By: Adam Hudson, Al Akhbar
The United States and Israel have “shared values” but not when it comes to upholding democracy and the rule of law. Their shared values are perpetual war, torture, indefinite detention, and military courts. Guantanamo is a perfect example of this. Both states have been in a state of perpetual war for quite some time with Israel against the Palestinians since its founding in 1948 while the U.S. can trace back its war to its founding in 1776 and the colonization of Native American lands. Today’s global war on terror is the latest chapter in that saga. Under perpetual war, the United States and Israel can justify a litany of draconian policies, such as indefinite detention, torture, and extrajudicial killing.
International human rights law prohibits torture and detention without charge or trial. The UN Convention Against Torture strictly forbids torture, even in “exceptional circumstances” like “a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency.” Meanwhile, article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.” The rights to a fair trial, due process, and to be free from torture and inhumane treatment are basic human rights that governments are obliged to uphold. Yet, both the United States and Israel practice indefinite detention – also known as “administrative detention” in Israel – and torture.
Administrative detention and torture in Israel
Israel has detained thousands of Palestinians in the occupied territories without charge or trial over the years “for periods ranging from several months to several years,” according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. B’Tselem figures also report that, “At the end of May 2014, 196 Palestinian administrative detainees were held in facilities run by the Israel Prison Service (IPS).” Israel recently locked up over 250 Palestinians in administrative detention as part of its operation to find the three missing but killed Israeli settlers, putting the current population at around 450.
Three Israeli laws allow and regulate Israel’s administrative detention powers – the Administrative Detention Order, the Emergency Powers (Detention) Law, and the Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law.
The Administrative Detention Order, which applies to the West Bank except East Jerusalem, allows military commanders to detain a person for a maximum of six months “for reasons to do with regional security or public security.” Commanders can repeatedly add six months of administrative detention, since there is no limit on extensions. The 1979 Emergency Powers Law allows the defense minister to detain a person for up to six months, like the Order, and extend the detention repeatedly six months at a time. It applies to Israeli residents, residents living in Israeli occupied territories, and residents of other countries, such as Lebanon. However, this law grants detainees more protections than the Order does. The 2002 Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law allows for the administrative detention of a civilian who directly or indirectly participates in hostilities against Israel or is a member of a force that does so. Under this law, persons can be detained for an unlimited period of time. This law is used to detain Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.
While the occupation is illegal and unjust, Israel, as an occupying power, has an international legal responsibility to uphold the welfare of Palestinians living under its control. International humanitarian law permits some internment (or detention without charge or trial) in wartime but only “for imperative reasons of security,” according to Article 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Internment [detention] also has to be done on a case-by-case basis rather than implemented widely.
B’Tselem names the numerous ways in which Israel’s use of administrative detention violates its international legal responsibilities as an occupying power. One is its “[e]xtremely extensive use” in contravention of international law. “Administrative detention has become routine practice, rather than an exceptional measure,” according to B’Tselem. Relatedly, administrative detention is used as “an alternative to criminal proceedings” with authorities using it “as a quick and efficient alternative to criminal trial, primarily when they do not have sufficient evidence to charge the individual, or when they do not want to reveal their evidence.” Administrative detention also lacks due process as detainees “are not provided meaningful information on the reasons for their detention and are not given an opportunity to refute the suspicions against them.” Additionally, detention periods are repeatedly extended, which leaves Palestinians detained for several months to years without charge or trial. Israel has also used administrative detention against political opponents, including non-violent political activists. Finally, many Palestinian administrative detainees are held inside Israel.
In 1999, Israel’s High Court of Justice issued a ruling that prohibited interrogators from using methods of torture as a means of interrogation. Before that ruling, Israeli security forces regularly “tortured thousands of Palestinian detainees each year,” according to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. In 1987, an Israeli government commission, headed by former Supreme Court President Moshe Landau, issued a report that provided a framework for Israel’s torture regime. The Landau Commission recommended Shin Bet interrogators utilize torture methods, namely “psychological pressure” and a “moderate degree of physical pressure,” against people suspected of “hostile terrorist activity.” It argued that “an effective interrogation is impossible” without some physical force.
Despite the High Court’s 1999 ban on torture, rights groups like the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) point out that the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet and other law enforcement agencies still commit acts of torture. The PCATI largely relied on testimonies from Palestinian prisoners and forensic evaluations. In response, the Shin Bet denies it commits torture and argues that its interrogation methods are not only lawful but save lives.
Methods of torture and ill treatment of Palestinian prisoners since 1999, according to the PCATI, include “sleep deprivation, binding to a chair in painful positions, beatings, slapping, kicking, threats, verbal abuse and degradation,” special methods like “bending the body into painful positions,” “forcing the interrogee to crouch in a frog-like position (‘kambaz’), choking, shaking and other violent and degrading acts (hair-pulling, spitting, etc.),” and psychological torture. Prisoners, some of whom are children, in solitary confinement often face “sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme heat and cold, permanent exposure to artificial light, detention in sub-standard conditions.”
The High Court’s ruling has loopholes for Israeli intelligence to circumvent the torture ban. One is the “necessity defense”, which, according to PCATI, “under certain circumstances, exempts interrogators who employ illegal interrogation techniques, including physical violence, from criminal responsibility.” Another is well-known the “ticking bomb” scenario, where torture is allowed to prevent an imminent threat, such as a bomb about to explode. PCATI argues that the government exploited this loophole to declare more detainees ticking time bombs and overstepping the court’s intended scope. PCATI also accused the Shin Bet “taking advantage of the fact that only sleep deprivation for the sake of deprivation is illegal, not sleep deprivation indirectly caused from an extended interrogation,” according to the Jerusalem Post.
Guantanamo, U.S. global war on terror
The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed shortly after 9/11, authorizes the President of the United States “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the 9/11 terrorist attacks “or harbored such organizations or persons.” This bill gives the United States wide power to wage perpetual war around the world against alleged terrorist groups.
When the Obama administration entered office, it not only kept the AUMF in place, but expanded the bill’s scope to continue the global war on terror. The Obama administration interprets the AUMF to include “associated forces” – essentially co-belligerents – of al-Qaeda, even though the bill does not include those words. Last year, the Washington Post reported that Obama administration officials were debating whether the AUMF could be stretched to include “associates of associates” of al-Qaeda, including groups like al-Nusra Front in Syria or Ansar al-Sharia in North Africa. Thus, Obama has shifted the war on terror’s goalposts and continued its perpetuity.
The AUMF is the legal linchpin for the United States’ global war on terror. It justifies the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, indefinite detention, kill-or-capture raids, extraordinary rendition, and drone strikes. But it is not the only legal measure for doing so. Last year, a week before President Obama’s national security speech, Obama administration officials told the Senate that even without AUMF, the government could use other laws to continue lethal operations against suspected terrorists, such as self-defense under international law. While both states engage in perpetual war under the language of “fighting terror,” Israel’s battlefield mostly extends to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while the United States’ is the entire world.
The Guantanamo Bay detention facility was opened in 2002, as the global war on terror began. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, it provided bounties to tribal allies and Pakistani security forces to capture anyone believed to be connected with al-Qaeda or the Taliban and send them to American forces. This led to large swaths of low-level fighters and guys at the wrong place at the wrong time getting snatched up thanks to informants looking for money or scores to settle with their enemies. A Seton Hall study pointed out that only 5 percent of Guantanamo detainees were captured by U.S. forces, while 86 percent were captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and handed to the United States.
Presently, there are 149 men detained in Guantanamo. Of those, 78 are cleared for release, 38 are designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial, 6 currently being tried in military commissions, and 36 who could go to trial. However, Guantanamo chief prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins told reporters last summer that 20 could be “realistically prosecuted.”
Recently, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress that the military intends to release six Guantanamo detainees to Uruguay – four of whom are Syrian, one is Palestinian, and the other is Tunisian. All six have been cleared for release for over four years. This would bring the number of detainees cleared for release down to 72 and total Guantanamo inmate population to 143. Meanwhile, the U.S. government deems the indefinite detainees too difficult to prosecute, as there is little to no admissible evidence against them (some was obtained through torture), but too dangerous to release. According to Martins, these indefinite detainees will remain in Guantanamo “until the end of hostilities” against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and “associated forces.” Thus making them prisoners of war in an endless war.
In 2012, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), sections of which allow the military to indefinitely detain American citizens on US soil who allegedly “substantially supported al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces.” When Obama stepped into office, he pledged to close the U.S. prison in Guantanamo. But the other half of his plan was less advertised. In order to close Guantanamo, Obama’s original plan was to to move some Guantanamo detainees to an Illinois prison. Moreover, his administration decided, early on, to continue utilizing indefinite detention, much to the chagrin of civil liberties groups. However, Congress, particularly members of the Republican Party, fought against this plan not out of opposition to indefinite detention but because they did not want “terrorists” on American soil. This past May, the Obama administration’s legal team told Congress that if Guantanamo detainees “were relocated to a prison inside the United States, it is unlikely that a court would order their release onto domestic soil,” reported The New York Times.
Despite the fear-mongering of releasing “terrorist” from Guantanamo, according to a New America Foundation study, only 4 percent of released Guantanamo detainees engage in “militant activities against U.S. targets.”
Abuses in Guantanamo, according to a 2006 Center for Constitutional Rights report, include beatings, shackling, solitary confinement, sexual harassment and rape, sleep deprivation, medical abuse, and religious and cultural humiliation. Some Guantanamo detainees were detained in secret CIA prisons before arriving at the U.S. military prison in Cuba. An ICRC report on the treatment of 14 “high value” detainees held in CIA black sites revealed that torture techniques in the secret prisons included sleep and food deprivation, playing of loud music, waterboarding, beatings, stress positions, cold temperatures and water, prolonged shackling, threats, and forced shaving. Around 100 detainees were held in CIA black sites and the majority of them were tortured.
However, torture is nothing new in U.S. foreign policy. A 1963 CIA interrogation manual instructs interrogators to utilize similar torture methods during the Cold War that have been used in the War on Terror.
To protest their indefinite detention and prison conditions, last year, Guantanamo detainees went on hunger strike, which launched the issue back into public consciousness. At its height, over 100 prisoners went on hunger strike. Hunger strikers were punished through force-feeding, a harsh procedure that involves shoving a tube up someone’s nose and down their esophagus in order to feed them. This practice violates medical ethics and amounts to torture.
While the protest fizzled last year, dozens of Guantanamo prisoners reportedly remain on hunger strike. However, since the military instituted a media blackout on releasing hunger strike numbers, it’s hard to know how many.
Last year, officials from the Israeli Medical Association were invited to the United States to advise American policymakers on how to deal with hunger-striking Guantanamo detainees. The Israeli doctors shared their experiences dealing with hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners.
Presently, a draft bill allowing Israeli prison authorities to force-feed prisoners sits in the Israeli Knesset. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is pressing strongly for the bill’s passage, using the United States’ infamous force-feeding of prisoners in Guantanamo as a justification. According to Israel’s Channel 2 News, in order to justify the bill, Netanyahu noted “in Guantanamo the Americans are using the method of force-feeding too.” Two months ago, dozens of Palestinians prisoners ended their 63-day-long hunger strike. But Israeli leaders like Netanyahu certainly see force-feeding as a useful tool to deal with future hunger strikes.
Military courts in Israel and Guantanamo
To prosecute Palestinians in the occupied territories, Israel utilizes a military court system. Military tribunals are typically used in wartime, particularly by occupying forces. At the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the United States erected a military court system, at the beginning of the global war on terror, to prosecute suspected terrorists. Currently the defendants include Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the suspected mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing, and the five alleged plotters of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The military court systems in Israel and at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay each have their own unique, byzantine features. However, they do share a number of notable traits.
One commonality is the allowance of coerced evidence. In Professor Lisa Hajjar’s Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza (University of California Press, Ltd. 2005, p. 68-69), she writes that interrogations, mostly carried out by Shin Bet but sometimes the IDF and police, “feed the legal process by procuring confessions that are then turned over to police and prosecutors.” Interrogations occur in “inaccessible sites,” are “conducted by secret agents,” and commonly involve torture methods and other harsh treatment. A Defence for Children International/Palestine Section (DCI-Palestine) report on the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military courts points out that, “According to DCI-Palestine lawyers that represent children in Israeli military courts, evidence is rarely excluded that is obtained through force or coercion.”
In the Guantanamo military commissions, evidence obtained through torture is prohibited. However, coerced evidence is still allowed.
Another commonality is the use of secret or classified evidence. In the Israeli military court system, “Secret evidence is always the basis for administrative detention (i.e. incarceration without trial). Within the military court system, prosecutors can use secret evidence at extension-of-detention hearings to support their request that judges remand detainees. Secret evidence can also serve as a basis for charges,” according to Lisa Hajjar (Ibid., p. 110).
Secret evidence is unavailable to both defense lawyers and defendants. “[T]he defense is afforded no opportunity to know the contents or contest the veracity of the evidence directly,” which “taints the legal process” as a result, writes Hajjar (Ibid., p. 111).
The use of classified evidence has been a major issue in the Guantanamo military commissions system. In the commissions system, a protective order prohibits defense attorneys from disclosing classified information to unauthorized parties, including their clients, the press, and nongovernmental bodies. Defense attorneys argue that this undermines efforts to seek redress for torture victims, such as their clients, which is a right under international law. Additionally, defendants can be excluded from pretrial hearings in which classified evidence used against them will be discussed. Much of that classified information relates to how the detainees were treated in CIA custody. All six detainees who are being prosecuted in the military commissions system were detained and tortured in CIA black sites before they were sent to Guantanamo in 2006. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times, while al-Nashiri was waterboarded and threatened with a gun and power drill. Defense attorneys in the respective cases argue that their clients’ torture is mitigating evidence and have been fighting for further disclosure.
Not only is the American-Israeli alliance characterized by $3 billion in yearly aid from the United States to Israel, along with unyielding political and diplomatic support, it is also characterized by shared values in perpetual war and indefinite detention.
Adam Hudson is a freelance journalist and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He covers U.S. national security, war and peace issues, Guantanamo, human rights, police brutality, and institutional racism. He tweets @adamhudson5
On August 31, Israel’s Civil Administration announced confiscation of around 1,000 acres of privately owned Palestinian land.
It lawlessly declared it State Land. It’s to establish a Gva’ot settlement. It’s located south of Bethlehem. It’s in the Southern West Bank.
Peace Now calls itself “the leading voice of Israeli public pressure for peace.” It called Israel’s action “unprecedented.”
In 1984, Gva’ot was established as a military base. Earlier, Israel’s Housing Ministry planned to build 15,000 units. The idea was to establish a city in Gva’ot.
Smaller plans substituted. The new announcement expands Gva’ot. It’ll become a new settlement. It may connect to the Green Line.
Peace Now called Sunday’s announcement “proof (that) Netanyahu does not (want) a new ‘Diplomatic Horizon’ but” intends blocking Palestinian self-determination.
He and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon bear full responsibility for Sunday’s declaration. It “cannot pass without their approval,” said Peace Now.
By confiscating another 1,000 acres of privately owned Palestinian land, they “prove(d) again that violence delivers Israeli concessions while nonviolence results in settlement expansion(s).”
Peace Now official Hagit Ofran believes “Netanyahu will carry out a lot of expansion(s) because of the pressure he feels from his right wing and the feeling that the (Gaza) war did not end up with many successes.”
Confiscated land belongs to five Palestinian villages. They include Jaba, Surif, Wadi Fukin, Husan and Nahalin. They lie between the Etzion settlement bloc and Jerusalem.
At issue is connecting Etzion to Jerusalem and its surrounding area. Last year, Israel sought bids for 1,000 housing units on the site.
Over 500 are being built. Ten families reside on the site. Many more will follow.
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh urged Israel to cancel the takeover. “This decision will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza,” he said.
Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi called Sunday’s announcement a “deliberate intent to wipe out any Palestinian presence on the land and to willfully impose a de facto one-state solution.”
Since mid-June, Israel announced nearly 1,500 new settlement units. They’re intended for about 6,000 West Bank settlers.
They’re generally built on hills. They’re located in and around Palestinian towns and villages.
They encircle them. They isolate them. They make a viable Palestinian state impossible.
Official Israeli policy goes all-out to prevent it. It intends confiscating all valued parts of Judea and Samaria.
It wants maximum Jews and minimum Arabs. It ignores international law in the process.
Fourth Geneva’s Article 49 prohibits occupying powers from transferring its citizens from its own territory to land it occupies.
Hague Regulations ban occupying powers from making permanent changes in occupied areas they control unless what’s done benefits the entire local population.
An exception is made in cases of verifiable military necessity. None exists in this case.
Establishing settlements violate fundamental Palestinian rights. They’re enshrined in international human rights law.
Settlements prevent self-determination. They deny equality. They block free movement. They benefit the occupying power at the expense of the local population.
By legal, military and administrative means, Israel prohibits Palestinian construction and development on about 40% of West Bank land.
It includes about 70% of Area C where Israel maintains full control.
Off-limit areas include:
Since 1967, Israel established 125 West Bank settlements, 100 outposts, and 12 neighborhoods.
Settler enclaves were built in East Jerusalem areas. They include the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, Silwan, Sheikh Jarrach, Mount of Olives, Ras al-Amud, Abu Dis, and Jabal al-Mukabber.
In 2005, 16 Gaza settlements were dismantled as part of Israel’s disengagement plan. Residents were shifted to other settlement locations.
Occupied Palestine reflects militarized colonization and discriminatory apartheid. It’s worse than what South Africa experienced. Separate and unequal is official Israeli policy.
Civil law governs settlers. Military orders deprive Palestinians of all fundamental rights. They have no control over their daily lives. Their land is systematically stolen.
Since Oslo, settler population tripled from around 200,000 in 1993 to about 600,000 today.
It’s growing exponentially. It’s on stolen Palestinian land. It doesn’t matter. Israel operates unaccountably.
Palestinian rights don’t matter. They’re denied free expression and movement. Their homes are bulldozed and destroyed. They’re uprooted and displaced.
They’re forbidden from returning to land once theirs. They’re denied redress.
West Bank reconfiguration plans intend to isolate them in ghettoized bantustans. Sovereign viability is impossible.
Two states once were possible. No longer. Israel controls around 60% of the West Bank.
It has much of East Jerusalem. More is added daily. When completed, Israel’s Annexation Wall will control over 10% of Palestine.
One state comprised of Israel and Occupied Palestine alone works now. Nothing else is viable.
Conditions for Palestinians are intolerable. Occupation, land theft, dispossessions, inequality, a permanent non-Jewish underclass, instability, and conflict reflect daily life.
Peace, equity and justice remain pure fantasy. Permanent militarized occupation is official Israeli policy.
From 1967 to 1977, around 30 settlements were established. They were mainly in Jordan Valley locations. Population numbered about 5,000.
Under Prime Minister Menachem Begin (1977 – 1983), things changed dramatically. A new pattern emerged.
Heartland/central ridge West Bank settlements were established. Construction tempo increased.
Dozens of new settlements were added. Increasing amounts of Palestinian land were stolen.
Construction today continues unabated. Palestinians are driven from their own land.
What they most value is being systematically confiscated. Self-determination remains a distant dream.
Separately, Netanyahu appeared on three Israeli television networks over the weekend. He defended the indefensible.
He called Operation Protective Edge successful. Palestinians must choose between “Hamas or peace.” Toppling Hamas remains an option, he said.
“I never removed the goal of toppling Hamas, and I am not doing that now,” he stressed.
“When I look around and see al-Qaida on the (Israeli/Syrian border), ISIS moving toward Jordan and already in Lebanon, with Hezbollah there already, supported by Iran, I defined the goal in the cabinet of delivering a hard blow to Hamas, and we did that.”
“I can not rule out the occupation of Gaza,” he added. “I don’t know if we will get to that.”
“I thought the best thing is to crush (Hamas). It might be that they are still there, but they are crushed, isolated and unable to smuggle in arms.”
“I think that creates a chance for prolonged quiet, but if not, I won’t bear a drizzle of rockets.”
Netanyahu left unexplained they’re virtually never preemptive. They follow Israeli aggression in self-defense.
It doesn’t matter. Palestinians are blamed for Israeli crimes. They repeat multiple times daily.
Western media ignore them. israel operates extrajudicially with impunity.
During the late stages of Operation Protective Edge alone, Israel conducted dozens of military incursions into Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem communities.
Civilian homes were raided pre-dawn. They were ransacked. Families were terrorized.
Dozens of Palestinians were arrested despite having committed no crimes.
In August, nearly 600 West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians were arrested. The Palestinian News & Information Agency (WAFA) called what happened “the cruelest arrest operations launched since mid-June.”
Since July 12, Israel kidnapped more than 2,000 Palestinians. They followed the killing of three settlers.
Despite no corroborating evidence, Israel automatically blamed Hamas. Mass West Bank and East Jerusalem arrests followed. So did Operation Protective Edge.
Collective punishment is official Israeli policy. The Hague Regulations, Geneva III, Geneva IV, Additional Protocols I and II as well as other international laws strictly prohibit it.
It doesn’t matter. Israeli accountability never follows.
Around 7,000 Palestinians languish in Israel’s gulag. It’s one of the world’s worst. The vast majority are political prisoners.
They include around 250 children and 19 women. Nearly 500 are serving life terms for wanting to live free on their own land in their own country.
Around 500 others are administratively detained without charges or trial. Six former Palestinian ministers are imprisoned. So are 36 legislators for belonging to the wrong political parties.
Healthcare provided Palestinian prisoners is deplorable. Around 1,500 suffer from serious illnesses and diseases.
They include cancer, heart disease, liver ailments and paralysis. Since 1967, 205 Palestinian prisoners died from torture, medical neglect, or cold-blooded murder.
Dozens more more died shortly after release. They did so from illnesses contracted in prison.
It bears repeating what other articles stressed. Israel is a lawless rogue terror state. Decades of Palestinian suffering attest to its brutality.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected].
His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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Last updated on: September 01, 2014 1:35 PM
The British government says Israel’s expropriation of a large swath of land inside the occupied West Bank would “do serious damage to Israel’s standing in the international community.”
On Sunday, Israel laid claim to about 400 hectares in the area of Gush Etzion near Bethlehem in what critics say is Israel’s biggest land grab in at least 30 years.
“The U.K. deplores the Israeli government’s move,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said, adding that “the priority must be to build on the cease-fire in Gaza.”
The U.S. State Department on Sunday called for Tel Aviv to reconsider its decision and said taking the land would be “counterproductive” to peace efforts in the region.
Land seizure “is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians,” said a senior official, who requested anonymity.
Since President Barack Obama took office in 2009, his administration has made clear its opposition to settlement expansion. It is the latest stumbling block in the relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Egypt denounces claim
On Monday, Egypt’s foreign ministry also decried the move. Egypt last week brokered the truce halting the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 68 Israelis and left parts of the Gaza Strip in ruin.
“This is not a positive step. It contradicts international law and will have negative consequences on the peace process,” a statement from Cairo said, according to the AFP news service.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the move as part of what he calls Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people and their occupied land.
Israel’s army said it declared the land “state-owned” under orders from political leaders. It is in reaction to the June kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teenagers near Bethlehem.
Israel has named three Palestinians as suspects. The murders and the revenge killing of a Palestinian teen by Israelis helped spark the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Some information for this report was provided by the AFP news service.
Turkey’s new prime minister said on Monday he would pursue strong economic growth and EU ambitions, while in the Middle East he saw no hope of “normalizing” ties with Israel unless it ended a blockade of the Gaza strip.
Ahmet Davutoglu offered no suggestion of any change of emphasize in policies pursued with greater or lesser vigor over the last 11 years by Tayyip Erdogan, who was elected to a new, more powerful presidency last month.
“The new Turkey will be a major and pioneering country,” Davutoglu told parliamentary deputies, reading from the 189-page document and pledging a nation that would be “freer and more prosperous, more just and prestigious.”
He said Ankara would continue to support refugees from the war in Syria, while pressing ahead with contacts with with Kurdish militants to settle a decades-old conflict that has cost over 40,000 lives.
But he said progress in the normalization of relations with Israel would only be possible if the Jewish state stopped attacks on Gaza and ended its restrictions on the Strip.
Turkey was once Israel’s closest regional ally in the region. But Erdogan has been a strident critic of its treatment of the Palestinians during the recent conflict that Israel says was triggered by Palestinian rocket attacks on its territory and the use of tunnels to infiltrate attackers.
The Obama administration this week declassified papers, after 45 years of top-secret status, documenting contacts between Jerusalem and Washington over American agreement to the existence of an Israeli nuclear option. The Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), which is in charge of approving declassification, had for decades consistently refused to declassify these secrets of the Israeli nuclear program.
The documents outline how the American administration worked ahead of the meeting between President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Golda Meir at the White House in September 1969, as officials came to terms with a three-part Israeli refusal – to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty; to agree to American inspection of the Dimona nuclear facility; and to condition delivery of fighter jets on Israel’s agreement to give up nuclear weaponry in exchange for strategic ground-to-ground Jericho missiles “capable of reaching the Arab capitals” although “not all the Arab capitals.”
The officials – cabinet secretaries and senior advisers who wrote the documents – withdrew step after step from an ambitious plan to block Israeli nuclearization, until they finally acceded, in internal correspondence – the content of the conversation between Nixon and Meir is still classified – to recognition of Israel as a threshold nuclear state.
In fact, according to the American documents, the Nixon administration defined a double threshold for Israel’s move from a “technical option” to a “possessor” of nuclear weapons.
The first threshold was the possession of “the components of nuclear weapons that will explode,” and making them a part of the Israel Defense Forces operational inventory.
The second threshold was public confirmation of suspicions internationally, and in Arab countries in particular, of the existence of nuclear weapons in Israel, by means of testing and “making public the fact of the possession of nuclear weapons.”
Officials under Nixon proposed to him, on the eve of his conversation with Meir, to show restraint with regard to the Israeli nuclear program, and to abandon efforts to get Israel to cease acquiring 500-kilometer-range missiles with one-ton warheads developed in the Marcel Dassault factory in France, if it could reach an agreement with Israel on these points.
Origins of nuclear ambiguity
Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity – which for the sake of deterrence does not categorically deny some nuclear ability but insists on using the term “option” – appears, according to the newly released documents, as an outcome of the Nixon-Meir understandings, no less than as an original Israeli maneuver.
The decision to release the documents was made in March, but was mentioned alongside the declassification of other materials less than a week ago in ISCAP, which is headed by a representative of the president and whose members are officials in the Department of State, Department of Defense and Department of Justice, as well as the intelligence administration and the National Archive, where the documents are stored.
The declassified material deals only with events in 1968 and 1969, the end of the terms of President Lyndon Johnson and Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, and the beginning of the Nixon-Meir era. However, it contains many contemporary lessons. Among these are the decisive nature of personal relations between a president like Obama and a prime minister like Benjamin Netanyahu; the relationship between the diplomatic process of “land for peace,” American guarantees of Israeli security in peace time, supplies of weapons to Israel and Israel’s nuclear status; and the ability of a country like Iran to move ahead gradually toward nuclear weapons and remain on the threshold of military nuclear weapons.
In the material declassified this week, one document was written by senior officials in the Nixon administration in a working group led by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, exploring the nature of the Israeli nuclear weapons program known as “NSSM 40.” The existence of the document and its heading were known, but the content had so far been kept secret.
The document was circulated to a select group, including Secretary of State William P. Rogers, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird and CIA director Richard Helms, and with the knowledge of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Earle Wheeler. In it, Nixon directed Kissinger to put together a panel of experts, headed by Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Sisco.
The experts were asked to submit their intelligence evaluations as to the extent of Israel’s progress toward nuclear weapons and to present policy alternatives toward Israel under these circumstances, considering that the administration was bound to the pledge of the Johnson administration to provide Israel with 50 Phantom jets, the diplomatic process underway through Rogers, and the aspiration to achieve, within the year, global nonproliferation – all while, simultaneously, Israel was facing off against Egypt on the Suez Canal during the War of Attrition.
The most fascinating parts of the 107 pages discuss internal disagreements in the American administration over how to approach Israel – pressure or persuasion, as Sisco’s assistant, Rodger Davies, put it in the draft of the Department of State document. Davies also formulated a scenario of dialogue and confrontation with Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Yitzhak Rabin, the IDF chief of staff during the Six-Day War, who continued to sign his name using his military rank of Lieutenant General.
The documents are an intriguing illustration of organizational politics. Unexpectedly, the Department of State’s approach was softer. It opposed threats and sanctions because of the fear of obstructing Rogers’ diplomatic moves if Israel hardened its line. “If we choose to use the maximum option on the nuclear issue, we may not have the necessary leverage left for helping along the peace negotiations,” Davies wrote.
The two branches of the Pentagon – the civilian branch headed by Laird, his deputy David Packard (a partner in the computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard, who objected to a previous sale of a super-computer manufactured by Control Data to Israel, lest it be used for the nuclear program) and their policy advisers; and the military branch headed by Gen. Wheeler – were more belligerent. Laird fully accepted the recommendation of the deputy secretary of defense in the outgoing Johnson administration, Paul Warnke, to use supplying the Phantoms to leverage far-reaching concessions from Israel on the nuclear issue.
Packard’s opposite number in the Department of State – Rogers’ deputy, Elliot Richardson – was Packard’s ideological ally in reservations regarding Israel. However, Sisco’s appointment, rather than an official from the strategic section of the Department of State, which agreed with the Pentagon, steered the recommendations of the officials toward a softer stance on Israel.
There was also an internal debate in the American administration over the extent of Israel’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. The Department of State, relying on the CIA, strongly doubted the evidence and described it as circumstantial in light of the inability to collect intelligence, including during the annual visits to the Dimona facility. As to conclusive evidence that Israel had manufactured a nuclear weapon, Davies wrote, “This final step is one we believe the Labor Alignment in Israel would like to avoid. The fierce determination to safeguard the Jewish people, however, makes it probable that Israel would desire to maintain the ultimate weapon at hand should its security again be seriously threatened.”
The Department of Defense, based on its intelligence agency, was more decisive in its evaluation that Israel had already attained nuclear weapons, or would do so in a matter of months.
Rabin, with his military aura and experience in previous talks on arms supplies (Skyhawks and later Phantoms) with the Johnson administration, was the key man on the Israeli side in these discussions, according to the Americans. This, even though the decisions were made in Jerusalem by Meir, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Foreign Minister Abba Eban and their colleagues, who were not always happy with Rabin’s tendency to express his “private” stances first and only then obtain approval from Jerusalem.
The Johnson and Nixon administrations concluded that, in talks with Rabin, it had been stated in a manner both “explicit and implicit” that “Israel wants nuclear weapons, for two reasons: First, to deter the Arabs from striking Israel; and second, if deterrence fails and Israel were about to be overrun, to destroy the Arabs in a nuclear Armageddon.”
The contradiction in this stance, according to the Americans, was that Israel “would need a nuclear force that is publicly known and, by and large, invulnerable, i.e., having a second-strike capability. Israel is now building such a force – the hardened silos of the Jericho missiles.”
However, “it is not really possible to deter Arab leaders – and certainly not the fedayeen – when they themselves represent basically irrational forces. The theory of nuclear deterrence that applies between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. – a theory that requires a reasoned response to provocation, which in turn is made possible by essentially stable societies and governments – is far less applicable in the Near East.”
Four years before the Yom Kippur War in October 1973 and the general scorn for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the Nixon administration wrote that Israel “would never be able to rule out the possibility that some irrational Arab leader would be willing to sustain great losses if he believed he could inflict decisive damage on Israel.”
Sisco and his advisers worried that a threat to cut off arms supplies “could build military and psychological pressures within Israel to move rapidly to the very sophisticated weaponry we are trying to avoid.”
According to the documents, the Nixon administration believed that Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would spur the Arab countries to acquire their own such weapons within 10 years, through private contracts with scientists and engineers in Europe. Moreover, “deeply rooted in the Arab psyche is the concept that a settlement will be possible only when there is some parity in strength with Israel. A ‘kamikaze’ strike at the Dimona facilities cannot be ruled out,” the document states.
The Nixon advisers concluded that, all things considered, “we cannot force the Israelis to destroy design data and components, much less the technical knowledge in people’s minds, nor the existing talent for rapid improvisation.” Thus, Davies wrote in July, two months before the Nixon-Meir meeting, the lesser evil would be to agree for Israel to “retain its ‘technical option’” to produce nuclear weapons.
“If the Israelis show a disposition to meet us on the nuclear issue but are adamant on the Jericho missiles, we can drop back to a position of insisting on non-deployment of missiles and an undertaking by the Israelis to keep any further production secret,” Davies added.
The strategic consideration, mixed with political considerations, was persuasive. The draft of Meir’s unconditional surrender – formulated in the Pentagon without her knowledge in her first month in office – was shelved, and the ambiguity option was born and lived in secret documents until the Obama administration made them public, for reasons (or unintentionally) of their own.
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