Jerusalem News (28 August, 2014, 2 Elul, 5774)
1. ISIS surges towards the borders of Turkey as west mulls options, The Observer, Martin Chulov
2. An Insider's Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth. A former AP correspondent explains how and why reporters get Israel so wrong, and why it matters
by Matti Friedman.
3. Netanyahu Defends Ceasefire Amid Barrage of Criticism
By A. Pe'er, Hamodia Military Correspondent
1. ISIS surges towards the borders of Turkey as west mulls options, The Observer, Martin Chulov
August 23rd, 2014
Islamic State extremists are pushing to secure the border between Turkey and north-western Syria as the main gateway for recruits to join the caliphate they have imposed across much of eastern Syria and western Iraq.
Large numbers of jihadists from Islamic State (formerly Isis) are moving this weekend towards the Turkish border area, about 60 miles north of Aleppo, in columns of armoured trucks that they looted from abandoned Iraqi military bases. The area is now one of the most active front lines in the group's attempt to redraw the borders of the Levant, a campaign that will have huge ramifications for Turkey.
Residents and Syrian opposition militants in the town of Marea, close to the Turkish border, on Saturday said that Isis had advanced to within sight of the town and had sent envoys to negotiate access.
'They could storm in like the Mongols, if they wanted to,' said a fighter from Syrian rebel group Islamic Front. 'But they're trying to be nice. We have dealt with them before. There is no reconciling with them. We will have to fight.'
The Syrian opposition fought a bitter and costly war with Isis in the same area in January, ousting them from ground they had used as a rallying point for foreign fighters and for a successful push into Iraq. The six-week battle cost the lives of more than 2,500 opposition fighters and allowed the Syrian regime, together with its proxies, to slowly encircle Aleppo from the north-west, a move which is likely to prove decisive in the Syrian civil war.
Since that battle, the flow of foreign fighters from across the Turkish border to Isis has slowed. Isis now wants to reverse that, making it easier for anyone who wants to join them to cross a 130-mile strip of the frontier that has been used by the vast majority of foreign fighters, including British and European jihadists.
'The Turkish border is the only way to smuggle oil, weapons and foreign fighters into [Iraq and Syria],' said Dr Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi expert on Isis. 'If it's closed, it will cut three things: funding, an entrance for the foreign fighters and links to Europe which they are trying to open. If those plans are destroyed, they will aim for another gate to Lebanon.'
European governments and the US have for the last 18 months been urging Turkey, which is a Nato member, to do more to stop jihadists who cross into Syria. Officials in Ankara had at first insisted that there was little that they could do to distinguish between religious pilgrims travelling to Turkey and those who intended to join a jihad.
The battle over semantics underscores the deepening sensitivity surrounding the fast-growing regional extremist threat that some senior figures in the Middle East and Europe say Turkey has facilitated either through neglect or undeclared policy.
'Let's see how they react to the latest Isis advance,' said one regional leader on Saturday. 'For more than a year now people have been telling them this has got out of control. They have to seal their border now. This so-called caliphate cannot be allowed to stand.'
Al-Hashimi said Ankara would now be forced to act. 'This time Turkey will do something and block the borders because they don't trust Isis any more after they attacked Kurdistan. They understand now that Isis could turn on them.'
The stretch of border used by jihadists to infiltrate Syria is a mix of flat plains and rugged ranges, much of it difficult to patrol. Since May 2012, Turkish officials have allowed weapons and supplies destined for recognised Syrian opposition groups to cross. Isis has not relied on a foreign patron to build its capacity, instead looting from armouries, state-owned enterprises and banks. However, it has sold oil from fields that it commands in eastern Syria to Turkish officials, and to regime connections in Damascus.
Isis continues to alarm the region with its capacity to fight concurrent battles on several fronts - a trait on display in the last three days in Syria, where the advance on the north is taking place as the group also tries to seize the regime's last remaining airbase in eastern Syria.
2. An Insider's Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth
A former AP correspondent explains how and why reporters get Israel so
wrong, and why it matters
By Matti Friedman, Tablet Magazine
August 26, 2014
The Israel Story
Is there anything left to say about Israel and Gaza? Newspapers this
summer have been full of little else. Television viewers see heaps of
rubble and plumes of smoke in their sleep. A representative article
from a recent issue of The New Yorker described the summer's events by
dedicating one sentence each to the horrors in Nigeria and Ukraine,
four sentences to the crazed genocidaires of ISIS, and the rest of the
article--30 sentences--to Israel and Gaza.
When the hysteria abates, I believe the events in Gaza will not be
remembered by the world as particularly important. People were killed,
most of them Palestinians, including many unarmed innocents.... The Israeli campaign was little different in
its execution from any other waged by a Western army against a similar
enemy in recent years, except for the more immediate nature of the
threat to a country's own population, and the greater exertions,
however futile, to avoid civilian deaths.
The lasting importance of this summer's war, I believe, doesn't lie in
the war itself. It lies instead in the way the war has been described
and responded to abroad... --namely, a hostile obsession with Jews.
The key to understanding this resurgence is not to be found among jihadi webmasters,
basement conspiracy theorists, or radical activists. It is instead to be found first among the educated
and respectable people who populate the international news industry;
decent people, many of them, and some of them my former colleagues.
While global mania about Israeli actions has come to be taken for
granted, it is actually the result of decisions made by individual
human beings in positions of responsibility -- in this case, journalists
and editors. The world is not responding to events in this country,
but rather to the description of these events by news organizations.
The key to understanding the strange nature of the response is thus to
be found in the practice of journalism, and specifically in a severe
malfunction that is occurring in that profession -- my profession--here in
How Important Is the Israel Story?
Staffing is the best measure of the importance of a story to a
particular news organization. When I was a correspondent at the AP,
the agency had more than 40 staffers covering Israel and the
Palestinian territories. That was significantly more news staff than
the AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries
of sub-Saharan Africa combined. It was higher than the total number of
news-gathering employees in all the countries where the uprisings of
the "Arab Spring" eventually erupted.
... The big players in the news business practice groupthink, and these staffing arrangements were reflected across the
herd. Staffing levels in Israel have decreased somewhat since the Arab
uprisings began, but remain high. And when Israel flares up, as it did
this summer, reporters are often moved from deadlier conflicts. Israel
still trumps nearly everything else.
The volume of press coverage that results, even when little is going
on, gives this conflict a prominence compared to which its actual
human toll is absurdly small. In all of 2013, for example, the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives--that is, roughly the
monthly homicide rate in the city of Chicago. Jerusalem,
internationally renowned as a city of conflict, had slightly fewer
violent deaths per capita last year than Portland, Ore., one of
America's safer cities. In contrast, in three years the Syrian
conflict has claimed an estimated 190,000 lives, or about 70,000 more
than the number of people who have ever died in the Arab-Israeli
conflict since it began a century ago.
News organizations have nonetheless decided that this conflict is more
important than, for example, the more than 1,600 women murdered in
Pakistan last year (271 after being raped and 193 of them burned
alive), the ongoing erasure of Tibet by the Chinese Communist Party,
the carnage in Congo (more than 5 million dead as of 2012) or the
Central African Republic , and the drug wars in Mexico (death toll
between 2006 and 2012: 60,000 ), let alone conflicts no one has ever
heard of in obscure corners of India or Thailand . They believe Israel
to be the most important story on earth, or very close.
What Is Important About the Israel Story, and What Is Not
A reporter working in the international press corps here understands
quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is
Israel. ... The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside
Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone
who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things
are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and
what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as
passive victims of the party that matters.
Israeli actions are analyzed and criticized, and every flaw in Israeli
society is aggressively reported. In one seven-week period, from Nov.
8 to Dec. 16, 2011, I decided to count the stories coming out of our
bureau on the various moral failings of Israeli society--proposed
legislation meant to suppress the media, the rising influence of
Orthodox Jews, unauthorized settlement outposts, gender segregation,
and so forth. I counted 27 separate articles, an average of a story
every two days. In a very conservative estimate, this seven-week tally
was higher than the total number of significantly critical stories
about Palestinian government and society, including the totalitarian
Islamists of Hamas, that our bureau had published in the preceding
The Hamas charter, for example, calls not just for Israel's
destruction but for the murder of Jews and blames Jews for engineering
the French and Russian revolutions and both world wars; the charter
was never mentioned in print when I was at the AP, though Hamas won a
Palestinian national election and had become one of the region's most
important players. To draw the link with this summer's events: An
observer might think Hamas' decision in recent years to construct a
military infrastructure beneath Gaza's civilian infrastructure would
be deemed newsworthy, if only because of what it meant about the way
the next conflict would be fought and the cost to innocent people. But
that is not the case. The Hamas emplacements were not important in
themselves, and were therefore ignored. What was important was the
Israeli decision to attack them.
But if critics imagine that journalists are clamoring to cover Hamas
and are stymied by thugs and threats, it is generally not so. There
are many low-risk ways to report Hamas actions, if the will is there:
under bylines from Israel, under no byline, by citing Israeli sources.
Reporters are resourceful when they want to be.
The fact is that Hamas intimidation is largely beside the point
because the actions of Palestinians are beside the point: Most
reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed
by Israel at Palestinian civilians. That is the essence of the Israel
story. In addition, reporters are under deadline and often at risk,
and many don't speak the language and have only the most tenuous grip
on what is going on. ..
It is not coincidence that the few journalists who have documented
Hamas fighters and rocket launches in civilian areas this summer were
generally not, as you might expect, from the large news organizations
with big and permanent Gaza operations. They were mostly scrappy,
peripheral, and newly arrived players -- a Finn, an Indian crew, a few
others. These poor souls didn't get the memo.
What Else Isn't Important?
Many of the people deciding what you will read and
see from here view their role not as explanatory but as political.
Coverage is a weapon to be placed at the disposal of the side they
How Is the Israel Story Framed?
The Israel story is framed in the same terms that have been in use
since the early 1990s--the quest for a "two-state solution." It is
accepted that the conflict is "Israeli-Palestinian," meaning that it
is a conflict taking place on land that Israel controls -- 0.2 percent of
the Arab world -- in which Jews are a majority and Arabs a minority. The
conflict is more accurately described as "Israel-Arab," or
"Jewish-Arab" -- that is, a conflict between the 6 million Jews of Israel
and 300 million Arabs in surrounding countries. (Perhaps
"Israel-Muslim" would be more accurate, to take into account the
enmity of non-Arab states like Iran and Turkey, and, more broadly, 1
billion Muslims worldwide.) This is the conflict that has been playing
out in different forms for a century, before Israel existed, before
Israel captured the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank,
and before the term "Palestinian" was in use.
The "Israeli-Palestinian" framing allows the Jews, a tiny minority in
the Middle East, to be depicted as the stronger party. It also
includes the implicit assumption that if the Palestinian problem is
somehow solved the conflict will be over, though no informed person
today believes this to be true. This definition also allows the
Israeli settlement project, which I believe is a serious moral and
strategic error on Israel's part, to be described not as what it
is--one more destructive symptom of the conflict--but rather as its
A knowledgeable observer of the Middle East cannot avoid the
impression that the region is a volcano and that the lava is radical
Islam, an ideology whose various incarnations are now shaping this
part of the world. Israel is a tiny village on the slopes of the
volcano. Hamas is the local representative of radical Islam and is
openly dedicated to the eradication of the Jewish minority enclave in
Israel, just as Hezbollah is the dominant representative of radical
Islam in Lebanon, the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the Taliban in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, and so forth.
Hamas is not, as it freely admits, party to the effort to create a
Palestinian state alongside Israel. It has different goals about which
it is quite open and that are similar to those of the groups listed
above. Since the mid 1990s, more than any other player, Hamas has
destroyed the Israeli left, swayed moderate Israelis against
territorial withdrawals, and buried the chances of a two-state
compromise. That's one accurate way to frame the story.
An observer might also legitimately frame the story through the lens
of minorities in the Middle East, all of which are under intense
pressure from Islam: When minorities are helpless, their fate is that
of the Yazidis or Christians of northern Iraq, as we have just seen,
and when they are armed and organized they can fight back and survive,
as in the case of the Jews and (we must hope) the Kurds.
There are, in other words, many different ways to see what is
happening here. Jerusalem is less than a day's drive from Aleppo or
Baghdad, and it should be clear to everyone that peace is pretty
elusive in the Middle East even in places where Jews are absent. But
reporters generally cannot see the Israel story in relation to
anything else. Instead of describing Israel as one of the villages
abutting the volcano, they describe Israel as the volcano.
The Old Blank Screen
For centuries, stateless Jews played the role of a lightning rod for
ill will among the majority population. They were a symbol of things
that were wrong. Did you want to make the point that greed was bad?
Jews were greedy. Cowardice? Jews were cowardly. Were you a Communist?
Jews were capitalists. Were you a capitalist? In that case, Jews were
Communists. Moral failure was the essential trait of the Jew. It was
their role in Christian tradition--the only reason European society
knew or cared about them in the first place.
Like many Jews who grew up late in the 20th century in friendly
Western cities, I dismissed such ideas as the feverish memories of my
grandparents. One thing I have learned--and I'm not alone this
summer--is that I was foolish to have done so. Today, people in the
West tend to believe the ills of the age are racism, colonialism, and
militarism. The world's only Jewish country has done less harm than
most countries on earth, and more good--and yet when people went
looking for a country that would symbolize the sins of our new
post-colonial, post-militaristic, post-ethnic dream-world, the country
they chose was this one.
... When Israel opened a transportation service for Palestinian
workers in the occupied West Bank a few years ago, American news
consumers could read about Israel "segregating buses." And there are a
lot of people in Europe, and not just in Germany, who enjoy hearing
the Jews accused of genocide.
You don't need to be a history professor, or a psychiatrist, to
understand what's going on. Having rehabilitated themselves against
considerable odds in a minute corner of the earth, the descendants of
powerless people who were pushed out of Europe and the Islamic Middle
East have become what their grandparents were--the pool into which the
world spits. The Jews of Israel are the screen onto which it has
become socially acceptable to project the things you hate about
yourself and your own country. The tool through which this
psychological projection is executed is the international press.
Understanding what happened in Gaza this summer means understanding
Hezbollah in Lebanon, the rise of the Sunni jihadis in Syria and Iraq,
and the long tentacles of Iran. It requires figuring out why countries
like Egypt and Saudi Arabia now see themselves as closer to Israel
than to Hamas. Above all, it requires us to understand what is clear
to nearly everyone in the Middle East: The ascendant force in our part
of the world is not democracy or modernity. It is rather an empowered
strain of Islam that assumes different and sometimes conflicting
forms, and that is willing to employ extreme violence in a quest to
unite the region under its control and confront the West. Those who
grasp this fact will be able to look around and connect the dots.
3. Netanyahu Defends Ceasefire Amid Barrage of Criticism
By A. Pe'er, Hamodia Military Correspondent
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 |
YERUSHALAYIM - Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu defended the ceasefire with Hamas in a broadcast to the nation on Wednesday evening, saying that the terrorist organization suffered serious damage and did not win its demands at the end of 50 days of fighting.
The speech came after a day when Netanyahu faced a barrage of criticism for an outcome which many in the country found bitterly disappointing.
'A thousand Hamas terrorists were killed, many of them commanders. Thousands of rocket arsenals, launch sites and weapons caches were destroyed along with hundreds of command centers,' said Netanyahu.
'Hamas did not achieve any of its demands,' the prime minister stated, as he was flanked by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and IDF Chief Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz.
'They [Hamas] demanded a sea port and did not achieve this; they demanded an airport and did not achieve this; they demanded the release of prisoners placed back under arrest following the murder of the three murdered Israeli boys; they demanded monetary compensation and salaries which they did not receive; they demanded that negotiations be conducted by Turkey or Qatar and this they did not get,' declared Netanyahu.
Netanyahu expressed confidence that a long period of quiet in the south had been secured.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon spoke after Netanyahu and said that the goal of the operation was to return 'quiet and security to the citizens of Israel, who have been suffering for many years.'
Yaalon met with leaders and residents of the hardest-hit communities and towns in the south, he said, and they had 'revealed incredible courage and faith.'
'We have said that we will not accept such a reality' of rockets continually showering down on Israel and that Israel 'will continue to pound Hamas if it resumes its attacks across the border.'
Gaza, he said, does not look like it did 51 days ago, 'and when the dust settles Hamas will realize that it gained no achievements.' He added that the leaders of Hamas know they have not had any successes.
So far, Israel has committed only to expanding the flow of civilian goods and humanitarian and reconstruction aid into the Hamas enclave, provided the truce is honored. Demands for a seaport and a lifting of the blockade, as well as Israeli demands for demilitarization of Gaza have been put off for negotiations to begin a month from now.
'We have no problem with civilian support for Gaza,' said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu. 'We don't want to see Hamas rebuild its military machine.'
While the air raid sirens have fallen silent, at least for the time being, angry sounds of discontent could be heard from newspaper columnists, residents of the south and members of the government coalition itself.
'After 50 days of warfare in which a terror organization killed dozens of soldiers and civilians, destroyed the daily routine [and] placed the country in a state of economic distress, we could have expected much more than an announcement of a ceasefire,' analyst Shimon Shiffer wrote.
Tamir Idan, who heads the Sdot Negev Regional Council, said that 'if the reports in the media are right, and the agreement for a ceasefire is for one month only, in which Hamas's demands for constructing ports will be discussed, then this is a surrender to terror.'
He also refused to accept Israel's lack of response to a last-minute attack by Hamas that killed two men in Kibbutz Nirim on Tuesday.
'Israel's tacit acceptance that it is alright [for Hamas] to fire without limits, and without a response, before the ceasefire goes into force, is a very grave matter. We demand that the Israeli government and the IDF stand behind their commitment to respond in a meaningful way to any fire.'
Itamar Shimoni, Mayor of Ashkelon, said that any compromise with Hamas is a surrender to terror. 'The residents of Israel and the south wanted to see a decision in this campaign, but this will apparently not happen,' he stated.
'We wanted to see Hamas defeated and begging for its life; instead we see Israel running to the negotiating table at every opportunity,' he said. 'We did not lose 64 fighters and five civilians, including a four-year-old boy, for this 'achievement.'' We did not sit in the shelters and protected spaces for almost two months for this 'achievement.' We did not take a harsh economic blow, in which businesses collapsed, for this 'achievement.' We expected a lot more than this.'
However, Netanyahu's national security adviser, Yossi Cohen, urged listeners to Army Radio on Wednesday to understand that, contrary to the chorus of criticism, much had been achieved.
Cohen said that Israeli soldiers and civilians did not die in vain. 'I think that a situation has been created that gives us the potential for a new reality and for a new diplomatic horizon.'
Cohen argued that the international community had come to the understanding that the status quo in Gaza is untenable. 'Therefore in Gaza they won't get a seaport unless they agree to be demilitarized, they won't get a single screw unless we are assured that it won't be used to help Hamas rearm,' he said.