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Sol Salbe's Middle East Round-up

Sol Salbe's Middle East Round-up


Middle East News Service & the Daily Briefing

Today’s Middle East Round-up column from the Daily Briefing. Introduction below is by TDB editor Wayne Sanderson.

Sol Salbe begins today's Middle East round-up with an apology for observing last week that “things are quiet in the Middle East" given what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As you'd expect, Sol then works to set the record straight. Why, TDB has often wondered, do journalists for our mainstream outlets have such great difficulty recording and correcting their own errors? Sol also updates a couple of major stories that have not been reported in the Australian media, and notes that some Australian news has been reported in the Middle East. As always, a great read with interesting and important information on the region at the centre of international politics. (If you haven't already cultivated the Sol habit, today is a good day to start.)

Middle East round-up
Mea Culpa

The introduction to last week’s column stated “things are quiet in the Middle East.” Yes they were indeed quiet in Lebanon and in Israel but in the Occupied Palestinian Territories they were far from quiet. As a venerable Palestinian friend put it: “Just because the media have not reported, as usual, the daily atrocities by the Israeli army on the West Bank and the Strip—does not mean it has been quiet!” I did explain to him that the column was produced in a rush but such errors need to be corrected publicly. It should have never been put in those terms.

While my interlocutor provided ample details of everything from people killed to wells deliberately destroyed by Israel his sources were, naturally enough, Palestinian and may be disputed by some. It is a lot more difficult to cast aspersions at Haaretz, Israel’s most respected newspaper. On 1 October the paper provided a table of Palestinians and Israelis killed in security-related events during September. It sourced the data to B’Tselem – the Israeli human rights organisation which sets a high standard for detailing this kind of figures. According to table one Israeli soldier was killed in September. A total of 28 Palestinians, of which 17 were civilians including two women and 11 children were killed during the month. Those figures speak for themselves. It is not quiet in the Palestinian Territories.

A few days earlier B’Tselem issued a media statement: “According to B'Tselem figures, since the beginning of the Intifada, on 29 September 2000, and until 27 September 2006:

“Israeli security forces have killed 3,733 Palestinians (including 767 minors) in the Occupied Territories. Of these, at least 1,812 were not taking part in the hostilities when they were killed, and 208 were the object of a targeted killing. In addition, Israeli security forces killed 60 Palestinians inside Israel .

“Israeli civilians killed 41 Palestinian in the Occupied Territories.

“Palestinians have killed 697 Israeli civilians (including 119 minors) in the Occupied Territories and inside Israel. In addition, Palestinians killed 314 members of the Israeli security forces.”

Internecine Palestinian conflict

Over the past few days reports have been coming in of bloody clashes between Hamas and Fatah supporters in both the Gaza Strip and the west Bank. Up to nine people are reporter to have been killed. The most recent reports seem to suggest that cooler heads have prevailed and that calm has returned. While it is obvious such clashes are inevitable in the pressure cooker environment in the territories where people are unable to feed their families I cannot provide you with any up to date analysis from Israel. The media has to a large degree shut up shop for past three days with yesterday being Yom Kippur –the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. [For the Palestinian it is just under day of closure with no one being able to get in or out.] In the meantime, however I highly recommend Amira Hass’s backgrounder from a few days ago in Haaretz: “Missing the government of thieves”. It is definitely a must read from someone whose sympathy for the Palestinians cannot be questioned.

“Missile carrying boat”

It happens time and time again. A horrific story gets put about. Much is made in the media about it. Then several days, weeks or months later some specialised publication will report that the original story was not true. The newspapers and columnists who made such a fuss originally do not usually bother to mention the final outcome. What remains in the public perception is the initial version of the story.

You may recall for example Israel’s “daring” operation to capture the Jericho jail about half a year ago. The main person they were after was the Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmed Saadat. The IDF destroyed part of the jail and humiliated the Palestinian forces by forcing them to strip to their underpants in front of the world media in order to get their man. Their justification was that the person responsible for the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi should not be released. The Hamas government that was about to come into office, had promised to release him as a Palestinian court had found no evidence against him. Well, it turned out that the Israeli Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz, could not find enough evidence either. That story, however, was not mentioned in the Australian media.

Last month there was a similar story. Plenty of fuss when acting on a tip from Interpol authorities in Cyprus arrested the crew and impounded the Panamanian-registered Gregorio 1. The Voice of America reported: “Police in Cyprus say the Gregorio 1 was carrying 18 trucks fitted with mobile radar they believe are part of an air defense system. The equipment was loaded in North Korea and was on its way to the Syrian port of Latakia.” That was on 5 September. By 28 September the Cyprus Mail was able to report: “Cyprus has released to Syria a shipment of North Korean aircraft defence systems intercepted on an Interpol alert earlier this month, a government source said yesterday…. ‘It has now been released to Syria after all the proper legal procedures were followed,’ said the source, who requested anonymity. ‘It’s gone, the matter is closed.’…There are no UN restrictions on weapons supplies to Syria whose borders are widely regarded as a conduit for arms to the Lebanese Hizbollah group.” Other than shipping and defence publications no western source seems to have covered that aspect, at least according to Google News.

Assad Peace feelers rejected

Syria’s president calls for a peace agreement with Israel based on the return to International border were unceremoniously rejected by Israel’s government. Prime Minister Olmert’s comment that the (Israeli-Occupied Syrian) Golan Heights is going to remain in Israel’s hand forever had echoes of an earlier period. More than three decades beforehand the then Defence Minister, Moshe Dayan, said he preferred Sharm El Sheikh (the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula) without peace to Peace without Sharm El Sheikh. Of course 3,000 dead Israeli soldiers (and umpteen Egyptian lives) later Israel returned the whole of the Sinai to Egypt. It is rare for Israeli leaders to be so blunt and so public about their peace rejectionism as in the current case. The only exception was Education Minister Yuli Tamir who wanted to negotiate not only with Syria but with Hamas as well. Olmert soon put paid to that by forbidding his ministers from speaking about the subject in public.

He could not step the media with commentators, not only from the Left, pointing out to Israel’s role as a peace refusenik. Probably the best worth reading is Sever Plocker of Yediot Acahronot. Plocker is a centre-right columnist but even he could see the lack of wisdom in Israel’s stance:

“The Syrian option, on the other hand, is realistic. It certainly is better than unilateral withdrawals that end in disaster.

“So before Prime Minister Olmert dismisses Syria's peace gestures and foolishly declares that the Golan is ‘an inseparable part of Israel,’ he should take into account the fact we can spare no children for needless wars.” You can read Ynetnews’ translation, which was not really up to standard, or check my own corrected version on the Scoop web site. Haaretz’s own headlines for comments by veteran reported Uzi Benziman “Is Israel a partner?” and Gideon Levy’s “Operation Peace for the Winery” give you an idea of what the paper thought of Olmert’s stance.

Australian News makes headlines

John Howard’s Canberra statement telling Arab countries that they must recognise Israel’s right to exist managed to make it to the Israeli media. However, only Ma’ariv carried a report from its own stringer in Australia and even she only devoted 148 words to the subject (still managing to get the date of the Bali Bombing wrong). An English-language account from the German News agency DPA can be found in Haaretz. Much more interest was displayed by a major Palestinian web site MIFTAH (the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy.)

This organisation devoted an entire editorial to Howard’s statement. It is one of the most lucid and best expressed critiques of the prevailing western view that I have read for some time.

Much, much more

With no clear focus the Israeli media had lots of other subject to cover. Haaretz produced a massive round-up of the stories behind the recent Lebanon war. Of all of Israel’s leaders, military and political, only Foreign Minister Livni comes out looking any good and showing any wisdom. [Perhaps that’s the reason the wily Sharon preferred her as his successor.] The IDF has now left Lebanon but, like a serial offender, Israel insisted on not leaving a tiny part. This time it is the Lebanese half of the village of Ghajar. No doubt its name will come up in future columns

The last word should go the mayor Sderot Eli Moyal who came up with a novel way of describing Olmert’s popularity. By way of background Israelis are heavy consumers of cheese. Often when the purpose of use is cooking (in cheesecakes and pies) such cheeses are described by the percentage of fat. So when Olmert attacked the Likud-supporting Moyal he responded: “When the percentage of the Prime Minister’s popularity in the polls is not high enough for cottage cheese it is easy to tell what kind of pressure he is under.”

*************

[The independent Middle East News Service concentrates on providing alternative information chiefly from Israeli sources. It is sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the AJDS. These are expressed in its own statements]

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