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90% of Settler Attacks on Palestinians are Closed without Indictment

Source: Yesh Din

Yesh Din released today a data sheet on its monitoring of Police investigations of offenses against Palestinians.

The data sheet includes findings based on 642 investigation files opened in recent years by the Judea and Samaria police, based on complaints filed by Palestinian citizens of the West Bank, that Yesh Din has been following.

The findings show that only 9 percent out of 642 investigations which Yesh Din is monitoring, have resulted in indictments filed against defendants. The clear majority of investigations – more than 90 percent – are closed on grounds that suggest that the investigation has failed.

The percentage of failed investigations is exceptionally high in the case of investigations into offenses of violence against Palestinians and damage to their property. 78 percent of violence cases and 93 percent of cases of damage to property were closed on grounds that suggest that those investigations have failed.

These findings indicate that the State of Israel is not fulfilling its obligation to maintain an effective law enforcement mechanism on Israeli citizens who commit offenses, among them grave offenses, against Palestinian citizens in the territories it occupies.

According to Yesh Din’s research department, the findings suggest a chronic failure of investigations, especially in cases pertaining to violence and damage to property. Since only a fraction of the cases result in indictments, there is a very slim chance that complaints filed by Palestinians for violence or property offenses carried out by Israelis will result in indictments.

Since it was founded in 2005, Yesh Din has been maintaining a database of cases in which Israeli citizens were involved in acts of violence, theft or damage to property against unarmed Palestinian civilians. Yesh Din monitors investigations and provides legal representation to complainants. The monitoring is carried out in order to gauge whether the State of Israel – via the Israeli Judea and Samaria Police – is fulfilling its obligation to protect Palestinian citizens and their property.

Yesh Din’s monitoring constitutes the only source of findings regarding the outcomes of investigations into such offenses, as no formal Israeli official holds complete data about these types of investigations, or their results.

Download: Full Datasheet


The Navi and the Palestinians

By Bouthaina ShaabanCounterPunch

Through Avatar I lived the story of the Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghan and Lebanese peoples and the wars waged against them

Despite the technological effects with which the director of Avatar crams his movie, the reason behind its popularity is not only these technological effects but the themes which touch every human conscience. This is in addition to the symbolism of the movie concerning the conflict between peoples and their invaders – from Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine. The source of all these conflicts is, as usual, the greed which is usually masked by other pretexts and justifications.

Through Avatar I lived the story of the Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghan and Lebanese peoples and the wars waged against them; where the West treats these peoples as if they were the children of the “Navi” tribe with their blue clothes in their planet Pandora.

Settlers landed on planet Pandora driven by the greed for its wealth. Their calculations were focused on the material gains which they can only get through possessing the land and its natural resources. To be able to do that they had either to kill or expel the Navi who are tied to their land, nature, holy tree and their customs which show equal respect to human life and nature, in bleak contrast to the attitude of the invading settlers who mock sanctities and human respect for nature. They only see the things which give them large amounts of money.

This contrast between the values of two cultures is at the essence of the creation of Israel. For seventy years, it has killed the Palestinians on a daily basis, Judaized their holy places, settled their land, confiscated their water, uprooted their trees, mocked their beliefs, their commitment to their land and their way of life. Those who created this settlement armed it to the teeth with hatred, and provided it with weapons of mass destruction.

The movie needs only the Navi natives of planet Pandora to raise the Palestinian flag and the invaders to carry the Israeli flag to become a detailed reading of the Israeli settlement of Palestine with modern cinematic techniques, but also with symbolic nuance that illustrates the nature of this conflict.

I suggest that demonstrators against Israeli occupation wear the blue shirts of the Navi tribe in order to make it easier for westerners to understand their cause. Invaders always target the people’s beliefs and holy places; that is why Israel is committing another robbery by confiscating Islamic holy places in the Sanctuary of Abraham (al-Haram al-Ibrahimi) in Hebron, Bilal Mosque, which like al-Aqsa Mosque, are branches of the holy tree for hundreds of millions of Muslims who defend them in as much as they defend their land.

The media machine divides people into two types: the first is definitely a native, strictly a Muslim Arab; and the second is the Israeli settler who cannot be touched by the charge of terrorism even if he committed the most heinous terrorist crime in full sight of the whole world. Otherwise, how can we explain that Muslims are accused of terrorism and assassinated on mere suspicion, while those who converged in Dubai from different capitals of the world, armed with cutting edge technology and equipped with European and Australian passports to carry out a terrorist operation are not accused of terrorism?

Avatar tells the story of the natives of planet Pandora and shows the injustice meted out by the greedy invaders against the Navi people. Who would dare produce a movie about Palestine which tells the story of Arabs’ struggle for justice and freedom on planet earth and for salvation from the oppression of Israeli settlers and their biblical pretexts.

Challenging History: Why the Oppressed Must Tell Their Own Story

By Ramzy BaroudPalestine Chronicle

History is also shaped by collective movements and popular struggles

When American historian Howard Zinn passed away recently, he left behind a legacy that redefined our relationship to history altogether.

Professor Zinn dared to challenge the way history was told and written. In fact he went as far as to defy the conventional construction of historical discourses through the pen of victor or of elites who earned the right of narration though their might, power and affluence.

This kind of history might be considered accurate insofar as it reflects a self-seeking and self-righteous interpretation of the world by a very small number of people. But it is also highly inaccurate when taking into account the vast majority of peoples everywhere.

The oppressor is the one who often articulates his relationship to the oppressed, the colonialist to the colonized, and the slave-master to the slave. The readings of such relationships are fairly predictable.

Even valiant histories that most of us embrace and welcome, such as those celebrating the legacy of human rights, equality and freedom left behind by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela still tend to be selective at times. Martin Luther King’s vision might have prevailed, but some tend to limit their admiration to his ‘I have a dream’ speech. The civil rights hero was an ardent anti-war champion as well, but that is often relegated as non-essential history. Malcolm X is often dismissed altogether, despite the fact that his self-assertive words have reached the hearts and minds of millions of black people throughout the United States, and many more millions around the world. His speech was in fact so radical that it could not be ‘sanitized’ or reinterpreted in any controllable way. Mandela, the freedom fighter, is celebrated with endless accolades by the very foes that branded him a terrorist. Of course, his insistence on his people’s rights to armed struggle is not to be discussed. It is too flammable a subject to even mention at a time when anyone who dares wield a gun against the self-designated champions of ‘democracy’ gets automatically classified a terrorist.

Therefore, Zinn’s peoples’ histories of the United States and of the world have represented a milestone in historical narration.

As a Palestinian writer who is fond with such luminaries, I too felt the need to provide an alternative reading of history, in this case, Palestinian history. I envisioned, with much hesitation, a book that serves as a people’s history of Palestine. I felt that I have earned the right to present such a possible version of history, being the son of Palestinian refugees, who lost everything and were exiled to live dismal lives in a Gaza refugee camp. I am the descendant of ‘peasants’ – Fellahin – whose odyssey of pain, struggle, but also heroic resistance is constantly misrepresented, distorted, and at times overlooked altogether.

It was the death of my father (while under siege in Gaza) that finally compelled me to translate my yearning into a book. My Father was a Freedom Fighter, Gaza’s Untold Story offered a version of Palestinian history was not told by an Israeli narrator – sympathetic or otherwise – and neither was it an elitist account, as often presented by Palestinian writers. The idea was to give a human face to all the statistics, maps and figures.

History cannot be classified by good vs. bad, heroes vs. villains, moderates vs. extremists. No matter how wicked, bloody or despicable, history also tends to follow rational patterns, predictable courses. By understanding the rationale behind historical dialectics, one can achieve more than a simple understanding of what took place in the past; it also becomes possible to chart fairly reasonable understanding of what lies ahead.

Perhaps one of the worse aspects of today’s detached and alienating media is its production of history – and thus characterization of the present – as based on simple terminology. This gives the illusion of being informative, but actually manages to contribute very little to our understanding of the world at large.

Such oversimplifications are dangerous because they produce an erroneous understanding of the world, which in turn compels misguided actions.

For these reasons, it is incumbent upon us to try to discover alternative meanings and readings of history. To start, we could try offering historical perspectives which try to see the world from the viewpoint of the oppressed – the refugees, the fellahin who have been denied, amongst many rights, the right to tell their own story.

This view is not a sentimental one. Far from it. An elitist historical narrative is maybe the dominant one, but it is not always the elites who influence the course of history. History is also shaped by collective movements, actions and popular struggles. By denying this fact, one denies the ability of the collective to affect change. In the case of Palestinians, they are often presented as hapless multitudes, passive victims without a will of their own. This is of course a mistaken perception; the Palestinians’ conflict with Israel has lasted this long only because of their unwillingness to accept injustice, and their refusal to submit to oppression. Israel’s lethal weapons might have changed the landscape of Gaza and Palestine, but the will of Gazans and Palestinians are what have shaped the landscape of Palestine’s history.

Touring with My Father was a Freedom Fighter in South Africa, in a recent visit, was a most intense experience. It was in this country that freedom fighters once rose to fight oppression, challenging and eventually defeating Apartheid. My father, the refugee of Gaza has suddenly been accepted unconditionally by a people of a land thousands of miles away. The notion of ‘people’s history’ can be powerful because it extends beyond boundaries, and expands beyond ideologies and prejudices. In that narrative, Palestinians, South Africans, Native Americans and many others find themselves the sons and daughters of one collective history, one oppressive legacy, but also part of an active community of numerous freedom fighters, who dared to challenge and sometimes even change the face of history.

South Africa has; Palestine will.

Iran, Syria Stress ‘Solid Ties’; Ready for any Israeli Aggression

By Hanan AwarekehAl Manar

The New Middle East will be a Middle East without Zionists and imperialists

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian counterpart President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday publicly shrugged off US efforts to drive a wedge between the two Middle East allies. “I am surprised by their call to keep a distance between the countries … when they raise the issue of stability and peace in the Middle East, and all the other beautiful principles,” Assad said.

“We need to further reinforce relations if the true objective is stability. We do not want others to give us lessons on our region, our history,” the Syrian leader told a joint media conference with Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian president, who flew in to Damascus earlier in the day, said that the United States should pack up and leave the Middle East and stay out of regional affairs.

Ahmadinejad said, “(The Americans) want to dominate the region but they feel Iran and Syria are preventing that… We tell them that instead of interfering in the region’s affairs, to pack their things and leave.”

The Iranian president also stressed that ties between the two Muslim states were as “solid” as ever. “Relations between Syria and Iran are brotherly, deep, solid and permanent … Nothing can damage these relations,” he said.

“These ties will become deeper and develop over the years. We are brothers. We have mutual interests, as well as common goals and enemies,” said the Iranian president, adding, “The world needs a new order.”

On the eve of the visit, President Barack Obama’s administration said it has been pressing Damascus – amid steps toward a normalization of US-Syria ties – to move away from Iran and stop arming Hezbollah.

Testifying in the Senate, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was blunter than ever about Washington’s bid to drive a wedge between Damascus and Tehran.

Clinton said William Burns, the third-ranking US diplomat, “had very intense, substantive talks in Damascus” when he visited Syria last week, in the highest-level such US mission for five years.

Syria is being asked “generally to begin to move away from the relationship with Iran, which is so deeply troubling to the region as well as to the United States,” she said.

“Arab World will Usher in New Mideast without Zionists”

Al-Assad and Ahmadinejad also addressed the recent Israeli threats during their conference. “We believe we are facing an entity that is capable of aggression at any point, and we are preparing ourselves for any Israeli aggression, be it on a small or large scale. We must be prepared for any Israeli response, under any pretext,” said the Syrian leader. “Israel is directing its threats at Syria and the resistance movements. The threats are also aimed at boosting the Israeli citizens’ morale after a series of defeats.”

President Ahmadinejad said that “if the Zionist regime wants to repeat its past mistakes, this will bring about its demise and annihilation,” adding that Iran, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon will stand against Israel.

“The Zionists and their protectors have reached a dead end. The Zionist entity will eventually disappear; its existential philosophy has ended. The Zionist conquerors have reached a dead end; all of their threats against the Palestinians stem from their weakness. If the Zionists repeat their past mistakes, all of the region’s nations will uproot them,” Ahmadinejad said.

“With Allah’s help, the new Middle East will be a Middle East without Zionists and imperialists. We hope they will recognize the rights of the region’s nations, but they must realize that if they continue along their wrongful path they have no place in our region. Today the ties between the region’s nations – between Iran, Syria and the resistance movement – are very strong. We believe that developments in the world will benefit Iran, Syria and the region’s free governments,” he said.

Before leaving Tehran into Damascus, Ahmadinejad was quoted by Iran’s Fars news agency as saying that the two countries would not be deterred. “While the Zionists make permanent threats against my country and peoples of the region … Syria and Iran must consult and take decisions to confront these threats,” he said,

About two weeks ago Ahmadinejad said during a telephone conversation with al-Assad that Israel should be resisted and finished off if it launched military action in the region. “We have reliable information … that the Zionist regime is after finding a way to compensate for its ridiculous defeats from the people of Gaza and Lebanon’s Hezbollah,” he told the Syrian leader.

“If the Zionist regime should repeat its mistakes and initiate a military operation, then it must be resisted with full force to put an end to it once and for all,” Ahmadinejad said.

“Iran has the Right to Pursue Uranium Enrichment”

President al-Assad, for his part, also defended Iran’s right to pursue uranium enrichment, despite the threat of new sanctions against the Islamic republic over its nuclear program. “To forbid an independent state the right to enrichment amounts to a new colonialist process in the region,” he said.

Thursday’s visit comes after Walid Mouallem, Syria’s foreign minister, said Damascus was eager to help Iran and the West engage in a “constructive” dialogue over Tehran’s nuclear program. “Sanctions are not a solution [to the problem] between Iran and the West,” Mouallem said on Saturday. “We are trying to engage a constructive dialogue between the two parties in order to reach a peaceful solution.”

He insisted that despite Western claims “Iran does not have a nuclear military program.”

On the nuclear front, Clinton also said on Wednesday that she hoped to see a UN Security Council resolution on a fourth set of sanctions against Iran in the “next 30 to 60 days.”

The False Sacredness of the 1967 Border

By Hassan Abu NimahThe Electronic Intifada

The 1967 border means very little while Israel continues to occupy Palestinian territory

When the United States abandoned its demand that Israel freeze settlement construction as a prelude to restarting stalled Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, the Obama administration urged both sides to move straight into discussions about a future Palestinian state “based on the 1967 borders.”

Setting the border first, it was hoped, would automatically “resolve” the issue of the settlements, and this is now the focus of the “indirect talks” that US envoy for the Middle East peace process George Mitchell is trying to broker.

Of course the settlements, built on occupied West Bank land in flagrant violation of international law, would not be removed. Rather, the border would simply be redrawn to annex the vast majority of settlers and their homes to Israel, and as if by magic, the whole issue of the settlements would disappear just like that. This charade would be covered up with a so-called “land swap” of which Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority often speak as a way to soften up the Palestinian public for a great surrender to Israeli diktat.

All this is based on the common, but false notion that the 4 June 1967 demarcation line separating Israel from the West Bank (then administered as part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan), is the legitimate border of Israel and should therefore be the one along which the conflict is settled.

This assumption is wrong; the 1967 border has no legitimacy and should not be taken for granted.

UN General Assembly resolution 181 of 29 November 1947 called for the partition of Palestine into two entities: a state for the Jewish minority on 57 percent of the land, and a state for the overwhelming Arab majority on less than half the land. According to the 1947 partition, the population of the Jewish state would still have been 40 percent Arab. Jerusalem would have remained a separate international zone.

Rather than “resolve” the question of Palestine, partition made it worse: Palestinians rejected a partition they viewed as fundamentally unjust in principle and in practice, and the Zionist movement grudgingly accepted it but as a first step in an ongoing program of expansion and colonization.

Resolution 181, called for the two states to strictly guarantee equal rights for all their citizens, and to have a currency and customs union, joint railways and other aspects of shared sovereignty, and set out a specific mechanism for the states to come into being.

The resolution was never implemented, however. Immediately after it was passed, Zionist militias began their campaign to conquer territory beyond that which was allocated by the partition plan. Vastly outgunned Palestinian militias resisted as best as they could, until the belated intervention of Arab armies some six months after the war began. By that time it was too late — as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had already been ethnically cleansed from their homes. Israel, contrary to myth, was not brought into being by the UN, but by war and conquest.

The 1949 Rhodes Armistice agreement, which ended the first ever Arab-Israeli war left Israel in control of 78 percent of historic Palestine and established a ceasefire with its neighbors Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Until the second round — in June 1967 — Arabs had been calling for the abolition of the “illegal Zionist entity” planted by colonial powers like a dagger in the heart of the Arab nation. They also waitied for the United Nations to implement its many resolutions redressing the gross injustices inflicted hitherto. The UN never tried to enforce the law or to exert serious efforts to resolve the conflict, which kept escalating.

Israel’s June 1967 blitzkrieg surprise attack on Egypt, Syria and Jordan led to the devastating Arab defeat and to Israel tripling the area of the land it controlled. The parts of Palestine still controlled by Arabs — the West Bank including eastern Jerusalem and Gaza — as well as Syria’s Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai fell into Israeli hands.

Defeated, demoralized and humiliated, the Arab states involved in the “setback”, as Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser called it, accepted the painful compromise spelled out by Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967.

It ruled that the 4 June 1967 border would have to be the recognized border of Israel provided the latter evacuated the Arab lands it had occupied that year. In other words if the Arabs wanted to recover their lands lost in that war they had to end the “state of belligerency” with Israel — a small step short of recognition — and accept Israel’s actual existence within the pre-June 1967 borders. This eventually became the so-called “land for peace” formula.

Instead of withdrawing from land in exchange for recognition and peace, Israel proceeded to colonize all the newly occupied territories; it continues to do so 43 years later in the West Bank and Golan Heights. Meanwhile it has also become uncontested that Israel has a “right” to everything to the west of the 1967 border. The only question is how much more land will it get to keep to the east.

Astonishingly, Palestinian leaders, Arab states and the so-called international community have all submitted to the lopsided concept that Israel should have this right unconditionally without evacuating the illegally occupied Arab lands. The legitimacy of the 1967 border was tightly linked to Israeli withdrawal and should remain so.

An inherent contradiction in resolution 242 is that while it affirmed “the admissibility of the acquisition of the territory by war” it in fact legitimized Israel’s conquest of 1948, including the 21 percent of Palestine that was supposed to be part of the Arab state under the partition plan.

In other words, the UN granted Israel legitimate title to its previous conquests if it would give up its later conquests. This has set a disastrous precedent that aggression can lead to irreversible facts. Encouraged by this, Israel began its settlement project with the express intention of “creating facts” that would make withdrawal impossible and force international recognition of Israeli claims to the land.

It worked; in April 2004 the United States offered Israel a written guarantee that any peace agreement would have to recognize and accept the settlements as part of Israel. The rest of the “international community” as they always do, quietly followed the American line.

The Palestinian submission to the common demand that the large settlement blocs be annexed to Israel against a fictitious land swap is another vindication of the Israeli belief that facts created are facts accepted.

If and only if Israel adheres to all aspects of UN Security Council resolution 242 and others, could the 1967 line have any legitimacy. Until then, if Israel tells the Arabs that the West Bank settlements of Ariel and Maale Adumim are part of Israel, then the Arab position can be that Haifa, Jaffa and Acre are still part of Palestine. {RB note: We all know the Israelis will never agree to that but still even if they do it will never absolve their crimes or their theft of Palestine}

Israel: Military Investigations Fail Gaza War Victims

Human Rights Watch

"An independent investigation is crucial to understand why so many civilians died and to bring justice for the victims of unlawful attacks"

Israel has failed to demonstrate that it will conduct thorough and impartial investigations into alleged laws-of-war violations by its forces during last year’s Gaza conflict, Human Rights Watch said today. An independent investigation is needed if perpetrators of abuse, including senior military and political officials who set policies that violated the laws of war, are to be held accountable, Human Rights Watch said.

On February 4, 2010, Human Rights Watch met with military lawyers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to discuss the investigations. While the military is conducting ongoing investigations, officials did not provide information showing that these will be thorough and impartial or that they will address the broader policy and command decisions that led to unlawful civilian deaths, Human Rights Watch said.

“Israel claims it is conducting credible and impartial investigations, but it has so far failed to make that case,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. “An independent investigation is crucial to understand why so many civilians died and to bring justice for the victims of unlawful attacks.”

In one case, a military investigation apparently missed an important piece of evidence: remains of an aerial bomb found in the al-Badr flour mill outside Jabalya. Israel denied targeting the mill from the air, as alleged by the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. However, video footage obtained by Human Rights Watch and released today shows the apparent remains of an Israeli MK-82 500-pound aerial bomb in the damaged mill, and UN de-miners say they defused the bomb.

More than 750 Palestinian civilians in Gaza were killed during the conflict, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. The UN has said that nearly 3,500 homes and 280 factories were completely destroyed.

Human Rights Watch documented 53 civilian deaths in 19 incidents in which Israeli forces appeared to have violated the laws of war. Six of these incidents involved the unlawful use of white phosphorus munitions; six were attacks by drone-launched missiles that killed civilians; and seven involved soldiers shooting civilians who were in groups holding white flags.

To date, Israeli military courts have convicted only one soldier of wartime abuse during the Gaza conflict, for theft of a credit card.

The Israeli military lawyers said the military was investigating all cases reported by Human Rights Watch. Seven of the cases are criminal investigations into the alleged shooting of civilians waving white flags, they said. The military had originally dismissed Human Rights Watch’s report on these cases as based on “unreliable witness reports.”

The Israeli military has thus far examined specific incidents but not broader policies that may have caused civilian casualties in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said.

An independent investigation should examine the pre-operation decisions that led to civilian casualties, Human Rights Watch said. These include the decision to target Hamas’s political infrastructure; the use of heavy artillery and white phosphorus munitions in populated areas; attacks on Gaza police; and the apparently permissive rules of engagement for drone operators and ground forces.

“The Israeli investigations so far have looked mostly at soldiers who disobeyed orders or the rules of engagement, but failed to ask the crucial question about whether those orders and rules of engagement themselves violated the laws of war,” Stork said. “For those decisions and policies, senior military and political decision-makers should be held responsible.”

To date, Israeli military courts have convicted only one soldier of wartime abuse during the Gaza conflict, for theft of a credit card

Hamas is not known to have prosecuted anyone for firing hundreds of rockets indiscriminately into Israel. On January 27 it issued a news statement and report summary, saying that rockets from Palestinian armed groups had only targeted Israeli military objects and that civilian casualties were accidental – a conclusion that Human Rights Watch rejected as “legally and factually wrong.” Hamas released a full report about its conduct during the war on February 3 that Human Rights Watch is still reviewing.

In September 2009, the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, determined that Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity and called on both parties to conduct impartial investigations within six months.

On November 5, the UN General Assembly endorsed the Goldstone report and asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for a progress report about domestic investigations. Ban gave his report on February 4, passing on documents provided to him by Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, and reiterating his call for credible and impartial investigations by all sides.

“Secretary-General Ban merely passed on the parties’ claims, but he also reasserted the importance of credible investigations in conformity with international standards,” Stork said. “The pressure is still on Israel and Hamas to show that they will do it right.”

According to Israel, the military has conducted roughly 150 “investigations” of incidents in Gaza, but it has not provided a list of the cases. Nearly 90 of the 150 investigations are what the military calls an “operational debriefing” – tahkir mivza’i in Hebrew. These are after-action reports, not criminal investigations, in which an officer in the chain of command interviews the soldiers involved, with no testimony from victims or witnesses. Forty-five of these 90 cases have been closed.

The Israeli military says that military police have opened 36 criminal investigations, in which a military police investigator takes statements from soldiers and seeks testimony from outside sources. One resulted in the conviction for the credit card theft, incurring a seven and a half month prison sentence, and seven were closed due to lack of evidence or because the complainants were unwilling to testify. The remaining 28 are ongoing.

The military said it has disciplined four soldiers and officers for violating orders during the Gaza conflict. In one case, two commanders received notes of reprimand for firing high-explosive artillery shells that hit a UN compound where 700 civilians were taking shelter, despite dozens of phone calls from UN officials asking for the shelling to stop. During the same attack, artillery-fired white phosphorus set fire to a UN warehouse and injured three people in the compound. The military told Human Rights Watch that the white phosphorus aspect of the case is still under investigation and was not part of the reason for the reprimand. The only information the military has released about the other two disciplinary cases is that one resulted from an attack on UN property or personnel, and the other from an incident of property destruction.

The video Human Rights Watch released today of the al-Badr flour mill was filmed by the mill’s owners after it was damaged, on January 10, 2009. The UN fact-finding report said the Israeli military bombed the mill in a deliberate attempt to damage the civilian infrastructure of Gaza. Israel said its investigation found that the mill was a legitimate military target because of Hamas activity in the area and that it only fired a tank shell and did not bomb the mill from the air.

The UN told Human Rights Watch that de-miners visited the mill on February 11, 2009, and found the front half of a 500-pound Mk-82 aircraft bomb on an upper floor of the mill, corroborating the contents of the video.

The military lawyers told Human Rights Watch that, when provided with new evidence, they could reopen an investigation.

Israel has a poor record of military investigations into alleged violations against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, Human Rights Watch said. The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din has documented the low levels of criminal investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of soldiers despite the large number of allegedly unlawful deaths.

What Comes Next


Turkey and the Arabs are ending a century of mutual alienation

A strange calm prevails on the Middle Eastern surface. Occasionally a wave breaks through from beneath – the killing of an Iranian scientist, a bomb targetting Hamas’s representative to Lebanon (which instead kills three Hizbullah men), a failed attack on Israeli diplomats travelling through Jordan – and psychological warfare rages, as usual, between Israel and Hizbullah, but the high drama seems to have shifted for now to the east, to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Arab world (with the obvious exception of Yemen) appears to be holding its breath, waiting for what comes next.

Iraq’s civil war is over. The Shia majority, after grievous provocation from takfiri terrorists, and after its own leaderhip made grievous mistakes, decisively defeated the Sunni minority. Baghdad is no longer a mixed city but one with a large Shia majority and with no-go zones for all sects. In their defeat, a large section of the Sunni resistance started working for their American enemy. They did so for reasons of self-preservation and in order to remove Wahhabi-nihilists from the fortresses which Sunni mistakes had allowed them to build.

The collapse of the national resistance into sectarian civil war was a tragedy for the region, the Arabs and the entire Muslim world. The fact that it was partly engineered by the occupier does not excuse the Arabs. Imperialists will exploit any weaknesses they find. This is in the natural way of things. It is the task of the imperialised to rectify these weaknesses in order to be victorious.

The sectarian horror has taken the wind out of Iraqi resistance. Those who fought the Americans in the past and who choose not to collaborate now have gone quiet. Moqtada Sadr, for instance, having lost control of the more thuggish elements of his Jaish al-Mahdi and therefore much of his mass popularity, has disappeared into the Qom seminaries. He will emerge at some point with Ayatullah status. What he does then will depend on what comes next, which is not at all clear.

Will the monthly round of bomb attacks reignite civil war? Will resistance mount again as Iraqis move against the permanent US megabases on their land? Will there be a further American withdrawal? And if so, what happens then? Might Saudi Arabia be committed to preventing a Shia-majority government from functioning, at any price? Would it fund and arm an anti-Shia militia more fully than it has done in the past? Its attempts to defeat the Iraqi Shia would fail, but they could spark a new war in which the Saudis face Iran by proxy or even, by a chain of mismanagement, directly. This could satisfy perverse American and Israeli strategists as much as the Iraq-Iran conflict did in the 80s.

The Saudis and Iranians may already be fighting by proxy in Yemen. Saudi military involvement in its southern neighbour is a public fact (the kingdom is heroically bombarding poverty-stricken villagers with its expensive American bombs). Its enemy is the rebellious Houthi tribe, Shias. The president of collapsing Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, preposterously tells us that the Houthis are armed by both Iran and al-Qa’ida. Saudi media describes the enemy as ‘Shia’. Iranian media describes ‘Wahhabi’ massacres. Meanwhile, Iranian pilgrims have stopped visiting Mecca until such time as the Saudi authorities guarantee their protection from intolerable Wahhabi mistreatment.

In Palestine nothing is resolved and nothing is in sight of resolution. With the cleavage between Gaza and the West Bank successfully engineered, with Gaza walled, starved and bombed, with the West Bank warned that it will suffer Gaza’s fate if it removes its collaborator government, the Palestinian liberation project is in desperate straits. For now the West Bank enjoys a somewhat improved economy and freedom of movement, quietly realises the two state dream is over, and waits. For now Gaza does its best to survive, and waits. For now.

The Gaza model applies to Lebanon too. The general message is that a future Israel-Hizbullah conflict will be ‘a hundred times worse’ in its effects on Lebanese civilians than the atrocious 2006 assault. Hizbullah is careful and quiet, but by most accounts even better dug in than it was four years ago. Lebanon, meanwhile, is more stable than it has been since the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. After Hizbullah called the bluff of Hariri junior and his Saudi-US-backed militia, and with the mediation of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the US have retreated to their traditional positions of influence in Lebanon. Saad Hariri has visited Damascus.

Syria has regained its strength. The Obama administration will continue to back Zionist expansion, has kept Bush-era anti-Syrian sanctions in place, and only yesterday appointed an ambassador to Damascus, but ‘regime change’ is no longer an American fantasy and, as noted above, a natural, non-militarised Syrian influence in Lebanon has been accepted. Syria’s position is again what it was under the late president Hafez al-Asad: Syria can not change the region on its own, but nobody can change the region without it.

The good news, and perhaps the what-comes-next, is Turkey.

When I lived in Turkey in the early nineties the country was surrounded by enemies. Now all of its neighbours are friends. Internal relations between Turks and Kurds are also much better than they were a few years ago. Both developments stem from a long-overdue dilution of Kemalist national chauvinism brought about by new social forces. These are the upwardly mobile Anatolian Islamic-democrats represented by Prime Minister Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. They aim to build an inclusive post-Ottoman society, and their economy is flourishing.

An intellectual associated with the Justice and Development Party told a friend of mine that the best things to happen to Middle Eastern Muslims in the 20th century had been Ataturk and Wahhabism, because both challenges – the militantly secularist and the sectarian literalist – had forced (and are forcing) Muslims to rethink their core values. Turkey’s Sufi-based Sunnism is an attractive model which could sap the appeal of Salafism in the ex-Ottoman Arab world. But the Turkish-led alliance that is emerging inludes the Shia world too. Turkey has defended Iran’s right to nuclear energy and, against American orders, is investing enthusiastically in the Iranian economy.

Turkey is engaging not only with Arabs but with Arab and Muslim interests too

Turkey and the Arabs are ending a century of mutual alienation. The late Ottoman state degenerated from a multicultural Muslim dominion into an empire on the European model in which nationalist Turks oppressed the Arab territories into stagnation. Arab nationalism flared in response. In what was a historical mistake – but perhaps a necessary one – in 1917 the Arabs accepted the help of the British to rid themselves of Turkish rule. The British promised an independent Arab state; what the Arabs got was the Sykes-Picot dismemberment of their homeland and the resulting irrevocably corrupt states system. Palestine was lost.

Ataturk defended the Turkish homeland from dismemberment and constructed a functioning European-style nation-state, but one run by the army. The governing ideology was fervently ethno-nationalist, precluding cooperation with non-Turks. Greeks fled to Greece while Greek Turks fled to Turkey. The Armenians had already been cleansed. Ataturk considered Turkey’s Arab and Persian neighbours to be degenerate oriental races. Official mythology taught that Turks had invented language and civilisation, that the ancient Sumerians were Turks, and that Turks had colonised India when the Indians lived in trees. Across the border in Syria, Baathist myths repeated these ideas in an Arab mirror.

The practical contention between the two countries was over Wilayat Iskenderoon, or Hatay in Turkish, which the French Mandate (mandated to guard Syria’s territorial unity) gave to Turkey in 1938 in return for a promise not to join Germany in a future war. Arab nationalists in Syria and elsewhere were outraged by the loss of ancient Antioch, of Iskenderoon, Syria’s major port, and of the green lands and markets around these cities. Syrian maps still show Wilayat Iskenderoon as part of Syria, although Syrians don’t resent the Turks like they resent the Israelis occupying the Golan. The Turks are old neighbours and they do not seek to drive out the Arabs. Now that the border is wide open, now that Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians can enter Turkey without a visa, now that Turkish-Syrian trade is burgeoning, Iskenderoon does not even feel so lost any more.

Syria gave up the Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, greatly reducing Turkish hostility. Syrian president Bashaar al-Asad and his wife Asma al-Akhras are popular figures in Turkey, and Turkish prime minister Erdogan is wildly popular in the Arab world, particularly after his public rebukes of Israel during the Gaza massacre.

The friendship with Syria shows that Turkey is engaging not only with Arabs but with Arab and Muslim interests too. Its hardening position in support of the Palestinians allows a voice of Muslim conscience to be heard in the international arena. This marks a change. The regional US-client regimes seem suddenly much less relevant, and the age of the ‘moderate camp’ versus ‘resistance front’ duality, which reigned a couple of years ago, has already passed.

Turkey has democratic stability on its side. Another military coup is highly unlikely, firstly because the miltary itself contains representatives of the new Turkish mood, and secondly because the army’s secularist hard-core would dash its hopes of moving further into the European Union’s embrace if it were to seize power. But it is Turkey’s slow realisation that the EU will never allow it to be a full member that has encouraged it to claim its place in Asia, where it belongs. In Asia it is admirably placed as the conduit of Iraqi, Iranian and Caspian Sea oil, as the bridge to Europe and Europe’s Muslims, and as a potential shield for the region against American attacks.

The Turkish-led alliance could prevent a fresh outbreak of war in Iraq. Turkey would make a sounder sponsor of Iraqi Sunni interests than Saudi Arabia, and could moderate Iranian influence in the country. An alliance is also essential for cross-border cooperation over water and fuel distribution as climate change and resource shortages loom across the region.

I have great hopes for the development of this alliance despite the potential weakness of Iran in the short to medium term (it is to be hoped that the Islamic Republic shows enough flexibility to adapt to some of the demands of its alienated portion), and despite the differences in the ruling ideologies – democratic-Islamist, theocratic, and Arabist – of its member states. In fact these differences are a good thing. They will discourage hasty leaps at union of the unthought type that Syria tried with Egypt in 1958.

What is necessary for the alliance’s growth is the long term stability of the relationship and an ongoing interchange of ideas along with people and goods. The alliance will represent Turks, Aryans and Arabs, and may eventually erase the imported nationalism which has so cursed us. It could be the first serious regional axis of the modern period, the first axis not organised by an imperial sponsor. Russia and China would be natural partners. A confident and informed power to ensure Middle Eastern rights and responsibilities would of course be in Europe’s interest too. Is it too much to hope that the emerging alliance will mark the end of Western dominance in the region? Could the alliance begin to fill the gaping hole left by the disappearance of the Caliphate?

A Wise Strategy by Obama

By Bouthaina ShaabanCounterPunch

What is happening today is a clear disregard to the life and blood of Muslims

In President Obama’s remarks on strengthening aviation intelligence and security in the wake of the incomplete bomb attack on board of an American airplane on Christmas, he pointed out more than once that US intelligence had sufficient information that al-Qaeda-related elements in Yemen intended to strike at the US and they recruited elements to do that. The information was sufficient “to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack. But our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list”. He then went on to talk about technical issues related to receiving information, analyzing it and then acting on the priorities, filling gaps and connecting lines from different directions.

In all that, Obama builds his remarks and treatments on two main premises whose veracity he did not question: the first is that somewhere, there are people who hate the United States and recruit people who hate it and plan to strike at its security; and those should be put on a no-fly list. The second remedy is intelligence in the seaports, airports and on the borders, and looking for more sophisticated devices and applying more strict measures against millions of travellers from 14 countries, who should be checked and screened in a manner close to humiliation in American airports.

The dangerous thing is that president Obama repeated president Bush’s words “we are at war with al-Qaeda”. I do not know if president Obama noticed that the number of countries has increased since the days of his predecessor. The war on Afghanistan was a war on al-Qaeda and the war on Iraq was a war on al-Qaeda, until they discovered that al-Qaeda has expanded to Pakistan. And today there is talk that it has expanded to Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria and may expand to other countries in the future.

Has the strategy declared by president Bush succeeded in reducing the threat of terrorism or has it spread it more widely? If it increased the spread of terrorism, as is clear from the number of the countries mentioned by the United States in its war with al-Qaeda, does that mean that there are other reasons preventing the success of this strategy, or is it the case that the strategy did not touch the core of the problem or provide the required remedy?

The question which should be put here: why do some people target the United States and recruit others, who have no relation to terrorism, against it? If the prosperity of the United States is the cause, there are other countries competing to be number one in terms of economic growth. Why do not these countries feel targeted like the United States? Nothing in Islam promotes hatred of a certain country or a certain people.

While president Obama was addressing a potential threat, he did not say a word about a cold blooded crime committed on Christmas, when Israel killed six young Palestinians in Nablus and three in Gaza, some of them in front of their wives and children; and they were all unarmed. Neither did he condemn the crimes Israel committed last year in Gaza. He has not heard of the Holocaust survivor and the demonstrators in Western countries who came to support the besieged people of Gaza but were prevented from entering Gaza. Centuries ago, Arabs said that “Justice is the foundation of all government” because the feeling of injustice and humiliation and the disregard for life and dignity will certainly generate anger and discontent. The right approach should be to focus on lifting the injustice resulting from occupation, colonial settlement and war.

How would Muslims feel when they sees one and a half million civilians besieged without food and medicine in a humiliating prison called Gaza and shelled daily by American-made warplanes, prevented from dignified life by Israel with Western support and armament. When Israel’s rulers and generals face trouble because of their crimes, the American veto is used to protect them; and sometimes or laws are changed in order to protect war criminals.

What is happening today is a clear disregard to the life and blood of Muslims, to the extent that crimes committed against them are not covered in Western media; and consequently the West does not really know what is happening in the Arab and Muslim worlds, because its sources come either from those who commit the crimes against them or from their accomplices.

Between the beginning and the middle of the 20th century, the United States was, in the minds of Arabs and Muslims, the land of freedom, human rights, democracy and the free press. That image was the product of president Wilson’s stance when in 1918 he called for an end to colonialism, and of president Eisenhower’s position when he demanded an end to the tripartite aggression (including Britain, France and Israel) against Egypt in 1956, and that of president Kennedy who denounced the wall in Berlin. So, how would the present American presidents fare if compared with such positions?

If president Obama’s remarks assume that there are those who are born to resent the United States, this assumption is wrong. But everybody knows that the United States used its veto more than 36 times in support of Israel so that it continues its crimes against Arabs in Palestine, south Lebanon and Gaza.

Whether some people like it or not, al-Aqsa mosque is the first place Muslims turned to in their prayers, and that Muslims and Christians used to go to pilgrimage to Jerusalem before the Israeli occupation; and the faithful throughout the world have been yearning, for the past forty years, to liberate it from a racist and destructive occupation. Millions of Muslims also know for sure that the countries drumming up war against Iran for the possibility of possessing nuclear weapons are the same countries which provided Israel with nuclear weapons and gave it the knowhow, equipment and uranium to become a nuclear state without signing the none proliferation treaty.

The discrepancy in the position towards a nuclear Israel compared with an Iran aspiring to possess peaceful nuclear energy is actually an expression of the different ways in which the West looks at Muslims and non-Muslims. All the wronged people see, hear and understand but are incapable of correcting the wrongs, and expect the United States to turn to deeds in order to vindicate what president Obama said on January 7, 2010, that the United States is with those looking for justice and progress.

If the US is with those looking for justice, the Palestinian people should be top on the list. Standing with this wronged people will certainly root out Muslims’ frustration and hopelessness. The Baker report was correct when it said that justice in Palestine was at the heart of all causes; and that achieving justice there is less costly and more effective in fighting resentment, violence, anger and frustration.

What is required is strategic thinking in order to create hope in broken souls that the superpower has returned to the path of supporting those demanding justice, freedom and human dignity. The domino of violence and terrorism is moving from one country to another, and facing it does not happen through intelligence but through strategy, by adopting moral principles in support of human dignity and people’s right to live free of occupation, discrimination, oppression, or humiliation. This could be the most important indicator for the achievement of security and safety not only for the American people but for the whole world.

Peace requires Ending Occupation and restoring rights; Turkey’s role is important


Establishing peace requires ending the occupation and restoring the rights, stressing the important role of Turkey

President Bashar al-Assad discussed on Wednesday with US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell bilateral relations, prospects of peace and the situations in the region.

Mitchell briefed President al-Assad on the US efforts to move the peace process, stressing that his country is seeking to move it on all tracks.

President al-Assad reiterated Syria’s principled stance which calls for achieving just and comprehensive peace, adding that a government that publicly announces its unwillingness to achieve peace cannot be considered a real partner in it.

His Excellency maintained that establishing peace requires ending the occupation and restoring the rights, stressing the important role of Turkey in the peace process.

Both sides affirmed that peace contributes to solving a lot of the thorny issues in the Middle East, and that delaying the resolution of these issues further complicates them.


For his part, Mitchell stressed that his country is looking forward to the achievement of progress in Syrian-American relations and in the peace process.

The meeting was attended by foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, Presidential Political and Media Advisor Bouthaina Shaaban, Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mikdad and the delegation accompanying Mitchell.

In this regard, Foreign Minister al-Moallem held a meeting with Mitchell.

In a statement to reporters, Mitchell said he is looking forward to a positive relationship between the two countries in order to achieve tangible progress in the peace process and the bilateral relations between the US and Syria.

He pointed out that his talks with President al-Assad touched upon a wide spectrum of important issues related to the bilateral relations between the two countries, saying “President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are committed to comprehensive peace in the Middle East on the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese tracks.”

Mitchell also affirmed Syria’s important role in peace efforts, as do the U.S. and international community, noting that this issue was at the core of his talks with President al-Assad. He added he is looking forward to coming back to Damascus in the near future.

This is Mitchell’s third visit to Syria, with his latest visit in July 2009.

In this context, several US delegations from the Congress and the Department of State visited Damascus recently.

Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas must wait until Israel is ready

By Amos HarelHa’aretz

We will go into a war three years down in better shape

The defense establishment has reported that, based on a series of tests carried out in recent days on the Iron Dome short-range missile defense system, it will be possible to supply the Israel Defense Forces (and, more important, the town of Sderot) with an initial, operational battery as early as this May. Also, Haaretz reported a few days ago on last week’s decision by the cabinet to increase funding for the provision of protective kits (gas masks) to every citizen in the country, beginning at the end of next month.

These are important steps toward improving the protection Israel gives its citizens. However, it will probably take another year, at least, to deploy a meaningful number of intercept systems in the Negev and along the northern border. And according to the planned rate of gas-mask distribution, it will take three years to complete that undertaking. If Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas will only agree to wait politely, we will go into a war three years down the road in much better shape.

The first signs of a change in the enemy’s combat strategy were apparent as early as the first Gulf War, in 1991, when 39 Scud missiles launched from Iraq over the course of more than a month sent Israelis scurrying for their sealed rooms. Hezbollah continued the shelling – by means of short-range Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanon – during Israel’s Operation Accountability (1993) and Operation Grapes of Wrath (1996). The enemy’s use of rockets and missiles was aimed at bypassing a confrontation with Israel’s definitive superiority in air power, intelligence capability and technology.

In the first years of the second intifada, which began in late 2000, the Palestinians still resorted to terrorism in the form of suicide bombers. But when the IDF and the Shin Bet security service came up with reasonable responses to this, Hamas copied Hezbollah by firing rockets from the Gaza Strip, particularly after Israel’s disengagement in 2005.

The IDF, quite logically, will continue to rely in large measure on a combination of aerial attacks and ground maneuvers, including conquest of territory. However, in the face of a possible onslaught involving thousands of missiles and tens of thousands of rockets, this will not be enough. In such a scenario, Israel will have to rely on four main interconnected elements: intelligence (evaluation and prevention); an offensive operational plan; an active defense (the multilayered missile interception system – consisting of the Arrow, the Magic Wand, which is still being developed, and the Iron Dome); and passive defense (air-raid sirens, fortified security rooms in homes, gas masks). But the IDF’s combat doctrine vis-a-vis these different elements is still only in the development stages. The state comptroller warned about this state of affairs in a recent report.

A key question that arises in this context concerns the division of resources between defense and offense. A report on the country’s security conception, drawn up by the Meridor Committee in 2006, notes the importance of defense against missiles. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has also referred to this repeatedly, since taking up his portfolio again two and a half years ago. At that time, he said that in light of the bad experience following the Gaza evacuation, Israel will have to postpone additional withdrawals from the West Bank until an effective antimissile system can be developed. Surprisingly, the National Security Council, for example, barely devoted time to this subject.

Even in an optimistic scenario – in which Israel develops all the necessary intercept systems and allocates sufficient funding to their acquisition and deployment – a critical time gap has developed in the face of a militant Iranian approach. Tehran’s approach is based on attacking Israel “from far and from near” by means of Qassams and Katyushas from Gaza and Lebanon, and in the extreme case, also with Shihab missiles launched from Iran itself. In such a case, the result would be that the Arabs (and the Iranians) will be one step ahead of Israel in the campaign.

Unless the IDF has an unknown ace up its sleeve, every future clash will entail a massive assault on the home front, in a war that will be hard to win, or in which it will be difficult to achieve a decisive “image of victory.” This will necessitate precise planning in regard to the Israeli public’s stamina and to the logical distribution of resources, in which offense does not always come at the cost of defense.

Progress on the home front

Thorough work has been carried out with respect to the home front in the three and a half years since the end of the Second Lebanon War; Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai is involved and knowledgeable in every phase of this process. Home Front Command has changed its conception radically: In contrast to the period of the war in the north, its focus is now on the needs of the civilian population. Coordination with local governments has also improved greatly, and the establishment of the National Emergency Authority is likely to be a positive development, despite its problematic infringement on powers now held by the National Emergency Economy.

Nevertheless, problems remain with equipment procurement, with the command-and-control capability of the rescue forces and in the municipalities’ preparedness. After the rocket attacks on the Negev during Operation Cast Lead last year, the GOC Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, declared that the campaign had been carried out in “deluxe” conditions. Home Front Command will not be able to devote the same concentrated efforts and resources in an all-out, multi-front war.

End to zigzags

Benjamin Netanyahu was not persuaded of its necessity until last week

It is against this background that the decision of the cabinet last week about the gas masks should be seen. It wasBenjamin Netanyahu was not persuaded of its necessity until last week a logical decision following a six-year series of zigzags, from the collection of the gas masks, to their storage, to their partial redistribution and to the new decision on full distribution. According to the IDF, this will necessitate the doubling of the budget for the project: from NIS 1 billion to NIS 2 billion. Barak, Vilnai, Maj. Gen. Golan and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi have long recommended such a step. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not persuaded of its necessity until last week. Golan put forward the plan to distribute the protective kits to 60 percent of the population within three years, with the many attendant problems of such a move: the bureaucratic unwieldiness, the difficulty of supervising the implementation, the inequality between different regions of the country, and the possibilities that would open up for petitions to the High Court of Justice by those who would not be included among the 60 percent.

Netanyahu thus decided there would be no “levels of distribution”: Everyone would get a gas mask. Barak undertook to find the money for half of the additional budget, NIS 500 million, by means of internal juggling of the defense budget. Netanyahu promised to come up with the other half.

This is good news for Israel Post, which won the tender to distribute the protective kits, and for their manufacturers, Shalon in Kiryat Gat and Supergum in Barkan, which will embark on a massive production process. In addition, a precedent was set: Veterans of Home Front Command maintain that they never saw the army spend a shekel of the defense budget on protective equipment. The money always came from external budgets.

The cabinet’s decision was an essential move, says a senior defense source who has been following developments in Home Front Command for years.

“The decision simultaneously informs the country’s citizens that the threat is being handled seriously and shows the enemy that we are prepared. Regarding the rate of development of the elements involved in our response to the threat,” said the source, “widespread distribution of the masks is the only realistic option – particularly if there is a reasonable possibility that we will see escalation here in the years ahead.”

One contributing factor here was undoubtedly the impact of the Winograd Committee, which investigated the management of the Second Lebanon War. After the severe criticism leveled at the Olmert government and the General Staff by the committee (and by the state comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, in reports on the home front) – neither the politicians nor the generals have much stomach today for assuming unnecessary risks. Equipping the public is therefore the default option, though it also attests to the scale of the past failure. Owing to the delay in developing a response to the rockets, protection will probably still focus, initially, on gas masks and sealed rooms, even if their effectiveness is limited in the case of attack with conventional, as opposed to chemical, rockets.

In fact, the question of the distribution budget is far from resolved. A simple clarification with sources in the Finance Ministry reveals that it has not been apprised of the protective-kits decision, and is unaware of a budget source that has been earmarked to underwrite the extra half-a-billion shekels promised by the prime minister for this purpose. In general, treasury sources are amazed at the changing assessments of the defense establishment concerning the cost of the distribution project.

What will happen in the case of an emergency that necessitates immediate distribution of the masks? The Defense Ministry’s agreement with Israel Post includes a clause that allows Home Front Command to take over this process should there be any urgency, and to distribute them itself via hundreds of stations across the country. In the last round of discussions, four years ago, about storing the masks in depots, the army made two promises to the political echelon: that Military Intelligence would provide sufficient warning before there is a concrete risk that chemical missiles will be fired, and that it would possible to distribute gas masks to the entire population within a few days.

The state comptroller was severely critical of this forecast. Now Home Front Command is promising that in an emergency, it will be possible to complete full distribution of the gas masks within a few weeks.

Three years ago, Israel surprised itself by not anticipating that its sharp response to the abduction of reserve soldiers would lead to a protracted war with Hezbollah. According to surveys provided to the U.S. Congress, the nuclear facility that North Korea built for the Syrians – which Israel bombed in 2007 – was unknown to Western intelligence until a late stage. Israel will have to take into account the limitations of its intelligence in providing an early warning.

Summer 2010 is the defense establishment’s target date for completing home front preparedness, but a review of the threats shows that such preparedness, however much improved it will be in comparison to summer 2006, will still be only partial.