Photograph: Xinhua /Landov / Barcroft Media/Xinhua /Landov / Barcroft Media
Photograph: Xinhua /Landov / Barcroft Media/Xinhua /Landov / Barcroft Media
….The Land of the Free Strikes Back… at itself. And Freedom.
DHS drones equipped to eavesdrop on Americans
March 4, 2013
The US Department of Homeland Security already has an arsenal of drones to be deployed for whatever the agency deems fit, but the actual capabilities of those vehicles exceed what many Americans may expect.
The unmanned drones being used inside of the United States right now can’t shoot Hellfire missiles like their overseas counterparts. They can, however, conduct surveillance, intercept communications and even determine whether or not a person thousands of feet below the aircraft is armed.
The latest revelation comes courtesy of a DHS document that was recently obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, through a Freedom of Information Act request. After analyzing a partially-redacted drone “performance specification” file received through their FOIA plea, EPIC said that records indicate “the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection is operating drones in the United States capable of intercepting electronic communications.”
Of the ten Predator B drones currently maintained by the agency, EPIC adds that the document confirms that those aircraft “have the capacity to recognize and identify a person on the ground.”
“The records obtained by EPIC raise questions about the agency’s compliance with federal privacy laws and the scope of domestic surveillance,” the center writes on their website this week.
Speaking to CNet, EPIC’s Open Government Project director, Ginger McCall, says the discovery shows just how dangerous drones could be to the privacy of the millions of Americans who could have drones overhead right this moment.
“The documents clearly evidence that the Department of Homeland Security is developing drones with signals interception technology and the capability to identify people on the ground,” McCall says. “This allows for invasive surveillance, including potential communications surveillance, that could run afoul of federal privacy laws.”
Since EPIC published their FOID’d documents last week, Cnet has managed to scrounge up an unredacted copy that outlines what the DHS was looking for in drones when the report was written in 2010. Specifically, the performance specifications note that while the DHS is not implementing drones for eavesdropping on America right now, “Further tasks, such as communication relay and interception, although not yet evaluated in the field, are assessed to also be best performed” by the unmanned aerial vehicles.
Additionally, DHS drones must “be capable of identifying a standing human being at night as likely armed or not” and “be capable of marking a target into a retrievable database.” No information is given as to what database that refers to, but a Homeland Security official speaking on condition of anonymity tells DHS that the drones lack — for now, at least — the ability to read a subject’s face to find out who they are.
“The drones are able to identify whether movement on the ground comes from a human or an animal, but that they do not perform facial recognition,” Cnet reporter Declan McCullagh says the DHS source’s claims.
“Any potential deployment of such technology in the future would be implemented in full consideration of civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy interests and in a manner consistent with the law and long standing law enforcement practices,” the source adds.
The Homeland Security department’s drones are currently used to allow federal officials to monitor any criminal activity on America’s borders to the north and south. As RT reported recently, however, a 2012 Supreme Court ruling determined that the government can conduct border patrol operations within 100 miles of an international crossing. By that logic, the approximately 200 million Americans residing within that parameter are subject to Border Patrol searches and, perhaps soon enough, surveillance drones.
This is what dehumanization/occupation/genocide looks like.
Israeli border police officers use pepper spray as they detain an injured Palestinian protester outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem during Land Day protests on March 30, 2012.
[Credit : Ammar Awad/Reuters]
“This was taken during a rally marking “Land Day” in East Jerusalem. Each year there are rallies across Israel and the Palestinian Territories marking “Land Day,” which commemorates the killing by Israeli security forces of six Arabs in 1976 during protests against government plans to confiscate land in northern Israel’s Galilee region. The protesters began throwing stones toward Israeli police on the scene. Police forces responded with tear gas and pepper spray. The man in the picture was sprayed with pepper spray and then detained.”
- AMMAR AWAD, Jerusalem(Reuters’ Best Photos of the Year 2012)
Beirut, Lebanon - Driving in south Lebanon last week, I stopped at the former United Nations compound in the village of Qana where 106 people perished under Israeli military attack in April of 1996.
An area resident offered me a small photograph album to peruse, containing relevant scenes from the massacre. First came pre-attack images of civilian families that had sought refuge in the compound from Israeli shelling; next came images of buildings on fire, followed by charred corpses and headless babies.
As The Independent's Robert Fisk revealed at the time, the operation was facilitated by an Israeli surveillance drone, captured in video footage recorded by a UN soldier. The presence of the drone naturally nullified Israel's argument that the massacre had been a mistake.
There has now been cross-border drone movement in the opposite direction, with Lebanon’s Hezbollah confirming responsibility for the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) shot down earlier this month over Israel’s Negev desert. According to Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, the drone was an Iranian model assembled in Lebanon and was called Ayoub after one of the organisation’s martyrs.
Of course, Ayoub’s flight resulted in nothing as nefarious as headless babies. Israeli officials speculated that the drone may have been dispatched to photograph the Dimona nuclear research centre, the euphemism for Israel’s illicit nuclear arsenal. It also enabled Nasrallah to deliver one of his signature lengthy speeches about the capabilities of Hezbollah and the vulnerabilities of the enemy, and provided fodder for those in Israel preparing for the next war with Lebanon.
As the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported in August of this year, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has warned Lebanon that any provocation by Hezbollah against the Jewish state will now merit retaliation against the nation as a whole. Given Israel’s horrific track record with regard to distinguishing between civilians and combatants - and its habit of directly targeting civilian infrastructure - we might be forgiven for failing to discern how Netanyahu’s warning constitutes an updated policy rather than a reiteration of business as usual.
Building on past wars
Casualties of Israel’s strategy in the last war with Lebanon in 2006 included major bridges and power plants, children obeying Israeli orders to evacuate their southern villages, and yet more residents of Qana - the victims of the second murderous “mistake” to have occurred in the town in just over a decade.
Various massacres of civilians in residential buildings also took place in the southern suburbs of Beirut - the Hezbollah stronghold known as Dahiya, vast swathes of which were flattened by Israel during the war - and established a useful precedent for future Israeli-Lebanese conflagrations. As Amos Harel noted in Ha’aretz this past summer:
"For four years now, Israel is threatening to torch Lebanon should Hezbollah create a cross-border provocation. In October 2008, the Northern Command chief at the time, Gadi Eizenkot, presented what he called the ‘Dahiya doctrine’.
In the next confrontation, Eizenkot said at the time, Israel will expand the destruction capability it showed when it bombed Dahiya…
'In every village from which shots were fired toward Israel, we will impose disproportional force and cause great damage and destruction. As far as we're concerned, these are military bases,' Eizenkot said in 2008”.
Considering Israel’s recent history in Lebanon, The Jerusalem Post's post-Ayoub editorial concerning the dangers posed by the “various… flying objects that have infiltrated our skies” functions as little more than an exercise in tragicomedy. Titled “The UAV lesson”, the editorial declares Ayoub’s trajectory “a major provocation and a blatant violation of Israel’s sovereignty, even if the drone’s mission was only to gather intelligence and/or test Israel’s defences. Espionage is a form of aggression too”.
Whether or not Nasrallah’s allegation that Israel has entered Lebanese airspace 20,468 times since August 2006 is precisely correct, there is no question whatsoever about which party takes the cake for blatant violations of sovereignty. A notorious fan of espionage itself, Israel repeatedly breaks the sound barrier over Lebanon with its jets - an activity that would seem to qualify not only as sovereignty violation but also as a form of aggression aimed at terrorising the population.
As for more direct forms of terrorism, Israel’s “flying objects” have killed, maimed, and dispossessed on a scale that no armed group in Lebanon has come close to replicating in Israel. In 2006, the UN General Assembly’s Human Rights Council documented Israel’s use of drones in Lebanon for purposes other than espionage, such as military bombardments of hospitals and farming communities.
Though The Jerusalem Post has proclaimed Ayoub’s voyage evidence of Israel’s “increasingly brazen and confrontational enemies”, rational observers might see it instead as part of an effort to deter a brazen and confrontational neighbour presiding over a cycle of murderous violence in Lebanon. Given the preponderance of the Israeli state lexicon, however, according to which self-defence against Israel is provocative terrorism and Israeli military slaughter is self-defence, the cycle is far from over.
Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blog, AlterNet and many other publications.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
Because obviously, Israel cannot accept another sovereign state in its neighborhood.
CAIRO (AP) — In the first direct contact with his Israeli counterpart since taking office, Egypt’s new defense minister defended his country’s increased military presence in the Sinai Peninsula, saying it is needed to fight terrorism and assuring him it is only temporary, Egyptian officials said Saturday.
The officials — one from Egyptian intelligence and another from the military — said Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi called Ehud Barak on Thursday in their first conversation since el-Sissi became defense minister earlier this month. The phone call followed grumbling from Israeli officials about not being consulted before Egypt’s leaders deployed tanks to the Sinai Peninsula, the strip of Egyptian land that borders Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli defense ministry refused comment. An Israeli defense official said no conversation took place between el-Sissi and Barak. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the extreme sensitivity of the matter.
But as the new defense minister, el-Sissi at some point would have to speak with senior Israeli officials, particularly after they publicly expressed their concerns about Egypt’s deployment of heavy weaponry to Sinai.
Under the 1979 peace accord between the two countries, Egypt is allowed to have only lightly armed policemen in the zone along the border with Israel. The treaty stipulates that significant military moves by Egypt must be coordinated with Israel.
Egypt used attack helicopters and armored personnel carriers in coordination with Israel to go after militants suspected of being behind the Aug. 5 killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers in Sinai.
Later, however, Egypt deployed U.S.-made M60 tanks to Sinai without consulting with Israel, which drew objections from the Israel despite the fact that it has long encouraged Cairo to crack down on militants in Sinai.
Israel does not view the Egyptian military buildup there as a strategic threat. The problem, Israeli officials said, is with Egypt setting a precedent by moving troops to Sinai without coordinating the move with Israel first.
Israeli officials stressed that significant military moves by Egypt must be run by Israel first, giving it a veto of sorts over Egyptian security strategy.
Israel has the most powerful military in the Middle East, and Egypt’s new military deployment in Sinai is not viewed as a threat. In addition, the two nations have been at peace for decades and — despite some turbulence in their relations in the wake of Egypt’s uprising last year — remain in close contact regarding security matters.
Israel has itself been a target of Islamic militants based in Sinai in recent months and wants to see Egypt’s security forces reign in the lawlessness that has swept across the desert peninsula since longtime President Hosni Mubarak was toppled and his powerful police force disappeared from the streets.
In his phone call with Barak on Thursday, el-Sissi also assured the Israeli that Egypt respects the nations’ peace treaty, the intelligence and military officials said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of relations between Egypt and Israel at this time.
In Egypt, the president’s spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
Israel-Egypt relations have grown increasingly complicated since the June election of President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist and member of the Muslim Brotherhood who is Egypt’s first freely elected civilian leader.
Morsi’s sudden move earlier this month to replace longtime leaders of the Egyptian military familiar to Israel following the Sinai attack has added to the tensions. El-Sissi served as head of military intelligence for two years before assuming the job of defense minister from Hussein Tantawi, who held the post for 20 years.
The conflicting reports seemed to reflect sensitivities that were also apparent in an incident last month after Israel said Morsi wrote back to Israeli President Shimon Peres, who had sent the Egyptian president a letter wishing him well on the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The president’s office denied sending any reply.
The letter was a potential embarrassment since Morsi’s Brotherhood group has long been hostile to Israel and has said its members in government will have no contact with it — though they have promised to preserve the landmark peace treaty.
The confusion surrounding the letter might have stemmed from a protocol mix-up. It was sent by the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv to Peres by fax and by courier — and was on the mission’s stationary, not the presidency’s, though it is written in the name of Morsi. An Egyptian Foreign Ministry official and an official close to the presidency told The Associated Press that Morsi has no intention to communicate directly with the Israelis and that he mandated the Foreign Ministry to take over routine contacts with Israel. Both spoke on condition of anonymity.
Israeli soldiers arrest an international protestor for demonstrating against their theft of Palestinian land in the form of Jewish-only settlements, which violate international law, in the village of Kfar Qaddum in the West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories, on August 17, 2012. (Getty Images)
My note: This is a revolting example of the Israeli/Zionist lobby’s continued efforts to suppress free speech and academic freedom….
An attempt to portray Palestine solidarity campaigning on campus as “anti-Semitism” has failed — once again — at the University of California, Berkeley.
Lacking evidence that would support their complaints, a group of Zionist students had to abandon a federal lawsuit and reach a settlement accord in late June.
But this will almost certainly not be the last case of its type. Across California, and elsewhere in the United States, well-financed lobby groups working closely with the Israeli government continue to file various lawsuits against universities, alleging civil rights violations against Jewish students. The real intention, however, is to chill Palestine solidarity activism and censor open discussions about Israeli policy in classrooms.
The UC Berkeley lawsuit termination follows a dismissal in December 2011 of an earlier version of the same lawsuit by a judge who ruled that the students’ claims lacked evidence. But the judge allowed a settlement to proceed which included the ability of the students to amend their initial civil rights law complaint. However, the settlement agreement reiterated the judge’s assertion that there was no basis to the allegations and required that the lawsuit be closed.
Activists and civil rights advocates say that the end to this lawsuit is a relief to student organizers on UC Berkeley’s campus. But it is a cautious relief.
The lawsuit against the UC Regents — the governing body of the University of California — was filed in 2011 by two students associated with Tikvah, a Zionist Jewish organization on campus. It alleges that the university allowed “discrimination” against Jewish students to occur by tolerating the “development of a dangerous anti-Semitic climate on its campuses.”
The plaintiffs also claim that the university failed to “adopt and implement policies, regulations and student organizations procedures to prevent threats, intimidation and harassment by the anti-Semitic/anti-Israel SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine], MSA [Muslim Students Association] and MSU [Muslim Student Union], all of which threatens and endangers the health and safety of University of California’s Jewish students.”
Claiming that Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim student organizations were not only “anti-Semitic” but “pro-terrorist,” the lawsuit includes extreme Islamophobic and anti-Arab rhetoric. The plaintiffs allege that “the more publicly activist SJP may be understood as the militant arm of the outwardly benevolent MSA”; and adds that SJP, the Muslim Student Association and Muslim Student Union help to “fund terrorism” and have ties to “terrorist groups including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.”
A central complaint in the lawsuit is that symbolic protest actions during the SJP-organized Israeli Apartheid Week — a global week of action to bring attention to Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights — along with the creation of a mock Israeli checkpoint on campus created a “hostile environment” towards Jewish students (nothwithstanding the fact that UC Berkeley’s SJP is a multi-cultural, multi-faith group that includes many Jewish students among its members).
One of the plaintiffs, Jessica Felber, also claims that she was “attacked” by a Palestinian student during one of the protests. However, the court decided early on that the entire lawsuit had no valid legal claim, and neither the university nor the court were required to address the specific allegations. The Palestinian student, for his part, has vigorously denied attacking Felber.
Though the Felber vs. UC Regents lawsuit has proven unfruitful to the plaintiffs, they asserted that they would bring the same complaints against UC Berkeley to the US Department of Education, citing violations of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which protects against discrimination based on race or national origin in institutions that receive federal funding.
However, this Title VI complaint may be in violation of the settlement contract and the court’s dismissal of the suit. The settlement agreement released all claims against the university, and was dismissed on the basis that the plaintiffs cannot file the same complaint again.
But the plaintiffs associated with Tikvah are pushing forward anyway, and filed the Title VI claim on 9 July. This “lawfare” tactic — using civil rights laws to claim prejudice against Jewish students because of Palestine solidarity activism, or Muslim student organizing — is being regularly practiced by other Zionist groups across the US. The tactic has been pioneered and coordinated by Kenneth Marcus, a pro-Israel activist who previously headed the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which handles such complaints.
Some say that using Title VI in this way is deeply troubling. In an article published by The Electronic Intifada in January, a Jewish professor at University of California Santa Cruz who was targeted and harassed by Zionist groups said it was “disturbing” to hear that such groups were attempting to define Judaism as a racial identity, “because that’s what Hitler did … but [they] have to define it this way to claim anti-Semitism.”
Apparently responding to campaigns by Israel lobby groups, including the Zionist Organization of America and the Anti-Defamation League, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a new set of guidelines in 2010 that specifically “applies Title VI … to the protection of Jewish students from anti-Semitism on campuses. Title VI prohibits discrimination based on ‘race, color or national origin’ but does not include religion. Under the Department of Education guidelines, the Civil Rights Act can be invoked if anti-Jewish behavior is considered to be based on shared ethnic characteristics” (“New guidelines add protection for Jewish students,” Baltimore Jewish Times, 27 October 2010).
Even so, Israel lobby groups have yet to make any legal headway using various strategies in California and across the US.
As The Electronic Intifada reported, the Amcha Initiative, a Zionist political group co-founded by faculty at UC Santa Cruz and UC Los Angeles, has launched legal actions against faculty members who are openly critical of Israeli policies, and are taking their claims of “anti-Semitism” and “intellectual and emotional harassment” of Jewish students to the top courts in the state.
Amcha filed complaints of violations of Title VI at UC Santa Cruz more than one year ago, a matter that is is still pending with the Office of Civil Rights. StandWithUs, a Los Angeles-based national Israel lobby organization working closely with the Israeli government, was also planning a civil rights complaint against Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, but never appears to have filed it since the plan was exposed by The Electronic Intifada last September.
In January, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights threw out a complaint by Zionist groups alleging civil rights law violations at Barnard College in New York.
In 2008, the Department of Education tossed out a Title VI claim filed by the Zionist Organization of America against UC Irvine — but, according to The Jewish Daily Forward, the case is apparently being reconsidered under the secretary of education’s new guidelines, and another, separate Title VI complaint has been filed there (“Coming up empty on Title VI,” 13 March 2012).
This past month, Amcha leveled attacks (but not a civil rights complaint) against a professor at UCLA who posted a link to websites with information on the Palestine solidarity movement, including the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. UCLA’s academic freedom committee of the academic senate rejected Amcha’s claims against Dr. David Delgado Shorter, and reiterated the school’s commitment to academic freedom and protection against intimidation and complaints by outside political groups.
In another example from June of this year, the Global Frontier Justice Center — the US front for the Israeli lawfare group Shurat Hadin — demanded that the city of Los Angeles sue California State University at Northridge mathematics professor David Klein for his outspoken criticism of Israel.
This demand — which California’s attorney general had earlier declined to take seriously — followed an aggressive campaign against Klein by Amcha, who called for the university to punish him for his public support of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
Legal threats are part of an expanding effort by the Israel lobby and Zionist groups who target the academic system with accusations of anti-Semitism, emotion-laden allegations of attacks on Jewish students and manipulation of the memory of genocide to silence debate. In their Title VI claim, for example, the Felber lawsuit plaintiffs invoked the Holocaust, labeling the Univrersity of California’s “tolerance” of Palestine solidarity groups on campus as “a chilling reminder of the darkest chapter of history.”
They claimed that “the university’s actions and omissions present a disturbing echo of incitement, intimidation, harassment and violence carried out under the Nazi regime and those of its allies in Europe against Jewish students and scholars in the leading universities of those countries during the turbulent years leading up to and including the Holocaust.”
Tom Pessah, a Jewish Israeli graduate student at UC Berkeley and a longtime member of Students for Justice in Palestine, remarked that this comparison is not just shockingly ludicrous, but dangerous as well.
“Many people have devoted their entire lives to informing the world about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism more generally, and this is a truly priceless legacy that is supposed to protect all of us, Jews and non-Jews, from further expressions of racism,” he told The Electronic Intifada.
“To use this legacy to score cheap political points completely devalues it, and that is something that actually puts Jews in jeopardy. If people listen to the arguments in this lawsuit, and get really convinced that what Jewish students experienced in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust is in any way like [what’s happening at] UC Berkeley in 2012, that will undermine the work of everyone who has ever sought to raise awareness of what the Nazis did. Anti-Semitism will really come to mean disagreement with Israeli government policies, and nothing more than that. And that is really scary.”
Liz Jackson of the National Lawyers Guild’s San Francisco office has been actively involved with legal advocacy work in defense of the free speech of students engaged in Palestine solidarity activism at UC Berkeley. She said that the Felber lawsuit and Title VI claims are prime examples of the way in which Zionist groups are attempting to clamp down on academic freedom and on-campus critical discussion of Israeli policies.
“This lawsuit isn’t just about those events, it’s not just about Israeli Apartheid Week, or mock checkpoints — it’s about shutting down speech critical of Israel,” Jackson stated.
“And because it’s harder to bully and threaten [individual] students themselves, because they’re passionate and not going to be deterred, they try and do it by threatening the campuses. Basically the thrust of the lawsuit was that it violates the civil rights of Jewish students by failing to protect them against a hostile ‘anti-Semitic’ environment,” she said.
Jackson told The Electronic Intifada that the Israel lobby groups were smart to have identified the campus as a priority battleground to try and quash criticism and discussion of Israeli policies. “When they get so many students to say ‘I feel uncomfortable,’ that’s their best effort at making a case conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism,” she said. “Where else in US society are they going to have a chance to make that case? The campus is their only place.”
The settlement agreement was filed around the same time as two separate reports on Jewish Student Campus Climate and Muslim and Arab Student Campus Climate were presented to the University of California. The reports were issued by members of the University of California’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion, a council developed by UC President Mark Yudof in 2010.
Yudof wrote a letter in September 2011 explaining that the climate councils would be asked to review “current efforts and identify ongoing challenges to creating healthy and welcoming campus environments” (“President Yudof address campus climate concerns for Jewish community”).
Yudof has been an ally to Israel lobbyists who are eager to enforce censorship on campus behind the mask of perceived discrimination against Jewish students. As Dalia Almarina reported for The Electronic Intifada in April, Yudof wrote an open letter to the University of California community in March admonishing incidents of “intolerance” against Jewish students. Almarina described this letter as an “attempt to disguise promotion of Israeli impunity as concern for the safety and security of University of California students. His comments amount to abuse of those who suffer true oppression as political tools for silencing any challenge to Israeli supremacy.”
Included on his advisory council addressing climate concerns for Jewish students is Rick Barton, national education chairman of the Anti-Defamation League — a onetime civil rights group that now attempts to stifle Palestine solidarity activism on campuses across the US. The campus climate report on Jewish students, which Barton co-authored, can be downloaded from the UC website.
Yudof also “sought guidance,” he stated, from the American Jewish Committee, another Zionist organization, in addressing concerns from Jewish groups following the 2010 divestment initiative at UC Berkeley (which was later vetoed by the student body president) and the UC Irvine protest by Muslim students against an appearance by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.
The students — known as the Irvine 11 — were eventually convicted in September 2011 of “criminal conspiracy” for their decision to take part in a vocal protest during Oren’s speech, but the judge in the trial refused to sentence them to any jail time. The University of California also suspended the Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine immediately following the protest.
However, despite boasting of “disciplining” students such as the Irvine 11, Yudof himself couldn’t contend that Jewish students face a climate of hostility due to Palestine solidarity activism by students and faculty across the state. In January, just days after the Department of Education threw out the civil rights law complaint against Barnard College, Yudof explained in comments in to The Forward in relation to the Title VI complaints at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz that it would be “difficult to prove that the students and faculty in question faced a pervasive, hostile atmosphere.”
Despite Yudof’s affirmation that proving a hostile climate towards Jewish students would be difficult, the climate report on Jewish student experience repeated claims strategically used by Israel lobby groups equating Palestine solidarity activism and anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.
In a recent article for Al Jazeera English, poet and activist Remi Kanazi reported that “from the outset, the Jewish Student Campus Climate report focuses on nonviolent protests and speeches critical of Israel, a state in clear violation of international law, not anti-Jewish bigotry. In fact, nearly 50 percent of the report (excluding the introduction and recommendations) covered ‘the Anti-Zionism/Anti-Israel Movement and its Impact on Climate’ ” (“Silencing pro-Palestinian speech on campus,” 12 July 2012).
Tom Pessah of Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Berkeley was concerned that the campus climate report on Jewish students has received more attention than actual human rights abuses in Palestine.
“This is the main issue,” Pessah said. “Some people [think] that the way Israel is being talked about on campus is much more important than people not having access to clean water or medical supplies, or being in jail without trial for years. All of these issues we are trying to raise aren’t receiving as much attention as the campus climate report.”
Furthermore, Pessah added, “there’s a consistent effort to divert attention from what the facts are to how people feel.” In the climate report, the authors give a lot of attention to the specific terminology used by Palestine solidarity activists to describe Israeli policy — such as apartheid, the Nakba (the forced displacement of more than 750,000 Palestinians during Israel’s foundation) and ethnic cleansing.
“The counter-argument, given some kind of official sanction in this report,” Pessah said, “is that you can’t actually use those words, because someone’s going to get upset. And I think that that’s a very un-academic way of going about it — you don’t need to deal with actual facts and arguments that people are making, because it might upset you. This is an aberration of the whole academic environment.”
The report’s authors, Pessah pointed out, initially note — correctly — that the Jewish community has a diversity of opinions about Israeli policy. But in the recommendations section toward the end, the authors “report that most Jewish students feel that their identity is related to Israel and they feel that any criticism of Israel is an attack on Israel and an attack on their identity … And suddenly, where before we had a diversity of opinion, now there’s just one correct opinion, which happens to be the ADL [Anti-Defamation League] line,” Pessah added.
“It’s an organization with an agenda, and this agenda shows right through in the report,” he said. “They’re using their image as a protector against anti-Jewish racism, which is a great cause, to bring forward this Zionist agenda, which is not consensual, and which amplifies voices of certain students above others.”
Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ San Francisco Bay Area chapter, told The Electronic Intifada that the persistent intimidation, climate reports and threats of lawsuits against students and student groups in California have contributed to an atmosphere of actual, realized fear and caution on campus for Arab and Muslim students.
“We’re now getting reports from families who are saying, you can’t go to school at this campus, or if you do go to school at this campus, you cannot get involved in the MSA [Muslim Student Association] or the SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine],” she said. “[Parents are saying] ‘don’t rock the boat, just graduate.’ These are things that we theorized about five or six years ago, when I was in school, and now that I’m out, I can actually see this manifesting, I actually see these parents giving this advice to these students — it’s concerning.”
A current UC Berkeley student and member of Students for Justice in Palestine, who is of Palestinian descent and who did not want to be named, agreed. The student told The Electronic Intifada that even though he was sufficiently concerned to request anonymity, “I wouldn’t say it has affected me nearly as much as it has other students — because there are students I know who wouldn’t even feel comfortable affiliating with SJP or MSA on their resumes and/or graduate school applications.”
The student added, “many others refuse to participate in meetings and events, or to even join the clubs at all, in fear that they will be targeted by militant Zionists or even law enforcement agencies.”
Billoo remarked that though the attacks have manifested in various ways, it’s clear that the tactics are starkly similar, pointing to centralized strategies orchestrated by larger Zionist and Israel lobby groups. “You see references to StandWithUS, the Zionist Organization of America, and then you see the evolution of tactics in a way that I think … MSA and SJP students simply are not resourced to respond to in the same fashion that they’re being attacked,” she said.
But, she added, this also makes it clear that these students and their Palestine solidarity activism are “incredibly effective.”
“This is when [students] have the most time and the most energy in their entire lives,” Billoo said. “And they have access to thousands of other students to influence them, to talk to them about the human rights atrocities that are happening within the apartheid State of Israel. Even so, it is frightening and it is threatening as we see more and more movement in terms of equating [criticism of Israeli policy] with anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
Since the campus climate reports were published, on-campus committees and activist groups, legal advocates, civil rights organizations and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) have called on UC President Yudof to table the report on Jewish students because of its “poor methodology and bias,” in the words of JVP.
In a press statement, Cecilie Surasky of JVP said that “rather than offering a genuine exploration of a range of Jewish student life issues — which we would support — the report reads like a blueprint for limiting pro-Palestinian activism and further marginalizing the growing numbers of students, many of them Jewish, who are critical of Israeli policies” (“JVP asks UC president to table biased report on Jewish life on campus,” 25 July 2012).
Meanwhile, the National Lawyers Guild’s San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Bay Area office, and 17 Arab, Muslim and Palestinian rights activist organizations at the University of California issued a statement which called on Yudof “to exercise caution and adopt a more even-handed approach while considering possible changes in campus free speech rules” (“RE: UC campus “climate assessment” and student speech,” 12 July 2012 [PDF]).
“From its inception, the Council has singled out student speech and activism critical of Israel,” the letter states. It adds that the appointment of a member of the Anti-Defamation League — a group which has called on the UC to silence activism critical of Israel — to help author the climate report, “clearly was calculated to appease your critics in the staunchly pro-Israel community.”
Zahra Billoo said that throughout all of this, there lies opportunities for Muslim and Arab students and students who are involved in Palestine solidarity activism to take control of their narrative. “They can say hey, this is insane, this was a frivolous lawsuit, and now a complaint is being funded by some outside force based entirely on lies and seeking to chill the First Amendment rights of everybody on campus, not just a handful of students. Because these things impact all of us,” Billoo stated.
The UC Berkeley student who did not wish to be named added that the next step for Palestine solidarity organizing involves strengthening campus coalitions and ensuring that the truth about Israel’s apartheid policies is accessible to the masses.
“It’s important to make sure that campus organizations across the US are not putting any unnecessary energy into defending themselves from Zionist intimidation and harassment, because that is exactly what they would like for us to do,” the student said.
“We are not here to entangle ourselves in legal battles with right-wing fanatics — our primary concern is, and always has been, to end the illegal occupation of Palestine.”
Nora Barrows-Friedman is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifa
"There was this incident where a ‘straw widow’ was put up following a riot at Qalandiya on a Friday, in an abandoned house near the square. Soldiers got out with army clubs and beat people to a pulp. Finally the children who remained on the ground were arrested. The order was to run, make people fall to the ground. There was a 10- to 12-man team, four soldiers lighting up the area. People were made to fall to the ground, and then the soldiers with the clubs would go over to them and beat them. A slow runner was beaten – that was the rule.
"We were told not to use it on people’s heads. I don’t remember where we were told to hit, but as soon as a person on the ground is beaten with such a club, it’s difficult to be particular."
First Sergeant, Kfir Brigade
"We’d often provoke riots there. We’d be on patrol, walking in the village, bored, so we’d trash shops, find a detonator, beat someone to a pulp, you know how it is. Search, mess it all up. Say we’d want a riot? We’d go up to the windows of a mosque, smash the panes, throw in a stun grenade, make a big boom, then we’d get a riot.
"Every time we’d catch Arab kids.You catch him, push the gun against his body. He can’t make a move – he’s totally petrified. He only goes: ‘No, no, army.’ You can tell he’s petrified. He sees you’re mad, that you couldn’t care less about him and you’re hitting him really hard the whole time. And all those stones flying around. You grab him like this, you see? We were mean, really. Only later did I begin to think about these things, that we’d lost all sense of mercy."
"We took over a school and had to arrest anyone in the village who was between the ages of 17 and 50. When these detainees asked to go to the bathroom, and the soldiers took them there, they beat them to a pulp and cursed them for no reason, and there was nothing that would legitimise hitting them. An Arab was taken to the bathroom to piss, and a soldier slapped him, took him down to the ground while he was shackled and blindfolded. The guy wasn’t rude and did nothing to provoke any hatred or nerves. Just like that, because he is an Arab. He was about 15, hadn’t done a thing.
"In general people at the school were sitting for hours in the sun. They could get water once in a while, but let’s say someone asked for water five times, a soldier could come to him and slap him just like that. I saw many soldiers using their knees to hit them, just out of boredom. Because you’re standing around for 10 hours doing nothing, you’re bored, so you hit them. I know that at the bathroom, there was this ‘demons’ dance’ as it was called. Anyone who brought a Palestinian there – it was catastrophic. Not bleeding beatings – they stayed dry – but still beatings."
First Sergeant, Kfir Brigade, Israeli Defense Corps
Hafez Rajabi was marked for life by his encounter with the men of the Israeli army’s Kfir Brigade five years ago this week. Sitting beneath the photograph of his late father, the slightly built 21-year-old in jeans and trainers points to the scar above his right eye where he was hit with the magazine of a soldier’s assault rifle after the patrol came for him at his grandmother’s house before 6am on 28 August 2007.
He lifts his black Boss T-shirt to show another scar running some three inches down his back from the left shoulder when he says he was violently pushed – twice – against a sharp point of the cast-iron balustrade beside the steps leading up to the front door. And all that before he says he was dragged 300m to another house by a unit commander who threatened to kill him if he did not confess to throwing stones at troops, had started to beat him again, and at one point held a gun to his head. “He was so angry,” says Hafez. “I was certain that he was going to kill me.”
This is just one young man’s story, of course. Except that – remarkably – it is corroborated by one of the soldiers who came looking for him that morning. One of 50 testimonies on the military’s treatment of children – published today by the veterans’ organisation Breaking the Silence – describes the same episode, if anything more luridly than Hafez does. “We had a commander, never mind his name, who was a bit on the edge,” the soldier, a first sergeant, testifies. “He beat the boy to a pulp, really knocked him around. He said: ‘Just wait, now we’re taking you.’ Showed him all kinds of potholes on the way, asked him: ‘Want to die? Want to die right here?’ and the kid goes: ‘No, no…’ He was taken into a building under construction. The commander took a stick, broke it on him, boom boom. That commander had no mercy. Anyway the kid could no longer stand on his feet and was already crying. He couldn’t take it any more. He cried. The commander shouted: ‘Stand up!’ Tried to make him stand, but from so much beating he just couldn’t. The commander goes: ‘Don’t put on a show,’ and kicks him some more.”
Two months ago, a report from a team of British lawyers, headed by Sir Stephen Sedley and funded by the UK Foreign Office, accused Israel of serial breaches of international law in its military’s handling of children in custody. The report focused on the interrogation and formal detention of children brought before military courts – mainly for allegedly throwing stones.
For the past eight years, Breaking the Silence has been taking testimonies from former soldiers who witnessed or participated in human rights abuses in the occupied territories. Most of these accounts deal with “rough justice” administered to minors by soldiers on the ground, often without specific authorisation and without recourse to the military courts. Reading them, however, it’s hard not to recall the Sedley report’s shocked reference to the “belief, which was advanced to us by a military prosecutor, that every Palestinian child is a ‘potential terrorist’”.
The soldier puts it differently: “We were sort of indifferent. It becomes a kind of habit. Patrols with beatings happened on a daily basis. We were really going at it. It was enough for you to give us a look that we didn’t like, straight in the eye, and you’d be hit on the spot. We got to such a state and were so sick of being there.”
Some time ago, after he had testified to Breaking the Silence, we had interviewed this soldier. As he sat nervously one morning in a quiet Israeli beauty spot, an incongruous location he had chosen to ensure no one knew he was talking, he went through his recollections about the incident – and several others – once again. His account does not match the Palestinian’s in every detail. (Hafez remembers a gun being pressed to his temple, for example, while the soldier recalls that the commander “actually stuck the gun barrel in the kid’s mouth. Literally”.)
But in every salient respect, the two accounts match. Both agree that Hafez, on the run after hearing that he was wanted, had slipped into his grandmother’s house before dawn. Hafez showed us the room in his grandmother’s house, the last on the left in the corridor leading to her room, where he had been hiding when the soldiers arrived. Sure enough, the soldier says: “We entered, began to trash the place. We found the boy behind the last door on the left. He was totally scared.”
Both Hafez – who has never read or heard the soldier’s account – and the soldier recall the commander forcing him at one point during his ordeal to throw a stone at them, and that the boy did so as feebly as possible. Then, in the soldier’s words “the commander said: ‘Of course you throw stones at a soldier.’ Boom, banged him up even more”.
Perhaps luckily for Hafez, the second, still uncompleted, house is within sight of that of his aunt, Fathia Rajabi, 57, who told us how she had gone there after seeing the soldiers dragging a young man behind a wall, unaware that he was her nephew. “I was crying, ‘God forbids to beat him.’ He recognised my voice and yelled: ‘My aunt, my aunt.’ I tried to enter but the two soldiers pointed their guns at me and yelled rouh min houn, Arabic for ‘go away’. I began slapping my face and shouting at passers-by to come and help. Ten minutes later the soldiers left. I and my mother, my brother and neighbours went to the room. He was bleeding from his nose and head, and his back.”
The soldier, who like his comrades mistook Ms Rajabi for the boy’s mother, recalls: “The commander said to [her]: ‘Keep away!’ Came close, cocked his gun. She got scared. [He shouted:] ‘Anyone gets close, I kill him. Don’t annoy me. I’ll kill him. I have no mercy.’ He was really on the edge. Obviously [the boy] had been beaten up. Anyway, he told them: ‘Get the hell out of here!’ and all hell broke loose. His nose was bleeding. He had really been beaten to a pulp.”
Finally, Hafez’s brother Mousa, 23, a stone cutter who joined his aunt at the second house, recalls a second army jeep arriving and one soldier taking Hafez’s pulse, giving Mousa a bottle of water which he then poured over Hafez’s face and speaking to the commander in Hebrew.
"I understood he was protesting," says Mousa. This was almost certainly the ‘sensitive’ medic whom the soldier describes as having "caught the commander and said: ‘Don’t touch him any more. That’s it.’" The commander goes: ‘What’s with you, gone leftie?’ And he said: ‘No, I don’t want to see such things being done. All you’re doing to this family is making them produce another suicide bomber. If I were a father and saw you doing this to my kid, I’d seek revenge that very moment.’"
In fact Hafez, did not turn into a “suicide bomber”. He has never even been in prison. Instead, the outcome has been more prosaic. He no longer has nightmares about his experience as he did in the first two months. But as a former mechanic he is currently unemployed partly because there are few jobs outside construction sites and the Hebron quarries, where he says his injuries still prevent him from carrying heavy loads, and partly because he often does “not feel I want to work again”. And he has not – so far – received any compensation, including the more than £1,100 he and Mousa had to spend on his medical treatment in the two years after he was taken.
The report by Sir Stephen Sedley’s team remarks that “as the United Kingdom has itself learned by recent experience in Iraq, the risk of abuse is inherent in any system of justice which depends on military force”. Moreover, Britain, unlike Israel, has no organisation like Breaking the Silence that can document, from the inside, the abuse of victims like Hafez Rajabi who never even make it to court.
But as the Sedley report also says, after drawing attention to the argument that every Palestinian is a “potential terrorist”: “Such a stance seems to us to be the starting point of a spiral of injustice, and one which only Israel, as the occupying power in the West Bank, can reverse.”
Rank and unit unidentified in report
"One night, things were hopping in Idna village [a small town of 20,000 people, about 13km west of Hebron], so we were told there’s this wild riot, and we should get there fast. Suddenly we were showered with stones and didn’t know what was going on. Everyone stopped suddenly; the sergeant sees the company commander get out of the vehicle and joins him. We jump out without knowing what was going on – I was last. Suddenly I see a shackled and blindfolded boy. The stoning stopped as soon as the company commander gets out of the car. He fired rubber ammo at the stone-throwers and hit this boy.
"At some point they talked about hitting his face with their knees. At that point I argued with them and said: ‘I swear to you, if a drop of his blood or a hair falls off his head, you won’t sleep for three nights. I’ll make you miserable.’
"They laughed at me for being a leftie. ‘If we don’t show them what’s what, they go back to doing this.’ I argued with them that the guy was shackled and couldn’t do anything. That he was being taken to the Shabak [security service] and we’d finished our job."
Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel are being issued with documents changing their nationality, allowing them to be removed from the country or imprisoned.
The Bureau has identified migrants who have recently been issued with documents labelling them as South Sudanese – despite holding passports showing they were born in areas that remain in Sudan.
Four migrants from the Republic of Sudan have already been flown from Israel to South Sudan, an entirely different country that was formed last year. The South Sudanese authorities refused to accept them at the border and they were sent back to Tel Aviv.
NGOs estimate that over 100 other Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel may have been issued with the wrong nationality in the past three months, and fear there may be more attempts to remove them to South Sudan.
South Sudan only came into existence in June 2011 after a 21-year civil war. Intense hostilities remain between the newly formed country and the Republic of Sudan, with conflicts regularly breaking out on the border.
Israel is unable to deport people to Sudan as it has no repatriation agreement with Khartoum. But a recent deportation order allows it to deport migrants to the country’s newest neighbour: South Sudan.
But now NGOs based in Israel report that people from the Nuba mountain region of Sudan are being issued with temporary visas stating they are South Sudanese by the Ministry of Interior – which make them eligible for deportation. South Sudanese asylum seekers have been asked to leave Israel voluntarily, but those who do not face imprisonment.
Thomas Abdallah Tutu, 32, is one such case. He is from the Nuba mountains in Sudan and arrived in Israel in 2007. He lives in Arad, in the south of Israel. Thomas recently had his documentation recalled and was issued with a temporary visa for Israel that gave his nationality as South Sudanese. Now he is worried he will lose his job as a hotel steward, and could be imprisoned and flown to South Sudan.
‘I don’t know why,’ said Thomas, ‘I felt so bad. Many people here in Arad have families and children here. Now no one can buy a house and people are becoming homeless.’
The prospect of moving to South Sudan – which even before secession was in conflict with Sudan – is worrying for migrants such as Thomas.
‘It is a bad situation in South Sudan’, Thomas told the Bureau. ‘There is nothing there and no one has family, houses there or money. They are afraid to go, and confused,’ he said.
Thomas’ future is uncertain: he knows he must leave Arad but is desperate not to return to Sudan or move to South Sudan. ‘If I go there I am sure something bad will happen to me.’
Yael Aberdam is project manager at the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), an NGO based in Tel Aviv, which works with African migrants. The ARDC has seen around 70 people with passports and birth certificates suggesting they are Sudanese, who have been given South Sudanese documentation. It estimates the number of those affected may be twice that.
According to Aberdam, many migrants from the Nuba Mountain region, an area fraught with conflict, have been assigned documents stating they are from South Sudan.
‘We have no idea why they would consider Nubeans as South Sudanese,’ Aberdam said. ‘It gets me very, very angry to have those lives ruined and not even information on why, nor even an apology,’ she added.
The UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) and two other Israeli NGOs, the Hotline for Migrant Workers and Students For Refugees, also reported having witnessed Sudanese migrants being issued South Sudanese documentation and being imprisoned or coerced into leaving Israel.
Peter Deck, senior protection officer at the UNHCR in Tel Aviv said, ‘There have been cases of confusion of persons from Nuba Mountains and Darfurians considered as from South Sudan who had their visas taken away.’
Paul Hirschson, spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained how the confusion arose: ‘The vast majority of people arrived in Israel before South Sudan existed. We’ve been working very closely with South Sudan to identify who is South Sudanese,’ he said, adding that it is the South Sudanese government’s responsibility to issue identity and travel documentation, not Israel’s.
‘This is not an easy process,’ Hirschson said, ‘it is a very difficult one that Israel is trying to address with as much sensitivity as possible.’
Failing international standards
‘There have been cases of confusion of persons from Nuba Mountains and Darfurians considered as from South Sudan who had their visas taken away’- UNHCRUNHCR has voiced concerns over Israel’s immigration policy. The agency stresses there have been no official deportations and removals are technically voluntary. But it also notes that many have been told to leave or they will be imprisoned.
Recent changes have improved the situation, including the recent arrival of a delegation from South Sudan to assist the process, the agency added.
Still, there are concerns about the removal of people to South Sudan. ‘The return taking place from Israel to South Sudan does not meet UNHCR standards outlined in the formulated UNHCR Guidelines for voluntary return,’ Deck said. Several NGOs report that children have been imprisoned in unsuitable conditions, people are given insufficient time to make preparations, and some are imprisoned despite having signed up to ‘voluntary departure’.
‘We’re implementing the Refugee Convention to the letter, more than almost any other country in the world,’ said Hirschson.
South Sudanese in Israel
There are an estimated 1,500 South Sudanese in Israel, and around 12,000 Sudanese, according to the Israeli government.
Asylum seekers and refugees from South Sudan had been being registered under long-term temporary visas with collective protection. Now the government has deemed South Sudan safe it can potentially send people back to the country.
This is a concern for Deck. ‘There are some South Sudanese that have been in Israel over five years and their children’s only language is Hebrew – and they are forced to depart as the parents no longer have a Convention-related protection concern in South Sudan. The long-term application of temporary protection for this group has enabled Israel avoid the recognition of individuals as refugees and provide a durable solution for them and their families.’
A familiar problem
African migrant are an issue of concern for the Israeli government. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs there are approximately 60,000-65,000 illegal immigrants in Israel. Of those two thirds, around 42,000-52,000, come from Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan – countries which Israel cannot repatriate citizens to.
Israel has previously faced a similar situation with Eritreans, who enjoy collective protection status. However, Israeli media have reported that the government have been using a loophole to allow for some deportations. In 2003 Ethiopia passed a law granting citizenship to anyone whose mother or father was an Ethiopian citizen. This is true of many Eritreans given that the countries split in 1993. The rule change allowed the Israeli government to deport Eritreans to Ethiopia, claiming that they could obtain citizenship there.
More recently, interior minister Eli Yishai is quoted in Israeli newspaper Haaretz responding to last month’s court order, which opened the door for the removal of South Sudanese migrants. He is quoted as saying he ‘hopes this is the first step in a series of measures allowing us to deport [migrants] from Eritrea and North Sudan’.
However the Ministry of Foreign Affairs categorically rejects the notion it is using vagueness around nationalities to allow for the removal of some Sudanese and Eritreans to South Sudan and Ethiopia respectively.
The UK situation
When asked about the UK’s policy of deporting people to South Sudan a UK Border Agency spokesman said ‘We are working closely with the new South Sudanese Government to enable returns to South Sudan, but decisions are always made on a case by case basis.’
In the UK, refugee status is granted for a period of five years. After this time, status is reviewed by the UK Border Agency. UNHCR in the UK is not aware of any cases of those with South Sudanese nationality whose refugee status in the UK has been revoked.
A spokesperson from UNHCR UK went on to say: ‘There is quite a high number of persons originating from South Sudan who remain outside of the country and who have yet to have their nationality ascertained. If possible, they should approach the South Sudanese embassy to obtain the required documentation.’
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