Ameer Makhoul’s Trial

…is a farce. Here’s why (I submitted this to electronic intifada and I think they like exclusivity, but I wanted to post it here, too):

We arrive at the Haifa Courts building around 11, a half hour after proceedings began. It was supposed to begin at 9:00 but was pushed back. The room – even though there is a horde of people outside waiting to get in – has only two benches for spectators. There are empty courtrooms with five or six benches, enough to easily accommodate all interested parties.

But instead we’re outside the door, while two, sometimes three, behemoth security guards control the door and glare at us intimidatingly. Milling around is a veritable who’s who of Haifa politics and activism. A Jewish member of the Communist party who is on city council comes out after giving testimony and hobnobs with influential activists, former Members of Knesset, employees of various NGOs in Haifa, international activists, journalists, powerful lawyers, and friends and family of Ameer. It’s a bit unnerving to realize that if they wanted, the Shabak could show up outside this courtroom, arrest everyone standing there, and essentially silence all dissent in Haifa. All the major players in one place, for one cause.

As two people come out, two are let in. One comes out, one goes in. Then two come out, and the ogres at the door decide no one else is allowed in. Some among us start arguing with them, calling them out on their arbitrary change of policy, but they’re enjoying their show of strength too much. They tell us to move over; we have to wait from the side, for no apparent reason. They bring in those extendable line-makers, you know, like in movie theaters and airports, and create a space where they can stand with their arms crossed, surveying their prey, a space we’re not allowed to enter. It’s a power trip, and these goons are getting off on their über-masculine superiority. It’s sad, sort of; in another life, in another place, these guys would be basketball players or construction workers or insurance salesmen. But they wouldn’t be the hired thugs put in place to blatantly exploit the power disparity between those of us who just want in and those who control our every move. There is an easy parallel between this charade and the political situation here; we are told where we can stand, what we can do, and whether or not we are allowed in.

And just like that, it’s over. People come flooding out; greeting and kissing each other on the cheek, saying hello to friends and family and colleagues. Ameer’s wife and daughters come out into the crowd, so do his sisters and his brother, observers from European embassies, community members, then the lawyers. A line-up of some of the best lawyers in Israel were in there, and still, this trial continues. It’s court date after court date of unanimously supportive character witness testimony. The prosecution has no evidence to present, at least not in a public hearing; such is the nature of these “security cases.” There was supposed to be a decision on his sentence today, but there wasn’t, and there will be yet another court date in January with more and more character witnesses, more and more people testifying in support of Ameer Makhoul. But there is irony in this; the longer they can postpone sentencing him, the longer he stays in jail, unable to kiss his wife, or hug his daughters. We can spend years and years giving positive testimony in support of Ameer but if he is not sentenced, he stays in jail, perpetually on trial.

When his younger daughter came out of the courtroom, I read her eyes. She is brave, so brave. I cannot imagine going through what she is. Month after month she comes to these trials, sees the community supporting her father, perhaps once in a blue moon she can hold his hand. His sister was allowed to hug and kiss him for the first time today, but when his wife visits him in prison they are permitted only to communicate through a telephone and a glass barrier. He is perpetually sealed off from his family. His daughter floats through the crowd, puts on a smile, hugs her aunts and uncles, and shakes hands with her father’s colleagues. When they look away, her face falls, and her eyes are sad, almost empty, resigned in a way to his fate. She has gone through too much for a girl her age. Still she, and his entire family, and the entire community, tirelessly fight for his rights. But with each farcical trial date, perpetuating this charade of “justice,” it seems less and less likely that these rights will ever be realized, a decision will be made, and he will be released, able to join his family at their home once again.

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Why computer hacking is scarier in Israel than in the US

Let’s talk about computer culture for a second – not that I’m an expert – but those of us who came of age in the US appreciate our downloadable, open-source lives. The geniuses (non-sarcastically) who created this infrastructure did it in the face of government policies that were desperately trying to hold onto the antiquated ideas of ownership of thought and inspiration, etc. No wonder there is a certain and particular dislike for government in these circles.

Now, Israel is a different story. It is a country with an incredible high-tech industry, but whose (almost) entire workforce served in the Army. And most of the Army isn’t combat units – most of it is desk jobs. And many of those are in intelligence units. In fact, the majority of Israelis in their 20s I know personally were in these units.

Intelligence in this situation doesn’t mean they just sit there and listen to tapped phone lines. These soldiers went into these units and came out the other end with incredible knowledge of computers, systems, networks, what have you. I imagine it to be much like in the TV shows and movies about the incredible cyber-power of the CIA (which probably doesn’t exist) and Mossad (which unquestionably does).

Of course, naïve as I am, I had no idea what they were capable of until I read this. (Remember, this is speculation – but it all makes sense.)

Iran’s nuclear reactor was hacked. Not a Mugatu face, countdown, and things go black on a giant screen hack. No, it was a multi-pronged, deliberate, undetectable, slow-moving hack. “Groundbreaking.”

“Researchers studying the worm all agree that Stuxnet was built by a very sophisticated and capable attacker — possibly a nation state — and it was designed to destroy something big…some of the researchers who know Stuxnet best say that it may have been built to sabotage Iran’s nukes.”

So, what nation-states do we know who might have a vested interest in targeting Bushehr, and the capability to do so? Not Russia, since they support it. Even the US government, who would probably be interested in a nuke-free Iran, likely doesn’t have the tech capacity to create a virus of this magnitude (see prior statements on the anti-government culture in the American techie world). So that leaves us with Israel – a huge workforce specifically dedicated to being really really really good at computers and intelligence-gathering.

I’m not sure how I feel about government with this kind of power – I’ve taken for granted the de facto separation of government and cyber-space in the US, but that so obviously doesn’t exist here. Really interesting, and really scary. It’s a little mind-boggling to think friends of mine almost certainly participated in developing this program, and have the knowledge and capability to carry this out.

96,000 Jobs I Won’t Get

I’m probably missing something, and certainly my understanding of the labor economy is undoubtedly sub-par…

But amidst all this news of the last troops being pulled out of Iraq (today’s reports state 56,000 remain), I can’t help but wonder.

“”Over the last 18 months, over 90,000 U troops have left Iraq,” the president said in an emailed statement published by the Huffington Post.” Add to that the 6,000 that will have to leave by the end of this month, and you get 96,000 returning troops. Don’t get me wrong, I generally think this is a good thing. But that also means 96,000 more people that will be competing for scarce jobs in an already difficult market.

Maybe that number isn’t very large, but it does seem daunting. When I come back, I’m going to have the competition of 96,000 more (experienced soldiers!) applicants to compete with. Not that we’d be going for the same jobs; it’s just that statistically speaking this does not sounds encouraging.

Am I wrong?

Scene 1: Train

An elderly Palestinian woman edges into a seat next to a dashing young blond soldier armed with deadly machinery. Culture clash? or all in a day’s work?

All the girl soldiers somehow make olive and khaki fashionable with long hair and big sunglasses, fully accessorized and manicured. I’d like to see them slog through trenches with those nails.