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Republished from TimesWarp

by Barbara Erickson

TimesWarp is an excellent critique of the New York Times’ coverage of the Israeli-Arab conflict.  Highly recommended.

 

A full 10 months after Ethiopian Israeli Avera Mengistu made his way into Gaza, not to be heard from since, officials have allowed his name to appear in print, and The New York Times has offered us a report that promotes Israeli spin, omitting key details and glossing over the government’s unsavory role in this strange tale.

Isabel Kershner tells us that Israeli officials, lifting a gag order on the story, announced that Mengistu and a second Israeli citizen, a Palestinian, were being held in Gaza. Officials said Mengistu crossed into Gaza voluntarily on Sept. 7, but they had nothing more to report about the other man.

Kershner’s story gives the impression that Israeli officials have been working hard to free the men, but it omits details reported in other media that suggest a far different story.These reports state that officials ignored the Ethiopian’s case until American blogger Richard Silverstein exposed the name of the missing man last month and Ethiopian-Israelis began raising the issue in street protests.

It was only then, this past week, that the government agreed to lift the gag order, which had applied to Mengistu’s family as well as news media. Family members are now saying that the government forced them to remain silent but failed to respond to their requests for information and help until recently.

An Israeli television station, Channel 10, gave weight to their claims by broadcasting a conversation between a Netanyahu aide and Mengistu’s parents. Israelis heard Lior Lotan, Netanyahu’s representative for missing persons, threaten the family members and warn them against criticizing the government’s handling of the case or blaming it on discrimination.

If they did so, he said, their son would be left “in Gaza for another year.” The recording also captures complaints by Mengistu’s father that he had written to Netanyahu several times and received no response. The prime minister, according to reports, never called the family until just before lifting the gag order.

But nothing of this appears in the Times story. Here we are told that “the news blackout regarding Mr. Mengistu had been imposed with the agreement of his family.” We also hear that Netanyahu is taking a tough line, telling Hamas he holds the party responsible for the welfare of the two men.

Kershner appears eager to counter the charges of discrimination coming from the Ethiopian community and their supporters. She repeatedly links Mengistu’s disappearance to the case of Gilad Shalit, an Askenazi Jew, who was taken captive in 2006 in Gaza and later exchanged for Palestinian prisoners. The Shalit affair “traumatized” Israeli society, she writes, and the Mengistu case threatens to “open old wounds.”

The Shalit affair followed a different route and quickly received widespread publicity in Israel, with a full-scale campaign for his release. Ethiopian-Israelis, who have been protesting government treatment this year, have noted the difference.

Kershner, however, waits until her final paragraphs before she makes brief mention of the Mengistu family’s objections to the government response. Their complaints, she implies, are part of a general “discontent” on the part of Ethiopian Israelis who have made “accusations of discrimination and police harassment.”

Kershner’s story avoids still further evidence that Netanyahu had little interest in the Mengistu case: Several officials in the Security Cabinet and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said after the gag order was lifted that they had never received official briefings on the affair.

It was a request from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Kershner writes, that finally led officials to lift the news blackout. Authorities had rejected previous requests, she writes, adding, “It is not clear what prompted the change.”

In fact, Kershner and others who have followed this story know why the order was rescinded: The silence was broken last month when Silverstein revealed Mengistu’s name in a Mint Press News article. Soon afterwards Ethiopian Israelis showed up on the streets wearing T-shirts with Mengistu’s name.

But the Times gives no credit to Silverstein, who had reported last October that an unnamed man was missing in Gaza. Silverstein recently revealed the name of the second missing man, Hashem al-Sayyed, who apparently disappeared April 20 from his Bedouin village in the Negev. This man’s father also complained of official negligence in his son’s case.

Kershner’s story omits the most telling details of the Mengistu case—the threats against the family, their evidence of negligence and the ignorance of high government officials—while she gives weight to officials’ statements of concern for the missing man. It is all in line with official spin.

As a result, readers are likely to remain ignorant of the full story concerning Mengistu and al-Sayyed. The actions of Netanyahu and the revelations of Israeli racism as they appear in this tale are off-limits in the Times, and the curious and the caring will have to find the full story elsewhere.

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iran celebrates nuclear deal

Iranians celebrate signing of nuclear deal

The nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers announced today in Vienna will likely go down in history alongside other pioneering historic U.S. initiatives like Nixon’s visit to China, Jimmy Carter’s Camp David Accords, and Reagan-Bush presiding over the end of the Soviet Union.  The agreement would place restraints on Iran’s nuclear program for the next decade in return for eliminating two decades worth of punishing sanctions which have stunted Iran’s economy.  It would allow Iran to continue enriching uranium to 3.6%, which is far below weapons-grade and reduce its highly enriched stockpile from several thousand, down to 300 kg.  It would convert the Arak plutonium reactor so that it could not make a nuclear weapon.  It would open Iran to a full inspections regime, though it’s yet unclear what access would be offered to purely military sites.

niac iran deal posterThe deal has the Republicans and Israelis howling.  Which is as it should be.  Remember that George Bush was offered a Grand Bargain by Pres. Khatami in 2003.  Ending Iran’s nuclear program in return for ending sanctions and normalizing relations.  The Bush-Cheney response was the American version of Khrushchev’s infamous: Nyet.  If a Republican president turned down the most generous offer Iran’s ever made to end its nuclear program, what would you expect his successors in Congress to do?

Among other entertaining comments, Bibi’s warned us that Iran wants to “take over the world.”  Does he realize that the more such ridiculous comments he makes the less seriously anyone in the world takes him?  Does he care?

As an aside, I note a semi-official Birthright alumni group has been enlisted to lobby against the Iran deal.  Though the group claims it is independent of the official Birthright group, it share an important figure, Michael Steinhardt, one of Birthright’s founders and leading donors.  Next time you read pablum from Birthright officials claiming it is non-political, you’ll know where to tell ’em to stick it.

What the deal naysayers don’t realize is that the world will long note and long remember their obstreporousness.  It will remember they turned their backs on this momentous agreement which promises to change relations in the entire region for the better for decades to come.  The world and Americans in particular will liken Republicans who oppose this measure to the John Birchers, the Ku Kluxers, the Hooverites, all those who tried to stand in the way of progress.  When history offers an opportunity to break out of old paradigms and restraints, the brave and bold grasp it.  The frail, frightened and timid walk away uttering old shibboleths.

Bibi Netanyahu is also one of the obdurate.  As Yossi Melman notes, he had a chance to embrace the agreement as an Israeli achievement, even if it didn’t give him all he expected.  Instead, Netanyahu has chosen to adopt the role of the ominous Charles Foster Kane figure who walks the halls muttering beneath his breath.  I picture him walking through the prime minister’s residence with a pint of open pistachio ice cream murmuring: “They’ve ruined me.  What can I do now? Where can I turn?”

The prime minister is a resourceful politician, if not one with great imagination.  He will succeed in switching from the Iranian bogeyman to another suitable one.  He has numerous prospects to choose from: Hamas, Hezbollah, the Democrats (a joke), etc.  But none of these has a nuclear program.  This is what grabs the world’s attention.  So with Iran removed from Bibi’s bag of political tricks, he will become a much reduced figure, something like Ebenezer Scrooge confronting Christmas Future.

Today, history met at the intersection of Destiny and Past.  Bibi and the GOP massed themselves in front of Past.  History chose Destiny instead.

I would never make the mistake of claiming the future holds nothing but hope for all concerned.  Iran and the U.S. still have many outstanding differences.  Even harsh ones.  But the Obama administration and Rouhani government have shown there is a mutual will to overcome them and achieve something enduring that will improve not just their own citizens’ lives, but those of the entire region.

This agreement said nothing about other conflicts in the region like Syria, Iraq, or Yemen, in which Iran is involved.  It confined itself rightly to the nuclear issue.  But there is a huge opportunity in future years for Iran to play a more constructive role in the region.  There is an opportunity to negotiate a resolution of the Syrian quagmire.  There is an opportunity to join forces to end the threat of ISIS in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.  There is an opportunity for Iran to play a constructive role with its Palestinian allies in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There is no guarantee that any of the above will happen.  But if I were a betting man I’d wager than at least one of these outcomes will come about.

I’ve written often here about the regional competition between Israel and Iran.  One of the reasons Bibi has adopted such an intransigent position on this matter is that Israel detests any nation challenging power dynamics.  It wants no threat to its military dominance.  Nor commercial competition.  Iran is ten times Israel’s population.  It has everything that other Arab nations around Israel do not: excellent educational system, thriving commercial interests, economic competition, democracy.  It poses a genuine threat to Israel on many fronts.

This new development marks Iran as a herald of the future and Israel as a symbol of the past.  The region now has an opportunity to turn away from the strong-man autocracy represented by Mubarak, al-Sisi, the Saudis and even Assad. It has an opportunity to unite against Israeli miliary adventurism to blaze a new path.  Again, there is no guarantee that the Middle East will embrace this prospect.  It may remain mired in the past.  But this is one of the truly great opportunities to chart a new path.  If T.E. Lawrence were alive today he’d be beating a path to Iran’s door as a harbinger of a new regional future.

Those of us who laughed bitterly when Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize may yet have reason to say he deserved it.  But it’s still an open question.

I’ve just created a petition asking for the Senate, particularly moderate Democrats on the fence, to support the deal and sustain the President’s veto.  Please sign it and circulate it to your social media followers and e mail contacts.

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This is a follow-up on the piece I wrote when the media finally caught up to the Avera Mengistu story and began reporting it.  I’ve already reported Haaretz’s deliberate refusal to credit my reporting.  Much of the foreign press follows on Haaretz’s lead and so papers like the NY Times and even Al Jazeera English reported that the story appeared arose, like the birth of Athena from Zeus, fully-armed from the forehead of Haaretz, once their intrepid lawyers got the gag removed.  The Times’ Kershner falsely noted a “ten-month blackout” on reporting the story, ignoring the fact that I reported major elements of the story twice during this alleged blackout.

But what really shocked me was the reporting of erstwhile progressive publications which should have known better.  Mondoweiss’ Allison Deger got most of the details concerning my involvement wrong:

Indeed Hamas has suggested for months that it is holding onto at least one unidentified captured Israeli. Hamas posted an advertisement in Gaza with an image of a question mark over the outline of a man held behind bars, reported journalist Richard Silverstein who published an image of the billboard over one month before the gag order was lifted. Although some of the biographical details in his coverage, like Mengistu’s age (Silverstein said the missing soldier was 24) are inconsistent with the information the government released today.

Silverstein also dispatched an unnamed colleague last month to interview Mengistu’s father, Aylin Mengistu.  “He was saddened and frustrated by the experience. He’d almost lost all hope,” he wrote.

Deger is confused because she didn’t bother to read my reporting.  Last October, a few weeks after his disappearance I posted a blog noting an Israeli Ethiopian had crossed into Gaza.  Back then, I also posted the Hamas billboard which she claims was first posted a month before the gag order on the case was lifted.  In early June, I published a story for Mint Press News which identified Mengistu for the first time anywhere by name.  This article also featured the same photo I’d published last October.

She focuses on the peripheral issue of Mengistu’s age in implying that my reporting is questionable, without bothering to absorb any of the important details of my reporting.  Finally, and worst of all, she calls Mengistu, “the missing soldier.”  He isn’t a soldier and I don’t believe ever served in the IDF.  I don’t know where this error came from.

Then Deger contacted me asking for an interview for a similar story she planned to publish in the Jewish Journal.  After trying to contact me once via Skype, I never heard from her again.  I tried reaching her several times on Twitter and Skype to no avail.  Until I tweeted my criticism of her article.  Then I heard from her.

When I pointed out to her the errors in her reporting about my role she told me that before she would correct anything I had to explain to her what she’d gotten wrong.  I pointed out to her that if she wanted to interview me for her Jewish Journal story the least she could do was spend 20 minutes reading the three pieces I’d written so that she knew what she was talking about when she interviewed me.

I also pointed out to her and another Mondoweiss editor, Annie Robbins, that after spending most of a year reporting the story, writing thousands of words about it, making scores of international phone calls to the family members and Israeli journalists who refused to become involved out of fear of breaking the gag, the least I could expect would be a willingness to do rudimentary research to get the story right.  I don’t see why I should have to spoonfeed it to them and retell a story I’d already told publicly.

I also told both that if they had further questions or wanted me to explain anything to them after they’re read my reporting, I’d be happy to do so.  Neither bothered to reply.

At an earlier point in the discussion, Robbins told me I should take it up with Phil Weiss, who supervised staff reporting.  This is the same fellow who agreed with his colleague, Alex Kane, who accused me of being a racist when I called Chloe Valdary a “Negro Zionist.”  No, there’s no need to have dealings with someone who misapprehends language and irony, and betrays others in such a way.

This is precisely my problem with Mondoweiss.  It is long on slogans and short on research.  It is shallow and superficial, even sloppy at times.  It mistakes breathless cheerleading for analysis.  It’s agitprop and pastiche.  I try, in this blog, to be everything Mondoweiss is not.

Mondoweiss isn’t the only one unfortunately.  Even Middle East Eye, where I’ve published frequently over the past few months, commissioned Jonathan Cook (who I hold in great esteem) to write on this case.  His story didn’t mention my reporting either.  When I asked him, he said he’d told the editors of my role and assumed they would ask me to write about it.  They didn’t.

There is something very wrong when all the press, even your friends, get a story so wrong.  Of course, it’s all rooted in Israel’s debasing and toxic system of secrecy concerning national security matters (and almost everything can fall into this category).  But that’s not an excuse for the progressive press to report sloppily and lazily as it has.

 

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Israel, as usual in security cases and almost any sensitive matter, has slapped a gag order on the arrest of three Jewish terror suspects in the case of the arson attack on the historic Church of Loaves and Fishes in the Galilee.  The attack left a substantial portion of the edifice damaged along with degrading anti-Christian graffiti scrawled on the walls of the holy site.

yinon reuveni

Yinon Reuveni, Hilltop Youth extremist, alleged Jewish terrorist

A knowledgeable Israeli source identified the names of the culprits are Yinon Reuveni (age 19), Mordechai Gedalia Margalit (age 18), Yehuda Yedidia Asraf (age unknown, but possibly a minor).  Reuveni has been slapped by the Shin Bet with an administrative restraining order barring him from entering the Territories (possibly why he chose to “branch out” to a target inside Israel proper).  Margalit too received similar treatment from the authorities.

One suspect is from the Israeli town of Ofakim.  At least one other is from a settlement though I haven’t yet identified which one.  Two of them were arrested in Yad Benjamin.  I hope any Israeli readers will spread this gagged news as widely as possibly on social media to begin the process of filleting censorship.

PAUL LANDES

Calcalist article announcing Paul Landes’ “secret” counter-terror job with undisclosed Israeli security agency

Israel has an entire Shin Bet unit devoted to fighting Jewish terror, yet it took them weeks to arrest the culprits.  Now they will be interrogated.  They might be tried and if justice is lucky (it usually isn’t in such cases) they might spend a week or month in jail.  In the meantime, the Knesset is debating a law that would provide the death penalty in terror attacks.  By “terror” they’re speaking of Arab terror, of course.  Jewish terror is usually unprosecuted.  One of the few Jewish terrorists who has received a life sentence is Yigal Amir.  And many in high places lobby regularly for his release (a poll found that 30% of Israelis favored his pardon).  Even those who murder Palestinians get released from prison, and in many instances pardoned by the President.

Let us not hear from Israeli apologists that these youth are aberrations, that all of Israel denounces their acts.  Where do you think they learned to hate?  Not just from their parents or a renegade rabbi.  They learned from their prime minister, his cabinet and the extremist legislators who rule the land.  They are doing what many mainstream Israelis would like to do but can’t.

Let’s also not make the mistake of saying anti-Christian hate is a marginal affair in Israel.  Jack Teitel, another Jewish terrorist serving a lengthy jail term for killing Israeli police and attempting to kill Hebrew University Prof. Zeev Sternhell with a bomb, severely injured a Christian missionary by exploding a bomb at his home.

Hatred of Christianity is only part of the toxic stew on which these settlers feast.  Even deeper is their hate of Muslims in general and Palestinians in particular.  There isn’t even any comfort in saying that at least they don’t hate Jews, since they do.  As I noted, Teitel injured Zeev Sternhell in a bomb blast.  Before that, he posted flyers offering a reward for the killing of Israeli Jewish peace activists.  In other words, these settlers hate anyone not like them.  And it isn’t just theoretical or abstract hate.  This is hate backed with deeds.  They’re more than willing to kill for their “ideals.”

In short, this is a deviant form of Judaism that I call idolatry.  The worship of the false god of Judaic purity.  Precisely the sort of worship prophets like Isaiah railed against.  The sort of aberrant behavior Yeshayah Leibowitz so presciently called “Judeo-Nazism.”  It is the sort of hate that felled a prime minister (Yitzhak Rabin) and will destroy the country if it isn’t extirpated root and branch (an unlikely prospect given the enormous power wielded by the settler movement within Israeli politics).

While we’re on a roll here exposing Israeli gag orders, let’s blow the cover off another Israeli “secret agent.”  Israeli attorney, Paul Landes, has been until recently the director of a money-laundering unit which traced terror financing.  This was a public position.  Calcalist reported, perhaps inadvertently (here’s the censored version of the story), that Landes is stepping down from this role.  He is moving to a new “secret” job whose particulars may not be reported, according to the media outlet.  Undoubtedly, he will be working for the Shin Bet or Mossad doing precisely the same thing: tracing terror financing by Arab militant groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and others.  Why his job should be secret when similar positions in the U.S. Justice Department (possibly even the CIA) are not is an excellent question.

Undoubtedly, as soon as someone in the intelligence services reads this the Calcalist page will be taken down.  So I’ve saved a screenshot.

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Israeli Justice: Blind, But Crooked as Well

Ten years ago in the early hours of a July morning on a Tel Aviv street, two people had a fateful encounter.  For one, it meant everything.  For the other, it meant nothing.  Gal Beck was a happy 16 year-old boy riding home on a motor scooter with his best friend by his side on another scooter.  It was early Saturday morning around 3 AM.  They stopped at an intersection for a red light and chatted for a bit.  Then the light turned green.  Gal started first, then his friend followed.

gal beck

Gal with his mother, Ruthie Beck in happier times

At the same moment a 20 year-old woman barreled into the intersection from the opposite direction.  By the accounts of most witnesses she was speeding, traveling nearly 60 mph.  She ran the red light and crashed into Gal.  The accident killed him.  His friend wasn’t injured at all, but lives to this day with the shattering memory of what happened that night.

Neither of the boys were drinking.  Neither had taken drugs or were using prescription medication.  That much we know.  But until now, we knew almost nothing about the driver who killed Gal.  No Israeli knows her name.  The case was closed six weeks after the accident “for lack of evidence.”  This happened despite the fact that numerous witnesses testified to the police that the driver was speeding and that she ran the red light.  Either no blood alcohol test was ever done or none appears in the police record.

There was a single witness, a female taxi driver, who testified in complete contradiction to all the other witnesses that the boys ran the red light and that the light was green when the driver crossed into the intersection.  Channel 1 TV aired a documentary (video above) on the case recently in which it interviewed the taxi driver for 90 minutes, and no less than 20-30 times she affirmed before a hidden camera that the driver ran the red light and the boys had a green light.  The next night, when the camera crew approached her for an actual interview, appearing coached and well-rehearsed, she reverted to the story in the police record which blamed Gal Beck and his friend for the accident.

The driver testified to the police that she was traveling 30 mph and that she was absolutely certain it was green when she entered the intersection.

Such tragic accidents happen everywhere, in Israel and around the world.  In many such places there are miscarriages of justice like the one that occurred here.  But there are several aspects of this case that cause it to rise to greater significance.  First, the driver, whose identity is concealed under gag order, was the daughter of a wealthy, powerful and well-connected Israeli family.  Second, the Tel Aviv chief prosecutor, Ruth David, who heard the case was later accused of massive corruption in her handling of several key organized crime cases after she left the prosecutor’s office.  After leaving office she moved to a defense firm run by a powerful mob-connected attorney, Ronel Fisher, who also was accused of bribery and corruption and colluding with her on these cases.

shani palti schulz

Shani Palti-Schulz, age 30 from her deleted Facebook account

The Fisher-David case made front-page headlines in Israel.  Crooked cops, crooked prosecutors, and crooked defense attorneys colluding on behalf of Mafiosi.  It’s the stuff of Hollywood films.  But the screaming headlines ignore the quiet trauma of a mother and father who lost a beloved son.  The best friend who watched him die.  And witnesses beset by guilt who wondered why they were never questioned by police.  These are the plain simple people who are victims of a corrupt system.  They don’t have the power or influence to make the system work for them.  They take what comes and hope for the best even when they know something is wrong, but that they can’t fix it.  Imagine the helplessness of Oded and Ruthie Beck in the face of a justice system serving the interests of the 1%, Israel’s powerful oligarchic families.

Though Israelis may not be told the identity of the young woman who took Gal Beck’s life, you can.  She is Shani Palti-Schulz, now age 30.  When Channel 1 called her to talk about the accident she professed not to remember.  Then she said she had no interest in discussing it.  In the past 24 hours, she’s deleted her Facebook account, which used to display the accompanying portrait of her scarfing down a yummy burger.  No such pleasures for Gal.

Life has been good to Shani.    She’s the daughter of Nadav Palti (his bio), the CEO of Dori Media, one of Israel’s most successful television production companies.  Recently, he was the chairman for the International Emmy awards.

She married into the family which owns one of Israel’s most lavish catering companies.  It entertains the wealthiest of Israel’s families: does their weddings, their bnai mitzvah, their corporate events.

The wedding was covered in the society pages, and even in the sober business publication, Calcalist.  There was no mention of any blemish in the bride’s past.  All was sweetness and light.

That’s the way life goes for Israel’s 1%.  They are protected from their evil deeds.  They have connected lawyers who do God knows what to get beloved daughters like Shani off.  Bribe witnesses? Very possibly.  Bribe police commanders? Possibly. Even bribe chief prosecutors?  Why not?

Unfortunately, the documentary did not delve into the corruption that resulted in Gal’s case being closed so abruptly.  It didn’t question Ruth David.  It didn’t investigate whether corruption played a role.  It should have.  But in Israel those powerful families have lawyers who threaten defamation suits which could drag on for years and bankrupt media companies.  Better not to go there if it can be helped.

But thankfully, we can do what Israeli media may not.  We can offer a scintilla of light and justice to the family.  We can offer Israelis what should be theirs by right: knowledge and information.

Family and friends of Gal have launched a Facebook page calling for the reopening of his case.

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Israeli Spy Drone Crashed in Lebanon

Reuters reports that an Israeli drone has crashed in Tripoli.  It was a Hermes 450.  Though they say it crashed in the sea, this video footage clearly shows it on land. Hezbollah in the past has had success in commandeering Israeli drones via hacking. Israel has also admitted destroying drones with which it lost contact (or which were hacked) in order to prevent their falling into Hezbollah hands. It appears that the Lebanese have earned a rich harvest with the capture of this vehicle.  Though it’s unclear that it will benefit Hezbollah or Iran, since Tripoli is not one of their strongholds.

An interesting question is why the Israelis were spying there.  It’s a northern Sunni city outside the Shia geographical sphere of influence.  It is possible the drone’s mission lay elsewhere (Syria or the Bekaa), that it was hacked or stopped responding there and flew itself to Tripoli, where it crashed.

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Breaking: Second Israeli Captive in Gaza Identified

hashem al sayyed

Hashem al’Sayyed, Israeli Bedouin imprisoned in Gaza

UPDATE: I also broke another major story today.  Until now, Israeli media reported that two IDF soldiers were killed during a Hannibal Directive, in which the army kills one of its own troops to prevent capture by Palestinian militants.  Now, I report that a third IDF solider, Amit Yeori, was also murdered by his own during last summer’s war.  Thanks to Mint Press News for publishing both stories and recognizing their importance.

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Yesterday, an Israeli judge approved the removal of the gag order preventing the media from reporting anything about the imprisonment of Avera Mengistu.  This was a story I first reported here back in October and followed up on last month in a Mint Press News story.  In that piece, I first identified Mengistu by name and excoriated the government for turning its back on him in large part because he was black.  As his brother told the Israeli press yesterday: “This wasn’t just racism, it was blackism.”

Avera Mengistu

Avera Mengistu (R.) at an Ethiopian wedding

I’m delighted that despite the fact that it took the Israeli media eleven months to say a word about his case, that now they are making up for it.  All the major outlets ran stories and informed the Israeli public about a story that had been withheld from them for almost a year.  But some media did better than others.  NRG (formerly Maariv), a hard-right outlet, reported fully not just about Mengistu, but credited my own original reporting and contribution.  Ynet and 972 Magazine also referred briefly to my role.  Only the erstwhile “liberal” Haaretz excised me completely from the story.  To believe their reporting, the only conversation about Mengistu happened among Israeli-Ethiopians on Facebook.  The reporter couldn’t even be bothered to discover that for the past month I’ve been sending Facebook messages to every Israeli Ethiopian NGO and individual on the social media platform that I could find.

Despite e mails to the reporter and Aluf Benn, the managing editor, asking for a correction to their story, no response has been forthcoming. I’ll let you be the judge of what that says about Haaraetz’s journalistic principles.  I should add that I regularly cover and credit Haaretz reporting here, while also criticizing it when warranted.  It’s that part that rankles people like publisher Amos Schocken and Benn.

I’ve written about this in my new Mint Press article following up on the Mengistu saga.  Please read it and distribute it on social media.

Yesterday, Haggai Matar reported at Mekomit that there is a second Israeli citizen held captive in Gaza.  Matar did not identify him.  I will now.  An Israeli source has confirmed he is an Israeli Bedouin, Hashem Sha’aban al-Sayyed (age 27), from one of the Bedouin hamlets in Hura area.  I do not know how he came to cross the border.  This element of the story is under the same draconian gag order that prevented the identification of Mengistu till yesterday.  Let’s hope that Haaretz can appeal the gag order on this case as well and get it removed.  Let’s hope as well that Haaretz’s churlishness doesn’t prevent it from offering journalistic credit.

Haaretz interviewed al-Sayyed’s father, who told the reporter that despite claims by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon to the contrary, no Israeli official had had any contact with him and that he didn’t even know his son was being held in Gaza.  Yaalon also warned Hamas that he held it responsible for the two captives’ safety.  When you and your government has abandoned them for months–to announce that you hold the other guy responsible is a breathtaking bit of bluffery.  We always knew Yaalon was a liar, but this performance is truly breathtaking.  Most politicians would at least be embarrassed to be shown up by a mourning father.  But for Yaalon, there is no shame.

Hashem had disappeared on April 20th.  His father said Hashem is mentally-troubled and had twice previously cross the border and was returned.  My hope is that just as the story on Mengistu led to the lifting of his gag order a month later, so the same may happen in the case of this poor Bedouin man.

There’s another element of embarrassment for the Israeli government in this case.  The IDF monitors the Gaza-Israel border closely with surveillance cameras and regular patrols.  Though the IDF refused to have any contact with Mengistu’s family for weeks after the incident, eventually they brought the family video evidence of Mengistu on the beach before he crossed into Gaza.  The evidence, according to yesterday’s reports, showed him sitting on the beach reading a Bible, then approaching the fence and climbing over it.  It shows his approaching several Gazans on the other side of the fence as well.

The army claims it immediately dispatched troops to investigate and prevent Mengistu from crossing.  This doesn’t pass the smell test.  If a terrorist was crossing into Israel from the same location, they would activate every force possible in order to meet the threat.  In this case, they saw someone crossing in the “wrong” direction and did nothing to prevent it.  Because they just didn’t care.

Yossi Melman offered a savage critique (the English version at the Jerusalem Post is considerably more toned down) of the Israeli security apparatus in his story for Maariv.  He said it “spat in the face” of the Ethiopian community in Israel.  “If the color of his skin had been different, the government’s attitude would’ve been as well.” Of course, he’s right.

He further reveals secret briefings offered to journalists about the case while it was still under gag in which they were told the government had met with the family and was doing all in its power to free him.  Nothing of the sort happened.  The prime minister refused to meet the family until an Israeli Ethiopian MK pressured him to do so.  The meeting took place exactly one day before the judge ended the gag order.

The government pressured the family to remain silent.  That’s why when I contacted Avera’s brother he refused to speak with me, as did a well-known Ethiopian journalist I contacted.  Only his father, who is divorced and largely out of contact with the family, was willing to talk.

For all reading this, especially Israelis, let’s break the gag on reporting al-Sayyed’s name and predicament as we did Mengistu’s.  They deserve no less from all of us.

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