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Home arrow Blog arrow April 2010 arrow April 13, 2010

April 13, 2010
April 13, 2010: Regarding Israel's soul   


 
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Mossad Operation Threatened Against Reporter

Whistleblowing Israeli Journalist Treated as "Fugitive Felon"

 

By JONATHAN COOK

April 13, 2010

 

An Israeli journalist who went into hiding after writing a series of reports showing lawbreaking approved by Israeli army commanders faces a lengthy jail term for espionage if caught, as Israeli security services warned at the weekend they would “remove the gloves” to track him down.

 

The Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, said it was treating Uri Blau, a reporter with the liberal Haaretz daily newspaper who has gone underground in London, as a “fugitive felon” and that a warrant for his arrest had been issued.

 

Options being considered are an extradition request to the British authorities or, if that fails, a secret operation by Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, to smuggle him back, according to Maariv, a right-wing newspaper.

 

It was revealed yesterday that Mr Blau’s informant, Anat Kamm, 23, a former conscript soldier who copied hundreds of classified documents during her military service, had confessed shortly after her arrest in December to doing so to expose “war crimes”.

 

The Shin Bet claims that Mr Blau is holding hundreds of classified documents, including some reported to relate to Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s attack on Gaza in winter 2008 in which the army is widely believed to have violated the rules of war.

 

Other documents, the basis of a Haaretz investigation published in 2008, concern a meeting between the head of the army, Gabi Ashkenazi, and the Shin Bet in which it was agreed to ignore a court ruling and continue carrying out executions of Palestinian leaders in the occupied territories.

 

Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet, who has said his organisation was previously “too sensitive with the investigation”, is now demanding that Mr Blau reveal his entire document archive and take a lie-detector test on his return to identify his sources, according to Haaretz. The newspaper and its lawyers have recommended that he remain in hiding to protect his informants.

 

Haaretz has also revealed that, in a highly unusual move shortly before Israel’s attack on Gaza, it agreed to pull a printed edition after the army demanded at the last minute that one of Mr Blau’s stories not be published. His report had already passed the military censor, which checks that articles do not endanger national security.

 

Lawyers and human rights groups fear that the army and Shin Bet are trying to silence investigative journalists and send a warning to other correspondents not to follow in Mr Blau’s path.

 

“We have a dangerous precedent here, whereby the handing over of material to an Israeli newspaper … is seen by the prosecutor’s office as equivalent to contact with a foreign agent,” said Eitan Lehman, Ms Kamm’s lawyer. “The very notion of presenting information to the Israeli public alone is taken as an intention to hurt national security.”

 

The Shin Bet’s determination to arrest Mr Blau was revealed after a blanket gag order was lifted late last week on Ms Kamm’s case. She has been under house arrest since December. She has admitted copying hundreds of classified documents while serving in the office of Brig Gen Yair Naveh, in charge of operations in the West Bank, between 2005 and 2007.

 

Under an agreement with the Shin Bet last year, Haaretz and Mr Blau handed over 50 documents and agreed to the destruction of Mr Blau’s computer.

 

Both sides accuse the other of subsequently reneging on the deal: the Shin Bet says Mr Blau secretly kept other documents copied by Ms Kamm that could be useful to Israel’s enemies; while Mr Blau says the Shin Bet used the returned documents to track down Ms Kamm, his source, after assurances that they would not do so.

 

Haaretz said Mr Blau fears that they will try to identify his other informants if he hands over his archive.

 

Mr Blau learnt of his predicament in December, while out of the country on holiday. He said a friend called to warn that the Shin Bet had broken into his home and ransacked it. He later learnt they had been monitoring his telephone, e-mail and computer for many months.

 

In a move that has baffled many observers, the Shin Bet revealed last week that Mr Blau was hiding in London, despite the threat that it would make him an easier target for other countries’ intelligence agencies.

 

Amir Mizroch, an analyst with the right-wing Jerusalem Post newspaper, noted that it was as if Israel’s security services were “saying to Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Hizbullah and Iranian intelligence agents in London: ‘Yalla, be our guests, go get Uri Blau’.” He added that the real goal might be to flush out Mr Blau so that he would seek sanctuary at the Israeli embassy.

 

Ms Kamm is charged with espionage with intent to harm national security, the harshest indictment possible and one that could land in her jail for 25 years. Yesterday another of her lawyers, Avigdor Feldman, appealed to Mr Blau to return to Israel and give back the documents to help “minimise the affair”.

 

“The real question is whether this exceptionally heavy-handed approach is designed only to get back Kamm’s documents or go after Blau and his other sources,” said Jeff Halper, an Israeli analyst. “It may be that Kamm is the excuse the security services need to identify Blau’s circle of informants.”

 

Mr Blau has already published several stories, apparently based on Ms Kamm’s documents, showing that the army command approved policies that not only broke international law but also violated the rulings of Israel’s courts.

 

His reports have included revelations that senior commanders approved extra-judicial assassinations in the occupied territories that were almost certain to kill Palestinian bystanders; that, in violation of a commitment to the high court, the army issued orders to execute wanted Palestinians even if they could be safely captured; and that the defence ministry compiled a secret report showing that the great majority of settlements in the West Bank were illegal even under Israeli law.

 

Although the original stories date to 2008, the army issued a statement belatedly this week that Mr Blau’s reports were “outrageous and misleading”. No senior commanders have been charged over the army’s lawbreaking activities.

 

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, said its research had shown that “in many cases soldiers have been conducting themselves in the territories as if they were on a hit mission, as opposed to arrest operations”.

 

It added that the authorities had “rushed to investigate the leak and chose to ignore the severe suspicions of blatant wrongdoings depicted in those documents”.

 

A group of senior journalists established a petition this week calling for Mr Blau to be spared a trial: “So far, the authorities have not prosecuted journalists for holding secret information, which most of us have had in one form or another. This policy by the prosecution reflects, in our view, an imbalance between journalistic freedom, the freedom of expression and the need for security.”

 

However, media coverage of the case in Israel has been largely hostile. Yuval Elbashan, a lawyer, wrote in Haaretz yesterday that Mr Blau’s fellow military reporters and analysts had in the past few days abandoned their colleague and proven “their loyalty to the [security] system as the lowliest of its servants”.

 

One, Yossi Yehoshua, a military correspondent with the country’s largest-circulation newspaper, Yedioth Aharonoth, who is said to have been approached by Ms Kamm before she turned to Mr Blau, is due to testify against her in her trial due next month.

 

Chat forums and talkback columns also suggest little sympathy among the Israeli public for either Ms Kamm or Mr Blau. Several Hebrew websites show pictures of Ms Kamm behind bars or next to a hangman’s noose.

 

A report on Israel National News, a news service for settlers, alleged that Ms Kamm had been under the influence of “rabidly left-wing“ professors at Tel Aviv University when she handed over the documents to the Haaretz reporter.

 

A shorter version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

 


http://www.jkcook.net/Articles3/0475.htm




The Dark Underbelly of Israel's Security State

By Jonathan Cook -Nazareth

What is misleadingly being called in Israel the 'Anat Kamm espionage affair' is quickly revealing the dark underbelly of a nation that has worshipped for decades at the altar of a security state.


Next week 23-year-old Kamm is due to stand trial for her life -- or rather the state's demand that she serve a life sentence for passing secret documents to an Israeli reporter, Uri Blau, of the liberal Haaretz daily. She is charged with spying.

Blau himself is in hiding in London, facing, if not a Mossad hit squad, at least the stringent efforts of Israel's security services to get him back to Israel over the opposition of his editors, who fear he will be put away too.

This episode has been dragging on behind the scenes for months, since at least December, when Kamm was placed under house arrest pending the trial.

Not a word about the case leaked in Israel until this week when the security services, who had won from the courts a blanket gag order -- a gag on the gag, so to speak -- were forced to reverse course when foreign bloggers began making the restrictions futile. Hebrew pages on Facebook had already laid out the bare bones of the story.

So, now that much of the case is out in the light, what are the crimes committed by Kamm and Blau?

During her conscription, Kamm copied possibly hundreds of army documents that revealed systematic law-breaking by the Israeli high command operating in the occupied Palestinian territories, including orders to ignore court rulings. She was working at the time in the office of Brig Gen Yair Naveh, who is in charge of operations in the West Bank.

Blau's crime is that he published a series of scoops based on her leaked information that have highly embarrassed senior Israeli officers by showing their contempt for the rule of law.

His reports included revelations that the senior command had approved targeting Palestinian bystanders during the military's extra-judicial assassinations in the occupied territories; that, in violation of a commitment to the high court, the army had issued orders to execute wanted Palestinians even if they could be safely apprehended; and that the defence ministry had a compiled a secret report showing that the great majority of settlements in the West Bank were illegal even under Israeli law (all are illegal in international law).

In a properly democratic country, Kamm would have an honorable defence against the charges, of being a whistle-blower rather than a spy, and Blau would be winning journalism prizes not huddling away in exile.

But this is Israel. Here, despite a desperate last-stand for the principles of free speech and the rule of law in the pages of the Haaretz newspaper today, which is itself in the firing line over its role, there is almost no public sympathy for Kamm or even Blau.

The pair are already being described, both by officials and in chat forums and talkback columns, as traitors who should be jailed, disappeared or executed for the crime of endangering the state.

The telling comparison being made is to Mordechai Vanunu, the former technician at the Dimona nuclear plant who exposed Israel's secret nuclear arsenal. Inside Israel, he is universally reviled to this day, having spent nearly two decades in harsh confinement. He is still under a loose house arrest, denied the chance to leave the country. Read more...

Blau and Kamm have every reason to be worried they may share a similar fate. Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet, Israel's secret police, which has been leading the investigation, said yesterday that they had been too "sensitive to the media world" in pursuing the case for so long and that the Shin Bet would now "remove its gloves".

Maybe that explains why Kamm's home address was still visible on the charge sheet published yesterday, putting her life in danger from one of those crazed talkbackers.

It certainly echoes warnings we have had before from the Shin Bet about how it operates.

Much like Blau, Azmi Bishara, once head of a leading Arab party in Israel, is today living in exile after the Shin Bet put him in their sights. He had been campaigning for democratic reforms that would make Israel a "state of all its citizens" rather than a Jewish state.

While he was abroad in 2007, the Shin Bet announced that he would be put on trial for treason when he returned, supposedly because he had had contacts with Hizbullah during Israel's attack on Lebanon in 2006.

Few experts believe Bishara could have had any useful information for Hizbullah, but the Shin Bet's goals and modus operandi were revealed later by Diskin in a letter on its attitude to Bishara and his democratisation campaign. The Shin Bet was there, he said, to thwart the activities of groups or individuals who threatened the state's Jewish character "even if such activity is sanctioned by the law".

Diskin called this the principle of "a democracy defending itself" when it was really a case of Jewish leaders in a state based on Jewish privilege protecting those privileges. This time it is about the leaders of Israel's massive security industry protecting their privileges in a security state by silencing witnesses to their crimes and keeping ordinary citizens in ignorance.

Justifying his decision to "take the gloves off" in the case of Kamm and Blau, Diskin said: "It is a dream of every enemy state to get its hands on these kinds of documents" -- that is, documents proving that the Israeli army has repeatedly broken the country's laws, in addition, of course, to its systematic violations of international law.

Diskin claims that national security has been put at risk, even though the reports Blau based on the documents -- and even the documents themselves -- were presented to, and approved by, the military censor for publication. The censor can restrict publication based only on national security concerns, unlike Diskin, the army senior command and the government, who obey other kinds of concerns.

Diskin knows there is every chance he will get away with his ploy because of a brainwashed Israeli public, a largely patriotic media and a supine judiciary.

The two judges who oversaw the months of gagging orders to silence any press discussion of this case did so on the say-so of the Shin Bet that there were vital national security issues at stake. Both judges are stalwarts of Israel's enormous security industry.

Einat Ron was appointed a civilian judge in 2007 after working her way up the ranks of the military legal establishment, there to give a legal gloss to the occupation.

Notoriously in 2003, when she was the chief military prosecutor, she secretly proposed various fabrications to the army so that it could cover up the killing of an 11-year-old Palestinian boy, Khalil al-Mughrabi, two years earlier. Her role only came to light because a secret report into the boy's death was mistakenly attached to the army's letter to an Israeli human rights group.

The other judge is Ze'ev Hammer, who finally overturned the gag order this week -- but only after a former supreme court judge, Dalia Dorner, now the head of Israel's Press Council, belatedly heaped scorn on it. She argued that, with so much discussion of the case outside Israel, the world was getting the impression that Israel flouted democratic norms.

Judge Hammer has his own distinguished place in Israel's security industry, according to Israeli analyst Dimi Reider. During his eight years of legal study, Hammer worked for both the Shin Bet and Israel's Mossad spy agency.

Judge Hammer and Judge Ron are deeply implicated in the same criminal outfit -- the Israeli security establishment -- that is now trying to cover up the tracks that lead directly to its door. Kamm is doubtless wondering what similar vested interests the judges who hear her case next week will not be declaring.

Writing in Haaretz today, Blau said he had been warned "that if I return to Israel I could be silenced for ever, and that I would be charged for crimes related to espionage". He concluded that "this isn't only a war for my personal freedom but for Israel's image".

He should leave worrying about Israel's image to Netanyahu, Diskin and judges like Dorner. That was why the gag order was enforced in the first place.

This is not a battle for Israel's image; it's a battle for what is left of its soul.

- Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair" He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at his website at: www.jkcook.net.



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