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Archive for January, 2013

The Gatekeepers: In New Film, Ex-Shin Bet Chiefs Denounce Occupation, Compare Israel to Nazi Germany

Posted by uscsjp on January 29, 2013

AARON MATÉ: For our first segment, we turn to Israel and the Occupied Territories, where Israeli forces have begun the year with a spate of killings of unarmed Palestinian civilians. So far this month, at least five unarmed Palestinians have been shot to death by Israeli troops. The latest we know about was a 21-year-old Palestinian woman named Lubna Hanash, who was killed when Israeli forces opened fire at a West Bank school. A witness said Hanash was standing with a group of companions when they came under fire.

AHMED ABU KHERAN: [translated] Two Israeli solders traveling in a white car pointed their weapons, shooting indiscriminately at a college, where the women were standing at the entrance, and there was another man inside. They shot three people, and then a large number of soldiers arrived.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on Monday, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem put out a report saying Israeli forces have been “extensively and systematically” violating their own rules of engagement when suppressing protests in the West Bank, in many cases leading to Palestinian deaths. According to B’Tselem, since 2005 at least 48 Palestinians have been killed by live ammunition fired at people throwing stones. Six more were killed by rubber-coated bullets fired at dangerously close range, and two were killed by tear-gas canisters directly fired at protesters. This is B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli.

SARIT MICHAELI: This report exposes for the first time the full list of crowd-control weapons used by the Israeli security forces in the West Bank regarding Palestinian demonstrations, weapons like tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, the skunk stun grenades—different weapons that are meant to be non-lethal if used properly and according to regulations. We actually also provide the relevant military regulations that restrict the use of these different elements, and we show how these regulations are often very widely flouted by soldiers.

AARON MATÉ: That was Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

Well, we turn now to an explosive new documentary film that features some unlikely and unprecedented criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. One subject of the film says, quote, “We are making the lives of millions unbearable, into prolonged human suffering, [and] it kills me.” A different subject of the film says, We’ve become, quote, “a brutal occupation force similar to the Germans in World War II.”

AMY GOODMAN: Now, these aren’t the words of Israeli peace activists or even of soldiers who have refused to serve in the Occupied Territories; they’re the words of the former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service and the agency responsible for the country’s internal security. And in The Gatekeepers, by Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh, these five—these six former Shin Bet chiefs are brought together to speak out for the first time ever.

In separate interviews, they they detail their methods against Palestinian militants and civilians in the Occupied Territories, including targeted killings, torture, recruiting informants, and the suppression of mass protests during the two intifadas. But in doing so, they also criticize the occupation they were assigned with defending and warn successive Israeli governments have endangered their country’s future by refusing to make peace.

In this clip, Yuval Diskin, who headed the Shin Bet from 2005 to 2011, shares the doubts he’s carried with him about the targeted killings of Palestinian militants.

YUVAL DISKIN: [translated] People expect a decision. And by “decision,” they usually mean “to act.” That’s a decision. “Don’t do it” seems easier, but it’s often harder. Sometimes it’s a super-clean operation: No one was hurt except the terrorists. Even then, later, life stops, at night, in the day, when you’re shaving—we all have our moments—on vacation. You say, “OK, I made a decision, and x number of people were killed. They were definitely about to launch a big attack.” No one near them was hurt. It was as sterile as possible. Yet you still say, “There’s something unnatural about it.” What’s unnatural is the power you have to take three people, terrorists, and take their lives in an instant.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Yuval Diskin, one of six former Shin Bet chiefs interviewed in the new documentary The Gatekeepers. It has just been nominated for the Academy Award for best documentary, joining a list of nominees that also includes another film about the Israeli occupation, Five Broken Cameras. The Gatekeepers opens in limited release in New York and Los Angeles Friday. Its director, Dror Moreh, joins us here in New York.

We welcome you, Dror, to New York to the studios of Democracy Now! You have interviewed all six surviving former Shin Bet heads, equivalent to the heads of the FBI.

DROR MOREH: FBI—well, a combination of FBI, CIA. They do all the things together.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you pull this off? Why did they talk to you?

DROR MOREH: I think they were ready to do that. I think that when I came to speak to them—as you know, timing is the most important thing, and I think that when I came to them with the idea of doing the movie, they felt that it’s already long due, needed, and that they had to speak, because they were worried about the state of Israel. They were worried about where Israel is headed if it will continue to maintain this occupation. So it was, for them, a kind of non-issue to come and speak in the movie.

AMY GOODMAN: In this clip, former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter discusses an Israeli bombing of a home in Gaza in July 2002. The attack killed Salah Shehadeh, the head of Hamas’s military wing in Gaza, but also 14 innocent civilians, including Shehadeh’s wife and daughter and a family of seven living next door. Dozens were also wounded. The attack occurred just as Shehadeh was reportedly preparing to sign onto a ceasefire halting attacks on Israelis not in the Occupied Territories. Here, Dror Moreh, the director, confronts Dichter about the civilian deaths.

AVI DICHTER: [translated] The Air Force dropped a one-ton bomb on the house. Unfortunately, because of inaccurate intelligence, innocents were killed. No one knows the final number: nine to 14.

DROR MOREH: [translated] When you drop a one-ton bomb on a densely populated area, like in the Shehadeh incident, obviously bystanders will be hurt.

AVI DICHTER: [translated] No, it’s not obvious, no. You gather intelligence: Where do people live? How many? Who? What are the chances? Where do you shoot from?

AMY GOODMAN: Former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter. Talk about his response.

DROR MOREH: Well, look, I—I have to say that I a little bit feel uncomfortable in the way that you present the things here, because you portray the things as if Israel is the brutal, aggressive all the time, with the Palestinians, that they are like doves. There is reason why the Shin Bet is doing what it’s doing there. And the fact of the matter is that you cannot say—in a way, portray Israel as the aggressive and the Palestinians are the innocent bystander who are always being killed by those aggressive forces. It’s not the case at all, and I think that this is misleading the people that are watching that.

And I think that there is—if there is something that I failed while doing this film, it’s that the whole situation is different shades of gray. There is no really total aggressive person there or aggressive entity towards a very innocent and not violent entity on the other side. It’s both. Both are doing the worst that they can. I think that I can relate to what Abba Eban said once, our former foreign minister. He said that the Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. I can say that on both sides. Both sides have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

And this is the whole goal of The Gatekeepers. The Gatekeepers portrays Israeli occupation in the last 45 years and basically says, “Enough of that. It’s not going anywhere. It’s only tactic without strategy. Where do you want to go with this conflict ahead?” and to show that in a way that will only benefits both sides. If you portray only one side as the brutal, aggressive force and the other one as the innocent naive, you are doing wrong to the truth or to the facts on the ground. And I have to say that this is something which my movie tried to do very, very strongly: to portray the situation as it is. The Palestinians are doing terrorist attack. They have right to do, in a way, something which they want to create their own country, their own homeland, and they oppose the aggressive occupation.

AARON MATÉ: Well, we certainly aren’t here to debate the history with you, but we are trying to portray your film, and your movie has some very powerful statements that should be highlighted. You know, you have Avraham Shalom saying something like—a line like: “[We’ve become] a brutal occupation force similar to the Germans in World War II.”


AARON MATÉ: “We have become cruel, to ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population, using the excuse of the war against terror.”


AARON MATÉ: That’s in your movie, and it’s very powerful.

DROR MOREH: Absolutely, I’m not—yeah, I’m not saying that it’s not in the movie. Well, I did that movie; believe me, I know every sentence that is inside that movie. What I felt is that when you portray that as the Palestinians are people that are sitting there, you know, and not doing anything, it’s not the reality on the ground. And by that, you have to show both sides, because I think that when you do that, you portray only one side. And I said that before. It’s—you have to be balanced. And this is something that I felt that is not so much here.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, could you respond to both of these points? One is this powerful statement that Avraham Shalom says, the former head of Shin Bet—

DROR MOREH: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —comparing themselves to the Nazis.

DROR MOREH: He’s—well, look, I have to say that this sentence that Avraham Shalom said, I—when I was doing the interview, it felt like a physical blow to my stomach when he said that. And I have to say that Avraham Shalom—well, when you see the film, you’ll know what happened in the 300 line when he ordered the execution of two terrorists that were captured alive. I think—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk about that after break. You’re talking about the execution of the—

DROR MOREH: Of the two terrorists who—

AMY GOODMAN: —of those who blew up the bus.

DROR MOREH: Yeah—no, didn’t blow up the bus; they were trying to kidnap the bus. They were captured alive after the storm on the bus. And he ordered them to be executed without a trial.

Look, I think that the occupation is bad for Israel, and I think that those people who came to speak in the movie, the six heads of the security defense establishment, the Shin Bet, came because they feel that the occupation of the Palestinians in the last 45 years is something that is not good for the state of Israel and should be stopped. And I think that when Avraham Shalom spoke about what you just mentioned, he spoke about the ramification of the occupation on the Israeli population, about what is becoming inside, internally, in the Israeli civilian people. And I totally agree with him.

And, by the way, Avraham Shalom was a young kid in Vienna in the 1930s. He didn’t know that he’s a Jew. He was forced to go to school after the Kristallnacht. He was almost beaten to death by his classmates. He felt firsthand what it means to be a Jew under a racist regime. And when he compares that, he compares the Israeli occupation to the Germans, that—like how the Germans treated the Poles, the Czechs, the Dutch, he knows what he speaks about. And I think that his worry is something that had resonance in me, as well, about what—where will it lead, the occupation—I mean, if it will continue like that.

AMY GOODMAN: And Avi Dichter’s point when he’s talking about the killing of the Hamas leader who was going for a ceasefire, killing his wife—

DROR MOREH: Look, this is something that happens in America, as well. Avi Dichter just mentioned after that, in that clip, he said that the Americans have drone attacks in Afghanistan. They killed 70 people in a wedding, which nobody knows if the suspect person was killed, as well. I think that now, in—the war of the 21st century is a war where you need intelligence to get to a needle in a haystack—that means in the form of a terrorist, that you are looking for him. And the intelligence people want to get into that specific person in a certain date at a certain time at a certain place. And this is a very difficult war to maintain. America is doing it now. You—just now you heard in your news that they are going to do drones surveillance over North Africa. I don’t—I think that you have to think strategically: Where do you want to lead with this conflict?

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this discussion. Dror Moreh is our guest. He is the Iraeli filmmaker, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary, The Gatekeepers. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AARON MATÉ: Well, we were just talking about the hijacking of the 300 bus, so let’s go to a clip of that. This excerpt deals with the Shin Bet’s killing of two Palestinian hijackers of an Israeli bus in 1984. They were brutally beaten to death by Israeli forces after they were captured. Avraham Shalom, the former Shin Bet director, who’s ordered the killing—who ordered the pair’s killing in person, is among those interviewed. He was later forced to resign over the incident.

AMI AYALON: [translated] We killed a terrorist, whose hands were tied, who no longer threatened us. By what right? But in the Shin Bet back then, there was no such concept as an illegal order. Not only did the Shin Bet fail, the Cabinet and the prime minister failed. And to some degree, they oversee the Shin Bet.

YAAKOV PERI: [translated] It’s a tough question. Did the prime minister know about the premeditated murder, the plan to kill the terrorist caught on the 300 bus? Did the head of the Shin Bet have the authority to do that, to make those decisions?

DROR MOREH: [translated] Under what circumstances did Shamir give you permission to kill?

AVRAHAM SHALOM: [translated] There were one or two cases, when I couldn’t find him, and it had to be done.

DROR MOREH: [translated] What had to be done?

AVRAHAM SHALOM: [translated] We had to deal with Arabs who were about to launch an attack, or that launched an attack. He said, “If you can’t find me, decide on your own.”

AARON MATÉ: That’s Avraham Shalom, a former Shin Bet director, who actually was forced to resign over this incident of the 300 bus. And before him speaking were two other directors of the Shin Bet, interviewed in this film that we’re talking about, The Gatekeepers. So, Dror, if you could talk about this incident?

DROR MOREH: This incident basically shook the corridors of power in Israel. It was the first time that the Shin Bet has come to the light of the cameras or the light of the—because before that, Shin Bet was almost—no one knew about, that Shin Bet existed, only few people around Israel, and basically the Shin Bet could do whatever he wanted. And that resulted in that horrible incident where the head of Shin Bet ordered the killing of two captured terrorists, which is horrible morality, any way that you can look at that.

But the main issue here for me was the fact that the politicians who gave those permissions to Avraham Shalom as head of Shin Bet were not convicted. You know, they always—those people who are in the field pay the price, and the politicians—namely, Yitzhak Shamir, the prime minister, and Shimon Peres—the after-that prime minister—fought in every way that they could in order to prevent that incident to go into the court. And at the end of the day, Avraham Shalom got clemency from the president, before trial even. It was unprecedented that someone get clemency before he was even convicted or tried. And they knew why, because they knew that if it will get into trial, it will reach the highest level of the political people in Israel, the prime minister. And basically, Avraham Shalom said, “I would say in a court that he gave me the permission to do that,” which is horrible.

AMY GOODMAN: In this clip of The Gatekeepers, the Shin Bet security chiefs discuss how they also confronted Israeli militants—in this case, the extremist right-wing group the Jewish Underground, which planned to blow up the Islamic holy site, the Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem.

YAAKOV PERI: [translated] Then we investigated and found out that since 1978 to 1979 they were planning an attack on the Temple Mount to blow up the Dome of the Rock.

CARMI GILLON: [translated] At first, the idea was based on the belief that as long as the “abomination” stood over the site of the Jewish temple, there will be no Redemption; and therefore, they have to get rid of that dome. They prepared the bombs. They used a very sensitive type of explosive, Semtex. It was planned by Menachem Livni, who was a demolitions genius. The charges would be placed so that the entire force of the explosion would be directed at the support structure. This would result in the collapse of the dome. The consequence of blowing up the Dome of the Rock, even today, is that it could lead to total war by all the Islamic states, not just the Arab states, not just Iran, Indonesia too, against the state of Israel.

AARON MATÉ: That clip, from The Gatekeepers. Dror Moreh, this plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock?

DROR MOREH: You want me to have to tell you what happened there?

AARON MATÉ: Please, yes.

DROR MOREH: Well, I think that people should go to the movie and see that. It’s important. But look, the far-right extremism in Israel is the biggest danger to anything that moves towards peace. Those religious fanatics are willing to sacrifice everything in the name of God, in the name of their beliefs. And this is one of the most horrible incident in Israel’s history, the fact that people were willing to blow up the Dome of the Rock in order to stop the—it was when the peace process with Egypt, by the way. This was the aim of that. They wanted to blow up the Dome of the Rock as a preemptive that Israel will not withdraw from Sinai and create the peace with Egypt.

By the way, the head of Shin Bet, Dichter—this is not in the movie—said to me that in 2005, prior to the disengagement plan, which uprooted the settlements in Gaza, the fanatics, the extreme right-wing fanatics in Israel, were willing to blow up again the Dome of the Rock, and the threat over the dome was much more extensive than during the time of the Jewish Underground. And another plan was to assassinate the prime minister, the Prime Minister Sharon. And they know that if something will move towards peace, if there is something that can prevent that from happening, there is two things: Either they assassinate the prime minister, or either they will blow up one of the holy places to the Islam.

AARON MATÉ: Well, on this issue of fanatics, I want to ask you about the recent elections. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now working on putting together a coalition.


AARON MATÉ: And he’s going to have to include some pretty far-right groups.

DROR MOREH: Well, I would say—

AARON MATÉ: What’s your reaction to the election and—

DROR MOREH: I think that the last elections have proven that the Israeli public is much more smarter than the leaders. I think that—the way that I look at it, Netanyahu wanted to do that. Netanyahu wanted, before the elections, to move towards the extreme right, but the Israeli public said to him very, very clearly, “You cannot do that. You have to go to the center.” And by voting 19 members of the Knesset to the new—there is a future group. They told him very clearly, “You are the only candidate now in Israel. There is nobody who—there’s nobody who opposes you. So—but you cannot do that with the far extreme right; you have to go to the center.”

And this is what seems to be the case now. He’s negotiating with this center parties, and I hope that this was what happen. I don’t have any trust in Netanyahu. Netanyahu, for me, is something that is the most dangerous person in terms of the peace and in terms of Israel. But I think that the Israeli public have sent him a very clear message in that election.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking on Democracy Now! in 2006, former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami


AMY GOODMAN: —said that the former prime minister, the man who was assassinated, Yitzhak Rabin, never expected that Oslo would result in a creation of a Palestinian state.

SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Arafat in Oslo reached an agreement that didn’t even mention the right of self-determination for the Palestinians, doesn’t even mention the need of the Israelis to put an end to settlements. If the Israelis, after Oslo, continued expansion of settlements, they were violating the spirit of Oslo, not the letter of Oslo. There is nothing in the Oslo agreement that says that Israelis cannot build settlements. …

It was an exercise in make-believe. The Palestinians didn’t even mention self-determination so a leader like Rabin could have thought that, OK, we will have an agreement that will create something which is a state-minus. This was Rabin’s expression. He never thought this will end in a full-fledged Palestinian state.

AARON MATÉ: That was former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami speaking on Democracy Now! in 2006. Now, of course, Rabin was assassinated by Israeli extremists.


AARON MATÉ: And I want to ask about that in a second, but the reason that we played this clip is because there’s a concern amongst many people that even within—that within the confines of mainstream Israeli politics, that there’s not the will to meet the minimal demands of Palestinians.

DROR MOREH: Absolutely.

AARON MATÉ: So, in your film, like there’s some great reverence for Rabin, and I understand that, but here you have the former foreign minister of Israel saying that even Rabin, who was at the—who was known as this man of peace, even he, himself, was not prepared to allow for a Palestinian state through the peace process.

DROR MOREH: I don’t know. I cannot speak in the name of Shlomo Ben-Ami, and I cannot speak in the name of Rabin. What I know is that the settlements are the biggest obstacle to peace. If there is something that will prevent peace, it’s the settlement and the settlers. They are the biggest obstacle to the peace process, to maintain or to continue. And I think this is the most largest and most influential and most powerful group in Israeli politics. They’re basically dictating the policy of Israel in the last years. I think that definitely for the Palestinians, the settlements are the worst enemy in the way—in their way to the homeland. When they see everywhere, in Judea and Samaria now, the settlements that are built like mushroom after rain, they see how their country is shrinking.

And for me, I am much more bleaker than those—the heads of the Shin Bet: I think that we have reached the point of no return. I don’t see a leader in Israel, definitely not the current one, who can weigh on his back the weight that—of the thing that needs to be done in order to reach peace: basically, to dismantle those settlements. And it’s tragic.

AARON MATÉ: What if—so, what will make the difference? If there’s no one in Israeli—in the Israeli mainstream who can do it, would a change in U.S. policy influence things?

DROR MOREH: Absolutely. I think that at the end of the day, unless Barack Obama—and I hope that in his last term, for the last four years—you know, he doesn’t have to be re-elected now—if he doesn’t force it, if he doesn’t come to both sides, by the way—the Palestinian are as weak as the Israelis, the leadership, although in the Palestinian Authority, the people, Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad, are really pro-peace—this is what I feel. They say that they are renouncing terror. In the last—two days ago, there was an article in Israel that the last year was the cleanest year in terms of terrorist attacks in Israel. No Israeli died from terror attack coming from the West Bank. So, unless Barack Obama will come up, I would say, with an iron fist of 20 megaton in one hand and with a carrot on the other hand, and would say to them, “This is the deal. Take it or leave it. If you will take it, you will get this carrot. If you will not take it, you will get this iron fist,” nothing will happen on the ground. On the contrary, the thing will continue to deteriorate, and violence will prevail again.

AARON MATÉ: Have you tried to show this film to President Obama?

DROR MOREH: I wish that he will see that. I think that he can learn—I don’t know, how can I try to do that? Maybe if you can help me, I will be more than happy. I think that it shows for him a description of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, from the people who were most responsible to maintain that conflict, from people—from the security chiefs of the Israeli defense establishment, something that has not been done up until now together.

AMY GOODMAN: Dror Moreh, you have all six surviving former heads of Shin Bet.

DROR MOREH: Absolutely, all of them.

AMY GOODMAN: All critical—

DROR MOREH: All of them, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —ultimately, of the occupation.

DROR MOREH: All of them. All of things—

AMY GOODMAN: One of them you interviewed in the office when he was head of Shin Bet.

DROR MOREH: Of Shin Bet, yeah, in the Shin Bet headquarter.

AMY GOODMAN: What most surprised you in these interviews?

DROR MOREH: Well, I was shocked, believe me, 17 times, each interview, from what they told me. But the main thing I—what I felt was most surprising is how sober they are, how pragmatic they are, and how they see the fact that the leadership is not able to sustain the conflict, is not able to create a way out of that. This is something that they felt very strongly that they have to come against that. The fact that they served 45 years, more than that, in the service of the security of Israel, and they feel today that their work was in vain, in a way, because it didn’t lead Israel towards a better political solution. And this is the—

AMY GOODMAN: What was the quote that most surprised you?

DROR MOREH: A lot of them, a lot of the quotes. But basically, I would turn to what Ami Ayalon said when he came—when he was a young boy, he thought that there is a house in Jerusalem, and in that house there is a smart man—namely, Ben-Gurion. And he fix. He take care of us, of the Israelis. And when he grew up, he came to that house, he walked that corridor, he went beyond the door, and he saw that beyond that door there is no one who is thinking for us. And this is something that, you know, as a person who lives in a state like that, you think that the prime minister knows everything and takes the right decisions. After that movie, I’m much more desperate from—because I heard what they think about the leaders of Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s Ayalon who said—


AMY GOODMAN: —the former Shin Bet head who said he realized there’s no one there—

DROR MOREH: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: —talking about Netanyahu.


AMY GOODMAN: Now, there is a fascinating thing that is going on right now, which is of the five Oscar-nominated films, two are made by Israelis.


AMY GOODMAN: Joining The Gatekeepers in the nominees for best documentary at this year’s Academy Awards is another film also critical of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; it’s called 5 Broken Cameras. It tells the story of Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat, who got a video camera to record his son’s childhood but ended up documenting the growth of a resistance movement to the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank village of Bil’in. The film shows the nonviolent tactics used by residents of Bil’in as they join with international and Israeli activists to protest the wall’s construction and confront Israeli soldiers. Here, the co-director of 5 Broken Cameras, Emad Burnat, is arrested at night by Israeli forces who declare his home to be a “Closed Military Zone.”

ISRAELI POLICE: [translated] Open up!

EMAD BURNAT: [translated] Now it’s my turn. I take the camera to protect myself.

ISRAELI POLICE: [translated] I ask you to stop filming.

EMAD BURNAT: [translated] I can film in my own house.

ISRAELI POLICE: [translated] Show me your ID.

EMAD BURNAT: [translated] Get my ID. What’s the matter?

ISRAELI POLICE: [translated] This is a Closed Military Zone. “The military has declared this area a Closed Military Zone. Anyone found in a Closed Military Zone must evacuate the area at once. No one can enter or remain on the premises.” You are now in violation of that order. I ask you to stop filming.

EMAD BURNAT: [translated] I am a journalist. I can film.

ISRAELI POLICE: [translated] This is a Closed Military Zone. Stop filming. Put down the camera.

EMAD BURNAT: [translated] I am a journalist, and I’m in my own home.

ISRAELI POLICE: [translated] Put down the camera. That is an order. Turn the lens to the wall. Give it to your son. He can put it down.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of 5 Broken Cameras, another of the five Oscar-nominated films, both made by Israeli filmmakers. This 5 Broken Cameras named for the fact that Emad Burnat, the Palestinian who’s trying to—started by filming his kid’s childhood, all five cameras were broken by the Israeli military occupation of his town in Bil’in. This is fascinating, Dror, that both of you, coming with different perspectives, but ultimately critical of the occupation, are going to be in the Oscars. What has been the reception to yours, and both these films?

DROR MOREH: First of all, I think that it’s an amazing fact that a country which is small like Israel, only seven million people, have produced two documentaries that have been nominated for the—in the last five nomination for the Oscars. I think it shows that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is alive. I think, of course, it’s a big interest all around the world and that there’s really amazing Israeli filmmakers who are coming and portraying that, although in Israel the people are not—well, they don’t deal with that as much as I think they should in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are a nation that become living in denial.

I think that it shows that—Emad’s film is an amazing film. It shows that the Israeli—the Israeli documentary scene is really, really vibrant. It thinks about the problems that deal—that the Israelis are dealing with and want to change that. And the best way to change that is by creating documentaries, by creating those films that are accessible to the public.

My film opened three weeks ago in Israel. You know, in Israel, there’s not a lot of audience for documentaries. We opened in two art houses in Israel, the Cinematheque in Tel Aviv, Cinematheque in Jerusalem. A week after that, we moved to seven cinemas. Now we are in 15 cinemas. Even the big multiplexes have acquired the rights to show the film. It is sold out. And a lot of Israelis are coming to see that film. And I’m very, very happy for that, because I think that this is the way to show the Israeli people how the mirror effect of their life looks like in the reality, not in what they have been told in the government television.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, Dror Moreh—

DROR MOREH: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: —for joining us, Israeli filmmaker, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary, The Gatekeepers.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we go to Seattle, where a major protest is going on among teachers against standardized tests. Stay with us.


–Democracy Now!, 29 January, 2013


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EI: “Why did a rogue group of Occupy activists smear me with ‘terror’ claim?”

Posted by uscsjp on January 16, 2013

On 26 February 2012, a small group of Occupy Oakland activists claimed that I was potentially a “suspected” terrorist in an article they posted on an Occupy Oakland-branded website that they controlled. The resulting spectacle revealed an entrenched and unexamined prejudice against Arabs and Muslims, and a weakness many mainstream, predominantly white activist groups have in openly discussing issues of race and ethnicity.

The article, titled “Occupational Awareness” (see the screengrab at the bottom of this article), is based on several glaring errors in reasoning — the central one being that my “name had been found in Google search results in connection with allegations of terrorist activity.” The premise was fatally misleading, because it was not my name found, but that of another person, with a different surname.

Nevertheless, this acrobatic logic became the basis for their claim of my potential identity as a Palestinian “terror” suspect. Additionally, the article claimed that the person in question “visually and biographically” resembled me. This claim was based on the low-resolution photo of a bearded man with glasses featured in the article, and, apparently, the fact he was arrested in Paraguay.

Other suspected connections were added: connections to “South American drug trafficking”; to “Israeli intelligence”; and to the FBI. The group suggested I may have “entered the movement in order to harm it” and tacked that on to a disclaimer that Occupy did not support “terrorism.” This gave the impression that some kind of “terror” attack might also be imminent.

The “breakaway” group responsible for the article was a faction that had splintered from the main media committee. They later acquiesced to pressure from Occupy Oakland activists and removed the post.

Because of the potential for abusing the messaging power of the media committee revealed by the affair, the entire media committee was dissolved and reconstituted with new guidelines via a general assembly resolution that passed by a 90 percent margin. The splinter group formed the “Occupy Oakland Media Collective,” taking their website,, with them.

I chose not to write about all of this at the time for the safety of myself, family and fellow activists. During the short period the post was up, it had caught the attention of a few right-wing blogs, which soon began circulating the rumor that Occupy was sheltering a “Hamas terrorist,” and I felt I would be putting others in danger by drawing more attention to it.

The core of the issue was effectively swept under the rug, but the narrative that’s emerged among some groups often dismisses the potentially disastrous effects of the group’s actions. I believe its now critical to draw attention to the pernicious reasoning that lay behind the accusation and its potentially disastrous effects.

No evidence

The man I was accused of being — Salah Abdul Karim Yassine — was, ironically, also a victim of a “terror” smear, twice: once by the US State Department, and then again by the media group. Yassine’s name first appears in a State Department report published in 2001 as one of two slim reeds of “evidence” that the borders of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina had become a porous hotbed of “Islamic terrorism.”

Yassine is alleged to have made terror threats, though there is no evidence of them. Ali Khali Meri, a Lebanese immigrant, with so-called “Hizballah ties” is also named in the report. The State Department’s publication of this report — and subsequent references to it in a Library of Congress document alluded to by the media group — are the only reason that the group learned of the existence of Yassine (“Patterns of Global Terrorism,” 30 April 2001 [PDF]).

Indeed, it was not Yassine, but the State Department’s construct of him that the group discovered. In the words of journalist Kenneth Rapoza — writing on the website Counterpunch — the goal of the report was to facilitate turning “the region into a terrorist and druglord hunting ground” for the US military (“New fakers at the New Yorker,” 14 May 2003).

To achieve this goal, these manufactured cases relied on entrenched bigotry against Arabs to elevate petty crimes to the level of life-threatening concerns — copyright infringement in the case of Meri, illegal entry and use of false documents in the case of Yassine.

The media group’s recycling of the original smear against Yassine — and addition of “drug trafficking” from their own repository of Latino stereotypes — is an ironic testament to how easily such accusations are taken at face value when made by the powerful against marginalized groups. But the group’s article also recasts in microcosm the dangerous climate created by the US both here and abroad, where minor offenses — or the mere suspicion of them — become frightening conspiracies when the accused have a Muslim name and/or Arab ethnicity.

Indeed countless innocent people have been imprisoned following the same logic, based on innuendo or a “suspicion” which reaches steroidal levels when an Arab surname is added. Of these, Khaled el-Masri may be the most easily recognizable today. A German citizen with a name similar to that of an accused member of al-Qaeda, el-Masri was detained solely on suspicion of forged documents. Those documents were suspected of forgery only because of the similarity in names.

El-Masri was “rendered” by US officials, and tortured. The fact that this same reasoning was emulated by a group interested in social justice makes it an all the more disturbing commentary on the pervasive logic of prejudice against Arabs and Muslims.

Ignorant fear

I was accused during a particularly high-profile period of Palestinian advocacy. The article was published less than a week after I gave a short talk on behalf of a prisoner’s rights group about Khader Adnan, then on hunger strike in an Israeli jail, at a rally at San Quentin state prison on 20 February.

A day earlier, I had published a blog post on The Electronic Intifada addressing the double standards applied in the West to questions of nonviolent resistance.

It seems likely that the fear that such views would make Occupy seem “too radical” was partly responsible for the media group’s paranoia. Based on the irrational urgency embedded in the group’s excuse for not double-checking their research, it also seems clear that this was coupled with a basic ignorant fear of the Palestinian struggle. A member of the original media committee — who later joined the media collective and is the former director of the American-Israeli Friendship Committee in California — in fact tweeted complaints about the support Adnan received as a “nonviolent” activist.

It’s obvious that my speech, combined with nearly a decade of pro-Palestinian advocacy on my own blog, and my recent writing for The Electronic Intifada, fed the hysteria that led to the accusation. Even in the most uncharitable and biased view, my interactions with the group did not rise to the level of life or death concern. The concern is reflexively preposterous if stripped of the anti-Palestinian bigotry that has been tacitly accepted by the mainstream.

Despite the advances of the Palestinian solidarity movement and the greater mainstream acceptance of pro-Palestinian positions, this kind of fearful auto-purging exists at every level of the public sphere. The examples range from the tragic destruction of the career of veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas to the prosecution of students at the University of California at Irvine, who exercised their free speech rights at an on-campus pro-Israel forum.

Participating in a mass movement in the US shouldn’t also mean that Palestinians, Palestinian solidarity activists and those advocating similarly uphill positions must check their views at the door or be suspected of posing a threat towards the group. Though there are many pitfalls to the discourse on Israeli apartheid, marginalizing it this way all but ensures that mainstream movements will undermine their ability to address those issues most central to social justice — an end to the costly, ongoing military occupations and invasions throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

Bizarre interpretation of FBI schemes

There’s little doubt that the group applied a narrative of FBI infiltration cobbled from popular media accounts of government infiltration. But their peculiar needs required a bizarre interpretation of the FBI’s modus operandi.

Over the past several years, the FBI has sent Arab and Muslim infiltrators into Muslim and Arab American institutions and mosques. Their role has been to persuade and/or trick Muslims with poor judgment into saying questionable things or participating in certain acts (“Fake terror plots, paid informants: the tactics of FBI ‘entrapment’ questioned,” Guardian, 16 November 2011).

But the hair-on-fire concerns of the group obscured that methodology. In almost every case, infiltrators are petty criminals who have never been accused of terrorism — for example, Muslims and/or Arabs who have been recruited while serving sentences for fraud and the like. There is no known example of the FBI sending an Arab or Muslim infiltrator to subvert a mainstream organization. That may be for the very reasons I noted earlier, that such voices suffer from sanctions for advocating even mild pro-Arab or Muslim views — and even just from having backgrounds associated with Islam and the Arab world.

In every instance, the “aspirational terror” plots orchestrated by the FBI are not meant to undermine any single movement or group. Rather, they are meant to manufacture “results” in the “domestic anti-terror” crusade. The goal is all the more unlikely because “terror” itself is a construct manufactured for US establishment aims. The FBI’s activities instead create the illusion of endless, but easily characterized, threats and the appearance that the FBI is busy thwarting them to keep Americans safe.

Worse, the media group’s skewed view obscures the real dangers faced by Occupy. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and “aspirational” plots currently being brought to trial reveal a security system infatuated with “anarchists,” and frantically engaged in infiltrating and implicating anarchist-related groups as a subset of Occupy.

This is the same “busy work” methodology behind the targeting of Muslim and Arab groups — and by all accounts, the FBI has been very busy, raiding activist homes for anarchist literature and even setting up a similar “aspirational” phony terror plot aimed at Occupy’s anarchists in Cleveland, fronted by a petty criminal espousing anarchist sympathies (“FBI supplied Occupy Cleveland ‘terrorists’ arrested in May Day plot,” Green is the New Red, 1 May 2012).

In such a context, the idea that the FBI had sent a Muslim former terrorist to infiltrate and subdue the “nonviolence” wing of Occupy Oakland — which the media group claimed to represent — is more than the delusional fantasy than it initially appears to be. It is, instead, seriously hazardous reasoning. In a final irony, for example, baseless accusations against pro-Palestinian activists of being Mossad agents turns out to be one of the tactics recently espoused by an Israeli government official for discrediting them.

Surprisingly, none of these issues ever rose to front and center of the public discussion. Because some of the signatories to the article were people of color, a discourse on racism defined by power dynamics which further confused the issue, dominated the conversation.

Racialized assumptions

Of course, it’s ostensibly crucial to use a functional definition of racism based on power dynamics, but in this case that construction achieved the opposite of the intended effect; it encouraged white members of the media group, and their white advocates, to assure themselves that they had no racist assumptions to examine. In fact, the person who reportedly first found the “evidence” of the “suspected” terrorism, and one of the most vehement in defending it, was a white male, the son of an affluent best-selling author and not from, or residing in, Oakland.

Members of the “Anonymous” community later claimed that he had shared the information with them and that they had warned him that the “evidence” was baseless according to their own research. He and the other members of the group went public regardless. More importantly, since the kind of racialized assumptions the group used in its analysis was an internalized product of a white supremacist structure, this was a worrisome mix of opposing ideals that unfortunately went unexamined.

The discussion about racism, though important, rapidly became confused and distracted from the salient issues. These aren’t just questions facing Arab-American and Muslim activists, or of representation of people of color, or even of profiling. Rather, these are issues that concern radical queers and feminists, anti-establishment labor organizers, and anti-imperialism activists of all races.

These questions concern all people who espouse substantive and honest critiques of US policies and organizations, critiques which are not always popular at any given time, even in the left — these groups can be caught in the middle of witch-hunts not only by the establishment, but also by ostensibly counter-establishment structures.

Undoubtedly, there will be a mass movement successor to Occupy in the coming months or years. And if that successor is to have a broad popular character, an effective focus on US domestic and foreign policy and a resistance to McCarthyite witch-hunts, activists will have to revisit these issues again and again. Hopefully, this story will be of some use in those times.

Jaime Omar Yassin has been involved in alternative media for nearly 20 years. He has written for Extra!, Meatpaper, n+1 and other publications. His writing on the Occupy movement appears in the books Dreaming in Public and We are Many. He has his own blog at Hyphenated-Republic.


–The Electronic Intifada, 16 January, 2013

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