Thursday, September 18, 2014

18-Sep-14: Is it activism when they say they need to behead you?

Once, in a more innocent era, beheading was
dismissed as just a word. Placard-carrying
youth at a Sydney Moslem protest, 2012
[Image Source]
It's right and appropriate that Australia's ABC use the word terror in connection with today's reporting of the country's largest counter-terror activity in history. But for how long?

When Islamist sociopaths in the Sydney 'burbs threaten to murder and/or behead Australians, that's terror, and the people doing it are terrorists. But when they or their cousins in their Middle East villages threaten the very same to Israelis or to Arabs who pray in a different direction or whose view of their shared religion is different in some big or small way, why are they then called militants or activists?

The head of Reuters in the days right after 9/11 said the reason is "that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" [Sydney Morning Herald, 2004]. But we, and that includes the media, have to get this right. There is a way to know terror, to define terror, to classify certain actions and people as terrorist. Getting this wrong has huge life-and-death consequences. The senior people at the BBC don't agree, and say instead that using the word "terrorist" "can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding":
...we don't change the word "terrorist" when quoting other people, but we try to avoid the word ourselves; not because we are morally neutral towards terrorism, nor because we have any sympathy for the perpetrators of the inhuman atrocities which all too often we have to report, but because terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones. [BBC: Language when Reporting Terrorism]
That's one of the reasons people who think the way we do have for years tried to publicly shame the BBC's policy guidelines [full text online here] on how and when to use "terror".

If Australian news reports this evening referred to the people who threaten to behead other Australians by calling them militants or activists, most members of their Australian audience would be outraged.

But as Israelis, we have gotten used to the reality of reporters and their editors engaging in walking-on-eggshells terminological acrobatics in order to disgracefully avoid using the one accurate descriptor: terrorist.  
Same protest, same Sydney public park, even
 supporter of beheading for the sake
of Islam [Image Source]

A seminal article by Daniel Pipes in the New York Sun ten years ago surveyed the state of the euphemisms-for-terrorism art. His listing included activists (Pakistan Times).assailants (National Public Radio), attackers (Economist), bombers (The Guardian), commandos (Agence France-Presse which also called them "membres du commando"), criminals (Times of London)extremists (United Press International), fighters (Washington Post), group (The Australian), guerrillas (New York Post in an editorial), gunmen (Reuters), hostage-takers (Los Angeles Times), insurgents (a New York Times headline), kidnappers (The Observer), militants (Chicago Tribune), perpetrators (New York Times), radicals (BBC), rebels (Sydney Morning Herald), separatists (Christian Science Monitor), 

(A good thing suicide bomber is not on his list: if we had our way, no one would ever use that term. Those people are human bombs.)

A year ago, we wrote here about how

George Carlin, the great and late, joked that people once used to get old and die but not any more. Nowadays they become pre-elderly; then turn into senior citizens; then pass away in a terminal episode or following a negative patient care outcome or in response to a therapeutic misadventure. The world is poorer with him gone. But with the greatest of respect (non-euphemistically, that would be: recognizing the utter foolishness of what people routinely do), it's not at all humorous when the authorities hijack our language in order to advance policies which, if they had to explain them, would be offensive, repugnant and unacceptable.
The terrorists are a serious threat to just about everyone, and it's ludicrous to think "we" have "them" on the run. The terrorists can do immense harm, turn people's lives upside down, inflict huge pain and destruction. But unless we let them, they cannot change the shape of society. Those euphemisms and the fuzzy, agenda-driven thinking behind them, however, can do immense harm to the ability of civilized countries to keep their people and their achievements safe. What we do with words really does make a difference.

18-Sep-14: In Australia, massive police raids today seek to prevent beheadings

Law enforcement teams taking part in counter-terrorism in Sydney today
[Image Source]
Current headline at the Sydney Morning Herald: "Terrorism raids carried out across Sydney, Brisbane"
Fifteen people have been arrested and one has appeared in court after police carried out counter-terrorism raids across western Sydney and Brisbane's south. The raids were the largest of their kind in Australian history, involving hundreds of Australian Federal Police and NSW Police officers. Police said they have thwarted a "serious act of violence". Prime Minister Tony Abbott said intelligence indicated people in Australia were allegedly planning a public beheading to be carried out in the name of militant group Islamic State. Police allege the suspects were planning to snatch and behead a random member of the public, then drape them in the flag of Islamic State... In Sydney, officers raided properties in Beecroft, Bellavista, Guildford, Merrylands, Northmead, Wentworthville, Marsfield, Westmead, Castle Hill, Revesby, Bass Hill and Regents Park. Security on military bases in Australia could be stepped up in the coming days... AFP acting Commissioner Andrew Colvin said one person had been charged with serious terrorism offences and 14 others detained. Mr Colvin said police acted after there was intelligence to suggest a violent attack was going to be carried out on random members of the public... [SMH]
Australia's ABC ["Authorities thwart beheading plot in Australia's biggest ever counter-terrorism raids"]:
The emerging reality of terrorism in Australia struck home just before dawn today when more than 800 police launched synchronised raids on houses and vehicles across Sydney's west and north-west, and Brisbane's south... Commonwealth prosecutor Michael Allnutt told Sydney's Central Local Court the alleged offence was "clearly designed to shock, horrify and terrify the community"... Mr Allnutt said there was "a plan to commit extremely serious offences" that involved an "unusual level of fanaticism". He said the plot involved the "random selection of persons to rather gruesomely execute" and said there was an "irrational determination to commit that plan" because those allegedly involved continued to plot the attacks even though they knew they were under police surveillance... The court was told the charges against Azari stemmed from a single phone call intercepted earlier this week and police made their move this morning to disrupt a group of mostly Afghan Australians 48 hours after that phone call, concerned at how close it was to going ahead. "It's been an immediate reaction to a clear, imperative danger," Mr Allnutt said. "There is still an enormous amount of material for police to assess" ...The prosecution opposed bail, saying the unusual level of fanaticism meant Azari would be unlikely to adhere to any court orders.[ABC]
How irrational is that determination really?

And how connected are today's developments to those about which we wrote ["2-Feb-14: In Australia, evidence that Syria's bloodbath is bringing jihad down under"; "09-Sep-14: In Australia, terrorism no longer as far away as it once seemed"; "12-Sep-14: In Australia, the focus on home-grown terrorists gets sharper"] some days ago? It's hard to know but the police think not very:
NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione has called for calm and said this investigation did not lead to last Friday's increase of the terrorism level... "That allegation will relate to serious violence on a random member of the public here on the streets of NSW," Mr Scipione said. He said police acted on Thursday because they believed it was "the most appropriate time", given the intelligence officers had."
More questions than answers at this stage about what ABC calls Australia's new "emerging reality" . There is media speculation now that the police activity is likely to be extended to Melbourne. And it has already [source] caused the shut-down of a money-transfer business alleged to be funding terror.

A little further from the headlines, it was reported today [source] that earlier this week the 1,200 students of a Christian school in Sydney came under verbal assault from "men" in a "car" who threatened "to kill all of you here", meaning (according to the nun who heard it) "all Christians". The school, located in Harris Park (where less than 22% of the population is Australian born) in Sydney's Western suburbs near Parramatta, is the Maronite College of the Holy Family, an Arabic-language high school formerly called Our Lady of Lebanon School.
The car reportedly had a flag, similar to those brandished by Islamic State jihadists, hanging out the window. Witnesses told police the small triangular flag had Arabic words similar to "there is only one god and Muhammad is the prophet"... Maronite College spokesman Joseph Wakim said the school community was shocked but he stressed the incident was an isolated one. "People expect these situations to appear on their TV screens on the other side of the world," he said. "They don't expect them to be taking place where their children attend the school and they come to pray..." [source]
As we write this, angry voices are being heard (see Tweet below) in a Sydney suburb described in a recent Tim Blair article in the Daily Telegraph
Lakemba may be only 30 minutes from the centre of Sydney, yet it is remarkably distinct from the rest of the city. You can walk the length of crowded Haldon St and not hear a single phrase in English. On this main shopping strip the ethnic mix seems similar to what you’d find in any Arabic city. Australia may be multicultural, but Haldon St is a monoculture. This does have its advantages. If you’re ever in need of groceries at 3am, head to Lakemba, where shopkeepers keep unusual hours, particularly during Ramadan.["Last drinks in Lakemba: Tim Blair takes a look inside Sydney’s Muslim Land", Daily Telegraph, Sydney, August 18, 2014]
At this moment, the action on Lakemba's streets is not connected to Ramadan or shopping; 

18-Sep-14: Incoming rocket alerts across Israel's southern communities just before noon

As we post this at exactly noon, multiple incoming rocket alerts (Tzeva Adom) have sounded in communities of southern Israel, in particular those bordering on the missile-infested Gaza Strip and in the vicinity of Ashkelon. Too early to know for sure what's behind the sirens - and always important not to treat warning sirens as explosions, though are also reports of residents hearing explosions. More when we know it.

UPDATE Thursday 12:30 pm: Times of Israel, quoting "an IDF spokesperson", is reporting that this is a false alarm. We are still checking.
UPDATE Thursday 7:30 pm: Reuters, quoting an IDF source, says this was a false alarm.

18-Sep-14: An inside look at AP and how lethal journalism can be

AP's mission, from a current AP marketing video [Source]
It doesn't happen often, which is why recent and ongoing public exchanges between two Mainstream News Media insiders are so interesting and potentially valuable. Consumers of news ought to be asking what the mutual revelations and denials tell us about the objectivity of news reporting and the impact on democratic values.

Three weeks ago, a first-person analysis was published by Tablet under the not-so-modest title "An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth". The writer, Matti Friedman, used to be with Associated Press ("the most trusted source of independent news and information in the world. Founded in 1846, the AP is a not-for-profit cooperative of news organizations... The AP is independent and objective...") His work as a reporter took him to Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt, Moscow, and Washington, DC. Between 2006 and the end of 2011, he was a reporter and editor in AP 's Jerusalem bureau. What he learned makes him an interesting source of analysis on some weighty matters.
A reporter working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. 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. Corruption, for example, is a pressing concern for many Palestinians under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, but when I and another reporter once suggested an article on the subject, we were informed by the bureau chief that Palestinian corruption was “not the story.” (Israeli corruption was, and we covered it at length.) ["Insider Guide", Tablet, August 26, 2014]
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. ["Insider Guide", Tablet, August 26, 2014]
He has a special vantage point, and expresses convincingly informed views on how news reporting in the Israel/Arab conflict is done that are shocking in the non-sensational, literal sense of that overused word. It's an essay that anyone wanting to understand the very serious shortcomings of Big News ("On any given day, more than half the world’s population sees content from AP") ought to read.

Yesterday, again via Tablet, he followed it up [here] with some well-crafted and disturbing disclosures about the storm the earlier piece kicked up - and did not:
There has been no serious public response to the piece, however, from inside the system I’m criticizing—no denials of the examples I gave, no explanations for the numbers I cite, no alternative reasons for the problems I describe. This uncomfortable silence is an admission... ["Ongoing Controversy About Insider Guide", Tablet, September 16, 2014]
He illustrates how that works via two incidents. First, about the intimidation of reporters and how this shapes the news:
"...No major news organization has publicly admitted censoring its own coverage under pressure from Hamas. A New York Times correspondent recently said this idea was “nonsense.” [See our post about this here]... But the AP’s former Jerusalem bureau chief just explicitly admitted it. He confirms my report of a key detail removed from a story during the 2008-2009 fighting—that Hamas men were indistinguishable from civilians—because of a threat to our reporter, a Gaza Palestinian. He goes even further than I did, saying printing the reporter’s original information would have meant “jeopardizing his life.” The censored information in this case is no minor matter, but the explanation behind many of the civilian fatalities for which much of the world (including the AP) blamed Israel. Steve writes that such incidents actually happened “two or three times” during his tenure. It should be clear to a reader that even once is quite enough in order for a reporter living under Hamas rule to fall permanently in line. This means that AP’s Gaza coverage is shaped in large part by Hamas, which is something important that insiders know but readers don’t. ["Ongoing Controversy About Insider Guide", Tablet, September 16, 2014]
And then about how an over-riding narrative - or in simpler terms, an agenda - spins the facts of the news so as to change the way people perceive the events being characterized in the reports:
I wrote that in early 2009 the bureau wouldn’t touch an important news story, a report of a peace proposal from the Israeli prime minister to the Palestinian president. This decision was indefensible on journalistic grounds. A careful reader will notice that Steve does not deny this. He can’t, because too many people saw it happen... I repeat what I wrote: Two experienced AP reporters had information adding up to a major news story, one with the power to throw the Israeli-Palestinian relationship into a different light. Israelis confirmed it, and Palestinians confirmed it. The information was solid, and indeed later appeared in Newsweek and elsewhere. The AP did not touch this story, and others, in order to maintain its narrative of Israeli extremism and Palestinian moderation.
Failing to report bad things that Hamas does, and good things that Israel does, which is what these examples show, creates the villainous “Israel” of the international press. That these failures mislead news consumers is clear. ["Ongoing Controversy About Insider Guide", Tablet, September 16, 2014]
"Information is Ammunition": Powerful image from
an unrelated Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
campaign [Image Source]
But they do more than that, and here he touches on what we would have called Lethal Journalism:
But they also have a role in generating recent events like a mob attack on a Paris synagogue, for example, or the current 30-year-high in anti-Jewish incidents in Britain...
(Muhammad Al Durah could have been added to the list.) This happens, as he observed in his earlier piece, because
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 like. ["Insider Guide", Tablet, August 26, 2014]
The ramifications are many, and they're all dangerous. It would be good to think that schools of journalism and the news reporting industry will see this as a time for opening up and re-examining the values (like these) on which their work is done. We'll keep watching for that.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

16-Sep-14: Incoming mortar from Gaza explodes in Israel tonight

Associated Press in the past ten minutes (it's now 20:45 Tuesday night here): "Israeli military says mortar fired from Gaza hits southern Israel, first time since war's end." A report on Israel's Channel One news confirms that that is what the IDF says.

Times of Israel adds that "The Red Alert rocket warning system did not sound and the IDF said it was searching for the impact point that was believed to be somewhere near the border fence in the Eshkol Regional Council. Army Radio reported that Eshkol residents heard an explosion nearby. No injuries or damage were reported."

According to Haaretz: "A mortar shell fired from the Gaza Strip landed in Israeli territory on Tuesday, the first time since the end of the recent war between Israel and the Palestinian factions in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed. There was no word of injuries or damages. The shell exploded in an open area near the Gaza border, opposite a town in the Eshkol Regional Council, Channel 2 reported."

16-Sep-14: Why are so many Western jihadists from Britain?

Mohammed el-Araj on the left; Abu Hujama al-Britani on the right.
Both from London, both adopted false names, both killed fighting
for al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups in Syria
[Image Source: Times of London, September 5, 2014]
From a Wall Street Journal op ed published a week ago ["Britain Finally Faces Up to Its Homegrown Jihadist Problem", WSJ, September 7, 2014]
On Monday last week British Prime Minister David Cameron proposed legislation to prevent citizens who joined the Islamic State and other terrorist groups from re-entering Britain to "wreak havoc." His proposal followed the Aug. 19 release of a video showing a jihadist who spoke with a British accent appearing to behead American journalist James Foley. One day after Mr. Cameron's announcement, the Islamic State posted a video showing the murder of American journalist Steven Sotloff, ostensibly by the same Briton. The jihadist's nationality shocked Britain and the world. It shouldn't have. Scotland Yard estimates that at least 500 Britons have traveled to the Middle East to join the Islamic State. British-born terrorists have been the most numerous, violent and influential of European jihadists since well before 9/11. [WSJ]
Theodore Dalrymple, writing  ["Islam’s Nightclub Brawl | Jihadis from Britain are acting out a brutality learned at home"] on the National Review Online website, has some pungently negative analysis about what makes British society distinctive, and how this explains certain deeply disturbing perceptions about Britain's Islamists. He writes under a pen-name chosen, he says, to sound "suitably dyspeptic"; that he achieves in this piece extracted from a longer on-line article:
The South London accent and intonation of the apparent killer of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines, and the manner of the murders, have shocked and horrified people in Britain. Very little is known of the man, not even his ethnic origin: In London, a third of whose population was born abroad, there are so many possibilities, even among Muslims. But his joy in his own brutality, his sadistic delight in doing evil with the excuse that it was for a supposedly holy cause, in inflicting such a death under the illusion that it was a duty rather than a crime, was obvious. His “faith” allowed him to act out the fantasy of every dangerous psychopath dreaming of revenge upon a world that was not good enough for him and that otherwise failed to accord him the special notice or place that he thought he merited
Not only is the British contingent the most numerous among the Western jihadists, but by all accounts they are the most brutal of the brutal. That, at any rate, is the conclusion of researchers at King’s College London who have followed the evolution of the jihadi temptation in Britain, the latest instance of what Jean-François Revel called “the totalitarian temptation.” 
Two questions call for answers. The first is why there should be proportionally more jihadis from Britain than, say, from France. The second is why they should be more brutal. Since the premises of the questions themselves are somewhat speculative, depending on information that is itself far from proved beyond reasonable doubt, any answers must be even more speculative. In any case, the uncovering of the why of any human conduct is seldom straightforward. 
Are there more British jihadis, for example, because the condition of Muslims in Britain is worse than elsewhere? In answering this question it is well to remember that Muslims are not just Muslims and nothing else. The Muslims in Germany are mainly of Turkish origin; in France, of North African; and in Britain, of Pakistani or Bangladeshi. Any difference in their collective behavior, therefore, might be attributable to their origin as much as to the country of their upbringing. 
The position of the Muslims in Britain is not “objectively” worse than that of their coreligionists in France; if anything, the reverse. It is considerably easier for a young Muslim man to obtain a job in Britain than in France, and social ascent is easier. Britain is more obviously a class society than France, but also more socially mobile (the two things are often confused, but are different). And there has been no legislation in Britain against the public use of that cherished Muslim symbol of male domination, the veil. But failure is not necessarily easier to bear in a more open society than in a closed one: On the contrary, resentment is all the stronger because of the additional element of personal responsibility for that failure, actual or anticipated. In some ways, life is easier, psychologically at least, when you can attribute failure entirely to external causes and not to yourself or anything about yourself. 
The relative failure of Muslims (largely of Pakistani origin) is evident by comparison with Sikhs and Hindus: Their household wealth is less than half that of Sikhs and Hindus (immigrants at more or less the same time), and while the unemployment rate of young Sikhs and Hindus is slightly lower than that of whites, that of young Muslims is double. Sikh and Hindu crime rates are well below the national average; Muslim crime rates are well above. Racial prejudice is unlikely to account for these differences. 
Jihad attracts ambitious failures, including those who are impatient or fearful of the long and arduous road to conventional success. Jihad is a shortcut to importance, with the added advantage of stirring fear in a society that the jihadists want to believe has wronged them, but that they are more likely to have wronged.
But why should the British be the most brutal of European jihadists, by all accounts the doctrinally most extreme among them (supposing that reports of this are true)? This, I think, is explicable by the nature of contemporary British culture, using the word “culture” in the widest sense. It is the crudest, most aggressive, and most lacking in refinement of any of the Western cultures, at least of any that I have observed.
Nowhere else known to me do so many young men desire to look brutish and as if the slightest disagreement with them, the first thing denied them, the first word they deem offensive, will cause them to become violent. In no other country in the world are so many doormen and bouncers necessary to keep order in places of entertainment; in no other place in the world does collective enjoyment so quickly turn to fight and riot. Eye-to-eye contact is regarded as a challenge and can lead to an attack of murderous intensity, while sexual crudity and incontinence are accompanied by furious jealousy, a common occasion of violence among young men.
The longer piece provides a thought-provoking and painful read, and a viewpoint we have not seen expressed elsewhere.

Meanwhile the UK government has escalated its terrorism alert status ["29-Aug-14: The British now call risk of a terror attack on the UK 'severe'"] to the second-highest possible level, meaning it assesses that an attack is now considered “highly likely.” In The Times of London, they had a curious article entitled "Let us come home, say young British jihadists" in their September 5, 2014 edition. And British news consumers are growing accustomed to reports, like this one published today ["From London banker to ISIS militant - one man's terror trail"]  in which a man, now described as fighting for the Islamic State (ISIS) in western Iraq, says “I look forward to death with a smile.” Not so long, this particular British terrorist, who has adopted the nom de guerre Abu Antaar, was - at least according to his own claim - a business analyst working in London's banking industry. So why is the banker now serving the Islamic State? Because
he hated “being ruled by laws other than Allah’s” and that the territories currently controlled by ISIS are “the only place where the shari’a of Allah is applied fully.” “I hate democracy and the self- indulgence of the rich... I hate inequality... I hate the corporations who are trying to destroy this world because of tyranny...” For him, peaceful protest is not an option. “I hate that Palestine was never freed for 70+ years whilst we ‘peacefully’ held placards on the street”. But now, according to A'ntaar's sacred belief, “IS are leading the way as how we should have acted from the beginning.” [RT, September 16, 2014]
As Dalrymple's thesis puts it: generally it's easier to attribute failure to external factors and not to yourself or anything about yourself.

Monday, September 15, 2014

15-Sep-14: Like a horse and carriage: Qatari money and terror

Back in 2008, Basher and Asma al-Assad hosted
Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar and his wife (centre) in Syria
[Image Source]
This past Thursday, the IDF Spokesperson's Office announced that 45 members of a UN border monitoring unit, all of them from the Fijian military forces, abducted by terrorists of the al-Nusra Front on the Syrian side of Israel's Golan Heights frontier, had been released and had crossed the border and arrived safely in Israel.

According to a New Zealand source, "the Fijian soldiers were seized on August 28 after their UN commander told them to surrender rather than fight. 40 Filipino soldiers ignored the order and fought their way to freedom... A UN spokesman said in New York on Thursday no ransom had been requested for the Fijian peacekeepers and none was paid. He said the UN mission in the region remained viable and would continue to fulfil its mandate."

But it now appears, on the basis of a report carried by the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper (published daily in Arabic from London) that the freedom of the Fijians was in fact purchased with a $20 million ransom paid by Qatar.
Syrian opposition forces said on Saturday that Qatar had paid militants from the Nusra front $20 million ransom for their return. This comes a day after Qatar's Foreign Affairs Ministry announced that it had brokered the release of 45 Fijian U.N. peacekeepers "at the request of the government of Fiji." "The efforts of the State of Qatar led to the successful release of the Fijian soldiers... who had been held for two weeks," the Qatari foreign ministry said in a statement. The reports of a ransom fly in the face of earlier statements from the UN that no concessions had been made to secure the peacekeepers' release. [Source]
A Financial Times analysis in May 2013 ["How Qatar seized control of the Syrian revolution"] observed that:
few appear to be aware of the vast sums that Qatar has contributed – estimated by rebel and diplomatic sources to be about $1bn, but put by people close to the Qatar government at as much as $3bn. However, a perception is taking root among growing numbers of Syrians that Qatar is using its financial muscle to develop networks of loyalty among rebels and set the stage for influence in a post-Assad era. “Qatar has a lot of money and buys everything with money, and it can put its fingerprints on it,” says a rebel officer from the northern province of Idlib interviewed by the FT... Qatar’s ruling family, the al-Thanis, have no ideological or religious affinity with the Islamists – they are simply not choosy about the beliefs held by useful friends... Allegations that the Qataris have – directly or indirectly – helped Jabhat al-Nusrah have not gone away. 
In Fiji, they are reporting that
Apart from the UN talks were held with the governments of Qatar, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates to secure their release. [Fiji Times, September 13, 2014]
The al-Nusra Front or Jabhat al-Nusra and sometimes called Tanzim Qa'edat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Sham, is a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria and Lebanon that announced its creation on January 23, 2012, during the Syrian Civil War.

Since then, it has been described as "the most aggressive and successful" of the "rebel forces" in Syria. Others give it different names: Al-Nusra is designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Canada, France, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and Turkey.

It's now probably one of the wealthier of the terrorist groups operating in the Middle East. So now they will probably stop doing abductions and focus on gentler deeds. Right?

15-Sep-14: Diplomatic incident on Israel's Gaza border involving semi-trailers

We see from his Twitter account that Australia's energetic ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, is paying a visit to Kerem Shalom, the optimistically-named 'Vineyard of Peace' terminal through which goods-laden trucks pass between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and Israel.

Ambassador Sharma writes:

Amazing is a word that actually applies well to the actions of any public figure willing to acknowledge the fundamental fairness of Israel's conduct in its war against the forces of darkness and barbarism rooted in miserable Gaza.

Australian ambassador
at Kerem Shalom today
[Image Source: Twitter]
With the smallest degree of fanfare, Sharma - born in Canada and Australia's youngest-ever ambassador at the time he was appointed - has been quietly conveying appreciation for aspects of life here that get little exposure.

A year ago, for instance, he penned an article ["Israeli compassion amidst the atrocities"] for the Times of Israel in which he focused on the very substantial good being done for fleeing, often grotesquely injured, Syrians - victims of one of the largest current instances of Arab-on-Arab savagery - in one of Israel's periphery towns:
At Ziv Hospital they get the best medical care on offer to any Israeli, from surgeons and physicians who are quite literally the best in their field, having authored textbooks on the treatment of injuries from armed conflict... Ziv Hospital is a profound example of humanity and decency at its most compelling. It is Israel at its very best, and a side of Israel that the world too rarely sees or acknowledges. With all the tales of human woe and misery that continue to emerge from Syria, such small stories of hope should be cherished. [Dave Sharma, Times of Israel, August 28, 2013]
And did we say energetic? Last month, the Australian diplomat took a spill while participating in a bike ride in the Judaean Hills. This afforded him an inside look at a different Israeli medical facility:
If the diplomatic corps working in Israel were made of this kind of material, Israel's foreign relations might have a different look to them.

A few words about what the existence and daily reality of Kerem Shalom means in the ongoing reality of a rocket-rich, armed-to-the-teeth Gaza on a perpetual jihadist-war-footing. We visited Kerem Shalom in September 2012, took a close look at the two-way traffic passing through it, and wrote here ["28-Oct-12: What lies behind ongoing efforts to paint Gaza as a region under Israeli siege?"] about the powerful but misleading 'Poor Gaza is a victim of Israeli cruelty' meme that distorts much of the media discussion about what does and does not happen down there. 

Another of our posts ["4-Mar-13: Trucks filled with food and essential goods are lined up outside Gaza. Would it surprise you to know the role that money plays in this?"], points to how the inner circle of Hamas fat cats have done stunningly well via the restrictive importation policies over which they preside and the wealth it generates for them. The price is, of course, paid by the largely impoverished Gazans living under the Hamas jackboots.

It turns out, when you look more closely than most journalists and analysts do, that in fact a good deal of the daily pain experienced by 
Gaza's ordinary Palestinian Arabs is a direct function of money-centred decisions made by Hamas insiders. Lovers of simple black-and-white oppressor -v- oppressed narratives 'explaining' the Israel/Arab conflict have difficulty accepting this, But life is messy and usually made up of shades of grey. What can you do? Thankfully, decent men like Dave Sharma help us remember that.

Friday, September 12, 2014

12-Sep-14: Do open spaces in journalists' heads help explain the media's ongoing acceptance of Gaza myth-making?

Really? No open spaces in Gaza? [Image Source: Peace Now]
An Associated Press article published this morning ["Evidence growing that Hamas used residential areas"] makes a startling observation:
Two weeks after the end of the Gaza war, there is growing evidence that Hamas militants used residential areas as cover for launching rockets at Israel, at least at times. Even Hamas now admits "mistakes" were made. But Hamas says it had little choice in Gaza's crowded urban landscape, took safeguards to keep people away from the fighting, and that a heavy-handed Israeli response is to blame for the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians. "Gaza, from Beit Hanoun in the north to Rafah in the south, is one uninterrupted urban chain that Israel has turned into a war zone," said Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official in Gaza... [AP, today]
Beyond the "no, duh" reaction of those of who actually pay attention to issues like the firing of rockets from locations deliberately close to people, journalists, schools, and UN facilities, the AP writers - Hamza Hendawi and Josef Federman, both of them senior reporters - seem to treat the Hamas terrorist spokesperson as a credible authority about the absence of Gazan open spaces without justification and against all the evidence, while failing to use their own powers of observation.

Do they believe what they wrote? Should their readers? Do they know how much of the Gaza Strip is made up of sparsely populated open, sandy spaces? They should. And they should say so.

In a punchy August 5, 2014 article on the Gatehouse Institute website, prominent Harvard professor and litigation lawyer Alan Dershowitz writes ["The empty spaces in Gaza"] asks the questions that AP's men should have raised. And he suggests answers:
Why don't the media show the relatively open areas of the Gaza Strip? Why do they only show the densely populated cities? 
There are several possible reasons. There is no fighting going on in the sparsely populated areas, so showing them would be boring. But that's precisely the point—to show areas from which Hamas could be firing rockets and building tunnels but has chosen not to. Or perhaps the reason the media doesn't show these areas is that Hamas won't let them. That too would be a story worth reporting. 
Second, why doesn't Hamas use sparsely populated areas from which to launch its rockets and build its tunnels? Were it to do so, Palestinian civilian casualties would decrease dramatically, but the casualty rate among Hamas terrorists would increase dramatically. That is precisely why Hamas selects the most densely populated areas from which to fire and dig. The difference between Israel and Hamas is that Israel uses its soldiers to protect its civilians, whereas Hamas uses its civilians to protect its terrorists. That is why most of Israeli casualties have been soldiers and most of Hamas' casualties have been civilians. The other reason is that Israel builds shelters for its civilians, whereas Hamas builds shelters only for its terrorists, intending that most of the casualties be among its civilian shields. [Dershowitz, August 5, 2014]
Those sparsely populated areas located right around the towns of Gaza are hardly a state secret in the age of Google Maps. Here [click] is an aerial view of the spaces around Khan Younis, just to take one randomly selected example. We captured this image today: sand dunes, undeveloped acres, something pretty close to vast open spaces:

Google Maps image captured today [Link]
Here's how the land south and south-west of crowded Gaza City looks from the air: open spaces aplenty for anyone wanting to minimize the dangers to the civilian population.

Google Maps image captured today [Link]
For the purposes of pushing ahead with its war, the Hamas leadership of Gaza have formulated a winning approach to demonstrating how unavoidable their human-shield strategy is. Just assert your claims to the world's major news agencies and... they're most likely going to believe you and carry your narrative forward until it gets accepted as fact. It's breathtakingly easy once you have laid the groundwork. (Intimidation of reporters, both explicit and more subtle, is key to understanding how this is done.)

Check out Gaza's terrain for yourself. Google Maps makes it easy.

As for the persistence of the Hamas denials that they used their own civilian population to shield their rocket men, here's one of many video files that ought to have put this issue to bed. Still the myth-making goes on. And keep in mind that, according to a Palestinian poll, the firing of rockets from close to where Gazan people live didn't happen: a poll of Palestinian Arabs last month [source] found that "60% say that Hamas does not launch rockets from populated areas, but 30% say it does." And anyway "49% think it is justified for Hamas to launch rockets from populated areas." Now watch:

If we can find evidence of this kind about open spaces and what they might mean using open source images and reports only, and Associated Press's best people cannot, what is actually going on here?

Here's a clue: "5-Aug-14: In Gaza, slowly and reluctantly, reporters - even the French - are agreeing with what the Israelis said all along".

12-Sep-14: In Australia, the focus on home-grown terrorists gets sharper

Islamist "Black Standard" flag, symbol of Jihad and end-of-days philosophy, borne by
anti-Israel philosophers in a "rally" outside Sydney Town Hall,
July 20, 2014 [Image Source]
Follow up to our post ["09-Sep-14: In Australia, terrorism no longer as far away as it once seemed"] from Wednesday:
The Australian government on Friday elevated its terrorism threat level to the second-highest warning in response to the domestic threat posed by Islamic State movement supporters. Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the increase from “medium” to “high” on a four-tier scale on the advice of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization. The domestic spy agency’s Director-General David Irvine warned this week that the terrorist threat level had been rising in Australia over the past year, due in part to Australians joining Islamic State to fight in Syria and Iraq. “I want to stress that this does not mean that a terror attack is imminent,” Abbott told reporters. “We have no specific intelligence of particular plots.” “What we do have is intelligence that there are people with the intent and the capability to mount attacks.” It is the first time that the threat level has been elevated above medium since the scale was introduced in 2003. [Source]
In The Age (Melbourne) today, they add some more detail:
  • Prime minister Abbott is confident that the authorities are "smarter than terrorists and would-be terrorists" and will remain "one step ahead"...
  • The new terrorism threat level will "not make any difference to daily life" for the vast majority of Australians but will mean "more security" at airports, ports, military bases, public buildings and large public events, including the upcoming AFL Grand Finals. But "football fans should not be deterred from attending the games..." Acting Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin: "You may expect to see heightened police presence but it won't be intrusive, I'm sure..." 
  • Irvine of ASIO: "The rhetoric that is now coming out of the Middle East which is encouraging Australians to take violent action … increases the possibility of attacks here, and so we see an increase particularly in intent.. It could manifest itself in a Bali-type attack or it could manifest itself in the various other sorts of attacks from loners through to small groups to large activities..."
  • 60 to 70 Australians are among the 10,000 foreign fighters fighting alongside the terrorists in Iraq and Syria and some had already returned home. 
A report in Wednesday's The Australian says Australian security authorities are "concerned about a handful of Muslim extremists, operating in groups of three or four, who have broken away from mainstream mosques and the broader Islamic community."

That same Wednesday, two days ago, some 180 officers from the AFP and Queensland Police swooped on nine properties across Brisbane in the northern Australian state of Queensland, among them an Islamic bookshop - the Iqraa Islamic Centre - in Brisbane, arresting two men. Both were charged with terrorism-related offences. A television news reporter [here] says one of the two is the brother of Australia's first Islamist human bomb (though he used the inaccurate and unfortunate term "suicide bomber"). He was referring to Omar Succarieh, the brother of Ahmed Succarieh who in September 2013 drove a truck laden with several tonnes of explosives into an army installation at the Deir al-Zour military airport in in northeast Syria. The bomber was named on social media sites at the time as "Abu Asma al-Australi", an alias that the media speculated "could refer to a Brisbane man named Ahmed" [video here]. All that was said at the time was that he "is understood to have a wife, at least one brother, and possibly a child."

Brisbane, Wednesday: The bookstore is on the very far right in both senses; getting distracted
by puppies and golf would be a mistake
Australians' natural but misplaced sense of distance and relative security will likely have been reinforced by the video images of the raided premises given the prominent signs on the facade of the two shopping-strip neighbours [screen shot above; source]. This is a pity because - as the references to Bali and other unmentioned terror attacks indicate - Australia has paid heavily in this ongoing war already.

Australian concern with the scale of the issue can be sensed from an analysis of population growth trends:
The number of Muslims in Australia will grow four times more quickly than non-Muslims over the next 20 years [calculated using fertility, mortality and migration rates]
as the continued instability in developing Islamic countries in Southeast Asia drives migrants and refugees to these shores. A major new [2011] study by the US-based [Pew Research Centre's Forum on Religion and Public Life] has forecast a global surge in the Muslim population, with Australia and New Zealand among the nations expected to see the biggest rises. In Australia, the Muslim community will grow from about 399,000 to 714,000 by 2030, an increase of 80 per cent. In that time the non-Muslim population will increase by about 18 per cent. [Source: The Australian, January 29, 2011]

Thursday, September 11, 2014

11-Sep-14: Freeing terrorists: The price in human lives lost and in justice perverted keeps getting clearer

From left: Three murder victims: Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaer,
Naftali Frankel
Regular readers of this blog probably know that, in our eyes, the posts we publish are more than mere reflections on events. 

Beyond the aspect of memorializing our daughter's life, we are engaged here in an impassioned and ongoing cry from the heart against terrorism and those who do it while drawing attention to its impact on the victims. 

None of these matters, we have learned from painful personal experience, is well enough understood. This is especially true of people holding high public office and those who advise them.

For the past several years, a recurring aspect of our writing (and public speaking) has been our efforts to give rational, respectful expression to some of the deep bitterness we feel about decisions taken by a series of political figures on both sides of the Atlantic to free convicted murdering terrorists. (Clicking on articles with the labels PrisonersShalitState Department and Tamimi in this blog will quickly bring up some of the posts we mean.)

Our position can be summed up in a single short paragraph that we wrote here a few months back:
Freeing convicted and unrepentant murderers has predictable and very negative outcomes. No politician should ever again dare to deny this. Nor may they ignore the moral, constitutional and legal consequences that flow from this truth.

In it, we referred to three young Israeli yeshiva students -  Naftali Fraenkel, 16, from Nof AyalonGilad Sha'er, 16, from Talmon; and Eyal Yifrach, 19, from Elad. Their kidnapping, the search for their whereabouts and for those who snatched them from a hitch-hiking post at night, and the subsequent revelation of their cold-blooded murder, elicited deep concern, energy, unity and prayerfulness on a scale that was almost without precedent in modern Israel's history. 

A journalist, Avi Issacharoff from Times of Israel, had found, and we re-posted, that a central figure in that terrorist outrage, a man called Mahmoud Ali Kawasme is one of the Shalit 1,027. We noted that his premature and unwarranted release, like that of every other terrorist - including our daughter's murderer - freed in that deal at the time, was the result of a monumentally successful act of extortion directed against the Government of Israel. His freedom had been conditional on his being "exiled" to the Gaza Strip, and to his refraining from further involvement in terrorism. Instead, he became deeply enmeshed in the Hamas terrorist organization after walking from prison, eventually taking the role of funder and planner of the attack in which the three Israeli teens unwittingly accepted a ride in a stolen Israeli vehicle in which Palestinian Arab terrorists masqueraded as Jews at one of the roadside stops in the Jewish community of Gush Etzion.

Two Arab men remain as of today the subjects of an ongoing manhunt for the kidnappings and murders. They are Marwan Kawasme - a member of the same clan as the ring-leader - and Amer Abu Aysh. Issacharoff has today revealed further aspects of the same kidnap/murder. 

In a fresh Times of Israel expose ["Hamas higher-up in Gaza pulled trigger on teens’ abduction"] published last night, Issacharoff says that although the Hamas leadership repeatedly denied any involvement in the kidnapping and murder of the three boys, key officials in the military and political parts of Hamas 
knew about the plans in advance and had approved similar activities. Abed a-Rahman Ghaminat, one of the heads of a cell in Zurif [near Bethlehem] was the Hamas military wing’s appointed leader over the Hebron area... [Times of Israel]
Abducted and murdered
soldier, Sharon Edri:
another Ghaminat victim
in 1996
Like Mahmoud Ali Kawasme, Ghanimat (his name is sometimes written as GinatAnimat or Ranimat, and in Hebrew as עבד א-רחמן ע'נימאת) was released from an Israeli prison in October 2011 as part of the infamous Shalit Transaction. He had been sentenced to a lengthy term for his involvement in several murders. Among them:
Newspaper front page: The baby
survived a 1997 attack engineered
by Hamas' man, Ghaminat; the
mother was killed
Issacharoff notes that the killer he calls Ghanimat, like many others freed in the Shalit Transaction, promptly embarked on a fresh phase in his career as terrorist. He:
joined a special office under the Hamas military wing in Gaza, which operated under the leadership of the Turkey-based Saleh al-Arouri, one of the heads of the organization living in Ankara. The office hired several of the exiled prisoners to oversee the terror cells in the West Bank. Working from Gaza, Ghaminat was responsible for the Hebron area, along with another ex-prisoner released under the Shalit deal, Ayed Dodin, a Hamas man and resident of Dura, south of Hebron... Traveling through Egypt, the two also visited Turkey and Qatar more than once in the past two years to coordinate the Hamas schemes with Arouri, as well as with other political heads of Hamas living abroad. According to the Palestinian sources, Mahmoud Kawasme [the other Shalit Transaction graduate we mentioned above and here] worked under Ghaminat (sic) in Gaza. 
Had he remained behind bars (as Israel's legal system had determined he must) and not been given the priceless gift of undeserved freedom in 2011 by politicians, could this brutal man have engineered the murders of the three young men mourned by an entire grieving nation?

Arising out of this, we make two requests
One: to understand how those of us directly impacted by Hamas terror feel our government ought to act, please consider this post of ours: "27-Jul-13: To defeat the terrorists, what one thing must a government never do?"  
And two: if you happen to be the Secretary of State of the United States or work for him (or he works for you), or if you belong to one of the hundreds of houses of worship affiliated with the World Council of Churches or belong to its management team in Geneva, please read this: "30-Jun-14: The message of the murdering terrorists, its logical outcome and the indispensable support that enables it". Everyone else is welcome, even invited, to pass these sentiments - and the posts in which they are expressed - to people about whom they care. 
Those who make large decisions in our lives must know that, on terrorism, they are getting them wrong too often. This, for those paying attention, is getting clearer with each passing day.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

09-Sep-14: In Australia, terrorism no longer as far away as it once seemed

Australian woman recruited by the Islamist thug
(photo below) whose arrest is now being sought.
Educated at St Hilda's School, Southport,
Queensland, this woman was shot dead
in January 2014 in war-torn Aleppo, Syria.
Having spent a major part of our lives in Australia, and raising part of our family there, it's worrying and depressing to see terror take centre-stage in one of the world's most congenial societies.
ASIO seriously considering raising Australia's terror threat level to high | ABC Australia News | September 9, 2014 | The head of Australia's domestic spy agency, David Irvine, says the country's official terror threat level could be upgraded in the next few days. ASIO's director-general has told the ABC's 7.30 that the threat had been building in Australia over the past year and he had an "elevated level of concern". The threat has been at medium since 2003, which means an attack is possible and could occur. If it is raised to high, it means an attack is likely... "I'm certainly contemplating very seriously the notion of lifting it higher because of the numbers of people we are now having to be concerned about in Australia, because of the influence of Syria and Iraq on young Australians both in terms of going to those places to fight, but also in terms of what they are doing here in Australia with a potential intent to attack."
And this
Same Australian woman some time
later, prior to her violent death
[Image Source]
Arrest warrant for Islamic State jihadist accused of sending Australians to SyriaABC Australia News | September 9, 2014 | Police have issued an arrest warrant for a former Kings Cross nightclub bouncer believed to be Australia's most senior member of the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Syria and Iraq, following an investigation by the ABC's 7.30 program. Authorities say Mohammad Ali Baryalei, 33, has used a trusted position in IS operational command to funnel more than half of the 60 Australians currently fighting in the wars. Counter-terrorism sources have told 7.30 Baryalei recruited a who's who of Australian IS fighters, including senior fighters Mohamed Elomar and Khaled Sharrouf, who has posted pictures online of his seven-year-old son holding a severed head in Syria, as well as videos of himself and Elomar executing prisoners in Iraq... Australian Federal Police say an arrest warrant has been issued against Baryalei for "terrorism-related activity". "Should Baryalei return to Australia, this warrant authorises law enforcement to arrest him immediately," an AFP spokesman said. "As this matter is ongoing it would not be appropriate for the AFP to comment further." Baryalei is from an aristocratic family from Afghanistan who came to Australia as refugees when he was a child. The 33-year-old was an aspiring actor who had a fleeting appearance on the true-crime series, Underbelly, but years ago turned to radical Islam in Sydney. Baryalei became a leader of the Street Dawah preaching movement in Sydney, where he formed a cell of jihadists. He proselytised with at least five men who went on to die in Syria and Iraq and many more who are still fighting.
Mohammad Ali Baryalai, highest-ranking
ex-Australian in ISIS: He and
family were received as refugees in
Australia. Now returning the favour
This Iranian source, quoting Australian authorities in May 2014, said that "as many as 12 Australians had died fighting in Syria. Most were young men, including several from Melbourne." Also that "nearly 150 Australian citizens were being monitored for fighting or planning to fight in foreign conflicts".

An especially sober Australian view of the threat it faces was articulated by a former head of the Australian armed forces, Professor Peter Leahy, last month. He warned that "the country was ill-prepared for the high cost of fighting a war that would be paid in “blood and treasure” and would require pre-emptive as well as reactive action".
Australia needs to prepare itself for a century-long war, both overseas and at home, against radical Islamic militants. Currently the director of the National Security Institute at the University of Canberra, Prof. Leahy [said] that as a liberal, secular society, Australia is perceived as 'the far enemy' by radical Islamic groups and individuals, and would no doubt continue to be targeted. "We are already affected in that there are places that would be wise for us not to travel to and there have been terrorist bombings in places that we do travel to, as we can see from 9/11 and both of the Bali bombings..." [The Australian, August 9, 2014]
We published an open letter in the wake of the massive 2002 Bali terrorist attack in which Australian victims figured prominently. It's here.