Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Israel Officially Silences Al-Jazeera

The Israeli government has taken an official decision to silence Al-Jazeera and restrict its activities in Israel. As a result of this directive:

- Israel will not renew the visas of Al Jazeera's non-Israeli employees or grant visas to new employees;
- Station representatives will have reduced accessibility to government and military bodies, and will not be allowed into briefings or press conferences;
- Al-Jazeera will have access to only three official spokespeople - those of the Prime Minister's Office, Foreign Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces. The information directorate has also provided a non-binding instruction to Knesset members and ministers not to grant interviews or otherwise cooperate with Al Jazeera.

See Ha'aretz here.

A Foreign Ministry official commenting on the government's decision nevertheless insisted, "Israel believes in freedom of the press and in the public's right to know".

Although Israel claims that this decision is a response to Qatar's closing of the Israeli trade office in Doha, another valid (unstated) reason is Al-Jazeera's stellar coverage of the war in Gaza. That coverage spoke to the world of Israeli atrocities on Gaza's population and infrastructure. It showed the world how ugly war can get and turned even those otherwise supportive of Israel's 'war on terror' less swayed by Israel's military tactics and its general future direction. To restrict Al-Jazeera's coverage post war seems only due punishment.

And so silencing of the media in Israel continues.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Hannibal Lives, Israeli Soldiers Die, in Gaza

The Hannibal Procedure, an Israeli military operation in effect since 1986, reads like this: Better a dead Israeli soldier than a captured one.

This post draws on the great investigative journalistic work of Sara Leibovich-Dar here and Uri Avnery's followup article here.

According to Leibovich, in 1986 three senior officers of the Northern Command drew up 'The Hannibal Procedure' as a means of tackling abductions - the three were Yossi Peled, Gabi Ashkenazi and Yaakov Amidror. The need for the procedure arose after the abduction of the soldiers Yosef Fink and Rafael Alsheikh in February of that year.

Testimonies indicate that the Hannibal procedure was fully activated when three soldiers - Sergeant Benny Avraham and Staff Sergeants Omar Sawid and Adi Avitan - were abducted in the Har Dov region along the Lebanon border on October 7, 2000. In line with the procedure, the army was commanded to open fire at 26 vehicles that they suspected of carrying the soldiers.

Leibovich writes that there was huge opposition within the army to the procedure, with many unable to grasp how they were being called upon to kill their comrades.

Why institute such a procedure? According to Avnery, 'when an Israeli soldier is taken prisoner, a huge public demand arises to bring him home, even at the cost of releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. In May 1985, Israel released 1150 Palestinians in return for three Israeli prisoners-of-war, in an exchange known as the "Jibril deal"'. The army was determined not to allow a repeat scenario.

It seems that Hannibal was around in Gaza. See my post on January 26 speaking of how Israeli soldiers confirmed being given orders to kill themselves over being taken hostage in Gaza.

The fact that the Hannibal procedure has been in operation since the mid-80's, continued as of 2003 in Lebanon in spite of official army word that the procedure had been halted, and that the Israeli Military Censor has prevented most publications on the issue would give credence to Hamas' assertion (and Israel's denial) that two kidnapping operations of Israeli soldiers did take place, the first on the third day of the ground invasion and the second on January 5, and that in both cases, the Israeli air force struck and killed the kidnappers and the kidnapped - their own soldiers.

Speaking of the procedure to Leibovich, Peled asserts, "Decisions have to be made that endanger soldiers; sometimes there is no choice. The army is supposed to maintain the state's security as the top priority, not the lives of its soldiers".

In light of war crimes charges being brought against IDF operations in Gaza, Barak promises to provide legal aid to soldiers and to support what he insists is the
"most moral army in the world".