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Europe’s ‘Special Interrogations’: New Evidence of Torture Prison in Poland – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International

New Evidence of Torture Prison in Poland

By John Goetz and Britta Sandberg

The current debate in the US on the “special interrogation methods” sanctioned by the Bush administration could soon reach Europe. It has long been clear that the CIA used the Szymany military airbase in Poland for extraordinary renditions. Now there is evidence of a secret prison nearby.

Only a smattering of clouds dotted the sky over Szymany on March 7, 2003, and visibility was good. A light breeze blew from the southeast as a plane approached the small military airfield in northeastern Poland, and the temperature outside was 2 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit). At around 4:00 p.m., the Gulfstream N379P — known among investigators as the “torture taxi” — touched down on the landing strip.
On board was the most important prisoner the US had been able to produce in the war on terror: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, also known as “the brains” behind al-Qaida. This was the man who had presented Osama bin Laden with plans to attack the US with commercial jets. He personally selected the pilots and supervised preparations for the attacks. Eighteen months later, on March 1, 2003, Sheikh Mohammed was captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan by US Special Forces and brought to Afghanistan two days later. Now the CIA was flying him to a remote area in Poland’s Masuria region. The prisoner slept during the flight from Kabul to Szymany, for the first time in days, as he later recounted:

“My eyes were covered with a cloth tied around my head. A cloth bag was then pulled over my head. … I fell asleep. … I therefore don’t know how long the journey lasted.”

Jerry M., age 56 at the time, probably sat at the controls of the plane chartered by the CIA. The trained airplane and helicopter pilot had been hired by Aero Contractors, a company that transferred prisoners around the world for US intelligence agencies. According to documents from Eurocontrol, the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation, Jerry M. had taken off from Kabul at 8:51 a.m. that morning. Only hours after landing in Poland, at 7:16 p.m., he took off again, headed for Washington.

A large number of Polish and American intelligence operatives have since gone on record that the CIA maintained a prison in northeastern Poland. Independent of these sources, Polish government officials from the Justice and Defense Ministry have also reported that the Americans had a secret base near Szymany airport. And so began on March 7, 2003 one of the darkest chapters of recent American — and European — history.

Obama Under Pressure

It was apparently here, just under an hour’s drive from Szymany airport, that Sheikh Mohammed was tortured, exactly 183 times with waterboarding — an interrogation technique that simulates the sensation of drowning — in March, 2003 alone. That averages out to eight times a day. And all of this happened right here in Europe.

Over six years later, these acts of torture are putting the new US president, Barack Obama, under intense pressure. On the one hand, he released four memos in which his predecessor George W. Bush had legalized such interrogation methods. On the other hand, he decided not to prosecute the torturers. And he initially neglected to launch investigations into these “special interrogation methods.”

It is the decision that has earned Obama the harshest criticism during the first 100 days of his presidency. Democrats from the Senate and the House of Representatives announced last week that they would form a truth commission, essentially putting them at odds with their own president. Obama quickly realized that he had apparently underestimated the volatile nature of the issue. So he had US Attorney General Eric Holder announce that no one stood above the law. Holder promised that an investigation would be conducted to find out who in the White House and the Justice Department had declared these methods legal.

What the CIA did back then to prisoners in the Polish military airbase of Stare Kiejkuty, north of Szymany, had been authorized by the president. According to witnesses, Stare Kiejkuty housed a secret CIA prison for “high value detainees” — for the most prominent prisoners of the war on terror.

There is now no doubt that the Gulfstream N379P landed at least five times at Szymany between February and July, 2003. Flight routes were manipulated and falsified for this purpose and, with the knowledge of the Polish government, the European aviation safety agency Eurocontrol was deliberately deceived.

Poland's alleged secret prison.

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DER SPIEGEL

Poland’s alleged secret prison.

The public prosecutor’s office in Warsaw has the statement of a witness who described how people wearing handcuffs and blindfolds were led from the aircraft at Szymany. He said that this happened far away from the control tower. According to the witness, it was always the same individuals and the same civilian vehicles that stood waiting on the landing field.

If we are to believe the statements of Sheikh Mohammed, a large number of those present at the small airfield wore ski masks. This is what he told a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross that questioned him in the US military prison at Guantanamo, Cuba in late 2006:

“On arrival the transfer from the airport to the next place of detention took about one hour. I was transported sitting on the floor of a vehicle. I could see at one point that there was snow on the ground. Everybody was wearing black, with masks and army boots, like Planet-X people.”

Just under an hour’s drive corresponds roughly to the distance from Szymany to the Stare Kiejkuty military base, known as a training camp for Polish intelligence agents. The route there passes for two kilometers through a fenced-off military zone, past dense pine forests, then heads northeast for 20 minutes, and finally leads over an unpaved road alongside a lake. The entrance to the base is at the end of this road.

‘I Was Never Threatened with Death’

Sheikh Mohammed said that they cut the clothes from his body, photographed him naked and threw him in a three-by-four-meter (10 x 13 ft) cell with wooden walls. That was when the hardest phase of the interrogating began, he claims. According to Sheikh Mohammed, one of his interrogators told him that they had received the green light from Washington to give him a “hard time”:

“They never used the word ‘torture’ and never referred to ‘physical pressure,’ only to ‘a hard time.’ I was never threatened with death, in fact I was told that they would not allow me to die, but that I would be brought to the ‘verge of death and back again.'”

He says he was questioned roughly eight hours a day. He spent the first month naked and standing, with his hands chained to the ceiling of the cell, even at night. They led them into another room for questioning, he says. That’s where the bed stood that he says he was strapped to for waterboarding. The mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks told members of the Red Cross that he eventually realized where he was being held:

“I think the country was Poland. I think this because on one occasion a water bottle was brought to me without the label removed. It had e-mail address ending in ‘.pl’. The central-heating system was an old-style one that I would expect only to see in countries of the former communist system.”

Thereafter, the al-Qaida operative described how he was strapped to a special bed and submitted to waterboarding:

“Cold water from a bottle that had been kept in a fridge was then poured onto the cloth by one of the guards so that I could not breathe. This obviously could only be done for one or two minutes at a time. The cloth was then removed and the bed was put into a vertical position. The whole process was then repeated during about one hour. Injuries to my ankles and wrists also occurred during the waterboarding as I struggled in the panic of not being able to breathe.”

For more than a year now, Warsaw public prosecutor Robert Majewski has been investigating former Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller’s government on allegations of abuse of office. At issue is whether sovereignty over Polish territory was relinquished, and whether former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his left-leaning Social Democratic government gave the CIA free reign over sections of the Stare Kiejkuty military base for the agency’s extraterritorial torture interrogations.

Majewski has questioned a large number of witnesses who worked in the former government, and this year his team even plans to fly to Guantanamo. “No European country is so sincerely and vigorously investigating former members of the government as is currently the case in Poland,” says Wolfgang Kaleck from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin, which supports the investigations.

The public prosecutor’s office has also launched a probe to determine whether the Polish intelligence agency made 20 of its agents available to the CIA, as was recently reported by the conservative Polish daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita. A former CIA official confirmed this information to SPIEGEL. There was reportedly a document issued by the intelligence agency that mentioned both the 20 Polish agents and the transfer of the military base to the Americans. Two members of a parliamentary investigative committee in Warsaw had an opportunity to view this document in late 2005, but it has since disappeared.

The Missing Piece of Evidence

Journalist Mariusz Kowalewski at Rzeczpospolita and two colleagues have been searching for months now for proof of the existence of a secret CIA base in Poland. The journalists have discovered flight record books from Szymany that had been declared lost, and based on refueling receipts and currency exchange rates, they have reconstructed flights and routes, and spoken with informants. Over the past few weeks, their newspaper and the television network TVP Info have revealed new details on an almost daily basis.

Kowalewski has collected a wide range of documents on his white Apple laptop. He is convinced, though, that he only knows “a fraction of what actually happened.” He is certain that there was a CIA base in the Masuria region, where high-ranking al-Qaida prisoners were brought. All that is missing is the final piece of evidence. There are rumors circulating that one of the most important interrogators of Sheikh Mohammed, an American named Deuce Martinez — the man who didn’t torture him, but rather had the task of gently coaxing information out of him — was in Poland at the time. That is the proof that’s still missing.
Similar conclusions were reached by the second investigative report on CIA kidnappings in Europe, which was submitted two years ago by the special investigator of the Council of Europe, Dick Marty. (Eds: The Council of Europe is an international organization and watchdog for human rights in a total of 47 states in the European region.) According to Marty’s report, members of the former Polish military intelligence and counterintelligence agency, WSI, were given positions with the border police, customs and airport administration to safeguard the activities of the CIA. “The latest revelations in Poland fully corroborate my evidence, which is based on testimony by insiders and documents that have been leaked to me,” says the investigator today. Now, under the “dynamic force of the truth” that Obama has unleashed, Marty says that Europeans must finally reveal “which governments tolerated and supported the illegal practices of the CIA.”

All that remains is the question of who in Poland at the time approved the collaboration with the CIA and gave the Americans unencumbered use of sections of Stare Kiejkuty.

“The order to give the CIA everything they needed came from the very top, from the president,” a member of the Polish military intelligence agency told the Marty team in 2007. Kwasniewski denies this. He says that there was close intelligence corporation with the US, but no prisons on Polish soil. When asked to comment on the reports, former Prime Minister Miller said: “All of this is just another opportunity for me to say that I have nothing to say.”

It’s very possible that the debate on torture and responsibility which is currently being conducted in the US will soon also reach Europe. After all, Germany granted the US flyover rights and dropped its bid to extradite 13 CIA operatives in the case of Khalid el-Masri, a German citizen who claims he was abducted by the Americans. The Italian intelligence agency allegedly assisted the CIA with the kidnapping in Milan of the Islamic cleric Abu Omar. Britain’s intelligence agency, MI6, reportedly delivered information directly to CIA agents who were conducting interrogations in Morocco. And there are also reports of a secret prison in Romania. Investigations have been launched into these allegations in nearly all of these countries.

Jerry M., the pilot who flew Sheikh Mohammed from Kabul to Szymany in March, 2003, now lives in Birmingham, Alabama, in a brick house with white shutters and box trees planted in front of the door. Two stone lions guard the path that leads to the entrance. For two years, Jerry M. only had a post box address, like everyone else who flew CIA prisoners around the world: P.O. Box 22 99 43, code name Jerry Allen Bostick.

It appears the 62-year-old would rather deny all knowledge of this period in his life. When the SPIEGEL asked him over the phone if he had ever been to Poland, he said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Really no idea.” When he was asked if he had ever worked for a company named Aero Contractors, the line suddenly went dead. Jerry M. had hung up.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

Isn’t she just wonderful!

Clinton says Israel risks losing support on Iran | U.S. | Reuters

Clinton says Israel risks losing support on Iran

Thu Apr 23, 2009 2:13pm EDT

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautioned Israel’s right-wing government on Thursday that it risked losing Arab support for fighting any threats from Iran if it shuns Palestinian peace talks.

Signaling U.S. impatience with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reticence over peace talks, Clinton said Arab nations had made clear to her that Israel must be committed to the Palestinian peace process if it wants help countering Iran.

“For Israel to get the kind of strong support it is looking for vis-a-vis Iran, it can’t stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts. They go hand in hand,” she told the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee.

Israel sees a nuclear-armed threat as a mortal threat.

“They (Arab countries) believe that Israel’s willingness to re-enter into discussions with the Palestinian Authority strengthens them in being able to deal with Iran,” she added.

Since coming into power last month, Netanyahu and his right-leaning coalition have avoided recognizing the Palestinians’ right to an independent state as his predecessor Ehud Olmert did.

The United States is committed to pushing for a two-state solution, with Israelis and Palestinians living side by side, and would like to revive stalled talks.

Netanyahu is set to visit Washington early next month. Clinton said she was not going to prejudge the Israeli position until there had been face-to-face talks with him.

“The prime minister will be coming to Washington in May, and we think that it is important not to prejudge what their view is and how that can best be approached,” she said.

FUNDS TO HAMAS?

Lawmakers put pressure on Clinton over a funding request for the Palestinians, saying there must be strong assurances that none of the money would go to the militant group Hamas if it were included in a future unity government under discussion.

Clinton said the State Department would carefully track assistance and additional steps being taken to ensure that no U.S. taxpayer money goes to Hamas.

“No aid will flow to Hamas or any entity controlled by Hamas,” she added.

But New York Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey, who has previously put holds on money earmarked for the Palestinians, questioned what she said was some “flexibility” in the Obama administration’s approach.

Clinton reiterated that the Obama administration expected any new government that included Hamas to meet three conditions — to recognize Israel, renounce violence and sign on to previous Palestinian peace accords.

But Clinton hinted that some flexibility might be needed, pointing to U.S. funding for Lebanon, whose government includes the militant group Hezbollah.

“We are doing that because we think, on balance, it is in the interest of the United States,” she said.

I do not fully agree with the article writer’s view, but this can be a good start to a change in US/Iran relation and a roadmap to a peaceful co-existance of Israel and it’s neighbours. Unfortunately the bully in this game is not Iran, but Israel, who lives on keeping the image of Iran as the most dangerous country on earth today to justifiy their criminal behavior.

Iran’s has the right to enrich uranium, even thought I compeletely dissagree with nuclear power as a solution to Iran’s power need, but have to admit that the country based on the guidelines of the NPT can enrich uranium for civilian use. This is something that the world has to accept, or else the conflict will go on and as El-Baradi rightfully highlight:

you will turn the region into a ball of fire and put Iran on a crash course for nuclear weapons with the support of the whole Muslim world.

I really hope this will not happe, and the only way to stop this is to put a leash on the mad leaders of Israel before it is too late.

Op-Ed Columnist – Realpolitik for Iran – NYTimes.com

Realpolitik for Iran

VIENNA

For Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, “a combination of ignorance and arrogance” under the Bush administration squandered countless diplomatic opportunities with Iran and so allowed it to forge ahead with its nuclear program.

Referring twice to Dick Cheney as “Darth Vader,” ElBaradei told me in an interview that “U.S. policy consisted of two mantras — Iran should not have the knowledge and should not spin one single centrifuge. They kept saying, wait, Iran is not North Korea, it will buckle. That was absolutely a mistake.”

Instead of building on Iran’s Afghan help in 2001, exploring an Iranian “grand bargain” offer in 2003, or backing 2005 European mediation that hinged on the U.S. agreeing to sale of a French nuclear power reactor, “We got Darth Vader and company saying Iran was in the axis of evil and we have to change this regime.”

The result, ElBaradei said, was that instead of containing the program at a few dozen centrifuges, “Iran now has close to 5,500 centrifuges, and they have 1,000 kilos of low enriched uranium, and they have the know-how.” Still, he dismissed the notion that Iran “could go to a weapon tomorrow” as “hype,” putting the time frame for that at two to five years.

Imagine if Roosevelt in 1942 had said to Stalin, sorry, Joe, we don’t like your Communist ideology so we’re not going to accept your help in crushing the Nazis. I know you’re powerful, but we don’t deal with evil.

That’s a rough equivalent on the stupidity scale of what Bush achieved by consigning Iran’s theocracy to the axis of evil and failing to probe how the country might have helped in two wars and the wider Middle East when the conciliatory Mohammad Khatami was president.

Seldom in the annals of American diplomacy has moral absolutism trumped realism to such devastating effect. Bush gifted Iran increased power without taking even a peek at how that might serve U.S. objectives.

So here we are, several thousand centrifuges on, with Iran getting what it has long craved: recognition of the regime from the Obama administration, relegation of threats and renunciation of the demand that enrichment be suspended as a condition for America’s joining other major powers in nuclear talks with Iran.

That’s salutary. American realism is now essential. It should heed ElBaradei’s view: “I don’t believe the Iranians have made a decision to go for a nuclear weapon, but they are absolutely determined to have the technology because they believe it brings you power, prestige and an insurance policy.”

I think it’s almost certainly too late to stop Iran achieving virtual nuclear power status — something like Brazil’s or Japan’s mastery of the know-how without a weapon. Iran’s advances of the past eight years cannot be undone. What can be transformed is the context Iran operates in; that in turn will determine how “virtual” Iran remains.

One context changer was Obama’s call for a nuclear-free world: it’s hard to argue for nonproliferation without tackling disarmament. “You can’t have nine countries telling the likes of Iran nuclear weapons are dangerous for you, but we need to go on refining our arsenals,” said ElBaradei, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 and ends his term later this year. “It’s a different world.”

He sees two years of U.S.-Iranian talks as needed, given the degree of mistrust, with “every grievance on the table.”

Here’s one normalization scenario:

Iran ceases military support for Hamas and Hezbollah; adopts a “Malaysian” approach to Israel (nonrecognition and noninterference); agrees to work for stability in Iraq and Afghanistan; accepts intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency verification of a limited nuclear program for peaceful ends only; promises to fight Qaeda terrorism; commits to improving its human rights record.

The United States commits itself to the Islamic Republic’s security and endorses its pivotal regional role; accepts Iran’s right to operate a limited enrichment facility with several hundred centrifuges for research purposes; agrees to Iran’s acquiring a new nuclear power reactor from the French; promises to back Iran’s entry into the World Trade Organization; returns seized Iranian assets; lifts all sanctions; and notes past Iranian statements that it will endorse a two-state solution acceptable to the Palestinians.

Any such deal is a game changer, transformative as Nixon to China (another repressive state with a poor human rights record). It can be derailed any time by an attack from Israel, which has made clear it won’t accept virtual nuclear power status for Iran, despite its own nonvirtual nuclear warheads.

“Israel would be utterly crazy to attack Iran,” ElBaradei said. “I worry about it. If you bomb, you will turn the region into a ball of fire and put Iran on a crash course for nuclear weapons with the support of the whole Muslim world.”

To avoid that nightmare Obama will have to get tougher with Israel than any U.S. president in recent years. It’s time.

Uri Avnery: Our Dissonance

Nostalgia is Having a Field Day

Our Dissonance

By URI AVNERY

Passover Week is a time for outings. News programs on radio and television start with words like: “The masses of the House of Israel spent the day in the national parks…”

It is also a feast of homeland songs. On television one sees groups of white-haired oldsters surrounded by their children and grandchildren fervently singing the songs of their youth, the words of which they know by heart.

“Rest has come to the weary / And repose to the toiler / A pale night spreads / Over the fields of the Valley of Jezreel / Dew below and the moon above / From Beit-Alfa to Nahalal…” The camera focuses on the furrowed face of a grandmother with wet eyes, and it is not hard to imagine her as the beautiful girl she once was. It is easy to see her in a Jezreel kibbutz, with short pants and a long braid swinging behind her, smiling, bowed over tomato plants in the communal vegetable garden.

Nostalgia is having a field-day.

* * *

I ADMIT that I am not free from this nostalgia. Something happens to me, too, when I hear the songs, and I join in them involuntarily.

Like many others, I am suffering from “cognitive dissonance”. The heart and the head are not coordinated. They operate on different wavelengths. In other words: my head knows that the Zionist enterprise has imposed a historic injustice on the people who lived in this land. But my heart remembers what we felt in those days.

At the age of 10, a few weeks after our flight from Nazi Germany and arrival in this country, my parents sent me to Nahalal, the first Moshav (communal village). I lived with a family of “peasants” – there were not yet known as “agriculturists” – in order to get “acclimatized” and learn Hebrew.

What was Nahalal like in those days? 75 families, their small white houses arranged in a perfect circle, who worked from sunrise to sunset. In the winter, the village became a sea of mud, which stuck to your rubber boots and felt as heavy as lead. In summer, the temperature was often around blood heat. We, the children, went out to work with the adults, and sometimes it was almost unbearable.

Everyone lived in indescribable poverty. A small glass of home-made wine on Friday night was the height of luxury. Money was measured in piasters (dimes). When the mother of the family, at long last, got a Singer sewing machine and could make the family new clothes, it was a cause for celebration.

When the poet Nathan Alterman wrote about the “rest for the weary”, it was not a poetic phrase. He was talking about real people.

These people were the sons and daughters of the St. Petersburg and Kiev bourgeoisie, spoilt children of well-to-do parents, who came here to “build the country”, walking with open eyes into a life of abject poverty and back-breaking work, learning a foreign language and giving up their mother tongue forever. During the first years they worked hard to drain the swamp on their land. I can’t imagine that after a day’s work any of them had the energy left to read Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky.

They knew, of course, that there were Arabs around. On the road from Nahalal to Haifa they went past Arab villages. They saw fellaheen working in the fields. But they were from another world. That year – 1934 – was still tranquil, the quiet before the storm of the 1936 “disturbances”.  They had no contact with Arabs, did not understand their language, had no idea at all about what went on in their heads when they saw the Jews tending their fields.

What they knew was that the fields of the Jezreel Valley, many of which had been swamps, had been bought with good money from an Arab landowner. Nobody thought about the peasants who had lived on this land and derived from it their daily bread for generations, and who were evicted when the rich absentee landowner sold it to the Jewish National Fund.

* * *

NOSTALGIA IS a human emotion. In every generation, old people remember their youth, and mostly it appears to them as an age of purity and happiness.

This natural, personal nostalgia is joined in our case by another feeling, which causes the old songs to flood us with longing for the innocence of those days, the virtue, the belief in “the rightness of the way”, when everything looked so simple.

We felt then that we were taking part in an unprecedented heroic undertaking, creating a new world, a new society, a new human being, a new culture, a new language. We remembered where we came from – from a Europe that was turning into a hell for the Jews. We knew that it was our duty to build a safe haven for millions of Jews who were living in growing danger (even though nobody could yet imagine the Holocaust) and who had nowhere to escape to.

There was a spirit of togetherness, of belonging, of idealism. The new songs expressed it.  We all sang them in the youth movements, at Kibbutz evenings, during trips around the country, even in the diverse underground organizations, and of course at school.

When the “disturbances” started in April 1936, we did not see them as an “Arab Revolt”. Like the “pogrom” of 1921 and the “massacre” of 1929, they looked to us like a British plot to incite the ignorant Arabs against us in order to continue to rule the country. The “incited” Arab crowds attacked us because they did not understand how good we were for them. They did not grasp that we were bringing to the country progress, modern agriculture, health care, socialism, workers’ solidarity. Their leaders, the rich “Effendis” (Turkish for noblemen) were inciting them because they were afraid that they would learn from us to demand higher wages. And there were, of course, those who believed that the Arabs were murdering for the sake of murdering, that murder was their nature and the essence of Islam.

These were not cynical excuses. Zionism was not cynical. The entire Yishuv (the new Hebrew society) believed in this doctrine. In retrospect one can say: this belief was necessary in order to keep up the idealist spirit while ignoring the other side of the coin.

Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who lived abroad and had no part in the pioneer endeavor of (the socialist) “Working Eretz Israel”, looked at things from afar and saw them as they were: already in the 1920s he stated that the Palestinian Arabs were behaving as any people would if they saw strangers coming to their country with the intent of turning it into their own homeland. But only a few listened to him.

On the Zionist Left there were always some groups and individuals who tried to find a compromise between Zionism and the people of the land, which would not hinder the Zionists from settling all over the country. It was 1946 before there came into being the first group (of which I was one of the founders) which recognized the Palestinian – and the general Arab – National Movement and proposed striking an alliance with it.

* * *

IN 1948, the songs of the War of Independence joined the pioneer songs. Regarding them, too, not a few among us suffer from cognitive dissonance. On the one side – what we felt then. On the other – the truth as we know it now.

For the fighters – as for the entire Yishuv – it was, quite simply, an existential war. The slogan was “There is No Alternative”, and all of us believed in it completely. We were fighting with our backs to the wall, the lives of our families hanging in the balance. The enemy was all around us. We believed that we, the few, the very few, almost without arms, were standing up against a sea of Arabs. In the first half of the war, the Arab fighters (known to us as “the gangs”) indeed dominated all the roads, and in the second half, the regular Arab armies approached the centers of the Hebrew population, surrounding Hebrew Jerusalem and coming close to Tel-Aviv. The Yishuv lost 6000 young people out of a population of some 635 thousand. Whole year-groups were decimated. Innumerable heroic acts were performed.

The idealism of the fighters found its expression in the songs. Most of them are imbued with faith in victory, and, of course, total conviction of the justness of our cause. We did not leave Arabs behind our lines, nor did the Arabs leave any Jews behind theirs. It looked in those circumstances like a simple military necessity. The fighters did not think then about “ethnic cleansing” – a term not yet invented.

We had no understanding about the real balance of power between us and the other side. The Arabs looked to us like a huge force. We did not know that the Palestinians were quarreling with each other, unable to unite and to create a country-wide defense force, that they had a severe shortage of modern arms. Later, when the Arab armies joined the fray, we did not know that they were unable to cooperate with each other, that it was more important for them to compete with each other than to defeat us.

Today, a growing number of Israelis have started to understand the full significance of the “Nakba”, the great tragedy of the Palestinian people and all the individuals who lost their homes and most of their homeland. But the songs come and remind us of what we felt at the time, when the things happened. An abyss yawns between the emotional reality of those days and the historical truth as we know it now.

Some see the entire 1948 war as a conspiracy of the Zionist leadership which intended right from the beginning to expel the Palestinians from the country in order to turn it into a Jewish State. According to this view, the soldiers of 1948 were war criminals who implemented a vicious policy, much as the pioneers of the preceding generation were land robbers, knights of ethnic cleansing by expulsion and expropriation.

They are strengthened in this view by today’s settlers, who are driving the Palestinians from what remains of their land. By their actions they blacken the pioneer past. Religious fanatics and fascist hooligans, who claim to be the heirs of the pioneers, obliterate the real intentions of that generation

HOW CAN one overcome the contradiction between the intentions and emotions of the actors and their many magnificent achievements in building a new nation, and the dark side of their actions and the consequences?

How to sing about the hopes and dreams of our youth and at the same time admit to the terrible injustice of many of our actions? Sing with full heart the pioneer songs and the 1948 war songs (one of which I wrote, of which I am far from proud), without denying the terrible tragedy we imposed on the Palestinian people?

Barack Obama told the Turkish people this week that they must come to grips with the massacre of the Armenians committed by their fathers, while at the same time reminding the Americans that they must confront the genocide of the Native Americans and the black slavery exploited by their own forefathers.

I believe we can do this regarding the catastrophe that we have caused the Palestinians. I am convinced that this is important, indeed essential, for our own national mental health, as well as a first step toward eventual reconciliation. We must acknowledge and recognize the consequences of our deeds and repair what can be repaired – without rejecting our past and the songs that express the innocence of our youth.

We must live with this contradiction, because it is the truth of our lives.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.