Did Rabin Know?
With the publication of the secret appendix of the Shamgar Commission report on the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin providing the backdrop to the shameful spectacle of the Likud Central Committee convention, Ehud Barak, who now leads the Labor Party, can chalk up one success to his credit. In recent weeks, he has made a conspicuous effort to hold Benjamin Netanyahu responsible for the atmosphere of incitement that led to the murder. Barak's incessant pestering helped to jog the memories of several right-wing leaders, who in turn pressed the prime minister to study the secret appendix. The ultimate result was yesterday's publication of the document. The Shamgar Commission findings provide Likud leaders with a pretext for asking some very painful questions regarding the actions of the Shin Bet. The most difficult questions of all are: Did Rabin himself sanction Avishai Raviv's employment as a Shin Bet informer? To what extent was the prime minister aware of the double agent's incitement against him?
The key sentence in the secret appendix is: "His (Raviv's) incitement, especially where it involved physical acts of violence against Arabs, and where it drew the public's attention to the existence of violent and extremist political groups, was indirectly damaging to well-known legal political groups. His operators could not have overlooked this fact." What this means is that Raviv's acts of extremist incitement affected the public perception of the entire right-wing camp, including the Likud, and also furnished fuel for the left-wing counterattack before Rabin's murder.
This conclusion leads one to ask a question that is so horrific that it is in fact difficult to put down on paper. Was Yitzhak Rabin, who paid with his own life for the brave peace policy he pursued, a victim of his own actions? In the past, his close associates used to rail against the disdain with which he entertained their warnings of possible risks to his physical safety, but now a different question arises. Was he a party, knowingly or not, to Raviv's incitement activities? Did he continue to respond to incitement from the right even when he knew that it was stoked, or at least partially so, by the provocative acts of undercover agent Avishai Raviv? And if this is the case, did Rabin do so because it gave him a casus belli to flay his political adversaries?
On Wednesday, I asked Yaakov Peri, who headed the Shin Bet when Avishai Raviv was recruited, whether he had told Rabin about Raviv's double-agent role. Peri says he does not remember. I then asked him if the director of Shin Bet routinely reports to the prime minister on the recruitment of such an agent, and Peri replied that it would not necessarily be reported, except in a case where it meant that criminal charges against the said agent would be dropped. In the case of Raviv, quite a few such charges were dropped. Does that mean that Rabin in fact knew of Raviv's dual identity? We do not know.
There is a macabre aspect to the entire discussion. A great man was killed by an assassin, and the country is now being asked to ponder the questions of how responsible he was for his own death, and to what degree he treated his political adversaries - who allegedly created the atmosphere that led to his assassination - fairly. The questions will not die down, at least until the next political scandal comes along.
Yaakov Peri said Wednesday night that it would be wrong to place the blame for the entire right-wing attack on Rabin and his policies on Avishai Raviv. He pointed out that the incidents in which Raviv was involved took place against a background of daily anti-Arab attacks perpetrated by extremist Jews against Arabs. The Shamgar Commission report specifies several instances, some of which were criminal activities, in which Raviv took part: attacks against Arabs and against Tamar Guzinsky MK, damage to property, racist incitement against the Druse chairman of the student union at Tel Aviv University, violent attacks against Arabs and spraying slogans against peace. These actions did not directly affect the incitement campaign against Rabin and it is therefore unrealistic to attach any real influence to them - neither on the anti-Rabin political climate that was the handiwork of the right, nor on the response of the left. The problem, of course, is that Raviv also played a part in the direct incitement against Rabin.The secret appendix mentions three roles that Raviv played, all of which without a doubt were instances of dangerous incitement against the then prime minister. The first was the characterization of Rabin as a "rodef," a biblical term for someone who is about to kill, and should be killed before he can do so; the implication being that it was all right to attack him. The second was the close cooperation between him and assassin Yigal Amir in organizing student demonstrations and Sabbath retreats for students in settlements in Judea and Samaria. The third was the distribution of the poster in which Rabin was photomontaged into an SS officer. The report also claims that at the request of his Shin Bet operators, Raviv painted graffiti slogans opposed to the peace process.
Raviv was, then, a double agent who overstepped the limits, who did not differentiate between his function of supplying information to those who sent him and his efforts to ingratiate himself with those whose trust he was supposed to secure. Leaders of the right will in the next few days make widespread use of the findings of the Shamgar Commission to prove their claim that the left was spreading foul libels when it accused them, and especially Benjamin Netanyahu, of creating the atmosphere that led Yigal Amir to pull the trigger. The right will claim that the more extremist demonstrations against Rabin were initiated by Raviv. The left will assert that although Raviv's employment as a Shin Bet agent left much to be desired, the Shamgar Commission did not find any evidence that might diminish the role played by Netanyahu in the heated atmosphere that led to Rabin's murder.
Yossi Sarid MK said on Wednesday that the secret appendix did not contain anything that might cause him to reassess his opinions regarding Netanyahu's part in the incitement. Benny Begin MK said that in their propaganda campaign against the Likud and the current prime minister, Labor and Meretz have made use of slogans that we now know were instigated by Avishai Raviv. Begin added that Yossi Sarid needs to do a little soul-searching of his own. When Arabs were murdered in Halhoul three years ago, the Eyal group, of which Raviv was the head, boasted that it was behind the deed. Sarid called for the expulsion of the entire population of Kiryat Arba. When it later turned out that the murders were committed by Palestinian neighbors of the victims, Sarid did not apologize, and declared: "I did not cast aspersions on upstanding people. In Kiryat Arba, there are no upstanding people." Begin summed it up on Wednesday night: Sarid was a member of the ministerial committee responsible for the Shin Bet; his response at the time was a blatantly cynical act.Uzi Benziman is a senior columnist at Haaretz. He is strongly identified with the Israeli Left.
The CIA and Friends?
During the week another Washington conference about the "Peace Process" took place -- this one keynoted by the new Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East, Martin Indyk, a long-time protege of the Israeli/Jewish lobby.
The conference was sponsored by a magazine known as "Middle East Insight" -- headed by George Nader -- and by an international affairs center at the College of William & Mary -- headed by James Bill. It was featured on C-Span and attended by the usual Washington press corps, top-heavy these days with mediocre Arab journalists always eager it seems to be used by anyone who will give them free food and easy quotes.
For years the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, has been a favorite for the CIA and other government-connected foreign policy types. Jim Bill has furthered those connections since he came to set up the Center for International Affairs about a decade ago; so much so that his own independence as a scholar is very much in doubt.
As for Nader's "Middle East Insight" publication...it has long been suspected of having very close ties to the Zionist lobby along with the CIA and Mossad. And indeed it is believed that many of Nader's visits to the Middle East region have much more to do with intelligence collection than journalism.
In short, beware of anything that "Middle East Insight" or the College of William and Mary is involved in when it comes to the Middle East.
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The Panama Syndrome
The time has come to view matters of government media policy management outside of the parochial circles that we all live in and report about, when too many people fall into a political position and suspend their natural ability for independen judgement.
Let us recall what happened when the US invaded Panama, in OPERATION JUST CAUSE, in December, 1989. The marines landed, accompanied by fifteen American news crews. The American government was determined not to make the mistake that they made back in Vietnam when reporters freely reported American atrocities against civilians and thereby undermined American home fron support for the war effort.
The marines made a gentleman's agreement with the reporters who accompanied them to clear" their news reports with them. One day into the operation, the marines massacrd two neighborhoods where they were meeting resistance. The news agencies were asked to embargo the story. They did so for three years, until Bush's defeat in 1992, when PBS sent a TV crew to Panama city and recovered its self-censored footage of the massacre, the mass burial, and eyewitness testimony recorded at the time.
The impact? Zilch. Were there any judicial inquiries? Indictments? No justice for of hat had happened to 6,500 civilians who were dumped into a mass grave...next to the Jewish cemetery in Panama City. I, for one, left America twenty seven years ago today, declaring myself to be a willing draft resister to the Vietnam war and hoping that the standard of the new country that I would come to would be different. They are.
Many media consumers suffer from what we may refer to as Panama Syndrome, which causes them to assume that media coverage from abroad reflects reality and forget the crimes of their military. In Israel, we hold ourselves to another standard. If one individual civilian dies as a result of a military opertion, it is the concern of the country and gets the attention of the world. In Israeli military law, we have the only nation in the world that has legislated that you can never say that "I was following orders" as as reason for carrying out an order that is repugnant to your moral standards. Israel has legislated the lesson of the Nuremberg trials.
Our fight in the professional world of media coverage of Israel is for a free media that will not cover up anything, let alone a mass grave of 6,500 civilans who were mowed down by American marines. Just as the major American media reached their "gentleman's agreement" with the marines en route to Panama City, so did many Israeli and foreign editors and producers reached similar agreements concerning matters such as the Oslo process.
Arafat declared, openly and without censorship on his part, that anyone who ran against him in the 1996 Palestine Authority elections would be arrested and face summary execution. The UN observer team reported it. Yet the Israeli and foreign media covering the Palestinian election crown him a "democratically elected" leader. And throughout 1995 and 1996 and 1997, Arafat has conveyed a consistent message to his people in the Arabic language, for the world media to hear him, that he will not keep any agreement with Israel and that his war on Zionism remains intact. And when videos of Arafat's speeches were screened before the US House International Relations Committee in September, 1995, the state department asked the nine news crews present not to cover the hearings and the reporters complied.
It reminds me of how the South Vietnamese elections were covered by major American media, until Dave Dellinger and a few other opponents to the Vietnam War uncovered the truth of summary executions conducted by South Vietnamese American puppets. The context of American government media policy in Vietnam and Panama places the situation in Israel with the media in context.
And now, in November 1997, a classified section of the Israel Shamgar commission report shows that the Israeli settler viglilante group known as the "committee for road safety" that began to operate in December, 1987 at the beginning of the Intifada was actually orchestrated as an operation of Israeli intelligence inside the Israeli right wing. The "committee for road safety" remained the prime source for Israeli and foreign media coverage of Israel's settlements in the first years of the Intifada, as the "committee" offered daily "briefings" of Israeli settlements for the foreign and local media based in Jerusalem and the west bank. The direct result: The demonization of Israel's settlement movement, whose image was transformed from a yuppie group of suburban life-seekers into a monstrous group of vigilantes who would attack Arabs without warning.
The question remains: Will media consumers or reporters themselves take the opportunity to examine their exposure to Panama Syndrome?
Why Terror Victim's Mom
Still Believes in Peace
Three years ago, Esther Wachsman's life was shattered. Her son, Nachshon, a 20-year-old corporal in the Israeli army, was kidnapped and killed by Palestinian terrorists.
But instead of becoming a militant, like those members of Hamas who murdered her son, Wachsman has sought to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. As part of their effort, Wachsman and her husband, Yehuda, Orthodox Jews who live in Jerusalem, established a center in their son's memory to promote the idea of tolerance and coexistence. Esther, who was in the United States last week to speak at Ohio State University, has traveled around the world to gain support for their efforts.
"My son's blood cries out to me from the earth and I have his voice, and this is why I am not sitting home and just taking care of my children and doing my job," Esther Wachsman said last week in an interview with WJW. "I feel at this point this might be my mission to cry out."
The Wachsmans, who are not affiliated with any political group in Israel, have used their circumstances to be consensus builders with the ability to bring their message to Jews across the political spectrum.
They also have reached out to Palestinians. Yehuda Wachsman even met with the father of the Palestinian who shot Nachshon as Israeli commandos burst into the terrorists' hideout in a failed-rescue attempt. Nachshon's murderer also was killed in the raid.
Before the meeting, however, Yehuda demanded and received a letter from the father condemning terrorism and declaring that anyone engaging in terrorist acts deserves the death penalty. After the meeting, the terrorist's father received death threats from Arabs and is no longer active in any kind of dialogue.
"There are [Palestinians] who are promoting coexistence, but it is a losing battle if they are afraid for their lives," says Wachsman, originally from Kew Garden Hills in New York. "It's got to come from an authority. The atmosphere has to be one that promotes tolerance and coexistence. The message that we are there to stay, and we are aware that they are there to stay, is a very simple message."
One Palestinian promoting coexistence at the grassroots level, Zoughbi Zougbhi, director of the Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, says there are many Palestinians working with this goal in mind, but are discouraged by what they see as harsh Israeli restrictions on their daily lives.
"Through justice we can reach a better solution," he tells WJW. "Through justice we can have a better relationship, and here people will feel that rights are important, that dignity is preserved and they are on equal footing with others. Otherwise, it will not be a peace, it will be a truce. And we don't want any more truces in the Middle East."
Zoughbi, a Christian, says Arafat is committed to fostering peace but are in a difficult position, trying to reign in the militants while not appearing to be servants of Israel and the United States.
Even though he is committed to peace and non-violence, Zoughbi says he "can't guarantee myself to be all the time a peacemaker," reflecting the frustrations felt by the Palestinians. He is upset that his wife, who is American, has been denied a visa to live with him in Bethlehem.
After Israel and the Palestinians reached their historic agreement in 1993, Israeli schools added to their curriculum the theme of peace and coexistence with the Palestinians, says Wachsman, a teacher.
The Palestinians, however, have not followed the same path, she says. "I have not seen that kind of educational message" says Waxman. "On the contrary, I hear from the mosques, from the schools, from the television, from their leader, messages of incitement to hatred, violence and murder." Waxman says Arafat has not spoken the words of peace as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat did when he made his journey to Jerusalem in 1977.
"Everyone hears [Sadat's] words still ringing in our ears, 'No more war. No more blood,'" Wachsman intones. "You never heard Arafat say that, and he got a Nobel Peace Prize."
The announcement that Arafat had won the peace prize, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, was made on the same day -- Oct. 15, 1994 -- Nachshon was murdered.
Last Tuesday, Wachsman made a quick visit to Washington to raise the issue of how U.S. taxpayers' money is being spent by the Palestinians, especially the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), which is funded by direct grants from US ID, the "Agency for International Development".
Wachsman joined David Bedein, media research analyst and bureau chief of the Israel Resource News Agency, who has closely monitored Arabic-language PBC radio and television. They showed Capitol Hill staffers excerpts taken from PBC broadcasts, which are examples of how Palestinian children still are being taught to hate Israel.
One clip shows a young girl reciting a poem for Arafat:
"The American people are under the presumption that you are out there helping poor widows and orphans, or feeding the hungry, or clothing the needy, and this is not what's happening," Wachsman says, reiterating what she has told lawmakers on several occasions. "What you are doing is supporting this kind of propaganda, which I don't think the American taxpayer is aware of."
Two Years After Assassination:
On the second anniversary of the Rabin assassination, it is plain that leaders of the Israeli left still demand an ongoing soul-searching from the right. But they seem to be having trouble doing this themselves. Perhaps recalling some of the more important facts can help them get started.
The theme, now a permanent part of the country's political folklore, is that poisonous rhetoric and verbal violence eventually created a climate in which assassination seemed acceptable. If so, then the sanctimony on the left should give way to some introspection on their part, for certainly there was no lack of violent and hateful rhetoric on the left side of the political spectrum. Moreover, no one's rhetoric was more poisonous than that of the late prime minister himself.
Those who opposed his government's policies were no less than "enemies of peace." When Arab terrorists murdered Israelis, it was the fault of the opposition, called "partners of Hamas," and "murderers of the peace." Or it was the victim's fault.
During 1995's demonstrations on the hills in Efrat, we saw Peace Now on television at a public solidarity rally in the neighboring Arab village of El Khadr with Arab leaders, including Hamas. It does not seem to have occurred to the left that they might be the partners of Hamas, not even when Peace Now folks were shoulder to shoulder with their Arab brethren, stoning our vehicles.
Eyewitnesses testified before the Shamgar Commission that, at those demonstrations, one Yigal Amir spent days trying to incite Efrat residents to attack police. Numerous people who did not do so were arrested. Amir was never arrested. Why not?
The Rabin-Peres government never recognized the slightest legitimacy in complaints of the residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza over their safety and their fear of abandonment.
Rabin assured the Jews who live in Judea, Samaria and Gaza that "we will not dismantle a single settlement." This was repeated numerous times by other Cabinet ministers.
Shimon Peres was quoted in a similar vein about a year later, and Rabin, in the spring of 1995, answered a similar question by explaining that the Israel Defense Force is pulling out, the PLO is coming in and he promised that "we will do our best to take care of the wounded."
On the other hand, compensation for the residents who choose to leave places to be turned over to the PLO was considered out of the question because they will still own their homes in the Palestinian Autonomy, "the same as Americans own homes in France."
Clearly then, what the honeyed words "we will not dismantle a single settlement" mean is that "we will abandon the settlers."
Professor Moshe Zimmerman of Hebrew University compared the Torah with "Mein Kampf," as a racist blueprint for the destruction of other peoples and likened the children of Kiryat Arba, the Jewish community outside Hebron, to Hitler Youth. How was Professor Zimmerman's hateful extremism answered? He was recruited to the Ministry of Education and placed in charge of developing history curriculum for Israeli schools.
In the commemoration of the first anniversary of the assassination, the media recalled the rally at which the photograph of Rabin in a Nazi SS uniform was displayed. I heard no one recall, however, that the person who displayed it and who called it specifically to reporters' attention was Avishai Raviv, a Shabak agent, an employee of the Prime Minister's Office.
The government put out a lot of dramatic press after the assassination about uncovering "Eyal," the putative organization that claimed responsibility for Rabin's murder. But it quickly became clear that Eyal was created by Raviv, who also recruited Amir.
Raviv, speaking for Eyal, took responsibility for the murder of an Arab in Halhul by gunmen wearing knitted skullcaps and otherwise disguised as Jewish settlers. The U.S. State Department called it a "settler execution" and opined that "this is how the settlers treat the Arabs." In the end, the murderers turned out to be Arabs in an ordinary crime, but the damage to the settlers, the religious community and the right in general was done, and it was done by Raviv, a Shabak agent, an employee of the Prime Minister's Office.
Raviv is only the tip of the iceberg. The use of agents provocateurs by the Shabak was first noted by Norwegian observers in Hebron in a report given to the mayor of Hebron and to Prime Minister Rabin. They reported that security personnel, dressed as Jewish settlers, regularly shot out windows and solar collectors and beat up children when people threw stones at them. Why were they doing something that could likely foment a pogrom?
The Rabin government also failed to answer a number of questions, including why they continued to trust our "peace partners" or how it will all lead to peace when in the last stage, Israel will be required to resettle between two and three million Palestinian refugees inside the Green Line or scrap the peace process. Rather, it employed repressive measures: manipulation of the media, disinformation, agents provocateurs, arbitrary arrest and detention, police brutality, show trials on trumped-up charges supported by police perjury, politicization of the police and the army, and public calumnies and incitement by members of the government, first and foremost, the late prime minister himself.
Take administrative detention, for example. The left never failed to denounce Likud governments' resorting to this extreme measure as "fascistic." But in the 13 years of the Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir governments, which included the height of the intifada, they resorted to it no more than five times. In the three years of Rabin's government it was resorted to more than 80 times against Jews, more than 400 times against Israeli Arabs and more than 4,000 times against Arabs of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. This goes beyond abuse of power; these were political prisoners, and on a grand scale.
The litany could go on, but this should be enough to kickstart a little soul-searching on the left. It was, after all, the leftist Rabin-Peres government that declared war on the settlers, the religious community and the whole right wing, focusing on Kiryat Arba. Perhaps this can help the left to leave off their sanctimony and find it in their hearts to do something about healing the country's wounds.
The writer is a lawyer practicing in Jerusalem and a former Los Angeles law professor. His practice includes issues of human rights and governmental abuses.
Hamas Leader Rantisi:
IMRA: I wanted to ask you about the return of Ibrahim Makadmeh to his Gaza home. Did he make any promises to the PA to remain silent, not to be active politically or anything like that?
Rantisi: No. But I myself promised that Dr. Makadmeh would be a politician and not a military leader, as they thought. I told the PA that Makadmeh was a political figure and he will continue just as a political leader.
IMRA: Was he only a political leader before?
Rantisi: Yes. He was a political leader. I promised that he would continue as that.
IMRA: So whatever he did in the past he will continue doing the same in the future?
Rantisi: I told then that if he would continue underground then there is the possibility that he would act as a military leader. We want him to be a political leader and they agreed and so we closed that file.
IMRA: As a political leader he can say things in favor of military actions but he can't plan them?
Rantisi: For example, you heard Sheik Yassin. He can freely say the things he believes. Just the things which are forbidden is a violation of the law.
IMRA: So he can call for attacks against Israel but he just can't plan them?
Rantisi: We said, as political leaders - either me or Sheik Yassin, for example, that if the occupation will continue then Hamas will continue the struggle. We did not speak about operations as operations, since the political wing is completely separate from the military one. But we talk about ideology of Hamas. And the ideology of Hamas is that the continuation of the occupation is the continuation of the struggle. And Makadmeh can say that easily.
IMRA: And the continuation of the struggle is a struggle which includes actions by the military wing.
Rantisi: All kinds of struggles. Because our Israeli enemy uses all kinds of aggression: killing and destroying homes and arresting people, Judaization of Jerusalem, building settlements. They use all kinds of aggression against human beings. Against Palestinians. And they continue still going on in their occupation of our land. We want to liberate our land. If they will give us our rights peacefully we will be happy. But if they refuse the only way there is is to continue our struggle using all means.
IMRA: So the political wing of Hamas doesn't call for any limitations or restrictions on the scope of the activities of the military wing.
Rantisi: We have a political wing and a military wing and both are wings of one organization So we have the ideology, the same thinking, the same strategy and the same goals.
IMRA: But does the political wing turn to the military wing and say "do this but don't do that - throw rocks at settlers but don't blow up bombs in Tel Aviv." Does it say anything to the military wing?
Rantisi: No. Not at all.
IMRA: Did it ever?
Rantisi: No. From the beginning it was difficult for both wings to act together or for the military wing to get its instructions from the political wing because of the security conflict here. So we prefer that the military wing be free with its leaders. Just its leaders can direct the action and we choose complete separation between both wings.
IMRA: Are the military wing leader located inside the PA or overseas?
Rantisi: I believe that Israelis and the PA talk about two underground leaders. I believe that the military leaders are who are inside but underground.
IMRA: You were quoted as saying last week that in terms of actions that Hamas would take actions but not ones which would hurt the PA. Is that the position of the political side or, the military side of both?
Rantisi: I think this is the position of the military side. Because the political side really knows nothing about operations carried out before they take place.
IMRA: You are saying that Dr. Makadmeh could have become active on the military side - so its possible for someone active on the political side to switch over to the military side?
Rantisi: I said that if you continue in putting pressure on one person to keep him underground then he will think to act as a military one rather than as a political one.
IMRA: So its possible for someone from the political wing to switch to the military wing.
Rantisi: No. He will act by himself. No need to join the military wing.
IMRA: What do you mean himself? He will go out by himself with a gun or a bomb?
Rantisi: Yes. I am talking about things which have occurred in this area. If you are going to put someone in a corner then you will push him to be aggressive.
IMRA: How old is Dr. Makadmeh.
IMRA: So you are saying that he himself sneak into Israel and do something.
Rantisi: If I will be underground for the time and hiding from the PA I can't keep myself inside a room without thinking about doing something.
IMRA: Last Thursday night two members of the Tzurif cell, Ismail Ranimat and Gamal Jibril Alhour, were captured by Israeli forces when they were in one of Jibril Rajoub's cars. Do you think it was a set-up between the PA and Israel?
Rantisi: This is one possibility. The second possibility is that collaborators working inside PA's secret forces tipped the Israelis off.
Dr. Aaron Lerner,
Dr. Aaron Lerner,
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