Israel has discovered that it’s no longer so easy to get away with murder in the age of social media

The Independent: It used to be said that a lie goes twice around the world before the truth has put its shoes on. Not any more. I arrived in Israel on Christmas Eve 2008, the date chosen by Israel to launch Operation Cast Lead, an attack to end all attacks on Gaza.

The tanks rolled in, killing over 1,300 people, many of them women and children, and reducing their homes, schools and hospitals to rubble. But all I heard from the media was that some Israelis were very, very scared because a few primitive rockets were being sent from Gaza into southern Israel.

Reporters were not allowed into Gaza and Israeli soldiers were banned from taking on mobile phones for security reasons. So the 2008/9 massacre, which included use of the banned White Phosphorus, went un-witnessed and almost unreported. It also failed dismally in achieving its objective, as Hamas survived and the local population’s hatred of their arrogant oppressors burned as bright as the fires which consumed their homes. But for the “international community” it was “out of sight, out of mind”. Business as usual.

What a difference a few years of developing technology can make. The Gaza atrocities are now being reported on a constant basis by eyewitnesses, be they professional correspondents representing major media organisations, or amateur locals under fire. Because all you need is a mobile phone and a Twitter account.

It is those devices which brought us heart-rending images – some too horrific to be shown on television – of children with their limbs or half a head blown off. Children covered in shrapnel wounds screaming for dead parents; surviving parents carrying tiny bodies. Sights which caused the battle-hardened BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet to sob during a live broadcast.

They are all on Twitter now, should you care to look. This is the shape of wars to come. Anything less than total nuclear annihilation will, from now on, be recorded for posterity by the victims, as well as the victors, in their own versions. Imagine if this was the case in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, not to mention earlier massacres. Historians will finally have both sides’ stories to work from, and the evidence with which to back up their words.

But far more importantly, aggressors will have to live with the consequences of their acts, unable to hide behind hollow rhetoric. Because the Israelis had and have nothing with which to balance those images of bloodied, mangled little corpses in Gaza. Yes, as of today they continue to bludgeon Gaza in defiance of the UN Security Council and polite requests from John Kerry to stop. But they never cared about that. On the other hand, mass protests marches from California to Chile are taking their toll.

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An open letter to Congress from members of the Harvard Uni. graduate school community

Harvard: The drafters of this letter are current students and recent alumni of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, a school that trains the next generation of leaders and policymakers. Harvard Kennedy School students come from diverse backgrounds and bring a wealth of experience in the public sector, consulting, business, law, international development and human rights work to their studies. Graduates move on to posts in US and international governments, become crafters of US policy towards the Middle East and leaders in international agencies. We share a commitment to open discourse and the creation of just policy.

As such, we, drafters of this letter as well as the undersigned members of the broader Harvard community, are compelled by an ethical obligation to express our opposition to the United States government’s complicity in the injustices of Israeli occupation and the most recent Israeli attacks on Gaza. Israelis and Palestinians alike share a right to live in peace and security. We denounce the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and the continuing bombardment and ongoing blockade of Gaza. According to a UN report to the UN Human Rights Council, Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross, these are acts of collective punishment that violate international law.

The current attacks on Gaza are the most recent manifestation of an asymmetry of power and violence. As of the drafting of this letter, over 500 Palestinians have been killed, nearly 80% civilians. Children make up 20% of these victims. Over 120 Palestinians were killed in Shujai’iya on July 20th, a third of them women and children. We are moved by this moment to speak out. In our eyes, continuation of US military aid to Israel will directly finance human rights violations. We beseech policymakers in Washington to have the courage to be critical and to change current US policies before Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza furthers destruction and insecurity for everyone.

The endorsers of this letter carry wide-ranging beliefs regarding Israel’s policies towards the Occupied Territories – and we value the intensity and complexity of continued debates on what form peace and justice should take in the future. But we have consensus around one tenet: Israel must stop violating norms and standards of international law, and the US must stop obstructing accountability.

An unquestioning and silent ally is no ally at all. The United States does no favors for the people of the Occupied Palestinian Territories or the people of Israel in its refusal to hold the Israeli government accountable for blatant violations of international law. Unconditional political support for Israel is unacceptable in the face of the aggressive expansion of illegal settlements, the construction of the wall in the West Bank, globally recognized breaches of international law in the 2008/9 and 2012 attacks on Gaza, violations of numerous UN Resolutions, violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention protecting the civil rights of Palestinians, violations of the 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights through the restriction of Palestinian movement and violations of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

In addition, the UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have asserted that the current siege likely violates international law banning the targeting of civilians. Among these violations are war crimes and crimes against humanity, as defined by international standards.

We feel a moral responsibility to speak out against policies that are not only furthering gross violations against humanity but are also undermining the US and Israel’s positions in the international community. With this letter, we call upon our Congress to:

1) freeze US military aid as long as the Israeli government continues to violate international law,

2) exert every diplomatic pressure on Israel to halt attacks on Gaza and to lift the blockade, and

3) facilitate a cease-fire with terms that promote justice for the people of Gaza and security for all.

We express our commitment to the people of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories that we, as policymakers in the future, will not repeat the mistakes of this generation of American policymakers. Public discourse regarding the occupation is shifting – Israel’s illegal and immoral actions in the Occupied Territories will be judged by history, as current American complicity will surely also be. We can and must do better.

This letter reflects the views only of the undersigned and does not express the official views of Harvard University or the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.

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Chris Hedges on Palestine

Here’s an unbelievably powerful and on point speech by Chris Hedges on Palestine.

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‘Slate’ blames Birthright for indoctrinating American Jew who was killed fighting for Israel

Mondoweiss: Max Steinberg is a 24-year-old American who was just killed in Gaza, fighting for the Israeli Defense Forces. He visited Israel for the first time in 2012 on a Birthright trip, the program that sends American Jews to Israel, and he drank the Koolaid. His parents had never been to Israel.

At Slate, Allison Benedikt asserts that he was indoctrinated by Birthright to believe he should fight for Israel. And she blames Birthright for his death:

There are many people to blame for Steinberg’s death. There is the Hamas fighter behind the weapon that actually killed him. There are the leaders, on both sides, who put him in Gaza, and the leaders behind all of the wars between Israel and the Palestinians. I can trace it back to 1948, or 1917, or whatever date suits you and still never find all the parties who are responsible. But I have no doubt in my mind that along with all of them, Birthright shares some measure of the blame…

Benedikt quotes Kiera Feldman’s great expose of Birthright and mentions the sexual tourism element of the trips. Her piece refers to Zionism once — the “Zionist claim to the land”– and it never uses the word indoctrination. But it’s about indoctrination. When will 60 Minutes do this story about dubious and dangerous allegiance?


[Steinberg's] mother told the Washington Post that, initially, he didn’t want to go on the Birthright trip, but once he did, it changed him. It was on his group’s visit to Israel’s national cemetery at Mount Herzl that Steinberg saw the grave of an American “lone soldier” who died fighting for Israel and “decided that Israel was where he wanted to be.” He joined the IDF, his father said, because he saw it as an obligation were he to stay in Israel…

And some healthy cynicism about indoctrination:

What makes an American kid with shaky Hebrew and no ties to the state of Israel suddenly decide he is ready to make this sacrifice? Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good and became convinced by his Birthright experience that putting on an IDF uniform and grabbing a gun was the way to do it. That serving and protecting the Jewish people was the moral thing to do, and that the best way to accomplish it was to go fight for the Jewish state. It turns out that it’s not that hard to persuade young people to see the world a certain way and that Birthright is very good at doing it. You spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince young Jews that they are deeply connected to a country that desperately needs their support? This is what you get.

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Ground Zero Gaza


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Hope Amidst the Horror

If you look closely you will see unforgettable moments of love and unity amidst the horror. Iraqi Christians fleeing the fanatical “the Islamic state” group in Mosul are being sheltered in the mosque of Imam Ali in Najaf, and Palestinian Muslims, after having several of their mosques in Gaza bombed by Israel, have been welcomed to pray in Palestinian churches. Church bells in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, ring aloud in solidarity when mosques broadcast prayers for those who have died at the hands of Israel’s indiscriminate bombing. And more and more Jews and Holocaust survivors (here and here) are courageously challenging Israel’s occupation and siege. In other words, friends, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic and hopeful.

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Gaza residents return to scenes of total destruction

Just look at this video. Look at the destruction. And the Israeli ambassador to the US said the IDF should be given a “Nobel Prize” for its restrain… What chutzpah.


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Jews say No to “Friends of the IDF”

Real courage: Jews for Justice stage nonviolent protest at the NY office of “Friends of the Israeli Defense Force” and read names of murdered Palestinians.

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U.N. report accuses Israeli forces of using Palestinian children as human shields, abusing children in custody

CBS News: United Nations committee focused on youth rights accused Israel Thursday of failing to stop the mistreatment of Palestinian children in military and police custody.

The group’s report accuses Israeli forces of using Palestinian children as human shields, and alleges that detained children in some cases face torture, solitary confinement and threats of sexual assault.

Assembled by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, the 21-page document comes three months after a UNICEF paper criticized the “systematic and institutionalized” mistreatment of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military.

The Israeli Embassy dismissed the latest U.N. report as politically motivated old news.

“This is a report that is based on the recycling of old accusations, based on political biases – and not based on direct investigation on the ground – with the intention of bashing Israel,” Israeli Embassy spokesman Aaron Sagui said in a statement provided to

“This is clearly not a bona fide action, and the resulting report obviously does not aim to promote any real improvement as the UNICEF report did … but only to make headlines.”

While the Committee on the Rights of the Child acknowledges Israel’s national security concerns, and that children on both sides of the conflict have suffered from the violence, it notes that Palestinians make up a disproportionate amount of the victims and lists Israel’s “illegal long-lasting occupation of Palestinian territory” among the actions jeopardizing a peaceful future for Israeli and Palestinian children.

One of the more explosive allegations in the report is the “continuous use of Palestinian children as human shields and informants,” of which the report says 14 cases have been reported in the last 3 years.

“[Israel's] soldiers have used Palestinian children to enter potentially dangerous buildings ahead of them and to stand in front of military vehicles in order to stop the throwing of stones against those vehicles,” the committee writes in the report, citing the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundemental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism.

According to the report, such activity has largely gone unpunished.

“The soldiers convicted for having forced at gunpoint a nine-year old child to search bags suspected of containing explosives only received a suspended sentence of three months and were demoted.”

In a follow-up statement, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the human shield accusations “salient in bad faith.”

“The authors were fully informed (by an official Israeli document submitted by an Israeli delegation) that instructions have indeed been issued and that the use of children as human shields is totally forbidden,” the statement reads, adding that no human shield incidents have been “registered and proven.”

The U.N. report directs its harshest accusations at the alleged torture and mistreatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military and police custody. Children detained in areas like Gaza and the West Bank, the report says, are “systematically subject to physical and verbal violence, humiliation, painful restraints, hooding of the head and face in a sack, threatened with death, physical violence, and sexual assault against themselves or members of their family, restricted access to toilet, food and water.”

In its statement, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign affairs said the report’s claims of corporal punishment in detention are “totally unsubstantiated and inaccurate.”

Many of the report’s accusations of child detainee mistreatment, though, mirror findings in the review UNICEF released in March, a review Israeli spokesmen have pointed to as credible.

“Israel has nothing to hide and when addressed by a serious and credible organization such as UNICEF, we cooperate and strive to implement the recommendations of its reports,” Israeli Embassy spokesman Sagui said in a statement.

UNICEF’s March review, while tamer and more focused than the sprawling report by the U.N.’s Committee on the Rights of the Child, also includes serious charges concerning the treatment of Palestinian children in military custody, including “examples of practices that amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

“The common experience of many children is being aggressively awakened in the middle of the night by many armed soldiers and being forcibly brought to an interrogation centre tied and blindfolded, sleep deprived and in a state of extreme fear,” the UNICEF paper reads.

“The interrogation mixes intimidation, threats and physical violence, with the clear purpose of forcing the child to confess.”

Both reports note that Palestinian children are often accused of throwing stones at Israeli military vehicles, and charge Israeli forces with sometimes subjecting young suspects to solitary confinement. Both reports allege that the children are sometimes coerced into confessions, often by signing forms written in Hebrew, a language the reports note most Palestinian children don’t understand.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child’s report, Israel’s MFA went on to say in its statement, reflected poorly on the U.N.

“The list of false, flawed and gratuitous allegations goes on and on: this report is shaming the institution which commissioned it.”

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Israel is Losing Control of the Gaza Media War

Friends, this is why it’s important to post about the reality of Israel’s aggression… it creates awareness and puts pressure on the Israeli government. Mashable – Excerpt: The Gaza offensive, now in its second and deadliest week, plays out in vivid detail on social media, with bombings and killings documented on the ground in near-real time. And for many, the decades-long conflict can now be seen through the eyes of those who live there.

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“We are Israeli reservists. We refuse to serve.”

The Washington Post: Whenever the Israeli army drafts the reserves — which are made up of ex-soldiers — there are dissenters, resisters, and AWOLers among the troops called to war. Now that Israel has sent troops to Gaza again and reserves are being summoned to service, dozens are refusing to take part.

We are more than 50 Israelis who were once soldiers and now declare our refusal to be part of the reserves. We oppose the Israeli Army and the conscription law. Partly, that’s because we revile the current military operation. But most of the signers below are women and would not have fought in combat. For us, the army is flawed for reasons far broader than “Operation Protective Edge,” or even the occupation. We rue the militarization of Israel and the army’s discriminatory policies. One example is the way women are often relegated to low-ranking secretarial positions. Another is the screening system that discriminates against Mizrachi (Jews whose families originate in Arab countries) by keeping them from being fairly represented inside the army’s most prestigious units. In Israeli society, one’s unit and position determines much of one’s professional path in the civilian afterlife.

To us, the current military operation and the way militarization affects Israeli society are inseparable. In Israel, war is not merely politics by other means — it replaces politics. Israel is no longer able to think about a solution to a political conflict except in terms of physical might; no wonder it is prone to never-ending cycles of mortal violence. And when the cannons fire, no criticism may be heard.

This petition, long in the making, has a special urgency because of the brutal military operation now taking place in our name. And although combat soldiers are generally the ones prosecuting today’s war, their work would not be possible without the many administrative roles in which most of us served. So if there is a reason to oppose combat operations in Gaza, there is also a reason to oppose the Israeli military apparatus as a whole. That is the message of this petition:

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We were soldiers in a wide variety of units and positions in the Israeli military—a fact we now regret, because, in our service, we found that troops who operate in the occupied territories aren’t the only ones enforcing the mechanisms of control over Palestinian lives. In truth, the entire military is implicated. For that reason, we now refuse to participate in our reserve duties, and we support all those who resist being called to service.

The Israeli Army, a fundamental part of Israelis’ lives, is also the power that rules over the Palestinians living in the territories occupied in 1967. As long as it exists in its current structure, its language and mindset control us: We divide the world into good and evil according to the military’s categories; the military serves as the leading authority on who is valued more and who less in society — who is more responsible for the occupation, who is allowed to vocalize their resistance to it and who isn’t, and how they are allowed to do it. The military plays a central role in every action plan and proposal discussed in the national conversation, which explains the absence of any real argument about non-military solutions to the conflicts Israel has been locked in with its neighbors.

The Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are deprived of civil rights and human rights. They live under a different legal system from their Jewish neighbors. This is not exclusively the fault of soldiers who operate in these territories. Those troops are, therefore, not the only ones obligated to refuse. Many of us served in logistical and bureaucratic support roles; there, we found that the entire military helps implement the oppression of the Palestinians.

Many soldiers who serve in non-combat roles decline to resist because they believe their actions, often routine and banal, are remote from the violent results elsewhere. And actions that aren’t banal — for example, decisions about the life or death of Palestinians made in offices many kilometers away from the West Bank — are classified, and so it’s difficult to have a public debate about them. Unfortunately, we did not always refuse to perform the tasks we were charged with, and in that way we, too, contributed to the violent actions of the military.

During our time in the army, we witnessed (or participated in) the military’s discriminatory behavior: the structural discrimination against women, which begins with the initial screening and assignment of roles; the sexual harassment that was a daily reality for some of us; the immigration absorption centers that depend on uniformed military assistance. Some of us also saw firsthand how the bureaucracy deliberately funnels technical students into technical positions, without giving them the opportunity to serve in other roles. We were placed into training courses among people who looked and sounded like us, rather than the mixing and socializing that the army claims to do.

The military tries to present itself as an institution that enables social mobility — a stepping-stone into Israeli society. In reality, it perpetuates segregation. We believe it is not accidental that those who come from middle- and high- income families land in elite intelligence units, and from there often go to work for high-paying technology companies. We think it is not accidental that when soldiers from a firearm maintenance or quartermaster unit desert or leave the military, often driven by the need to financially support their families, they are called “draft-dodgers.” The military enshrines an image of the “good Israeli,” who in reality derives his power by subjugating others. The central place of the military in Israeli society, and this ideal image it creates, work together to erase the cultures and struggles of the Mizrachi, Ethiopians, Palestinians, Russians, Druze, the Ultra-Orthodox, Bedouins, and women.

We all participated, on one level or another, in this ideology and took part in the game of “the good Israeli” that serves the military loyally. Mostly our service did advance our positions in universities and the labor market. We made connections and benefited from the warm embrace of the Israeli consensus. But for the above reasons, these benefits were not worth the costs.

By law, some of us are still registered as part of the reserved forces (others have managed to win exemptions or have been granted them upon their release), and the military keeps our names and personal information, as well as the legal option to order us to “service.” But we will not participate — in any way.

There are many reasons people refuse to serve in the Israeli Army. Even we have differences in background and motivation about why we’ve written this letter. Nevertheless, against attacks on those who resist conscription, we support the resisters: the high school students who wrote a refusal declaration letter, the Ultra orthodox protesting the new conscription law, the Druze refusers, and all those whose conscience, personal situation, or economic well-being do not allow them to serve. Under the guise of a conversation about equality, these people are forced to pay the price. No more.

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Beautiful dream of Israel has become a nightmare

The Star: As a Jewish youngster growing up in Budapest, an infant survivor of the Nazi genocide, I was for years haunted by a question resounding in my brain with such force that sometimes my head would spin: “How was it possible? How could the world have let such horrors happen?”

It was a naïve question, that of a child. I know better now: such is reality. Whether in Vietnam or Rwanda or Syria, humanity stands by either complicitly or unconsciously or helplessly, as it always does. In Gaza today we find ways of justifying the bombing of hospitals, the annihilation of families at dinner, the killing of pre-adolescents playing soccer on a beach.

In Israel-Palestine the powerful party has succeeded in painting itself as the victim, while the ones being killed and maimed become the perpetrators. “They don’t care about life,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, abetted by the Obamas and Harpers of this world, “we do.” Netanyahu, you who with surgical precision slaughter innocents, the young and the old, you who have cruelly blockaded Gaza for years, starving it of necessities, you who deprive Palestinians of more and more of their land, their water, their crops, their trees — you care about life?

There is no understanding Gaza out of context — Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians — and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood.

The Palestinians use tunnels? So did my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike Israel, Palestinians lack Apache helicopters, guided drones, jet fighters with bombs, laser-guided artillery. Out of impotent defiance, they fire inept rockets, causing terror for innocent Israelis but rarely physical harm. With such a gross imbalance of power, there is no equivalence of culpability.

Israel wants peace? Perhaps, but as the veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has pointed out, it does not want a just peace. Occupation and creeping annexation, an inhumane blockade, the destruction of olive groves, the arbitrary imprisonment of thousands, torture, daily humiliation of civilians, house demolitions: these are not policies compatible with any desire for a just peace. In Tel Aviv Gideon Levy now moves around with a bodyguard, the price of speaking the truth.

I have visited Gaza and the West Bank. I saw multi-generational Palestinian families weeping in hospitals around the bedsides of their wounded, at the graves of their dead. These are not people who do not care about life. They are like us — Canadians, Jews, like anyone: they celebrate life, family, work, education, food, peace, joy. And they are capable of hatred, they can harbour vengeance in the hearts, just like we can.

One could debate details, historical and current, back and forth. Since my days as a young Zionist and, later, as a member of Jews for a Just Peace, I have often done so. I used to believe that if people knew the facts, they would open to the truth. That, too, was naïve. This issue is far too charged with emotion. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has pointed out, the accumulated mutual pain in the Middle East is so acute, “a significant part of the population finds itself forced to act it out in an endless cycle of perpetration and retribution.”

“People’s leaders have been misleaders, so they that are led have been confused,” in the words of the prophet Jeremiah. The voices of justice and sanity are not heeded. Netanyahu has his reasons. Harper and Obama have theirs.

And what shall we do, we ordinary people? I pray we can listen to our hearts. My heart tells me that “never again” is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives. That Israel’s “right to defend itself,” unarguable in principle, does not validate mass killing.

A few days ago I met with one of my dearest friends, a comrade from Zionist days and now professor emeritus at an Israeli university. We spoke of everything but the daily savagery depicted on our TV screens. We both feared the rancour that would arise.

But, I want to say to my friend, can we not be sad together at what that beautiful old dream of Jewish redemption has come to? Can we not grieve the death of innocents? I am sad these days. Can we not at least mourn together?

Gabor Maté, M.D., is a Vancouver-based author and speaker.

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