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December 5, 2010

Israel’s Carmel Fire: Racism Rears Its Ugly Head Even in Tragedy

Richard Silverstein


Tikun Olam, December 4, 2010

The worst forest fires ever to have struck Israel are sweeping through the Carmel Mountains surrounding Haifa.  42 prison guard trainees died when their bus was blocked on a highway and burned, thus cutting off their escape.  It is the worst loss of life in a natural disaster in Israel’s history.  17,000 have been evacuated.  The University is threatened.

While it is natural for human beings facing such tragedy to look for villains and scapegoats, it’s unfortunate the direction that attention has turned.   Israeli Jews have gravitated to a nasty spate of rumors blaming Palestinian Israelis for deliberately setting the fires as an act of terror and protest.  This commenter in a comment thread here writes, linking to the Drudge-like Rotter internet news portal (and rumor-mill):

…According to Haifa radio today, Arab citizens in the town of Fureidis, were seen cheering the massive forrest [sic] fire occuring in the Carmel forrest [sic] that has taken the lives of at least 40

In fact, this Arab news source says that on Saturday, the residents of the town actually gathered in the soccer stadium to pray for rain.  Either the earlier rumor is wrong or Fureidis is massively schizoid.

Only a day earlier, the same individual wrote this:

…During wartime they’re [Israeli Palestinians] a security risk. Most Jewish Israelies [sic] believe that they’d join the enemy and try to join the war.

And a different commenter writes about the fires:

There are rumors of arson. The rumors blame the fires on Israeli Arabs, Heuzballa’s and even Iran’s agents…Reset Bet (Channel 2, the public news channel) – A wave of arson in the north, two suspects captured.

Rotter itself fuels the flames with this:

Shabak has been called into investigate the forest fires

Since the fires began spreading throughout the north, the national police have transferred the investigation to the Shabak.  Great concern that orders to set the fires originate in terror elements.

Air tanker fighting Carmel fire (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images) 

Funny thing that this alleged report hasn’t been confirmed anywhere else in the Israeli media.  But now that it’s circulating in the Israel right-wing underworld of rumor and hate, the notion will have a long shelf life.  All this reinforces a right-wing nationalist narrative that proclaims that the Palestinian minority is the enemy within, a force that can never be trusted.  One that will side with “the enemy” during war or security crisis.

There’s only one problem with this line of thinking: it’s wrong.  Dead wrong.  Except for a few minor exceptions and despite massive levels of hate, mistrust and discrimination, Israeli Palestinians have shown remarkable dedication to the State, which is, after all, their country.

Let’s examine the reputable Israeli media reporting on the fires.  True, one strain of reporting emanating from the National Police (who tend to follow the Shabak’s lead and be harshly anti-Arab in their views and prejudices) arouses suspicion of arson.  But if you read the following carefully you’ll see that the police chief is not claiming the original fires were Arab-inspired arson, but rather that future copy cat fires might be.  Also, note how bereft of evidence or proof the police “suspicion” is in the first paragraph and that the police don’t even seem to be basing these suspicions on field investigations:

Close to a dozen fires broke out across the Galilee in northern Israel on Friday, even as fire fighters from Israel and abroad fought to contain a massive wildfire which has swept across a huge swathe of the nearby Carmel region. Police suspect that the new blazes were set deliberately.

Police Commissioner David Cohen earlier Friday warned local police chiefs to prepare for a spate of fires that had been purposely started. Police fear that some would take advantage of the current crisis to start more fires in the region.

Further fueling the rumors were reports that two residents of a Druze village were arrested on suspicion of setting the fires.  But the suspects were quickly released:

Two male residents of Daliat al-Carmel were released on Friday after having earlier been arrested on the suspicion that they had attempted to ignite fires in the Carmel hills region.

After being questioned by police, it became clear that the two were not responsible for the acts they were suspected of.

The second strain of reporting seems to derive from fire department sources who are on the scene or in contact with those who are.  This strain rejects claims of arson completely:

The initial inquiry conducted by fire investigators has pointed to negligence, not arson, as the cause of the wildfire.

According to the investigation, the wildfire started at one location west of Ussifiya. It is believed that household trash and tires that had been discarded in the area caught on fire and the fire spread. Investigators are looking into what exactly caused the trash to ignite.

While it’s too early to know definitively what the final determination will be, I feel safe saying that it’s likely that Israeli racism fueled by great pain and suffering has induced Jews to level yet another form of blood libel against their fellow Palestinian citizens.

The wild exaggeration hasn’t been limited to blaming Israeli Palestinians either.  Ynetnews blares this headline:

Hezbollah Overjoyed by Fire

The body of the report says no such thing.  It quotes the following Hezbollah statement:

The great Carmel fire embarrassed Israel’s firefighting capabilities and proved its almost complete incompetence,” a report by Hezbollah’s al-Manar network said. The Lebanese station said the poor performance came despite Israeli claims regarding the IDF Home Front’s full readiness to cope with any emergency and face the implications of an all-out war.

Even most Israelis would agree with these sentiments.  So where’s the joy?

I might add that among the 42 Israelis who died during the fires were three Druze and one Ethiopian.  Instead of falling prey to ethnic division and scapegoating, why can’t Israelis focus on the fact they all (Jewish and Palestinian) have lost something deep and painful with this natural disaster?  Why not acknowledge that the PA sent its firefighters to battle the blaze and Turkey too offered help?  Instead of finger-pointing at the weakest link in society and blaming them, why don’t Israelis turn their wrath where it belongs–toward an inept government more attuned to building expensive high-tech walls, Iron Dome anti-missile defenses, and buying F-35 jets as toys for the IAF; when it could’ve bought or leased a single air tanker that could’ve attacked this fire when it was at its origins, instead of having to wait for nations like Cyprus and Greece to send their equipment after the conflagration went out of control.

I write this post in the context of a disturbing survey by the Israel Democracy Institute baring the deep racism inherent in Israel society toward the Palestinian minority.  In the ways in which Israeli Jews have contemplated this disaster, the bad news of this poll have been borne out.

UPDATE: An up to the minute report from an Israeli reader confirms that the police are now agreeing that the fire was caused by negligence.  What are the odds that any Israeli politician or police officer will ever apologize to Palestinian citizens for promoting these rumors?

:: Article nr. 72509 sent on 04-dec-2010 22:19 ECT

Haidar Eid Palestine Conference in Stuttgart 26. November 2010


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Mazin Qumsiyeh Palestine Conference in Stuttgart 26. November 2010 | publicsolidarity

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Ali Abunimah in Stuttgart on 27 November 2010

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This presentation took place at this conference

Flash Motorola Mob 2010

The St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee hosted two Flash Mobs today (Saturday Decemeber 4, 2010) that I was lucky enough to be a part of! The Flash Mob was to raise awareness about Motorola’s support of Israeli human rights violations. You can find more info on the reasons why to boycott Motorola at the link provided:…

Cable reveals Mafia-government connection — But US media don’t care to dig for the story

Growing Influence

by Justin Raimondo, December 03, 2010

I love how the pundits are yawning over the latest WikiLeaks revelations: oh, there’s nothing to see here, it’s all so boring, no “smoking gun,” so let’s just move right along. These people are just plain lazy: they want “scoops” delivered to their front doors, all neatly packaged and labeled as such. In short, they don’t want to have to do any work, beyond the usual cut-and-paste. Which is why a lot of the really juicy stuff coming out of WikiLeaks continues to elude them.

Take, for example, this excerpt from a cable dated May 15, 2009 — entitled “Israel, A Promised Land for Organized Crime?” – sent by our embassy in Tel Aviv, which deals with the rising influence of Israeli organized crime:

“As recently as March 2009, Zvika Ben Shabat, Yaacov Avitan, and Tzuri Roka requested visas to attend a ‘security-related convention’ in Las Vegas. According to local media reports, all three had involvement with OC. Post asked the applicants to provide police reports for any criminal records in Israel, but without such evidence there is no immediate ineligibility for links to OC. Luckily, all three have so far failed to return for continued adjudication of their applications. Nevertheless, it is fair to assume that many known OC figures hold valid tourist visas to the United States and travel freely.”

What are organized crime figures doing showing up at a “security-related convention” in Las Vegas? Well, it seems Mr. Zvika Ben Shabat is the President of “H.A.Sh Security Group,” an Israeli company that offers security services worldwide. Indeed, they just signed an agreement to start a joint venture with India’s giant Micro-Technologies, a company which is described as follows:

“Micro Technologies was established by Dr. [P.] Shekhar, who served as the person in charge on behalf of the Indian Government for advancement and development of the technology and software field in India (First Director Software Technology Park in India), and his company deals with the development of technologies and is already active in many markets around the world, amongst which are:  Denmark, Brussels, Italy, New York, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and more.  The company has security technologies for identification and monitoring of cell phones, vehicles, structures, computers, infrastructures and WIFI technologies.”

In other words, they specialize in snooping, otherwise known as spying. The first Micro Technologies/H.A. Sh Security Group project is a “command and control center” to be built in Mumbai, India. As for what theH.A.Sh Security Group specializes in, well, take a look at these Youtube videos: herehere, and here, for starters. And get a load of who is the Chairman of H.A.Sh Security: none other than retired Major General Dan Ronen, whose resume appears here:

“2001-2003 – Israel Police: Head of the Operations Division, with the rank of Major General; Coordination of activities of all police units in the operational field; Coordination with the General Security Service and IDF units in the battle against terrorism; 2004-2007 – Israel Police: Commander of Northern Region (the largest of the police regions); Responsible for liaison and coordination vis-à-vis heads of local authorities; Responsible for leading and commanding the overall forces and systems during the second Lebanon War, in missions involving defense of the residents in the northern home front; Areas of Expertise: Combat against terrorism and suicide bombers coordination and operation of emergency and rescue organizations Combat against crime and crime organizations.”

Gen. Ronen is listed as the Chairman of H.A.Sh Security Group, with Mr. Ben Shabat, variously described [pdf] as the President, Vice-President, and Director. So why is one of Israel’s former top cops in a business relationship with a known member of the Israeli Mafia?

Enquiring minds want to know!

Ominously, the cable goes on to bemoan the fact that Israeli organized crime figures are no longer automatically prevented from entering the US due to a change in the rules. As the author, someone named Cunningham, notes in an appended comment entitled “OC [Organized Crime] Slipping Through the Consular Cracks”:

“Given the growing reach and lethal methods of Israeli OC, blocking the travel of known OC figures to the United States is a matter of great concern to Post. Through collaboration with Israeli and U.S. law enforcement authorities, Post has developed an extensive database and placed lookouts for OC figures and their foot soldiers. Nevertheless, the above visa cases demonstrate the challenges that have arisen since the termination of the Visas Shark in September 2008. Unlike OC groups from the former Soviet Union, Italy, China, and Central America, application of INA 212(a)(3)(A)(ii) against Israeli OC is not specifically authorized per Foreign Affairs Manual 40.31 N5.3. As such, Israelis who are known to work for or belong to OC families are not automatically ineligible for travel to the United States.”

“Visas Shark” was apparently a program that effectively excluded organized crime figures from the US, and its termination is noted here: instead, the embassy must go through a complex bureaucratic procedure in order to exclude a suspected organized crime member. First, the consular official must determine that a “reasonable suspicion” exists to identify a visa applicant as a member of an organized crime syndicate, and then the matter goes back to the State Department’s “Office of Legislation, Regulations, and Advisory Assistance,” which will then determine if a “reason to believe” the derogatory information on the applicant exists. A whole laundry list of possible “reasons to believe” are listed, including

“Acknowledgement of membership by the individual, …actively working to further the organization’s aims in a way to suggest close affiliation; Receiving financial support or recognition from the organization; Determination of membership by a competent court;  Statement from local or U.S. law enforcement authorities that the individual is a member; Frequent association with other members;  Voluntarily displaying symbols of the organization; and participating in the organization’s activities, even if lawful.”

Yet it was due to media reports that the author of the cable determined the connection of Messrs Ben Shabat, Avitan, and Roka to organized crime. Is this good enough to have a “reason to believe”? Ask the Office of Legislation, Regulation, and Advisory Assistance – which is what our embassy in Tel Aviv (and, indeed, our embassies all around the world) must do before they can refuse a visa to an applicant on that basis.

Not that the Israeli Mafia has had any problem entering the United States in the past – and  making its presence felt. As Fox News’ Carl Cameron reported on December 17, 2001:

“Los Angeles, 1997, a major local, state and federal drug investigating sours. The suspects: Israeli organized crime with operations in New York, Miami, Las Vegas, Canada, Israel and Egypt. The allegations: cocaine and ecstasy trafficking, and sophisticated white-collar credit card and computer fraud.

“The problem: according to classified law enforcement documents obtained by Fox News, the bad guys had the cops’ beepers, cell phones, even home phones under surveillance. Some who did get caught admitted to having hundreds of numbers and using them to avoid arrest.

“This compromised law enforcement communications between LAPD detectives and other assigned law enforcement officers working various aspects of the case. The organization discovered communications between organized crime intelligence division detectives, the FBI and the Secret Service.

“Shock spread from the DEA to the FBI in Washington, and then the CIA. An investigation of the problem, according to law enforcement documents, concluded, ‘The organization has apparent extensive access to database systems to identify pertinent personal and biographical information.’”

Israel’s hi-tech military sector is booming in the midst of a world economic downturn, and the “homeland security” industry is something they’ve jumped into head first, as Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania knows all too well. It was Rendell who hired them to oversee Pennsylvania’s security – until it was revealed they were spying on legal citizens groups who were protesting the construction of a local power plant. Israeli “security” firms are operating all over the US, as well as abroad, in airports, and government facilities, and if Israeli organized crime is now a factor in that booming industry, then surely that’s a major security concern – or ought to be.

Cameron’s four-part Fox News investigation into Israeli spying in the US seemed to posit a connection between the Israeli government and the Israeli Mafia, and, thanks to WikiLeaks, we can now see the link made visible. The Gen. Ronen-Ben Shabat connection, through the H.A.Sh Security Group, shows Cameron’s reporting was based on more than a mere suspicion. Given the additional information provided by this cable, it is reasonable to believe a corrupted segment of the Israeli military-law enforcement establishment has literally gone into business with Israeli organized crime.

If that isn’t scary — and newsworthy — I don’t know what is. Yet our laid-back pundits, and “journalists” — who want a story delivered on a silver platter — complain that there’s nothing really new to be found in the WikiLeaks cables.

That’s because they aren’t looking.

The Listening Post – Egypt’s media squeeze

see article here

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