70th anniversary of Sétif massacre

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the massacre that the “Free” French forces committed against Algerians in the wilaya of Sétif in May 1945.  This was at the very same time that the victorious Allies in Europe were celebrating their victory over Nazism. During World War II, many Algerians had fought alongside the “Free” French, believing the propaganda they used about “liberty, equality, and brotherhood”. So once it was clear that the “Free” French and their other anti-Nazi allies would be winning in Europe, many of the former Algerian fighters from Sétif, holding their own victory parade in their hometown, held up banners demanding what they had been promised… The French response? A prolonged and very punitive massacre…

My dear friend Landrum Bolling was an American newsman in North Africa at the time. Hearing rumors of the massacre, he went to Sétif to find out what had happened, carving right through all the French attempts to cover it up. You can read a report (in French) of Landrum’s account what he saw, in El Watan today.

I’m very pleased that an interview with him that I blogged ten years ago helped bring his testimony back to public notice… But really angry that my blog archives here have become so corrupted that I can’t find that blog post any more. Darn it.


NYT’s lazy, content-free reporting on Algeria

Today’s New York Times carried an article reported from the Algerian capital, Algiers, by staff reporter Aida Alami. What a waste of a reporting opportunity! This was the first time an NYT correspondent had been writing from inside this important North African country for a long time. Previous NYT pieces about Algeria were one on March 1 on some serious antifracking protests in the south, reported by Carlotta Gall from who knows where (no dateline given, and no sourcing for what she wrote, either); and an AP story from last December 20 about Algeria feeling the effects of the oil price collapse… So clearly, for Ms. Alami to get into Algeria was a major opportunity for some good, well-informed, on-the-ground reporting.

She flubbed it.

Her article is headlined “In Algeria, Entrepreneurs Hope Falling Oil Prices Will Spur Innovation”. It consists almost entirely of interviews with two Algerian guys aged 30 and 38 who founded a PR company in the capital, Algiers, and recently (last February) organized a conference on “innovation” and “success”, under the rubric “Fikra” (Thought). The other named source is someone described as a senior analyst at the political-risk research firm Eurasia; but his location is not disclosed, so it’s likely that Alami spoke to him outside Algeria.

Does Ms. Alami provide us with any flavor of what life is like in today’s Algiers? None at all! As it happens, I was in the country for most of this past week, and in Algiers itself for most of that period. I could tell you about the bustling downtown pedestrian zones, the busy port operations, the stifling traffic jams, the tens of thousands of students at the capital city’s three massive universities, the construction zones (often completely Chinese-staffed and -run) all around the city, the bookstores and restaurants, the well-cleaned streets often with beautiful streetside plantings, etc etc. You get no sense of the city or the lives of its people whatsoever from Ms. Alami’s thin and ill-reported piece.

But the piece is far worse than actually ill-reported. It is massively misreported, including in the following ways:

(1) Ms. Alami writes:

Since [the] French colonial era ended in the early 1960s after a bloody war, Algeria has been relatively closed to the world culturally, politically and economically.

This is absolute nonsense– and is belied by the little bios she provides for the two entrepreneurs she talked to. Of one, she says he “travels between Nice, in France, where he has another company” (though she doesn’t name the other place where he travels between, I assume it’s Algiers.) Of the other, she says he was educated at King’s College, London…

One of the the things I did in Algeria this past week was attend an international conference of librarians, who came to the east-Algerian city of Constantine from many parts of the world. Now, it is true that a handful of foreign participants in our conference– as Ms. Alami also reported of February’s Fikra conference– did not get their visas in time to attend. But organizers of my conference said that at least one participant had been refused permission to come to Algeria by her employer, a major research institute in France… Go figure.

Culturally, Algeria has produced numerous fine writers renowned throughout (mainly) the French-speaking world; a unique, indigenous form of hip-hop-fusion music called rai that resounds throughout the whole Mediterranean, and further afield; and numerous world-class soccer players…

The Algerian economy is, as Ms. Alami notes, fueled in a major way by exports of hydrocarbons. This is not at all a country that is “closed to the world economically”!

Plus, the way she writes that sentence makes it seem as if, under French colonial rule, everyone in the country had full and wonderful access to the world outside. Totally not true. French colonial rule, like colonial rule everywhere in the world, involved the maintenance of heavy restrictions on the ability of the indigenous people to maintain relations with the rest of the world– or even, under France’s notorious system of “quadrillage“, with compatriots in other districts.

Now, it is true that the rulers of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria have had no incentive or desire to embrace integration with the neoliberal, US-led wing of the world economy. But that doesn’t mean it is isolated from the rest of it, at all. (And actually, I believe a lot of Algeria’s natural-gas exports are shipped to the U.S.; plus, a lot of U.S. firms are involved in various hydrocarbon exploration and extraction operations throughout the country– including Halliburton, which was doing the highly contested fracking there.)

(2) Since Ms. Alami’s visit to Algeria is/was such a rarity in the NYT’s reporting, she also definitely owes it to readers to try to describe the country’s tough geostrategic and geopolitical position more fully.

She writes:

The political system has been dominated since independence by one party, the National Liberation Front, while the economy has been choked by cronyism, insider dealing and anticompetitive regulations.

Algeria had its version of the Arab Spring in the 1980s amid another collapse in oil prices. In 1991, the army canceled elections after an initial round was won by Islamists, sparking a decade of civil war and terrorism that killed tens of thousands. Then, military leaders imposed a state of emergency that was lifted only in 2011.

What she does not write is that Algeria, population nearly 40 million, has two deeply troubled neighbors with whom it shares very long, hard-to-police borders. These are Libya and Mali. (A map should have been provided, to show this.) Given the proliferation of terrifyingly well-armed, extreme-Islamist militias in both those countries, today’s Algeria is in a very tough position indeed.

Add to that the fact that the country’s ageing, military-backed President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is apparently in a very vulnerable (and not clearly known) health situation with no clear mechanism in sight for organizing a succession… and the country’s politics actually seem much, much more important than the issue Ms. Alami chose to write about: whether two young-ish Algerian entrepreneurs are able to make a go of their PR company or not.

Back in early 2011, Algeria was just one of the many African Union countries that argued strongly against NATO’s use of any force against Libya. In the days leading up to the highly ill-advised NATO bombing of Libya, an African Union mission was actually in Libya, trying desperately to mediate a ceasefire between Col. Qadhafi and the Libyan opposition forces. But France, Britain, and their friends in the Obama White House were determined to go ahead with their bombing of Qadhafi’s forces, which they carried out under the (oh-so-mendaciously misapplied) excuse of a “humanitarian” intervention… And we have all seen what has become of Libya since then.

So nobody in the “west” listened to the anti-war arguments being made by the African Union governments, back in 2011. Today, now that Algeria is de facto and in practice a strong bulwark against any further spread of Al Qaeda and its affiliates in the region, people in the “west” should certainly be eager to learn a lot more about the country’s situation. This, they won’t do by reading silly, inconsequential, and unthinkingly orientialist reporting like that of Ms. Alami.

Algiers bookstore  Algiers Bay

Jodi does Jerusalem (NYT Sept 17, 2014)

The NYT’s Jodi Rudoren was writing about East Jerusalem on Sept. 17th. There was some interesting and useful information buried down deep in the article. In particular, she described the Israelis’ use of “skunk water” against civilian areas in E. Jerusalem for her readers and included snippets from a couple of interesting interviews with community leaders from E. Jerusalem’s seriously embattled– and extremely vulnerable– Palestinian community.

But the value of the piece was very badly marred by the whole frame she gave it, particularly in its top half. Here are the details:

 LocationMs. Rudoren writesHC comments
1Headline and framing"Unrest by Palestinians Surges in a Jerusalem Neighborhood"OK, the headline is chosen by the editors, not the reporter. Still, it reflects the general framing of the piece which is focused on the "unrest", rather than its causes.
2Para 4 (the casualty count), pt. 1" Some 727 people have been arrested, 260 of them under 18, for throwing rocks and other actions in near-daily demonstrations that were met with increased force."727 "people", nationality unidentified, have been arrested for "throwing rocks and other actions" (also unidentified.) I suspect that many of these "other actions" were nonviolent ones. Also, of course, many people are arrested on the basis of no infraction of the law. But no, Jodi R just goes with the police claims that, if someone was arrested, then he or she must have been doing something wrong. Tarek Abu Khdeir, anyone? Also of note: during the 1st Intifada, the Israeli hasbarists made a point of always describing the geological fragments as "rocks" rather than "stones". Why does she follow this?
3Para 4 (the casualty count), pt. 2"More than 100 police officers have been injured and 15-year-old Mohamed Sinokrot was killed by what a Palestinian doctor determined in an autopsy was a sponge-covered police bullet that hit his head."Here, we have "more than 100" police officers having been injured-- seriousness of injury not defined-- apparently being placed there to "balance" the 15-year-old Palestinian who was killed by the police. But how about the numbers of Palestinians injured-- why no mention of them? Also, let's hear how seriously these 100 Israeli police were "injured"... Finally, what on earth is a "sponge-covered police bullet"? Tell us, please, *what is the material in the bullet that is covered by the "sponge"*? Frankly, I've never heard of a sponge-covered bullet before. I've heard many times of the "rubber-coated metal bullets" that the Israeli military use, as reported by all the human-rights organizations.
4Para 5 (political explanations begin)"“I see the third intifada started already,” said Jawad Siyam, director of the Wadi Eilweh Information Center, which tracks demonstrations and arrests, using the Arabic shorthand for the waves of violence that plagued Israel in the late 1980s and early 2000s. “We said from the very beginning: It will stop in Gaza but it will continue in East Jerusalem.”"Where to start with this? "Intifada" is not some sinister "Arabic shorthand for... waves of violence". Intifada is the Arabic word for an uprising (or, more literally, a "shaking-off".) The 1st intifada (1987-93) was almost wholly nonviolent from the Palestinian side-- and the 2nd intifada (2000-2002) started off that way. No, Ms. Rudoren, "intifada" is not "shorthand" for anything-- and certainly for "waves of violence."
5Para 6 (more politics)"East Jerusalem is as much a concept as it is a specific location. Palestinians claim it as their future capital. Israel captured it from Jordan, along with the West Bank, in 1967, and later annexed some 27 square miles that include about a dozen hilly Palestinian enclaves, and a similar number of Jewish areas that most of the world regards as illegal settlements."That first sentence is a classic evasion! It is also, quite simply, untrue. East Jerusalem is definitely recognizable as a specific location: It is the whole part of Jerusalem that came under Israel's military occupation in June 1967 and has been under occupation ever since. Of course, Ms. R hates to use the "O" word! Hence, when describing how E.Jerusalem came under Israeli control in 1967, she does not say-- as would be absolutely the case-- that the IDF "occupied" it in the course of the hostilities, but rather that the IDF "captured" it. (American children have a game called "capture the flag" that is energetic and a lot of good fun. I imagine her use of "capture" in this context is intended to convey the same kinds of feelings.)

No word from her, of course, that Israel's unilateral act of Anschluss of an expanded area of E. Jerusalem in 1968 was *completely illegal* under international law. The verbal contortions she uses to describe "hilly Palestinian enclaves" and "Jewish areas that most of the world [but not, apparently Ms. Rudoren or her bosses?] regards as illegal settlements" are amazing and notable...
6Para 7, meet the Jerusalem Palestinians..."More than 300,000 of Jerusalem’s 830,000 residents are Palestinians. They are not citizens, but get social-welfare benefits from Israel and travel fairly freely... "Oh, they are so lucky to "get" social-welfare benefits. (Irony alert.) Nothing about how they also have to pay into the social-welfare funds and pay extremely high Israeli taxes, including the arnona, in return for which the municipal services they receive are derisory.
7Para 7, more about those whiny Palestinians"they have complained for years about shortchanged services, including a severe lack of classrooms and slow garbage pickup."Come on, Jodi Don't just tell us that the whiny Jerusalem Palestinians *complain* about the disproportionately poor level of services they receive in return for their tax payments. Tell us the *facts*, as well documented by numerous Israeli and other organizations about the deeply institutionalized discrimination in terms of classroom size, spending per pupil, per-capita spending on trash services etc that exists as between Jerusalem's Palestinian and Jewish residents...
8Para 9"Yossi Klein Halevi, a skullcap-wearing Jew who lives in the area called French Hill, which overlooks Issawiya, said he noticed a woman in a Muslim head scarf eyeing him nervously during a recent evening walk. Then he realized that he himself tensed up as a car filled with young Palestinian men passed... "First of all, French Hill is not just "an area". It is an illegal settlement-- one of the first to be built in occupied E. Jerusalem. Please tell us this, Ms. Rudoren. Secondly, Yossi Klein Halevi is not just "a skullcap wearing Jew" who happens to live in French Hill. He is one of the numerous Israeli settlers in the occupied territories who was born in the United States and made a deliberate decision to become a settler. And he happens to be a Contributing Editor for The New Republic, a largely neocon American publication. It is the height of laziness for a journo to write about another journo (and another American journo, at that), as though said individual is just a random vox pop...

Absence of “peace process” might help Gaza ceasefire negotiations?

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal gave an important press conference in Doha, Qatar today, in which he spelled out the movement’s terms for concluding a ceasefire with Israel over Gaza. (Not clear to me yet whether his demands include some regarding the West Bank. I think the demand for re-release of the Shalit-deal-released Palestinians whom Israel rearrested over the past month would apply to the West Bank?)

Of great significance, too: The fact that PA/PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) today also reportedly endorsed Hamas’s terms in re the ceasefire. This puts Abu Mazen in a good position to be a reliable carrier of messages between Hamas and its US-Israeli opponents. Previously– as recently as about a week ago– Abu Mazen had lined himself up completely with the US-Israel alliance and its friends in Egypt’s military government, as they tried to force their own ceasefire terms down Hamas’s throat without any hint of a negotiation. Now, evidently, something– perhaps the overwhelming force of Palestinian public opinion?– has persuaded Abu Mazen that the most honorable role he can aspire to is as a letter carrier, rather than by continuing to be a Quisling for his people.

While reading this news today, it occurred to me that the fact that there is nothing left of that long-running and deceptive, US-stage-managed pantomime called the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” probably makes it easier for the parties concerned in the current Gaza-Israel crisis to conclude the robust humanitarian ceasefire that urgently needs to be nailed down. Back during the past two Gaza-Israel crises, in 2008-9 and 2012, Washington and Tel Aviv were still very eager to use the crisis to build up the political prestige of Abu Mazen and somehow to keep the peace process panto on the road; and Abu Mazen, loyal (and nicely rewarded) servant that he was, was very eager to do their bidding. This time, thank God, the business of concluding the ceasefire that urgently needs to be concluded bears none of that extra freight. It can be concluded on its own terms, between the parties directly concerned– that is, on the one side the US-Israeli alliance and on the other, Hamas and its allies.

As noted, Abu Mazen can play a decent role– as a letter-carrier between the US-Israeli side and the Palestinian resistance side. This would actually be very similar to the role that Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora played in the Lebanon-Israel crisis of 2006. A crucial aspect of that negotiation, remember, was that no-one was trying, during those ceasefire negotiations, to force Lebanon to sign a peace agreement with Israel, something that would have made the reaching of a ceasefire agreement impossible, despite the huge amount of damage that Israel inflicted on the Lebanese people during the terrible 33 days of that war. It’s the same in Palestine now.

Much remains to be negotiated between the parties to the current conflict– including, as always in these ceasefire negotiations between warrior Israel and its neighbors, the precise modalities of the ceasefire such as whether there will be a verification mechanism, and if run by whom and how; the sequencing of the many steps involved, including the reopening of Gaza to the rest of the world, implementation of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, release of prisoners and captives, and so on on. But at least now these matters, which are of grave and urgent concern to Gaza Palestinians and their friends all around the world can be addressed without being weighted down by the requirements of that travesty of a diplomatic phenomenon, called the “peace” process.

And yes, given the final failure of the “peace process”, it surely behooves the members of the UN “Security” Council– if they have any respect for the basic survival and security of Palestinians in their homeland– to abolish the Quartet and regain control of this diplomacy for the UNSC itself. For a Biblical 40 years, the United States has held this crucial item on the world diplomatic agenda captive to its own wiles. It is time for the UNSC to wrest it back.

But that will all take time. The people of the pulverized Gaza Strip can’t wait. They need a decent ceasefire now– one that will end the suffocation, humiliation, and continuous assaults they have suffered for the 47 years. Let’s hope the newly appointed letter carrier does an honest, decent job.

WaPo’s biased reporting on Gaza, part 3

You have to ask if any of the WaPo reporters now covering the Gaza-Israel conflict remembers how to do basic, objective reporting of a news story. Anyway, the editors who allow such biased reporting to appear, and who insert the often stupid headlines, also have to take much of the blame.

Our main lesson today comes from this piece in today’s paper, bylined by William Booth from Gaza City. The headline is, “After overnight invasion, ‘we now have Israelis in our houses,’ a Gazan says.”

What I want to note, regarding this piece and another that ran beside it, bylined by Booth and two other, from “Jerusalem”, are some of the ways in which the reporting of speech acts can carry a heavy freight of meaning and implication that is quite inappropriate in a news article. Yes, Journalism 101, but it seems Booth and his colleagues need some reminding of this.

A speech act: Someone speaks. How to report it? “She said” or “he said” is nearly always the most straightforward and honest.

Or, you could alter that verb, depending on the way the person made the utterance: “She yelled”, “she whispered”, “she muttered”, “she screeched”… Be careful with these, though because some of them, depending on the context, carry some freight of judgment/implication.

Then, there are speech-reporting verbs that clearly carry the weight of the reporter’s judgment of the speaker. As here, where Booth writes about Hamas politician Musheer Al Masri that, “Masri boasted that Hamas cadres have fired Kornet anti-tank guided missiles… ” Oh! So because the guy is from Hamas, Booth feels it’s quite okay to portray him as some kind of boastful blowhard? Why didn’t he write that “Masri said…”, or possibly “Masri claimed…”? (But “claimed” carries some implication of the writer’s doubt as to the veracity of the claim. “Said” is nearly always better.)

If we’re into describing politicians as “boasting”, how about we use it for many of the extremely blowhard comments made by Netanyahu? But no. The WaPo/CraPo wouldn’t do that, would it?

And in the very next para, we have an even more brazen attempt to use slanted reporting of a speech act to demean a Hamas person . Booth writes,

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, standing in front of Shifa Hospital, where members of the Islamist militant movement gather to brief — and spin — the media, said…

Oh my goodness! He feels the need to remind his readers that every so often it is possible that officials who are “briefing” the media are also trying to “spin” them? When will we see this reminder inserted into reporting of a media briefing from a US or Israeli official? In the WaPo/CraPo, probably never.

The other piece— to which Booth contributed, along with lead byliner Sudarsan Raghavan and rookie local hire Ruth Eglash– is much more consistent in its use of “saids”. Actually, there are a lot of “saids” in it, since the piece is nearly wholly a compilation of media briefings issued by various bodies (primarily, “the Israeli military”, which is kind of weird; shouldn’t they write “the IDF Spokesman”?) Because of its reliance on official briefings– spinnings?– this piece could have been “reported” from just about anywhere, including the couch in my basement.

But as you get lower down in this story, there is one intriguing use of a speech-act-reporting word other than “said”, and a little sentence that baldly carries a “potent” judgment that is completely out of place in a piece of news reporting.

The speech-act-reporting word in question is “acknowledged”, as in “Netanyahu also acknowledged that ‘there is no guarantee of 100 percent success’ in the push to destroy the tunnels.” “Acknowledged” is one of the SARW’s that conveys the writer’s judgment not of the author of the speech act in question but of the truth value of the proposition contained in the speech act. (Other SARW’s that do this include “realized that”, “understood that”, and so on.)

In the context there, the WaPo writers’ use of “acknowledged” conveys that they think that what Netanyahu was saying at that point was true and reasonable. As it happens, I agree with that judgment (but not the possible further implication, that Netanyahu is altogether pretty “reasonable”– unlike that boastful braggart over at Hamas!) But my agreeing with the judgment is not the point. That kind of judgment should not be in a news article. Rather than “acknowledged”, the writers should have used “said”– or, in this context, “added”. Keep it neutral, guys!

But there, at the end of the next paragraph, we have an amazing piece of (pro-Israeli) judgment:

An expansion of the ground offensive, military analysts said, could entail a broadening of the mission to seek and destroy rocket launchers, weapons infrastructure and storage facilities, and perhaps even eliminate key Hamas commanders and officials. Even as Israel has relentlessly bombarded Gaza, Hamas militants have succeeded in firing hundreds of rockets into southern and central Israel, rattling Israelis. As long as the militants possess rockets and tunnels, they remain a potent threat to Israel.

That latter judgment is something they (or I) could write in an op-ed– or, if these news reporters heard a military analyst say it, they could report that. But no. It is presented as, quite simply and baldly, their own judgment. I wonder if they’d claim that, because the first of the three sentences there included an attribution of some technical-military judgments to (completely unidentified) “military analysts”, then that attribution should somehow carry over to the third of the sentences? But I don’t think so, since the second sentence seems to include (gasp!) a tiny shadow of their own reporting.

So wow. A “potent threat to Israel”. That is scary, no? No wonder we Americans should all be expected to line up like zombies and support each and any action the Israeli military might take to defuse that threat…

Um, a bit of neutrality, please, WaPo reporters? If you are going to do some actual reporting on the threat perceptions that people involved in this conflict have (though that is not what you’re doing here), then surely we should have some mention of the threat perceptions of the 1.8 million Palestinians of Gaza, the vast majority of whom are civilians.

I shall not hold my breath.

One last question I have is whether William Booth, now described as “The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief”, though just a few days ago he was in London, speaks enough Arabic to do his own on-the-ground reporting. If not, then the “native informant” colleague who actually helped him do the reporting should have been given the byline, or at least a co-byline, on the Gaza-datelined piece. In the Jerusalem-datelined piece, no “local informants” are identified either– except Ruth Eglash, who is given a tagline at the bottom of truly grandiose length. So we’re told there that she previously worked as a “senior editor at The Jerusalem Post.” And that is supposed to burnish her journalistic credentials??

Israelis, Palestinians, and “feelings”

I have just published a “Chirpstory”– that is, a compilation of tweets– about the event I went to today at the New America Foundation, a Washington DC policy research institution (think tank), at which five panelists and a slightly out-of-her-depth moderator were trying to discuss the situation in Gaza. If you’re interested, you can see the archived video of the whole event, and the bios of all the participants, here. It was pretty interesting.

Here, I just want to add one additional comment, in reaction to some things NAF’s own Lisa Goldman said there about the heartfelt and apparently intractable feelings of “fear” that Israeli people have. (In the context, it was very clear she was speaking about Jewish Israelis.) She acknowledged that the Gaza Palestinians were in currently living in a situation of real danger; but she said people should not forget that Israelis live in a constant state of fear. “Any Israeli you talk to, they will tell you about how terrible it was in 2002 and they could not go and enjoy a pizza because of the fear of suicide bombers,” was one of the things she said.

I found this argument interesting, for a number of reasons. Firstly, she seemed to be equating the fear the Israelis feel with the danger the Palestinians are experiencing. In other words, the “feelings” of 6 million Jewish Israelis are just as important (or more important?) than the actual danger of imminent death that currently stalks 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. Secondly, she neglected to mention that (gasp!) Palestinians have feelings, too! And one thing all Palestinians in Gaza feel right now– along with many of their close family members and other fellow Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel, and around the world– is very intense fear. Thirdly, she seemed completely stymied by the phenomenon of the Jewish Israelis’ fear. She seemed to be saying– though I need to check the video for the exact quote– something like, “Well, because of those Israeli fears, that means there is nothing we can do.” Finally, making this argument to an audience primarily made up of US Americans, she seemed to consider that her invocation of the “fact” of the apparently intractable fears of the Israelis, on its own, constituted some kind of a reasonable and convincing argument. Very bizarre.

Continue reading

HRW improves position on Gaza/Israel, calls for suspension of some US arms to Israel

The NYC-based, private, non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch today issued a new statement on the Gaza crisis that goes a good distance toward correcting the serious errors they made in the statement they issued July 9, as I had noted here. Furthermore, today’s report explicitly calls for an end to the supply of all weaponry “to Israel, to Hamas, or to armed groups in the Gaza Strip… that has been documented or credibly alleged to have been used in violation of international humanitarian law, as well as funding or support for such material.” The report notes explicitly that “The US supplies Israel with rotary and fixed wing military aircraft, Hellfire missiles, and other munitions that have been used in illegal airstrikes in Gaza.”

Too bad that HRW, a US-based organization that, as we know, enjoys good ties (and frequently also a revolving door) with the Obama administration, buried that call for the suspension of some US arms supplies to Israel so very, very low. But still, far better to include it in this report, than not. (More details, below.)

The headline/subhead of today’s HRW statement is: “Israel/Palestine: Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians/ Bombings of Civilian Structures Suggest Illegal Policy.” The headline/subhead of last week’s statement was: “Palestine/Israel: Indiscriminate Palestinian Rocket Attacks/ Israeli Airstrikes on Homes Appear to be Collective Punishment.”

HRW issued the July 9 statement less than 48 hours after Israel launched its current large-scale military assault against Gaza– under the name “Operation Solid Rock”, in Hebrew, or “Protective Edge”, in English. The statement thus constituted, as I had noted, a kneejerk rush to judgment on the rights and wrongs of the way the two sides were fighting, one that did not present any actual evidence to back up the claims it made, but that appeared to emanate much more from the political (i.e., pro-Israeli) predilections or positioning of HRW leaders, and possibly some of its analysts. Even more seriously, the legal analysis in that earlier statement was deeply flawed, since its authors seemed to endorse the arguments made by Israeli leaders that targeting commanders and fighters in Hamas or other Gaza-based resistance groups even while they were hors de combat, for example while eating, resting, or praying with their families at home, was quite okay.

Today’s statement, thankfully, corrects many or most of those dangerous errors that HRW committed last week. It is notable that today’s statement bases its analysis on actual, on-the-ground research in the form of case studies that focused on four of the civilian buildings targeted by the IDF between July 9 and July 11. Of the four, only in one case (the bombing of the Fun Time Cafe on July 11 that killed nine civilians) did the IDF allege that there was “a terrorist” located there. But, as the HRW statement noted, the Israeli military:

presented no evidence that any of those at the café, who had gathered to watch a World Cup match, were participating in military operations, or that the killing of one alleged “terrorist” in a crowded café would justify the expected civilian casualties.

In one of the other cases presented (Bureij refugee camp, July 11, two municipal workers killed), the HRW report said its researchers, “found no evidence of a military objective in the vehicle or in the area at the time.” In another (an unlocated attack on July 9 that killed a pregnant woman and her daughter), the report said that the family lived across the street from an apartment building that apparently was the prime target of the strike, but the surviving family members said they knew of none of the “warnings” that the Israelis said they had issued, or, they did not have time to flee before the attack.

In the fourth case studied, a July 10 strike on a crowded family home in the Khan Younis refugee camp that killed eight people, HRW reports that neighbors told the HRW researcher that one of those killed “was a low-ranking member of the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas.” However, the HRW report says nothing about whether this young man had been engaged in any way in combat when he was killed. The report thus makes the serious error of seeming to endorse the Israeli government’s claim that it is “okay” to target fighters in Palestinian resistance organizations even when they are hors de combat. Here is what the report said about this incident:

The Israeli military said the attack was being investigated. Even if the son was the intended target, the nature of the attack appears indiscriminate and would in any case be disproportionate.

This is actually a very troubling statement. HRW’s own judgment, expressed here, seems to be that if the son was the intended target, then “targeting” him [even though that was not what the Israeli military said they were doing… ] even when he was hors de combat, e.g., home with his family marking Ramadan, would in itself be quite okay: The only problem was that the attack did not do enough to “discriminate” between this valid target and the “civilian” family members all around him, and caused harm to civilians that was “disproportionate” to the military advantage the attack gave to Israel.

This is wrong, wrong, wrong, and woefully misguided. How many times do we have to spell this out? The essential distinction in international law is not between “fighters” and “civilians”– which are the categories used throughout this HRW report– but between “combatants” and “noncombatants”. A fighter who is not currently engaged in either the conduct, the command, or the planning of military operations is not a combatant. He (or she) is hors de combat and is a noncombatant. It is quite illegal to target such an individual.

Now it is true that the Israeli military and the serried ranks of paid hasbaristas (propagandists) who have been trying to justify and defend its actions have tried to claim that the homes targeted by the Israelis contained secret “operations rooms” or “weapons stores” and thus constituted valid targets. But they have presented zero actual evidence of this. (Bystanders and eyewitnesses have also noted that they saw no sign of the kinds of secondary explosions that would have been seen if these homes had had any significant amount of weapons stored in them.)

The lower portion of the HRW report also usefully cites (and links to; in Hebrew) an Israeli news report that “An Israeli military official stated on July 12 that the military has targeted ‘more than 100 homes of commanders of different ranks’ in Gaza.” The HRW report comments on this, quite correctly, that, “Civilian structures such as residential homes become lawful targets only when they are being used for military purposes.” Of course, this strongly contradicts the judgment expressed earlier the Khan Younis case, that “Even if the son was the intended target,” then the main problems with the attack were merely that it “appeared” indiscriminate and was anyway disproportionate. No, HRW, the attack itself was illegal because there was no evidence provided– or even apparently sought by HRW– that the (putative) target was engaged in military activities at the time of the attack.

Down at the bottom of the statement, the four case studies are presented in much more detail. (Good work, HRW. Thanks for doing this.) Regarding the Khan Younis case, the report states baldly that, “Human Rights Watch found no evidence that any of the victims used the Hajj family home to perpetrate attacks.” Therefore, HRW, targeting it was quite illegal. Period. Getting into your arguments about “discrimination” or “proportionality” regarding that attack was extremely misleading.

The “action items” in this HRW report are strong and useful. They are considerably stronger than the action items in the rush-to-judgment report of last week. Here are the actions that today’s report calls for:

The Palestine Liberation Organization should direct President Mahmoud Abbas to seek the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute serious international crimes committed by all parties on Palestinian territory.

Governments that are providing weapons to Israel, to Hamas, or to armed groups in the Gaza Strip should suspend transfers of any materiel that has been documented or credibly alleged to have been used in violation of international humanitarian law, as well as funding or support for such material, Human Rights Watch said. The US supplies Israel with rotary and fixed wing military aircraft, Hellfire missiles, and other munitions that have been used in illegal airstrikes in Gaza.

But I wonder why HRW did not lead the report with this call? Let’s hope they get a lot more active, very soon, in urging a suspension of the supply to Israel of the kinds of US arms that have been used in these truly horrific, inhumane, and quite illegal  acts.

Human Rights Watch, taking Israel’s side (again)

HRW's pro-Israel partisanship on 'Protective Edge'

The NYC-based organization Human Rights Watch, which has grown increasingly closer to the US government over the years, has sunk to a new low in the kneejerk response it published July 9, to Israel's deadly 'Operation Protective Edge'. See how.
WhereWhatHC comment
HeadingPalestine/Israel: Indiscriminate Palestinian Rocket AttacksA definitive and damning statement here, about the nature of all Palestinian rocket attacks
SubheadIsraeli Airstrikes on Homes Appear to be Collective Punishment This statement, in much smaller type, is far less definitive.
LedePalestinian rocket attacks on Israel appear to be indiscriminate or targeted at civilian population centers, which are war crimes, while Israeli attacks targeting homes may amount to prohibited collective punishment.Now, we have a hint of caveat regarding the nature of Palestinian rocket attacks-- that they "appear to be indiscriminate or... "-- but we also have a definitive judgment that all such attacks "are war crimes", which is true. But where is HRW's evidentiary basis for the claim that all Palestinian rocket attacks "appear to be indiscriminate"? It's a known fact that the impacts of rockets that land in Israeli military areas are subject to military censorship. The general public (and HRW) only ever hear about the ones that land near civilian areas... Then, those rocket attacks are deemed to be "war crimes", while regarding Israeli attacks that specifically target the private residences of accused Hamas leaders/commanders, HRW says only that they "may amount to prohibited collective punishment". Baloney. Targeting a private home that is not being used as a military command center is a war crime just as much as is indiscriminately targeting civilian areas. If Hamas commanders are alleged to live in those homes in Gaza, then how about the large number of serving IDF officers and soldiers who live in those Israeli cities? Why are Israel's targets in Gaza in any way more allowable than the the Palestinian rocketeers' targets in Israel?
Para 2, topPalestinian armed groups in Gaza have launched scores of rockets into Israel since June 13, 2014. When fired indiscriminately or targeted at Israeli population centers – as these attacks seem to be – they are serious violations of the law of armed conflicts. Look at the second sentence here. No qualification at all regarding "some of" these rockets having been thus fired. HRW is here to tell us (while presenting no evidence) that *all of them* "seem to be", or have been, thus targeted. Again, no mention of the effects of Israel's censorship.
Para 2, bottom[Israeli] Attacks on the homes of fighters that do not serve an immediate military purpose – as, again, some of these seem to be – are acts of collective punishment, which the laws of war prohibit.No, HRW, such attacks are not *just* acts of collective punishment. They are clear violations of the principle of discrimination, which in the laws of war requires military commanders to discriminate between valid military targets and civilian objects or infrastructure. Israeli targeting of Palestinian homes is a *war crime*, just as much as is any Palestinian targeting of Israeli homes. Both are violations of the principle of discrimination.
Para 3“Regardless of who started this latest round, attacks targeting civilians violate basic humanitarian norms,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “All attacks, including reprisal attacks, that target or indiscriminately harm civilians are prohibited under the laws of war, period.”So sad to see that my old friend Joe Stork, once a stalwart defender of Palestinian rights, has become so seduced by the glamor (and lovely salaries!) of HRW that he now playing this role of shill.
Para 5 Israeli officials claimed that Palestinian fighters lived in the targeted homes. In two cases, Israeli forces reportedly warned residents of houses in the southern Rafah and Khan Yunis governorates to leave minutes before attacking the buildings. Since any fighters in the house presumably leave after such warnings, the attacks appear intended to destroy the houses themselves, which shelter family members who have nothing to do with an armed group. The military spokesperson stated on July 8 that the military had targeted four homes of “Hamas activists who are involved in terrorist activities.”Note, that the Israeli officials are *not* quoted as saying that the alleged "Palestinian fighters" were using these homes as command centers, just that they were their homes. This is a clear violation of the principle of discrimination (see above.)
Para 11 A warning, which can help avoid civilian casualties, does not absolve the attacking party from targeting only military objectives or from the duty to refrain from any attack if anticipated civilian casualties and damage to civilian property in the circumstances of the actual attack are disproportionate to the expected military advantage, Human Rights Watch said.They get this right.
Para 12 Palestinian fighters engaged in armed conflict with Israel, and homes that armed groups use to store arms or for other military purposes, could be considered combatants and military objectives, although attacks directed at military objectives need to be proportionate and discriminate. There have been no reports of secondary explosions after Israeli airstrikes on the homes, which would have indicated that armed groups had stored explosives or rockets there. Israel has not explained what military advantage it gained by attacking the homes.They get this right. But the conclusion-- that the IDF has been targeting Palestinian homes that are not valid military objectives-- should have been embedded in HRW's summary judgment. I.e., Israel's acts were not just "collective punishment", they were clear violations of the principle of discrimination (and that of proportionality), and thus were war crimes.
Para 14 The unguided rockets launched by Gaza armed groups are inherently indiscriminate and incapable of being targeted at possible military targets in or near Israeli population centers, Human Rights Watch said. The laws of armed conflict prohibit indiscriminate as well as deliberate attacks on civilians.Were, actually, all the Palestinian rockets "unguided"? Would we conclude from HRW's analysis here that it would be better if the Palestinian rockets had better guidance systems?
Para 16-21 Years of punitive Israeli restrictions on imports of fuel, electricity, and equipment needed to repair Gaza’s electrical grid, in addition to Egypt’s refusal to open its border to increased shipments of goods to Gaza, have left Gaza’s medical facilities and personnel ill-equipped to cope with large numbers of casualties.It is only here, down at the bottom of HRW's statement that they make any reference at all to the deeper, ongoing situation of crisis that Gaza's 1.8 million people have been living through for many years. But Joe Stork andhis colleagues at HRW do nothing to declare these terrible conditions, imposed by Israel on the Palestinians of Gaza, as an ongoing and quite illegal act of collective punishment.

The WaPo’s intrepid Ruth Eglash, Part 2

Here she goes again...
WhereWhat she wroteHC analysis
Headline"In Jerusalem neighborhood, an unlikely center of Palestinian grievance"At least, we have the P-word here, not the obfuscating "Arab". But the whole tone & framing of this headline makes a possibly distracting attempt to be some kind of "sociological", as opposed to political analysis. Okay, let's see how it goes...
Byline/dateline"By Ruth Eglash, Sufian Taha, and Griff Witte, July 5 at 6:18 PM/ JERUSALEM--Well, at the foot, we're told that Griff Witte is still "reporting" from London. But no content here is sourced from anywhere close to London. So the WaPo high-ups are evidently still having cub reporter R. Eglash closely supervised by co-bylined Griff, from London. Was it his idea, or hers, to have local informant "Sufian Taha" elevated to the byline from his previous footnote? Maybe my earlier analysis had some effect in this regard?
Lede"Like many residents of the prosperous East Jerusalem neighborhood of ­Shuafat, Waleed Abu Khieder lives a life in two cultures: His neighbors are predominantly Arab, but his boss and customers at a popular West Jerusalem bakery are Jewish./ It’s a dualism that has worked for years. But in recent days, the delicate balance has fallen apart."Eglash and her editors are *still* intent on wilfully mis-spelling this family's name... But notice the classic colonialist-style framing here: that the poor, benighted Palestinians of Jerusalem would have had no economic opportunities were it not for the beneficent Jewish (Israeli) companies that provide them with jobs. No word from Eglash here about Israel's long-running, deliberate suppression of the Palestinians' own indigenous economic opportunities. Instead we're led to think, why, how very "kind" of Israel to give them jobs, eh!
Para 3"Since three Israeli teens were kidnapped and murdered last month, the 51-year-old Palestinian said he has been attacked several times by Israeli extremists wielding pepper spray and eggs."She is saying that this one Palestinian resident of Israeli-occupied E. Jerusalem has been attacked by "Israeli extremists". But maybe she could have inserted a sentence or two here noting (1) how widespread this phenomenon has been over the past few days, and (2) the role that avowals of the need for "revenge" from PM Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have played in inciting such violence? Or no, maybe better to keep it as one man's story here?
Para 4"Then on Wednesday, his nephew disappeared before dawn. The charred body of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khieder was later found in Jerusalem Forest, and Shuafat was instantly transformed from a quiet middle-class community to the newest focal point for decades of Palestinian grievance."She is obstinately still refusing to correct the spelling of the family's name. (Oh well, they're "only" Palestinians, what the heck, Ruth?) Equally interesting, though, is her apparently having bought into the longstanding Zionist idea that if you can only give Palestinians enough economic opportunity, then they'll forget about all their nationalist/political rights and claims. But oh dear, Ruthie, this theory doesn't seem to have worked out too well in Shuafat, eh? Time for a rethink?
Para 5"In many ways, Shuafat is an unlikely venue for protests that many fear could herald a new intifada, or mass uprising, against the Israeli occupation. Unlike the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where Israelis and Palestinians rarely, if ever, interact, the Palestinian residents of Shuafat have regular contact with Jews living on both sides of the invisible line dividing this city between east and west. Many Palestinian residents go to work across town, in the city’s largely Jewish west, and Hebrew is still widely understood in Shuafat... ""Unlike the West Bank and Gaza"?? What on earth is she saying here? In truth, Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem is not only *part of * the West Bank but actually *the natural capital of the whole region*. Just because Israel unilaterally (and quite illegally) annexed an expanded version of occupied E. Jerusalem in 1968 and declared it "part of Israel", does not mean that the WaPo or anyone else should thinks that E. Jerusalem is in any way "separate from" the rest of the West Bank. Or, gasp, do Eglash, Witte, and the WaPo think that Israel's act of annexation is actually quite okay? ... Then, we have this intriguing reference: "Hebrew is still widely understood in Shuafat" What on earth does that "still" mean? In what previous period was Israel's intentionally reconstructed language, Hebrew, "widely understood" in Shuafat"? It is so unclear what she's trying to say here. In truth, Palestinians in E. Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank probably, on average, have a far stronger grasp of Hebrew, after 47 years of living under the IDF's military jackboot, than Jewish Israelis have of Arabic, which by and large they deride as inferior. (Given the evidence, Ms. Eglash shares this disdain.)
Para 6"On Saturday, protests spread to several predominantly Arab towns in northern Israel — other places where cross-cultural interaction has continued through decades of conflict. The demonstrations included one in Nazareth, the largest majority-Arab city in Israel."Fascinating! Note the abrupt segue from talking about "Palestinians" previously, including in E. Jerusalem, to talking about "Arabs" here. An unwary reader might think we're talking about two different kinds of people, there, no?
Para 7"The outpouring of anger in Arab areas that remain deeply intertwined in the fabric of Israel could be a worrying development for Israeli officials because those places are far more difficult to isolate than Gaza and the West Bank, both of which are effectively walled off. Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel’s overall population, and they represent about a third of the residents of Jerusalem."If you read this carefully, it's clear that she's saying that (East) Jerusalem is one of the "Arab areas that remain deeply intertwined in the fabric of Israel". The "Arabs", she's telling us, not only make up 20 percent of Israel's population but they also "represent about a third of the residents of Jerusalem". In truth, West Jerusalem, which has been controlled by Israel since 1948, is one of the most thoroughly and completely ethnically cleansed areas of the whole of 1948 Israel. The numerous, lovely, "Arab-style" stone homes that are still found there were all forcibly emptied of their Palestinian builders and residents in the fighting of 1948. So the "Arabs" in what Israel today defines as "Jerusalem" are nearly all non-Israeli Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem. Eglash could and should spell this out. These are residents of an occupied Palestinian territory. They are not random Arab "residents" of an area that anyone (apart from, I think, Palau and Micronesia) recognizes to be actually a part of Israel.
Para 11"Palestinians in Shuafat are convinced convinced that Mohammad Abu Khieder was killed in a revenge attack perpetrated by extremist Jews. And they say it’s not the only attack they have faced. "Ah. By now, the people previously described as "Arabs" are being identified as "Palestinians". And finally, we're told that other E. Jerusalem Palestinians have also been subjected to attacks, not just (as in Para 3) Waleed Abu "Khieder".
Para 17"After speaking with Israeli Arab leaders Saturday, Israeli President Shimon Peres called for calm... "Oh come on. Peres has zero constitutional power and (being one of the architects of Israeli nuclear-weapons program and the prime architect of the mega-lethal 1996 Israeli assault on Lebanon), zero credibility as a "peacemaker" with anyone except a few gullible US politicians. Why trot him out here, rather than noting, for example, the failure of the Israeli police to reveal any details at all about the "investigation" they're allegedly undertaking, into Muhammed Abu Khdeir's gruesome killing?
Para 18"... rocket fire from Gazan militants continued unabated Saturday. The Israeli military reported that 20 rockets had been fired Saturday toward Israel and that 135 had been launched since the three Israeli teens were abducted. Israel has responded to many of the attacks with airstrikes."Whoa, here it is again! Those unstoppably "violent" Palestinians in Gaza have been launching rocket attacks against Israel, for no reason except that, you know, they are congenitally "violent"... and there is the worthy IDF merely "responding" to those attacks. Give me a break, Ruthie. Really.
Para 20"'I think what is happening now is that the failure of the peace negotiations has left a vacuum that is unfortunately filled with other kinds of activities,' said Ghassan Khatib, a lecturer at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank. 'Add to this the Israeli occupation, expansion of Israeli settlements and violence against Palestinians by settlers — it all leads to a very frustrated Palestinian society.'"It is good that Eglash gives us this context-rich quote from a respected Palestinian political figure-- even if she and her editors place it extremely low in the piece. But Khatib is not just "a lecturer at Bir Zeit". He is also a former (perhaps current? I forget) "minister" in the PA government. He's a significant political figure, and should be identified as such. Ah, but what would Ruth Eglash and the waPo know or care about such things?
Para 21"Revenge is on the minds of many in once-tranquil Shuafat... "Evidence for this?? Oh, but who needs evidence, when don't we all know that (see above) Palestinians are just, you know, inescapably "violent", with or without cause. QED.