Saturday 15 September 2012

The Independent 

'We'd do anything for Israel, but we don't do that,' say Mossad's female secret weapons

For the first time in Israeli history, five agents have been allowed to give interviews


When it's time for Ella, a 38-year-old wife and mother, to go to work, she slips out before her family wake up.

"I leave a secure home, my husband and three small children sleeping safely in their beds with tears welling in my eyes and a growing lump in my throat," says Ella, whose surname is an Israeli state secret and whose first name is probably something else entirely.

"Ella" is an agent of the Mossad, Israel's feared foreign secret service. For the first time in Israeli history, Ella and four colleagues have been allowed to give interviews.

Their rare comments in the Hebrew-language magazine Lady Globes were published this week as details emerged in The New Yorker of one of the Mossad's greatest triumphs, the exposé of a Syrian nuclear-weapons facility in 2007 that Israel later destroyed.

The role of female Mossad agents emerged in 1986 when "Cindy" lured smitten nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu from London to Italy, where he was drugged, kidnapped and shipped secretly to Israel and spent 18 years in prison.

The secret sisterhood admit that they often feel they are "living in a movie, on a constant high" but are at pains to dismiss the idea that they are merely sexual weapons.

"A man who wants to gain access to a forbidden area has less chance of being allowed in. A smiling woman has a bigger chance of success," Yael, a Mossad legend, tells Lady Globes.

"We use our femininity because any means is valid," says Efrat, another agent. "But even if we think that the way to advance the mission is to sleep with [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, no one in the Mossad would allow us to do it. Women agents are not used for sexual purposes. We flirt, but the line is drawn at sex."

Only a tiny percentage who apply to join the Mossad are accepted. Of the thousands who apply, most are weeded out by the screening process. Half the candidates who begin the final two-year training course are rejected, including decorated graduates of Israel's top military-commando units.

"Someone who can't handle the pressure or whose interpersonal skills are not very good will be thrown off the course," Yael says. "There are some very talented people who begin sweating or stuttering or blanking out. That's a no-go."

In an equally rare departure from protocol, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo tells Lady Globes that there are an equal number of men and women field agents. "Women have a distinct advantage in secret warfare because of their ability to multitask," Mr Pardo says, adding that women are better at playing a role and superior to men when it comes to "suppressing their ego in order to attain the goal".

"Women are gifted at deciphering situations. Contrary to stereotypes, you see that women's abilities are superior to men in terms of understanding the territory, reading situations, spatial awareness. When they're good, they're very good."

"As for overcoming fear, we're all afraid. Fear crosses gender lines," Mr Pardo says.

Behind enemy lines: Women spies
Anna Chapman
The "real-life Bond girl" was arrested and deported from the United States in 2010, accused of being one of 10 Russian sleeper agents. Far from leading a quiet life once back in Russia, she received a medal from then-President Dmitry Medvedev and praise from then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and now has a career as a television presenter and model.

Eileen Nearne
One of 39 British women parachuted into France as agents in "Churchill's secret army" during the Second World War, Nearne played a key role in preparing the French Résistance ahead of the D-Day landings in June 1944. She helped to recruit more than 14,000 agents for espionage and sabotage missions behind enemy lines, and was later awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government. She died in 2010, aged 89.

Mata Hari
Born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in the Netherlands, Hari had gained fame as a dancer and courtesan before the First World War. She was accused by the French authorities of spying for Germany, court-martialled and executed by firing squad in 1917. A French intelligence report said she had admitted sending "general information" to the Germans but not military secrets.

Monday 10 September 2012

Outcry at new university in occupied territory

The Independent 

Israel will soon have a fully fledged university operating from a West Bank settlement, thecabinet decided yesterday, despite opposition from groups that say it is a manoeuvre to strengthen Israel's presence in the territory that Palestinians claim as their future state.

The Education Minister, Gideon Saar, pushed through the controversial proposal to upgrade the Ariel University Centre of Samaria, a higher education college near Nablus, to full university status, defying the opposition of the top higher education official and the heads of six of Israel's seven research universities who have lodged an appeal against the move with the high court.

"I firmly believe that the establishment of an eighth university will enhance the higher education system in Israel," Mr Saar told the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. "Forty years have passed since the last research university was established in Israel and since then the population has increased almost threefold."

The college, founded in 1982 as a regional branch of Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, is the only Israeli institution of higher education in the occupied West Bank, apart from two teacher-training colleges. It became independent in 2004 and has sought university status ever since.

Many education officials warned that the international repercussions could be disastrous for Israeli universities already threatened by a small but vociferous academic boycott campaign. In a letter to the government, the heads of Israel's universities described the move as "a mortal blow to the higher education system in Israel".

Saturday 8 September 2012

Death in Gaza

The 18-year-old boy who burned himself to death, the agony of his mother ‒ and a savage reminder of the reality of life in Gaza

Called mother to beg for forgiveness before pouring a bottle of petrol over himself and setting himself on fire
Bystanders rushed to his aid with water and blankets but it wasn't enough


MAIL ON SUNDAY 9 September 2012

Al-Shati refugee camp is a miserable place: 90,000 Palestinians are packed into less than one-third of a square mile on the northern beach of Gaza City. The narrow, twisting alleys are littered with rubbish and adorned with graffiti and the laundry of the residents. Water and electricity supplies are intermittent at best.

Ihab Abu Nader was born into this crushing poverty on July 9, 1994, the second of six children. Ihab’s ambition was to finish school, get a job and save up enough money to buy a motorcycle.

He loved Real Madrid and dreamed of joining the thousands of Palestinians who have escaped the stifling poverty of Gaza to work abroad in one of the nearby Arab states.

Mourning: Raeda Abu Nader with a picture of her son who set himself on fire due to the ongoing problems in his homeland of Palestine
Mourning: Raeda Abu Nader with a picture of her son who set himself on fire due to the ongoing problems in his homeland of Palestine

But Ihab’s dreams came to a brutal end last week when, after an anguished telephone plea begging his mother for forgiveness, he doused himself in petrol in the middle of a Gaza street and set himself on fire.

Bystanders extinguished the flames with water and blankets and rushed him across the road to the city’s Shifa Hospital, but it was too late. Ihab died last Sunday morning after four days in a coma on life-support, succumbing to the crippling third-degree burns that covered 85 per cent of his body.

We could hear the rattle of small-arms fire as we passed through the grim, barbed-wire corridors of  the heavily fortified Erez border crossing, the only pedestrian access between Israel and the Gaza Strip.The Palestinians of Gaza are not strangers to death. On the day we visited Ihab’s grief-stricken family, three Palestinian militants were killed by Israeli forces as they tried to attach a bomb to the border fence.

Suicide victim Ihab Abu Nader (right) with his friend Mohaamed Jaber last winter
Suicide victim Ihab Abu Nader (right) with his friend Mohaamed Jaber last winter

The night before our arrival, three other Palestinians were killed by an Israeli air strike as they drove near the Al-Bureij refugee camp, apparently on their way to fire rockets at homes in southern Israel.

But even among the war-weary population of Gaza, the self-immolation of Ihab Abu Nader has triggered shockwaves of soul-searching.

Gazans wonder aloud whether Ihab’s suicide by fire, the first here, would have the same effect as the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia in December 2010 that triggered the Arab Spring.

In the week that followed Ihab’s death, two more Palestinians tried to set themselves on fire at anti-government demonstrations but were saved by passers-by.

‘It’s a huge tragedy which should really open the eyes of the rest of the world about the situation of Gaza under the blockade,’ said Karl Schembri of Oxfam’s Gaza office.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas-appointed prime minister of Gaza’s unofficial government and a resident  of Al-Shati camp, came to pay his respects to Ihab’s father Sufian and mother Raeda Abu Nader, during the family’s three days of official mourning.

Haniyeh invited them to his home and promised them a small plot of land, a job for their oldest son, Mohammed, and a £1,200 grant.

 A giant poster of Ihab is seen on the wall in the family's home in the overpopulated Al-Shati Palestinian refugee camp in central Gaza
A giant poster of Ihab is seen on the wall in the family's home in the overpopulated Al-Shati Palestinian refugee camp in central Gaza

Sufian told The Mail On Sunday: ‘I don’t believe my son wanted to kill himself. The people who tried to save him said he was screaming at them to put out the fire. I think it was a cry for help. I hope that other young people will take his suffering as a warning.’

He went on: ‘I don’t know what I will do without him. I feel as though I have lost my arms and my legs.

‘Haniyeh is the only Palestinian official who has given us any support, but it’s still not enough. I have £5,000 of debts. After I pay my rent and service the loans I have taken out, I have just £30 a month left for food and everything else. How will I manage?

‘If I could, I would leave here tomorrow. I am ready to take my family and go to any other country that will take us as refugees. I see no future here. There is no work. I don’t want to lose the rest of my children because of this terrible poverty.’

The main room of the Abu Nader home where his family received visitors last week has no windows or heating.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the Islamic group Hamas paid his respects to the parents of Ihab Abu Nader

The only natural light creeps in through the wide gaps where the plastered cinder-block walls fail to meet the bare, corrugated iron roof, which leaks in the winter and bakes in the long hot summer.

One corner of the room is dominated by a water tank – empty because the pump that sucks up the water from the mains is broken.

There are only two bedrooms – one for Sufian, his wife and their nine-year-old twin boys Bassem and Bassam, and another which the family’s daughter, 14-year-old Samah, is forced to share with her two older brothers. The tiny kitchen is also the bathroom. There is no door to the toilet, just a flimsy curtain.

Ihab was doing well at school but decided to leave in the summer of 2011 and forego his final year of studies, hoping to find a job and help support his family. But there were no jobs to be had. Unemployment in Gaza is 38 per cent. The area used to export furniture, clothing and other goods to Israel, but trade crashed with the outbreak of the intifada uprising in 2000.

After the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006 and a 2007 coup in which Hamas seized control, Israel and Egypt clamped an economic embargo on Gaza. An Israeli invasion in 2008 put more pressure on the depressed economy.

Today, the blockade is easing and the economy is slowly expanding but the UN reported last week that gross domestic product per capita in Gaza in 2011 was still ten per cent below its 2005 level. Half of all Palestinians remain below the poverty line.

Three hundred trucks a day pour into Gaza from Israel carrying food, clothing, building and medical supplies and aid from foreign donors, but refugee families like the Abu Naders scrape by on minimum wages and handouts from the UN.

Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit saluting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he disembarks from an army helicopter
Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit saluting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he disembarks from an army helicopter

After he left school, Ihab eked out a few pennies by selling packets of crisps outside mosques every Friday, but he had no licence and was chased away by police. He ended up owing money to the wholesaler. During Ramadan, he secured a job earning £3.50 a day working 14 hours a day for two days a week making falafel, the fried chick-pea patties that are a Gaza fast-food staple.

‘Once he had a job, he woke up happy every morning. He loved to work,’ said his father.

But when Ramadan ended, so did the work. Realising he would never get a proper job, Ihab decided to go back to school, but the principal wouldn’t allow him to return.

Ihab’s mobile phone hinted at his despair. Its wallpaper portrayed a man holding his head in his hands with the title ‘Father of suffering.’ A caption read: ‘I swear to God: We’re sick, we’re bored.’

On Tuesday, August 28, he left home, saying he was trying once again to find work. He didn’t return by nightfall. His mother, who had given Ihab her phone so he could keep in touch, went to a neighbour to call and ask where he was.

‘I’m not in all of Gaza. I’m not in this world. In a couple of hours you will hear my news,’ he said ominously, using an Arabic phrase that refers to the report of someone’s death.
Palestinian doctors at Shifa Hospital in Gaza have seen some terrible things
Palestinian doctors at Shifa Hospital in Gaza have seen some terrible things

‘Forgive me, mother,’ he begged. ‘I am sick of life. There is no work. Forgive me.’

Ihab was in a park with a neighbour, Mohammed Jaber. ‘He was carrying a plastic bottle of petrol,’ said Mohammed. ‘I thought it must be for the generator. He distracted my attention and jumped in a taxi. I didn’t know where he had gone.’

The family scoured Gaza City all night trying to find him. The following morning, his mother and a neighbour went to the hospital, fearing he had been in an accident. Police there said a young man had tried to set himself on fire.

Sufian said: ‘I blame the Israeli occupation and the siege for our situation. I blame the divisions between the West Bank and Gaza.

‘But I say to young Palestinians: don’t do what Ihab did. It was a mistake. Keep looking, keep learning. Education is the only future.

‘We need more support for social clubs, for unemployment programmes and job opportunities that will give our young people hope.’

Sunday 2 September 2012


Sunday September 2, 2012

By Matthew Kalman

WIDOWS of Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympics by Palestinians are demanding answers after newly declassified documents exposed massive government incompetence and later collusion with the terrorists.

Eleven members of the Israeli team were killed after eight Black September terrorists broke into their apartment at the Olympic village in Munich in 1972.

Two Israelis died initially, nine more were taken hostage and killed during a botched rescue attempt.

Government records published by German magazine Der Spiegel last week reveal the West German government “maintained secret contacts with the organisers of the attack for years afterward and appeased the Palestinians to prevent further bloodshed on German soil”.

Ankie Spitzer, widow of murdered fencing coach Andre Spitzer, demanded: “The German government should open all the documents it has been hiding, reveal all its failures and draw conclusions, so that justice is finally served.”

Ilana Romano, widow of weightlifter Yossef Romano, said: “There was chaos and irresponsibility.”

Her husband was shot, tortured and bled to death in front of his bound teammates.

“There is no other way but for Germany to stand up and admit to its mistakes. It is time for it to open its Pandora’s box and tell the world about its errors,” she added.

Der Spiegel reveals that West Germany declined to ask for the extradition of Mohammed Daoud Oudeh, the Munich mastermind, when he was later arrested in France. The Bonn government also gladly surrendered the three PLO terrorists captured in Munich when a Lufthansa plane was hijacked a few weeks after the Olympics.

From contacts now revealed between German diplomats and Black September leaders, there are suspicions that the Lufthansa hijacking was staged with the tacit connivance of Bonn.

The magazine reports that within months of the Olympics massacre, there was “active but secret diplomatic communication between Germans and Palestinians.

“West German representatives were talking to men like Abu Youssef, Ali Salameh and Amin al-Hindi, all of them masterminds of the Munich murders.”

Black September was revealed to be a front for Yasser Arafat’s Fatah group in the PLO. The financier of the operation was Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s deputy and now president of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority.

Meanwhile, Israeli Cabinet documents and other material declassified last week reveal the agonising drama unfolding, minute by minute, via cables and phone calls from Munich and growing frustration among Israeli officials at the Germans’ incompetence.

The kidnappers agreed to fly in two helicopters with the hostages to a nearby military airfield to board a plane to Cairo.

The plane was manned by undercover Bavarian police. The plan was to draw the kidnappers into the open at the airfield where they would be shot by snipers but events went tragically wrong. When five terrorists emerged from the helicopters, the snipers opened fire. The terrorists set alight to one of the helicopters with the hostages inside and shot the others dead. A German police officer also died.

Mossad chief Zvi Zamir flew to Germany to help direct the rescue. In a bitter report to the Israeli government, he said he saw “confusion and inaction”.

Most chilling was the complaint by West German Chancellor Willy Brandt to Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir about Israeli criticism of his decision to release the three surviving terrorists after the Lutfhansa hijacking that October. “There was no other choice,” he wrote. Yet according to documents, diplomats were making a deal with the PLO. Says Der Spiegel: “Any contact with West German representatives, even in secret, upgraded the PLO’s status as an institution.

“In return, the government of then Chancellor Willy Brandt... hoped to protect Germany from further attacks.

“But the price they had to pay in return appears to have been high.”