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PHOTO: French diplomat at the feet of Israeli troops

A French diplomat and several of her European colleagues were manhandled today by Israeli troops near the recently demolished village of Khirbet al-Makhul in the West Bank, Reuters said. The diplomats were accompanying a truck of tents and emergency aid supplies, and the French diplomat, Marion Castaing, was physically dragged out of the truck and thrown to the ground in disregard of her diplomatic immunity. The troops then confiscated the truck and drove it away.

A picture, below, taken by an eyewitness at the scene (who wishes to remain anonymous) and sent to The National correspondent Hugh Naylor shows Castaing lying at the feet of armed troops. Judging by the uniform, the troops belong to the paramilitary Border Police, which handles much of the grunt jobs of the occupation.

French diplomat Marion Castaing lies at the feet of Israeli troops, West Bank, 20.9.2013. (photo provided by European aid worker who wished to remain anonymous)

The diplomat herself sounds understandably livid, commenting to Reuters that “this is how international law is respected here.” There has been no official comment from the French embassy as of yet.

The IDF issued an announcement a few hours later, alleging that ” dozens of Palestinian and European activists [sic] tried to set up an illegal outpost in an area close to the community of Hemdat. The Palestinian activists threw stones at IDF forces that arrived to evict them. Three rioters who refused to be evicted and attacked the soldiers were detained, and the truck was confiscated.” A Red Cross convoy that set out for the same village was stopped and turned back on Tuesday.

The original Reuters report seems to have been filed by correspondent Noah Browning, but the byline in subsequent reprints was amended to Crispian Balmer, the Reuters bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Update (September 21, 12 p.m.):

The following video was uploaded by Palestinian filmmaker Enas I. al-Muthaffar. In the clip, there is no visible stone throwing or other violent activity on the side of the aid workers, diplomats or Palestinians prior to the arrests and use of stun grenades.

This article originally questioned whether the border policeman’s weapon was pointed at Castaing in the above image....

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Three men talking: Stepping away from privilege is not enough

You can practice gender awareness all you like, and it will still be incredibly easy to slip back into familiar patterns. But quietly washing your hands of it is not enough, and a dramatic renunciation can backfire. 

A few weeks ago, I took part in a discussion after a film screening at the SOAS Israel Society in London. The film concerned the Wannsee Conference, where the “final solution” was planned, and the screening was organised by a member of the society, a barrister doing his PhD at the LSE. Of those present, three were men (myself included), and six were women, including one of the principal organisers of the society, a theater student who, as we remembered much too late, had said before the discussion she’ll want to talk about Holocaust education in Israel; and another principal organiser, a history student, who, among other things, has been exploring issues of complicity and real-time denial by combatants conducting ethnic cleansing in the War of 1948.

The credits rolled, and the barrister made some introductory remarks explaining the political and legal history after the events of the film. He then opened the floor to the rest of the group. Nobody spoke, so I pitched in. The third man, a history PhD student in his forties, picked up, and the moderator rejoined him.

Fifteen minutes into the discussion, it hit me that only we men in the room were talking.

Once I realised I was part of the problem, I contended myself with withdrawing from conversation. I was hoping one of the women present would step into my space, but in reality, all I did was let the two other men seamlessly fill up that space with their own conversation. And while women did join the discussion towards the end, they still spoke considerably more briefly (even if more to the point) than the men. The fact the men were in their thirties to forties, mid-career (myself) or PhDs and most of the women were postgrad or undergrad students under 25, didn’t help either. Whenever the discussion died down and no one would say anything, I would permit myself to pitch in with a comment, assuming that someone has to say something and no one was saying anything, so I might as well. I was usually rejoined by one of the men, followed by the other, and the dynamic cheerfully resumed itself.

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Rightists say bring down the Wall, leftists say let's keep it

Noted right-wingers call to demolish the separation wall. True, they are driven by a desire for annexation, but the Left finds itself in an unseemly position – defending one of the great injustices of the occupation in the name of the distant prospect of two states. 

Former Defense Minister Moshe Arens yesterday told Ma’ariv he thinks the separation wall – which snakes its way around the West Bank and has been responsible for cutting tens of thousands of people from their livelihoods and from each other – should be torn down. “The wall is no longer of any use and it’s only doing Israel harm,” he told the website. “It’s obvious today that the separation wall [sic] is completely useless. It’s damaging Israel in the international arena and it causes hardship for the Palestinians in their day-to-day lives.” Arens, a noted hawk who has served as defense minister in three different Likud cabinets (Begin, Shamir and Netanyahu), attributed construction of the wall to hysteria rather than strategic thinking. “There was panic. When terror attacks occur almost every day, sometimes twice a day, and the Shin Bet comes to you and tells you it’s impossible to block terrorism without a wall, you get convinced. I was also convinced, but today it’s clear there is no connection between the wall and the cessation of attacks.”

The former defense minister instead attributed the slump in Palestinian political violence to IDF activity within Palestinian areas and the collaboration of Palestinian police forces, adding that “the wall is ugly. It’s like a scar on the face of the Land of Israel. There have been walls before and they fell down.” Finally, he said, “we should remember many Jews live beyond the wall,” and some fear the wall might someday become a political border.

In my mind, the last argument is the most important – both for Arens himself and for the settler politicians who rallied to his support. MK Yoni Chetboun of Habayit Hayehudi party (led by annexationist Naftali Bennett) argued to Ma’ariv that “the wall actually increases motivation for terrorism among the Palestinians by projecting a message of weakness, defensiveness and entrenchment.” Chetboun, who sits on the pivotal Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, credited the wall with a “short term” role in stopping waves of attacks, but said, “what...

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Prisoner X: A false-flag agent?

An already reported, Iran-related  story  developed in parallel to that of Prisoner X, with numerous factors allowing for overlap. Could Zygier have compromised a false-flag operation to enlist an Iranian armed opposition group? 

Ben Zygier, alleged Mossad agent who was held without trial in Israeli prison and found dead in 2010 (photo from ABC Australia video)

It’s always difficult to try and discern the full picture when all you have is a few pieces of a puzzle, not necessarily even pieces belonging to the same box. But this is precisely the trouble with censorship and gag orders: it forces us to make do with what we have and to use only information already in the public domain. With this in mind, I’d like to draw attention to a story that developed in parallel to that of Prisoner X and had numerous factors that could (though not necessarily should) allow for some overlap.

In January 2012, a few days after another assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist, Foreign Policy published an expose by Mark Perry, an expose that met with a fierce backlash and clampdown reminiscent of the one experience by Israeli media over the last few days. Drawing on testimonies and memos from senior intelligence officials in the Bush Jr.  and Obama administrations, Perry revealed that as recently as 2008, and perhaps even to this day, Israeli agents “touting American passports and flush American dollars” posed as American intelligence operatives in order to recruit members of Sunni terrorist organization Jundallah, infamous for attacks within Iran (targeting both officials and ordinary civilians). According to the report, the recruitment took place in Pakistan, but also in Morocco, London and elsewhere.

What do we know about Ben Zygier? Apart from biographical details preceding his involvement with the Mossad, we know that he changed his name several times: first to Ben Alon when immigrating to Israel, and then, in a new Australian passport, to the nearly-homonimic Ben Allen; later still, he also added Benjamin Burroughs to the list. We know that using at least one of the latter two identities, Zygier visited Syria, Lebanon and Iran; and that his name changes and his...

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Yair Lapid: The rise of the tofu man

Despite an astonishing surge to second place in the polls, chances of Yair Lapid making  an actual premiership bid are slim. He is risk-averse, lacks a political program, and his projected coalition is too fanciful to work. Lapid is much more likely to join Netanyahu’s next government, and the only question is: Will Lapid be Bibi’s pretty face in Washington as Foreign Minister, or will he be the Finance Minister, and therefore fall guy, for Israel’s upcoming austerity drive? 

Yair Lapid with “Yesh Atid” activists (photo: Yotam Ronen /

LIKUD VICTORY RALLY, TEL AVIV – After months of predictions for a comfortable right-wing win, Israel reeled tonight at a surprising near-gridlock between the “Right” and “Left” parliamentary blocs, with the Netanyahu-Liberman union barely scrambling past 30 seats, instead of the 45 42 they held between them in the departing parliament. But Netanyahu’s ratings were in steady decline ever since the union pact in late November and not least thanks his petty and paranoid attacks on settler leader Naftali Bennett.  The true surprise of the landslide vote was ultra-centrist candidate Yair Lapid. Lapid, a TV personality who avoided taking any remotely controversial stand on almost any issue, careened past rivals right and left to end up with 17 to 19 seats, rendering him the kingmaker of these elections. Bennett himself, the other golden boy of the 2013 elections, is currently forecasted to win 12 seats, a solid achievement but a far cry from the utopian poll projections of 15-19. Kadima, the centrist party that led Israel to wars in Lebanon and Gaza during its first term in the Knesset, and imploded in a series of ill-judged political manoeuvres at the end of its second term, has not made it to a third term at all, evaporating from Israeli politics with zero seats in the exit polls.

On the Left, Shelly Yacimovich doubled Labor’s seats but fell far, far behind her promise to oust Netanyahu or even to restore Labor as a significant force in Israeli politics. To add insult to injury, after making every possible effort to depoliticise and centralise Labor’s toxic brand, she was overtaken by an ad-hoc party led by a man who lacks any of the political structures, networks and traditional strongholds...

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J14 fades into grey in Labor primaries: New faces, old politics

The most important news about the Labor primaries is the depressing scarcity of news – most of the list  belies the same old politics Israeli voters grew weary of years ago. Even J14 has not managed to breathe new life into the party – and the most prominent new figure on the ballot had to fight her way in past her own party leader. 

Israel’s Labor party, widely viewed as the closest thing to an alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, announced the results of its primaries on Friday, and its slate for the Knesset. The party is led by ex-journalist Shelly Yachimovich, the first woman in that position since Golda Meir led Labor’s antecedent Mapai in the 1960s-1970s. Unlike in Golda’s day, when Mapai saturated the country’s politics inside out and ruled nearly every institution, from parliament to union to local councils, this position is now far from an enviable one.

While Labor is currently set to just about double its eight seats to 18-20, and while the party is capitalising on the widespread social discontent brought to the fore by the 2011 J14 protests, it remains a far cry from challenging Netanyahu-Lieberman’s projected bloc of 34-40. For better or worse, Yachimovch’s chances of stepping deeper into Golda’s shoes and becoming prime minister are slim, and the largely lackluster list assembled under her leadership confirms this.

The entire realistic list (the top 20) is below. The most important aspect of it is the least remarkable: it is composed mostly of either stale old-timers clinging onto their seats by sheer power of habit, or party functionaries utterly unknown outside Labor circles. This will be addressed at the bottom of the post; what follows are notes on the newcomers.

*Make way: The most important and highest-ranking among the newcomers is journalist Merav Michaeli (no. 5), easily one of the most thoughtful among Haaretz columnists and one of the two-three most prominent feminist voices in Israeli mainstream media. Although a celebrity and an extremely popular figure on the Left, Michaeli was reportedly stonewalled by Yachimovich and had to fight tooth and nail to get into the top 2o - without cattle-trading that we know of, without endorsements* against the resentment of party functionaries old and new.  Her close alliance with Yachimovich’s arch-rival Amir Peretz notwithstanding played an important part in keeping her on the ballot, but her election to the no. 5...

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Photos: Bus bombing in central Tel Aviv; at least 17 wounded

At least seventeen people were wounded, two of them seriously, when a bomb blew up in a bus in central Tel Aviv earlier today. This was the first bus bombing in the city since 2006, and although several armed groups voiced support for the bombing, Israeli police were cautious not to assign direct responsibility even hours after the attack. Uncharacteristically for a conflict area more than accustomed to suicide bombings, the bomb appears to have been left on the bus and set off some time after the bomber or bombers left the vehicle. Police described the attack as “amateur-like.”

In Gaza, meanwhile, IDF navy and air force continued to bomb the city, striking another media building and killing 12 people by the late afternoon. Among the reported victims were a two-year-old child and a father with his two children.

Activestills has photos from the scene of the Tel Aviv bombing:

The aftermath of an explosion on a bus in central Tel Aviv, November 21, 2012. (photo: Yotam Ronen/


Emergency services at the scene of an explosion on a bus with passengers on board. At least 17 people were injured in a blast on a bus in central Tel Aviv. (photo: Oren Ziv/


Emergency services at the scene of an explosion on a bus with passengers on board. At least 17 people were injured in a blast on a bus in central Tel Aviv. (photo: Keren Manor/


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Gaza: Time for real men?

Israeli viewers are currently under attack – not only by rockets, but by a legion of serious, gruff, tough, men’s-man manly commentators manning the studios and explaining why the war makes sense to any reasonable… man. A text by Idan Landau. 

Scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, superimposed with members of the Israeli cabinet. (Amir Schiby)


“And once again the screen is awash with men, battalions, battalions of men, swarms of men; commander men and commentator men, calming men and threatening men, men with a rich past in positions of command, men with greying temples, men with a rich past in position of command and greying temples, Ashkenazi men and Mizrahi men, men who know what’s best now, men who have no idea what’s going on now, men who talk much but say little, stern-gazed men, stern-faced men, men with a knife between their teeth and a quiver in their loins, men who lost their teeth, men who know “their” mentality all too well, men who’ve spent sleepless nights in roles that are best keep silent, men who are best kept silent, explicit men and implicit men, men yanked from among the mothballs, from the kitbag, leftovers from primaries, parachuted CEOs, retired generals, retired experts, retired men, chewing men and swallowing men and men regurgitating, men with frameless glasses, men who start each sentence with “I would suggest that all of us…”, men horny as hell, men horny for hell, for blood and for bombs, men for whom this is their finest hour, men who flower now, youthful men, men whose old age is worthy of their youth, men who’s erection never rests, men whose erection, whose erection, whose erection, whose erection, men who ate from the same tin bowl, men who have known each other since —-  and even since ——, men who say wars are not for sissies, men who lack the female touch, men whose heart is untouched by the breath of a sleeping baby, whose manly, sane, reasonable, baboon-like, warmongering reasoning is unclouded, men who are retired war criminals, who meet in the studio with smiles of relief, hello War Criminal A, hello War Criminal B, men who know...

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Facebook won't remove photo of woman 'begging to be raped'

You may have heard about the massive cyber-war against the Reddit group “Creepshot”, which featured users sharing surreptitiously taken pictures of women’s cleavages, upskirts etc. The war hit the headlines when one of the thread’s contributors was revealed to be a school teacher taking pictures of his own students in class. It seems now that some of its denizens have found a new home – Facebook.

Yesterday, a Facebook page titled “Creepshots” posted a photo of a woman in a short skirt with the caption “begging to be raped“:

Although almost all 45 comments (at time of writing) were negative and most promised to report the photo to the Facebook admins, 24 hours later it was still there, and users who attempted to report it today got the following response:

“Status: Content Not Removed

Details:Thank you for your report. We carefully reviewed the photo you reported, but found it doesn’t violate our community standard on hate speech so we didn’t remove it.”

Here, for example, is a screenshot of the response given to one user:

And here is another:

And another:

And so on and so on.

How on earth is “begging to be raped” not considered hate speech by Facebook? Seriously, it’s more than just getting them to remove the picture now: Users deserve to know just why the Facebook employee who reviewed the block request did not think this caption was beyond the pale.

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Politicians line up behind Israeli assault on Gaza

Israel launches a fresh operation on the Gaza Strip, killing Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari and several civilians. In the meanwhile, the opposition has never seemed so haggard.

The assassination of Ahmad Jabari, the architect of both the recent Gilad Shalit prisoner swap and, more importantly, the détente that prevailed between Israel and Hamas for the past several years, is an uncharacteristically high-risk gamble by the Netanyahu and Barak duo. It’s uncharacteristic not only because Netanyahu, in the past, has been extremely careful not to upset the apple cart and has repeatedly dialed up the violence in the Gaza Strip and dialed it down again, but also because this round was already being calmed down via an Egypt-brokered ceasefire when the assassination got the go-ahead.

My own hunch, and that of several Israeli observers, is that Barak is the prime mover behind this recent escalation. His has been a consistent voice for stronger Israeli military action in previous rounds of escalation in Gaza, and he stands more to gain from a large-scale military operation. Netanyahu is winning the elections with one hand tied behind his back; Barak and his splinter Independence Party, by contrast, have barely been scratching the electoral barrier. Appearing as a decisive, wily and sophisticated military mind next to a wallowing Netanyahu can only do Barak that much good, and Israeli Twitterati have already replaced “Pillar of Defense” the cringe-inducing, Freud-evoking codename for the operation with “Independence War.”

Be that as it may, Netanyahu has signed up for this offensive and it now bears his name as surely as Cast Lead bears those of Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. In the short term, his gamble might well conclude without political damage (the damage to the lives of Israeli and Gazan residents is clearly of comparatively little consequence to either him or his defense minister, otherwise the deescalation would have been allowed to take its course, as it has throughout Netanyahu’s tenure). In the optimal scenario, Hamas will not escalate the conflagration further, and will not fire the long-range missiles in its arsenal to Tel Aviv and its suburbs, both because an Israeli strike took out much of said arsenal immediately after Jabari was slain, and because this would blow the violence dials sky-high and require an Israeli response at least as forceful as the 2008-2009 Cast Lead operation. After a few exchanges, Egyptians will oblige...

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Just today, forget about the Middle East and vote Obama

It’s true that there isn’t much difference between the two candidates on foreign policy, and it’s true we could use a little less American ambition globally. But if you’re letting foreign affairs discourage you from voting, you’re playing that same old imperial game, and you’re doing it at the expense of much more immediate and crucial issues – especially women’s rights. 

Here’s a nagging feeling I’ve been having all day long: I appreciate many, many people feel badly disappointed by Obama, and especially by his conduct in the Middle East. (If I had any hopes of him when he was elected I’d be in the same place.) His assassination policies are nothing short of horrific, he’s been completely browbeaten by Netanyahu, and he left the Bahraini revolutionaries to rot – and that’s just part of it. I also reckon many of the people disappointed by such policies also feel uncomfortable with the United States’ imperialist role and conduct as a whole. But here’s the rub: If you let Obama’s foreign policy and its practical indistinguishability from Romney’s to push you over to the Green Party or to discourage you from voting altogether, you’re playing the imperialist game. I think I speak for more than just myself here when I say that while we appreciate your concern for our little corner of the world, we feel kinda mortified when you prioritise us over something infinitely more important and closer to home: Women’s rights.

A couple of weeks ago, Noam made a convincing enough case on the lack of substantial difference between the two candidates on the Middle East front:

Shortly after president Obama was elected, he promised not to turn his back on the Palestinian people. It was a brave statement, considering that in some places, even mentioning the word Palestinians is a non-starter. Yet those turned out to be empty words, when it was revealed that the administration couldn’t stand the political price that the Israeli prime minister made it pay at home. After some back and forth between Jerusalem and Washington, the president appointed Dennis Ross – the man most associated with the diplomatic failure of the last couple of decades – to head  Middle East policy, or more accurately, to win favors with the Lobby and the heads of the Jewish communities. The president then blocked a largely symbolic Palestinian statehood bid at the...

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Israeli children deported to South Sudan succumb to malaria

Three months ago, Interior Minister Eli Yishai deported several hundred families from Israel to South Sudan, despite unequivocal statements by human rights group that mere fact of the established state is far from the offering the safety that would allow for these families’ return; the request was at least to extend the group exemption from deportation – Israel’s mechanism of neither denying nor granting asylum – a few months longer. Even that demand was ignored. The deportees’ baggage, all 14 tons of it, was delayed for two months and kept at a warehouse in Israel, simply because the state felt that it could not be bothered to bear the expenses of sending it along. In the baggage was medicine collected for the families by Israeli volunteers from Israeli donors; it was only finally sent to South Sudan a week or so ago, but not before reports began to surface which claimed that immigration officials were helping themselves to the more precious possessions from the pile.

Dwell with me on that image for a second: Families herded into a transport which will take them to the very danger they were running from, leaving a silent pile of suitcases and clothes behind.

Within a week, the deportee children – Israeli children, either born or raised in Israel, speaking better Hebrew than most of this government’s apologists in the United States – began to die. So far, at least seven of them have succumbed to disease. Over the weekend, one of the volunteers helping the asylum seekers, Moran Mekamel, published the following photo and story on her Facebook wall:

“I’m out of words, I’m sitting and writing and erasing and writing and erasing again…
The picture shows the children of Michael and Niakor – a lovely couple deported together with their kids. On the right is Noah, next to him is Mahm, the eldest, holding little Nian, and on far left is Sunday.
Nian they lost already a month ago. He was born prematurely, and his little body couldn’t fight the malaria for long. Over the weekend I got the news that Noah died as well. Noah was born with a defective heart. He was operated upon a year ago at an Israeli hospital and was...

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Testimonies: Israelis tear-gassed pleading asylum seekers, dragged them to Egypt

Contrary to Israeli statements suggesting that 18 starved Eritrean agreed to go back to Egypt, the survivors tell lawyers their comrades were forcibly dragged away from the fence, despite begging to be killed rather than returned to Egypt. The refugees reported they were previously tear gassed, pushed away with metal rods and denied food. The Egyptian soldiers near the border told the group that the men were unwanted but they would take the women of the group and rape them, in addition to the two they were raping already.   

The following are excerpts from testimonies given by two women and a teen, the only known survivors of the group of 20 Eritrean asylum seekers who were stuck and starved between fences on the Israeli-Egyptian border last week. After finding out the fence and the refugees were on Israeli territory, the Supreme Court allowed the state a few day’s leave to resolve the situation. (Noa posted an excellent breakdown of the court’s politics soon after the (in)decision.) The army then announced the women and teen would be taken into Israel (and jailed for a minimum of three years under the “Prevention of Infiltration” Law, which essentially criminalises asylum-seeking in Israel.)

Israeli officials suggested to the press that the 18 men weren’t interested in asylum, only in work, and suggested that they “agreed” to turn themselves over to the Egyptian army. The affidavits of the three detainees, taken separately at the Saharonim detention compound and released to +972 by “We Are Refugees” attorneys, tell a very different story. The fate of the 18 men forcibly returned to the Egyptians remains unknown, and the Prime Minister’s Office has been denying request for comments on their situation and whereabouts.


…And then they moved us to the Israeli-Egyptian border, we stayed there for eight days, the hunger and thirst were horrible, the Israelis shot gas at us twice, they shoved a long iron rod through the fence and tried pushing us away. [On the 8th day] the Israeli crossed over and pulled B., N., and me through the fence and threw the other men onto a tarp and dragged them underneath the Egyptian fence. The men had been begging for eight days and on the eighth day they didn’t have any strength to resist, they were fainting and screaming “kill me right here.”



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