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Amnesty International to IDF: Rescind Death Penalty Request for Itamar Killers

The Israeli army is said to be seeking the death penalty for Hakim Awad and Amjad Awad, the two confessed murderers of five members of the Fogel family in the settlement of Itamar last March. This is an extremely unusual step in Israel: the death penalty has been sought very few times over the country’s history, handed down even fewer, and is almost invariably commuted. The sole exception was Adolf Eichmann, who was executed in Israel in 1962.

Amnesty International is demanding that the IDF rescind the request. In a statement issued today, it said, “The murder of the Fogel family was a heinous crime, but exaction is a punishment that has no place in today’s criminal justice system…Since the 1960s not one person was executed in Israel, and as of the 1990s the IDF has ceased its demands to sentence even terrorists responsible for the killing of many to death. Amnesty International has appealed [to] the IDF to stay the course with its current policy and to avoid using its authority to make such a demand.”


Is the World Spinning Off Its Axis?

Within forty-eight hours, both The Independent and The Guardian have published pieces about the Palestinians and Israel that are absolutely on target. The Independent punctures the Palestinian “Arab Spring” balloon, while The Guardian — The Guardian! — disembowels Mahmoud Abbas’s mendacious editorial in The New York Times. It states in the clearest possible terms that Abbas revealed his true goal to be the conquest of the entire state of Israel.

This is all making me a little light-headed. I think I’ll go lie down.


Palestinian Nonviolence In Action

Oh, for heaven’s sake.

The Economist is the latest stalwart of the quality press to swoon over the events of Naqba Day. The protesters were downright Gandhi-esque, apparently, in their commitment to peaceful, non-violent, civil disobedience. The paper issues the challenge:

Will we even bother to acknowledge that the Palestinians are protesting non-violently? Or will we soldier on with the same empty decades-old rhetoric, now drained of any truth or meaning, because it protects established relationships of power? What will it take to make Americans recognise that the real Martin Luther King-style non-violent Palestinian protestors have arrived, and that Israeli soldiers are shooting them with real bullets?

Here are some photographs from daisy-tossing, non-violent Naqba Day.

1. The aftermath of a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv in which an Israeli Arab — apparently taking up the fight on his brethren’s behalf — plowed his truck into vehicles and pedestrians, killing one and injuring 17, while shouting “Allahu Akbar” and “Death to the Jews”:

terrorist attack, Tel Aviv, Naqba Day 2011

2. A Palestinian throws a fire bomb towards Israeli soldiers following Friday prayer in Arab East Jerusalem:

Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

3. Palestinian protesters surge over the Syrian-Israeli border fence near Majd al-Shams in a mass infiltration attempt:

infiltration on Syrian border, Jalaa Marey/JINI/Getty Images

4. A Palestinian throws a firecracker towards Israeli border police in the Shufat refugee camp outside Jerusalem:

Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

[All images via The Atlantic.]


Storytime with Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, published a risible editorial in yesterday’s New York Times in which he lays out the case for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. In it, he performs some quite breathtaking feats of historical revisionism. Here’s a partial list:

  1. He assigns all blame for the 1948 War of Israeli Independence to the Jews, with no mention of the Arabs’ wholesale rejection of the UN partition recommendation or of the simultaneous invasion by five Arab armies intended to snuff out Israel at birth
  2. He implies that the Jews’ intention was to ethnically cleanse Arabs from Palestine — despite the fact that a fifth of Israel is Arab, and that Israeli Arabs are full Israeli citizens, unlike Palestinians in the Arab world, who are almost uniformly treated like garbage — while ignoring a) the effort by the Arab nations to cleanse their Jewish populations in response to the UN partition recommendation and b) the real ethnic cleansing committed by the Jews, which was the forcible removable of Jewish Israelis from Gaza in 2005 as a concession to the Palestinians — a concession that was perceived as weakness, not peaceableness, and was accordingly met by a sharp uptick in Palestinian violence against Israel
  3. He fails to mention, as David Harris at the Jerusalem Post points out, that the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem were in Palestinian hands from 1948 until 1967 and there was nary a peep from them demanding sovereignty, and that these territories fell into Israeli hands following yet another attempt by the Arabs to destroy Israel
  4. He ignores all Israeli offers of peace deals through the years and Palestinian rejection of same
  5. He does not mention his own refusal to negotiate, even following the major Israeli concession of a ten-month settlement freeze
  6. He does not mention the Palestinian Authority’s recent reconciliation with Hamas, which remains vocally and unequivocally committed to the total destruction of the state of Israel

That last item is downright hilarious, in view of Abbas’s assertion in the editorial that “[t]he State of Palestine intends to be a peace-loving nation, committed to human rights, democracy, the rule of law and the principles of the United Nations Charter.” Forget the way Hamas treats Israelis — look at how they treat Gazans. Peace-loving? Human rights? Who is he kidding?

Abbas’s piece, for all its gentle tones of avuncular admonishment, is a threat, pure and simple. Israel’s rights and needs are no longer relevant. As Noah Pollack noted in Commentary,  Abbas makes clear that the Palestinians’ object is to use statehood as a cudgel to beat Israel with. Pollack notes this passage in the editorial:

Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.

Pollack’s interpretation of these lines is precisely on target:

After statehood, [Abbas] dismisses even the pretense of working toward peace. Instead, he openly promises that Palestine would assault Israel relentlessly in international legal, political, and diplomatic fora. This is where Fatah and Hamas now join together in substance as well as appearance.

Until today, Fatah had convinced the world that it had submitted to the linkage of peace with statehood: a Palestinian state would only arise through negotiations with Israel that, at their completion, would require the Palestinians to cease their claims against the Jewish State and declare the conflict over. Hamas, on the other hand, has been perfectly happy to give its blessing (as Khaled Mashaal did last week) to the creation of a Palestinian state — just so long as the continuation of terrorism and the quest for the ultimate destruction of Israel, diplomatically and otherwise, is preserved.

Today, Abbas has brought Fatah and Hamas together in this goal. It is an important moment. Both factions now agree on a strategy of statehood without peace. Despite the ugliness of it all, we should applaud Abbas for writing such a clear and forthright statement, in English, to a western audience, that explains with perfect sobriety what his intentions are. Mahmoud Abbas wants a state not so he can pursue peace; he wants a state so he can pursue war against Israel.

I would venture to suspect that despite his reference to the 1967 lines, Abbas’s allegiance with Hamas — and his reverential citing of Naqba Day, which commemorates not the Arabs’ loss in 1967 but their loss in 1948 — show his real aspiration to be the reconquest of all Israel. By throwing negotiations out the window and pursuing unilateral statehood, he has nullified the Oslo Accords, ended the peace process, and exposed his own duplicity. What remains to be seen is the extent to which he will be enabled by the international community to proceed towards his, and Hamas’s, true goal.


Iranian Missile Base in Venezuela Moves Forward

There’s a situation developing south of the border that has the potential to become President Obama’s very own missile crisis.

Die Welt reports that in fulfillment of a commitment made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran in October 2010, Iran has now entered the concrete planning phase of construction of launching pads for Iranian intermediate-range missiles in Venezuela. The missiles Iran intends to deploy at the site are believed to be Shahab 3s (1300-1500 km range), Scud-Bs (285-330 km) and Scud-Cs (300, 500 and 700 km).

Note that Venezuela is about 2000 km from Florida. And according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Iran is making “robust strides” in its attempts to manufacture longer-range ballistic missiles “with the apparent aim of being able to deliver nuclear warheads.”

Citing “Western security insiders,” Die Welt claims that Iran is building the launching pads on the Paraguaná Peninsula, which is on the coast of Venezuela about 75 miles from Colombia. This would appear to be the first stage of a larger project to establish a military base that will eventually be manned by Iranian missile officers and soldiers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, as well as Venezuelan missile officers who are to receive intensive training from the Iranians.

When the agreement between Iran and Venezuela was signed last fall, the Hudson Institute noted the significance of the timing: it coincided with NATO’s Lisbon summit (19-20 November 2010), which set up a missile defense capability to protect NATO’s European territories against ballistic missile attacks from the East (i.e., Iran). “Iran’s counter-move consists in establishing a strategic base in the South American continent — in the United States’s soft underbelly,” the Institute wrote.

The plan is now in motion. Engineers from Khatam al-Anbia, a construction company owned by the Revolutionary Guards, visited Paraguaná in February. According to Die Welt, their delegation was approved by Amir al-Hadschisadeh, the head of the Guard’s Air Force.  The project is believed to entail commando and control stations, bunkers, barracks and watch towers, and twenty-meter deep rocket silos. It’s being financed by Iranian petroleum revenues, and Iran is said to have already paid in cash for the preliminary phase of construction.

The missile base, when armed, will constitute a multi-level threat. Chavez agreed at the 2010 meeting in Teheran to fire on Iran’s Western enemies if Iran is itself attacked, and Iran agreed to allow Venezuela to use its missiles for “national needs” — a phrase that should cause some sleep to be lost in Bogotá and elsewhere in the region.

The base will also, as the Hudson Institute notes, represent a means by which Iran and its suppliers can sidestep UN sanctions. After the latest round of sanctions, “Russia decided not to sell five battalions of S-300PMU-1 air defence systems to Iran,” the Institute wrote in December 2010. “These weapons, along with a number of other weapons, were part of a deal, signed in 2007, worth $800 million. Now that these weapons cannot be delivered to Iran, Russia is looking for new customers; according to the Russian press agency Novosti, it found one: Venezuela.”


Naqba Day Reflections from Hamas and Others

Ismail Haniyeh, the PM of Hamas and renewed partner of the Palestinian Authority as it pursues statehood for Palestine, addressed 10,000 people at Gaza City’s al-Omari mosque today to commemorate Naqba Day. “Palestinians mark the Naqba with great hope of bringing to an end the Zionist project in Palestine,” he said. “Palestinians have the right to resist Israeli occupation and will one day return to property they lost in 1948.” He went on to implore worshippers to pray for an end to the state of Israel and reiterated that under no circumstances would Hamas ever recognize her right to exist.

The ever-reliable Saeb Erekat of the PA insisted that the problem of peace between our two nations is not his new partner’s commitment to our total destruction, but the Israelis’ persistent intransigence. “Netanyahu has closed the doors on negotiations,” he said. “I want to hear the numbers 1-9-6-7 from Netanyahu. Until we don’t hear that, we’re not going to waste our time [sic].”

Meanwhile, the academics are weighing in. Dr. Daphne Richmond-Barak, an international law expert from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, made clear that the penetration of the Israeli border by Syrian protesters today was “an unprecedented act in modern history and a clear violation of Israeli sovereignty as determined by article 51 of the United Nations Charter” (to quote The Jerusalem Post). With that said, she also noted that firing on civilians is a breach of international law, and Israel will likely be expected to defend her actions. “Most of the details surrounding the shooting are not yet known. Important considerations are whether the protesters were armed or not, whether they were an organized association of a paramilitary nature, whether the soldiers who fired felt they were in immediate danger and shot out of self defense and a series of other possibilities that are too vague to judge,” she said.

According to Professor Asa Kasher, one of the authors of the IDF’s code of ethics, “[t]he laws of war are not the appropriate framework for judging the events in the north. We are not talking about an attack by an invading army. It would be more appropriate to look to the US’s actions against Mexican infiltrators on its southern border to learn about legitimate use of force.”

Dr. Assaf Moghadem, also of the IDC and an expert on counterterrorism, believes the whole exercise may have been staged by Assad as a diversionary tactic. “What could be better for Assad than diverting the people’s anger from himself towards Israel? I wouldn’t put it beyond the range of the possible that he recruited people to cross the border in order to shift the pressure to Israel,” he said. He added that the ploy could backfire inside Syria, where much of the population is likely to recognize it for what it was.

By the way: there was also to have been a breach from the east today, but the Jordanian police prevented it. Hundreds of activists, joined by about forty Turks, came within a few hundred yards of the Israel border, but were dispersed by Jordanian tear gas before reaching the King Hussein crossing. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 in which it committed itself to preventing the use of its territory as a launching pad for hostilities against Israel.


Naqba Day 2011

Today was the Day of the Naqba, or Day of the Catastrophe, as the Arab world refers to the creation of the state of Israel. Anti-Israel demonstrations took place in Israel’s neighboring countries, and violence erupted inside the country as well.

In a particularly aggressive move, hundreds of pro-Palestinian Syrians broke through the fence separating Syria from the Israeli Druse village of Majd-al-Shams in the Golan Heights in an attempt to infiltrate Israel en masse. The IDF opened fire, reportedly killing eight and wounding several dozen more.

Thousands also gathered at Maroun a-Ras in Lebanon for Naqba Day. Waving Palestinian flags and shouting “We want our land back,” they attempted to surge forward toward the border fence with Israel. Most were stopped by the Lebanese army, but about fifty got through, where they threw rocks at the Israeli soldiers on the other side. The Israelis shot tear gas at them and eventually opened fire. Four are reported dead in that incident.

The IDF is referring to these events jointly as an Iranian maneuver.  “The radical axis of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas is very clear,” Brig.-Gen. Yoav “Poli” Mordechai told Channel 10 News. “We have one incident in Maroun a-Ras area on the Lebanese border and a second one at Majd-al-Shams, where we see fingerprints of Iranian provocation aimed at creating friction.” (Whether or not these events were orchestrated from Teheran, they serve the interests of Bashar al-Assad, who would like nothing better than for the world’s already waning attention to be diverted from Daraa and Homs to images of Israeli soldiers and bleeding Arab protesters.)

Inside Israel, in what appears to have been a one-man protest, a 22-year-old resident of the Arab village of Kafr Kassem plowed a truck in a zigzag down a crowded street in the Hatikva neighborhood of south Tel Aviv this morning, killing a 29-year-old man and wounding seventeen. He was shouting  “Allahu Akbar” and “Death to the Jews” while deliberately striking cars, a bus, mopeds, a motorcycle, and pedestrians. He is under arrest and denies attempting to cause an accident.

There have been clashes elsewhere in Israel throughout the day, including a riot of about 100 Palestinians in Qalandiya and Molotov cocktails thrown at Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem.  Updates to come.


Islamic Jihad: Open Iranian Embassy in Gaza

The Fars News Agency reports that a representative of the Islamic Jihad in Teheran is calling for the opening of an Iranian embassy in Gaza. “It would be a natural move for Iran to open an embassy or representative office in Gaza,” said Nasser Abu Sharif, because “Gaza is now a region almost free of occupation.” (Islamic Jihad aspires to the total destruction of the state of Israel and condemns any attempt by Palestinians at coexistence or reconciliation.)

As Abu Sharif pointed out, the Palestinians already have an ambassador in Teheran, Salah al-Zawawi. Iran claims to be neutral about the different Palestinian factions and to welcome the Hamas-Fatah unity pact, but al-Zawawi is on record as advocating the expulsion of Israel from Jerusalem and the continuing battle with the Zionist regime, so it’s pretty clear from which camp he springs (if there are, in fact, still two distinguishable camps).

Now, Islamic Jihad doesn’t call the shots in Gaza (so to speak), and Hamas might find a permanent Iranian presence on the ground just a hair too close for comfort — it serves Hamas’s interests, after all, to be perceived as an independent Palestinian actor and not as an Iranian proxy, and there’s no question but that an Iranian ambassador would insert himself into Palestinian affairs. Still, Hamas won’t have a choice if Iran decides that an embassy in Gaza is in its interests. Ultimately, it’ll be a boon to Hamas anyway in terms of simplifying the logistics of arms smuggling.

Israel will obviously not cotton to the idea of an Iranian embassy in the backyard, but our opinion will be held to be irrelevant. And the Americans, who are anxious to cozy up to the Muslim world right now to take the sting out of the bin Laden hit, are unlikely to object very strenuously.

Iran is behaving with a bravura that belies its internal strife. Greater Persia is in its sights. The Syrian relationship is up in the air at the moment, true, but the US and the West are clearly not inclined to step in to ensure the collapse of Teheran’s only regional ally. Iran already has south Lebanon sewn up via Hezbollah and the Gaza Strip via Hamas, and is setting its sights further west. As Abu Sharif noted, just as Iran can have “an active embassy in Gaza,” it can have “the same kind of mission in Egypt in future.”


More On Those Tush-Kicking, Name-Taking Navy SEALs Dogs

New York Magazine offers this tidbit, via ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, about the SEALs’ squad of four-legged warriors:

[I]n addition to being able to skydive with or without a human, these canines wear head-mounted infrared cameras, water- and bulletproof body armor, and tiny earbuds that relay commands from their handlers. At one point, they even had broken teeth replaced with titanium.

Okay, I’m totally impressed now. Remote-controlled Zionist killer sharks have normal teeth.


“We Are In a Jungle”: Cairo Churches Attacked; 12 Dead, 230 Injured

Large-scale, deadly sectarian violence has broken out between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Cairo for the second time since the February toppling of Hosni Mubarak.

Hundreds of Muslims — some of whom were apparently Salafists, or extremist Islamists — descended on the Saint Mina Church in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba yesterday (Saturday), demanding that the Christians within hand over a woman they claimed had converted to Islam and was being held against her will. (If that sounds familiar, it should; the kidnapped convert accusation has been used several times before by Egyptian Islamists as a pretext to attack a church.) The Christians, who had been tipped off that Muslims were on their way and spoiling for a fight, had already assembled a group numbering in the hundreds to defend the church.

The clash quickly devolved into mayhem. Men attacked each other hand-to-hand with knives, clubs and bricks. Both sides began firing guns. Muslims threw firebombs into the church. As the hours passed, they are reported to have moved through the neighborhood, torching homes, storming apartment complexes and looting businesses owned by Copts.

Reports differ on how long it took the security authorities to arrive, but a wave of soldiers and police eventually appeared, shooting rounds into the air and firing teargas at the crowds. About 200 people were arrested. When the dust settled, at least six Christians and at least five Muslims were dead and about 230 wounded, 65 of them shot, according to the Interior Ministry. Both the Saint Mina Church and the nearby Virgin Mary Church had been set alight and severely damaged.

Hundreds of heavily armed soldiers and riot police are still in the neighborhood, and security has been stepped up at other Christian houses of worship. The entire Imbaba neighborhood has been cordoned off.  Interim PM Essam Sharaf canceled a trip to the Persian Gulf to preside over an emergency meeting of the cabinet. Justice Minister Abdel Aziz Al Gindi said in response to the strife that Egypt has become “a nation in danger,” and promised that the authorities will use an “iron hand” to protect national security. The military council has called on “all communities in Egypt, the youth of the revolution, the national forces and Islamic and Christian scholars to stand like a wall against any attempt by the forces of evil and darkness to tear the national fabric.”

The Sheikh of Al-Azhar — identified by the New York Times as “Egypt’s most respected Muslim religious authority” — denounced the violence, and the Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa, another senior Muslim figure, urged calm. “All Egyptians must stand shoulder to shoulder and prevent strife,” he said, adding that it was up to the military council to take action to protect national security.

Some members of the Christian community have lost faith in the military to protect them, with some voicing the suspicion that its members are not only ineffective but actively on the side of the Muslims. The Bishop of Giza, Anba Theodosius, is quoted in AINA as saying, “We have no law or security, we are in a jungle.” Copts are said to be staging a sit-in outside the US embassy in Cairo in the hope of gaining international protection, and Al-Jazeera reports that several thousand Copts have gathered in front of Egyptian state television, demanding the resignation of the country’s military ruler.