Public Comment

The Usual Suspects Sound Off on the Middle East

Friday June 30, 2006

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following letters appear only on our website. 


Editors, Daily Planet: 

David Altschul employs a familiar tactic used by the apologists for Israel’s indefensible policies. He ignores every specific, documented criticism of Israel and reiterates all the old nonsense about “the Arabs” being solely responsible for the Palestinian conflict. This does not square with the meticulous research of Israeli historians like Tom Segev and Avi Shlaim which show the original Zionist antagonism towards the native Arabs as well Israeli belligerence towards the Arab states from the beginning. 

The Palestinians were never “nonexistent” to use Altschul’s repellent version of holocaust denial and the PLO did distinguish between Jews and Zionists, whom are not all identical. Altschul’s selective reading of the Arab media is not impressive, Al-Jazzera has had the freest, best investigative reporting of any media outlet in the Middle East. 

Women are required to sit in the back of the Orthodox synagogues in Israel, Reform and Conservative Jews have considerably less freedom of religion. Israel does have some courageous media outlets and they are constantly being censored by the Israeli government. 

Altschul overlooks the history of Israeli aid to Hamas as a counterbalance to the secular PLO. As he overlooks the horrible occupation that gave rise to the Hamas victory. 

Altschul’s “arguments” for Israeli policies parallel those former apologists for apartheid South Africa who would proclaim the superiority of that regime to those of the rest of Africa as if that mitigated the horrors of apartheid. 

Kris Martinsen 


Editors, Daily Planet: 

So dark the Conn of Hallinan.  

Conn Hallinan buys uncritically the Palestinian claim that an errant Israeli artillery shell landed on a hapless Palestinian family enjoying a day at the beach. Perhaps it did. Or, perhaps not. No one disputes that Israel fired six shells at terrorists who were firing missiles into Israel, and that these terrorists had set up their position just a few hundred yards from that beach. Israel further admits that it can account for the exact landing site of only five of the six shells fired. On the other hand, Israel has tendered a great deal of evidence suggesting that their shelling was not responsible for the civilian deaths. For example, the missing shell in question landed a full five minutes before the beach explosion. Moreover, Israel has a history of telling it straight, profusely apologizing when they do inadvertently hurt civilians, and treating injured Palestinian civilians in their state-of-the-art hospitals. Meanwhile, Palestinians have repeatedly been caught fabricating evidence in incidents such as these. While Hallinan jumps to the conclusion he desires, for me the jury is still out. 

But while we wait for more evidence, let’s consider some facts that no one disputes. First, when Palestinian civilians are killed, Israel regards it as a military failure in the fog of war. When Palestinians kill Israeli civilians it is considered a triumph, the very achievement of their purpose. Who can forget the scenes of Palestinians dancing in the streets of Gaza on September 11 or the stream of suicide bombers into Israel before it constructed its security fence? Let’s further ponder just why it is that Israel is firing shells at terrorists in Gaza in the first place. It is because Gaza-based terrorists almost daily fire missiles into Israeli civilian towns and villages along the border. The distances are small. It is as though the people of El Cerrito persisted in firing missiles into Berkeley. What exactly is Israel supposed to do about this? Hallinan says Israel should negotiate. With whom, and about what? The “whom” in question would be the Palestinian Authority headed by the popularly elected Hamas. But Hamas’ charter calls for the “obliteration” of Israel. Hamas has nothing it cares to negotiate. Hallinan needn’t believe me, he need merely ask his friends in Hamas. He will find that Hamas regards the obliteration of Israel as a divine imperative from Allah which is not subject to human give and take. Moreover, Israel cannot withdraw anymore from Gaza than it already has. Israel no longer occupies so much as one square inch of Gaza, and every single last Jew has been removed. The place is completely Judenrein. Let’s now ponder just why it is that every last Jew must leave Palestine. Fully 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Arabs. But not one single Jew is permitted to live as a loyal citizen of Palestine, just as Jews cannot live in Saudi Arabia.  

It is clear to all but the blind that this intifada is not about Israeli “occupation,” it is about Israeli existence. Why else would Palestinians be firing missiles into Israel, and with the full backing of a large majority of the populace, after it had abandoned Gaza? Hallinan clearly cares not one whit about Israeli existence because that is all Israel can give that would satisfy Hamas. In this he joins the company of Hamas’ backers on Berkeley’s City Council, Kriss Worthington, Linda Maio, and Dona Spring.  

John Gertz 


Editors, Daily Planet: 

In both Judith Scheer’s woefully unbalanced reportage on pro-Palestinian protests concerning the Gaza Beach incident and Conn Hallinan’s poorly researched column, it is evident that neither has transcended their doctrinaire radical past. And then, of course, there is Barbara Lubin, who has proven herself utterly incapable of articulating any semblance of truth as her typical rant quoted at the protest reveals. 

I suggest readers who really wish to know what happened check out the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung. That publication suggested that the Gaza beach incident had actually been orchestrated by the Palestinians. Examining Palestinian cameraman Zakarija Abu Harbed’s pictures of 10-year-old Huda Ghalia, the newspaper reported: “Harbed claims that Huda escaped serious injury, since she was bathing in the sea. In his photos, however, Huda is running around in dry street clothes. Harbed runs several minutes of the crying Huda and afterwards turns his camera to the dead and injured.  

“Suddenly a man beside Huda’s dead father can be discerned, until now covered and motionless, who appears with a machine gun in his hand. In the pictures of the cameraman one can recognize both medics in green clothes as well as dozens of men, most with typical Hamas full beards, apparently securing pieces of evidence.  

“However one must ask, why the medics do not worry about the injured people and policemen do not secure the place. Have the Hamas men, as Israeli media quote Palestinian eye witnesses, removed pieces of evidence? 

“It is also strange why in Harbed’s pictures we cannot discern a crater. The more cameraman Harbed is asked by Sueddeutche Zeitung in the telephone interview, the more he evades the issue. Was he at the scene of the incident before the outpatient clinic [personnel] arrived? Who are the civilians, who are cleaning the beach? Who is the armed man on the ground, who suddenly rises? If it was an Israeli army shell that killed the Ghalia family members, why don’t the Palestinians show its fragments?” 

Meanwhile, on June 21 the IDF reported that tests on two pieces of shrapnel removed from victims being treated in Israel demonstrate “beyond all doubt” that they do not come from a 155mm artillery shell as claimed by the Palestinians and supporters like Lubin. Adding to the possibility of a Palestinian coverup, the Sourasky Medical Center issued a statement saying that one of the victims of the beach incident, Ayham Ghalia, had been ‘cleansed’ of shrapnel before arriving at the Israeli hospital. There medical investigators wrote: “We would like to make it clear that no fragments were found in her body except for one fragment that is inaccessible to surgery; it is also clear—beyond all doubt—that part of her injuries were caused by fragments. 

“This combination is not routine and does not correspond to our accumulated medical experience as a result of having treated hundreds of patients who were wounded in terrorist attacks and by bombs and who usually arrive with fragments in various places throughout their bodies. 

“In such cases, standard medical practice is not to search for or extract the fragments unless they constitute an immediate danger to the patient. This is also the reason that, in most cases, fragments remain in the patients’ bodies, frequently for the rest of their lives.” 

Although the hospital statement stops short of accusing Palestinian doctors directly of removing shrapnel for no medical reason, it raises a red flag concerning what may have happened prior to Ghalia’s treament in Israel. 

When it comes to Hallinan and other critics of Israel, much has been made of allegations by Human Rights Watch’s military “expert” Marc Garlasco. Such critics fail to note that Garlasco met on June 19 with Major Gen. Meir Klifi, head of the IDF inquiry and acknowledged that HRW was unable to contradict the IDF’s findings.  

As The Jerusalem Post reports: “Following the three-hour meeting, described by both sides as cordial and pleasant, Garlasco praised the IDF’s professional investigation into the blast, which he said was most likely caused by unexploded Israeli ordnance left laying on the beach, a possibility also raised by Klifi and his team. Garlasco told Klifi during the meeting that he was impressed with the IDF’s system of checks and balances concerning its artillery fire in the Gaza Strip and unlike Hamas which specifically targeted civilians in its rocket attacks, the Israelis, he said, invested a great amount of resources and efforts not to harm innocent civilians. 

“Garlasco has since then continued to trumpet his original statements but his backpedaling would seem to indicate that he is no longer as confident in his theory. The IDF and the Israeli government has come in for some criticism over its handling of its public diplomacy in the immediate aftermath of the Gaza beach incident. While, undoubtedly, much damage to Israel’s image may have been spared by a speedier response to Palestinian and media charges, the latest reaction of HRW to the IDF’s methodical and careful investigation confirms the strength of Israel’s credibility when confronted with spurious Palestinian claims.” 

Of course, then there was the typical shot-from-the hip response from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who immediately said he was skeptical about the findings of Israel’s inquiry findings. However, Annan has now retracted his earlier comments, telling reporters that he had responded too quickly to “media speculations.” Annan’s admittance offers further evidence of a pro-Palestinian bias (as we regularly see in the Daily Planet) in media reportage in influencing both the public and important international political figures. 

Regardless of who was responsible for the deaths of the family in Gaza, knowledgeable people internationally were understandably skeptical of the initial Palestinian allegations blaming Israel. After all, it was the Palestinians who claimed an Israeli army massacre in the refugee camp at Jenin. This notorious myth has since been debunked by Human Rights watch and the UN. And then there was the infamous “death” of 12 -year-old Muhammed al-Dura at the hands of the IDF, later shown to have been staged by a Palestinian filmmaker (see The Atlantic, June, 2003). Correspondingly, it is understandable that the Palestinian propaganda machine which regularly churns out such fabrications has become internationally known as “Pallywood.” 

Finally, be they Palestinians or Israelis, the death of innocents is always deplorable. And as Hallinan noted, there was plenty of Israeli sympathy for the loss of the Palestinian family’s life in Gaza. But have you ever seen any Palestinians or supporters such as Barbara Lubin express grief for Jewish victims of Palestinian suicide bombers? 

Dan Spitzer