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IDF sends text message to Gaza mobile phones: 'The next phase is on the way'

The Israeli army is sending text messages to mobile phones in Gaza with a warning in Arabic: “The next phase is on the way. Stay away from Hamas elements.”

Using Instagram, Twitter user @RanaGaza tweeted a photo of the message on her father’s mobile phone.

Arabic text message sent by the Israeli army to mobile phones in Gaza

During the 2008-9 Israeli military assault on Gaza, the army sent thousands of similar messages to mobile phones in Gaza. But according to several friends and acquaintances who were there, the messages were often either false alarms or designed to sow panic. “What do you do if you receive a message warning you to go a safer place if you are already in the safest place in Gaza, or if you have nowhere to hide?” one friend asked rhetorically.

This same woman — a journalist — said that often the text messages would warn of impending bombardments that did not happen, in a sick version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf.


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The IDF announces a military operation against Gaza - on Twitter

Using a multi-pronged strategy, the army spokesperson’s office launched a full social media assault via YouTube, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter, with the latter in English, Hebrew, Arabic, French and Spanish. No word yet on the tumblr blog, though.

In what is possibly a social media precedent, the Israeli army spokesperson’s office (@idfspokesperson) today announced a military action against Gaza — on Twitter.

This came shortly after the IDF announced — again on Twitter — that that the Israeli Air Force had assassinated senior Hamas operative Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jaabari.

The responses came in immediately, from various sources and in many languages.

Fania Oz Salzberger (@faniaoz), a prominent academic who is the daughter of Amos Oz, one of Israel’s most famous authors, tweeted:
Oz was in fact translating a tweet by Yossi Gurvitz (@ygurvitz), a prominent Israeli blogger and journalist who had just tweeted in Hebrew, “Did I understand correctly? Did the IDF just declare war on Twitter — and in English?”

Lt. Colonel Avital Leibovich (@AvitalLeibovich), the IDF spokesperson for the international media, went on Twitter to announce the name of the military operation — Pillar of Defense. Helpfully, she included the hashtag #PillarOfDefense in her tweet.

But Hebrew speakers immediately noted that the Hebrew name for the operation was actually Pillar of Cloud, a name taken from the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible. According to the Bible, after the ancient Hebrews escaped Pharaoh and slavery in Egypt, they were guided through the desert by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.

John Cook of Gawker caught the discrepancy between the Hebrew and English names for the military operation and wrote about it, commenting:

This post was originally written for Please click here to read the whole thing.

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Amnesty International calls for release of Bassem Tamimi, prisoner of conscience

Amnesty International has called for the release of activist Bassem Tamimi, whom they define as a prisoner of conscience. The 45 year-old father of four from Nabi Saleh was arrested October 24 during a protest action at a branch of Rami Levy, a Jewish-owned supermarket chain that has several branches in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The chain stocks settlement goods, but refuses to stock Palestinian produce or products.

Bassem Tamimi arrested at the Rami Levy supermarket protest (credit: ActiveStils)

Last year, Haaretz reported that the supermarket had instituted a policy of separating male Arab grocery baggers from female Jewish cashiers after two such employees became romantically involved.

The protest, which was staged as a sit-in, was broken up by riot police.

Tamimi’s main activism, however, is centered on his home village of Nabi Saleh, population 530. Since 2009 the village has been holding weekly demonstrations to protest the confiscation of their land by the neighboring settlement of Halamish. In 2009 the settlement, which was already built entirely on Nabi Saleh-owned land, confiscated a spring that the Palestinian villagers relied on as a main source of water for agricultural purposes. The settlers of Halamish physically prevented the Palestinians from accessing the spring; to protest, the villagers assemble and march toward the spring every Friday after noon prayers, waving flags and banners as they chant slogans. They are usually stopped before they advance 200 meters by soldiers who enter their village in armored vehicles, leap out of the back and fire volleys of tear gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets at close range. At that point, the young village men usually scatter and throw stones at the soldiers who have entered their village.

This past Friday, while Bassem Tamimi was still in Ofer Military Prison and denied bail following the Rami Levy protest, his 16-year-old son Wa’ed was arrested at the weekly village demonstration. He is now detained in a different section of the same prison, but his father is not allowed to see him.

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At the second presidential debate, undecided Jewish voters did not ask about Israel

The second presidential debate was held Tuesday night at Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island. The moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, chose questions that were submitted in advance by the rather small audience, all of whom were undecided voters.

According to the CNN poll conducted immediately after the debate, 73 percent of respondents thought the president did significantly better than in the first one. Given that his performance in the first debate was widely acknowledged to have been a disaster, with Daily Beast uber blogger Andrew Sullivan predicting it would lose Obama the election, a cynic might say that the president had nowhere to go but up the second time around.

But it was clear that the old Obama was back  - engaged, knowledgable, articulate, empathetic. And he was far more aggressive this time, not hesitating to call Romney out when he lied. But perhaps the best moment came when Candy Crowley interrupted an argument between the two candidates and confirmed that the president had, indeed, called the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi an act of  terror the day after it happened – that Obama had not, as Romney claimed, waited two weeks to label the attack terrorism. U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the consulate attack.

Besides the reference to Libya, there were no foreign policy questions. Americans tend to be uninterested in the subject, so the failure of this typically middle class, suburban audience to evidence more interest in issues beyond their borders is perhaps not that surprising. But in this case, half the questions were asked by Jews. Their names sounded, I tweeted, like my bat mitzvah guest list: Jeremy Epstein, Susan Katz, Carol Goldberg, Barry Green.

But none of these middle class Long Island Jews asked a question about Israel. They were interested in jobs, economic policy and how the two candidates perceived themselves. From the way they phrased their questions, it seemed pretty clear that they had voted for Obama in 2008 and were now primarily concerned about the same issues that preoccupy most middle class Americans – how to pay the bills, how to save for the future and how to make sure their kids find a job after college.

Last week, the vice presidential candidates argued during their debate about who was closer to the prime minister of Israel. They called Netanyahu by his nickname, “Bibi,” to indicate...

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Bibi and the bomb: Buffoonery or clever tactics at the UN?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his much-anticipated speech at the United Nations General Assembly today. He started off by leaning casually on the podium and surveying the people in the hall. At one point he punctuated his speech with the idiomatic expression, “Yeah, right!” He gratified his fans on Twitter by lubricating their virtual drinking game with several much-anticipated references to the Holocaust (#drink!), radical Islam (#drink!) and – most of all – Iran (#drink #drink #drink).

In fact, Iran inspired Netanyahu to draw a diagram so that his simple-minded audience would understand how close that state was to developing a nuclear bomb.

Netanyahu uses a sophisticated diagram to explain how close Iran is to developing a nuclear bomb (photo: screenshot)

A few people commented that it looked as though it were drawn by Acme Cartoons and that it should have had the word BOOM!! drawn across it in red letters.

Netanyahu followed up by taking out a red marker and drawing a thick line at the 90 percent line – i.e., *this* was where the red line had to be drawn. Or else!

Bibi and the red line (photo: screenshot)

But even as people jeered on Twitter at the cartoonish diagram, Buzzfeed’s Zeke Miller suggested that Bibi’s buffoonery might have disguised a clever tactic. Who, now, remembers the speech Mahmoud Abbas gave less than one hour earlier?

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Mainstream American media and pro-Israel pols are turning against Netanyahu

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seems to have miscalculated with his latest attempt to bait President Obama and manipulate the results of the U.S. elections results. On Monday, Netanyahu leveled what the New York Times described as “unusually harsh public comments about Israel’s most important ally,” regarding the Obama administration’s policy on Iran. Speaking in English one day after Secretary of State Clinton said the United States was “not setting deadlines” regarding military action against Iran, Netanyahu said:

As Noam Sheizaf reports, this speech was followed by a claim from the prime minister’s office that Obama had rejected a request for a meeting during Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to the U.N., where he is scheduled to address the General Assembly. The White House denied the snub, Obama called Netanyahu – reportedly at 3 a.m. – to have a one-hour chat and thus both sides pulled back from the brink of a public rupture, just two months before the presidential elections.

But then something interesting happened. Yesterday, a prominent U.S. senator and two important journalists made highly critical remarks about Netanyahu. The blunt wording is almost unprecedented in mainstream American discourse.

Senator Barbara Boxer published a letter to Netanyahu on her website as a press release, titled “Boxer Expresses Disappointment Over Israeli Prime Minister’s Remarks.” In the opening paragraph she describes herself as “one of Israel’s staunchest supporters in Congress” (which she is), and then characterizes Netanyahu’s remarks as “utterly contrary to the extraordinary United States-Israel alliance, evidenced by President Obama’s record and the record of Congress.” After offering a detailed list of the extraordinary measures the president has taken to ensure Israel’s security, particularly the enacting of the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, the senator writes:

David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, also had some harsh words for Netanyahu in a piece, Neocon Gambits (“Have Netanyahu’s Attacks on Obama Gone too Far?), published yesterday on the magazine’s web site. He pulls no punches in his opening paragraph:

But then we come to the main point:

Remnick seems genuinely outraged. Netanyahu’s “performance,” he writes,” is in the same neocon voice as the one adopted by the Romney campaign and in its opportunistic reaction to the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic outposts in Cairo and Benghazi, which left our Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other consular employees dead.”

And then Joe Klein, another prominent U.S journalist,...

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I remember when Israel rescued non-Jewish refugees

The following is an expanded version of my contribution to a group blog post by +972 writers, in response to Israel’s refusal to take in a group of Eritrean refugees who were left to bake in the desert sun for a week without food or medical help, while the army prevented activists from bringing food or a physician to examine them.

In 1977, Prime Minister Begin authorized citizenship for 66 Vietnamese refugees. The captain of an Israeli freighter in the South China Sea found them huddled on a leaky boat, low on food supplies, and took them in, bringing them to Israel after they were denied refuge in Taiwan. Begin granted the refugees citizenship in his first act as newly-elected prime minister. He was leader of the Likud party, which won Israel’s national elections after 29 years of uninterrupted rule by the rival Labor party.

At my Jewish day school in Canada, we were told by our teachers, who tended to represent the National Religious point of view, that Begin had done a mitzvah. The narrative we were taught was that the Jews, who had lost six million in the Holocaust because none of the countries that convened at the Evian Conference agreed to take them in, would behave differently now that they had their own state.

Prime Minister Begin greeting Vietnamese refugees in Israel in 1977 (photo: Government Press Office)

This is how Begin reportedly explained to President Carter his decision to take in the boat people:

Over the next two years, Israel took in approximately 300 Vietnamese refugees and gave them citizenship. Vaan Nguyen, the daughter of one of those refugees, was born, raised and educated in Israel. Today she is a published poet, journalist and actress who lives in Tel Aviv. A few years ago, she appeared in a documentary film about her family in Israel and her journey to visit her father’s village in Vietnam.

Today, websites that celebrate Jewish life and religion boast about Israel’s generosity to the Vietnamese refugees, which is compared to the many stories we were raised with – about Jewish refugees who committed suicide within site of the Swiss border after they were denied entry,...

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Sami Michael: 'Israel - Most racist state in the industrialized world'

The following is the translation of a speech delivered by prominent Israeli author Sami Michael at a conference in Haifa in June 2012. It is a ‘cri de coeur’ that is full of love and grief.

Born and raised in Iraq, Mr. Michael was a political activist and member of the Communist party; when a warrant for his arrest was issued in 1948, he fled to neighboring Iran. Unable to return to Iraq, he immigrated to Israel in 1949. After working as an engineer and as a journalist for the Haifa-based Arabic newspaper Al Itihad, he became an acclaimed novelist who has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature. He is still a human rights activist and is today the president of ACRI – the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

For many years Mr. Michael described himself as not a Zionist, but a patriotic Israeli. He identifies proudly as an Arab Jew and an Iraqi.

In his controversial speech last month, he said he was too old to emigrate but envied those who could. Although he insists he is still a patriotic citizen, he no longer feels that Israel can be his spiritual homeland:  It has turned its back on “humanistic values and the rights of mankind.” Racism, fanatical religiosity and the occupation are destroying the state, he says. We are liable to lose it all.

I first met Mr. Michael at his Haifa apartment in the summer of 2006, during what Israel calls the Second Lebanon War and Lebanon calls the July War, when I accompanied a European journalist as a translator. That interview was interrupted a couple of times by the siren announcing incoming rockets. In my  blog post about the meeting I embedded a brief video clip of Mr. Michael speaking Arabic. Looking at it now, I feel as though six years is a very, very long time. A lifetime. It’s a strange thing to say about a meeting that took place in wartime, but I think he was more optimistic then. I am pretty sure I was.


Sami Michael in his Haifa apartment, July 2006 (photo: Lisa Goldman)

Israel is the most racist state in the industrialized world

By Sami Michael

I was born in...

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WATCH: Hamas, far-right Jews prepare their children for holy war

“Our children are ready!” 

The Temple Institute, an ultra-nationalist Jewish organization that is obsessed with rebuilding Solomon’s Temple exactly on the spot where the Dome of the Rock is located today in Jerusalem’s Old City, released the video below just in time for Tish’a b’Av (the Ninth of Av according to the Jewish calendar). On this day, Jews traditionally spend the day fasting and mourning the destruction of the ancient temple – as well as a long list of other tragedies that are alleged to have befallen the Jewish people on that day. Or they gather to greet Mitt Romney at the Western Wall.

When I was in Grade 5 our religious studies teacher had us create a model of the ancient temple out of popsicle sticks and cloth remnants, following the very precise instructions in Leviticus.  I recall our teacher telling that us the temple would be rebuilt when the messiah arrived – someday. Yes, he tarried, but we were admonished never to lose faith in his ultimate arrival.

The talented brother and sister in this video seem to want to pre-empt the messiah. They startle their father into dropping his copy of the Jerusalem Post when he sees the remarkably accurate model of the temple they managed to create out of sand in the time it took him to read a single article about the civil war in Syria. As the sun sets over the sea, he leads his two children away and the camera pans out to allow the viewer a wide-angle view of the spectacular sand temple.

“Our children are ready too!”

Not to be outdone, Hamas created a video of its own. In the Hamas version, below, a loving father takes his two children to the beach in Gaza. Like the Jewish children at the beach just a half-hour’s drive up the coast – assuming no checkpoints or walls, of course – the children are an adorable brother and sister who frolic fully clothed at the beach, for some reason eschewing bathing suits despite the summer heat.

After he pauses briefly to pray, the Gazan father watches fondly as his children construct a replica of the Dome of the Rock out of sand. The father tears a piece off his newspaper, writes something on the slip of paper, attaches it to a matchstick and plants it...

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No happy ending: Film documents the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah

Just Vision‘s latest film is a moving snapshot of the Palestinian plight with Israeli settlement policies in an East Jerusalem neighborhood –  and the Israeli Jews that raised awareness about the issue by protesting there. While there is no happy ending, the movie introduces audiences to some of the Palestinians and Israelis who found themselves taking part in a common struggle. 

On several occasions during the winter of 2009-2010, I joined a small group of Israeli protesters who walked on Friday afternoon from downtown West Jerusalem to a demonstration in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. They carried red flags, held signs advocating freedom for Palestine in general and Sheikh Jarrah specifically; and they chanted in Arabic and Hebrew, accompanying themselves with drum-rolls that often ended with them crying in unison “enough with the occupation!”

On the pedestrian mall of Ben Yehuda Street in West Jerusalem, passersby jeered or stood open-mouthed at the site of unabashed leftists in that very right-wing part of what is basically a very right-wing city. Once, a young soldier on his way home for a weekend furlough walked over to a female protester, reared his head back and hawked a gob of phlegm at her. He was wearing a yarmulke and the insignia of an elite combat unit. As we made our way along Hanevi’im Street, a trio of 20-something, well-heeled Palestinian East Jerusalemites stopped to point and giggle as they exchanged comments in Arabic. They were sorry for the families that had been evicted from their homes, they told me, but they did not see the point in protesting and were amused by the anarchist-grunge sartorial style of the Jewish demonstrators.

Protesters walking toward Sheikh Jarrah in West Jerusalem, January 2010 (Photo: Lisa Goldman)

Once in Sheikh Jarrah, the activists stood across the street from a cluster of houses that had been invaded by settlers. Palestinians had lived in them since the 1950s, but the Israeli courts had ruled that those houses had once belonged to Jews, or that the state could nationalize the homes so the Palestinian owners would henceforth be tenants – even though they were not citizens of Israel. In any case, either because they refused to pay rent for...

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Activist prevents Israeli officer from arresting Palestinian child

During Sunday’s Jerusalem Day events, a Palestinian boy, perhaps 10 years old, was chased down an East Jerusalem street by a very angry officer of the Border Police. The boy tripped and fell, then picked himself up just as the Border Police officer reached him and tried to grab him. But a 22 year-old female Israeli activist prevented the boy’s arrest by throwing herself between the two, allowing the Palestinian boy to flee.

Jerusalem Day is meant to be a celebration of the city’s ‘reunification’ following Israel’s victory in the 1967 war. In practice, it is a day for Israeli nationalists, draped in flags, dancing in circles, singing and chanting (including the popular Israeli nationalist chant, ‘death to Arabs’) as they march through the streets of East Jerusalem and the Old City. Many of the Jewish demonstrators are bused in from right-wing yeshivas in Israel and the West Bank.

Marching toward the old city on Jerusalem Day (photo: Activestills)

East Jerusalem resident Aziz Abu Sarah writes that the Israeli police ‘suggest’ to the Palestinian merchants that they close their shops early on Jerusalem Day, in order to ‘reduce tension’; in previous years, the yeshiva students attacked Palestinians in the Old City and vandalized their property. The police issue an outright order to Palestinian merchants to clear away any merchandise that is displayed outside the shop. In the same post, Aziz describes the year he was prevented by a police officer from returning to his own home on Jerusalem Day, even though his identity card showed he was a resident, because his presence – in his own neighbourhood – might disturb the celebrations.

In recent years, a few Israeli left-wing activists have staged small counter-demonstrations outside the old city’s gates, as the celebratory marchers stream past. Generally, the counter-demonstrators hold small signs with slogans like “East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory,” and the like. A few Palestinians hold a vigil, too, usually with Palestinian flags in their hands.

This year, an Orthodox Jewish man grabbed the Palestinian flag from the hands of a 10 year-old boy and refused to return it. The boy, enraged, tried to prise it out of the Jewish man’s hands. A Border Police officer, seeing the struggle between a 10 year-old...

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On the Nakba, Jewish identity and memory

On Monday, the eve of Nakba Day, I attended a book launch for the memoirs of five elderly Holocaust survivors who emigrated from Europe to Canada after the Second World War. The event took place in the main sanctuary of a large, well-established Conservative synagogue in a prosperous area of Toronto, very much like the one I attended as a child in Vancouver. Canadian and Israeli flags hung from flagpoles at either side of the pulpit. The director of the non-profit foundation that edits, publishes and distributes the memoirs gave an eloquent speech; this was followed by a series of short documentary films that featured interviews with each of the authors, all of whom were in the audience.

These elderly Jews recounted disparate experiences of surviving the Holocaust. A Czech woman and a Hungarian woman survived as children because their parents sent them away to live as Christians – one in a convent, the other with a non-Jewish family in a different town. Another woman survived because she escaped from Poland to the Soviet Union and was sent at age 16 to a forced labour camp in Siberia. A man escaped occupied France as a 16 year-old by swimming a freezing river and climbing the Pyrenees, only to be arrested by Spanish police and interned in a labor camp under extremely harsh conditions. And another was shipped from Lodz to Auschwitz-Birkenau when he was 15, but survived the death camp due to remarkable good fortune. They told their stories with unusual candor and a notable lack of sentimentality. One of the men, Max Bornstein, said the extreme loneliness of being the only survivor of his family precipitated a nervous breakdown after the war, and that he had never really recovered emotionally.

But these five survivors were unanimous about one thing: The experience of writing their memoirs and seeing them published was immensely cathartic and meaningful. Their history was recorded now; it would not be forgotten after they died.

While I watched the films about these amateur authors who had survived, as one of them put it, due to a combination of sheer luck and the willingness of total strangers to risk their lives for them, a little part of my mind was busy worrying about the post I had promised to write about the Nakba – the Palestinian dispersal and dispossession of 1948.

Like so many conventionally educated Jewish children,...

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Egypt terminates deal to supply Israel with natural gas

Cancellation of the commercial deal between private Egyptian and Israeli entities has more to do with Egypt’s own internal confrontation with corporate governance and transparency than with the peace treaty with Israel.

According to several news reports, Egypt has terminated a deal to supply Israel with natural gas. Egyptian sources say that the deal was canceled over a legal dispute, as well as Israel’s failure to pay for the gas over the past four months; Israeli government sources, meanwhile, insist they have paid all the money they owe. Several Israeli officials, including Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, have expressed deep concern, with Mofaz calling the unilateral termination of the gas supply a “blatant violation of the peace treaty” that “requires an American response,” and Steinitz saying it was a dangerous precedent that threatens bilateral ties between Egypt and Israel.

The gas deal in fact has nothing to do with the Israel-Egypt peace treaty of 1979. It is a commercial deal that was negotiated between private Egyptian and Israeli business concerns in 2005; the deal was renegotiated in 2009, in the most opaque manner imaginable. No tenders were issued and the terms of the deal were not made public. The Egypt-Israel natural gas deal is resented by most Egyptians, who view it as a sleazy arrangement that allowed Hosni Mubarak, his sons and their cronies to pocket billions of dollars by selling one of Egypt’s most valuable natural resources at a price that is now well below market value – and to Israel, which is deeply unpopular in Egypt.

Egypt’s natural gas pipeline has been sabotaged 14 times since Hosni Mubarak was deposed in February 2011.

Egyptian economist Mohamed El Dahshan does an impressive job of armchair investigative journalism in this blog post, in which he demonstrates the extent to which the natural gas deal was, as he puts it, “a barely concealed cesspool of clientelism, personal relationships and private interests, breaches of government procedure, of transparency rules, and of corporate governance.”

The name Hussein Salem appears several times in El Dahshan’s investigative piece about the gas deal. Salem, 77, is a wealthy businessman who was close to Hosni Mubarak; he was also one of the main Egyptian players in the negotiation of the gas deal with Israel. A few days before Mubarak was forced to resign, Salem fled Egypt for Spain. A month...

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