[ Ed. note – The Russian Ministry of Defense has issued a statement citing evidence that “American instructors” are training insurgents in Syria to carry out chemical weapons “provocations” that can then be blamed upon Syrian government forces. The false flag attacks will likely be widely broadcast over Western media and used as justification for a US attack upon the Syrian military, the Ministry of Defense says.
You can go here to read the full MoD statement, and here to view an RT report on it. Below is an excerpt from the statement. This is not, of course, the first time that the Russians have issued warnings about terrorists planning chemical attacks in Syria. On February 13 they issued a similar warning, and sure enough just two weeks later–on February 26, an alleged chlorine gas attack took place in East Ghouta. The only thing the Russians got wrong was the place: the initial statement had pointed to Idlib Province as the site of the possible attack.
As for the latest warning, as you can see, it is quite detailed in the information it presents. (The emphases in the excerpt below are my own):
It is be stressed that insurgents do not stop taking efforts to organize provocations with the use of poisonous agents in order to accuse the government troops of using chemical weapons against civilians.
In regard to information about preparation of provocations by insurgents in the Eastern Ghouta, the Russian party has evidence that American instructors have trained several groups of insurgents near al-Tanfa in order to hold provocations with chemical weapons in the south of Syria.
In the early March, the sabotage groups were deployed in the southern de-escalation zone near Daraa. formations of so-called Free Syrian Army are located there.
They are preparing provocations using explosive devices fitted with poisonous agents. In the future, this fact will be used in order to accuse the government troops of using chemical weapons.
Components for these chemical munitions have already been transported to the southern de-escalation zone under cover of humanitarian convoys of a number of non-governmental organizations.
Insurgents have not only components for poisonous agents but also detonating fuzes camouflaged as packs with cigarettes.
Besides, the Jabhat al-Nusra armed formations with support of so-called ‘White Helmets’ are preparing staged chemical attack near the settlements of al-Habid and Qalb Luza located 25 km northwest Idlib. Therefore, 20 containers with chloride have been delivered there.
It is planned that the event shall be widely broadcasted in the western mass media.
Such provocations will give the USA and its coalition grounds for an attack against military and government facilities in Syria.
“The Russian Ministry of Defence stressed that there is clear evidence of preparations for the possible strikes. There are groups of missile carriers deployed in eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf and Red Sea. It causes a question – whom will the USA support with these strikes? Will it be the Jabhat al-Nusra and its affiliates that commit outrages in the country? The Russian General Staff continues monitoring situation in the Syrian Arab Republic,” said Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy.
What’s new in this statement, of course, is the part about “American instructors” being involved. But another thing I find striking is the detail regarding detonating fuses being camouflaged as packs of cigarettes–this would strongly suggest that Russian intelligence has been working overtime monitoring the situation.
The Russian MoD statement should be considered in the context of recent comments by Nikki Haley at the UN in which she threatened attacks against the Syrian government.
“We warn any nation determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhuman suffering, but most especially the outlaw Syrian regime, the United States remains prepared to act if we must. It is not a path we prefer. But it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take again.”
Haley made that statement on Monday, March 12. Two days later, on the 14th, she joined British Prime Minister Theresa May in accusing Russia in the alleged nerve agent attack in Salisbury targeting a former Russian spy and his daughter.
“The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent,” Haley said.
Incredibly, she then went on to warn that Russia may be plotting a chemical attack in the US:
“If we don’t take immediate concrete measures to address this now, Salisbury will not be the last place we see chemical weapons used,” she said. “They could be used here in New York or in cities of any country that sits on this council.”
There seems very much an agenda being put into place now by criminals in the Deep State to provoke a war with Russia. If this turns into a nuclear war, we are likely to see scenes straight out of the Book of Revelation. ]
The above documentary is very much worth watching. Uploaded on March 9 and entitled “The Slap Heard Around the World: The People of Israel vs. Ahed Tamimi,” the video focuses not only on the Tamimi family and Ahed’s case in the Israeli military court system, but also the hysteria that has erupted in Israeli society over the whole affair. It includes interviews with members of the Tamimi family as well as Israeli journalist Gideon Levy.
For the past couple of days I’ve been trying to find out what, if anything, occurred in the Ofer military court on Sunday, March 11, the day Ahed’s trial was supposed to open. For some reason the Israeli media, at least the outlets that publish in English, have largely gone mum on the case. About the only reference I could find was a Haaretz piece published a bit earlier today and which, though vague on details, seems to suggest that the trial has been postponed once again so that the court may consider an appeal of its decision to close proceedings to the public.
Ahed’s pre-trial hearings were open to the public, but on February 13 a ruling was issued saying the trial would be held behind closed doors. Then on February 26, Israeli soldiers carried out another raid in Nabi Saleh, arresting Mohammed Tamimi, Ahed’s 15-year-old cousin, the boy who was shot in the head by a rubber-coated bullet. One day after that arrest an Israeli official went public with a claim that Mohammed had “admitted” under interrogation that the head injury had been from a bike accident. The bogus claim is covered in the video above.
The latest charade the Israelis seem to be playing is that it is not the prosecution that objects to having the trial opened to the public, but that this decision was made by the court alone and with Ahed’s best interest at heart.
“We left the request to open the hearings to the judgment of the court of first instance, and we will leave that request to the discretion of this honorable court,” says Maj. Gilad Peretz, the military prosecutor quoted in the Haaretz story.
In other words, Peretz purports to be neutral on the question of a trial behind closed doors, but with an air of touching concern for the girl’s welfare believes that keeping the proceedings closed would be “to Tamimi’s advantage.”
The appeal, filed by defense attorney Gabby Lasky, calls for the trial to be opened to the public, and while the court did not issue a ruling in a hearing held on Monday, it is “expected to do so shortly,” the report states.
It’s interesting that the Israeli media, aside from the Haaretz article (which is very brief) have gone so quiet on the story–in stark contrast to the kind of reporting we were seeing back in January, February and the latter part of December, when stories were coming out virtually every day. Apparently “out of sight out of mind” is the operative theory now.
Meanwhile, Ahed and her mother, Nariman, remain locked up in an Israeli prison.
Below is a commentary written by Jonathan Cook and published a bit over a week ago by Mondoweiss.
Israeli Army’s Lies Can No Longer Salvage Its Image
By Jonathan Cook
It is has been a very bad week for those claiming Israel has the most moral army in the world. Here’s a small sample of abuses of Palestinians in recent days in which the Israeli army was caught lying.
A child horrifically injured by soldiers was arrested and terrified into signing a false confession that he was hurt in a bicycle accident. A man who, it was claimed, had died of tear-gas inhalation was actually shot at point-blank range, then savagely beaten by a mob of soldiers and left to die. And soldiers threw a tear gas canister at a Palestinian couple, baby in arms, as they fled for safety during a military invasion of their village.
In the early 2000s, at the dawn of the social media revolution, Israelis used to dismiss filmed evidence of brutality by their soldiers as fakery. It was what they called “Pallywood” – a conflation of Palestinian and Hollywood.
In truth, however, it was the Israeli military, not the Palestinians, that needed to manufacture a more convenient version of reality.
Last week, it emerged, Israeli officials had conceded to a military court that the army had beaten and locked up a group of Palestinian reporters as part of an explicit policy of stopping journalists from covering abuses by its soldiers.
Israel’s deceptions have a long history. Back in the 1970s, a young Juliano Meir-Khamis, later to become one of Israel’s most celebrated actors, was assigned the job of carrying a weapons bag on operations in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. When Palestinian women or children were killed, he placed a weapon next to the body.
In one incident, when soldiers playing around with a shoulder-launcher fired a missile at a donkey, and the 12-year-old girl riding it, Meir-Khamis was ordered to put explosives on their remains.
The latest assault on BDS and the Palestine solidarity movement seems to have arrived in the form of S.10, known as the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016,” a bill that was introduced into–and adopted by–the US Senate all in one day and without discussion, on December 1.
You can track the bill here. It’s aim is to provide a “definition of anti-Semitism” for purpose of enforcing anti-discrimination in education programs and activities. Basically it seeks to codify, or put into law, a definition of anti-Semitism that was put forth by the State Department in 2010, one which cites efforts to “delegitimize” Israel as an example of “contemporary” anti-Semitism.
The definition was coined by the State Department’s “Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism”–yes, there really is such an office within the State Department, the head of which is given the royal title, no less, of “Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism” or SEAS.
The current SEAS is Ira Forman, former Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. The SEAS in power in 2010, when the “Defining Anti-Semitism” paper was published, was Hannah Rosenthal. You can go here to see the full definition, although I am also reproducing it below.
The bill has been pushed by the Anti-Defamation League. Specifically it seeks to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with special focus on the the Act’s Title VI, described in the text of S.10 as “one of the principle antidiscrimination (sic) statutes enforced by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.”
Under the bill, any attempts to “demonize Israel,” which could include “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,” would be defined as anti-Semitism. Universities which tolerate speech of this type on campus would be in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and presumably could be denied federal funding.
Well, if you’re going to attempt to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, who better to lead the charge for you than an African-American member of Congress? S.10 was introduced by Sen. Tim Scott, one of only two African-American Republicans in the Senate.
Another backer of the bill is Sen. Robert Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, who is listed as a co-sponsor. Both Scott and Casey are cited in an ADL press release put out on December 2 hailing the Senate’s passage of the measure.
“ADL played a central role in working with U.S. Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Bob Casey (D-PA) in crafting and promoting the legislation,” the press release states.
Also classified as anti-Semitism under the measure would be applying any kind of “double standard” to Israel. This would include requiring of the Jewish state “a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,” and could also include “multilateral organizations focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations.”
Also telling the obvious truth about who owns or controls the vast majority of the major media would be anti-Semitic as well, or specifically, as the bill would have it–spreading “the myth” about “Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”
Accusing Jews of being “more loyal to Israel” than their own nations would equally be anti-Semitic, as would of course (it goes without saying) questioning the holocaust.
“We welcome the Senate passage of this important legislation, which will help the Department of Education and Department of Justice to effectively determine whether an investigation of an incident of anti-Semitism is warranted under federal education anti-discrimination laws,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.
The fact that this bill was introduced into the Senate and passed unanimously and without discussion all in one day provides glaring testimony in its own right about Jews “controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions”–or at least Congress at any rate.
Perhaps aware of the potential public relations blowback, a few Jewish writers have come out in opposition. One of these is Rachel Roberts, whose political correctness and angst-imbued manifesto in The Forward includes references to “stories my father told me about being young and Jewish in the 1950s” and likely will leave you rolling your eyes in places. A considerably more readable commentary is provided by Jacob Sullum in the New York Post, and there is also an article in the Jewish Business News allowing for the fact that “many” see the measure as “an attack on free speech,” an analysis that also questions whether the bill might in reality be “a bad idea.” Aside from this, however, Jewish opposition to the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016 seems overall kind of sparse.
Below is the text of the definition adopted by the State Department in 2010. Should it become institutionalized as the law of the land by being incorporated into the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it will not merely be “an attack on free speech” or a “bad idea.” It will, if viewed from an incremental standpoint and with the surety that more such legislation will come down the pike in the future, likely be a step toward criminalization of any criticism of Israel and a further eroding of the First Amendment.
Defining Anti-Semitism SPECIAL ENVOY TO MONITOR AND COMBAT ANTI-SEMITISM Washington, DC June 8, 2010
Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.
Working Definition of Anti-Semitism by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia
Contemporary Examples of Anti-Semitism
Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews (often in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion).
Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective—especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, the state of Israel, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.
What is Anti-Semitism Relative to Israel?
EXAMPLES of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel, taking into account the overall context could include:
Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism to characterize Israel or Israelis
Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis
Blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions
DOUBLE STANDARD FOR ISRAEL:
Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation
Multilateral organizations focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist
However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.
California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that prevents companies that boycott or discriminate against any sovereign country, including Israel, from doing business with the state.
Brown signed Assembly Bill 2844 on Saturday afternoon. The State Senate approved the bill by a vote of 34 to 1 on August 24, and the State Assembly passed it by 69 to 1 on August 30.
An earlier version of the legislation banned the state from making contracts worth over $100,000 with companies boycotting Israel. In order to satisfy critics, who said it violated the constitutional right to boycott, the bill was modified to include reference to other countries as well.
The approved version does not prohibit companies working with the state from boycotting Israel. Rather, companies have to certify that they do not violate California civil rights laws in boycotting a foreign country – including Israel, the only country mentioned by name – according to The Jewish Journal.
“We commend Governor Brown for signing this bill,” said Janna Weinstein Smith, American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles Regional Director, in a statement. “The bill sends the clear and unmistakable message that the state of California wants no part of the goals and tactics of the BDS movement. Thanks to this legislation, those who wish to target Jews and Israelis for discrimination will not be doing business with the state of California.”
The Israeli-American Coalition for Action in a statement also praised the legislation, and praised the leadership of Assembly member Richard Bloom, who introduced the original bill; the California Legislative Jewish Caucus; and Assembly member Travis Allen, in passing the bill.
[Ed. note – Less than a month after the last tide of Zionist outrage unleashed against Margot Wallström, the Swedish Foreign Minister is once again coming under fire for critical comments about Israel. Obstinate gal. Clearly she didn’t learn her lesson. ]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticized the Swedish foreign minister, who had accused Israeli forces of conducting extrajudicial executions of Palestinians during the recent wave of violence in the occupied territories.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom told lawmakers on Friday that Israeli soldiers use excessive force during clashes with Palestinians, citing the higher number of Palestinian casualties compared to those of Israel.
“Israel’s response involved extrajudicial executions, and was disproportionate, so the number of the dead on the other side is greater than the original death toll by several factors,” Wallstrom said.
On Sunday, Netanyahu condemned the comments as “scandalous” during a cabinet meeting and even warned of a rupture in Tel Aviv’s diplomatic relations with Sweden.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely also said on Saturday that a “sharp response” would be given to Wallstrom’s remarks.
“Sweden has crossed all red lines in relations with Israel. This is defamation of Israel and the statements are distancing Sweden from the ranks of enlightened nations that can take part in the dialogue about rights in the region,” Hotovely said.
Netanyahu also criticized Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat for expressing his condolence to the family of a Palestinian man who shot and wounded two Israeli settlers in al-Quds (Jerusalem). The Palestinian was killed by Israeli forces at the scene.
Netanyahu said Erekat not only did not condemn the attack but also sympathized with the family of the attacker.
Tensions between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip continue unabated. The wave of unrest was triggered by Israel’s imposition in August of restrictions on the entry of Palestinian worshipers into the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East al-Quds.
At least 115 Palestinians and nearly 20 Israelis have been killed in the recent wave of clashes between Palestinians and Israelis since the start of October.
[Ed. note – It is an all too familiar scenario: a high-ranking official in some country or other makes a comment mildly critical of Israel; the Jewish state goes ballistic in response; at which point the government in question scrambles and backtracks trying to correct the “mistaken impression.” It is amazing to me how terrified the governments of the world are of Israel. A sign, surely, of how thoroughly out of balance the world has become. ]
Israel on Monday condemned as “shockingly hostile” comments by Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom that seemed to link the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the ISISbacked terrorist attacks in Paris.
After the Paris attacks, Wallstrom was asked the following question on Swedish television.
“How worried are you about the radicalization of young people in Sweden who are fighting for ISIS?” According to the translation provided by Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Wallstrom answered: “Obviously, we have reason to be worried, not just in Sweden but across the world, because there are so many that are being radicalized. Here, once again, we are brought back to situations like the one in the Middle East, where not least, the Palestinians see that there isn’t a future. We must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence.”
The Swedish Foreign Ministry issued a clarification in which it denied that Wallstrom had made a connection between the two.
“In the interview referred to, no implication or reference was made that implied that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had any relevance for the tragic events in Paris. We condemn all acts of terror. We must now unite as democracies to fight for our common values in these challenging times.”
But the Foreign Ministry on Monday said it felt Wallstrom’s comments did indeed make that link and summoned Sweden’s Ambassador to Israel Carl Magnus Nesser to speak with ministry director-general Dore Gold.
The two men spoke for close to half an hour, Gold expressing Israel’s displeasure at Sweden’s general policy when it comes to Israel.
Sweden is one of the countries that is leading the call to place consumer labels on settlement products, Gold said, calling it a discriminatory measure that singles out Israel.
It doesn’t advance the peace process and it harms those Palestinians employed in Israeli factories over the Green Line, Gold said.
Now, he added, Wallstrom has made comments that could be interpreted as a justification for Palestinian terrorism.
“Those who engage in hopeless attempts to link the terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists with the difficulties between Israelis and Palestinians are misleading themselves as well as the public opinion of their country and the international community,” the Foreign Ministry said, calling Wallstrom’s words “brazen” and “shocking.”
“The Swedish Minister is systematically biased and one-sided against Israel,” the ministry said, adding that this latest statement was outrightly “hostile.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said Europe’s belief that Israel is the source of all the troubles in the world shows it has learned nothing over the years.
“Does Iran act out of frustration, did [Osama] Bin Laden act out of frustration?” she asked.
US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, meanwhile, said the US rejects terrorism whether it is directed against France or Israel.
During a speech in Eilat, Shapiro condemned Friday’s terrorist attack in the South Hebron Hills in which Palestinian gunmen killed Yaakov Litman, 40, and his son, Netanel, 18, in an attack on the family’s van.
“As Israel mourns the murder of so many of its citizens – most recently, Rabbi Yaakov Litman z”l and his son Netanel Litman z”l, who were gunned down just before Shabbat – and prays for the recovery of dozens more – a list that includes American citizens – America’s leaders and countless other Americans stand in steadfast solidarity with you,” Shapiro said.
“A similar solidarity to that which we feel for France during these dark days,” he continued.
“With Israel, just as with France, America’s condemnation, our total rejection of terror – whether in the form of rocks, knives, motor vehicles, guns, suicide bombers, or rockets – is unequivocal and rooted in the kinship of our open and democratic societies,” Shapiro said.
During the last few days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also has drawn a link between the two attacks, which occurred within hours of each other on Friday.
Speaking at a Likud faction meeting on Monday, Netanyahu said the terrorists who kill Israelis and those who target Parisians have the same goals.
“Those who kill Israelis have the exact same murderous intentions as those who killed in Paris and the methods we use – blowing up terrorists’ homes, determined action by our forces, including entering different places and increasing the amount of forces – allow us to prevent much of their actions,” he said.
“We have been fighting terrorism for almost 100 years and are battling it successfully,” Netanyahu said, pointing to the “powerful” policy of demolishing terrorists’ homes and saying the father of the terrorist who killed two Israelis on Friday may have turned in his son in order to avoid having the home demolished. He also noted other methods of combating terrorism, such as increasing forces and entering terrorist strongholds and neighborhoods.
Netanyahu concluded, “There is no way to fight terrorism but to fight terrorism” and nothing can replace that fight.
Whatever else the Palestinian intifada may be accomplishing, it does seem to be driving average Israelis into a frenzy, apparently even triggering hallucinations in their heads in some cases. In the above video we see a young Palestinian woman being held to the ground while a mob debates whether or not to kill her. “Why are you playing around? They are coming to murder our children!” one of them screams at one point–while at another the young girl is kicked in the head. The incident apparently took place on October 12. Today it was reported that the young woman did not have a knife after all. The whole thing was for nothing. This of course comes just a day after Israeli forces shot to death an unarmed Eritrean man in the mistaken belief that he was a Palestinian.
With ISIS carrying out rampages through archaeologically sensitive areas of Iraq, a pertinent question to ask now is what group’s cultural heritage in the Middle East is being preserved, and whose is being destroyed.
Over the past couple of weeks shocking reports have surfaced concerning mass destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage at two locations–the museum in Mosul and the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, located in northern Iraq. Both incidents were perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State. The one at the Mosul museum was recorded on video.
But destruction with sledge hammers, bonfires, and heavy equipment isn’t the only threat to priceless objects thousands of years old. Artifacts are also being illegally excavated and pilfered on a massive scale. An enormous black market in stolen antiquities in fact has arisen in the last four years since the outbreak of the conflict in Syria, and the general rule of thumb seems to be if it’s small enough to be carted off, take it and sell it on the black market; if it’s too large to move, then smash it to pieces. This is what we’ve seen repeatedly in Syria and Iraq since ISIS took over large swaths of both countries.
By the way, the trade in looted antiquities seems to be quite lucrative, with some of these items fetching in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, while the total black market trade has been estimated at roughly $7 billion per year.
This is not just Iraq’s cultural heritage that is at stake, of course; it’s all of humanity’s. If we think of human history collectively as a lepidopteron, drifting lazily from the flower of the Neolithic past, into the age of proto-writing, and finally early recorded history, then Syria, Iraq and the Fertile Crescent stand out perhaps unique among regions of the earth. This is where human civilization got started, and the looting and destruction of these antiquities is a loss to all of us.
Interestingly, an exhibition entitled “By the Rivers of Babylon” has now opened at a museum in Israel, and among its exhibits are a large number of ancient Babylonian cuneiform tablets–110 of them altogether. These tablets belong to a London-based Israeli collector by the name of David Sofer, but a controversy has sprung up, since there seems to be some question about the provenance, or origin, of the artifacts.
The tablets are said to be some 2,500 years old and reportedly shed light on the biblical Israelites during their exile in Babylon (in what is, of course, today Iraq). Sofer claims he purchased the tablets in the 1990s from a person who supposedly obtained them through public auction some 20 years previous. However, he reportedly has refused to name the person he bought them from.
The rise of ISIS has made it extremely perilous for archaeologists to continue to work in Iraq and Syria, and most expeditions have in fact come to a halt. But in Israel these days things are a bit different.
Unhindered by ISIS marauders, the Israeli Antiquities Authority has undertaken archaeological excavations in numerous areas of the country, including one begun last year in the occupied West Bank, where the objective is to recover artifacts dating back to the King David era. Finds of this nature would, by some views at any rate, help validate Israel’s “3000-year-old land claim,” as it’s been called, and thus you won’t be surprised to learn that this isn’t the only such archaeological dig going on–not by a long shot.
In fact, you can go to the website of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, where no less than 19 separate excavations are listed as currently active for the year 2015.
So what to make of it all? That’s a good question. All I can really say is that it seems enormous efforts are being expended to recover and safeguard Jewish cultural heritage—this, ironically, as everyone else’s cultural heritage in the Middle East is being looted and destroyed.
At any rate, here is an article recently published about the museum exhibition in Israel featuring the artifacts in Sofer’s possession.
Museum Embroiled in Looting Row
A new exhibition in Jerusalem is causing heated debate.
The exhibition, ‘By The Rivers of Babylon’, at the Bible Lands Museum, displays some spectacular examples of ancient Babylonian tablets. On show for the first time, the 2,500-year-old clay tablets written in cuneiform present artefacts from an important time in the Middle East.
Experts note that the collection of 110 clay tablets provides the earliest written evidence of the Biblical exile of the Judeans in the area of modern-day Iraq. As such, the Babylonian tablets provide fresh insight into a formative period of early Judaism.
Filip Vukosavovic, a curator for the exhibition, says the tablets complete a 2,500-year puzzle. Many Judeans returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonians allowed them to in 539 BCE, but some remained in the area to build a Jewish community that lasted for two millennia.
“The descendants of those Jews only returned to Israel in the 1950s,” Vukosavovic said. As a result, the tablets provide a unique insight into a little known period of Jewish history.
Controversy has surrounded the exhibition however, as the tablets are the product of a modern, shadowy process. The recently chaotic climate in Iraq and Syria has led to the rampant theft of the area’s archaeological heritage. Widespread looting has led to the international antiquities markets being stocked with cuneiform tablets.
Many museums have promised not to exhibit artefacts that may have been looted, as part of an effort to discourage the illicit trade in antiquities. Cuneiform inscriptions, however, are a notable exception to this. Since 2004, cuneiform artefacts with no record of where or how they were unearthed have been allowed to be transported, in order to be examined by scholars. This is done on the condition that Iraqi authorities give their consent, and that the tablets are eventually returned to Iraq.
Some argue that these precious objects, some of which are the earliest examples of writing in the world, could be forever lost if they are not looked after by conservators.
“We are not interested in anything that is illegally acquired or sneaked out,” said Amanda Weiss, director of the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem. “But it is the role of a museum to protect these pieces,” she added. “It’s what we are here for.”
It has been claimed that the Islamic State extremist group and other militants are part-funding their campaigns through the illegal trafficking of historic artefacts. Trafficking and looting have, however, been going on for a long time. Archaeologists were first alerted to the problem during the first Gulf War, when Western antiquities markets were flooded with cuneiform artefacts.
London-based collector David Sofer, who owns the cuneiform collection currently exhibited in the Bible Lands Museum, has denied his artefacts were trafficked. He said he had bought the tablets legally in the United States in the 1990s; and the tablets had previously been obtained from public auctions in the 1970s.
The exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum allows the public to see some remarkable artefacts and to learn more about an important part of Jewish history. What must not be overlooked, however, is the damage which can be caused by illicitly-obtained artefacts.
A little bit more on the Bible Lands Museum and Sofer’s collection of cuneiform tablets can be found here. The article focuses especially on a symposium entitled “Jerusalem in Babylonia” held at the museum in early February, asserting that the tablets provide “new insights into the social and economic life of the Judeans…in their own community of Al Yahudu (Jewtown) and their interrelationships with and assimilation to their West Semitic and Babylonian neighbors.”
Another article on the museum display is here and includes the following (emphasis added):
Sofer said a few tablets from the collection were displayed in a New York museum and a Los Angeles museum in 2013, and their import and export in the U.S. was properly reported to U.S. authorities. He would not name the two museums, or the person who sold them to him.
“These things would be lost, and wouldn’t be recognized for what they are” if he hadn’t bought them, Sofer said.
As common as cuneiform tablets are, few have been as celebrated as those on display in Jerusalem.
More on David Sofer (or someone from Israel going by the same name, at any rate) can be found here in an L.A. Times article from 1991. It seems he and a fellow Israeli, Nahum Vaskevitch, were implicated in insider trading in 1987. While the Sofer named in the article appears to have reached a settlement in his own case, Vaskevitch went on to be named in a 45-count indictment accusing him of conspiracy and violation of US insider trading laws from 1984-87.
A New York Times article on Sofer from 1987 includes a quote describing him as “a financial wizard, a genius manipulator with brilliant ideas in everything financial,” and reports that he made his fortune through the Jordan Exploration and Investment Company. The company engaged in oil development in the Sinai in the 1970s, yet the same article goes on to also mention investments in real estate in Israel, “including interests in such choice property as the Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv and the Ben Yehuda arcade in Jerusalem, as well as in hotels and other interests.”
Two additional articles, both from 2008–one here in YNet and the another here in Haaretz–describe a controversy which arose over a Sofer-owned property, a highly prized piece of Jerusalem real estate known as the Villa Salameh. The rightful owners of this property were a Palestinian Christian, Constantine Salameh, and his family, who completed construction on the villa in 1935.
But in 1948 the family left Israel and the property was seized by the new Israeli state under the so-called Absentee Property Law. The government of Belgium also entered the picture, leasing the property for its consulate in Jerusalem. But instead of paying rent to the Israelis, the Belgians made a decision apparently based upon conscience and sent their rent payments directly to the Salameh family, who by this time were living in Egypt.
However, in 1983 Sofer (or, again, someone by that name) acquired the property for a faction of its worth and sued the Belgian government for full payment of rent. The case was decided in an Israeli court. Fortunately the Salameh family had some political clout and was able to negotiate a settlement awarding them $700,000 as compensation for their lost property–a small fraction of its total value.
“The man (Salameh) sought to appeal his status as an absentee and a discussion began about his case,” said former Israeli Justice Minister Moshe Nissim. “We reached the conclusion that instead of being in a situation in which all the property would be registered in his name, it would be worth the state’s while to purchase Salameh’s vast property – which already then was worth millions of dollars – for a pittance.”
Quite an interesting story, to be sure, but what does it have to do with the theft of archaeological artifacts going on today? Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot.
There has of course been abundant evidence of Israeli support for terrorist rebels in Syria (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for instance) and it has been noted that neither ISIS nor Al-Nusra have launched attacks against Israel, even though the latter, in particular, seems to be active in the Golan Heights very close to Israel’s border.
And not only do Israel and Al-Nusra not attack each other, but Israel has even transported wounded terrorists across the border for medical treatment in Israel.
Most people seem to be of the opinion that the Jewish state’s motivation in all this is its desire for regime change in Syria, but are there perhaps are a few lesser-discussed fringe benefits as well?
Back in May of 2003, after the fall of Baghdad and the looting of Iraq’s national museum, a large trove of Jewish communal documents, Torah fragments as well as public records dating back several centuries, were discovered in a flooded basement and taken to the United States for restoration and safeguarding. Iraqis were given assurances that the collection would be returned to them at a later date.
Eventually the summer of 2014 was set as the target date for when the restored documents would be handed back over, but this got sidetracked in late 2013 when a campaign was launched to have the entire collection remain in the US…or possibly transferred to Israel.
It is, after all, Jewish heritage, so the argument went, and since there aren’t many Jews left in Iraq today, why on earth should the collection go back there?
Initially the position of US officials was that America would honor its commitment and return the collection to Iraq. But then in the summer of 2014, ISIS took over large parts of the country, including the city of Mosul, and in September it was announced that highlights of the archive, rather than going back to Iraq, would be taken upon a tour of US cities.
The plot thickened further in January of 2015 when it was reported that one of the artifacts, a 200-year-old Torah scroll, had not actually been taken to the US at all, but rather instead had been deposited at the Israeli Embassy in Jordan–and from there it made its way into Israel.
Reportedly the scroll is now housed in a synagogue attached to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and a ceremonial “Torah inauguration” is said to have been held on January 22.
By all accounts the text of the scroll had been copied onto a deer skin parchment using concentrated pomegranate juice as ink. Supposedly the use of deer skin was unusual, as most of the Torah scrolls at the time in question were comprised of cow parchment.
In any event, the disposition of the scroll, and its ending up in Israel, have prompted accusations of collaboration on the theft of Iraqi heritage by the US and Israel.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Iraqi Jewish archive purportedly remains in “safe hands” in the US.
Alas, the same cannot be said of Iraq’s, or humanity’s, “non-Jewish” heritage, as it were, the destruction of which continues at an alarming pace. The attacks upon the Mosul Museum and the ancient city of Nimrud, as well as the earlier ransacking and burning of documents at the Mosul library–these and other incidents like them exact a dreadful toll. They are, in essence, “taking us back to the dark ages,” as an Iraqi official recently described it.
And it doesn’t seem to be letting up.
Just within the past several days news has surfaced of destruction at two more sites, Khorsabad, located 12 miles northeast of Mosul, and Hatra, also in the general vicinity of Mosul though 68 miles to the southwest. Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has confirmed reports of ISIS attacks at both sites, though the extent of the damage is unclear at this time.
Deliberate destruction of cultural heritage by belligerent parties in war is of course not unprecedented. But clearly it is now being carried by ISIS to levels heretofore unseen.
“They are killing the diversity of this region,” says Hélène Sader, an archaeologist at the American University of Beirut. “This is ethnic cleansing. You throw the people out, erase their history, and you can claim they were never there.”
Protection of cultural property is covered under several international treaties, including the 1954 Hague Convention, though many critics are now saying that the laws are not tough enough and need to be strengthened considerably.
With growing public outrage at the destruction now occurring in Iraq, chances are probably good we will see some toughening of international law on the matter. But the question is whether or not individual nations can muster the political will to adopt rigid enforcement of any new measures should they pass–and part of the problem in that regard seems to be complicity on the part of certain museums and auction houses, if not in the black market trade itself, at least insofar as knowingly accepting unprovenanced artifacts.
As long as someone is making a profit or benefiting in some way, and as long as the geopolitical interests of certain powerful nations are served by continuing the conflict in the Middle East, the looting and destruction are not likely to let up anytime soon.
An article in Middle East Quarterly, a pro-Israel publication, reports that support for Israel is eroding among American evangelical Christians, with only 30 percent currently stating support for Israel above Palestinians.
This trend is even more pronounced among youth, according to an article by David Brog, Jewish-American executive director of “Christians United For Israel (CUFI), a major pro-Israel organization. Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu has called CUFI “a vital part of Israel’s national security” and columnist Charles Kauthammer has said, “I do not know of an organization in the world more important to Israel than CUFI.”
Brog’s article, “The End of Evangelical Support for Israel?” is largely pitched as a wake-up call to Israel partisans who, according to Brog, “must take this threat seriously.”
A Shift Among Evangelicals … Especially Among the Young
We documented yesterday that the biggest supporters of Israel are American evangelical Christians … Protestants or – to a lesser extent – Catholics.
But that support base is slipping …
Buzzfeed reported in January:
Figures with deep roots in America’s religious right have launched a quiet effort aimed at pushing evangelical Christians away from decades of growing loyalty to Israel and toward increased solidarity with the Palestinians.
The campaign by a coalition of religious leaders, international nonprofits, and activists has taken place in recent years largely behind the scenes and away from the prying eyes of the political press — and it’s being driven by a generation of Evangelicals alienated by the way their faith was yoked to Republican foreign policy during the Bush years. Now, organizations like the Telos Group and the large Christian nonprofit World Vision have joined a small army of ministers and Christian opinion-makers working to reorient Evangelicals’ stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — producing documentaries about the plight of Palestinian Christians, providing theological rationale for a more “balanced” view of the issue, and taking Evangelicals on trips to the Middle East.
The campaign has alarmed America’s most committed Christian supporters of Israel, who acknowledge their rivals’ message is gaining momentum within the church.
The Forward noted in March (via Haaretz):
Support for Israel is weakening among evangelical Christians, prompting a new struggle for the hearts and minds of younger members of America’s largest pro-Israel demographic group.
Evangelical leaders on both sides of the divide on Israel agree that members of the millennial generation do not share their parents’ passion for the Jewish state; many are seeking some form of evenhandedness when approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“What is happening is that the hard line of Christian Zionists was not successfully passed forward to the next generation, because it was based on theological themes that are now being questioned by younger evangelicals,” said David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Atlanta.
The grip of Christian Zionists over young evangelicals has been loosening for several years, according to observers within the community. But in recent weeks, the leading evangelical pro-Israel organization, Christians United for Israel, has set off alarm bells in articles and interviews decrying the inroads made by pro-Palestinian activists into the evangelical community. CUFI’s leaders are calling for a new strategy to block them.
In June 2011, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey …. A majority of American evangelical leaders (49%) expressed neutrality when asked if they sympathize more with Israelis or with Palestinians. Thirty percent expressed support for Israelis, 13% for the Palestinians.
The survey polled only leaders who participated in this international conference and did not offer insight into the views of rank-and-file evangelicals. But it highlighted the fact that only a minority within the evangelical leadership today hold strong pro-Israel views when it comes to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and attendant conflict with the Palestinians.
Activists in Illinois’s Wheaton College, a leading Christian school, protested a planned CUFI event on campus in 2009; in Tulsa, Okla., Oral Roberts University has appointed a harsh critic of Israel to its board of trustees, and at Bethel University, in Minnesota, President Jay Barnes visited Israel and the Palestinian territories on a trip that changed participants’ views on the conflict. Barnes’s wife, Barbara Barnes, published a poem after the trip, in which she wrote: “Apartheid has become a way of life. I believe God mourns.”
Speakers at the gathering, which presents a Palestinian perspective on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank for Christians, include … William Wilson, the president of Oral Roberts University; and Gary Burge, a theology professor at Wheaton College and author of the book, “Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians.”
The conference’s 12-point “manifesto” strongly condemns “all forms of violence” and warns against the “stereotyping of all faith forms that betray God’s commandment to love our neighbors and enemies.” It also rejects “any exclusive claim to the land of the Bible in the name of God” and states that “racial ethnicity alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant.”
And the Presbyterian Church (U.S.) – the largest Presbyterian denomination in America – voted to divest from companies whose products Israel uses in Palestinian territories.
But the old-fashioned mega-church extremists – like Rev. John Hagee – are fighting back with large sums of money and organizational structure. So the outcome is still in play.