How Hamas got to capture Avera Mengistu and the circumstances surrounding it we do not know. What we do know is that Hamas have captured another Israeli. We also know, from the war crimes committed by Israel during Operation Protective Edge, when they literally flattened whole neighbourhoods in Rafah to kill their own soldier, Hadar Goldin, that they are determined, in accordance with the Hannibal Directive to prevent a repeat of the of Gilad Shalit, which resulted in the release of over a thousand prisoners (many reimprisoned) in exchange for him, even if it means killing the Israeli prisoner.
What we don't however expect is for Wikipedia to follow the lead of Israeli Wikipedia and meekly bow to Israeli censorship and a gag order that prevents people even knowing that there is a Gag Order in place.
by Richard Silverstein on July 1, 2015
|Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil, IDF chief censor|
One of the most interesting aspects of the Israeli national security state is the IDF military censor and the ways in which it stymies the free flow of ideas and information within Israeli society. Unlike in the U.S., where the NSA and the covert side of the CIA operate in almost total secrecy (except when someone like Edward Snowden comes along), Israel is a place more uncertain and anxious about such things. There the military censor even publicly addresses criticism of her role. Not because she wants to (I would argue), but because the military constantly feels the need to justify the restrictions it places on Israelis and the sacrifices it forces them to accept. One of the ten most powerful armies in the world has an inferiority complex that compels it to self-justify.
That explains a speech delivered by Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil at a conference on intelligence and special operations sponsored by the magazine, Israel Defense. Her remarks were, as you might expect, self-serving, solipsistic and even racist. She claims that she has developed an “innovative” set of censorship guidelines that are “responsive” to modern times. I’ll let you be the judge after you finish reading her wit and wisdom here:
“Israel is a democratic, liberal, western society which protects its secrets through means which are draconian and at times even self-contradictory.
We are a civilian society in which there is a critical public debate [about intelligence matters] and it’s difficult to maintain censorship and prevent the publication of secret material. Today, a guy sees a terror attack from his balcony and sends a photo to the newspaper–how can we control that?
…We in the military censor’s unit don’t hide information. We protect information which is critical [to our defense] in terms of our enemies. They don’t have the same abilities we do. They don’t have Unit 8200 [Israel’s NSA]. They don’t have a Jewish brain. Therefore the enemy relies to a great extent on publicly accessible information. We, in the context of our democratic debate, offer a great deal of basic accessible information: the test succeeded or failed, budgets, order of battle, weapons, who guards what, technological developments. We in the censor unit aren’t suited to stop it all. We can only prevent [publication of] that which poses certain danger to national security…When I retire I won’t write a book because it can’t possibly pass military censorship.”
Of course the censor “hides” information. Nor does it only hide information which might damage national security. It censors information that might damage the reputation of the IDF or its senior officers. Such behavior equates the army with the state (“l’etat, c’est moi“).
As an aside, I’m pleased to say that Vaknin-Gil views me as a thorn in her side and publicly made light of my work and the role I play in combatting Israeli censorship.
The real shocker in the above passage is Vaknin-Gil’s portrayal of Unit 8200 as a product of the Jewish mind. It’s like saying the NSA is a product of the American mind. I suppose in some ghoulish way you could argue that America’s technological sophistication enabled the creation of the frightening tools the NSA devised to spy on all of us. But even if that’s the case, is this cause for celebration?
Only an army officer living in a non-democratic state could celebrate the army’s ability to spy on both its enemies and its own citizens as an extraordinary national achievement. I should correct myself here since she doesn’t portray Unit 8200 as a product of Israel, but of Jewishness. The term I translated as “Jewish brain” derives from the Yiddish, Yiddishe kop. The term has a distinctly proud ring to it, and boasts of “Jewish genius” with an air of superiority. What’s ironic about her choice of term is that she doesn’t celebrate the “Israeli brain,” because there is no Israeli or Hebrew equivalent for yiddishe kop. That means Israel’s lethal espionage capabilities as represented by Unit 8200 become a proud Jewish achievement.
I for one want nothing to do with Unit 8200 as product of Judaism or Jewish identity. This is once again a distortion introduced by Zionist ideology which deliberately conflates Israel with Jewishness. There is nothing Jewish about signals intelligence.
Speaking of Unit 8200 as a product of Jewish genius, I note that I published a scoop in 2014 identifying the commander of Unit 8200, Brig. Gen. Ehud Schneerson, as a distant relative of the Lubavitcher rebbe. No doubt he earned his position due to his distinguished yichus and yiddishe kop!
Further, the idea that IDF intelligence capabilities somehow derive from Israel’s national genius is also troubling and racist. The only reason Israel has such advanced capabilities is that it has made this a national priority since it’s founding. Any Arab state which had done the same would have made the same achievements Israel did. In fact, Iran is late to this game but shows every sign of being able, within a reasonably short period of time, to compete credibly with Israel in this field. When it reaches this level there will be some Iranian censor boasting that the IRG’s intelligence units are a product of “Iranian genius.”
It’s all a bunch of malarkey foisted on nations by insecure generals who need to justify their own positions, influence and power.
|Censored Wikipedia article on Avera Mengistu|
Vaknin-Gil conveniently omitted another important element of Israeli opacity when it comes to national security. If the censor doesn’t prohibit publication of sensitive material or information, the security services have another powerful tool: the gag order. They go to a cooperative judge (usually judges who were IDF lawyers or worked for the security apparatus) and get a gag order which determines that publication of facts or information would either damage an investigation or the national security.
A perfect example of this is the case of Avera Mengistu, the Israeli-Ethiopian citizen who entered Gaza just after last summer’s war and has been detained there since then. I was the first journalist to publish this story and did so in Mint Press News. No Israeli publication may do so. There is not just a gag order on this story. There is a comprehensive gag order meaning that the media not only may not refer to Mengistu, but they may not even say there is a gag order in place preventing them from reporting the story. It’s the most draconian form of judicial censorship of the media.
I’ve speculated in Mint Press about why Israel is so skittish about Mengistu’s story. First, there is an element of racism involved. Gilad Shalit was Ashkenazi and white. Mengistu is Ethiopian and black. Ethiopian-Israelis have little power in society. They are second or third-class citizens akin to Israeli Palestinian citizens. If Israel doesn’t have to acknowledge Mengistu it won’t; because doing so empowers Hamas to demand a high price for his return. The truth is that Mengistu isn’t worth anything to the Israeli government, so it gags any reference to him. Speaking his name will force its hand.
Israeli Ethiopians at Tel Aviv rally against racism wearing T-shirts with Avera Mengistu’s name and a question mark, a clear act of rebellion against the Israeli gag order on his case
In a related matter, an Israeli Wikipedia editor read my Mint Press story and created an article about Mengistu. The censored article is displayed here (and as a Word doc here), the Talk page for the article, which was also deleted, is archived here. Within a short time, an Israeli former reader and commenter at this blog who was banned (while here he used various nicknames, itself a comment rule violation, ‘dude,’ ‘journalist,’ and ‘tankist’) began a campaign to eliminate the Wikipedia entry. At first he did this anonymously. When I called him on this he began using the Wikipedia identity, kigelim. I also noted he had a self-interest in censoring the article because he’d been banned from this blog. Those participating in the Talk page for the article refused to acknowledge this fact as legitimate.
His first argument was that the article violated Wikipedia standards for journalistic credibility. However, Mint Press is a respected online publication with high journalistic standards. He never gave up on this argument. But other ones were developed as well. Another group of editors claimed falsely that I’d authored the article using a different Wikipedia identity (sockpuppetry). When I disproved this claim, they regrouped, beginning a campaign among fellow pro-Israel Wikipedia editors to delete the article. There are internal pro-Israel Wikipedia discussion groups and kigelim alerted them to the article and they pounced on it. Interestingly, an editor is not permitted to mount a public (i.e. outside of Wikipedia) campaign on behalf of editorial decisions. But internal lobbying among Wikipedia groups and editors is perfectly acceptable. A vote was held and those seeking deletion won.
In this way, pro-Israel elements working within Wikipedia achieved precisely the same outcome that Israeli censorship does inside that country. They silenced a key world information source which is supposed to be open and accessible to all regardless of political or ideological belief. They turned Wikipedia into a playground in which all the worst excesses of Israeli paranoia and anti-democratic tendencies are found. They perverted this fabulous resource and imposed the worst excesses of Israel-style censorship. Fools like these cheapen Wikipedia and betray its mission.
UPDATE: Kigelim has now threatened to report me to a “Wikipedia committee” and get me blocked from participating in Wikipedia unless I “apologize” to the “community” for my “baseless allegations.” Actually, if he has the power to initiate such a proceeding I’d welcome it. So bring it on.
UPDATE I: Poor Kugelmass (aka kigelim), tried to harrass me on Wikipedia and got shut down so quick his head spun. And further, he was accused of being a “single-purpose account” created to stalk me. Try again, buddy. Oh, and I’m sorry your “butt hurts” (in joke, you have to read the link).
When Mengistu is finally released (this will take much longer thanks to the draconian impact of Israeli censorship and pro-Israel editors in Wikipedia), then the article will be restored and the naysayers will be exposed for the prejudiced pro-Israelists they are.
Last week, Israeli-Ethiopians protested against Israeli racism. One of the chants heard in the crowd was the name of Avera Mengistu and another Ethiopian who was killed in a police beating. Israeli and Wikipedia may silence the truth. But you can’t silence an entire ethnic group when it knows it’s getting the shaft.
Indeed, Israel has completely abandoned its responsibilities for almost all African refugees under international humanitarian law. But should that come as any surprise?
|In this Friday, June 27, 2014 file photo, African migrants clash with Israeli soldiers after they left Holot detention center in southern Israel and walked towards the Border with Egypt near the southern Israeli Kibbutz of Nitzana.|
In October 2014, just after Operation Protective Edge ended, an Israeli Facebook friend of mine reported a rumor that an Ethiopian-Israeli citizen crossed into Gaza and was detained there. The next day I confirmed the truth of the story through an independent Israeli source. Here is what I wrote then:
“An Israeli-Ethiopian from Ashkelon crossed the border into Gaza several weeks ago. The man was allegedly mentally ill and no one knows what drove him to do this. He is being held by authorities in Gaza. Israel has placed a gag order on the incident and the media may not report it. His family has been told not to speak to the media as this might endanger him by raising his profile, though I’d venture to guess that the real reason is that it would embarrass the Israeli government and raise his value in a prisoner exchange.”
|Smoke rises following what witnesses said were Israeli air strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. (Reuters)|
Another rumor was that he’d been swimming off the southern coast and a strong current had taken him from Israeli waters to Gaza. Once there, he was reportedly picked up by a vehicle, presumably security officials, and driven away. He hasn’t been seen since.
Hamas offered further circumstantial evidence via a billboard it erected in Gaza which featured images of Oron Shaul, an Israeli Defense Forces soldier, who Israel claims was killed during the war. Shaul’s image is displayed behind bars, indicating that Hamas claims he is alive. Another interesting feature on the billboard is an avatar with a question mark, which indicates Hamas claims it has a mystery captive, which points to the Ethiopian-Israeli.
|The Hamas billboard alluding to the detention of Avera Mengistu (the picture next to Shaul Oron’s with a question mark)|
Back in October, I tried diligently to follow up on this story without success. But an Israeli published an anonymous comment on my blog last week, naming the captive Ethiopian-Israeli as “Avera Mangisto.” I broadcast this name — probably more likely spelled “Mengistu” in English — via social media, asking if members of the Ethiopian community could confirm it. “O.” did so on Facebook. I asked her if she could help me contact the man’s family. We both did, and she succeeded in interviewing Avera’s divorced father, Aylin, and his brother, Netan’el.
Aylin was more willing to talk. He was saddened and frustrated by the experience. He’d almost lost all hope. Netan’el, after some halting discussions, refused to speak. He directed us not to contact his father either. But before we reached this impasse, O. held several conversations with both of them. They each confirmed that Avera, who is age 24, is being held by the authorities in Gaza.
|Facebook photo of detainee Avera Mengistu.|
The government instructed the family to remain silent on the matter. Officials told them they were doing everything possible to return him, yet they appear to have done little or nothing. O. said the government “brainwashed” them into believing it was doing something. She added that if Avera were “white” — her term — Israel would have treated him as it did Gilad Shalit, the Ashkenazi Jew for whom Israel exchanged 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
There is also a gag order on the story, which prohibits Israeli media from covering it. Even some Ethiopian journalists refused to speak with me, concerned about their own vulnerability in Israeli society.
|Ethiopian Jews at anti-racism rally with Mengistu tee shirts and a question mark|
Yesterday, for example, Haaretz quoted Israeli and Hamas officials denying that German foreign minister Franz Steinmeier was once again negotiating for a prisoner exchange which would return the remains of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin to Israel. Not a word in this story about an actual live Israeli held in Gaza. The pernicious gag prohibits it.
This secrecy serves the interests of the Israeli government, but not the interests of the victim. If the public knew about this, they might demand the state do all in its power to free him — which would certainly include the exchange of Palestinian prisoners. The Israeli far-right detests freeing Palestinians it considers terrorists with “blood on their hands.” Whenever the government has freed such prisoners, the extremists have pummeled the ruling Likud party. Netanyahu wishes to avoid this at all costs. And it is far easier to avoid such a situation when the prisoner is Ethiopian, since neither the government nor the public cares as much as it would for a Jewish Israeli prisoner.
The issue of prisoner exchange is indeed so fraught that Israel has instituted the Hannibal Directive, which calls for the army to kill its own soldiers when they are captured alive by Hamas in battle. The IDF would rather murder its own soldiers than have to give up 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to secure the return of a single live Israeli. This controversial policy was invoked several times during Operation Protective Edge.
I twice emailed Israel’s official negotiator assigned to secure the release of prisoners (dead or alive), Col. Lior Lotan, for a response to questions I posed to him about the negotiations. As of press time, I had not heard back from him. I tweeted to Paul Hirschson, a foreign ministry official, asking for help in identifying the Israeli official responsible for these talks. Instead of answering my question, he replied that Hadar Goldin had been buried, implying falsely that Israel was only negotiating about the return of what he called “some body parts.” A second MFA official, Eyal Lampert, whose profile claims he works at the foreign affairs ministry’s “Japan and Korea desk,” said the ministry didn’t pay him enough to deal with “twits [sic] like mine.” He added that neither he nor Hirschson works for “costumer [sic] services.” With such quality staff, it’s easy to understand why Israel’s reputation is what it is in the world.
Operation Solomon as hasbara
African refugees sit on the ground behind a border fence after they attempted to cross from Egypt into Israel as Israeli soldiers stand guard near the border with Egypt, in southern Israel.
Israel “rescued” thousands of Ethiopians in 1991 and brought them to Zion in Operation Solomon. While the nation basked in the good publicity generated by such a rescue, the reality on the ground was much different. Israel’s chief rabbi did recognize the Ethiopians (known at that time as Falashas) as Jewish, but they were treated little better than Palestinian-Israeli citizens. As polls of Jewish Israelis confirm, racist attitudes toward Palestinians, Mizrahim and Ethiopians are the norm.
Recently, an IDF soldier was walking the streets of Tel Aviv with his bicycle when he was accosted by a private security guard and a police officer. They ripped his bicycle from his hands and assaulted him in broad daylight despite the fact that he was wearing an IDF uniform. Video of the attack was major news on national TV. The country was embarrassed. It would not be unusual for an Ethiopian to be assaulted by the police, but an Ethiopian in an IDF uniform? That trespassed social norms. The police officer was fired from the force and faces a criminal charge — an unusual example of anti-African racism being firmly rejected.
A decade ago, Gabriel Dawit, an Ethiopian-Israeli, drowned, either accidentally or as a suicide in the aftermath of the suicide of his brother, off Nahariya on the northern coast. His body later washed up on the Lebanese coast and was retrieved by Hezbollah. Though the IDF Directorate of Military Intelligence and other security agencies knew this, for three years they didn’t tell the family. The family sued the state, demanding a $500,000 settlement for the suffering inflicted on them. Israel eventually agreed to pay $50,000.
Israel advocates will point out that Yityish “Titi” Aynaw, Miss Israel 2013, is an Ethiopian woman, who is proud of her country and participated in hasbara activities, even re-joining the IDF so she could participate in Operation Protective Edge on the international stage. But tokenism is not the same as true equality, which Ethiopians do not enjoy.
Israel violates international refugee protocols regarding African refugees
A Sudanese refugee family sit on the ground surrounded by Israeli army soldiers after they crossed illegally from Egypt into Israel. The Israeli Cabinet voted unanimously Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011, to finance a $160 million program designed to staunch the flow of illegal African migrants into Israel by stepping up construction of a border fence and expanding a detention center to hold thousands of the new arrivals. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israel also has 60,000 African refugees, who fled civil wars, famine and genocide in countries like Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia. Unlike the Ethiopians I mentioned above, the former do not have citizenship. In fact, Israel has refused to even offer them rights reserved for refugees under international law. Until recently, there was no provision for hearing asylum requests, and only 45 (.07 percent) such requests have been granted out of thousands of applications to date.
Recently, in violation of international protocols, Israel told many of these individuals that they must agree to “voluntary” deportation (there is a $3,500 “inducement” to agree to leave) or face imprisonment in Saharonim, a prison for violators of immigration laws. Haaretz has been reporting extensively on the plight of those who agree to deportation. These deportees are flown on a plane to Rwanda, whose dictator, Paul Kagame, agreed to accept them in return for economic assistance and arms deals that likely facilitate the genocide in neighboring Congo.
Four such Eritrean refugees from Israel, who were sent to Rwanda, ended up in Libya and were beheaded in the now-infamous Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) beach executions. Their relatives remaining in Israel confirmed both their departure and their execution, after watching the horrific video.
Galia Sabar, a Tel Aviv University professor, traveled to the African countries that receive these refugees and researched their living conditions and fate. Her findings, published in Haaretz, reveal that Rwanda has appointed someone who is essentially a smuggler who receives the names of deportees arriving at the Kigali airport from Israeli police. He meets them at the airport, drives them to a guesthouse, tells them they may not leave it, and eventually spirits them out of the country — all the while, taking a cut of all proceeds of their expenses and hiring new smugglers who take them across the Rwandan border into neighboring Sudan.
The refugees have no legal status in Uganda. They live there in squalor, paying hundreds of dollars per month for a rented room or more for a room in a private residence. Such expenses quickly eat up that bribe that Israel provided to persuade them to leave. For obvious reasons, many of these people see Europe as their next hope for refuge, which was how the Eritreans ended up in Libya.
Israel has totally abandoned its responsibilities for these individuals under international humanitarian law. Not that international law is a principle Israel respects in any event.
Richard Silverstein has published the Tikun Olam since 2003. It exposes the secrets and misdeeds of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle.