Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land: U.S. Media & The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Saturday, Nov 8, 2003
4:45-6:45 pm
Red Gym Media Room
Campus Information and Visitor Center
617 Langdon St

This pivotal video exposes how the foreign policy interests of American political elites ó working in combination with Israeli public relations strategies ó exercise a powerful influence over news reporting about the Middle East conflict. Combining American and British TV news clips with observations of analysts, journalists, and political activists, Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land provides an historical overview, a striking media comparison, and an examination of factors that have distorted U.S. media coverage and, in turn, American public opinion.

Interviewees include Seth Ackerman, Maj. Stav Adivi, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, Hanan Ashrawi, Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, Dr. Neve Gordon, Toufic Haddad, Sam Husseini, Hussein Ibish, Robert Jensen, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Karen Pfeifer, Alisa Solomon, and Gila Svirsky. The producer and special guests will be on hand to answer questions.

The Media Education Foundation (MEF) presents this world premiere as part of the National Conference on Media Reform, November 7-9, Madison, WI.

Al Mezan Condemns Israel’s War Crimes in Rafah

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Reference: 45/2003, October 16, 2003
At 11:30pm Wednesday 15 October 2003, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) attacked the Al Nakhla (Brazil) neighborhood in Rafah. Eyewitnesses said that about 60 Israeli tanks and armored vehicles invaded the neighborhood under helicopter cover and imposed a curfew on it. 
Initial reports from the area indicated that the IOF bulldozed the building owned by Kawthar Abu Ulwan, home to four families and Nasr Al Jamal. They also damaged a boutique owned by Lufi Abu Taha, an ice cream factory and a computer center.
The soldiers commandeered the roofs of five residential buildings after ordering the occupants of each building into a single room. The rooftops were then used as watchtowers from which Israeli soldiers opened fire. Tanks and helicopters also participated in the invasion. Occupation soldiers killed 36-year-old Waleed Muhammad Abdul Wahab and injured six others.
Tanks and bulldozers razed parts of the main streets in the area and damaged the main electricity and the phone lines.
This was the third of the three recent Israeli incursions into Rafah. During this incursion the IOF resumed its occupation of the southern part of the refugee camp taken over on October 10, 2003. The initial invasion resulted in the destruction of 192 homes and the deaths of a number of civilians. A similar operation into the As-Salam area begun on 14 October 2003 continued.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemns Israel’s aggression against Palestinian civilians. The Center calls upon the international community, particularly the High Contracting Parties to the 4th Geneva Convention, to intervene and put an end to this humanitarian catastrophe accelerated in September 2000 at the beginning of the Intifada.

October 30 – November 20, 2003
Reporting the Middle East, From the Road Map to Iraq: A Lecture Series

Amira Hass
Thursday, October 30, 2003
Morgridge Auditorium, UW-Madison Grainger Hall
7:30 pm

Amira Hass covers Palestinian affairs for the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. She is the only Israeli journalist who actually lives in the Occupied Territories. Author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza, she has just published a second book, Reporting from Ramallah. Known for her honest and often brutal portrayals of the impact of Israeli occupation on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, she received the 1999 International World Press Freedom Award in recognition of her work in the Gaza Strip.

Ali Abunimah
Thursday, November 6, 2003
Madison Area Technical College, Room D240
211 N. Carroll St.
7:00 pm

Ali Abunimah is a co-founder of and major contributor to The Electronic Intifada, an online educational gateway to the Palestine-Israel conflict, and one of today’s most prominent critics of mainstream U.S. media coverage of that conflict. He is also vice-president of the Arab-American Action Network of Chicago.

As’ad Abukhalil
Thursday, November 13, 2003
The “War on Terrorism” and its Impact on Middle East Politics”
UW-Madison Memorial Union, Great Hall
7:30 pm

Dr. Abukhalil is a Professor of Political Science in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at California State University-Stanislaus. He is the author of the just-released book, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.: The Tale of the ‘Good’ Taliban.

Robert Fisk
Thursday, November 20, 2003
The Fantasy War: “Democracy”, WMD’s and “Liberation”
Orpheum Theater, Madison
8:00 pm

Robert Fisk covers the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia for the London Independent. One of the leading independent journalists in the world today, Beirut-based Fisk has put the mainstream American media to shame for 28 years with his unflinching on-the-ground reports from the frontlines in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon and more. He has received more awards for excellence in reporting than any other journalist in his league. Author of Pity the Nation on the Lebanese civil war and Israelís invasion, he is currently working on a book covering events in Iraq since the first Gulf War.

Sponsored by the the A. Eugene Havens Center of the University of Wisconsin – Madison Department of Sociology, Madison Area Technical College Global Horizons Series, Global Studies Program, Middle Eastern Studies Program, the Harvey Goldberg Memorial Fund, the Palestine-Israel Peace and Justice Alliance (PIPAJA), The Borders and Transcultural Research Circle, Chadbourne Residency Center, and WORT 89.9 FM.

Endorsed by the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project (MRSCP), the Madison Area Peace Coalition, the Madison Islamic community, Progressive magazine, the Wisconsin Book Festival, and the Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative.

Financial support provided in part by the UW-Madison Office of International Studies

RafahSisterCity at

Eyewitness account of the invasion of Rafah

(Photo: Rafah Today, 2003)

Laura Gordon, The Electronic Intifada, 14 Oct 2003

Then the streets started screaming and we were running almost without thinking, down the edges of the street around the people who had lost their fear, around donkey carts loaded full, ran until we fround a corner to turn into and then we ran past families and children, through narrow streets far enough from the main street not to know the worst, far enough that we were the ones spreading the news that the army had come back.

Old men’s eyes opened wide and mothers pulled their children inside, casting weary gazes in the direction from where we had come. We found Sea Street and a taxi and headed towards Block J. A machine gun fired from a tank as it entered Yibneh. It was maghreb time. The sun burning a hole in the sky as it fell behind the wall at the edge of town.

When we’d come to Yibneh the camp was already in exodus mode. Donkey carts piled high with furniture, men removing the doors of their homes from the hinges, children holding the keys to their homes on neon green keychains, the modern picture of a refugee descended from refugees, meeting exile every other generation.

The army had come during the night leaving a city stripped bare, the broken bones of houses like twisted bodies reaching up to heaven. Trees and streets, power lines and water pipes, broken, twisted around each other, uprooted. A graveyard of life things. The real dead had been carried out on stretchers, mostly after lying on the street for hours between tanks and the fearful closed doors of curfew, while the ambulances negotiated with the army to gain access. It was a perfect autumn day, soft clouds dotting a sky blue as swimming pools.

The army had come during the night in the sound of thunder rumbling down the border frightening the whole town. It left, not through the streets as it had come, but by creating a path through the homes still standing in Yibneh, demolishing anything in its way and driving over the remains.

It left 10 people dead and upwards of 80 injured; over 100 homes demolished and 2,000 people homeless, according to the UN’s estimate. And even then, the army left incompletely and provisionally, remaining stationed along the border, and Moshe Allon calling to deploy more reserves. The word on the street is that the army has left just long enough for the frightened families to leave the camp, an empty shell for the army to finish demolishing.

That night I stayed with Noura and the family down by Salah el-Deen gate. In the morning we peeked over the balcony. A tank was still sitting by the Block O tower. It didn’t stop shooting either. All day in spurts.

Most of the dead were teenage boys with more curiosity than fear who went outside just to see what was in their street keeping them inside their homes. They were wheeled out on stretchers to sit in the hospital refrigerators for days, waiting for their family to identify them, some unidentifiable. Held in limbo waiting for the army could leave so their families could bury them.

When they did hold funerals it was not in the camp where the army was threatening to reinvade, but far away, in the center of the city, in Hay Il-Ijnena. But not far enough. An Apache dropped a missile on an empty field next to a funeral on the second day of invasion, the funeral for someone who lives in Hay Il-Ijnena, the most expensive part of town, known for its distance from the border. They died when an Apache fired explosive bullets through the roof of his home.

When the army entered we were on the roof passing aroung stories and dreams. The Apaches came in like a foreboding signal of the end of the world, dropping fist-sized bombs — boom boom boom, explosions every several minutes from the planes and the tanks. We spent the night in the office waking with fear and coffee, every bullet sounding like it was coming through our windows. We are in the center of the city. All the shooting comes from the borders, and even if it doesn’t reach our walls it shoots in our direction, it sounds awful, like wretching rain.

People filled up the hospital and in the morning it was already low on supplies. Nobody could get to the European Gaza Hospital, the only descent facility in the area, where tanks had been parked for days not letting anyone out or in. The dead waited in the refrigerators for identification. The beds were full and overflowing.

My friend Adwan was the first to identify his friend since 12 years. 19-year-old Mabrouk, whose name means “congratulations”, was shot three times in the head and five in the back while walking home.

In the mosque, men gathered for prayer and sharing information. Mohammed came back with news. The sheikh at the library, the one we all know, had been killed while walking down the street, a bullet in the heart. One of the ambulance drivers that drove Rachel Corrie to the hospital had also been killed on his way to rescue the injured. His was one of two ambulances the army shot at that night.

Down the street from my friend Feryal in Block J, an eight-year-old boy — her neighbor’s son — was killed at the door of his home when a tank backed into his home and then shot him as he ran out, and then denied the ambulance entrance for two hours while he bled to death. Feryal was pregnant and expecting her fifth child any day. Four tanks were parked at each corner of her block.

I went with the municipality workers to negotiate with the army to let them fix the water and electricity on a street that hadn’t had for days. The real heros here are the municipality workers and the ambulance drivers who have lost their fear in order to keep the city together. I spoke from a distance of ten yards with a soldier in an APC, to see if the workers could fix the water system. He gave me a thumbs up sign. He appeared to be trying to understand. Parallel universes colliding. I couldn’t believe I was talking with a real person inside this massive machine, I was so hungry for human contact, to put a face with the military machinery. We shouted to each other from opposite sides of a road block the army had put up, the divide was a gulf none of us could cross. I stood for too long, gawking at him, wishing I could talk to him for hours until he left his tank, feeling naive and silly in the afternoon sun.

The army had uprooted the entire street. Water was filling the sand everywhere in the places water pipes had been broken. People had run out of food, had no water or electricity for two days at that point. Two women who wanted to bring clothes for their children inside the militarized area were denied entry. The municipality, who wanted to bring food relief to the people in the sealed-off area and to fix the water and electrical systems there, was denied entry.

The night before I had slept with Naela’s family. The invasion was one day old. Jenin was the word on everyone’s lips, Bb’eyn Allah (“God sees”).

My friend Anees’ house was partially demolished. Abu Ahmed, the carob juice vendor, his house was demolished.

The army used some kind of nerve gas for the first time in Rafah, leaving people in convulsions for days.

And last night, I ran from Yibneh’s streets as the army came back in and found my way directly to Feryal’s house in Block J, better to be with her under curfew than to worry from outside. The army didn’t come as it had before but drove in enough to scare the people into exodus and then shot all night long. I began to mix all loud noises with gunfire, the way I used to when I first arrived here.

We slept incompletely. Outside, everything around had been demolished. The morning was still. Families were sitting on the doorsteps of their neighbors’ homes gazing at the damage. The area had gone from a crowded lively neighborhood to a strange antique gallery, children rummaging through the best climbing spots of twisted cars and broken homes. A few more weeks and the army will finish its work and “clean” the area — dig away the dead bones of the city – until nothing remains but a flat, sandy expanse, a military parking lot. Even the ghosts will leave the area, searching for better horizons.

Even as I sit by Feryal now in the crowded clinic benches full of pregnant women and screaming children, tanks shoot into the camps. It hasn’t stopped all morning or all night, and there are four new injuries. The whole town is frightened, afraid to let out its breath. The sadness is dry and wordless. People are staying in tents on the street, some families have room to take in the new homeless.

The army is lying as usual, saying only 10 homes were destroyed and that the people killed were gunmen. Journalists are trying to get here but with difficulty and under the guidelines that they follow military instruction. The ultrasound machine sounds like gunfire to my frightened ears. Feryal looks forward, eyes cynical, sarcastic, watching from a distance.

Continue reading

Al Mezan Condemns Israel’s Crimes in Rafah and Calls for International Intervention

Reference: 43/2003
Date: October 13, 2003
Al Mezan Center For Human Rights

On Monday 12 October 2003 Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) redeployed their forces around the town and refugee camp of Rafah. Mezan’s fieldworkers visited the area, under direct occupation since Friday 10 October, to collect information and meet with victims and their families.

According to the field investigations the Israeli military committed war crimes in the town, as defined by international humanitarian law. Soldiers destroyed 192 houses, homes to 1,952 people. Ninety-three of these homes were completely demolished and 99 others partially destroyed. Tens of other homes were damaged by the IOF as well. This raises the total number of destroyed homes in Rafah since the beginning of the Intifada to 1,631 and of displaced persons to 12,430.

Eight Palestinians were killed by the IOF and 81 were wounded during this incursion. Since the beginning of the current Intifada, Occupation Forces have killed 238 people in Rafah, two of them international citizens. Soldiers also restricted movement in the area, including by ambulances and relief staff, and caused a serious shortage of food and medical supplies.

According to Articles 146 and 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (12 August 1949) such practices are defined as “grave breaches”, and necessitate the pursuit and trial of the perpetrators, and of those who ordered them to be committed.

The Mezan Center for Human Rights emphasizes the urgent need for effective international intervention at this time. The international community is called upon to carry out its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention by putting an end to Israel’s breaches. Silence only encourages Israel to continue committing such crimes. The Center also appeals for international relief agencies to provide urgent aid to the Palestinian civilians under occupation.

Israeli Occupation Forces Withdraw from Rafah Leaving Behind Devastation

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, October 12, 2003
In the early morning hours of Monday 13 October 2003, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) withdrew from the refugee camp of Rafah after a three-day incursion. Initial reports from the camp revealed massive home demolitions and damage to the city’s infrastructure. Israeli soldiers killed eight people and wounded dozens. 
Al Mezan condemns all incursions into Rafah, and the silence they are met with on the part of the international community. Such silence reveals a moral indifference to Israel’s persistent violations of Palestinians human rights.
The Mezan Center calls upon the international community to fulfill its responsibilities towards Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and provide effective protection to them. The Center also emphasizes the urgent need for relief aid and shelter in the camp and asks relief agencies and governments to provide assistance for the victims of home demolitions and curfews.

Amira Hass: Explaining the occupation to the occupier

Allen Ruff, Palestine-Israel Peace and Justice Alliance (PIPAJA), 12 Oct 2003

Amira Hass, the author of the article below, will be appearing in Madison on October 30th as the second speaker in the “Reporting the Middle East” speakers’ series produced by the Palestine-Israel Peace and Justice Alliance (PIPAJA). Hass will appear at the Morgridge Auditorium, Grainger Hall (Brooks & University) at 7:30 on the 30th.

(The first speaker in the series, ROBERT FISK, will be at the Union Theater at 8:00pm on the 23rd. Hass will be followed by Ali Abunimah of the “electrinicintifadfa”, on Novemebr 6th at MATC-Downtown , Rm D240, 7:30. A’sad AbuKhalil will speak on November 13th in the Great Hall, Memorial Union.)

Please spread the word!

Jewish Peace News

Last week, a Palestinian woman working with Islamic Jihad carried out a horrible suicide bombing that killed 19 people including 4 children, and wounded many many more in a joint Arab and Jewish owned restaurant in Haifa.

It is both natural and appropriate to wonder how anyone could commit such a vicious act, an act that was intended to ruin and end the lives of so many innocent people. Amira Hass guides us through the pitfalls of this question, with characteristic intelligence and candor. She points to two types of answers, one acceptable to the Israeli political establishment and one not. The acceptable type of answer involves demonizing Islam, attributing Palestinian criminal behavior to fundamentalist tendencies in the Muslim religion, real or imagined. The unacceptable answer involves pointing to the acute and growing despair of the Palestinian population in the territories, who daily experience the humility of the occupation, their land being stolen and destroyed, their children being starved, and their loved ones being shot and incarcerated.

It is certainly much easier to blame Islam (or the Palestinian educational system for that matter); and people reeling from the trauma of a gruesome terror attack are experiencing enough suffering without adding the pain of self-critique. But if the imperative is to stop these horrible attacks from happening again, and this should be the immediate imperative of the Israeli government, looking honestly and critically at the effects of the occupation has the very great advantage offering an immediate solution to Israel’s crisis of terror. And after a suicide bombing, what could be more important than this?

Explaining the occupation to the occupier

Amira Hass, Haaretz, 8 October 2003

How can a tiny Palestinian organization like Islamic Jihad produce so many walking bombs, suicide bombers who choose babies in strollers and their grandparents as targets? And how does an organization that once declared it would only target soldiers send its latest suicide bomber to a mixed Jewish-Arab city, to sow death and sorrow in a restaurant whose owners, workers and customers are Jews and Arabs, old and young.

Intelligence experts and Arabists on our side say it’s because of Islam, which sanctifies wars, that there is unceasing incitement in the mosques, that Iran and Syria are behind it, that the suicide bombers and those who send them are out to destroy the State of Israel, that the people who blow themselves up are animals and that Arafat encourages terror.

There’s a concept behind all these explanations, in which this sickening form of the Palestinian struggle has nothing to do with the occupation, that Israelis should not believe Palestinians who say there is a connection to the Israeli occupation. The concept says there is no connection between the proliferation of suicide bombings and the prevailing view in Palestinian society, which is that Israel, as a military and nuclear power, wants to squeeze a surrender out of the Palestinians that will legitimize the Israeli takeover of land in the West Bank and Gaza.

In other words, the concept is that the historical, political and geopolitical connections, the sociological and psychological ramifications – none of it is relevant. The concept is that there is something inherent to the heritage of the suicide bombers and those who send them that is to blame, because the Palestinians won’t give up their dream of destroying Israel and that Muslims only believe in the most radical interpretation of their religion.

Israeli society can accept this insane situation – investing billions in something called “defense” and then being afraid of primitive walking bombs made up of a few kilograms of explosives and nails – because of a belief in the Israeli intelligence apparatus and the “objectivity” of its information. After all, the intelligence officers are fluent in Arabic, they analyze the speeches of every imam, they watch all the Arab TV stations that broadcast incitement, they get their hands on texts that are barely known to Palestinian writers and their audiences, and they have personal human intelligence from all sorts of collaborators and informants.

Indeed, from Islamic Jihad’s perspective, now is a good time to intensify the sense of chaos in the country and region. As a tiny group, it is able to disregard and scorn the condemnations and warnings of the Palestinian Authority; it isn’t looking for an electoral constituency. But that perspective does not explain why Islamic Jihad, despite the blows it suffers from the army, is able to find candidates to conduct a policy that is dictated from abroad and is foreign to the Palestinian longing for normalcy. Yes, only the Israeli occupation can explain that. All the rest of the explanations are appendices, marginal footnotes.

So, how does one explain the occupation to the occupier? The knowledge of daily life of 3.5 million people, whose future offers no chance of normalcy: the daily experience of the land of their grandparents and parents falling prey to this or that army order, for some “public” expropriation or pirate outpost? How does one explain to the bulldozer what it means to live when the land is constantly shrinking under your feet, when across the way, meanwhile, some rich settlement of Jews grows and a brand new road is paved just for them? How can the paper on which the army orders are written know what it’s like to live for 37 years under the arbitrary rule of the representatives of the foreign occupation, many of whom are residents of the settlements, who make arbitrary decisions about who will be able to travel and who won’t, who will get medical treatment and who won’t, how many inches a water pipe can have as its diameter, if and when a water tanker reaches the village, which tree will be uprooted and which won’t?

How to explain to the tanks and planes what a little boy’s fear is like – not the fear of 10 or 100 but hundreds of thousands, not once a month or every other week, but daily, for three years, and what happens to a daughter and grandmother whose loved ones, civilians, are killed in front of their eyes, not by the dozens but the hundreds. How to explain to Israelis, who get only the most partial of reports about the horrors of the military occupation, that the Palestinians also suffer daily from horrific scenes, indeed, from the very first day of the renewed clashes, when they were still only throwing rocks and not blowing up in our cities?

Yes, the suicide bombers feel they represent their society. That’s their strength. They represent their society’s sense that it’s no use living under the occupation, with the terrible weakness against the Israeli military power, the impotence as they watch their land vandalized and degraded, the rage over the stupidity of the Palestinian leadership. They are willingly represented by the vengeance.

Israel tends to blame those who demand to explain the phenomenon of the suicide bombers in the context of the occupation, as if they understand and even justify the terrorist means. That might be understandable for a developed society, but it does not help Israeli society when dealing with the threat of the terror.

Jewish Peace News (JPN) is an edited news-clipping and commentary service provided by A Jewish Voice for Peace. JPN’s editors are Adam Gutride, Amichai Kronfeld, Rela Mazali, Sarah Anne Minkin, Judith Norman, Mitchell Plitnick, Lincoln Shlensky, and Alistair Welchman. The opinions expressed by the editors and presented in the articles sent to this list are solely those of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of A Jewish Voice for Peace.

A Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is a San Francisco Bay Area grassroots organization dedicated to the human, civil and economic rights of Jews, Palestinians, and all peoples in the Middle East.

The mirror of fire and tears

Laura Gordon, The Electronic Intifada, 10 October 2003

9 October 2003 — This Yom Kippur (October 6th), the most holy day on the Jewish calendar, the day of atonement in which we are supposed to cease every form of work in order to pray and request forgiveness from God, the Israeli army began construction on a new permanent checkpoint in the Gaza Strip, another slice.

Tanks cut off the main road between Rafah and Khan Younis (the city just north of Rafah) by driving ten tanks right in front of the European Gaza Hospital, the only decent hospital south of Gaza City, and the road has been closed for days. Nothing can get to Rafah, many things in Rafah are simply not available right now, things like medicine, the ability to cash checks, basic supplies.

People who study or work in Gaza City and Khan Younis haven’t been to work or university for days. It makes me think of high school, when snow and ice could shut a city down. Upstairs from our apartment, Rasha can’t hide the small relief she feels from this reprieve of study. I wonder how much the relief Rasha feels has to do with getting let off the hook from dealing with checkpoints.

The week before this closure, she spent 5 hours one day waiting for Abu Holi to open so she could go home and the next day it closed all night, leaving her to sleep at her friend’s sister’s house in Gaza City after waiting for 4 hours in a hot taxi in line with hundreds of cars waiting for the checkpoint to open. I compare our worlds, like parallel universes, squinting at each other from both sides of a mirror.

When tanks cut off the main road, people trying to get home used the sandy road and tanks cut that road too, shooting all the time, and bulldozers followed, demolishing anything anywhere near Moraj settlement, mostly olive trees. They are still demolishing. They’ve also started construction of something, people are saying it’s a permanent checkpoint, another Abu Holi.

Nobody knows much, not even the human rights organizations are going, nobody is risking going near the place because the tanks are shooting anyone who approaches. Nobody has dared approach since the first day of the incursion, when the army invaded without announcement, taking people by surprise as they drove to and from work. They injured four people, including a doctor who was shot in the head and is in critical condition in the European Gaza Hospital where he used to work.

In addition Rafah has accumulated another shaheed (“martyr”), Said Abu Azzum, 26 years old, who was driving with his wife and their two sons on a routine trip to Khan Younis, without any idea what was happening some meters down the road; shot in the heart as he turned a corner. He had no job, no money, and no house, and now he leaves behind a 21-year-old widow with nowhere to go, a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old with nowhere to go. They couldn’t even have the wake in his sister’s house where he used to stay because it’s near the border and because it’s too small to accomodate visitors, so they sat for three days in a cousin’s house in Shabura so that people wouldn’t be afraid to come and pay their respects.

When I went on the third day, his mother was angry. She said, Where is your camera, where are the journalists? Not one person from the media had come to photograph her. I was embarrassed. I hadn’t brought my camera, thinking it disrespectful to bring journalism to a wake. She said, if you’re going to write, at least take notes that I can see, write in your book that Sharon and Bush murdered my son, from the comfort of their offices.

On the same day Said Abu Azzum was killed, Mohammed’s older sister Wisam was coming home from the European Gaza Hospital, where she works as a nurse, when she heard the army had cut the road, and her taxi went with the other taxis towards the sandy road to bypass the tanks, but not fast enough. Tanks drove into the road as they were crossing into Rafah and began shooting indiscriminately, and it was at this point that people were injured and killed upon running from their cars to try to reach safety. Wisam was part of a group of women that walked together after the men had left, holding a white mendeel to signify surrender and peace.

The tanks shot at them anyway — is this the way to tell this story? — as they were walking — the words are so vile — and they lay down on the ground in the sand for a half an hour while a tank rode back and forth right next to them, a meter away — vile bastards — before retreating. Wisam did not walk to Rafah, she ran, in bare feet (having left her sandals somewhere on the ground) and arrived in her family’s home, her abaya torn, with the black glove of a woman she didn’t know that somehow found its way to her shoe. With her family, she cried for hours, saying that she would never go back to work. The road is closed in any case so, for now, it’s not even a possibility.

She is taking her respite with her family, in Tel Zorrob, farther from the border than the main street in town but not far enough that their third floor flat can’t be seen by the Zorrob sniper tower, which effectively keeps them from using the kitchen and one bedroom. The tower shoots all day and night. It shot at us while we were eating kabbab in the living room, and as Wisam impressed me from room to room with the delicate furnishings in her home. She said, “Yesterday, I couldn’t stop thinking about your friend Rachel. I thought I was going to meet the same fate.”

So it goes. There is nobody in Rafah who doesn’t feel the effect of this new blockage. Feryal is wondering where she will go if the road is closed when she gives birth to her fifth child, who is turning in her belly for the ninth month. When I visit them, her daughter Rula tells me, They’ve closed the road. What can we do? We want to see the world, we want some fresh air, we can’t go anywhere, we’re Palestinians.

Rula is 7 years old. Her older brother Mohammed, 11 years old, has been given an assignment by school to draw something related to human rights. He draws a world, an armed man shaking hands with an unarmed figure. The armed figure is America, he tells me, and the unarmed is Israel. Palestine is a cloud raining down lightning bolts of anger onto them, separate, alone, excluded from the conversation, unable to hold anything but its own fire and tears.

Laura Gordon is a 20-year-old American Jew who came to Israel in December 2002 with the Birthright Israel program and proceeded, three months later, to begin work with the International Solidarity Movement in Rafah.

September 19-21, 2003
Toward a Peaceful World

How to Spread Nonviolence, Globally and Locally

September 19-21, 2003
Hosted by Edgewood College, Madison, WI

Madison-Rafah Sister City Project is looking for volunteers to help staff our table at this event. If you are interested, please contact RafahSisterCity at

Brochures with registration information will be available the first week of August, including suggestions for lodging in the area.

Contact: Maureen McDonnell
(608) 663-3233
mcdonnel at



Capitol Times article:

The Schedule (as of 9/8/03)

Friday, Sept. 19:
5:30-6:30PM, Tailgating for Peace
Food available for purchase, with entertainment by local musicians.
Predolin Terrace

7PM, Presentation: “What Would A Peaceful World Look Like?”
Father Roy Bourgeois (founder of School of the Americas (SOA) Watch)
Anderson Auditorium

8 PM for kids: “Sing Your Way Around the World” with Clare Norelle.

Saturday, Sept. 20
9AM-Noon, Nonviolence Training w/ Eric LeCompte

Kids for Peace Events start at 9AM

Noon – lunch in the EC dining room (pay as you go)

1-2PM, SOA Watch w/ Roy Bourgeois
2PM, Islam & Conflict Resolution (Islamic Perspective)

3:00-3:30PM Ice Cream Social — Predolin Terrace / Commons area

3:30-5PM, Peace Communities in Colombia & Palestine, with Sr. Marge Eilerman of Colombia Support Network and Jennifer Loewenstein of Madison-Rafah Sister City Project
Supper break (on your own, on campus or in Madison restaurant)
Fr. Roy will possibly be speaking at church service in the evening.

5PM, Theatre as Nonviolent Protest

Sunday, Sept. 21

10AM-11:30 and 2-6PM, Nonviolence Training for Trainers w/ Eric LeCompte

11:30 Mass, Roy B. preside/preach — St. Joseph Chapen, Regina Hall

12:30PM, Brunch in the EC dining room (pay as you go)

1:30-2:30PM, Music as Nonviolent Protest w/ C. King, K. Brandow and Prince Myshkin

2:40-3:40PM, Nonviolent Atonement w/ Denny Weaver

3:40-4:50PM, International Solidarity Movement w/ Adam Shapiro

5-6PM, Supper in EC dining room (pay as you go)

6PM Concert in the Anderson Auditorium w/ Charlie King & Karen Brandow, Prince Myshkin
(ticket price: $13 in advance, $15 at door; seniors and students: $8 in advance, $10 at door)

Added Attractions:

Kids for Peace
Activities for kids ages 6-11, including multi-cultural stories, movement, music, and a socio-economic meal that emphasizes just distribution of food. Childcare for children ages 3-5 will be provided free of charge.

EPI Artists’ Exhibit
Many of the EPI Artists’ who contributed to the Epidemic Peace Imagery Exhibit have contributed similar art to the TaPW Conference. The Epidemic Peace Imagery Exhibit can be viewed at the Public Library Main Branch through the month of September.

An opportunity to do some weaving during the weekend on a peace piece that is in progress.

Food can be purchased throughout the weekend in the Regina Hall dining room or in the Wingra Cafe in Predolin Humanities Center.

Sign Interpretation
Sign interpretation will be offered for the Friday, 7PM presentation.


(“Some critics have tried to discern a semantic distinction between toward and towards, but the difference is entirely dialectal. Toward is more common in American English; towards is the predominant form in British English.” [American HeritageÆ Dictionary])

Israel’s Assassination Policy Triggers Latest Suicide Bombings

Graffiti in Gaza. (Ronald de Hommel)

Steve Niva, The Electronic Intifada, 2 September 2003

Palestinian suicide bombings are vicious and grave abuses, clearly war crimes under international law for intentionally killing civilians. They have also been a strategic disaster for Palestinian national aspirations, souring the Israeli public on peace and damaging the Palestinian cause in the court of world opinion.

Nevertheless, it is nearly impossible to avoid concluding that the current Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has either deliberately provoked a number of them or at least undertaken actions that would clearly risk them. Either way, it is complicit in the deaths of scores of Israeli citizens.

For how else can one explain the Israeli decision to assassinate senior military and political leaders from militant Palestinian groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad during the past three months when it is well documented that such actions frequently result in a suicide bombing, usually within a week?

In four of the past five suicide bombings, the timing of the bombing, the fact that group whose senior militant was assassinated carried out the attack, and the explicit claim of revenge for the assassination in all of these cases leave little room for doubt about cause and effect.

The most recent atrocity in Jerusalem on August 19, in which twenty-one Israelis were immolated on a bus returning from Jewish holy sites, including many children and elderly, came within four days of Israel’s August 15 assassination of Muhammed Sidr, the commander of Islamic Jihad’s Quds Brigades in Hebron. The Quds Brigades issued a statement warning that their response would be swift “like an earthquake” and would strike at the heart of Israel.

Islamic Jihad’s immediate claim of responsibility after the brutal bombing initially appeared to be contradicted by a Hamas released videotape of one of its own Hebron activists, Raed Abdel-Hamed Mesk, who undertook the attack. Yet although Jihad and Hamas are often rivals, Mesk asserted in the video he would carry out a suicide bombing to avenge the killing of Sidr, who was widely reported to be a close associate at a local mosque. Hamas spokesmen claimed it was also avenging the June 21 Israeli assassination of Abdullah Qawasmeh, Hamas’ local West Bank chief in Hebron.

The dual suicide bombings a week earlier on August 12 near Tel Aviv and near the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the occupied West Bank, killing two Israelis, came within four days of Israel’s August 8 assassination of Fayez Al Sadr, head of Hamas’ Qassem Brigades in the Askar refugee camp in Nablus. Three other Palestinians were killed in the raid. Both the Qassem Brigades and the Fatah-linked Aqsa Martyrs Brigades immediately vowed revenge and each claimed responsibility for one of the bombings that ensued. According to several reports, the young bombers, both seventeen year-olds, were both from the Askar refugee camp and had grown up within blocks of one another.

The bloody suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem two months earlier on June 11 that killed 16 Israelis came a day after Israel’s June 10 attempted assassination of the senior Hamas political leader in Gaza, Abdel-Aziz Rantisi, which wounded him and killed four Palestinian civilians. Hamas had vowed a swift and dramatic response that came earlier than many predicted.

The only exception to this pattern in the past three months is that no assassination precipitated the July 8 suicide bombing in the Israeli town of Kfar Yvetz that killed an elderly Israeli woman. The Jenin branch of Islamic Jihad claimed the attack was in response to Israel’s refusal to release Palestinian prisoners, though Islamic Jihad’s official spokesman disavowed the attack.

None of this should be surprising. Nor should anyone believe that Israeli political and intelligence officials who planned and implemented the assassinations were surprised by the ensuing suicide attacks. Ariel Sharon and his Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz are touted as among Israel’s most acute and ruthless military tacticians, who undertake few actions without thoroughly studying their consequences.

It would be extremely difficult to imagine they were unaware that since the first Palestinian suicide bombing inside Israel on April 6, 1994 following the massacre of 29 Palestinians in Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque by the American-Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein, many Israeli assassinations of militant commanders have been followed by suicide bombings.

This pattern can be traced to Islamic Jihad’s first suicide bombings in 1994 and 1995 which it claimed as responses to the Israeli assassinations of its senior and founding leaders Hani Abed and Fathi Shiqaqi. When Hamas launched its second bus bombing campaign in 1996 following Israel’s assassination of its bombing mastermind Yehiya Ayash, known as “the Engineer,” the potential for such assassinations to provoke a suicide bombing was well established.

Following the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada on September 29, 2000 and Israel’s resumption of a systematic assassination campaign on November 9, 2000, many suicide bombings can be directly traced to this pattern of assassination and revenge.

It should be noted that the majority of the over 100 suicide bombings in the past three years cannot be directly correlated with Israel’s nearly 160 extra-judicial assassinations undertaken during this time. But it undeniable that, according to Palestinian sources, Israeli assassinations have also killed over one hundred civilian bystanders in the past three years fueling demands for revenge, and that militant groups frequently list assassinations as a key justification for such attacks.

But a nearly certain predictor for a suicide bombing is when Israel assassinates a senior commander or political leader of a militant group, especially when it does so during or in the negotiations for a truce by these groups on attacks on Israelis. Examples from the past few years include:

  • Israel’s assassination of the two leading Hamas commanders in Nablus on July 31 2001 that put an end to a nearly two-month Hamas cease-fire on Israeli civilians, leading to the August 9 Hamas suicide bombing in a Jerusalem Sbarro pizzeria.
  • Israel’s assassination of the senior Hamas militant Mahmud Abu Hanoud on November 23, 2001 while Hamas was upholding an agreement with Arafat not to attack targets inside of Israel following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US, leading to the Jerusalem and Haifa Hamas suicide bombings on December 1 and 2.
  • Israel’s assassination of leading Fatah militant Raed Karmi on January 14, 2002 during a cease-fire declared by all the militant groups in late December, leading to the Fatah linked Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade first suicide bombing on January 27.
  • Israel’s July 23, 2002 air attack on a crowded apartment block in Gaza City that assassinated the senior Hamas military leader, Salah Shehada, while also killing 15 civilians, 11 of them children, hours before a widely reported unilateral cease-fire declaration by the Fatah-linked Tanzim and Hamas, leading to the Hamas suicide bombing on August 4.
  • Israel’s assassination on December 26, 2002 of three prominent members from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade while representatives from Fatah, Hamas and other factions were meeting in Cairo to formulate a cease-fire on Israeli civilians to last through the Israeli elections on January 28, leading to the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade suicide bombing on January 5, 2003 that killed twenty-two Israelis.

Given this striking pattern, it was no surprise that four out of the five recent suicide bombings came within a week of Israel’s recent assassinations or attempted assassination of such high level militant commanders. All of them came during or in the process of negotiating the three-month truce against attacks on Israeli civilians that was implemented on June 29. Palestinian militants group had very clearly stated that they would consider Israeli assassinations to be a violation of the truce and that they reserved the right to respond accordingly.

Moreover, one could argue that Sharon had already undertaken nearly every action possible short of a high level assassination to undermine Palestinian support for the cease-fire and President Bush’s Road Map process. In addition to mass arrests and low level killings, he had refused to dismantle Israeli settler outposts, end the siege and blockades of Palestinian cities and towns, release a significant number of Palestinian prisoners, or cease building a separation wall deep within the West Bank.

The only conclusion one can draw is that either Sharon thought it so important to kill these high level militant leaders at this time despite the bloody consequences for Israeli civilians or that he took these actions precisely because he sought a violent Palestinian response. It appears that the only thing more threatening for Ariel Sharon’s government than Palestinian terrorism is a Palestinian cease-fire.

By the same token, militant Palestinian groups must be condemned in the strongest terms for seizing upon Sharon’s provocations through their myopic preoccupation with revenge through suicide bombing that has brought untold misery upon both Israelis and Palestinians.

Suicide bombings against Israeli civilians are clearly not the only option they could undertake in response to assassinations or any other Israeli provocation. A sustained guerilla campaign against settlers and soldiers and the infrastructure of occupation in the occupied terroritories, which sends a clear political message to Israeli’s that the conflict is over the occupation and not Israel’s existence, is far more dangerous to Sharon and his right wing allies.

Palestinian militants have, in effect, aligned themselves with Israel’s expansionist right-wing by providing the crucial pretext for Sharon to reoccupy and lay siege to Palestinian population centers, seize more Palestinian land for Israeli settlements and to build a barrier around Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza that traps them within tiny enclaves.

Nevertheless, based on the evidence from the past few years, Israel’s actions are of incomparably greater significance for ending these attacks than those of Prime Minister Abbas and what little remains of his decimated security services. At a minimum, Israel should immediately cease its assassination campaign. The escalation of these assassinations illustrated by the August 22 assassination of the major Hamas spokesman Ismail Abu Shanub in Gaza, widely seen as a Hamas moderate, is a clear sign that the Sharon government is concerned more about its own extremist political agenda than it is for Israeli civilian lives.

While Palestinians must do what they can to end suicide bombings, it is past time to rethink Israel’s assassination policy. They make it impossible for Palestinian authorities to undertake steps to reign in the militant groups without risking a major civil war and fuel popular support for retaliation.

Given all the carnage that can be traced to Israel’s assassination policy, the only remaining question is why more Israelis and their supporters abroad are not in the forefront against it.

Steve Niva is a professor of international politics and Middle East Studies at The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington. He is an associate of the Middle East Research and Information Project, writes occassionally for its magazine Middle East Report, and has had articles published in Al-Ahram Weekly, The Jordan Times and Peace Review. A shorter version of this article appeared on Counterpunch.

Steve Niva

Continue reading