Israel’s secret cooperation with Hamas revealed (& Khamenei: Obama “oppresses” blacks)

April 27, 2015

Hamas PM Haniyeh and Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei


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1. Israel’s secret cooperation with Hamas revealed
2. IDF prepared to allow Gaza seaport despite weapon smuggling risk?
3. Hamas leader reveals indirect “chats” with Israel
4. Iran’s Supreme Leader: U.S. “oppresses and humiliates” its “black population”
5. Saudi Prince Talal promises “Bentleys to fighter pilots bombing Yemen”
6. NYT: One standard for criticizing Israel, another for everything else
7. Other writers angry as American PEN members boycott dinner for Charlie Hebdo
8. Obama makes fun of Netanyahu: He’ll speak at my funeral
9. “Why are Arabic soccer commentators so damn good?”
10. “Meet the Saudi Arabian black metal band breaking Saudi law by being a black metal band”

[Notes below by Tom Gross]


Commentators in both the Israeli and Palestinian press today reveal that Israel and the Palestinian militant Islamist group Hamas are engaged in not-so-secret talks.

The Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot today runs a piece by Alex Fishman titled “Israel’s secret cooperation with Hamas”.

Fishman writes “For several weeks now, official representatives of the Israeli government and defense establishment have been holding a real dialogue with the Islamic terrorist group in a bid to reach a long-term calm on the Gaza border.”

“The rocket fired [into Israel from Gaza] at the end of Israel’s Independence Day [last week] placed the spotlight back on a somewhat forgotten front. But this spotlight reveals a different reality: No escalation, no tension – but rather the opposite. The Israeli airstrike in response to the rocket fire was mainly aimed at hitting the headlines.

“It turns out that for several weeks now, official representatives of the Israeli government, members of the defense establishment, have been holding a real dialogue with Hamas – partly direct, partly indirect – in a bid to reach a long-term calm between the sides.”

Fishman adds that there has been no formal decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to change Israel’s strategy towards Hamas, and “the Egyptians and Americans don’t like the Hamas initiative, which bypasses the Palestinian Authority.”

Yediot Ahronot also reports that Israel is considering helping Palestinians build “an independent seaport to serve Gaza”



Tom Gross adds: In fact there has been back-channel talks between Israel and Hamas in the past, mainly on infrastructure and other issues (for example the supply of utilities), and I have alluded to these in my past writings.

I also mentioned in my dispatch last July that an Israeli government minister had proposed “giving Gaza a port, airport – without compromising on Israel’s security”.

In the original version of an article for The Guardian last year I also mentioned that Israel was prepared to oversee the rebuilding of a seaport in Gaza (despite the risk of weapons smuggling by Hamas into the strip) but for space reasons this was edited out.

My article concerns Qatar’s role in Gaza and senior Qatari are indeed helping to mediate between representatives of Israel and Hamas now.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, with the blessing of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, is believed to be overseeing those representing Israel in the current talks, although there is no official acknowledgment of this by anyone in the Israeli government.

Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority is furious with these developments since Hamas represents a rival power base to his dictatorial grip over the Palestinians. (Indeed there is almost no freedom of speech in the Palestinian Authority – the official PA news agency WAFA reported yesterday that a man was arrested for saying Yasser Arafat was not a Martyr.)

And while Egypt’s Sisi regime continues to impose a tight blockade on the Egypt-Gaza border, destroying homes near the border and shooting people who disobey orders, by contrast Israel has, since the beginning of this year, allowed about 33,000 trucks to pass through Israel’s Kerem Shalom Crossing into Gaza, carrying more than one million tons of equipment. This month an average of 523 trucks a day have crossed from Israel into Gaza compared to an average of 255 a day last year. Thousands of Gazans have also been allowed into Israel this year, either for medical treatment or to travel to Jerusalem to pray at the Al Aqsa mosque. (Unsurprisingly, the international media has avoided reporting much on this.)

All this is not to say that Israel and Hamas won’t go to war with one another again in future. There is concern among many in Israel, including in Israeli intelligence circles, that Israel has allowed in so much building material that Hamas has repaired many of its tunnels underground into Israel, which could be used later to launch attacks on Israeli civilians.



I believe that Yediot Ahronot decided to make public some of the cooperation after the Palestinian Maan news agency reported yesterday:

Hamas leader reveals indirect “chats” with Israel

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Hamas leader Ahmad Yousef said Sunday that there were “chats” taking place between the Islamist movement and Israel under European mediation…

For instance, he said, there are talks on the issues of the ceasefire and the seaport that aim to “find a way out on the issue of the siege by opening a seaport to connect to the outside world.”

Yousef denied that there were direct talks between Hamas and Israel taking place.



Iran’s Fars news agency reports that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday that “Black people [in the United States] are oppressed, disrespected and humiliated.”

Khamenei added America uses “cruel might against black people.”

Khamenei specifically referred to an incident earlier this month in Chicago where an African-American teenager, Justus Howell, was shot and killed by police.

His remarks came one day before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the United Nations in New York.

Tom Gross adds: There are undoubtedly problems between certain U.S. law enforcement forces and sections of the African-American population, with police using unnecessary and sometimes fatal force, most recently in Baltimore in recent days. However, as bad as the situation might be in some American cities, this pales in comparison with the massacres that the Iranian regime has carried out against minorities in Iran, such as the Baluchis, Kurds, and Iranian Arabs.

Last December, in a series of tweets, Khamenei criticized the United States’ treatment of Native Americans, referring to the Wounded Knee incident of 1890 – in which American forces massacred hundreds of Native American noncombatants, including women and children.

While I am inclined to agree with Khamenei on this, one should not forget that while Khamenei is allowing himself free speech, freedom of expression for others is severely limited in Iran, with hundreds of dissidents, bloggers, free speech advocates and liberals being tortured in the Iranian regime’s prisons.



A Saudi prince is being lambasted on social media after promising to give luxury Bentley cars to Saudi fighter pilots currently bombing Yemen.

Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who has three million followers on Twitter, wrote: “In appreciation of their role in this operation, I’m honored to offer 100 Bentley cars to the 100 Saudi [fighter] pilots”.

Some in the ultra-conservative Kingdom praised Prince Al-Waleed’s gesture, but many in Yemen responded with anger.

Thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed or injured during the past month, and over 150,000 refugees have fled the country, many by boat to Africa. None of this is being reported in the international media in anything like the way that most media scrutinizes every detail of Israel’s actions when it responds to rocket fire on its civilians from Gaza – and the Saudi government is not responding to any such rocket fire against its civilians.

The Saudi airforce’s bombing of Yemen is proving very popular among the Saudi public -- so far as one can accurately gauge public opinion in a highly oppressive state such as the Saudi kingdom.

Al-Waleed has now deleted his tweet but screenshots are still being circulated on Twitter.

The prince owns a number of what have been termed “exceptionally extravagant palaces,” as well as a fleet of private jets, and over 200 cars including Lamborghinis and Ferraris. When Forbes magazine estimated his wealth at £15bn, he complained they had undervalued it by £4.5bn.


The Wall Street Journal reports today that “Yemen’s warring political factions were on the verge of a power-sharing deal when Saudi-led airstrikes began a month ago, derailing negotiations for a national unity government, the United Nations mediator said.”



Yesterday, the New York Times on page A10 ran this headline: “Israeli Police Officers Kill Two Palestinians.”

And yet in both cases, as the New York Times itself admits the “Palestinian men were fatally shot by the Israeli police after attacking officers with knives.” The police had already been stabbed and the Palestinians were attempting to kill them when they were shot, so why does the New York Times headline suggest otherwise? Three Israeli police were also injured over the weekend after a Palestinian deliberately rammed his car into them at high speed.

By contrast, on page A24 of yesterday’s same edition of the New York Times, the headline reads: “Man, 24, Killed by Detective in Struggle During Arrest.”

This kind of utterly misleading coverage of Israel is perhaps what prompted the New York Times foreign desk collectively to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize last week.

For background, see various past articles on this list including, All The News That’s Fit To Print?


Almost unreported in the international media, attacks are continuing on European Jews. For example, a man was attacked and punched in the face in Paris by an assailant shouting “dirty Jew” as he left a synagogue after services on Saturday, French police said.



The writers Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn from a dinner on May 5 at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan in which PEN’s American chapter is to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Gerard Biard, Charlie Hebdo’s editor in chief, and Jean-Baptiste Thoret, a Charlie Hebdo staff member who arrived late for work on January 7 and thus missed the attack by Islamic extremists in which 12 staff journalists were murdered, are scheduled to accept the award.

Kushner said she didn’t want to support what she called the magazine’s “cultural intolerance”.

Carey criticized “PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”

In a statement, PEN said they regretted the boycott but dozens of writers from around the world had confirmed that they would attend the New York dinner.

Earlier this month, the cartoonist Garry Trudeau said that “by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie Hebdo wandered into the realm of hate speech.” (In fact, many of us consider some of Trudeau’s past cartoons of Israeli Jews and American Republicans verging on hate speech.)

Salman Rushdie, a former PEN president who lived in hiding for decades after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill him over his novel “The Satanic Verses” (and the novel’s translators in Italy was then stabbed and seriously injured in Milan, the book’s publisher in Norway was shot three times in an attempted assassination in Oslo, and a mob set fire to the building where The Satanic Verses translator in Turkey lives, killing 37) said the writers boycotting the PEN dinner were “horribly wrong.”

“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” Rushdie said.



At the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday night, U.S. President Barack Obama poked fun at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It is no wonder that that people keep pointing out how the presidency has aged me. I look so old John Boehner’s already invited Netanyahu to speak at my funeral,” he quipped, referring to Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu to speak in front of Congress on the Iranian nuclear program, which may be an existential issue for Israelis and many others in the Middle East.

Reflecting the dismissive way Obama has treated the elected prime minister of Israel for the last six years, Obama refereed to Netanyahu only by his surname, and did not call him “Benjamin Netanyahu” or “Prime Minister Netanyahu” whereas he did call other people by their first and last names.

You can watch that clip and a few others in this short summary:

Obama also made a dig at Hillary Clinton, the front-runner to be the Democratic candidate in the 2016 presidential election.

Noting that millions of Americans are living in a time of economic uncertainty, Obama said, “For example, I have one friend just a few weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year and she’s now living out of a van in Iowa.”


Below are two “human interest” articles. The first is about football (soccer) commentators in the Arab world, the second about a Saudi Arabian Black Metal band.

Here is a video of Tunisia’s Issam Chawali, who is referenced in the first article and is known for, among other things, rhyming Tiger Woods with Robin Hood to describe the greatness of a goal by Colombia’s Falcao.

In fact some Americans may not realize that soccer commentators in many other parts of the world, notably Latin America, are just as passionate -- Tom Gross.


Why Are Arabic Soccer Commentators So Damn Good?
By Daniel Altman
April 24, 2015
Foreign Policy magazine

You think you love soccer? You probably don’t love it as much as people in the Middle East and North Africa. Almost everywhere else, other sports compete for fans’ attention. But the Arab world – or at least a whole lot of it – has soccer monomania, and it has the commentators to match.

The English love their rugby and cricket. Argentines enjoy basketball and tennis. In Mexico, baseball is big. Throw in some auto racing and alpine sports for Italy and Germany. Table tennis has devotees across East Asia. And south of the Sahara, there’s distance running and more cricket – but not as much cricket as on the Asian subcontinent.

In the Arab world, soccer is the undisputed king. There aren’t even any pretenders to the throne. Camel or horse racing? They’re rich men’s sports. The people want soccer, so much so that even a decade ago, Al Jazeera was offering several channels of wall-to-wall action from around the world, beamed by satellite across the region.

A frequent host of that action was – and still is – Lakhdar Berriche, a jovial Algerian who has long anchored Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Spanish league. Back in the early years, he would jauntily flip his scarf over his shoulder and take viewers on a brief tour of the home team’s city before each match began. These days he’s the beloved face of competitions ranging from the African Cup of Nations to the Champions League. Cosmopolitan and conversational, he eases his audience into his telecasts like a warm bath.Cosmopolitan and conversational, he eases his audience into his telecasts like a warm bath.

But it’s during the matches themselves that the Arabic commentators really start to shine – and the bathwater starts to boil. The foremost among them may be Tunisia’s Issam Chawali. Balding and bespectacled, with the outward mien of a midcareer accounting student, he peppers his rapid-fire play-by-play with tidbits from popular culture as well as his encyclopedic knowledge of players past and present. He might compare the Netherlands’ Clarence Seedorf to past Dutch greats like Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, and Johan Cruyff. Or he might rhyme Tiger Woods and Robin Hood to describe the greatness of a goal by Colombia’s Radamel Falcao.

The words, of course, are hardly the most important part. Whatever Chawali’s saying, it’s all part of a massive crescendo as either team nears the mouth of the opposing goal, with a frenetic peak of volume and syllables when anyone scores. And that’s exactly than what his viewers expect. The nonstop verbiage of Arabic commentators – quite a contrast to the reserved interventions of their English-language counterparts – even provoked a satirical article suggesting they could be fired for leaving a few seconds of dead air.

To be sure, there are plenty of mile-a-minute talkers in other languages, too. There are also distinctive voices like the Argentine Marcelo Araujo’s nasal foghorn and the high-pitched shrieks of Italy’s Carlo Zampa. And there are founts of enthusiasm like the adoptive Americans Andrés Cantor (who made the Spanish “GOOOOOOL!” call famous here) and Ray Hudson (whose eloquence in describing the play of Lionel Messi reaches Ciceronian proportions).

But they can’t match the combination of verbal gymnastics, wacky references, and pure elation that comes across in an Arabic telecast. Just compare three calls of the same goal by the former Newcastle player Hatem Ben Arfa against Bolton in 2012: In English, it’s a great goal, no question – there’s even a Messi comparison – but it’s tough to picture the commentator’s feet leaving the floor. The French version starts off softly and barely increases in volume until Ben Arfa, a Frenchman himself, has completed his majestic run and the ball is already bouncing past the goalkeeper.

Now listen to the Arabic, or, even better, read the transliteration: “Ben Arfa Ben Arfa Ben Arfa Ben Arfa Ben Arfa Ben Arfa BEN ARFA BEN ARFAAAAAA!” followed by a full minute of hair-on-fire craziness involving invocations of Diego Maradona and other supreme deities. This is what soccer commentary should be like: one human being left awestruck by the on-field apotheosis of another, emotions overflowing too quickly for white-hot vocal cords to keep up. The exhilaration lasts long after the ball hits the back of the net, extending the moment in which we’re all that much happier to be alive.

It’s no less than the audience deserves. These days, much of the Arab world lives under the shadow of violence, intimidation, and curtailment of the most basic rights. But soccer there is about love and joy – and the commentators show it.



Meet the Saudi Arabian Black Metal Band Breaking Saudi Law By Being a Black Metal Band
By Nick Chester
April 21, 2015

Black metal bands have never been keen on religion. Only, in parts of the world where religion can actually be oppressive, bands inspired by Bathory and Mayhem and Burzum are few and far between.

That’s presumably because it’s a lot easier to be in an anti-Christian metal band in the UK, say, than in an anti-Islamic metal band in Saudi Arabia. In England, your obstacles extend to overhearing your mum tell a friend you’re just “going through a phase”; in Saudi Arabia, they include social ostracism and the possibility of imprisonment or death.

With that in mind, you’ve got to give it to Saudi Arabia’s only black metal band, Al-Namrood, whose lyrics include all sorts of things that could get them executed. I got in touch with guitarist and bassist Mephisto for a chat.

VICE: How did Al-Namrood first come into being and what’s the meaning behind your name?

Mephisto: Three men decided to put their aggression into music, specifically black metal. Needless to say, the concepts that are involved in black metal describe what we are experiencing. The band started with the creative idea of combining the Arabic scale with black metal and Arabic lyrics. The main goal was to create something catchy and harsh that fulfils the needs of extreme metal.

Al-Namrood is the Arabic name of the Babylonian king Nimrod, who was a mighty tyrannical king who ruled Babylon with blood and defied the ruler of the universe, according to the tenets of monotheistic religions. We find the title of Al-Namrood to perfectly fit the message of the band. [Literally, Al-Namrood translates to “non-believer”.]

VICE: What’s the motivation for adopting such a vehemently anti-religious stance in such a staunchly Islamic country?

We’re fed up with religion; the fact is that everything that is connected to it makes us nauseous. I personally spoke to a shrink. He advised me that whenever I get inflamed I you have to express [what I’m feeling]. So here we are, expressing. What can be more motivating than living in a place where everything is controlled by religion? Basically, individuals here have no rights to do anything. We’re owned by the Islamic sharia. Everything we do must be justified by Islam and acknowledged by society. There are two outrageous powers: religion and our society. They both interact and fulfil each other.

VICE: In what way?

While there’s a lot of hypocrisy, it has been demonstrated that the local people are very much in agreement with the Islamic system. For example, in Islam, music is generally forbidden, but Muslim people listen to it on the basis that “God forgives”. But when it comes to to freedom of choice, “God never forgives.” Everything is chosen for an individual from birth until death. A child is born and raised to become Muslim and never given a choice to look at other religions. Education is highly biased and focused upon the Islamic world. There is no chance of considering multiple points of views. The only view that can be adopted is the view of the acknowledged tradition and approved religious practice. Freedom of expression is a crime, justified by the fact that “it can disturb the peace”. Even in marriage you cannot choose your partner; rather, the elders choose for you. This social approach mixed with religious control is normally practiced in our country with no objection.

VICE: How did you first become interested in metal? I can’t imagine black metal CDs are particularly easy to get hold of in Saudi Arabia.

It happened gradually, of course. When we were exposed to metal we started basic, then we elevated to the extreme. We liked the concept of black metal, as it describes the irrationality of religion. Of course, this context exists in other genres, like death metal, but we lent more towards black metal because it has many elements of punk metal, which has awesome music and concepts. We purchased CDs from neighbouring countries and smuggled them in discreetly. We educated ourselves about the outside world by also purchasing smuggled books, thanks to some amazing crazy friends, and then the internet came to extend our knowledge massively.

VICE: I’ve read that you never use your real names and never have your photos published, and that even your families don’t know that you make metal. Going to such lengths to remain anonymous must be quite a strain.

Not at all. We’ve been doing this from childhood. I mean, we’ve had a different perspective than the rest of our society from an early age, and we’ve learnt that sharing these views is not feasible for us. Some of us tried hard to fit in and share our thoughts, but ended up serving time in jail, so the lifestyle of being mentally isolated from the surrounding environment started from an early age. When it came to our musical approach, we just applied the same methodology of coping.

VICE: Why do you think that, in spite of the fact that metal bands frequently incorporate an anti-religious sentiment into their lyrics, there have been so few bands that have said anything negative about Islam?

Simply because they haven’t experienced it. Christianity nowadays is passive; the church doesn’t control the country. I think whatever rage that people have got against the church cannot be compared with Islamic regimes. You can criticise the church under freedom of speech in European countries, but you can’t do that in Middle Eastern countries; the system doesn’t allow it. Islam has inflicted more authority on the Middle East than any other place in the world. Every policy has to be aligned with sharia law, and this is happening right now in 2015. We know that, 400 years ago, brutality occurred in the name of the church, but the same is happening right now in this age with Islam.

VICE: What kind of obstacles do you encounter when it comes to recording your music?

The obstacles are greater than colossal – it’s like living in a cave and demanding electricity. In radical Islamic countries, this music is considered to be a crime by Islamic law. We are living our lives in isolation. Basically, our identity is hidden and our musical interests are kept top secret. It’s risky, and the risk gets bigger if we want to publicise our band. However, the obstacles do not stop at social aspects; also, the lack of availability of decent musical equipment is an issue, and getting the musical equipment into the country can be a problem.

VICE: Have you ever played a live show, or is that straight up impossible?

It’s impossible, because it’s illegal. We can be sentenced to death if we do them.

VICE: Your lyrics focus heavily upon the demons and jinn of pre-Islamic Arabia. What’s the inspiration for this?

We were taught in school that Arabs were living in utter darkness before Islam came to illuminate the people, but we find history more interesting than the post-Islamic world. We also like some Arabian tales from the Middle Ages, like One Thousand and One Nights.

VICE: You mentioned that you made a conscious decision to incorporate regional instruments into your songs. Can you tell me about that?

Yes. When we compose a song we can sense that a particular part can use Arabic instruments, such as an oud or a qanoon. The tricky part is figuring out how to combine the quarter tone with guitar tuning. Once this part is done, the rest just comes along. We are not experts in music production; we just make music that is pleasing to our ears. Some parts just come naturally, and some parts require revising and editing.

VICE: Do you ever see a day when Saudi Arabia will have a fully-fledged black metal scene?

Judging by the direction that the country is heading in, I would say not in a thousand years.

Thanks, Mephisto.

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