Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

When propaganda masquerades as fact

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To its great discredit, the Melbourne Age has republished a Guardian newspaper feature that alleges mistreatment by the Israeli judicial system of West Bank Palestinian youths detained on suspicion of terrorism.

As a previous AIJAC blog post revealed, many allegations of Palestinian children being tortured, kept in solitary confinement, denied legal representation, and forced to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, rely on half-truths, manipulation of facts and figures and unsubstantiated claims by anti-Israel organisations.

That is, organisations with anti-Israel political agendas that extend beyond the remit of the specific goals they profess to be concerned with and into areas of delegitimising the Jewish state.

In this instance the article by Harriet Sherwood relies on allegations aired by the impressive sounding Defence for Children International – Palestine Section (DCI), which is a highly political organisation.

Without wanting to be accused of playing the man and not the ball, unfortunately, the bona fides of the organisation responsible for many of the allegations must be evaluated.

According to the Israeli organisation NGO Monitor, DCI’s activities include:

• DCI-PS supports BDS campaigns, and is an active participant in boycott efforts in the framework of the UN and other venues. Also lobbies the UN and the EU to promote these campaigns. ….

• Calls for Israel to “accept historical and legal responsibility for the Nakba, and recognise the principle of the right to return that was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in its Resolution No. 194 in 1948.”

Those who promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the idea that Palestinians are entitled to exercise an unlimited right of return to Israel are generally understood to mean they seek the dissolution of the State of Israel.

• Published an ‘urgent appeal,’ calling the UN Human Rights Council members to “endorse all the recommendations contained in the Goldstone report…and submit the report to the General Assembly and the Prosecutor of the ICC for appropriate action.”

The Goldstone Report infamously accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians during the 209 Gaza War and was later disavowed by its namesake, Justice Richard Goldstone.

And as NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg wrote in an op-ed responding to the Australian’s 2011 story on these allegations:

In more recent examples, DCI-PS propagandists erase tens of thousands of rockets launched at Israeli towns such as Sderot (each such attack is a war crime), instead declaring that Israeli efforts to protect civilians from attack are "illegal acts of aggression".

After the Gaza war in early 2009, DCI-PS published a list of innocent Palestinian
 children it claimed had been killed by Israel, and disregarded evidence showing that 17-year-olds Ibrahim Mostafa Fraih Sa'id and Ibrahim Abed al-Rahim Rajab Suliman, among others, were clearly involved in the Hamas attacks.

NGO Monitor also notes of DCI:

• An op-ed published by DCI-PS director Rifat Odeh Kassis (March 1, 2011) on Electronic Intifada promoting the antisemitic canard of dual loyalties against Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal, characterizing him as “so blind, so brazen, so hypocritical and so unjust.”

Kassis is also the coordinator and spokesperson for the Kairos Palestine document that advocates BDS targeting Israel, noting that “These advocacy campaigns must be carried out with courage, openly sincerely proclaiming that their object is not revenge but rather to put an end to the existing evil.” In addition to BDS, it reflects supersessionist theology, exploits related themes to demonize Israel, denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel, and ignores the extreme harassment and violence committed by Palestinians against Christians.

One of DCI’s directors is Shahwan Jabarin who, according to NGO Monitor, has been denied exit visas by Israel and Jordan on account of his alleged ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group. Jabarin is also a director of Palestinian human rights organisation al Haq which played an active role in the shameful antisemitic World Conference Against Racism conference in Durban in 2001. He is also a board member of Human Rights Watch, an appointment that was criticised by the organisation’s own founder, Robert Bernstein.

The DCI website still hosts information falsely claiming that Israeli soldiers committed a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002 which resulted in “hundreds of dead”. But, in reality, the death toll was 56 Palestinians, the majority of them combatants, and, significantly, 23 Israeli soldiers. This was a fierce battle between well-armed fighters and the Israeli army. Between the outbreak of the Second Intifada in October 2000 and April 2002, the Jenin camp had contributed “28 attempted suicide attacks against Israel, of which 23" were actually carried out.

Apropos, there is no DCI-Israel that holds to account the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. A perfect example of this human rights blindness was demonstrated by the group’s high profile lawyer, Gerard Horton last October.

When Horton last October was asked by ABC Radio’s Anne Barker if Hamas should be held responsible for not nominating any children as part of the 550 Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit he responded:

I mean the way I would look at it is, putting aside how the list today was put together, the prosecution and detention of children in a military court system shouldn't be happening, certainly not to the extent that it is.

As for the substance contained in the article, Sherwood tries to minimise the seriousness of the activity that results in Palestinian youths being detained by Israel, she writes:

Most are accused of throwing stones at soldiers or settlers; some, of flinging petrol bombs; a few, of more serious offences such as links to militant organisations or using weapons.

However, throwing stones and rocks does cause injuries and death. Israeli Asher Palmer and his infant son, Jonathan, died on Sept 23, 2011 when the car they were travelling in crashed after it was hit by rocks allegedly thrown by Palestinians near the West Bank city of Hebron.

A quick Google search of "The Age", “rock throwing” and “cars” shows the seriousness with which the newspaper and the Victorian police judge this life threatening behaviour.

Sherwood also claims that “Between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are arrested by Israeli soldiers each year, mostly accused of throwing stones”, yet she offers nothing by way of sources nor a breakdown for this figures. Nor does she indicate how many were charged or how long they were detained for; or how many were convicted.

Most children maintain they are innocent of the crimes of which they are accused, despite confessions and guilty pleas, says Gerard Horton of DCI.

But tellingly, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Israel’s Defence Forces, in 2009, only 62.8% of those charged ended in convictions, in 2010, 57.3%, and in 2011, 58.62%. These figures demonstrate that a large percentage are neither confessing nor pleading guilty, which at the very least suggests Israeli’s are woeful at torture, or the torture is not happening.

Sherwood writes that DCI’s allegations are corroborated by the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, a highly politicised NGO that mostly highlights allegations of Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians and rarely turns the spotlight on Palestinian mistreatment or maladministration.

The B’Tselem report - “No Minor Matter” (July 2011) - Sherwood refers to, claims that:

From the beginning of 2005 to the end of 2010, at least 835 Palestinian minors were arrested and tried in military courts in the West Bank on charges of stone throwing...Only one of the 835 was acquitted; all the rest were found guilty.

But as the IDF statistics quoted above show, this is demonstrably wrong.

Sherwood also wrote that: "Israeli military law has been applied in the West Bank since Israel occupied the territory more than 44 years ago".

As the occupying power, Israel is legally obliged to apply the law of the land as it stood in prior to June 1967.

Sherwood would have us believe that Israel’s system of laws allows for the arrest of children as young as 12 and that:

Under military order 1651, the age of criminal responsibility is 12 years, and children under the age of 14 face a maximum of six months in prison.

But, again, the law of the land in 1967 was Jordanian under which the age of criminal responsibility was 12 years of age. Furthermore, it is not common practice for the Israeli army to arrest youths that young. According to the IDF, “of the 51 indictments submitted by the Military Prosecutor in August and September 2011, only one involved a 13-year-old child; 7 cases involved 14-year-olds; and 5 cases involved 15-year-olds; while the remaining 38 cases were submitted against defendants 16 and 17 years of age”.

The piece de resistance in Sherwood’s article is the claim that 700,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been detained under Israeli military orders since 1967. She offers no source for this figure.

However as blogger Elder of Ziyon has shown, this 700,000 figure is sourced from the UN, which accepted it unquestioningly from a Palestinian NGO called Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association…and, as he explains, the figure is barely credible.

That would mean that there were, on the average, over 23,000 new prisoners a year since 1967, or 500 a week... Even during the height of the intifada, the number of these prisoners never reached 10,000….Almost certainly the past eight years have seen the largest number of … prisoners in Israeli prison history because of the intifada. Yet even if you assume that each prisoner is detained for only a single year and only arrested once, these past eight years add up to less than 50,000 prisoners; extrapolated to 1967 it would add up to under 200,000.

…Even those assumptions are ridiculous. The IPA [Israeli Police Association] says that over 60% of prisoners have been arrested previously.

A brief note about the military courts is appropriate. These courts are not part of the Israel Defence Forces hierarchy, but represent the State of Israel’s judicial authority inside the military. In July 2009, a special juvenile military court was established to deal with Palestinian minors.

The real scandal that media players like the Guardian should wear out their leather over is what are Palestinian youths aged 13 to 17 doing throwing stones?

It goes to the heart of the wider issue of negligence on the part of official Palestinian media and the education system that would indoctrinate children in the honour and glory of martyrdom and resistance, rather than the prosaic requirements of peace and building a civil society.

For more discussion on the Sherwood article and DCI check out blog posts by the CIF Watch website which monitors anti-Israel media bias in the Guardian newspaper, Honest Reporting carries out a similar role, and NGO Monitor’s website has a wealth of analysis on NGOs that are on the Israel delegitimisation gravy train.

Allon Lee

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