When the bodies of three Israeli settlers – Aftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19 – were found on June 30 near Hebron in the southern West Bank, Israel went into a state of mourning and a wave of sympathy flowed in from around the world. The three had disappeared 18 days earlier in circumstances that remain unclear.

The entire episode, particularly after its grim ending, seemed to traumatize Israelis into ignoring harsh truths about the settlers and the militarization of their society. Amid a portrayal of the three as hapless youths, although one was a 19-year-old soldier, commentators have failed to provide badly needed context to the events. Few, if any, assigned the blame where it was most deserved – on expansionist policies which have sown hatred and bloodshed.

Before the discovery of the bodies, the real face of Netanyahu’s notoriously right-wing government was well-known. Few held Illusions about how "peaceful" an occupation could be if run by figures such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon. But because "children" – the term used by Netanyahu himself – were involved, even critics didn’t expect an exercise in political point-scoring.

There was sympathy elicited for the missing settlers case, but it quickly vanished in the face of an Israeli response (in the West Bank, Jerusalem and later in a full-scale war on Gaza) largely seen in the crucible of world opinion as disproportionate and cruel. Rather than being related to the tragic death of three youths, this response obviously reflected Netanyahu’s grand political calculations.

As mobs of Israeli Jews went out on an ethnic lynching spree in Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank that some likened to a "pogrom," occupation soldiers conducted a massive arrest campaign of hundreds of Palestinians, mostly Hamas members and supporters.

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New White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was on CNN yesterday defending Obama administration coverups.  He was asked about a letter from the Society of Professional Journalists and other organizations which scolded the White House for “politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies.”

Earnest proclaimed that he is “definitely committed” to helping “the president live up to his commitment to be the most transparent president in history.”  And Earnest said that Obama had “absolutely” lived up to that pledge thus far.

No word yet on whether this means Obama is on the verge of “coming clean” on his spying and killing.  But maybe Josh will explain at tomorrow’s press briefing what happened to all those IRS emails. And it would be real treat for Americans to finally hear what the hell is motivating Obama’s policies in the Middle East and other battlegrounds.

Four years ago, I wrote about how the George W. Administration left a legacy of far greater secrecy that subverts democracy and self-government: “The less people learn about government policies, the less control they will have over government action. By preventing people from knowing what government is doing, secrecy unleashes government.

Last month, I tallied some of Obama’s secret government claptrap and harumphed: “No president is entitled to blindfold the American public.”

The great Sipress cartoon from the new issue of the New Yorker captures kings’ and presidents’ attitude towards bothersome facts.  Presidents don’t have the prerogative to kill the historians, but suppressing the facts can often achieve the same goal.

On Twitter @jimbovard  & www.jimbovard.com

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Monster and maker meet again.

As the ISIS Sunni radicals, after proclaiming a new Caliphate, continue to conquer Iraqi towns, and the Al Nusra Front Sunni radicals proclaim a new Emirate in Syria, it is good to remember that the policy that led to this mess was initiated under the Bush Administration, with full cognizance of the possibility that it could result in severe terroristic and destabilizing blowback. It was in 2007 that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia launched what Seymour Hersh, who broke the story in The New Yorker, called “the Redirection.” Under this policy revolution, the U.S. and the Saudis (with Israel’s blessing and prodding) began trying to bolster Sunni radicals in an effort to “contain” the “Shiite resurgence” brought about by the U.S. empowerment of the Shiites in Iraq. It all started in Lebanon (emphasis added):

In Lebanon, the Administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda. (…)

The new strategy “is a major shift in American policy—it’s a sea change,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. The Sunni states “were petrified of a Shiite resurgence, and there was growing resentment with our gambling on the moderate Shiites in Iraq,” he said. “We cannot reverse the Shiite gain in Iraq, but we can contain it.”

“It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what’s the biggest danger—Iran or Sunni radicals,” Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written widely on Shiites, Iran, and Iraq, told me. “The Saudis and some in the Administration have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line.”

(As it turns out, as reported by Patrick Cockburn, not all of the Saudis embraced such a blowback-inviting policy, so it would be more accurate to call it a victory for the Prince Bandar bin Sultan line.) The fact that U.S. policymakers concluded that beleaguered Iran, with its long track record of not attacking a single country, is more of a danger than Sunni radicals, like the ones responsible for 9/11 and every other Al Qaeda attack, is an indication of just how little our overlords care about actually protecting us, as compared to pursuing regional power politics.

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The current Israeli onslaught on Gaza which so far resulted in 120 dead and counting, as Israel is attempting to a final blow to Hamas after many failed attempts, appears to have been planned in advance, regardless of developments on the ground. Following the abduction of three Israeli youth and their subsequent murder several weeks ago, Israel laid the blame on Hamas although the latter denied responsibility and said it wants calm with Israel. It then went on to conduct a major crackdown on the movement in the West Bank and arrested over 500 people. Israel is now launching a massive aerial bombing campaign on Gaza, claiming its goal is to eradicate Hamas. Hamas was a convenient target for the Israeli government that has been fretting over the fact that it joined a unity government with the PLO, which received international recognition. By framing Hamas as the culprit initially, Israel probably sought to disrupt the government and chose an escalation at a time when it was faced by increased international criticism as peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas collapsed.

In a way, the current Israeli onslaught on Gaza is not much different than the earlier aerial bombing campaigns that took place in 2009 and in 2012. Then, as now, the Israeli government claimed it was doing so to protect its civilians from rocket fire while failing to acknowledge the fact that the illegal blockade of Gaza, in which 1.8 million people are confined to a tiny strip and in which anyone who approaches a buffer zone next to the border is automatically shot, will mean that Palestinian will attempt to practice resistance with by available means. While Israel systematically attempts to gain international solidarity by asking the world what would they do if they were attacked by rockets, it does not ask the question of what would one do if confined to a blockaded area from which there is no escape and without a functioning alarm system. (Similarly, while Egypt has also closed its border with Gaza, Israel remains the occupying power in strip due to siege it imposes. It was also Israel, and not Egypt, that occupied the area in 1967). Then, as now, Israel claimed it was not targeting civilians intentionally although it was doing just that. Then, as now, the international community turned a blind eye to what a former Israeli pilot described as war-crimes, until the number of the dead became ‘unbearably’ high beyond what the international community can accept. Then, as now, Israel continuously violated the ceasefire it had with Hamas and at the same time ignored its own violations. Then, as now, Israel refused to negotiate directly with Hamas, although a rabbi of a West Bank settlement who has done so managed to achieve an agreeable cease-fire.

What is different, however, this time, is that even some in the US mainstream media that traditionally tends to unquestionably adopt Israel’s narrative, began to depict life in Gaza. The Washington Post, for example, posted a video of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip from the ground level, a perspective not often seen on the American press and issued a list of children killed. What is also different, this time, is that Israeli politicians have openly declared the entire Palestinian people to be the enemy, and radical right wing Israelis have staged demonstrations calling for "death to the Arabs". Indeed, the brutal burning to death of a Palestinian child, carried out by Israeli radicals, has indicated the degree to which the anti-Arab incitement has been that severe that the Israeli government may be losing control of the situation. Additionally, this time, unlike in earlier events, Hamas leader Khaled Masha’al issued a statement directly to Israelis arguing they should blame Netanyahu for their current predicament. This time too, unlike in previous attempts, an Israeli ground invasion in Gaza, and even a recapturing of the entire strip, is a realistic possibility. While it is hard to say whether Israel has escalated the situation because of its desire to get rid of Hamas or due to its interest in gas reserves found near the Gaza coast, Israeli citizens, who are rightfully fearful due to the constant rocket attacks, are for the most part still united behind the Israeli government’s "Protective Edge" operation, just as they support "Pillar of Cloud" and "Cast Lead" although none of the previous operations has provided them with security or a lasting peace. To what degree the international community will continue to support Israel’s actions in Gaza remains to be seen.

Joshua Tartakovsky is an Israeli-American independent journalist and a graduate of Brown University and LSE.

Numerous headlines in mainstream American coverage of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip feature language about Israelis and Palestinians “exchanging rocket fire,” which conveys to the American public the sense that it is a matter of a “battle” between two neighboring “powers,” instead of the bombardment of an occupied territory; as if there was any kind of equivalence between the 400 tons of explosives that have rained down from Israeli jet planes, and the primitive, unguided rockets being lobbed from Gaza. The former has, in just a few days already killed over 100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and including at least 13 children. The latter has resulted in zero Israeli deaths, and only 7 injuries.

It’s rather like a scrum of cops assaulting a prostrate man with batons and tasers, and the media calling that a “fight” instead of a beating, because the man, as he flailed about under the blows raining down on him, kicked the leg one of the cops.

The Palestinians aren’t allowed to leave; the Gaza Strip is a giant open-air prison camp. They have no air raid shelters or sirens. They are like fish in a barrel, being blasted by a shotgun from above. It’s like some of the fish in the barrel pathetically spitting water at the gunman, and calling that a “shooting battle.” Indeed one has to wonder, if the economic blockade and the destruction wrought upon the Palestinians were to reduce them to such penury that they no longer had enough materials for rockets, and were reduced to only throwing rocks while continuing to have 1-ton smart-bombs dropped on their houses, would the American mainstream media call the affair an “exchange of projectiles”?

From the Institute for Public Accuracy:

In an unprecedented push for whistleblowing in the nation’s capital, the new organization ExposeFacts announced today that 13 billboards have gone up near Capitol Hill, the Justice Department, the White House, the Government Accountability Office, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department, a popular bookstore at Dupont Circle and other prominent locations.

The six-foot billboards display a message from Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg: “Don’t do what I did. Don’t wait until a new war has started, don’t wait until thousands more have died, before you tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers. You might save a war’s worth of lives.”

Ellsberg is a member of the advisory board of ExposeFacts, which is encouraging whistleblowers to “disclose information that citizens need to make truly informed decisions in a democracy.” He joined with NSA, State Department, EPA and Justice Department whistleblowers to help launch the new organization, which is part of the nonprofit Institute for Public Accuracy.

ExposeFacts “aims to shed light on concealed activities that are relevant to human rights, corporate malfeasance, the environment, civil liberties and war,” the group says. The ExposeFacts.org site features the whistleblower submission system known as “SecureDrop,” provided by the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

To see the billboard, click here.
For details on locations of the billboard, click here.

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