The ICC Decides to Investigate War Crimes in West Bank and Gaza

The International Criminal Court at The Hague
The International Criminal Court at The Hague

As Israel moves toward its third round of elections in less than a year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is desperate to find a way to hold on to power. More than vain self-interest motivates him now, as he hopes that being a sitting (and re-confirmed) prime minister will make it impossible for him to be tried, convicted, and eventually jailed for the corrupt dealings with which he has been charged.

Netanyahu was doubtless overjoyed to hear that the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague has decided there was sufficient cause to investigate whether war crimes had been committed by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over past five and a half years. The announcement provided him with exactly the kind of target he likes best, one that allows him to claim that Israel is being singled out, persecuted, held to an unfair standard, and all because of antisemitism.

That assertion is absurd on its face, and hardly worth examining. Israel’s human rights record is open for all to see, and it’s not pretty. Moreover, the ICC isn’t investigating Israel; it is investigating the conflict in the occupied territories, and that investigation includes all parties involved. That’s just one of several key points that need to be understood regarding the ICC investigation. Read more at Responsible Statecraft

Pompeo Unveils Dangerous US Approach to Israeli Settlements

In the latest reversal of long-standing United States policy in the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared this week that Washington no longer views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “inconsistent with international law.”

Pompeo framed the decision as a “reversal” of Obama administration policy. He said, “[Former] Secretary [of State John] Kerry changed decades of this careful bipartisan approach by publicly reaffirming the supposed illegality of settlements,” referring to a December 2016 resolution in the United Nations Security Council that termed the settlements illegal, which President Barack Obama permitted to pass by abstaining from the vote.

But in fact, Obama had been more tolerant of Israeli settlement than his predecessors. While he talked more often about their being an obstacle to peace, that abstention was the only time in his eight years in office that Obama had allowed a U.N. resolution critical of Israel to pass. By contrast, George W. Bush permitted six UNSC resolutions to which Israel objected to pass. Ronald Reagan permitted twenty.

Obama even vetoed a UNSC resolution whose text was almost verbatim U.S. policy, causing himself quite a bit of embarrassment in the international arena. On another occasion, Israel announced a new and highly controversial settlement in East Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was in the country. The administration’s reaction was to do a reading of standard talking points and move on.

Distorting Obama’s record affects more than the president’s legacy. It increases the distortion of politics around Israel and its occupation. Obama emphasized actual Israeli security needs, which, in his view, included finding an agreement with the Palestinians, and lowering the temperature between Israel (and Saudi Arabia) and Iran. Trump has focused on crowd-pleasing, grandiose gestures like moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem a move that eliminated any possibility of diplomacy with the Palestinians; or leaving the Iran nuclear deal, which aggravated tensions with Iran, thereby making the environment considerably less secure for Israel. Much like the neoconservative strategies of the early part of the century, casting those who pursue diplomacy as a threat to security allows hawks to get away with making the region less secure for everyone. Read more at LobeLog

Bolton’s Firing Undermines Netanyahu In Several Ways

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a very disappointing day on Tuesday. Struggling in the polls a week before the rerun of April’s Israeli national

elections, the embattled prime minister was desperate for something to swing a chunk of voters in his direction, or at least in the direction of some of the right wing parties supporting him.

To that end, Netanyahu scheduled a press conference to announce some big development, and as the hour of his appearance neared, the word was that it was going to be that the Trump administration had agreed to Netanyahu’s plan to annex major pieces of the West Bank. Netanyahu appeared and quickly said that if he won the election, he would immediately annex the Jordan Valley, which constitutes around 30% of the West Bank (excluding Jerusalem) and about 60% of Area C, the part of the West Bank that was left under full Israeli control in the Oslo Accords (see adjacent map). He further implied that more annexation would follow, as a result of negotiations with the United States (not the Palestinians, of course) that would be held in the framework of Donald Trump’s fabled “Deal of the Century.” Read more at LobeLog

Poll: Support For One-State Solution Growing

A poll conducted in September and October shows a growing acceptance by the American public of a single, democratic state for all Israelis and Palestinians. This position is considered anathema in much of the United States and certainly on Capitol Hill.

Yet according to the University of Maryland’s latest critical issues poll, 35 percent of Americans support a single, democratic state with equal rights for all as compared to 36 percent who still support the two-state solution. This parallels a low point in both Israeli and Palestinian support for two states. A joint Palestinian-Israeli poll released in August showed that only 43 percent of each side still supported the two-state program.

These results clearly demonstrate that the idea of a single, democratic state in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza is within the mainstream of American opinion. Read more at LobeLog

False Confession, Misleading Headline: That’s Occupation

The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, is widely seen as Israel’s lone mainstream left-of-center daily. It has a low circulation inside Israel, but its English edition is read much more widely by Israel observers outside of the Middle East. It has even been called “The New York Times of Israel.”

That’s why it’s important to draw attention when it stumbles.

In a story published on Tuesday, Haaretz reported on the Israeli military’s claim that 15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi, a Palestinian youth whose cousin, Ahed has recently become a cause celebre for opponents of Israel’s occupation around the world, got his devastating skull injuries not from Israeli fire but from falling off his bike.

Haaretz’s reporting on the claim was solid. They faithfully relayed the claim made by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and reported on all the evidence that demonstrated that Mordechai was, to put it plainly, lying. Haaretz reported that eyewitness testimony corroborated the shooting of young Mohammed and, “Haaretz has also seen Tamimi’s CAT scan and images of the bullet fractures removed from his skull.”

But the headline, which remained up even after Haaretz published a piece by Amira Hass attacking the COGAT for the fabrication, read simply, “Israeli Army: Tamimi’s Teen Cousin Admits Head Wounds Not Caused by Bullet, but by Bike Crash.”

This is not the fault of the Haaretz reporter, Yotam Berger, who wrote a solid piece that clearly met journalistic standards, but of the editors, who wrote the headline and allowed it to stand. The editors might argue that the sub-headline—“Israeli army claims Mohammed Tamimi’s injury is ‘fake news,’ but medical documents, eyewitness accounts and images of bullet removed from his head obtained by Haaretz challenge account”—mitigates the main one. But this is just not good enough. Many people only see headlines, whether because they’re just skimming the news or because it flies by them on social media. Anyone who’s worked in print news knows the headline tells the story for the masses.

Surely the editors of Haaretz are aware of this, just as they are aware that, ever since the video of Ahed Tamimi slapping an Israeli soldier went viral, the Israeli government has done all it can to persecute and punish the entire Tamimi family and to paint a false image of itself as the victim of a clever, far-fetched, and elaborate plot to “discredit” the occupying army. In that context, the irresponsibility of this headline is even more acute.

A Forced Confession

Ahed Tamimi’s lawyer, Gaby Lasky, posted a statement on Facebook explaining how it was that Mohammed, more than two months after he was shot, suddenly “confessed” to his cover-up (my thanks to Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service for his translation).

15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi was plucked from bed in the middle of the night and arrested despite the serious head injury he sustained as a result of IDF gunfire shortly before the incident in which his cousin was placed in custody. Although the police were aware of his medical condition, including the fact that he’s due to undergo a major operation to reconstruct his skull next week, he was interrogated without the presence of a parent or an adult sitting in on his behalf.

Now, an IDF Major-General, the Coordinator of Operations in the Territories, Yoav (Poli) Mordechai, cynically exploits this weird investigation that should not have taken place, and declares that the boy admitted that he was injured while riding a bicycle. The question needs to be asked: what kind of miserable, incompetent set-up of an interrogation causes a frightened kid to say he fell off a bicycle.

This use by a general in the IDF illustrates how far the authorities are prepared to go in order to hit out at Mohammad and Ahed Tamimi. And if it was not clear until now, it is now clear that the military system cannot provide Ahed a fair trial and she therefore must be released immediately.

The story gains even more significance given that the shooting of Mohammed Tamimi occurred during the same protest that his cousin Ahed slapped the Israeli soldier. Ahed’s daily anger and frustration at living under the harsh conditions of military occupation, as she has all her life, was no doubt compounded by the protest, the army’s violent reaction, and, much more than that, the shooting of her cousin. All of this explains why Israel is so defensive and frightened of the image the young woman projects that a general would be tempted to lie in such a big, and, as B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli put it, “easily debunked” way.

Mohammed is facing surgery in a week, and one look at him shows that he is dealing with some awful burdens for anyone, let alone one so young. In the middle of the night, soldiers shot tear gas into his home and sprayed foul-smelling liquid all around it, and dragged him, along with nine others, out to be arrested and interrogated. Surrounded by soldiers with rifles, under those conditions, not knowing how long the Israelis would hold him—would he even be released in time for his upcoming surgical appointment or would he be held indefinitely, like his cousin, despite his serious medical condition?—Mohammed told them what they wanted to hear.

The COGAT leapt at the chance to undermine the defense of Mohammed’s cousin. He was, though, a little too eager, not realizing that the forced confession wasn’t going to stand up credibly against the existing objective evidence.

Can the Media Do Better?

Anyone who has followed the day-to-day operation of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank cannot be shocked by the COGAT’s behavior. As appalling as this story is, nothing about it is all that unusual, though it’s important not to become de-sensitized to the crimes and horrors that are the inevitable result of holding millions of people without rights for decades.

But so-called “liberal” media outlets like Haaretz can and must do better. It is to the newspaper’s credit that it printed Amira Hass’ piece not long after the piece by Berger that they headlined so badly. It is to its credit that the offending headline topped an article that was an otherwise fine piece of journalism that simply and dispassionately relayed the facts.

Haaretz’s editor-in-chief Aluf Benn and the rest of the editorial staff know the importance of headlines, and they had to know that this headline was misleading. I will not speculate as to why the article was headlined as it was, nor why the headline remains there as of this writing.

But the occupation’s story is as contested as any on the planet. The cases of Ahed and Mohammed Tamimi have been fought with propaganda as much as with slaps, military invasions ,and legal chicanery. The media in Israel has been under siege for years, especially under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who may finally be paying a price for his attempts to stifle the semi-free press that Israel has traditionally allowed under military censorship.

No outlet is as important in this regard as Haaretz. When people who aren’t necessarily immersed in the issues of Israel, Palestine, and the occupation see a headline like that one in the liberal Haaretz, it has a strong impact. It informs their view when they hear an argument about whether the Tamimis are trying to defame the Israeli military or if the military is simply clamping down on some uppity Palestinian teens.

The newspaper that provides, for better or for worse, a view of the events of the occupation that puts truth above any defense of the government has got to do better than this.