do not know. What we do know is that
Hamas have captured another Israeli. We
also know, from the war crimes committed by Israel during Operation Protective
Edge, when they literally flattened whole neighbourhoods in Rafah to kill their
own soldier, Hadar Goldin, that they are determined, in accordance with the Hannibal Directive to prevent a repeat
of the of Gilad Shalit, which resulted in the release of over a thousand
prisoners (many reimprisoned) in exchange for him, even if it means killing the
Silverstein on July 1, 2015
|Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil, IDF chief censor|
of the most interesting aspects of the Israeli national security state is the
IDF military censor and the ways in which it stymies the free flow of ideas and
information within Israeli society. Unlike in the U.S., where the NSA and
the covert side of the CIA operate in almost total secrecy (except when someone
like Edward Snowden comes along), Israel is a place more uncertain and anxious
about such things. There the military censor even publicly addresses
criticism of her role. Not because she wants to (I would argue), but
because the military constantly feels the need to justify the restrictions it
places on Israelis and the sacrifices it forces them to accept. One of
the ten most powerful armies in the world has an inferiority complex that
compels it to self-justify.
explains a speech
delivered by Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil at a conference on intelligence and
special operations sponsored by the magazine, Israel Defense. Her remarks
were, as you might expect, self-serving, solipsistic and even racist. She
claims that she has developed an “innovative” set of censorship guidelines that
are “responsive” to modern times. I’ll let you be the judge after you finish reading her wit and wisdom here:
is a democratic, liberal, western society which protects its secrets through
means which are draconian and at times even self-contradictory.
are a civilian society in which there is a critical public debate [about
intelligence matters] and it’s difficult to maintain censorship and prevent the
publication of secret material. Today, a guy sees a terror attack from
his balcony and sends a photo to the newspaper–how can we control that?
in the military censor’s unit don’t hide information. We protect
information which is critical [to our defense] in terms of our enemies.
They don’t have the same abilities we do. They don’t have Unit 8200
[Israel’s NSA]. They don’t have a Jewish brain. Therefore the enemy
relies to a great extent on publicly accessible information. We, in the
context of our democratic debate, offer a great deal of basic accessible
information: the test succeeded or failed, budgets, order of battle,
weapons, who guards what, technological developments. We in the censor
unit aren’t suited to stop it all. We can only prevent [publication
of] that which poses certain danger to national security…When
I retire I won’t write a book because it can’t possibly pass military
course the censor “hides” information. Nor does it only hide information
which might damage national security. It censors information that might
damage the reputation of the IDF or its senior officers. Such behavior
equates the army with the state (“l’etat, c’est moi“).
an aside, I’m pleased to say that Vaknin-Gil views
me as a thorn in her side and publicly made light of my work and the
role I play in combatting Israeli censorship.
real shocker in the above passage is Vaknin-Gil’s portrayal of Unit 8200
as a product of the Jewish mind. It’s like saying the NSA is a product of
the American mind. I suppose in some ghoulish way you could argue that
America’s technological sophistication enabled the creation of the frightening
tools the NSA devised to spy on all of us. But even if that’s the case,
is this cause for celebration?
an army officer living in a non-democratic state could celebrate the army’s
ability to spy on both its enemies and its own citizens as an extraordinary
national achievement. I should correct myself here since she doesn’t
portray Unit 8200 as a product of Israel, but of Jewishness.
The term I translated as “Jewish brain” derives from the Yiddish, Yiddishe
kop. The term has a distinctly proud ring to it, and boasts of
“Jewish genius” with an air of superiority. What’s ironic about her
choice of term is that she doesn’t celebrate the “Israeli brain,” because there
is no Israeli or Hebrew equivalent for yiddishe kop. That
means Israel’s lethal espionage capabilities as represented by Unit 8200 become
a proud Jewish achievement.
for one want nothing to do with Unit 8200 as product of Judaism or Jewish identity.
This is once again a distortion introduced by Zionist ideology which
deliberately conflates Israel with Jewishness. There is nothing Jewish
about signals intelligence.
of Unit 8200 as a product of Jewish genius, I note that I published
a scoop in 2014 identifying the commander of Unit 8200, Brig. Gen. Ehud
Schneerson, as a distant relative of the Lubavitcher rebbe. No doubt he
earned his position due to his distinguished yichus and yiddishe kop!
the idea that IDF intelligence capabilities somehow derive from Israel’s
national genius is also troubling and racist. The only reason Israel has
such advanced capabilities is that it has made this a national priority since
it’s founding. Any Arab state which had done the same would have made the
same achievements Israel did. In fact, Iran is late to this game but shows
every sign of being able, within a reasonably short period of time, to compete
credibly with Israel in this field. When it reaches this level there will
be some Iranian censor boasting that the IRG’s intelligence units are a product
of “Iranian genius.”
all a bunch of malarkey foisted on nations by insecure generals who need to
justify their own positions, influence and power.
|Censored Wikipedia article on Avera Mengistu|
conveniently omitted another important element of Israeli opacity when it comes
to national security. If the censor doesn’t prohibit publication of
sensitive material or information, the security services have another powerful
tool: the gag order. They go to a cooperative judge (usually judges who were
IDF lawyers or worked for the security apparatus) and get a gag order which
determines that publication of facts or information would either damage an
investigation or the national security.
perfect example of this is the case of Avera Mengistu, the Israeli-Ethiopian
citizen who entered Gaza just after last summer’s war and has been detained
there since then. I was the first journalist to publish
this story and did so in Mint Press News. No Israeli publication may
do so. There is not just a gag order on this story. There is a
comprehensive gag order meaning that the media not only may not refer to
Mengistu, but they may not even say there is a gag order in place preventing
them from reporting the story. It’s the most draconian form of judicial
censorship of the media.
speculated in Mint Press about why Israel is so skittish about Mengistu’s
story. First, there is an element of racism involved. Gilad Shalit
was Ashkenazi and white. Mengistu is Ethiopian and black.
Ethiopian-Israelis have little power in society. They are second or
third-class citizens akin to Israeli Palestinian citizens. If Israel
doesn’t have to acknowledge Mengistu it won’t; because doing so empowers Hamas
to demand a high price for his return. The truth is that Mengistu isn’t
worth anything to the Israeli government, so it gags any reference to him.
Speaking his name will force its hand.
Tel Aviv rally against racism wearing T-shirts with Avera Mengistu’s name and a
question mark, a clear act of rebellion against the Israeli gag order on his
a related matter, an Israeli Wikipedia editor read my Mint Press story and
created an article about Mengistu. The censored article is displayed here
(and as a Word doc here),
the Talk page for the article, which was also deleted, is archived here.
Within a short time, an Israeli former reader and commenter at this blog
who was banned (while here he used various nicknames, itself a comment rule
violation, ‘dude,’ ‘journalist,’ and ‘tankist’) began a campaign to
eliminate the Wikipedia entry. At first he did this anonymously. When
I called him on this he began using the Wikipedia identity, kigelim.
I also noted he had a self-interest in censoring the article because he’d
been banned from this blog. Those participating in the Talk page for the
article refused to acknowledge this fact as legitimate.
first argument was that the article violated Wikipedia standards for
journalistic credibility. However, Mint Press is a respected online
publication with high journalistic standards. He never gave up on this
argument. But other ones were developed as well. Another group
of editors claimed falsely that I’d authored the article using a different
Wikipedia identity (sockpuppetry). When I disproved this claim, they
regrouped, beginning a campaign among fellow pro-Israel Wikipedia editors to
delete the article. There are internal pro-Israel Wikipedia discussion
groups and kigelim alerted them to the article and they pounced on it.
Interestingly, an editor is not permitted to mount a public (i.e.
outside of Wikipedia) campaign on behalf of editorial decisions. But
internal lobbying among Wikipedia groups and editors is perfectly
acceptable. A vote was held and those seeking deletion won.
this way, pro-Israel elements working within Wikipedia achieved precisely the
same outcome that Israeli censorship does inside that country. They
silenced a key world information source which is supposed to be open and
accessible to all regardless of political or ideological belief. They
turned Wikipedia into a playground in which all the worst excesses of Israeli
paranoia and anti-democratic tendencies are found. They perverted this
fabulous resource and imposed the worst excesses of Israel-style censorship.
Fools like these cheapen Wikipedia and betray its mission.
“Wikipedia committee” and get me blocked from participating in Wikipedia unless
I “apologize” to the “community” for my “baseless allegations.”
Actually, if he has the power to initiate such a proceeding I’d welcome
it. So bring it on.
I: Poor Kugelmass (aka kigelim), tried to harrass
me on Wikipedia and got shut
down so quick his head spun. And further, he was accused of being a
“single-purpose account” created to stalk me. Try again, buddy. Oh,
and I’m sorry your “butt hurts” (in joke, you have to read the link).
Mengistu is finally released (this will take much longer thanks to the
draconian impact of Israeli censorship and pro-Israel editors in Wikipedia),
then the article will be restored and the naysayers will be exposed for the
prejudiced pro-Israelists they are.
week, Israeli-Ethiopians protested
against Israeli racism. One of the chants heard in the crowd was the
name of Avera Mengistu and another Ethiopian who was killed in a police
beating. Israeli and Wikipedia may silence the truth. But you can’t
silence an entire ethnic group when it knows it’s getting the shaft.
completely abandoned its responsibilities for almost all African refugees under
international humanitarian law. But should that come as any surprise?
|In this Friday, June 27, 2014 file photo, African migrants clash with Israeli soldiers after they left Holot detention center in southern Israel and walked towards the Border with Egypt near the southern Israeli Kibbutz of Nitzana.|
October 2014, just after Operation Protective Edge ended, an Israeli Facebook
friend of mine reported a rumor that an Ethiopian-Israeli citizen crossed into
Gaza and was detained there. The next day I confirmed the truth of the story through an independent
Israeli source. Here is what I wrote then:
Israeli-Ethiopian from Ashkelon crossed the border into Gaza several weeks ago.
The man was allegedly mentally ill and no one knows what drove him to do
this. He is being held by authorities in Gaza. Israel has placed a gag order on
the incident and the media may not report it. His family has been told not to
speak to the media as this might endanger him by raising his profile, though
I’d venture to guess that the real reason is that it would embarrass the
Israeli government and raise his value in a prisoner exchange.”
|Smoke rises following what witnesses said were Israeli air strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. (Reuters)|
rumor was that he’d been swimming off the southern coast and a strong current
had taken him from Israeli waters to Gaza. Once there, he was reportedly picked
up by a vehicle, presumably security officials, and driven away. He hasn’t been
offered further circumstantial evidence via a billboard it erected in Gaza
which featured images of Oron Shaul, an Israeli Defense Forces soldier, who
Israel claims was killed during the war. Shaul’s image is displayed behind
bars, indicating that Hamas claims he is alive. Another interesting feature on
the billboard is an avatar with a question mark, which indicates Hamas claims
it has a mystery captive, which points to the Ethiopian-Israeli.
|The Hamas billboard alluding to the detention of Avera Mengistu (the picture next to Shaul Oron’s with a question mark)|
in October, I tried diligently to follow up on this story without success. But
an Israeli published an anonymous comment on my blog last week, naming the
captive Ethiopian-Israeli as “Avera Mangisto.” I broadcast this name — probably
more likely spelled “Mengistu” in English — via social media, asking if members
of the Ethiopian community could confirm it. “O.” did so on Facebook. I asked
her if she could help me contact the man’s family. We both did, and she
succeeded in interviewing Avera’s divorced father, Aylin, and his brother,
was more willing to talk. He was saddened and frustrated by the experience.
He’d almost lost all hope. Netan’el, after some halting discussions, refused to
speak. He directed us not to contact his father either. But before we reached
this impasse, O. held several conversations with both of them. They each
confirmed that Avera, who is age 24, is being held by the authorities in Gaza.
|Facebook photo of detainee Avera Mengistu.|
government instructed the family to remain silent on the matter. Officials told
them they were doing everything possible to return him, yet they appear to have
done little or nothing. O. said the government “brainwashed” them into
believing it was doing something. She added that if Avera were “white” — her
term — Israel would have treated him as it did Gilad Shalit, the Ashkenazi Jew
for whom Israel exchanged 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
is also a gag order on the story, which prohibits Israeli media from covering
it. Even some Ethiopian journalists refused to speak with me, concerned about
their own vulnerability in Israeli society.
|Ethiopian Jews at anti-racism rally with Mengistu tee shirts and a question mark|
for example, Haaretz quoted
Israeli and Hamas officials denying that German foreign minister Franz
Steinmeier was once again negotiating for a prisoner exchange which would
return the remains of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin to Israel.
Not a word in this story about an actual live Israeli held in Gaza.
The pernicious gag prohibits it.
secrecy serves the interests of the Israeli government, but not the interests
of the victim. If the public knew about this, they might demand the state do
all in its power to free him — which would certainly include the exchange of
Palestinian prisoners. The Israeli far-right detests freeing Palestinians it
considers terrorists with “blood on their hands.” Whenever the government has
freed such prisoners, the extremists have pummeled the ruling Likud party.
Netanyahu wishes to avoid this at all costs. And it is far easier to
avoid such a situation when the prisoner is Ethiopian, since neither the
government nor the public cares as much as it would for a Jewish Israeli
issue of prisoner exchange is indeed so fraught that Israel has instituted the Hannibal Directive, which calls for the army to kill its
own soldiers when they are captured alive by Hamas in battle. The IDF would
rather murder its own soldiers than have to give up 1,000 Palestinian prisoners
to secure the return of a single live Israeli. This controversial policy was
invoked several times during Operation Protective Edge.
twice emailed Israel’s official negotiator assigned to secure the release of
prisoners (dead or alive), Col. Lior Lotan, for a response to questions I posed
to him about the negotiations. As of press time, I had not heard back from him.
I tweeted to Paul Hirschson, a foreign ministry official,
asking for help in identifying the Israeli official responsible for these
talks. Instead of answering my question, he replied that Hadar Goldin had been buried, implying falsely
that Israel was only negotiating about the return of what he called “some body parts.” A second MFA official, Eyal Lampert,
whose profile claims he works at the foreign affairs ministry’s “Japan and
Korea desk,” said the ministry didn’t pay him enough to deal with “twits
[sic] like mine.” He added that neither he nor Hirschson works for “costumer
[sic] services.” With such quality staff, it’s easy to understand why
Israel’s reputation is what it is in the world.
fence after they attempted to cross from Egypt into Israel as Israeli soldiers
stand guard near the border with Egypt, in southern Israel.
“rescued” thousands of Ethiopians in 1991 and brought them to Zion in Operation
Solomon. While the nation basked in the good publicity generated by such a
rescue, the reality on the ground was much different. Israel’s chief rabbi did
recognize the Ethiopians (known at that time as Falashas) as Jewish, but they
were treated little better than Palestinian-Israeli citizens. As polls of
Jewish Israelis confirm, racist attitudes toward Palestinians, Mizrahim and
Ethiopians are the norm.
an IDF soldier was walking the streets of Tel Aviv with his bicycle when he was
accosted by a private security guard and a police officer. They ripped his
bicycle from his hands and assaulted him in broad daylight despite the fact that he
was wearing an IDF uniform. Video of the attack was major news on national TV.
The country was embarrassed. It would not be unusual for an Ethiopian to be
assaulted by the police, but an Ethiopian in an IDF uniform? That trespassed
social norms. The police officer was fired from the force and faces a criminal
charge — an unusual example of anti-African racism being firmly rejected.
decade ago, Gabriel Dawit, an Ethiopian-Israeli, drowned, either accidentally or as a suicide in the
aftermath of the suicide of his brother, off Nahariya on the northern coast.
His body later washed up on the Lebanese coast and was retrieved by Hezbollah.
Though the IDF Directorate of Military Intelligence and other security agencies
knew this, for three years they didn’t tell the family. The family sued the
state, demanding a $500,000 settlement for the suffering inflicted on them.
Israel eventually agreed to pay $50,000.
advocates will point out that Yityish “Titi” Aynaw, Miss Israel 2013, is an
Ethiopian woman, who is proud of her country and participated in hasbara
activities, even re-joining the IDF so she could participate in Operation
Protective Edge on the international stage. But tokenism is not the same as
true equality, which Ethiopians do not enjoy.
regarding African refugees
by Israeli army soldiers after they crossed illegally from Egypt into Israel.
The Israeli Cabinet voted unanimously Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011, to finance a $160
million program designed to staunch the flow of illegal African migrants into
Israel by stepping up construction of a border fence and expanding a detention
center to hold thousands of the new arrivals. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
also has 60,000 African refugees, who fled civil wars, famine and
genocide in countries like Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia. Unlike the Ethiopians I
mentioned above, the former do not have citizenship. In fact, Israel has
refused to even offer them rights reserved for refugees under international
law. Until recently, there was no provision for hearing asylum requests, and only
45 (.07 percent) such requests have been granted out of thousands of
applications to date.
in violation of international protocols, Israel told many of these individuals
that they must agree to “voluntary” deportation (there is a $3,500 “inducement”
to agree to leave) or face imprisonment in Saharonim, a prison for violators of
immigration laws. Haaretz has been reporting extensively on the plight of those
who agree to deportation. These deportees are flown on a plane to Rwanda, whose
dictator, Paul Kagame, agreed
to accept them in return for economic assistance and arms deals that likely
facilitate the genocide in neighboring Congo.
such Eritrean refugees from Israel, who were sent to Rwanda, ended up in Libya and were beheaded in the now-infamous
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) beach executions. Their relatives
remaining in Israel confirmed both their departure and their execution, after
watching the horrific video.
Sabar, a Tel Aviv University professor, traveled
to the African countries that receive these refugees and researched their
living conditions and fate. Her findings, published in Haaretz, reveal that
Rwanda has appointed someone who is essentially a smuggler who receives the
names of deportees arriving at the Kigali airport from Israeli police. He meets
them at the airport, drives them to a guesthouse, tells them they may not leave
it, and eventually spirits them out of the country — all the while, taking a
cut of all proceeds of their expenses and hiring new smugglers who take them
across the Rwandan border into neighboring Sudan.
refugees have no legal status in Uganda. They live there in squalor, paying
hundreds of dollars per month for a rented room or more for a room in a private
residence. Such expenses quickly eat up that bribe that Israel provided to
persuade them to leave. For obvious reasons, many of these people see Europe as
their next hope for refuge, which was how the Eritreans ended up in Libya.
has totally abandoned its responsibilities for these individuals under
international humanitarian law. Not that international law is a principle
Israel respects in any event.
Silverstein has published the Tikun Olam
since 2003. It exposes the secrets and misdeeds of the Israeli national
security state. He lives in Seattle.