Thursday, 30 July 2009

Israel ramps up cyber war against Palestinians and their supporters

In another sign of the problems piling up for Israel the government is pouring money into trying to shape and distort any news, discussion or comment on Palestine. They're not very good at it as you can probably see from some of the comments on this blog. The main attribute of these posters seems to be arrogance and their main weapon abuse - as well as shock that there are so many people around the world that disagree with them and prefer to support the so-called terrorists that have the temerity to try and defend their people militarily against occupation and oppression.


By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth

July 22, 2009 "Information Clearing House" -- The passionate support for Israel expressed on talkback sections of websites, internet chat forums, blogs, Twitter and Facebook may not be all that it seems.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry is reported to be establishing a special undercover team of paid workers whose job it will be to surf the internet 24 hours a day spreading positive news about Israel.

Internet-savvy Israeli youngsters, mainly recent graduates and demobilized soldiers with language skills, are being recruited to pose as ordinary surfers while they provide the government’s line on the Middle East conflict.

“To all intents and purposes the internet is a theatre in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we must be active in that theatre, otherwise we will lose,” said Ilan Shturman, who is responsible for the project.

The existence of an “internet warfare team” came to light when it was included in this year’s Foreign Ministry budget. About 150,000 US dollars have been set aside for the first stage of development, with increased funding expected next year.

The team will fall under the authority of a large department already dealing with what Israelis term hasbara, officially translated as “public explanation” but more usually meaning propaganda. That includes not only government public relations work but more secretive dealings the ministry has with a battery of private organizations and initiatives that promote Israel’s image in print, on TV and online.

In an interview this month with the Calcalist, an Israeli business newspaper, Mr Shturman, the deputy director of the ministry’s hasbara department, admitted his team would be working undercover.

“Our people will not say: ‘Hello, I am from the hasbara department of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and I want to tell you the following.’ Nor will they necessarily identify themselves as Israelis,” he said. “They will speak as net-surfers and as citizens, and will write responses that will look personal but will be based on a prepared list of messages that the Foreign Ministry developed.”

Rona Kuperboim, a columnist for Ynet, Israel’s most popular news website, denounced the initiative, saying it indicated that Israel had become a “thought-police state”.

She added that “good PR cannot make the reality in the occupied territories prettier. Children are being killed, homes are being bombed, and families are starved.”

Her column was greeted by several talkbackers asking how they could apply for a job with the Foreign Ministry’s team.

The project is a formalization of public relations practices the ministry developed specifically for Israel’s assault on Gaza in December and January.

“During Operation Cast Lead we appealed to Jewish communities abroad and with their help we recruited a few thousand volunteers, who were joined by Israeli volunteers,” Mr Shturman said.

“We gave them background material and hasbara material, and we sent them to represent the Israeli point of view on news websites and in polls on the internet.”

The Israeli army also had one of the most popular sites on the video-sharing site YouTube and regularly uploaded clips, although it was criticized by human rights groups for misleading viewers about what was shown in its footage.

Mr Shturman said that during the war the ministry had concentrated its activities on European websites where audiences were more hostile to Israeli policy. High on its list of target sites for the new project would be the BBC News website and Arabic websites, he added.

Elon Gilad, who heads the internet team, told Calcalist that many people had contacted the ministry offering their services during the Gaza attack. “People just asked for information, and afterwards we saw that the information was distributed all over the internet.”

He suggested that there had been widespread government cooperation, with the ministry of absorption handing over contact details for hundreds of recent immigrants to Israel, who wrote pro-Israel material for websites in their native languages.

The new team is expected to increase the ministry’s close coordination with a private advocacy group, giyus.org (Give Israel Your United Support). About 50,000 activists are reported to have downloaded a programme called Megaphone that sends an alert to their computers when an article critical of Israel is published. They are then supposed to bombard the site with comments supporting Israel.

Nasser Rego of Ilam, a group based in Nazareth that monitors the Israeli media, said Arab organizations in Israel were among those regularly targeted by hasbara groups for “character assassination”. He was concerned the new team would try to make such work appear more professional and convincing.

“If these people are misrepresenting who they are, we can guess they won’t worry too much about misrepresenting the groups and individuals they write about. Their aim, it’s clear, will be to discredit those who stand for human rights and justice for the Palestinians.”

When The National called the Foreign Ministry, Yigal Palmor, a spokesman, denied the existence of the internet team, though he admitted officials were stepping up exploitation of new media.

He declined to say which comments by Mr Shturman or Mr Gilad had been misrepresented by the Hebrew-language media, and said the ministry would not be taking any action over the reports.

Israel has developed an increasingly sophisticated approach to new media since it launched a “Brand Israel” campaign in 2005.

Market research persuaded officials that Israel should play up good news about business success, and scientific and medical breakthroughs involving Israelis.

Mr Shturman said his staff would seek to use websites to improve “Israel’s image as a developed state that contributes to the quality of the environment and to humanity”.

David Saranga, head of public relations at Israel’s consulate-general in New York, which has been leading the push for more upbeat messages about Israel, argued last week that Israel was at a disadvantage against pro-Palestinian advocacy.

“Unlike the Muslim world, which has hundreds of millions of supporters who have adopted the Palestinian narrative in order to slam Israel, the Jewish world numbers only 13 million,” he wrote in Ynet.

Israel has become particularly concerned that support is ebbing among the younger generations in Europe and the United States.

In 2007 it emerged that the Foreign Ministry was behind a photo-shoot published in Maxim, a popular US men’s magazine, in which female Israeli soldiers posed in swimsuits.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi. The version on this website is published by permission of Jonathan Cook.

Jewish extremists launch attack on al-Aqsa mosque - third holiest is Islam


Israel plans to build up to 50 synagogues to surround the mosque, some in the grounds of the al-Aqsa itself. It's feared the constant tunneling under the mosque by the zionists is aimed at undermining its foundations.

From Press TV
More than 200 Jewish extremists have reportedly entered al-Aqsa Mosque, positioning themselves inside the holy site, allegedly to perform religious rituals.

According to a statement released by the Al-Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage, the incursion was "significant". The foundation has called on Muslims, Arabs and all Palestinians to take action in support of the mosque.

The attack comes amidst Tisha B'Av, also known as "The Ninth of Av" -- a Jewish fasting day in commemoration of the destruction of the two Temples. The occasion falls on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, which usually coincides with late July or mid-August.

Settlement 'freeze' move to please US changes nothing

Haartez reports that Netanyahu has ordered a freeze on a plan to build 900 apartments in East Jerusalem in a move presumably demanded by the US with Obama's envoy, Mitchell, in town. But this is a freeze on plans that have not yet been implemented so this announcement will change nothing on the ground.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has frozen a project for the construction of some 900 apartments in East Jerusalem, Channel 10 television reported late Wednesday.

The report of Netanyahu's order to freeze the project came a day after he held talks in Jerusalem with U.S. President Barack Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell. Netanyahu has been under tremendous pressure from the United States to freeze all construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

According to Channel 10, The houses were planned to be built in Pisgat Ze'ev, one of several Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem built beyond the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to engage in new peace negotiations until Israel completely halts construction in the city and the West Bank.

More die in struggle to keep open Gaza tunnel lifelines


Israel's aerial bombing of the tunnels hasn't stopped trade but it has certainly undermined the tunnels structurally, as the death of two more Palestinians today testifies - bringing the weekly total to at least nine.
AFP - Two Palestinians were killed on Thursday when a smuggling tunnel linking the Gaza Strip to Egypt collapsed, medical sources said.

At least nine people have been killed this week in cave-ins and other mishaps in the vast network of tunnels between Egypt and Gaza used to smuggle food, goods and, according to Israel, weapons and explosives.

Over the past three years, 127 people have died in the tunnels, according to Iyad Abu Hujaier of the Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) which recently compiled a report on the tunnels. more

Go to Gaza Drink the Sea playwright trapped in Gaza


The Scotsman reports playwright Ahmed Masoud is unable to get out of Gaza. His play opens in the Assembly Hall at this year's Edinburgh Festival on 6 August.
By TIM CORNWELL
A PALESTINIAN playwright whose Fringe play tells of the Israeli assault on the Palestinian territory of Gaza has become trapped there on his first visit in seven years.

Ahmed Masoud is a UK resident whose wife is expecting their first child in October. He went to Gaza to visit his mother after a cancer operation and has been unable to leave.

His play, Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea, opened in London in February, just after the Israeli military operation in Gaza, blamed for the loss of more than 1,000 Palestinian lives.

Masoud, who has a Palestinian passport, but is a legal British resident, got into Gaza when the Rafah border crossing from Egypt was briefly opened. When he tried to leave by the same route, he was turned away.

He was due in Edinburgh for rehearsals this week. The play opens on 6 August.

Book your ticket here

Israel calls in UK ambassador to 'discuss' boycott movement and aid to peace group

Hot on the heels of castigating the Dutch government, Israel is now demanding that the UK stop funding (£40k apparently, although Haaretz's report is not very clear) for the Breaking the Silence organisation of veteran and serving Israeli soldiers. Israel primarily summoned the UK ambassador in Tel Aviv to the talks to discuss boycott efforts by 'various British organisations'. The international solidarity movement has them worried.
Israel continues to ratchet up diplomatic pressure against European Union funding of a group that exposed what it described as war crimes perpetrated by the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza.

The deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry, Rafi Barak, expressed "concern" last week over Britain's financial contributions to "Breaking the Silence," an organization founded by IDF veterans which collects testimonies from soldiers serving in the Palestinian territories.

Barak communicated Israel's dissatisfaction over Britain's funding of the group during a meeting with London's ambassador to Tel Aviv, Tom Phillips.

Barak met with Phillips to discuss efforts by various British organizations to institute a boycott against Israel. During the meeting, Barak also raised the subject of funds which the British government channels to Breaking the Silence...

...Barak requested clarifications as to the reasons behind Britain's funding of the group and whether the money was used to fund the recent report on Operation Cast Lead.

According to information obtained by Barak, the British embassy in Tel Aviv received 40,000 pounds in 2008. Phillips [the UK ambassador to Israel] told Barak that the money transfer to the group presents no problem since Breaking the Silence is a legal organization.

Phillips added that the money was meant to fund the group's trips and activities in Hebron, and that none of the money was used for compiling and publishing its report on the Gaza war.
more at Haaretz

Reports Israel may allow some cement into Gaza

Cement and 'some steel' to be allowed into Gaza by Israel 'in the coming weeks'.
AFP - Israel will allow a one-time transfer of cement into Gaza for the first time since its war in the Hamas-ruled enclave and amid a new US peace push in the region, officials said on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak okayed the transfer of more than 310 tonnes of cement for rebuilding a flour mill, a sewage treatment facility and the British cemetery, one defence official said.

The one-off consignment will also include some steel and is expected to be transferred "in the coming weeks," he said.

Many buildings in Gaza remain in ruins since Israel's December-January offensive because of an acute shortage of construction materials that can only officially enter Gaza through Israel-controlled crossings.

Israel recently authorised the monthly transfer of 104 million shekels (26 million dollars) into Gaza to pay the wages of Palestinian Authority and United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNRWA) employees.