It is Shavu'ot nowthe Jewish Holiday of Harvestand our forces are back in Jenin city and refugee camp. Their harvest includes 30 arrested Palestinians from the General Security Service's "wanted list," 2 killed adults "terrorists shot while trying to escape," and one 15 year old boy.
Israel is constantly attacking the territories, though with less media attention than in April. The script is the same: Armored troop carriers surround a town, while tanks and bulldozers, escorted by foot soldiers, turn up in its center, beginning their home-to-home searches. They are after those on the wanted list. They search, sometimes kill (as they did a 15 year old boy today), sometimes destroy (as they did several structures in Jenin today). News briefs regarding actions in West Bank cities, villages and towns have become a matter of daily routine now. Reporting on them is curt, clear, decisive. 2 killed (while trying to escape arrest, of course), 30 arrested; 1 child killed (the local commander duly apologized to the family), 10 arrested, an ammo "factory" found. No one, neither here nor in the U.S. questions the validity of these reports, of the wanted list, or the justification of the actions. Israel has the right to be secure, and this is the cost if its security needs.
Being awarded with a GSS "wanted" status (mevukash in Hebrew or matlub in Arabic), is on a par with being handed down a verdict. A mevukash may be arrested or killed at will. Thousands have thus been arrested recently, hundreds killed. I have never seen a query by an American diplomat, or by anyone from the mainstream press, regarding the validity of the wanted list, or the fact that it completely annuls the concept of due process. "Anti-democratic" is a term reserved to Arafat, whose "intransigence" back in the news ("he is being vague again about the elections," announced Israel TV's anchor merrily tonight); the Israelis, with their celebrated GSS, are the force of democracy and freedom, hence immune to any questioning.
Still, some cracks do surface on occasion, soon to be fixed: Today's New York Times runs a story of a new State Department report, that has found "no conclusive evidence" that Yasir Arafat or other senior Palestinian leaders planned or approved specific terrorist attacks on Israel in the six months that ended in December. This assertion, the reporter notes, is "sharply at odds with recent Israeli claims." Israel has indeed argued that documents captured in the recent operation prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Arafat gave direct orders, and made direct payments, to terrorist acts. Yet, as veteran commentator B. Michael, who has followed this affair closely, noted almost a month ago, such evidence is not at hand. I have translated his excellent article, Excavations in the Spokesman's Site (Yedi'ot Aharonot, April 26) as it reached the same conclusions as State. Importantly, he made no use of secret documents, but merely monitored the IDF website.
"It seems that in order to justify the effort to shatter, above all, the PA and its institutions, the need arose to aggrandize its terrorist image, to make one big mishmash or PA-IslamicJihad-Hamas-Tanzim-Fatah, and create a picture of an octopus of terrorism of the PA, and Arafat as its centerpiece. The IDF spokesman was also recruited to this mission, and he harnessed his website for it. If you surf superficially over the full pages, it seems a well-constructed site, faithfully serving its master's voice. Excavate deeper, and you will make a fascinating discovery: The whole site is constructed as if the IDF spokesman was convinced that no one would bother to read the documents themselves, and that all would only read its learned interpretation, presumably based on the "captured documents." Yet, if you surrender to your natural suspiciousness, and insist on reading the full documents, you will find a very different picture. Actually, not just different, but truly opposite. Here is a handful, a tiny bit, of the stunning gap between text and interpretation.
We begin with some negligible pieces of trivia:
1. How much explosive material did the IDF discover in the territories it conquered? If you look at the bombastic declaration, you get the impression that huge quantities are at issue. If you listen to the Minister of Defense you think that hundreds of tons were found. More modest officers and journalists sufficed themselves with tens of tons. Yet if you bother to look at the document in which the spokesman provides updated details, you will discover that throughout the operation, 30 kilos were found. Thirty. Kilos. Like a bag and a half of potatoes. Is somebody talking nonsense here? The spokesman? The Minister? The media?
2. How many fighters of Fatah (and whatever other types) were there in Tul-Karem and Jenin? If you demand no more than learned commentary, you will learn from the lines and from between them that at issue are cities swarming with multitudes of Fatah and Tanzim murderers. If you bother to read the [captured] intelligence reports of the PA you will be astonished to discover that the number of weapon holders of Fatah in Tul-Karem and the refugee camp is 15-20. If your read further, you will learn that half of them refuse to operate, the rest are not under anyone's control, and even between those, there are parasites who only sport arms and make trouble. I didn't say that, it's the PA's intelligence. Another document reveals that throughout the Jenin region, there were 63 Al-Aqsa people.
3. Were Tanzim terrorist acts funded by the PA? According to the commentary, yes; by the documents, NO. The funding documents are nothing but a collection of complaints about the stingy PA that provides no resources to Tanzim fighters, expressions of jealousy of the wealthy Jihad and Hamas, stories about poor terrorists forced to purchase weapons by selling their wives' jewelry (no need to burst into tears of pity at this point), and hidden threats that a continued monetary drought would make PA personnel defect to Jihad and Hamas. The documents show that they got nothing from the PA.
4. Did Arafat approve of the transfer of funds to suicide bombers? If you only taste regurgitated texts, you are welcome to conclude that he did. If you read the documents, you will find no sign of it. All the documents in which Arafat approves sad payments to PLO and Tanzim personnel (in themselves as surprising as a discover that a head of a political party approves payments to its members) come from dates that are months earlier than Tanzim's first suicide bombing. Not one document shows what is claimed, and it is clear that if one was available, the IDF spokesman would have publicized it widely.
5. Was there cooperation between the PA, Jihad and Hamas? If you surf on the site's waves, you are left with no doubt: cooperation was full; if you dive into the depth of the documents, you discover the absolute opposite. These are clearly reports of PA planted spies, who report to their superiors about the snitches who have infiltrated into their ranks, about collaborators with Hamas and Jihad who disturb the PA intelligence, and on Jihad people who pretend to be PA. If you read all the documents, you are left without the slightest doubt about the nature of the relationship between the PA, Jihad and Hamas: These are bitter rivals, sometimes even real enemies. The use of such documents to prove cooperation between the PA and Hamas is on a par with waving an IDF document that exposes a soldier who sold a weapon for a Hamasnik, and argue that the IDF cooperates with Hamas.
The "Tul-Karem" document, revealed Akiva Eldar in Ha'aretz, contained a translation error which distorted the meaning of a sentence so that it fit the desired message better. Two days after this discovery, a "corrected" version of the document was loaded up. The error remained, yet the whole document underwent chopping, pruning, cutting and re-shaping that wouldn't embarrass a beginning clerk in a Soviet encyclopedia, and all that without even mentioning that the document is by no means complete, but rather, an edited, refurbished one. I could bring more examples and quotes, yet space is limited and the choices are hard. This is not to mean that Fatah and Tanzim are Zionist charities, just to wonder about the IDF spokesman who let himself take part in such a transparent web of propaganda, whose sole goal is to create a false picture that the grinding of the PA was a security necessity, not just a political whim. The past 18 months have not added much to the credibility of the IDF; this site adds little dignity to it."
I urge you to visit the IDF website. You will be amazed, I believe (you can find there, for example, a report of today's activities in Jenin, where the sole listed casualty is a lightly wounded IDF soldier; the 15 year old Palestinian boy who was killed is not mentioned, although his death was noted in all mass media).
The IDF is undergoing an important change. A new Chief of Staff - Brig. Gen. Moshe (Boogy) Ya'alon - will take over in July. The pending retirement of the current Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, has led him to exert pressure on Sharon to move into Gaza now. He wants to get credit for it, as a good beginning of a future political career. Judging by the new Chief's behavior, Ya'alon is no dove either. He is currently visiting Washington to get himself acquainted to the administration's higher echelon. Today's New York Times cites him as a "senior military official" who clearly articulated that an invasion into Gaza is just a matter of time; that Colin Powel erred by letting Arafat off the hook, and that a visit by George Tenet to the Middle East is pointless. His aggressive tone not only indicates that the Israelis are not worried about American pressure; it leaves little room for optimism regarding the future.