Banned Gaza Report

Did Banned Report
Foretell of Gaza War Crimes?

Threats against Ha’aretz

Jonathan Cook
Antiwar.com
April 15, 2010

An Arab member of the Israeli parliament is demanding that a newspaper
be allowed to publish an investigative report that was suppressed days before
Israel attacked Gaza in winter 2008.

The investigation by Uri Blau, who has been in hiding since December to
avoid arrest, concerned Israeli preparations for the impending assault on
Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead.

In a highly unusual move, according to reports in the Israeli media, the
army ordered the Haaretz newspaper to destroy all copies of an edition that
included Mr Blau’s investigation after it had already gone to press and been
passed by the military censor. The article was never republished.

Mr Blau has gone underground in London after the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret
police, demanded he return to Israel to hand back hundreds of classified
documents they claim are in his possession and to reveal his sources.

He published several additional reports for Haaretz in 2008 and 2009 that
severely embarrassed senior military commanders by showing they had
issued orders that intentionally violated court rulings, including to execute
Palestinians who could be safely apprehended.

Haneen Zoubi, an MP who previously headed an Israeli media-monitoring
organization, said it was “outrageous” that the suppressed report was still
secret so long after the Gaza attack. She is to table a parliamentary
question to Ehud Barak, the defense minister, today demanding to know why
the army suppressed the article and what is preventing its publication now.
Mr Barak must respond within 21 days.

She said publication of the article was important both because Israel had
been widely criticized for killing many hundreds of civilians in its three-week
assault on Gaza, and because subsequent reports suggested that Israeli
commanders sought legal advice months before the operation to manipulate
the accepted definitions of international law to make it easier to target
civilians.

“There must be at least a strong suspicion that Mr Blau’s article contains
vital information, based on military documentation, warning of Israeli army
intentions to commit war crimes,” she said in an interview.

“If so, then there is a public duty on Haaretz to publish the article. If not,
then there is no reason for the minister to prevent publication after all this
time.”

Ms Zoubi’s call yesterday followed mounting public criticism of Haaretz for
supporting Mr Blau by advising him to stay in hiding and continuing to pay
his salary. In chat forums and talkback columns, the reporter has been
widely denounced as a traitor. Several MPs have called for Haaretz to be
closed down or boycotted.

A Haaretz spokeswoman refused to comment, but a journalist there said a
“fortress mentality” had developed at the newspaper. “We’ve all been told
not to talk to anyone about the case,” he said. “There’s absolute paranoia that
the paper is going to be made to suffer because of the Blau case.”

Amal Jamal, a professor at Tel Aviv University who teaches a media course,
said he was concerned with the timing of the Shin Bet’s campaign against Mr
Blau. He observed that they began interviewing the reporter about his
sources and documents last summer as publication neared of the Goldstone
report, commissioned by the United Nations and which embarrassed Israel
by alleging it had perpetrated war crimes in Gaza.

“The goal in this case appears to be not only to intimidate journalists but
also to delegitimize certain kinds of investigations concerning security issues,
given the new climate of sensitivity in Israel following the Goldstone report.”

He added that Mr Blau, who had quickly acquired a reputation as Israel’s
best investigative reporter, was “probably finished” as a journalist in Israel.

Shraga Elam, an award-winning Israeli reporter, said Mr Blau’s suppressed
article might also have revealed the aims of a widely mentioned but
unspecified “third phase” of the Gaza attack, following the initial air strikes
and a limited ground invasion, that was not implemented.

He suspected the plans involved pushing some of Gaza’s population into
Egypt under cover of a more extensive ground invasion. The plan had been
foiled, he believed, because Hamas offered little resistance and Egypt refused
to open the border.

On Monday, an MP with the centrist Kadima Party, Yulia Shamal-Berkovich,
called for Haaretz to be closed down, backing a similar demand from fellow
MP Michael Ben-Ari, of the right-wing National Union.

She accused Haaretz management of having “chosen to hide” over the case
and blamed it for advising Mr Blau to remain abroad. She said the newspaper
“must make sure the materials that are in his possession are returned.
If Haaretz fails to do so, its newspaper licence should be revoked without
delay.”

Another Kadima MP, Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet,
this week urged Haaretz readers to boycott the newspaper until Mr Blau was
fired.

A petition calling on the Shin Bet to end its threat to charge Mr Blau with
espionage has attracted the signatures of several prominent journalists in
Israel.

“We believe the Blau case is unique and are concerned this unique case will
create a dangerous precedent,” their letter states. “Until now, prosecution
authorities have not sought to try reporters for the offense of holding
classified information, an offense most of us are guilty of in one way or
another.”

Media coverage of the case in Israel has been largely hostile to Mr Blau,
however.

A group of Israeli human rights organizations is due to submit a letter this
week to the government demanding that the investigation concentrate on
lawbreaking by the army rather the “character assassination” of Mr Blau and
his sources.

Yesterday, the supreme court tightened restrictions on Anat Kamm, one of
Mr Blau’s main informants, who has been under house arrest since December
for copying up to 2,000 military documents while she was a soldier. She is
accused of espionage with intent to harm the state, a charge that carries a
tariff of 25 years in jail.

The papers copied by Ms Kamm, 23, included military orders that violated
court rulings and justified law-breaking by soldiers.

Judge Ayala Procaccia said: “The acts attributed to the respondent point to
a deep internal distorted perception of a soldier’s duties to the military
system he or she is required to serve, and a serious perversion from the basic
responsibility that a citizen owes the state to which he or she belongs.”

Ms Kamm, the court decided, must not leave her apartment and must be
watched by a close relative at all times.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae),
published in Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook is a British journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His reports
on Israel-Palestine have been published in numerous journals and websites
including the Guardian, the Observer, the Times, Al Jazeera, New Statesman,
International Herald Tribune, Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo), The National
(Abu Dhabi), Electronic Intifada and Counterpunch. His latest book is
Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books,
2009). His two earlier books are Blood and Religion and Israel and the Clash of
Civilisations
(Pluto Books, 2006, 2008). Visit his website:
http://www.jkcook.net/index.html