Tag Archives: anti-war

The violent repercussions of Trump’s declaration

Trump’s speech sparked a new blood feud that claims the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, unleashing forces destined to kill even more.

Yael Shevach, widow of Rabbi Raziel Shevach attends her husband's funeral in the West Bank outpost of Havat Gilad, January 10, 2018. Shevach was murdered in a drive-by shooting near the outpost. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Yael Shevach, widow of Rabbi Raziel Shevach attends her husband’s funeral in the West Bank outpost of Havat Gilad, January 10, 2018. Shevach was murdered in a drive-by shooting near the outpost. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel was reeling this week after a shooting attack Tuesday evening that killed a 35-year old father of six near the West Bank outpost where he lived, called Havat Gilad. Although Rabbi Raziel Shevach lived in a community not even recognized under Israeli law, he was also a civilian: at the time of the shooting, he was not in a situation of active combat, and as far as is known, he was unarmed. His life in that territory was a highly political act, but his death is a crime with no justification.


And yet there is no escape from the political context of his death, both the causes and the consequences.

The attack that killed Raziel Shevach is part of a wave of violence that is the direct result of U.S. President Trump’s declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. While neither Trump’s move nor anything else justifies killing civilians for political aims, the likelihood of escalation was so clear that even Trump had to call for calm in the very speech he knew would break it.

But since the declaration changed nothing for the U.S. or for Israel, what exactly was the point other than bloodshed? And if Trump doesn’t share the sorrow over the Palestinians who died over the last month, is the death of a Jewish Israeli father of six what he had in mind?

Despite the routinized Hamas mantra that the attack was about defending Jerusalem, it seems more like the next response in the month-long blood feud: revenge for 12 unarmed Palestinians, including two on Thursday alone, who have been killed since the speech. Most were killed during protests, which for Israelis proves that they were violent upstarts courting their own death. It is an image honed over decades of viewing Palestinians as rabble to be controlled by a military regime, rather than as individual human beings with the right to protest having been made to live as prisoners.

Palestinian burning a picture of US President Donald Trump during a protest against US President Donald Trump's latest decision to recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Rafah, in the Southern Gaza Strip on December 8, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinian burning a picture of US President Donald Trump during a protest against US President Donald Trump’s latest decision to recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Rafah, in the Southern Gaza Strip on December 8, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

What is a demonstrator? As a child, I pored over the famous image of a protestor killed at the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations at Kent State University, fascinated by the iconic power of the photo to horrify America for what it had done. When a 16-year old Palestinian demonstrator, Nadeem Nawara, was killed in 2014 at a demonstration while posing no threat, the state shrugged for three years. On Wednesday, while the Israeli airwaves were filled with mourning for a murdered Jew, it shrugged again.

As for the consequences, each such death brings out more of the very dynamics that caused them in the first place. Twelve Palestinians and one Israeli death devalue Palestinian lives to one-twelfth of an Israeli in the local mindset. The awful truth is that some Palestinians have internalized that devaluation too.

Next comes the response inside Israel. As if reading from a script, settlers paraded through the media calling on the government to reinstate checkpoints in the West Bank, one of the obvious sources of rage among an imprisoned population. This prescription says that the symbolic injury of Trump’s declaration just wasn’t sufficient. Thus, it is time to bring back physical suffocation.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks with Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich during a Knesset plenum session, November 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks with Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich during a Knesset plenum session, November 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Betzalel Smotrich – not just any extremist, but a lawmaker from the Jewish Home party, which sits in Israel’s governing coalition – had a better idea. He told IDF Radio, among other news outlets throughout the day [my translation]:

The problem is when you’re dealing with mosquitoes. When you kill mosquitoes, you manage to kill 99 of them, and the one hundredth mosquito that you didn’t kill, it kills you. The real solution is to dry up the swamp. Dry up the swamp, and take away the motivation behind terror. If Arabs think that they’ll beat us through terror and that’s how they’ll get a state, they need to understand that the opposite is true.

Calling Palestinians “Arab” is a dim-witted attempt to wipe their identity off the map. Smotrich should be ashamed.

Or he should be arrested and investigated for incitement. “Mosquitoes” are close to “cockroaches,” the term Rwandan Hutus used to label Tutsis on mass media before murdering 800,000 of them in 1994. It sounds a lot like “vermin,” too. Smotrich might argue that he means to kill only terrorists, but why put a fine point on it? If he were an Arab citizen of Israel, he would be defending his case in court by now. But even that won’t erase the damage done.

Israel to bar U.S. Jewish group from country over BDS support

The Israeli government is sending a clear message that being Jewish will not protect you from being denied entry into the Jewish State, the one that proclaims to be a safe haven for Jews. This, despite the fact that under Israel’s Law of Return, any Jew (a person with one Jewish grandparent) can move to Israel and become a citizen, and is offered a financial benefits package for doing so. Moreover, the anti-BDS law does not overrule the Law of Return. This means a pro-BDS Jew may not be allowed to enter or visit Israel, but they can still naturalize there and receive money from the state.

It is unclear whether JVP is the only explicitly Jewish organization on the blacklist. Since the 2014 Gaza War, JVP has been one of the fastest growing Jewish organizations in America. According to Vilkomerson, it has 15,000 dues-paying members, over 70 chapters, 250,000 supporters and over half a million social media followers.

As part of its anti-BDS campaign, members of Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the fastest growing Jewish organizations in the U.S., will not be able to enter Israel.

Jewish Voice for Peace executive-director Rebecca Vilkomerson in her office in New York, March 2017. (Photo by Maya Levin)

Jewish Voice for Peace executive-director Rebecca Vilkomerson in her office in New York, March 2017. (Photo by Maya Levin)

Israel confirmed on Saturday that the American Jewish organization, Jewish Voice for Peace,* is among 20 organizations from around the world that have been placed on a BDS blacklist, which means its members will be barred from entering Israel. JVP is the only Jewish organization in the U.S. that openly advocates for and identifies with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

As part of its war on BDS, the Strategic Affairs Ministry, headed by Minister Gilad Erdan, has been compiling a list of pro-BDS organizations whose members will be barred from entering Israel. Last March, Israel passed a law preventing those who promote BDS from entering Israel, and in July, it prevented five activists from an interfaith delegation from boarding  plane to Israel –  including Rabbi Alissa Wise, Deputy Director of JVP.

Asked for a response to the decision, JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson, whose husband and children are Israeli citizens, told +972:

Israel’s decision to specifically ban JVP leaders from entry is disconcerting but not surprising, given the consistent erosion of democratic norms as well as increasing fear of the BDS movement in Israel.  JVP members are now joining Palestinians, Muslims from around the world, people of color and other activists who are often barred from entry.

Our JVP members have no doubt about the justice of fighting for equality and freedom for all people in Israel/Palestine, and the legitimacy of BDS to bring that closer.  We will not be bullied by these attempts to punish us for a principled political stance that increasing numbers of Jews and all people worldwide support.

As someone with considerable family in Israel, this policy will be a personal hardship. But I also believe it is an indicator of the BDS movement’s growing strength and hope that it will bring the day closer when all people in Israel/Palestine will live together in equality and freedom.

According to the report in Haaretz, the ministry has refused to name the other 19 organizations that are on the list, which will be completed in March of this year. Reports in Israeli media noted that groups on the list are from all over the world, including South America, South Africa and Europe.

Erdan’s decision to include and name Jewish Voice for Peace is noteworthy. JVP is considered by the “pro-Israel” community to be a fringe anti-Israel group at best, and anti-Semitic, at worst. (Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief of The Atlantic, recently called JVP “a group that displays a homicidal impulse towards Israel”).

The Israeli government is sending a clear message that being Jewish will not protect you from being denied entry into the Jewish State, the one that proclaims to be a safe haven for Jews. This, despite the fact that under Israel’s Law of Return, any Jew (a person with one Jewish grandparent) can move to Israel and become a citizen, and is offered a financial benefits package for doing so. Moreover, the anti-BDS law does not overrule the Law of Return. This means a pro-BDS Jew may not be allowed to enter or visit Israel, but they can still naturalize there and receive money from the state.

It is unclear whether JVP is the only explicitly Jewish organization on the blacklist. Since the 2014 Gaza War, JVP has been one of the fastest growing Jewish organizations in America. According to Vilkomerson, it has 15,000 dues-paying members, over 70 chapters, 250,000 supporters and over half a million social media followers.


*Disclosure: I freelanced for JVP for a few weeks last year.

Verified and False Footage of the Iran Protests

Don’t know why people other than paid fakers fake news – plenty of Iranians were uploading from phones until government clamped down on Thursday.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is witnessing the largest anti-government demonstrations since the 2009 presidential elections protests.

Via social media, it is possible to get a sense what’s going on, for example by searching on Twitter for the most ubiquitous hashtags in English and Farsi: #IranProtests and #اعتراض_سراسری.

Social media footage is a way to get a better understanding of what is going on in Iran. The tough digital environment in Iran (and for example the blocking of and removal of Telegram channels) might mean that the analysis based on these social media footage may be hours if not days behind the pace of events, King’s College London lecturer Alexander Clarkson noted.

But it is important to be aware of mislabeled and misattributed footage.

Sometimes, it is really easy to spot a fake. Take the following tweet, for instance, which includes two photos of “an Iranian student” who “decided to remove her veil” and was last seen at a protest at Tehran University.

However, a simple reverse image search shows that the lady is known as Mia Khalifa, a social media personality best known for her career as pornographic actress.

Misattribution is a common problem, as was also highlighted by Twitter @jxckhy tweeted. Indeed, none of the photos or videos are showing the current and ongoing protests. Let’s have a closer look at each one of the images and videos.

The first tweet shows a photo of a woman wearing a hijab gives a flying kick to a group of (riot) police, simply captioned “Iran”. The same photo was also shared by others, such as GreenLeft.org. This may give the impression the photo is from the current protests.

But it is not.

A simple reverse image search shows that the photo is not recent. One of the results on Google leads to a 2014 article by Mashreg News, and hints towards it being from a movie called “The Golden Collars” (Farsi: قلاده های طلا).

The 2012 pro-government block-buster depicts a group of Iranian expatriates which plan to instigate riots in the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian presidential elections. The photo is part of a series of images showing scenes of the movie.

The specific scene is just over an hour into the movie and the same actress can be seen at the same location. The specific photo appears to have been one of the several photos published by the movie makers at the time.

Emran Feroz, a journalist who shared the photo, says he was aware it was from a movie. He saw the photo on the social media feeds of his Iranian friends who “shared it symbolically”, like him. Nevertheless, he apologises for the “misleading” tweet. He has also made this clear in a thread on his Twitter profile.

The second tweet is an embedded video shared by Twitter-user @KamVTV saying it shows “300,000”protesters marching “for democracy in Iran”. Sometimes, a hint towards misattribution can be as easy as reading the title or the uploader of a video – in this case, “BAHRAINDOCTOR”.

The video namely shows the “March of Loyalty to Martyrs” (Arabic: مسيرة الوفاء للشهداء‎) rally on February 22, 2011, in Manama, Bahrain, where tens of thousands participated during the Bahraini uprising. The video also clearly shows the Bahraini flag. You can watch the original video on YouTube. The tweet is still online as of writing.

The third tweet is another video, this time claiming to show tens of thousands “rising up against the Iranian regime”. The tweet has been deleted since, though is still online on other profiles.

However, this is a video of protests in the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires in early December 2017. (You can actually hear people speaking Spanish in the video.)

The fourth and last tweet is a screenshot of a now deleted tweet of Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth, saying “With no option for voting out their supremes leader, Iranians take to the streets to press him to resign.”

However, the attached photo shows that it is a pro-, not an anti-government, rally in Tehran. Again, a simple reverse image search would have done the trick.

But it is important to mention that Roth, just like Feroz, doesn’t make any claims about the image. As is pointed out by others, Roth is not making any claims about the image – it is a preview from the New York Times article he links to. And that Times article properly attributes the demonstration.

From the four tweets, three of them clearly show non-related events. Roth’s tweet simply shared the properly attributed photo from the Times.

Besides, Feroz’ has commented under his own tweet and told Bellingcat that it “shows that people, especially journalists and activists, have to be very careful on social media. There are always many actors who wait for such mistakes or misleadings to use them for their own agenda.”

And that is indeed happening. German public-service television broadcaster ZDF, for example, broadcast a video taken during the 2009 protests as if it was 2017. (Although they rectified it within a day, they are still getting mocked for it.)

For that very reason, it is important to try to verify footage before sharing it; because the misattributions and fakes will just continue to spread on social media. (And that while there is plenty of verified footage from the Iranian anti-government protests.)

Strange, someone is photoshopping images of Chinese app store ranking manipulation workers to appear as Iranian social media manipulation. http://pic.twitter.com/Ml9IVkA9FI

— Collin Anderson (@CDA) January 5, 2018

Tips to Verify Footage Yourself:

  1. Image? Always do a reverse image search with both Google and Yandex to see whether the image has been uploaded and indexed before. The RevEye extension/add-on for Chrome and Firefox allows you to right click any image and do a reverse image search right away. It only takes a few seconds!
  2. Video? Always do a reveres image search of stills with Amnesty’s YouTube DataViewer. If it is a Twitter video, you can download the video from the platform and upload it to YouTube to do the trick.
  3. No luck with the first two options? Try to geolocate the footage. Where is it claimed to be taken? Can you verify that using reference photos and satellite imagery? We have geolocation guides if you’d like to start verifying exact locations.
  4. Still no luck? Think as a faker.

The post Verified and False Footage of the Iran Protests appeared first on bellingcat.

Bannon: Adelson drove Jerusalem embassy move

An excerpt from a new book on the Trump presidency confirms: the right-wing billionaire and Netanyahu backer has been a driving force behind the administration’s foreign policy decisions.

By Eli Clifton

American billionaire businessman Sheldon Gary Adelson (L), and his wife Miriam Ochshorn attends the Israeli Presidential Conference at the International Conference Centre in Jerusalem May 13, 2008. (Olivier Fitoussi /FLASH90.)

American billionaire businessman Sheldon Gary Adelson (L), and his wife Miriam Ochshorn attends the Israeli Presidential Conference at the International Conference Centre in Jerusalem May 13, 2008. (Olivier Fitoussi /FLASH90.)

Candidate Donald Trump claimed that he wouldn’t be beholden to campaign donors and slammed his Republican primary opponents as puppets of their wealthy patrons. “Sheldon Adelson is looking to give big dollars to Rubio because he feels he can mold him into his perfect little puppet. I agree!” Trump tweeted in October 2015. But an excerpt from Michael Wolff’s upcoming book Fire and Fury quotes Steve Bannon, who served as CEO of the Trump campaign and went on to become White House chief strategist, effectively confirming that Adelson has been a driving force behind the Trump administration’s foreign policy decision-making.

Adelson and his wife Miriam contributed $35 million to help elect Trump, making the couple Trump’s biggest campaign supporters.

An excerpt published in New York Magazine describes a dinner attended by Roger Ailes two weeks before Trump’s inauguration. Wolff writes [my emphasis]:

Pivoting from Trump himself, Bannon plunged on with the Trump agenda. “Day one we’re moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s all-in. Sheldon”—Adelson, the casino billionaire and far-right Israel defender—“is all-in. We know where we’re heading on this … Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying.”

“Where’s Donald on this?” asked Ailes, the clear implication being that Bannon was far out ahead of his benefactor.

“He’s totally onboard.”


On December 6, the Trump White House, marking a huge shift in U.S. policy, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and declared its intention to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Past presidents refused to move the embassy on grounds that it would upset potential talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and thwart efforts to achieve a two-state solution, but Adelson publicly pushed the White House to make the move.

Earlier this week, Trump went even further, tweeting that he had “taken Jerusalem off [the negotiating] table,” effectively making a unilateral decision about a key issue that previous administrations had maintained could be decided only in talks between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators.

But Trump’s biggest supporter wasn’t pleased with the administration’s slowness to fulfill its campaign promise.

Adelson, who once accused Palestinians of existing “to destroy Israel,” was reportedly “furious” with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in May for suggesting in a Meet The Press interview that moving the embassy should be contingent on the peace process, a position consistent with that of previous administrations. Axios reported:

[S]ources say the Las Vegas billionaire doesn’t buy the argument that the embassy move should be contingent on the peace process. He has told Trump that Palestinians are impossible negotiating partners and make demands that Israel can never meet.

Adelson and his wife Miriam spent more than $80 million on Republicans in 2016, and he gave $5 million to Trump’s inauguration.

Adelson even used his own newspaper, the Las Vegas Review Journal, to telegraph his displeasure with Trump’s slowness to deliver on the promised embassy move. “The Adelsons reportedly have been disappointed in Trump’s failure to keep a campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem on his first day in office,” the Review Journal reported in October. But as Wolff quotes Bannon saying last January, that may have been more than a campaign promise. It may have been a personal promise to Adelson in exchange for his support.

Bannon’s characterization of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and casino billionaire Adelson as the two most important individuals steering U.S. policy on a sensitive matter is a shift from the independence Trump touted as a candidate.

Iran is another issue where Adelson’s influence can be felt. Adelson has proposed deploying a nuclear weapon against Iran and vehemently opposes the Iran nuclear deal (known as the JCPOA). During the campaign, Trump called the JCPOA “the stupidest deal of all time” and told an American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) audience, “My number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” In the middle of January, Trump will face a deadline to reimpose sanctions, potentially in violation of the JCPOA, or waive the sanctions. Here, too, Trump may well reveal that he made a commitment to adopt a hawkish foreign policy in the Middle East in exchange for Adelson’s support.

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and U.S. foreign policy. Eli previously reported for the American Independent New Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service. This article is reprinted, with permission, from Lobelog.com.

Shin Bet: Lose your job if your kid thows stones

Israel’s security service publishes notices in the Palestinian village of Beit Omar threatening to revoke work permits from families whose children are suspected of stone throwing.

By Yael Marom

Palestinian workers squeeze themselves to pass through the Israeli checkpoint of Bethlehem while heading to their work in Israeli cities, Bethlehem, West Bank, March 19, 2017. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Palestinian workers squeeze themselves to pass through the Israeli checkpoint of Bethlehem while heading to their work in Israeli cities, Bethlehem, West Bank, March 19, 2017. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Residents of the Palestinian village Beit Omar in the West Bank discovered last week that the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, had posted threatening notices on their homes and businesses. The notices, published in Arabic and signed by a Shin Bet agent known as “Captain Amar,” threaten to revoke work permits from families whose children are suspected of throwing stones.

Tamar Goldschmidt translated the notices into Hebrew:

Hello all,

As you know, a large portion of the breadwinners in the town have work permits that allow them to travel inside the Green Line. These permits allow the families to live with dignity, to maintain their health, to build, to get an education, and to cover the various, heavy costs of living.

We support anyone who tries to make a living by the sweat of their brow. On the other hand, it is senseless to stretch out our hand and provide you a place of work, while discovering that your son is throwing stones or Molotov cocktails on the main road, which is used by both Israelis and Arabs. Stone throwing is more than a crime, it is attempted murder.

Therefore, there is no forgiveness regarding the fact that it is your duty as a parent to keep an eye on your child and make sure they do not disturb the peace — it makes no sense that you do not have control over him — in order to ensure their education and your family’s livelihood.

You should know, should we revoke your work permit, that we are not to blame.

Additionally, as a gesture of goodwill on our part, we have decided to look into the possibility of forgiving all those who ask to have a rescinded work permit returned, and we invest all we can in the matter.

We will dedicate a special day for submitting these requests with the beginning of the new year, on January 1, 2018 at 9 a.m.

We wish you all a happy new year.


The kind words do not make the notices any less threatening. The village residents know Captain Amar, as well as his colleagues in the Shin Bet, quite well. This is the everyday life of villagers living under perpetual collective punishment, including frequent night raids, arrests, tear gar, checkpoints, closures, and pressure to inform on neighbors, family members, and acquaintances to the occupation authorities.

A Shin Bet notice, posted on homes and businesses in the Palestinian village of Beit Omar, threatening to revoke work permits from Palestinians whose children are suspected of stone throwing.

A Shin Bet notice, posted on homes and businesses in the Palestinian village of Beit Omar, threatening to revoke work permits from Palestinians whose children are suspected of stone throwing.

We reached out to the Shin Bet for comment, specifically about the impetus for the threats. We also asked if the Shin Bet has a policy of punishing parents whose children were allegedly involved in “riots” by taking away their livelihood. We will publish their response if and when it is received.

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew.

The Kremlin’s Shifting, Self-Contradicting Narratives on MH17

Just a few hours after the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), the circumstances that caused the tragedy came to light: a Buk-M1 Russian-made anti-aircraft missile system was fired by either Russian-led separatists or Russian forces from an area near Snizhne, Ukraine, leading to the death of 298 civilians aboard the passenger plane. Over three years since the downing, every credible investigation into the tragedy has confirmed this initial claim, with each photograph, video, and independent forensic investigation reinforcing the “Russian/separatist Buk” claim and adding new details that give us a greater understanding of how this incident happened. In short, the “narrative” from Western governments, the official Dutch criminal and forensic investigations, and the site you are reading now has been linear.

This same linear trajectory towards greater clarity and away from self-contradiction cannot be attributed to the Kremlin’s narrative, or narratives, related to MH17. On July 21, 2014, just four days after the downing, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) held a press conference that made a series of self-contradictory claims blaming Ukraine, rather than Russia or Russian-led separatists, for the Boeing 777’s shoot down. Today, the Kremlin–via its Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Ministry of Defense, state-funded media outlets, and state-funded defense company “Almaz-Antey”–has silently abandoned, while never explicitly retracting, nearly every piece of evidence it presented four days after the downing.

A microcosm of the Kremlin’s shift on MH17 can be seen in the Ukrainian fighter jet conspiracy theory. In comment sections and YouTube videos you will often encounter talk of how a Ukrainian fighter jet, most common named as a Su-25 or a MiG-29, shot down MH17; however, the Kremlin has long abandoned the claim that this was the cause of the MH17 shoot down. Instead, throughout 2017, the Kremlin has thrown its entire weight behind the idea that a Ukrainian Buk system shot down MH17 from a position near Zaroshchenske.

Unless you have closely followed each twist and turn of the MH17 case, including each Kremlin’s state-funded media outlet’s report on the tragedy, it is quite difficult to keep the Kremlin’s narratives on MH17 straight. In 2014 and 2015, Russia’s main state-funded news program, Vesti, threw nearly its full weight behind the Su-25 theory, even airing an experiment with actual fighter jets showing how a Ukrainian fighter jet riddled MH17 with cannon fire. However, at the end of 2017, in complete contradiction to their previous segments, Vesti aired a new segment claiming–without any mention of a fighter jet–that a Ukrainian Buk was solely responsible for the tragedy.

This article will detail the development of the Kremlin’s narratives on MH17, which have become unrecognizable over the past three years. It would take a full-length book to provide a comprehensive treatment of all of Russia’s messaging related to the MH17 case, but here we will focus on the development of the Kremlin’s position on the cause of the downing, and the current state of the Kremlin’s MH17 narrative. We will also deconstruct this narrative point-by-point, detailing how it may be even more illogical than the Ukrainian fighter jet theory it initially supported. To survey the Kremlin’s public messaging on MH17, we studied the following sources, with the presumption that they represent the official viewpoints of the Russian government:

  • Statements and reports from government officials (such as Vladimir Putin), committees (such as the Russian Investigation Committee), and ministries (such as the MFA and MoD and their spokespersons).
  • Statements and reports from Russian embassies and their ambassadors.
  • Statements and reports from Almaz Antey, a state-owned defense manufacturer that developed the Buk missile.
  • Media outlets funded either entirely through government or proxy government funds. Some of these outlets include television channels, such as Russia-1 & Russia-24 (which airs Vesti). We also included online portals and wire services, such as TASS and Sputnik.

First, we will consider the positions initially taken by the Kremlin soon after the downing of MH17 for greater context of how the current narrative came into formation.

The Initial Kremlin Position: July 2014

On July 21, 2014, four days after the MH17 downing, the Russian MoD held a press conference that took a scattershot approach to establishing the Kremlin’s MH17 narrative(s). Instead of presenting a firm, singular theory of the incident that led to the downing of MH17, they presented a series of self-contradicting claims that placed blame on the Ukrainian government.

Bellingcat has extensively detailed the factual issues with the claims made in this press conference, found chronologically in the following articles:

The main claims by the Russian MoD in this press conference are listed below, along with a brief description of each claim’s most glaring factual inaccuracy:

  • The course of MH17 was deliberately changed to shift it over a war zone in Ukraine [the map showing the MH17 flight path shown during the press conference was fabricated and not used in future Russian MoD press conferences, and there was no significant flight path diversion]

  • A video showing the Russian Buk that has since been confirmed as the weapon that downed MH17 shows the missile launcher moving not through Russian/separatist stronghold Luhansk, but instead Ukrainian-controlled Krasnoarmeysk [the video has been conclusively geolocated to Luhansk, not Krasnoarmeysk, and the text supposedly visible on a billboard showing an address in Krasnoarmeysk was fabricated]

  • A Ukrainian aircraft was detected near MH17 during the crash, as supported by Russian radar data [in 2016, the Russian MoD held another press conference in this same room on newly “discovered” radar data: this “Ukrainian aircraft” was no longer present]

  • A Ukrainian Buk TELAR was removed from its base near Spartak, Ukraine shortly before the downing of MH17, and was then relocated to a field south of Zaroshchenske, where it, along with a second Buk TELAR and another military vehicle, was deployed on July 17, 2014 [the satellite images published by the MoD have been thoroughly debunked: firstly, after Bellingcat purchased a satellite image taken at almost the exact same time provided by the Russian MoD, showing inconsistencies with their image; secondly, after Dr. Jeffrey Lewis and his team at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey used a sophisticated digital analysis tool to show conclusively that the Russian satellite images were significantly digitally altered]

All of these claims have been debunked by multiple sources, sometimes even from the evidence provided by the Russian government itself. Additionally, each of these claims have been abandoned by the Kremlin–except the final one, claiming that a Ukrainian Buk was deployed near Zaroshchenske, where it fired the missile to down MH17.

The statements made by Russian ambassadors and officials in the week following the tragedy match the July 21st press conference: no single narrative, but rather a wide-ranging list of “concerns,” grievances of Russia being accused by Western media and politicians, and accusations of Kyiv’s responsibility.

For example, in a July 21st interview with the Russian Ambassador to Malaysia, Lyudmila Vorobyeva, the diplomat gave credence to a number of claims: pointing out that a Ukrainian crew may have been targeting Russian President Putin’s plane, that a Ukrainian “air defense system” fired on the plane, and that Russian-led separatists had no access to any surface-to-air missile systems that could have downed MH17. Ambassador Vorobyeva also repeated the MoD’s false claim of a Ukrainian fighter jet near MH17.

The day after the downing. Russia’s UK Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko aired his grievances with Russia being “groundlessly” targeted for blame:

“Since the day of the disaster we have been witnessing a powerful information attack on our country in international media and fora (including the UNSC). It has been groundlessly claimed that Russia or ‘separatists controlled by Russia’ were responsible for the downing of Flight MH-17. Such irresponsible and unproven statements are being issued up to this moment. Their aim is to negatively influence the media background surrounding the investigation. We consider such statements and unfounded accusations as an attempt to dissimulate the true facts concerning the catastrophe and to cover up the identities of the true perpetrators of the crime.”

Ambassador Yakovenko dismissed the evidence against Russia and the separatist it leads by waving away the extensive amount of digital evidence showing a Russian Buk TELAR moving through Russian/separatist-held territory on the day of, and morning after, the shoot down:

“The case, as is admitted, is built upon photos and messages from social media sites, placed by Ukrainian authorities and since then proved to be forgeries, as ambassador Churkin demonstrated at the UN security council meeting. Naturally, our American partners say that they have no way of certifying the authenticity of those materials.”

On July 19, two days after the downing, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov repeated a fabricated claim that originated on Twitter of how a Spanish air traffic controller named Carlos saw two Ukrainian fighter jets near MH17. Despite the Kremlin’s supposed distrust of online materials related to MH17, one of their leading defense officials made an official statement on Russia-24 on this imaginary “Carlos,” who has since been thoroughly debunked as a Twitter hoax. Even Russian President Putin has repeated the “Carlos” claim in an interview with Oliver Stone in 2017.

Though the vast majority of official statements on MH17 in the week following the tragedy laid blame on Kyiv, we can see some alternate approaches that may have been considered by top Kremlin diplomats and officials, but abandoned. For example, when asked less than a week after the shootdown about the intercepted conversations between Russian-led fighters, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, though perhaps spontaneously in response to a press question, laid the groundwork for a Russian position that was never taken: conceding that Ukraine was not responsible for the tragedy, but shielding the Russians/separatists who fired the missile from the most significant consequences in international court.

“According to them, the people from the east were saying that they shot down a military jet … If they think they shot down a military jet, it was confusion. If it was confusion, it was not an act of terrorism.”

Mixed Messages: 2014-2016

Over the next few years, the Kremlin would vacillate between the Ukrainian fighter jet and the Ukrainian Buk theories.

The Russian news program Vesti filmed an “experiment” in October 2014 as part of a longer documentary to show that MH17 was actually downed by Su-25 cannon fire, not a Buk missile. Footage from this “experiment” was also published in an RT documentary on MH17.

In June 2015, the Russian Investigative Committee released information about a “witness” who described how a Ukrainian pilot (Captain Vladislav Voloshin) was responsible for the downing of MH17.

Simultaneous with their claims of a Ukrainian fighter jet using cannon fire and/or an air-to-air missile to down MH17, the same Russian state-funded news programs were promoting a contradicting theory of a Ukrainian Buk missile being used to down the passenger jet. On July 19, 2015, Vesti aired an 11-minute segment that included a witness report from a Ukrainian man named Sergei. This man, who lives in a village in the Donetsk Oblast, claims to have seen Ukrainian military vehicles at a position south of Zaroshchenske (this claim is examined in more detail in the following section of this article).

This segment also places the heavily digitally altered satellite images presented during the July 21, 2014 press conference into context with Sergei’s account, including mentioning footage from a Ukrainian Military TV July 16, 2014 segment showing Ukrainian Buk systems. However, what is not mentioned in this report is that this footage was filmed before July 16, and was actually in the Kharkiv Oblast at a rear ATO base camp, not on the front lines of the war or anywhere near the MH17 crash site.

Nine minutes into this report that provided the Kremlin’s account of how a Ukrainian Buk downed MH17, the report takes a dramatic shift in describing how Ukrainian pilot Captain Vladislav Voloshin downed MH17 with an Su-25 fighter jet. Immediately after this information, the report cites a LiveJournal blogger who claims that Ukraine used an Israeli air-to-air missile to down MH17. The contradictions between the varying accounts in this brief segment are not resolved. In sum, the nature of the Kremlin’s public messaging strategy on the downing of MH17 can be encapsulated in two tweets written on the same day by the Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom:

The Current Kremlin Position

The Kremlin has shifted entirely away from the Ukrainian fighter jet theory, without any explicit redaction and after years of special media reports, fabricated radar evidence, witness reports, and official statements to the contrary. Throughout 2017 and going into 2018, the Kremlin narrative around MH17 is now focused on one theory: a Ukrainian Buk missile system downed MH17. Along with the promotion of this narrative, Russia intensified its attempts to discredit the Dutch-led criminal investigation into the downing, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT).

The Ukrainian Buk Theory

In review of all of Vesti’s segments on MH17 in 2017, there was no notable published content, such as witnesses who have come forward or alleged evidence uncovered, pointing to the Ukrainian fighter jet theory. However, there was a large number of reports asserting how Ukraine deployed a Ukrainian Buk missile system to a field south of Zaroshchenske. Before diving into the new developments in this claim, we should review the fundamental elements of the Ukrainian Buk theory.

According to the July 21, 2014 Russian MoD press conference, a Ukrainian Buk TELAR that was previously deployed at an air defense base in Spartak (just north of Donetsk) was not present at 11:32am on July 17, 2014.

Instead, the MoD implied that this Buk TELAR was, allegedly, 53.5km away (as the bird flies) in a field south of Zaroshchenske. These two satellite images were allegedly taken at the same time.

A December 2017 Vesti report highlights a military position just outside of Shaposhnykove, and a few kilometers south of the alleged launch site near Zaroshchenske. As the report details, this position was developed in the week prior to the downing of MH17, though allegedly created by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and not Russian/separatist forces.

This position is located near the alleged Zaroshchenske launch site, as seen in the map below (click for full size):

Russia also bolsters its theory with a witness account from a Ukrainian named Sergei, who gave a 2015 interview to Vesti in a field where he claims to have seen Ukrainian military equipment on the day of the MH17 downing while on his way to work on a nearby farm.

In the interview with Vesti, Sergei claims that on July 17 he was not allowed to pass through the area due to a heavy Ukrainian military presence. He says that he saw 20-30 Ukrainian soldiers, “radars,” and military vehicles. He explained that some of this equipment was covered up, but he was able to identify some of them, such as a BTR (armored personnel carrier) and a rotating radar with a “dome.” The July 2015 Vesti report went on to say that the BTR that Sergei claims to have seen was the same one as in the July 21 MoD satellite image, and that the “radar” units were the same as the two Buk TELARs also visible in the same image.

The Vesti report states that this area was represented in the Russian MoD satellite image from the July 21st press conference; however, in 2015, users at the MH17 Webtalk message board geolocated this footage to an area approximately 6km south of Zaroshchenske. No military equipment is visible in this area in any publicly available, free satellite imagery for mid-July 2014.

Below, a composite of the three locations that the Kremlin narrative has focused on are seen below: the field near where the Russian MoD claimed Ukrainian Buks were deployed on July 17, an alleged Ukrainian military fortification near Shaposhnykove, and the large deployment of military vehicles, including alleged radars, that were witnessed by Sergei on July 17.

Lastly, a recent element added to Russia’s Ukrainian Buk claim is a new Ukrainian witness named Yuri Baturin who claims to have observed the shoot down of MH17 on radar and spoken with Ukrainian Buk crew members who were allegedly deployed to near Zaroshchenske. This “discovery” of a witness is quite similar to the 2015 discovery of a witness who spoke about Ukrainian pilot Captain Vladislav Voloshin, as both witnesses served in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and later fled to Russia. This interview was originally taken by the Russian Ministry of Defense’s television channel TV Zvezda in October 2017, but then republished in December, where it was amplified across other state-funded outlets.

Radar Data and Almaz-Antey Reports

The two pieces of evidence related to the Ukrainian Buk theory that Russia most often highlights are the reports of state defense manufacturer Almaz-Antey (producer of Buk missiles) and radar data that was “discovered” in 2016. The Almaz-Antey reports, which claim that the missile that downed MH17 was launched from the area near Zaroshchenske, are presented by the Kremlin as an alternate source of information to the official forensic investigation into the plane’s downing conducted by the Dutch Safety Board (DSB). The proposed launch sites by Almaz-Antey and the Dutch investigations (determined by the NLR and Kyiv Research Institute) can be seen below:


It should be noted that according to the most recent Almaz-Antey report, the field south of Zaroshchenske highlighted by Russian MoD satellite imagery is not within the area of potential launch sites.

The 2016 radar data, which contradicts the 2014 “radar data” presented by the Russian MoD, is widely considered inconclusive by the international community and the Dutch-led investigation into MH17.

In early 2017, the primary focus of the Russian messaging on MH17 was focused on the Russian radar data presented to the Dutch investigation. This radar data was first presented in September 2016 after it was “discovered” accidentally during “scheduled maintenance.” This data was presented in the same room and in the same fashion as the July 21, 2014 MoD press conference, yet it dismissed evidence presented two years prior of a Ukrainian fighter jet in the area. This contradiction was not acknowledged in the Kremlin messaging around MH17, with the focus instead shifting to how this radar data did not show a Buk missile launch from the field south of Snizhne where Buk 332 was present at the time.

The Dutch government explained that this radar data would not necessarily show a Buk missile due to its trajectory and size; however, the Russian aviation regular Rosaviatsia disputes this claim: “It is inappropriate to say that a radar station could miss the missile,” its head said in June 2017. After Russia’s “discovered” radar data did not significantly alter the trajectory of the Dutch investigation into the MH17 downing, the Kremlin and its media outlets took this as evidence that the JIT only considers evidence that fits a supposed preconceived notion of Russia’s guilt.

In a response to an interview held by Fred Westerbeke, the head of the Dutch criminal investigation into MH17, Russian MFA spokesperson Maria Zakharova aired Russia’s grievances of how its “evidence” is not valued by the international community:

“Mr Westerbeke’s interview has shown that contributions from Ukraine and the United States, as well as information  from online sources are considered to be highly valuable, whereas any assistance provided by Russia has been deliberately downplayed, including the secret data we declassified for this purpose, information about an unprecedented experiment held by the Almaz-Antey Concern, and the original data from our radar, all of which is objective and accurate information that could really help the investigation.”

Fundamental issues with Zaroshchenske: the route

Even if one discounts the conclusive evidence showing that the Russian MoD’s satellite images concerning Zaroshchenske were heavily digitally altered, it is impossible that the Buk TELAR at the base near Spartak was able to travel to this field by 11:32am. Additionally, this Buk was heavily damaged, as seen below.

A satellite image taken by Digital Globe at 11:08am on the same day shows that the Buk TELAR was present on the base, with no evidence that it was being loaded onto a transport truck at that time. Needless to say, it is impossible that this Buk TELAR could travel from the base to the field in 24 minutes. Even if the Buk TELAR was immediately loaded onto a truck after the satellite image was taken at 11:08am, and then traveled at a normal speed through the Russian/separatist-strongholds of Donetsk, Makiivka, and/or Yasynuvata and was not stopped in any of the numerous Russian/separatist checkpoints along the way, it would have taken over 90 minutes to reach Zaroshchenske.

Fundamental issues with Zaroshchenske: territorial control

If we make a concession to fantasy and say that it is possible that this Ukrainian Buk TELAR, or other ones deployed at another base, was able to reach the Zaroshchenske field in time for the 11:32am satellite image, we must consider the reality of the situation of territorial control on July 17, 2014. Despite continued Russian statements that the village of Zaroshchenske was controlled by the Ukrainian government in mid-July 2014, there is no credible evidence corroborating this claim, while there is extensive documentation of Russian/separatist control in both this area and a village even further south of the field in question. Furthermore, the December 2017 Vesti report claimed that the military position just south of the Zaroshchenske field, near the village of Shaposhnykove, was controlled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in mid-July 2014. There is a wealth of evidence directly refuting this allegation.

Bellingcat has written two extensive reports on the situation around Zaroshchenske in mid-July 2014: Zaroshchens’ke Launch Site: Claims and Reality and Zaroshchens’ke Revisited: Almaz-Antey’s New Launch Areas. Nearly every point raised in Russia’s claims surrounding Zaroshchenske can be refuted by the open source evidence detailed in these two reports. When looking at Zaroshchenske in particular, there was no fighting reported in mid-July 2014 in the village, and there were a number of known Russian/separatist checkpoints and fortifications nearby, including Shakhtarsk to the north and Velyka Shyshivka to the east and southeast.

This military position south of the Zaroshchenske field was built facing the south, towards Ukrainian-held territory, and not the north, towards Russian/separatist-held territory. In the days leading up to the downing, there were no reports in Ukrainian, Russian, or separatist media outlets of any fighting in this immediate area. In fact, locals told Dutch journalist Rudy Bouma that there were no Ukrainian forces within 4-6km of Zaroshchenske in mid-July 2014 and there was no missile launch in the area. However, Ukrainian forces did eventually launch an offensive near this area: after the downing of MH17. The BBC visited Shaposhnykove on July 24, 2014, a week after the MH17 downing, following reports of a civilian death as a result of Ukrainian shelling of the village the previous night.

In this report, it is clear that the village is controlled by Russian/separatist forces, with soldiers even patrolling the area. A conversation between the BBC correspondent and two Russian/separatist fighters takes place a bit over a half-kilometer southeast of the military position highlighted by Vesti.

If the military position just outside of Shaposhnykove was actually constructed and manned by Ukrainian forces, as the Vesti report from December 2017 alleges, then we would expect to find some evidence of fighting or a retreat before July 23, when Ukrainian artillery shelled Russian/separatist-controlled Shaposhnykove.

Lastly, the Dutch-led criminal investigation into MH17 published a phone conversation between two Russian/separatist fighters where they discuss the Zaroshchenske theory, prompted by a press conference held by Almaz-Antey. The two men agree that the area was controlled by Russian/separatist forces at the time, and there was no missile launch in the region.

Fundamental issues with Zaroshchenske: location of deployment

Another fundamental issue with the Russian MH17 narrative is the likelihood that the Ukrainian Armed Forces would deploy two Buk TELARs, highly vulnerable and valuable pieces of military equipment, to an area that the Kremlin would say was under, in even the most generous interpretation, soft Ukrainian control. Multiple fortified Russian/separatist fortifications and checkpoints were located a few kilometers east in Velyka Shyshivka and north in Shakhtarsk, leaving the two Buk TELARs allegedly in the Zaroshchenske field highly vulnerable, as the Russian MoD’s satellite image showed only a single military vehicle, likely a BTR (armored personnel carrier), nearby.

Fundamental issues with the Zaroshchenske claim: Sergei’s witness account

Sergei’s claim of a Ukrainian military deployment 6km south of Zaroshchenske came a year after the initial development of the Kremlin MH17 narrative, but it is still worthwhile to analyze. The most important detail in the July 2015 Vesti report about the witness account is that it took place in the same location as the Russian MoD satellite image, which is demonstrably false through simple geolocation, showing that Sergei was actually near a poultry farm 6km south of the Zaroshchenske field.

Another detail from Sergei’s witness account is that he saw “radar” vehicles with domes in this area, which the Vesti report then claims are the same as the two Buk TELARs visible in the Russian MoD satellite image. To stress the appearance of these “radar” vehicles, Sergei makes an arcing motion with his hands when speaking about the dome. Even though the Buk radar system is called “Dome” (“Купол“), it looks nothing like one. In fact, there is no Buk-M1 vehicle, radar or otherwise, that has a dome that would match Sergei’s description. The Vesti report shows what a Buk radar unit looks like: a rotating radar mast, which is not dome-shaped.

Additionally, in the Russian MoD satellite image itself, the two Buk units are noted to be TELARs (самоходные огневые установки ЗРК “Бук-М1”), not radar systems (cтанции обнаружения целей).

It is possible that Sergei saw Ukrainian military equipment near the poultry farm 6km south of Zaroshchenske on July 17, 2014, as Bellingcat’s previous research into this topic shows that this area was not under firm Ukrainian or Russian/separatist control in mid-July 2014. However, Sergei’s descriptions give no indications that there were any Buk systems present among this alleged military equipment; in fact, his own descriptions work against the Kremlin’s claim due to the “dome” on the alleged radar systems that were present.

Fundamental issues with the Zaroshchenske claim: Baturin’s witness account

Former Ukrainian officer Yuri Baturin claimed in an interview with Russian MoD television channel Zvezda TV that he witnessed the downing of MH17 while watching a radar screen in Kharkiv and spoke to a Ukrainian soldier who spoke about a Buk missile complex being deployed near Zaroshchenske. The claim that a Ukrainian Buk complex was in a field near Zaroshchenske on July 17, 2014 has been thoroughly debunked. However, when addressing Baturin’s claim, there is a simpler detail to tackle. In his interview, Baturin told TV Zvezda that immediately after the downing of MH17, he knew the truth of what happened, and decided “precisely at this moment” to leave the military and leave Ukraine for Russia.

As Meduza has noted, both Baturin and TV Zvezda failed to mention the fact that he continued to serve in the Ukrainian military until 2016, where he resigned “for family reasons,” in complete contradiction to the reasons he gave in the TV Zvezda interview.

Fundamental issues with the Zaroshchenske claim: lack of physical evidence

While all of this evidence refutes a range of specific details claiming a Zaroshchenske launch site, there is a far simpler reality that refutes the theory: a complete lack of any physical evidence or reliable witness accounts. There are no visible traces of a missile launch or deployment of military equipment in the field of Zaroshchenske in available satellite imagery between July 16 and 19, 2014. Additionally, numerous journalists have visited Zaroshchenske after the shoot down and spoke with local residents, and were unable to find a single person in the area who observed military activity in mid-July 2014, a missile launch, or movements of Ukrainian military equipment near the field. It was not until July 2015 that Russian-funded media outlets found a witness named “Sergei” who claimed to have seen Ukrainian military equipment in the vicinity, though still over six kilometers south of the alleged launch site.

The Shaky State of the Narrative

In over three years, the Kremlin has completely abandoned one of its two primary claims, the Ukrainian jet theory, and moved all-in towards the other, the Ukrainian Buk theory. However, with as many factual inconsistencies and gaps of logic that the Ukrainian jet theory had, the Zaroshchenske launch site may have even more. As of the publishing of this article, the five main pieces of evidence that buttress the Kremlin’s Ukrainian Buk theory are as follows, with a brief description of where the Kremlin has tripped up with their claim.

  • Technical reports from the state-funded defense manufacturer of the Buk missile. These reports were directly contradicted by the Dutch Safety Board’s forensic report.
  • A couple of satellite images showing the deployment of two Ukrainian Buk TELARs to a field south of Zaroshchenske. These images were heavily digitally altered.
  • Satellite imagery showing the development of a Ukrainian military fortification south of the Zaroshchenske field. This position was in territory controlled by Russian/separatist forces, near a village it had soldiers stationed.
  • A witness who described seeing radar and military units near Zaroshchenske on July 17, 2014. This alleged deployment was 6km south of Zaroshchenske, and the visual description given by Sergei of these radar systems does not match that of the Buk complex.
  • A former Ukrainian officer who says he quit the Ukrainian military as soon as he realized that they were lying about MH17. He actually quit in 2016 for “family reasons,” and only emerged to tell his story over three years after the MH17 downing. No details in his witness account are corroborated by non-Kremlin sources.

The post The Kremlin’s Shifting, Self-Contradicting Narratives on MH17 appeared first on bellingcat.

Trump’s threats against the Palestinians should worry Israel

The Netanyahu government is celebrating Trump’s recent declaration and threats against the Palestinians as victories, but Jerusalem should wait before opening the champagne. 

Palestinian burning a picture of US President Donald Trump during a protest against US President Donald Trump's latest decision to recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Rafah, in the Southern Gaza Strip on December 8, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinian burning a picture of US President Donald Trump during a protest against US President Donald Trump’s latest decision to recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Rafah, in the Southern Gaza Strip on December 8, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The Trump Administration on Tuesday threatened to withhold millions of dollars in aid that it sends to the Palestinians each year, accusing them of not wanting to negotiate a peace deal with Israel.

Nikki Hailey, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said the U.S. would stop funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) — the UN agency responsible for providing aid to Palestinian refugees — if the Palestinian leadership refuses to return to American-led peace talks. Washington is the agency’s biggest donor; it sends around $300 million a year to the agency, roughly a third of which is designated for aid to residents of refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza.

It possible that the U.S. president’s threat included Washington’s aid to the Palestinian Authority, which amounts to another $300 million dollars or so a year. The Trump administration has presented these threats as a response to the Palestinian leadership’s decision to reject continued American stewardship of the peace process. That decision was itself a response to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his commitment to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.


While Trump’s threats may be intended to punish the Palestinians for their lack of “appreciation or respect” for U.S. leadership in the region (as the president tweeted), his threats should also worry Israel.

Until the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israel was responsible for managing the day-to-day lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Infrastructure, welfare, education, health, and other services were all Israel’s responsibility as the occupying power. Oslo transferred much of that responsibility to the newly created Palestinian Authority, and the two sides passed on the bill to the international community—mainly the U.S., European Union, and Arab states. The idea was that foreign aid would act as a crutch to enable Palestinian development while the occupation came to an end and an independent Palestinian state rose in its place. In parallel, UNRWA would continue to provide aid to 810,000 people in the West Bank alone, operating 19 refugee camps, 96 schools, 43 medical centers, and more.

The peace process died and was buried, and yet the Oslo Accords—designed as an interim agreement meant to end in 1999—continue to serve as the loose framework for relations between Israel and the Palestinians. The U.S., the E.U., and the Arab states have continued to fund the PA and UNRWA, while allowing Israel to maintain the occupation under “luxury” conditions: full control of the territory, full control over the lives of the people, but without any responsibility for them and without being burdened with any serious cost. The justification for that arrangement’s continued existence was the illusion of a peace process. For the past 25 years, half the duration of the occupation, peace was supposed to come at any moment.

But now Trump has changed the equation: if the Palestinians refuse to accept Washington’s leadership of the peace process and its conditions, then there shall be no peace process, and therefore no funding to the PA and UNRWA. The problem is that if there is no peace process, and therefore no funding, then the PA and UNRWA will have to cut their services—close schools, and fire employees—and they alone will not pay the price. Angry protests in response would likely be aimed at Israel, or could undermine the PA’s strength and legitimacy.

Cuts to the PA budget and protests in the street would also likely affect the PA’s security forces, which essentially serve as Israel’s security contractor on the ground, and whom the Israeli defense establishment relies on to keep the peace and help prevent terrorist attacks. In short, one way or another, cutting off the PA’s main sources of funding will erode the framework that has until now sustained Israel’s occupation deluxe.

Trump threatens to shatter not only the underlying assumptions of the framework that subsidizes the Israel occupation (through Palestinian institutions and the UN), but also the illusion of a peace process and the two-state solution (which Netanyahu’s Likud party rejected, again, this week). The Netanyahu government may see these changes as a victory, but in the long-term it is difficult to know where the collapse of the status quo will lead. Israel’s leadership should wait before popping open the champagne.

Waiting for her cry: The day that changed my life forever

­­The scariest moment in my life came about one minute after the event that changed it.

February 13, 2017, 3:55 p.m.

It’s a regular Monday afternoon. I am on my way to pick up my older kid, Emma, from school. She is nine years old.

The Monday a week earlier I lost my temper with one of her teachers. She was always keeping the kids in class — 15, sometimes 20 minutes after the final bell. Parents would wait outside impatiently, wasting time on their smartphones. Some, like me, had probably made arrangements to leave work early so they could pick up their kids on time.

It was disrespectful. So I gave her an earful.

This Monday I am ready for a fight if she does it again… Well, I don’t know what, but I am ready. This is about time. My time. My minutes. My seconds.

It didn’t matter, though. Emma is already waiting outside in the hallway. A bit early, actually. Before 4 p.m. I breathe a sigh of relief.

“How was school, perach (flower)?”


She gets her laconism from her father, obviously.

“Yalla, let’s go home,” I say. She gets into the back, right seat of the car and we head off.

* * *

“Tell me more about those moments. The moments before,” my shrink asks me.

“They’re just moments. They’re regular. A dad picks his daughter up from school. Routine and normal. Naive.”

“Why naive?”

“Because I’m totally unaware of the evil that will occur. I have no control over what will happen.”

“You think this happened because of evil? Evil people?”

“Yes. Evil and greedy people.”

“And you have no control?”

“Of course not. Look at what happened.” 

* * *

4 p.m.

We drive south from the northern edge of Bat Yam on the border of Jaffa, down the boardwalk to the newer neighborhoods of the city. There’s construction all over the place, some of it menacingly blocks the sea view.

As I pass by the skeleton of a new hotel that seems to add a new floor each week, I listen to the daily rant of radio talk show host Anat Davidov. It’s an economics program on 103FM, and today she’s talking about the impending strike of crane operators in Israel — they are demanding more money and better safety protocols at building sites. Nothing will come out of it, I remember saying to myself in my usual cynical tone. The weak shall remain weak. I look at another building site on my right. This one is going to be apartments. It’s called “Home & Sea.”

4:06 p.m.

I turn left at the light, and then left again into the parking lot. It’s a big lot that serves three massive residential towers, each with about 100 apartments. I search for a spot, slowly. Today, in retrospect and with a newly found respect for time, my time, my hours, my minutes, my seconds, I remember that feeling, that I was looking very slowly for a spot. I finally see one, right in front of our building. But it’s a bit too tight. I like it when I can open the doors without worrying about scratching another car. The search continues.

4:07 p.m.

I find a spot not too far away and start to pull in. I finish parking, and as I reach for the key to turn off the ignition, I see some sort of shadow. I think it’s from the rear view mirror, or one of the windows to my right. It makes me turn my head in that direction, and as I do the loudest sound I have ever heard pierces my ears. The car starts to shake and jumps in the air.

And then, the crushing begins.

I hear metal crushing and glass breaking. The right side of the car is slowly coming toward me. The windshield in front of me has become a million different pieces and it’s coming my way. It feels like it will touch my nose any moment.

I can’t move. I’m frozen in my seat. But I’m screaming. Sounds that I never knew were inside me are now booming out of my throat. I’m roaring in fear. The crushing seems to go on forever. I feel like this is it. This could really be it. Whatever it is, this might be the end.

When it finally stops I start screaming her name. “Emma! Emma!! EMMA!!!!”

No answer.

I turn my head right to look at the back seat. But it’s so dark now. There is no light. There is no car. The roof has totally collapsed.

I try to unfasten my seatbelt. It’s not working.


Still no answer. Why won’t she say anything? I try to open the door. Nothing. I’m panicking — shaking like crazy.

For some reason I decide to try the lever that reclines the seat. As it goes back, I try the seatbelt again. This time it opens.


Still no answer.

* * *

“What are you thinking then?”

“That I’ve lost her. She’s gone.”

“How long did you feel like that?”

“Forever. I think it was a minute, but it lasted forever.”

“Where are you now on our stress level, from 1 to 10, here, while you’re recalling it to me?”


“Eight. What are you feeling right now? Physically.”

“My heart is pounding. Feels like there’s a weight on my chest. It’s hard to breathe,” I say as I feel my knuckles turn white from grabbing the armrests.

* * *

I try to open the door again. It’s stuck. I bang on it with my shoulder a few times with all the weight and strength I can muster, and finally it opens. I rush out.

There are huge amounts of dust and debris. So much metal. It feels like a war zone. I turn around to look at the car. It takes me a second for my brain to comprehend what my eyes are transmitting to it: there’s a massive crane on the car. The crane from way across the street, from “Home & Sea.” It fell mostly on the right side of the car, where Emma was sitting. There’s no way I can get to her side.

“Emma!!! EMMA!!”

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* * *

“You see the crane on the car. You don’t hear Emma. Where are you now on our stress level?”

“Nine,” I barely manage to whisper.

“OK. You’re doing very well, Ami. Can you go on?”

I wipe the tears on my face. The lump in my throat is too big to say “yes,” so I just nod.

* * *

I decide to try and get to her from my side of the car but I need to climb over some massive pieces of metal. When I’m over them, there’s still one piece of metal between me and the car, so I reach over it to try and get to the door handle.

And here it is. This is the scariest moment of my life. My hand reaching out, fingers stretched, not knowing what I will see when I open the door.

But I open it.

She’s there, alive. Lying across the back seat. She looks at me in the most frightened gaze that I fear will haunt me to my grave, and says “Aba?”

“Emma!!!! It’s OK. It’s OK. Come, come, put your arms out!”

I can’t get any closer, so I lean as far as I can over the bars. She reaches out toward me, and I manage to put my hands under her armpits. But since I’m so far from the car it’s hard to pull her out. I take a deep breath and yell as I use everything I have to pull her over the bars.

“You’re OK! You’re OK, Emma!” I hug her as tight as I can. “Can you stand? Emma, can you stand up?” She’s not answering me. She’s not with me. I try to put her on her legs, but she doesn’t seem to want to stand. I pick her back up. We need to get out of there. That’s all I know. Before something else falls.

* * *

“Hey, have a seat. How are you feeling today?”

“Good. I was with some friends yesterday, and I told them that there might actually be one good thing that came out of all this. They were quite moved by it, to be honest.”

“Really? Tell me.”

“You know how some men are jealous of a mother’s bond with their children? Well, maybe jealous isn’t the right word. I don’t know. Anyway, there’s such a special bond that mothers have. You know, with the baby growing inside them, and then the birth itself. There’s that physical, biological thing that men aren’t as lucky to have. I think that I, and maybe other men, we yearn for a bond like that with our kids sometimes.”


“And I was thinking about those moments, or minutes, I don’t know how long it lasted, that I couldn’t hear Emma. That I needed to get to her. Those moments when I pulled her out with every bit of strength I had. There was something primal about it. It’s like I was on auto-pilot. There was no ‘me.’ There was only ‘Emma.’ Like, this biological pull, this blood bond. This bear-cub kind of animal instinct thing. It was one of the most real and powerful emotions I ever felt. I don’t know, but I kinda feel lucky to have felt that.”

“I’m very happy you told me that. In fact, I’m quite moved by it, as well. It’s really an intense feeling you had.”

“Just don’t start crying, OK? You’re the shrink.”

* * *

There’s some more debris I need to climb over with her. Suddenly she feels heavier than I remember. I start running away with her. As we get farther from the car, I look down at Emma and notice there’s blood on her shirt. As my gaze lowers, I see that the blood is coming from me. I’m dripping all over her.

I raise my hand to my head, and when I bring it back in front of my eyes it’s all covered in blood. I suddenly understand that I don’t know how bad I’ve been hurt. I feel faint, like I might collapse soon. I push to get further a few more steps, and decide to lie down so that I don’t fall while holding Emma.

As I lay on the pavement holding Emma I begin to yell for help. In a few moments someone comes and holds me down.

“You’re OK! You’re OK,” he says to me.

“My daughter! Is she OK?!”

“She’s OK, she’s OK! Lay down. Lay down!” he says as he keeps pushing me down while I try to check on Emma. Another neighbor is holding her.

“Oh my God, is that your car!?” he asks me.

“Yes, the Mazda.”

“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it! God loves you. Do you hear me!? God loves you!” he yells at the car, or at me. I’m not sure.

* * *

“Does God love me? Does he hate me?”

“Do you believe in God?”

“To be honest, I’m agnostic. But I can’t help but feel someone or something is trying to tell me something.”


“It can’t all be a coincidence. There’s too much that happened for it to be coincidence.”

“And how does that make you feel?”

“Like I’m going crazy. Like I need answers. Now.”

“Answers to explain the coincidences.”

“Well, like I said. I don’t think they’re coincidences.”

“Why not?”

“First of all, minutes before I was hit by a crane a woman on the radio was talking about the crane operators strike. As she spoke about it, I actually drove right under the specific crane that was about to fall on me. The crane fell exactly on my car, exactly on Emma. People who see the car don’t believe anyone should have survived. But the weirdest thing is what happened to the other car.”

“Your other car? It was also damaged?”

“Yes. But it was parked in a totally different area.”



“In the underground parking lot. Part of the crane crashed through the cement and penetrated into the underground lot. It’s a massive lot, with hundreds of cars. There were only two cars that were damaged in the underground — one of them was our second car.”


“Yeah, that’s the reaction I get from most people. The radio, the crane, both family cars — out of the hundreds above and below — totally destroyed, one of them with me and my daughter inside it. It’s almost like a script for a very bad movie. So, I guess you see why it’s not going to be easy for me to just sit here and say it was all chance.”

“And how does the evil fit into this?”

“I don’t know yet. But it does. It’s there. I’m still working on that.”

* * *

“Go get my wife! She’s upstairs!”

She was upstairs, indeed, and was already on her way down. Karen heard the crane operator screaming as he fell 70 meters to the ground. Then, the huge bang made her look out the window, where she saw me trying to get Emma out of the car. I can’t imagine that picture ever leaving her memory.

“Ami!!! Are you OK?!” Karen looks at me in shock. My bloodied face must have scared her to death.

“Yes, yes! Go to Emma! Stay with Emma!”

Emma still hasn’t spoken, or made any sound whatsoever. “Is she OK? Karen, is Emma OK??”

“She’s OK, Ami. She’s OK. Lay down.”

And then it happens. Emma snaps out of her daze and suddenly realizes something is very wrong. She begins to cry, but it’s not like anything I’ve ever heard from my daughter. It’s a howl, a wailing that I will never forget.

It is the most piercing, painful sound I have ever heard.

* * *

“Why do I start crying so hard every time I reach this part?”

“Well, it’s the bond, for one. Parents who are involved in traumatic incidents with their children tend to react in similar ways as you are now. I think there’s also some sort of release you feel, too.”

“How so?”

“Well, remember what you told me Karen thought about those moments?”

“Yes. That we were waiting for a sound, a reaction from Emma. She said it’s almost like when a baby is born, waiting for the baby to cry.”

“Exactly. Her cry meant something similar for you.”

“Yes. She was alive. Reborn.”

* * *

The ambulance comes and puts Emma and me on wooden boards, and braces around our necks. They put us inside. Karen sits in front, a paramedic sits between us in the back.

“You’re going to be fine, Emma. Don’t worry, Aba and Mommy are right here,” I say as the ambulance speeds along the highway to the hospital. I’m trying unsuccessfully to keep my cool through the tears.

“Shhh, you have to calm down, sir,” the paramedic says.

“I know. I know. Give me your hand, Emma.”

She reaches across and we hold our hands tight, our eyes gazing at the swerving ambulance’s ceiling.

“We’ll be alright, sweetie,” and the tears just don’t stop. 

* * *

“Whatever you decide is good. I’m here if you need or want to come back.”

“That’s good to know. Really.”

“And don’t forget to do the things that can help. Like the mindfulness we practiced. And if writing helps, then go ahead — write.”

* * *

This will be my final post on +972 Magazine.

I’m not leaving the site because of any ideological differences or any other grievances. Quite the contrary. It’s difficult to explain why I would leave the media outlet for which I am most proud of working; the one I helped establish; the one that never paid me a dime; the one full of the brightest people I’ve ever met; the one that gave me friends for life. The one that is making a difference.

Writing here on +972 has helped me for years. It helped me find my voice. It helped my career. And most importantly, it helped me take part in the fight for justice in this land.

So I guess it’s fitting that as a farewell gift, +972 is helping me one last time — this time helping me deal with my PTSD.

I chose not to write about the occupation in my last post. Or the other political struggle I’ve recently joined: to lower the number of deaths on construction sites in Israel. I guess what I needed right now was to share those life changing moments with you.

So, thanks to the readers who endured my rants, comic strips, videos, and occasional serious opeds. And thanks to all the former and current folks at +972. I love you very, very much.


Incarceration of Left-wing Japanese Newspaper Editor Sparks Fears of Threat to Free Speech

Japan Jinmin Shimbun Peoples News

Police raid the offices of Jimmin Shimbun (The Peoples News) on November 24. Photo sourced from Jimmin Shimbun’s Twitter account.

On November 21, in the Hyogo prefecture of Kansai region of Japan’s main island, Honshu, police raided the office of Jimmin Shimbun (The People’s News), one of Japan’s most established left-wing newspapers, and arrested Yamada Yoichi, the editor-in-chief, on suspicion of fraud. He was then formally indicted on December 12. As of December 28, Yamada remains detained by Hyogo police.

The raid has stoked fears that a contentious, vaguely-defined new ‘conspiracy law’ is being used to stifle freedom of expression, and also highlights a still-vibrant left-wing political scene in Japan with links to radical groups from the 1960s and 1970s.

In an official statement published on its website, the newspaper said that the raid involved over twenty officers who refused to show a warrant and questioned residents in the building where the newspaper operates. Jimmin Shimbun reported that all of its computers were seized, along with other documents, and that the editor’s residence along with two other locations in Tokyo were also raided.

Supporters of Jimmin Shimbun also claim that police who spoke with tenants in the building attempted to create an impression of the newspaper as a dangerous or illegal organization.

Jimmin Shimbun has protested the police raids and the detainment of its chief editor and has initiated various online campaigns to highlight what happened. It also issued a call for police officers who participated in the raid to be identified online.

【拡散】これが人民新聞を家宅捜索、編集長を逮捕、住民を検問した兵庫県警公安三課です。顔を覚えて抗議の集中を http://pic.twitter.com/H6Bh0gsR78

— 人民新聞(編集長不当逮捕許さない) (@jimminshimbun) November 22, 2017

[Share this] Jimmin Shimbun premises searched, editor arrested, citizens questioned by members of the Hyogo prefectural public safety division. Remember these faces, and let’s fight back against (this group).

Is Japan’s new “conspiracy law” being used to crack down on freedom of speech?

Following Yamada’s arrest, a petition was quickly launched on Change.org calling on the National Police Agency to release the editor. Aside from calling for Yamada’s release, the petition highlights the perceived threat posed by Japan’s recently enacted and highly contentiousconspiracy law” (known in Japan as 共謀罪, or kyogizai) and a “crackdown” on anti-government voices.

The petition notes:

We are very concerned that these types of suppression against citizens by the police will expand. The whole purpose of [the conspiracy law] is to repress citizen movement and the press. We consider that the police has now begun to apply this conspiracy law on innocent citizens.

Yamada’s arrest was reported in some mainstream Japanese sources, although coverage of events since the raid in late November has mostly been limited to left-leaning and sympathetic media publications, and by the Jimmin Shimbun itself. Despite the loss of its equipment in the police raid, Jimmin Shimbun has continued to publish three editions of the newspaper a month.

Founded in Osaka in 1968 as Shinsayoku (The New Left), Jimmin Shimbun adopted its current name in 1976. The various Marxist factions that once wreaked havoc around Japan’s university campuses are now a mere shadow of their former selves as membership declines.

Over the course of its history, the newspaper’s pages have carried announcements and statements from the Japanese Red Army (JRA), a Marxist militant group formed in 1971, and it even published an anthology of the JRA’s propaganda texts in 1979.

Though independent and unaffiliated with a specific leftist faction, the newspaper’s historical and present links to the JRA have meant police regard it as a hub for sympathizers.

In fact, Jimmin Shimbun is just one example of a vibrant subculture of gazettes, newsletters, journals and newspapers published by an array of political groups in Japan sold at specialist bookstores and distributed among activists.

The scholar Wesley Sasaki-Uemura has described these as “micro-publics” that started to emerge after the failure of the 1960 protests against the US-Japan security treaty. However, the existence of publications like Jimmin Shimbun is proof that there is still a small but active left-wing community in Japan.

Raid linked to funds used to support former Japanese Red Army member now living in Lebanon

The allegations against Yamada that justified the raid involve a bank account he opened under his own name in February 2012. Yamada was provided with two bank cards for the account, and authorities allege Yamada used the account to receive funds donated by a network devoted to supporting Okamoto Kozo, a 70-year-old former Japanese Red Army member who now lives in Beirut, Lebanon.

Police say that almost all of the approximately 10 million yen (about $88,000 USD) placed in the account since it was opened was withdrawn in Lebanon with one of the bank cards, and used by people caring for Okamoto in Lebanon. While Okamoto is still wanted by police in Japan, he was granted legal asylum by the Lebanese government in 2000.











消息不明。 http://pic.twitter.com/vt5bhCrB6n

— 日本赤軍bot (@JapanRedArmyBot) July 5, 2017

A typical “most-wanted” poster of Japanese Red Army members; some are still at large, while the whereabouts of others is unknown or may have deceased. Okamoto is pictured bottom-right.

Okamoto went to Lebanon in the early 1970s to join up with the nascent Japanese Red Army, then a loose circle of volunteers under the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He is the sole living member of the Japanese group who attacked Lod Airport (Ben Gurion Airport) in Israel in May 1972. The attack killed 28 people, including his two Japanese comrades.

Okamoto was captured by the Israeli armed forces and kept in solitary confinement for several years, during which he had a nervous breakdown. He was released in a prisoner exchange in the 1980s and was later arrested in Beirut in 1997 and put on trial with several peers for visa violations.

Ultimately Okamoto was allowed to stay in Lebanon as a political exile after his fellow defendants were extradited to Japan in 2000. Orion no Kai (Orion Group) was then formed by supporters in Japan to fund his living costs.

In addition to Okamoto, a handful of ex-members of the now-disbanded JRA remain at large, presumably overseas, and their faces are a common sight on wanted posters at police substations around Japan. For the JRA’s various associates residing domestically, surveillance is an accepted fact of life.

However, the arrest of the Jimmin Shimbum editor and the raid on its office indicates that the police will now exploit opportunities to crack down on left-wing press publications and prevent them from disseminating information.

Fraudulent charges mask freedom of speech crackdowns

Critics of the raid and Yamada’s arrest believe Yamada was targeted as a supporter of former JRA affiliate Okamoto. They that the fraud charge was a convenient excuse to raid the newspaper and steal its list of subscribers.

Police looking ahead to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics intend to keep tabs on past leftists, much as they did in the run-up to the G7 summit in 2016.


— marumaru (@marumaruzun) December 12, 2017

The chief editor of Jimmin Shimbun has been unjustly arrested and indicted for fraud. However, there is no victim at all. Instead, (Yamada’s arrest) is suppression of speech. Yamada has been taken to a cold cell with no heater. He hasn’t done anything wrong, and yet will be detained for several months. Instead it’s the lying Abe clique […] that should be arrested!

As of December 29, Yamada remains detained by Japanese police as prosecutors build a case against him. Jimmin Shimbun supporters have held events and protests outside the police station in Hyogo where Yamada is confined.

While some might say the left-wing newspaper is a relic from another era, Jimmin Shimbun epitomizes the feisty voice of veteran left-wing activism in Japan that is accustomed to confronting the state.

Written by William Andrews, Nevin Thompson · comments (0)
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Dozens of Israeli teens: ‘We refuse to enlist out of a commitment to peace’

‘Testimonies of former soldiers teach us that the reality of occupation does not allow one to make a difference from within. The power to change reality does not lay with the single soldier — but with the system as a whole.’

Solidarity protesters and family members protest for Israeli conscientious objector Tair Kaminer, Prison 400, central Israel, January 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Solidarity protesters and family members protest for Israeli conscientious objector Tair Kaminer, Prison 400, central Israel, January 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Sixty-three Israeli teenagers have published an open letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu on Thursday, declaring their refusal to join the Israeli army due to their opposition to the occupation.


“The army carries out a racist government policy that enforces one legal system for Israelis and another for Palestinian in the same territory,” they write. “Therefore, we have decided not to take any part in the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people… for as long as people live under an occupation that denies their human rights and national rights – we cannot have peace.”

The group calls itself the “2017 Seniors’ Letter,” continuing a long tradition of similar letters sent by high school seniors announcing their refusal to join the army, dating back to 1970 (the writer of this text was a signatory of the 2001 letter). Members of the group have stated they are willing to be imprisoned for their conscientious objection; one of them, Matan Helman, is already serving a prison sentence. The teens have also stated they will be traveling the country, speaking to others their age, challenging them to rethink their positions on military service and inviting them to join the movement.

The Israeli army does not recognize the right to conscientiously object to the draft based on rejection of the occupation. It does, however, allow for objection based solely on pacifism and the rejection of all forms of violence. These young refusers, therefore, are likely to be denied exemptions, and sent to repeated prison sentences of two to four weeks each, as has been the case with other conscientious objectors in recent years.

In their letter, the young refusers list the occupation, the siege on Gaza, settlements, and violence toward Palestinians as the main reasons for the decision. However, they also mention the ongoing effects of militarism on the Israeli society, enshrining violent solutions instead of peace as a central value, and the effect the occupation has on strengthening Israeli capitalism and dependence on American military aid.

“Testimonies of former soldiers and heads of the security establishment teach us that the reality of occupation does not allow one to make a difference from within,” they write. “The power to change reality does not lay with the single soldier but with the system as a whole. Similarly, the blame for this reality does not lie with the soldier, but with the army and government. This is the system we wish to change.”