Wednesday, August 20, 2014

20-Aug-14: A shooting, rocketing war... yet again

The lack of faster and more frequent updates here is, unfortunately, not because of a lack of events but because we're traveling. We hope to update with commentary when we can.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

17-Aug-14: About that Hamas-friendly media coverage: its spokeswoman reveals all but it helps to know Arabic

Al-Modallal [Image Source: Der Spiegel]
We're not the first to report this. Still it's quite remarkable how very little attention the brand-name news-reporting businesses around the globe are letting their consumers know how manipulated the news coming out of Gaza is, and especially about the way Hamas holds Gaza's population hostage to its human-shield strategy.

Isra Al-Modallal is a 24 year-old woman whose job today, literally, is to help Hamas change its public image. Her roots give her a boost. Born like so many self-styled Palestinian Arabs (Arafat among them) in Egypt, she attended high school in Bradford, England, the city of half a million people whose parliamentary representative Galloway, in a video-recorded rant ten days ago, embarrassingly declared it "an Israel-free zone". Living for some years in the UK, she says, was useful in helping her "to understand Western culture", for which we now have the evidence.

Al-Modallal trained in journalism at the Islamic University of Gaza ("closely associated with Hamas"), and was named in November 2013 to be head of foreign relations in Hamas' Information Ministry, evidently a newly-invented job. In an interview with a friendly media outlet, she described her mission as being to:
"address Western and Israeli media" [and to] "work to change media discourse, painting a different picture of Palestine and Gaza... The Western media has begun to realize that the Israeli media falsifies the facts, and so we have to make a great effort to debunk Israeli falsehoods." [source]
On Thursday, industriously remaking Hamas' profile via some of that "media discourse", Ms Al-Modallal granted an interview via Skype to Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV. This was of course done in Arabic with the result that no working journalist (as far as we can tell) analyzed its content for the light it might shed on one of the world's most active terrorist organizations. Experience says the majority of those reporters who know enough Arabic are ideologically uninterested in revealing the things she said. The majority, knowing zero Arabic, are unable.

On Friday, the Middle East Media Research Institute - doing the invaluable work for which it has become famous - published an Arabic to English transcript, along with the video clip itself. Here, verbatim, are extracts of what the Hamas woman said:
  • "Fewer journalists entered the Gaza Strip during this war than in the previous rounds, in 2008 and 2012. Therefore, the coverage by foreign journalists in the Gaza Strip was insignificant compared to their coverage within the Israeli occupation [i.e., Israel]. Moreover, the journalists who entered Gaza were fixated on the notion of peace and on the Israeli narrative."
  • The foreign press was focused "on filming the places from where missiles were launched. Thus, they were collaborating with the occupation.... 
  • "Some of the journalists who entered the Gaza Strip were under security surveillance. Even under these difficult circumstances, we managed to reach them, and tell them that what they were doing was anything but professional journalism and that it was immoral."
  • "The security agencies would go and have a chat with these people. They would give them some time to change their message, one way or another.
  • "These journalists were deported from the Gaza Strip." 
She has no problem justifying the Hamas approach in this Facebook post. Her Twitter account, incidentally, mysteriously fails to mention the intimate closeness with Hamas that has provided her with a megaphone and influence. The full text of her Twitter profile: "Independent journalist and a Palestinian activist. Be Free Be Human".

And the chances that the head of the Jerusalem bureau of the New York Times who last week called claims by the Foreign Press Association of Hamas intimidation "nonsense", is going to issue an abject apology and set matters straight? 

17-Aug-14: Hamas sources that disclose what Hamas is hiding: available for whoever wants to find them

Illustrative image from Shijaiyah, Gaza City, of the kind that has
blanketed the global media coverage of the Hamas war
waged from Gaza: massive destruction of buildings,
and nothing but civilians in sight. Combatants dead or alive? Look
elsewhere [Image Source: APA]
It's possible the carnage and destruction that Gaza has endured under Hamas is over for now.

Or not: tonight's reports indicate the Hamas leadership - most of them based away from Gaza in luxurious accommodations - are ready, willing and very publicly anxious for more. See "Hamas rejects Egypt ceasefire terms, vows ‘continued struggle’" [Times of Israel, August 16, 2014], as a vivid illustration.

Against that background, we're still waiting for mainstream reporters and their editors at major news-industry channels to finally be upfront and open (i.e. to do what their professional code of ethics requires them to do) about what is known of the Hamas battlefield strategy, in particular as it pertains to (a) Gaza civilian casualties versus combatant casualties and (b) the appetite of the jihadists for more and more and more.

If they lack for source materials, we would like to direct their attention (as one small example among many) to Al-Monitor whose website tonight carries a revealing article translated to excellent English from the original Arabic. It's entitled "Is Hamas' tunnel network still intact?", and broadly speaking the answer is yes. The author is a Gaza based academic, the head of one of the faculties as well as something called the "Press and Information Section" at Gaza's Al Ummah University. Some direct quotes:
  • [Hamas] field commander Abu Jihad told Al-Monitor, “Israel’s allegations that it destroyed the tunnel network are inaccurate and aimed at local consumption to reassure Israelis that the war was progressing well. To determine the truth, all they have to do is embark on a wide-scale ground offensive in Gaza, for we have prepared a wide array of tunnels 5-25 meters [16-82 feet] deep, which allow our fighters to move about the battleground undetected. 
  • It is true that Israel destroyed a number of those tunnels, but the strategic ones are undamaged and have retained their full logistical capacity, in as far as available water supply, food, weapons, ventilation systems and electricity.”
  • ...Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, demonstrated resilience against the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip in the latest war, and their officials say they still have the military capabilities to continue the fight. 
  • It is interesting to note that, in this war, unlike the previous wars in 2008 and 2012, the al-Qassam Brigades [i.e. Hamas] did not divulge the names and numbers of its dead, nor did they allude to them in any way, except through unofficial activist posts and pictures on Facebook. It is well known, however, that they number in the dozens, with medical sources in Gaza confirming to Al-Monitor that corpses in uniform were brought to hospitals.
  • ...Rescue workers were still removing the bodies of fighters and those who died when Israel targeted their homes in various areas of Gaza, without any mention of the approximate number of martyrs. Some fighters who went on patrol have yet to return home, because it was only logical that dozens would fall in this confrontation where Israel targeted homes.
So - a Hamas source that says Hamas is hiding its combatants, hiding its casualties, hiding the strategic tunnels (some of which are known to be underneath Al-Shifa Hospital) and ready to keep fighting irrespective of the price paid in human lives and desperation of the powerless Gazan population whose lives are controlled by the Islamists of Hamas.

Do the dots have to be joined before information of this kind [and this kind too: "Top 9 facts the media wouldn't tell you about Hamas"] appears in our major newspapers and evening news programs?

Why exactly is that?

UPDATE 12:40 am Sunday: See What Happened to the Press in Gaza?, Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary Magazine, today.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

16-Aug-14: Far from the headlines, fresh violence in a little reported war

Streetscape in the thriving Israeli community of Beitar Illit [Image Source]
Israel National News (and as far as we can tell no other news channel) is reporting tonight on an attack carried out in the southern suburbs of Jerusalem tonight (Saturday) by assailants who might easily - but for some luck, Divine Providence, bad aim - have murdered the people they attacked.
Arab terrorists threw a molotov cocktail [a firebomb] on Saturday night at an Israeli car near Bethlehem, adjacent to the Hussan Junction in the Gush Etzion area of Judea, leaving the driver of the car suffering from moderate wounds... A 40-year-old resident of Beitar Ilit driving the car was inflicted with first- and second-degree burns, as well as as a cut to his head, apparently from a stone that was also thrown in the attack. The wounded man, who suffers from burns, was treated by Magen David Adom (MDA) medical crews at the scene, before being evacuated to the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem... The Hussan Junction has been a problematic area in recent weeks, with Arab terrorists commonly targeting Israeli cars and buses with stones and molotov cocktails.
Husan (population about 7,000) has been on the minds of Israelis living in the area for some time. Just two weeks ago, residents of the nearby Israeli community of Beitar Illit (population: 43,000 and growing fast) held a protest [source] demanding greater security on the road serving their town:
Residents said that it has gotten to the point that they are afraid to drive past the Arab villages in the area of the junction, because they have been attacked so many times. They demanded that the IDF set up a command center near the junction, ensuring a regular presence to protect drivers. Beitar Ilit officials said that they have, in recent weeks, called for emergency army assistance numerous times as Arabs in the area rioted and threw rocks at residents' vehicles...

A February 2014 article in the Jerusalem Post on "how the economy trumps conflict" focuses on how the "car garages, construction material and home supplies" businesses in Husan serve to attract the attention of nearby Israelis whose optimism and natural willingness to live in a normal relationship with those around them evidently causes them to overlook the depths of hatred, and the accompanying danger that motivate some of their Arab neighbours.

Tonight's events, coming on top of those we reported here last month [an intercepted Arab car bomb in the same vicinity - see "28-Jul-14: Darkening clouds this side of Gaza"] will likely cause many Israelis to review carefully their future interactions. Presumably that is exactly what the terrorists intend.

UPDATE 12:30 am: A little news coverage is now emerging: Times of Israel has a small paragraph. We will link to others if we find them.

Friday, August 15, 2014

15-Aug-14: Terror and children

Our Malki, June 2001
In accordance with the Hebrew calendar, tomorrow - the twentieth day of the month of Av - we remember our daughter Malki's life and its tragic and cruel end. On that date, thirteen years ago - August 9, 2001 - she was one of fifteen innocent people murdered in a Hamas human-bomb attack directed, after careful planning and research, at a pizza shop located at one of the capital of Israel's busiest intersections. Frimet Roth honours our daughter's memory with this op-ed published today by the Times of Israel.

When children are the target: Defeating the terrorists and remembering their victims
FRIMET ROTH | Times of Israel | August 15, 2014

In the wake of Operation Protective Edge, Israel is enduring an unprecedented deluge of condemnation. This is trying for the entire nation but is especially infuriating for families like mine.

The crux of the vitriol is the large number of Gazan casualties in this latest conflict who were children. The blame for this is planted squarely at the feet of the Israel Defense Forces for firing at an enemy that attacks from positions in close proximity to those children. 

Most Israelis are aware that our army was forced to do so in order to protect its own civilians. 

In contrast, scores of Jewish children were targeted and murdered in cold blood by that same enemy during the Second Intifada. Yet few remember them; their stories have been virtually erased from the Palestinian-Israeli narrative. But we have not forgotten and we never will because our precious fifteen year old, Malki, was one of them. 

In those pre-security-fence days between 2001 and 2003, when Israel was shockingly lax about enemy infiltration, Hamas was able to invade our borders practically unimpeded. It executed a series of bloody terror attacks against us without any missiles or tunnels. On a near-weekly basis, innocent Israeli men, women and children perished at their hands.

Neither the United Nations Human Rights Council nor its predecessor, the UN Commission on Human Rights, ordered an inquiry into those violations of our human rights. If challenged about that apathy, the UN would probably have pointed out that Hamas was a mere rag-tag terror group and as such lay outside their purview. But since 2007, Hamas has been Gaza's democratically elected government operating under the same principles which guided it previously.

My daughter's murderer, Ahlam Tamimi, is proof of that.

Prying apart baby carriages in the street amid the carnage outside Jerusalem's Sbarro pizza shop
shortly after the human-bomb attack by a Hamas jihad squad, August 9, 2001 [Image Source]
One of the most productive, lauded and evil operatives Hamas ever had, Tamimi was released along with 1,026 other terrorists in the Shalit Deal which Hamas wrung out ofIsrael in 2011.

Shortly afterwards, she was interviewed [link] by a Kuwaiti TV presenter, Mohammed Al-Awadi. She related to him her modus operandi in chilling detail quoted below: 
I entered a [terrorist] cell. A cell is constructed by having a leader, then there are different groups; each one is divided into itself... You do not know who the leader is... First, I scouted places to decide where to carry out Jihadi operations... I would wander into Jerusalem to find the best spots to carry out these missions... First, I would scout stores and major shopping malls… schools, restaurants… I would then present my findings to the leader of the cell... I would do a meticulous count on the numbers of people moving in these areas and study it mathematically. I would use my wrist watch and count how many were walking in an area within one hour. So I would make reports that if an operation is conducted in such and such area. Then I would estimate the numbers of casualties; in some cases my number would be 30 Israelis will die and other estimates it would be 50 Israelis that will die... So from this time to that time there would be 70 Israelis who entered this spot. So during lunch for example, from this time to that time, so many Zionists enter this area. The school for example, I would study the morning time when school children would enter.
It would be convenient to argue that Tamimi committed that massacre in a bygone era. One could be deluded into believing that Hamas has matured with time; that it has evolved into a sane pragmatic entity; that it has discarded the ethos embodied by Tamimi and her cohorts.

But Tamimi remains a key part of Hamas’ war against Israel. Throughout Operation Protective Edge, Tamimi played a major morale-boosting role for the Gazans. She hosted a series of hour-long "resistance" programs, broadcast throughout the Arabic speaking world via the influential and globally-accessible Al Quds satellite television channel. Over the past two years, Al Quds has carried Tamimi’s weekly program, "Naseem Al Ahrar" (“Breezes of the Free”) celebrating the Islamist terrorists imprisoned in Israel. Those Al Quds programs are regularly uploaded to YouTube, often in high-definition quality. Her message of incitement against Israel and Jews is plainly one that Hamas is eager to disseminate widely.

Tamimi appearing on Kuwaiti interview show, July 2012,
  boasts of her role in murdering Jewish children
Israel's critics in the West seem incapable of acknowledging the evil of the Hamas ethos and its goals. Of Tamimi, the Hamas Wonder Woman, they seem basically unaware. In fact, Tamimi, who notoriously smiled with pleasure when she learned that there were eight dead children among the victims of the Sbarro massacre, is not even on their radar.

My husband and I must live each day with the painful realization that Tamimi is spewing her venom unhindered, while our pure, sweet kind Malki is gone.

The following is Malki’s journal entry after the June 2001 terror attack on a Tel Aviv discotheque frequented by teenage Russian immigrants. She had spent that Saturday at a retreat (a Shabbaton) conducted by the youth movement to which she belonged. Her words convey the angst she and her friends suffered during those days of unabated terror attacks in Israel. 
"There was one question that I really didn't understand. I just couldn't manage to understand. How is it that if everything is predetermined and known beforehand in Heaven? How is it that we are able to "remove the evil decree" and change things? It took Meir [the counselor] three hours to explain this, ‘till 3 in the morning. In the end, I understood it so well that now I explain it to my friends... Everything is known beforehand [but] without the element of time, and it is known that when you pray, you cancel a terror attack… At the morning prayers, we were notified that there had been a terror attack at the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv last night and that there were many killed. That was it. I fell apart. Rafi's [another counselor] group gathered in our room and everybody just cried. We were broken. When Rafi arrived he made kiddush and simply didn't know what to do. He truly didn't know what to tell us."
The threat to Israel's existence posed by Hamas will not be eradicated until the world recognizes the special role that the murder of children has always had, and continues to have, in the Hamas outlook on life. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

13-Aug-14: Britain once again a step ahead of its peace-making competitors

13-Aug-14: A lesson about war-time nonsense from the New York Times

Women, children: Gaza war images [Image Source]
Two days ago, we wrote here ["11-Aug-14: So did Hamas intimidate reporters or not? Seems to depend on whose Tweet stream you believe"] about an odd situation in which the organization that represents locally-based reporters here in Israel complained publicly and bitterly about Hamas intimidation (and worse) of their members in the Gaza Strip over the past month while the local New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief seemed to be saying via Twitter that the media people with whom she was speaking thought this was "nonsense".

Nonsense or sense, there's something disturbing going on. Today in Haaretz, Matthew Kalman ["Foreign press divided over Hamas harassment"] takes a closer look:
When Jodi Rudoren, Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times, read Monday’s statement from the Foreign Press Association in Israel and the Palestinian territories, she couldn’t believe her eyes. The association, representing some 480 resident correspondents and hundreds more visiting Israel/Palestine each year, protested “in the strongest terms the blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox methods employed by the Hamas authorities and their representatives against visiting international journalists in Gaza over the past month." The FPA said it knew of journalists who were “harassed, threatened or questioned over stories or information they have reported through their news media or by means of social media” and accused Hamas of “trying to put in place a ‘vetting’ procedure that would, in effect, allow for the blacklisting of specific journalists.”
Not content with disparaging the Foreign Press Association's protest, Jodi Rudoren now says (according to Haaretz) in an email exchange with the FPA that the statement it released is "dangerous". We are still seeking clarification about whose lives she claims are endangered by it.

Meanwhile Kalman quotes the previous FPA chairman, former Jerusalem bureau chief for Reuters, Crispian Balmer:
We would certainly never issue broad statements condemning the behavior of one side or the other if we did not feel that a good number of our members had been impacted.
Kalman notes as well that Isabel Kershner who is a colleague of Rudoren's in the Jerusalem bureau of the NY Times was
one of the FPA board members who approved the statement. How could two colleagues from the same newspaper observing the same sequence of events come to such different conclusions?
How indeed. But note that Rudoren in fact "wasn't actually there" in Gaza, in Kalman's words. Or in her own: "I was not in Gaza during the height of the hostilities..." Nonetheless, she has now publicly stuck her neck out with minimizing whatever treatment it was that Hamas dealt out to the reporters and photographers in Gaza. She says:
There have been a few anecdotes re Hamas people shooing photographers away from fighters' faces at the hospitals, asking people not to shoot this or that, and yes, names and phone numbers were taken down in a spiral notebook of who was here, but nothing that these veteran war correspondents consider unusual... I have not heard about harassment, intimidation, censorship or threats. 
Why would Rudoren say that when others certainly have heard of threats, harassment and worse? In Haaretz' words, the experience was
enough to convince the FPA that they were not isolated incidents. Unfortunately for Hamas, they included prominent FPA members. So many of them complained that when the board met in Jerusalem on Monday and looked at confirmed information about a series of troubling incidents there wasn’t a single dissenting voice – only a discussion about just how fierce the protest should be... Some reporters received death threats. Sometimes, cameras were smashed. Reporters were prevented from filming anti-Hamas demonstrations where more than 20 Palestinians were shot dead by Hamas gunmen. In perhaps the most serious incidents considered by the FPA, Hamas began firing mortars right next to the location of foreign reporters, in what may have been an effort to draw Israeli retaliatory fire
And note this key observation:
One European reporter told Haaretz how Hamas officials prevented photographs being taken of any wounded or dead fighters at Al-Shifa hospital, even though their presence there was common knowledge. Only images of wounded or dead civilians were permitted. The journalist said Hamas repeatedly issued warnings to local translators that blatantly interfered with reporting. Other correspondents had similar experiences.
How plainly true this is can be seen from the total absence of published news photos in the past month of alive, dead, injured or healthy Hamas rocket firers and gunmen. We Tweeted about this ten days ago:

Perhaps in some parallel universe in the future, there will be some seriously critical public review of how it can be that a vast and incredibly influential medium like the New York Times aligns itself with the interests of the child-murdering Hamas.

To illustrate: when challenged as to why not a single photo of Hamas combatants has appeared in most of the media, including the pages of the New York Times, since this latest Gaza war got underway, a high-ranking NYT official - Eileen Murphy, the Times’ vice president for corporate communications, unbelievably speaking with a straight face - said this to a reporter:
Our photo editor went through all of our pictures recently and out of many hundreds, she found 2 very distant poor quality images that were captioned Hamas fighters by our photographer on the ground. It is very difficult to identify Hamas because they don’t have uniforms or any visible insignia; our photographer hasn’t even seen anyone carrying a gun... We are limited by what our photographers have access to. [Times of Israel, August 1, 2014]
Meanwhile the criticism of Hamas intimidation of the news industry comes from voices like that of a Palestinian Arab, Samer Shalabi - a news photographer who is now chairman of the FPA. He said to Haaretz.
“If there is any kind of harassment or pressure we are willing to stand and support our members, whoever they are, whatever they are, whatever nationality they are.”
And a final thought about the danger to which Jodi Rudoren refers: could she have meant the danger that the news organization whose Jerusalem bureau she heads might potentially be excluded from future news-reporting opportunities in which Hamas or some other arm of Jihad International is engaged? For some, that would certainly qualify as a war crime.

Further reading: 13-Aug-14: Now don't get me wrong say the reporters

13-Aug-14: Now don't get me wrong say the reporters

If, like us, you sometimes puzzle over how a terrorist group like Hamas - proudly dedicated to murder and for whom dead children are a prized outcome - nonetheless gets a kind of admiration, sometimes grudging, sometimes more direct than that, from members of the reporting classes, here's a brief (less than a minute) but thought-provoking video compilation from the Washington Free Beacon and via YouTube.

Of course, we're sure these media people don't defend Hamas. But.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

12-Aug-14: Despite everything, can it be that Israel is about to free more prisoners? Arabs are saying yes

File Photo
From a Khaled Abu Toameh report posted on the Jerusalem Post website this (Monday) evening:
With regards to Hamas’ demand that Israel release Palestinian prisoners who were detained over the past two months in the West Bank, the sources said that the Israelis have agreed to free those who were part of the Schalit prisoner exchange. Israel has also agreed, the sources claimed, to release the fourth batch of prisoners who were arrested before the signing of the Oslo Accords and who were supposed to be freed earlier this year as part of a US-sponsored agreement between Israel and the PA, but only in return for the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed during Operation Protection (sic) Edge.
We're naturally hoping the Jerusalem Post report is wrong. The background is here: "11-Aug-14: Shalit Transaction revisited: At what point does facing up to the cost of a disastrous decision become unavoidable?

Monday, August 11, 2014

11-Aug-14: So did Hamas intimidate reporters or not? Seems to depend on whose Tweet stream you believe

Screen shot:
If it were not for the deep respect we have for the fairness and objectivity of the New York Times, these two mutually contradictory Twitter posts below would lead us to wonder how a NYT bureau chief could make so blunt a statement without any follow-up questions, clarifications or comments.

Start with the Tweeted statement of the Foreign Press Association in Israel ["Established in June 1957"] from this morning:
Condemning Hamas intimidation sounds straight-forward. Here's what their referenced "condemns Hamas" statement says, in part:
The FPA protests in the strongest terms the blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox methods employed by the Hamas authorities and their representatives against visiting international journalists in Gaza over the past month. The international media are not advocacy organisations and cannot be prevented from reporting by means of threats or pressure, thereby denying their readers and viewers an objective picture from the ground. In several cases, foreign reporters working in Gaza have been harassed, threatened or questioned over stories or information they have reported through their news media or by means of social media. We are also aware that Hamas is trying to put in place a "vetting" procedure that would, in effect, allow for the blacklisting of specific journalists. Such a procedure is vehemently opposed by the FPA...
Sounds fairly definitive to us. And now, Jodi Rudoren's Tweet from this morning (she's the bureau chief for the NYT in Jerusalem):
Can you figure this out? We can't. She says that the FPA's complaint is nonsense. Does that mean Hamas doesn't intimidate anyone? They don't intimidate forcefully? At all? Ms Rudoren knows this? Or has not heard about it from anyone?

Whichever way you look at it, there's something a little disturbing about the chief of the New York Times's local office responding in such a definite, and yet uninquisitive, way. Is this because the NY Times finds it hard to believe Hamas could ever do such a thing?

11-Aug-14: Deep down below Gaza: Child-abuse, exploitation and murder by Hamas. And who are the principal victims?

Coal mine working children, Pennsylvania 1911 [Image Source]
The Israeli Hebrew-language news site Mako disclosed that the Islamist terrorists of Hamas executed dozens of tunnel workers in the past few weeks. Times of Israel picked up on the Mako report, revealing that the tunnelers, working underground for 8 to 12 hours each day for a monthly salary of between $150 and $300, were executed in order to preserve the secrecy of the tunnels project.
Sources in Gaza told the website that Hamas took a series of precautions to prevent information from reaching Israel. The terror organization would reportedly blindfold the excavators en route to the sites and back, to prevent them from recognizing the locations. The tunnels were strictly supervised by Hamas members, and civilians were kept far from the sites… 
This comes hard on the heels of another shocking revelation based on a report from the Institute for Palestine Studies ["Gaza's Tunnel Phenomenon: The Unintended Dynamics of Israel's Siege", Nicolas Pelham, 2012] that the tunnel constructions were marked by a "cavalier" approach by Hamas officials
to child labor and tunnel fatalities [damaging] the movement’s standing with human-rights groups, despite government assurances dating back to 2008 that it was considering curbs. During a police patrol that the author was permitted to accompany in December 2011, nothing was done to impede the use of children in the tunnels, where, much as in Victorian coal mines, they are prized for their nimble bodies. At least 160 children have been killed in the tunnels, according to Hamas officials [and] perceptions of corruption inside the organization have intensified. During the renewed fuel shortages of spring 2012, there were widespread allegations that Hamas leaders received uninterrupted electricity and that gasoline stations continued to operate for the exclusive use of Hamas members. True or not, they fed a growing mood of recrimination that Hamas had profited...
A recent article by Lee Smith ["The Underground War on Israel", The Weekly Standard, August 4, 2014] explains how the Gaza tunnels morphed in recent years from being a source of illicit income for Hamas insiders and assorted other fat-cats, as well as a way of circumventing the Israeli embargo on certain imports, into a strategic weapon. An Israeli strategic analyst is quoted:
"If you multiply tunnels, you can use them to send hundreds of fighters into Israel and create havoc, totally under cover. According to Hamas, the tunnels have changed the balance of power." Israeli officials have expressed amazement at the extent of the tunnel network. “Food, accommodations, storage, resupply,” one astonished official told reporters last week. “Beneath Gaza,” he explained, there’s “another terror city.” That is, Hamas’s tunnel network is evidence of a military doctrine, both a countermeasure to Israel’s clear air superiority and an offensive capability that threatens to take ground combat inside Israel itself, targeting villages, cities, and civilians as well as soldiers. Israel perhaps should not have been surprised to discover the size and seriousness of Hamas’s tunnel network because they’ve seen something similar before, in the aftermath of the 2006 war with Hezbollah. And indeed it was Iran’s long arm in Lebanon that helped build Hamas’s tunnels.
The North Koreans - "the leading tunnel experts in the world" according to North Korea expert Bruce Bechtol - have played a major enabling role:
It’s nothing new for the North Koreans to work with terrorist groups... It started with the Polisario, the North African, and at one time Soviet-funded, terrorist group fighting the Moroccan government. “The North Koreans built them underground facilities, command and control, hospitals,” says Bechtol. “All of it was supported by Soviets, but that changed with the end of the Cold War, when the North Koreans offered their services on a cash and carry basis only.” Their top customer is the Islamic Republic of Iran. The North Koreans, Bechtol says, have helped build some of the Iranians’ underground nuclear weapons facilities, as well as Hezbollah’s underground network. “They built it in 2003-04, coming into Lebanon disguised as houseboys serving the Iranians. Maybe nobody asked, hey, how come these houseboys are speaking Korean?” The significance of the tunnels became clear in the 2006 war, as Bechtol explains. “It lowered Hezbollah’s casualty rate. The Israelis wondered why the air force was not inflicting more damage and it was because of those tunnels. It was the first time Hezbollah was ever truly protected.”
Certainly a far cry from those coal mines of a century ago.

UPDATE Monday 7:00 pm: A Times of Israel report this evening quotes an IDF source and Israel Radio saying Israel has lab-tested two systems for finding tunnels. Field testing is now underway. The systems could be operational along the Gaza border within a year. A cost range of US$288 to $432 million is quoted, without explaining what it covers. Let's stay optimistic.

11-Aug-14: Arnold Roth interviewed on Voice of Israel

Voice of Israel:
VOI's Mordechai Twersky interviews Arnold Roth on the 13th anniversary of the terror attack at Jerusalem's Sbarro Pizzeria. Roth recalls his 15 year-old daughter, Malki, who was murdered in the bombing that took the lives of 15 people and injured and maimed 130. 

11-Aug-14: Shalit Transaction revisited: At what point does facing up to the cost of a disastrous decision become unavoidable?

Front page of Times of Israel, July 27, 2013
(Our post that day was entitled "Aghast")
In a deeply disturbing, but important, expose by Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel reports in the past two hours that one of those 1,027 convicted and unrepentant terrorists released from an Israeli prison cell in the context of the Gilad Shalit Transaction in October 2011 turns out to have been the central figure in the tragic hostage-taking and killing that outraged Israel two months ago. 

In the course of that terror attack, three young Israeli yeshiva students were snatched and shortly afterwards murdered in cold blood: Naftali Fraenkel, 16, from Nof AyalonGilad Sha'er, 16, from Talmonand Eyal Yifrach, 19, from Elad.    

Readers unfamiliar with the messages we have posted and said about the hugely misguided decision by political figures to overturn decisions of the judicial branch and free convicted terrorists - hundreds of them convicted murderers - over the years may want to review some of our previous published commentary. Here's just a representative handful:
among numerous others (click here for more).

On the basis of Palestinian Arab security sources and the Times of Israel report, we now know that Mahmoud Ali Kawasme is one of the Shalit 1,027. His release, like that of every other terrorist freed in that deal at the time, was the result of a monumentally successful act of extortion directed against the Government of Israel. His freedom was conditional on his being "exiled" to the Gaza Strip, and to his refraining from further involvement in terrorism. It now appears he became deeply enmeshed in the Hamas terrorist organization after walking from prison, and eventually took the role of funder and planner of the attack in which three Israeli teens unwittingly accepted a night-time ride in a vehicle in which Palestinian Arab terrorists masqueraded as Jews at one of the roadside stops in the Jewish community of Gush Etzion.

Three murdered Israeli boys, June 2014 [Image Source]
Today's Times of Israel report says:
His ties to the attack and to Hamas will likely further implicate the terror group in the killings. Israel has alleged Hamas involvement, though Hamas’s leadership has denied any connection to the scheme... Mahmoud Kawasme’s brother, Hussam, was recently arrested by the Shin Bet and the police anti-terror unit near Jerusalem. Hussam Kawasme admitted during his interrogation that he was the commander of the two kidnappers, Marwan Kawasme and Omar Abu Aysha. All four live in the same area of Hebron. The latter two are from the Haris neighborhood, while the families of Hussam and Mahmoud live in the nearby Wadi Abu Ktayla neighborhood in the northwestern part of the city... Senior members of Hamas’s military wing were aware of [Mahmoud Kawasme’s] plan, and gave him money to fund the attack. The kidnappers needed vehicles, Israeli license plates, weapons, and safe houses.
A reminder of something we wrote here just a few months back:
Freeing convicted and unrepentant murderers has predictable and very negative outcomes. No politician should ever again dare to deny this. Nor may they ignore the moral, constitutional and legal consequences that flow from this truth.
Last word: readers wanting to understand how those of us directly impacted by Hamas terror feel our government ought to act might consider this post of ours: 27-Jul-13: To defeat the terrorists, what one thing must a government never do?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

10-Aug-14: Only a fraction of the Gaza reconstruction cash arrived last time, says Hamas insider

Secretary of State Clinton shakes hands with EU foreign 
policy chief Javier Solana during donors' conference on 
reconstruction of  Gaza Strip, Sharm El-Sheikh, 
Egypt, March 2, 2009. 70+ countries and 15 organizations 
attended conference [Image Source]
Hugh Naylor writing in The National ("Abu Dhabi Media's first English-language publication") under the title "International donors wary of funding Gaza reconstruction" offers up some interesting - though somewhat incomplete - observations about what may happen next in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, assuming the current warfare tapers off:
Palestinian officials said last week the Israeli offensive that began on July 8 caused US$6 billion worth of damage. Nearly 1,900 Palestinians, mostly civilian, have been killed so far. The onslaught destroyed important infrastructure, homes, and even entire neighbourhoods, including Shujaieh, Beit Hanoun and Khuzaa... The UN deputy humanitarian chief, Kyung-wha Kang, last week listed the “utter devastation” from the latest Gaza war: 144 schools and other facilities damaged, a public health system “on the verge of collapse” with one-third of hospitals, 14 primary health care clinics and 29 ambulances damaged, more than one million of the territory’s 1.8 million people without access to water and limited electricity, and the prevalence of unexploded ammunition... 
Very sad. And it's even sadder, in our view, that the reporter politely looks the other way when Hamas' central role in this catastrophe is the obvious next step in the discussion. Never mind. 

He points out that money has arrived in the past in serious doses. For instance
The EU spends $600 million on the Palestinian territories each year, apart from individual donations by its 28 members states... 
With all that cash washing up year after year in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority's bank account, he's not suggesting a lack of funds is going to hamper reconstruction, is he? To remind us all, here's how Aljazeera reported those reconstruction fund promises:
Donors pledge $5bn to rebuild Gaza, Aljazeera March 3, 2009: "The European Commission said it will donate $554m for the reconstruction of Gaza and changes to the PA... Saudi Arabia pledged $1bn and Qatar $250m, while $174m will come from the United Arab Emirates, although they have not yet specified who they will pay the money to, or how it will be spent. Japan, Italy and Turkey were among other nations who made multi-million-dollar pledges to the PA... Hillary Clinton, on her first visit to the Middle East since becoming the US secretary of state, pledged $900m."
That was 2009. Evidently there's good reason to expect problems this time:
International donors are wary of funding another rebuilding effort in Gaza, with the European Union divided over increasing pressure on Israel for a lasting solution to the Palestinian issue. “There’s huge concern that whatever we help rebuild will be destroyed again,” said a European diplomat in charge of his country’s development aid in Israel and the Palestinian territories. “We need fundamental changes to the situation on the ground so that we don’t repeat what keeps on getting repeated.” 
So other than the predictable slap at Israel, what exactly is it that keeps getting repeated? Maybe this:
An international donor meeting for Gaza is to be held in Norway next month. Yet, there is concern about a repeat of the donor conference after the 2008-2009 war, where only a fraction of the nearly $5 billion pledged for rebuilding came through. “We hope to receive help, but promises aren’t always kept here,” said Naji Sarhan, Gaza’s deputy minister of public works. “It’s hard to convince people to come here when they know Israel acts as our agent of destruction.”
Maybe. But perhaps he might have addressed the matter of how hard it is to convince people to keep underwriting the reconstruction of your homes when they see how millions upon millions of aid dollars have actually been diverted into the pockets of the Hamas fat-cat insiders (see our post on Gaza's millionaires and billionaires in "27-Jul-14: Gaza's death toll keeps rising but for Hamas insiders it's all worth it"] and into the construction of dozens of concrete-lined tunnels snaking out of the Gaza Strip and into adjacent Israeli communities, built with foreign-aid funds and imported cement.

That thought seems to have escaped the analytical Mr Naylor at The National. Perhaps it's a cultural thing - the notion that Gaza's oppressed victims and their iron-fisted rulers should never actually be called to account for their own jihadist proclivities, malevolence and manipulation. That self-delusion seems to have worked till now. It may keep working so long as those foreign aid Euros and Dollars keep arriving.

But what if that Gazan politician is right and promises aren't always kept. Or stop being made?

10-Aug-14: When it comes to Israeli lives and Israeli deaths, Israelis will make their own decisions. Could it be otherwise?

Israel's friends in the Seattle, Washington, branch of the
Jewish Voice for Peace [Image Source]
The war that almost all Israelis wish were at an end is still raging as of tonight (Saturday night) in Gaza and in those Israeli communities within range of the Hamas rockets and tunnels. Hamas' well publicized and blood-curdling termination of the 72 hour cease fire on Friday morning committed it to more lethal attacks on Israel and still more push back from the IDF.

Beyond the news coverage, many Israelis as well as friends of Israel are aghast at the reports of anti-Israel and pro-Hamas events on the streets of cities throughout the Western world, frequently characterized by overt Jew-hating messages.

Shmuel Rosner, an astute observer whose writing we have long admired, is a Contributing Op-Ed writer at the New York Times, as well as being the political editor at The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and a fellow at The Jewish People Policy Institute. The op ed below is carried in Friday's paper edition of the International New York Times where we first saw it, as well as on page A23 of the August 8, 2014 edition of the New York edition of the NY Times.

Israel’s Fair-Weather Fans
August 7, 2014 | New York Times

TEL AVIV — The Israeli song “Ein Li Eretz Acheret” is a curious tune. “I have no other country,” go the lyrics, “even if my land is on fire.” It’s hard to find a Jewish Israeli who doesn’t identify with it. Lefty Israelis interpret it as a protest song. It was sung at demonstrations against the 1982 Lebanon War and vigils following the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Israelis on the right interpret it as a patriotic song about attachment to the land; they sang it after terrorist attacks and during the 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

I was reminded of the song in recent days as I read a string of articles by smart, savvy, knowledgeable, non-Israeli Jews, who say that the brutal war in Gaza has made them question their Zionism. What unites these writers, of course, is that all of them do have another country. And that’s why, when push comes to shove, the Israeli government doesn’t - and shouldn’t - listen to themThese writers aren’t all cut from the same cloth, but their arguments are similar. There’s a heart-warming side to their articles; they are all clearly concerned about Israel. “I care about Israel personally, rather than abstractly,” the American journalist Ezra Klein wrote in Vox. On the other hand, they are disappointed, sometimes horrified, by an Israel for which they still care, but not as much as they used to. Roger Cohen, writing in these pages, argued that current Israeli policies are a “betrayal of the Zionism in which I still believe.” Their conclusions are also similar: They are “less sympathetic” to Israel than before, as Jonathan Chait put it in New York magazine.

As a group, they are a shining example of a phenomenon that Atlantic Monthly and Haaretz columnist Peter Beinart has popularized: the distancing of liberal Jews from Israel, especially in the United States. The core of Mr. Beinart’s argument is that “particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists” because of Israel’s hawkish policies. It’s a shaky theory, and experts still argue about the scope of the trend. But there’s no doubt that many liberal Jews feel uncomfortable with Israel. Mr. Beinart, citing the criticisms of the wildly popular Jewish comedian Jon Stewart, argued last week that if “Israel continues to elect governments hostile to a viable Palestinian state - the American mood will incrementally shift.”

This is a bleak prediction, because support from America is a cornerstone of Israel’s security. If Jewish liberals aim to erode that support, they should remember that Israel has managed in the past to make do, even with weakened American support. But I assume their motivation is different. Sometimes it feels as if liberal Zionist critics are trying to ensure that Israel’s deeds do not rub off on them. At other times, it feels as if they’re trying to clear their conscience of something for which they feel partially responsible. They seem to believe that the implied threat that Israel might lose Jewish supporters abroad will somehow convince the government to alter its policies. This is a self-aggrandizing fantasy and reveals a poor grasp of the way Israel operates. To put it bluntly: These Jews are very important, but not nearly important enough to make Israelis pursue policies that put Israeli lives at risk.

Let me be clear: I believe Israel’s relations with Jews around the world are crucially important. Indeed, I’ve devoted a great deal of my career to thinking and writing about this topic. I often find myself preaching to Israelis about the need to be more considerate of more liberal Jewish views on issues ranging from religious conversion to women’s prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. But I would never expect Israelis to gamble on our security and our lives for the sake of accommodating the political sensitivities of people who live far away.

Of course, not all Israeli policies are smart, and it’s not imperative that all Jews agree with them. Israelis are susceptible to persuasion. But using the threat of eroding Jewish support as a scare tactic stands in the way of effective persuasion. Israelis, like most people, prefer to take advice from those they believe have their best interests at heart. 

But is that really the case here?

If all Jews are a family, it would be natural for Israelis to expect the unconditional love of their non-Israeli Jewish kin. If Jews aren’t a family, and their support can be withdrawn, then Israelis have no reason to pay special attention to the complaints of non-Israeli Jews. Moreover, the threat of liberal Jews distancing themselves from Israel is a hollow one. Jews of other nationalities are the proud and patriotic citizens of other countries, and they are free to make the decision to detach themselves from the greatest Jewish enterprise of the last two millenniums.

But they aren’t like baseball fans who move from New York to Boston and, with great difficulty, stop rooting for the Yankees and learn to cheer for the Red Sox. If they still want to root for a Jewish state, there’s no substitute for Israel. If they believe there is a need for Jewish sovereignty, Israel is the only option available to them. Like in that song, there is no other country even if the land is on fire.

Clearly, these critics of Israel’s behavior believe that Israelis themselves would be safer if the country adopted their prescribed liberal policies. That might be true, but it makes no difference. On matters of life and death, war and peace, Israelis are going to make their own decisions. If they lose the support of some liberal Jews over it, that would be regrettable, but so be it. Israel will have to learn to survive without that support, and I’m certain it will.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

9-Aug-14: Terrorism financing case against a bank due to go to trial this week in New York

The planner of the terrorist massacre at Sbarro,
now freed, living in Jordan and presenting weekly
television programs that celebrate terror. [Source video]
Exactly thirteen years ago today, on August 9, 2001, a human bomb in the service of Hamas, led by a second Hamas terrorist, a woman called Ahlam Tamimi, brought a guitar case slung across his back and filled with explosives and nails into the Sbarro restaurant at the corner of Jaffa Road and King George V Avenue in the heart of Jerusalem.

The explosion that resulted, at 2:00 pm when the pizza shop was filled with children and women, killed 15 people, leaving a 16th unconscious (she remains unconscious all these years later) and maiming some 130 others, many of them passers-by on the busy street.

Our daughter Malki was fifteen years old when she was murdered in that Hamas attack. The human bomb died, of course. The chief planner was a woman of 21 at the time. She brought the human bomb, who evidently did not know Jerusalem as well as she did, to the site that hot afternoon. She later boasted that she had selected it because of the large number of Jewish children she knew would be patronizing it at that hour on that school vacation day. She walked away a few minutes before the massive explosion, returned quickly to Ramallah and presented the evening news that night on PA Television.

Behind terrorist massacres like the one at Sbarro, there are often quite complex webs of logistics, connections and funding that tie the various perpetrators and their often-highly-placed enablers to each other.

To illustrate, the parents of the human bomb appeared on NBC News some years ago, and candidly revealed to the interviewer and the cameras that after the "heroic" deed of their dead son, they received payments from Arab Bank in ways that are laid out in an article ["Terror ties at a Middle Eastern bank?"] on the NBC News website. That NBC item includes a video clip of the parents speaking as well as a conversation between NBC's investigative reporter and a spokesperson for Arab Bank.

The human bomb's parents, as recorded in a video interview with one of the Hamas satellite television channels, described the impact on them:
They both expressed their pride and appreciation of Tamimi and how she helped their son become a Martyr: "We are proud of Ahlam Tamimi even before our son, by Allah. She fulfilled her obligation and made me proud. We thank Allah and Ahlam Tamimi, who brought him [my son] to this high level." [Palestinian Media Watch]
Now this syndicated Reuters report below, published yesterday, via the Voice of America website.

Arab Bank in US Faces Trial Over Hamas Funding

Arab Bank PLC goes on trial next week in New York over claims that it provided material support to the Palestinian group Hamas, in what one of the plaintiffs' lawyers said is the first terrorism financing case against a bank to go to trial in the United States.

Almost 300 U.S. citizens who were the victims – or their relatives – of militant attacks allegedly committed by Hamas in Israel and the Palestinian territories between 2001 and 2004 sued the Amman, Jordan-based bank in 2004. About 200 other plaintiffs in the lawsuit with claims against the bank stemming from attacks blamed on the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and other groups have not yet gone to trial.

The plaintiffs accused the bank of violating the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows victims of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation. The U.S. State Department designated Hamas a terrorist organization in 1997. Arab Bank has said it did not cause or provide material support for the attacks.

U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, presiding over the case in Brooklyn federal court, has said the trial could last up to 60 days. Jury selection begins on Monday.

Precedent-setting case?

The bank could be liable for millions of dollars, said Gary Osen, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. He said this was the first terrorism financing case against a bank to go to trial in the United States. The trial could be a guidepost for the other plaintiffs in the case, Osen said. Meanwhile, civil terror financing cases are pending against Bank of China Ltd. and Credit Lyonnais SA in Manhattan and Brooklyn federal court.

The plaintiffs' evidence will include bank records and newspaper advertisements showing that Arab Bank maintained accounts for Hamas operatives and processed payments for the families of suicide bombers, Osen said.

Arab Bank’s defense

Arab Bank has said it will argue that of millions of transactions it processed during the period, only four processed in New York involved parties the United States had designated as terrorists, which it reported to U.S. regulators who took no action.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the bank said it “provided routine banking services in compliance with applicable counter terrorism laws and regulations, and had no intention of providing support to Hamas or any other known terrorist organization.”

In 2012, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein, in the same Brooklyn federal court, dismissed a similar case against the bank, saying plaintiff Mati Gill could not prove it was responsible for injuries sustained in 2008 from gunshots fired from Gaza into Israel.

Daniel Alonso, a managing director with compliance consulting firm Exiger and former prosecutor, said courts apply strict standards to claims for recovery under the Anti-Terrorism Act. “It's not enough simply to have failed in your controls,” said Alonso. “The defendant must have caused injury to the victims through their actions.”


See also "Terror Victims to Press Claims Against Arab Bank | Suit Alleges Financial Firm Knowingly Routed Compensation Payments to Hamas Operatives", Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2014. A brief extract:
The evidence Mr. Osen [one of the plaintiff's lawyers in this week's trial] said he plans to use at trial includes records of transactions that flowed through the bank's New York branch, as well as records of bank transactions involving a Saudi charity called the Saudi Committee, which the lawsuit says paid a "comprehensive insurance benefit" of about $5,300 to families of suicide bombers. If the bank were found liable, a separate trial would determine the amount owed to victims and their families.
The bank said it provided routine services to the Palestinian charities and said it legally processed tens of thousands of automated fund transfers for the Saudi Committee, including 1,700 payments to survivors of Palestinians who died in the conflict. "Arab Bank processed the Saudi Committee transfers with the understanding that they were intended to alleviate a humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian Territories and not, as the lawsuits allege, to incentivize Palestinians to commit terrorist attacks," the bank said in an online statement.