Israel, Zionism and the Media

Tag: IDF (Page 1 of 3)

Life: predictably unpredictable

So there I was watching my first child exit his mother’s birth canal in a hospital in Manchester.

Fast forward almost 27 years and I am sitting with my wife in Northern Israel watching that same child receive his beret on completion of his basic training in the IDF.

Roll back again to 1985. No, roll back to 1975.

I am sitting in a House for Jewish students in Liverpool playing chess at the beginning of my second year at University. New arrivals. A young woman with black hair in a fringe peers round the door of the lounge and says ‘hello’ and gives her name. I look up, mutter something, and return to my Ruy Lopez.

Now I know the whole story of how I got from moving my bishop to Knight 5 to the moment an officer rams a beret on my son’s head and I turn to my wife and we are both crying buckets. Not buckets of fear and anticipation, but of pride and a certain bewilderment.

For a few minutes we are Israelis. There are several hundred people pressed up behind us; parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. We are right at the front, a few feet from the action.

We stand for the Hatikvah, the national anthem. I manage the first two stanzas, then I am consumed with an indescribable sensation and my voice breaks. I fight back tears. I compose myself. I manage the last couple of stanzas with gusto.

To be a free people in our own land, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem

The ceremony ends.

Fast rewind 30 years.

During the 1980s I wasn’t much interested in Israel, or Jewish history, or, indeed, Judaism. Every attack on Israel was keenly felt, however. I was not Israel-neutral but I didn’t much like what was happening to Palestinians on the West Bank, I didn’t like settlements and I found not one Israeli leader that I could identify with. Those views still persist but I can now at least contextualise them.

Truth be told, although I believed in Israel’s right to exist and Jewish self-determination, I didn’t much like Israelis and I simply determined not to go their country until Israeli government policy changed.

I was a bit of a lefty. I still am someone with instinctive left-leaning views. I somehow have an urge to apologise for that. But I’ll demur. For now.

So what changed?

I educated myself. I read history. I learned. I abjured simplistic views of the conflict.

I eventually made my first trip in 1999 and all my preconceptions about arrogant Israelis were confirmed. I did not like the country.

Then, after more visits, I came to understand the culture better and I began to accept the rudeness, the bad driving and the chutzpah. I began the process of understanding that these few million insufferable Orientals were guaranteeing my escape route from future persecution. They were creating a new/old culture so complex and rich and controversial and noisy and wonderful – and against such incredible odds.

I eventually became comfortable not just with my Jewish identity but I came to understand that Israel is really a modern paradigm for the last 2000 years of Jewish history; always under attack, always threatened. Which other people live in constant fear that sooner or later they really will be wiped off the map?

Despite the vicissitudes of this existence over the millennia, and maybe because of it, the Jewish people have not just found ways to survive but also thrive, quite often achieving high levels of literacy, wealth and, where allowed, social status. They always achieved this despite frequent periods of persecution, expulsion and confiscation.

Israel has, since the days of the yishuv, the pre-state political entity, continued on this same path of achievement. But the difference is that with independence and self-determination Jews can, at last, defend themselves from the dark forces that persist in trying to destroy us.

So that indescribable feeling I experienced, which I mentioned before, that I felt as I watched my son receive his beret was due to all this history, all this collective experience, all the pride in his achievement and that of the young men we met that day. Pride in myself. Pride in my people. Secure in the belief and knowledge that, despite its imperfections, its internal problems, external aggression, existential threats, lies, propaganda and undiluted hatred, the despised country of a despised people was at its core strong, moral, determined and righteous.

And mixed with all these emotions was that bewilderment from the realisation that my wife and I were responsible. We were not here by chance. We had truly changed the world as all of us do. The accident of our meeting all those years ago resonates throughout our lives and the lives of our children. Of course, the same is true for our parents and their parents and back through the years and the decades and centuries. Each small act or decision or coincidence leads to everything we and those following us experience for good or ill.

So do not believe that you are not important. We all change the world, the present and the future every day. What we can never do is to predict where these choices will one day lead. We can only strive and hope they are mainly for the better.

Muslim Israeli soldiers and proud of it

H/T Elder of Ziyon

Hey, guess what, the Israeli army contains proud Israelis who are Muslim.

Who would have thought it.

That Apartheid system must be really bad for Muslim Bedouin to join up and be proud to serve.


I made a mistake in confusing Arab with Bedouin. As has been pointed out to me there are very few Arab Muslims in the IDF and those in this video are Bedouin.

Apparently, many Arabs want to serve but their leadeship prevents them.

From Guinean slave to Israeli soldier – the amazing story of Avi Be’eri

I have often written about the plural nature of Israeli society and how it confounds those who would label Israel an ‘apartheid’ state.

Look at this story in ynetNews of an Guinean whose original name was Ibrahim and who now considers himself as ‘a Jew in every way’.

He was sold to slave traders who smuggled him into Israel. How this worked or who benefited from his flight to Cairo and then into Israel via Eilat I cannot work out. I believe the person who had bought his air fare to Cairo expected him to send money back to Guinea. This is hardly slavery as we understand it but the obligation he felt and his fear of return were a kind of slavery.

However, he was never a slave. He found himself as an illegal in Tel Aviv and soon found other black Africans who advised him to apply for refugee status.

When this was turned down he was almost deported but a kind family took him in, sent him to school and eventually persuaded the authorities to give him Israeli citizenship. From there it was a short step to army service.

On Tuesday he is set to complete his officers’ course and will then be promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant. “I really do feel like someone who is making history,” he says with pride. “Who would have believed that I, who arrived in this country with nothing, sat in prison and was nearly deported, would become an IDF officer and serve at the IDF adjutancy helping Israelis integrate into the army?”

Please name any other country in the Middle East where such opportunities, especially for black Africans, are possible. In some Gulf states black Africans are literally slaves. Read this article about Saudi Arabia. In Libya, the vaunted rebels, are attacking black Africans indiscriminately because Gaddafi is using black African mercenaries.  See here an article in FrontPage Mag for a report on this behaviour.

Meanwhile Israel has been a haven for Somalis and Sudanese fleeing war and persecution.

As I have often said: so much for Israeli Apartheid.

Israel and the Palestinians – more hope through medicine

Further to my last post, the IDF has come out with a truly amazing statistic. Tamara Shavit reports:

Humanitarian dilemmas are a recurring issue in the Judea and Samaria region. A terrorist fires at IDF soldiers, is shot and gets wounded. Is an IDF medic to be called to treat him? A building is about to collapse in the heart of Ramallah. Does the IDF enter? Does it jeopardize its soldiers’ lives, or does it call the International Red Cross and risk losing precious time?

To Israel, the answer to these questions is clear. According to Division Medical Officer, Lt. Col. Michael Kassirer, “The treatment of the Palestinian population is first and foremost a moral and professional obligation for every one of us.” Do we treat them? There is no question about it. But what happens in the long run and how? Where do international organizations fit in? How will an independent Palestinian medical body be established and how does coordination between bodies happen in life? These are the real questions.

Shavit reports on a Palestinian doctor, Tawfik Nasr, who explained at a conference at the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem that, although the situation in Judea and Samaria has improved, there are many challenges due to accessibility problems and the ability to move freely from the West Bank into Israel.

But despite these difficulties, there are also many successes.” He cites as an example of patients coming from Gaza, treated in Jerusalem sometimes over a period of three to four months. They receive a special permit from the director allowing them to stay in Israel so they won’t have to go back and forth and are housed in a special hotel in the Mount of Olives. “All these things are ultimately coordinated by the Israeli Civil Administration. Therefore I want to take this opportunity to thank you. It is particularly important for me to express my deep gratitude to Dalia [Basa, the medical co-ordinator for the Territories], who is responsible for organizing everything.”

And here’s the statistic:

Last year, 180,000 Palestinian citizens entered Israel to receive treatment. 3,000 emergency patients were transferred from Israeli to Palestinian ambulances using the “back to back” method, without warning.

So much for genocide.

Hisham Abu Varia – Israeli soldier

I was alerted to this YnetNews article by pro-Israel Bay Bloggers. The original article can be found here.

The soldier in question is a Muslim Arab Israeli.

What’s more, he comes from a very pro-Hizbullah, Arab town, Sakhnin. Where, evidently, Israel allows its citizens to demonstrate their support of the enemy.

Despite the obvious social repercussions of his actions, he was determined from an early age to serve his country.

Lt. Hisham abu Varia appears to understand very well that Israel is his country and he and other Arabs should strive to improve it and themselves.

“The army is the entry pass into the Israeli society,” Hisham explains. “The Arab sector thinks it’s second rate here, but to get privileges one has to give and not just receive. The state protects its citizens even if they don’t serve – my parents live off income support. You must contribute to the country you live off. What other country would have an Arab Knesset member, who is being paid by the state, promoting the interests of the Islamic movement and screwing the promotion of the sector it is supposed to represent?”

This brave young man has managed to see beyond the Arab victimhood narrative and learn for himself.

He received his  BA in Hebrew and Middle Eastern Studies. He has learned about Judaism and even lectured on it. This is some guy, no?

And to top it all he took a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau where he prayed in Arabic and ‘asked G-d to have mercy on the victims’.

I kept asking myself where was everyone? Where was the United States, the Arab countries? If the Germans had won the Arabs would have been murdered as well. I saw the photos of the victims and felt part of them. There was a Holocaust survivor with us who showed us where she was raped, where all her family had been murdered before her very eyes. She cried and we cried with her. It was a life altering visit.”

Now he is working for his Master’s in anthropology. I’m sure he’ll get it.

Surely Hisham’s story demonstrates that Arabs can integrate and become valuable members of Israeli society, taking advantage of  opportunities and becoming better educated and informed so that they can ensure fair treatment and be equipped to meet discrimination head-on.

And just as importantly, they can tell their fellow Arabs the truth about Israeli and Jewish history.

People like Hisham show us that there is yet hope for peace, reconciliation and mutual respect and recognition in Israel and a future Palestine.

*picture credit YnetNews

Panorama – Death in the Med – credit where credit is due

When I saw that Panorama, one of the BBC’s longest running investigative programmes, was being fronted by Jane Corbin, I was not sure that Israel would get a fair hearing. The last time I saw Ms Corbin in action on this programme was to report on evictions and demolitions in Jerusalem which ultimately failed to deliver a lot of context.

This time Corbin managed to tell the Israeli side for a change and also interviewed key players on the IHH side. The IHH being a Turkish humanitarian organisation that behaved in anything but a humanitarian way and has links to Islamist groups, including Al Qaeda. There are calls for its being proscribed in the USA and Europe.

The programme did an excellent job of piecing together video into a timeline. This was interspersed with interviews of IDF soldiers who actually took part, received injuries and fired on their attackers.

Interviews with the IHH were predictably disingenuous, representing their actions as defensive and claiming the IDF fired first.

The accusation of firing first was, perhaps, the only disappointing feature in this documentary. Jane Corbin said there were conflicting accounts. In other words, she sat journalistically on the fence. She did say, however, the the IDF could not have fired a weapon and rappelled on to the deck at the same time. The IHH claimed that the IDF shot first so their attack with knives, iron bars, captured pistols and, according the the Israelis, another firearm not used in the IDF, was purely defensive.

This claim is demonstrably nonsense. Firstly, if you are standing on a deck waiting for soldiers to come down a rope and they are somehow managing to fire at you, and you are so defenceless, wouldn’t you get the hell out of the way? If you do not have firearms and someone is shooting at you, would you just wait to attack with iron bars and knives? It’s ludicrous.

The IDF admitted that once they had seen there was strong resistance they should have regrouped and considered more carefully their next move. Instead, they decided to land on the deck even though they had already seen that this would meet with violence. This was a blunder and the current enquiry in Israel will surely further reinforce that fact, already admitted by the military. Israeli intelligence as to the nature of the threat failed miserably. The Mavi Marmara was hijacked by about 40 IHH activists and their plans to attack the IDF, clearly shown from their own videos, were unknown to the majority of activists on the ship who were completely innocent of any intentions other than, perhaps, passive resistance; and this was what happened on all the other boats.

The conclusions any sensible person would draw are these: you may not agree with the boarding of the Mavi Marmara, but it was clearly demonstrated that the Israelis were using paintball guns before they landed on deck and that this was their ‘weapon’ of choice as a non-lethal crowd controller. Handguns were only used when the attack on them became lethal.

It is also clear there was considerable confusion and fear amongst the soldiers, some of whom were taken below and one reported that he believed he would be killed. One of the Turkish activists protected him and probably saved his life. In this respect, his actions are praiseworthy. Other activists seem to have tried to treat the injured Israelis.

There was still no explanation of how and when and where the 9 activists were killed. The fact that 50 were also injured demonstrated, to me, that the soldiers, in fear of their lives, with good reason (some had already been bludgeoned, thrown off deck rails, stabbed and even shot) did what any soldier would do, namely use enough force to stop the immediate threat and discourage further attack. One IDF soldier, when asked if he killed anyone, said he shot at his assailants’ legs and this was then reinforced with video of an injured activist with leg wounds.

I believe that the soldiers went for non-lethal shots, but as they feared being overwhelmed and being killed they used lethal force. Maj Gen (Ret) Giora Eiland, who carried out the IDF investigation, made the remark that, under the circumstances, casualties were low. He didn’t elaborate why, and such remarks don’t play well with international audiences. This was not a well-judged remark, but at least it was honest.

Jane Corbin herself concluded, having seen the remnants of the aid, that the whole flotilla was a political provocation, not a humanitarian one. The Mavi Marmara carried no aid whatsoever (a point not made in the film) and other items were of such little importance to Hamas that they either did not let them through as a form of protest, or they were out-of-date medicines. You can see details of the aid carried by the other boats and what the Israelis did with it on a previous post of mine here.

No doubt apologists from the Free Gaza Movement will simply say that the whole incident would not have happened had it not been for the blockade, the Israelis are liars etc. But I ask you, if the Beeb can’t find anything with which to beat Israel up then maybe the IDF did indeed enter a trap and protected itself from lethal force with lethal force.

First Israeli Arab female paratrooper

The State of Israel has begun its own blog.

It will run a ‘Faces of the IDF’ feature.

First up is Corporal Eleanor Joseph, or Elinor Yosef, a female Arab Israeli from near Haifa who is following in the boot-steps of her father. She strikes a very winsome pose on the website. But behind the obvious PR exercise of having attractive Arabs serving in the IDF, (she also happens to be Christian) lie some contradictions and issues of being an Arab in a Jewish state.

The eye2israel website tells us:

Eleanor Joseph is a true Israeli Patriot, she sings the Israeli national anthem Hatikvah, and feels proud and excited to see the Israeli flag fluttering in the wind – “it’s always windy during military ceremonies,” she says with a smile. “I don’t have any other country” is a line from the well known Israeli song written by one of the most esteemed poets, Ehud Manor and is also Eleanor’s motto. This line was written for her by her commander and she keeps it in her pocketbook – it’s always with her. Eleanor doesn’t have any other country; she is a true and a proud Arab Christian Israeli.

But  ElderofZiyon reveals that:

Al Arabiya has a lengthy and flabbergasted Arabic article on Jozef. When asked if she would kill Arabs if necessary, she answered that she would hardly be the first Arab to kill other Arabs.

She also said that while she doesn’t celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, she doesn’t sit and cry either.

Isn’t there a contradiction between singing HaTikvah which speaks of the hope of 2000 years that Jews return to Zion and yet not celebrating Israeli Independence.  Logically, it should be the other way round, no?

Such are the contradictions and issues of loyalty or nationhood if you are an Arab Israeli.  The sub-text of “I don’t have any other country” is, surely, one of resignation and making the best of it. This further implies that she doesn’t feel that, ultimately, this is her country or at least, her choice of country.

Or maybe it’s just that her enthusiasm for Israel and the IDF has to be tempered in the context of her ethnicity and the history of Israel with its contradictory narratives of expulsion and redemption.

But compare with the UK. Muslims serving in Afghanistan are proud to be British and serving their country whilst some of their co-religionists consider them to be sell-out pariahs.

Is there really much difference?

Let’s hope Elinor is the first of many Israeli-Arab women to show their pride in their country by serving as paratroopers.

Israeli Military Justice – without the need for the UN

Yesterday, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that disciplinary action had been taken against a number of army officers and soldiers for their conduct during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip between December 2008 and January 2009.

Following Israel’s campaign to severely reduce the power and potential of the Hamas regime to attack targets in Israel using daily rocket fire, the United Nations condemned Israel and then launched a fact finding mission headed by South African judge, Richard Goldstone.

Israel refused to assist with the Goldstone enquiry on the grounds that it was quite capable of conducting its own investigations. Members of the team that put together the report had announced their view that Israel had committed war crimes even before they began their investigation.

The report found Israel and Hamas probably guilty of war crimes and insisted that both Israel and Hamas conduct their own investigations. Nevertheless, the UN seemed intent on indicting Israel and tainting the Israeli government of the time and the Israeli Army with accusations of war crimes.

Israel rejected the Goldstone report on the grounds that it was factually inaccurate, one-sided, did not take full account of the asymmetric nature of the conflict or the gross violations of the rules of armed conflict, the Geneva Convention and just about every international and civilised code of conduct by Hamas.

Notwithstanding Israel’s rejection of the report and the UN’s singling out, yet again, of Israel for condemnation when countries such as Sri Lanka do not merit any similar international condemnation or investigation despite strong evidence of state sanctioned war crimes, Israel had already begun its own internal investigation of its own conduct, and this has now led to both a change in its rules of engagement in the West Bank and the indictment of a number of its soldiers.

Some of the incidents reported by Goldstone and investigated by the IDF have led to indictments but the Ministry report stresses:

the report of the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict (i.e. the Goldstone Report) was published in September 2009, presenting 30 specific incidents related to the IDF, most of which were already familiar to the IDF and were in various stages of examination prior to the report’s publication.

It is interesting to note that the Goldstone Report took mere weeks whilst the IDF has taken over a year. This is comparable to any similar investigation carried out by the United States or Great Britain, for example.

When the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal broke in April 2004, convictions took place in January 2005 of Charles Graner and Lyndie England when the documentary evidence was a lot more clear cut and had taken place outside of any military conflict. It was not until March 2006 that the investigations and convictions were concluded. It should be noted that there was no call for a UN enquiry.

The UK launched a second major enquiry into the Iraq war in June 2009. One year later, this is still ongoing and it will be 2011 until it is completed.

The Goldstone Report effectively began in April 2009 and delivered by September. The IDF has understandably taken a little longer than the rush to judgement required by the UN and delivered by Goldstone. Apparently its investigations are ongoing.

The specific of the indictments of IDF soldiers are as follows:

1. Complaint by Majdi Abed-Rabo:

An investigation into a claim that a Palestinian man was used as a “human shield” was opened by the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division, in accordance with the investigative policies of the IDF, which require that a criminal investigation be opened regarding claims of this kind. (my emphasis)

However, when you look at what actually happened, it is doubtful that any other army in the world would indict:

The investigation found that a battalion commander authorized the sending of a Palestinian man into a house (adjacent to his own) sheltering terrorists, in order to convince them to exit the house. The battalion commander, not present on the scene, authorized the order following reports that the Palestinian man asked the soldiers if he could do this so as to prevent the destruction of his house if a battle were to transpire.

The Military Advocate General indicted the battalion commander because he deviated from authorized and appropriate IDF behavior, and the Israeli Supreme Court jurisdiction regarding the use of civilians during operational activity, when he authorized the Palestinian’s request to enter the house.

2. Complaint by the Hajaj Family:

The original investigation into the incident was based on a claim, which also appeared in the Goldstone Report, that fire killed two women on January 4, 2009, in the neighborhood of Juhar Al-Dik. It was claimed that the women were part of a group of civilians, some of whom were carrying white flags.

This was one of the most notorious incidents until now only reported from the Palestinian side. There was enormous scepticism amongst supporters of Israel who could not believe such a thing could happen.

After reviewing the evidence, the Military Advocate General ordered that an IDF Staff Sergeant be indicted on charges of manslaughter by a military court.  This decision is based on evidence that the soldier, who was serving as a designated marksman, deliberately targeted an individual walking with a group of people waving a white flag without being ordered or authorized to do so.

Well, apparently it did. You shoudl note the last sentence where the report says that the soldier was indicted for firing on individuals with a white flag without being ordered to do so.

This may seem an indictment in itself; why should any officer ever require that his men would shoot at someone carrying a white flag? The answer is simple and damns Hamas as much, or even more than it dams the IDF soldier responsible. The reason is that there were documented incidents recorded by the IDF of Hamas operatives forcing civilians to leave houses carrying a white flag whilst they hid amongst or behind them. One such video can be seen here, for example:

This explains the last sentence quoted in the report above and why an IDF soldier might have to shoot at someone with or behind a white flag. However, thi scannot condone the actions and hence the indictment.

3. Ibrahim Al-Makadma Mosque

The report explains that initial investigations could show no air strike on this mosque. Several independent reports insisted that the mosque had been hit and this provoked further enquiry. The air strike was in fact near to the mosque where a a Hamas operative was firing rockets. As a result of the air strike shrapnel penetrated the mosque injuring people inside. It should be noted that the operative himself was not concerned that he was operating near a place of worship where people were gathered.

Again, look at NATO reacting to one of its strikes that went wrong.

But Israel acts thus:

The investigation also showed that the officer who ordered the attack had failed to exercise appropriate judgment. Therefore, the Chief of the General Staff ordered that disciplinary actions be taken against the officer, and that he would not serve in similar positions of command in the future. The officer also stood trial for negligence before the Commander of the Ground Forces Training Center, Brig. Gen. Avi Ashkenazi, who rebuked him for his actions.


The Military Advocate General decided that the attack did not violate international laws of warfare because the attack did not target the mosque, rather it targeted a terror operative, and when the attack was authorized, no possibility of harming civilians was identified. According to this assessment, the Military Advocate General decided that legal measures were not necessary.

Finally, the report reminds us:

It should be noted that the IDF conducted the operation after eight years in which Hamas fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians living in the southern communities surrounding the Gaza Strip.  Despite the fire and the injuries suffered by Israel, Israel practiced a policy of restraint for a long period of time. Since Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip, the terrorist organization has implanted its military system and terrorist infrastructure in the heart of urban areas while using the population as human shields.  Operation Cast Lead was limited in the scope of fire and forces used. IDF soldiers operated in crowded urban areas while Hamas made deliberate and cynical use of the Palestinian population, creating a complex security situation. Hamas operated from within civilian homes, schools, kindergartens, mosques, hospitals and UN facilities while the population in the Gaza Strip was made hostage.

Israel has acted and continues to act no differently and perhaps to even more stringent rules than most western democracies in similar circumstances.


The IDF in a different light

A new Facebook page has been created called The IDF – Not Only Shooting.

Its aim is to show that there are aspects to the IDF that you may not know about.

It’s mainly in Hebrew but the photos speak for themselves.

As the majority of Israelis will serve in the Israeli armed forces, it’s hardly surprising that its members represent a vast range of people, beliefs, attitudes and cultures.

The IDF’s recent humanitarian project in Haiti after the earthquake shows the resources and also the ethos of the IDF.

But the Palestinians have a different view it seems.  Palestinian Media Watch reports on the demonisation of soldiers – and Jews.  In a Palestinian Authority TV program for children whose fathers have been imprisoned by Israel, there is the following exchange:

PA TV host Manal Seif interviews the young sister of prisoner Qussai Husam Radwan, who was sentenced to 13 months in prison:
Host: “Do they bother you, the Israeli army, the soldiers there [when visiting at the prison]?”
Girl: “Yes.”
Host: “They’re wild animals, right? Aren’t they wild animals?”
[PA TV (Fatah), June 21, 2010]

PA TV host Manal Seif interviews the four-year old son of prisoner Shadi Shbeita, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison:
Host: “Ibrahim, you know – you’re cute and sweet. You have a nice shirt and nice pants. You’re cool. Where’s Daddy? Where’s Daddy? Daddy Shadi – where is he? Where is Daddy Shadi?”
Boy: “In prison.”
Host: “Who put him in prison? Who is it that put him in prison?”
Boy: “The Jews.”
Host: “The Jews are our enemies, right?”
[Boy nods in agreement.]

As the reporter points out, it is ‘the Jews’ who are the enemies, not ‘Israelis’ not even Jewish soldiers, but ‘Jews’.

This Facebook group shows the IDF in a different light.

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