Israel Resource Review 5th August, 2002


Al-Jazeera vs. The Israel Government Press Office
Smadar Peri
Correspondent, Yediot Ahronot

There is one thing that all the sides involved in the matter agree on: the Prime Minister's Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry agree with the Al-Jazeera TV station only as to the very high rating that the satellite channel enjoys throughout the Arab world.

Al-Jazeera, which launched its broadcasts six years ago in Doha, the capital of Qatar in the Persian Gulf and was given the title "the CNN of the Arab world" thanks to its around-the-clock news broadcasts - has long since overtaken CNN's ratings. And it is in fact its very success that has led the sides to the present confrontation, centering on the TV's crew in the territories.

The Al-Jazeera crew contends: we have hundreds of millions of viewers, Israel should treat us fairly. Israel agrees: Al-Jazeera is a very important and influential media outlet but its influence is mainly negative, its reports are one-sided and its insistence on airing heart-rending photographs of Palestinian children's bodies, among others, makes Al-Jazeera into an "inciting and dangerous station."

The complaint made in Jerusalem is that the pictures of the bombing of the PA offices in Gaza - that were aired every hour on the hour on Al-Jazeera at the beginning of the Intifada - are what caused millions to go out and demonstrate angrily against Israel, and led to a high state of alert in Israeli diplomatic missions in the Arab world. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak explicitly stated that he made the decision to recall the veteran ambassador Mohammed Bassiouny as a result of the pictures that caused him to lose sleep. These pictures were shown exclusively on Al-Jazeera.

On the other hand, Al-Jazeera openly defied the boycott of the Arab world's Journalists Association: Israeli figures - ministers, MKs, intellectuals, right wing and left wing activists, and mainly official spokespeople - are invited even today to present the Israeli angle after every incident in the territories. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem even trained a special spokesman, Ophir Gendelman, to comment live, in spirited Arabic, on questions put to him in an earphone from the newsroom in Qatar.

Soldiers Boycotted Film

However, the curfew in the territories, the IDF's entry into the West Bank cities and the roadblocks have paralyzed, either partially or completely, Al-Jazeera's 19-strong crew from covering events. A reporter sent, for example, to cover an incident in Nablus, is not certain he will be able to get back to the Ramallah studio. Somebody stopped at a sudden IDF roadblock will be forced to be stuck there if he cannot show an official and valid document issued by the GPO in Jerusalem.

Of the 19 journalists and production crew employed by Al-Jazeera, only three hold such a card today: the chief correspondent, Walid el-Omari, an Israeli citizen from the Galilee, photographer Majid Safdi, also an Israeli citizen, from the Golan Heights, and Jawara Budeiri from Jerusalem. In a few weeks her press card will expire.

Walid el-Omari, whose round-the-clock reports open almost every news broadcast, describes events of the last few days: I went with my photographer to prepare an item in the Ramallah area. When we got back we were stopped by soldiers who claimed that we were breaking the curfew. I showed my press card, but the soldiers confiscated the film, and three house later I got them back scratched and unusable."

Because of prohibitions on traveling, el-Omari is the only one of the team who can go out into the field and be sure that he will be able to broadcast from there. "I am worried all the time, what will happen if my photographer gets sick, or if I collapse from exhaustion. If this happens, there will be nobody to do Al-Jazeera's work. I suspect this is the intention of those who set policy in Jerusalem," he says. Last week, after the terror attack at Hebrew University, el-Omari decided not to try and reach the site of the attack. He stayed in Ramallah because of the curfew, had a special hour-long broadcast, but the pictures shown on screen were those provided by foreign agencies. Sorry, a Delay at the Roadblock

Al-Jazeera's legal adviser in Israel, Zaki Kamal from Haifa, sent a long letter of complaint (53 items) to the director of the GPO, Danny Seaman, a month and a half ago. He demanded, in the name of free speech and democracy, that the press cards of the Al-Jazeera's crew be renewed, as is the case with other foreign media teams. "There is no need to overstate the great importance of conveying the news and the link between Israel and its Arab neighbors and the other Arab countries in the world, created in the wake of Al-Jazeera's activity in Israel," Kamal wrote.

"Despite the heavy pressure applied by many Arab states, Qatar allowed the State of Israel to open an office in its capital and it treats Israeli reporters equally and fairly. For that we want reciprocity," Kamal wrote.

"Precisely at this time, when tension between the different peoples is facing an abyss, the importance of Al-Jazeera's work as an Arab media outlet, for authentic coverage of events in those areas under Israel's and the PA's control and inside the State of Israel, increases."

The long letter, which describes Al-Jazeera's uniqueness and its advantages, reviews the activities of its reporters since it opened offices in the territories six years ago: "They were allowed to do their journalism work faithfully, move about freely, and reach the sites of various incidents just like the other journalists, Israeli and foreign." Kamal notes the loss of livelihood to the workers, and says the Israeli security officials themselves have no objection to their being given permits.

"In January," el-Omari relates, "I asked to renew the press cards of Al-Jazeera's 19 workers in Israel. Unfortunately, we were told that 'there is a new policy.' Some of our people continued to work, until their card expired. Only a few managed to work without cards. Most are forced to stay home.

"I hear it said that our reports are not balanced, that they are biased, that we don't show the Israeli angle, don't report terror attacks. How do they want us to cover events on the Israeli side if we're not allowed to travel? We are forced to use material filmed by foreign agencies, and I know that if we could go to the place itself, our filmed material would look different. But we are not given access. Every time I go out, I don't know how long my broadcast will have to wait because of delays at a roadblock."

Kamal says: The GPO must act to uphold freedom of the press, "which is not the situation today, which discriminates against the Al-Jazeera crew in Israel."

GPO Director Danny Seaman took his time getting back to Kamal. Prime Minister's Office officials (responsible for the GPO) gave the legal adviser, Yael Cohen, authorization to reply in a laconic letter: "Your letter was conveyed to our office's legal department, and I hereby confirm that it was received. After examining the matter with the relevant authorities, we will reply to your letter."

Kamal's patience ran out ten days ago. After not receiving any reply, he made a precedent-setting petition to the High Court of Justice, in the name of Al-Jazeera and its workers in the territories and in Israel: Al-Jazeera is demanding of the Prime Minister's Office (which is responsible for the GPO), the Defense Ministry (responsible from traveling in the territories) and the GPO director to explain why Israel is hounding the Al-Jazeera workers and not letting them do their work and why it was decided to suspend their press cards. If We Don't Respect Ourselves

The GPO, so it turns out, has complaints of its own. Seaman: "When a new reporter comes to Israel, from the New York Times for example, I get an official letter from the newspaper's editors in which they inform me that he/she is their representative and asking that they be given a press card.

But the Al-Jazeera office in Qatar has never, to this day, sent such a letter, on official stationery."

Kamal: "This is disingenuous, in the past they received such letters and as soon as they ask, they will receive more."

El-Omari: "we've sent in requests for each of the workers, on official Al-Jazeera stationery, and until Seaman became director, we were also given press cards without any problems. The GPO cooperated with us and helped us quite a bit. But the moment Seaman became director, a year and a half ago, things became complicated. He informed us, 'you are working for the Palestinian Authority.' That got me angry. I told him, we try to reach places on the Israeli side, but we have problems because we don't have cards.

"I went to the Knesset, and me and my photographer were stripped. When we tried to go the Prime Minister's Office, we were checked for an hour and a half. When we reached the site of a terror attack, the IDF was forced to rescue us from being beaten. You have to decide: if you want us to present the Israeli side, you have to help us. You have to treat us like any other foreign journalist who works in Israel."

El-Omari and the head of Al-Jazeera office in the territories, Weil Abu-Daka, tell of a meeting with Seaman. "Seaman invited us, and when Weil extended his hand to shake, Seaman asked him: do you have a permit to be here? Weil said, 'I have no permit, that is what I've come here to talk to you about.' Seaman, in response, threatened to call the police and have him arrested for being in Israel illegally. Then Weil took out his press card, which was still valid at the time."

Seaman: "I remember the incident, but it wasn't very serious. It's important for me to stress that I obey the laws of the State of Israel, and demand of those who come and see me that they also obey the law. My threat to call the police was meant to show them that I demand from them exactly what I demand from all the other media outlets of Arab states that work here."

Question: Al-Jazeera reporters need a press card to go from place to place.

Seaman: "I have a problem with Arab satellite stations that exploit our openness. If we don't respect ourselves, we won't be respected. Sometimes you have to give a little slap on the hand, like we did in the case of Abu Dhabi television that smeared us and reported untrue information. We expelled their correspondent, and then things worked out more or less. I hope that now, after Al-Jazeera has submitted its petition to the High Court, we will start instating order in the mess and clear rules will be determined as to who is eligible for a press card and who isn't." Question: Al-Jazeera claims that you won't give them press cards on the grounds that they are hostile, that they broadcast harsh pictures that agitate the Arab world.

"I don't care what they say about me. I am a professional, not a political appointment. As far as Al-Jazeera goes, I found complete anarchy, and I want to instate order. I don't set policy and I don't expect them to be pro-Israeli, but that they work professionally. I know who they are, I know their importance, but I want this to get to the High Court, which will decide in the matter of granting press cards."

"Israel should be interested in having a media outlet so widespread in the Arab world tell its story," says Kamal, "I think that because of Al-Jazeera's importance, it should be respected."

Question: It is said that Al-Jazeera's broadcasts are hostile.

Kamal: "What other kind of pictures can you show from the territories? Even on the Israeli side they know that the situation in the territories is terrible. The easiest thing to do is stick your head in the sand and blame Al-Jazeera."

Intriguing Relations with Qatar

The Jerusalem Foreign Ministry is now preparing a position paper presenting and analyzing the weight of Israeli PR contrasted with the media, mainly the TV stations in the Arab world. The conclusions, the emphases on Al-Jazeera's weight compared to ANN, for example, owned by Rifat Assad (the Syrian president's exiled uncle), which has also been found to be employing a crew in the territories without a permit - will be used by the High Court judges in their ruling on Al-Jazeera's petition against Prime Minister Sharon.

A senior Foreign Ministry said, "we are now in a state of war against the Palestinians, and with this being the situation, it is natural for each side to withdraw unto itself and stress its angle of vision. But the State of Israel, which boasts of being the only real democracy in the region, cannot restrict the Palestinian journalists, and on the other hand, complain of inciteful and biased coverage. We also have unique and intriguing relations with the Qatar emirate, which runs this important station."

This article ran in Yediot Ahronot on August 2, 2002

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Briefing with Defence Expert Richard Perle Concerning Saudi Arabia
Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer

[There are those who say that the greatest Saudi threat to the U.S. is that the Saudis would withdraw their assets from Wall Street.]

A briefing given last month to a top Pentagon advisory board described Saudi Arabia as an enemy of the United States, and recommended that U.S. officials give it an ultimatum to stop backing terrorism or face seizure of its oil fields and its financial assets invested in the United States.

"The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader," stated the explosive briefing. It was presented on July 10 to the Defense Policy Board, a group of prominent intellectuals and former senior officials that advises the Pentagon on defense policy.

"Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies," said the briefing prepared by Laurent Murawiec, a Rand Corp. analyst. A talking point attached to the last of 24 briefing slides went even further, describing Saudi Arabia as "the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent" in the Middle East.

The briefing did not represent the views of the board or official government policy, and in fact runs counter to the present stance of the U.S. government that Saudi Arabia is a major ally in the region. Yet it also represents a point of view that has growing currency within the Bush administration -- especially on the staff of Vice President Cheney and in the Pentagon's civilian leadership -- and among neoconservative writers and thinkers closely allied with administration policymakers.

One administration official said opinion about Saudi Arabia is changing rapidly within the U.S. government. "People used to rationalize Saudi behavior," he said. "You don't hear that anymore. There's no doubt that people are recognizing reality and recognizing that Saudi Arabia is a problem."

The decision to bring the anti-Saudi analysis before the Defense Policy Board also appears tied to the growing debate over whether to launch a U.S. military attack to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. The chairman of the board is former Pentagon official Richard N. Perle, one of the most prominent advocates in Washington of just such an invasion. The briefing argued that removing Hussein would spur change in Saudi Arabia -- which, it maintained, is the larger problem because of its role in financing and supporting radical Islamic movements.

Perle did not return calls to comment. A Rand spokesman said Murawiec, a former adviser to the French Ministry of Defense who now analyzes international security affairs for Rand, would not be available to comment.

"Neither the presentations nor the Defense Policy Board members' comments reflect the official views of the Department of Defense," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said in a written statement issued last night. "Saudi Arabia is a long-standing friend and ally of the United States. The Saudis cooperate fully in the global war on terrorism and have the Department's and the Administration's deep appreciation."

Murawiec said in his briefing that the United States should demand that Riyadh stop funding fundamentalist Islamic outlets around the world, stop all anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli statements in the country, and "prosecute or isolate those involved in the terror chain, including in the Saudi intelligence services."

If the Saudis refused to comply, the briefing continued, Saudi oil fields and overseas financial assets should be "targeted," although exactly how was not specified.

The report concludes by linking regime change in Iraq to altering Saudi behavior. This view, popular among some neoconservative thinkers, is that once a U.S. invasion has removed Hussein from power, a friendly successor regime would become a major exporter of oil to the West. That oil would diminish U.S. dependence on Saudi energy exports, and so -- in this view -- permit the U.S. government finally to confront the House of Saud for supporting terrorism.

"The road to the entire Middle East goes through Baghdad," said the administration official, who is hawkish on Iraq. "Once you have a democratic regime in Iraq, like the ones we helped establish in Germany and Japan after World War II, there are a lot of possibilities."

Of the two dozen people who attended the Defense Policy Board meeting, only one, former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger, spoke up to object to the anti-Saudi conclusions of the briefing, according to sources who were there. Some members of the board clearly agreed with Kissinger's dismissal of the briefing and others did not.

One source summarized Kissinger's remarks as, "The Saudis are pro-American, they have to operate in a difficult region, and ultimately we can manage them."

Kissinger declined to comment on the meeting. He said his consulting business does not advise the Saudi government and has no clients that do large amounts of business in Saudi Arabia.

"I don't consider Saudi Arabia to be a strategic adversary of the United States," Kissinger said. "They are doing some things I don't approve of, but I don't consider them a strategic adversary."

Other members of the board include former vice president Dan Quayle; former defense secretaries James Schlesinger and Harold Brown; former House speakers Newt Gingrich and Thomas Foley; and several retired senior military officers, including two former vice chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired admirals David Jeremiah and William Owens.

Asked for reaction, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, said he did not take the briefing seriously. "I think that it is a misguided effort that is shallow, and not honest about the facts," he said. "Repeating lies will never make them facts."

"I think this view defies reality," added Adel al-Jubeir, a foreign policy adviser to Saudi leader Crown Prince Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz. "The two countries have been friends and allies for over 60 years. Their relationship has seen the coming and breaking of many storms in the region, and if anything it goes from strength to strength."

In the 1980s, the United States and Saudi Arabia played major roles in supporting the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, pouring billions of dollars into procuring weapons and other logistical support for the mujaheddin.

At the end of the decade, the relationship became even closer when the U.S. military stationed a half-million troops on Saudi territory to repel Hussein's invasions of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Several thousand U.S. troops have remained on Saudi soil, mainly to run air operations in the region. Their presence has been cited by Osama bin Laden as a major reason for his attacks on the United States.

The anti-Saudi views expressed in the briefing appear especially popular among neoconservative foreign policy thinkers, which is a relatively small but influential group within the Bush administration.

"I think it is a mistake to consider Saudi Arabia a friendly country," said Kenneth Adelman, a former aide to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who is a member of the Defense Policy Board but didn't attend the July 10 meeting. He said the view that Saudi Arabia is an adversary of the United States "is certainly a more prevalent view that it was a year ago."

In recent weeks, two neoconservative magazines have run articles similar in tone to the Pentagon briefing. The July 15 issue of the Weekly Standard, which is edited by William Kristol, a former chief of staff to Quayle, predicted "The Coming Saudi Showdown." The current issue of Commentary, which is published by the American Jewish Committee, contains an article titled, "Our Enemies, the Saudis."

"More and more people are making parts of this argument, and a few all of it," said Eliot Cohen, a Johns Hopkins University expert on military strategy. "Saudi Arabia used to have lots of apologists in this country . . . . Now there are very few, and most of those with substantial economic interests or long-standing ties there."

Cohen, a member of the Defense Policy Board, declined to discuss its deliberations. But he did say that he views Saudi Arabia more as a problem than an enemy. "The deal that they cut with fundamentalism is most definitely a threat, [so] I would say that Saudi Arabia is a huge problem for us," he said.

But that view is far from dominant in the U.S. government, others said. "The drums are beginning to beat on Saudi Arabia," said Robert Oakley, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan who consults frequently with the U.S. military.

He said the best approach isn't to confront Saudi Arabia but to support its reform efforts. "Our best hope is change through reform, and that can only come from within," he said.

This piece ran in the Washington Post on August 6, 2002

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Over the Last Decade:
300,000 Cars Stolen and Transferred to Areas Under the Control of the Palestinian Authority
Aryeh Bender

The most successful source of income in the areas under control of the Palestinian Authority is the theft of vehicles from Israel, carried out under the sponsorship of the PA. Over the last decade about 300,000 vehicles have been stolen from Israel, disclosed Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad yesterday.

Maj. Gen. Gilad, who spoke to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, actually accused the PA of direct responsibility for car thefts, which began in 1992 and reached its peak in 1997, and said that its senior officials are "involved in crime" and in fact directing the thieves.

The theft industry constitutes an additional source of income to the PA, which issues license plates to anybody. Anyone who has a stolen car from Israel has to pay a fee to the PA and in exchange receives local license plates, the Palestinian model for "transfer of ownership."

The PA crime industry also includes the forgery of Israeli ID cards in large quantities as well as the forgery of Israeli money.

Ruling over this black economy is Mohammed Rashid, Arafat's close associate. Maj. Gen. Gilad said, "Rashid knows all the secrets. His family is in Canada and he travels extensively abroad."

The coordinator of government activities in the territories also described the lives of luxury and corruption of senior PA officials, whom, he said, do not at all take into account the difficult situation of the Palestinian population. "They employ nannies from Sri Lanka, drive fancy cars, and their children do not commit suicide bombings. They don't care at all about the suffering of the people."

This article ran in Maariv on August 7, 2002

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Reviewing the US AID Report on Malnutrition
David Bedein

On Monday, August 5th, US AID, the Agency for International Development, Scheduled a press conference in Gaza to present their report on the state of malnutrition in the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

After Israel Resource News Agency alerted US AID to the fact that a Gaza venue would prevent Israeli reporters from taking part, and mitigate against any serious questions, because of censorship policies of the PA, US AID changed its venue to the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem.

The findings of the US AID report had already appeared in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune on July 26th. US AID spokespeople said that this was because of a Palestinian leak. In all fairness, US AID has met with both PA and Israeli officials on July 15th. The Israeli Civil Administration officials sat on the report while the PA officials placed it on more than a dozen Palestinian media websites.

The US AID press conference was a highly biased highly politicized event that came in the guise of a non-political scientific report.

The report's author began with the conclusion that conditions regarding malnutrition in the refugee camps is "far worse" than those of sub-Saharan Africa, where starvation is wiping out millions of men, women and children in an epidemic of global proportions.

The study, (funded by uninformed American taxpayers at an unknown cost) was largely based on anecdotal evidence and blood tests, sites the shortage of beef, chicken, lamb and fish in the refugee daily diet. Given that Gaza sits directly on the Mediterranean, the stated lack of fish protein was at best, difficult to comprehend.

These shortages have an average duration of three days to two weeks.

There was no information as to health conditions and dietary content prior to the border closings made available, despite the fact that "chronic" malnutrition takes longer than two weeks duration to become "chronic" in nature. (Hence the meaning of the word, chronic…)

It was also stated that health problems were far worse for children, pregnant women and the poorest members of Palestinian society with little or nothing left to sell within the community as payment for needed food.

When asked if the PA would accept food from Israel, the members of the panel said that they would check into it and get back with the correct answer.

US AID personnel and Palestinian medical professionals all spoke about the root cause of the issue of acute malnutrition: the fact that the Israelis are doing blockades and curfews.

Nowhere in the report nor at the press conference did either the US AID officials mention what an Israel Ministry of Health official, Dr Yaakov Adler, reported to the media, which was that the Palestinian Authority has forbidden Israeli health officials from providing the basics of medical And nutritional assistance to the PA for the past two years.

At no point did US AID hold the Palestinian Authority esponsible for their own behavior -- which was not repesented as being part of the problem or even part of the solution. The only "problem" was the blockades and curfews. The "solution" was lifting the IDF blockades and curfews.

Palestinian Authority responsibility could have been stated as:

  1. Curtailing terrorist actions
  2. Failing that, to curtail the PA policy of allowing terrorists to hide amongst the civilian population
  3. To ensure that all funds donated by third party nations for humanitarian relief is utilized for humanitarian relief, are not diverted for graft (the P.A.) or for propaganda or weapons
  4. To provide instruction to the population via Health Services and NGOs on how to get the most nutrition for the amount of money they have to spend and
  5. To renew cooperation with the Israelis and receive offered assistance.

    A truly objective approach would have been: the Israelis are responding to terrorist actions that are not tolerable for any nation (and in fact, being blown apart by a bomb represents a more severe health problem than malnutrition). Given this reality, and the fact that until the terrorism ends there will be some blockades and curfews that exacerbate a situation of malnutrition, we must all work together to see what remedies are possible during this crisis situation. This means monitoring international assistance, bringing in stores of food, distributing vitamins and iron pills, educating the populace, encouraging the Palestinian heath authorities to work with their Israeli counterparts and accept their assistance, working with the Israelis to see in what ways they can be of assistance, etc.

    However, the persistent answer of the panel was to remove the blockades, until one Palestinian panelist said, "Well we could feed them, but that wouldn't address the root cause of the malnutrition"

    A scene fit for Mad Magazine.

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