Protecting the latest freedom flotilla

Stuart Littlewood

MEMO to the brave nations uniting to defend civilians in Libya…

Are any of you willing to protect the unarmed humanitarians sailing with latest freedom flotilla to Gaza?

The European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ECESG) has issued a press release to remind everyone that what promises to be the largest flotilla yet, comprising 15 ships carrying passengers from 12 European states as well as Latin America, Africa, Asia, Canada and the United States, is due to sail for Gaza in late May.

Passengers will include hundreds of peace advocates, including parliamentarians and human rights activists, and representatives of more than 40 media institutions.

These decent people face Israeli snipers and attack dogs

Campaign organisers say that Israel has responded by threatening to once again use deadly force to stop the flotilla, including snipers and attack dogs. According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Israeli Defense Forces chief-of-staff Gabi Ashkenazi has warned that “if the IDF is faced with a similar situation in the future, there may be no alternative to deploying snipers to minimize troop casualties.”

The Jerusalem Post reports that the IDF will deploy attack dogs from its Oketz canine units.

The release says Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, is summoning foreign diplomats to Jerusalem to urge them to work with Israel to stop the flotilla from taking place. According to the Irish Times, he justified his call for co-operation by claiming the flotilla would violate international law.

“There is nothing in international law that supports Israel’s four-year-long
blockade of Gaza, or its attacks on humanitarian shipments in international
waters,” says the campaigners’ spokesman Rami Abdo.

Funny how HMS Cumberland and HMS York magically appeared in the
Mediterranean during the Libyan crisis to protect the victims of Qaddafi. HMS York unloaded tons of medical supplies and other humanitarian aid for the Benghazi Medical
Centre. Where were these ships when British nationals on the Mavi Marmara and the Dignity and other vessels were being assaulted in international waters and terrorized by Israeli thugs, abducted and thrown in their stinking jails?

Why weren’t they bringing life-saving aid to Gaza’s hospitals after Israel’s indiscriminate ‘Cast Lead’ blitzkrieg on innocent civilians?

Israel still bombs, strafes and blockades Palestinians in Gaza with impunity on a daily basis, so when the Libyan crisis dies down can we expect to see HMS York load up with more supplies and sail for the Gaza Strip, along with the rest of the NATO fleet, where the humanitarian crisis continues unabated?

I have asked my MP to find out what the British Government is planning to do to safeguard British subjects (and indeed the other humanitarians) sailing with this latest flotilla on its peaceful mission to Gaza. Do ministers agree, I wanted to know, that the Cumberland and York should be made available to escort the mercy mission and protect it from Israeli psychopaths, who have amply demonstrated their eagerness to resort to lethal force and total lack of civilised restraint?

Of course, one letter isn’t enough. A thousand may not be enough. Let’s hit all MPs and MEPs in Europe with an avalanche demanding that they discover their backbone and do the right and honourable thing by the Palestinians in Gaza.

Deeply committed to UN Resolutions 1970 and 1973 but what about 194 and 242?

Tomorrow 40 foreign ministers from all over descend on London for a summit chaired by William Hague to:

  • Strengthen and broaden the international community’s commitment to implementing UNSCRs 1970 and 1973 [a no-fly zone and another jolly bombing-fest].
  • Reaffirm the importance of urgent humanitarian assistance…
  • Call for a political process which helps create the conditions in which the people of Libya can chose their own future.

What a pity they aren’t as passionately committed to UN Resolutions 194, 242 and all the other solemn pronouncements that they signed up to but Israel still defies.

It’s certainly a busy week in London. On Wednesday the Chatham House think-tank. aka the Royal Institute of International Affairs, holds a conference on the theme ‘Sixty Years of British-Israeli Diplomatic Relations’. One of the agenda items asks ‘Are we there yet? 60 years of bilateral relations and the search for common ground’.

Common ground???

President of the delinquent entity, Shimon Peres, is attending and Hague will be there to deliver a keynote speech and no doubt stand guard over Mr Peres to ensure he is not slapped with a universal jurisdiction arrest warrant.

Stuart Littlewood

Stuart Littlewood

Stuart Littlewood is an industrial marketing specialist turned writer-photographer. In 2005 he was invited to write and shoot pictures for a book about the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. ‘Radio Free Palestine’ was published in 2007. For details please see www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.

  • The Author is a regular contributor to RamallahOnline.com. Find more Articles by Stuart Littlewood on RamallahOnline.

Shot in the Head: Giffords, Hurndall and Palestinian Children

Gaza June 2010 - Israeli snipers arriving in jeeps

Alison Weir, 14 Jan 2011

There is something particularly horrifying when someone is shot in the head. Perhaps it’s the gruesome image, the destruction of the brain, the clear intent to kill. The recent shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is made even more nightmarish by the location of her devastating injury.

Those of us who focus on Israel-Palestine are acutely aware of this horror.

Several years ago, I was researching the cause of death of Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces during the first months of the Second Intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation. As I counted up the numbers, I was chilled to discover that the single most frequent cause of death in those beginning months was “gunfire to the head.”

In the past 10 years Israeli forces have killed at least 255 Palestinian minors by fire to the head, and the number may actually be greater, since in many instances the specific bodily location of the lethal trauma is unlisted. In addition, this statistic does not include the many more Palestinian youngsters shot in the head by Israeli soldiers who survived, in one form or another.

Below is a small sampling of those who died. (The term IDF stands for “Israeli Defense Forces,” although these forces are, in reality, an occupation army and are almost always deployed offensively; the incidents below took place on Palestinian territory):

Sami, 12, died of head wounds from IDF gunfire during a demonstration. Abdul, 9, was killed by IDF gunfire to his head during a funeral. Ala, 14, died of head wounds from IDF gunfire while on the terrace of his home one hour after injuring an Israeli soldier with a stone. Omar, 11, died of head wounds from IDF gunfire during a demonstration. Diya, 3 months, was killed, along with her older brother, by Israeli settler gunfire to her head and back. Bara, 10, was killed by IDF gunfire to his head while near his home. Ayman, 15, was killed by IDF tank fire to his head while farming. Khalil, 11, was killed by IDF tank fire to his head while playing with a friend. Rami, 13, was killed by IDF helicopter fire to his head while playing in front of his house. Yaser, 11, died of head wounds from an IDF rubber-coated bullet fired at close range during a demonstration…(1)

Imagine if these names were Bobby… Michael… Susan… Melissa… Jimmy…and that the foreign troops killing them were invading Arizona, Connecticut, Ohio…

I remember seeing one little brain-dead boy when I was in Gaza in February of 2001; long before any rockets had been fired out of this already assaulted enclave. It’s not a sight you forget, regardless of the name or nationality.

A 2009 article in the UK Telegraph entitled “Bullets in the brain, shrapnel in the spine: the terrible injuries suffered by children of Gaza,” investigated a situation in which doctors at a hospital near Gaza were “almost overwhelmed by the number of Palestinian children needing treatment for bullet wounds to their heads.” (2)

The article began: “On just one day last week staff at the El-Arish hospital in Sinai were called to perform sophisticated CAT brain scans on a nine-year-old, two 10-year-olds and a 14-year-old – each of whom had a bullet still lodged in their brain, after coming under fire during the Israeli ground assault on Gaza.”

Asked about the nature of these shootings, a physician replied:

“I can’t precisely decide whether these children are being shot at as a target, but in some cases the bullet comes from the front of the head and goes towards the back, so I think the gun has been directly pointed at the child.”

Israeli soldiers in a group called “Breaking the Silence” have provided chilling testimonies about Israeli military culture; the titles alone tell a great deal. Following are a few:

“The battalion commander ordered us to shoot anyone trying to remove the bodies”, “The commander of the navy commandos put the muzzle of the rifle into the man’s mouth”, “They told us to shoot at anybody moving in the street”, “You can do whatever you feel like, nobody is going to question it.” (3)

Another person shot in the head by Israeli forces was 21-year-old Tom Hurndall. The anniversary of his death is this week.  Hurndall, a student and photographer, had wanted to “make a difference” with his life. In 2003 he went to Gaza to join the nonviolence movement against Israeli aggression and to photograph what he saw.(4)

On April 11th he was nearby when a group of children who had been playing suddenly came under Israeli rifle fire. Most of the children fled, but three, aged four to seven, froze with fear. Hurndall dashed over, rushed one small boy to safety and returned for two little girls. Just as he was reaching to lift one up, an Israeli sniper shot him in the head.

Despite the urgency of his injury, Israeli officials delayed his transport to specialized medical care for over two and a half hours. A British television crew in the area filmed a powerful on-the-scene report that was aired on England’s Channel 4 (5) but has never, to my knowledge, been shown on American television. Tom remained in a vegetative state for nine months, finally dying on Jan. 13t, 2004.

From the end of 2002 to the spring of 2003, Israeli forces killed four internationals and shot another in the face. One of the dead was a UN official, Iain Hook. As with Hurndall, Israeli forces retarded efforts to provide critical medical care. (6) Another was filmmaker James Miller, who had been waving a white flag. He was shot in the throat. (7)

Two recent non-Palestinian victims shot in the head, in this case by high velocity tear gas canisters, are 37-year-old Tristan Anderson  (8) and 21-year-old Emily Henochowicz. (9) Both have survived, Emily without an eye and Tristan in a wheelchair. Part of his right frontal lobe has been removed, he is partially paralyzed, blind in one eye, and it is unclear to what degree his cognitive abilities will return. After shooting him at close range, Israeli forces twice delayed his ambulance to a hospital.

It is difficult to know how many of the 45,000 Palestinian men, women, and children killed or injured by Israeli forces since September 29, 2000 (10) have been shot in the head. Quite likely the number is staggering. Former Yale professor and author Mazin Qumsiyeh describes one:

[Mohammed] was 12 years old when Israeli soldiers shot him in the head with a rubber coated steel bullet, fragmenting his skull and damaging part of his brain. Ten years later, Israeli army officers severely beat and tortured him.  He got married… the young couple received a blessing in the form of a donation of a very small plot of land from their uncle and they built a humble one room house… they lived in this house for 3 years…Then the Israeli army demolished the home saying that it was built without permit (Israel gave no permits for any houses in the village since the occupation began in 1967.)  The family rebuilt the house but Israeli threats forced them to not live in it (Israel wants also some NIS 20,000 for the cost of destroying the home and wants to levy other fines on the family.)  So the young family came to live in a small dwelling underground… (11)

A Dec. 23rd news story by the International Middle East Middle Center mentions another:

“After being brought to the hospital, 22-year old Salamah Abu Hashish succumbed to his wounds. He had been shot in the back by Israeli troops stationed at the border. Another of the victims was a 14-year old boy who was critically injured when he was shot in the head while collecting rubble near where Abu Hashish was tending his sheep.” (12)

The stories go on and on.

Gabrielle Giffords

Ironically, the American Congresswoman recently so tragically shot in the head has been extremely close to the Israel lobby, which has played a critical role in enabling the tragedies sketched above. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) works year after year to ensure that the approximately $7-8 million per day of American tax to Israel (13) keeps flowing regardless of how many civilians its troops kill. (14)

Giffords has been known as “a safe pro-Israel vote in the House” (15) and could be counted on to support AIPAC’s various initiatives to shield Israel from negative consequences for its ruthless and illegal use of American weaponry. (16)

She called a 2001 visit to Israel a turning point in her life (Israeli forces killed 103 children that year, 31 of them shot in the head) and wrote in 2006 (a year in which Israeli forces killed 665 Palestinians, 139 of them children, and Palestinians killed 23 Israelis, two of them children) that “the United States must do everything possible to secure Israel’s long-term security.” (17) Palestinian victims – killed first and in far greater numbers – seem to have been invisible to her. (18)

Giffords, of course, wasn’t the only victim of the Tucson shooting; 14 were injured and six were killed. It is deeply saddening to read about the dead and to imagine the unending grief for their survivors. (19) It is particularly difficult to view the sweet, smiling picture of nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, knowing that her bright life is no longer before her.

It is equally tragic to read of nine-year-old Akaber, killed by Israeli gunfire to her head while riding in her uncle’s car to get medical stitches removed, and of the 29 other nine-year-olds killed by Israeli forces in the past decade, eight of them by Israeli gunfire to the head.

It is too late for Akabar, Diya, Mohammed, Tom, and the multitude of others. But there is hope that Gabrielle Giffords is going to survive. Let us pray that she recovers fully, that she is able to return to Congress, and that she then works to prevent others – including Palestinians – from being shot in the head.

We have better uses for our money than to fund atrocities.

- Alison Weir is President of the Council for the National Interest and Executive Director of If Americans Knew, which has produced posters and cards for people to disseminate in commemoration of the seventh anniversary of Tom Hurndall’s killing and about Palestinian children, (which contain a picture of the Gaza boy she saw). Contact her at: alisonweir@ifamericansknew.org and visit: http://ifamericansknew. (This article was first published in Counter Punch: www.counterpunch.org)

Notes:

1. Remember These Children. Since Sept 29, 2000 Israeli forces have killed at least 1,452 Palestinian children; Palestinians have killed 124 Israeli children. Every single one of these deaths is a tragedy.  91 Palestinian children were killed before any Israeli children were killed.

2. “Bullets in the brain, shrapnel in the spine: the terrible injuries suffered by children of Gaza,” The Telegraph, Jan. 2009.

3. “The Darkness to Expel! Israeli soldiers’ book ‘Breaking the Silence’ describes ‘routine’ oppression,” The Missing Headlines, Uri Avnery, Dec. 27, 2010.

4. Section with articles on Tom Hurndall, If Americans Knew website.

5. “Dispatches: The Killing Zone,”  Sandra Jordan and Rodrigo Vasquez, UK Channel 4, May 19, 2003.

6. “Israel’s killing of British citizen Iain Hook, UNRWA’s Project Manager in Jenin
Caoimhe Butterly as told to Annie Higgins writing from Jenin Refugee Camp,” Live from Palestine, 22 November 2002.

7. “Film-maker’s death ‘was murder’,” BBC News, April 4, 2006.

8. “Facts about Tristan”. http://justicefortristan.org

9. “EXCLUSIVE…Emily Henochowicz Speaks Out: Art Student Who Lost Her Eye After Being Shot by Israeli Tear Gas Canister in West Bank Protest Discusses Her Life, Her Art, and Why She Plans to Return,” Democracy Now, Aug 5, 2010.

10. If Americans Knew website, from B’Tselem and Remember These Children.

11. “The Story of a Palestinian Shot in the Head with a Rubber-Coated Steel Bullet by Israeli Occupation Soldiers,” Mazin Qumsiyeh, Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, September 20, 2010.

12. “Shepherd killed; 3 injured in Northern Gaza,” IMEMC, Dec. 23, 2010.

13. “U.S. Military Aid and the Israel/Palestine Conflict,” If Americans Knew, from Congressional Research Service reports; “$3.4b in US military aid delayed: US military aid to Israel in 2011 is due to be largest amount Israel has ever received,” Globes Israel’s Business Arena, December 26, 2010.  http://www.globes.co.il.

14. “The Israel Lobby,” London Review of Books, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, March 23, 2006.

15. “Gabrielle Giffords Shot in the Head,” The Forward, Jan 8, 2011.

16. “Israel Violates Law on U.S. Weapons in Mideast,” IPS, Jan 17, 2006.

17. AIPAC Facebook post, Jan. 9, 2011, 3:35 pm.

“A Tribe of Candidates Leads Drive To Retake House for Democrats,” The Forward, Sept. 22, 2006: “…Several candidates who spoke with the Forward did say that they would be strong advocates for Israel in Congress. This is ‘an opportunity to send someone to Congress who’s going to work for Israel,’ Giffords told the Forward…”

18. B’Tselem – Israeli Information Center for Human Rights. http://www.btselem.org/

If Americans Knew. http://ifamericansknew.org.

19. “Thumbnail sketches of those shot in Arizona,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jan. 11, 2011. http://www.ajc.com.

Al-Qaeda’s Suspect Humanitarianism

800px-Pakistan_2010_Floods

Maidhc Ó Cathail, 6 Oct 2010

Is bin Laden’s concern for flood victims a ruse to destabilise Pakistan?

We seek him here, we seek him there,

Those Yankees seek him everywhere.

Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell?

That damned, elusive bin Laden

If we are to believe the Associated Press, that demmed elusive Osama bin Laden has spoken again.

According to the world’s oldest and largest newsgathering organization, the fugitive al-Qaeda leader, who some intelligence experts believe has been dead since December 2001, has just released an audiotape in which he calls for the creation of a new relief body to help Muslims affected by this summer’s devastating floods in Pakistan. Bin Laden, AP suggests, is “seeking to exploit discontent … by depicting the region’s governments as uncaring.”

Seemingly unfazed by news of the CIA’s 3,000-strong Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams hot on its trail, al-Qaeda has, in recent weeks, according to the AP report, put out three messages, including the one featuring bin Laden, concerning the massive floods that affected around 20 million people in Pakistan, “signaling a concentrated campaign by the terror group to tap into anger over the flooding to rally support.”

AP’s sole source for the 11-minute tape, with the oddly contemplative title “Reflections on the Method of Relief Work,” is SITE Intelligence Group. The U.S.-based group, which purportedly “monitors jihadi forums,” provided AP with a copy of the message that it claims was posted on unnamed “Islamic militant websites.”

There are questions, however, about whether SITE Intelligence is the most objective source of information about terrorism.

SITE co-founder Rita Katz, an Israeli Defense Forces veteran, is an Iraqi-born Jew, whose father was publicly hanged in Iraq after the 1967 Six-Day War as an Israeli spy. Considering Tel Aviv’s obvious interest in having the world’s only superpower fight a “global war on terror” against the Jewish state’s Muslim neighbours, it somehow never occurred to Associated Press, or other mainstream media outlets, to ask the question, Like father, like daughter?

Moreover, there are reasonable grounds for suspicion about al-Qaeda’s other pronouncements on the floods in Pakistan.

In a recent video, presumably also found online by Rita Katz’s SITE, al-Qaeda’s California-born spokesman, Adam Gadahn, castigated Islamabad for its “sluggish and halfhearted” response to the floods, and called on Muslims in Pakistan to join the Islamist militants fighting the government.

Gadahn, who has since 2001 run al-Qaeda’s media wing, As-Sahab, found his way to the Islamic Society of Orange County while living with his grandfather, Carl Pearlman, a board member of the Anti-Defamation League. Ostensibly a civil rights organization set up to fight anti-Semitism, the ADL is a de facto adjunct of the Israeli government which, significantly, has been caught spying on American critics of Israel. Like grandpa, like grandson?

In a previous video, Ayman al-Zawahiri, said to be al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, also incited Pakistanis to rise up against their government due to its “failure” to provide relief to flood victims.

But when Neal Krawetz, a researcher and computer security consultant, analysed a 2006 video of al-Zawahiri for alterations and enhancements, he discovered that the logos of As-Sahab and IntelCenter (the other group supposedly tracking terrorists online) had been added at the same time.

IntelCenter is run by Ben Venzke, former director of intelligence at iDefense, a VeriSign company. VeriSign is a partner of Verint, formerly known as Comverse Infosys, which was founded by former Israeli intelligence officer Jacob “Kobi” Alexander. In 2006, Alexander fled to Namibia after the U.S. Department of Justice indicted him on multiple counts of fraud. Comverse/Verint, one of a number of Israeli eavesdropping and surveillance companies created by veterans of Unit 8200, the technology intel unit of the Israeli Defense Forces Intelligence Corps, has been widely suspected of spying on Americans.

If, as seems likely, the al-Qaeda messages concerning this summer’s floods in Pakistan are fakes, they would seem to provide further evidence of an Israeli-inspired campaign to destabilise the world’s only Islamic nuclear power.

The question then becomes, what, if anything, Islamabad will do to counter such efforts before it too goes the way of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Maidhc Ó Cathail

Maidhc Ó Cathail

Maidhc Ó Cathail is a writer and educator. Born and raised in Ireland, he has been living in Japan since 1999. In addition to writing a monthly column for a popular Irish language magazine, his work is regularly published in Antiwar.com, Dissident Voice, Foreign Policy Journal, Khaleej Times, Pakistan Observer, Palestine Chronicle, Salem-News.com, Tehran Times, Veterans Today, RamallahOnline, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and many more. To read more of his writing, go to Maidhc Ó Cathail: Writing and Analysis.

A version of this article first appeared in Khaleej Times.