Hamas, the Palestinian militant Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip, has raised the highest amount of funds via cryptocurrencies among a number of organizations linked to terror-related financing, according to Coinbase’s special investigations team.
Research conducted by the team, using data across various blockchains, found Hamas raised nearly $1 million in cryptocurrencies, mostly in bitcoin.
“This is likely because Hamas actively solicits donations primarily in the form of BTC on their website and related Telegram channels,” Coinbase said.
Coinbase described Hamas’ fundraising efforts as “staggering” in comparison to other organizations it analyzed. The militant group first began to seek crypto funds using a single donation address in January 2018, the report said. A few months later, Hamas attempted to blur the number of funds already raised by providing fresh donation addresses on its website.
The team noted that periods of geopolitical conflict correlated to a boost in crypto donations for the nationalist group, specifically in May 2021 when Israel and Hamas were engaged in the worst violence in the region since 2014.
It was found that crypto funding for other armed groups trended for a limited period of time. For instance, ISIS’ fundraising took place between February and October 2020, possibly due to authorities being able to take down its fundraising website for a short period before it later reappeared.
While bitcoin has been the most donated cryptocurrency for militant groups, fundraising with ether, ERC-20, and Ripple’s XRP has also taken place. The growing interest in donating through altcoins began in August 2020 through August this year.
Coinbase attributed this form of fundraising to a Saudi-led jihadi activist movement, whose unnamed leader advocated for the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and appears to have fueled violence against countries including Pakistan, Israel, and the US on Twitter. This movement was found to have primarily raised funds via altcoins.
As a crypto exchange that works with global law enforcement agencies to track down illicit crypto operations, Coinbase said it plans to prevent such fundraising tactics through three steps:
Blocklist crypto addresses associated with terror financing-related organizations to prevent funds transfer
Use Coinbase Analytics to uncover wider terror organization campaigns and identify involved participants
Collaborate with regulatory bodies such as the FinCen and FBI
Coinbase said unlawful activity accounted for less than 1% of activity in the crypto space in 2020, and is not a greater concern for the crypto-economy than the traditional financial system.
Transactions linked to terror-linked financing in 2020 made up only a fraction, or 0.05%, of all illicit volume last year, the exchange said. This means terror funding via crypto does not count towards a considerably large part of the crypto economy.
The Israeli military’s airstrikes on high-rise towers in Gaza City in May may have violated the laws of war and amount to war crimes, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
“The apparently unlawful Israeli strikes on four high-rise towers in Gaza City caused serious, lasting harm for countless Palestinians who lived, worked, shopped, or benefitted from businesses based there,” Richard Weir, a crisis and conflict researcher at the NGO, said in a statement. “The Israeli military should publicly produce the evidence that it says it relied on to carry out these attacks.”
The accusation comes following an August 12 report from Human Rights Watch that said rocket and mortar attacks by the Palestinian militant group Hamas likely violated the laws of war and could amount to war crimes.
“Palestinian armed groups during the May fighting flagrantly violated the laws-of-war prohibition on indiscriminate attacks by launching thousands of unguided rockets towards Israeli cities,” Eric Goldstein, the group’s acting Middle East and North Africa director, said in that release. “The failure of both Hamas authorities and the Israeli government to provide accountability for alleged war crimes by their forces highlights the essential role of the International Criminal Court.”
The May conflict left 260 Palestinians and 12 Israelis dead, in the region’s worst violence since 2014.
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.
Israel has begun seizing cryptocurrency wallets used by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, the Associated Press and Al Jazeera reported.
Defence minister Benny Gantz said the group had been pursuing an online campaign to raise finances in the aftermath of the 11-day Gaza conflict, which killed more than 200 Palestinians, including dozens of children and more than 12 Israelis.
“The intelligence, technological and legal tools that enable us to get our hands on terrorists’ money around the world constitute an operational breakthrough,” Gantz said Thursday.
Israel’s national bureau of counterterrorism issued a seizure order on Wednesday against cryptocurrency addresses believed to be controlled by Hamas.
The 84 wallets hold a mix of digital assets including bitcoin, dogecoin, cardano, and ether, according to tracking firm Elliptic. Most of these addresses have been linked to Hamas’s military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, Elliptic’s analysis found.
Officials didn’t specify how much cryptocurrency has been seized. But Elliptic’s report showed Hamas collectively received over $7.7 million in crypto-assets.
A majority of deposits were found to be placed in tether and bitcoin, the report showed.
The militant group had seen a spike in crypto donations, especially bitcoin, since its renewed armed conflict with Israel, a senior Hamas official told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year.
Gantz authorized the seizure order late June, saying he was convinced the wallets were linked to Hamas or used to carry out a “severe terror crime.”
As many believe crypto transactions maintain anonymity, cryptocurrencies are regarded as being safe to carry out illegal transactions. But thinking they are untraceable is one of the stupidest things to do, according to crypto ATM operator CoinFlip’s CEO Ben Weiss.
The Israeli military has carried out another round of airstrikes on targets in Gaza, claiming the attacks are a response to incendiary balloons that have sparked fires in southern Israel.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces said it struck “military compounds and a rocket launch site belonging to Hamas in Gaza.”
Israeli media reported that the IDF struck 10 targets near Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun after more than a half-dozen fires were reported near the border with Gaza.
The strikes come just two days after the IDF bombed targets it said was associated with the Hamas militant group, again citing “incendiary balloons” being sent across the Palestinian territory’s border.
Last month, days of Israeli airstrikes killed more than 200 Palestinians in Gaza, including more than 60 children. The Palestinian territory, which is ruled by the Hamas militant group, has been subject to a years-long blockade.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is calling for Rep. Ilhan Omar’s removal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee as Republicans continue to misconstrue recent comments she made on war crimes investigations, while Democrats largely appear to have moved on.
McCarthy urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to strip Omar from the committee based on what he described as “anti-Semitic” and “anti-American” language from the Minnesota lawmaker.
“I will promise you this. If we are fortunate enough to have the majority, Omar would not be serving on Foreign Affairs or anybody that has an anti-Semitic, anti-American view. That is not productive, and that is not right,” McCarthy said during a “Fox & Friends” appearance on Tuesday.
The comments mark the GOP’s latest efforts to attack Omar, who last week criticized both Democrats and Republicans for taking her words about the US’s opposition to investigate potential war crimes out of context.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle then accused Omar of “equating” the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban, pressuring Omar to clarify her statements. Pushing back against the criticism, she underscored that she was explicitly referencing open ICC investigations.
“Citing an open case against Israel, US, Hamas & Taliban in the ICC isn’t comparison or from ‘deeply seated prejudice,'” Omar continued. “You might try to undermine these investigations or deny justice to their victims but history has thought us that the truth can’t be hidden or silenced forever.”
The Democratic leadership in a statement last week erroneously suggested Omar drew “false equivalencies” between democracies like the US and Israel and terrorist groups, while welcoming the “clarification” issued by the Minnesota Democrat.
In a separate statement, Omar said she was “in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”
“To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding those ICC cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the US and Israel,” Omar said.
Several Democrats came to Omar’s defense, citing a history of Congress members making Islamophobic and racist remarks toward her, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
“I am tired of colleagues (both D+R) demonizing @IlhanMN. Their obsession with policing her is sick. She has the courage to call out human rights abuses no matter who is responsible,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib tweeted. “That’s better than colleagues who look away if it serves their politics.”
Pelosi: ‘End of subject’
Pelosi in a CNN interview on Sunday made it clear that the Democratic leadership wanted to put the matter to bed and move on.
“She clarified, we thanked her, end of subject,” Pelosi said.
The top Democrat said Omar was a “valued member” of the caucus, and rejected the notion that the Democratic leadership had rebuked the Minnesota lawmaker over her statements.
“We did not rebuke her. We acknowledged that she made a clarification,” Pelosi said. “She asked her questions of the Secretary of State. Nobody criticized those, about how people will be held accountable if we’re not going to the International Court of Justice. That was a very legitimate question. That was not of concern.”
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York also appeared on CNN on Sunday and said Omar’s comments were “absolutely mischaracterized” by Republicans and warned about the consequences of Democrats joining in and legitimizing their bad faith attacks.
“When we feed into that, it adds legitimacy to a lot of this kind of right-wing vitriol. It absolutely increases that target,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And as someone who has experienced that, it’s very difficult to communicate the scale and how dangerous that is.”
“As Speaker Pelosi said, we are putting this behind us and I believe that we will ultimately come together as a caucus,” she went on to say.
Republicans have engaged in a prolonged smear campaign against Omar
The recent attacks on Omar are part of a broader trend or smear campaign primarily perpetuated by Republicans and their allies in the right-wing media.
In 2019, Omar sent tweets that led to widespread allegations of anti-Semitism, and she promptly apologized. The tweets suggested politicians in Congress had been bought off by influential groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which critics said echoed anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money.
Since that controversy, Omar has been vocal in condemning anti-Semitism and attacks on Jewish people while also calling for a more balanced approach to addressing potential human rights abuses by the US and its allies, including Israel.
Omar is one of the first two Muslim women in Congress in US history, and her defenders in Congress say it’s not a coincidence she’s been the target of a coordinated smear campaign by Republicans.
In a statement offering support to Omar last week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus said, “We cannot ignore that a right-wing media echo chamber that has deliberately and routinely attacked a Black, Muslim woman in Congress, distorting her views and intentions, and resulting in threats against Rep. Omar and her staff.”
“We urge our colleagues not to abet or amplify such divisive and bad-faith attacks,” the statement added.
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York on Thursday blasted fellow Democrats for distorting comments made by Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota regarding potential war crimes committed by the US, Israel, Hamas, and the Taliban.
“Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus,” Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter. “They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her.”
This came after a group of 12 Democrats put out a statement condemning Omar over remarks she made in a tweet regarding a discussion between the Minnesota lawmaker and Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Monday. The statement misleadingly accused Omar of “equating” the US and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban and urged her to issue a clarification.
In a tweets responding to the statement from the group of Democrats, Omar said, “It’s shameful for colleagues who call me when they need my support to now put out a statement asking for ‘clarification’ and not just call. The Islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable.”
She added, “Citing an open case against Israel, US, Hamas & Taliban in the ICC isn’t comparison or from ‘deeply seated prejudice’. You might try to undermine these investigations or deny justice to their victims but history has thought us that the truth can’t be hidden or silenced forever.”
Democratic leadership on Thursday also released a statement that distorted Omar’s words and suggested she drew “false equivalencies” between democracies like the US and Israel and terrorist groups.
Omar faces consistent attacks from fellow members of Congress
Omar, one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, has repeatedly had her comments on foreign affairs taken out of context by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as well as prominent groups in Washington.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful pro-Israel lobby, released an ad during fighting between Israel and Hamas in May that superimposed Omar’s image over Hamas rockets and distorted comments she’d made about the conflict.
The ad was prompted by an Omar tweet that said, “Israeli air strikes killing civilians in Gaza is an act of terrorism. Palestinians deserve protection. Unlike Israel, missile defense programs, such as Iron Dome, don’t exist to protect Palestinian civilians. It’s unconscionable to not condemn these attacks on the week of Eid.”
The AIPAC ad falsely stated, “When Israel targets Hamas, Rep. Omar calls it an act of terrorism.”
At the time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a rare rebuke of AIPAC, telling reporters, “I don’t agree with Congresswoman Omar’s comments, but it’s very disappointing to see deeply cynical and inflammatory ads twisting her word.”
In 2019, Omar apologized after sending a series of tweets that suggested politicians in Congress had been bought off by groups like AIPAC, which critics said played into anti-Semitic tropes. Omar at the time said, “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes … This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
Meanwhile, influential politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is Jewish and briefly lived in Israel, have come to Omar’s defense against allegations of anti-Semitism with regard to criticism of the Israeli government.
“Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world. We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel,” Sanders said in a statement in March 2019.
Both sides eventually agreed to a ceasefire on May 20, after 11 days of the bloodiest fighting seen in the region in seven years.
The conflict drew widespread international attention, not just to the chaos of the situation, but also to websites run by the group’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, WSJ said. Heightened interest led to increased donations that are facilitating its operations.
“There was definitely a spike” in bitcoin donations, the Hamas official told the Journal. “Some of the money gets used for military purposes to defend the basic rights of the Palestinians.”
It isn’t clear when Hamas began receiving crypto donations. But its designation as a terrorist group by Israel, the United States, the European Union and Britain means that it had to turn away from the global financial system to rely on other complex networks for funding.
The group has especially benefited from the anonymity of crypto transactions, WSJ said. Last year, US federal authorities seized $1 million in cryptocurrencies tied to the group’s armed wing. A previous investigation by the Journal found al-Qassam converted most of its bitcoin into cash, or gift cards, aided by two Turkish intermediaries.
The Hamas official didn’t mention the amount of cryptocurrency it had received, but said overall revenue has been rising. It has also been collecting other forms of donations from supporters.
In one instance, a branch of the Iranian armed forces sent more than $200 million to the group between 2015 and 2019, the WSJ said, citing data from the US Treasury. Iran does not recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a state. Its supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, called the predominantly-Jewish state “not a country, but a terrorist base” last month.
For the Palestinian organization, cryptocurrencies offer an easier method of making sure transactions go undetected as they are untraceable.
“Our fundraising strategies keep on evolving as more restrictions are being placed on us,” the Hamas representative said.
In the wake of the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, Israel remains in the spotlight for the civilian casualties and widescale destruction of civilian areas caused by its attacks on Gaza.
Like most democracies whose air wars kill large numbers of civilians, Israel claims the moral high ground. Though acknowledging that the harm caused to civilians was regrettable, Israel argues that its armed forces took all feasible precautions to avoid it, while taking care to aim their strikes at Hamas military targets.
By contrast, according to Israel, Hamas was targeting Israeli civilians directly and intentionally.
But this kind of thinking misses an important point in the laws of war. The requirement to avoid indiscriminate attacks is more than just an injunction against targeting civilians directly.
It also prohibits attacks using weapons systems that would be incapable of being directed at a specific military objective in the particular context of their use, because their effects cannot be limited or are of a nature to strike military and civilian objects without distinction.
The rule prohibiting indiscriminate attacks, found in Article 51 of the 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, was the basis for banning anti-personnel landmines, biological weapons and chemical weapons, among others.
But it is also a general principle meant to guide targeting practices even where specific weapons systems have not themselves been explicitly banned. And it is a rule worth considering as the international community assesses the actions of Israel in Gaza and the wider question of how to apply humanitarian law in urban spaces, in particular.
This conversation is already taking place in high-level forums. By coincidence, the Israel-Hamas conflict occurred just ahead of this week’s previously scheduled discussions at the United Nations on the organization’s Protection of Civilians mandate.
And as highlighted in a briefing to Security Council ambassadors on the issue by the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, Mark Lowcock, the choices of weapons systems and target contexts by belligerents have significant implications for protecting civilian lives during conflict.
What observers are rightly beginning to ask is whether it can ever be reasonably claimed that it is possible to use explosives discriminately in urban areas. That is because explosive weapons in densely populated urban areas simply cannot be used in a precision manner or be limited in the ways envisioned by the Geneva Conventions.
As Lowcock pointed out Tuesday, 90% of the people killed when explosive devices are used in urban settings are civilians, compared to 20% when they are used in rural areas. Even the most carefully conducted attacks using explosives have wide area effects.
Civilians are harmed by shrapnel, shock waves and fire. They are buried in rubble. Even if they survive, the destruction of civilian property and infrastructure claims lives.
Israel and Hamas are hardly alone among states and nonstate actors in using or implicitly condoning the use of aerially delivered explosives as a weapon of war in ways that cause disproportionate civilian harm.
Russia’s BM-21 Grad is the most widely deployed multiple-rocket launch system in the world, capable of firing 40 rockets in 20 seconds over a wide area and designed to deliver fragmentation effects. The United States continues to reserve the right to use – and arm countries, like Saudi Arabia, that do use – cluster munitions, a form of weapon that releases bomblets over wide areas, causing numerous explosions in a way that cannot be aimed precisely at military targets.
On the other side, even among armed groups whose goal is to engage security forces rather than civilians, nonstate actors often use mortars and improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in ways and under weather conditions that render them more inaccurate.
But even explosive weapons that are designed to be as precise as possible and are deployed with attention to minimizing casualties often harm nearby civilians or destroy infrastructure needed for civilian health and survival.
In Gaza, for example, hundreds of civilians were killed and over 1,000 injured by “precision” weapons Israel claimed were aimed solely at Hamas. Moreover, over 100,000 civilians were displaced, with massive damage to essential infrastructure including power-generating plants, water treatment facilities and hospitals.
As the Costs of War Project at Brown University documents, when one accounts for the civilian casualties from preventable disease, hunger, violence, displacement and loss of livelihoods, the toll becomes much higher than that reported during the initial conflict.
The inherently indiscriminate effects of explosive violence in urban areas, which is generally used by both sides of a conflict, has drawn attention in recent years from humanitarian disarmament NGOs.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, is also seized of the dangers to civilians of explosives used in populated areas. In a recent blog symposium on urban warfare, the ICRC echoed these concerns and committed to “stepping up its engagement” in this area – a sign that the issue is becoming a more urgent priority on the international agenda.
With the UN Protection of Civilians discussions in New York coming to a close on May 28, humanitarian advocates hope that diplomats will continue to discuss measures to address this matter, including a Political Declaration committing to avoid using explosives in urban spaces.
These conversations are not happening because of Gaza. They are the result of normative currents that have been percolating in global civil society for a long time. But ironically, the timing of the Gaza conflict – coming just before the UN discussions began – may have become an illustrative impetus raising the salience of this issue on the global scene.
Charli Carpenter is a professor of political science and legal studies at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, specializing in human security and international law. She tweets @charlicarpenter. Her WPR guest column will appear every other Friday.
Sen. Bernie Sanders said that the United States should take an “even-handed” approach to the tensions between Isreal and Palestine.
“I think the United States has got to develop an even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Sanders said on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday. “We have to be pro-Israel, but we have to be pro-Palestinian. And I hope and believe the president understands that.”
“I was delighted to see that he is moving forward to try to rebuild with the international community…rebuild Gaza after all of that destruction,” he added.
Earlier this week, Isreal and Palestinian militant group Hamas, designed as a terrorist by the US, agreed to a cease-fire on Thursday. According to France 24, more than 240 Palestinians, including 66 children and about 12 Israeli’s, died due to the violence. In a statement, President Joe Biden lauded the agreement.
Biden said that his administration would coordinate with the Palestinian Authority to send aid to the Gaza Strip for its reconstruction following Israeli airstrikes, as Insider’s Azmi Haroun reported.
During the interview, host John Dickerson asked Sanders about how to implement an “even-handed” approach when dealing with “terrorists who wanted to destroy Israel.”
“You have a very difficult situation. You have Hamas – a terrorist group. You have a right-wing Israeli government, and the situation is getting worse,” Sanders responded. “And all I’m saying is that the United States of America has got to be leading the world in bringing people together, not simply supplying weapons to kill children in Gaza.”
Sanders continued:” “This last series of attacks killed 64 children and destroyed a large part of the infrastructure of Gaza in a community that has already been one of the most uninhabitable territories in the world.”
Dror Moreh is the Oscar-nominated director of the 2012 documentary “The Gatekeepers,” in which he spoke with six former heads of Israel’s secret security service Shin Bet. Remarkably, all these lifelong warriors agreed that Israel’s long-term security hinges on its efforts to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Moreh’s new film, “The Human Factor,” takes you through decades of the Israel/Palestine peace process, as told through extensive interviews with the US negotiators.
Insider columnist Anthony Fisher spoke via Zoom with Moreh, from the filmmaker’s home in Berlin.
Moreh says that the end of the day, leaders of nations are just human beings, and the human touch is what keeps peace negotiations alive.
He also says right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas (the Islamist extremist group that controls the Gaza Strip) are more similiar than they’d care to admit, and he’s less optimistic about the hope for Mideast peace than he’s ever been. Moreh thinks “coexistence” – rather than “peace” – might be the best-case scenario.
This interview has been edited for style, clarity, and length.
Whenever there’s a conversation to be had about Israeli-Palestinian politics and the conflict, I always tell people to see “The Gatekeepers.”
And it’s fairly incredible timing that your new film – about the long-dormant peace process – is coming out right now.
Thank you. I wish the film wasn’t so relevant, but you cannot really control those issues.
In “The Human Factor,” one of the US diplomats said his Arab counterparts made it clear that they don’t view the future the same way as the US or Israel. To them, it’s about fixing an injustice, and only then negotiating about the future, rather than “moving on” from the past and focusing on the future.
It feels like this gulf is an eternal stumbling block in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.
When I heard that sentence, I understood something fundamental which I didn’t really realize up until then. It’s just a fundamentally different way of approaching the future.
Having said that, I think the whole region, including the Israelis, are approaching this with the traumas of the past. Israelis – and I’m an Israeli – think about the Holocaust as something that is very fundamental in the approach to everything they see. Our leaders also use that.
Palestinians and Arabs see the past, judge the past, and say we cannot speak about the future. They want to address the Palestinian Naqba, the establishment of the state of Israel, and that Israel now occupies what they see as historical Palestine.
Everybody loves … James Baker?
Early in “The Human Factor,” there’s a segment about former Secretary of State James Baker, who was perhaps the quintessential Reagan/Bush White House Republican.
It’s almost unthinkable in our current political climate, but he was a fairly successful diplomat because he supported Israel, while also vocally criticizing the Israeli government. He would not just rubber-stamp every Israeli demand. And he was insistent that the Israelis meet the Palestinians on a level playing field, at least for the negotiations.
Across the board with all of the negotiators that worked with James Baker, they’ll say if he had stayed on as US secretary of state, there would definitely be at least one peace agreement signed. [Baker left government when President George HW Bush lost reelection in 1992.]
That’s because he was an effective mediator. Baker knew how to use the tools of diplomacy and the status of America as the global superpower to force people who were reluctant to move forward, and to bring them together to create something which was not there before. All of that changed when he left office.
When President Clinton took office, he appointed Warren Christopher as secretary of state. He had a completely different approach. He was much more hands off.
My problem with American involvement in the peace process is in how America deals with a prime minister of Israel who is reluctant to move forward towards peace. With a prime minister who’s for peace you just have to support him and give him assurances that the United States will back him up.
With [current Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, I think America has much more leverage over Israel than it uses. If America decides that bringing peace between Israel and its neighbors is a core American interest, the way that America approaches it should be different when you’re dealing with a prime minister like Netanyahu, who’s not for peace.
“Netanyahu owes his career to Hamas”
There’s a scene in “The Human Factor” where one of the diplomats tells you that former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin warned of a coming Israeli civil war over the peace process.
A few years later, Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing extremist. Can you talk a little bit about that moment?
Rabin, even before he took the first steps toward peace, said to [US Middle East envoy] Dennis Ross, “When I reach the point where I give the Palestinians what I need to give them, there’s probably going to be a civil war. And I need my boys in the army’s support.”
It was amazing how clearly he saw what was going to happen, he almost predicted it. And even in spite of that, he went for peace. That’s the personification of leadership to me.
Rabin, who was defense minister during the the first intifada, saw the uprising of Palestinian youngsters going to the street, not afraid of bullets, not afraid of guns and saying, “We are here. We want independence. We want to control our lives.”
And Rabin started out as defense minister saying, “break their arms, break their legs.” But by the time he became prime minister he said, “This is an existential threat to Israel, and I have to solve it while there is this window of opportunity, while America is the only global superpower, and the world has changed.”
Even though he saw the risks, Rabin said, “I have to go for peace.”
After him, the only leader was Ariel Sharon, who [in the mid-2000s] decided on disengagement with the Palestinians. The rest were merely small petty politicians.
Sharon had a reputation of being a tough-as-nails warrior for Israel’s interest. He was even accused of war crimes. And then as prime minister, he was for total disengagement. He even left the right-wing Likud party to form his own Kadima party and unilaterally pulled the Israeli military and settlement presence out of Gaza.
At the time, the majority of Israeli society was firmly behind Sharon and still believed in a two-state solution. It feels like after 12 years of Netanyahu, that public sentiment for peace is no longer there. Would you agree?
Totally. Netanyahu basically killed the two state solution. I don’t see any hope any more for a two state solution. The biggest shift for Israeli society is the constant movement to the right by Netanyahu.
When he came to power in 2009, Netanyahu said, “I’m going to crush Hamas.” There have been four conflicts with Hamas since then. Basically, Netanyahu and Hamas are keen brothers. They work for the same goals.
If we go back to Rabin, the first suicide attack was by Baruch Goldstein, [the Jewish extremist] who committed the massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Hamas was not doing suicide bombing before then, because there was support among the Palestinian people for the peace process. After the massacre, Hamas started suicide bombing.
So in a way, Netanyahu owes his career to Hamas. He became prime minister the first time after the huge wave of suicide attacks in the beginning of February 1996, which crushed [then-Prime Minister Shimon] Peres and brought Netanyahu into power.
By the way, a week and a half ago, Netanyahu was on the way out, there was a very big chance that Yair Lapid would establish a unity government. And then Hamas sent those missiles to Jerusalem and all hell broke loose. And now Netanyahu’s still there and nobody’s speaking about a unity government.
The nail-biting negotiations over a handshake
In “The Human Factor,” there’s a remarkable scene detailing the intense negotiations that went into the handshake between Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.
Rabin insisted that Arafat not carry a gun, not wear his military-style uniform, and that there’d be no kissing. It’s kind of a light moment in the movie because it seems so silly. There’s so many lives at stake and this is what they’re quibbling over.
And yet, it was a great story because it illustrated the difficulty of the diplomats’ jobs. It showed how these things that seem so trivial and ancillary to the true crisis could be, in fact, deal breakers.
The biggest revelation is the importance of “the human factor.” You see these moments where a historic peace agreement is signed between two leaders. But at the end of the day, it’s about two human beings coming together and learning to know each other.
If you look at the Clinton White House photographer’s pictures right before the historic Rabin/Arafat handshake, you see the expression on Rabin’s face. He looks at Arafat and Bill Clinton in the middle, and his face says, “What am I doing here? Who is this guy? What the hell is going on?”
Then a year and a half later, Rabin and Arafat meet. And there’s the beautiful scene in the film where they have to decide whether the Palestinians will have a police station in the Oslo II Accord.
Arafat says, “Whatever is acceptable to the prime minister.” And Rabin says they will have a police station. You see their two faces, and you see the change between the handshake and this moment later. That’s the whole story in a little capsule.
You just talked about Netanyahu and Hamas having a sort of symbiotic relationship. Going back to “The Gatekeepers,” there’s a section where the Israeli right turns against the Oslo Accords – which established the Palestinian Authority as a legitimate government entity that recognized Israel’s right to exist.
There were young kids and their fathers in the street chanting, “With blood and fire we will throw Rabin out.”
And in short order Rabin was assassinated, Netanyahu was elected for the first time, the peace process fell apart, and Hamas got exactly what it wanted.
Yeah. It’s a strange combination. I see a lot of parallels between Hamas and the extreme religious right-wing in Israel.
Both of them think the land of Israel [or] the land of Palestine is Holy Land. And nobody’s allowed to give that up. When you see the texts of the extreme right-wingers in Israel, and the texts of Hamas, they’re very similar. In that sense, they work with each other very well.
I wish there were an island where we could put them both together, and let the moderates live peacefully. It would be much better.
But regrettably in the peace process, and also today, the extremists from both sides are the ones that dictate the day.
Rabin’s whole concept in 1993 when he signed the Declaration of Principles [which led to the Oslo Accords] was very vague. It was to be a process, like the first Camp David meetings [in 1978] with Egyptian and Israeli negotiators. You build a process on relations and trust, and then you move to the really hardcore negotiations.
But the more time passed, the more cynical people got, and the less people trusted the process because those extreme factions came and basically killed it altogether. And the height of that was the assassination of Rabin by an extreme right-wing Israeli religious fanatic.
“No strategy, just tactics”
In “The Gatekeepers,” one of the former Shin Bet chiefs said that no matter whether the prime minister was Menachem Begin of Golda Meir or Shimon Peres – there was no political strategy to achieve long-term security, just tactics to tamp down on security threats.
Rabin certainly tried to challenge the status quo politically, as did Sharon – albeit in a much different way. Do you see support from the Israeli people now to change the status quo – which is basically permanent occupation? Is there any desire in Israel to resume the peace process?
Look, I can speak for myself. I cannot speak for all Israelis. There’s a variety of opinions. My point of view is that the status quo is what keeps the moment.
Rabin said this will kill Israeli society – this occupation, and containing people who do not want to be occupied and want their freedom. It will be corrosive to Israeli society. Sharon, when he became prime minister, said the same thing. They were leaders trying to move something in order to resolve the problem. We don’t have that now.
When you see what Sharon did with the disengagement from Gaza, and the amount of effort to do that and all the resistance from the Israeli right and extremists, it looked like a mission impossible.
And here we are speaking about Gaza – we are not speaking about Judea and Samaria (the occupied West Bank), the biblical ancestral lands of the Jewish people, the place where our forefathers walked and all kinds of stupid [arguments from the right].
When the prime minister has to decide to go for something like that, which he knows will tear Israeli society apart, you need to be very brave to do that. But the Israeli people get promises [for those exchanges] that they’ll get to live in peace.
After the Oslo Accords, there was the eruption of suicide attacks, the collapse of the [second] Camp David negotiations, the second intifada – and also the disengagement from Gaza, which allowed Hamas to take over Gaza and fire missiles constantly into Israel.
That’s the reason most of the Israeli public doesn’t really trust that there is a partner on the other side that can maintain security.
I totally agree with what [former US Middle East diplomat] Aaron David Miller said in “The Human Factor,” which was, “Let’s take the word ‘peace’ out of the vocabulary, and let’s try to build coexistence. That is what we can aim for, at least for the next few decades.
Not peace, but “coexistence”
Part of why I tell everyone with an an interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to watch “The Gatekeepers” is because it’s so stunning to listen to these men who devoted their entire lives really to the security of Israel all come to similar conclusions.
One of them said, “You can’t make peace by military means.” Another said that even if your adversary “answers rudely,” you should still continue to pursue the conversation. And another said, “Israel wins every battle, but we may lose the war.” They all come to the conclusion that the only long-term solution for Israeli security is a disengagement with the Palestinians, which would mean a two state solution.
Israelis have a sarcastic phrase they’ll use for naive peaceniks: “You’re a beautiful soul.”
But here are the hardest of the hardcore Israeli security guys, and they’re saying we’ve bombed and maimed and killed in the name of Israel and the only way this country will survive in the long-term is through disengagement with the Palestinians.
Is there any chance this advice lands in the ears of the Israeli youth, where there’s some hope for a future in which coexistence is pursued?
I have to tell you, Anthony, that I lost hope. That’s the bitter truth.
I mean, look at the Gaza conflict. How many times have we bombed Gaza? How many times have we gone into a war? And, as we discussed, it’s all tactics, not strategy. It’s about sustaining and maintaining today and continuing to live in seemingly peaceful conditions until the next thing. So, no, I don’t think that this message can now land on Israeli ears.
We’ve been with the same politician as prime minister (Netanyahu) for 12 years. His impact on the [political] reality is huge. He’s negotiating and working with Hamas and downgrading and humiliating the Palestinian Authority. Benjamin Netanyahu is much better working with Hamas than with someone who says they’re for peace.
I hope there will be another leader soon. But I don’t believe we’ll see that kind of new leader from the Israeli political arena soon. It will take a few years before something can evolve in that sense.
But say you have a successor to Netanyahu and a successor to Abu Mazen, you still have Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. So wherever you look, it’s not very optimistic.
Almost all the former army chiefs of staff, all the heads of Shin Bet, all the heads of the Mossad, and all the heads of army intelligence, are for negotiation and for a two-state solution.
But you have a charismatic politician (Netanyahu) who is basically a good salesman. I mean, look at Trump. Look at what Trump did to your country. It’s unbelievable. You think that democracy is very stable and very strong, but when you have a demagogue who knows how to [manipulate] the media very well, this is where we are.
One thing I’m hoping people get out of this movie is the importance of the human factor. I’m currently doing a huge project about American politics encountering genocide, part of a series for American audiences, and for all over the world. And the importance of the human factor inside the decision-making room is stunning.