Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 5/22/2012: Palestinian Kidnapping Spree

From DG:
1) The kidnapping ring

One of the fears that accompanied the trade of prisoners for the release of Gilad Shalit is that the exchange would encourage more abductions.

Ha'aretz reports Shin Bet uncovers Palestinian squad bent on kidnapping Israelis in West Bank (via Daily Alert):
According to the indictment, squad members attempted to kidnap Israelis on three different occasions, driving a rental car and equipped with a taser, tear gas, clubs and a replica gun.
In all three tries, according to the indictment, squad members drove to the Binyamin area of the West Bank, in an attempt to stun Israeli drivers and hide them in a cave or a safe house. 
They then planed to film their victim, and upload the video to the internet in order to negotiate the release of Palestinian prisoners with Israeli authorities.
At the end of the report there's this:
Senior Palestinian officials told Haaretz that Palestinian Authority security forces recently arrested several Palestinians who had planned to kidnap Israeli soldiers, and that they were part of the same squad.  
At Ynet, Yael Shachak recalls the attempt to kidnap her and her daughter:
One night in March, Shahak and her daughter were on their way home from an event in central Israel. "We got onto the Beit El access road and a few minutes later, after one of the bends in the road, I noticed a car standing at the side of the road," she recalled. 
"I thought they were drunken Arabs or something similar. I honked my horn and then they zigzagged in front of me. The spot was one where you could not bypass or evade the car in front of you, so I drove behind them and tried to avoid them." 
But the Palestinians would not give up. "They saw me backing up so they also backed up. That's when the penny dropped that I had a problem," she said. "I tried to escape but they wouldn't let me move to the side of the road. Eventually they stopped and stood right in front of my vehicle.
While kidnapping is a stated policy of Hamas it isn't clear is this squad is officially associated with Hamas.

Is the claim of "senior Palestinian officials" credible? If they had made the initial arrests, why didn't they arrest the whole squad? Was the Israeli success the result of information from Palestinian security sources? It would be useful to know how much official Palestinian cooperation contributed to this week's arrests.

In March, Alex Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky interviewed Salam Fayyad. Fayyad at one point complained:
Fayyad seemed puzzled about Israel's unwillingness to make security gestures in the West Bank. He also complained that nightly Israeli raids were undermining the Palestinian Authority and resulted in minimal security gains for Israel. This is difficult to assess, but Fayyad was certainly correct in stating that the Israeli public is largely unaware of these activities, or indeed the details of the security situation in the West Bank as whole.
My assumption is that Israel doesn't have the same confidence in the Palestinian security services that the rest of the world does. None of the information available supports or refutes the claim of those officials who talked to Ha'aretz.

Outside of Israel, the attempted kidnappings and arrests appear not to have been reported much, if at all.

2) Out of jail - for now

The New York Times has an interview with a Turkish journalist who is out of jail awaiting trial. This is part of project where journalism students around the world blog for the International Herald Tribune. Ahmet Sik talks about his case:
During an interview on the campus of Bilgi University, where he teaches, Mr. Sik said Monday that whether he was convicted or exonerated, it would not change the oppression of the media in Turkey. 
“It is not going to stop, it will go on,” he said through an interpreter. “This is not today’s problem. It has a very long past and history. In the 1990s there were also journalists who were killed, arrested and harassed. Now they are not being killed so commonly, but they are still being arrested. So over the next 20 years, I don’t think anything will change” in the larger sense in Turkey. 
Mr. Sik, author of “The Imam’s Army,” was arrested on March 3, 2011, accused of aiding a terrorist organization. He says his research exposed the relationship between followers of Fethullah Gulen, an influential Muslim preacher, and the Turkish police while bringing to light how innocent people were being put on trial because they opposed the Gulen movement. Mr. Sik spent more than a year in custody.
3) The fear no Islamists campaign 

David Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheik caught up in the campaign excitement of Egypt. In In Streets and Online, Campaign Fever in Egypt they write:
Three days before voting begins in the first competitive presidential election in the history of the Arab world, the combination of novelty, high stakes, suspense and confusion has infected Egypt with a case of campaign fever that makes World Cup soccer finals look tame by comparison, to say nothing of the predictably quadrennial two-party contests that Americans still call exciting. 
There are no reliable opinion polls here to help sort through the noise. Nor is there a permanent constitution to set the president’s duties or powers. But there is a widespread conviction that whoever wins the election will play a major role in setting Egypt’s course for decades to come. 
So at the streetside cafes where average Egyptians pay about 15 cents a cup for Turkish coffee or sugary tea, a steady buzz of candidates’ names floats above the tables, and the patrons divide themselves into impassioned camps supporting the five plausible contenders still in the race.
There's an accompanying slide show, Egypt's Choice.

But then we read that Leading Egypt candidate calls 'racist' Israel a threat:
Abul Fotouh, a front runner in the May 23-24 election according to polls, had earlier described Israel as an "enemy" in a televised debate with his main contender, former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Moussa. 
In Saturday's interview with the private Egyptian CBC satellite station, he said he had opposed the treaty since its implementation. "I still view the peace treaty as a national security threat to Egypt, and it must be revised."
In a tweet, Kirkpatrick tells us not to worry.
In Egypt, the presidential candidate most hostile to Israel is secular, left, not Islamist - Hamdeen Sabahy 
Kirkpatrick's argument apparently is that it doesn't matter if an anti-Israel Islamist is elected president of Egypt, because a dark horse candidate is even more hostile towards Israel.

Nor does Kirkpatrick seem concerned about the bigger picture: What Do Egyptians Want? A Democratically Elected Islamist Dictatorship

4) Rudoren's helicopter ride 

New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Jodi Rudoren went on a helicopter ride sponsored by the Israel Project to show what security concerns Israel has. She brought a camera and tweeted her observations. Though there's more, I thought that these two were especially worthwhile. Will this affect the way she reports?
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