Tag Archives: anti-war

‘I’ll open up your face’: The routine of collective punishment in Hebron

A new video shows Israeli Border Police preventing children from passing through a gate in order to reach their homes. This is what collective punishment looks like. 

Ever since Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem launched its Camera Project 11 years ago, the Israel public has had countless opportunities to get a glimpse of the routine of occupation from the point of view of Palestinians living under it.

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Sometimes those videos create a public uproar, as happened with Elor Azaria, who was caught on camera executing a dying Palestinian, or the infamous settler from Hebron, who was seen spitting and cursing at the camera. Most of B’Tselem’s videos, however, convey the injustices of the occupation through the everyday, mundane experiences of humiliation, violence, aggression, and arrogance at the hands of the masters.

The same goes for the latest B’Tselem video, published Tuesday, which shows Israeli security forces standing in front of the main entrance to Gheith and A-Salaimeh, two neighborhoods in Hebron, on May 13th.

Through A-Salaimeh runs one of the main roads on which Palestinians are forbidden from traveling by car. There are military checkpoints at both entrances of the road, called A-Salaimeh Street, which leads to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. In 2012, the army built a barrier that divides the street into two: a paved road for Jewish pedestrians and vehicles, and on the other side, a narrow, dilapidated passageway for Palestinians who are forbidden from traveling by car.

On May 4th, the army enlarged the fence it had built at the beginning of 2012 at the entrance to both A-Salaimeh and Gheith. The fence has a single gate, which the army said must be kept open between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. in order to allow residents to pass through. However, according to B’Tselem, for the past year the gate has been closed at various times throughout the day. Closing off the two neighborhoods is especially harmful to students, who are forced to take an alternative path that forces them to pass through a checkpoint, extends their journey by 500 meters, and passes through a dark alley.

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On May 13th, as the students were on their way back from school, they once again encountered locked gate. The video shows some residents of the neighborhood – mothers of the students – standing on the other end of the gate, pleading with the Border Police officers to open it. The officers ignore the women. After a child asks one of them to open the gate, an officer responds by yelling “I will open your face.” An Arabic-speaking officer threatens one of the mothers, telling her “If you continue I will drag you outside and arrest you. Try me.”

Meanwhile, the children begin crowding around. Some of them climb over the locked gate as the officers look on (a stark reminder that locking the gate has little to do with security).

So why is it closed? The Arabic-speaking officer has an answer: “It’s not my problem,” he tells one of the mothers who asks why the children can’t cross, “you throw stones, this is your punishment.” Collective punishment is forbidden under international law, yet it has turned into one of the army’s most commonly-used tools.

The gate was eventually opened three days later, at around 5 p.m. Until then, the children were forced either to walk half a kilometer and pass through a checkpoint on their way home, or put themselves in danger while climbing the locked gate. The B’Tselem video lasts two-and-a-half minutes. No one opens fire. No one is beaten up. No one is arrested and dragged through the street with their eyes covered. And yet the violent force of the occupying army in the apartheid city of Hebron is on full display.

The IDF Spokesperson issued the following response:

There have been several incidents of stone throwing from the eastern Casbah area of Hebron, targeting civilians and security forces operating in the area, as well as the throwing of an explosive device at security forces nearby, while security infrastructure was destroyed in the area. As such, the gate was closed for a number of hours in order to assess the operational situation and repair the damage. After that, the gate was reopened to the local residents.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

No amount of police can scrub out the racism of Jerusalem Day

With double the usual police presence, the anti-Arab slogans usually heard during Jerusalem Day were quickly silenced. But the racism wasn’t so swiftly scrubbed out.

By Oren Ziv and Orly Noy

Israeli nationalists march through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City during the 'March of the Flags,' part of the annual Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 13, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli nationalists march through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City during the ‘March of the Flags,’ part of the annual Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 13, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A day before Israel was set to celebrate the U.S. Embassy’s move to Jerusalem, the annual “March of the Flags,” in which thousands of nationalist Israelis pass through the Old City waving flags and chanting racist slogans against Arabs, threatened to paint Jerusalem as violent and conflict-ridden. This is likely the reason the police made sure that this year, the march would be relatively quiet, without major clashes. In fact, the racism was quickly silenced, and the number of police officers was double the usual size.

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And yet, racism was present in every street corner. In the frightened looks of Palestinians, in the closed-up shops, in ensuring that Palestinians were removed from the route of the march.

When the first groups of marchers headed into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City through Damascus Gate, they sang “Am Israel Chai” (“The nation of Israel lives”). When a group of teenagers began chanting racist slogans, the police immediately put an end to it.

At this point, nearly all the stores along the route of the march were closed. Palestinian residents of the Old City hurried home, some of them still holding the flowers handed out as a gesture by left-wing activists. Not all the residents were happy with the flowers; the owner of a nearby juice stand flat-out rejected the gesture. “I want peace,” the activist told him. “You want peace?” he responded, “then first tell your government to leave Al-Aqsa alone.”

Khaled Tufah, the owner of a souvenir shop on Al-Wad Street, where the march was set to take place, explained why he was closing up. “No one buys from us during the march, and even if someone does come, his friends will say: ‘He’s Arab, don’t buy from him.’”

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“I don’t care about Trump or anyone else,” Tufah continues. “A few months ago the Palestinian people showed its strength in the face of the metal detectors at Al-Aqsa, and in the end we removed them. The embassy is an issue for politicians, our power is in the streets.”

A Palestinian woman argues with an Israeli Border Police officer during Jerusalem Day celebrations near the Old City, May 13, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian woman argues with an Israeli Border Police officer during Jerusalem Day celebrations near the Old City, May 13, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Muhammad Omar, a young Palestinian Jerusalemite, added: “Jerusalem is holy to all religions. Trump’s decision means he recognizes only the Jews, and unfortunately this move will bring about more violence and death.”

Despite the fact that the main event of the day was a march through the Muslim Quarter, thousands celebrated in white shirts and and Israeli flags across the city. Army Radio broadcasted live from the city center, and religious girls who did not take part in the March of the Flags through the Muslim Quarter filled the streets and danced to the sounds of live music set up by the municipality.

A man draped in an American flag stands in front of Damascus Gate during the annual 'March of the Flags,' as part of Jerusalem Day, May 13, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A man draped in an American flag stands in front of Damascus Gate during the annual ‘March of the Flags,’ as part of Jerusalem Day, May 13, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Among the Israeli flags were flags belonging to Lehava, the right-wing anti-miscegenation group, mostly by younger marchers, many of whom wore “Kahane was right” stickers on their shirts. There was also a group of young Ethiopians who came to the march to raise awareness for Avera Mengistu, an Ethiopian-Israeli who crossed over into Gaza in 2014 and has been unheard of since. Earlier, they visited the protest tent set up by Mengistu’s family, across from the prime minister’s residence.

A group of left-wing activists from “Antifa Jerusalem” hung a giant sign on the route to Damascus Gate, reading “Jerusalem against nationalism,” leading to the detention of six activists.

It turns out that talking about nationalism during the city’s so-called holiday is too much for the public to handle. Lehava’s flags and stands, however, remained standing.

This article was first published in Hebrew by Local Call. Read it here.

68 Gazans have died while Israel’s High Court deliberates if it’s legal to kill them

The High Court has refrained from ruling on an urgent petition about whether it is legal for the army to shoot unarmed, civilian protesters who pose no threat to human life. They have the blood of 68 people on their hands.

A medic carries a Palestinian child during a protest in the Gaza Strip, as part of the Great March of Return, May 14, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

A medic carries a Palestinian child during a protest in the Gaza Strip, as part of the Great March of Return, May 14, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

The Israeli army has shot and killed 68 unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza while the Israeli High Court deliberates whether or not it is legal to shoot unarmed civilian protesters who pose no threat to human life. That number has likely gone up in the time since this article was published.

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When a handful of human rights groups filed an urgent petition to the High Court on April 15, demanding that it strike down the army’s open-fire regulations that authorize shooting unarmed civilians just because of their proximity to the Gaza border fence, army snipers had already gunned down 33 unarmed protesters in the Great Return March, including three minors.

While the three Supreme Court justices deliberated, another 68 people have died. The rights groups asked for an urgent decision, hoping to stop the bloodshed.

The justices did not heed their request. No decision has been handed down. The shooting continues. Sixty-eight more people lost their lives.

If, after waiting until the shooting stops, the court ultimately decides that it is not permissible to shoot unarmed, civilian protesters just because of where they are standing, or because they are attempting to cross or even damage a fence, the blood of 68 people will be on their hands.

If the justices decide that it is, indeed, permissible to shoot unarmed civilians just because they might cross a fence, well, then they will have the blood of those 68 people and countless others on their hands.

It’s bad enough that this massacre is state sanctioned. By declining to rule in a timely fashion, however, this predictable massacre has also been sanctioned by the judiciary.

Israel’s Supreme Court is currently in a fight for its life. The legislature and government are threatening to strip the court of its power to overturn unconstitutional laws and policies. If, out of fear of further angering their detractors in Knesset, the justices did not use that power in this case then they don’t deserve to have it in the first place.

Out of Iran deal, into war? Either way, Netanyahu’s popularity soars

Netanyahu appears to have inoculated himself against looming corruption charges due to the dramatic developments on the security front. As war with Iran looms, why does the old formula work so well? 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference about Iran's nuclear program, April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference about Iran’s nuclear program, April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Wednesday night, the day after Trump announced his withdrawal from the Iran deal, in between Israeli airstrikes in Syria, Israel’s Channel 2 News reported the Likud’s highest polling numbers in a decade — 35 seats, five more than it holds today.

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Is it really that simple? Netanyahu, 12 years in office, facing multiple corruption investigations and a possible indictment, just pulls out the magic security card and his polls rise as if standing at attention. As Arlo Guthrie once said, “it’s amazing that somebody can get away with singing a song this dumb, for that long.”

But oh, those numbers. The glory of watching rivals wither: Yair Lapid, who had to defend himself this week from an unforgivable position that just maybe the U.S. should not withdraw unilaterally or immediately from the scourge of a deal, slid down to 18 seats in the poll, far from his party’s perch in the mid-20s in recent months.

Other electoral dynamics did not change significantly. A new party established by former Israel Beitenu MK Orly Levi dropped from eight seats – which in fairness was probably an inflated result anyway – to five in the current poll. Given that she comes from the right, those votes probably went to Likud. In times of war, you don’t play around with girlie parties.

On Tuesday night, moments before Trump was due to speak, the IDF ordered bomb shelters in the Golan Heights opened, following IDF “leaks” about suspicious Iranian troop movement. Wednesday night, 20 rockets were fired from Syria – none actually hit Israel – apparently by Iranian forces or proxies, sirens went off in the Golan, and Israel launched its largest airstrikes in Syria in decades. As Israel cheered Trump’s announcement like a choir, war felt more imminent than at any time in recent years.

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Still, a few days earlier, a friend told me that if elections were held today, she would change her vote from Kachlon in 2015, to Netanyahu. Never his biggest fan, she explained that despite her misgivings, she cannot help being impressed by a few of his achievements, citing three examples: his ability to navigate Israel through political and military challenges; expanding Israel’s foreign relations, which also helps the economy; and his pride in the country’s Zionist and Jewish identity.

These points highlight what so many Israelis mean when they say Bibi keeps Israel strong. And there’s nothing dumb about them. In fact, they all check out.

Working backwards, the vast majority of Jewish Israelis have no qualms or doubts about Zionism, and insist on a leader who is Zionist — who makes them proud of Israel being a Jewish state. Pride in one’s country is something most people wish to feel. Dissenters and sourpusses, as Netanyahu once called them, are healthy for democracy, but they are never popular.

The point about Israel’s foreign relations is also true – Netanyahu has made his outreach to unusual places a central theme of his leadership. Highly publicized trips to Africa, Russia, India, and Azerbaijan have been presented exactly for what they are: proof to the pesky Western countries, especially during the Obama years, that Israel has other friends. Boycott storm clouds hovering over the EU? Israel has other trading partners.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi get their feet wet at Olga Beach, just 60 miles north of the Gaza Strip. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi get their feet wet at Olga Beach, just 60 miles north of the Gaza Strip. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

There’s also a bonus benefit: chumming up with non-democratic countries legitimizes their style of leadership. If Netanyahu relates to Putin as a stalwart ally, or to the authoritarian regime of Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan, a bit of Supreme Court-slamming back home doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

But never mind other friends. Netanyahu’s Israel is quite beautifully integrated into the entire Western global economy itself, and is a part of every Western diplomatic club. Rhetorical and symbolic policy gestures criticizing Israel’s policy seem to be the best the EU can do. Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech was hard candy through and through, but he was not factually wrong about Israel’s leading role in hi-tech, cyber security, AI and other highly IPO-able businesses.

And the third point: Political and military navigation. Who wants war? Israelis believe themselves to be a peace-loving, peace-seeking people in the national narrative. But wars come to us. It is the way of the world, not the result of leadership. When they occur, we’d better have the right person at the helm.

That leads back to Iran. Netanyahu traduced the Iran deal so relentlessly and successfully that 62 percent of Israelis polled by Channel 2 on Wednesday said they supported the U.S. leaving the deal. How could they not? His ministers regularly compared it to Munich 1938. Trump’s props to the prime minister’s PowerPoint presentation drove home the sense that Washington’s withdrawal was largely Bibi’s victory. That’s not wrong either. Netanyahu has made a career out of hammering away at Iran and now he has the most receptive ear ever in the White House. After all, Netanyahu’s speech was among the last things Trump heard before announcing his decision, which practically ensures that he was a decisive factor.

In the Channel 2 poll, the very same portion of Israelis who support the withdrawal also said they now fear a war with Iran: 62 percent. They probably don’t think war is preventable. But that number is probably a spike. Just a few days earlier, the monthly Peace Index published its April survey, showing that just 40 percent believe Israel will soon go to war with Iran. If the next few days hold steady, the higher number might decline again soon.

But if there is a war, best to feel confident – and strong. The Peace Index showed that fully 64 percent said Israel had very or somewhat high chances of defeating Iran in such a war. Among Jews, the number was 71 percent.

The next question in the Peace Index was grim and blunt: “Is the Israeli population strong enough or not strong enough to cope with the cost in casualties and damage that a conflict with Iran could inflict?” Still, 54 percent said Israel was strong enough (“I am sure” or “I think so”). Among Jews, the now-familiar 62 percent said Israel was strong enough.

Netanyahu’s favorability rating has been steady at around 45 percent, give or take, which is enviable for a four-term incumbent. The fact that over 60 percent of Israelis gravitate to the security issue shows a surplus of people who are not Netanyahu’s natural supporters but, under his rule, feel strong enough for war.

So the next time there is a development in Netanyahu’s corruption cases, before asking “how can Israelis possibly still support him?” remember that in exchange for these types of strength, many are willing to forgive what they see as routine political shenanigans.

As for the leader who defines national strength by the health and independence of the country’s democratic institutions, a free and thriving civil society, strong minority protections, whose determination to end the half-century suffocation of Palestinians is as steely and steadfast as Netanyahu’s anti-Iran campaign, who rejects cheap fear as the crutch of popularity, and for whom integrity is not a dirty word — well, if that leader exists, her time has not yet come.

A victim is the suspect at the trial of the soldiers who killed him

Samir Awad was unarmed when he was shot in the back eight times by soldiers. During his killers’ trial, the judge and defense treated the dead boy as if he was the one being charged with a crime.

Samir Awad is evacuated for medical treatment after being shot in the back of the neck by Israeli soldiers, January 13, 2013. (Nader Morar/B’Tselem). Awad later died from his wounds.

Samir Awad is evacuated for medical treatment after being shot in the back of the neck by Israeli soldiers, January 13, 2013. (Nader Morar/B’Tselem).

In Israeli courts, the rare trial of a soldier who killed a Palestinian invariably becomes a trial of the Palestinian they killed. Tuesday morning in the Ramle Magistrate’s Court, where two former Israeli soldiers are on trial for killing 16-year-old Samir Awad, was no exception.

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Samir was not mentioned once by name during the nearly four-hour cross-examination of one of the two soldiers on trial. The judge and defense lawyers reflexively referred to Samir as “the suspect” — as if the dead boy was being charged with a crime instead of the soldiers who shot him.

“It is as if nobody died,” remarked one of the Israeli activists who had come to support Ahmad, Samir’s father.

Samir Awad was shot in the back eight times by soldiers who had been lying in ambush near a hole in Israel’s separation barrier. Samir was not armed. He did not pose a threat to anyone. He was running away at the time he was shot.

For shooting and killing Samir, A. and B., the two former soldiers whose names are under gag order, are charged with “reckless and negligent use of a firearm.”

Ahmad Awad, whose son, Samir, was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers, stands outside Ramle Magistrate's Court, September 22, 2016. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Ahmad Awad, whose son, Samir, was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers, stands outside Ramle Magistrate’s Court, September 22, 2016. (photo: Haggai Matar)

When Ahmad Awad, Samir’s father, finally reached Room 207 in the Ramle Magistrate’s Court Tuesday morning, he was not allowed to enter. He had woken up early that morning to make it from the West Bank village of Budrus, through a checkpoint that he needed a special military permit to cross. From there, an Israeli activist picked him up and drove him to the courthouse, a drab, tan building on a street named after Israel’s first president.

Ahmad has been making this trip since 2015, when Israeli authorities — after a more than two-year delay — indicted the two soldiers who shot and killed 16-year-old Samir in January 2013.

Teeth gritted and arms folded across his chest, Ahmad toed at the waxed-tile floor and waited outside the courtroom where his sons’ killers sat. Inside, the presiding judge, Rivka Glatz, held a short, closed-door mediation session between the prosecution, the soldiers who shot Samir, and their lawyers. Ahmad asked to be present for the mediation but was told to leave since he is not technically a party to the case.

“The case has been badly damaged,” the prosecutor told Ahmad when he emerged from the closed-door session. The defense, he explained, thinks they have a chance of getting off completely — and they might be right.

The defense is arguing that prosecuting the two soldiers for illegally killing Samir would constitute “selective enforcement” of the law. To prove their point, they are demanding that the state reveal statistical data regarding criminal investigations and prosecutions of other soldiers who have killed Palestinians, as well as the case materials themselves.

Israeli authorities do not want to provide those files, on which the outcome of the case might depend.

An Israeli solider shoots tear gas toward Palestinian demonstrators during a protest against the occupation in the West Bank village of Budrus, three days after soldiers shot and killed 16-year-old Samir Awad, January 18, 2013. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

An Israeli solider shoots tear gas toward Palestinian demonstrators during a protest against the occupation in the West Bank village of Budrus, three days after soldiers shot and killed 16-year-old Samir Awad, January 18, 2013. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The distance between the courtroom and the often incomprehensible reality of the occupation felt immense on Tuesday morning. The judge seemed to struggle to grasp the technical details of the soldier’s testimony and the prosecutor’s questions about the precise angle of B.’s gun when he opened fire on Samir; the respective positions of B. and Samir relative to the various parts of the separation barrier; and the complex nature of the separation barrier.

Throughout the testimony of B., a tall, soft-spoken twenty-something with dark brown hair pulled back into a short ponytail, a casual observer never would have guessed that the “reckless and negligent use of a firearm” for which he was being tried had actually resulted in eight bullets in 16-year-old Samir’s body, one of which pierced the nape of his neck.

Part of the absurdity of Tuesday’s hearing stemmed from the fact that the case, of two active duty soldiers committing a crime during a military operation, is being heard in a civilian court. It took Israeli authorities more than two years to indict the soldiers who shot Samir — only after Ahmad, with the help of Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, sued to force the Military Advocate General to either file an indictment or close the investigation. By the time authorities finally reached a decision to prosecute, A. and B. were no longer under the jurisdiction of the military justice system. They are being tried as civilians by civilian prosecutors in a civilian court not designed to adjudicate military matters.

When the hearing was finally over, Ahmad went to the court’s administrative office to receive documents that will enable him to get a travel permit from the army so he can cross through the checkpoint for the next hearing, tentatively scheduled for May 15, Nakba Day. That is, if the prosecution decides to hand over all of the data and case files of other Israeli soldiers who were investigated and prosecuted for killing Palestinians.

If they don’t hand over the files, there is a chance that the final time Ahmad makes the journey from Burdus to Ramle will be to watch his son’s killers walk free.

Netanyahu just made the best case for the Iran nuclear deal

Intent on killing the Iran nuclear deal, Netanyahu and Trump have dispensed with logic and are relying on emotion, confusion, and fear to try to achieve their objective. 

By Paul R. Pillar

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference on the Iran nuclear program at the Kirya defense headquarters in Tel Aviv, April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference on the Iran nuclear program at the Kirya defense headquarters in Tel Aviv, April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Benjamin Netanyahu’s display of a cartoon bomb before the United Nations General Assembly nearly six years ago received much ridicule but at least was grounded in some facts about uranium enrichment levels and how they relate to the ability to make a nuclear weapon. These days, Netanyahu doesn’t reprise that part of his General Assembly speech, and it’s not because of the ridicule.

It is because the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the multilateral nuclear agreement that restricts Iran’s nuclear program and that the Israeli prime minister has been trying hard to kill — has drained Netanyahu’s bomb. In fact, Netanyahu’s diagram, despite its cartoonish quality, could serve as a prop in illustrating how the JCPOA has moved Iran far away from any capability to produce a nuke by strictly limiting enrichment levels and limiting even the amount of low enriched uranium it can possess.

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In continuing his agreement-killing campaign this week with another prop-dependent show-and-tell, Netanyahu has abandoned any effort to be logical in arguing against the JCPOA. He abandoned logic some time ago with regard to how the agreement relates to Israel’s own security interests. Of course it is in those interests to close all pathways to a possible Iranian nuclear weapon, as the JCPOA has done and as retired senior Israeli security officials have repeatedly stated in urging that the agreement not be killed.

Netanyahu’s latest presentation displayed shelves of binders and CDs, which the prime minister described as containing documents relating to past Iranian work on nuclear weapons and being copies of files that are allegedly squirreled away somewhere in Iran. Evidently the display was intended to overwhelm the senses through the sheer volume of stuff. Indeed, the volume was greater than other well-known displays of binders that come to mind. Netanyahu’s central message was that Iran “lied” about its past work on nuclear weapons.

None of this is new. The parts of the U.S. government charged with keeping track of such things assessed formally and publicly more than a decade ago that Iran had an active and undeclared nuclear weapons program that it halted in 2003. The International Atomic Energy Agency also has been actively seized with this issue, consistent with the responsibilities that the JCPOA placed on it. This became known as the “possible military dimensions” issue or PMD and received much attention during the negotiation of the JCPOA. The IAEA prepared a report on PMD in December 2015, subsequently approved by the IAEA Board of Governors, that concluded that Iran had a “coordinated effort” prior to 2003 to develop a nuclear device, that “some activities” took place after 2003, and that the agency has “no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009.”

Why the JCPOA is needed

The history of secret Iranian work related to nuclear weapons design is all the more reason to keep the JCPOA and is why the agreement was designed as it was. It is an agreement for doing business with a state that has lied and kept secrets, not one that is entirely honest and trustworthy.  This was the reason not only for the tight restrictions on enrichment and other nuclear activities but for the establishment of a highly intrusive regimen of inspections and monitoring by IAEA inspectors. The JCPOA provides not only for regular monitoring of declared nuclear sites but also for inspection of any other locales in Iran if the IAEA is given reason to suspect any prohibited activity.

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If Netanyahu really were interested in ensuring there is no Iranian nuclear weapon rather than putting on a television show to try to kill the agreement, he would provide his material to the IAEA (which, as far as we know, may already have it) to be checked out. As the office of European Union Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini tweeted: “IAEA is the only impartial international organization in charge of monitoring Iran’s nuclear commitments. If any country has information of non-compliance of any kind [it] should address this information to the proper legitimate and recognized mechanism.”

Netanyahu, Trump, and the other American players inside and outside his administration who are intent on killing the JCPOA, while dispensing with logic, are relying on emotion and confusion to try to achieve their objective. Netanyahu’s theme of Iran lying serves partly as innuendo that will lead some people to believe that Iran somehow is violating the JCPOA, even though it isn’t. The IAEA has repeatedly certified that Iran is living up to its obligations under the JCPOA (holding files is not a violation of the agreement.) The violations so far are all on the U.S. side. The emotion part involves getting people angry in general about Iran and relies on a popular misconception that the JCPOA is some kind of reward or act of generosity to Iran rather than a restriction on, and evidence of mistrust of, Iran.

Netanyahu’s motivations

Among Netanyahu’s motives for trying to destroy something that is in Israel’s own security interests is to distract attention from the destructive effects of his own government’s policies and to levy all blame for any regional bloodshed and instability on Iran by keeping it a pariah. The destructive effects in question keep accumulating, and the past few days are no exception. There is the Israeli military’s lethal use of force against Palestinians demonstrating against their confinement in the miserable conditions of the Gaza Strip. There are the alleged Israeli air and missile strikes in Syria, which over the past year or two have numbered in the dozens as compared to a single drone in the other direction that did not fire a shot.

A Palestinian protester walks through the smoke of burning tires during the Great Return March demonstrations. April 20, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun / Activestills.org)

A Palestinian protester walks through the smoke of burning tires during the Great Return March demonstrations. April 20, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun / Activestills.org)

The Israeli government’s vigorous opposition to any agreement with Iran also helps to preclude an American straying from the passionate attachment to Israel, which in practice on many issues has meant attachment to the Israeli government and its policies. If Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s just-concluded visit to the region is any indication, Netanyahu need have no worry about that with the current U.S. administration.  Pompeo’s remarks — on Iran, on Syria, on Gaza — could not have been more pleasing to the prime minister’s ears if Netanyahu’s own staff had written the talking points. Such remarks represent prioritizing the passionate attachment over an independent pursuit of U.S. interests and over the interests of regional stabilization and nuclear nonproliferation.

One closing observation concerns the irony of exactly who is energetically accusing another regime of lying about activities related to nuclear weapons. The accusations are coming from the prime minister of a state that has long asserted that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East — an assertion that almost no one in the region believes.

Another closing observation concerns the folly of destroying the JCPOA given that this would mean, among other things, an end to the intrusive international inspections that are critical to running down any suspicions about Iran conducting prohibited activity. The last time, which was fifteen years ago, that a U.S. administration kicked out of a Middle Eastern country international inspectors who were getting to the ground truth about alleged weapons of mass destruction activity, it was a prelude to a long, costly, and highly destabilizing war.

Paul R. Pillar is non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies of Georgetown University and an Associate Fellow of the Geneva Center for Security Policy. He retired in 2005 from a 28-year career in the U.S. intelligence community. His latest book, published in 2016, is ‘Why America Misunderstands the World.’ This article was first published on Lobelog.com.

Are Israeli Jews beginning to accept the right of return?

A number of new surveys shows that at least a fifth of Israel’s Jewish citizens are open to the idea of Palestinian refugees returning to their homes. So how do we reconcile this with the violence being meted out to Palestinians on the Gaza border?

By Eléonore Bronstein and Eitan Bronstein Aparicio

A Palestinian refugee, Saleh Saleh Abu Rass, holds up a key from his original home in Be'er Sheva, located in southern Israel, during a rally, in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, May 12, 2013. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)

A Palestinian refugee, Saleh Saleh Abu Rass, holds up a key from his original home in Be’er Sheva, located in southern Israel, during a rally, in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, May 12, 2013. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)

What is it about Gaza’s “Great Return March” that so threatens Israelis? What is it that Israelis are so actively preventing? The Gaza fence symbolizes the essence of the Jewish state, which was founded through the dispossession of the Palestinians, expelling the majority of them beyond its borders. Walls and fences were built — above and below ground — to prevent the return of those refugees. Today, as in the 1950s, they are considered dangerous “infiltrators.” Not much has changed when it comes to colonial thinking and practice.

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Unfortunately, we must also admit that even when the atrocities become too much to bear, the violent Israeli response is not surprising. It almost goes without saying; perhaps the fact that there is nothing surprising in this kind of behavior is the real atrocity. That the emergency in Gaza has become a trivial matter.

That is why it was so surprising to discover the results of a new survey, conducted by the Geocartography Knowledge Group among 500 Jewish Israelis, for our book, Nakba in Hebrew. The survey shows that quite a few Israeli Jews, or at least many more than one would think, support the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.

Jewish Israelis were asked the following question: “In 1948, during the War of Independence, the majority of Palestinians who lived in the country were turned into refugees and have since been spread across the world. The right of return of the Palestinian refugees refers to the possibility of every Palestinian refugee (and his/her descendants) to decide between actual return to the place where they lived until 1948, and other forms of compensation. The significance of the recognition of the right of return may be that more than seven million Palestinian refugees will choose to return to Israel. To what extent do you support or oppose the right of return as presented?”

Palestinian citizens of Israel pass photos of Palestinian refugees during the march (Activestills)

Palestinian citizens of Israel pass photos of Palestinian refugees during the anuual ‘March of Return’ to Lubya, a Palestinian village destroyed in 1948. (Activestills)

The detailed wording and inclusion of “over seven million” Palestinian refugees were meant to ensure that the respondents fully understand the significance of recognition and implementation of the right of return. This was done after the wording in two previous surveys was less explicit, yielding more than 20 percent results in support of the right of return. And yet, 16.2 percent of respondents in the new survey answered that they support return, or that they support it “provided the refugees return in peaceful conditions.”

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According to the survey, nearly twice as many women support the right of return than man (17.2 percent as opposed to nine). An especially optimistic figure can be found when breaking down the responses by age: Israelis between the ages of 18 and 34 support the right of return at a particularly high rate (25.9 percent), compared to adults over the age of 55 (15.1 percent) and those between 35-54 (7.3 percent). Meanwhile, Israelis who earn an average income are twice as likely to support the right of return than those who earn an above-average income (21.9 percent as opposed 12.7 percent).

One sees a clear and predictable picture when accounting for degree of religiosity. Support by secular Jews for the right of return was four times higher than that by ultra-Orthodox Jews (22.3 percent as opposed to 5.2 percent). An interesting difference was also found between second-generation Israelis, Israelis whose parents were born in Europe, and Israelis whose parents are of Mizrahi origin. The first support the right of return at a much higher rate (22.6 percent) compared to those born to European immigrants (14.1 percent), and those born to Mizrahi parents (11.7).

These surprising results are supported by the results of other surveys. The first of these was also conducted for Nakba in Hebrew by Geocartography in March 2015. In that survey, 500 Jewish Israelis the following question: “Will you personally support the right of return for Palestinians if recognizing that right does not involve the uprooting of Jewish Israelis from the homes in which they live?” Twenty percent responded positively, compared with 60.8 who answered in the negative.

An ultra-orthodox Jewish man walks in the depopulated Palestinian village of Lifta, located on the edge of West Jerusalem, Israel, March 4, 2014. During the Nakba, the residents of Lifta fled attacks by Zionist militias beginning in December 1947, resulting in the complete evacuation of the village by February 1948. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

An ultra-orthodox Jewish man walks in the depopulated Palestinian village of Lifta, located on the edge of West Jerusalem, Israel, March 4, 2014. During the Nakba, the residents of Lifta fled attacks by Zionist militias, resulting in the complete evacuation of the village by February 1948. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

In a survey conducted by the Smith Institute for Israel Social TV in July 2017, 400 Jews living in northern Israel were asked the following: “Do you support or oppose the right of Arabs to return to live in the areas where they lived before 1948, as long as there are no Jewish residents in these areas today?” Around 26 percent responded positively. It is possible that the particularly high result stems from phrasing the question, which does not clarify precisely who will return. In other words, the question does not mention that these refugees are currently living outside the borders of the state. It is interesting to note that in this survey, too, almost twice as many women supported return: (30 percent versus 17 percent).

How, then, can we reconcile the violent and unequivocal Israeli response of firing live rounds on the marchers in Gaza, eith the consistent results in various surveys that show that around one-fifth of Israeli Jews are open to the possibility of Palestinian refugees returning?

In our view, that gap stems from the different ways in which the issue of return is publicly discussed. The public discourse prevalent in Israel vis-a-vis return is a contrarian one. Return, in the eyes of many, is equivalent to another Holocaust — a zero-sum game. In other words, the return of Palestinians means that Israeli Jews have no place in the country. A few days ago we asked Adnan Mahameed, a refugee from al-Lajjun, during a visit to his destroyed village, what would happen to the Jews living in Kibbutz Megiddo (which was built on the remains of his village) should his right to return be recognized. His answer excited the listeners: “We do not want to cause others the suffering we are going through, and we will find a way to compromise on these lands.”

It turns out that when Israelis are asked about the right of return as a basic human right — the purpose of which is to live in peace in Israel — quite a few of them respond positively.

Israeli soldiers in battle with the Arab village of Sassa in the upper Galilee, October 1, 1948. (GPO)

Israeli soldiers in battle with the Arab village of Sassa in the upper Galilee, October 1, 1948. (GPO)

The issue of implementing the return of the Palestinian refugees deserves a separate and in-depth discussion, which has been gaining momentum in recent years. It should be noted here that the Palestinians’ consistent demand for recognition and implementation of the right was never accompanied by a demand to expel the Jews. On the contrary, the realization of the right of return is beholden to the demographic and cultural conditions that have changed since the Nakba. Adnan’s answer, therefore, represents the prevailing perception among Palestinians — both refugees and those living on their historic land. The return will not be be accompanied by the forcible uprooting of people from the houses in which they live.

In order to promote justice and reconciliation in Israel, we must develop a discourse that recognizes the injustices of the past and seeks coexistence. There is no point in arguing about “their rights” as opposed to “our rights.” This kind of argument only emboldens fences, and gives justification to open fire at anyone who approaches them. We must practice a new language that includes all the inhabitants of the country and its refugees. This will be the beginning of a process aimed at ceasing to be settlers and occupiers, in order to live here together — alongside all its residents and refugees.

Eléonore Bronstein and Eitan Bronstein Aparicio are the co-directors and co-founders of De-Colonizer. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

Thousands of Israelis, Palestinians mark Memorial Day together

After numerous venues backed out of hosting the ceremony and the High Court had to intervene to allow Palestinian participants to join, the crowd exceeded capacity. Right-wing Israelis protest outside.

Palestinian and Israeli women embrace during the alternative Memorial Day ceremony, April 17, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian and Israeli women embrace during the alternative Memorial Day ceremony, April 17, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Nearly 7,000 Israelis and Palestinians held an alternative Memorial Day ceremony in Tel Aviv Tuesday night, organized by the Bereaved Families Forum and Combatants for Peace.

The overflow crowd was far beyond the capacity organizers had prepared for, and a significant portion of the participants were forced to stand or sit on the ground. The Israeli-Palestinian memorial event was held outdoors in HaYarkon Park after the initial venue for the event, an auditorium in the city of Holon, backed out claiming that the event was “political.”

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Earlier on Tuesday, Israel’s High Court ordered Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to reverse his decision to bar entry to Israel to 110 Palestinians who were scheduled to participate in the ceremony. Last year, the Israeli army also refused to grant permits to the Palestinian participants, so a parallel event was held in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank.

This year’s speakers included Adi Kahlon, whose father Dov was killed in a suicide bombing in Haifa; Dr. Amal Abu Sa’ad, whose husband, Yaqub Abu Alqian, was shot and killed by Israeli police in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran; Jihad Zriar, whose son, Alaa, was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers in Hebron on his way to his grandfather’s house; and author David Grossman, whose son, Uri, was killed in the Second Lebanon War.

“Alaa was more than son to me, he was a friend to me. Together we shared the burdens of life,” Jihad Zriar said during his speech. “I miss you always, but especially today.”

Israeli author David Grossman speaks at the alternative Memorial Day ceremony, April 17, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli author David Grossman speaks at the alternative Memorial Day ceremony, April 17, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Grossman urged the audience to ignore the protests and controversy that surrounded the alternative Memorial Day ceremony.

“There is a lot of noise and commotion around our ceremony, but we do not forget that above all, this is a ceremony of remembrance and communion,” he said. “The noise, even if it is present, is beyond us now, because at the heart of this evening there is a deep silence — the silence of the void created by loss.”

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Recently awarded the prestigious Israel Prize, Grossman added that he would donate half of his prize money to the Bereaved Families Forum and Elifelet, an organization that supports the children of asylum seekers.

MK Dov Khenin, seated among the attendees, stated, “This ceremony and its participants present an alternative to the policies of violence and evil. This is the true hope and opportunity for peace.”

Beyond the police cordon, however, right-wing demonstrators cursed at and called participants traitors and the descendants of Nazis. Several right-wing demonstrators attacked participants as they entered, throwing stones and bottles. Police arrested at least one right-wing protester.

As the ceremony’s speakers talked of loss and grief, and the desire for peace, the demonstrators’ chants and jeers could be heard in the distance.

Dozens of American Jews arrested protesting Gaza violence

From Boston to San Francisco, young activists from IfNotNow demonstrate outside the offices of prominent Jewish institutions and senators, demanding they condemn Israel’s violence against Gaza protesters.

Police arrest an IfNotNow protester outside Senator Chuck Schumer's office in New York City, during an action protesting IDF violence on the border with Gaza. (Gili Getz)

Police arrest an IfNotNow protester outside Senator Chuck Schumer’s office in New York City, during an action protesting IDF violence on the border with Gaza, April 9, 2018. (Gili Getz)

Thirty-seven American Jews were arrested across the United States last week in a series of actions outside the offices of major Jewish institutions and elected officials to protest the ongoing violence against Palestinians at the Israel-Gaza border.

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The actions, organized by the Jewish-American group IfNotNow, took place in Boston, New York, Twin Cities, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and Washington DC, where young Jews demanded statements condemning Israeli violence against the unarmed protesters taking part in the “Great Return March.” Since the march began three weeks ago, Israeli snipers have killed over 30 Palestinians and wounded 1,200 more.

IfNotNow was established in the summer of 2014 during Israel’s war in Gaza by young American Jews. Angered by the overwhelming support of American Jewish institutions for the war, they began organizing actions calling for an end to the war, an end to the occupation, and freedom and dignity for all. Since then, IfNotNow has organized hundreds of nonviolent actions — and, more recently, delegations to Israel-Palestine — with the aim of pushing Jewish institutions to stop supporting the occupation.

The first action took place in Boston on the morning of April 3rd, less than a week after Israeli snipers gunned down 17 Palestinians in Gaza. Activists chained themselves to the Israeli Consulate of New England, read the Mourner’s Kaddish, a Jewish prayer traditionally recited for family or community members who have died, and demanded that Consul General Yehuda Yaakov condemn Israeli violence. Eight activists were arrested.

Young Jewish activists from IfNotNow link arms outside the Israeli Consulate of New England in Boston. The activists read the Mourner's Kaddish and demanded the consul general condemn IDF violence against Palestinian marchers in Gaza. (Emily Glick)

Young Jewish activists from IfNotNow link arms outside the Israeli Consulate of New England in Boston. The activists read the Mourner’s Kaddish and demanded the consul general condemn IDF violence against Palestinian marchers in Gaza, April 3, 2018. (Emily Glick)

Eliza Kaplan, 24, who participated in the Boston action, spoke to +972 by phone about the impetus for the actions: “We see the status quo in Gaza to be unacceptable, and we find the IDF’s violence to be horrendous. That is why we are calling on Jewish leaders to condemn it and be a moral voice. If they are not going to be the moral leaders of our community, then IfNotNow will be those leaders.”

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“My Jewish identity is really important to me,” Kaplan continued, “we are trying to bring our entire community to share the values of freedom for all people and speak out.” Less than a week after the Boston action, seven IfNotNow activists were arrested after blocking the doors of New York Senator Chuck Schumer’s New York City office.

IfNotNow protesters demonstrate outside the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, April 11, 2018. (Amira Alhassan)

IfNotNow protesters demonstrate outside the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, April 11, 2018. (Amira Alhassan)

On April 10th, a group of Jewish activists locked arms in front of the entrance of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Minnesota, blocking entry to the many businesses in the building. A day later, five Jewish activists were arrested after blocking the doors of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ offices. Elon Glickman, one of those arrested, spoke to the crowd during the action:

I grew up in the Jewish community of Los Angeles, where I learned that freedom and dignity are core Jewish values. As young Jews and members of this Jewish community, we’re asking the Federation to do the bare minimum and condemn this unconscionable violence. How long will they stay silent as live ammunition is used against Palestinian protesters? How many more Palestinians need to be killed before they speak out?

On April 13th, a group of 20 young Jews from IfNotNow Bay Area demonstrated outside California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office in San Francisco. Nine of the activists who blocked the entrance to her office were arrested. The activists demanded that she join Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in condemning the violence. Later that afternoon, Feinstein tweeted that the violence is “exceptionally destructive for both the Palestinians and the state of Israel. It must end. Violence is not the pathway to reconciliation.”

On Monday night, police arrested five more IfNotNow activists protesting outside Maryland Senator Ben Cardin’s office on Capitol Hill.

Open Source Survey of Alleged Chemical Attacks in Douma on 7th April 2018

On April 7th 2018 reports began emerging of alleged chemical attacks on the city of Douma, in the rebel held pocket of Eastern Ghouta, Syria. Reports indicated that a significant number of people, including children, had been killed by these attacks. This report will assess and verify the open source information regarding these attacks, and draw conclusions from the available evidence.

All times are local.

Summary

  1. A large compressed gas cylinder of a type used in previous aerial chlorine attacks was filmed on top of the building where a large number of fatalities were documented.
  2. The number of dead bodies that can be established through open source data is 34+.
  3. Aircraft spotters reported two Mi-8 Hip helicopters heading southwest from Dumayr Airbase, in the direction of Douma, 30 minutes before the chemical attack in Douma, and two Hip helicopters were observed above Douma shortly before the attack.
  4. The Syrian Government has previously been identified as using Mi-8 Hip helicopters to drop chlorine cylinders on opposition held areas.

Reports of a Chemical Attack

Reports from the documentation group the Syrian Network for Human Rights indicated that there were at least two separate attacks involving chemical agents on the 7th April: one at 4pm near Sa’da bakery in Omar ben al Khattab St, which injured 15 people, and a second attack at around 1930 near al-Shuhada Square in Nu’man that killed 55 people and injured 860.

The Violations Documentation Center also reported two chemical attacks took place on April 7th 2018. As with the Syrian Network for Human Rights reports, the first attack was reported at 4pm near Sa’da bakery, with the VDC reporting claims from witnesses that chlorine was used. The VDC also reported the second attack at 1930 near al-Shuhada Square, and reported witness statements on the symptoms:

Dr. Jamal Rafie (pseudonym), told the VDC that the symptoms that he saw on patients “do not resemble chlorine attack symptoms. Chlorine alone cannot induce such symptoms because while it does cause suffocation, it does not affect the nerves. There were symptoms indicative of organic phosphorus compounds in the sarin gas category. But the smell of chlorine was also present in the place.”

Dr. Mohammed Kuttoub from the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) told the VDC that his colleagues in Eastern Ghouta saw symptoms on people that include: “pinpoint pupils, slow heartbeat, slow breathing, heavy foaming from the mouth and nose, and the burning of the cornea in some cases.”

The VDC also published the following graphic showing the locations of the attacks:

VDC map of attacks in Douma on April 7th 2018 (source)

Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, reported that a chemical attack at 1945 on the 7th April killed more than 43 people and injured over 500. They reported the dead victims displayed signs of cyanosis (a bluish discolouration of the skin), excessive oral foaming and corneal burns. Six living casualties were reported to have pinpoint pupils and convulsions. The report concluded the casualties had been exposed to “toxic chemicals; most likely an organophosphate element”.

Footage and Images


Footage and images posted on social media after the 1930 attack appear to depict a significant number of casualties, with many dead bodies located in a single building. Many of these bodies displayed symptoms consistent with the claims made in the Syrian Civil Defence statement and the VDC report.

Video 1, which is extremely graphic, was posted at 0020 on 8th April titled “#2018-4-7 Al Assad is shelling Duma with Chemicals. Horrifying massacre against civilians in Duma”. It depicts a large number of dead bodies spread across several rooms in what appears to be the ground (first) floor of a residential building.

Video 2, which is extremely graphic, was posted at 0346 on 8th April titled “2018-4-7 Witness the foaming from the mouth of the injured due to the exposure of civilians to sarin gas”. It documents more dead bodies spread across the second floor and stairwell of the same building as Video 1, as well as what appears to be a hole in the roof of the third floor.

Certain distinctive commonalities can be seen between Video 1 and Video 2, indicating they are filmed in the same building.

A bicycle with a white pannier – Top: Video 1, bottom: Video 2

A old woman with a single sock pulled down, sprawled near the entrance to the building – Top: Video 1, bottom: Video 2

A doorway and the body of a child wearing a distinctive red and white striped top. Faces obscured – Left: Video 2, right: Video 1

Multiple other videos and images posted on social media appear to show the same building and the same casualties.

In total, at least 34 unique bodies appear across the two videos: 23 on the ground floor, 10 on the second floor and one on the landing of the stairs between the second and third floors.

Geolocation

Video 3, which is extremely graphic, was posted at 1748 on 8th April by the SMART new agency, an opposition media network. It shows bodies being removed from the same building that Videos 1 & 2 were filmed in, and taken out into the street during daytime.

The same doorway seen in Video 1 & 2 can also be seen in Video 3. Faces obscured. – Left: Video 3, Right: Video 1

A window cage next to the doorway can be seen in both Video 1 and Video 3 – Left: Video 1, right: Video 3

A doorway with the same design can also be seen in both Video 1 and Video 3 – Left: Video 1, Right: Video 3

Video 4, filmed by a local activist and posted on Youtube by Aljazeera at 2044 on 9th April, depicts what seems to be Russian military personnel visiting and entering this building. This event appears to be corroborated by a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) which claimed “representatives of the Russian Reconciliation Centre have explored areas of Douma… Results of inspection refuted all reports of chemical weapons use in the city” (archived)

The same doorway the Russian personnel enter can be seen in both Video 3 and Video 4 – Top: Video 4, Bottom: Video 3

By analysing Video 4 and Video 5, which both depict Russian personnel entering the same block, we can geolocate this building to 33.573878, 36.404793. This location is immediately South West of al-Shuhada Square, which matches with the reports from the Syrian Network for Human Rights and VDC.

Geolocation of video 4 and video 5

Video 6, posted by Syrian Civil Defence at 2106 on 10th April, claims to show a “chemical gas canister… Same location as video of casualties”.

Important: video from 9 April, 7:02pm showing presence of chemical gas canister in Douma. Same location as video of casualties. Also same location that Russia visited reporting ‘no sign of chemical weapons’. pic.twitter.com/Sbz64cPi4w

— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) April 10, 2018

Taken from the top of a building, it shows a hole in the roof with a yellow compressed gas cylinder. The cameraman then swings the camera around, allowing the position to be geolocated, identifying it as the roof of the building at 33.573878, 36.404793.

A still from video 6 (bottom) compared to satellite imagery of the location, demonstrating the viewpoint is from the roof of the building at 33.573878, 36.404793

A distinctive building can also be identified in both Video 6 and Video 5

We can therefore conclude that Videos 1-6 were all filmed in the same area. All videos featured the same building which contained the large group of bodies depicted in Videos 1-2. Video 6 shows that this same building appears to have been hit by a compressed gas cylinder which broke through the roof.

Examination of munition

Following the attack, the remains of two yellow compressed gas cylinders were filmed and photographed. As described above, one gas cylinder was filmed on the roof of the building where a large number of fatalities were documented. A second gas cylinder was also filmed at a yet unidentified location:

The external modifications on the above cylinder are particularly interesting as they are consistent with modifications seen on other gas cylinders used in other reported aerial chlorine attacks. Very similar modifications can been seen in the following video from August 2017 in Khan al-Assal:

Yellow gas cylinders of the same type, with and without external structures, have been documented at the site of alleged aerial chlorine attacks since 2014, and were used on multiple occasions during the siege of Aleppo:

Human Rights Watch graphic showing yellow gas cylinders used in multiple attacks in Aleppo in late 2016 (source)

The most recent attack where yellow gas cylinders were documented following a reported aerial chlorine gas attack was the February 4th 2018 Saraqib attack, where two cylinders were photographed after being recovered from the attack site:

The two gas cylinders used in the Saraqib attack. Source SN4HR

The OPCW has also investigated some of the attacks where yellow gas cylinders were used in aerial chlorine attacks, confirming they were dropped from helicopters. Aircraft observers that are part of the Sentry Syria network observed two Hip helicopters heading southwest from Dumayr Airbase, northeast of Damascus, in the direction of Douma, 30 minutes before the chemical attack in Douma, and two Hip helicopters were observed above Douma shortly before the attack. Hip transport helicopters have also been linked to previous aerial chlorine attacks.

With allegations of Sarin use, it is important to note that these yellow gas cylinders are not associated with the use of Sarin, and as Sarin is a liquid a compressed gas cylinder seems an unlikely method of delivery for Sarin. Possible explanations for the allegations of Sarin use may be a result of the severity of the symptoms presented, of an undocumented munition being used, or another chemical agent being used that presents symptoms that could be confused with Sarin use.

Conclusion

Based on the available evidence, it is highly likely the 34+ victims killed in the 1930 attack on the apartment building near al-Shuhada Square were killed as a result of a gas cylinder filled with what is most likely chlorine gas being dropped from a Hip helicopter originating from Dumayr Airbase.

The post Open Source Survey of Alleged Chemical Attacks in Douma on 7th April 2018 appeared first on bellingcat.