Monthly Archives: June 2010

Another IDF Claim Unravels: IDF Unable To Support Claim Of Terrorists Aboard Flotilla Ship

The IDF has distributed a press release claiming that it has evidence that five passengers on the Mavi Marmara were “active terror operatives.” The army’s claims appeared thin at best, and patently false at worst. When I called the IDF Spokesman’s Office to ask for evidence, I was told there was none; all of the IDF’s claims were attributed to “intelligence” it could not share with reporters.

“The information in the statement comes based on intelligence,” Army spokesman Sgt. Chen Arad told me. “I don’t have any further information I can give.”

I pressed Arad to at least describe the intelligence he had seen. “There is very limited intelligence information we can give in this specific case,” he said. “Obviously I’m unable to give you more information.” He referred me to a colleague at the IDF’s North American desk. She did not answer after numerous tries. I’m going to call again tomorrow; journalist Lia Tarachansky has also placed a call to a spokesman and yielded similar responses which I’ll transcribe here soon.

One of the most bizarre accusations the IDF made was that former American citizen and ex-Marine Ken O’Keefe was planning to “train a commando unit” in the Gaza Strip. That’s the same Ken O’Keefe who organized an aid boat to Gaza, Aloha Palestine, with the sister-in-law of Tony Blair, Lauren Booth. In recent days, O’Keefe has been a major presence in the international media, giving his account of the melee on the deck of Mavi Marmara. Why would Hamas want some middle aged American guy with no experience in guerilla warfare to train its elite forces? The answer is the IDF is probably trying to smear O’Keefe to discredit his withering assessment of their conduct during the flotilla raid. “All I saw in Israel was cowards with guns,” O’Keefe has declared.

Hussein Arosh was implicated by the IDF for allegedly planning to “assist in smuggling Al-Qaeda operatives via Turkey into the Strip.” This claim is highly implausible. Why would Hamas allow Al Qaida operatives into the Gaza Strip when it is actively engaged in crushing any Al Qaida sympathizers who crop up within the territory it controls. Last year, Hamas forces killed 21 members of an Al Qaida inspired group in a battle in the Gaza Strip.

Another unusual IDF accusation was that the US resident Fatimah Mahmadi is a terrorist because she is “an active member of the organization ‘Viva Palestine'” who “attempted to smuggle forbidden electronic components into the Gaza Strip.” (I think the IDF means Viva Palestina, not Viva Palestine). Viva Palestina is not registered as a terrorist group by any country in the world; it is the British parliamentarian George Galloway’s pro-Palestine outfit, which is planning to organize more aid convoys.

The IDF’s press release did not appear credible in any way. If any reporters from the Israeli press had bothered to call the IDF to demand evidence, they would have learned that there was none. At least in Israel, the media is serving as a useful tool for the army. Just look at this piece by Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer.

NY Times Lede Blog Surveys IDF’s Sea of Lies

NY Times Lede blogger Robert Mackey has cataloged some of the IDF’s most egregious fabrications and distortions and provided a gallery of new photos smuggled off the Mavi Marmara that blow the IDF’s version of events out of the water. Among the distortions Mackey mentioned was the doctoring of the now-notorious “Auschwitz” clip:

The second video is  a short clip of what the I.D.F. said were audio transmissions Israel’s navy received from the Mavi Marmara before the raid. The clip suggested that a polite request from the navy to the ship was met with responses from three people who said: “Shut up — go back to Auschwitz,” “We have permission from the Gaza Port Authority to enter,” and “We’re helping Arabs going against the U.S., don’t forget 9/11, guys.”

This clip, posted on the I.D.F.’s official YouTube channel on Friday, was met with immediate skepticism by some bloggers and journalists in Israel. Max Blumenthal pointed out in a post on his blog that the I.D.F. had already released  video of what seemed like the same exchange four days earlier in which the only reply from the ship was “Negative, negative. Our destination is Gaza. Our destination is Gaza.”

Mr. Blumenthal suggested that at least one of the voices making the inflammatory remarks in the clip “sounded like an impersonation of an Arab.” He also noted that Huwaida Arraf, one of the organizers of the flotilla, said that it was her voice saying “We have permission from the Gaza Port Authority to enter.” But Ms. Arraf was not on the Mavi Marmara, which suggested that the I.D.F. tape was not an unedited snippet of the exchange between the naval ship and the Mavi Marmara.

On Saturday, the I.D.F. published what it called a “Clarification/Correction” regarding the clip which said that the audio had been edited. The military’s statement insisted that the audio of the exchange was genuine, but had been condensed for clarity:

There have been questions regarding the authenticity of the recording as well as its attribution to a communication with the Mavi Marmara.

So to clarify: the audio was edited down to cut out periods of silence over the radio as well as incomprehensible comments so as to make it easier for people to listen to the exchange. We have now uploaded the entire segment of 5 minutes and 58 seconds in which the exchange took place and the comments were made.

This transmission had originally cited the Mavi Marmara ship as being the source of these remarks, however, due to an open channel, the specific ship or ships in the “Freedom Flotilla” responding to the Israeli Navy could not be identified….

The  longer clip, which the I.D.F. calls the “Unedited Radio Transmission Between Gaza Flotilla and Israeli Navy,” also includes the audio of the inflammatory statements, but since they are snippets of audio over a black screen, it is impossible to verify their authenticity.

Pro-IDF, Anti-Turkish Rally in Tel Aviv (or a Glimpse Into Collective Israeli Derangement)

On June 1, 2010, thousands of Israelis gathered spontaneously in front of the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv to demonstrate in support of the Israeli Naval commando unit that killed nine passengers on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish-backed boat from the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Egged on by the Israeli government and media, the demonstrators lashed out at Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his support of the Marmara, accusing him and passengers on the ship of terrorist ties. Besides with the massacre of Turkish aid workers, the spectacle of massive Israeli protests against Turkey threatens to permanently rupture Israel’s ties to its closest Muslim ally and further isolate the country on the world stage.

The rally provided a clear window into the mentality of many Israelis after the raid. International condemnation has deepened the public’s siege mentality, leading many demonstrators to claim that anti-Semitism best explained the world’s motives. The belief that the Mavi Marmara was a terrorist ship with support from an assortment of Islamic evildoers including Al Qaida was nearly unanimous, and was offered by rally participants as an excuse for their killing. Many viewed the incident in the shadow of the Holocaust, convinced that Marmara passengers had shouted at the commandos, “Go back to Auschwitz!”

Such convictions were understandable in light of the aggressive propaganda campaign the Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli Foreign Ministry have waged in the wake of the flotilla raid. The IDF has claimed that it discovered 40 “Al Qaeda mercenaries” on the Mavi Marmara and blasted out an audio clip purporting to show flotilla passengers proclaiming to the IDF, “Go back to Auschwitz!” Even though the IDF retracted its claim about Al Qaida operatives and was forced to concede that its “Auschwitz” audio clip was doctored, Israeli and American media outlets that reported the army’s claims have not corrected their stories. Consequently, many Israelis are accepting their government’s view without a second thought. As one demonstrator said, “I believe every word our soldiers. Every word!”

The rally was organized through Israeli Facebook groups and by the notoriously anti-Arab football club Betar Jerusalem. It was only one of many spontaneous outbursts of extreme nationalism that have erupted across Israel since the flotilla raid. Many participants in the rally remarked that they had not seen the public so thoroughly united behind the government in all their lives. As one demonstrator put it, “I’m very happy [about] what happened because it united the country, and not all the Israelis, all the Jewish [sic]; all united for a cause, and it’s against the civil war that we always had.”

Right-Wing Soccer Thugs Take Tel Aviv

Yesterday the Israeli communist party Hadash held a fairly large rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on the 43rd anniversary of the Occupation. They were joined by some liberal Zionist factions including the left of center Meretz party and the National Left movement, which is basically an astroturfed Peace Now initiative designed to project a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” veneer, a la J Street. The demonstration is an annual ritual for the beleaguered Israeli left, and though some participants waved Turkish flags in solidarity with the murdered passengers of the Mavi Marmara and many people had signs and shirts protesting the massacre, it was not a protest of the flotilla raid per se. You can see my video of last year’s Hadash protest here; it was characterized by pathetic pleas for Obama to save Israel from itself. No mention of the Messiah this year.

What made this year’s rally most distinct was the fact that it was virtually encircled by bands of right-wing fanatics, including many soccer thugs from the Israeli football club Betar Jerusalem. First, the thugs set off a smoke grenade in the middle of the rally (some participants wondered if the grenade would be real next year), then they assembled just outside Rabin Square to provoke demonstrators. Eventually, they spotted veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery and attacked him. I shot a few short videos that captured the atmosphere. And Noam Sheizaf has a good write-up at Promised Land. Here are my videos:

Later, the right-wingers poured out into the streets of Tel Aviv, antagonizing bystanders but also eliciting many favorable reactions. I am working on a video about the hyper-nationalist mood that has consumed Israel since the flotilla massacre; my footage provides a slight glimpse into the collective hysteria. More from Yedioth:

Following the leftist rally, dozens of rightists marched along Ibn Gvirol Street, one of Tel Aviv’s major thoroughfares, shouting at coffee shop goers: “Stinking Tel Avivians, get out of your bubble…While IDF soldiers are subjected to a lynching you remain indifferent – you’re traitors.”

Several physical clashes were reported between protestors and residents. Some coffee shop goers responded to the rightist activists, telling them to “go to hell” and referring to them as far-rightists who should “go back to the hole they crawled out of.’

Earlier, rightists spotted left-wing activist Uri Avnery going into a taxicab on Ibn Gvirol Street and charged at him, attempting to wrest away the signs he was holding. Police officers at the scene intervened and rushed Avnery away from the scene.