Palestinian Authority organizers in Ramallah and Gaza published on Monday plans for massive protests at the Temporary Armistice borders that existed from 1948 until the Six-Day War in 1967, on the same day that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has declared a deadline for an agreement by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Israel to resume direct talks.
The protests and the deadline are on Friday, June 7, which also is the anniversary of the return of the Temple Mount to Jewish hands after 2,000 years.
It might have been a brainstorm by someone in the State Dept. to choose the date as being symbolic for enemies to make up and live in peace with each other forever.
If so, it illustrates to the Nth degree how little American policymakers understand the Israeli-Arab struggle, let alone the entire Middle East.
If the timing was a coincidence, it shows how totally inept they are.
Organizers of the protests plan simultaneous demonstrations in Jordan and other Arab countries.
In Israel, Arabs have been told to arrive in large numbers towards the old borders of Israel that existed as the Temporary Armistice Lines until the Six-Day War in 1967.
Protests are planned at the Kalandia checkpoint at northern Jerusalem, at the Damascus Gate in the Old City, Rachel’s Tomb, which is several hundred yards from the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Jerusalem and which borders Bethlehem, in northern Gaza near the security fence, and at the Jordanian border.
Previous mass marches have been a total failure, but this time the stakes are high. If Abbas actually does back down and agree to speak with Israel without pre-conditions, his life literally could be in danger. If he does not, he risks the total wrath of the United States, but at this point, he might not care.
“Despite his good intentions, Kerry so far looks like a naive and ham-handed diplomat who has been acting like a bull in the china shop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” wrote Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz.
“It is a Lone-Ranger type of effort so far,” said Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister who is now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, quoted by Reuters correspondent Arshad Mohamed, who covers the State Dept.
“The perception in the region is this is a process of buying time … that the White House is not serious about committing to what it takes to get this issue resolved,” Muasher added. “I don’t think people are questioning the motives of Kerry, everyone thinks he is serious about this – and he is serious about this – but he is just acting alone.”
That is the truth. Kerry is alone in the Middle East, a fish out of water.
When Kerry talks to Abbas, he is talking to a wall, a man who for eight years has carefully and cleverly carried out a single-minded strategy of ”all or nothing” while assuming that the world really loves the Arabs and does not simply support its agenda because it cannot stomach dealing with a Jewish state that is not downtrodden.
When Kerry talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he is speaking with a man who knows that the State Dept. cannot see past its nose. Israel has dangerously played the “peace process” game with the assumption, proven correct for 65 years, that the Arabs will shoot themselves in the foot in the end.
On Friday, the best that Kerry can hope for is extending his June 7 deadline.
Maybe he will schedule the next one for November 29, the day that the United Nations recognized the re-establishment of Israel.
Palestinian Authority and Israeli officials have immediately rejected a brainstorm announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that Turkey act to reach for the forever elusive end of the rainbow and reincarnate the peace process.
Two weeks after President Barack Obama said in Israel that there is no sense in trying to bring Ramallah and Jerusalem together if both sides don’t show they want to do so, Kerry is playing the willing robot to put everything in place for instant peace.
All Israel has to day is pay off the families of Turkish terrorists as a reward for trying to kill Israeli commandos who stopped their Mavi Mamara ship from sailing to Hamas-controlled Gaza to break the maritime embargo against terrorists and arms.
One other thing, said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu: Israel must remove all “embargoes,” meaning that Hamas should be allowed to bring in whatever it wants, such as medicine, which flows by the ton every day through land crossings; and everything that can be found in any store or mall, which flows by the ton every day through land crossings; and anti-aircraft guns and explosives for suicide bombers, which do not enter through land crossings. Maybe they come though tunnels. Just maybe.
Kerry is faithfully carrying out his duties as Secretary of State, where talking is the key to the world’s woes and can fix all problems, such as the Iranian nuclear threat, a corrupt Muslim fundamentalist regime in Egypt and war crimes in Syria.
Israel and Ramallah are not biting the bait and won’t take it unless Kerry comes up with a hefty bribe, and anything is possible.
The immediate reactions before Kerry’s plane to Israel was even in the air were something like, “Are you real?”
With Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan falling over him self for winning an apology from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for Israeli commandos defending their lives, Kerry played up on his ego that makes him think everyone in the world wants to be his friend.
Someone in the State Dept. forgot one little detail: Mahmoud Abbas heads the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and is not interested in the rival Hamas terrorist organization getting support from “friends of the West,” such as Erdogan who two weeks ago announced for the ninth or tenth time he will visit Gaza.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said Turkey would be “ineffective” and that it cannot be a fair negotiator between Israel and the Palestinian Authority because it still is at odds with Israel, making it susceptible to buckle under American pressure to be nice to Prime Minister Netanyahu.
There are two other reasons he did not state: One, Erdogan is pro-Hamas. Two, if the United States support the idea, it is suspicious.
Al-Malki told Palestinian Authority radio that it prefers that any diplomatic maneuvering come from the Quartet, where the United States is only one of four players. The others are the European Union, which wants to keep its welfare payments to the PA from going up in smoke; Russia, which wants to protects its investments in Iran and Syria; and the United Nations General Assembly, which last November accepted lock, stock and barrel Abbas’ demand to recognize all of his political and territorial demands from Israel.
As for Israel, International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz told Voice of Israel public radio that he didn’t even believe that Kerry would suggest Turkey as a peacemaker.
“I think it is a baseless report. I personally am not familiar with any such decision,” said Steinitz after the State Dept, on Friday boasted that Turkey “has the ability to encourage Palestinians of all stripes to accept Quartet principles and move forward.”
“With the Palestinian Authority, we can negotiate directly, so there is no need for mediation. If anybody does mediate it will be the International Quartet,” said Steinitz, who noted Erdogan’s fondness for Hamas.
Kerry landed in Israel Sunday evening. No one considers his visit as any more than another stage show, but no one should write him off. He has Obama’s back and Obama has money that the Palestinian Authority, and Israel, want.
The State Dept. Deputy Secretary William J. Burns and Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Thomas Nides on Thursday testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, on the events in Benghazi, Libya, September 11, 2012 that ended with four Americans killed at the U.S. mission, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Secretary Clinton regretted not being able to participate. She probably figured she didn’t need this on her record when she runs for the top job in 2016.
Her absence was felt at the meeting, since her two representatives were making sure to attribute to her every single bold move State will be taking in the aftermath of the Accountability Review Board’s report.
Some impolite talk radio hosts suggested Hillary’s fainting spell and consequent injury could be related to her reluctance to speak in person about the Benghazi mess. Who knows.
According to Deputy Secretary Burns, the State Dept. intensified a diplomatic campaign aimed at combating the threat of terrorism across North Africa. “We continue to work to bring to justice the terrorists responsible for the attacks in Benghazi, and we are working with our partners to close safe havens, cut off terrorist finances, counter extremist ideology, and slow the flow of new recruits.”
That’s really nice. Still, there’s the report issued by the Accountability Review Board (PDF), with names like Ambassador Tom Pickering (chairman) and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen at the helm, which reportedly rebuked the Administration for its utter failure in Benghazi.
“The board’s report takes a clear-eyed look at serious systemic problems, problems which are unacceptable, problems for which, as Secretary Clinton has said, we take responsibility, and problems which we have already begun to fix,” Burns said what he had to, regarding the report.
But the report itself, or, rather, those two respected men who issued it, appeared at a press briefing last Wednesday, December 19, they offered different accounts of just what happened in Benghazi.
Ambassador Thomas Pickering said the terrorist attacks occurred over almost eight hours. “What happened on September 11th and 12th in Benghazi was a series of attacks in multiple locations by unknown assailants that ebbed and flowed over a period of almost eight hours,” Pickering told the press.
Except that, less than half an hour later, responding to a reporter’s question as to why the U.S. military never became involved in Benghazi, retired Admiral Michael Mullen said: “We looked at the force posture very specifically, and while we had a lot of forces in Europe both at sea and on land, it is not reasonable that they could have responded … in any kind of timely way. This was over in a matter of about 20 or 30 minutes with respect to the Special Mission specifically. And we had no forces ready or tethered, if you will, focused on that mission so that they could respond, nor would I expect we would have.”
Right-leaning CNS News pointed out that Mullen not only timed the terror attack at 20 to 30 minutes, but also defined it as only those events at the “Special Mission” compound, the State Department’s facility in Benghazi.
This conflicts with a CIA timeline of the Sept. 11, 2012 events, which shows that one hour and fifty minutes, give or take a couple minutes, elapsed between the time the “Special Mission” compound first came under attack and when a CIA rescue team was able to extract the surviving U.S. personnel from there.
As to the Accountability Review Board’s view on the fatal failure at Benghazi, CNS News notes that Ambassador Stevens and DOS officer Sean Smith died of smoke inhalation inside the “Special Mission,” in the first wave of attacks, and then, at least seven and a half hours later, former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed by terrorist mortars fired on the Annex.
In other words, the event lasted seven and a half hours, and only the opening episode took “20 or 30 minutes.”
During that time, it appears that President Obama was not ordering the U.S. military to Benghazi. In fact, the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, according to the report, was soliciting help from the Libyan military and from the Libyan militia that had been hired to protect the Benghazi mission.
Yes, you read it right: security at the Benghazi U.S. mission was shared with a local, Libyan militia.
The good terrorists.
Burns told the Senate committee: “As Secretary Clinton has said, our diplomats cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs. When America is absent, there are consequences: Our interests suffer and our security at home is threatened. Chris Stevens understood that as well as anyone. Chris also knew that every chief of mission has the responsibility to ensure the best possible security and support for our people.
“It’s important to recognize that our colleagues in the Bureaus of Diplomatic Security and Near East Affairs and across the Department, at home and abroad, get it right countless times a day, for years on end, in some of the toughest circumstances imaginable. We cannot lose sight of that.”
Yes, it’s the old “Look how many cars don’t get into fatal accidents,” and “Look how many banks didn’t get robbed today.”
“But we learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi,” Burns told the Senate committee, adding: “We are already acting on them. We have to do better.”
Burns concluded: “As Secretary Clinton has said, the United States will keep leading and keep engaging around the world, including in those hard places where America’s interests and values are at stake.”
Absolutely, but come September 11, get some well armed American soldiers into our missions in those hard places, just in case.
Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Thomas Nides spoke next, on the steps being taken at Secretary Clinton’s direction, to prevent the next Benghazi.
The review board made 29 recommendations in its report, and Nides told the committee: “We accept every one of them – all 29 recommendations. Secretary Clinton has charged my office with leading a task force that will ensure that all 29 are implemented quickly and completely, and to pursue steps above and beyond the board’s report.”
He then offered “some very clear specifics.” They are worth noting, although we would have expected these changes to have been implemented immediately after 9/11 2001, not 11 years later.
“For more than 200 years, the United States, like every other country around the world, has relied on host nations to provide security for embassies and consulates. But in today’s evolving threat environment, we have to take a new and harder look at the capabilities and the commitments of our hosts. We have to re-examine how we operate in places facing emerging threats, where national security forces are fragmented or may be weak.
“So at Secretary Clinton’s direction, we have moved quickly to conduct a worldwide review of our overall security posture, with particular scrutiny on a number of high-threat posts. With the Department of Defense, we’ve deployed five interagency security assessment teams, made up of diplomatic and military security experts, to 19 posts in 13 countries – an unprecedented cooperation between our Departments at a critical time. These teams have provided us a roadmap for addressing emergency – emerging security challenges.
“We’re also partnering with the Pentagon to send 35 additional Marine detachments – that’s about 225 Marines – to medium and high-threat posts where they’ll serve visible deterrence to hostile acts. This is on top of the approximate 150 detachments we have already deployed. We are aligning our resources to our 2013 budget requests to address physical vulnerabilities and reinforce structures wherever needed and to reduce risk from fire.
“And let me add, we may need your help in ensuring that we have the authority to streamline the usual processes that produce faster results. We’re seeking to hire more than 150 additional Diplomatic Security personnel, an increase of about 5 percent, and to provide them with the equipment and training they need. As the ARB recommended, we will target them squarely at security at our high-threat posts.”
Because, let’s be honest here, the Republican House did cut a chunk out of the budget for embassy security just the year prior the Benghazi attack. They’ll have to put it back in, and then some (watch Ron Paul voting Nay on this one).
“Obviously, part of this is about resources,” Nides spelled it out. “We must equip our people with what they need to deliver results safely, and will work with you as needs arise. But Congress has a bigger role than that. You have visited our posts. You know our diplomats on the ground and the challenges they face. You know our vital national security interests are at stake, and that we are all in this together. We look forward to working with you.”
In conclusion, we still don’t really know what happened in Benghazi; the national media blocked successfully the Romney attempt to expose President Obama’s failure to understand, much less help the situation on the ground during the very long, seven and a half hour attack (the duration of a full day at the office minus the lunch break); Obama is president again, with Sen. John Kerry the likely Secretary of State; and we know for sure that everything is being done to prevent another Benghazi.
At Wednesday’s press briefing, DOS Spokesperson Victoria Nuland unexpectedly declared—not in response to a reporter’s question, and in the middle of an only loosely-related topic, that the U.S. is not seeking diplomatic contact with the Hamas government in Gaza.
Nuland told the room, seemingly out of the blue: “… Let me just say one other thing which has to do with Hamas.
“There have been some bizarre claims out there that Hamas has a back channel to the U.S. Government or that the U.S. Government is dealing with ex-officials to have some kind of a back channel to Hamas. I want to say here that these assertions are completely untrue. There is no such back channel. And our position on Hamas has not changed. And recent remarks by Hamas leaders during Khaled Meshaal’s visit to Gaza reinforce the fact that Hamas is not a partner for peace. And unless Hamas unambiguously accepts the Quartet principles for peace, it cannot be a partner in any negotiations.” As you may recall, the U.S. Congress last month froze $200 million in development aid to the Palestinian Authority, in response to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s successful move to upgrade his organization’s status at the UN.
At the daily press briefing on Wednesday, a reporter asked Spokesperson Nuland: “Victoria, what about the money that is being withheld? The Palestinian sources … say that they are on the verge of collapse and total bankruptcy. Have you done anything to … persuade Congress to release the money?”
NULAND: Well, we’re continuing to work with Congress, we’re continuing to make our views known about this, that we think this money is important. We think it supports important work by the Palestinian Authority and to support the needs of the Palestinian people and it should move.
QUESTION: Are you also urging Israel not to hold up their tax revenue?
Israel’s finance minister, who declared the suspension of tax payment transfers, explained at the time that this was done because the PA hadn’t been paying its electric bill, and owes $800 to the Israeli electric company.
According to Wednesday’s Jordan Times, at the recent Arab foreign ministers’ meeting in Doha, Qatar, Arab states agreed to come to the rescue of the Palestinian Authority by pledging a $100 million monthly payment.
That should cover the electric bill…
NULAND: We are making clear to the Government of Israel that we think funding of the Palestinian Authority is necessary, and that it should work with the PA to address the issues that they have, and that all sides need to take steps to reduce tensions, to build trust, to produce the kind of climate that’s going to get us back to direct talks.
If we were to read between the lines of an exchange during a State Dept. daily press briefing, Wed. Dec. 12, 2012, then the U.S., through our European allies, are busy trying to get bilateral, face to face negotiations going with the Iranians, over Iran’s nuclear program.
As was the case with the North Korean negotiations over the past decade plus, the Jury is out on which works better in the end, group talks or US-only face-to-facers. If anything, the Korean example seems to prove that neither approach really works if the other side is comprised of habitual liars hell bent on destroying us.
That aside, pay attention to the ease with which State’s Spokesperson Victoria Nuland glides into the possibility of bilateral talks with Iran.
Nuland took a question on Israeli reports that the Administration is looking to pursue direct talks with Iran over the next four or five months and is doing so without asking Israel’s permission.
NULAND: I haven’t seen those Israeli reports. What I can tell you is that the European Union has just made clear that earlier today, EU Deputy Secretary General Helga Schmid, who is Cathy Ashton’s deputy, had a phone call with the Iranian deputy negotiator Dr. Bagheri in order to discuss the way ahead, including possible dates and venues for another [P-5+1] plus Iran meeting. So we continue to make clear to the Iranian side that in that structure, the door remains open to talks if they are serious.
QUESTION: In the premise of the question, there was the idea that … you would have unilateral talks with the Iranians without the Israelis’ permission. I’m wondering … does the Administration think that it needs to get Israel’s permission to do that?
NULAND: …In the context … of P-5+1 Iran talks, we’d be prepared to meet bilaterally with Iran. The Israelis are well aware that that is our view and that is the way we would pursue it. So it’s not a matter of permission or not permission. They are our ally and partner, and we consult with them regularly, and we’re completely transparent in terms of how we’re trying to proceed here.
QUESTION: … But you wouldn’t ask for their permission, would you? Even if it was outside the P-5+1 context … does this Administration need to ask Israel for permission to … to talk with any other country in the world, including Iran?
NULAND: Again, Israel is our ally. Israel has an existential interest in the way this goes forward. We are very transparent with Israel on how this goes forward. So I don’t even think that scenario would arise one way or the other.
QUESTION: Well, can you just say that the Administration – that this country doesn’t ask permission from Israel to have talks with any countries –
MS. NULAND: I would say that this country doesn’t ask permission from any other country to act. Okay?
Chas Freeman, former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia under President George H. W. Bush, former assistant to former Secretary of Defense William Perry, a member of the State Department for the last thirty years and a renowned critic of Israel, told Russia Today TV in an interview that Israel’s recent Operation Pillar of Defense was a preemptive attack against civilians, which was baseless and uncalled for.
“The fact that one side commits occasional acts of terrorism does not justify state terrorism,” Freeman said about Israel’s strikes against Hamas in Gaza.
“In this case, there was not rocket fire of any consequence from the Gaza Strip prior to Israel’s inauguration of the military raid that killed the military leader of Hamas… You can’t bomb people into peaceful coexistence.”
Freeman suggested the timing of the operation was not a coincidence: “It’s popular in Israel to kill many Palestinians in Gaza…a war against Hamas wins votes.”
According to Freeman, the rabbis and settlers are to blame for Israel’s belligerent military actions. Explaining the significance of the name Pillar of Cloud by its biblical meaning, Freeman expounded: “The religious element in the Israeli armed forces, largely settler driven … religion is very much bounded up with its operations. The language of some of the rabbis during [operation] Cast Lead was simply hair-raising in terms of evoking Old Testament images of genocide against non-Jews…evoking memories of Old Testament violence raises questions… This is a typical example of what the Israelis call Hasbara, which is the control of the narrative and propaganda (it actually means simply PR – JP), and they do it very well.”
It should be noted that the names of IDF operations are generated by computer, chosen from a bank of random words, and not picked by rabbis for their religious implications. Freeman would have to explain the biblical significance of Operation Summer Rains (28 June – 26 November 2006), Operation Autumn Clouds (31 October–7 November 2006), Operation Orchard (6 September 2007), and Operation Sea Breeze (31 May 2010).
Freeman had much to say about the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. He claimed that Israel can influence staffing in the American security establishment, as a means of extending its own defense. He denied there was a similar Arab lobby, suggesting it’s a fiction of the Israel lobby’s imagination.
“The Arabs have plenty of money, but they also have no understanding of importance of institutions,” Freeman said, adding: “They don’t have a habit of sustained effort on anything…probably many of them consider it improper to buy votes, and I happen to agree with them. They are behind the times, unfortunately, every one else is doing it.”
We consulted Wikipedia on Freeman’s previous remarks regarding the Jewish state:
In a 2005 speech to a conference of the The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Freeman stated, “As long as the United States continues unconditionally to provide the subsidies and political protection that make the Israeli occupation and the high-handed and self-defeating policies it engenders possible, there is little, if any, reason to hope that anything resembling the former peace process can be resurrected. Israeli occupation and settlement of Arab lands is inherently violent.”
In a 2006 speech to the annual U.S.-Arab Policymakers Conference, Freeman said that Americans allowing Israel to “call the shots in the Middle East” had “revealed how frightened Israelis now are of their Arab neighbors” and that the results of the “experiment” were that “left to its own devices, the Israeli establishment will make decisions that harm Israelis, threaten all associated with them, and enrage those who are not.”
In a 2007 speech to the Pacific Council on International Policy Freeman said that “Al Qaeda has played us with the finesse of a matador exhausting a great bull by guiding it into unproductive lunges.” He cited the 2003 invasion of Iraq which “transformed an intervention in Afghanistan most Muslims had supported into what looks to them like a wider war against Islam.” He held that the U.S. had “embraced Israel’s enemies as our own” and that Arabs had “responded by equating Americans with Israelis as their enemies.” He chared that the U.S. now backed Israel’s “efforts to pacify its captive and increasingly ghettoized Arab populations” and to “seize ever more Arab land for its colonists.”
In what appears to be a recent change of events, the passports of non-Israelis who enter the areas of Judea and Samaria are now being stamped with “Judea & Samaria Only” “visitors permit,” whereas until fairly recently those passports were stamped with “Palestinian Authority Only” stamps.
There has been a hysterical response to this by such anti-Israel activists as Ali Abunimah, the founder and editor of the “Electronic Intifada,” an online media outlet dedicated to attacking Israel, the “Zionist entity.”
It would not be such a big deal if it were only the virulently anti-Israel fringe who read the Electronic Intifada who complained about the change. But, incredibly, the issue has now been taken up by international media outlets such as the Associated Press who have been badgering the spokesperson for the U.S. State Department about the change.
During the press conference on Tuesday, December 4, the AP’s State Department correspondent Matt Lee repeatedly badgered Deputy State Department Spokesperson Mark C. Toner about the matter. Lee parroted Abunimah’s over-the-top characterization of the stamp, and demanded to know what the U.S. is going to do about Israel’s “creeping annexation” over what he insisted Toner acknowledge was “occupied territory.”
The reporter compared what he considered to be a lackluster response to the concern expressed by the U.S. when the Chinese government began issuing passports in which maps showed Chinese ownership over disputed maritime territory. Toner resisted the comparison, but ultimately relented and assured the AP reporter that he would “look into it,” and then “report back.”
The source of the concern, the Electronic Intifada, is so hostile to Israel that it describes the change in Israeli stamp policy in this way:
‘Judea and Samaria’ is the Jewish nationalist name Israel gives to the occupied West Bank to reinforce its bogus claims to the territory and to give them a veneer of historical and religious legitimacy.
The latest change is further proof, if it were needed, that Israel is, without announcing it, implementing a racist one-state solution where there is no such thing as a Palestinian state and even the ‘Palestinian Authority’ has been erased.
Of course, Judea and Samaria (Yehuda and Shomron in Hebrew) are the terms which have been used to refer to these areas throughout history. It has only been since the 1960′s that the term “West Bank” began to be used to refer to that area.
Here is the full exchange at the State Dept. briefing on Tuesday, December 4, 2012:
QUESTION: The Israeli Interior Ministry today announced that they’re also – they approved, or they are about to build 1,600 units. It’s the Ramat Shlomo settlement. It was actually launched during the Vice President’s visit to Jerusalem back in 2010 and you guys stopped it. Today, they – so do you have a comment on that?
Mark C. Toner, Deputy Department Spokesman: Well, you won’t be surprised if – I’d just refer you to our statement yesterday, which is that these kinds of actions are unproductive and don’t help get the parties back to the negotiating table, which is our ultimate goal.
QUESTION: Okay, but this seems to be like a daily event now. We might expect tomorrow there’s going to be another settlement and so on, and you will continue to refer to your statement of the day before yesterday?
MR. TONER: Well, our position – as we said, we made it very clear yesterday in our statement, but our position has not changed, and we continue to convey that to the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Okay. So you have no intention of, let’s say, following suit with the – with your –
MR. TONER: Said, we see you –
QUESTION: – allies, Australia, and others to call the Israeli ambassador and tell him that in person?
MR. TONER: Well, Said, we’re in almost – well, we are in daily contact with the Israeli Government through our mission in Israel, and we’re going to convey what we’ve – privately as well as what we’ve conveyed publicly.
QUESTION: I have one last question on – if you indulge me – on the West Bank. The Israelis now are stamping visitors’ passports, American visitors and others, when they enter the West Bank as Judea and Samaria. Are you concerned about that? Did you express your concern to the Israelis?
The world is not a safe place, is the bottom line of what our State Dept. wants you to know. But if you insist—heaven knows why—on leaving your safe bedroom and risk setting foot in one of those awful places you hear about in the news, there’s a lot you need to know.
Travelers can become victims of crime and violence, or experience unexpected difficulties, says the special page titled “A Safe Trip Abroad” on the DOS website.
“Happily, most problems can be solved over the phone or with a visit to the Consular Section of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. There are other occasions, however, when U.S. consular officers are called upon to help U.S. citizens who are in foreign hospitals or prisons, or to assist the families of U.S. citizens who have passed away overseas.”
I’ll bet this paragraph alone could convince at least 5 percent of potential U.S. travelers to forget the whole deal, order a pizza and stay indoors with reruns of Battlestar Galactica (first or second version is already up to you). What a fun thing to do on my summer vacation – get a visit from a U.S. consular officer in my prison cell!
But DOS doesn’t want you stuck the whole summer in your mom’s basement, which is why they tell you: “We have prepared the following travel tips to help you avoid serious difficulties during your time abroad. We wish you a safe and wonderful journey!”
Here’s a particularly cheerful tip:
“Have your affairs in order at home. If you leave a current will, insurance documents, and power of attorney with your family or a friend, you can feel secure about traveling and will be prepared for any emergency that may arise while you are away. If you have minor children, consider making guardianship arrangements for them.”
So, like, have a wonderful time on this trip, and also, you’re going to die over there and never come back and your body parts will be divided among the needy and your kids will be raised by your cousin George who used to be a man!
But you haven’t seen scary until you’ve read the section titled “Safety on the Street”:
Don’t use short cuts, narrow alleys or poorly lit streets.
Try not to travel alone at night.
Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments.
Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers.
Avoid scam artists by being wary of strangers who approach you and offer to be your guide or sell you something at bargain prices.
Beware of pickpockets. They often have an accomplice who will: jostle you, ask you for directions or the time, point to something spilled on your clothing, or distract you by creating a disturbance.
Beware of groups of vagrant children who could create a distraction to pick your pocket.
Wear the shoulder strap of your bag across your chest and walk with the bag away from the curb to avoid drive-by purse-snatchers.
Try to seem purposeful when you move about. Even if you are lost, act as if you know where you are going. Try to ask for directions only from individuals in authority.
Know how to use a pay telephone and have the proper change or token on hand.
Learn a few phrases in the local language or have them handy in written form so that you can signal your need for police or medical help.
Make a note of emergency telephone numbers you may need: police, fire, your hotel, and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
If you are confronted, don’t fight back – give up your valuables.
By the way, that last tip is kind of the foundation of American foreign policy everywhere…
Yes, I understand that all these tips actually make sense, and they’re just as useful in downtown Manhattan as they are in Calcutta. Still, I don’t know of any other government that goes into such amazing lengths to school its potential world travelers about the all the dangers lurking out there.
“As much as possible, plan to stay in larger hotels that have more elaborate security.”
Really? Do they realize how much those hotels cost?
Then there’s this one:
“Safety experts recommend booking a room from the second to seventh floors above ground level – high enough to deter easy entry from outside, but low enough for fire equipment to reach.”
And practice jumping to the street from the seventh floor at home, just to be prepared…
Is there really anyone out there who will follow this tip? “When there is a choice of airport or airline, ask your travel agent about comparative safety records.”
I have a really cheap flight for you, but in the airport you’ll be using only every other flight actually reaches its destination. You want the kosher meal?
The part about traveling on trains is pure Hitchcock:
“Well-organized, systematic robbery of passengers on trains along popular tourist routes is a problem. It is more common at night and especially on overnight trains.
“If you see your way being blocked by a stranger and another person is very close to you from behind, move away. This can happen in the corridor of the train or on the platform or station.
“Do not accept food or drink from strangers. Criminals have been known to drug food or drink offered to passengers. Criminals may also spray sleeping gas in train compartments. Where possible, lock your compartment. If it cannot be locked securely, take turns sleeping in shifts with your traveling companions. If that is not possible, stay awake. If you must sleep unprotected, tie down your luggage and secure your valuables to the extent possible.”
Stay awake, for heaven’s sake, stay awake! You’re on vacation! Stay up and make sure no stranger stabs you for your valuables – which, by the way, the advisory suggests you should have left at home in the first place.
I’ll tell you, after reading some of these sections I feel like I’ve already been to Europe, got smacked around by all the crafty robbers over there and now I’m back, a little out of breath and worse for wear:
“Carjackers and thieves operate at gas stations, parking lots, in city traffic and along the highway. Be suspicious of anyone who hails you or tries to get your attention when you are in or near your car.
“Criminals use ingenious ploys. They may pose as good Samaritans, offering help for tires that they claim are flat or that they have made flat. Or they may flag down a motorist, ask for assistance, and then steal the rescuer’s luggage or car. Usually they work in groups, one person carrying on the pretense while the others rob you.
“Other criminals get your attention with abuse, either trying to drive you off the road, or causing an “accident” by rear-ending you.
“In some urban areas, thieves don’t waste time on ploys, they simply smash car windows at traffic lights, grab your valuables or your car and get away. In cities around the world, “defensive driving” has come to mean more than avoiding auto accidents; it means keeping an eye out for potentially criminal pedestrians, cyclists and scooter riders.”
And don’t even get me started on the special travel warnings DOS issues now and then, telling U.S. citizens half the world is full of people itching to kidnap them for ransom—and those are the nice ones.
Maybe the world has changed radically since the time I was 17. When I was 17 the year was 1972, and my girlfriend and I hitchhiked across Europe from early May to late September. We slept in parks, we roamed, we worked here and there when we had to (my hair was down to my belt). We came home unscathed, two white, Jewish, middle class kids. Is it really that much worse out there, or have our DOS officials just figured out an ingenious—though truly elaborate—way of being able to say “I told you so” no matter how crazy your experience abroad should be.
Tell you what, if you’re reading this in your prison cell in Rwanda, then, first, I’m sorry, then, of course, didn’t we tell you not to go? Also, nice to see they give you Internet, and, finally, please, contact your nearest U.S. consulate…