Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How Palestinian children really learn

Quite frequently some columnist or pundit will claim that the Palestinian education system is (at least in part) to blame for the continued violence. Sometimes the claim is that religious texts are used to teach Palestinian children to hate Jews, and sometimes it is claimed that Palestinian textbooks incite hatred of Israel. These claims are popular features of many analyses, presumably because they offer an explanation for Palestinian hostility to people who do not or will not acknowledge the horrors of the occupation.

The first piece below tears apart the myth that Islamic doctrine is what inculcates hatred in Palestinian children. Palestinian children are traumatized by the constant sight and threat of violence, as well as the institutions of occupation that impede their mobility and block any hope of a decent life: they drink contaminated water, eat insufficient amounts of food, and witness events such Monday's rocket attack that killed a mother with 4 small children ( And yet somehow it's the schoolbooks that are responsible for the children learning to hate?

No doubt there are institutions in Palestine teaching messages of hate, as there certainly are institutions teaching messages of peace and co-existence. The point is that such lessons are far and away superseded by the daily lessons in brutality that Palestinian children experience under occupation.

The second piece (an action alert from the Middle East Children's Alliance describes how the Israeli military is closing down schools and orphanages run by a charity in Hebron. The military has already destroyed the food supplies and bakery that the charity uses to distribute goods to children in need. It is pretty clear what lesson this action will be teaching to the children of Hebron.

Judith Norman

How Palestinian children really learn
Carol Scheller, The Electronic Intifada, 15 April 2008

On 22 March, The Miami Herald published an article entitled "Dreaming of a peaceful Mideast." The initial reaction to such a headline is naturally one of pleased interest. Reporter Frida Ghitis praises the Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information for "working to create" a "culture of peace" in order to "put a stop to incitement and hatred." However, Ghitis goes on to state: "It is absolutely imperative to recast the poisonous message drilled into Palestinian children. In Gaza, in particular, even the youngest children are taught that killing Jews is a duty of Muslims ..."

This is the stuff of much sensationalist, biased journalism which does its best to neutralize all genuine attempts to foster trust and cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. Having visited and lived in Gaza four times since a month before the beginning of the second intifada and known many families and children there, I was deeply dismayed.

It is a common mistake to hold religion as the core issue in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. This is incorrect and harmful. The issue is territorial: two peoples lay claim to the same land, land which they are going to have to somehow share, someday, no matter what form of religion they happen to profess, if they indeed practice a religion. Ghitis's statement is empty of everything except the very things she criticizes: "incitement and hatred."

The main influence on children in Gaza is the fear of arbitrary injury or death from the air and the surrounding land inflicted by all the different arms available to the Israeli army. Gaza children can identify all sorts of munitions they scavenge after attacks. They know the names of all the different kinds of Israeli aircraft and can identify them by their sound. Thousands of children have lost their homes to demolition by the Israeli army. Some children have had the terrifying experience of seeing their homes occupied and used by Israeli soldiers who crowd the family into one room preventing them even from using the bathroom.

Some children can tell you about the sonic booms caused by Israeli warplanes for the sole cruel purpose of frightening and disorienting civilians: their force has even knocked children out of their beds and broken their bones. The children can tell you about the massacre of an entire family in Beit Hanoun in November 2006 and of course about the recent horrific events all over Gaza last month.

Just going to school is a major act of courage and in school, children lack the basic necessities: books and paper, to start with, because (and this the children can tell you), the Israeli authorities will not permit their importation. Worse, many children can no longer go to school at all, as their families cannot afford to pay for their transport, uniforms or even pencils. Despite this, the main message in school in Gaza, as in many schools the world over, is that if you want to succeed, you need to get good grades.

The children know that their big brothers and sisters can no longer hope to travel abroad to complete their education because Israel will not permit them to leave. A young man I know who graduated brilliantly from secondary school in June has shelved his dreams of studying medicine abroad, like some of his aunts and uncles. He is now studying to be a pharmacist, well aware that at the moment, thanks to the Israeli blockade, most of the products he might someday want to offer to clients are unavailable.

Ever so many children in Gaza know that their fathers no longer have jobs because the border is closed, and they cannot go to Israel to earn a living. A lot of joy has gone out of family life. Children know that there is no gas for cars or trucks or ambulances and that they must often go without electricity (no television, no clean clothes) because Israel has decided this. Many of the things children like to eat have also disappeared.

All the children in Gaza can tell you how their elders are worried, terribly worried, especially about them and their future. The children hate this situation. They do not understand it. They think it is unfair. They ask why. Children in Gaza indeed dream of "a peaceful Mideast." It is their deepest wish, as it is the deepest desire of Israeli children and their parents, especially those now suffering from Qassam rockets.

The Muslim and Christian families and the families who go to neither mosque nor church who I know in Gaza teach their children to live correctly, respecting themselves and others. They do not need to say anything about Israel: the actions of its army and authorities dominate every single aspect of life in Gaza.

Parents in Gaza tell their children that they hope things will get better. They tell them to work hard in school and to be patient.

But what does the Israeli army teach the children?

Children listen to adults, then they observe and form their own opinions on the world.

Ghitis's article is a prime example of intentionally slanted reporting which needs to be criticized and corrected. Her references to "peace" cannot mask the fact that she is appealing to basic fears and prejudices that only reinforce negative, false stereotypes guaranteed to stalemate any progress in dialogue between Israelis (many of whom, we should remind Ghitis, are not Jewish) and Palestinians.

Carol Scheller, a retired public school teacher, lives in Geneva, Switzerland. She and Walid Shomali translated the guidebook Palestine and the Palestinians from French to English in 2004, when Scheller worked briefly for its publisher, the Alternative Tourism Group, in Beit Sahour. Scheller has been writing a blog for the Tribune de Geneve called "Au jour le jour, Gaza" during and since a stay in Gaza from April to June 2007 (


Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA)
Take Action: Israeli Military Trying to Close Palestinian Orphanages
Action Alert from the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs:

Israel has killed 1,020 Palestinian children since 2000 and Palestinians have killed 124 Israeli children. Too many precious children have suffered and died as a result of politics. Another outrage is about to occur and you can help stop it. On April 23 a program on French TV Channel 5 highlighted a tragedy that may occur at any moment. This news is not even discussed in the United States.

The Israeli military is about to close down schools and orphanages run by the Islamic Charitable Society (ICS) in the West Bank city of Hebron. More than 240 boys and girls, aged 5-18 live at the orphanages, while thousands of other children, many of whom have lost at least one parent, receive schooling, food and clothing from the charity. The Israeli military has already seized $157,000 worth of goods - including rice, oil, sugar, clothing and first aid kits - from the ICS warehouse.

Israeli soldiers entered the Rahma Bakery, owned by the society, on April 14, destroyed the oven, and confiscated more than $43,000 of equipment, including all the display cases, refrigerators, fixtures, and most of the inventory. Upstairs, the soldiers destroyed heating ducts. This bakery provided bread for the orphanages.

The charity has appealed to the Israeli High Court of Justice. The Israeli army claims that ICS is supporting the Hamas movement, which started in 1987. The society, founded in 1962, argues that ICS is a Palestinian charitable organization, with no political agenda, which is monitored regularly by the Palestinian Authority.

Israel and its supporters in the United States and Europe have targeted almost every charity that is trying to keep Palestinians fed, clothed, and educated. By closing this charity and others, Israel will complete the economic strangulation and even ethnic cleansing of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel's wall and checkpoints are already preventing Palestinians' access to jobs, fields, medical care and schools.

If the Israeli army shuts down the ICS and its projects in the city of Hebron, nearly 300 orphans will have no place other than the street to sleep. Please fax, telephone and e-mail your representatives to ask Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to stop this outrage. Ask him to show Palestinians that he does want peace by stopping this heartless eviction.


President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
(202) 456-1414

White House Comment Line:
(202) 456-1111
Fax: (202) 456-2461

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 261-8577

State Department Public Information Line:
(202) 647-6575
Fax: (202) 647-2283

Any Senator
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-3121

Any Representative
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-3121

E-Mail Congress and the White House:

Congress: visit <>; for President Bush: <>; Vice President Cheney:


Embassy of Israel
Ambassador Sallai Meridor
3514 International Dr., NW,
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 364-5500 Fax: (202)
(202) 364-5560

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Sewage is literally pouring into the streets"

These articles call attention to another crisis unfolding in Gaza, the massive amount of raw sewage that is contaminating the drinking water and making people sick. The situation is desperately unstable – the sewage treatment facilities are old and in bad repair, and designed to serve a population of less than 400,000 (Gaza now has 1.5 million people). Whatever sewage does not get pumped into the Mediterranean (itself a terrible solution) is held in large, open-air lakes by dykes that have burst in the past and are liable to break again. And they leak: "sewage is literally pouring into the streets," says the head of CARE International, quoted in the second piece below.

Construction of a new plant and repair to the old is hampered by the occupation, and particularly the fuel shortage – materials and contractors simply cannot get through.

The first article, from the BBC, refers to the leaking sewage as a 'tsumami'. While this analogy highlights the severity of the problem, it is deeply misleading to compare this to a natural disaster: it is a human-made disaster. It is not a tragedy but rather a crime, the predictable and culpable result of intentional policies undertaken by Israel and the international community.

This is expressed quite well in a statement by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, "Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and - some would say - encouragement of the international community."

Judith Norman


Gaza`s sewage `tsunami`
By Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East editor
April 22, 2008

From Occupation Magazine:

A five-month-old baby lay on a blanket in the shade of a hut made of metal sheets.

Thin tree branches, with leaves and twigs intact, were laced around the ends of the hut to insulate it against the hot wind that blows into the sand dunes, rolling away to the border fence and on to Israel.

The baby`s mother sat with her legs tucked under her, hiding most of her face behind her black head-scarf. It flapped slightly in the breeze, and she used it to wipe her tears and muffle her sobs.

The woman`s name is Aziza Abu Otayek. She wept because she was remembering the death of another baby son, one morning in March last year, just after the older children had gone to school.

Until that day their home was just downhill from a deep pond of sewage, pumped into a depression in the dunes and held there by earth walls because the water authorities in the Gaza Strip had nowhere else to put it.

`Wall of human waste`

On 27 March 2007, the walls gave way.

Aziza heard someone shouting, telling her to run away. She got out of the hut, then went back in because she had forgotten her head covering.

The wall of raw human waste slammed into them. It knocked her down and tore the baby from her arms.

He drowned. They found his body against the wall of the mosque a hundred metres away. He was nine months old.

His grandmother was also drowned.

Aziza worried about her new baby until he was born at the end of last year, because when she was hit by the flood she swallowed some of the sewage and she thought it might have harmed him.

They named the new baby Mohammed, after his dead brother.

While she talked, he gurgled happily, untroubled by the flies that buzzed around his eyes and lips.

Aziza has an older son, a four-year-old called Ramadan. His father said he asks about his dead brother, and when he is cross he says he prefers the first Mohammed to the second one.

But Ramadan seems a cheery little soul, though he has nightmares about the flood.

He looks around the lakes of almost raw sewage that still lie near their home and asks his parents if another wave is going to come.

One might. The pond that killed Ramadan`s brother and grandmother is not the only one near their home. The others are much bigger and full of sewage.

Growing population

A Palestinian water engineer called Sadi Ali gave me a tour. He explained that the sewage lakes have grown so big because Gaza`s growing population - 1.4 million, half of whom are under 16 - has overwhelmed what were anyway inadequate facilities for dealing with waste water.

Even though, to his great regret, they pump tens of thousands of litres of untreated sewage into the Mediterranean every day, they have to do something with the rest.

Sadi said that the lakes are 11m (36ft) higher than the surrounding land, and only the earth walls around them hold the muck in.

In this single spot alone - and he said other parts of Gaza were as bad - the lakes were so big that if the dykes burst a tsunami of sewage 6m (20ft) or 7m (23ft) high would swamp an area inhabited by 10,000 people.

Conflict with Israel

Sadi Ali worries that a stray bomb or missile could break a dyke.

There is a £40m ($80m) plan, funded by international donors, for a proper sewage treatment system for north Gaza.

Sadi Ali is trying to build it. But it is well behind schedule.

The problem is the same one that dominates every part of life here - the conflict with Israel.

Gaza has been battered by years of fighting

Restrictions imposed by the Israelis - which they say are vital to protect their own people - have slowed down, and sometimes completely stopped the import of raw materials for construction like cement and piping.

Contractors have not been able to move freely. The latest problem is the lack of fuel.

Try building a sewage system in a war.

When we set up the television camera near the sewage lakes a little barefoot boy, barely more than a toddler, came up and asked if we were going to attack the Israeli positions.

He might have been asking if it was going to rain.

For him, and several hundred thousand other Gazan children, explosions are part of the soundtrack of their lives. The boy must have assumed the camera and its tripod looked like a weapon.

After that we worked faster, in case the Israelis thought the same thing.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday 19 April, 2008 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.


March 29 / 30, 2008
A New Crisis in the Making
The Great Lake of Gaza

In a place just a few miles from sandy beaches and soaring sky-scrapers, white stone villas and sky-blue swimming pools, it seems the epitome of irony and injustice that over 1.5 million people would be subjected to drinking sewage-contaminated water. When there is such a fine line bordering wealth and poverty, privilege and need, how unsettling to realize that just a stones throw away, mothers and fathers must nourish their families with poison. As if the occupier could not find one more creative way to torment his victim.

The greatest outrage is that such a reality is the decided policy of the Israeli government. It is decried by the most prominent human rights and humanitarian groups throughout the world, and yet it is increasingly enhanced by Israel and shamelessly backed and justified by the US. It is indisputable that the calamity of contaminated water in the Gaza Strip is a resolute policy of the Israeli government.

The problem of sewage management in Gaza is not a new issue, and in fact dates back to the direct Israeli occupation of Gaza in 1967. At that time, Israel built the sewage treatment facilities which are still in operation today, built then to serve a population of 380,000 people, a number that has grown to 1.5 million.

The depleted source of clean drinking water and the ever-growing sewage crisis in Gaza is leading to areas of overflow, the largest of them called "the great lake" which occupies some 30 hectares of land and holds approximately 2-3 million cubic meters of waste water.

With archaic facilities to serve a group that has nearly tripled in number, and with the lack of basic necessities such as fuel to power the pumps necessary to keep the facilities running, the result is the spillage of toxic sewage into the ground and ground water and even directly into the sea.

The United Nations publication, IRIN recently interviewed Rebhi al-Sheikh, the head of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) in Gaza, who stated that at present, 75 percent of Gaza's drinking water is polluted.

In January 2008, UN Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur, John Dugard travelled to Palestine and assessed the situation, one that he described as "catastrophic" under Israel-imposed restrictions.

I recently spoke with Dr. Suma Baroud about the range of problems and health issues that result from the existence of run-off areas such as the great lake. She explained, "As a medical practitioner working in the field of primary health care in the Khan Younis region for the last 10 years, I have learned from my anecdotal observation that there are a myriad of overwhelming problems and ailments inflicting the health of Gaza residents, especially children as a result of the ever-growing lakes of sewage like that of the 'great lake' or the 'Majari' as we call it.

Many children are treated in our health centers for illnesses induced by infestations of small organisms such as amoeba. These ailments progress and lead to internal diseases which affect the small and large intestine and hamper or impede their functions, such as abdominal colic, diarrhea and constipation. Other complications include anemia, failure to thrive, and mental disturbances. More, we have seen growing numbers of children who suffer from conditions such as insomnia, low self-esteem and self-confidence.

Add to this a big number of patients who are treated in our clinics in summer for skin infections resulting from insects bites. There is an overwhelming problem with such insects which thrive in the conditions under which we suffer, with intense heat and standing sewage and water.

There is tremendous pressure on the Ministry of Health due to over-consumption of medications that fight these diseases and their subsequent complications."

An uncountable number of rights groups have brought the plight of Gaza to the fore in recent weeks, including the International Committee of the Red Cross who recently told IRIN that, "The environmental situation in Gaza is bad and getting worse."

30,000-50,000 cubic metres of partially treated waste water and 20,000 cubic metres of raw sewage end up in rivers and the Mediterranean Sea. Some 10,000-30,000 cubic metres of partially treated sewage end up in the ground, in some cases reaching the aquifer, polluting Gaza's already poor drinking water supply.

The International Crisis Group recently pressed Israel, Egypt, the PA and the Hamas Government to do everything possible to make necessary commodities available such as fuel, which is essential to the containing of Gaza's huge sewage problem.

In an article recently published in the California based publication, the Coastal Post, US Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader bashed Israel for its multi-faceted execution of institutionalized violence against the people of Gaza, and called the US to account for its out-right complicity with Israel's inhuman and illegal practices: "Israel's siege has also caused extensive loss of life in Gaza from crumbling health care facilities, electricity cut-offs, malnutrition and contaminated drinking water from broken public water systems. The victims here are mostly children and civilian adults who expire unnoticed by the West. The suffering of Gaza civilians is ignored by 98% of the US Congress, which gives billions of taxpayer dollars to Israel annually."

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), "Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and - some would say - encouragement of the international community."

In early March of this year, a report drafted by eight British human rights groups and humanitarian groups condemned Israel's policies in a "scathing" report which declared that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was the "worst since 1967".

"As we speak, sewage is literally pouring into the streets," said Geoffrey Dennis, head of CARE International.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said Israel must protect its citizens, "but as the occupying power in Gaza it also has a legal duty to ensure that Gazans have access to food, clean water, electricity and medical care."

She added: "Punishing the entire Gazan population by denying them these basic human rights is utterly indefensible. The current situation is man-made and must be reversed."

The 16-page report -- sponsored by Amnesty, along with CARE International UK, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Medecins du Monde UK, Oxfam, Save the Children UK and Trocaire -- calls on the British government to exert greater pressure on Israel and to reverse its policy on not negotiating with Gaza's Hamas rulers."

As Amnesty's Kate Allen pressed, the urgency of this issue cannot be emphasized enough. Spillage so great that its masses are designated "the great lake", such abuse and mistreatment of a population regarded as "protected persons" is nothing less than pure outrage. The international community must take action immediately to ensure the protection Gaza deserves, for as Allen declared, this abhorrent action is undeniably man-made and must be reversed immediately.

Suzanne Baroud is an American writer and editor of several books. She is the managing editor of

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Nadine Gordimer and Israel's 60th Anniversary Celebrations

There is very little that can be said to add to the eloquence of Dr. Haidar Eid's appeal to Nadine Gordimer not to participate in "Israel at 60" celebrations. He reviews her anti-apartheid, anti-racist credentials and calls attention to other prominent South Africans, such as Archbishop Tutu, who have condemned Israel's occupation and compared it, not favorably, to apartheid. He recalls Israel's sordid history with the South African apartheid regime, and her friendship with Edward Said. By the time I was done reading the letter, I couldn't imagine what had possessed her to agree to come in the first place.

The letter also subtly reminds us that Gaza is not simply war-torn and beaten down, but still a place where dedicated teachers teach and students study. It is unfortunate but true that we need this reminder.

The second article suggests that the pressure may be working, and that Ms. Gordimer is considering pulling out of her appearance in Israel next month. If this should occur, it would certainly be a boon to the boycott Israel movement. Israel's 60th anniversary, similarly to China's Summer Olympics, may turn out to be a more effective tool for protests than a celebration of Israel's 60 years.

--Rebecca Vilkomerson, Guest Editor for JPN


Nadine Gordimer on her decision to participate in "Israel at 60 Celebrations"
April 24, 2008 By Dr. Haidar Eid
Dear Ms. Gordimer,

I am a Palestinian lecturer in Cultural Studies living in Gaza. I happen to also have South African citizenship as a result of my marriage to a citizen of that beloved country. I spent more than five years in Johannesburg, the city in which I earned my Ph.D and lectured at both traditionally black and white universities. At Vista in Soweto, I taught your anti-apartheid novels My Son's Story, July's People and The Late Bourgeois World. I have been teaching the same novels, in addition to The Pick Up and Selected Stories, to my Palestinian students in Gaza at Al-Aqsa University. This course is called "Resistance, Anti-Racism and Xenophobia". I deliberately chose to teach your novels because, as an anti-apartheid writer, you defied racial stereotypes by calling for resistance against all forms of oppression, be they racial or religious. Your support of sanctions against apartheid South Africa has, to say the least, impressed my Gazan students.

The news of your conscious decision to take part in the "Israel at 60" celebrations has reached us, students and citizens of Gaza, as both a painful surprise, and a glaring example of a hypocritical intellectual double standard. My students, psychologically and emotionally traumatized and already showing early signs of malnutrition as a result of the genocidal policy of the country whose birth you intend celebrating, demand an explanation.

They wonder in amazement that you might have missed Archbishop Tutu's contention that conditions in Israeli-occupied Palestine are worse than those under apartheid? They ask how you can ignore John Dugard's dispassionate and insightful report on the dismal state of Human Rights in the Occupied Territories? Surely, you have not been unaware of Ronnie Kasrils' writings following his latest visit to Gaza and the West Bank? Like you, these three men, all South Africans, were also active in the fight against racism and apartheid. Dugard's words on Palestine are very significant: "I certainly have a sense of déjà vu... The sad thing is that Israel is unwilling to learn from the South African precedent." In an article titled, "Israelis adopt what South Africa dropped," Dugard observed that the human rights situation in the occupied territories continues to deteriorate and called the conditions "intolerable, appalling, and tragic for ordinary Palestinians." Significantly, Dugard made
shocking parallels between the situation in the Palestine and your country South Africa under apartheid: "Many aspects of Israel's occupation surpass those of the apartheid regime. Israel's large-scale destruction of Palestinian homes, leveling of agricultural lands, military incursions and targeted assassinations of Palestinians far exceed any similar practices in apartheid South Africa." Moreover, in its final declaration, the World Conference against Racism (WCAR) NGO forum, held in Durban in 2001, stated that: "We declare Israel as a racist, apartheid state in which Israel's brand of apartheid as a crime against humanity has been characterized by separation and segregation, dispossession, restricted land access, denationalization, 'bantustanization' and inhumane acts."

You are no doubt aware of Israel's deep ties with apartheid South Africa, during which Israel, breaking the international embargo, supplied South Africa with hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons. Apartheid South Africa relied on apartheid Israel to persuade Western governments to lift the embargo. How did you relate to Israel during that period and what was your position regarding countries and individuals that did not support the policy of isolating apartheid South Africa? You were surely critical of the infamous policy of 'constructive engagement' led by Thatcher and Reagan at the height of the struggle in the 80s? And today, inexplicably, you have joined the ranks of sanctions busters.

The eminent Palestinian, Edward Said, who gave you his friendship, would have been dismayed by your decision. He named you as a model for what he called, "oppositional intellectuals." It was his strong belief that, with regard to Israel, "[i]t only takes a few bold spirits to speak out and start challenging a status quo that gets worse and more dissembling each day." Little did he know that you would fail the oppressed in Palestine.

My cold and hungry students have divided themselves into two groups, with one group adamant that you, like many of your courageous characters, will reconsider your participation in an Israeli Festival that aims to celebrate the annihilation of Palestine and Palestinians. The other group believes that you have already crossed over to the side of the oppressor, negating every word you have ever written. We all wait for your next action.

Dr. Haidar Eid
Gaza, Palestine

Dr. Haidar Eid is an Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature, Al-Aqsa University, Gaza Strip, Palestine.


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


Facing widespread pressure, Nadine Gordimer may pull out of Israel writers meet

By David B. Green, Haaretz Correspondent

South African writer Nadine Gordimer may pull out of her appearance next month at Jerusalem's International Writers Festival in the face of a widespread campaign pressuring her to cancel.

The 84-year-old Gordimer, winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature, is scheduled to make three appearances at the festival, which runs at Mishkenot Sha'ananim May 11-15.

Other writers slated to attend include Americans Nathan Englander, Jonathan Safran Foer and Russell Banks, as well as Israelis David Grossman and Amos Oz, the latter of whom is scheduled to share the stage with Gordimer on May 12.

"I am dealing with the issue now," Gordimer told Haaretz in a telephone conversation from her home in Johannesburg on Friday. She refused to comment further on the controversy, except to say she would soon make a public statement on her decision.

Gordimer has received dozens of appeals, many of them posted on-line, calling on her to join a cultural boycott of Israel.

Gordimer, who is Jewish, has long been identified with left-wing causes, including her longtime backing of the African National Congress dating back to the apartheid period, when the black liberation movement was outlawed. In 2001, she publicly urged her friend Susan Sontag not to come to Jerusalem, where the late American writer was to be honored with the Jerusalem Prize at the capital's biennial international book fair. Sontag did come in the end, and received the literary award in person.

Now it is Gordimer who is being pressed to stay away from Israel. For example an open letter earlier this month signed by British professors Hilary and Steven Rose, who have led the Jewish lobby in the U.K. campaigning for a boycott of Israeli academia, implored her not to "give the Israeli establishment, the Israeli press, the whole Israeli PR machine, the prize they want - your apparent condoning of their policies."

Yael Nahari, the director of the Jerusalem's International Writers Festival, told Haaretz that, following a request from Gordimer, she is trying to arrange for the South African writer to "meet the other side [Palestinians]," including students at al-Quds University in Jerusalem. Nahari was optimistic that Gordimer will go ahead with her planned appearance at the five-day meet. "I think she'll come," she said.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

Friday, April 25, 2008

Carter Meets with Hamas Leaders

The governments of Israel and the US refuse to negotiate with Hamas, the democratically elected government of Palestine, for four reasons, among them the fact that Hamas refuses to recognize the right of Israel to exist. It is hard to conceive how Hamas' failure to do this could constitute a reason for refusing to engage in talks: mutual recognition between the two states of Israel and Palestine within fixed and agreed-upon borders ought to be the outcome not the precondition of talks. And, of course, the demand is not reciprocal, since the government of Israel is not being asked to recognize the right of Palestine to exist.

Nevertheless, it is worth asking why Hamas won't just agree. They have in fact been quite clear about this for more than a decade: there is no mandate among the Palestinian people for formal recognition of Israel. Those with long memories will remember the PLO going down exactly the same path, a path that led ultimately to the defeat of Fatah in the Palestinian elections to the legislative council and to their disgraceful role in the failed coup sponsored by the US in Gaza and reported recently in Vanity Fair.

Instead of formal recognition, Hamas has offered a decade-long truce or hudna if Israeli forces withdraw to the Green Line. Now Hamas appears to have gone a step further by agreeing, in a question posed by former US President Jimmy Carter, to abide by any agreement with Israel that is ratified by the Palestinian people. Such an agreement could then include a formal recognition of Israel. Carter's report has been greeted with stony silence (as well as claims, denied by Carter, that the Bush administration asked him not to meet with Hamas). But there is now no detectible practical difference between Hamas' position and formal recognition. If either the US or Israel were interested in negotiating a genuine solution, they would embrace such moves by Hamas. The fact that they are not implies that they prefer the current status quo, with all its injustice and oppression.

The interview with Carter that appeared on National Public Radio (transcript below) is well worth reading for the deft manner in which Carter fends off criticism.

Alistair Welchman

Ex-President Carter Meets with Hamas Leaders

April 21, 2008 from Morning Edition

STEVE INSKEEP, host: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep with Renee Montagne.

Former President Jimmy Carter has finished a diplomatic mission that the Bush administration says it asked him not to take. President Carter met with leaders from the Palestinian group Hamas. That put him in the same room with a group that is blamed for terrorist acts, one the U.S. government refuses to meet. But one that Carter says must be met.

This morning he's on the line live from Jerusalem.

Mr. President, welcome back to the program.

Former President JIMMY CARTER: Thank you, Steve. It's good to talk to you.

INSKEEP: You left this meeting claiming a significant sounding concession from Hamas on the existence of Israel or a peace agreement that includes the existence of Israel. What was it?

President CARTER: Well, I'm here - I might make clear - not as a mediator or a negotiator, but just as a private citizen representing the Carter Center to talk to people who are excluded from the peace process that have to included at the end. And that's Hamas, as you already mentioned, but also equally significant is Syria.

So I proposed a series of questions to Hamas. One of the key ones was, will you accept any peace agreement that's negotiated by Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert - if it's submitted to the Palestinian people in a referendum or either through a new government that would be elected? And we wrote out this question so there would be absolutely no question about it. And they said, yes, they would accept it, even if they strongly opposed some provisions in the peace agreement.

INSKEEP: I want to just restate that for laymen just so that we don't get lost here. You're saying you asked Hamas if the Palestinian people vote for peace, including recognition of Israel as a state would you accept that. And you were told the answer was yes?

President CARTER: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said today that your statements on this point, quote, "do not mean that Hamas is going to accept the results of the referendum." Have they already begun backing off what they told you?

President CARTER: I don't who he is. The ones I met with were the top leaders of Hamas, all of their politbureau members, including the leaders from inside Gaza, and also those who are in Syria. And they met all day yesterday with themselves - each other - and they gave me this response. So I don't know who that person is that you mentioned. But I don't think he's in the leadership position.

INSKEEP: So do you think you made a significant step toward peace here, Mr. President?

President CARTER: No. I don't claim to be achieving anything myself. I just presented a question so that it was unequivocal, put it in writing so there would be no question about any word in the - in the declaration, and they finally after hours of discussion accepted it as an answer that was yes.

INSKEEP: Mr. President, I want to play a little bit of tape here. This is a state department spokesman, Tom Casey, who was asked last week about your plan to meet with Hamas.
(Soundbite of audio)

Mr. TOM CASEY (Spokesman, State department): We didn't think it would be an appropriate gesture and encouraged him not to, in fact, meet with Hamas officials.

INSKEEP: And, of course, you know why, because of Hamas's record as a…

President CARTER: Well, let me say that before I came over here, I put in a call to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. And she got on the telephone - she was in Europe - she got on the telephone to her deputy, David Welch, and he - I had a 20 minute conversation with him. He was quite positive. He never asked me or even suggested that I not come.

And then subsequently I saw all kinds of statements out of the state department that said they begged me not to come. They urged me not to come. All of that is absolutely false. They never once asked me not to come.

INSKEEP: Are you suggesting, Mr. President, that perhaps the Bush administration would welcome some contact with Hamas even though they'd like to publicly disown any such contact?

President CARTER: I can't say that. The fact is that there are strong and daily negotiations between Israel and Hamas. And it's public knowledge. The mediators are the Egyptians, including the top intelligence officer in Egypt, Omar Suleiman. And we met with him. We met with President Mubarak.

And Israelis are putting forward proposals to the Egyptians. The Egyptians will share that with Hamas. Hamas gives them an answer. Egypt goes back to Jerusalem with the answer. That goes on every day.

So I'm not negotiating or mediating, but everybody knows that there are negotiations going on. And as a matter of fact, the deputy prime minister of Israel, asked me to arrange with Hamas, an agreement that he could participate personally in negotiations for the prisoner exchange.

INSKEEP: Are you saying that Israelis are already talking with Hamas and they know they're going to have to talk with Hamas in order to come to peace?

President CARTER: Absolutely. Sure. There's no doubt about it. There's no way to arrange a ceasefire. There's no way to have the prisoner exchange without direct talks. Maybe not direct, but through some intermediary and Egypt has been chosen.

INSKEEP: Well, Mr. President, thanks very much for taking the time today. I appreciate it.

President CARTER: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Jimmy Carter is a former president of the United States. He says, acting as a private citizen, he went to the Middle East and met with, among others, leaders of the Palestinian group Hamas.

Copyright ©1990-2005 National Public Radio®. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information, please contact NPR's Rights and Reuse Associate at (202) 513-2030

Audio at

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Minus fuel

"There is currently no fuel available in the Gaza Strip on the open market."

Not too many of us, I think, can envision the details of how this single fact rips apart individual lives. I'd like to invite each of us today to try, that is, to take a look at the minutiae or his or her daily routine – minus fuel. What would it mean? This is the current face of Israel's strangulation of Gaza, already counted in years and tightened slowly, lulling and all but losing international public interest.

The first item below is a statement made earlier today, Wednesday April 23rd, in Gaza, by the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert H. Serry. It is a direct response to the Gaza Strip Fuel Situation Report presented by OCHA, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Aid. Calling on both Israel and the Palestinians to "make responsible choices," Serry expressed the urgent imperative that these parties "step back from the brink". The situation, he said, was "both unacceptable and unsustainable."

The second item below lists the main results of the severe fuel shortage imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip. Three hour power cuts already occur daily throughout the Strip. To quote one of the results cited: "Vaccines for 50,000 babies will be spoiled if power cuts exceed eight hours and will take six months to replace." Add to this the fact that the fuel shortage has brought waste collection to a standstill in twelve municipalities. (The full report in English can be accessed here.) This reality is actively imposed by Israel with the full support and participation of the United States, in the territory from which it claims to have removed its oppressive occupation.

Rela Mazali










23 April 2008

Thank you, John. Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. You are very welcome here at UNSCO Headquarters.

You have just heard from John Ging about the grave fuel situation and the broader humanitarian distress facing the people of Gaza, and the immense challenges current conditions are also posing for UN operations. The facts he has briefed you on speak for themselves. The situation here is both unacceptable and unsustainable.

The killing of civilians, including many children here in Gaza, and also a cameraman, the destruction of the economy, shortages of daily necessities, the lack of access to and from Gaza, the separation of Gaza’s institutions from the Palestinian Authority, the danger of more and more escalation, with even more suffering for the Palestinians, and serious consequences also for Egypt and Israel. We are at a crossroads and the parties must make responsible choices to step back from the brink

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is extremely concerned at the humanitarian, human rights, security and political crisis here. He and I and the entire UN system are absolutely committed to averting a further worsening of the situation, and seeing Gaza return to better times.

The UN is leading the humanitarian effort to sustain the people of Gaza under conditions of great adversity. We are also very active, politically and diplomatically, pushing all parties, and the international community, to work for a different and more positive strategy for Gaza. We are giving our strong support to the current Egyptian efforts to calm the violence, and we call on all concerned to work with Egypt in that effort.

In this context, the recent attacks by Palestinian militants against crossing points into Gaza are deeply disturbing. I appeal to Hamas to immediately end attacks against the crossings, whether by it or any other faction or group. These attacks endanger both international and Israeli civilians, and cannot possibly contribute to Palestinian efforts to ease the blockade of Gaza. On the contrary, they serve only to deepen and prolong it.

The United Nations has repeatedly condemned the killing of civilians by Israeli military operations here in Gaza, which is a depressingly and unacceptably regular occurrence. We have also repeatedly condemned deliberate attacks on civilians at crossings or by the firing of rockets into Israel. Not just because they bring nothing but misery to Palestinians, but because all attacks on civilians are wrong.

It is also wrong for Israel to punish a civilian population for such attacks. I call on Israel to restore fuel supplies to Gaza, and to allow the passage of humanitarian assistance and commercial supplies, sufficient to allow the functioning of all basic services and for Palestinians to live their daily lives. The collective punishment of the population of Gaza, which has been instituted for months now, has failed.

The path to true security and well being for Israel, the Palestinians, and Egypt is a different one. The immediate and common goal must be an end to violence and a reopening of crossings. This is a vital first step if other, broader goals are to be achieved – the stabilization of conditions in Gaza; the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority; genuine progress in negotiations leading to a final status agreement with Israel; the creation of a sovereign, independent, contiguous and viable State of Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

All Palestinians, no matter what faction, want and deserve these things to be achieved. As UN Security Council Resolution 242 stresses, these goals must be achieved through negotiation based on the principles of an end of occupation, an end of conflict, and a just solution to the refugee issue. That is why we strongly support the current political process, despite all the difficulties it faces, and why we hope that, when it comes to Gaza too, wisdom and restraint will prevail, for the welfare of all Palestinians and their neighbours.


United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Gaza Strip Fuel Situation Report as of 23 April 2008

There is currently no fuel available in the Gaza Strip on the open market and there are power cuts of three hours per day in almost all of Gaza. For months the fuel crisis has hampered vital humanitarian work, but the complete absence of fuel will dramatically worsen the humanitarian situation.

Key Observations

Provision of UNRWA’s food assistance to 650,000 refugees in Gaza will stop on Thursday.

12 municipalities and solid waste management councils have stopped all their operations, affecting at least 500,000 Gazans.

Ministry of Health hospitals have between 33 and 170 hours of fuel supply. Hospitals managed by NGOs have fuel for less than one week.

The Central Drug Stores ran out of fuel on 22 April. Vaccines for 50,000 babies will be spoiled if power cuts exceed eight hours and will take six months to replace.

UNRWA Gaza’s vehicle fleet will be grounded as of Thursday which will prevent normal operation of UNRWA’s 214 schools, 19 health centers and solid waste collection.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Our reign of terror, by the Israeli army

This article reports on a situation out of control in the West Bank town of Hebron, where young IDF conscripts are encouraged or allowed to act as sadistically as they like and to inflict what the article describes as a "reign of terror" on the Palestinian residents. The article is painful to read, but gives you a real sense of the brutal manner in which the occupation is being administered, in Hebron at least. The piece is framed in terms of the moral degradation of the conscripts themselves, the fact that they are becoming (as one young soldier puts it) "animals".

Four years ago, number of ex-soldiers took a courageous stand against the abuses they both witnessed and inflicted, and formed a group called "Breaking the Silence". It is clear from the article that they have been trying to counter the official IDF line that any criminal behavior on the part of the soldiers is exceptional – the work of a 'few bad apples'. The soldiers themselves are saying that the abuses are an integral part of the occupation. If the IDF were interested in obeying international law – protecting the local civilian population – it would maintain extreme vigilance about even the possibility of systematic abuse. By doing the opposite, ignoring the issue, denying it exists, refusing to investigate or prosecute, it is reasonable to infer that the IDF is not interested doing this job, but rather in doing something else: terrorizing the Palestinian population into submission or migration.

The article also points out that such systematic abuse is common in armies of occupation, citing the British in Northern Ireland and Iraq. In at least the former case, it is now widely recognized that the army was not intended to keep the peace, but to crush the local Catholic population. In neither case however – and this is a great ground for hope – did a group of soldiers systematically emerge to tell the truth. Their stories should be heard; and their bravery and humanity honored.

To read the conscripts' stories, go to:

Judith Norman and Alistair Welchman


Our reign of terror, by the Israeli army

In shocking testimonies that reveal abductions, beatings and torture, Israeli soldiers confess the horror they have visited on Hebron

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
Saturday, 19 April 2008

The dark-haired 22-year-old in black T-shirt, blue jeans and red Crocs is understandably hesitant as he sits at a picnic table in the incongruous setting of a beauty spot somewhere in Israel. We know his name and if we used it he would face a criminal investigation and a probable prison sentence.

The birds are singing as he describes in detail some of what he did and saw others do as an enlisted soldier in Hebron. And they are certainly criminal: the incidents in which Palestinian vehicles are stopped for no good reason, the windows smashed and the occupants beaten up for talking back - for saying, for example, they are on the way to hospital; the theft of tobacco from a Palestinian shopkeeper who is then beaten "to a pulp" when he complains; the throwing of stun grenades through the windows of mosques as people prayed. And worse.

The young man left the army only at the end of last year, and his decision to speak is part of a concerted effort to expose the moral price paid by young Israeli conscripts in what is probably the most problematic posting there is in the occupied territories. Not least because Hebron is the only Palestinian city whose centre is directly controlled by the military, 24/7, to protect the notably hardline Jewish settlers there. He says firmly that he now regrets what repeatedly took place during his tour of duty.

But his frequent, if nervous, grins and giggles occasionally show just a hint of the bravado he might have displayed if boasting of his exploits to his mates in a bar. Repeatedly he turns to the older former soldier who has persuaded him to speak to us, and says as if seeking reassurance: "You know how it is in Hebron."

The older ex-soldier is Yehuda Shaul, who does indeed "know how it is in Hebron", having served in the city in a combat unit at the peak of the intifada, and is a founder of Shovrim Shtika, or Breaking the Silence, which will publish tomorrow the disturbing testimonies of 39 Israelis - including this young man - who served in the army in Hebron between 2005 and 2007. They cover a range of experiences, from anger and powerlessness in the face of often violent abuse of Arabs by hardline Jewish settlers, through petty harassment by soldiers, to soldiers beating up Palestinian residents without provocation, looting homes and shops, and opening fire on unarmed demonstrators.

The maltreatment of civilians under occupation is common to many armies in the world - including Britain's, from Northern Ireland to Iraq.

But, paradoxically, few if any countries apart from Israel have an NGO like Breaking the Silence, which seeks - through the experiences of the soldiers themselves - as its website puts it "to force Israeli society to address the reality which it created" in the occupied territories.

The Israeli public was given an unflattering glimpse of military life in Hebron this year when a young lieutenant in the Kfir Brigade called Yaakov Gigi was given a 15-month jail sentence for taking five soldiers with him to hijack a Palestinian taxi, conduct what the Israeli media called a "rampage" in which one of the soldiers shot and wounded a Palestinian civilian who just happened to be in the wrong place, and then tried to lie his way out of it.

In a confessional interview with the Israeli Channel Two investigative programme Uvda, Gigi, who had previously been in many ways a model soldier, talked of "losing the human condition" in Hebron. Asked what he meant, he replied: "To lose the human condition is to become an animal."

The Israeli military did not prosecute the soldier who had fired on the Palestinian, as opposed to Gigi. But the military insists "that the events that occurred within the Kfir Brigade are highly unusual".

But as the 22-year-old soldier, also in the Kfir Brigade, confirms in his testimony to Breaking the Silence, it seems that the event may not have been exceptional. Certainly, our interview tells us, he was "many times" in groups that commandeered taxis, seated the driver in the back, and told him to direct them to places "where they hate the Jews" in order to "make a balagan" - Hebrew for "big mess".

Then there is the inter-clan Palestinian fight: "We were told to go over there and find out what was happening. Our [platoon] commander was a bit screwed in the head. So anyway, we would locate houses, and he'd tell us: 'OK, anyone you see armed with stones or whatever, I don't care what - shoot.' Everyone would think it's the clan fight..." Did the company commander know? "No one knew. Platoon's private initiative, these actions."

Did you hit them? "Sure, not just them. Anyone who came close ... Particularly legs and arms. Some people also sustained abdominal hits ... I think at some point they realised it was soldiers, but they were not sure. Because they could not believe soldiers would do this, you know."

Or using a 10-year-old child to locate and punish a 15-year-old stone-thrower: "So we got hold of just some Palestinian kid nearby, we knew that he knew who it had been. Let's say we beat him a little, to put it mildly, until he told us. You know, the way it goes when your mind's already screwed up, and you have no more patience for Hebron and Arabs and Jews there.

"The kid was really scared, realising we were on to him. We had a commander with us who was a bit of a fanatic. We gave the boy over to this commander, and he really beat the shit out of him ... He showed him all kinds of holes in the ground along the way, asking him: 'Is it here you want to die? Or here?' The kid goes, 'No, no!'

"Anyway, the kid was stood up, and couldn't stay standing on his own two feet. He was already crying ... And the commander continues, 'Don't pretend' and kicks him some more. And then [name withheld], who always had a hard time with such things, went in, caught the squad commander and said, 'Don't touch him any more, that's it.' The commander goes, 'You've become a leftie, what?' And he answers, 'No, I just don't want to see such things.'

"We were right next to this, but did nothing. We were indifferent, you know. OK. Only after the fact you start thinking. Not right away. We were doing such things every day ... It had become a habit...

"And the parents saw it. The commander ordered [the mother], 'Don't get any closer.' He cocked his weapon, already had a bullet inside. She was frightened. He put his weapon literally inside the kid's mouth. 'Anyone gets close, I kill him. Don't bug me. I kill. I have no mercy.' So the father ... got hold of the mother and said, 'Calm down, let them be, so they'll leave him alone.'"

Not every soldier serving in Hebron becomes an "animal". Iftach Arbel, 23, from an upper-middle class, left-of-centre home in Herzylia, served in Hebron as a commander just before the withdrawal from Gaza, when he thinks the army wanted to show it could be tough with settlers, too. And many of the testimonies, including Mr Arbel's, describe how the settlers educate children as young as four to throw stones at Palestinians, attack their homes and even steal their possessions. To Mr Arbel, the Hebron settlers are "pure evil" and the only solution is "to remove the settlers".

He believes it would be possible even within these constraints to treat Palestinians better. He adds: "We did night activity. Choose a house at random, on the aerial photo, so as to practise combat routine and all, which is instructive for the soldiers, I mean, I'm all for it. But then at midnight you wake someone up and turn his whole house upside down with everyone sleeping on the mattresses and all."

But Mr Arbel says that most soldiers are some way between his own extreme and that of the most violent. From just two of his fellow testifiers, you can see what he means.

As one said: "We did all kinds of experiments to see who could do the best split in Abu Snena. We would put [Palestinians] against the wall, make like we were checking them, and ask them to spread their legs. Spread, spread, spread, it was a game to see who could do it best. Or we would check who can hold his breath for longest.

"Choke them. One guy would come, make like he was checking them, and suddenly start yelling like they said something and choke them ... Block their airways; you have to press the adams apple. It's not pleasant. Look at the watch as you're doing it, until he passes out. The one who takes longest to faint wins."

And theft as well as violence. "There's this car accessory shop there. Every time, soldiers would take a tape-disc player, other stuff. This guy, if you go ask him, will tell you plenty of things that soldiers did to him.

"A whole scroll-full ... They would raid his shop regularly. 'Listen, if you tell on us, we'll confiscate your whole store, we'll break everything.' You know, he was afraid to tell. He was already making deals, 'Listen guys, you're damaging me financially.' I personally never took a thing, but I'm telling you, people used to take speakers from him, whole sound systems.

"He'd go, 'Please, give me 500 shekels, I'm losing money here.' 'Listen, if you go on - we'll pick up your whole shop.' 'OK, OK, take it, but listen, don't take more than 10 systems a month.' Something like this.

"'I'm already going bankrupt.' He was so miserable. Guys in our unit used to sell these things back home, make deals with people. People are so stupid."

The military said that Israeli Defence Forces soldiers operate according to "a strict set of moral guidelines" and that their expected adherence to them only "increases wherever and whenever IDF soldiers come in contact with civilians". It added that "if evidence supporting the allegations is uncovered, steps are taken to hold those involved to the level of highest judicial severity". It also said: "The Military Advocate General has issued a number of indictments against soldiers due to allegations of criminal behaviour ... Soldiers found guilty were punished severely by the Military Court, in proportion to the committed offence." It had not by last night quantified such indictments.

In its introduction to the testimonies, Breaking the Silence says: "The soldiers' determination to fulfil their mission yields tragic results: the proper-normative becomes despicable, the inconceivable becomes routine ... [The] testimonies are to illustrate the manner in which they are swept into the brutal reality reigning on the ground, a reality whereby the lives of many thousands of Palestinian families are at the questionable mercy of youths. Hebron turns a focused, flagrant lens at the reality to which Israel's young representatives are constantly sent."

A force for justice

Breaking the Silence was formed four years ago by a group of ex-soldiers, most of whom had served in Israel Defence Forces combat units in Hebron. Many of the soldiers do reserve duty in the military each year. It has collected some 500 testimonies from former soldiers who served in the West Bank and Gaza. Its first public exposure was with an exhibition of photographs by soldiers serving in Hebron and the organisation also runs regular tours of Hebron for Israeli students and diplomats. It receives funding from groups as diverse as the Jewish philanthropic Moriah Fund, the New Israel Fund, the British embassy in Tel Aviv and the EU.


Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

Sunday, April 20, 2008

J Street

There is new political action committee (PAC) called "J Street" that describes itself as "the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement." It is intended as a more or less explicit counter-weight to the corrosive influence of AIPAC (while borrowing many of AIPAC's tactics). In addition to being a political action committee that will promote candidates on the basis of Middle East issues, it aims to serve as a lobbying group, promoting diplomatic engagement and opposing neoconservative voices. Its advisory council includes the presidents of both Americans for Peace Now and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom.

J Street aims to promote a centrist position. It wants the US to take a stronger role in revivifying peace talks between Israel and Palestine, with an eye towards bringing about a two state solution based on (more or less) 1967 borders with a divided Jerusalem. It believes in diplomatic dialogue with both Iran and Syria, and is opposed to alliances with the right-wing Christian Zionists. It appears to favor Barak Obama as a presidential candidate.

While calling for an end to the occupation, J Street is certainly not a progressive organization, and many of the details of its policy positions belie its centrist slogans. It is, for instance, in favor of a two-state solution 'based on the 1967 lines with agreed reciprocal landswaps' but adds that those swaps should permit the incorporation of the 'majority' of illegal Jewish settlers on Palestinian land into an expanded Israel. Jerusalem should be 'divided' between Israel and Palestine, but the division should be based on 'demographic realities', which is to say the realities that Israeli ethnic cleansing has created and continues to create.

Other details are also worrying: J Street is in favor of maintaining American military aid to Israel ('maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge') as an integral part of the peace process. Its public statements show no contrition or concern about the treatment of the Palestinians under occupation. The rhetoric is centered exclusively around considerations of Israeli security, which apparently means both the safety of the citizens of Israel and also the assurance that Israel will retain its Zionist character. (It is concerned to preserve a two state solution while there is still time to maintain Israel as a Jewish majority state.) And it couches its support for diplomacy in terms of the "interests" of the parties concerned (primarily the US and Israel), rather than the requirements of international law.

Whatever the limitations of J Street, it will hopefully help shift the rhetoric in the US away from the far right where it has stalled for so long. And this can only be for the best.

The group's website is at:

Judith Norman and Alistair Welchman


Lincoln Shlensky writes:

I would add that J Street is unique in a couple of ways: its PAC intends to support US political candidates -- this has been the territory of AIPAC (and its network of PACs) alone for years, and it is very intriguing to see a group that intends to confront AIPAC, openly, in this way. J Street is likely to meet tremendous opposition, especially without a developed constituency, in trying to face down AIPAC, but its tactical approach of appealing to centrist/liberal Jews may be the only pragmatic one in the context of US politics.

New "Pro Israel, Pro Peace" Political Group Launches: J Street Hopes to Prod Washington MidEast Policy Towards Center
Laura Rozen

For years, it's been commonplace for Washington policy observers to shrug over the power of the pro-Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). On questions of Congressional legislation and appropriations involving U.S. defense sales to the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and policy towards Iran and Syria, AIPAC's influence is an acknowledged fact of life on the Hill, similar to death and taxes, second in power as a Washington lobby group only to the National Rifle Association.

But though its power in Congress is broad and bipartisan, and with some 100,000 members it ostensibly represents an American Jewish community that skews overwhelmingly Democratic, some in Washington's policy community have as long been concerned by what they see as a sharp rightward tilt in AIPAC over the years, in particular as some of its funders and leadership have aligned themselves with hawkish policy positions on issues involving national security, the Arab Israeli conflict, and how to deal with Iran.

So began the motivation for the creation of J Street and JStreetPAC, a new nonprofit lobby group and affiliated political action committee being launched today in Washington, whose leadership describes the new organizations as "pro Israel, pro peace." And unlike most other smaller Washington Mid-East oriented policy shops that primarily issue position papers and opeds, J Street was designed to be distinctly political.

"It's the first time that there has been a political arm for those of us who are pro Israel but pro peace, and who believe that reaching a negotiated settlement in the Middle East is absolutely essential for the security of both Israel and the United States," Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street and JStreetPAC told me. "That is the reason for this effort. We believe the majority of American Jews and many other Americans friendly and supportive to Israel really do recognize that a policy both here and there that would be geared towards really pushing for a two state solution is in Israel's and the U.S.'s best interests."

"What has happened in the political world is that the people both elected [to Congress] and candidates and the folks around them have come to believe that the only way to speak to the Jewish community is to take the most right-wing position," Ben-Ami said. "There is no political benefit to be at the center."

"We would like to create a political mechanism, a political benefit to being at the center," Ben-Ami continued. "Perhaps there should be a dialogue between the U.S. and Syria. Perhaps the U.S. should pursue an alternative route to Iran. Let's get serious about a two-state solution, and stop the settlements and stop the occupation and get a two state solution. That is currently not being said."

Among J Street's leadership: Ben-Ami, a former senior domestic policy advisor to President Bill Clinton and former policy advisor to Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean; Alan Solomont, a former finance director to the Democratic National Committee; Hannah Rosenthal, former Executive Director to the Jewish Council on Public Affairs; Victor Kovner, former New York City Corporation Counsel; and Samuel Lewis, former U.S. ambassador to Israel under Presidents Carter and Reagan. The new group has an advisory counsel of 100 American members and has gathered letters of support from twenty some former Israeli security and diplomatic officials, including the former Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff Maj. Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, the former Israeli Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Amos Lapidot, former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami, two former director generals of the Israeli foreign ministry David Kimche and Alon Liel, former Knesset speaker Avram Burg, and Dalia Rabin,
daughter of former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and a former member of the Israeli Knesset and deputy defense minister.

"It's time for members of Congress in particular and the administration to hear much more loudly from those of us in the American Jewish community that the only way to protect Israel's security and for that matter American security interests as well is to support relentlessly a negotiated settlement to the Israeli Palestinian conflict," Solomont, a member of J Street's advisory counsel, and a former chairman of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston, said Tuesday. "Unfortunately other voices are often heard more loudly and I think that distracts members of Congress and the administration from pursuing what I think everyone recognizes as the solution to this conflict."

One of J Street's Israeli supporters in Washington, former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy, says Israeli leaders need encouragement from Washington to make concessions that could contribute to the peace process. "I think there comes a point when, if the Israeli leadership actually wants to see this thing resolved, it's clearly easier to say yes to the president of the United States, rather than to the [Palestinian Liberation Organization]," Levy says. "You need to have the president of the United States to help carry you there."

For now, Ben-Ami tells me he is working out of his basement, the organization has no headquarters and doesn't plan for one, and plans to operate heavily in the online world. "We're following the MoveOn model, of being virtual, and heavily online," he says. "Part of our goal and plan in the coming year is to develop an online presence in the way that Obama and Dean and MoveOn have done … and to tap into that and have a large base of small donors."

MoveOn financier George Soros, an initial backer of the concept for the group, pulled out of it, Ben Ami explains, because he thought his presence might ultimately be unhelpful, given his reputation as a bankroller for liberal groups.

J Street has raised half of the $1.5 million it hopes to collect from donors over 2008. That still makes it a tiny David in the shadow of AIPAC's Goliath, which reportedly has an endowment of $100 million, and 18 offices around the country, including a new Washington headquarters funded, sources say, by Las Vegas Casino mogul and conservative philanthropist Sheldon Adelson.

Online fundraising innovations aside, some veteran Middle East hands expressed skepticism that the new organization can do much to transform the domestic political forces that guide Washington's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute-- including strong right wing American Christian evangelical opposition to any U.S. pressure on Israel to stop expanding settlements. J Street "has a very steep hill to climb because peacemaking has acquired a bad reputation over the years in the Jewish community," former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk told the Washington Post. "And there is a widespread fear that U.S. intervention on behalf of peace will lead to pressure on Israel."

But even just with its launch, J Street has perhaps managed to prod some of those same weary Middle East hands and Washington policy observers to talk about such thorny issues with a bit less ideological constraint -- a small feat in and of itself.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

Saturday, April 19, 2008


There have been new revelations about the extent to which torture is permitted in both Israel and the US. In the first set of reports below, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) has revealed that the Israeli security service (Shin Bet) harms or threatens to harm the relatives of prisoners in order to extract confessions from the prisoners themselves. In some cases, the relatives are physically tortured. The accusations of torture are bad enough, but harming or threatening to harm uninvolved noncombatants for the political end of extracting a confession appears to fall under standard definitions of terrorism. The details are given in the first two pieces below, an article from Ha'aretz and a press release from the PCATI.

In the second set of reports, President Bush has admitted on ABC news that he and his top advisors knew about and approved of specific details and techniques for the interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects, techniques (such as water-boarding – "the water torture") that the ACLU (in the third report below) does not hesitate to call torture.

The US reports attest, more than anything else, to the climate (or at least feeling) of impunity that surrounds top government officials. As ABC points out, such operations in the US have traditionally been attributed to a "rogue agency" working without explicit authorization. Regardless of how believable such stories were, at least they showed that top officials felt a need to dissociate from the operations. This appears to be no longer the case (although the ACLU is working to restore a sense of shame: their report below has a link where you can help take action).

Moreover, all these reports demonstrate a sort of ratchet effect at work: in neither the US nor Israel is it particularly shocking or news-worthy that torture itself is occurring. That is a given. Rather, the only news in these news reports is the extent to which the torture is occurring: the new techniques being used, the new laws being broken, new information about who has authorized it. There is nothing new about the fact of torture itself, and perhaps that is the most shocking aspect of these reports.

Judith Norman & Alistair Welchman


Rights group: Shin Bet uses relatives to extract prisoners' confessions
By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz Correspondent

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has accused the Shin Bet security service of using relatives of individuals under interrogation to extract confessions.

In a report to be submitted Sunday to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the organization says the Shin Bet makes unjustified arrests of family members, or creates the pretense of such arrests to pressure suspects.

The report further states that such methods are used against individuals who are already subjected to severe physical torture. In at least one case, the report states that the pressure led to suicide attempts by the individual under interrogation.

Attorney Aviel Linder, who compiled the report, noted that a series of international treaties prohibit psychological torture, including threatened or actual harm to family members. The report details six cases between 2007 and 2008, but says it knows of dozens of others.

According to the findings, it is a common method of interrogation to psychologically abuse a detainee using family members, and that in most cases the interrogation was not a matter of a "ticking bomb." The report states that an interrogation using such harsh and improper means casts aspersions on the confession's veracity.

In one case, the report states, "The Shin Bet threatened a subject named Said Diab that if he did not cooperate, his mother would be arrested. The next day he was brought to look through a peephole at his mother being aggressively questioned and crying." In the end, the committee says, the mother was indicted on a marginal charge to justify the false arrest.

In another case, a couple, Jaser Abu-Omar and Hulah Zitawi, was arrested and held in extended detention while subjected to harsh physical torture, without letting them know the fate of their two daughters, aged two and six months.

According to Zitawi, "They said my daughters were now orphans, without a father or a mother. They showed me a picture of me with my little daughter in my arms and they said I should pity her. The picture killed me. I wept until I could no longer stand it. They said that I would not see her again until she was a teenager and she would not recognize me. That was the picture that broke me."

In a response to the committee, dated July 2007, the attorney general's office said: "In general, if a relative of a detainee is not in detention, and there is no legal reason to arrest the relative, the detainee should not be given the impression that the relative has been arrested."

Nevertheless, the committee claims that the method is still being used.

The chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, MK Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), said, "It should not be forgotten that we are engaged in a war against terror. This reality does not authorize irrevocable physical harm, but it does require other actions - as needed, in a proportional and reasonable response."


"Family Matters, Using Family Members to Pressure Detainees
Under GSS Interrogation"

New Report by the Public Committee Against torture in Israel (PCATI) to be launched today in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee:

The GSS illegally exploits family members causing severe harm to
detainees and their families

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel's report published today reveals that Israel's General Security Service (GSS) exploits family members of Palestinian detainees in order to apply illegal psychological pressure on them and to force them to confess. Demonstrating a heightened level of concern surrounding the findings of the report, which show the continued use of interrogation methods that have been condemned as torture or ill treatment under international law, Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee Chairperson, Professor Menachem Ben Sasson, has agreed to PCATI's request to discuss the report in a special committee session, today at 13:30 in the Knesset. The extraordinary nature of this act is further demonstrated by Professor Ben Sasson's calling on the GSS to respond to the report during the hearing.

The illegal exploitation of family members, who, in most instances, are not suspects themselves, has on many occasions caused severe psychological suffering to interrogees and to their innocent relatives. In more extreme cases, this method takes the form of psychological torture of a detainee rendering him a victim of a cruel psychological manipulation via the illegal exploitation of a close relative. In one such case, detailed in the report, the pressure caused by this form of abuse led the detainee to attempt suicide on several occasions.

The report "Family Matters, Using Family Members to Pressure Detainees Under GSS Interrogation", written by Attorney Aviel Liner, details a sampling of six cases involving the exploitation of family members. Some of the cases describe a "charade" presented before the detainee showing him that his loved ones are under detention and, like the interrogee, undergoing severe physical torture. In other cases, family members were, in fact, arrested and sometimes tortured, although they were not suspected of any offence whatsoever, all for the purpose of applying pressure on a relative undergoing interrogation. One of the cases outlined in the report concerns a detained couple held for an extended period of time, subjected to severe physical torture, and, in addition, refused knowledge of the fate of their young daughters, aged two and a half and 6 months, who were used as bargaining chips by the GSS.

The report reveals that torture in the State of Israel – both physical and psychological – continues even after the High Court of Justice ruling of 1999. PCATI emphasizes in the report that, even if severe suspicions exist against an interrogee, the use of family members as a form of pressure must be prohibited. The exploitation of family members and the psychological abuse of an interrogee and his family are forbidden and unacceptable in a democratic society based on the rule of law and the values of human dignity. Moreover, an interrogation that employs such harsh and illegal means raises doubts as to the accuracy of the confessions and information received from the detainee.

In July 2007, following a complaint submitted by PCATI the Attorney General's office replied and stated that "…as a rule, in a situation where the detainee's relative is not in detention, and there is no legal pretext for detaining him, it is prohibited to present the detainee with a scenario according to which it appears that his relative is in detention," seemingly banning this practice. In spite of this, PCATI has found that the practice of detaining family members in order to use them against detainees under interrogation continues.

The report concludes with recommendations concerning both legislation and the supervision of the GSS that will contribute to preventing the use of this deplorable method.

The report is available in Hebrew on PCATI's website
The report will be published in English by the end of this week. A final working draft is available upon request.

For additional details please call:

Yoav Loeff, Public Outreach Coordinator
The Public Committee Against torture in Israel (PCATI)
Tel: +972-2-6429825 ext. 117, Mobile: +972-54-3368434
PCATI website:

To take action go to:

Bush Admits To Knowledge of Torture Authorization by Top Advisers (4/12/2008)
ACLU Calls for Independent Counsel to Investigate Administration's Approval of Torture and Abuse
CONTACT: (202) 675-2312,; (917) 251-8654 or

WASHINGTON – In a stunning admission to ABC news Friday night, President Bush declared that he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details of the CIA's use of torture. Bush reportedly told ABC, "I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved." Bush also defended the use of waterboarding.

Recent reports indicate that high-level advisers including Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and George Tenet were part of the National Security Council's "Principals Committee" that met regularly and approved the CIA's use of "combined" "enhanced" interrogation techniques, even pushing the limits of the now infamous 2002 Justice Department "torture memo." These top advisers reportedly signed off on how the CIA would interrogate suspects – whether they would be slapped, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning.

"We have always known that the CIA's use of torture was approved from the very top levels of the U.S. government, yet the latest revelations about knowledge from the president himself and authorization from his top advisers only confirms our worst fears," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "It is a very sad day when the president of the United States subverts the Constitution, the rule of law, and American values of justice."

Romero added, "It is more important than ever that the U.S. government, when seeking justice against those it suspects of harming us, adhere to our commitment to due process and the rule of law. That's why the ACLU has taken the extraordinary step to offer our assistance to those being prosecuted under the unconstitutional military commissions process. We unfortunately can't erase or make up for what has already happened, but at least we can attempt to restore some of the values and some semblance of due process that the Bush administration has squandered in the name of national security."

The American Civil Liberties Union is calling on Congress to demand an independent prosecutor to investigate possible violations by the Bush administration of laws including the War Crimes Act, the federal Anti-Torture Act, and federal assault laws.

"No one in the executive branch of government can be trusted to fairly investigate or prosecute any crimes since the head of every relevant department, along with the president and vice president, either knew or participated in the planning and approval of illegal acts," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Congress cannot look the other way; it must demand an independent investigation and independent prosecutor."

Fredrickson added, "Congress is duty-bound by the Constitution not only to hold the president, vice president, and all civil officers to account, but it must also send a message to future presidents that it will use its constitutional powers to prevent illegal, and immoral conduct."

The ACLU's letter calling for an independent prosecutor for torture crimes and any criminal cover up is available at:

Information on the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit revealing information on the U.S.'s treatment of detainees is available online at:

To take action go to:


ABC News
Bush Aware of Advisers' Interrogation Talks
President Says He Knew His Senior Advisers Discussed Tough Interrogation Methods
April 11, 2008—

President Bush says he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details about how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to an exclusive interview with ABC News Friday.

"Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people." Bush told ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz. "And yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."

As first reported by ABC News Wednesday, the most senior Bush administration officials repeatedly discussed and approved specific details of exactly how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the CIA.

The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

These top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding, sources told ABC news.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Dick Cheney, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

As the national security adviser, Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by most of the principals or their deputies.

The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of "combined" interrogation techniques -- using different techniques during interrogations instead of using one method at a time -- on terrorist suspects who proved difficult to break, sources said.

Contacted by ABC News, spokesmen for Tenet and Rumsfeld declined to comment about the interrogation program or their private discussions in Principals meetings. The White House also declined comment on behalf of Rice and Cheney. Ashcroft could not be reached.

ABC News' Diane Sawyer sat down with Powell this week for a previously scheduled interview and asked him about the ABC News report.

Powell said that he didn't have "sufficient memory recall" about the meetings and that he had participated in "many meetings on how to deal with detainees."

Powell said, "I'm not aware of anything that we discussed in any of those meetings that was not considered legal."

In his interview with ABC News, Bush said the ABC report about the Principals' involvement was not so "startling." The president had earlier confirmed the existence of the interrogation program run by the CIA in a speech in 2006. But before Wednesday's report, the extraordinary level of involvement by the most senior advisers in repeatedly approving specific interrogation plans -- down to the number of times the CIA could use a certain tactic on a specific al Qaeda prisoner -- had never been disclosed.

Critics at home and abroad have harshly criticized the interrogation program, which pushed the limits of international law and, they say, condoned torture. Bush and his top aides have consistently defended the program. They say it is legal and did not constitute torture.

In interview with ABC's Charles Gibson last year, Tenet said: "It was authorized. It was legal, according to the Attorney General of the United States."

The discussions and meetings occurred in an atmosphere of great concern that another terror attack on the nation was imminent. Sources said the extraordinary involvement of the senior advisers in the grim details of exactly how individual interrogations would be conducted showed how seriously officials took the al Qaeda threat.

It started after the CIA captured top al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in spring 2002 in Faisalabad, Pakistan. When his safe house was raided by Pakistani security forces along with FBI and CIA agents, Zubaydah was shot three times during the gun battle.

At a time when virtually all counterterrorist professionals viewed another attack as imminent -- and with information on al Qaeda scarce -- the detention of Zubaydah was seen as a potentially critical breakthrough.

Zubaydah was taken to the local hospital, where CIA agent John Kiriakou, who helped coordinate Zubaydah's capture, was ordered to remain at the wounded captive's side at all times. "I ripped up a sheet and tied him to the bed," Kiriakou said.

But after Zubaydah recovered from his wounds at a secret CIA prison in Thailand, he was uncooperative. "I told him I had heard he was being a jerk," Kiriakou recalled. "I said, 'These guys can make it easy on you or they can make it hard.' It was after that he became defiant."

The CIA wanted to use more aggressive -- and physical -- methods to get information. The agency briefed high-level officials in the National Security Council's Principals Committee, led by then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and including then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, which then signed off on the plan, sources said. It is unclear whether anyone on the committee objected to the CIA's plans for Zubaydah.

The CIA has confirmed Zubaydah was one of three al Qaeda suspects subjected to waterboarding. After he was waterboarded, officials say Zubaydah gave up valuable information that led to the capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad and fellow 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh.

Mohammad, who is known as KSM, was also subjected to waterboarding by the CIA.

In the interview with ABC News Friday, Bush defended the waterboarding technique used against KSM.

"We had legal opinions that enabled us to do it," Bush said. "And no, I didn't have any problem at all trying to find out what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed knew."

The president said, "I think it's very important for the American people to understand who Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was. He was the person who ordered the suicide attack -- I mean, the 9/11 attacks."

At a hearing before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay March 10, 2007, KSM, as he is known, said he broke under the harsh interrogation. COURT: Were any statements you made as the result of any of the treatment that you received during that time frame from 2003 to 2006? Did you make those statements because of the treatment you receive from these people?

KSM: Statement for whom??

COURT: To any of these interrogators. ?

KSM: CIA peoples. Yes. At the beginning, when they transferred me...?

Lawyers in the Justice Department had written a classified memo, which was extensively reviewed, that gave formal legal authority to government interrogators to use the "enhanced" questioning tactics on suspected terrorist prisoners. The August 2002 memo, signed by then head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee, was referred to as the so-called "Golden Shield" for CIA agents, who worried they would be held liable if the harsh interrogations became public.

Old hands in the intelligence community remembered vividly how past covert operations, from the Vietnam War-era "Phoenix Program" of assassinations of Viet Cong to the Iran-Contra arms sales of the 1980s were painted as the work of a "rogue agency" out of control.

But even after the "Golden Shield" was in place, briefings and meetings in the White House to discuss individual interrogations continued, sources said. Tenet, seeking to protect his agents, regularly sought confirmation from the NSC principals that specific interrogation plans were legal.

According to a former CIA official involved in the process, CIA headquarters would receive cables from operatives in the field asking for authorization for specific techniques. Agents, worried about overstepping their boundaries, would await guidance in particularly complicated cases dealing with high-value detainees, two CIA sources said.

Highly placed sources said CIA directors Tenet and later Porter Goss along with agency lawyers briefed senior advisers, including Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and Powell, about detainees in CIA custody overseas.

"It kept coming up. CIA wanted us to sign off on each one every time," said one high-ranking official who asked not to be identified. "They'd say, 'We've got so and so. This is the plan.'"

Sources said that at each discussion, all the Principals present approved. "These discussions weren't adding value," a source said. "Once you make a policy decision to go beyond what you used to do and conclude it's legal, [you should] just tell them to implement it."

Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.

According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."

The Principals also approved interrogations that combined different methods, pushing the limits of international law and even the Justice Department's own legal approval in the 2002 memo, sources told ABC News.

At one meeting in the summer of 2003 -- attended by Cheney, among others -- Tenet made an elaborate presentation for approval to combine several different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time, according to a highly placed administration source.

A year later, amid the outcry over unrelated abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the controversial 2002 legal memo, which gave formal legal authorization for the CIA interrogation program of the top al Qaeda suspects that was leaked to the press. A new senior official in the Justice Department, Jack Goldsmith, withdrew the legal memo -- the Golden Shield -- that authorized the program.

But the CIA had captured a new al Qaeda suspect in Asia. Sources said CIA officials that summer returned to the Principals Committee for approval to continue using certain "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Rice, sources said, was decisive. Despite growing policy concerns -- shared by Powell -- that the program was harming the image of the United States abroad, sources say she did not back down, telling the CIA: "This is your baby. Go do it."

Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to