דיווח: שלטונות ישראל סירבו לתת אישור בנייה לסגן מפקד סיירת מטכ”ל, סא”ל מחמוד ח’יר א-דין, לפני שנהרג בפעולה הכושלת בעזה
NOTE: This post is a comprehensive one which I’d hoped to publish either at The Nation or Jacobin Magazine. Neither one accepted it for publication, so their loss is your gain. You get the benefit of reading newly-reported information involving this story, right here. But as a result, portions of this piece summarize previous reporting I’ve published here.
GIVE BIG: As we approach the New Year, I appeal to you, my readers to support the extraordinary work you find here and nowhere else, either on the web or in print media, in Israel itself or in the foreign press. To read stories suppressed by Israeli military-intelligence services, you come here. And I don’t let you down.
This is a painstaking job involving combing the Israeli media, ferreting out court documents, encouraging Israeli sources to share information, and writing the best stories I can. It takes thousands of hours each year to produce. I do it because it’s important. It doesn’t earn awards or accolades. No one invites me on all expense paid junkets. Editors aren’t busting down my door to publish my work. But presumably you appreciate the unique service I provide. If you do, there is one critical way to show it. Give. Give now. Give as much as you can.
Give through Paypal. If you would like a tax-deduction for your gift, give through Network for Good, which processes donations on behalf of Media Island, my fiscal sponsor (which offers the tax deduction). Make sure you note your gift is on behalf of “Tikun Olam.”
Last month, a secret IDF commando unit infiltrated Gaza in a botched raid intended to install secret listening devices in the enclave. Driving two vehicles containing top-secret electronic listening gear, they were flagged by a Hamas patrol in Khan Yunis, a few kilometers from the border. The Israeli forces fled, pursued by Palestinians in hot pursuit. A fierce gun battle erupted in which Hamas units converged on the fleeing Israelis, and the IDF launched massive airstrikes to fend off the attacks and retrieve the stranded fighters. In the course of this combat, an entire Hamas patrol including a battalion commander was wiped out by the commandos, who were rescued by an IDF helicopter which landed inside Gaza and lifted them to safety.
One Israeli officer, Lt.Col. Mahmoud Kheireddine, serving in the elite special forces unit, Sayeret Matkal, was killed. Israeli military censorship initially prohibited naming his rank or unit. It has somewhat relaxed that restriction, permitting national media to report that foreign reporters have published this identifying information. No one has yet published his name. Foreign news organizations like the New York Times have also refrained from identifying him, though they are not bound by such censorship protocol. This report mentioned that Palestinian militants were killed, but didn’t even mention an IDF officer died as well, let alone his name.
Palestinian media also displayed photos of captured electronic surveillance equipment abandoned by the Israelis. At the time, no one knew that Hamas had captured additional incriminating materials linked to the secret operation.
But this raid and firefight was only the beginning: in response to the liquidation of their patrol unit, Hamas militants rained down 400 rockets on southern Israel which killed a Palestinian laborer and severely wounded two others, including one soldier whose bus was struck by a rocket. An additional 7 Palestinians were killed by Israeli counter-attacks on Gaza. Israel’s security cabinet deliberated and it appeared that some of the hawkish ministers wanted another war (the last, Operation Protective Edge, was in 2014).
But cooler heads prevailed. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was in Paris attending the 100th anniversary commemoration of the end of WWI and hoping to meeting with Vladimir Putin over Iranian military activity in Syria, rushed home to manage the crisis. He persuaded the security ministers to give Egypt a chance to negotiate a ceasefire. Within days both sides stood down from their armed readiness and calm returned (though each side claimed the other had conceded).
Hamas Publishes Pictures of IDF Attackers
That, however, did not quiet the matter. Recently, Hamas taken the unprecedented step of releasing photo images of eight of the members of the IDF raiding party. There are two separate images of each individual, presumably lifted from fake Palestinian IDs the soldiers used. Kheirredine’s pictures appear to be the ones in the middle of the photo array. The militant group asked both Gazans and Israelis to help it identify those who participated in the mission.
The Israeli military censor responded by slapping a prohibition on displaying the images. It even asked the Israeli media not to cover the story at all, in order to protect the soldiers and prevent Hamas from uncovering the methods used to infiltrate Gaza. Though the media did pixelate the images (which are displayed here), it refused to honor the request not to report the story. Nevertheless, the front pages of Israel’s major papers looked odd prominently featuring a series of blurred images.
Twitter, to which the image was originally posted by Palestinian tweeps, censored the images under pressure from Israel. So I’ve posted the image here so it can be seen.
Hamas took the battle from the field to social media networks, activating bots which posted the images of the IDF commandos thousands of times on Twitter. Thetweets were addressed to the accounts of Israeli politicians and journalists,in the expectation hundreds of thousands of their Israeli followers might see the prohibited images and retweet them.
The Israeli news site, The Marker, posted a (Hebrew) story about the Hamas bots. In it, the reporter criticized Israeli politicians who proposed a “Facebook Law,” which would punish the use of social media to undermine the security of the State. She noted that this law would be completely ineffective against bots like those used by Hamas and could be exploited to silence critics offering legitimate dissenting political views.
That story was translated into English and published on the Haaretz site. Almost as soon as it was published, the Israeli censor forced it to be taken down. But curiously, the Hebrew article remains publicly accessible. So not only is the censor prohibiting naming Kheireddine, it’s prohibiting reporting that Hamas has exposed the images of the members of the raiding force, and criticism of Knesset legislation that would stamp out free speech in the guise of national security. The ways of the censor are a mystery…
In a related development, Gazans themselves have reported receiving robocalls from the Israeli military warning them not to circulate the images.
This marks yet another example of cyber-hacking and social media manipulation as extensions of conventional military conflict. Von Clausewitz said “war was a continuation of politics by other means.” Today, we have powerful, dangerous technical tools which are a continuation of war by other means.
While Russia may not wish to meet the U.S. on the battlefield, you don’t have to go to war to achieve your strategic goals. With well under $100-million and a team of cyber-hackers, you may be able to install your chosen candidate as president. Similarly, Hamas may not match Israel’s massive military superiority;but you can use social media tools to expose the enemy’s vulnerabilities.Publishing these images reminds Israelis that Hamas has tools that can turn their strength into a weakness. Identifying such warriors makes it more likely they could eventually be held accountable for war crimes; or exposed to acts of retaliation.
Israeli journalists have dutifully avoided violating censorship. Further, they neglected to analyze or criticize the mission, which clearly resulted in spectacular failure. Only Ronen Bergman, reporting for Yediot Achronot (Hebrew), called the mission a “catastrophe,” and attacked the military censor for locking the barn door after the horse bolted.
Israel’s Military Censorship a Product of the National Security State
The military censorship regime is a product of the Israeli national security state. It sacrifices the individual’s right to know, a sacred principle in western democracies, and offers the military-intelligence apparatus carte blanche to pursued its endeavors free from review or accountability. Even worse, this form of censorship vainly attempts to wall Israel off from the outside world; despite the fact that social media and messaging platforms have made it impossible to suppress information the State seeks to suppress. Instead of living in the 21stcentury, the censor has reverted to the age of the telegraph and Pony Express.
The use of such images by Hamas is reminiscent of the approach taken by police authorities in Dubai investigating the assassination of Hamas weapons dealer, Mahmoud al-Mabouh there in 2010. They harvested massive amounts of surveillance data. By cross-checking the data, they eventually exposed the identities of all twenty-seven members of the Mossad murder squad. They released passport images of all of the killers, which in turn exposed another agency technique: closing the passports of dual Israeli-foreign national citizens. The passports were used by spies in overseas missions. Thus every foreign governments whose citizens’ passports were abused, railed against the agency for violating diplomatic protocols. A number of Mossad station chiefs were expelled by the offended states.
Fake Humanitarian Relief NGO Used as Cover for Gaza Operation
Nor was this the end of the matter: an Israeli media outlet and TV station report that the IDF commandos infiltrated Gaza for an extended period of time using a humanitarian relief NGO as a cover for their operations. The Al Basma Club for the Disabled (Basma means “smile” in Arabic) is a genuine organization which provides equipment, physical therapy and sports activities for disabled victims of Israeli violence. Israeli media have erroneously reported the NGO’s name as “Bamasa.” It is absolutely shameful that Israel exploited the extraordinary rehabilitation efforts of this Palestinian group as a cover for its intelligence operations. It is even more cruel and ironic that Israel, which has created tens of thousands of disabled Gazans through its repeated bombardments and invasions, took advantage of Al Basma in this fashion.
The Israeli commandos even rented a building in Gaza from a Palestinian police officer, telling him it would be the location from which it distributed its wheelchairs and other equipment. Thus, it was also able to traverse Gaza freely to deliver goods to those in need, which sometimes even included the families of Hamas activists. On the night of the attack, the Israelis even pointed out the wheelchair in their van to their Gazan interrogators to prove their bona fides. During such travels, the commandos were able to plant listening devices in mosques and other sensitive locations allowing Israel to amass sensitive intelligence data.
The Israeli publication, Mekomit (republished in English here), suggested that Israel’s use of an international relief organization in this fashion would violate international law and even be considered a war crime. The Geneva Convention prohibits such activity because it raises suspicions against any and all such humanitarian efforts among the captive populations. The rule seeks to uphold the impartiality of such work so that these NGOs may work unhindered and trusted by both sides in any conflict.
Of course, Israel has no concern for the reputations of such organizations in Gaza. It regularly arrests and imprisons local Gaza staff of major international NGOs, claiming they are using their own positions to finance terror operations (of course, exactly paralleling what the IDF actually did in its own operation). The security apparatus almost never offers any evidence or proof of such crimes. It doesn’t have to because the Israeli judicial system in security cases permits showing evidence only to the judge, and denying it to the defense. That violates the most minimal western legal standard of being able to confront one’s accuser and the evidence offered against oneself.
Israel’s siege of Gaza, lasting since 2006, is itself a violation of international law. So, it has no interest in encouraging support for the subject population. In fact, Israel seeks to impose as much suffering in Gaza as it can without drawing the ire of the world community. Using subterfuge in this way, and raising suspicion against international organizations, would further Israeli interests.
As I noted above, the tactics of the Mossad and those of the IDF against Palestinian targets display Israel’s utter disregard for accepted standards of international behavior, especially those among democracies. Israel has no compunction violating the most basic protocols of humanitarian law and the laws of war. It has no fear of being labeled a pariah state. However, when it comes to BDS,which directly affects Israel’s economic interests in the international market,Israel is profoundly, even obsessively concerned.
Israeli Druze Serve and Die, While Discriminated Against by State They Serve
As part of the Muslim bereavement ritual, the family of the deceased establish a mourning tent and friends, relatives and supporters visit the family and share meals, generally outdoors. The family of Mahmoud Kheireddine, hailing from the Druze village of Hurfeish, welcomed well-wishers in the aftermath of his death. They included Israeli cabinet ministers. Palestinian media wrote that a local Druze activist reported that the dead soldier’s father excoriated housing minister Yoav Galant, himself a former high-ranking IDF general, for refusing to grant his dead son a building permit. He said: “”My son gave you his life, but you were too miserly to give him a building permit!”
Among the many insults and forms of discrimination suffered by Israeli Palestinians (and Druze in particular) is an almost blanket refusal to permit villages to expand by building new housing for newly married couples seeking to start a family. Israeli Jews, on the other hand, are offered such permits freely, along with generous mortgage terms for housing built inside the Green Line and in the Occupied Territories.
The dark irony of this phenomenon is that Israeli Druze have served in the IDF with distinction for decades. The fact that Kheireddine served in Israel’s most elite special forces unit, points to the trust placed in them by the military. Yet the very State they serve rejects them when they seek to live their lives the same as any Israeli Jew. It’s a bitter, but unsurprising irony, further proving that Israel may be a Jewish state, but it is far from a democratic one.