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Like the wheels on a bus, there has been politicised spin going around regarding the launch by Israel of two new bus routes between the West Bank and central Israel designed to serve the needs of about 1,300 of the 30,000 Palestinians who work inside Israel daily.
If you were to believe the erroneous narrative that has gained traction in world media this week, however, the buses are "Palestinian-only" and represent the beginning of a segregationist policy in Israel.
It's crucial to address this untruth from the outset: There are no public buses in Israel that Palestinians are forbidden to ride. There weren't any before the new bus routes opened and there are none now. The baseless accusation that Israel practices bus segregation is nothing more than a canard being used in service of a larger lie meant to delegitimise Israel - that lie being that the country is an apartheid state.
What's more, in interviews, Palestinians who use the new bus routes have overwhelmingly endorsed them.
If there is no bus segregation and the bus service has been supported by the workers themselves, then the story must now shift away from the smear to the reasons behind the misinformation campaign.
How did the story about a goodwill gesture by Israel in the form of increased Palestinian employment inside Israel, combined with another goodwill gesture of improved bus service for some of these workers, become twisted into another story of Israeli "injustice" against Palestinians?
The non-story began on March 2, with a reporton the new bus service in Ynet (translated from Yediot Ahronot's Hebrew edition) by Itamar Fleishman.
In that article, the Israeli Transport Ministry effectively countered claims by mostly left-wing parties and NGOs that there was some sort of a racial motive behind the move.
The new lines are not separate lines for Palestinians but rather two designated lines meant to improve the services offered to Palestinian workers who enter Israel through Eyal Crossing.
The new lines will replace irregular, pirate lines that charge very high prices from Palestinian passengers. The new lines will reduce congestion and will benefit Israelis and Palestinians alike.
According to the statement, "The Transportation Ministry is forbidden from preventing any passenger from boarding any line of public transportation, nor do we know of a directive to that effect. Instating these lines was done with the knowledge and complete agreement of the Palestinians.
In an email on March 6, Aaron Sagui, the spokesman at the Israeli embassy in Washington, explained the situation another way to Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic. Goldberg reprinted the relevant sectionof the email on his blog.
Right now, Palestinians wishing to cross legally into Israel (with a working permit) have no direct line to the border crossing. So they either take unauthorized taxis (at expensive fares, since the service is uncontrolled by transportation authorities), or they have to walk or travel to an Israeli city or village (Ariel, for instance) and there take a bus into Israel. The relevant bus company opened two lines that will serve Palestinians, going from their place of residence into Israel, saving them the trouble of going to Ariel first, or taking those taxis. The bus company made it clear, in an official announcement, that no Palestinian shall be shunned or rejected if they choose to travel on the Ariel line.
From a transportation standpoint, the new buses routes are no more "Palestinian-only" than, say, the Nativ Express line 45that travels from the Israeli Arab city of Um el Fahm to the train station in Binyamina could be called "Arab-only" or the Kavim route 129 bus that links the Haredi town of Beitar to Bnei Brak is "ultra-Orthodox-only". Anyone could take either bus, but the buses best serve the needs of Israeli Arabs and Haredi Jews, respectively.
The point is that Palestinian workers were not being well served by existing bus routes that service Jewish towns in the West Bank. The new lines were meant to address that problem by meeting the Palestinians at the security checkpoint with Israel and taking them to transportation hubs in central Israel, such as the train and bus transportation terminal in Tel Aviv North.
Returning to Fleishman's Ynet article, apart from the response from the ministry, the story was inflammatory, full of innuendo that settler racism was the impetus for the route. While it had been reported that settlers had lobbied in recent months for the new bus routes to ease overcrowding and allay security concerns, there is no evidence of implicit racism behind the request.
In any case, and perhaps not surprisingly, Israel's critics in the world media seized upon this innuendo, and downplayed or omitted entirely the simple facts of the case contained in the Ministry's explanation, and this is how the story was presented to Australia and the world.
On March 5, leading Fairfax newspapers in Australia and New Zealand ran an edited version of a story that first appeared in the UK's Daily Telegraph, written by Robert Tait based upon the Ynet article. (note that the online versionof Tait's story timestamped March 3 differed somewhat from the story that appeared in print in the DT's print on March 4.)
Fairfax omitted the second part of Yesha Council Spokesman Yisrael Medad from the Telegraph article, which had made a salient, if inelegant point: "If you were to ask some bright young [Leftist] radical, he would say forcing Arabs to ride Israeli buses would be a form of colonialism. Having their own buses should be very much welcomed as part of a state-building process."
It's a point worth pondering. Why should Palestinians be forced to take buses with settlers they oppose? What's wrong with providing them with another option that, not only better serves their needs but helps them save money?
There is, of course, nothing at all wrong with it. But don't take my word for it. Take the word of the Palestinian commuters themselves instead.
From the Washington Post's Joel Greenberg on March 6:
Returning from work Tuesday, several Palestinians who stepped off a special bus bringing them back to the crossing point near Qalqilya welcomed the new service, which they said cost half of what they would have paid for transport in a privately driven van.
Bassam Hanani, 38, a father of four, said the new bus routes were safer "because we avoid the settlers."
From a storyby the AP's Josef Federman dated March 5:
"'Riding with settlers is humiliating... the new bus line is better...' he said, adding that the buses were a cheaper alternative to the private minivans that shuttle Palestinians to work inside Israel.
- Haroun Hamdan, a 44-year-old blacksmith from the Palestinian village of Salem....
"[The new bus has] relieved some of the stress of the long morning journey. ‘We are comfortable being by ourselves.'"
Hosni Hanash, a 45-year-old construction worker from the village of Zeita.
From Matthew Bell on PRI's The Worldradio news program on March 6:
Sitting in a window seat, a 36-year-old construction worker named Muhannad said, "this new bus is good. It's only [USD] $1.35 each way. It beats getting ripped off by gypsy van operators."
Muhannad said he hopes this service is here to stay. A grey-haired man named Azzem on his way to work in Tel Aviv said he agrees.
"Twenty-five shekels." he said. "That's what we've been getting charged. It's criminal. That's five times the cost of this bus trip by the way." Azzem said he would like to thank the Israeli company for providing a new service for Palestinian workers. He only wishes this bus could take him all the way home to his West Bank village, instead of dropping him off outside the checkpoint.
Bell's story, it must be added, is illustrated on PRI's web site with a picture of a smiling Palestinian standing at a bus stop in Israel proudly showing off a leaflet advertising the new service. The photo, by Joshua Mitnick, is captioned: "Faisal Hussein lives in the West Bank and works in Israel. He's happy about the new bus service because it saves him money."
From Haaretz''s Chaim Levinson, in an articletitled "As Israel's separate bus lines start rolling, some Palestinians don't seem to mind", March 4 (subscription required):
Khalil, a resident of Hebron, is a construction worker who is helping to build a new housing project in Petah Tikva...
On Sunday, Khalil heard on the news that there would be a new bus transporting Palestinian laborers to and from the crossing point - and he was pleased.
The bus will cost him NIS 8.80. "That's nothing," he says. It's a savings of NIS 12 in each direction, NIS 250 per month. Since he earns NIS 200 per day, that's a significant amount, he says.
The Haaretz story also spoke to a Palestinian who decided that the new routes were not as convenient for him as the existing bus routes, and he would continue using the old routes:
Samer, from a small West Bank village, goes to the Eyal crossing point every day, returns on Bus 286 from the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station to Ariel and travels on Route 5, the major highway to the settlements. He gets off the bus at the Gitti Avissar interchange, and walks to his village. From time to time, police officers would take Palestinians off the buses and send them on their way on foot.
Now there is an even greater effort to remove them from the buses - supposedly because they are not allowed to travel on Route 5 without undergoing an inspection. But the real reason is that this way they will return directly to the Eyal crossing point. Samer, for his part, said he would still try to return via Route 5 this evening, since it significantly shortens his travel time.
This excerpt helps explain reports from anti-settlement NGOs such as Machsom Watch and others of Palestinians being taken off Israeli buses at certain checkpoints. These accounts, too, are misleading, because the problem can be attributed to the current security setup in certain areas whereby processing for Palestinian entry is conducted at a specialised checkpoint in a location a distance away from where the Israeli bus crosses the security barrier.
As reported in the March 6 WaPo article referenced earlier:
Ofra Yeshua-Lyth, an activist with the group Civil Disobedience, said that on Thursday she witnessed Palestinian passengers being ordered off three buses and told to walk to a checkpoint more than a mile away.
Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, confirmed that there had been cases in which Palestinian laborers were told to get off the Israeli buses and pass through checkpoints processing Palestinians, but he said most were escorted to those points by police officers [i.e. given a lift].
If police are giving Palestinians rides to the alternate checkpoint, it is clear that what is being described is a logistical problem - granted, an inconvenience for Palestinian travellers on that particular route - but not discrimination.
The media frenzy over the bus story has prompted some excellent commentary by a number of bloggers and columnists, including Seth Frantzman at the Jerusalem Postand Evelyn Gordon at Commentary, who pointed outthe irony that pressure to halt the bus service can only hurt the people who are benefiting the most from the lines - Palestinian workers themselves.
The people who suffer most from the ...knee-jerk reflex of denouncing every Israeli action are often the Palestinians themselves. But that doesn't bother their self-proclaimed supporters; they couldn't care less if Palestinian laborers continue to suffer from inconvenient, overpriced transportation. All that matters to them is denouncing Israel - even if it's for the crime of providing better bus service.
THE sad case of Ben Zygier, the Mossad agent who committed suicide in an Israeli prison in 2010, brings to the fore the strange pathologies in Australian opinion concerning Israel. It also underlines how badly the Labor government has gone off course in its conception of Israel, and Israel's place in the world.
I think Labor has been led astray by its two dominant foreign policy figures, Kevin Rudd and Bob Carr. It's no secret I admire Rudd and Carr. Both get far more right than wrong on foreign policy. But they are wrong on this.
Let's start with Zygier. He was an Israeli with an Australian passport who had served in the Israeli military as well as Mossad. He was arrested on national security charges. In 10 months in prison he was visited 50 times by his family, had frequent access to vigorous lawyers he chose and was not mistreated.
ASIO told the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about Zygier's incarceration and made several reports to the attorneys-general. The most senior figures in the offices of the prime minister and the foreign minister were notified as well.
Under the governing international conventions, if a citizen is on trial in the nation of his citizenship, that nation is not obliged to give consular access to another nation whose passport he may also hold. Such considerations didn't even arise because Zygier didn't want Australian consular assistance. Yet the whole case has been used, characteristically, to paint Israel as a secretive, militaristic, national security state.
This week Rudd demanded that Israel say what Zygier was charged with. Yet the official DFAT report on Zygier, which the Gillard government accepts in its entirety, recommends that the official Israeli inquiries be allowed to conclude before Australia seeks any more information.
For his part, Carr mostly handled the matter well. He commented that there was no information to suggest that Zygier's Australian passports had been used for intelligence purposes. He then went on to say, however, that if this turned out to be the case Australia would be outraged and, absurdly, Australians would be put at risk. Yet when dealing with a friendly nation, surely it is reasonable to wait for evidence of an offence before throwing the switch to outrage.
Fairfax journalist Peter Hartcher commented that Carr tried to put more distance between Australia and Israel. Hartcher is right. This is the mainstream view. The same is true of Rudd. The question is: why? Beyond Zygier, let me offer some examples of where Labor has got it wrong on Israel and then suggest the analytical mistake at the root of these missteps.
Last year in a cabinet revolt, Julia Gillard was overridden on a key UN vote. Australia was set to vote no to elevating the status of the Palestinian Authority to an observer state at the UN. Carr and Rudd opposed Gillard's position (though Rudd was not a player in this vote). Under the baleful influence of Gareth Evans, a tremendously negative force on contemporary Labor foreign policy who offers only a bureaucratic version of conventional wisdom (and conventional wisdom is often wrong), Canberra changed its vote and abstained.
In its own terms, this was a very bad move. There will never be a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute until both sides compromise over an agreement. This UN move, along with many tens of millions of dollars of increased Australian aid to the Palestinians, gives them something for nothing. It helps convince the Palestinian leadership that the way to success doesn't involve compromise and negotiation. Instead the international community will do their job for them. It is a destructive syndrome.
Then, in the Australia-UK Ministerial Meeting in January, Carr ratcheted up Australia's rhetoric on Israel. For the first time, his office briefed journalists, Canberra was describing all Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal. Also, we were calling on President Barack Obama to lead a new peace effort on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
To simply call all Israeli settlements illegal is simplistic, reductionist, almost childish. It jumbles together in one category Jewish suburbs of East Jerusalem, large settlement blocks envisaged under every serious negotiation as staying with Israel, and those settlements illegal under Israeli law. It fails to recognise that there has been no physical expansion of settlement territory since 2004, that settlements occupy less than 3 per cent of the West Bank, that any settlement territory kept by Israel will be matched by land given to a Palestinian state from Israel proper and that settlements have never before been an obstacle to negotiations. Australia's position is also wrong in international law. Jordan, which formerly controlled the territory, is not the sovereign power andUN Security Council resolutions require a negotiated outcome.
But why take this position at all, except to kick sand in the Israelis' eyes? China claims all of the South China Sea almost right up to the Philippines shore, yet Canberra maintains a strict neutrality. If Israel is a friend, why the gratuitous aggro?
The demand that Obama urgently seek a peace settlement betrays the deeper analytical flaw by Carr and Rudd. At the moment, Syria does not exist as a nation, 70,000 of its citizens have been killed and its army has abandoned the border regions with Israel. Egypt is in terrible internal turmoil. Its army has effectively lost control of the vast Sinai area that borders Israel. No one can know what its future government will be like. And that's only the tip of the iceberg. The Palestinian leadership is murderously divided between the West Bank and Gaza. Surely it is intellectually fraudulent to imagine that any Israeli government could make a comprehensive peace in this context.
Underlying this is the cardinal doctrine of conventional wisdom among Guardian readers, UN habitues, European think tank staff and the like, and that is the implausible notion Israel is at the heart of Middle East disputes and the West's troubles with Islam.
Jimmy Carter, a kind of rich man's Evans, gives the platonic ideal of this position, when he writes: "The heart and mind of every Muslim is affected by whether or not the Israel-Palestine issue is dealt with."
The respected Jeffrey Goldberg, a senior editor at The Atlantic, points out that this notion now is simply "empirically insupportable". The civil war in Syria, the bloodshed and polarisation in Egypt, the chaos in Libya, the murderous politics of Tunisia, the disintegration of Yemen, the overarching Sunni-Shia conflict, Pakistan's support for South Asian terror, Afghanistan's Taliban - none of these can be remotely attributed to anything to do with Israel by anyone who takes reality seriously.
Just because an idea is widely uttered at the UN doesn't mean it embodies any reality. Carr, Rudd and Evans add to this zeitgeist error the subsidiary error that Australia seriously damages its reputation by supporting Israel at the UN, a proposition for which there is no evidence.
But even if it were true, this would be a price worth paying. Israel is Australia's friend and ally. The Labor Party used to know this and care about it. Joining in the popular kicking of Israel is not a sign of moral courage, though it will win plaudits from the usual suspects at the UN and in conventional international relations think tanks.
But it is an immoral position that betrays fundamental political, moral and ethical values that Labor used to understand pretty well.
Rudd and Carr are gifted men of great goodwill. On this matter they are completely wrong.
Ignore the hyseteria and innuendo from media and some politicians. Here are some hard facts from the Report into the handling by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the consular aspects of the Zygier case, 6 March 2013 (my emphasis added):
"...5. ...The review team noted that ...There was no suggestion at the time or subsequently that Mr Zygier was involved in [the misuse of Australian passports] or that he obtained his passports fraudulently...
"...7 ...assurances ... from Israel on 16 February 2010 regarding Israel’s treatment of Mr Zygier in detention... included:
- that legal representation had been made available to him;
- that his legal rights were being respected;
- that his family was aware of his arrest and detention; and
- that he was in good health and was not being mistreated."
"...17. The review team has looked closely at the circumstances of the initial judgment made to accept the assurances provided by Israeli authorities. We cannot find any grounds for not accepting these assurances. Specific questions were asked about Mr Zygier’s circumstances. The officer from the other agency seeking the assurances was a senior, highly experienced officer who considered the assurances to be genuine...18. The review team also considered the issues around the judgment to decide against following up these assurances. ...Mr Zygier’s family knew of his arrest and had not sought assistance from the Australian government (and did not do so over the next 10 months)...."
"...19. The judgment made was reasonable in the circumstances...."
"...43. DFAT Secretary Peter Varghese ...sought further information from Israel about the circumstances and conditions of Mr Zygier’s detention, including
- the nature of the charges he faced,
- whether Mr Zygier had asked for visits from his family and legal representatives and
- whether he had raised concerns about his treatment.
In response, Israel provided information...[which] included advice
- that Mr Zygier requested and was granted more than 50 personal visits by family members during the period he was in detention,
- that he received regular visits by his three lawyers (including, according to media reporting, in the days before his death), and
- that his family in Australia and Israel had been kept informed throughout his detention..."
"8. ...Mr Zygier was being treated by Israel as an Israeli citizen, and ... the offences he was charged with carried penalties of up to twenty years imprisonment ..."
The main ‘scoop' is that Meshal may seek the leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. However, this is not news at all to anyone has been following Palestinian politics - it has been discussed for more than a year. McGeough writes in "Hamas chief evokes Arab Spring to lead all Palestinians":
"In the wake of the Arab Spring, Hamas is banking on a surge of regional support for Islamism to move, Mr Mishal to the top of the Palestinian pile, possibly as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation... At 78, Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority, the PLO and the secular Fatah, has said he wants to quit public life. At the same time, Mr Mishal says he wants to quit as the leader of Hamas, but has no intention of leaving public life."<?xml:namespace prefix = o />
McGeough's articles over the weekend with photos to match, provided a glorified picture of Meshal - painting him as a resistance leader capable of moderating but also an ‘every man' - a grandfather who plays with his grandchidren, a man who plays table-tennis and goes to the gym. McGeough does not detail Meshal's reported funding and organising of terrorist attacks on innocent Iesraelis.
This continued a pattrn first noted by counter-terrorism expert Mathew Levitt in his book review of 'Killing Khalid':
"The author's firsthand access to Khalid Mishal in his Damascus head-quarters makes for strong narrative, to be sure. But in his captivation with the subject of his study, McGeough glosses over Meshal's lesser virtues. According to declassified U.S. intel-ligence, made public when the U.S. Treasury designated Meshal as a ter-rorist, there are 'cells in the military wing based in the West Bank that are under Mishaal's [sic] control.' More-over, the U.S. information revealed, 'Mishaal [sic] has been responsible for supervising assassination operations, bombings and the killing of Israeli settlers' and provides instruc-tions to elements of the Hamas Qassam Brigades terrorist wing."
"This is why I say publicly ... that I reject the [West's] conditions - we will not recognise Israel. We will not renounce violence. We will not agree to all previous agreements entered into by the PLO."
"Beyond the rhetoric, however, there are signs of a move to a middle ground. To meet the challenge of convincing the West, the contours are emerging for two lines of argument in favour of engaging Hamas. First, Hamas deserves to be ‘rewarded' for coming to the right side in the conflict with Tehran, Damascus and the rest. More importantly, Mishal has steadily steered his movement towards an acceptable middle ground: Hamas' embrace of a two-state solution is qualified, but it implicitly recognises Israel and it shrinks the movement's ''river to the sea'' territorial claims to the West Bank and Gaza; despite rejecting the Oslo Accords, Hamas contested and fairly won, the elections demanded by the international community; the movement has backed away from suicide bombing as its discourse shifts from jihad to hudna [truce]; and its target has become the Israeli occupation - not Judaism."
Firstly, Hamas has not shrunk its claims to the West Bank and Gaza. McGeough is clearly ignoring key parts of Meshal's recent speech on 7 December 2012 when he returned to the Gaza Strip to mark Hamas' 25th anniversary and reportedly stated:
"First of all, Palestine - from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea, from its north to its south - is our land, our right, and our homeland. There will be no relinquishing or forsaking even an inch or small part of it. Second, Palestine was, continues to be, and will remain Arab and Islamic. It belongs to the Arab and the Islamic world. Palestine belongs to us and to nobody else. This is the Palestine which we know and in which we believe. Third, since Palestine belongs to us, and is the land of Arabism and Islam, we must never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation of it. The occupation is illegitimate, and therefore, Israel is illegitimate, and will remain so throughout the passage of time..."
"... Jihad and armed resistance are the proper and true path to liberation and to the restoration of our rights, along with all other forms of struggle - through politics, through diplomacy, through the masses, and through legal channels. All these forms of struggle, however, are worthless without resistance... Politics are born from the womb of resistance. The true statesman is born from the womb of the rifle and the missile."
However, McGeough's piece does draw rightly attention to the foreign policy interests of Qatar and its new leadership role in the Middle East promoting Sunni Islamism:
"Mishal talks about Qatar only in superlatives: the emir's vision and daring; the kingdom's vast wealth; and the use of the al-Jazeera satellite news service as a tool of foreign and regional policy. He also identified the gas-rich emirate's ability to take advantage of the other Arab leaders' preoccupation with domestic affairs. ‘Undoubtedly, the prominence of the Qatari role becomes more evident by the absence of the roles previously played by other Arab leaders.' The nub of his gamble on Qatar seems to lie in an emerging but unstated foreign policy under which Doha is investing big money and diplomatic resources in brotherhood-aligned governments and movements. Last year, Israel and Abbas' Palestinian Authority were furious when the Emir of Qatar became the first Arab leader in years to visit Gaza, delivering 90 tonnes of aid and pledging $400 million for reconstruction.
Doha sent fighter jets to help NATO dislodge Gaddafi in Libya and it's a big supporter of the rebel forces trying to oust Assad in Syria. Qatar is a generous contributor to reconstruction in South Lebanon - after Israeli attacks in 2006; and it has promised an $18 billion, five-year investment program for Dr Mursi's Egypt. With its strong relationships with the US and Europe and even low-key links with Israel, Doha seemingly is positioning itself as an emissary and advocate for the emerging governments with brotherhood or Islamist elements. The opportunity in all of this for Hamas, which for many in the West is still a regional pariah, is that Doha can convince foreign capitals to deal with the Brotherhood on a one-in, all-in basis. That then could be Hamas' ticket to the big end of town."
"... Mashal sought to lead Hamas toward comprehensive reconciliation agreement with Fatah and was willing to sacrifice the movement's monopoly of power in Gaza to this end. His hope was to win future elections in the West Bank and take over the Palestine Liberation Organization. This policy was vehemently rejected and, in the end, foiled by his opponents in Gaza, who refused to dismantle the Hamas government there. They view the strip as a captured 'fortress' that should never be relinquished, and as "the shortest route to al-Aqsa Mosque," in Haniyeh's words.
Moreover, while Mashal aspires to reshape Hamas as a Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood in line with the Arab Spring trend in other countries, his adversaries want to maintain the movement's standing as an armed resistance. Like some Gaza members, Mashal also believes that Hamas should maintain its distance from Iran despite receiving some $400 million annually from Tehran. Yet the military wing, and certainly Alami, see no alternative to close collaboration with the Islamic Republic as their main supplier. They also want to curb intensive Iranian support for Palestinian Islamic Jihad's military buildup in competition with the Qassam Brigades. Before deciding to leave Damascus, Mashal had an advantage over Hamas officials in Gaza, since he held the purse strings and supervised arms smuggling to the strip. The center of gravity has now shifted back to the Gaza leadership, which is capable of developing its own network of foreign support given the upheaval in neighboring Egypt. As a result, Mashal's capacity to lead the movement has been severely impaired. He is no longer first among equals, but more of a figurehead. Every move he makes from now on will need to be approved by his partners in Gaza beforehand, and military interests will likely trump political calculations in many situations."
There is no question that McGeough has unusually good access Meshal. But this is arguably because he is such an uncritical outlet for Hamas to get its message to the outside world. Even when Meshal says to McGeough "we will not recognise Israel. We will not renounce violence. We will not agree to all previous agreements entered into by the PLO" McGeough insists on suggesting to his readers that we should not believe this - it is mere "rhetoric." Readers are not even informed about other even more extreme and totally unambigious statements made a mere three months ago. Meanwhile, McGeough lauds Meshal's wonderful qualities as a grandfather and ordinary guy who goes to the gym, and pushes Meshal's unlikely hope to be made head of the PLO - something the rival Fatah movement would fight tooth and nail against, even if Abbas says he "wants to quit public life" (which is something Palestinian leaders have often threatened as a way to strengthen their political position without any actual intention of following through.)
This looks far more like advocacy than journalism. In exchange for access, Mr. McGeough appears to be willing to act basically as Hamas' advocate and lobbyist in Australia. The obvious question is why his employers at Fairfax are so ready to help him do so.
From The Australian, by Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor
February 21, 2013:
IN the brilliant, taut film Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, there is the controversial suggestion that information obtained by torture may be useful.
The film's lengthier demonstration of the centrality of phone intercept and phone-tracking technology has surprised no one. Today we stand on the threshold of losing that ability and massively empowering terrorists and criminals as a result.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is about to make recommendations on changes to national security legislation. Most of the attention is rightly focused on the proposal for mandatory two-year data retention by telcos and internet service providers.
The committee has received all its submissions and has one more meeting, scheduled for March 1, before it finalises its report and recommendations. It is the most credible of all parliamentary committees. In Kevin Rudd, John Faulkner and Philip Ruddock, it has three veterans of cabinet's National Security Committee. Its other members are thoughtful, experienced people from both sides of politics, as well as independent Andrew Wilkie.
While no one from the committee will say what it will recommend, I believe it will favour some sort of data retention regime.
I also think there is already some draft legislation somewhere inside the Attorney-General's Department, which, though it may need modification in light of the committee's recommendations, is just about ready to go.
This is the most important law enforcement and counter-terrorism action proposed in the past 20 years. Without it, we are disarming ourselves in the face of our enemies. Every police force and every intelligence agency in Australia wants this regime enacted because they know how badly their ability to do their jobs will deteriorate without it.
Nonetheless, there will be howls of protest from a weird alliance of the Greens, the far Left and some in the Liberal Party who have civil liberties concerns. Those concerns are not trivial, but they can be accommodated within a data retention regime.
This whole area can become a technological wilderness of mirrors, but the basic points are easy enough to grasp. Until fairly recently most telephone calls were made on fixed lines through one provider. For billing purposes, the details of which numbers were rung by which other numbers were kept by the phone company and available to police if necessary. Details vary across jurisdictions but mostly police need a warrant to tap someone's phone calls. But they generally don't need a warrant to look at what is called metadata; that is, data about phone calls - how many calls you made, what numbers you rang, what numbers rang you. While a warrant is not necessary, a serious suspicion of criminal activity and a high level of internal police authorisation are needed to access such records.
You would be astonished at how central this kind of data is to almost all successful policing these days. Indonesia has been able to try and convict hundreds of terrorists, some of whom murdered Australians in Bali and many of whom wanted to murder more Australians, essentially because of the mobile phone intercept technology the Australian Federal Police has provided them with, and helped them operate.
A huge proportion of crimes that are solved - drugs deals, murders, kidnappings, frauds and the whole gamut - are basically the result of the use of phone tapping and access to metadata.
But now the world is changing radically because of technology. There are many providers of telephony and many of them do not keep such records. British police already find that something like a quarter of their requests for such information produces no result because the information does not exist, and for the AFP the figure is more than 15 per cent.
Increasingly, people are making phone calls over the internet. Internet providers charge by the quantity of data used rather than the phone calls made, so there is no record for the police to access.
Internet communications of all kinds are also now central to police and security agencies.
Unless internet service providers are required by law to keep this information, they won't do so. One estimate goes like this: if current trends continue and there is no new legislation, the investigative capacity of all agencies will fall by almost 10 per cent in a year and 50 per cent in a decade. This would be the greatest boon we have seen to all levels of criminality, and to terrorists.
Michael Danby, a committee member and chairman of parliament's foreign affairs committee, speaking as an individual and not foreshadowing the committee's verdict, told me: "I think the situation described by the director general of ASIO makes it imperative for the government to legislate for both data retention and strong parallel privacy breach penalties."
It's important to be clear about what the police and security agencies want access to here. It is not the content of telephone or internet communications. It is simply the fact of who communicated to whom.
It is not the police seeking a new power. It is a desperate effort to keep up with the way serious criminals, organised crime, cyber enemies and terrorists communicate with each other.
Let me make a prediction. Without this legislation there will inevitably be a mass terrorist event in Australia and then the legislation will pass in 12 hours.
Many nations are grappling with these issues. The parallel British parliamentary inquiry has just recommended a data retention regime.
There would be financial costs, easy to exaggerate, and very strict privacy legislation would be necessary. But the alternative is very bad.
There have been some disappointing elements of the debate. Some Liberals have been hysterical in their response to it. There is a disturbing drift among numerous Liberal politicians not to take national security agencies and their advice seriously. If Labor politicians were making such comments against these agencies with the Liberals in power they would be savaged.
Former attorney-general Nicola Roxon comprehensively messed up the process by not providing a draft bill. Her hyper-partisan politics also engendered needless hostility. Her replacement, Mark Dreyfus, can do much better. And he needs to, because this is business of the first importance.
The revelation that an Australian passport holder was allegedly involved in last year's bus bombing coordinated by Hezbollah that killed five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria understandably garnered much local media coverage. In addition to numerous radio and TV reports, news briefs in yesterday's newspapers were followed up with more extensive reports today.
Except, bizarrely, there was no mention of the allegation by Bulgarian authorities in the hard copy editions of the national Australian Financial Review (AFR) or in either of Melbourne's two daily newspapers - the Age and Herald Sun.
Even small regional papers like the Gold Coast Bulletin, Cairns Post, and the Northern Territory News ran something on it - but not Melbourne's two dailies, or the AFR.
In fact, people living in Geelong - which is only one hour's drive south of Melbourne - were better served than Melbournians, with the Geelong Advertiser running a quite sizeable story on its world news page.
...The Age also decided to forego the article from David Wroe discussing the involvement of Australian law enforcement agencies in pursing the alleged terrorist which was published by the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age's sister paper.
Likewise, the Herald Sun would apparently have had access to the stories published in numerous other News Ltd. papers in Australia, but also decided to only report it on its website.
More seriously, only last Friday, the Age ran a page two story by its legal affairs writer Harriet Alexander highlighting a new report published in the Melbourne Law Review calling for the repeal of anti-terrorism legislation passed in the wake of 9/11.
The AFR website yesterday did run a comprehensive piece on the story from one of its Sydney journalists, Joanna Heath, with the paper editionnoting that new federal Attorney General Mark Dreyfus has signalled he is receptive to reviewing and perhaps diluting anti-terrorism legislation.
In this light, given the obvious news interest of both papers in the questions related to Australian terrorism and counter-terrorism, the lack of reference in both papers to the hunt for an Australian terrorist is highly perplexing.
Or is the omission another sign that "news" and "papers" are parting company as the internet's dominance looms ever larger?
Revelations by Bulgarian investigators that one of the suspects in last July's terrorist bombing of a bus carrying an Israeli tour group near the airport in Burgas, Bulgaria last July was both a Hezbollah operative and an Australian national should unfortunately not come as any great surprise.
Those who have closely followed the operations of Iran's terror proxy in southeast Asia and Australasia in recent years know that its presence in the region is substantial, and that Australia is regularly listed as one of the countries in which Hezbollah operates.
On Wednesday, Clive Williams from Macquarie University spoke to the ABC's Simon Santow as an expert on terrorism.
Williams said that, given the large number of Australians living in Lebanon, it would not be unusual to find someone with an Australian passport associated with Hezbollah.
According to DFAT there are 25,000 Australians living in Lebanon. So these are obviously people of Lebanese descent that have gone back to Lebanon with an Australian passport. So there are a lot of passport holders out there and so it's not unusual I don't think for somebody connected with Hezbollah to have an Australian passport.
Last month, Matthew Levitt from the Washington Institute issued a brief report on Hezbollah activity in the region.
Throughout the 1990s, intelligence reports indicated that Hizballah operatives were active in Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and even Myanmar (Burma)...
No one should be surprised that Hizballah has the capacity to carry out attacks and engage in logistical support activities in Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia. Furthermore, Hizballah's operational contingency plans are constantly being updated and are ready to be implemented within a short period of time.
Canadian intelligence expert and former Mossad agent Michael Ross also gave his take on the scope of Hezbollah's Southeast Asian and Australasian operations in his 2007 tell-all book "The Volunteer: The Incredible True Story of an Israeli Spy on the Trail of International Terrorists".
For a supposed Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah is very active in Southeast Asia, it's agents had infiltrated the region in the 1980s, setting up shop in Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Korea, and even in Lakemba, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. Hezbollah was known to be procuring weapons and dual-use technology, and recruiting locals to carry out terrorist attacks in Israel and Australia - in some cases, going so far as to marry into local Muslim families.
While Israel and the United States are among the countries that hold a wholesale ban on Hezbollah, like the UK, Australia differentiates between Hezbollah's political organisation, which is not banned here, and a body which Australia terms Hezbollah's External Security Organisation (ESO), which is.
The official Australian government's public dossier on the ESO can be referenced online here.
In April 2010, an ASIO counterterrorism report was the basis of a story by reporter Sally Neighbour in The Australian, which said that Australian authorities believed that the ESO had covertly operated inside of Australia in recent years and was in fact continuing to do so, particularly in support of Iran's nuclear weapons program.
ESO was first detected in Australia in the 90s, when ASIO investigated a Sydney man associated with Sydney's Arncliffe mosque, the largest Shia centre of worship in Australia. The man was in contact with ESO headquarters and hosted a visit by a number of ESO officials to Australia. It was believed its purpose was to recruit local supporters who could assist with logistics such as the procurement of so-called dual-use technology: civilian hardware that can be converted to military use.
Intelligence sources say ESO has a track record of sourcing military supplies for Iran, which is subject to military sanctions. This has become a source of growing concern as Iran presses on with its push to acquire nuclear weapons. The specific concern here is that Australian operatives may be helping to supply materiel intended for Iran's nuclear program.
In the same story, a representative of Australia's Arab community, while falling short of confirming the presence of Hezbollah agents in Australia, admitted that Hezbollah has a lot of sympathisers Down Under.
"There's no question about [there being] fairly large support from a large part of the Australian community who support and sympathise with Hezbollah in Australia," says Roland Jabbour, chairman of the Australian Arabic Council.
In 2007 The Australian reported that police were investigating a possible Hezbollah cell in Melbourne, after videotaping rallies attended by dozens of men waving Hezbollah flags and banners during a 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon.
Jabbour says he is not aware that Hezbollah is active in Australia. "If they mean are there people who sympathise with Hezbollah in Australia, that's a fact. But on a community level I'm not aware of any activities related to Hezbollah as such."
Last May, Australian Attorney-General Nicola Roxon announced the re-listing of Hezbollah's ESO as a terror group "following careful consideration of advice from security agencies".
The group had been featured on the terror list since June 2003,
(Read AIJAC Executive Director Colin Rubenstein's Op-Ed in the Age on the eve of the ban here) and has been confirmed following reviews every two years since.
In August, Federal MP John Faulkner presented the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on the re-listing of Hezbollah's External Security Organisation.
Later that month Federal MP Michael Danby commended that report in a speech before Parliament which detailed some of Hezbollah's recent attacks.
Danby's speech, however, went further than the report, citing American intelligence that said that - not just the ESO - but even Hezbollah's fundraising operatives [from the political and social services branches of the organisation] were capable of carrying out acts of terrorism.
On 21 March, my friend the Chairman of the US House Committee on Homeland Security, Republican Peter King-a congressman from New York-ran a hearing on Iran, Hezbollah and the threat to homeland security, in which he stated:
‘Top intelligence officials in the United States believe that Hezbollah is the group most capable of flipping its nationwide network of criminal fundraising cells into an operational terror force capable of great violence on orders from its leaders in Lebanon or Iran.'
Obviously, that kind of warning applies to Australia as well.
The risks of allowing branches of Hezbollah to continue to operate lawfully in Australia are growing more clear.
In his interview Wednesday with the ABC, Williams reminded listeners that Hezbollah enjoys access to Australian society because its branches which are not part of, or can maintain a pretence not to be a part of, the ESO are not banned in the country. (See Sharyn Mittelman's blog post for important insights on this subject.) Seizing on the report that the Australian suspect had only lived in Lebanon for a short time, Williams went on to theorise that the terrorist in the Bulgarian attack may have been recruited to join Hezbollah's terror wing while still in Australia.
It was said by the Bulgarians that the bomber had only been in Lebanon since 2010 so it could be that there's now an element within ESO that wants to become more active. I suspect that the Australian passport holder may well have been somebody who's similarly only been in Lebanon for maybe a few years. Perhaps a bit more fired up to do something than the locals might be.
From a Media Release by Bob Carr, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, 6 February 2013:
The Bulgarian Government has today provided an update on its investigation into the bombing of an Israeli tourist bus at Burgas Airport on July 18, 2012 in which seven people were killed.
The Bulgarian Government has indicated that one person of interest in the matter may be an Australian passport holder and that there is a 'justified assumption' that two of the people involved belong to the military wing of the terrorist group Hezbollah.
The Australian Government has listed the Hezbollah External Security Organisation as a terrorist group since 2003. Support for or membership of this Organisation is an offence under Australian law.
The Australian Federal Police has worked with Bulgarian authorities in pursuit of those responsible for the bombing.
All Australians would be proud that the AFP has played an important role in this investigation to date.
Australia continues to be a key player in regional and global efforts to identify and prevent terrorist operations.
The Australian Government condemns all acts of political violence and terrorism and welcomes today's evidence of progress in this investigation.
Such attacks on innocent civilians are reprehensible in the extreme.
Our thoughts remain with the friends and families of those killed in the attack, with the injured, and with the people of Israel and Bulgaria.
I am a Métis from Northern Alberta. My father, Mervin Bellerose, co-authored the Métis Settlements Act of 1989, which was passed by the Albertalegislature in 1990 and cemented our land rights. I founded Canadians For Accountability, a native rights advocacy group, and I am an organizer and participant in the Idle No More movement in Calgary. And I am a Zionist.
Let me tell you why.
I grew up on a Métis colony in what many would say are rough conditions: we had no electricity, running water or telephone. When it rained, the dirt roads that linked us to the highways flooded and we were stranded. I lived in a bunkhouse with my two stepbrothers, while my father and stepmother lived in a small cabin nearby. We raised a garden, hunted and fished, picked berries and made the odd trip to town to buy supplies. My father worked construction and lived in camps for long stretches and I would often stay at relatives’ to escape my stepmother’s abuse. Still, I considered my childhood normal.
My interest in Israel started at a young age. My father gave me a set of Encyclopedia Britannica for my 5th birthday and, from there, a passion for history was born. I would sit and read whenever the weather was bad. In fact, it was a family joke that taking away my books for a few hours was a better way to discipline me than a spanking. One entry that caught my eye was that of Israel’s birth in 1948. It struck me as the ultimate David and Goliath story: Israel, a tiny country that had fought for independence from the British Empire, was forced from its first moments to defend its existence against the combined armies of the Arab world. Israel survived against all odds, and did so in a truly epic story of will and heroism. This story inspired me.
Growing up, I was a very small child. (I am called "Tiny Ryney" to this day, though I play defensive tackle for the Calgary Wolfpack). I was called a "half-breed" and other slurs by white kids while the children in my colony made fun of my paler skin. I didn’t belong anywhere. And I had to be resourceful to protect myself, since I was weaker than the others. Being the victim of bullying shaped who I am and my sense of right and wrong. It is one reason that I support Israel, a country that has faced bullying and manipulation since its birth. Israel too has had to be resourceful to defend itself against enemies that dwarf it. And, like me, it overcame.
Noticing my curiosity about Israel, my father bought me as a birthday gift a book about the 1976 Raid on Entebbe, a brilliant rescue by Israeli commandos of hostages taken by Palestinian terrorists to Uganda. Again, this impressed me. Israel was willing to do the impossible to rescue its people, regardless of the political fallout. This pushed me to read more about the Arab-Israeli conflict. In so doing, I learned about the ’72 Munich Olympic Games, where Palestinian terrorists massacred 11 Israeli athletes during an event meant to be a celebration of brotherhood and peace. I wondered why more people weren’t as upset as I was.
It was during this time, while visiting relatives working oil rigs, that I learned while watching a hotel TV of the horrific 1972 Lod Airport massacre where terrorists shot dead 26 civilians waiting for their flights, including 17 Christian pilgrims. I also remember the 1985 attack by Yasser Arafat’s forces on the Achille Lauro cruise ship, where an old disabled man was thrown overboard in his wheelchair for the crime of being a Jew. The more I saw, the more I needed to understand why such things were happening. The more I learned, the more I grew to appreciate Israel’s moral integrity in the face of brutal hatred. And I came to believe that the Jewish people and Israel should serve as an example to indigenous people everywhere. It is with the Jews – and their stubborn survival after being decimated and dispersed by powerful empires -- that we have the most in common.
My people, the Métis, came to Albertaafter the American Revolution, at the government’s request, to prevent the settling of the Americans in western Canada. We settled the land and followed the white man’s rules. But we were eventually evicted, our homes given to white pioneers. No one wanted us. We were forced to live in hiding, on road allowances, in the bush. We had no rights, and we were killed out of hand, as "nuisances". Exile fractured our nation. Our people wandered with no hope and no home. Then, in the mid 1900's, our leaders managed to secure land for us, not the land we had wanted but land that would nonetheless allow us to build a better future. We took it, built our settlements and formed a government to improve the lives of our people. We still have many problems to solve, of course, but we also have more educated people than ever and are slowly becoming self-sufficient, as our leaders envisioned. In this, the Jewish people and the Métis have walked the same road.
The Jews also suffered genocide and were expelled from their homeland. They were also rejected by everyone and forced to wander. Like us, they rebelled against imperial injustice when necessary and, despite their grievances, strived for peace whenever possible. Like us they were given a tiny sliver of their land back after centuries of suffering and persecution, land that nobody else had wanted to call home until then. Like us, they took that land despite their misgivings and forged a nation from a fractured and wounded people. And like us, they consistently show a willingness to compromise for the good of their people.
I hope the Metis keep walking the same road as the Jewish people. Through their efforts, the Jews were able to preserve their identity despite terrible persecution and to revive their culture and language once back in their homeland. They never lost their sense of who they were, but neither did they lose sight of the importance of looking forward. Given their history, it would have been natural for them to become insular and reactionary. But instead, they work hard to be productive and are friendly even to countries that have caused them tremendous suffering. I want us to similarly make education and the preservation of our ancient culture a priority. I want us to continue to strive for peace and productivity.
Many claim that we Natives have more in common with the Palestinians, that their struggle is our struggle. Beyond superficial similarities, nothing could be farther from the truth. Beyond the facile co-opting of our cause, the comparison with the Palestinians is absolutely untenable. It trivializes our suffering.
Co-opting today’s native struggle to the Palestinian propaganda war is a fallacy. Though the Palestinians have undeniable ties to the land, firsthand accounts by Mark Twain and countless other travelers to the Holy Land through the ages suggest that a large percentage of the Palestinian people immigrated to Palestinein recent decades. And for 65 years, the Palestinians have convinced the world that they are worse off than many other stateless nations, despite all evidence to the contrary. The Palestinians claim to have been colonized but it was their own leaders who refused to negotiate and who lost the land that they want by waging a needless war on Israel. They claim to have faced genocide but they suffered no such thing: their population has exploded from a few hundred thousand in 1948 to over 4 million today. They claim deprivation but their elites live in luxury while their people live in ramshackle poverty.
What’s more, the Palestinian leaders have never been interested in a peaceful solution for their people. They were given several opportunities to have their own state – for the first time in history -- and refused each time, choosing war over peace because the offers were never deemed sufficient. They have persistently used terrorism to bring attention to their cause and their leaders have celebrated the killing of civilians by naming parks and schools after murderers. And any Palestinian that questions the maximalist rhetoric or who suggests real compromise is immediately ostracized, branded a traitor, or killed.
The Palestinians are not like us. Their fight is not our fight. We natives believe in bringing about change peacefully, and we refuse to be affiliated with anyone who engages in violence targeting civilians. I cannot remain silent and allow the Palestinians to gain credibility at our expense by claiming commonality with us. I cannot stand by while they trivialize our plight by tying it to theirs, which is largely self-inflicted. Our population of over 65 million was violently reduced to a mere 10 million, a slaughter unprecedented in human history. To compare that in whatever way to the Palestinians’ story is deeply offensive to me. The Palestinians did lose the land they claim is theirs, but they were repeatedly given the opportunity to build their state on it and to partner with the Jews -- and they persistently refused peace overtures and chose war. We were never given that chance. We never made that choice.