Dispatches From Gaza: A Wave of Sadness

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Sandy Tolan.

<i>Editor’s note: This excerpt is one of a series by the author—to read more of this story, click on the link following the passages posted below. View a full assortment of Tolan’s dispatches here.</i>

The indelible images of suffering and stories of loss are everywhere in #Gaza. The family of 19 in three small rooms whose only drinking water comes from plastic jugs filled at the mosque. The woman who lost 38 members of her family during Israeli strikes in 2014. The man who lived with 49 others in a relative’s house after his neighborhood of Shujaiya was flattened. But there is something else that abides in the day-to-day life in Gaza that for me resonates just as deeply: a kind of stubborn resilience in the face of catastrophe.

The other night I was walking along a spit of sand and rock that forms part of the Gaza harbor with Raed, my colleague and translator. The place was rippling with everyday life: fishermen pulling up their nets, laughing and giving each other grief; kids posing for selfies; families gathered under beach umbrellas at small plastic tables, sharing a modest picnic.

A young couple with their three kids invited us to join them. The children nibbled from bags of chips, eyeing me shyly. Rana Dilly poured mango soda into small plastic cups while her husband, Ahmad, pushed an unopened package of chocolate wafers toward me. I politely declined, which of course was a mistake. He laughed and pushed the package closer, telling me, “You are with Palestinians!” In other words, your resistance to our hospitality is futile!

Ahmad told me that despite the hardships and frequent dangers, he tries to come to this little finger of land nearly every day, just to clear his head and have some kind of normal feeling. He brings the family once or twice a week. “I want to share life,” he told me. “To share some things with my family and my kids. To show them something is possible.”

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Report Details Israel’s Use of Armed Drone That Killed Gazan Children

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Jessica Corbett / Common Dreams.

A secret report by the Israeli military police—obtained by The Intercept‘s Robert Mackeyreveals that a week into Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in 2014, “air force, naval, and intelligence officers” mistook four 10- and 11-year-old boys who were playing on a beach in Gaza for Hamas militants and killed them by firing missiles from an armed drone.

While “hacked Israeli surveillance images provided to The Intercept by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden showed an Israeli drone armed with missiles in 2010,” Mackey notes that “the Israeli government maintains an official stance of secrecy around its use of drones to carry out airstrikes”—meaning this report provides perhaps “the most direct evidence to date that Israel has used armed drones to launch attacks in Gaza.”

The 2014 attack on the four boys, which occurred in the middle of the afternoon, provoked outrage the world over after it was documented by several international journalists staying in the area, who captured photographs of the dead children on the beach. It was initially suspected that Israel had launched the missiles from naval boats.

The four boys—Ismail Bakr, 10; Ahed Bakr, 10; Zakaria Bakr, 10; and Mohammed Bakr, 11—were cousins, the sons of Gazan fisherman. Their families, with support from the Israel-based Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, or Adalah, are still fighting in court to hold accountable the members of the military directly involved with the airstrikes that killed the children.

Armed drones “alter the process of human decision-making,” and “[expand] the circle of people responsible for the actual killing of the Bakr children,” Suhad Bishara, one of the attorneys representing the families, told The Intercept. Israel’s use of the technology to kill Palestinians, Bishara added, raises “many questions concerning human judgment, ethics, and compliance with international humanitarian law.”

As Mackey outlines:

After images of the attack prompted widespread outrage, Israel’s army conducted a review of the mission and recommended that a military police investigation into possible criminal negligence be conducted. The testimonies collected by the military police from the strike team were included in a report presented to Israel’s military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, 11 months after the boys were killed.

Efroni did not release the testimonies, but did make a summary of the report’s findings public on June 11, 2015, when he closed the investigationwithout filing any charges. Israel’s chief military prosecutor decided that no further criminal or disciplinary measures would be taken, since the investigators had concluded that “it would not have been possible for the operational entities involved to have identified these figures, via aerial surveillance, as children.”

Efroni did not explain why that was impossible. Two days before the strike in question, Israel’s military PR unit had released another video clip in which drone operators could be heard deciding to halt strikes because they had identified figures in their live feeds as children.

Hagai El-Ad, director of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, told The Interceptthat the Israeli government’s use of armed drones is an “open secret,” and emphasized the responsibility of the military figures who order such attacks. In 2016, his group released a report titled “Whitewash Protocol: The So-Called Investigation of Operation Protective Edge,” which criticizes the Israel for inadequately reviewing the killings of Gazan civilians.

“The various specific delays, gaps, failures in the so-called investigation are all part of that broad systematic way to eventually close the files, while producing all this paper trail which may look from the outside as a sincere effort,” El-Ad told The Intercept. “It’s all totally routine.”

The Intercept‘s reporting, published Saturday, came after Israel conducted a bombing campaign in Gaza on Thursday, killing a pregnant woman and her 18-month-old daughter. As Common Dreams reported, Israel’s attack “was characterized as the largest escalation since 2014.”

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How Media Launders Gaza Massacres by Labeling Them as ‘Clashes’

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Adam Johnson / FAIR.

As FAIR has noted before (e.g., Extra!1/17FAIR.org4/2/18), the term “clash” is almost always used to launder power asymmetry and give the reader the impression of two equal warring sides. It obscures power dynamics and the nature of the conflict itself, e.g., who instigated it and what weapons if any were used. “Clash” is a reporter’s best friend when they want to describe violence without offending anyone in power—in the words of George Orwell, “to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

It’s predictable, then, that in coverage of Israel’s recent mass shootings in Gaza—which have killed over 30 Palestinians and injured more than 1,100—the word “clashes” is used to euphemize snipers in fortified positions firing on unarmed protesters 100 meters away:

  • Journalist Among 9 Dead in Latest Gaza Clashes, Palestinian Health Officials Say (CNN4/7/18)
  • Burning Tires, Tear Gas and Live Fire: Gaza Clashes Turn Deadly (Washington Post4/6/18)
  • Demonstrators Wounded as Gaza Clashes Resume (Reuters, 4/7/18)
  • After Gaza Clash, Israel and Palestinians Fight With Videos and Words (New York Times, 4/1/18)

When one side is dying by the dozens and the other is sitting behind a heavily secured wall, firing at will on unarmed people from hundreds of feet away (some of whom are wearing vests marked “PRESS”), this is not a “clash.” It’s more accurately described as a “massacre,” or at the very least, “firing on protesters.” (No Israelis have been injured, which would be a surprising thing if two sides were actually “clashing.”)

New York Times3/25/11

The fig leaf of “clashes” is not needed in reporting on US enemies. In 2011, Western headlines routinely described Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad as having “fired on protesters” (Guardian2/20/11New York Times3/25/11). Simple plain English works when reporting on those in bad standing with the US national security establishment, but for allies of the United States, the push for false parity requires increasingly absurd euphemisms to mask what’s really going on—in this case, the long-distance slaughter of unarmed human beings.

Israel has a state-of-the-art military: F35s, Sa’ar corvettes, Merkava tanks and Hellfire missiles, not to mention the most intrusive surveillance apparatus in the world; total control over the air, sea and land. In the Great March of Return protests, the Palestinians have employed rocks, tires and, according to the IDF, the occasional Molotov cocktail, though no independent evidence has emerged of the latter being used. The power asymmetry is one of the largest of any conflict in the world, yet Western media still cling on an institutional level to a “cycle of violence” frame, with “both sides” depicted as equal parties. The term “clashes” permits them to do this in perpetuity, no matter how one-sided the violence becomes.

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How Media Launders Gaza Massacres by Labeling Them as ‘Clashes’

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Adam Johnson / FAIR.

As FAIR has noted before (e.g., Extra!1/17FAIR.org4/2/18), the term “clash” is almost always used to launder power asymmetry and give the reader the impression of two equal warring sides. It obscures power dynamics and the nature of the conflict itself, e.g., who instigated it and what weapons if any were used. “Clash” is a reporter’s best friend when they want to describe violence without offending anyone in power—in the words of George Orwell, “to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

It’s predictable, then, that in coverage of Israel’s recent mass shootings in Gaza—which have killed over 30 Palestinians and injured more than 1,100—the word “clashes” is used to euphemize snipers in fortified positions firing on unarmed protesters 100 meters away:

  • Journalist Among 9 Dead in Latest Gaza Clashes, Palestinian Health Officials Say (CNN4/7/18)
  • Burning Tires, Tear Gas and Live Fire: Gaza Clashes Turn Deadly (Washington Post4/6/18)
  • Demonstrators Wounded as Gaza Clashes Resume (Reuters, 4/7/18)
  • After Gaza Clash, Israel and Palestinians Fight With Videos and Words (New York Times, 4/1/18)

When one side is dying by the dozens and the other is sitting behind a heavily secured wall, firing at will on unarmed people from hundreds of feet away (some of whom are wearing vests marked “PRESS”), this is not a “clash.” It’s more accurately described as a “massacre,” or at the very least, “firing on protesters.” (No Israelis have been injured, which would be a surprising thing if two sides were actually “clashing.”)

New York Times3/25/11

The fig leaf of “clashes” is not needed in reporting on US enemies. In 2011, Western headlines routinely described Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad as having “fired on protesters” (Guardian2/20/11New York Times3/25/11). Simple plain English works when reporting on those in bad standing with the US national security establishment, but for allies of the United States, the push for false parity requires increasingly absurd euphemisms to mask what’s really going on—in this case, the long-distance slaughter of unarmed human beings.

Israel has a state-of-the-art military: F35s, Sa’ar corvettes, Merkava tanks and Hellfire missiles, not to mention the most intrusive surveillance apparatus in the world; total control over the air, sea and land. In the Great March of Return protests, the Palestinians have employed rocks, tires and, according to the IDF, the occasional Molotov cocktail, though no independent evidence has emerged of the latter being used. The power asymmetry is one of the largest of any conflict in the world, yet Western media still cling on an institutional level to a “cycle of violence” frame, with “both sides” depicted as equal parties. The term “clashes” permits them to do this in perpetuity, no matter how one-sided the violence becomes.

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Israel Launches Scores of Airstrikes as Gaza Fire Persists

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ILAN BEN ZION / The Associated Press.

JERUSALEM — Israeli warplanes struck dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip and three people were reported killed there, while Palestinian militants from the territory fired scores of rockets into Israel in a fierce burst of violence overnight and into Thursday morning.

The flare-up comes as Egypt is trying to broker a long-term cease-fire between the two sides. At least three Palestinians died — a pregnant woman, her 1-year-old daughter and a Hamas militant, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

On the Israeli side, at least seven people were wounded.

Israeli and Hamas officials both threatened a further intensification of hostilities. The U.N.’s Mideast envoy appealed for calm.

It was not clear if the escalation, the latest in a series of intense exchanges of fire in recent months, would derail the indirect negotiations between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas militant rulers.

Air raid sirens signaling incoming rocket fire continued in southern Israel on Thursday morning, raising the likelihood of further Israeli reprisals.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007. Despite the animosity, the bitter enemies appear to be working through Egyptian mediators to avoid another war.

Hamas is demanding the lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade that has devastated Gaza’s economy, while Israel wants an end to rocket fire, as well as recent border protests and launches of incendiary balloons, and the return of the remains of two dead soldiers and two live Israelis believed to be held by Hamas.

But the continued outbursts of fire have jeopardized those cease-fire efforts. On Tuesday, the Israeli military struck a Hamas military post in Gaza after it said militants fired on Israeli troops on the border. Hamas said two of its fighters were killed after taking part in a gunfire parade inside a militant camp.

The incident occurred while a group of senior Hamas leaders from abroad were visiting Gaza to discuss the ceases-fire efforts with local leaders.

A top Hamas official told The Associated Press that the group waited for the delegation to leave Gaza before responding with rocket fire late Wednesday.

The Israeli military said over 150 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel, and Israel carried out over 140 airstrikes targeting Hamas militant positions.

Gaza’s Health Ministry identified those killed in the airstrikes from Wednesday to Thursday as Hamas fighter Ali Ghandour, 23-year-old Enas Khamash and her daughter Bayan. The ministry said the militant and the civilians were killed in separate incidents.

Kamal Khamash, brother-in-law of the killed woman, said the family was asleep when the projectile hit the house.

The mother and daughter died immediately and the father is in critical condition, Kamal said.

“This is a blatant crime and Israel is responsible for it,” he said.

Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus insisted Israel only targeted Hamas military targets in Gaza.

In southern Israel, two Thai laborers were among the seven wounded by rocket fire, and rockets damaged buildings in the cities of Sderot and Ashkelon. The military said it intercepted some 25 rockets, while most of the others landed in open areas. Israel said it launched airstrikes targeting rocket launchers, weapons stockpiles, tunnels and other Hamas infrastructure.

Israeli Cabinet minister for construction and housing, Yoav Galant, said that “whatever is needed to be done to defend our civilians and soldiers, will be done, no matter what would be the price in Gaza.”

Conricus wouldn’t comment on Israeli media reports of troops preparing for a possible ground operation, but said Israel “had ground troops that are ready to deploy. We are reinforcing the southern command and Gaza division.”

Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special envoy who is involved in Egyptian efforts to broker a truce, said in a statement on Thursday that he’s “deeply alarmed” by “multiple rockets fired toward communities in southern Israel” the day before.

Mladenov warned that “if the current escalation however is not contained immediately, the situation can rapidly deteriorate with devastating consequences for all people.”

On Wednesday, the Israeli military shelled the Palestinian territory after civilians working on the Gaza border fence came under fire. Hamas militants responded with a cross-border fusillade that sent Israelis scrambling for air raid shelters.

The Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing classified negotiations, said that cease-fire talks were in their final stage but that disagreements remained. He said Hamas is demanding the complete lifting of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while Israel has offered only to ease the restrictions.

Tension along the Israel-Gaza border has escalated since late March, when Hamas launched what would become regular mass protests along Israel’s perimeter fence with Gaza. The protests have been aimed in part at trying to break the blockade.

Over the past four months, 163 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including at least 120 protesters, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and a local rights group. An Israeli soldier was killed by a Gaza sniper during this period.

Israel says it has been defending its sovereign border against infiltration attempts by Hamas. But it has come under heavy international criticism for its frequent use of force against unarmed protesters.

___

Associated Press writers Mohammad Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Fares Akram contributed to this report.

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Ceasefire Announced After Massive Israeli Gaza Onslaught

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ARON HELLER / The Associated Press.

JERUSALEM (AP) — Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers said Saturday they had accepted a cease-fire ending a massive Israeli onslaught on militant positions after a soldier was shot dead, once again pulling the sides back from the brink of a full-fledged war.

Israel and Hamas have fought three such wars over the past decade and Hamas agreed to the second such cease-fire in a week under heavy Egyptian and international pressure.

Even after last week’s cease-fire ended the fiercest exchange of rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes since the 2014 war, incendiary kites and balloons continued to float from Gaza into Israel setting off damaging fires to farmlands. Israel has stepped up strikes since then to signal its new threshold for engagement after months of largely refraining to act.

Israel says it has no interest is engaging in another war with Hamas, but says it will no longer tolerate the Gaza militant campaign of flying the incendiary devices into Israel.

On Friday, a Palestinian sniper killed an Israeli soldier along the border — the first casualty it has sustained in four years — and Israel unleashed an offensive it says destroyed more than 60 Hamas targets, including three battalion headquarters. Four Palestinians were killed, of which three were Hamas militants.

“The attack delivered a severe blow to the Hamas’s training array, command and control abilities, weaponry, aerial defense and logistic capabilities along with additional military infrastructure,” the Israeli military said in a statement, adding that the strikes “will intensify as necessary.”

Israel’s top leadership convened late into the night Friday at military headquarters to discuss potential actions.

In a brief statement early Saturday, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the movement accepted the cease-fire brokered by Egyptian and United Nations officials and that calm had been restored. Later, the Israeli military announced a return to civilian routine along the volatile border.

The recent outburst of violence comes after months of near-weekly border protests organized by Hamas aimed in part at protesting the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza. Over 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began on March 30.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza for over a decade in an attempt to weaken Hamas. The blockade has caused widespread economic hardship. Israel says the naval blockade is necessary to protect its citizens from weapons smuggling.

Israel says it is defending its sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover for attempts to breach the border fence and attack Israeli civilians and soldiers.

“Hamas terrorists opened fire today on Israelis. Those are not ‘protesters,'” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon wrote Friday on Twitter. “We will not tolerate attacks endangering Israelis. Under no circumstance.”

The Israeli retaliation Friday to the soldier’s killing was fierce, but Hamas’ response was far meeker with just a few projectiles launched that were intercepted by Israel.

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Making Sense of U.S. Moves in the Middle East

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Rebecca Gordon / TomDispatch.

My father and I always had a tacit agreement: “We will never speak of That Part of the World.” He’d grown up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Norfolk, Virginia. His own father, a refugee from early-twentieth-century pogroms in what is now Ukraine, had been the president of his local Zionist organization. A liberal in most things (including his ardent opposition to both of the U.S. wars against Iraq), my father remained a Zionist to his dying day. We both knew that if we were ever to have a real conversation about Israel/Palestine, unforgivable things would be said.

As a child in the 1950s, I absorbed the ambient belief that the state of Israel had been created after World War II as an apology gift from the rest of the world to European Jews who had survived the Holocaust. I was raised to think that if the worst were to happen and Jews were once again to become targets of genocidal rage, my family could always emigrate to Israel, where we would be safe. As a young woman, I developed a different (and, in retrospect, silly) line on That Part of the World: there’s entirely too much sun there, and it’s made them all crazy.

It wasn’t until I’d reached my thirties that I began to pay serious attention to the region that is variously known as the Middle East, the Arab world, or the Greater Middle East and North Africa. And when I did, I discovered how deep my ignorance (like that of so many fellow Americans) really was and how much history, geography, and politics there is to try to understand. What follows is my attempt to get a handle on how the Trump presidency has affected U.S. policy and actions in That Part of the World.

Old Alliances…

The United States has a long-standing and deep alliance with Israel. During the Cold War, Washington viewed that country as its bulwark in the oil-rich region against both a rising pan-Arab nationalism and real or imagined Soviet encroachments. In fact, according to the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service, “Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. To date, the United States has provided Israel $134.7 billion current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding.”

The vast majority of this largesse has been in military aid, which has allowed Israel, a country of a little more than eight million people, to become the 14th or 15th strongest military power on the planet. It is also the only nuclear power in the region with an arsenal of at least 80 weapons (even if its government has never officially acknowledged this reality). By comparison, Iran, its present archenemy, ranks 21st, despite having a population 10 times greater.

The history of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights — territories it captured in the 1967 war — is too long and complex for even a brief recap here. Suffice it to say that the United States has often been Israel’s sole ally as, in direct contravention of international law, that country has used its own settlements to carve Palestinian territory into a jigsaw puzzle of disparate pieces, making a contiguous Palestinian state a near impossibility.

Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon explained Israel’s plan for the Palestinian people in 1973 when he said, “We’ll make a pastrami sandwich of them.” Promising to insert “a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank,” he insisted that “in 25 years’ time, neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart.”

Forty-five years later, his strategy has been fully implemented, as Barack Obama reportedly learned to his shock when, in 2015, he saw a State Department map of the shredded remains of the land on which Palestinians are allowed to exist on the West Bank.

The “pastrami sandwich” strategy has effectively killed any hope for a two-state solution. Now, as the number of non-Jews begins to surpass that of Jews in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, that country once again confronts the inherent contradiction of a state that aims to be both democratic and, in some sense, Jewish. If everyone living in Israel/Palestine today had equal political and economic rights, majority rule would no longer be Jewish rule. In effect, as some Israelis argue, Israel can be Jewish or democratic, but not both.

A solution to this demographic dilemma — one supported by present Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — is to legislate permanent inequality through what’s called “the basic law on Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” which is now being debated in the country’s parliament, the Knesset. Among other provisions, that “basic” law (which, if passed, would have the equivalent of constitutional status) will allow citizens “to establish ‘pure’ communities on the basis of religion or ethnicity.” In other words, it will put in place an official framework of legalized segregation.

In the Trump era, Washington’s alliance with Israel has only grown tighter. After recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — despite almost universal international objections — Trump sealed the deal in May, traveling to Jerusalem with a coterie of Zionist evangelical Christians and, on Israeli Independence Day, opening a new U.S. embassy there. That day, May 14th, was the eve of the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call the nakba (the catastrophe of Israel’s seizure of Palestinian homes and lands in 1948).

Donald Trump could not have sent a clearer signal to the world about exactly where the United States stands on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That same day, as Time reported, “cameras captured the chaos as Israeli soldiers methodically cut down some 2,700 Palestinians, 60 fatally, as they marched toward the fence that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip.” Gazans, in case you’ve forgotten, have been subject for years to a vicious blockade, both literal and economic, that has turned their homes into what has been calledthe world’s largest open-air prison. And keep in mind that Israel also launched major military operations against that tiny territory in 2008-2009, 2012, and 2014, and appears to be ramping up for a new one.

It’s unlikely, to say the least, that the new “peace deal” that the world awaits from President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner will offer Palestinians much more than another bite of that pastrami sandwich.

…And New Ones

Geopolitics (and a common enemy) can make strange bedfellows. In a recent New Yorker article, Adam Entous suggests that a new ménage-à-quatre was formed in the region in the run-up to Donald Trump’s election, bringing Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United States ever closer. As it happened, there was even an unexpected fifth player lurking in the shadows: Russia. Entous reports that Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and one of UAE’s most powerful men, suggested to an American friend that Russian President Vladimir Putin “might be interested in resolving the conflict in Syria in exchange for the lifting of sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.”

The goal of this new alliance was not so much an end to the brutal Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad as an end to the Iranian military presence in Syria. The unofficial alliance of the Saudis, the UAE, and the Israelis was, above all, meant to push back or even bring an end to the present government of Iran. This seems to have been the genesis of a 2016 meeting in the Seychelles Islands between Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious hire-a-mercenary company, Blackwater, and a confidant of then-Trump adviser Steve Bannon as well as the brother of present Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and a figure who might serve as a Russian-UAE go-between. Endous indicates that the deal then proved “unworkable,” because Russia had neither the desire nor the capacity to evict Iran from Syria.

Nevertheless, this July 10th, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu flew to Moscow to meet with Putin for a discussion of the Syrian situation in which the Russians are now, of course, deeply enmeshed. At the same time, a top foreign policy adviser to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was also on his way to Russia to speak with Putin. Netanyahu returned from Moscow with less than he’d hoped for, but at least with “a commitment to keep Iranian forces tens of kilometers from Israel,” according to the New York Times.The fact that these meetings were happening the week before presidents Trump and Putin were to sit down together in Helsinki and discuss Syria, among other topics, is, however, suggestive. Bloomberg News reportedthat Putin has “stepped up efforts to broker a deal on the pullback of pro-Iranian militias from Syria’s border with Israel” as he prepared for his summit with Trump.

The American president has already backed away from his predecessor’s insistence that the departure of Syrian leader Assad be a precondition for a peace settlement in that country. For his part, Netanyahu has made it clear that Israel can accept Assad in power as long as the Iranian military units in that country are withdrawn. Before leaving for Moscow, he told reporters, “We haven’t had a problem with the Assad regime; for 40 years not a single bullet was fired on the Golan Heights.” Presumably, Trump and his feckless son-in-law feel the same way.

In the end, the target of all these machinations remains Iran. The dangers represented by a conflict between the Trump administration and Iran (with the Israelis, the Saudis, and the UAE all potentially involved) threaten to make the invasion of Iraq and ensuing events there look mild by comparison. And it’s hardly out of the question. As University of Michigan history professor and Middle East expert Juan Cole notes, overshadowed by other absurdities in Trump’s bombastic post-NATO-summit news conference was this warning: “I would say there might be an escalation between us and the Iranians.”

Meanwhile, in Syria…

Meanwhile, if it weren’t for Yemen (see below), it might be hard to imagine a more miserable place in 2018 than Syria. Since 2011, when a nonviolent movement to unseat Assad devolved into a vicious civil war, more than half the country’s pre-war population of 22 million has become internally displaced or refugees, according to numbers from the U.N. High Commission on Refugees. Actual casualty figures are impossible to pin down with any exactitude. In April 2018, however, the New York Times reported that the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the number of directly caused deaths at 511,000, including fighters and civilians.

Death and destruction have come from all sides: al-Qaeda-linked terror groups and the Islamic State killing civilians; the Syrian military, which is presently driving opposition forces out of the southern city of Dara’a, where the original uprising began (creating a quarter-million refugees with literally no place to go); and U.S. bombs and other munitions — 20,000 of them — reducing the city of Raqqa to rubble in a campaign to liberate it from ISIS militants. Add it all up and the war, still ongoing, has destroyed millions of homes and businesses, along with crucial infrastructure throughout an increasingly impoverished country.

So many military forces — foreign and domestic — are contending in Syria that it’s difficult to keep track. Wikipedia’s list of those fighting fills screen after screen. On the side of Assad’s government are the Syrian military, elements of the militia of the Iranian-supported Lebanese party Hezbollah (part of the government in that country), some Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces, and of course the Russian military. On the other side are various militant terror groups, including what’s left of the Islamic State, and a wide variety of U.S.-supported anti-Assad groups, including those hailing from the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, a semi-autonomous, multi-ethnic area in the country’s northeast. Throw in Kurdish fighters, including Syrian natives and Kurds from Turkey, and the Turkish military itself (in its bid to tamp down any errant Kurdish nationalism), at least 2,000 U.S. military personnel, and the Israeli air force, striking at Iranian targets in the country, and even with an eventual peace settlement, Syria, the birthplace of the alphabet, will be a desperate nation for decades to come.

Whose fault was all of this? There’s plenty of blame to go around and plenty of actors to shoulder that blame. But when you begin to make that list, make sure to include Washington’s so-called neoconservatives who, as far back as 1996, offered Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel’s prime minister then, too) their “Clean Break” strategy to rebuild the Middle East. That plan started with unseating Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein and went on to destabilize Syria. A number of these neocons, including Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, then became top officials in George W. Bush’s administration, invading Iraq themselves to make sure their dream for the Israelis came true. And what a nightmare it proved to be. Nor should we forget that one of that plan’s loudest advocates during the Bush administration — John Bolton — is now Trump’s national security advisor. In other words, there’s plenty of blame to go around and plenty to worry about.

Does Anyone Remember Yemen?

If there is a place in the greater Middle East even more desperate than Syria, it has to be Yemen. With U.S.logistical and financial support, Saudi Arabia has waged a cruel air war against the Houthis, a home-grown movement that in 2015 overthrew the government of president Ali Abdullah Saleh. What is the Saudi interest in Yemen? As in their support for a potential UAE-Israel-Russia-U.S. alliance in Syria, they’re intent on fighting a proxy war — and someday perhaps via the U.S. and Israel, a real war — with Iran.

In this case, however, it seems that the other side in that war hasn’t shown up. Although, like the Iranian government and most Iranians, the Houthi are Shi’a Muslims, there is little evidence of Iranian involvement in Yemen. That hasn’t stopped the Saudis (with American support) from turning that country into “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” Their destruction of infrastructure in rebel-held areas has collapsed a once-functioning public health system, touching off a cholera epidemic, with the World Health Organization reporting a total of 1,105,371 suspected cases between April 2017 and June 2018. The infection rate now stands at 934 per 10,000 people.

Even worse than the largely unchecked spread of cholera, however, is Yemen’s man-made famine. Photographs from the country display the familiar iconography of widespread hunger: children with stick-like limbs and blank, sunken eyes. As it happens, though, this famine was not caused by drought or any other natural disaster. It’s a direct result of a brutal Saudi air campaign and a naval blockade aimed directly at the country’s economic life.

Before the war, Yemen imported 80% of its food and even today, despite a disastrous ongoing Saudi/UAEcampaign to blockade and take the port of Hodeidah, Yemen’s main economic center, there is actually plenty of food in the country. It now simply costs more than most Yemenis can pay. Because the war has destroyed almost all economic activity in Houthi-controlled areas, people there have no money with which to buy food. In other words, the Saudi offensive against Hodeidah is starving people in two ways: directly by preventing the delivery of international food aid and indirectly by making the food in Yemen unaffordable for ordinary people.

We Have to Talk about It

With President Trump and his secretary of state now talking openly about a possible “escalation between us and the Iranians,” there is a real risk that some combination of the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia could initiate a war with Iran. If there’s one lesson to be learned from U.S. wars since 9/11, it’s “don’t start another one.”

For more than 70 years, Americans have largely ignored the effects of U.S. foreign policy in the rest of the world. Rubble in Syria? Famine in Yemen? It’s terribly sad, yes, but what, we still wonder, does it have to do with us?

That Part of the World doesn’t wonder about how U.S. actions and policies affect them. That Part of the World knows — and what it knows is devastating. It’s time that real debate about future U.S. policy there becomes part of our world, too.

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Cease-fire Holds After Day of Intense Israel-Hamas Fighting

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ARON HELLER / The Associated Press.

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military lifted its restrictions along the Gaza border Sunday, indicating it had accepted an Egypt-mediated cease-fire that ended a 24-hour round of fighting with Hamas militants that had threatened to devolve into all-out war.

The military had shut down a popular beach and placed limitations on large gatherings as residents kept mostly close to home on Saturday amid dozens of rockets that were fired from Gaza. But after several hours of calm it said residents could resume their daily routines.

On Saturday, the military carried out its largest wave of airstrikes in Gaza since the 2014 war, hitting several Hamas military compounds and flattening a number of its training camps. Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an airstrike in Gaza City, while four Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a residential home.

The military said several mortar shells were fired even after Hamas announced the cease-fire as sirens warning of incoming projectiles wailed in Israel overnight again. The military struck the mortar launcher early Sunday but the calm held, with neither side appearing eager to resume hostilities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not accept a cease-fire unless it included an end to all militant hostilities, including incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza that have devastated nearby Israeli farmlands and nature reserves.

“The Israeli military has delivered its most punishing blow against Hamas since the 2014 war. I hope they got the message. If not, they will get it later on,” he said at the weekly cabinet meeting.

After several balloons drifted into Israel Sunday, the military said it targeted the Hamas squad that had launched them from the northern Gaza Strip.

Hamas police also announced an explosion Sunday at a house in Gaza City that killed a father and son, aged 35 and 13. The explosion appeared to be an accidental blast related to militant stock piles of explosives. Hamas said it would investigate.

Israel said it unleashed Saturday’s barrage in response to weeks of violence along Gaza’s border — including a grenade attack Friday that wounded an officer — as well as sustained Hamas rocket attacks and a campaign of incendiary devices floating over the border.

Hamas responded with more than 200 projectiles toward Israel communities, evoking memories of the three wars the sides have waged over the past decade. Israel said its Iron Dome defense system shot down more than 20 projectiles.

On Sunday evening the military announced that following a “situation assessment” it had reinforced Iron Dome batteries in central Israel and in the south of the country. It added that a small number of reserve army soldiers were called up.

Israel also destroyed several Hamas attack tunnels, as well as factories involved in the production of the incendiary kites and balloons, and a Hamas battalion headquarters in northern Gaza.

“We have no intention of tolerating rockets, kites, drones or anything,” said Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. “I hope that Hamas will draw conclusions and if not, they will have to pay a heavy price.”

Two teenagers were killed and several others were wounded when Israel struck an unfinished five-story building near a Hamas security compound and a public park in Gaza City, reducing the structure to rubble. The military said Hamas was using it as a training facility and had dug a tunnel underneath as part of its underground network.

The rare strike in the heart of Gaza City blew out windows at a nearby mosque, an art gallery, government offices, a tech start-up company and dozens of houses, leaving light fixtures and wiring dangling. The Al-Azhar university said its classrooms and the dentistry college lab were also damaged.

Speaking to thousands attending the two teenagers’ funeral, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh vowed to continue Gaza protests and to take revenge for the teens. He also met with the U.N. Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, who urged both sides to maintain calm

“Yesterday we were on the brink of war, and it has taken the concerted efforts of everyone to make sure that we step back from confrontation,” Mladenov said in Gaza. “Everybody needs to take a step back.”

The strike that killed the teenagers unleashed a Hamas’ launch toward the Israeli border town of Sderot, where a rocket hit the Buchris family home.

“We were sitting in the living room and all of a sudden, the aquarium exploded and there was smoke everywhere and glass flew everywhere,” said Aharon Buchris, who was wounded along with his wife and two teenage daughters, as he awaited surgery in hospital.

Israel has been warning Hamas that while it has no interest in exacerbating hostilities, it will not tolerate Gaza militants’ continued efforts to breach the border and its campaign of incendiary attacks on Israeli border communities.

Hamas-led border protests are aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. Over 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since protests began on March 30.

With Israel focused on efforts to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military foothold in neighboring Syria, it has been wary of escalating violence in Gaza. Netanyahu has also come under pressure from southern Israeli communities under rocket fire from Gaza.

Hamas, meanwhile, has been trying to break out of its isolation and spotlight the hardships of the impoverished strip without invoking the full wrath of Israel.

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Associated Press writer Fares Akram in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

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Israel Exchanges Intense Fire With Hamas Militants in Gaza

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ARON HELLER / The Associated Press.

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military carried out its largest daytime airstrike campaign in Gaza since the 2014 war Saturday as Hamas militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel throughout the day, threatening to trigger an all-out war after weeks of growing tensions along the volatile border.

Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an airstrike in Gaza City, while three Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a residential home.

Israel said it was focused on hitting militant targets and was warning Gaza civilians to keep their distance from certain sites. But even before the report of casualties the intense tit-for-tat airstrikes and rocket barrages still marked a significant flare-up after a long period of a generally low-level, simmering conflict.

“The Israeli army delivered its most painful strike against Hamas since the 2014 war and we will increase the strength of our attacks as much as necessary,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the latest Israeli sortie, the third of the day, struck some 40 Hamas targets including tunnels, logistical centers and a Hamas battalion headquarters. He said the escalation was the result of the sustained Hamas rocket attacks, its fomenting of violence along the border and its campaign of launching incendiary kites and balloons that have devastated Israeli farmlands and nature reserves.

“Our message to Hamas is that we can and will enhance the intensity of our effort if needed,” he said. “What Hamas is doing is pushing them ever closer to the edge of the abyss … Hamas will have to understand that there is a price to be paid.”

Later, witnesses reported that Israeli warplanes dropped four bombs on an unfinished building near a Hamas police and security compound in Gaza City, reducing the old structure to rubble. The four-story building is adjacent to a public park. Gaza’s Health ministry said two teenagers were killed in the strike and ten others injured.

It marked the first casualties of the day. Striking in the heart of Gaza City is typically only seen during full-blown conflicts like the 2014 war and could signal that a further escalation may be in store.

The Israeli military had no immediate reaction to that strike but said it had targeted a separate high-rise building in the northern Gaza Strip that was used as a Hamas urban warfare training facility. It said a tunnel was dug under the building.

Shortly after, Israeli medical officials said three Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a house in southern Israel. It said paramedics in the southern city of Sderot were treating a 52-year-old man with a chest wound, a 17-year-old girl with a face wound and a 20-year-old woman with injuries to her limbs.

Sirens wailed overnight and throughout most of the day Saturday in southern Israel as waves of rockets and mortars were launched from Gaza amid the airstrikes. The military said it identified about 60 launches of rockets and mortars from Gaza toward Israeli territory, of which about 10 were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system. As a precaution, the military shut down a popular beach in southern Israel and placed limitations on gatherings of large crowds. Israeli police says four of the projectiles caused damage.

Israel has been warning Hamas in recent weeks that while it has no interest in engaging in the kind of conflict that led to the sides fighting three wars over the past decade, it will not tolerate Gaza militants’ continued efforts to breach the border and its campaign to devastate Israeli border communities with incendiary attacks.

With Israel focused on rising tension along its northern border in its efforts to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military foothold in post-civil war Syria, it has been wary of escalating hostilities in Gaza. But Netanyahu has also come under pressure to act from southern Israeli communities, who have once again found themselves under rocket fire from Gaza in addition to contending with the daily field fires.

“We are ready to operate simultaneously in different theaters,” Conricus said, referring to the dual threats from Syria and Gaza. “It will be challenging to fight on more than one border but it is something we can do and are prepared to do.”

Israel’s military chief visited the border area for briefings and the Security Cabinet, Israel’s top decision-making body, is expected to convene Sunday to discuss further actions.

On Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered near the Gaza border for their near-weekly protest. A 15-year-old Palestinian who tried to climb over the fence into Israel was shot dead. Later the military said an Israeli officer was moderately wounded by a grenade thrown at him.

Gaza’s health ministry said Saturday that a 20-year-old struck by gunfire Friday during the protests in the southern Gaza Strip had also died of his wounds.

The Islamic militant group Hamas that rules Gaza has led border protests aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. The demonstrations have been fueled in large part by pervasive despair caused by the blockade, which has caused widespread economic hardship.

Over 130, mostly unarmed, Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since protests began on March 30.

Israel says it is defending its sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover for attempts to breach the border fence and attack civilians and soldiers. Most recently, it has been struggling to cope with the widespread fires caused by the incendiary kites and balloons floating over the border.

In a statement, the military said Hamas’ activities “violate Israeli sovereignty, endanger Israeli civilians and sabotage Israel’s humanitarian efforts that aim to help Gazan civilians.”

In a relatively rare admission, Hamas said it fired the rockets to deter Israel from further action. Most of the recent rockets from Gaza have been fired by smaller factions but Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said it was an “immediate response” that was meant to “deliver the message.”

The military said its jets targeted two Hamas tunnels as well as other military compounds, including those involved in the production of the kites and balloons. It said the Hamas battalion headquarters in northern Gaza was completely destroyed and footage it released showed a series of large explosions that left a gaping hole in the ground.

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Israel Shuts Down Crucial Gaza Cargo Crossing

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Jessica Corbett / Common Dreams.

In a move condemned by human rights advocates as another of the Israeli government’s “genocidal policies of collective punishment” in Gaza, Israel has announced stringent new import rules for the territory’s main cargo crossing.

As Israel and Egypt have maintained a naval, aerial, and land blockade of the occupied territory for more than a decade, the Kerem Shalom crossing is how most commercial goods and foreign aid reach Gazans. Under the new restrictions, only food, medicine, and “humanitarian equipment” can come through the entry point.

The rules, Al Jazeera noted, “will also affect Gaza’s exports, further straining an already crippled economy brought to its knees by the 12-year blockade.”

While the Israeli government claims the closure is aimed at curtailing militant activity in Gaza, human rights advocates such as Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, condemned the border closure as just the latest example of Israel’s “unlawful collective punishment” against the people imprisoned within the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah said on Twitter that the restrictions are among Israel’s “genocidal policies,” and emphasized that all other nations which back Israel should be held to account for the consequences of the closure:

The Hamas government in Gaza denounced the move as “a new Israeli crime against humanity.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that “the Defense Minister and I agree that we will be heavy-handed with the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip—immediately.”

Beyond the import rules, Netanyahu said, “there will be additional steps; I will not go into details.” Although he did not divulge whether such steps would include ending the recent expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone from six to nine nautical miles, which took effect nearly three months ago, according to Reuters, an Israeli military statement declared the fishing zone would revert to the lower limit.

Though frustrating for Gaza’s fisherman, who still struggle within the confines of the expanded zone, the decision was not surprising. While Israel occasionally allows such expansions to boost the Gazan economy, they typically only last for three months. Ahead of that statement, Nizar Ayash, the leader of Gaza’s fishermen’s union, had toldAl Jazeera that members would be taking precautions.

“The latest retaliatory measure by Israel made no mention to the fishing limit in Gaza, but we expect to hear from them on Tuesday,” Ayash had said. “The three-month mark is about to end anyway… So we will be back to fishing at only six nautical miles soon.”

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