Over Thanksgiving, Israel launched an attack on the Gaza Strip, killing Hamas’ second-in-command, Ahmed Jabari. In retaliation, Hamas began firing rockets that were some of the first missiles to hit parts of Israel in 20 years. VICE traveled to the Israel-Gaza border to see what eternal tension had flared up this time.
World Peace Update
Israel and Hamas really kicked peace in the balls last week, with an impressive and rather one-sided attempt to flatten out the whole of the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, respectively. However, their style was eventually cramped by Egyptian President Morsi, who brokered a ceasefire soon after Hamas had planted a bomb on a bus in central Tel Aviv.
It was a happy moment for everyone: The world stopped hyperventilating, and a bunch of French eco-warriors, Egyptian autocrats, and Belgian milk farmers were allowed to get back to the important business of hurting other people and getting hurt themselves, giving me plenty of options to choose from for this week’s column. Could you imagine a world without violence? Sounds boring, right?
The Gaza Strip Cyberwar
As military strikes between Israel and Gaza continued with the deaths of 11 Palestinian civilians on Sunday, a complicated internet battlefront has appeared. A virtual info-war is just beginning, and it exists on multiple fronts. There is an unprecedentedly transparent wave of social media propaganda by both sides, a fairly predictable backlash of Israeli website defacement from Anonymous, and an effort to bring open internet access for civilians affected by the strikes from a group called Telecomix.
On Wednesday, the IDF released an infographic-filled video describing the methods the IDF uses (phone calls and precision strikes) to minimize civilian casualties. The IDF is also live-tweeting the strikes on Gaza using their shiny new Twitter account, @IDFSpokesperson. The Twitter feed for Al Qassam, the military branch of Hamas, has responded by tweeting numerous photos of dead children killed by Israeli strikes. These photos are a very effective and graphic response to the monochromatic circles Israel is using in their videos to say they’re not killing anyone who doesn’t deserve it.
Besides this public social media conflict between governments—which is shockingly savvy and direct—the hacker group Anonymous is also taking action through a campaign they’re calling #OpIsrael. According to Anonymous, Israel threatened to cut out electricity and the internet in Gaza, though that has not been confirmed by any news source. Anonymous responded to this supposed threat, and to the bombings in Gaza, with one of their trademark public service announcements on YouTube. The resulting offensive from Anonymous led to the temporary shutdowns and defacements of hundreds of Israeli websites, including the Bank of Jerusalem.
I was greeted with this defacement page on a website for the Israeli Tourism Board yesterday.
While most sources are claiming the number of Israeli websites taken down is between 663 and 700, Israel’s Finance Minister has said that the government has “deflected 44 million cyber attacks on government websites” and called this wave of attacks a “second front” in this conflict. Besides website defacements and takedowns, Anonymous leaked a document containing thousands of email addresses and passwords supposedly belonging to IDF operatives and Israeli government officials. Attached to the leaked document, the Anonymous leaker added: “this is/will turn into a cyber war.”
Anonymous has also been distributing a “care package” to the citizens of Gaza. The package, named “OpIsrael.Care.Package.v2.0” contains a press release, first aid instructions in English and Arabic, a technical guide with information on how to circumvent authoritarian internet shut-downs (like the one in Egypt during their Arab Spring), a proxy that can be used to hide the IP address and location of your computer, as well as a small image file of the Anonymous crest.
After running the documents through Google Translate, it’s clear that the information inside of the care package is designed to help civilians get online and spread information in the event of an Internet shutdown. The documents describe how to activate Twitter via text messaging in case the internet is inactive, advises people to use fax machines, make their own WiFi antennas out of spare aluminum, and to print out their email contacts in case they lose access to their virtual address book. It also encourages people to use the Telecomix dial-up network.
DID ISRAEL ASSASSINATE HAMAS’ CHIEF PEACE NEGOTIATOR?
Wednesday begins normal enough. The regular policeman at the Al Sarayya junction conducts traffic from his usual spot. Families rush about collecting supplies, and shopkeepers tidy up. A mother urges her children, distracted by something tantalizing, to move faster. To the west, the sun begins to set. A slight Mediterranean breeze scented with the salt and seaweed stirs as the residents of Gaza prepare for the evening meal.
I’m going with a group of my journalist colleagues to select an invitation card for my wedding. The lady in the shop starts to show me the cards, and then…
A missile explodes across the street, The mostly residential road of Al-Khidma Al-Ammah turns black. A fireball the size of a small car shoots down the middle of the street, dissipating nearly 100 feet away. Dust, grease, and concrete rain down as residents of the area rush toward any shelter they can find. But none exists. As the breeze parts the black cloud, an ominous vision emerges. A car is engulfed in flames, its Kia logo barely visible, the metal liquefying from the heat. Inside the occupants burn. The smoke, fueled by oil, petrol, and rubber grows denser and black. It smells of burning tar mixed with flesh.
Onlookers stare, ears ringing from the blast. Others move toward the burning car to help survivors—if there are any. As they approach a macabre patchwork of severed limbs and disemboweled entrails greet them. Moving closer, there’s a portion of someone’s head. On a nearby building, four stories up, a scrap of unidentifiable flesh sticks to the wall—a testament to the awesome power of the missile blast.
Residents of the street rush into their homes, each grabbing buckets of water. Women run carrying children away from the terror. The first ambulance arrives, and the Kia continues to burn. Not much can be done for the victims inside. They’re dead.
Within minutes, emergency vehicles arrive. Nobody knows how many passengers were in the car. Identifying those killed will be difficult given the messy remains. As the fire and ambulance crews do their work, a witness thinks he recognizes the license plate. As he speaks, he begins crying.
Firemen continue to battle the fire, as paramedics sift through the burning wreckage. One firefighter pulls out the remains of fingers clutching a white blood-soaked satchel. Neighbors and witnesses join the emergency workers in the grim task of collecting body parts and burnt flesh from the scene. As more charred body parts are pulled from the wreckage, the identity of one of the victims becomes clear. The crowd murmurs in disbelief… “It’s Abu Mohammed…”
An (Alleged) Interview with the Head of Ismail Haniyeh, the Leader of Hamas
Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, has been the disputed prime minister in Gaza for six years. The US officially classifies his political party as a terrorist group. Perhaps this helps to explain why Haniyeh has been such an elusive figure.
Until this year, he had made zero sojourns outside his besieged Strip, which is about the size of Detroit, since 2007. But over the last few months he’s been jet-setting between the most critical countries in the region, smiling for handshake shots with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, and posing at the helm of a raided flotilla boat docked in Turkey. Last week, Haniyeh traveled to Egypt to meet the first democratically elected president in the nation’s history, Mohamed Morsi.
The two leaders share a border on the Sinai Peninsula, so there was much to talk about—for starters, the hundreds of Palestinian-dug tunnels used to smuggle goods from Egypt and the possibility for renewed violence between Hamas and Israel similar to what happened during the Gaza War three years ago.
Over the weekend, a correspondent in Egypt named Sherif Elhelwa forwarded VICE a transcript alleged to be a one-on-one interview between Elhelwa and Haniyeh following his meeting with Morsi on Friday. But we’re really dealing with a document of unknown provenance here. Is it Hamas-generated propaganda or the real deal? We’ll let you decide.
VICE: You met with President of Egypt Mohamed Morsi yesterday. What was the result of the meeting?
Ismail Haniyeh: We discussed, in depth, all the issues related to the Palestinian cause. We also discussed the situation in the Arab region and in the Islamic countries. We focused on what the Palestinian people are witnessing all over Palestine and especially in Jerusalem. We also discussed the Israeli-organized practices against Jerusalem. These practices are aiming to change the future of Jerusalem. We also discussed the situation in the West Bank and the suffering of the people there… like the issue of the wall and the settlements.
What is the issue regarding the Rafah Crossing? Did the Egyptians make any decisions regarding it yesterday?
I can say that the president of Egypt made some decisions. He said that they will open the Rafah Crossing for 12 hours every day, from 9 AM to 9 PM—allowing 1,500 Gazans to cross from Rafah to Egypt and also welcoming all the arrivals to Gaza.
Some people in Egypt worry Palestinians will be allowed to enter the country without regulation, and the situation will spiral out of control. I believe you two discussed the regulation of this process and made it clear that it will be firm and applied to everyone.
For sure. We respect Egyptian sovereignty and security. We are going to respect the laws and the process of entering and leaving Egypt. We will not allow any chaos at that level, or regarding that issue. From our side, we follow a similar process regarding travel, to control that issue.