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Update – 7 August 2008

Dear Advocates, 

Violence between rivals Fatah and Hamas in Gaza has escalated in recent weeks. As I mentioned in last week’s update, it seemed as if publications such as The Age were beginning to dispatch a more balanced view of what is going on in the Middle East. On Tuesday I was dismayed to open both the Age and the Australian and see large pictures of what turned out to be Fatah men blindfolded and in their underwear, after they fled to Israel for refuge.

Standing alone, the articles were favourable to Israel. After all, the Israelis have no involvement in this Palestinian “in-fighting”, and on a broader level were under no obligations to permit them to enter. They allowed them entry based solely on humanitarian grounds. These large pictorial representations, which take up the same amount of space as the actual text of the article, not only misrepresent the situation but do a disservice to the journalist and the credibility of their article. I have brought this issue up a number of times that we live in a world where many readers have shorter attention spans and want to access their news in quick grabs. While the situation in Israel might be important to us as advocates, there are many that would simply scan across the pages, see these pictures and have warped idea of what is going on. Interestingly, the Herald Sun did not even publish an article on the subject but just ran the images with a caption. To see the way the situation was represented in the print editions of the Age, the Australian and the Herald Sun, please click here.

For an in-depth summary of the events in Gaza, including the reactions of Hamas and Fatah, please read ‘Fatah suppressed in the Gaza Strip: Violent Fatah-Hamas confrontations lead to the flight of 180 Fatah operatives to Israel’ from Terrorism Info.

Meanwhile, two decisions have been made in recent days regarding Fatah and Hamas criminals who are being held in Israel jails, both have been made under very different circumstances.

The first is a decision by the Olmert government to free over 150 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas by the end of August. To read the details, click here. The article suggested that jailed Palestinian figure Marwan Barghouti was specifically requested by Abbas to be on the list. However, Israeli officials would not say who was going to be released. Barghouti has been used as a bargaining chip by Fatah and surprisingly by Hamas for many years now, but as he was convicted and jailed for life for the murder of Israelis (and a Greek monk), one would think that Israel would not include him in a list as a gesture of goodwill!

On the other side of the spectrum, Israel has released a minister for local government in the Hamas cabinet, who was arrested following the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in June 2006. Two other Hamas ministers have been released in the last week and there has been speculation, particularly from the Fatah camp, that this was part of a deal between Israel and Hamas to pave the way for an official deal for the release of Gilad Shalit. While the Fatah official has stated that “we don’t believe that the three were released by coincidence”, an Israeli official has said that the release was not connected to any deal for Shalit. For more information, please read ‘Israel frees another Hamas official’ from Jerusalem Post.

On the topic of Gilad Shalit, earlier this week the IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi stated that Israel is “making every effort at all levels to return Gilad Shalit. We know he is alive, and we know where he is being held and by whom.” His comments were made to a group of newly inducted soldiers after one soldier question, “What about Gilad Shalit? What will the IDF do when we go out to the front lines, and what will the state do in order to return a hostage alive or dead?” For more information, click here.

In response the spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees Abu Mujadhed stated that “Israel has tried to obtain information in more than one path. Ashkenazi knows very well that Shalit will see the light of day only within the framework of a respectable prisoner exchange.” (To read more, click here)

Perhaps the Israelis do know where Shalit is being held, but the sad nature of the way that these people operate means that any attempts to retrieve him could be problematic. When BBC journalist Alan Johnston was captured by a terrorist group called Army of Islam last year, there were fears that there were explosives strapped to his body and if anyone stormed the compound the belt would be detonated by his captors. At the time, a Hamas spokesman had spoken against these sorts of tactics, stating that “the kidnappers want to destroy our reputation and show the world we are a group of gangsters fighting each other… [they are] nothing but a group of thugs and murderers”, but one can never truly know what they are capable of doing. The only option, it would appear, is to continue negotiations for his safe release.

Please click here to read an Israel Radio interview with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni regarding negotiations on prisoner returns and the difficulty of negotiating with the Palestinians when there is so much division amongst them.

We spend a lot of time reading negative press about Israel and so I always like to finish up on some sort of a positive note. We read so much about conflict and politics, we often miss stories such as this story about an Israeli-based international humanitarian project called “Save a Child’s Heart” which provides heart surgery and follow-up care for children with life-threatening heart conditions from developing countries. The organisation’s website states that “all children, regardless of race, religion, sex, colour, or financial consideration receive the best possible care that modern medicine has to offer”. The following article, entitled ‘An Angolan – Israeli take to warm hearts’ tells the story of a three year-old boy from Angola who became the 2000th child to undergo life-saving heart surgery at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.

Best wishes, 

Emily Chrapot
Research Officer
State Zionist Council of Victoria
9272 5507