The Israel Lobby’s $50M Campaign Against The Iran Nuclear Deal

If the Iran deal passes, Israel loses. The Israel lobby is spending big on whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t happen.

By Richard Silverstein

WASHINGTON — The next 60 days offer a fateful window through which Congress will review the Iran nuclear deal announced last week to great fanfare by the P5+1 powers and their Iranian counterparts.

At the end of this period, both the House and Senate will vote on the agreement. Though the GOP has a majority in the latter body, it’s by no means a given that the vote will go against the deal. The Los Angeles Times reports there may be a few Republican senators who can be swayed if public opinion is running in favor.

To that end, the various groups within the Israel lobby have announced a massive PR campaign seeking to move both public opinion and the votes of individual senators against the deal.

Last week, The New York Times reported that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobby, has created a stand-alone group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, for this purpose. It plans to spend $20-40 million on the effort.

The group’s website doesn’t list staff and a board of directors. Instead it lists an “advisory board” consisting of the usual hawkish Democratic former senators, including Mark Begich, Joe Lieberman, Mary Landrieu, Evan Bayh, and former Rep. Shelley Berkley. Clearly, this isn’t an independent organization, but rather one established and controlled by AIPAC. Unlike some of groups below which are casting their nets wide, AIPAC seems to be targeting Democratic senators on the fence.

So far this year, according to U.S. Senate public records, AIPAC has spent nearly $2 million on direct lobbying, more than it’s ever spent in any previous six-month period since 1999. This is a further indication of the group’s dead-seriousness in pursuing the defeat of the Iran measure. (more…)

Richard Silverstein On Israel’s Gag Orders And ‘The Middle East’s Only Democracy’

Tikun Olam’s Richard Silverstein
The article was originally published at MintPressNews.com.
By Sean Nevins

WASHINGTON — Though it describes itself as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” the Israeli government and military regularly impose gag orders to stop domestic media from reporting on sensitive information, including the detention of Israeli citizens by Hamas in Gaza, meetings between the Israeli Defense Forces and al-Qaida fighters, and the arrest of Israeli whistleblowers.

“Israel calls itself a democracy, but it really isn’t,” Richard Silverstein, a Seattle-based journalist, told MintPress News.

In addition to being a frequent contributor to MintPress, Silverstein is also the author of Tikun Olam, a progressive Jewish blog that frequently breaks stories Israeli domestic media are prevented from covering due to gag orders.

And he isn’t the only one arguing that Israel, which controls the fate of 4.5 million Palestinians who cannot vote, isn’t a democracy: Last year, The Economist named Tunisia as the only democracy in the Middle East.

Silverstein says the Israeli government targets free speech and freedom of the press with censorship and gag orders, subverting the democratic drive.

Censorship is imposed by the military, which has a mandate to protect state security, Silverstein said, noting: “Security, as the government defines it, trumps everything.”

Censorship is likely to come into play when a journalist reports on sensitive topics — a new weapons technology like a drone, for example.

Gag orders are a broader form of censorship implemented in criminal and intelligence matters. For example, if a person is accused of rape, and the victim wants the story to be known, the lawyer representing the accused can go to a judge and argue that publication of the incident could harm his client. In this case, the judge might issue a gag order to stop any reporting on the case.

But gag orders are also used in intelligence matters, explained Silverstein, and anything that could cause political embarrassment or damage is broadly interpreted to be a threat to the government. (more…)

Unsilencing Gaza: One year since ‘Operation Protective Edge’

By Refaat Alareer and Laila El-Haddad

This essay is the Introduction to Gaza Unsilenced, an anthology co-edited by Refaat Alareer and Laila El-Haddad and published by Just World Books to mark the anniversary of Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. The essay is reproduced here by permission of Just World Books to whom requests for further republication should be addressed.

Gaza Unsilenced was launched July 8. Copies of the book can be ordered at justworldbooks.com/gaza-unsilenced.

On July 7, 2014, Israel launched a colossal ground, air, and naval assault on the Gaza Strip, the tiny Palestinian coastal enclave Israel controls. This was the third, and to date the worst, such assault waged by Israel against Gaza since 2008. It was an outrageous act of premeditated aggression to which the Israeli government gave the Orwellian name “Operation Protective Edge.”

In the course of fifty-one dark days, nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed; about a quarter of them were children, many of whom were deliberately targeted. [1] One hundred and forty-two families lost three or more members. About 11,000 Gaza Palestinians were injured, maimed, or permanently disfigured. Israeli bombardment destroyed or severely damaged 18,000 housing units, displacing nearly 20,000 Palestinian families comprised of about 108,000 men, women, and children. It also flattened about 17,000 hectares of crops, and decimated the agricultural infrastructure that sustains life: irrigations systems, animal farms, and greenhouses. [2]

This relentless pummeling was directed at a population still recovering from the two preceding Israeli attacks—Operation “Cast Lead” in 2008–2009, and Operation “Pillar of Cloud” in 2012—and reeling from an illegal and debilitating seven-year-long siege and blockade that shattered livelihoods and deliberately impoverished the residents (“put them on a diet,” in Israeli parlance [3]). Seventy-two percent of Gaza’s residents were described by UN bodies as food insecure or vulnerable—that is, lacking access to sufficient and nutritious food to feed their families—and nearly half unemployed. [4] This same population, along with their brethren in the rest of Palestine and abroad in diaspora, had already endured sixty-six years of displacement and dispossession, almost a half century of Israeli military occupation involving continuing settler colonialism, and decades of closures and movement restrictions.

And yet, if we are to believe the popular discourse in the mainstream Western media, Gaza “had it coming,” and by some perverse and morally vacuous logic, its residents “were to blame” for their own suffering. How do we make sense of all of this? Why would Israel see fit to pound Gaza over and over again, and more to the point, how can they get away with it? How can we truly understand the situation in Gaza, as a means to understanding the situation in Palestine more broadly? How can we understand a place that is encircled from every angle, continuously and systematically assailed to rally voters (in Israel), or to “teach a lesson,” or, in another obscene Israeli expression, to “mow the lawn” [5]—to trim those unruly, defiant hedges? Whenever Gaza is hit, it is thrust anew into the media limelight, and its residents are recast into the double roles of both victim and villain. Gaza, we fear, has been reduced to an allegory and an abstraction. We are inundated with figures and numbers attempting to depict for us what life is like in this tiniest of places. How can words convey that which numbers and images and characters and online posts cannot, no matter how valiantly? How do you provide an accurate and humanistic—a real narration—of the Palestinian story that is Gaza?

In Gaza Unsilenced, we attempt to do just this. We set out to compile a compelling collection of some of the best writing, photography, tweets, art, and poems from that harrowing time and the year that followed, to depict as truthfully and inclusively as possible what was done to Gaza, what the impact has been on both the people and the land, and how they are coping under a still existent siege.

As Palestinians from Gaza who were watching the horror unfold from abroad, we were driven by a sense of urgency, despair, and obligation to curate and edit this book, to be a conduit for voices writing from and about Gaza, as a means for changing the narrative and thereby changing public opinions, which we hope can help push the long-standing U.S. policy of blind alliance with Israel in a different direction, and ultimately, let Gaza live.

Laila, an author, activist and mother of three, originally from Gaza City, was in the United States during the assault, where she makes her home along with her Palestinian husband, who is forbidden from returning to his native land, as are millions of other refugees. Refaat, a professor of English literature, was in the middle of his PhD program in Malaysia, where he had been obliged to travel alone because the remainder of his family was unable to leave Gaza as a result of its near hermetic closure. We first met during an early 2014 book tour of the United States for Gaza Writes Back, a volume of short stories written by Refaat’s students in Gaza.

Besides being native Gazans, we both had another stake in this latest assault. Refaat had a deeply personal loss: his younger brother, Mohammed Alareer, 31, was killed by an Israeli missile in the presumed safety of his own home, leaving behind two young children and a wife. In his life, Mohammed was known as a loveable and somewhat mischievous character Karkour on the local television children’s program Tomorrow’s Pioneers. Refaat writes a deeply moving account of his relationship, and his brother’s untimely death, in the first chapter of this book (“The Story of My Brother, Martyr Mohammed Alareer”). Refaat lost four other distant relatives (three of whom were shot at short range) and eight in-laws, and dozens of his relatives lost their houses in the battered neighborhood of Shija’ia. Laila, whose aunts and uncles reside in Gaza, learned that nine members of her extended family, including five children, had been killed in a targeted Israeli strike—on the same morning in early August 2014 on which she was scheduled to participate in a Congressional briefing. Laila’s relatives were asleep inside their home when the first warning missile hit, killing half the family. They were given eight seconds to leave the house. The rest only made it as far as the outside of their house before they too were mown down.

Despite our personal losses in this ongoing ethnocide, we have been careful to avoid portraying Palestinians in Gaza as passive victims to be pitied, starving, impoverished, silenced into submission. It is our way of opening up the conversation about Gaza, of countering an Israeli narrative that has proven deadly in its ability to justify atrocities like that committed in the summer of 2014, over and over again, and of providing a forum for Gaza to speak, unsilenced and without obstruction.

Many of the pieces are new to this volume, submitted in response to a call for content, while others have been previously published on blogs and in e-zines, newspapers, and social media outlets. (For space considerations, we had to omit hyperlinks in content that was originally published online.)

Where possible, we have included photography, graphic art, and writings by Palestinians from Gaza itself—people like Dr. Belal Dabour, whose live-tweets from inside Gaza’s busiest hospital kept us awake at night, or 36-year-old mother Ghadeer al Omari (“My Son Asks if We Are Going to Die Today”), who soberly concludes, “To be a Palestinian from Gaza means that you are just a postponed target, and all you can do is wait to face your destiny.”

The pieces we chose deconstruct the pretexts, the untruths, used to justify this unspeakable attack. We sought to highlight Palestinian voices, whether from within the confines of Gaza or outside of it, in historic Palestine or in diaspora. We wanted to look at not only the human and institutional impact of the attacks themselves, but also the context, the bigger picture, especially as it relates to the remainder of the Palestinian people. Gaza is just a part of the Palestinian equation, after all. We also sought to explore how Palestinians and other people of conscience responded, whether by digital and creative means or by way of analysis, and finally, to look carefully at the aftermath of the 2014 military attack, as the slow asphyxiation of Gaza by other means continues to this day. We felt it vital to explore not only the immediate impact of the Israeli assault, but to go in depth and analyze the effects of the siege and blockade beyond 2014 and continuing with no end in sight, as part of an overarching and systematic Israeli policy to strip Palestinians of freedoms, livelihoods, and land.

A Brief History (more…)

A Month in Palestine

Tom Blanx

By Tom Blanx

This May, I travelled to the West Bank in occupied Palestine.

I had a fairly good idea of the kind of things I would see when I went, but wanted to take a closer look at what I think is an unfair and asymmetrical situation. I don’t stand against Jews or Israelis. I stand against racism, violence, oppression and ignorance, and all of those things, I think, are here.

During my time in the West Bank, I lived and worked with a Palestinian farmer who runs a Permaculture Project in a small village called Marda. I wanted to see for myself what life was like for Palestinians living under occupation and how Permaculture could help.

Knowledge is everything and with that in mind I’m sharing everything I saw, heard, thought and felt in the time I was there.

Below are excerpts from Tom Blanx’s blog. Read the full blog here.

Getting in

For those who haven’t been, Israel’s not the easiest of places to get in and out of. And if you plan on checking out the occupied territories you’ll need to be a bit creative with the truth. Despite my polite passport note from the queen, I decided not to reveal how freely I would be passing while on my travels as it would have most likely landed me straight back on British soil. This had happened to previous volunteers so the NGO I had organised the trip with had suggested that I lie.

With the help of Murad, my Palestinian friend and his friend, an Israeli who will remain anonymous, I pretended I was traveling to help and learn on a farm in the south. I probably could have said I was there for a beach holiday or Christian visit too, but a bag full of work boots and full length clothing might have been a giveaway. Murad told me to just remain calm and answer all questions confidently but it was a nerve racking and intimidating experience. Much more than I remember it being when I was 18 coming here. In the end I think I got in through by inadvertently playing dumb.

Getting into the West Bank was more straight forward. I got on a bus from Tel Aviv bus station all the way to Ari’el (An illegal settlement, next to Marda). There are no stops or checkpoints for settlers (on the way in) so all I had to do was get off before the bus turned into the settlement where Murad was waiting for me and I was in. A better understanding of his instructions, some Hebrew and useful geographical knowledge and I probably wouldn’t have ended up bang in the middle of the Ari’el in the isolating situation of looking for a Palestinian village. I haphazardly navigated my way out of on foot and was an hour late – not the look I was going for, but I guess he was going to find out what I’m about sooner or later.

Marda

Marda is in the Salfit district which is biggest producer of olive oil in Palestine. The village is effectively a ghetto, with reinforced steel gates at each end for when the army want to shut it down and a high metal fence and barbed wire around it, although some of these had been damaged and removed. There used to be resistance here, but like in lots of the rest of Palestine, occupation has become normalized. These days the village is quiet and peaceful. People work and children go to school, cats wonder around the place looking for food and donkeys everywhere sound like they’re dying. The village sits directly under the hilltop Ari’el settlement, the 4th biggest in the West Bank. Murad said he used to play there with his friends when he was young before Zionists confiscated and destroyed 9000 dunams of it, in the late 70s to build luxury homes, streets and a university for Israelis and Jewish immigrants. The juxtaposition of the two towns, is a powerful thing to see and its something that you can’t help but see, every day.

As I arrived in Marda another volunteer was leaving. Her name was Judy, a 60 year old American woman from Australia traveling by herself. I wouldn’t normally mention someones age or circumstances but I think its significant as many people think the West Bank is too dangerous to travel to and that women could be more vulnerable here. Neither are true. It was her 5th visit to Marda so I wanted to get as much information out of her as I could in the 30 minutes she had left. She gave me the dos and donts about living in Marda, how to be with Murad and told me to explore as much as I could of Palestine “You can’t characterise Palestine on what you see in just Marda as much as you can’t characterise the US on what you see in Miami.” (more…)

UN’s Ban Ki-Moon Caves In, Takes Israel Off List of Serious Child Abusers

By Ali Abunimah

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has caved in to pressure from Israel and the United States and taken the Israeli military off an official list of serious violators of children’s rights, in this year’s report on children in armed conflict.

In doing so, Ban rejected an official recommendation from his own Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui and numerous human rights organizations and child rights defenders.

Ban’s act is particularly egregious since the report found that the number of children killed in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2014, at 557, was the third highest only after Iraq and Afghanistan and ahead of Syria.
“The revelation that Israel’s armed forces were removed from the annex of the annual report by Ban Ki-moon is deplorable,” Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer at Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCI-Palestine), told The Electronic Intifada.

“The annual report and its annex, or children’s ‘list of shame,’ has been a strong evidence-based accountability tool proven to help increase protections for children in armed conflict situations. There is ample evidence on persistent grave violations committed by Israeli forces since at least 2006 that should have triggered listing,” Parker added.

“The secretary-general’s decision to place politics above justice and accountability for Palestinian children has provided Israeli forces with tacit approval to continue committing grave violations against children with impunity,” Parker said.

The top UN official’s decision will be greeted with relief by the Obama administration, Israel and others concerned with ensuring such Israeli impunity.

Obama pressure

“The draft 2015 report prepared by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, recommended adding Israel and Hamas to the annexed list of parties – the so-called ‘list of shame’ – due to their repeated violations against children,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on 4 June.

Human Rights Watch called on Ban to “list all countries and armed groups that have repeatedly committed these violations, and resist reported pressure from Israel and the United States to remove Israel from the draft list.”

But that pressure proved irresistible to Ban. Foreign Policy reported last week that the Obama administration had made a concerted effort to pressure him to drop Israel from the list for cynical political reasons.

According to an unnamed UN official quoted by Foreign Policy, the Obama administration was concerned about false accusations that “the White House is anti-Israel,” as the US completes sensitive negotiations over Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program.

False balance

Human Rights Watch supported calls on Ban to list Hamas as well as Israel, but this appears to have been a maneuver to look “balanced” and avoid baseless accusations of anti-Israel bias frequently leveled at the organization.

Sources familiar with the final report have told The Electronic Intifada that Hamas is not on the list either.

But the violations attributed to Palestinian armed groups, including the death of one Israeli child last summer due to a rocket fired from Gaza, can hardly be compared in scope to the systematic mass killings with impunity of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip and West Bank by Israeli occupation forces.

Since Hamas and other Palestinian armed resistance groups are already under international sanctions and arms embargoes and listed by various countries as “terrorist organizations,” adding Hamas to the list would have meant little.

It is Israel whose violations continue not only with impunity but with assistance from the predominantly European and North American governments that arm it.

DCI-Palestine documented the killings of at least 547 Palestinian children during last summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza.

Human Rights Watch cites as part of Israel’s record the “unlawful killing of children” in the occupied West Bank, including Nadim Nuwara and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir, both 17, shot dead by snipers on 15 May 2014.

In April, a board of inquiry set up by Ban found that Israel killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians in seven attacks on United Nations-run schools in the Gaza Strip last summer.

Sabotage

In March, there was an outcry among Palestinian and international human rights advocates when it was revealed that UN officials appeared to be trying to sabotage the evidence-based process that leads to a recommendation of listing, after threats from Israel.

Palestinian organizations called on the mid-level UN officials accused of interfering with the process to resign.

This led to assurances from Special Representative Zerrougui that the decision-making process was still underway and indeed, after gathering all the evidence, Zerrougui did recommend that Israel be listed.

Such a recommendation comes after UN bodies collect evidence in collaboration with human rights organizations, according to specific criteria mandated in UN Security Council Resolution 1612.

But despite the months-long nonpolitical and evidence-based process, the final decision was always in Ban’s hands.

Partner in Israel’s crimes

There was much at stake for Israel and indeed for Ban if he had gone with the evidence instead of submitting to political pressure.

“Inclusion of a party on the secretary general’s list triggers increased response from the UN and potential Security Council sanctions, such as arms embargoes, travel bans, and asset freezes,” Human Rights Watch notes.

“For a country or armed group to be removed from the list, the UN must verify that the party has ended the abuses after carrying out an action plan negotiated with the UN.”

Ban has a long history of using his office to ensure that Israel escapes accountability except for the mildest verbal censures that are almost always “balanced” with criticism of those who live under Israeli occupation.

At the height of last summer’s Israeli attack on Gaza, 129 organizations and distinguished individuals wrote to the secretary-general, condemning him for “your biased statements, your failure to act, and the inappropriate justification of Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law, which amount to war crimes.”

Ban’s record, they said, made him a “partner” in Israel’s crimes. His latest craven decision will only cement that well-earned reputation.

While Israel will celebrate victory in the short-term, the long-term impact will likely be to further discredit the UN as a mechanism for accountability and convince more people of the need for direct popular pressure on Israel in the form of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

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