Who Broke the Ceasefire?


By Max Blumenthal, Allison Deger

A beleaguered looking President Barack Obama appeared before the Washington press corps Friday to lash into Hamas for supposedly violating the 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire that his Secretary of State John Kerry and the United Nations had labored so tirelessly to secure.

“I have unequivocally condemned Hamas and the Palestinian factions that were responsible for killing two Israeli soldiers and abducting a third minutes after a cease-fire was announced,” Obama said.

But evidence supporting Obama’s claim of Hamas responsibility has been difficult to come by. Indeed, even the Israeli Army news desk was unable to provide AlterNet with a clear narrative or substantial evidence regarding the incident in question. Moreover, accounts published in Arabic by Hamas’s military wing along with details provided by the PLO indicate that the killing of two soldiers and disappearance of another actually occurred before the cease-fire went into effect — when Israel was assaulting Rafah.

“Today at 9:30, terrorists executed an attack from which two soldiers were killed and an additional is now missing and therefore he is suspected to have been abducted,” an Israeli army spokesperson told AlterNet. The army spokesperson went on to state that Hamas and the army “exchanged shelling,” yet they were unable to provide details on the source of the Palestinian fire. “They used several forms of fire simultaneously,” was all the spokesperson could divulge.

“I cannot confirm at the moment as we are still looking into it, but it may have been live bullets and a suicide belt,” which killed the soldiers, the army spokesperson said.

When asked why the army did not have a solid account of the events that broke the promised 72-hour cease-fire, the army spokesperson maintained, “There were terrorists and they attacked the soldiers, two soldiers didn’t just drop dead.”

Tweets from Gaza contradict official US-Israeli claims

The PLO and Palestinian Authority both insisted to AlterNet that Hamas fighters engaged Israeli soldiers inside Gaza well before the cease-fire took effect – and during an Israeli assault on Rafah leading up to the 8am cease-fire.

“They aborted the cease-fire from the beginning,” said Nabil Shaath from the PLO’s Central Committee.

A veteran negotiator, Shaath has become the de facto liaison between the PLO and Hamas. He confirmed to AlterNet that PA President Mahmoud Abbas received a briefing from Hamas this morning on the incident near Rafah. Shaath’s account reflects details provided directly by Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip.

According to Shaath, at 6am Hamas fighters engaged Israeli forces in Rafah. He maintained that it was then — almost two hours before the cease-fire went into effect — that the two Israeli soldiers were killed and the other went missing.

Shaath’s account was supported by dispatches published before the cease-fire went into effect by the official Twitter account of Hamas’s Qassam Brigades military wing. In a tweet published at 7:34 a.m. on August 1, the Qassam Brigades stated, “At 7 a.m. a group [of Hamas fighters] clashed with [Israeli] forces east of Rafah and caused many injuries and death to them.”

In a separate tweet published at 6:22 a.m. on the say day, the Qassam Brigades declared, “At 6:30 a.m., a group of the Qassam infiltrated behind enemy lines at east Rafah and bombed a house that the enemy had taken as a stronghold with a Tandem missile after the enemies bombed the whole area.”

The following day, Qassam Brigades reiterated its description of the incident in an official statement: “The clashes began at 7.00am, before the proposed truce was in effect, while the enemy launched its attack on civilians at 10 a.m, blatantly violating the truce in aims of finding a missing soldier.”

Qassam Brigades added that it had “no knowledge regarding the soldier missing in action [Lt. Hadar Goldin] or his location or the circumstances of his disappearance” — a departure from previous instances when it trumpeted claims that it had captured Israeli troops. Despite the denial, Obama vehemently demanded that Hamas unconditionally release Goldin.

The cease-fire was first violated at 8:30 a.m., according to Shaath, when the Israeli army destroyed 19 buildings in an operation to demolish tunnels. “Destroying tunnels is destroying houses,” Shaath said, noting that the cease-fire allowed hostile Israeli forces to continue to operate inside the Gaza Strip, making violence almost inevitable. “We do not accept a cease-fire that allows the invader to attack and murder,” he declared.

Conflicting claims and evidence ignored

In announcing the brief cease-fire, Kerry said its terms authorized Israeli forces to carry out“defensive” operations against tunnels. He seemed unaware of the ramifications of such an agreement, or what Israel’s attacks on tunnels actually entailed. A glimpse at Human Rights Watch’s bracing report on the Israeli army’s brutal assault on Rafah in 2004, “Razing Rafah,” which it conducted under the auspices of anti-tunnel operations, would have offered a glimpse of what was to come. (American activist Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli bulldozer during the 2003 attack on Rafah).

Following the incident in Rafah that left two Israeli soldiers dead and one presumed missing, Kerry immediately declared that Hamas had committed an “outrageous violation of the cease-fire.” White House Press Secretary Joshua Earnest echoed Kerry by accusing Hamas of “a barbaric violation of the cease-fire agreement.”

But sources offer starkly conflicting accounts of the incident in question. The Israeli army claimed to AlterNet that Lt. Hadar Goldin went missing at 9:30 a.m., an hour and a half after the cease-fire was declared. Yet Obama claimed that the attack occurred “minutes after the cease-fire began.” For their part, Qassam reported engaging and killing Israeli soldiers well before 8 a.m.

So when did the incident actually occur? And why was Obama’s information so dramatically different from details the Israeli army was furnishing journalists with?

More importantly, why was the Obama administration so quick to jump to conclusions?

Framing Hamas, driving the death toll

Perhaps the answer was credulousness or sheer laziness, with its diplomatic corps and intelligence services neglecting to examine sensitive details from sources on the ground. But the more likely explanation is that Washington has sought to frame Hamas as the aggressor to enable Israel to intensify military operations disproportionately directed against a besieged civilian population.

Since violence escalated in mid-July, the Obama administration has demonstrated a disturbing pattern of legitimizing suspect Israeli claims about Hamas’s malevolence and bad faith. In each case, the administration provided political cover for disproportionate Israeli violence, deepening the damage to civilian life in the West Bank and Gaza. And in each case, Washington’s claims were ultimately discredited — but only after Israel had ratcheted the violence up to a frightening new stage.

The first case of irresponsible enabling by the Obama administration occurred in the immediate wake of the kidnapping of three Israeli teens in the occupied West Bank on June 12. It was on June 15, before evidence was made public about the kidnapping suspects’ identities, that Kerry pointed the finger at Hamas, suggesting that the organization’s leadership had authorized the crime. His words helped justify Operation Brother’s Keeper, an army rampage through the West Bank in which thousands of Palestinian homes were raided, over 500 were arrested without charges, and 6 civilians were killed.

A month later, Israeli Police Spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld finally admitted what was widely known and had been extensively documented: Hamas leadership had no role in or advance knowledge of the kidnappings. But by then, the damage to the West Bank had already been done. Kerry has yet to retract his demonstrably false and damaging claim.

The next case of Obama administration enabling came on July 15 as the military regime of Egypt – a ferocious antagonist of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas – introduced a cease-fire proposal developed in intimate collaboration with Israel that would not have lifted the 8-year-long siege of Gaza. Hamas had not been consulted on the proposal or even briefed on its details, exposing it as a hollow document conceived as a ruse to frame the Palestinian faction as rejectionists. Kerry brought the Israeli-Egyptian scheme to its fulfillment when he launched into an indignant condemnation of Hamas for rejecting the Egyptian proposal, accusing the group of “purposely playing politics.”

Kerry’s statement was a political boon to Netanyahu, providing the Prime Minister with all the cover he sought to initiate and expand ground invasion of Gaza. Hamas’s refusal to accept the proposal “gives Israel full legitimacy to expand the operation to protect our people,” Netanyahu declared on July 15.

Human catastrophe with no end in sight

Some thousand civilian deaths later, with morgues filled with the bodies of children and the UN no longer able to care for the 25% of the Gaza Strip forced to flee from sectors of the Gaza Strip that resemble post-apocalyptic moonscapes, the Obama administration was at it again. As before, they blamed Hamas without the benefit of anything remotely resembling substantial evidence.

In turn, Washington provided political legitimacy to military operations aimed at an occupied and vulnerable civilian population with nowhere to flee, allowing the killing to continue unabated. Following the collapse of the cease-fire, Israel bombarded Rafah with US-supplied F-16’s and tank artillery, decimating the center of the city and killing over 70. At the time of publication, the death toll is rapidly rising.

Meanwhile, the talks scheduled to take place in Egypt over the next 72 hours seem to have fallen into shambles.

Obama has described the scenes of human misery pouring out of the Gaza Strip as “heartbreaking.” If only he and his administration had demanded evidence before enabling Israeli aggression, he might have been able to forgo the empty displays of hand-wringing. More importantly, hundreds of innocent lives might have been spared from a marauding army operating behind a shroud of impunity.

THE ARMY PULLED THE TRIGGER, BUT THE WEST LOADED THE GUN


How Western liberals provided the moral ammo for the massacres in Egypt.

BRENDAN O’NEILL

There is ‘world outcry’ over the behaviour of the Egyptian security forces yesterday, when at least 525 supporters of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi were massacred. The killings were ‘excessive’, says Amnesty, in a bid to bag the prize for understatement of the year; ‘brutal’, say various handwringing newspaper editorials; ‘too much’, complain Western politicians.

egyptian armsSuch belated expressions of synthetic sorrow are not only too little, too late (hundreds of Egyptians have already been massacred by the military regime that swept Morsi from power); they are also extraordinarily blinkered. To focus on the actions of the security forces alone, on what they did with their trigger fingers yesterday, is to miss the bigger picture; it is to overlook the question of where the military regime got the moral authority to clamp down on its critics so violently in the name of preserving its undemocratic grip on power. It got it from the West, including from so-called Western liberals and human-rights activists. The moral ammunition for yesterday’s massacres was provided by the very politicians and campaigners now crying crocodile tears over the sight of hundreds of dead Egyptians.

The fact that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the Egyptian armed forces who swept Morsi from power on 3 July, feels he has free rein to preserve his coup-won rule against all-comers isn’t surprising. After all, his undemocratic regime has received the blessing of various high-ranking Western officials, even after it carried out massacres of protesters campaigning for the reinstatement of Morsi, who was elected with 52 per cent of the vote in 2012.

Baroness Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s chief of foreign affairs, who, like al-Sisi, is unelected, visited Egypt at the end of July. She met with al-Sisi and his handpicked, unelected president, Adly Mansour. She called on this junta disguised as a transitional power to start a ‘journey [towards] a stable, prosperous and democratic Egypt’. This was after it had massacred hundreds of protesters, placed various politicians and activists in prison, and reinstated the Mubarak-era secret police to wage a ‘war on terror’ against MB supporters. For Ashton to visit al-Sisi and talk about democracy in the aftermath of such authoritarian clampdowns was implicitly to confer authority on the coup that brought him to power and on his brutal rule and actions.

John Kerry

John Kerry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, the US has refused to call the military’s sweeping aside of Morsi a coup. The Democratic secretary of state, John Kerry, has gone further and congratulated al-Sisi’s regime for ‘restoring democracy’. Kerry said the military’s assumption of power was an attempt to avoid ‘descendance into chaos and violence’ under Morsi, and its appointment of civilians in the top political jobs was a clear sign that it was devoted to ‘restoring democracy’. He said this on 2 August. After hundreds of Morsi supporters had already been massacred. If al-Sisi’s forces believe that killing protesters demanding the reinstatement of a democratically elected prime minister is itself a democratic act, a necessary and even good thing, it isn’t hard to see where they got the idea from.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a work se...

British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a work session at the NATO Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, June 28, 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, former British PM turned UN peace envoy Tony Blair has become a globetrotting spokesman for the legitimacy of the al-Sisi regime. The army will have to take ‘some very tough, even unpopular decisions’ in its ‘steering of the country back on to a path towards elections’, he says. Most strikingly, Blair said of al-Sisi’s regime that sometimes an efficient government is more important than an elected one. In executing ‘very unpopular’ massacres in the name of making Egypt run more ‘efficiently’ – the key justification al-Sisi and his forces have given for their clampdown on Morsi supporters – the military regime is reading from a moral narrative provided by Tony Blair.

As well has(sic) being provided with moral cover by leading Western politicians, the al-Sisi regime has benefited from the effective standing-down of the Western human-rights lobby. Certainly those well-connected commentators and activists who normally make a major fuss over foreign military regimes that repress their political opposition have been mild bordering on mute in their criticisms of the new Egyptian dictatorship.

Human-rights groups like Amnesty have played a key role in keeping international eyes off Egypt by trumpeting other, apparently more pressing rights issues, such as Russia’s continued imprisonment of Pussy Riot. Astonishingly, Amnesty has just launched a new campaign called ‘Back on Taksim’, which allows Westerners to ‘check in’ online to Taksim Square in Turkey in order to raise awareness about the heavy-handed policing of the demonstration there and the brutal dismantling of the protesters’ camps. And the massacre of camping protesters in Cairo? Doesn’t that deserve an app, too? Apparently not. It’s only secular, left-leaning protesters that Amnesty and its Hampstead-based patrons are interested in, not bearded, Koran-reading blokes demanding the reinstatement of a religious-leaning president.

In fact, Amnesty has gone further than helping to divert the human-rights brigade’s attentions away from blood-stained Cairo – it has also inadvertently provided part of the justification for the Egyptian security forces’ massacres. One of Amnesty’s chief contributions to the discussion about Egypt over the past two months has been the writing of a report alleging that the pro-Morsi protest camps are abducting and torturing their opponents – that is, supporters of al-Sisi’s military regime. And the regime has enthusiastically cited Amnesty’s claims in its justification of its violent destruction of the pro-Morsi camps. The regime’s foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, mentioned Amnesty reports in his explanation for why his forces have launched a ‘war on terror’ against Morsi supporters. Amnesty has not only implicitly played down the seriousness of the massacres in Egypt; it has also provided a moral excuse for their execution.

Alongside Western leaders and human-rights activists, the Egyptian left has also provided cover – literally – for the massacre of Morsi supporters. On every occasion when the regime’s forces have mown down its opponents, left-wing supporters of the regime have turned out in their thousands to give a democratic-seeming gloss to these killings of anyone who criticises the coup. The liberal National Salvation Front, much beloved of the Western human-rights lobby, says Morsi supporters bear ‘full responsibility’ for yesterday’s massacres.

Tamarod, the radical group that called for the removal of Morsi back in July, and which is hailed by the celebrated radical American-Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy as a brilliant and inspiring movement, has said it is ‘happy for [the security forces] to play their role in confronting the violence and terrorism practiced by the Muslim Brotherhood’. Both Ms Eltahawy and Tamarod have repeated regime propaganda about the Morsi camps being armed and dangerous, effectively terroristic, and thus apparently deserving of destruction. Tamarod’s provision of some pseudo-liberal, seemingly grassroots spit-and-polish to the regime’s massacres of its opponents isn’t surprising – there are now more and more claims that, in the words most recently of the London Review of Books, Tamarod is not as organic as it seems and has in fact received ‘advice, information and possibly weapons’ from the security forces.

To focus solely on what the security forces did yesterday is to imbibe only half of the story (if that) of what has occurred in Egypt over the past two months. For the security forces’ actions have been implicitly okayed by Western politicians, fuelled by the claims of human-rights groups, and supported on the streets by the Egyptian left. What we are witnessing is not simply a violent clampdown by men with guns, but effectively the Western-approved imposition of brute stability in Egypt and the bringing to an end of the Arab Spring and the idea that lay at the heart of it – namely, that Arab peoples are capable of determining their destinies free from external intervention or internal military control. That positive, spring-like belief might have been physically mown down by al-Sisi’s goons, but their guns were loaded by so-called Western liberals.