Notes on Rafah: A biased media, but better than Jenin 2002

May 26, 2004

[Notes and most of this text written by Tom Gross.]


1. Note on recommended books.
2. Irish minister almost triples Palestinian fatalities in Rafah.
3. Biased, but better than Jenin.
4. Nazi comparisons fly.
5. Some key newspapers less biased against Israel than they were previously.
6. Israel not in breach of the Geneva Convention.
7. Israel to lift Arafat's travel ban if he agrees to halt terror.
8. Price of Palestinian bullets goes up.
9. Ha'aretz: two of dead Palestinian children were murdered by Palestinian gunmen.
10. UN soldiers have sex with African rape victims, as UN condemns Israel.
11. Endemic corruption at the European parliament.
12. IDF briefing on Rafah.



The dispatch titled "The Uncomfortable Question of Anti-Semitism," sent out on Friday, May 21, 2004, only contained the first part -- and not the whole -- of Jonathan Rosen's essay, and should be read as such. (This was not made clear in the first version of the dispatch that I sent out.)

There is one further book I would like to recommend: "Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed - and How to Stop it" (Bonus Books), written by Rachel Ehrenfeld (a subscriber to this list), with an introduction by James Woolsey (former director of the CIA). Among other things, Ehrenfeld explains how the "charitable wings" of organizations like Hamas operate, and how Yasser Arafat became a billionaire.



While not nearly as bad as the kind of lies told by large swathes of the Western media during Israel's incursion into Jenin two years ago [See my article, "Jeningrad," May 13, 2002, the National Review,], there was nevertheless much exaggeration and misinformation in regards to last week's Israeli incursion into Rafah -- not just by the media but also by politicians gullibly believing media reports.

For example, the Irish minister Brian Cowen, who currently speaks officially on behalf of the European Union, following Irish media reports, said "at least 23 people" were killed after an Israeli shell accidentally hit Palestinian demonstrators. As the Wall Street Journal says in the piece included in today's other dispatch, Mr. Cowen was so eager to bash Israel that he didn't even bother to check these media claims, let alone to mention that the death of civilians was an accident. (In fact it is almost certain that eight Palestinians died in that incident, for which Israel has repeatedly and profusely apologized; Some Palestinians claim ten persons died.)



Others got the figures wrong too, but not in the way that they did with Jenin.

For example, the Washington Post wrote: "Israeli Attack on Gaza Protest Kills at Least 12".

Reuters said: "Israeli Forces Fire on Crowd in Gaza, Killing 10."

Agence France Presse wrote: "10 Palestinians killed as Israeli army fires on protest against bloody raid."

Voice of America, a government-funded news outlet, which is not meant to be a left-wing Israel-bashing forum, ran the following headline on their website: "Israeli Forces Fire On Gaza Protesters, at Least 23 Dead."

The same day America killed between 42 and 45 people at a gathering in Iraq, which many Iraqis (and reporters for the Associated Press) say was a wedding celebration. Many news outlets, such as the New York Times-owned International Herald Tribune, barely reported on this the following day, since they devoted so much space to the accidental Israeli strike in Rafah in which eight Palestinians died. Almost no paper bothered mentioning that Israeli troops thought they were being shot at. (The New York Times was one of the very few that did, stating that " two young men with semiautomatic rifles [were seen] at the start of the route [of the march].")

The obsession with criticizing Israel in much of the rest of the world - even extended to a scathing article in the Property Section of the Sunday edition of the "Irish Independent" newspaper (titled "Israel plays the Millwall card while razing Rafah homes," Sunday May 23rd 2004) [Tom Gross adds: Millwall are a soccer team with the reputation for having some of the most violent followers in Europe.]



The Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem took the unusual step of making a public statement criticizing a newspaper, after a cartoonist from the Austrian paper "Kleine Zeitung" (no doubt relying on vastly exaggerated news reports from Rafah) equated Israel with Nazi Germany. Yad Vashem said: "The caricature is a classic expression of the new antisemitism... which diminishes the Holocaust and distorts both today's reality as well as that of the Holocaust."

Of course the voices blood libeling Israel are to be found within the country too, including Arab members of the Knesset such as Taleb a-Sana, who said "What happened in Rafah proves that you don't have to be German to be a Nazi."



The Independent newspaper in London (responsible for whipping up hysterical lies against Israel over Jenin two years ago, and whose chief Middle East correspondent is the notorious Robert Fisk) has not repeated wildly inflated figures as they did in regard to Jenin in 2002.

Although they have run inflammatory stories against Israel this week (as usual), on this occasion they have also put Israel's side of the story, and run more reliable Palestinian accounts rather than entirely fictional ones of the kind concocted by Yasser Arafat's spokesman Saeb Erekat.

For example, in its story yesterday (by correspondent Donald Macintyre), the Independent gave both versions of the numbers of deaths in the Rafah incident: The Israeli army say eight people were killed; Officials at Rafah's main hospital have said 10 people were killed, said the Independent.

The Independent also writes that Israel says "the whole operation [over the last fortnight in Rafah] had claimed the lives of 41 militants and 12 civilians. Palestinian human rights groups, who put the total at more than 60 over the past fortnight [which includes the period in which 13 Israeli troops were killed in Gaza], claim that the proportion of civilians is significantly higher."

By contrast, reporting on the Jenin incursion of April 2002, the then correspondent for the Independent, Phil Reeves, began his dispatch: "A monstrous war crime that Israel has tried to cover up for a fortnight has finally been exposed [in Jenin]... The sweet and ghastly reek of rotting human bodies is everywhere, evidence that it is a human tomb. The people say there are hundreds of corpses, entombed beneath the dust."

Reeves spoke of "killing fields," an image more usually associated with Pol Pot's Cambodia. Reeves didn't bother to quote any Israeli source whatsoever in his story. In another report Reeves didn't even feel the need to quote Palestinian sources at all when he wrote about Israeli "atrocities committed in the Jenin refugee camp, where its army has killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians."

But with regard to Rafah in the past two weeks, the Independent gave the maximum number of houses (up to 56 homes) that Israel says were destroyed or partially damaged during the last week's operation to close down arms smuggling tunnels built in the basements of these house and the maximum number that anti-Israeli government like B'Tselem were destroyed or partially damaged (up to 67 homes.)

The Independent report contrasts with fantastical claims on BBC World Service Radio that hundreds of houses were destroyed.



Contrary to a slew of media reports and statements made on the BBC and elsewhere, international law is on Israel's side. While Article 53 of the fourth Geneva Convention indeed prohibits the destruction of private property by an occupying power, as the Wall Street Journal points out, Israel's critics as well as the U.N. resolution fail to quote the text in its entirety. Article 53 says such actions are illegal, "except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations."



The London-based Arabic language paper "Dar al-Hayat" reported yesterday that Israel is willing to allow Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat freedom of movement if he agrees to halt terror attacks by his Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

According to "Dar al-Hayat," Israel conveyed this message to Arafat through Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who met with Ariel Sharon and Shin Bat chief Meir Dagan on Monday, before meeting Arafat in Ramallah.

Arafat has been confined to his headquarters in the Ramallah since 2002, after he launched a wave of terror attacks on Israeli civilians.



The price of smuggled bullets has increased sharply since Israel began cracking down on weapons-smuggling tunnels, reported Ha'aretz yesterday. A contraband AK-47 bullet, which cost just more than $1 before the start of the Intifada in September 2000 now goes for five times as much in Gaza. Israeli authorities monitor such inflation as a gauge of the army's success in uncovering tunnels in Rafah, which lies on Gaza's southern border with Egypt.



Amir Oren, the respected reporter for the liberal Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" wrote (21 May 2004) that the IDF has photographs of Palestinian terrorists deliberately killing two Palestinian children.

Maj. Gen. Dan Harel yesterday confirmed Amir Oren's report, but said the pictures will not yet be released to the media because information derived from the photographs would compromise security agents still on the ground.

[Tom Gross adds: This story may seem hard to believe, so alien is it to Western norms of behavior, but it is unlikely Ha'aretz - a newspaper often more critical of Israel than the Palestinians - would run this story unless they were sure it was true.]

The following is an excerpt from Oren's article:

Inside Track / Rafah is a nightmare.
By Amir Oren
May 21 2004

"... When the procession with armed men in its midst set out in the direction of the forces, [the commander of the Gaza Division, Brigadier General Shmuel] Zakaii tried to speak with the [Palestinian] community leaders in Rafah. The head of the Liaison and Coordination Administration, Colonel Poli Mordecai, phoned Nasser Saraj, the head of the [Palestinian] Civil Committee in the city. Had the Liaison and Coordination Administration sufficed, they would not have needed the tank commander. Saraj, a respected individual, formerly the director-general of the Ministry of Trade and Industry in the Palestinian Authority, listened to Colonel Mordecai's pleas, but took no steps to prevent the disaster.

"When men [wanted for help by Israel] obeyed calls over the loudspeakers to turn themselves in to the IDF authorities (and to the intelligence people who wanted to question them), they were confronted by members of the terror organizations, who opened fire on them and killed two children. A senior officer in Gaza reported yesterday that the IDF have in their possession pictures of this incident, of Palestinians killing their children. He expressed amazement as to why the army has refrained from publishing them."

[See also "IDF briefing on Rafah," below]



At the very time the UN was (again) condemning Israel, a few days ago, teenage rape victims fleeing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo were being sexually exploited by the United Nations peace-keeping troops sent to the stop their suffering (writes Britain's Independent newspaper.)

The Independent reported that mothers as young as 13 - the victims of multiple rape by militiamen - can only secure enough food to survive in the sprawling refugee camp by routinely sleeping with UN peace-keepers.

Testimony from girls and aid workers in the Internally Displaced People camp in Bunia, in the north-east corner of Congo, claims that every night teenage girls crawl through a wire fence to an adjoining UN compound to sell their bodies to Moroccan and Uruguayan soldiers. The trade, which according to one victim results in a banana or a cake to feed to her infant son, is taking place despite a pledge by the UN to adopt a "zero tolerance" attitude to cases of sexual misconduct by those representing the organization.



While continuing to criticize Israel, members of the European Parliament, might wish to engage in a little introspection. The New York Times revealed yesterday that the endemic corruption among many of the 732 European Parliament members, has reached new levels. Some MEPs are getting 150,000 Euro ($180,000) per annum tax free in benefits, in addition to their salaries. These include:

* Travel expenses. For example, a legislator from Finland can fly round trip to Brussels, where the Parliament meets, for about $240. But under Parliament rules, members are reimbursed at the highest economy price, meaning that a Finnish member receives about 10 times the cost of the trip.

* There are taxi allowances, free language lessons and daily expense stipends, even on days when no official business is conducted.

* There is no ban on relatives working as Parliament aides, and relatives of at least two dozen members do.

* Most benefits are tax free.

At the same time, turnout for Parliament elections is slumping, and many Europeans cannot identify their representative.

Meanwhile, instead of writing much about this, European newspapers yesterday and today continued to write instead about alleged financial irregularities of Ariel Sharon's son.


May 24, 2004
[Text by IDF]

The following is a summary of the briefing held today by the GOC southern command, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, regarding the operation in Rafah.

On Wednesday, May 12, 2004, an IDF force traveling along the Israeli- Egyptian border came under heavy gunfire and anti tank missiles launched from Rafah.

An APC carrying IDF soldiers exploded and as a result five soldiers were killed.

During the two days after this incident, rescue teams were operating in the area of the incident in order to locate the bodies' remains and to bring their friends for appropriate burial. During the whole operation the forces were under heavy fire from inside the houses. As a result of these guns fire, which came from 60-70 meters from the border and didn't stop for a single moment, another two IDF soldiers were killed.

On Monday, May 17, 2004, the IDF began with a comprehensive operation in the city of Rafah aimed at targeting the terrorists, wanted operatives and to locate and dismantle weapon smuggling tunnels. The target of the operation was to secure the neighborhoods along the Philadelphi road and to make sure that they are clean from terrorists and wanted operatives.

The Rafah area is one of the most crowded, the streets are narrow and the houses are adjacent to one another. Simultaneously to the operation, a great stress was given to the humanitarian assistance in the form of repair of water and electricity infrastructures, a free movement of ambulances and supply of basic needs for the Palestinian population.

Achievements of the operation:

The securing of the ability for operational activity along the border.

40 armed terrorists were killed, more then 100 armed terrorists were injured.

The locating and dismantling of three weapon smuggling tunnels.

Comprehensive arrests of wanted Palestinians, among them number of detainees who are still in investigation.

Clarifying of the casualties among civilians:

As to our knowledge, 14 innocent residents were killed during the operation:

8 were killed while the forces tried to deter a demonstration- a tank shell ricochet fired at a structure nearby the demonstration hit them. Among those were killed one armed terrorist.

A brother and sister- killed apparently on their house's roof. This incident is still under investigation.

2 youngsters, at the ages of 12 and 16, were killed by Palestinian terrorists while being called by the forced to come out of their house. The two were holding a white flag and were waving it and the terrorists shot them dead. IDF forces located the terrorists and killed them.

A 13 years old boy and a 3 years old girl were killed in circumstances which are not yet known, perhaps from Israeli fire but also perhaps from Palestinian gunmen's fire.

Demolition of houses:

During the operation, damage caused to structures in the city of Rafah. The investigation of the operating forces shows that approximately 56 structures were destroyed.

In addition, damage caused to roads after bulldozers were use to detonate explosive devices to ensure safe passage of the APCs. It is important to note that three Americans were killed as a result of a roadside bomb which was activated at their vehicle.

20 structures were demolished around the uncovered tunnels, this in order to prevent terrorists from opening fire and activating explosive devices against the operating forces in the spot for the uncovering and detonating of the tunnels. Explosive devices were uncovered by the forces near the shafts of the tunnels which were uncovered.

In the neighborhood of Tel- Sultan, IDF forces demolished the house of the terrorist who murdered Tali Hatuel and her four daughters at the shooting attack on the Kissufim rout. Additional six structures were demolished.

29 structures were demolished in the other neighborhoods in which the forces were operating.

The fact that the terrorists where shooting from inside populated houses created a problem. We demolished houses when they were used by terrorists to attack the operating forces. We also needed to pass through narrow streets in armored vehicles which caused additional damage.

Humanitarian aid during the operation:

It is important to stress that a large effort was made in the rehabilitation of the water and electricity infrastructures and also in the assurance of movement of ambulances (a senior representative of the Red Cross organization in the Gaza Strip noted that there was no delay of ambulances during the operation).

Our fighting is not directed against the residents of Rafah. Unfortunately, the residents encounter to a confrontation with the terrorists, and the terrorists are using the residents' houses for the terrorist activity, but no soldier or commander under my command hurt a resident intentionally.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.