Wikileaks: Insights on Palestine from the Cables

Written for the New Left Project Blog.

A guest post by Asa Winstanley*

One of the first things that struck me while reading the cables from the US embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv was how worried the Israeli government seems to be about the Goldstone Report into war crimes committed during Israel’s 2008-2009 attack on the people of Gaza. In cable 09TELAVIV2777 of December 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to have named the report as one of three “principal threats” facing Israel—the other two being Iran’s alleged nuclear programme and “missile proliferation”.

Second, there are important insights into the high level of collaboration between Israel and forces that have been called the “Palestinian Contras” in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Indeed, the first “cablegate” headline on Palestine was sourced from cable 09TELAVIV1177, in which Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is reported to have said he “had consulted with Egypt and Fatah prior to Operation Cast Lead, asking if they were willing to assume control of Gaza once Israel defeated Hamas”. In other words, Fateh leader Mahmoud Abbas (whose term as PA president expired in January 2009) knew the massive Israeli onslaught was coming but said nothing. This was widely suspected, but to read confirmation of it from a confidential US government source is something new.

There’s more. Cable 07TELAVIV1732, which I like to call “War of the Puppets”, was released this week. To my mind, it’s the most interesting of the Palestine cables released so far. Written in June 2007 during Gaza street-fighting caused by the ultimately unsuccessful Fateh coup attempt, it details a meeting between then-ambassador Richard H. Jones and Yuval Diskin (head of Israel’s secret police, the Shabak—aka Shin Bet). It is a portrait of how divided Israel’s Palestinian collaborators really were. “[Gaza warlord Mohammed] Dahlan is trying to manage Fatah’s security forces by remote control. We are not even sure where he is… ” Diskin is quoted as saying. He continued: “[Dahlan’s men in Gaza] ask us to attack Hamas. This is a new development. We have never seen this before. They are desperate.” Again, this is all important corroborating evidence for things we already knew or suspected. Recent media reports of a power struggle between Abbas and Dahlan (whom Fateh elements close to the US now blame for “losing” Gaza) suggest little has changed in terms of Fateh infighting.

Diskin is also reported in 07TELAVIV1732 to have claimed the Shabak had “a very good working relationship with the [Palestinian Authority] Preventive Security Organization (PSO) and the General Intelligence Organization (GIO).” The most striking quote in the whole cable to me is this: “Diskin said that the PSO shares with ISA [Shabak] almost all the intelligence that it collects”.

There is also something of an overlooked smoking gun in this cable. Of Tawfik Tirawi, leader of the PA’s GIO: “Diskin said… he is trying to develop ties with the Dughmush family in the Gaza Strip.’” The Doghmush clan (aka the “Army of Islam”), you may recall, are the same group that in March 2007 kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston (he was rescued by Hamas in July). While a Fateh connection to the group has long been suspected, to my knowledge this is the first confirmation of it from official sources.

Overall, this is a Palestinian Authority acting as nothing more than an extension of the Israeli occupation forces – a relationship that has only deepened in the last three-and-a-half years. However, there is a lot missing in the cables: little on the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, nothing on the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai and little on the July 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon. Despite some rather unlikely conspiracy theories currently doing the rounds on the internet, the likely reasons for these gaps are more mundane. First, none of the cables are rated “Top Secret”; second the inherent bias of US government personnel towards Israel; and third, only a small fraction of the leaked cables have actually been published so far. Indeed, during an interview with Al Jazeera this week, Julian Assange claimed they had thousands of cables on Israel still to come, including material on the al-Mabhouh assassination and the July 2006 war.

Also, of note is a graph illustrating the composition of the cables cache on the Wikleaks website. It appears to show that around 2000 cables from the US consulate in Jerusalem are still to come. These could be more interesting than the cables released so far (almost all from the embassy in Tel Aviv).

To be continued, in all likelihood.

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Book review: Humanity and warmth in “Letters from Palestine”

Written for and originally published on The Electronic Intifada.

Asa Winstanley, The Electronic Intifada, 15 December 2010

Western publishers have too often neglected the perspective of Palestinians and other Arabs when it comes to books on Israel and the Palestinians. Letters from Palestine, a new collection of Palestinian writing edited by Kenneth Ring and Ghassan Abdullah, is thus a welcome initiative. As writer Anna Baltzer says in the foreword: “Palestinians themselves are the experts on their own plight and liberation struggle, and their voices are the ones that most need to be heard.” It’s a simple but effective idea — allowing Palestinians to explain in their own words what their lives are like.

Ring explains in the introduction that his interest in the plight of the Palestinian people is relatively recent. The book takes the form of a selection of letters to Ring from Palestinian correspondents, many of whom he was put in touch with by his co-editor Ghassan Abdullah, who himself writes one of the best, and most humorous, chapters of the book. Most of the pieces were written especially for this volume, but others were originally sent out as emails or blog posts addressed to American friends. There are even two poems, including the transcendent and brilliant “Pick Me Up” by Hind Shoufani.

There is a decent selection of the Palestinian experience in all its variety represented in the book; all contributors are Palestinians from the diaspora, from the West Bank and from Gaza — plus one account of contemporary Palestinian life in Haifa. The international scope of the Palestinian reality is well conveyed. Unfortunately omitted for the most part, is the particular plight of refugees in the camps in Arab states (although there is a good selection of stories from West Bank and Gaza refugees). The subjective and personal nature of most of the pieces also means the work as a whole suffers a little from lack of context and detail at times.

The kind of subjects that constitute “everyday life” for Palestinians varies greatly, even within this selection. But some common themes do emerge: personal and collective identity; return and dispersal from the homeland; racism, freedom and family life are some of the most identifiable. The final part of the book brings things up-to-date with tales from the most recent major Israeli assault on the population of Gaza in winter 2008-09.

Continue reading Book review: Humanity and warmth in “Letters from Palestine”