"This is how I understand the struggle...To stand steadily like spears, and never give up." Naji Al-Ali

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Israel First, America's National Security Second

In one of the United States Congress’ most recent displays of “Israel First” policy, 39 Representatives, all democrats, have requested that President Obama pardon Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for the State of Israel in 1987. Pollard is currently serving a life sentence for his crimes.

According to American Muslims for Palestine:
Jonathan Pollard
Pollard, who was a civilian research analyst with high security clearance for the U.S. Navy, had agreed to spy for Israel for 10 years in exchange for more than $500,000. According to a January 1999 article in the New Yorker by Seymour Hersh, Pollard “betrayed elements of four major American intelligence systems.” Pollard caused extensive damage to U.S. intelligence and U.S. national security because of the nature of the highly sensitive documents he sold to Israel.

In many cases, Israel bartered top-secret U.S. intelligence documents it received from Pollard with the Soviet Union, in exchange for Soviet Jewish colonial emigration to historic Palestine, Hersh wrote. [1]
During sentencing the prosecutor, in compliance with an agreement in which Pollard pled guilty, asked for "only a substantial number of years in prison"; Judge Aubrey Robinson, Jr., not being obligated to follow the recommendation of the prosecutor, and after hearing a "damage-assessment memorandum" from the Secretary of Defense, imposed a life sentence. [2]

In the letter sent to President Obama, the Representatives explain that “such an exercise of the clemency power would not in any way imply doubt about [Pollard’s] guilt, nor cast any aspersions on the process by which he was convicted.”

This seems paradoxical. According these representatives, Pollard is indeed guilty of the charges against him. What’s more, they find nothing to disparage about the proceedings which resulted in his sentence. So why must Obama set him free?

Because, you see, pardoning him would correct the disparity “between the amount of time Mr. Pollard has served and the time that has been served -- or not served at all -- by many others who were found guilty of similar activity on behalf of nations that, like Israel, are not adversarial to us.”

It is true that Pollard is the only American serving a life sentence for spying on behalf of a neutral country (only 15% of all convicted spies are attempting to transmit information to a neutral country). However, according to a recent study which examined every espionage conviction in the United States from 1947-2001, at least 13% of all spies convicted were sentenced to life in prison, while another 22% were sentenced to between 20 and 40 years. [3] Could it perhaps be that the damage that resulted from his crimes was severe enough to render the judge’s harsh decision? For the answer, we must look at the methodology judges use to determine sentencing.

The study’s authors reveal:  “Prison sentences for espionage or attempted espionage varied depending on factors such as the importance of information lost, the length of time of the spying, the venue of the trial, the then-current policies of the federal government on espionage prosecution, the context of the time (e.g. wartime or peace, chilly Cold War or detente) and the then-current relationship of the United States with the country that received the information.”

Thus, the relationship between Israel and the United States was only one component determining Pollard’s sentence. With the information at hand, namely the fact that as stated above, Israel was at the time handing Pollard’s stolen documents off to the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, and having just heard the damage-assessment memorandum by the Secretary of Defense, Judge Robinson issued his sentence. This sentence was the result of the evidence brought against Pollard as well as his own confession. He was convicted based on the severity of his crime and in the midst of one of the largest resurgences of espionage in American history (see Keeping the Nation’s Secrets by the Stilwell Commission, published in 1985).

In this way, seeking “clemency for Mr. Pollard as an act of compassion justified by the way others have been treated by our justice system” is ridiculous. While the United States is not at war with Israel, Pollard’s sentencing in relation to the severity of his crime per the Secretary of Defense’s testimony rendered him the same sentence as at least 16 other spies.

Do these Representatives offer any evidence, other than comparisons to (what must be) lesser crimes by other individuals, to justify commuting Pollard’s sentence? Do they take issue with the denials of appeal made by appellate courts in the case or the merits thereof? Do they contend that Pollard was harshly sentenced because of some prejudice harbored by the presiding judge? No. They simply think that his incarceration, which has only strengthened his ties to Israel (he became a citizen while in prison), will somehow serve as a deterrent. 

Where is the logic in such a stance? In the name of security, the US government will eavesdrop on its own citizens. In the name of security, the US government will torture foreigners, holding them without charge or trial and bomb Pakistani civilians with drones. In the name of security, the US government will grope and prod passengers as they board airplanes if they refuse to be seen naked through scanners. And yet, in the same breath, elected representatives who quietly reauthorized provisions of the PATRIOT act in February 2010 would argue for the rights of a confessed, convicted spy passing intelligence secrets, and do so in the name of justice and compassion!

Do these Representatives know anything about justice at all? If they do, why do they feel compelled to stand up to perceived injustice in the name of an avowed Israeli spy and yet remain utterly mute when it comes to the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay, at least 55% of whom do not have sufficient evidence against them to determine that they have committed any hostile acts against the United States, at least 40% of whom have no definitive connection with Al Qaeda and least 18% of whom have no definitive connection with Al Qaeda or Taliban? [4]

Is it because they only care about Americans? Then why haven’t any of them stepped up to defend Rachel Corrie, murdered by an IDF bulldozer as she non-violently attempted to block it from destroying a Palestinian home? Why haven’t they petitioned Obama to seek justice for Furkan Doğan, a Turkish American who was shot by the IDF at point blank range while lying on his back? Why hasn’t congress properly investigated the death of 37 American Citizens aboard the USS Liberty which was attacked by Israel in 1967?

Such a request by House democrats is an insult to our justice system, and one that should not be tolerated.  The truth of the matter is that Pollard, if granted clemency, will be a benefactor of the United States’ “special relationship” with Israel, a relationship that apparently knows no bounds.

Yet this request is altogether unsurprising in light of Israel’s consistent method of portraying itself in a completely sympathetic light. Israelis are not aggressors, but victims of aggression. They are not bigoted, but victims of anti-semetism. They are not lawbreakers, but victims of the justice system.

Americans suffer every day at the hands of abstract, fleeting “threats to national security” and yet when our national security has been conclusively violated…this is what our congressmen come up with. To buy into such a subversion of moral decency is utterly treacherous.  

[1] American Muslims for Palestine, 39 Congressmen advocating for release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, November 2010 (Accessed 11/23/10)

[2] Best, Jr., Richard A.; Clyde Mark, Jonathan Pollard: Background and Considerations for Presidential Clemency" Congressional Research Service Report for Congress., January 2001 (Accessed 11/23/10)

[3] PERSEREC, Espionage Against the United States by American Citizens 1947-2001, July 2002 (Accessed 11/23/10)

[4] Amnesty International, Guantanamo Bay Fact Sheet (Accessed 11/23/10)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hasbara Lie Exposed: "Staged" Settler Violence is Actually Tree Pruning

In a recent Ynet News story, a news group operating within West Bank settlements witnessed “Arabs and Leftists” staging an event in which their olive trees were vandalized, so as to further demonize settlers. According to the piece:
The photos, taken by members of the Tazpit Unit, were shot on Palestinian land Friday, near the Neveh Tzuf settlement. The images allegedly show Palestinians and left-wing activists cutting down Palestinian olive trees using an electric saw. 

Many so-called ‘Price Tag' acts targeting Palestinians were recorded in the last few weeks, and the settlers now claim they were staged by the Palestinians themselves and intended to harm the settlers' image.
Tazpit photographer Ehud Amiton, who documented the vandalism act on Friday, says that this is exactly what can be seen in his images.
The article offers the following images to attest to the accusation:

From this evidence we are expected to deduce that these men could possibly be “leftists” (is it that they carry their saws in an apologetic, bleeding-heart liberal sort of way?), and that they attempted to perpetrate this ruse in broad daylight, with no apparent interest in hiding their activity. We are expected to conclude that, while staging the crime, they thought it best to place the branches they cleanly sawed from their olive trees in neat piles, perhaps as a way of implicitly commending settlers for their organizational skills.

We are also expected to suspend our knowledge of the recent culmination of the olive harvest, and of the proper procedures for the maintenance of post-harvest trees.

Here is another example of staged settler violence:

Okay, I lied. It is actually a picture of pruned olive branches from an Italian grove immediately after the harvest season. You can find it here, in a blog dedicated to olive oil and wine from the Sabine Hills in Italy. The post explains:
Pruning olive trees can take place anytime from the Autumn to early spring, depending on factors such as the type of olive, the yield of the previous year and the condition of the tree.

The pruned branches are then collected into piles between the trees. The leaves are then either burnt, or used to produce cosmetics or complimentary health remedies.
 As readers, we are also expected to disregard this video, posted by the creator of Olive Abacus, a “permanent online olive information repository” dedicated to “shedding light on all issues related to olives.”

In the video’s first seconds our narrator “Olive Branche” illuminates:
Each year, immediately after the olive harvest in Andalucía, Spain, the trees are pruned of their older branches making way for the younger, more productive ones. As an olive branch ages, it becomes less productive, requiring pruning. Pruning allows more sunlight into more areas of the tree. It also increases the quality and quantity of fruit the tree produces.
The video then cuts to an image of a masked man with a chainsaw, cutting olive branches and placing them to the side. At 2:56 we are shown neat piles of branches (where have we seen this before?), which will then be disposed of.

In essence, we are expected to be utterly devoid of critical thought in order to believe such a wild story. We are supposed to ignore the fact that settler violence against Palestinians is well documented by human rights organizations. We are called upon, instead, to believe that Palestinians are actually victimizing themselves, despite the fact that they reap nothing from such action. No arrests are made in connection with violence against Palestinian property. Police rarely even go through the motions of investigation, and if they do so, perpetrators are never brought to justice.

For most families, they are lucky if they even have access to their farm land, considering blockage by ever-encroaching settlements and the security apparatus they bring along. When they are allowed onto their own land, these olives can be the only source of income they have. If no one compensates them for their losses, if no one but a few human rights organizations and activists even care to notice this long history of abuse, and if abusers are systematically absolved of responsibility, what, exactly, do those who “staged” this vandalism stand to gain? As readers, we must stifle these questions. We wouldn’t want to be construed as “leftists” now would we?