Friday, 21 November 2014

US media erase Israeli state and settler violence

As Tuesday’s grisly murder of five Israelis in a Jerusalem synagogue by two Palestinian assailants continues to dominate headlines, major media outlets are actively erasing the Israeli violence that preceded the attack and the surging anti-Palestinian assaults that have followed.

In typical fashion, The New York Times buried information alluding to Palestinian death and suffering in the fourteenth paragraph, while CNN disappeared Palestinians from the discussion entirely.

The Washington Post went even further, using the synagogue attack as an opportunity to erase Israeli violence against Palestinians both past and present.

Noting that the attack site is located in what used to be Deir Yassin — a Palestinian village destroyed in 1948 after Zionist militias deliberately executed more than one hundred of its inhabitants, including children — the Post rendered the massacre an unproven accusation against Israel.

Following an uproar on social media, the Post quietly removed the reference to Deir Yassin from the piece without issuing an explanation or correction.

These same media outlets are gleefully painting Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip as heartless monsters based on a marginal celebration that took place in Gaza City.

“Residents of the Gaza Strip paraded in the streets singing victory songs, giving out candy, waving flags,” declared The New York Times, eliciting images of widespread jubilation.

An earlier New York Times piece claimed that in Gaza City, “praise for God and the attackers poured from mosque loudspeakers.” That paragraph appears to have been quietly scrubbed without explanation, but not before Zionist ideologues had a chance to exploit it.

Speaking from Gaza where he is currently stationed, journalist and Mondoweiss contributor Dan Cohen told The Electronic Intifada that there was indeed a celebratory rally organized by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Gaza City but the celebrations were far from widespread.

“A small minority celebrated. That’s what being besieged and bombed does to people,” said Cohen, adding that it was hardly representative of the sentiment in Gaza, where residents are desperately preoccupied with escaping what he calls the “catastrophic” deterioration of conditions in the rubble-cluttered enclave.

Cohen also rejected The New York Times’ claim that celebratory praise for the synagogue attack rang out from mosque loudspeakers. There were a couple of cars driving around with megaphones that could be heard expressing joy for the attack, said Cohen, but that’s all. Gaza resident Mohammed Suliman and journalist Jehad Saftawi, who were with Cohen when we spoke, concurred.

While fringe celebrations among Palestinians have been widely reported, the more commonplace right-wing Israeli demonstrations agitating for greater violence and “death to Arabs” have been conspicuously absent from establishment media coverage, even though mainstream reporters are clearly aware of these rallies.

This follows a longstanding pattern that was most apparent during Israel’s recent assault on Gaza, which killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including more than five hundred children.

As Israel mercilessly targeted civilians in the densely populated coastal enclave, western media outlets published scandalous justifications for the mounting atrocities, frequently blaming Palestinians for their own slaughter.

Under this convoluted paradigm, racist Israeli mobs joyfully singing “In Gaza there’s no studying, No children are left there” were virtually ignored in the mainstream press, as was the rampant genocidal incitement in Israeli social media and from high-level Israeli lawmakers.

Amid a rising tide of Israeli fascism, the mainstream media narrative of an Israel under constant and unrelenting attack from wildly violent and murder-celebrating Palestinians is more than just dishonest. It is dangerous propaganda that shields Israel’s unchecked extremism from scrutiny, guaranteeing and inciting further atrocities against the defenseless and disenfranchised Palestinian population, some of whom will respond with violence.

Profiles of the Jewish victims killed in the synagogue attack have appeared in one media outlet after another, interspersed with quotes from heartbroken loved ones. The same cannot be said of the countless Palestinians attacked, maimed and killed by Israeli violence, whose names and photos rarely make it into mainstream news accounts.

Here are some of their harrowing stories from the last two weeks alone, stories that will be replicated thanks in no small part to a mainstream media that sees them as unworthy victims.

Israeli bullet to the face blinds 11-year-old boy

On 13 November, Israeli police shot eleven-year-old Saleh Samer Attiyeh Mahmoud between the eyes at close range with a sponge-tipped bullet in Issawiyeh — a village in occupied East Jerusalem — permanently blinding him in his left eye and severely damaging the vision in his right.

Residents in Issawiyeh had been demonstrating against Israel’s closure of three of the village’s four entrances when they were met with brute police force, now an everyday occurrence accross East Jerusalem neighborhoods inhabited by Palestinians who dare to push back.

Lining the Israeli police arsenal in this area are “sponge rounds” that “are made of high-density plastic with a foam-rubber head, and are fired from grenade launchers,” according to the Ma’an News Agency. “Israeli police have been using them in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem since the use of rubber-coated metal bullets was prohibited, but protocol explicitly prohibits firing them at the upper body,” adds Ma’an.

Yet the upper body is exactly where Israeli police are aiming this weapon, especially at child targets.

On 31 August, Israeli police shot sixteen-year-old Muhammad Sinokrot in the head at close range with a sponge-tipped bullet as he chatted on his cell phone while making his way to mosque for night-time prayers in East Jerusalem’s Wadi al-Joz neighborhood. He died days later.

Even then Israeli police insisted that they shot him in the leg, causing him to fall and hit his head. This was exposed as a lie after an autopsy determined that the teen was shot in the head, as his family had stated.

Cracking the skull of a 10-year-old girl

On Friday, 14 November, Mayar Amran Twafic al-Natsheh, ten years old, was riding in her grandfather’s car near the Shuafat refugee camp checkpoint when Israeli forces opened fire on their vehicle, striking Mayar in the face with a rubber-coated steel bullet that penetrated and shattered the car window.

Adding insult to injury, Israeli police detained Mayar’s father as she lay in a hospital bed recovering from a fractured skull.

Ten-year-old Gaza boy shot in the neck for “loitering”

On 16 November, Israeli forces from the Nahal Brigade opened fire on a ten-year-old Palestinian boy for walking too close to the southern fence of the Kissufim checkpoint between present-day Israel and Gaza.

The Israeli army defended the soldiers’ actions, arguing that because loitering is prohibited in the area, the soldiers “followed protocol by shooting into the air, shooting the lower body, then … it was decided to follow the procedure by shooting the center of the body.”

Critically wounded by a bullet to the neck, the child was flown out by helicopter for treatment at Soroka University Medical Center in Bir al-Saba (Beersheva), a city in the Naqab (Negev) region of present-day Israel.

To justify shooting a small unarmed child, the Israeli army asserted with zero evidence that “the boy was sent as a scout by one of Gaza’s terror factions to test the troops’ level of alert and response times.”

Settlers attack with knives and bullets

On Tuesday, 18 November, in the aftermath of the synagogue attack, a Palestinian teenager identified by Ma’an News Agency as sixteen-year-old Ibrahim Mahmoud was shot by an Israeli settler following a settler riot near Beitin village in the West Bank.

Ibrahim was one of several Palestinians attacked that day.

While walking in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kafr Aqab, 22-year-old Fadi Jalal Radwan was stabbed in the legs and back by a gang of Israelis after they asked him for a light.

Over the summer, as Israeli lynch mobs roamed the streets in search of Palestinians to attack, they would ask their potential victims for a cigarette or the time to determine, based on the accent in their response, if they were Arab.

Mysterious and forgotten lynching-style deaths

Almost immediately after 32-year-old Yousuf Hasan al-Ramouni, a Palestinian bus driver, was found hanged to death in his bus at a terminal in West Jerusalem, where anti-Arab sentiment is alarmingly palpable, Israeli police labeled it a suicide, insisting there were “no signs of violence on the body.” This was contradicted by photos of al-Ramouni’s lifeless body that surfaced on social media, revealing bruises along his torso.

Al-Ramouni’s colleague, Muatasem Fakeh, disputed the suicide claim.

“We saw signs of violence on his body,” he told AFP. “He was hanged over the steps at the back of the bus in a place where it would be impossible to hang yourself alone.”

Al-Ramouni’s family adamantly rejects the Israeli line as well, maintaining that he was a happy father and husband who would not take his own life.

The police have since cited an Israeli autopsy report that ruled al-Ramouni’s death a suicide as proof that their initial assessment was accurate. But Saber al-Aloul, a Palestinian pathologist who participated in the autopsy, suspects al-Ramouni was murdered and believes further forensic tests will prove this to be the case.

While anything is possible, the Israeli authorities have a history of promoting false narratives to cover up hate crimes committed by Jewish Israelis against Palestinians.

After sixteen-year-old Muhammad Abu Khudair was forced to drink gasoline and burned alive by three Jewish extremists, Israeli police planted the nasty rumor that Abu Khudair was murdered by his family in an anti-gay honor killing.

According to data compiled by Yesh Din, an Israeli legal advocacy group, from 2005 to 2014 Israeli police failed to properly investigate 83 percent of settler hate crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank.

Israeli police have demonstrated a similar lack of interest in getting to the bottom of attacks on Palestinians inside Israel.

Shot dead and deliberately set on fire

On 11 November, Nihad Mufid Ahmad Nalowa, a 35-year-old Palestinian worker from the West Bank, was shot dead by an identified gunman in Zemer, a Palestinian town located inside Israel.

Days earlier, on 8 November, Mahmoud Kamel Qalalweh, a 23-year-old Palestinian worker, was critically injured when unidentified assailants deliberately set his body on fire in Tamra, a Palestinian village in northeastern Israel.

Neither case elicited much attention. Nor is it clear whether Israeli police are investigating the incidents.

Inciting vigilante violence against Palestinians

Israel’s Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch was accused of inciting vigilante violence after applauding the swift police execution of the Palestinian driver responsible for a vehicular attack in Jerusalem on 5 November.

“The action of the border police officer who chased the terrorist and quickly killed him is the right and professional action, and that is the way I would like these incidents to end,” said Aharonovitch. “A terrorist who strikes civilians should be killed.”

Many understood this as a call for police and armed civilians to act as judge, jury and executioner against perceived “terrorists” — which seems to be interchangeable with “Arabs” in the Israeli lexicon.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights linked Aharonovitch’s incitement to the police murder of 22-year-old Kheir Hamdan days later.

On 9 November, in the Galilee village of Kufr Kana, Israeli police shot Hamdan after he banged on their vehicle with an unidentifiable object.

CCTV footage of the killing reveals that, contrary to the police version of events, the officers shot Hamdan at close range without warning as he ran away and then shot him again after he was injured and bleeding on the ground.

Nevertheless, in the immediate aftermath of the synagogue attack, Aharonovitch announced that he would seek the easing of gun restrictions for Israelis. In a society increasingly gripped with genocidal hatred of its indigenous inhabitants, such a move could prove disastrous.

Iran nuclear talks to resume in Vienna

US secretary of state and Iranian foreign minister set for new rounds of talks on Friday as Monday deadline looms.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran's foreign minister are set to begin a new session of nuclear talks in Vienna just four days before a deadline for a deal.

A 90-minute meeting earlier on Friday afternoon between Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif was described by the parties as "tense" and "sombre". Another session is set to be held later in the day.

Earlier reports had said that Zarif was flying back to Tehran for consultations and that Kerry would be heading to Paris to consult with his European counterparts.

"Earlier this afternoon, it looked as though the talks had reached a point beyond which they can go no further," Al Jazeera's Jonah Hall, reporting from the Austrian capital, said. "But it seems that there is a bit of momentum back in these talks."

Diplomats told the Reuters news agency that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond had left the talks after arriving earlier in the day.

Hammond told reporters that "we have a long way to go if we are to get to a deal before the deadline".

Expectations were growing that the Monday deadline for a full deal will be missed because of differences on how much Iran needs to reduce the size and scope of key parts of its nuclear programme.

Both the Iranians and the six world powers negotiating with them must decide whether to go beyond Monday or adjourn to a later date.

Officials from the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are seeking to reduce the potency of Iran's nuclear programme and slow its technical ability to produce atomic weapons.

Tehran denies charges that it wishes to manufacture a nuclear weapon.

Boehner "the whiner" slams Obama over immigration reforms

House speaker says US leader is "damaging the presidency itself" by making "unilateral" changes to immigration policies.

President Barack Obama's announcement of immigration changes that will protect nearly five million people living in the US illegally from deportation has infuriated Republicans, but has also left them scrambling for a response that will not undermine their prospects in the 2016 presidential election.

Obama's measure, which will make nearly half of those living the US illegally eligible for work permits, has been criticised by Republicans as an amnesty for lawbreakers and an abuse of presidential powers.

House Speaker John Boehner said on Friday that Obama was "damaging the presidency itself" with his unilateral action on immigration and added that the House of Representatives, in which the Republicans have a majority, would not "stand idle and let it happen".

Speaking at a news conference the morning after Obama delivered his landmark announcement from the White House, the Ohio Republican offered no hint as to what steps the House might take to block Obama's move.

The president's plans would offer deportation relief and work permits to those who entered the country illegally, but with children born in the US.

If the parents have been in the US for at least five years, they could apply for protection from deportation and then for work permits.

'Deaf ear'

"I repeatedly told him his actions were making it impossible for me to do what he wanted me to do."

When pressed on what the House was going to do in response to Obama's announcement, Boehner said they would follow the "democratic process".

"We have a broken immigration system, and the American people expect us to work together to fix it and we ought to do that through the democratic process," he said.

Obama said on Thursday that his executive actions were a "common sense" plan consistent with what previous presidents of both parties had done.

"To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill," Obama said.

Republicans, who take full control of Congress in January after capturing the Senate from the Democrats, warned that Obama would face serious consequences for what they described as an unconstitutional power grab.

'Precarious situation'

Al Jazeera's Shihab Rattansi, reporting from Washington, said that Obama had not issued any new laws, but was imposing an executive order to reinterpret existing legislation.

"He is using authority as president to interpret existing laws and that is a role the president has always played," he said.

"People are still in a very precarious situation as this decision could be overturned by the next president, and so it would be a huge risk to come out of the shadows, as once the government know who people are they could be arrested."

Rattansi added that the move could have a lot to do with the fact Obama only has two years left in office.

"He has been making promises on immigration since he got into office and he has never kept any of them really," he said.

"He always had to act otherwise it would be an enormous betrayal."

ISIL launches fierce assault on Iraq's Ramadi

Major offensive under way in capital of Anbar, where only a few small areas of province remain under government control.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) has launched a major attack on the Iraqi city of Ramadi, capital of the troubled western province of Anbar, security officials have said, resulting in the killing of at least 20 soldiers.

ISIL fighters pounded the city centre with mortar rounds on Friday, while clashes broke out around Ramadi, one of the last urban areas partly under government control in Anbar.

Al Jazeera's Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said pro-government forces had called in reinforcements to push back the offensive that was coming from four sides.

"Ramadi is a crucial city for ISIL as it attempts to consolidate its grip over all of Anbar province," Khan said.

Sources told Al Jazeera tens of Iraqi soldiers had been abducted near Ramadi while at least 20 Iraqi soldiers and eight ISIL fighters had been killed in the fighting.

"Clashes are ongoing around the city. A series of mortar attacks have targeted areas inside the city, including provincial council buildings and a police post," a security official told the AFP news agency said.

Adhal al-Fahdawi, a member of the Anbar provincial council, said on Friday that ISIL had managed to capture part of an eastern district called Mudhiq but pro-government forces had stopped their advance and were encircling the fighters there.

"The security forces need support because we have not received any back-up from the army's air force or the coalition," Fahdawi said, referring to the US-led air campaign launched in August.

Parts of the restive province, which borders Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and the Baghdad governorate, have been out of government control since January.

ISIL, which also controls large parts of Syria, spearheaded a major offensive in Iraq in June, seizing territory, including much of Anbar.

A fresh spate of attacks in recent weeks has seen the armed group extend their grip over the province, where only a handful of pockets remain under the control of Iraqi security forces backed by Shia armed groups and Sunni tribal fighters.

Iran nuclear talks enter make-or-break stage

Six nations want Tehran to scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions but major hurdles remain.

Iran's nuclear talks are due to enter the make-or-break endgame, days ahead of a deadline that may not be met as few, but significant, hurdles stand in the way.

Officials from Iran and six world powers - US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany - arrived in Austria's capital Vienna for the final round of talks starting on Friday, in which it is hoped Iran will make concessions on its nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of sanctions. The deal has to be reached before Monday's deadline.

Speaking in Paris on Thursday before flying to Vienna, US Secretary of State John Kerry said: "We are not discussing an extension. We are negotiating to have an agreement. It's that simple."

He added, however, that the US and all the other powers were "concerned about the gaps".

Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond had said on Wednesday that he was "not optimistic" the deadline could be met.

"I think if we make some significant movement, we may be able to find a way of extending the deadline to allow us to get to the final deal," Hammond said in Latvia's capital Riga.

Ghanbar Naderi, an Iranian journalist in Tehran, told Al Jazeera that he would not be surprised if there was another extention of the talks because neither side was willing to make significant concessions.

Russia's main negotiator in the talks, Sergei Ryabkov, was quoted by Russian news agency RIA Novosti on Thursday as saying "tense atmosphere" shadows the talk, and that "in the current situation it will be very difficult to get a deal unless there is a new spirit".

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who together with his British counterpart was expected in Vienna on Friday, said at a joint news conference with Kerry in Paris that he hoped differences could "be bridged but that depends to a very large extent on Iran's attitude".

'Raising the tone'

Iran's speaker of parliament Ali Larijani meanwhile told Iranian media: "We are constantly cooperating [but the other side] is raising the tone."

He added: "We hope that the other side will behave in a rational manner ... and won't take the wrong path."

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif believes that the onus is on the six powers, urging them not to make "excessive demands".

Iran and the six powers have been negotiating intensively since February to turn an interim accord reached a year ago into a lasting agreement before November 24.

Such a deal, after 12 years of rising tensions, is aimed at easing fears that Tehran will develop nuclear weapons under the guise of civilian use, claims which Islamic republic repeatedly denies.

Two key issues remain in a highly complex deal that may run for decades: enrichment of uranium, and the pace of the lifting of sanctions.

While Iran reportedly wants all sanctions lifted at once, the six world powers want a phased suspension to be sure that Iran would not renege on its commitments.

Furthermore, Iran wants to massively ramp up the number of enrichment centrifuges, in order, it says, to make fuel for a fleet of future reactors, while the West wants them dramatically reduced.

Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi stuck to this position on Thursday, saying Iran would increase its enrichment capacity to around 20 times its current ability within eight years.