IDF press office (partially) retracts Al-Qaeda slander

Max Blumenthal has a great post describing how he and a colleague called out the IDF’s press office on its claim that some of the flotilla participants were Al-Qaeda members.
Under questioning from Max and Israeli freelancer Lia Tarachansky, the IDF’s press office quietly changed the title of a piece on its website from “Attackers of the IDF soldiers found to be Al Qaeda mercenaries” to “”Attackers of the IDF soldiers found without identification papers”.
Max writes that after seeing the original claim on the IDF website:

    Tarachansky and I called the IDF press office to ask for more conclusive evidence. Tarachansky reached the IDF’s Israel desk, interviewing a spokesperson in Hebrew; I spoke with the North America desk, using English. We both received the same reply from Army spokespeople: “We don’t have any evidence. The press release was based on information from the [Israeli] National Security Council.” (The Israeli National Security Council is Netanyahu’s kitchen cabinet of advisors).
    Today, the Israeli Army’s press office changed the headline of its press release… The more Israel’s claims about the flotilla’s terrorist links are challenged, the more they fall apart.

The title of the IDF webpage in question— that is, the title that appears at the very top of your browser window– still contains the “Al-Qaeda” slander, however. It, too, needs to be changed.
The page also has photos of bullet-proof vests and night-vision goggles that, the site alleges, were found on the Mavi Marmara, “suggesting passengers were prepared for a gunfight.” I’m not sure they suggest that. They could have been equipment the flotilla people were taking in for members of the Palestinian Red Crescent in Gaza, who have frequently come under attack by Israeli forces while in the course of performing their duties (a clear infraction of the laws of war.) The vests do, after all, have standard red crescent badges sewn prominently on them.
There is also, however, some doubt over the authenticity and dating of those photos.
Bottom line: Don’t take anything the IDF or the Israeli government says about what happened Monday at face value. They had evidently had a long time to prepare what is called “information operations” (i.e. disinformation operations) around the raid. In another field of information ops, it seems fairly obvious that it was either the Israeli government or some of their fan-base around the world that launched a successful DOS attack against the web-site of the Turkish humanitarian organization IHH, early Monday.
(The IHH: That group that the hasbaristas claim is “connected to international terror”– but that has never been formally linked to any terrorist organization by any other government.)

Flotilla: American citizen among fatalities

Reuters and others are now reporting that a U.S. citizen, 19-year-old Furkan Dogan, was among those murdered by Israel during its piratical assault on the Mavi Marmara on Monday.
No wonder the Israeli authorities have been trying to keep the identities of the dead hidden for as long as they can.
Turkey’s state-run Anatolia News Agency says that Dogan “was hit by four bullets in the head and one in the chest.”
What will Pres. Obama do to assure American citizens that his administration will seek full justice for this act of murder, committed in international waters?
Update: Paul Woodward has a photo of the young man at his post on War in Context, here.

Flotilla: Crisis growing inside NATO?

The very well-informed Craig Murray has a great piece about this on his blog today. (HT: Mondoweiss.)
Murray’s bottom line:

    There are already deep misgivings, especially amongst the military, over the Afghan mission. There is no sign of a diminution in Afghan resistance attacks and no evidence of a clear gameplan. The military are not stupid and they can see that the Karzai government is deeply corrupt and the Afghan “national” army comprised almost exclusively of tribal enemies of the Pashtuns.
    You might be surprised by just how high in Nato scepticism runs at the line that in some way occupying Afghanistan helps protect the west, as opposed to stoking dangerous Islamic anger worldwide.
    So this is what is causing frost and stress inside NATO. The organisation is tied up in a massive, expensive and ill-defined mission in Afghanistan that many whisper is counter-productive in terms of the alliance aim of mutual defence. Every European military is facing financial problems as a public deficit financing crisis sweeps the continent. The only glue holding the Afghan mission together is loyalty to and support for the United States.
    But what kind of mutual support organisation is NATO when members must make decades long commitments, at huge expense and some loss of life, to support the United States, but cannot make even a gesture to support Turkey when Turkey is attacked by a non-member?
    Even the Eastern Europeans have not been backing the US line on the Israeli attack. The atmosphere in NATO on the issue has been very much the US against the rest, with the US attitude inside NATO described to me by a senior NATO officer as “amazingly arrogant – they don’t seem to think it matters what anybody else thinks”.

Flotilla: Names of victims starting to appear

One of the many inhumane aspects of Israel’s murderous raid on the aid flotilla Monday has been its tardiness in releasing the names of the killed and wounded and its holding of nearly all the kidnapped flotilla participants incommunicado in massive, specially organized temporary prisons. This has left family members of most participants in anguish, not knowing if their loved ones were among those killed and injured.
Turkey has now been able to extract from the Israelis the names of four Turkish flotilla participants who were killed Monday. They are:

    İbrahim Bilgen,
    Ali Haydar Bengi,
    Ali Ekber Yaratılmış and
    Muharrem Koçak.

RIP, friends Bilgen, Bengi, Yaratılmış, and Koçak, and my heartfelt condolences to your families.
By the way, that report in Today’s Zaman that i linked to there has a lot more information about the detained flotilla participants. Turkey has done an exemplary job of trying to protect the interests of those of its nationals who were participating in the flotilla. It would be great if all other governments, including my own, could do such a good job.
Though the Israeli authorities at first threatened to “prosecute” those flotilla participants whom it accused of having used violence against the soldiers who attacked the ships– and they were keeping all participants in detention on the pretext they needed to “screen” them regarding such charges– it now appears they have backed down completely, at least in the case of the Turkish participants.
As I wrote here yesterday, there is a powerful current in international law that holds that it is Turkey, as the nation that flagged the Mavi Marmara, that should have jurisdiction over any incidents of violence that occurred aboard the ship while it is in international waters… and of course, the assault against it by armed Israeli commandos is one such act of (great) violence that could and should be investigated and punished by Turkey.
Meanwhile, we should appeal to Israel and all other governments to get the names of those killed, injured, and detained released as soon as possible– and of course, to get all those persons immediately released from their illegal detention, as well.

How to end the siege of Gaza

I’ve been thinking through some of the challenges any Israeli government would face as it considers ending its four-year-long siege of Gaza. (And that, it is becoming increasingly clear, is what the entire world community needs to see happening.)
Think of it for a moment from the Israeli government’s viewpoint. They have been telling their own people, the world– and themselves!– for more than four years now that they need to maintain the siege “in order to ensure that Hamas and the other militant groups don’t smuggle weapons into Gaza.” One condition they’ve always insisted on, therefore, is that for the siege to be lifted, there has to be some form “credible” inspection regime at all of Gaza’s borders to ensure such smuggling doesn’t occur.
(In truth, the siege has barely prevented the smuggling-in of weapons. Gaza has hundreds of tunnels connecting it with Egypt. A much bigger role in preventing the arrival of weapons to the tunnel-heads has been played by the Egyptian security forces, acting often deep inside Sinai and not only near the country’s short border with Gaza… Under a “no-siege” regime for Gaza, Egypt could be expected to continue to play an equally strict monitoring role.)
Okay, but bear with me as I continue to think this through. In such “negotiations” as have occurred over the possibility of lifting the siege of Gaza, Israel and its U.S. lackeys have always insisted that the body that monitors the crossing-points on the Gaza side of the border not be constituted by the Hamas regime which was democratically elected– in Gaza and indeed also in the West Bank– back in 2006, and which has been ruling Gaza with some significant effectiveness in recent years, and more especially since it repulsed a U.S.-backed coup attempt in June 2007. Israel and the U.S. have always insisted that there should be a role for the (heavily U.S.-backed) Ramallah regime in controlling the Gaza side of the border. However, given Hamas’s undoubted de-facto– as well as in many eyes, de-jure– control of Gaza, shoe-horning in a role for the Ramallah PA has always necessarily involved seeking form of reconciliation or at least modus vivendi between Hamas and the Ramallah-based Fateh faction. (Or, and here is an interesting possibility, the modus vivendi could be between Hamas and the politically “independent”, though also strongly U.S.-backed Ramallah PM, Salam Fayyad.)
We should all be clear that the challenge regarding Gaza is to open its borders to the normal passage of goods and persons, and also to facilitate free passage of goods and persons between Gaza and the West Bank. It is not simply a matter of allowing/ensuring the passage of aid shipments into Gaza. It is a matter of re-opening Gaza to normal commerce with the whole of the rest of the outside world. Gazans hate the aid-dependency into which they’ve been forced. Previously, they had many factories and agro enterprises that engaged in flourishing commerce with the outside world. One of the worst aspects of the Israeli siege is that it has killed all that economic activity. Gaza needs to be open for normal commercial and human activity– not just for the trucking-in of international aid.
Anyway, for the reasons outlined earlier, for Israeli and American officials, the question of opening the Gaza borders to normal traffic of goods and persons has always been directly tied to securing a reconciliation between Hamas and Fateh on terms that they– the Israelis and Americans– approve of. But guess what. That reconciliation hasn’t happened at any point since the Fateh faction headed by Mohamed Dahlan made his (U.S.-instigated) coup attempt in Gaza in June ’07, and was repulsed. But it’s important to remember that immediately prior to that, Fateh, Hamas, and Salam Fayyad had all been participants in the National Unity Government whose terms were brokered by the Saudis in Mecca in February 2007. So reconciliation is not an impossible dream. The grassroots activists on both sides– including that very important constituency, the thousands of political prisoners from all Palestinian factions who are held in Israeli jails– are all in favor of it. And so is the Hamas leadership (though on its own terms, not those of the U.S. or Fateh.)
So what happens if this Likud-dominated Israeli government decides that it needs to, from its perspective, “back down” on the project of keeping Gaza tightly besieged. How might it do that, and wouldn’t it feel it would be somehow “letting Fateh down”?
Actually, no. Likud people have nothing of the sentimental soft spot for Fateh that so many of Israel’s Labour leaders (and even the people in Meretz) have had. And in particular, Likud does not want to have to tie itself down to negotiating the kind of firm international border in the West Bank, between Israel and the future Palestine, that the Fateh diplomats are now so firmly committed to.
There is actually a lot that Likud has in common with Hamas, as I noted in this 2008 article in Boston Review. Key among the things they have in common are that neither movement is terribly strongly committed to the two-state solution– and more importantly, neither currently wants to see a firm international boundary established in the West Bank, between Israel and “Palestine”. The two movements/parties obviously have many goals that clash against each other. But they have both shown on several occasions in the past that they’re capable of using quiet negotiations, or negotiations mediated through third parties, to reach agreements on partial (not permanent-status) issues that have proved relatively successful.
(Another thing the two of them have in common: A strong distaste for the kind of touchy-feely-huggy “getting-to-know-you” gabfests and photo ops that both Labour and Fateh have traditionally adored.)
So it could happen. Fateh might well get tossed out of the door in this. And of course, it goes without saying that the moment the government of Israel says, “Look, we’ve concluded that we need to do some kind of a quiet deal with Hamas to make this border-opening thing work,” the U.S. administration and the serried ranks of bought-and-paid-for members of the U.S. Congress will come slavering like a lap-dog right behind it and say, “Yes, yes! Of course you must!” Like what happened with the PLO back in 1993.
Well, I’m not saying this is what will happen. But I do think it’s a distinct possibility. And we do need to be able to understand just how Netanyahu and his advisers– assuming they are not all testosterone-addicted, rampant fools, as Ehud Barak appears to be– might be trying to think their way out of their current quandary…

Turkey shows the way

The Turkish government has successfully persuaded Israel to immediately release all Turkish nationals illegally captured by Israel on the high seas on Monday, and has sent civilian planes and military hospital planes to collect them. Turkey has also, obviously, insisted that Israel return the mortal remains of all Turkish citizens killed during the flotilla murders.
In addition, Turkey, which withdrew its ambassador from Israel following the murders, has now said it will restore normal ties with Israel only if Israel ends the blockade of Gaza.
Other governments of the world should reinforce this completely legitimate demand– made, as it happens, by a longtime member of NATO that is NATO’s only majority-Muslim member state.

Jeffrey Goldberg, his Israeli friends, Marcy Winograd

I don’t usually spend much time reading the blog that the eager Zionist apologist– the eager Zionist!– Jeffrey Goldberg writes at The Atlantic. Today, I didn’t spend a long time there, but I did read two interesting items:
In this one, JG writes that he is currently in Israel, and–

    I happen to be around a lot of Israeli generals lately, and one I bumped into today said something very smart and self-aware: “Does everybody in the world think we’re bananas?” He did not let me respond before he said, “Wait, I know the answer: The whole world thinks we’re bananas.” I asked this general if this was a good thing or a bad thing. After all, Nixon seemed bananas and he achieved great things internationally. So did Menachem Begin. This is what the general said, however: “It’s one thing for people to think that you’re crazy, but it’s bad when they think you’re incompetent and crazy, and that’s the way we look.”
    … I’m not going to predict the political fall-out from this, because I’m not clever enough to fully grasp Israeli coalition politics. [Ah, Jeffrey, as though Israel is only country that has “politics”, eh? ~HC] But the feelings of shame and embarrassment are palpable, and someone will have to pay a price.
    About that shame and embarrassment: I just met with the son of a friend who serves in an elite Israeli army unit, one very much similiar to Flotilla 13, the Naval commando unit deployed so disastrously against the anti-Israel flotilla, and he explained the shame this way: “These soldiers are the best we have. We are Israel’s deterrent. People in the Middle East need to think we are the best, and we are the best, except that when we’re sent into situations without any intelligence, without any direction, with paintball guns instead of sufficient weapons, with no understanding of who we’re fighting. Then we’re going to have a disaster… ”

Then, from last week, he had this really interesting account of an interview he had conducted a few days earlier with Marcy Winograd, the political activist challenging arch-Zionist Rep. Jane Harman in the Democratic primary in California’s 36th congressional district (someplace in Los Angeles), to be held June 8th.
In a statement on her website today, Winograd slammed into Harman for having been so silent about Israel’s flotilla murders. It said,

    “If my opponent wanted to exercise leadership, she would demand the U.S. government condemn these murders. Her silence leaves those of us in the 36th congressional district once again to wonder whether Jane Harman truly represents all the people of this district, or just the military contractors and those who prioritize Israel, right or wrong. Her tacit approval of such violent tactics also reconfirms my assertion that Harman’s policies make us all less–rather than more–safe.
    Harman last week launched a media campaign attacking Winograd for her promotion of equal rights and justice for all in the middle east. Winograd states, “Millions around the world see the truth unfolding on their TV screens. My opponent can twist my calls for human rights, but the people see that there needs to be accountability for violence, and a sane policy for peace in the middle east.”

All power to Marcy Winograd in her campaign!
Highlights from Goldberg’s interview with her:

    Jeffrey Goldberg: What originally motivated you to challenge Jane Harman?
    Marcy Winograd: My original motivation had a lot to do with her covering for the Bush Administration’s crimes, covering for the invasion of Iraq and covering for the massive illegal wiretapping program. Jane Harman failed in her duty to provide oversight as the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee. She either didn’t read or didn’t take seriously doubts raised by members of the intelligence community about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and she recklessly took us to war on the heels of that. Then I saw her on “Meet the Press” attacking The New York Times for finally releasing a story on illegal wiretaps and I thought to myself that someone has to challenge her, someone has to challenge Democratic incumbents who are complicit in the crimes of the Bush Administration. We need real representation, not someone who is in the pocket of special interests.
    JG: What special interests is she in the pocket of?
    MW: Wall Street, weapons manufacturers, Israel. Not Israel, but AIPAC, because it’s not necessarily the same.
    … JG: Talk about how you would fight terrorism.
    MW: I would work very hard for a peace agreement in the Middle East with Israel and Palestine. I think that is part of the problem, certainly not the whole problem, but it creates a great deal of tension which fuels this kind of opposition. I would, as I said, reassess whether we need all these bases, or whether we would be better off investing our resources in working with NGOs to improve local economies. I mean, in Afghanistan, forty percent of the adult population is unemployed. The biggest enemy is poverty and unemployment.
    JG: Is there anything you would do against terrorism militarily?
    MW: I would join the International Criminal Court. I believe in diplomacy and the rule of law. When people are perpetrating acts of terrorism they should be tried before the world in the world court or tried in absentia. The strongest defense is when you create coalitions of people around the world, not when you have divided the world.
    JG: Go this Henry Waxman question. Are you for a bi-national state or are you for a two-state solution?
    MW: I consider myself a realist, okay? I’m Jewish. I’ve labeled myself as a Jewish woman of conscience who is compelled to speak out because of the suffering in the world. I support peace, so whatever both sides can agree to, which would probably be an agreement on a mutual exchange of territory, I would fully support, because I want peace. However, and let me share this with you, I grew up in a strong Zionist family, I sang at my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, I sent my daughter to Jewish pre-school, I went to Israel when I was in my 20s. That’s my background, and all that being said, I know that Israel was born on land where a million Palestinians lived. For many Jews the birth of Israel is a celebration, but for the Palestinians it was the nakba, a catastrophe. There’s no safety or security in barring people from their homeland. Ultimately, Jews and Palestinians need to learn to live together, just as they lived in peace for many years.
    JG: Can you be a liberal and a Zionist at the same time?
    MW: Well, there’s a less-harmful Zionism. I don’t see Zionism as liberal. Zionism categorizes Jews as a race, which makes it easier for Jews to be targeted.
    JG: Zionism doesn’t categorize Jews as a race, it categorizes Jews as a nation.
    MW: To me, there’s no safety in creating a nation predicated on either racial or ethnic supremacy.
    JG: How did you come to this view?
    MW: I’ve been torn about this for a long time, and not really wanting to look at it, which a lot of Jews probably feel, wanting to turn away from it because it’s too painful. It’s too tied to our identity, to our neighborhoods, to our whole orientation. I My primary concern is peace. I don’t feel comfortable advocating for a country based on ethnic and racial supremacy. Personally, I’m a believer in equality, one voice, one vote, Israelis and Palestinians, one voice, one vote, that’s my personal position.
    JG: Eventual bi-nationalism.
    MW: Yes.

Ireland shows the way

The Irish Times reports that the Irish aid ship the MV Rachel Corrie is still steaming toward Gaza– and that Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Brian Cowen has warned Israel that “If any harm comes to any of our citizens, it will have the most serious consequences.”
HT: Paul Woodward for that.
The Irish do, of course, have a long memory of having been colonized by a bullying neighbor– who was also ready on occasion to use mass starvation as a mechanism of colonial control.
The Irish Times report tells us that the Rachel Corrie has five Irish nationals and five Malaysians aboard it. It had become separated from the other boats in the flotilla due to “logistical” problem. (Or perhaps to earlier Israeli sabotage?)
Five other Irish nationals were on other boats in the flotilla– the ones Israel has attacked and impounded. Among them is the amazing Caoimhe Butterly, a dedicated International Solidarity Movement organizer whom we had the honor of meeting when we were in Damascus last November.
The ISM is now listing Caoimhe (pronounced, roughly, “Queever”) as one of three key female ISM leaders who have not been heard of since yesterday’s murder-raid, and about whom they have great concern. I’m praying for their wellbeing– and for the wellbeing of all those injured in the attack or held incommunicado since it occurred.
The Israeli government had zero authority under international law to launch its assault on the boats in international waters, and zero legitimate authority to kidnap all those riding as passengers or crew members on them. These captive should all be freed immediately. Israel should also be required to provide a full accounting of what happened to all those who were killed or injured, and to cooperate with the international enquiry that needs to be launched into this grave breach of international law.