Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Libya: Too Much, Too Late by Richard Haass (Politico - 3/21/11)

The United States has now embarked on its third war of choice in less than a decade. And like the 2003 Iraq war and the Afghan war after 2009, this war of choice is ill-advised.

Libya is a war of choice for two reasons. First, U.S. interests are decidedly less than vital. Libya accounts for only 2 percent of world oil production. The scale of the humanitarian crisis is not unique; indeed, this is not strictly speaking a humanitarian intervention. It is a decision to participate in Libya's civil war.

It is a war of choice for a second reason: The United States and the world have other options besides military intervention. Civil wars tend to burn out and come to an end sooner barring significant foreign intervention. A range of tools, from economic sanctions to covert action, could weaken the regime, bolster the opposition or both.

In this last regard, President Barack Obama has done himself no favor by demanding that Libya's leader of four decades, Muammar Qadhafi, give up all political power. By doing so the Obama administration has essentially denied itself the diplomatic tool.

Why should Qadhafi stop pursuing his domestic opponents if he must leave office – and, worse yet from his perspective, face possible trial for war crimes?

The U.S. demand for Gaddafi's ouster causes two other problems as well. First, it goes beyond the U.N. resolution that it is the basis for current military action. The world is demanding that Qadhafi hold off attacking rebel positions and that he pull back from several cities. Implicit here is that he can remain in power if he complies. Will Washington accept this?

Second, the U.S. demand is also inconsistent with stated limits on what it is prepared to do to oust Qadhafi. Obama promised his fellow citizens there would be no U.S. boots on the ground in Libya.

But limited means cannot always be relied on to deliver essentially unlimited aims. To the contrary, big goals often require a big price to be paid.

This intervention is ill-advised for a number of reasons. Under almost any scenario, whether Qadhafi's removal from power, his falling back and holding off as the U.N. resolution requires or his fighting on successfully, something more than the current international military effort —which now involves considerably more than just imposing a no-fly zone — will be required.

But who will maintain order? And who can prevent a continuation of the civil war? The likely answer to these and related questions is military forces from the outside. But forces from where and for how long and with what mission and at what cost? There is little evidence that any of this has been thought through.

This intervention is also a strategic distraction. U.S. policymakers would be wiser to focus on what could be done to buttress Egypt's economy or to help deal with the far more important and dangerous situation unfolding in Bahrain.

What happens in Libya will not have much if any impact on these and other regional developments. Indeed, it is Qadhafi's political isolation in the Middle East that, as much as anything, explains Arab League support for the world's armed effort against him.

It is true that this military intervention in Libya is multilateral — in the sense that there is U.N. backing and some military contribution from others. But such multilateralism only means that there is some international support and some sharing of burdens. It does not mean the effort makes sense in its design or execution. Multilateral support in and of itself is not a reason to do something.

Those advocating the intervention emphasize what they see as its moral underpinning — if not necessity. But this requires bringing about something morally preferable in Libya at a cost commensurate with interests.

Alas, there is little reason to be confident the opposition will be able to constitute a benign, national alternative. It could just as easily be tribal-based, radical, localized — or some combination of all of these. A Libya that is at war with itself for years, or that either welcomes or becomes too weak to resist groups like Al Qaida, is not something worth fighting for.

There are also strong competing claims on morality. What about asking young American men and women in uniform to put their lives at risk for interests that are less than vital? For outcomes that are less than sure to be an improvement over what now exists?

Or what about committing the United States to another costly foreign intervention at a moment we owe it to ourselves — not to mention future generations — to get our economic and military houses in order so we can meet our obligations at home and be prepared to meet true wars of necessity (North Korea for one) if and when they arise?

At the end of the day, though, the Libyan intervention is more than anything about the role of the United States in the world. The United States cannot and should not intervene in every internal dispute where bad or even evil is on display.

It is not simply that we lack the resources, which we do. It is that we lack the ability to right every wrong, and that not every situation has within it a solution.

It was John Quincy Adams who, some two centuries ago, warned that the United States should not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. He was right then. He is no less right today.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Israel faces tougher line from EU after former heads call for Palestinian state by Chris McGreal (The Guardian - 12/10/10)

Former EU leaders sign letter urging creation of state with East Jerusalem as capital and settlement freeze

Twenty-six European grandees have urged the EU to adopt a tougher stance towards Israel including taking "concrete measures" and exacting "consequences" over continued settlement building on occupied land, which they say is illegal under international law.

The former EU leaders said that in the face of "the ongoing deterioration of the situation on the ground", the EU, in co-operation with other international bodies, should put forward a "concrete and comprehensive proposal for the resolution of this conflict". A deadline of April 2011 for progress in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians should be set, after which the international community should intervene.

"Time to secure a sustainable peace is fast running out," said the group, which includes former EU commissioner Chris Patten, former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, former Irish president Mary Robinson and another nine former heads of state. It sent a letter to EU president Herman van Rompuy, foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and all EU heads of government before a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday, saying: "It is clear that without a rapid and dramatic move … a two-state solution, which forms the one and only available option for a peaceful resolution of this conflict, will be increasingly difficult to attain."

The letter says the group had received "signals" from US officials that the best way to help American efforts to reach a peace deal was to put a "price tag" on policies that contradict those advocated by Barack Obama.

The group calls on the EU to:

• Put forward a plan to resolve the conflict, including a clear time frame, together with the US, UN, Russia, and Arab League.

• Reiterate its position that it will not recognise any changes to the June 1967 boundaries [of Israel], that a Palestinian state should be "territory equivalent to 100% of the territory occupied in 1967", and that its capital should be East Jerusalem.

• Refuse to upgrade ties with Israel unless settlements are frozen. "The EU has always maintained that settlements are illegal, but has not attached any consequences for continued and systematic settlement expansion."

• Bring an end to the import of settlement products "which are, in contradiction with EU labelling recommendations, marketed as originating in Israel".

• Send a high-level delegation, including Lady Ashton, to East Jerusalem "as a matter of urgency to draw attention to the erosion of the Palestinian presence there, and report back to the EU with an agenda of proposals to arrest and reverse the deterioration of the situation on the ground". The situation in East Jerusalem, it says, is the "most critical flashpoint and greatest threat" to a peace deal.

The letter praises "impressive progress in the … development of the infrastructure of a Palestinian state", in which the EU has invested billions of euros.

The signatories to the letter all held office within the past decade, when there have been repeated attempts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Ashton replied to the letter, which refers in detail to EU policy on the Middle East agreed a year ago, saying "the implementation of the [EU's earlier] conclusions is proceeding on several fronts", according to the EUobserver website.

Ygal Palmor, spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, said the letter was "extremely problematic".

"It's hard to see how adopting uncritically all Palestinian positions and adopting a confrontational attitude to Israel will bring Israel and the Palestinians closer to reconciliation, compromise and peace.

"The document will only reinforce those who are suspicious of Europe's intentions and continue to marginalise the EU's role in peacemaking in this region."

He also denied that settlement products were mislabelled.

The letter, sent earlier this week, coincided with the US abandoning its attempts to persuade Israel to agree to a fresh settlement freeze in order to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.

The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was holding a series of bilateral meetings today with Palestinian and Israeli leaders in Washington.

Clinton was scheduled to meet the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, and the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, as well as the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and the Israeli opposition leader, Tzipi Livni.

Clinton was expected to outline the direction of the administration's Middle East policy plans in a speech later. US officials say there is little prospect of direct talks. It is likely the Americans will return to shuttle diplomacy focused on issues of borders and Israel's security demands.

Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, is returning to the region next week.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fortifying Palestinian state-building by Yossi Alpher ( - 11/22/10)

In the eyes of many knowledgeable Israeli observers, improved security in the West Bank and the role played therein by Palestinian security forces is the most important aspect of the Palestinian Authority's successful state-building program of recent years. We pay far less attention to the other aspects: creating judicial, financial and administrative institutions that work and are relatively uncorrupt. We don't particularly care whether the Palestinians have a national bar code system. Only a few Israelis have become involved in the renascent West Bank economy.

Nor is this centrality of security issues unique to Israeli perceptions. The recent unification dialogue between Fateh and Hamas in Damascus has focused, and has virtually collapsed, over the nature and status of a combined security force in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Yet, precisely because the Palestinian security effort in the West Bank has proven so successful and the Israeli man or woman in the street is no longer preoccupied with a Palestinian terrorist threat, there is no strong movement in Israel to make the political sacrifices necessary to reward Palestinians with a state of their own. Thus Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can drag his feet on final status negotiations without paying a domestic political price. Compare this situation to that of the early part of this decade, when frightened Israelis demonstrated and signed petitions in favor of a West Bank security fence to stop terrorist suicide bombers, eventually forcing the hand of a less-than-enthusiastic Sharon government.

This helps explain why the positive security legacy in the West Bank left behind by American General Keith Dayton, who departed last month after five years of efforts, provides a significant wind in the sails for only one of the two parallel peace processes that we confront today.

The first, failing process, is the Obama-Clinton-Mitchell effort to maneuver, pressure and entice the Netanyahu government and the PLO into a renewal of comprehensive final status negotiations. The Obama administration has complicated the process by introducing a problematic preoccupation with a settlement construction freeze, while both the Netanyahu government and the PLO leadership under Mahmoud Abbas appear to be too conflicted and constrained ideologically and too hamstrung politically to commit to a serious negotiating progress. The only security element in this process is Netanyahu's demand that final status talks begin with security--seemingly as if Dayton had never existed.

This is not the case with the second process, the Palestinian and Arab countdown toward an effort to gain United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Here the Palestinian state-building exercise, spearheaded by the successful security effort, is a key factor in persuading the international community that the Palestinian Authority is ready for the transition from autonomy to statehood. True, security has been enhanced only in the West Bank, and the Hamas leadership ruling the Gaza Strip remains a primary threat to PLO designs regarding the West Bank. Nevertheless, the contrasting role of security in each of the two processes highlights the problematic nature of Washington's role in shepherding them.

On the one hand, as the Dayton mission illustrates, the US (together with the European Union) correctly identified the key role of security in setting the scene for progress of any sort. A major investment in funds, training and expertise that commenced under the George W. Bush administration has paid off handsomely. It's fair to say that the Dayton legacy is the engine driving the state-building process.

On the other, the Obama administration's effort to promote a comprehensive negotiated end-of-conflict agreement within a year has foundered. If this flawed venture continues to be pursued, it could well jeopardize the Dayton achievements and plunge Israel and the West Bank back into some form of renewed conflict.

Thanks to Dayton, Washington would be far better off abandoning its construction freeze and negotiations demands and concentrating instead on making Palestinian unilateral state-building work at the international level. It should be seeking to co-opt Jerusalem into integrating Israel's security and political needs within the framework of the necessary UN resolutions. Rather than trying to sit the reluctant sides down to reach an elusive comprehensive solution within a year, the US should be capitalizing on Dayton's achievement in order to foster an indirectly-negotiated but internationally-recognized partial solution that capitalizes on the Palestinian unilateral state-building initiative and concentrates on borders, settlements, water and security

Friday, October 15, 2010

Can the OECD stand up to Israel? by Sam Bahour and Charles Shamas (The Guardian - 10/12/2010)

The upcoming OECD tourism summit in Jerusalem will test its member countries' commitment to international law.

What can be said for the state of international law when international organisations such as the OECD find themselves unable to prevent a member country from bringing its unlawful practice into the life of the organisation itself? In such situations, how can law-abiding member countries avoid being drawn into acquiescence? Later this month, these questions may find answers when Israel hosts an OECD gathering in Jerusalem to discuss global tourism.

The OECD is an international economic organisation of 33 countries, with the latest controversial addition to this club being Israel. The OECD explains its mission as providing "a setting where governments compare policy experiences, seek answers to common problems, identify good practice and co-ordinate domestic and international policies". At minimum, one would expect the co-ordination of these "international policies" to remain within the bounds of international law.

At Israel's invitation, the 86th session of the OECD tourism committee will take place in Jerusalem on 20 and 21 October to discuss supporting a sustainable and competitive tourism industry for the benefit of the members' economies. The session will be attended by senior government officials from OECD member countries and key emerging economies. This is only the second time that the meeting has been held outside Paris.

Israel will conduct itself as the host and as an OECD member based on the Israeli ministry of tourism's unlawful unilateral extension of its jurisdiction to include occupied East Jerusalem, the Syrian Golan Heights and touristic sites and businesses in those parts of the West Bank reserved for Israeli settlement.

Israel's ministry of tourism website clearly lists tourist sites in occupied territory, such as the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as Israeli sites. The ministry's websites also publicise settlement-based tourist services licensed by the ministry and receiving Israeli state financial support under the ministry's auspices. They present maps that depict the entire territory of historic Palestine west of the Jordan river, as well as the Syrian Golan, as territory of Israel that falls under Israel's national tourism-related and cultural heritage-related responsibility.

Despite OECD efforts to the contrary, photographs of touristic sites in occupied territory have been incorporated in a website that Israel has constructed under OECD auspices.

Last month, the Right to Enter campaign – a grassroots campaign for the freedom of movement to/from and within the occupied Palestinian territories, for which we volunteer – wrote to each OECD member to explain the situation and the harm that will be done by allowing such Israeli practice under OECD auspices, and by acquiescing to Israel's insistence on basing its participation in the OECD on its illegal acts of annexation and settlement in occupied territory.

All OECD member countries refuse to recognise Israel's illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and have therefore insisted in keeping their embassies in Tel Aviv instead of Israel's self-proclaimed "unified" capital. They presumably would not want to be drawn into acts or omissions that would imply that Israeli practice resulting from the very acts of annexation and settlement they condemn as internationally unlawful can be considered legitimate under the OECD's auspices.

It remains to be seen how they will manage to avoid such missteps. It is hardly encouraging that during the runup to the tourism meeting web pages bearing the OECD emblem continue to advertise touristic and cultural heritage sites in the occupied Palestinian territories as Israeli.

It is difficult to overlook the fact that Israel has been permitted to base its performance of its obligations and conduct its participation in OECD activities on its own policies of settlement and annexation, notwithstanding the duty of the OECD and its member countries not to recognise these Israeli practices as lawful or give them effect within the OECD.

Countries planning to attend include Spain, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States.

For those countries that decide to attend, the devil will be in the details. The proficiency of their delegates at identifying and preventing the importation of Israel's violations of international law into the proceedings and surrounding events will be sorely tested.

It can make no sense for world leaders to allow themselves to be drawn progressively into acquiescing to Israel's serious and persistent violations of international law while continuing to demand that Palestinians respect and place their confidence in international law after 62 years of dispossession and 43 years of military occupation.

Yet Israel has become a habitual violator and has also become highly proficient at dragging other states along with it. If the OECD and its member countries cannot be expected to effectively resist this pull, who can be expected to hold the line? Who is left to defend the normative foundations of the just and peaceful world order that states and international organisations like the OECD regularly proclaim their resolve to promote?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Turkey, the flotilla and Israel: UN report deserves calm reading by Hugh Hope (International Crisis Group - 9/30/10)

When the UN Human Rights Council commissioned a report on the Mavi Marmara flotilla disaster, Israel dismissed any findings in advance because the Council mandated a search for "violations" in an Israeli "attack". When the report was published on 23 September, the Israeli Foreign Ministry denounced what it called a "biased, politicized and extremist approach". A commentator in Israeli daily Yedioth Ahranoth went so far as to declare that it "served as a lesson in diplomatic and political cynicism, and the end of the dream known as the UN" (24 September).

For sure, the Human Rights Council’s disproportionate focus on Israel, and its disregard for the actions of many of the world's worst human rights abusers, not least among its 47 members, has done great damage to the body’s credibility. Even the Council's rapporteurs themselves rejected the wording of their original Council mandate because of "justified criticism" of its "bias" against Israel.

But anyone wanting to learn more of what happened in the eastern Mediterranean on the night of 31 May should set aside the hour or so it takes to study the 56-page document. Even the United States, explaining its lone vote against the report in the Council on 29 September, did not criticize its contents. Based on interviews with 112 passengers from 20 countries, the account of the flotilla's challenge to the Israeli blockade of Gaza, and the lethal Israeli commando operation against it, is thorough, unemotional and consistent with such facts as are publicly known. Despite Israeli non-recognition and non-cooperation with the rapporteurs, it is respectful to the Israeli official the panel did meet, takes such official Israeli statements that have been published into account and by no means leaves the international flotilla without blame.

For instance, the report notes the fundamental tension between the political and humanitarian objectives of the organizers. It points out that organizers were fully aware of the Israeli intention to use force well before the interception, casting more doubt on the wisdom of their decision to actively resist any Israeli attack, especially after Israel offered to send the goods to Gaza under neutral supervision. The account further details differences between the contract crew of the Mavi Marmara, who did not want trouble, and the organizers, including the Turkish NGO that owned the ship, who were determined to resist and started cutting up iron bars with which they later fought back against the Israeli attempt to seize the vessel. On the night itself, many activists perceived the sound of stun grenades and other explosions in the night as attack by live fire. But the panel was "not satisfied" by reports that Israeli commandos used live ammunition in a first attempt to seize the Mavi Marmara from the sea.

At the same time, the step-by-step account raises important questions about the rapidity, lethality and sustained nature of the Israeli commandos' use of force against civilians in international waters. During the seizure of the Mavi Marmara, it asserts that Israelis used live fire from a helicopter to clear the top deck of resisting activists before any soldiers landed. It finds no evidence of any firearms brought on board by or used by the activists, as some Israeli officials have claimed. It shows that force used in Israeli takeovers of three other vessels in the flotilla was also disproportional. It lays out abuses by Israeli troops and officials during several subsequent stages, including failure to treat several injured properly, degrading treatment of tied-up prisoners during the long, hot passage by sea to the Israeli port of Ashdod, an improper parading of the detained activists to jeering Israeli onlookers on the quayside, attempts to force activists to sign self-incriminating documents, cases of unaccountable Israeli seizure of activists' cameras, computers, cellphones, cash and property, and severe beatings of activists that continued to draw blood even as they were about to be deported from Ben Gurion International Airport.

The rapporteurs -- Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, Q.C., retired Judge of the International Criminal Court and former Attorney-General of Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Desmond de Silva Q.C., of the United Kingdom, former Chief Prosecutor of the United Nations-backed Special Court of Sierra Leone, and Malaysian women's rights activist Ms. Mary Shanthi Diariam -- begin by changing the language of the Human Rights Council mandate. Judge Hudson-Phillips later stated to the Council "there has been justified criticism that the tenor and wording of the preambular and operative parts of the Resolution indicate a certain bias". The rapporteurs decided to simply "ascertain the sequence of the facts and events as they occurred and to examine the reasons and justification in lay, if any, for the same."

They start by setting out the background, a factual account establishing effective Israeli control of Gaza, the history of the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, UN Security Council and other UN bodies' views of Gaza's humanitarian situation, and recent violence by the Israeli and Palestinian parties. The rapporteurs then examine the applicable law, especially relating to blockades and Israel's obligations under international humanitarian and human rights legislation. They find that the blockade "has to be considered illegal" because it is clearly "inflicting disproportionate damage on the civilian population" and "amounts to collective punishment" (citing for this, among others, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the guardians of the Geneva Convention). The report deals with the fate of all eight ships in the flotilla (including the late-comer Rachel Corrie and a ship disabled en route), and those on board, some 748 activists and crews from more than 40 nationalities.

Regarding the actual interception itself, it notes that Israel has not claimed this was on the grounds that the flotilla was an overwhelming threat, or carrying weaponry or materiel closely integrated with the enemy war effort -- as would have justified the interception, for instance, under the non-binding but influential San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea. The mission therefore "finds that the interception was illegal" and was "motivated by concerns about the possible propaganda victory that might be claimed by the organizers of the flotilla."

Twelve pages then detail the background to the flotilla led by the Mavi Marmara and its 31 May interception by Israeli forces. It establishes that the organizers, the Republic of Cyprus-based Free Gaza Movement, had previously made five boat voyages to Gaza in 2008 with the aim of breaking the Israeli blockade. These voyages were not intercepted despite threatening Israeli messages. After subsequent vessels were physically blocked by Israel, the Free Gaza Movement sought to expand the scale of the action, linking up with Greek, Swedish, European groups and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedems and Humanitarian Relief (IHH). They aimed to attract international attention to the blockade, to break it and to deliver humanitarian supplies.

The rapporteurs however underline "a certain tension between the political objectives of the flotilla and its humanitarian objectives". This "comes to light the moment that the Israeli Government made offers to allow the humanitarian aid to be delivered via Israeli ports but under the supervision of an international organization," especially when, in the case of the flotilla's delayed ship, the Rachel Corrie, the Irish Government had sponsored the proposal. It also notes that Gaza does not have a deep sea port designed to receive the kind of cargo vessels in the flotilla, that "many of the participants interviewed" had no humanitarian work qualifications, and that one activist was likely a pro-Chechen convicted hijacker of a Russian ferry boat in 1996. "Whilst the Mission is satisfied that the flotilla constituted a serious attempt to bring essential humanitarian supplies into Gaza", they say, "it seems clear that the primary objective was political." Nevertheless, the rapporteurs said "stringent security" surrounded the Mavi Marmara before it left the Turkish port of Antalya, that "all items taken on board were checked", and that they are satisfied that "no weapons were brought on board the ship".

The rapporteurs say that "as the flotilla was assembling off Cyprus, participants became aware of the full extent of Israeli plans to intercept, board and commandeer the ships", mainly because they had been published in an Israeli newspaper. Flotilla organizers, including senior IHH leaders from Turkey, "prepared actively to defend the ship … prominent passengers spoke with some bravado about preventing an Israeli takeover". It reports tests on pressure hoses on the decks and says some passengers took electric tools from the ship's workshop and sawed railings into one-and-a-half meter lengths "apparently for use as weapons". However, there were few medicines, little equipment and "no preparation for the nature of the injuries" from any Israeli use of live ammunition.

When the Israeli navy started contacting the ships late on 30 May -- as they steamed south in international waters towards Egypt, 70 nautical miles away from and parallel to the Israeli coast -- it demanded them one by one to divert to the Israeli port of Ashdod to deliver their goods. The captains replied that they would continue to Gaza and that only civilians and humanitarian goods were on board. No Israeli request was made to inspect the ships, the account says. The rapporteurs were "not satisfied" at the authenticity of recordings released by the Israeli authorities in which the Defne Y allegedly made insulting references to the holocaust camp of Auschwitz, and reported receiving "positive evidence" that they did not originate with "anyone involved in communications on the flotilla".

The approach of Israeli commandos on zodiac boats was accompanied by "the firing of non-lethal weaponry onto the ship, including smoke and stun grenades, tear-gas and paintballs. Plastic bullets may also have been used at this stage: however, despite some claims that live ammunition was also fired from the zodiac boats, the Mission is not satisfied that this was the case." This initial attack was repelled using the use of water hoses (which the International Maritime Organization permits against acts of piracy) and the throwing of "chairs, sticks, a box of plates and other objects that were readily to hand". Commandos then arrived by helicopter, but their use of stun and smoke grenades failed to clear the top deck, the roof of the ship, of more than 10-20 activists gathered there. Joined by some others -- but still a very small minority of the several hundred people on board -- these activists began to resist the Israelis, including by tying the first rope down from the helicopter to the ship. The rapporteurs dismissed claims that soldiers fired while rappelling down the second rope, but "concluded that live ammunition was used from the helicopter prior to the descent of the soldiers".

The first soldiers lost their struggle against the activists, and at least two were thrown down to the deck below. Some of the Israelis' weapons were thrown into the sea; one, a 9mm pistol, was unloaded by an activist who was formerly a U.S. Marine "in front of witnesses and then hidden in another part of the ship in an attempt to retain evidence" (possibly explaining initial Israeli reports that one weapon was found concealed in the ship). Activists fought back with "fists, sticks, metal rods and knives" -- which the rapporteurs found to have been entirely taken from the Mavi Marmara's six kitchens -- resulting in at least one stabbing of a soldier. At least two activists used "handheld catapults to propel small projectiles at the helicopters". But "the Mission has found no evidence to suggest that any of the passengers used firearms".

The report then gives a blow-by-blow account of the 45-50 minute operation, detailing who was killed, and when, where, and how it happened. Two of the dead "received wounds compatible with being shot at close range while lying on the ground." The account charges that several deaths and injuries were caused by live fire against photographers, first aid helpers and others well away from the points of contact and not offering any resistance. An early attempt by IHH President Bülent Yıldırım to remove his shirt and wave it as a white surrender flag also failed to stop the assault.

The report examines the fate of the three captured Israeli soldiers. When taken below deck, put under protection from angry activists and examined by doctors among the passengers, they were in shock after having been badly beaten. Israel has said the second soldier down the rope was shot in the stomach, but the rapporteurs said the doctors found no gunshot wounds, although one Israeli had a cut from a sharp object on his abdomen. When activists realized the danger of holding the soldiers captive, they were released. Two then jumped overboard to be rescued by the boats, and one was rescued by commandos on board.

When the Israeli operation was over, even some of the severely wounded were handcuffed with plastic cord. "Many were stripped naked and then had to wait some time, possibly as long as two-three hours, before receiving medical treatment", the report says. At least 54 received injuries from "widespread misuse" of the handcuffs. Most people, including the crew, were handcuffed and forced to kneel on various decks for some hours. The few exceptions were "some women, elderly men and persons from western countries." During this stage there was "verbal abuse", "derogatory remarks about the female passengers", some suffered bites from Israeli dogs, and "physical abuse of passengers by the Israeli forces" included "kicking and punching and being hit with the butts of rifles". Some were very cold from being drenched by spray caused by helicopter rotors; elsewhere, thirteen passengers suffered first degree sunburn. The treatment of passengers "amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and, insofar as the treatment was additionally applied as a form of punishment, torture".

An important feature of the UN Human Rights Council report is that it gives a rare account of what happened aboard the other seven vessels. Unarmed activists who stood side-by-side to signal their opposition to the Israeli boarding of Challenger I were attacked with a stun grenade, paintball guns and non-lethal bullets, which hit one woman in the face and another on the back. Israeli use of an electroshock weapon burned a woman journalist, and an Israeli soldier stood on another woman's head. On board the Sfendoni, non-lethal ammunition hit two passengers, and electroschock weapons were used against several people including the captain, who was also punched several times. Activists aboard the Eleftheri Mesogios went through a similar experience. By contrast, the Turkish cargo ships Gazze 1 and Defne Y were seized without incident and with almost no reports of mistreatment of activists or crew. Activists' advance notification of a no-resistance policy and other coordination also meant that Israel was also able to seize the Rachel Corrie relatively peacefully five days later.

The rapporteurs' five-page legal analysis of the seizure of the ships asserts Israel's obligation to act in accordance with the law and to use "less extreme means". It says that on board the Mavi Marmara "use of live fire was done in an extensive and arbitrary manner", and that "the circumstances of the killing of at least six of the passengers were in a manner consistent with an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution". It allows that "while the circumstances of the initial stages on the top deck may not have been conducive to the issuance of … warnings", this was "possible and necessary" in the later stages of the Israeli operation. The Israeli use of "significant force" against passive resistance on the Challenger 1, the Sfendoni, and the Eleftheri Mesogios was "unnecessary, disproportionate, excessive and inappropriate".

According to the rapporteurs, mistreatment continued at the port of Ashdod, and "some passengers said that they were jeered or taunted by the people on the quay" as television cameras and journalists recorded the scene, all a violation of article 13 of the Third Geneva Convention. Passengers were presented with official papers, apparently requiring the signator to admit to having entered Israel illegally, consenting to deportation and a 10-yar ban on re-entry, all of which the rapporteurs saw as an attempt "to shroud the illegality of the interception in a veil of legality". Some female passengers were strip-searched in view of male officers. One Greek passenger was "severely beaten for refusing to provide his fingerprints", resulting in a "deliberate fracture of his leg". The wife of one of the deceased passengers "was treated with complete insensitivity" and unable to inform her family of the death by phone. At the jail to which they were transported, most were not allowed contact with a lawyer or their embassies. In hospitals, some witnesses said they were unable to sleep due to "deliberate disturbances by guards". What the rapporteurs called "perhaps the most shocking testimony" related to the final stage of deportation from Ben Gurion International Airport including "consistent accounts of … extreme and unprovoked violence" in which "around 30 passengers were beaten to the ground, kicked and punched in a sustained attack by soldiers".

Finally, the rapporteurs estimated that "many hundreds of expensive electronic items remain in the possession of the Israeli authorities". Many activists were carrying cash donations to be distributed in Gaza, in some cases amounting to tens of thousands of dollars, but "some passengers were allowed to hold on to cash throughout their detention, some had cash confiscated and then returned and others had the cash taken and it was not returned."

The report concludes that "the conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla passengers was not only disproportional to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. It betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality." It ends with an account of possible judicial remedies and compensation, and finds "clear evidence to support prosecutions" in eight areas ranging from wilful killing to restricting freedom of expression under the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and articles six, seven, nine, ten, and nineteen of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The rapporteurs repeatedly seek to avoid any grounds for accusations of bias. In fact, the most obvious pre-judgment in the circumstances of the report appears to be Israel's pre-emptive refusal to cooperate with it. The rapporteurs note their "profound regret that, notwithstanding a most cordial meeting" with the Israeli ambassador to the UN, they were informed of an Israeli position of "non-recognition and non-cooperation", and that a subsequent list of requests on points of information went unanswered. The mission thanked Jordan and Turkey for their assistance.

The UN Human Rights Council rapporteurs also seek to distinguish themselves from the other UN group looking into the flotilla disaster, the four-person Panel of Enquiry set up by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in August, which includes a senior representative from each of Israel and Turkey. The rapporteurs point out that this Panel of Enquiry is principally designed to find ways to avoid such incidents in future, and to help repair Turkey-Israel relations. Indeed, the panel has cast no new light on the actual events so far. The interim report on 15 September only talked of procedural discussions. The panel's final report is expected to be presented in February 2011, but since what is known of the secret terms of reference rule out any discussion of criminal responsibility, and since it is presumably operating on a principle of consensus, it is unlikely to attempt an investigation like that of the UN Human Rights Council.

The world will have to wait, therefore, for an authoritative report that has full access to Israeli, Turkish and other actors. Turkey's thick official account remains under wraps in Ban Ki-Moon's Panel of Enquiry. Israel has published only small parts of Major General (res.) Giora Eiland's probe that approved the Israeli military's conduct during the operation. An investigation by a civilian committee under retired Supreme Court Justice Jakob Turkel may produce a wide-ranging report and leading Israeli figures have given public testimony, but key hearings are secret and it as yet unclear how far it will go beyond an initial focus on the underlying legality of Israeli positions and actions. Israeli newspapers have only just begun to seek out participants in the convoy to find out fuller stories and new perspectives -- for instance the long and eye-opening interview with activist and former U.S. Marine Ken O'Keefe in Haaretz. In Turkey, the principal supplier of flotilla activists, the nine deaths and 50 injuries have fostered a reluctance to question the actions of their own side, but some media commentators are beginning to point out that a long feud with Israel over the affair is not in the country's best interest.

Nevertheless, one initial benefit of Ban Ki-moon's all-party Panel of Enquiry is that it has given political cover and time to politicians and people in Israel, Turkey and elsewhere to think more calmly about what happened off the coast of Israel before, during and after the night of 31 May. And the solid work by the UN Human Rights Council's rapporteurs has built a convincing platform for everyone to see new points of view.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tax-Exempt Funds Aid Settlements in West Bank by Jim Rutenberg, Mike McIntire, and Ethan Bronner (The New York Times - 7/5/10)

HAR BRACHA, West Bank — Twice a year, American evangelicals show up at a winery in this Jewish settlement in the hills of ancient Samaria to play a direct role in biblical prophecy, picking grapes and pruning vines.

Believing that Christian help for Jewish winemakers here in the occupied West Bank foretells Christ’s second coming, they are recruited by a Tennessee-based charity called HaYovel that invites volunteers “to labor side by side with the people of Israel” and “to share with them a passion for the soon coming jubilee in Yeshua, messiah.”

But during their visit in February the volunteers found themselves in the middle of the fight for land that defines daily life here. When the evangelicals headed into the vineyards, they were pelted with rocks by Palestinians who say the settlers have planted creeping grape vines on their land to claim it as their own. Two volunteers were hurt. In the ensuing scuffle, a settler guard shot a 17-year-old Palestinian shepherd in the leg.

“These people are filled with ideas that this is the Promised Land and their duty is to help the Jews,” said Izdat Said Qadoos of the neighboring Palestinian village. “It is not the Promised Land. It is our land.”

HaYovel is one of many groups in the United States using tax-exempt donations to help Jews establish permanence in the Israeli-occupied territories — effectively obstructing the creation of a Palestinian state, widely seen as a necessary condition for Middle East peace.

The result is a surprising juxtaposition: As the American government seeks to end the four- decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.

A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas.

In some ways, American tax law is more lenient than Israel’s. The outposts receiving tax- deductible donations — distinct from established settlements financed by Israel’s government — are illegal under Israeli law. And a decade ago, Israel ended tax breaks for contributions to groups devoted exclusively to settlement-building in the West Bank.

Now controversy over the settlements is sharpening, and the issue is sure to be high on the agenda when President Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, meet in Washington on Tuesday.

While a succession of American administrations have opposed the settlements here, Mr. Obama has particularly focused on them as obstacles to peace. A two-state solution in the Middle East, he says, is vital to defusing Muslim anger at the West. Under American pressure, Mr. Netanyahu has temporarily frozen new construction to get peace talks going. The freeze and negotiations, in turn, have injected new urgency into the settlers’ cause — and into fund-raising for it.

The use of charities to promote a foreign policy goal is neither new nor unique — Americans also take tax breaks in giving to pro-Palestinian groups. But the donations to the settler movement stand out because of the centrality of the settlement issue in the current talks and the fact that Washington has consistently refused to allow Israel to spend American government aid in the settlements. Tax breaks for the donations remain largely unchallenged, and unexamined by the American government. The Internal Revenue Service declined to discuss donations for West Bank settlements. State Department officials would comment only generally, and on condition of anonymity.

“It’s a problem,” a senior State Department official said, adding, “It’s unhelpful to the efforts that we’re trying to make.”

Daniel C. Kurtzer, the United States ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005, called the issue politically delicate. “It drove us crazy,” he said. But “it was a thing you didn’t talk about in polite company.”

He added that while the private donations could not sustain the settler enterprise on their own, “a couple of hundred million dollars makes a huge difference,” and if carefully focused, “creates a new reality on the ground.”

Most contributions go to large, established settlements close to the boundary with Israel that would very likely be annexed in any peace deal, in exchange for land elsewhere. So those donations produce less concern than money for struggling outposts and isolated settlements inhabited by militant settlers. Even small donations add to their permanence.

For example, when Israeli authorities suspended plans for permanent homes in Maskiot, a tiny settlement near Jordan, in 2007, two American nonprofits — the One Israel Fund and Christian Friends of Israeli Communities —raised tens of thousands of dollars to help erect temporary structures, keeping the community going until officials lifted the building ban.

Israeli security officials express frustration over donations to the illegal or more defiant communities.

“I am not happy about it,” a senior military commander in the West Bank responded when asked about contributions to a radical religious academy whose director has urged soldiers to defy orders to evict settlers. He spoke under normal Israeli military rules of anonymity.

Palestinian officials expressed outrage at the tax breaks.

“Settlements violate international law, and the United States is supposed to be sponsoring a two-state solution, yet it gives deductions for donation to the settlements?” said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. The settlements are a sensitive issue among American Jews themselves. Some major Jewish philanthropies, like the Jewish Federations of North America, generally do not support building activities in the West Bank.

The donors to settlement charities represent a broad mix of Americans — from wealthy people like the hospital magnate Dr. Irving I. Moskowitz and the family behind Haagen-Dazs ice cream to bidders at kosher pizza auctions in Brooklyn and evangelicals at a recent Bible meeting in a Long Island basement. But they are unified in their belief that returning the West Bank — site of the ancient Jewish kingdoms — to full Jewish control is critical to Israeli security and fulfillment of biblical prophecies.

As Kimberly Troup, director of the Christian Friends of Israeli Communities’ American office, said, while her charity’s work is humanitarian, “the more that we build, the more that we support and encourage their right to live in the land, the harder it’s going to be for disengagement, for withdrawal.”

Sorting Out the Facts

Today half a million Israeli Jews live in lands captured during the June 1967 Middle East war. Yet there is a strong international consensus that a Palestinian state should arise in the West Bank and Gaza, where all told some four million Palestinians live.

Ultimately, any agreement will be a compromise, a sorting out of the facts on the ground.

Most Jewish residents of the West Bank live in what amount to suburbs, with neat homes, high rises and highways to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Politically and ideologically, they are indistinguishable from Israel proper. Most will doubtless stay in any peace deal, while those who must move will most likely do so peacefully.

But in the geographically isolated settlements and dozens of illegal outposts, there are settlers who may well violently resist being moved. The prospect of an internal and deeply painful Israeli confrontation looms.

And the resisters will very likely be aided by tax-deductible donations from Americans who believe that far from quelling Muslim anger, as Mr. Obama argues, handing over the West Bank will only encourage militant Islamists bent on destroying Israel.

“We need to influence our congressmen to stop Obama from putting pressure on Israel to self-destruct,” Helen Freedman, a New Yorker who runs a charity called Americans for a Safe Israel, told supporters touring the West Bank this spring.

Israel, too, used to offer its residents tax breaks for donations to settlement building, starting in 1984 under a Likud government. But those donations were ended by the Labor Party, first in 1995 and then, after reversal, again in 2000. The finance minister in both cases, Avraham Shohat, said that while he only vaguely recalled the decision-making process, as a matter of principle he believed in deductions for gifts to education and welfare for the poor, not to settlement building per se.

In theory, the same is true for the United States, where the tax code encourages citizens to support nonprofit groups that may diverge from official policy, as long as their missions are educational, religious or charitable.

The challenge is defining those terms and enforcing them.

There are more than a million registered charities, and many submit sparse or misleading mission summaries in tax filings. Religious groups have no obligation to divulge their finances, meaning settlements may be receiving sums that cannot be traced.

The Times’s review of pro-settler groups suggests that most generally live within the rules of the American tax code. Some, though, risk violating them by using the money for political campaigning and residential property purchases, by failing to file tax returns, by setting up boards of trustees in name only and by improperly funneling donations directly to foreign organizations.

One group that at least skates close to the line is Friends of Zo Artzeinu/Manhigut Yehudit, based in Cedarhurst, N.Y., and co-founded by Shmuel Sackett, a former executive director of the banned Israeli political party Kahane Chai. Records from the group say a portion of the $5.2 million it has collected over the last few years has gone to the Israeli “community facilities” of Manhigut Yehudit, a hard-right faction of Mr. Netanyahu’s governing Likud Party, which Mr. Sackett helps run with the politician Moshe Feiglin.

American tax rules prohibit the use of charitable funds for political purposes at home or abroad. Neither man would answer questions about the nature of the “community facilities.” In an e-mail message, Mr. Sackett said the American charity was not devoted to political activity, but to humanitarian projects and “educating the public about the need for authentic Jewish leadership in Israel.”

Of course, groups in the pro-settler camp are not the only ones benefiting from tax breaks. For example, the Free Gaza Movement, which organized the flotilla seeking to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza, says on its Web site that supporters can make tax-deductible donations to it through the American Educational Trust, publisher of an Arab-oriented journal. Israeli civil and human rights groups like Peace Now, which are often accused of having a blatant political agenda, also benefit from tax-deductible donations.

Some pro-settler charities have obscured their true intentions.

Take the Capital Athletic Foundation, run by the disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In its I.R.S. filings, the foundation noted donations totaling more than $140,000 to Kollel Ohel Tiferet, a religious study group in Israel, for “educational and athletic” purposes. In reality, a study group member was using the money to finance a paramilitary operation in the Beitar Illit settlement, according to documents in a Senate investigation of Mr. Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to defrauding clients and bribing public officials.

Mr. Abramoff, documents show, had directed the settler, Shmuel Ben Zvi, an old high school friend, to use the study group as cover after his accountant complained that money for sniper equipment and a jeep “don’t look good” in terms of complying with the foundation’s tax- exempt status.

While the donations by Mr. Abramoff’s charity were elaborately disguised — the group shipped a camouflage sniper suit in a box labeled “Grandmother Tree Costume for the play Pocahontas” — other groups are more open. Amitz Rescue & Security, which has raised money through two Brooklyn nonprofits, trains and equips guard units for settlements. Its Web site encourages donors to “send a tax-deductible check” for night-vision binoculars, bulletproof vehicles and guard dogs.

Other groups urge donors to give to one of several nonprofits that serve as clearinghouses for donations to a wide array of groups in Israel and the West Bank, which, if not done properly, can skirt the intent of American tax rules.

Americans cannot claim deductions for direct donations to foreign charities; tax laws allow deductions for domestic giving on the theory that charities ultimately ease pressure on government spending for social programs.

But the I.R.S. does allow deductions for donations to American nonprofits that support charitable projects abroad, provided the nonprofit is not simply a funnel to another group overseas, according to Bruce R. Hopkins, a lawyer and the author of several books on nonprofit law. Donors can indicate how they would like their money to be used, but the nonprofit must exercise “some measure of independence to deliberate on grant-making,” he said.

A prominent clearinghouse is the Central Fund of Israel, operated from the Marcus Brothers Textiles offices in the Manhattan garment district. Dozens of West Bank groups seem to view the fund as little more than a vehicle for channeling donations back to themselves, instructing their supporters that if they want a tax break, they must direct their contributions there first. The fund’s president, Hadassah Marcus, acknowledged that it received many checks from donors “who want them to go to different programs in Israel,” but, she said, the fund retains ultimate discretion over the money. It also makes its own grants to needy Jewish families and monitors them, she said, adding that the fund, which collected $13 million in 2008, was audited and complies with I.R.S. rules.

“We’re not a funnel. We’re trying to build a land,” she said, adding, “All we’re doing is going back to our home.”

Support From a Preacher

Late one afternoon in March, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. landed in Israel and headed to his Jerusalem hotel to prepare for a weeklong effort to rekindle Middle East peace talks.

Across town, many of the leading Israeli officials on Mr. Biden’s schedule, among them Prime Minister Netanyahu, were in a convention hall listening to the Rev. John Hagee, an influential American preacher whose charities have donated millions to projects in Israel and the territories. Support for the settlements has become a cause of some leading conservative Republicans, like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.

“Israel exists because of a covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob 3,500 years ago — and that covenant still stands,” Mr. Hagee thundered. “World leaders do not have the authority to tell Israel and the Jewish people what they can and cannot do in the city of Jerusalem.”

The next day, Israeli-American relations plunged after Israel announced plans for 1,600 new apartments for Jews in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their future capital.

Israeli officials said Mr. Hagee’s words of encouragement had no effect on government decision making. And the preacher’s aides said he was not trying to influence the peace talks, just defending Israel’s right to make decisions without foreign pressure.

Still, his presence underscored the role of settlement supporters abroad.

Nowhere is that effort more visible, and contentious, than in East Jerusalem, which the Netanyahu government says must remain under Israeli sovereignty in any peace deal.

The government supports privately financed archaeological projects that focus on Jewish roots in Arab areas of Jerusalem. The Obama administration and the United Nations have recently criticized a plan to raze 22 Palestinian homes to make room for a history park in a neighborhood where a nonprofit group called El’Ad finances digs and buys up Arab-owned properties.

To raise money, groups like El’Ad seek to bring alive a narrative of Jewish nationalism in living rooms and banquet halls across America.

In May, a crowd of mostly Jewish professionals — who paid $300 a plate to benefit the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim — gathered in a catering hall high above Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens to dine and hear John R. Bolton, United Nations ambassador under President George W. Bush, warn of the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.

A few days earlier, the group’s executive vice president, Susan Hikind, had gone on a Jewish radio program in New York to proclaim her group’s resistance to American policy in the Middle East. The Obama administration, she said, did not want donors to attend the banquet because it believed Jerusalem should “be part of some future capital of a Palestinian state.”

“And who’s standing in the way of that?” Ms. Hikind said. “People who support Ateret Cohanim’s work in Jerusalem to ensure that Jerusalem remains united.”

The Jerusalem Reclamation Project of Ateret Cohanim works to transfer ownership of Arab homes to Jewish families in East Jerusalem. Such efforts have generated much controversy; Islamic judicial panels have threatened death to Palestinians who sell property in the occupied territories to Jews, and sales are often conducted using shell companies and intermediaries.

“Land reclamation is actually sort of a bad name — redeeming is probably a better word,” said D. Bernard Hoenig, a New York lawyer on the board of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim. “The fact of the matter is, there are Arabs who want to sell their homes, and they have offered our organization the opportunity to buy them.”

Mr. Hoenig said that Ateret Cohanim bought a couple of buildings years ago, but that mostly it helps arrange purchases by other Jewish investors. That is not mentioned, however, on its American affiliate’s tax returns. Rather, they describe its primary charitable purpose as financing “higher educational institutions in Israel,” as well as children’s camps, help for needy families and security for Jews living in East Jerusalem.

Indeed, it does all those things. It houses yeshiva students and teachers in properties it helps acquire and places kindergartens and study institutes into other buildings, all of which helps its activities qualify as educational or religious for tax purposes.

The American affiliate provides roughly 60 percent of Ateret Cohanim’s funding, according to representatives of the group. But Mr. Hoenig said none of the American money went toward the land deals, since they would not qualify for tax-deductible donations.

Still, acquiring property has been an integral part of Ateret Cohanim’s fund-raising appeals.

Archived pages from a Web site registered to the American affiliate — taken down in the last year or so — described in detail how Ateret Cohanim “quietly and discreetly” arranged the acquisition of buildings in Palestinian areas. And it sought donations for “the expected left- wing Arab legal battle,” building costs and “other expenses (organizational, planning, Arab middlemen, etc.)”

An Unyielding Stance

Deep inside the West Bank, in the northern region called Samaria, or Shomron, lie 30 or so settlements and unauthorized outposts, most considered sure candidates for evacuation in any deal for a Palestinian state. In terms of donations, they do not raise anywhere near the sums produced for Jerusalem or close-in settlements. But in many ways they worry security officials and the Palestinians the most, because they are so unyielding.

Out here, the communities have a rougher feel. Some have only a few paved roads, and mobile homes for houses. Residents — men with skullcaps and sidelocks, women with head coverings, and families with many children — often speak in apocalyptic terms about the need for Jews to stay on the land. It may take generations, they say, but God’s promise will be fulfilled.

In November, after the Netanyahu government announced the settlement freeze, Shomron leaders invited reporters to watch them shred the orders.

David Ha’Ivri, the public liaison for the local government, the Shomron Regional Council, has positioned himself as a fierce yet amiable advocate. As a leader of an American-based nonprofit, he also brings a militant legacy to the charitable enterprise.

Mr. Ha’Ivri, formerly David Axelrod, was born in Far Rockaway, Queens, and was a student of the virulently anti-Arab Rabbi Meir David Kahane and a top lieutenant and brother-in-law to the rabbi’s son, Binyamin Kahane. Both Kahanes, who were assassinated 10 years apart, ran organizations banned in Israel for instigating, if not participating in, attacks against Arabs. The United States Treasury Department later added both groups, Kach and Kahane Chai, to its terrorism watch list.

As recently as four years ago, Mr. Ha’Ivri was involved in running The Way of the Torah, a Kahanist newsletter designated as a terrorist organization in the United States. He has had several run-ins with the authorities in Israel over the last two decades, including an arrest for celebrating the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in a television interview and a six-month jail term in connection with the desecration of a mosque.

Treasury officials said a group’s presence on the terror list does not necessarily extend to its former leaders, and indeed Mr. Ha’Ivri is not on it.

Mr. Ha’Ivri said he no longer engaged in such activism, adding that, at 43, he had mellowed, even if his core convictions had not. “I’m a little older now, a little more mature,” he said.

A Sunday in late May found him in New York, on a stage in Central Park, speaking at the annual Salute to Israel celebration. “We will not ever, ever give up our land,” Mr. Ha’Ivri said.

He posed for pictures with the Republican National Committee chairman, Michael Steele, and distributed fliers about the “501 c3 I.R.S. tax deductible status” of his charity, Shuva Israel, which has raised more than $2.6 million since 2004 for the Shomron communities.

Although I.R.S. rules require that American charities exhibit “full control of the donated funds and discretion as to their use,” Shuva Israel appears to be dominated by Israeli settlers.

Mr. Ha’Ivri, who lives in the settlement of Kfar Tapuach, was listed as the group’s executive director in its most recent tax filing; Gershon Mesika, the Shomron council’s leader, is the board’s chairman; and Shuva Israel’s accountant is based in the settlement of Tekoa. Its American presence is through a post office box in Austin, Tex., where, according to its tax filings, it has two volunteers who double as board members.

“I’ve never been to the board,” said one of them, Jeff Luftig.

When asked about his dual status as leader of the charity and an official with the council it supports, Mr. Ha’Ivri said he was no longer executive director, though he could not recall who was. He said he was confident the charity was following the law, adding that the money it raises goes strictly toward improving the lives of settlers.

Exacting a Price

If Mr. Ha’Ivri has changed tactics, a new generation has picked up his aggressive approach. These activists also receive American support.

Their campaign has been named “Price Tag”: For every move by Israeli authorities to curtail settlement construction, the price will be an attack on an Arab mosque, vineyard or olive grove.

The results were on display during a recent tour through the Arab village of Hawara, where the wall of a mosque had been desecrated with graffiti of a Jewish star and the first letters of the Prophet Muhammad’s name in Hebrew. In the nearby Palestinian village of Mikhmas, the deputy mayor, Mohamed Damim, said settlers had come in the dark of night and uprooted or cut down hundreds of olive and fig trees.

“The army has done nothing to protect us,” he said. Though the attacks are small by nature, Israeli commanders fear they threaten to scuttle the uneasy peace they and their Palestinian Authority partners have forged in the West Bank.

“It can bring the entire West Bank to light up again in terror and violence,” a senior commander said in an interview.

Israeli law enforcement officials say that in investigating settler violence in the north, they often turn to people connected to the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva in the Yitzhar settlement. After the arson of a mosque in Yasuf in December, authorities arrested the yeshiva’s head rabbi, Yitzhak Shapira, and several students but released them for lack of evidence. Rabbi Shapira denied involvement. He is known in Israel for his strong views. He was co-author of a book released last year that offered religious justification for killing non-Jews who pose a threat to Jews or, in the case of young children, could in the future.

A plaque inside the recently built yeshiva thanks Dr. Moskowitz, the hospitals entrepreneur, and his wife, Cherna, for their “continuous and generous support.” Another recognizes Benjamin Landa of Brooklyn, a nursing home operator who gave through his foundation, Ohel Harav Yehoshua Boruch. Mr. Landa said he donated to the yeshiva after its old building was destroyed in an Arab ransacking. None of the American donations have been linked to the campaign of attacks.

The Israeli military has activated outstanding permit violations that have set the stage for the yeshiva’s threatened demolition. And officials have barred some of the yeshiva’s students from the West Bank for months on end.

Od Yosef Chai’s director, Itamar Posen, said in an interview that the military was unfairly singling out the yeshiva because “the things that we publish are things that are against their ideas, and they are frightened.” Mr. Ha’Ivri and Mr. Mesika have charged the military with jeopardizing the men’s livelihoods without due process.

A settler legal defense fund, Honenu, with its own American charitable arm, has sought to provide a safety net.

An online appeal for tax-deductible donations to be sent to Honenu’s Queens-based post office read, “If the 3 men can have their families supported it will cause others at the Hilltops to brave military and government threats against them.”

Reached last month, one of the men, Akiva HaCohen, declined to say how much support he had received from American donors; Honenu officials in Israel declined to comment as well.

There is no way to tell from Honenu’s American tax returns; none was available through Guidestar, a service that tracks tax filings by nonprofits. Groups that raise less than $25,000 a year are not required to file. But a review of tax returns filed by other charities showed that one American family foundation gave it $33,000 in a single year, enough to have required filing.

Asked whether it had ever filed a tax return, Aaron Heimowitz, a financial planner in Queens who collects Honenu’s donations there, responded, “I’m not in a position to answer that.”

Opaque Finances

Religious charities are still more opaque; the tax code does not require them to disclose their finances publicly.

Mr. Hagee is one of the few Christian Zionists who advertises his philanthropy in Israel and its territories, at least $58 million as of last year, distributed through a multimedia empire that spins out a stream of books, DVDs and CDs about Israel’s role in biblical prophecy.

Mr. Hagee’s aides say he makes a large majority of his donations within Israel’s 1967 boundaries and seeks to avoid disputed areas. Yet a sports complex in the large settlement of Ariel — whose future is in dispute — bears his name. And a few years ago, according to officials at the yeshiva at Har Bracha, Mr. Hagee donated $250,000 to expand a dormitory.

The yeshiva is the main growth engine of the settlement, attracting students who put down roots. (Some are soldiers, and the head rabbi there has called upon them to refuse orders to evict settlers.) After the yeshiva was started in 1992, “the place just took off,” growing to more than 200 families from 3, said the yeshiva’s spokesman, Yonaton Behar. “The goal,” he added, “is to grow to the point where there is no question of uprooting Har Bracha.”

Various strains of American pro-settlement activity come together in Har Bracha. The Moskowitz family helped pay for the yeshiva’s main building. Nearby, a winery was built with volunteer help from HaYovel ministries, which brings large groups of volunteers to prune and harvest. Mr. Ha’Ivri’s charity promotes the program.

The winery’s owner, Nir Lavi, says his land is state-sanctioned. But officials in the neighboring Palestinian village of Iraq Burin say part of the vineyard was planted on ground taken from their residents in a parcel-by-parcel land grab.

Such disputes are typical for the area, as are the opposing accounts of what happened that February day when HaYovel’s leader, Tommy Waller, and his volunteers say they came under attack and the shepherd was shot.

“They came up screaming, slinging their rock-slings like David going after a giant,” Mr. Waller said. A Har Bracha security guard came to the rescue by shooting in the air, not aiming for the attackers, he added.

But, in an interview, the shepherd, Amid Qadoos, said settlers started the scuffle by throwing rocks at him as he was grazing his sheep on village land a few yards from the vineyard, telling him, “You are not allowed here.” He and his friends then threw rocks in retaliation, he said, prompting the security guard to shoot him in the back of his leg. His father, Aref Qadoos, added, “They want us to go so they can confiscate the land, through planting.”

Though two volunteers were hurt, Mr. Waller said neither he nor his group would be deterred. “People are drawn to our work who believe the Bible is true and desire to participate in the promises of God,” he said. “We believe the restoration of Israel, including Samaria and Judea, is part of that promise.”

In the last year, he said, he brought 130 volunteers here. This coming year, he said, he expects as many as 400.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Israel, Iran: Twin Pariahs by Stephen Kinzer (The Daily Beast - 6/2/10)

Quick, name the rogue state in the Middle East. Hints: It has an active nuclear-weapons program but conducts it in secret; its security organs regularly kill perceived enemies of the state, both at home and abroad; its political process has been hijacked by religious fundamentalists who believe they are doing God's will; its violent recklessness destabilizes the world's most volatile region; and it seems as deaf to reason as it is impervious to pressure. Also: Its name begins with “I”.

How you answer this riddle depends in part on where you sit. From an American perspective, the obvious answer is Iran. Iran seems alone and friendless, a pariah in the world, and deservedly so given its long list of sins. In Washington's view, Iran poses one of the major threats to global security.

Many people in the world, however, see Iran quite differently: as just another struggling country with valuable resources, no more or less threatening than any other, ruled by a regime that, while thuggish, wins grudging admiration for standing up to powerful bullies. They are angrier at Israel, which they see as violent, repressive and contemptuous of international law, but nonetheless endlessly coddled by the United States.

The way American diplomats have spent the last few days shows how differently the U.S. treats Israel and Iran. After Monday's deadly Israeli raid on a flotilla of ships bringing relief aid to Gaza, a U.S. envoy, George Mitchell, flew to Tel Aviv and then traveled to Ramallah. He urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to salvage whatever possible from the debacle and look for common ground, even though prospects for peace are remote.

American diplomats at the United Nations, meanwhile, are working intensely to win support for punishing new sanctions on Iran. Their message about Iran is the precise opposite of the one Mitchell is preaching to Israelis and Palestinians: Negotiations are hopeless, oppressive regimes understand only force, and all compromise equals appeasement.

It is always difficult to compare the danger one country poses to global security with that posed by another, and it is natural to treat old friends differently from longtime enemies. Israel is a far more open and free society than Iran. Millions of Americans feel personally tied to its fate. Nonetheless the contrast in American attitudes toward the two countries is striking. Toward Israel the attitude is: You may be rascals sometimes, but whatever pranks you pull, you're our friend and we'll forgive you. Toward Iran, it's the opposite: You are our implacable enemy, so nothing you do short of abject surrender will satisfy us.

This dichotomy is now on especially vivid display. Israel's raid on the Gaza flotilla, like the Gaza occupation itself, has evoked only mild clucks of disapproval in Washington. But when Turkey and Brazil worked out the framework of a possible nuclear compromise with Iran a couple of weeks ago, American officials angrily rejected it.

Instead of treating Israel and Iran so differently, the West might try placing them in the same policy basket, and seeking equivalent concessions from both.

It is easy to denounce Israel and Iran as disturbers of whatever peace exists in the Middle East, and to lament that the region will be in turmoil as long as they keep behaving as they do. More important is the fact that both countries are powerful, and can upset any accord to which they are not a party. Punishing, sanctioning, and isolating them would be emotionally satisfying, but it is not likely to help calm the region.

Instead of pushing Israel and Iran into corners, making them feel besieged and friendless, the world should realize that without both of them, there will be no peace in the Middle East. This requires a new, more creative approach to the challenge of protecting Israel over the long term. It also requires a willingness to engage Iran. As Lyndon Johnson famously reasoned when he reappointed J. Edgar Hoover to head the FBI, “It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.”

Treating Israel and Iran more equally would also mean judging their nuclear programs by equivalent standards. If Israel and Iran are placed under the same set of rigorous nuclear safeguards, the Middle East will quickly become a safer place.

In the same spirit of equality, the world should do whatever possible to encourage higher human-rights standards in Israel and Iran. Ruling groups in both countries treat some honest critics as traitors or terrorists. They rule without the tolerance that illuminates Jewish and Persian history.

Israel and Iran have come to pose parallel challenges. They are the region's outcasts—yet the region will never stabilize until they are brought back out of the geopolitical cold. Rather than stoke their escalating hostility, the U.S. should work to reduce tensions between them. Holding them to the same standards would be a start.