Israeli F-16 fighter jets perform during an air show over the beach in the coastal city of Tel Aviv as Israel marks Independence Day, on April 23, 2015
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — A list of NGOs that would be targeted in Israel’s controversial “transparency” bill was made public on Thursday, revealing that 23 of the 25 organizations listed were left-wing groups — news which the targeted NGOs told Ma’an constitutes a “political assault on dissent.”In December, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is also the leader of the ultranationalist Israeli Home Party, pushed for a “transparency” bill which would compel NGOs to reveal their sources of funding if more than 50 percent came from foreign entities, in a move she said would crack down on groups who receive foreign funds in order to criticize Israel.Organizations which fit the bill’s criteria would be obligated to make their foreign funding public in publications and reports, and in any contact with public officials or employees.Representatives of such organizations would also be forced to wear name tags at Knesset meetings displaying the name of their organization. Failure to abide would lead to fines up to 29,200 shekels ($7,561).The list of NGOs, obtained exclusively by Israeli newspaper the Jerusalem Post, revealed that 23 out of the 25 organizations were left-wing groups, with two groups reportedly being centrist or non-affiliated.No right-wing organizations were listed.According to the Jerusalem Post, the organizations listed include B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, the Economic Cooperation Foundation, Yesh Din and The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel — all of which work on Palestinian rights in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.The bill passed its first reading in the Knesset in February, and returned to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Wednesday.Critics have slammed the bill, with Meretz party chairwoman Zehara Galon calling the bill in December “political persecution,” “censorship,” and a “witch hunt.”Since organizations in Israel which rely on foreign funding also tend to oppose the government’s right-wing policies against Palestinians, the potential legislation has been deemed an attempt to weed out human rights groups working to denounce large-scale human rights violations in the occupied territory.“This is a blacklist we are proud to be on, and it puts to rest the government’s bogus claim this bill is anything other than a political assault on dissent,” Sarit Michaeli, the spokeswoman for Israeli human rights group B’Tselem told Ma’an on Thursday.Yesh Din spokesman Gilad Grossman told Ma’an that the left-wing organizations listed on the bill already publish all of their funding sources on their websites.“You don’t need anymore proof that this bill has nothing to do with transparency. It’s part of a delegitimization campaign centered on attacking left-wing organizations and civil society,” Grossman said.“This is coming from a government that consistently tries to whitewash a long list of crimes committed by Israelis in the occupied West Bank. It is yet another attempt at silencing groups in Israel who are trying to combat these right-wing policies against Palestinians,” he added.“The Israeli government is trying to paint human rights organizations as foreign agents and it’s a blatant lie.”The “transparency” bill has been referred to by critics as a dangerous addition to the increasingly right-wing policies of the Israeli government, as extreme nationalist views have become mainstream in the Israeli public arena.Leftist Israeli NGOs have faced an intensifying government crackdown in past months for their work.Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization which provides testimonies of Israeli soldiers and veterans recounting their experiences serving in the occupied Palestinian territory, were accused of “treason” in March for releasing accounts by soldiers reportedly containing classified information — a charge the group has consistently denied.An Israeli court held a hearing in May over the charges, with the attorney general demanding the group release the identity of soldiers who gave accounts of human rights abuses and war crimes committed in the occupied territory.
The court hearing was delayed until July 18 after the attorney general requested additional time to prepare the case.The group has said the move is a government attempt to shut down the organization and prevent it from continuing its work, which is dependent on maintaining the anonymity of soldiers who come forward to reveal human rights abuses committed against Palestinians.
BETHLEHEM, (POC)– Israeli military court of Ofer sentenced Qusai Issa, 22, from Bethlehem to one year of actual imprisonment in addition to a fine estimated at 2000 shekels ($550) after charging with incitement on Facebook. Palestinian Prisoner Society revealed, in a statement on Wednesday, that the sentences that were issued over the charge of incitement on Facebook ranged between 8 and 12 months. Israeli prosecution, however, demands a two-year sentence for other Palestinians on similar charges. Statistical reports by institutions concerned with Palestinian prisoners’ issues demonstrate that Israeli authorities arrested 157 Palestinians from October, 2015 until late April, 2016 based on charges of posting on social networking sites. Some of them were indicted with incitement, while others were held under administrative detention.
RAMALLAH, (PIC)– The Israeli occupation forces (IOF) last night arrested at least 10 Palestinian citizens in different West Bank areas. Local sources said that most of the arrests took place in al-Khalil, Tulkarem, Jenin and Occupied Jerusalem. Two of the detainees were identified as Tahsin al-Ja’ba and Hatem al-Junaid, both from al-Khalil, and another one was identified as Sari Abu Alya, from Ramallah. In Jenin and Tulkarem, five young men were also kidnapped in different IOF campaigns. In Jerusalem, the IOF arrested a Palestinian young man in the central bus station on allegations of finding a knife in his possession. Another young man was taken prisoner during an IOF campaign in Anata town near the Old City of Jerusalem. In another incident, overnight clashes broke out in Bethlehem city and near Aida refugee camp between Israeli soldiers and local young men. The IOF also stormed Beit Fajjar town south of Bethlehem and Far’un town near Tulkarem, with no reported arrests.
TUBAS, (PIC)– The Palestinian Authority (PA) apparatuses on Wednesday kidnapped two journalists from the occupied West Bank provinces of Ramallah and Tubas. The PA General Intelligence officers in Tubas arrested the Palestinian journalist Zayd Abu Ara, 29, after summoning him for interrogation. Zayd’s father, Mustafa, said the PA intelligence arrested his son shortly after they spoke up to him by phone and summoned him for questioning. The family said efforts have been underway since the early morning hours to reach Zayd’s location. Zayd, a professional journalist, had been arrested by the PA on various past occasions on account of his work with the Quds Press International news agency. The PA General Intelligence forces further arrested the 24-year-old Palestinian photojournalist Ameer Abu Areim, working for the al-Aqsa TV Channel in Ramallah, Ameer’s wife Juman Abu Arafa said on Facebook. Eyewitnesses said the PA officers stopped a vehicle driven by Ameer in Birzeit and forced him out at gunpoint. Journalist Tareq Abu Zayd has, meanwhile, been kept in the PA penitentiaries in Nablus for the 16th day running. Journalist Layla Hamarsha said Abu Zayd will be brought before court on Thursday after the judge turned down five appeals to release him on a bail.
“You build in your countries and destroy in ours?” said one man who lost his father in the bombing at al Gharra. “Is this how you bring democracy? Stop it. Really, stop it. People are tired.”
A Kurdish boy, center background, walks between buildings that were destroyed during the battle between the U.S. backed Kurdish forces and the Islamic State fighters, in Kobani, north Syria
ISTANBUL — Al Gharra is a mud-brick village built on hard, flat Syrian desert and populated by the descendants of Bedouin. It is a desolate place. Everything is dun colored: the bare, single-story houses and the stony desert they stand on. There is not much farming — it is too dry — just a few patches of cotton and tobacco.
Before the war, villagers got a little money from the government to look after the national park on Mount Abdul-Aziz, a barren rock that rises 3,000 feet behind the village and stretches miles into the distance. Mount Abdul-Aziz is named after a lieutenant of the 12th-Century Muslim warrior Saladin, who built a fort to dominate the plain below. There is a military base there today too, which changes hands according to the fortunes of Syria’s civil war. In 2011, the regime of Bashar al-Assadheld the base; next it was the rebels of the Free Syrian Army; then the so-called Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS); and finally the Kurds, who advanced and took the mountain last May under the cover of American warplanes.
Abdul-Aziz al Hassan is from al Gharra, his first name the same as the mountain’s. He left the village while the Islamic State was in charge, but it is because of a bomb from an American plane that he cannot go back. What happened to his family is the story of just one bomb of the 35,000 dropped so far during 10,000 missions flown in the US-led air war against the Islamic State.
Al Hassan is in his 20s, small, soft-spoken, with chestnut-brown skin. He said the war did not affect al Gharra much back when the regime or the Free Syrian Army occupied the mountain’s military base. But he remembers the day that the Islamic State came. “I was sitting in front of the house when a jeep passed by and stopped at the shrine to Saladin’s commander,” he said. “They gathered all of the people. One said: ‘We are the Islamic State. We are here to create an emirate based on Sharia (Islamic law).’” From that day, they decreed, men had to be in the mosque, the women at home. If a woman wanted to go to the market, she had to walk with a husband, brother or son. No one outside the family could see women uncovered, even at home. “It wasn’t as if we didn’t know what Islam was. But they didn’t even like the way we prayed. Everything we did was wrong in their eyes.”
Still, the presence of Islamic State fighters in the village was rare. They largely stayed within the base. “We managed to live normal lives most of the time. We had family and friends and loved ones around us. We entered each others’ houses for gatherings or parties. We shared the same happiness and sadness.” The U.S.-led coalition occasionally launched airstrikes in the distance. The ground shook “like an earthquake;” sometimes a house fell down. But it wasn’t the bombs or even the dictates of the Islamic State that made al Hassan first leave home. It was the grinding poverty, worsened by war.
“There was no bread and no work,” he said. He took his wife and daughter and drove to Turkey. “My father stayed there to keep the house. The moment you leave, ISIL takes it. All our belongings are there.”
While al Hassan was in Turkey, as spring turned into summer last year, the war took another turn. Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, controlled territory that stopped just short of the mountain. Backed by American air power, they began an offensive to recapture it from the Islamic State. Al Gharra stood in the way. The road to the nearest town — Hasaka, held by the Kurds — was about a mile away from the village. The first bomb fell on that road between 10 and 11 in the morning on May 6 . Then a plane started circling over the village. People were afraid to stay in their homes. They ran into the open. Al Hassan’s father, Ismail, tried to run as well. But he was too late. The villagers remember seeing the plane point its nose down and dive, dropping a bomb. It then climbed away. Al Hassan’s father lay on the ground in a crumpled heap, dead, in front of the ruins of his house.
An uncle phoned to tell al Hassan what had happened. He rushed back to the village from Turkey. His father had died on the first day of the Kurdish offensive to take the mountain. It was still going on when al Hassan returned. “Most of the people had fled because a drone was still roaming around. The airstrikes didn’t stop … one every 15 to 30 minutes,” he said. There were more bombs as the Kurdish forces advanced. “Any village would be heavily bombed until the Kurds managed to get inside. Then they’d let it be. The airstrikes were unbelievable. It was complete destruction. They kept bombing until they got to the mountain.”
The Kurds told reporters covering the offensive that there were a thousand Islamic State fighters at the mountain base. But Al Hassan is adamant that no Islamic State fighters were in the village when his father died. “The Islamic State were not there at the time of the bombing,” he said. “Whenever they expected a strike, they would leave the villages.” And anyway, he went on, they had already sent their troops to try to block the Kurdish advance at the frontline close to Hasaka. “During the airstrikes there was no one. There is no need to lie about this. I don’t support any of the groups fighting this war. The only thing that matters to me is my family’s security.”
There were no independent witnesses in al Gharra to say whether or not Islamic State fighters were there. The YPG general commanding the assault on what the Kurds call Mount Kezwan thought so, or at least he was inclined to see villagers and Islamic State fighters as one and the same. He was quoted as saying that “many of the local villages are Arab and they often support ISIL.” And in the offensive against the jihadist group, the Kurds are often fighting for land they would claim as part of their own future state. They see the Arabs in some of the towns and villages they have captured as aliens with no right to be there.
Al Hassan left his village for the second time — again with his family — a day before the Kurdish forces took full control of the area. They fled over the mountain and drove through Raqqa, the place the Islamic State calls its capital, before crossing the Turkish border. “When the Kurds arrived, they kicked everybody out under the pretext that ISIL had littered the village with booby traps,” he said. “So the entire village left. Almost half of the village was destroyed — then it was completely empty.”
Before they left, they buried his father in a simple grave in the village’s small cemetery. Ismail was 55 and left behind 10 children. Al Hassan was the eldest. “Death comes for all of us. But he wasn’t old and he was the entire family’s provider.” His father’s house — now a pile of rubble — had been home for the whole extended family. “Even if we went back, where would we live? In our destroyed house?” Al Hassan asked bitterly. “Does the American government think we have money? Do they think I can just go back and rebuild our house?” He and the rest of the family are now stuck in Turkey … refugees.
The U.S. military could not confirm whether or not bombs were dropped on al Gharra (also known as al Gharba). A spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the name of the U.S.-led military campaign against the Islamic State, offered a vague response to our questions. He simply said the coalition had “conducted a number of airstrikes near al Hasaka” on May 6 and 7. When pressed about whether the mountain or the village was hit on those days, the spokesman replied: “We can confirm that Abdul-Aziz mountain is geographically close enough to be considered ‘near al Hasaka.’ However, we do not have a record of striking that particular mountain.”
As a result of al Hassan’s testimony provided by GlobalPost, U.S. Central Command— CENTCOM — said it would look again at whether it did bomb the village. For now, the United States has no record of killing any civilian in al Gharra. GlobalPost found other instances of U.S. airstrikes — detailed below — that probably killed civilians but which were not officially investigated, or which were investigated and dismissed. In almost a-year-and-a-half of bombing Iraq and Syria, the United States admits to killing just 21 innocent people. An independent monitoring group says the real figure could be more than a thousand.
This is how the US-led coalition investigates itself when accused of killing civilians
The explanation for the U.S. military’s impossibly low number can be found in the very way it investigates its own airstrikes. A CENTCOM spokesman told us that all civilian casualties were investigated — even if something as insubstantial as an anonymous post to Twitter was the only source. But some U.S. investigations were cursory at best, amounting to what appears to be willful blindness. In an airstrike on one Syrian village — also detailed below — it seems that simple confusion over place names meant that civilian casualties were never investigated and were left uncounted. A coalition spokesman eventually said that CENTCOM would review that case too, after GlobalPost pointed out the village on a map.
“No other military on Earth takes the concerns over collateral damage and civilian casualties more seriously than we do.”
Standing orders — the Rules of Engagement — give every mission in Operation Inherent Resolve the goal of causing zero civilian casualties. But given the immense firepower deployed in Iraq and Syria, killing civilians is frighteningly easy, especially from the air. American pilots and their commanding officers are heavily dependent on information from Kurdish troops. In several cases we have looked at, witnesses say civilians were at the scene but the pilots — or the Kurds calling in the strike — thought they were Islamic State fighters. In the few cases where the United States admits killing civilians, the explanation is often the same: the civilians ran into the target area just after the pilots pulled the trigger.
It is difficult — almost impossible — to visit territory controlled by the so-called Islamic State. But we know about airstrikes from witnesses, survivors, human rights activists, video uploaded to YouTube and even lists of the dead published on Facebook. If you believe that evidence, many more civilians are dying in American airstrikes than the U.S. government acknowledges. People in Iraq and Syria can see what is happening. And so can the enemy. The Islamic State portrays the conflict as a war on Sunnis and a war on Muslims. When the coalition kills civilians — and does not investigate and apologize — the Islamic State fills the void with propaganda. The war against the Islamic State is ultimately a war for Sunni public opinion. Things look very different from the ground.
War will always result in civilian casualties — and some in the U.S. military want the strategy to recognize that. Those in uniform cannot state their views openly but a former U.S. Air Force general, David Deptula, argues that the current policy is imposing restrictions on the fighting men and women in the field well beyond the laws of war. “The laws of armed conflict do not require, nor do they expect, a target of zero unintentional civilian casualties,” he told me. “There is no such thing as immaculate warfare, it’s a horrible thing, an ugly thing, and … we need to finish it as rapidly as possible…What is the logic of a policy that restricts the use of air power to avoid the possibility of collateral damage, while allowing the certainty of the Islamic State’s crimes against humanity?”
The Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, has said: “No other military on Earth takes the concerns over collateral damage and civilian casualties more seriously than we do.” Yet as the examples below show there has been no honest official estimate of how many civilians the United States has killed in Iraq and Syria. Even if civilian casualties are an inevitable part of a “just” war, the Western public is being fed the comforting illusion that war can be fought without shedding innocent blood.
And that is simply not the case.
What may be one of the worst tragedies of the campaign against the Islamic State is said to have taken place on another part of Syria’s Hasaka front in December. Al Khan is a tiny village. Most of the people have fled to Lebanon or Turkey. Perhaps a hundred stayed behind. They say the village was hit by rockets and strafed in the early hours of Dec. 7, killing some 47 civilians, half of them children. We spoke to one of the residents by phone, an Arab man in his 30s who, fearing reprisals from the Kurds, wants to be known only by his nickname, Abu Khalil. The war against the Islamic State here is, again, being waged by American aircraft above and Kurdish militia forces on the ground. Abu Khalil accepts that there was an Islamic State presence in al Khan. But he said: “There were fewer than 10 fighters in the village, including two locals. And they all stayed together at one place.”
Abu Khalil does not support the Islamic State. He is a former civil servant in the Syrian education ministry and once served in the regime army (he deserted). “People in al Khan didn’t like ISIL and always avoided talking to them,” he said. The villagers even tried to expel them. According to one report, there was an altercation that escalated into an exchange of fire. The Islamic State apparently responded by sending reinforcements to the village. This convoy, it seems, was spotted by the Kurds, who no doubt thought they were seeing a big movement of troops to the frontline — and called in air support. If this version of events is true, it is a bitter irony for the villagers. It would mean their brave opposition to the Islamic State resulted in a brutal attack by American aircraft.
Abu Khalil is haunted by that night of carnage and destruction.
“It was past midnight. We were sleeping. We were suddenly wakened by a huge explosion. The house shook. The windows shattered. There was shrapnel in the walls. I ran out and saw my neighbor’s house completely destroyed. He told me, ‘Abu Khalil, I managed to rescue my wife and son but I can’t find my six-month-old baby. Help me!’ I could hear people calling from underneath the rubble. My neighbor’s mother was crying out. She’s 70. I pulled her out, along with a boy and his mother. They were all OK.
“My mother and my aunt both came running to help dig through the rubble. But while we did this, a helicopter — an Apache — came overhead. It fired. They had machineguns with explosive bullets. I was hit. I still have the shrapnel in my body. I fell into the hole made by the airstrike. That was what saved me. The helicopter circled round again and fired a second time. My mother and aunt were killed. The woman and her son I’d rescued were killed. Everyone but me was killed.
“Three powerful rockets were used in the first airstrike. They left a two-meter deep hole in the ground. Anyone could see the hole until the Kurdish militia filled it. They don’t let anyone go near the place or take pictures. Nineteen people died in that one house.
“It was the Americans. For the past year-and-a-half, the only aircraft that fly over our area have been American.”
The U.S. military emphatically denied that they bombed al Khan on Dec. 7, though a spokesman said there were airstrikes in the area of al Hawl, a small town a few miles away. But when the spokesman showed us a map marking the location of the airstrike, it was in the same area where a group of local activists had told us al Khan was located. This was where the locals said the rocket attack had taken place. Confusion over place names happens often enough for the U.S. military to plausibly deny responsibility for civilian casualties and to avoid launching a full investigation.
There was confirmation of an airstrike on al Khan from another important source — the Kurdish forces on the ground — though they denied there had been any civilian casualties at all. Abu Khalil’s account of the attack is consistent with interviews given elsewhere, though there are still many things that are unclear about the events in al Khan. Exactly how many Islamic State fighters were there? How many of them were killed? Were they close to the house that was hit? As in al Gharra, the village in the shadow of the mountain, there are no independent witnesses. In both cases, the airstrikes were almost certainly called in by Kurdish spotters. Information from the Kurds is passed on to a coalition “targeting cell.” Though the coalition’s aircraft are capable of striking with great precision, what they hit — who they hit — depends on the quality of that information. The coalition rarely has eyes and ears on ground. It is left to the pilots to confirm the target, from thousands of feet up.
The limitations of the pilot’s view are clear in the very first report the U.S. published about civilian deaths caused by Operation Inherent Resolve. A family died because two pilots could not see they were there. The report says the pilots simply did not know they were firing on civilians. It was published in November 2015. Until then, the U.S. military had not admitted to causing a single civilian casualty despite 15 months of bombing.
The report described an attack on March 13 of last year against an Islamic State checkpoint outside al Hatra in northern Iraq. Al Hatra is the site of one of the world’s oldest cities, dating back to the 3rd Century BC. Saddam Hussein restored the ruins, laying bricks stamped with his name into the ancient walls. When the Islamic State arrived, they used sledgehammers, Kalashnikovs and a bulldozer to demolish what they believe are the city’s “idolatrous” statues. Then they turned the site into a training camp, installing a checkpoint on the road nearby.
Two U.S. aircraft were given permission to fire on that checkpoint because it seemed — to the pilots and to everyone involved in the so-called “kill chain” — that no civilians were in the strike area. But a Kia sedan and a Chevy Suburban had been stopped at the checkpoint. They were there long enough for the pilots to think that the vehicles were helping the fighters there. Evidence emerged later that members of a family were in the car: two women and three children. The Suburban is thought to have had at least one other civilian and perhaps too, a family group. Through the dense thicket of military acronyms and jargon in the report, the horror of what happened emerges. The planes were A-10 “Warthogs,” snub-nosed aircraft used against tanks. The A-10s are built around a huge seven-barrel machine gun, like a Gatling gun, the “GAU Avenger,” which fires 50 to 70 rounds a second. Each shell is the size of a bottle of beer and the nose is weighted with a third of a kilogram of depleted uranium. One bullet can cut a human being in half; a stream of them can punch through armor or turn a person into red mist.
The Warthog’s cannon makes a distinctive, terrifying noise during an attack. The gun fires so rapidly it sounds like fabric tearing, or a piece of heavy furniture being dragged across a wooden floor (as one journalist described it while watching A-10s over Baghdad in 2003). The two Warthogs in al Hatra came in on their strafing run. They would have fired in two-second bursts, hitting the vehicles and checkpoint with at the very least 200 rounds, probably more. According to the report, four people got out of one of the vehicles just after the cannon was fired. The bullets hit the vehicles, which exploded in a ball of fire, incinerating everyone close by. “Post strike, both vehicles are on fire and it appears like there is one person still moving at the rear of the sedan,” the report said.
As in al Gharra and al Khan, the victims may well have been people who opposed the Islamic State. The women and children were killed as they were trying to leave territory held by the militant group, according to an email sent to the U.S. military by an Iraqi woman. (The email was sent to claim compensation for the destroyed vehicles.) Prompted by the email to investigate further, the U.S. military found its own evidence that non-combatants had been at the scene. Analysis of video from the Warthog’s camera in the “targeting pod” on the wing showed people getting out of the car and: “One of the persons observed … presents a signature smaller than the other persons. This was assessed as a possible child.” Officials determined this by measuring the height of the shadow when the image was blown up on a large screen.
The pilots could not have done such analysis in flight and the report says: “There is no evidence the aircrew had any opportunity to detect civilians prior to their strike.” The spokesman for U.S. Central Command, Col. Patrick Ryder, told reporters by video-link from Baghdad: “It’s safe to say … that if we knew there were civilians we would not have conducted a strike.” The report into al Hatra concludes, in its strangulated military language: “The NCV [Non-Combat Victims] = 0 objective was not met.”
U.S. forces, then, have orders to try not to kill civilians — it is a mission objective. But that is not the same as an absolute prohibition. And the National Security Council spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden, has said that bombing in Iraq and Syria would not be held to the same safeguards used in Afghanistan, which only allow strikes when there is “near certainty” of no civilian casualties.
While the standard for strikes may be rigorous — a goal of zero civilian casualties — a target can be ruled free of non-combatants based on little more than an educated guess by the pilots. The pilots’ methods are reminiscent of the CIA’s controversial “signature” strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those strikes are called in based not on certain intelligence but because targets have suspicious patterns of behavior, “signatures” of terrorists. Being present in a militant area could be enough.
This is exactly the kind of judgment the Warthog pilots used when targeting the two vehicles held at the Islamic State checkpoint. The report into al Hatra also said that one of the planes dropped a 500-pound bomb on a shack at the checkpoint. “Prior to weapon impact but after weapon release a single adult sized PAX (person) is seen slowly moving to the north,” the report said. “This person is knocked down by the weapon impact and not seen moving again.” Was that a fighter, or a farmer? It is impossible to say.
One other revealing finding of the report is that the people getting out of the car were glimpsed only after the pilot had fired. It would have taken three or four seconds for the cannon rounds to hit the checkpoint. Even if the pilot had realized in that time that they were civilians, he could not have done anything about it. This is the theme of several other U.S. government reports into civilian casualties published in January 2016. Here are three excerpts from a Pentagon press release (Italics added by GlobalPost):
On June 19, 2015, near Tall al Adwaniyah, Syria, during a strike against two ISIL vehicles, it is assessed that one civilian was injured when appearing in the target area after the U.S. aircraft released its weapon.
On June 29, 2015, near Haditha, Iraq, during strikes against one ISIL tactical unit and two ISIL vehicles, it is assessed that two civilians were injured. After the U.S. aircraft engaged the target and two seconds prior to impact, a car slowed in front of the ISIL vehicles while a motorcycle simultaneously passed by.
On July 4, 2015, near Ar Raqqah, Syria, during a strike against an ISIL High Value Individual, a car and a motorcycle entered the target area after the weapon was released. It is assessed that three unidentified civilians were likely killed.
In all these cases, the Pentagon’s reporting says that people wandered into the firing line after the pilot had squeezed the trigger. That is a consequence of fighting in built up areas.
Taking all the published investigations so far, the U.S. military acknowledges causing the sum total of 21 civilian deaths in the campaign against the Islamic State. Such a low number is wildly implausible. Airwars, an independent monitoring group that tracks allegations of civilians casualties, says that at least 862 and as many as 1,190 non-combatants have died in coalition strikes in Iraq and Syria. The Airwars count is made by collating reports from several sources for each strike: human rights activists and the media, Facebook posts, and testimony from survivors and relatives of the dead. Each casualty report is judged credible based on the amount of detail and whether it is consistent with other evidence.
The head of Airwars, Chris Woods, says the “smart bombs” used by Western air forces have clearly reduced the risk to civilians on the battlefield. Nevertheless, he says that in Afghanistan, for example, more civilians died in airstrikes than were killed by foreign ground troops. Airpower was the single greatest cause of civilian death by international forces, killing one civilian for every 11 airstrikes. In Iraq and Syria, the ratio could be even worse, he says, because there are more attacks on “targets of opportunity” than those based on intelligence. And the campaign is being fought mainly in built-up areas where it is hard to distinguish the enemy.
“In the end, the generals who ran Afghanistan, David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, managed to start getting civilian casualties down by admitting they were killing civilians,” he said. War fighters were only forced to change tactics when confronted with the effects of what they were doing. “Right now, we are in the denial phase with the coalition. They don’t admit to killing civilians and we think that’s wrong. … The military is starting to believe their own myth of absolute precision … this fantasy lulls Western audiences into feeling more comfortable with our countries being at war because we think we don’t kill civilians anymore. I’m afraid the reality is far from that.” He went on: “It is probably fair to say that the coalition is taking more care than we have ever seen in any air war in recent history, but that’s relative precision and civilians are still dying … hundreds of them.”
In September 2014, doctors at a hospital in the southern Turkish city of Iskenderun were presented with a mystery. An injured Syrian boy, four or five years old, was brought there in a coma. He had no identifying documents and no parents, or anyone else, claimed him. Doctors wrote a Turkish name on his chart and kept him in intensive care. They would learn later that the child came from a village called Kfar Derian, just over the border. He was a victim of the very first U.S. airstrikes in Syria. How the coalition responded to what happened in Kfar Derian at least partly reveals why official figures fail to show the true extent of civilian casualties.
U.S. airstrikes in Syria began in the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 22, 2014. Two warships, one in the Red Sea and one in the Arabian Gulf, launched waves of cruise missiles, 47 in all. Some of them were aimed at Islamic State targets in Iraq; some at the Islamic State in Syria. But eight of those missiles were for the Khorasan group, which is part of Al Qaeda. One of them — it seems — hit the village of Kfar Derian. “The attack happened at night,” said Abu Mohammed, a 30-year-old from a neighboring village. He remembered seven or eight impacts spread across the mountainous terrain, coming 30 seconds apart, one after the other. “When the Syrian regime attacked, it was always in the day. The explosions were very big. When the people saw this they said the missiles came from the sea.”
Khorasan was unheard of until it was identified as a threat by the U.S. government. The U.S. said its members were experienced Al Qaeda operatives preparing bomb attacks on Western airlines. They were embedded with Al Qaeda’s Syrian ally, the Nusra Front (which is engaged in its own war with the Islamic State). The day after the attack, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that a missile hit a Nusra building, killing many fighters. But they said the explosion was so big that the blast wave also demolished a house 100 yards away — a Tomahawk cruise missile packs a 1,000 pound bomb and flies in at 550 mph. It can cause devastation over a wide area. The activists counted the bodies of 13 civilians in the house, including five women and five children. Abu Mohammed, speaking long after these events, put the number of dead much higher — “six families” — and denies there were armed men in the village: “The people were shepherds, nothing else.”
After the attacks he was asked by local people to go to Turkey to look for a mother and son whose bodies could not be found in the rubble. Three days later, he found the mother in a mortuary. After a week, he still couldn’t find the little boy. “We searched everywhere for him.” Then, having almost given up hope, he showed a picture of the boy at a hospital. Doctors recognized him.
The 5-year-old was not registered under his own name, Humam Darwish. “When I first saw him he was in intensive care, no movements, just breathing, inhaling and exhaling, nothing more. They told us they couldn’t do anything for him.”
Humam did not wake up for months. He is now an orphan — his mother, Fatima, and his father, Mohammed, are both gone — living in a children’s home, and very far from the alert, inquisitive little boy he used to be. Abu Mohammed calls him the sole survivor of a massacre. “Houses were bombed,” he said. “Families died. There were no survivors. The only one who lived was that child.” His testimony has differences with the activists’ account, most importantly his claim that no fighters were in the village. But both agree there were civilian casualties in Kfar Derian. The U.S. military says the eight missiles did not even succeed in wiping out Khorasan. The militants slipped away, tipped off by reconnaissance flights before the strike. Abu Mohammed said: “A day before, there was many scout planes over the area that was bombed.”
The Pentagon has never accepted that it killed civilians in the Khorasan strikes. Two days afterwards, the Pentagon press secretary, Admiral Kirby, was asked about civilian casualties in Kfar Derian. He replied: “We don’t have any credible operational reporting … that would sustain those allegations.” A year later, a declassified internal military document concluded, “no further inquiry required.” This was because: “A review of BDA (battle damage assessment) imagery did not credibly determine that civilians were present at the site. Open source images presented as casualties from the strikes actually came from previous GoS (government of Syria) strikes.”
The monitoring group Airwars say that coverage of Kfar Derian on one English language website did, wrongly, use a picture of a child killed in a regime bombing. But this is the only case they can find of such false reporting, while there were many other genuine images of the strike that Central Command could have used as the basis for an investigation. Woods, the head of Airwars, said such images were ignored for “pure propaganda” reasons — propaganda aimed at Americans, since Iraqis and Syrians already knew people were dying in coalition airstrikes. But Woods says it’s a mistake to think the information can be controlled, when anyone with a camera phone can post video of an airstrike online in minutes. “We know more about the civilian victims of this war, by all parties, than we’ve ever known in any conflict in history. That’s war today.”
He went on: “The Pentagon operates in this weird bubble where it pretends social media hasn’t been invented. It just ignores all these allegations of civilian casualties … If the coalition are not engaging in that territory (responding to claims of civilian casualties on social media), they are effectively ceding it to the Islamic State. The coalition needs to be more honest with Iraqis and Syrians.”
The conventional wisdom is that bombing must increase support for the Islamic State. The conventional wisdom may be wrong, although it is hard to be sure as there is no way to measure public opinion in the “Caliphate.” In the early days of the campaign in Syria, there were some anti-coalition demonstrations with placards declaring: “This is a war on all Sunnis.” But they may have been orchestrated, with people press-ganged to attend. There have been few, if any, large and spontaneous popular protests against the bombing. That maybe because the coalition has killed relatively few noncombatants in Syria compared to the Islamic State and the regime. In January 2015, a group of Syrian doctors said that indiscriminate air attacks by the regime caused 80% of civilian casualties, while the Islamic State caused 15%, and the coalition 5%.
But those who are directly affected by U.S. bombs are, as you would expect, bitter.
“You build in your countries and destroy in ours?” asked Abdul-Aziz al Hassan, who lost his father in the bombing at al Gharra. “Is this how you bring democracy? Stop it. Really, stop it. People are tired.” Abu Khalil, survivor of the devastating attack in al Khan, said he wanted compensation from the United States for the death of his mother. Abu Mohammed, who spoke to us about Kfar Derian simply condemned the United States as “Zionists,” echoing both jihadi and regime propaganda. He wanted nothing to do with America.
The Syrian Coalition reiterated the need to resume negotiations in Geneva as soon as possible, renewing calls on the European Union to play a more active role in Syria.
The remarks were made by the Coalition’s political committee in a meeting earlier today. The meeting discussed the visit made by the Coalition to the European Union and to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region over the past few days. The meeting also reviewed the outcome of meetings with the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and a number of EU officials.
The political committee stressed the need for ending the monopoly of the US and Russia over the Syrian file, calling for a greater European Union role in Syria as Europe is directly affected by terror and by the refugee crisis.
The meeting also discussed the visit made by a Syrian Coalition delegation to the Coalition’s offices in a France, Germany, Norway, and Croatia and proposed ways to develop relations with these countries and to reach out to Syrian communities there.
Furthermore, the meeting reviewed the visit by President of the Syrian Coalition Anas Alabdah to the Kurdistan Region during which he stressed the need for the Kurdish National Council-affiliated Peshmerga forces to join the fight against ISIS in Syria.
Ahmed Dawabsheh, the sole survivor of the infamous Duma arson attack, is healing.
Accompanied by his grandfather, Hussein, and his uncle, Nassr, Ahmed attended the second Palestine Media Forum in Istanbul, Turkey last month.
His scars are apparent. The five-year-old was the sole survivor of an arson attack on his family’s home in Duma last summer when extremist settlers firebombed the property killing Ahmed’s parents and his 18-month-old brother Ali. Ahmed suffered 60 per cent burns in the attack.
While Ali died immediately, Ahmed’s parents Saad and Riham fought for their lives in hospital but succumbed to their wounds weeks later.
As Ahmed lay in the Intensive Care Unit in Tel HaShomer Hospital he was unaware of the fate of his family. Five months later, and after being transferred to the children’s ward and undergoing a total of 10 surgeries, including skin grafts, his grandfather informed him what had happened.
“As family and friends visited him in the hospital, Ahmed would start asking why his parents have not come to visit yet,” Hussein told MEMO. “We told him they were also hurt and were receiving treatment just like he was.”
His uncle, Nassr, said that Ahmed still does not entirely comprehend that his brother and parents have passed away, but he does know that “they are in heaven”.
Ahmed’s right hand and the right side of his face still bear scars from the burns he sustained during the attack, but it is the emotional effects which have left the worst scars. His fear of fire and burning, Hussein says, is so severe that he cried and felt pain during a laser-treatment session for his right hand. “The doctor said that it doesn’t hurt, and I tried it and it didn’t,” he added. “I asked Ahmed why it hurt, he said it was making fire and that it was going to burn him.”
Earlier this year, the home of Ibrahim Dawabsheh, Ahmed’s relative and a key witness to the attack that killed his family, caught fire in what local residents described as a deliberate attack by masked individuals who broke the bedroom window and set the house on fire. Ibrahim was unharmed but his wife suffered smoke inhalation. Israeli police said the cause of the fire was unknown, denying it was an arson attack.
A few months after the attack, Amiram Ben-Uliel, 21, was charged with the murder of the Dawabsheh family, and an unnamed minor was also charged as an accomplice in the attack.
Ben-Uliel is part of a movement known as the “hilltop youth”, a leaderless group of young Israeli settlers who set up unauthorised outposts on West Bank hilltops and are accused of carrying out so-called “price tag” attacks against Palestinians and their properties. According to the UN, at least 120 attacks by Israeli settlers were documented in the occupied West Bank in 2015.
A report by Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organisation, showed that more than 92.6 per cent of complaints Palestinians lodge with Israeli police end with no charges being filed.
“If these were Palestinians who carried out such attack,” Attorney Omar Khamaisi, the director of the Nazareth-based Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, told MEMO, “suspects would quickly be rounded up and prosecuted under a military legal system and the homes of the attackers would have been demolished.”
Complaining about the slow process of indicting the Israeli assailants and the lack of action against hundreds of settlers who carry out attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank, Khamaisi, who is also the Dawabsheh family’s attorney, said that, unlike Palestinians, Israeli settlers are protected by the country’s criminal laws and Israel would never demolish their homes as a result.
Palestinian boys stand atop the rubble of a house after it was demolished by Israeli bulldozers in the West Bank village of al-Walaja near Bethlehem, April 12, 2016
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Layla al-Isawi is concerned and fears the Israeli authorities might demolish her family’s house in the Issawiya neighborhood of Jerusalem, allegedly because the family did not have a building permit from the municipality. In an interview with Al-Monitor, Isawi, 69, said she was surprised when she found a demolition notice on her door on May 9 after she returned from a visit to Hasharon prison in Israel, where her daughter Shirine is kept.
Shirine was arrested on March 6, 2014, and sentenced to four years in prison on charges of providing assistance to prisoners and acting as a facilitator between prisoners and leaders, along with her brother, who was sentenced to eight years in prison. The demolition notice stated that Isawi had 30 days to contact the Israeli authorities about the issue.
Isawi has been living in her family home for more than 40 years with her husband and eight children; the ground floor was built in 1969 and the second floor in 1996. She now worries that it will be destroyed, just like the house of her son Raafat, which was demolished on Jan. 1, 2013, under the same pretext of lack of a building permit.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, the head of the Jerusalem Legal Aid Center, Issam al-Arouri, said the Israeli municipality in Jerusalem and the Israeli Interior Ministry have been issuing orders to destroy houses and facilities that belong to Palestinians and were built without a permit. The Israeli authorities often refuse to grant building permits to Palestinians. The civil administration in Area C in the West Bank executes these orders. In the rare cases where building is approved by the Israeli authorities, Palestinians are burdened by issuance fees, which may amount to 120,000 Israeli shekels ($32,000).
Arouri said, “Israel only approves less than 1.5% of Palestinian applications for building permits; this is why they end up building without them. In Jerusalem, Israel issues a lot more demolition orders than building permits. The Israeli authorities speak of 25,000-30,000 houses in Jerusalem that were built without a permit, and therefore might be subject to demolition,” without basing the decision on certain specifications.
According to statistics published in September 2015 by B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Israel has partially or completely demolished a total of 1,049 houses between 1999 and 2004 in the West Bank, and 927 houses between 2006 and August 2015. In East Jerusalem, 988 houses built without permits were destroyed between 1999 and 2014, as per B’Tselem statistics published on Sept. 17, 2015. This came amid talks about over 30,000 houses in Jerusalem without permits, which means Israel only granted permits for a few houses, but there are no statistics in this regard.
Since the beginning of the occupation in the West Bank in 1967, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, Israel has adopted the demolition policy under different pretexts, mainly the lack of permits. In an interview with Al-Monitor, international law professor at Birzeit University Hanna Issa said, “Israel has been violating international law and resolutions, basing its actions on Article 119 of the British Mandate law, which was abolished right after the inception of the State of Israel in 1948.”
The article stipulates, “A Military Commander may by order direct the forfeiture to the Government of Palestine of any house, structure, or land from which he has reason to suspect the any firearm has been illegally discharged, or any bomb, grenade or explosive or incendiary article illegally thrown, or of any house, structure or land situated in any area, town, village, quarter or street the inhabitants or some of the inhabitants of which he is satisfied have committed, or attempted to commit, or abetted the commission of, or been accessories after the fact of the commission of, any offence against the Regulations involving violence or intimidation or any Military Court offence; and when any house, structure or land is forfeited as aforesaid, the Military Commander may destroy the house or the structure or anything on growing on the land. Where any house, structure or land has been forfeited by order of a Military Commander as above, the High Commissioner may at any time by order remit the forfeiture in whole or in part and thereupon, to the extent of such remission, the ownership of the house, structure or land and all interests or easements in or over the house, structure or land, shall revest in the persons who would have been entitled to the same if the order of forfeiture had not been made and all charges on the house, structure or land shall revive for the benefit of the persons who would have been entitled thereto if the order or forfeiture had not been made.”
The house demolition policy contradicts UN Security Council Resolution 1544 of 2004, calling on Israel to “respect its obligations under international humanitarian law, and insists, in particular, on its obligation not to undertake demolition of homes contrary to that law.”
The Israeli policy of house demolition also violates Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, stating, “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations”; as well as Article 46 of The Hague Convention of 1907, which states, “Family honor and rights, the lives of persons, and private property, as well as religious convictions and practice, must be respected. Private property cannot be confiscated.”
Issa explained that Israel destroyed 23,100 homes since 1967 as part of a collective punishment policy against Palestinians, with the aim of emptying regions, especially Jerusalem, for the benefit of the settlers.
The house demolition policy was harshly criticized by many international parties on several occasions, with the last one on May 16, when Israeli forces demolished and disassembled 12 EU-built homes in the Bedouin neighborhood in Jabal al-Baba east of Jerusalem, claiming they had been built without Israeli authorization. The incident led Robert Piper, the UN coordinator for humanitarian assistance and development aid for the occupied Palestinian territory, on May 19 to strongly criticize the Israeli move, while the European Union denounced the confiscation and demolition in a statement May 20, and only demanded Israel to put an end to this policy.
The head of the Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission, Walid Assaf, spoke to Al-Monitor about the role of the Palestinian Authority, saying, “There are 155 Palestinian neighborhoods in Area C that were built without a permit or a structural plan [to organize the phases of construction and cover all of the buildings facades and the infrastructure]. Since 1967, Israel has been refusing to approve any structural plan. The Israeli High Planning Council stipulates that to grant a building permit, the building must fall under a Palestinian structural plan. Therefore, since all structural plans have been rejected, no building will ever be granted the necessary permit and could be destroyed.”
Assaf said that Israel has intensified demolition operations in the first quarter of this year, with 600 demolitions to date. This figure is higher than the total of 587 demolitions reported last year.
Assaf indicated that the commission has been working with EU-affiliated organizations to prepare 103 structural plans for Palestinian neighborhoods in Area C. After submitting them to the Israeli authorities, only three were approved. Meanwhile, the Civil Administration and High Planning Council approved 103 plans for settlers and is now examining 177 new ones.
Netanyahu is currently leading the most extremist government along Israel’s history
Netanyahu’s remarks came just two days after he announced his acceptance to start negotiations based on the Arab Peace Initiative, which includes Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders
Days of Palestine, Jerusalem -Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Wednesday to keep Jerusalem united and Jewish under Israeli control forever.
While speaking to the Knesset on the 49th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, he said: “Our roots are deeper than any other nation’s, including to the Temple Mount. Jerusalem was ours and will remain ours.”
He also said: “Israel does not need to make excuses for its presence in Jerusalem. We remember Jerusalem up until the Six Day War [1967 war], when the city was split, with Israelis excluded from the Old City and its eastern neighbourhoods.”
The extremist PM added: “We certainly do not want to return to that situation… I believe the Six Day War clarified to our enemies that we are here to stay.”
The remarks of this idiot came just two days after he announced his acceptance to start negotiations based on the Arab Peace Initiative, which includes Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders.
Monitors said that these contradicted remarks prove that the Israeli officials do not have positive intentions towards a viable solution with Palestinians.
The following summary report on Palestinian prisoners in May 2016 was released by the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Mezan Center and the Prisoners’ Affairs Committee; Samidoun has translated below.
In May 2016, Israeli occupation forces arrested 471 Palestinians, bringing the number who have been detained since the beginning of the popular uprising in October 2015 to 5805.
The report pointed out that among those detained in May are included 84 children and 15 women, including 5 girls, and the Palestinian Legislative Council member, Abdel-Jaber Fuquha.
The highest number of arrests took place in Jerusalem, where 111 Palestinians were arrested. 80 were arrested in al-Khalil; 60 in Ramallah; 48 in Bethlehem; 45 in Nablus; 34 in Jenin; 24 in Tulkarem; 14 in Qalqilya; 10 in Salfit; five in Tubas; five in Jericho; and 34 from the Gaza Strip.
There are approximately 7,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including over 330 children and 71 women, including 15 girls. There are seven imprisoned Palestinian Legislative Council members, and 750 Palestinians imprisoned under administrative detention without charge or trial. 156 administrative detention orders were issued in May, including 40 new (first-time) orders.
In the Gaza Strip, the majority of detainees were fishermen and often suffered cruel and degrading treatment during detention and interrogation.
Eight prisoners conducted a hunger strike during May, in protest of systematic violations against them; the institutions protest the violations against prisoners on hunger strike, including isolating them in solitary confinement.
Palestinian prisoners continue to suffer from the use of the “Bosta” for prisoner transport, noting that it is metal, hot in summer and cold in winter and takes an excessive time for transferring prisoners, from eight hours to three days, with the prisoner often detained in vehicles or waiting rooms that lack access to bathrooms or minimum sanitary conditions, before reaching the court or the hospital. For example, Rami Sabarneh of al-Khalil was returned to Ramon prison via Bosta after surgery in an Israeli hospital, leading to injury and bleeding and the reopening of his wound.
Furthermore, the Israeli occupation continues a policy of torture and intimidation against children held in detention and interrogation centers. They are frequently threatened with lengthy detention and with arrest or other harm to family members, or are kept in solitary confinement for a long period. On the other hand, they also suffer physical torture and abuse such as beatings and being handcuffed to the chair in stress positions during interrogation.
In regard to the continued use of administrative detention without charge or trial, the case of Imad Barghouthi must be highlighted. He was arrested on 24 April by occupation forces. His arrest was arbitrary and without evidence, yet he is now facing military courts, which do not represent justice in any way and merely serve to place a legal facade on the decisions of the Israeli security services. Furthermore, the case of Imad Barghouthi underlines that administrative detention is used as a tool of repression, punishment and retaliation, and violating the rights to freedom of expression and opinion.
Israel continues to engage in gross and systematic violations of international law against Palestinian prisoners, yet Palestinian prisoners continue to struggle and confront their torturers. It is criticual to continue efforts to defend Palestinian prisoners and expose the abuses against the. The issue of prisoners is a Palestinian national cause, and a moral and human issue, requiring Arab and international efforts to exert maximum pressure on the occupation to stop its systematic violations of international humanitarian law and human rights principles, and to free Palestinian prisoners.
Palestinian prisoners’ institutions urge international civil society and human rights organizations, political parties, and all forces of justice in the world to work hard to expose the abuses by the occupying forces. They also call upon the United Nations and international community to take actions to stop the grave violations of the rights of Palestinian prisoners, and the violations of human rights and the rights of the child, through arbitrary arrests of children, during interrogation and detention. They also urged action to compel the occupation authorities to respect their legal obligations and the rights of prisoners and detainees to be protected from torture and ill-treatment, to receive health care and family visits. They called for the release of child prisoners, women prisoners, and administrative detainees, struggling for the freedom of all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.