I returned from work in the evening to find Arab and Rafet in the house, and I heard what had happened.

In the industrial neighborhood of Wad Al-Joz in Jerusalem, a group of Israeli Special Forces troops on motorcycles along with police and army reinforcements were stationed on the path the bus from Tiberias was taking to get its passengers, all legal residents of Israel, home. They demanded that the driver stop immediately. One of the soldiers got on the bus and said, "Anyone who moves his head, I'll put a bullet in it."
Arab said to me, "At that moment all I could think of was Abir, who really was shot in the head by a bullet."

The soldier continued, "We are from national security." He then told the young men, about ten of them, to begin taking off their clothes in the bus, in front of the women and girls. Then he took them out one by one and had them lie down on the filthy street, littered with stones and pieces of glass. They began with Ahmed, who was 16 years old. Then all the young men had to strip and get out of the bus and lie on the ground. One of them was injured in the stomach by a piece of glass.
Arab asked me, "How can they ask the men to undress in front of the women? They don't have morals!"

I asked him, "Do you think they perhaps have at least some basic morals?"

His answer was definitive: "None at all." I explained to him that humiliation by forced nakedness didn't just happen to his friends: it is a longstanding problem in the Israeli military. When we were in their prisons without any way to defend ourselves, our guards would take sadistic pleasure in seeing us naked, in humiliating us.

Arab, the youngest of the boys, stayed in the bus with the women and children. Then one of the female soldiers got on the bus and called out to another soldier who he couldn't see, "Avichai, come bring the dog."

Arab said, "At first I thought that Avichai was Avichai Sharon," my friend and colleague in Combatants For Peace who also is a part of the partner organization Breaking the Silence, an organization that publicizes the barbaric and criminal practices of the Israeli Occupying Forces in Hebron. Arab wasn't so scared of the idea of a military dog because he thought that the Avichai that he knew would be its master.
But then he saw that this Avichai was not our friend, and he didn't resemble him in any manner except his first name. This soldier would let out the dog's leash in the direction of women and children and then pull him back at the last second. He looked pleased with himself when the leader of the trip, Um Shams, fainted, and he also smiled when two children, ages 4 and 5, urinated out of fear and terror. The soldiers checked everyone, even taking off the diaper of a baby who was under one year old. "They're even afraid of our unweaned babies," said Arab in amazement. "They cursed us with all the ugly expressions and slurs they could think of. One of them said that all Arabs are trash—they are racist!" All the passengers on the bus had the absolute legal right as residents of East Jerusalem to travel anywhere within Israel that they please.

I told my son, "Some of them are, but not every Jewish Israeli is like that. There are a few who aren't affected by this racism, but nevertheless it colors Israeli society. It's no wonder that the United Nations determined that Zionism was a racist movement over 30 years ago." True, that decision was overturned, but the racism has remained deeply ingrained. Most don't consider the continual discrimination against Palestinians, be they residents of the West Bank and Gaza, residents of East Jerusalem, or Israeli citizens to be racist. They try to spin it as necessary "for ongoing security reasons." But at least some people in Israeli society see the shameful truth as it is, without attempting to whitewash it. And they are not alone. Recently a delegation of human rights activists, lawyers and judges from South Africa, a country which suffered under the yoke of Apartheid, visited our region. They declared that what they saw in Israel was more than just racial segregation—it was
government-sponsored racism, discriminatory policies against Palestinians.

Arab kept asking me why the Israeli soldiers were doing what they were doing to the Palestinians. At one point I thought he was about to explode in anger. And then his voice changed, and he said something very unexpected. "I wish that you had been there with us, Dad. I'm sure you would have taught them a lesson, and spared all of us that indignity. You would have spoken to them in Hebrew and made them understand that they were wrong, like you always do with soldiers at checkpoints, like when that soldier yelled at us at the Wad al-Nar checkpoint when we were going to visit the Galilee. Then, you spoke with him and he ended up apologizing to you and wishing that we could all live together in peace."

Then he said something even more surprising. "I want you to take me with you when you go to one of your lectures in Israel so I can tell the Israelis about the practices of their soldiers on that night." I asked him if he was serious—Arab has always questioned my willingness to talk with the other side and sit down with Israelis in forums like those Combatants for Peace provides. But he insisted, saying, "They have to know what happened so the parents of those soldiers can forbid their children to act that way towards women and children again."

The final indignity of that Friday night was when Saleh, Arab's friend, had to go to the bathroom and asked many times if he could get up from his prone position on the asphalt to go relieve himself. Avichai refused his request each time. Saleh talked quietly with Rafet, who has a limited range of motion in his hand and left foot, and they decided that Rafet would ask if he could go and Saleh could volunteer to help him. At last Avichai gave his permission to let Rafet go to the bathroom on the condition that Saleh would not relieve himself. Saleh did not know this protector of the security of the State of Israel was following them on their base errand until he was squatting in the middle of his "terrorist operation," trying to relieve himself, and Avichai began using his hands and feet to hit him across the face and head as a lesson to others as to what happens when you fail to carry out a military order. Let me remind you, Saleh and Rafet are legal residents of the State of Israel.

What happened is deeply embarrassing and shameful, but it is the truth.
I asked Arab, "Did they apologize to you when they finally let you go?"

He said, "Sure they did. They said to us, 'Looks like you were naked on the beach in Tiberias by day, and naked on the "beach" of Wad al-Joz by night. Now scram.'" He repeated these words to me with an ironic expression on his face that I have never seen before. And I thought, with an equal measure of irony, "Today, he is a man."


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Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
------------
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
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Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to http://www.jewishpeacenews.net

Howard Zinn: Memo to Obama, McCain: No one wins in a war /zcommunications

It probably seems clear to many of us that of the Obama and McCain pair, one is way more reckless and dangerous. Yet,
they share a view of how to resolve conflict which is based on waging war. Howard Zinn points out how bankrupt this line of thinking is - at least in terms of achieving the stated aims: ridding ourselves of "terrorism" and such.
Of course, waging wars have other aims(which this short article doesn't address): The further consolidation of wealth and power in the hands of the few, and the opportunity to use drummed up fear to dissolve chunks of what liberties we still posses.

Racheli Gai.


Memo to Obama, McCain: No one wins in a war


Jul 18, 2008 By Howard Zinn

http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/commentaries/3558

BARACK OBAMA and John McCain continue to argue about war. McCain says to keep the troops in Iraq until we "win" and supports sending more troops to Afghanistan. Obama says to withdraw some (not all) troops from Iraq and send them to fight and "win" in Afghanistan.

For someone like myself, who fought in World War II, and since then has protested against war, I must ask: Have our political leaders gone mad? Have they learned nothing from recent history? Have they not learned that no one "wins" in a war, but that hundreds of thousands of humans die, most of them civilians, many of them children?

Did we "win" by going to war in Korea? The result was a stalemate, leaving things as they were before with a dictatorship in South Korea and a dictatorship in North Korea. Still, more than 2 million people - mostly civilians - died, the United States dropped napalm on children, and 50,000 American soldiers lost their lives.

Did we "win" in Vietnam? We were forced to withdraw, but only after 2 million Vietnamese died, again mostly civilians, again leaving children burned or armless or legless, and 58,000 American soldiers dead.

Did we win in the first Gulf War? Not really. Yes, we pushed Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, with only a few hundred US casualties, but perhaps 100,000 Iraqis died. And the consequences were deadly for the United States: Saddam was still in power, which led the United States to enforce economic sanctions. That move led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, according to UN officials, and set the stage for another war.

In Afghanistan, the United States declared "victory" over the Taliban. Now the Taliban is back, and attacks are increasing. The recent US military death count in Afghanistan exceeds that in Iraq. What makes Obama think that sending more troops to Afghanistan will produce "victory"? And if it did, in an immediate military sense, how long would that last, and at what cost to human life on both sides?

The resurgence of fighting in Afghanistan is a good moment to reflect on the beginning of US involvement there. There should be sobering thoughts to those who say that attacking Iraq was wrong, but attacking Afghanistan was right.

Go back to Sept. 11, 2001. Hijackers direct jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing close to 3,000 A terrorist act, inexcusable by any moral code. The nation is aroused. President Bush orders the invasion and bombing of Afghanistan, and the American public is swept into approval by a wave of fear and anger. Bush announces a "war on terror."

Except for terrorists, we are all against terror. So a war on terror sounded right. But there was a problem, which most Americans did not consider in the heat of the moment: President Bush, despite his confident bravado, had no idea how to make war against terror.

Yes, Al Qaeda - a relatively small but ruthless group of fanatics - was apparently responsible for the attacks. And, yes, there was evidence that Osama bin Laden and others were based in Afghanistan. But the United States did not know exactly where they were, so it invaded and bombed the whole country. That made many people feel righteous. "We had to do something," you heard people say.

Yes, we had to do something. But not thoughtlessly, not recklessly. Would we approve of a police chief, knowing there was a vicious criminal somewhere in a neighborhood, ordering that the entire neighborhood be bombed? There was soon a civilian death toll in Afghanistan of more than 3,000 - exceeding the number of deaths in the Sept. 11 attacks. Hundreds of Afghans were driven from their homes and turned into wandering refugees.

Two months after the invasion of Afghanistan, a Boston Globe story described a 10-year-old in a hospital bed: "He lost his eyes and hands to the bomb that hit his house after Sunday dinner." The doctor attending him said: "The United States must be thinking he is Osama. If he is not Osama, then why would they do this?"

We should be asking the presidential candidates: Is our war in Afghanistan ending terrorism, or provoking it? And is not war itself terrorism?

Howard Zinn is author of "A Power Governments Cannot Suppress" published by City Lights Books.

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Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
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Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
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Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to http://www.jewishpeacenews.net

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Patients dying in Gaza

There has been a steady toll of Palestinian deaths in the Gaza strip due to the Israeli siege. The ceasefire has slowed the rate of Palestinians who are being shot (but not stopped it – Israeli soldiers killed a man near a border fence last week). But the siege entails forms of violence besides murder by gunfire. People with health problems requiring treatment outside of Gaza often are not given exit permits, and die as a result – the death toll is now at 208. This is, of course, in addition to the countless people whose lives and health will be compromised due to the daily lack of food, clean water, sanitary living conditions, basic health care, etc., as well as the significant psychological trauma (particularly to children) of living in what amounts to a prison camp.

Judith Norman

Death toll 208 as three more patients die in the Gaza Strip due to the Israeli siege
by Rula Shahwan
IMEMC News, July 14, 2008
http://www.imemc.org/article/56009

Posted to: http://www.kibush.co.il/show_file.asp?num=27968

Medical sources reported that the number of patients who died due to the Israeli siege on the Gaza strip reached 208 as three patients were announced dead on Monday morning.

Medical sources reported that Latifa Kafina died on Monday morning of leukemia. She couldn't get the permission to leave the Gaza Strip and get treatment. The patient`s family reported that they tried for over ten days to get permission, but they got it only after she was dead.

Moreover sources in Gaza reported that 36 year old Suhaila Abu Hweshel died of cancer on Monday after being banned to leave the Gaza strip to outer hospitals for medical treatment.

In addition Ahmad Abu Ajwa, an old man with diabetes, was pronounced dead on Monday for being unable to get life saving medical treatment out of The Gaza strip because the army banned him from getting the permission.


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Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
------------
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
------------
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to http://www.jewishpeacenews.net

Monday, July 14, 2008

Gideon Levy: 'Worse than apartheid' / Ha'aretz

Gideon Levy accompanies a group of prominent South African human rights activists, as they
visit Israel and the West Bank. Many of the visitors' comments, who are shocked by what they're
seeing, deal with comparing life in Apartheid South Africa to the conditions prevailing in this part
of the OPT.
To me, the major interest of the article is in that it gives us a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of
people who had been through that other struggle.
Racheli Gai.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1000976.html

Gideon Levy: 'Worse than apartheid'
July 10, 2008


I thought they would feel right at home in the alleys of Balata refugee camp, the Casbah and the Hawara checkpoint. But they said there is no comparison: for them the Israeli occupation regime is worse than anything they knew under apartheid. This week, 21 human rights activists from South Africa visited Israel. Among them were members of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress; at least one of them took part in the armed struggle and at least two were jailed. There were two South African Supreme Court judges, a former deputy minister, members of Parliament, attorneys, writers and journalists. Blacks and whites, about half of them Jews who today are in conflict with attitudes of the conservative Jewish community in their country. Some of them have been here before; for others it was their first visit.

For five days they paid an unconventional visit to Israel - without Sderot, the IDF and the Foreign Ministry (but with Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial and a meeting with Supreme Court President Justice Dorit Beinisch. They spent most of their time in the occupied areas, where hardly any official guests go - places that are also shunned by most Israelis.

On Monday they visited Nablus, the most imprisoned city in the West Bank. From Hawara to the Casbah, from the Casbah to Balata, from Joseph's Tomb to the monastery of Jacob's Well. They traveled from Jerusalem to Nablus via Highway 60, observing the imprisoned villages that have no access to the main road, and seeing the "roads for the natives," which pass under the main road. They saw and said nothing. There were no separate roads under apartheid. They went through the Hawara checkpoint mutely: they never had such barriers.

Jody Kollapen, who was head of Lawyers for Human Rights in the apartheid regime, watches silently. He sees the "carousel" into which masses of people are jammed on their way to work, visit family or go to the hospital. Israeli peace activist Neta Golan, who lived for several years in the besieged city, explains that only 1 percent of the inhabitants are allowed to leave the city by car, and they are suspected of being collaborators with Israel. Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, a former deputy minister of defense and of health and a current member of Parliament, a revered figure in her country, notices a sick person being taken through on a stretcher and is shocked. "To deprive people of humane medical care? You know, people die because of that," she says in a muted voice.

The tour guides - Palestinian activists - explain that Nablus is closed off by six checkpoints. Until 2005, one of them was open. "The checkpoints are supposedly for security purposes, but anyone who wants to perpetrate an attack can pay NIS 10 for a taxi and travel by bypass roads, or walk through the hills.

The real purpose is to make life hard for the inhabitants. The civilian population suffers," says Said Abu Hijla, a lecturer at Al-Najah University in the city.

In the bus I get acquainted with my two neighbors: Andrew Feinstein, a son of Holocaust survivors who is married to a Muslim woman from Bangladesh and served six years as an MP for the ANC; and Nathan Gefen, who has a male Muslim partner and was a member of the right-wing Betar movement in his youth. Gefen is active on the Committee against AIDS in his AIDS-ravaged country.

"Look left and right," the guide says through a loudspeaker, "on the top of every hill, on Gerizim and Ebal, is an Israeli army outpost that is watching us." Here are bullet holes in the wall of a school, there is Joseph's Tomb, guarded by a group of armed Palestinian policemen. Here there was a checkpoint, and this is where a woman passerby was shot to death two years ago. The government building that used to be here was bombed and destroyed by F-16 warplanes. A thousand residents of Nablus were killed in the second intifada, 90 of them in Operation Defensive Shield - more than in Jenin. Two weeks ago, on the day the Gaza Strip truce came into effect, Israel carried out its last two assassinations here for the time being. Last night the soldiers entered again and arrested people.

It has been a long time since tourists visited here. There is something new: the numberless memorial posters that were pasted to the walls to commemorate the fallen have been replaced by marble monuments and metal plaques in every corner of the Casbah.

"Don't throw paper into the toilet bowl, because we have a water shortage," the guests are told in the offices of the Casbah Popular Committee, located high in a spectacular old stone building. The former deputy minister takes a seat at the head of the table. Behind her are portraits of Yasser Arafat, Abu Jihad and Marwan Barghouti - the jailed Tanzim leader. Representatives of the Casbah residents describe the ordeals they face. Ninety percent of the children in the ancient neighborhood suffer from anemia and malnutrition, the economic situation is dire, the nightly incursions are continuing, and some of the inhabitants are not allowed to leave the city at all. We go out for a tour on the trail of devastation wrought by the IDF over the years.

Edwin Cameron, a judge on the Supreme Court of Appeal, tells his hosts: "We came here lacking in knowledge and are thirsty to know. We are shocked by what we have seen until now. It is very clear to us that the situation here is intolerable." A poster pasted on an outside wall has a photograph of a man who spent 34 years in an Israeli prison. Mandela was incarcerated seven years less than that. One of the Jewish members of the delegation is prepared to say, though not for attribution, that the comparison with apartheid is very relevant and that the Israelis are even more efficient in implementing the separation-of-races regime than the South Africans were. If he were to say this publicly, he would be attacked by the members of the Jewish community, he says.

Under a fig tree in the center of the Casbah one of the Palestinian activists explains: "The Israeli soldiers are cowards. That is why they created routes of movement with bulldozers. In doing so they killed three generations of one family, the Shubi family, with the bulldozers." Here is the stone monument to the family - grandfather, two aunts, mother and two children. The words "We will never forget, we will never forgive" are engraved on the stone.

No less beautiful than the famed Paris cemetery of Pere-Lachaise, the central cemetery of Nablus rests in the shadow of a large grove of pine trees. Among the hundreds of headstones, those of the intifada victims stand out. Here is the fresh grave of a boy who was killed a few weeks ago at the Hawara checkpoint. The South Africans walk quietly between the graves, pausing at the grave of the mother of our guide, Abu Hijla. She was shot 15 times. "We promise you we will not surrender," her children wrote on the headstone of the woman who was known as "mother of the poor."

Lunch is in a hotel in the city, and Madlala-Routledge speaks. "It is hard for me to describe what I am feeling. What I see here is worse than what we experienced. But I am encouraged to find that there are courageous people here. We want to support you in your struggle, by every possible means. There are quite a few Jews in our delegation, and we are very proud that they are the ones who brought us here. They are demonstrating their commitment to support you. In our country we were able to unite all the forces behind one struggle, and there were courageous whites, including Jews, who joined the struggle. I hope we will see more Israeli Jews joining your struggle."

She was deputy defense minister from 1999 to 2004; in 1987 she served time in prison. Later, I asked her in what ways the situation here is worse than apartheid. "The absolute control of people's lives, the lack of freedom of movement, the army presence everywhere, the total separation and the extensive destruction we saw."

Madlala-Routledge thinks that the struggle against the occupation is not succeeding here because of U.S. support for Israel - not the case with apartheid, which international sanctions helped destroy. Here, the racist ideology is also reinforced by religion, which was not the case in South Africa. "Talk about the 'promised land' and the 'chosen people' adds a religious dimension to racism which we did not have."

Equally harsh are the remarks of the editor-in-chief of the Sunday Times of South Africa, Mondli Makhanya, 38. "When you observe from afar you know that things are bad, but you do not know how bad. Nothing can prepare you for the evil we have seen here. In a certain sense, it is worse, worse, worse than everything we endured. The level of the apartheid, the racism and the brutality are worse than the worst period of apartheid.

"The apartheid regime viewed the blacks as inferior; I do not think the Israelis see the Palestinians as human beings at all. How can a human brain engineer this total separation, the separate roads, the checkpoints? What we went through was terrible, terrible, terrible - and yet there is no comparison. Here it is more terrible. We also knew that it would end one day; here there is no end in sight. The end of the tunnel is blacker than black.

"Under apartheid, whites and blacks met in certain places. The Israelis and the Palestinians do not meet any longer at all. The separation is total. It seems to me that the Israelis would like the Palestinians to disappear. There was never anything like that in our case. The whites did not want the blacks to disappear. I saw the settlers in Silwan [in East Jerusalem] - people who want to expel other people from their place."

Afterward we walk silently through the alleys of Balata, the largest refugee camp in the West Bank, a place that was designated 60 years ago to be a temporary haven for 5,000 refugees and is now inhabited by 26,000. In the dark alleys, which are about the width of a thin person, an oppressive silence prevailed. Everyone was immersed in his thoughts, and only the voice of the muezzin broke the stillness.

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Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
------------
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
------------
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to http://www.jewishpeacenews.net

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Petition for right of entry to the OPT for film-makers

The petition below concerns Right of Entry to the OPT for people in the film industry.
It's been initiated by the Israeli committee for Right of Entry.

The introduction to the petition says, in part:

"Among those who have been refused entry for no apparent reason are 3 individuals in the film industry.

None of the individuals understands why she has been denied entry. All three had legitimate plans to begin or complete film projects with Palestinians or to meet with Palestinians in the film industry. The work of these three women is strictly cultural. One of the three also has an aged ailing mother in the West Bank (Norma, below), which is decidedly a humanitarian concern that should work in favor of her being allowed to enter.

All have continued their efforts to enter the Occupied Palestinian Territory to no avail."


The link to the petition is http://www.petitiononline.com/entryOPT/petition.html


Please consider signing, as well as spreading the word.
Thanks,
Racheli Gai.

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Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
------------
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
------------
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to http://www.jewishpeacenews.net

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hersh on US Iran policy -- Preparing the Battlefield

[Seymour Hersh's most recent article about the US government's posture towards Iran makes disquieting reading. While the possibility that the Bush administration will launch an overt military attack in its lame duck months is not great, nevertheless the fundamental immorality of such an act and the sheer scale of the disaster it would likely cause make it important to be ready to mobilize resistance, especially within the US. As Hersh reports, nearly three quarters of the US population oppose military action, and, as the article discusses in some detail, there is a good deal of skepticism about an invasion from a number of prominent establishment figures like Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former head of US Central Command Admiral Fallon and many other influential members of the full-time military.

On the other hand, this administration is reckless in the extreme, and Hersh also notes that a small spat between Iranian patrol boats and US ships in the Strait of Hormuz in January caused enough public hostility towards Iran that, according Hersh's source, Cheney's office started immediately to discuss how to 'create a casus belli' between Iran and the US. Cheney's contempt for human life may be such that he figures once he has started a war, the next President will be compelled by right-wing flak to continue it.

It is in this context that official US pronouncements on Iran's nuclear capabilities must be understood: they bear little relation to either the facts or the law, but are aimed at manufacturing a pretext. Hersh also points out that a covert war is already underway, with US government support for dissident groups totalling hundreds of millions of dollars and Special Forces already on the ground in Iran. Many of the dissident groups that are likey receiving money are pursuing unequivocally terrorist tactics, some are linked to Al Quada, and at least one is on the State Department list of terrorist organisations. Alistair Welchman]

Preparing the Battlefield

The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran.

by Seymour M. Hersh July 7, 2008

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/07/07/080707fa_fact_hersh/?printable=tru e

Operations outside the knowledge and control of commanders have eroded "the coherence of military strategy," one general says.

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country's religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran's suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of "high-value targets" in the President's war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.

"The Finding was focussed on undermining Iran's nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change," a person familiar with its contents said, and involved "working with opposition groups and passing money." The Finding provided for a whole new range of activities in southern Iran and in the areas, in the east, where Baluchi political opposition is strong, he said.

Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding, and "there was a significant amount of high-level discussion" about it, according to the source familiar with it, the funding for the escalation was approved. In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership—Congress has been under Democratic control since the 2006 elections—were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party's presumptive candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct talks and diplomacy.

The request for funding came in the same period in which the Administration was coming to terms with a National Intelligence Estimate, released in December, that concluded that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003. The Administration downplayed the significance of the N.I.E., and, while saying that it was committed to diplomacy, continued to emphasize that urgent action was essential to counter the Iranian nuclear threat. President Bush questioned the N.I.E.'s conclusions, and senior national-security officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, made similar statements. (So did Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee.) Meanwhile, the Administration also revived charges that the Iranian leadership has been involved in the killing of American soldiers in Iraq: both directly, by dispatching commando units into Iraq, and indirectly, by supplying materials used for roadside bombs and other
lethal
goods. (There have been questions about the accuracy of the claims; the Times, among others, has reported that "significant uncertainties remain about the extent of that involvement.")

Military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon share the White House's concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions, but there is disagreement about whether a military strike is the right solution. Some Pentagon officials believe, as they have let Congress and the media know, that bombing Iran is not a viable response to the nuclear-proliferation issue, and that more diplomacy is necessary.

A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, "We'll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America." Gates's comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates's answer, the senator told me, was "Let's just say that I'm here speaking for myself." (A spokesman for Gates confirmed that he discussed the consequences of a strike at the meeting, but would not address what he said, other than to dispute the senator's characterization.)

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chairman is Admiral Mike Mullen, were "pushing back very hard" against White House pressure to undertake a military strike against Iran, the person familiar with the Finding told me. Similarly, a Pentagon consultant who is involved in the war on terror said that "at least ten senior flag and general officers, including combatant commanders"—the four-star officers who direct military operations around the world—"have weighed in on that issue."

The most outspoken of those officers is Admiral William Fallon, who until recently was the head of U.S. Central Command, and thus in charge of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, Fallon resigned under pressure, after giving a series of interviews stating his reservations about an armed attack on Iran. For example, late last year he told the Financial Times that the "real objective" of U.S. policy was to change the Iranians' behavior, and that "attacking them as a means to get to that spot strikes me as being not the first choice."

Admiral Fallon acknowledged, when I spoke to him in June, that he had heard that there were people in the White House who were upset by his public statements. "Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians," he told me. "Let's get serious. Eighty million people live there, and everyone's an individual. The idea that they're only one way or another is nonsense."

When it came to the Iraq war, Fallon said, "Did I bitch about some of the things that were being proposed? You bet. Some of them were very stupid."

The Democratic leadership's agreement to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for more secret operations in Iran was remarkable, given the general concerns of officials like Gates, Fallon, and many others. "The oversight process has not kept pace—it's been coöpted" by the Administration, the person familiar with the contents of the Finding said. "The process is broken, and this is dangerous stuff we're authorizing."

Senior Democrats in Congress told me that they had concerns about the possibility that their understanding of what the new operations entail differs from the White House's. One issue has to do with a reference in the Finding, the person familiar with it recalled, to potential defensive lethal action by U.S. operatives in Iran. (In early May, the journalist Andrew Cockburn published elements of the Finding in Counterpunch, a newsletter and online magazine.)

The language was inserted into the Finding at the urging of the C.I.A., a former senior intelligence official said. The covert operations set forth in the Finding essentially run parallel to those of a secret military task force, now operating in Iran, that is under the control of JSOC. Under the Bush Administration's interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference. But the borders between operations are not always clear: in Iran, C.I.A. agents and regional assets have the language skills and the local knowledge to make contacts for the JSOC operatives, and have been working with them to direct personnel, matériel, and money into Iran from an obscure base in western Afghanistan. As a result, Congress has been given only a partial view of how the money it authorized may be used.
One of JSOC's task-force missions, the pursuit of "high-value targets," was not directly addressed in the Finding. There is a growing realization among some legislators that the Bush Administration, in recent years, has conflated what is an intelligence operation and what is a military one in order to avoid fully informing Congress about what it is doing.

"This is a big deal," the person familiar with the Finding said. "The C.I.A. needed the Finding to do its traditional stuff, but the Finding does not apply to JSOC. The President signed an Executive Order after September 11th giving the Pentagon license to do things that it had never been able to do before without notifying Congress. The claim was that the military was 'preparing the battle space,' and by using that term they were able to circumvent congressional oversight. Everything is justified in terms of fighting the global war on terror." He added, "The Administration has been fuzzing the lines; there used to be a shade of gray"—between operations that had to be briefed to the senior congressional leadership and those which did not—"but now it's a shade of mush."

"The agency says we're not going to get in the position of helping to kill people without a Finding," the former senior intelligence official told me. He was referring to the legal threat confronting some agency operatives for their involvement in the rendition and alleged torture of suspects in the war on terror. "This drove the military people up the wall," he said. As far as the C.I.A. was concerned, the former senior intelligence official said, "the over-all authorization includes killing, but it's not as though that's what they're setting out to do. It's about gathering information, enlisting support." The Finding sent to Congress was a compromise, providing legal cover for the C.I.A. while referring to the use of lethal force in ambiguous terms.

The defensive-lethal language led some Democrats, according to congressional sources familiar with their views, to call in the director of the C.I.A., Air Force General Michael V. Hayden, for a special briefing. Hayden reassured the legislators that the language did nothing more than provide authority for Special Forces operatives on the ground in Iran to shoot their way out if they faced capture or harm.

The legislators were far from convinced. One congressman subsequently wrote a personal letter to President Bush insisting that "no lethal action, period" had been authorized within Iran's borders. As of June, he had received no answer.

Members of Congress have expressed skepticism in the past about the information provided by the White House. On March 15, 2005, David Obey, then the ranking Democrat on the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee, announced that he was putting aside an amendment that he had intended to offer that day, and that would have cut off all funding for national-intelligence programs unless the President agreed to keep Congress fully informed about clandestine military activities undertaken in the war on terror. He had changed his mind, he said, because the White House promised better coöperation. "The Executive Branch understands that we are not trying to dictate what they do," he said in a floor speech at the time. "We are simply trying to see to it that what they do is consistent with American values and will not get the country in trouble."

Obey declined to comment on the specifics of the operations in Iran, but he did tell me that the White House reneged on its promise to consult more fully with Congress. He said, "I suspect there's something going on, but I don't know what to believe. Cheney has always wanted to go after Iran, and if he had more time he'd find a way to do it. We still don't get enough information from the agencies, and I have very little confidence that they give us information on the edge."

None of the four Democrats in the Gang of Eight—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, and House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes—would comment on the Finding, with some noting that it was highly classified. An aide to one member of the Democratic leadership responded, on his behalf, by pointing to the limitations of the Gang of Eight process. The notification of a Finding, the aide said, "is just that—notification, and not a sign-off on activities. Proper oversight of ongoing intelligence activities is done by fully briefing the members of the intelligence committee." However, Congress does have the means to challenge the White House once it has been sent a Finding. It has the power to withhold funding for any government operation. The members of the House and Senate Democratic leadership who have access to the Finding can also, if they choose to do so, and if they have shared
concerns, come up with ways to exert their influence on Administration policy. (A spokesman for the C.I.A. said, "As a rule, we don't comment one way or the other on allegations of covert activities or purported findings." The White House also declined to comment.)

A member of the House Appropriations Committee acknowledged that, even with a Democratic victory in November, "it will take another year before we get the intelligence activities under control." He went on, "We control the money and they can't do anything without the money. Money is what it's all about. But I'm very leery of this Administration." He added, "This Administration has been so secretive."

One irony of Admiral Fallon's departure is that he was, in many areas, in agreement with President Bush on the threat posed by Iran. They had a good working relationship, Fallon told me, and, when he ran CENTCOM, were in regular communication. On March 4th, a week before his resignation, Fallon testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying that he was "encouraged" about the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regarding the role played by Iran's leaders, he said, "They've been absolutely unhelpful, very damaging, and I absolutely don't condone any of their activities. And I have yet to see anything since I've been in this job in the way of a public action by Iran that's been at all helpful in this region."

Fallon made it clear in our conversations that he considered it inappropriate to comment publicly about the President, the Vice-President, or Special Operations. But he said he had heard that people in the White House had been "struggling" with his views on Iran. "When I arrived at CENTCOM, the Iranians were funding every entity inside Iraq. It was in their interest to get us out, and so they decided to kill as many Americans as they could. And why not? They didn't know who'd come out ahead, but they wanted us out. I decided that I couldn't resolve the situation in Iraq without the neighborhood. To get this problem in Iraq solved, we had to somehow involve Iran and Syria. I had to work the neighborhood."

Fallon told me that his focus had been not on the Iranian nuclear issue, or on regime change there, but on "putting out the fires in Iraq." There were constant discussions in Washington and in the field about how to engage Iran and, on the subject of the bombing option, Fallon said, he believed that "it would happen only if the Iranians did something stupid."

Fallon's early retirement, however, appears to have been provoked not only by his negative comments about bombing Iran but also by his strong belief in the chain of command and his insistence on being informed about Special Operations in his area of responsibility. One of Fallon's defenders is retired Marine General John J. (Jack) Sheehan, whose last assignment was as commander-in-chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command, where Fallon was a deputy. Last year, Sheehan rejected a White House offer to become the President's "czar" for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "One of the reasons the White House selected Fallon for CENTCOM was that he's known to be a strategic thinker and had demonstrated those skills in the Pacific," Sheehan told me. (Fallon served as commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific from 2005 to 2007.) "He was charged with coming up with an over-all coherent strategy for Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and, by law, the combatant commander is responsible for all military
operations within his A.O."—area of operations. "That was not happening," Sheehan said. "When Fallon tried to make sense of all the overt and covert activity conducted by the military in his area of responsibility, a small group in the White House leadership shut him out."

The law cited by Sheehan is the 1986 Defense Reorganization Act, known as Goldwater-Nichols, which defined the chain of command: from the President to the Secretary of Defense, through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and on to the various combatant commanders, who were put in charge of all aspects of military operations, including joint training and logistics. That authority, the act stated, was not to be shared with other echelons of command. But the Bush Administration, as part of its global war on terror, instituted new policies that undercut regional commanders-in-chief; for example, it gave Special Operations teams, at military commands around the world, the highest priority in terms of securing support and equipment. The degradation of the traditional chain of command in the past few years has been a point of tension between the White House and the uniformed military.

"The coherence of military strategy is being eroded because of undue civilian influence and direction of nonconventional military operations," Sheehan said. "If you have small groups planning and conducting military operations outside the knowledge and control of the combatant commander, by default you can't have a coherent military strategy. You end up with a disaster, like the reconstruction efforts in Iraq."

Admiral Fallon, who is known as Fox, was aware that he would face special difficulties as the first Navy officer to lead CENTCOM, which had always been headed by a ground commander, one of his military colleagues told me. He was also aware that the Special Operations community would be a concern. "Fox said that there's a lot of strange stuff going on in Special Ops, and I told him he had to figure out what they were really doing," Fallon's colleague said. "The Special Ops guys eventually figured out they needed Fox, and so they began to talk to him. Fox would have won his fight with Special Ops but for Cheney."

The Pentagon consultant said, "Fallon went down because, in his own way, he was trying to prevent a war with Iran, and you have to admire him for that."

In recent months, according to the Iranian media, there has been a surge in violence in Iran; it is impossible at this early stage, however, to credit JSOC or C.I.A. activities, or to assess their impact on the Iranian leadership. The Iranian press reports are being carefully monitored by retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who has taught strategy at the National War College and now conducts war games centered on Iran for the federal government, think tanks, and universities. The Iranian press "is very open in describing the killings going on inside the country," Gardiner said. It is, he said, "a controlled press, which makes it more important that it publishes these things. We begin to see inside the government." He added, "Hardly a day goes by now we don't see a clash somewhere. There were three or four incidents over a recent weekend, and the Iranians are even naming the Revolutionary Guard officers who have been killed."

Earlier this year, a militant Ahwazi group claimed to have assassinated a Revolutionary Guard colonel, and the Iranian government acknowledged that an explosion in a cultural center in Shiraz, in the southern part of the country, which killed at least twelve people and injured more than two hundred, had been a terrorist act and not, as it earlier insisted, an accident. It could not be learned whether there has been American involvement in any specific incident in Iran, but, according to Gardiner, the Iranians have begun publicly blaming the U.S., Great Britain, and, more recently, the C.I.A. for some incidents. The agency was involved in a coup in Iran in 1953, and its support for the unpopular regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi—who was overthrown in 1979—was condemned for years by the ruling mullahs in Tehran, to great effect. "This is the ultimate for the Iranians—to blame the C.I.A.," Gardiner said. "This is new, and it's an escalation—a ratcheting up of tensions. It rallies
support for the regime and shows the people that there is a continuing threat from the 'Great Satan.' " In Gardiner's view, the violence, rather than weakening Iran's religious government, may generate support for it.

Many of the activities may be being carried out by dissidents in Iran, and not by Americans in the field. One problem with "passing money" (to use the term of the person familiar with the Finding) in a covert setting is that it is hard to control where the money goes and whom it benefits. Nonetheless, the former senior intelligence official said, "We've got exposure, because of the transfer of our weapons and our communications gear. The Iranians will be able to make the argument that the opposition was inspired by the Americans. How many times have we tried this without asking the right questions? Is the risk worth it?" One possible consequence of these operations would be a violent Iranian crackdown on one of the dissident groups, which could give the Bush Administration a reason to intervene.

A strategy of using ethnic minorities to undermine Iran is flawed, according to Vali Nasr, who teaches international politics at Tufts University and is also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "Just because Lebanon, Iraq, and Pakistan have ethnic problems, it does not mean that Iran is suffering from the same issue," Nasr told me. "Iran is an old country—like France and Germany—and its citizens are just as nationalistic. The U.S. is overestimating ethnic tension in Iran." The minority groups that the U.S. is reaching out to are either well integrated or small and marginal, without much influence on the government or much ability to present a political challenge, Nasr said. "You can always find some activist groups that will go and kill a policeman, but working with the minorities will backfire, and alienate the majority of the population."

The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. "The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda," Baer told me. "These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it's Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we're once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties." Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.

One of the most active and violent anti-regime groups in Iran today is the Jundallah, also known as the Iranian People's Resistance Movement, which describes itself as a resistance force fighting for the rights of Sunnis in Iran. "This is a vicious Salafi organization whose followers attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists," Nasr told me. "They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture." The Jundallah took responsibility for the bombing of a busload of Revolutionary Guard soldiers in February, 2007. At least eleven Guard members were killed. According to Baer and to press reports, the Jundallah is among the groups in Iran that are benefitting from U.S. support.

The C.I.A. and Special Operations communities also have long-standing ties to two other dissident groups in Iran: the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, known in the West as the M.E.K., and a Kurdish separatist group, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK.

The M.E.K. has been on the State Department's terrorist list for more than a decade, yet in recent years the group has received arms and intelligence, directly or indirectly, from the United States. Some of the newly authorized covert funds, the Pentagon consultant told me, may well end up in M.E.K. coffers. "The new task force will work with the M.E.K. The Administration is desperate for results." He added, "The M.E.K. has no C.P.A. auditing the books, and its leaders are thought to have been lining their pockets for years. If people only knew what the M.E.K. is getting, and how much is going to its bank accounts—and yet it is almost useless for the purposes the Administration intends."

The Kurdish party, PJAK, which has also been reported to be covertly supported by the United States, has been operating against Iran from bases in northern Iraq for at least three years. (Iran, like Iraq and Turkey, has a Kurdish minority, and PJAK and other groups have sought self-rule in territory that is now part of each of those countries.) In recent weeks, according to Sam Gardiner, the military strategist, there has been a marked increase in the number of PJAK armed engagements with Iranians and terrorist attacks on Iranian targets. In early June, the news agency Fars reported that a dozen PJAK members and four Iranian border guards were killed in a clash near the Iraq border; a similar attack in May killed three Revolutionary Guards and nine PJAK fighters. PJAK has also subjected Turkey, a member of NATO, to repeated terrorist attacks, and reports of American support for the group have been a source of friction between the two governments.

Gardiner also mentioned a trip that the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, made to Tehran in June. After his return, Maliki announced that his government would ban any contact between foreigners and the M.E.K.—a slap at the U.S.'s dealings with the group. Maliki declared that Iraq was not willing to be a staging ground for covert operations against other countries. This was a sign, Gardiner said, of "Maliki's increasingly choosing the interests of Iraq over the interests of the United States." In terms of U.S. allegations of Iranian involvement in the killing of American soldiers, he said, "Maliki was unwilling to play the blame-Iran game." Gardiner added that Pakistan had just agreed to turn over a Jundallah leader to the Iranian government. America's covert operations, he said, "seem to be harming relations with the governments of both Iraq and Pakistan and could well be strengthening the connection between Tehran and Baghdad."

The White House's reliance on questionable operatives, and on plans involving possible lethal action inside Iran, has created anger as well as anxiety within the Special Operations and intelligence communities. JSOC's operations in Iran are believed to be modelled on a program that has, with some success, used surrogates to target the Taliban leadership in the tribal territories of Waziristan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. But the situations in Waziristan and Iran are not comparable.

In Waziristan, "the program works because it's small and smart guys are running it," the former senior intelligence official told me. "It's being executed by professionals. The N.S.A., the C.I.A., and the D.I.A."—the Defense Intelligence Agency—"are right in there with the Special Forces and Pakistani intelligence, and they're dealing with serious bad guys." He added, "We have to be really careful in calling in the missiles. We have to hit certain houses at certain times. The people on the ground are watching through binoculars a few hundred yards away and calling specific locations, in latitude and longitude. We keep the Predator loitering until the targets go into a house, and we have to make sure our guys are far enough away so they don't get hit." One of the most prominent victims of the program, the former official said, was Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior Taliban commander, who was killed on January 31st, reportedly in a missile strike that also killed eleven other people.

A dispatch published on March 26th by the Washington Post reported on the increasing number of successful strikes against Taliban and other insurgent units in Pakistan's tribal areas. A follow-up article noted that, in response, the Taliban had killed "dozens of people" suspected of providing information to the United States and its allies on the whereabouts of Taliban leaders. Many of the victims were thought to be American spies, and their executions—a beheading, in one case—were videotaped and distributed by DVD as a warning to others.

It is not simple to replicate the program in Iran. "Everybody's arguing about the high-value-target list," the former senior intelligence official said. "The Special Ops guys are pissed off because Cheney's office set up priorities for categories of targets, and now he's getting impatient and applying pressure for results. But it takes a long time to get the right guys in place."

The Pentagon consultant told me, "We've had wonderful results in the Horn of Africa with the use of surrogates and false flags—basic counterintelligence and counter-insurgency tactics. And we're beginning to tie them in knots in Afghanistan. But the White House is going to kill the program if they use it to go after Iran. It's one thing to engage in selective strikes and assassinations in Waziristan and another in Iran. The White House believes that one size fits all, but the legal issues surrounding extrajudicial killings in Waziristan are less of a problem because Al Qaeda and the Taliban cross the border into Afghanistan and back again, often with U.S. and NATO forces in hot pursuit. The situation is not nearly as clear in the Iranian case. All the considerations—judicial, strategic, and political—are different in Iran."

He added, "There is huge opposition inside the intelligence community to the idea of waging a covert war inside Iran, and using Baluchis and Ahwazis as surrogates. The leaders of our Special Operations community all have remarkable physical courage, but they are less likely to voice their opposition to policy. Iran is not Waziristan."

A Gallup poll taken last November, before the N.I.E. was made public, found that seventy-three per cent of those surveyed thought that the United States should use economic action and diplomacy to stop Iran's nuclear program, while only eighteen per cent favored direct military action. Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to endorse a military strike. Weariness with the war in Iraq has undoubtedly affected the public's tolerance for an attack on Iran. This mood could change quickly, however. The potential for escalation became clear in early January, when five Iranian patrol boats, believed to be under the command of the Revolutionary Guard, made a series of aggressive moves toward three Navy warships sailing through the Strait of Hormuz. Initial reports of the incident made public by the Pentagon press office said that the Iranians had transmitted threats, over ship-to-ship radio, to "explode" the American ships. At a White House news conference, the President, on the day
he
left for an eight-day trip to the Middle East, called the incident "provocative" and "dangerous," and there was, very briefly, a sense of crisis and of outrage at Iran. "TWO MINUTES FROM WAR" was the headline in one British newspaper.

The crisis was quickly defused by Vice-Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of U.S. naval forces in the region. No warning shots were fired, the Admiral told the Pentagon press corps on January 7th, via teleconference from his headquarters, in Bahrain. "Yes, it's more serious than we have seen, but, to put it in context, we do interact with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and their Navy regularly," Cosgriff said. "I didn't get the sense from the reports I was receiving that there was a sense of being afraid of these five boats."

Admiral Cosgriff's caution was well founded: within a week, the Pentagon acknowledged that it could not positively identify the Iranian boats as the source of the ominous radio transmission, and press reports suggested that it had instead come from a prankster long known for sending fake messages in the region. Nonetheless, Cosgriff's demeanor angered Cheney, according to the former senior intelligence official. But a lesson was learned in the incident: The public had supported the idea of retaliation, and was even asking why the U.S. didn't do more. The former official said that, a few weeks later, a meeting took place in the Vice-President's office. "The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington," he said.

In June, President Bush went on a farewell tour of Europe. He had tea with Queen Elizabeth II and dinner with Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, the President and First Lady of France. The serious business was conducted out of sight, and involved a series of meetings on a new diplomatic effort to persuade the Iranians to halt their uranium-enrichment program. (Iran argues that its enrichment program is for civilian purposes and is legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.) Secretary of State Rice had been involved with developing a new package of incentives. But the Administration's essential negotiating position seemed unchanged: talks could not take place until Iran halted the program. The Iranians have repeatedly and categorically rejected that precondition, leaving the diplomatic situation in a stalemate; they have not yet formally responded to the new incentives.

The continuing impasse alarms many observers. Joschka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister, recently wrote in a syndicated column that it may not "be possible to freeze the Iranian nuclear program for the duration of the negotiations to avoid a military confrontation before they are completed. Should this newest attempt fail, things will soon get serious. Deadly serious." When I spoke to him last week, Fischer, who has extensive contacts in the diplomatic community, said that the latest European approach includes a new element: the willingness of the U.S. and the Europeans to accept something less than a complete cessation of enrichment as an intermediate step. "The proposal says that the Iranians must stop manufacturing new centrifuges and the other side will stop all further sanction activities in the U.N. Security Council," Fischer said, although Iran would still have to freeze its enrichment activities when formal negotiations begin. "This could be acceptable to the
Iranians—if they have good will."

The big question, Fischer added, is in Washington. "I think the Americans are deeply divided on the issue of what to do about Iran," he said. "Some officials are concerned about the fallout from a military attack and others think an attack is unavoidable. I know the Europeans, but I have no idea where the Americans will end up on this issue."

There is another complication: American Presidential politics. Barack Obama has said that, if elected, he would begin talks with Iran with no "self-defeating" preconditions (although only after diplomatic groundwork had been laid). That position has been vigorously criticized by John McCain. The Washington Post recently quoted Randy Scheunemann, the McCain campaign's national-security director, as stating that McCain supports the White House's position, and that the program be suspended before talks begin. What Obama is proposing, Scheunemann said, "is unilateral cowboy summitry."

Scheunemann, who is known as a neoconservative, is also the McCain campaign's most important channel of communication with the White House. He is a friend of David Addington, Dick Cheney's chief of staff. I have heard differing accounts of Scheunemann's influence with McCain; though some close to the McCain campaign talk about him as a possible national-security adviser, others say he is someone who isn't taken seriously while "telling Cheney and others what they want to hear," as a senior McCain adviser put it.

It is not known whether McCain, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been formally briefed on the operations in Iran. At the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in June, Obama repeated his plea for "tough and principled diplomacy." But he also said, along with McCain, that he would keep the threat of military action against Iran on the table.

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Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
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