Tag Archives: anti-war

For Israelis the Nakba is a footnote. For Palestinians it’s the heart of the conflict

Israelis tend to view the expulsions of the 1948 war as a small, local affair that was quite restrained compared to the Nazi genocide. For Palestinians, it is an ongoing dispossession.

By Sam Freed

Palestinian refugee children seen in a makeshift school in Nablus, West Bank, 1948. (Hanini/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Palestinian refugee children seen in a makeshift school in Nablus, West Bank, 1948. (Hanini/CC BY-SA 3.0)

To large portions of the Jewish Israeli public, the Nakba was small event — an historical side note. To most Palestinians, on the other hand, it is a huge, exceptionally brutal, and vastly important part of their history. In order to understand why there is such a vast disparity in the way the Nakba is perceived by Israelis and Palestinians, despite very little contention as to the objective size of the event — 700,000 people were deported and dispossessed, which today we would call ethnic cleansing — one must look back several hundred years.

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Nothing motivates wars like ideas on paper. The printing press was invented in the mid 1400s in Germany. Rebellions against the Catholic Church were not infrequent during that period, but after the printing press was available such rebellions spread much faster. The most prominent of those was the Protestant Reformation, which led to centuries of internal religious and ideological wars in Europe, ending only in 1945. The number of victims is estimated at around 100 million.

Meanwhile in the Ottoman Empire the situation was quite different. Most of its military efforts were in the Balkans, directed towards Catholic Austria. In 1485, Sultan Bayzid II banned the printing press because the Arabic letters of the Qu’ran were considered too sacred to be used mechanically. The result was 500 years of relative peace in the Muslim world – quite a contrast to the constant bloodletting of religious wars in Europe.

The Ottomans controlled the Middle East by granting the local population maximal self-government. This included having a mukhtar (chief) run each village according to its own traditions. The result was that the Ottomans were able to control the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River with only a few hundred soldiers. While in Europe tens of millions were being killed in Christian-on-Christian violence, the first wars amongst Muslims involving over one million deaths happened quite recently: the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1970 and the Iran-Iraq War in 1979.

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The Zionist leadership that created Israel was virtually entirely of European origin. In the first half of the 20th century, the numbers of deportees and the dispossessed in Europe was high: in 1923 there were massive “population exchanges” between Greece and Turkey, in 1947 the British arranged for the partition of India, and after the Second World War eastern and central-European states expelled eight million ethnic and cultural Germans who lived in those countries for centuries. As a culturally European society, it is unsurprising that the Israelis did not see the expulsion of 700,000 people as exceptional or even uncivilized.

On the other hand, prior to the Nakba — the worst disaster in the collective memory of Palestinians — was the punitive exile of 10,000 men to Egypt in 1834. This was occasioned by the Palestinians refusing to join the Egyptian Army during the Egyptian revolt against the Ottomans. In contrast to the the European vantage point, the expulsion and dispossession of 700,000 people, including women, the elderly, and children, was seen as an act of barbarism of unprecedented magnitude. The disaster of 1948 was 70-times larger than the largest calamity in local popular memory at the time.

Additionally, Israelis and Palestinians view the Nakba differently when it comes to the dimension of time. As far as Israel is concerned the expulsions were over by the end of the war and cemented with the refusal to return refugees after the war. For the Palestinians, the Nakba is ongoing. The presence of the refugee camps is an ongoing tragedy, as is every time a Palestinian is dispossessed of land or a settlement for Jews only is set up on previously Palestinian land.

Palestinian citizens of Israel take part in the Return March, held at the destroyed village of Khubbeiza, to mark Nakba Day, May 9, 2019. (Mati Milstein)

Palestinian citizens of Israel take part in the Return March, held at the destroyed village of Khubbeiza, to mark Nakba Day, May 9, 2019. (Mati Milstein)

This ongoing Nakba peaked in during the war of 1967 but has continued in waves since 1948 through the expropriation of land in the Galilee and in the Negev, the ongoing tragedy of the “unrecognized villages,” and the ongoing construction of Jewish-only settlements in both the West Bank and Israel proper. For Palestinians, all these processes are the same Nakba: an ongoing dispossession and exile of Palestinians from their ancestral land.

For many Israelis, the Nakba was a small, local affair that was quite restrained in comparison to the mass murder of the Nazis in Europe. No matter what you call it, the Nakba is a founding event of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Seeking a mutual understanding of how the two sides see it so differently is a prerequisite for any rapprochement between the two nations.

Dr. Sam Freed is a researcher at the University of Sussex, and teaches at the Hebrew University. He is also an occasional human rights activist. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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The right’s plan to get rid of Israel’s High Court

The far right wants to defang Israel’s highest court to fulfill its annexationist dreams. Netanyahu wants to overpower it to ensure he remains on the throne. For Palestinians, annexation has long been a fact on the ground. 

By Meron Rapoport

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut (C) and Judges of the Supreme Court arrive for a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, March 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut (C) and Judges of the Supreme Court arrive for a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, March 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The attacks on Israel’s High Court by the right would not have gained traction without Prime Minister Netanyahu’s personal support. These include an attempt to pass a bill that would not only allow the Knesset to re-legislate laws struck down by the judiciary, but also prevent the High Court from intervening in administrative decisions by the government, the ministers, and the Knesset. Netanyahu is hoping to prevent judicial review over any number of laws that would seek to shield him from prosecution over the various corruption scandals in which he is embroiled.

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The right speaks openly about the need to broadly “govern,” as well as the need to dismantle the “dictatorship of the High Court” in order to “give power back to the people.” But nowhere is this so-called “governance” more relevant than the area over which Israel has been trying to hide its rule for 52 years: the occupied territories.

The great paradox

Two of the laws Netanyahu singled out as reasons for passing a “court override bill” are directly related to the occupied territories: a bill calling for the death penalty for convicted Palestinian killers of Israeli civilians and soldiers, and another bill that would allow Israel to deport the families of those Palestinians. It is clear why Bezalel Smotrich of the United Right party made the override bill a central condition of the current coalition negotiations with the prime minister. The Regularization Law, which retroactively legalizes West Bank outposts deemed illegal by Israeli law and will likely be struck down by the High Court, is a prime example of the kind of laws Smotrich wants to enshrine without the threat of judicial oversight.

Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din has recorded a few dozen “annexation laws” that are already on the docket for the upcoming Knesset, some of which legislate the annexation parts or the entirety of the West Bank, legalize the theft of Palestinian land, or simply blur the Green Line. The moment the threat of the High Court’s oversight disappears, the sky is the limit for Smotrich and the rest of the Israeli far right.

Nearly every single article in Smotrich’s so-called “Decisive Plan” — which includes annexing the West Bank without granting Palestinians equal civil rights, while incentivizing them to leave the country — would be struck down by the High Court. From his point of view, the override bill becomes a necessity without which the settler right sees no point in joining the government.

Bezalel Smotrich speaks to supporters of the United Right party, April 09, 2019. (Flash90)

Bezalel Smotrich speaks to supporters of the United Right party, April 09, 2019. (Flash90)

Herein lies the great paradox. The Israeli right needs the override bill in order to entrench annexation and blur the Green Line, and it wants to do so in order to break the status quo — to defeat the Palestinians once and for all. Interestingly, until now, Netanyahu has preferred to support the status quo and prevent annexation, and had previously opposed the override bill. Now, because of his need for immunity, he has changed positions. This is what binds Netanyahu to someone like Smotrich.

Annexation is a fact on the ground

Palestinians aren’t afraid of these annexation policies, particularly because annexation has already been happening. The settlements in Area C bifurcate the West Bank, and the High Court, which was supposed to protect the Palestinians as an occupied people according to international law, never did its job. Thus, annexation isn’t widely viewed as a threat. In the worst case, the Palestinians’ situation in the West Bank will remain as it is: residents of the territory living alongside growing settlements. In the best case scenario, it will bolster the PLO’s case against Israel and grant a few hundred thousand Palestinians citizenship.

But it goes even further: annexation may bring Palestinians closer to a single state between the river and the sea, which has always remained a dream for many of them. In other words, the annexation sword being dangled in front of the Palestinians is seen by many of them as double-edged, and will eventually undo the “Jewish state.”

Palestinians climb over the separation wall on the first Friday of Ramadan at Qalandiya checkpoint, West Bank, May 10, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinians climb over the separation wall on the first Friday of Ramadan at Qalandiya checkpoint, West Bank, May 10, 2019. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Still, the override bill and immunity for Netanyahu are viewed as an attack on democracy inside Israel. Aside from the usual suspects among civil society organizations — women and LGBTQ groups, civil rights organizations, Palestinian NGOs, and more — who view this as a direct attack, we are now witnessing an awakening by groups of the Israeli elite, which have been cautious about speaking out against Netanyahu.

Dozens of Israeli attorneys, including leading, non-leftist candidates vying to head the Israel Bar Association, organized a conference in which they warned that “the rule of law is on the precipice,” threatening to shut down the legal system. One-hundred and thirty law lecturers from across the country signed a petition according to which the government’s attempts to defang the judiciary will cause “irreparable damage to democracy.”

On Thursday, Israeli business newspaper Calcalist published that a group of 100 entrepreneurs, most of them from the tech sector, signed a similar petition. Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, which did its best not to step on anyone’s toes during the election cycle, is now threatening to “set fire to the country” in order to save democracy.

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It is easy to become cynical in the face of these calls to “save Israeli democracy” — a democracy that hardly exists in the first place when it comes to Palestinians. Neither does Israeli democracy do much to protect human rights groups, which have come under constant attack in the past years. It is hard to question the sense of urgency that prevails among parts of the Israeli elite, and its importance should not be underestimated.

The elite is energized by the combination of two moves: immunity for Netanyahu, and a bolder override bill. Both are viewed as a violation of the rules of the game, and a concentration of power in the hands of politicians — especially one politician. The elite doesn’t like this kind of situation. It prefers certainty, provided by a strong judicial system. It is much harder to trust politicians, especially the kind that rule today.

That is how an attempt to defeat the Palestinians, or at the very least threaten them, comes to be seen by many in the Israeli elite as a threat to the democratic game. It is still too early to know what the result will be. Will the right-wing coalition be forced to forgo part of its revolution? Will the elite go to war against the government?

Either way, Netanyahu’s government has created a much bigger opposition than what it was previously used to: not only Palestinians in the occupied territories or inside Israel, not only the Jewish radical left, but also large segments of the elite. In the current darkness, this is, at the very least, a small ray of light.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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The Israeli right is now openly saying it wants to keep Hamas in power

As the latest round of fighting in Gaza and southern Israel died down, it became clear that keeping Hamas in power has become a central tenet of the Israeli right.

By Meron Rapoport

Hamas supporters attend a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Hamas movement, Nablus, West Bank, December 15, 2017. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Hamas supporters attend a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Hamas movement, Nablus, West Bank, December 15, 2017. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The idea that Hamas is an Israeli creation is nearly as old as Hamas itself. Researchers, journalists, high-ranking Israeli military and government officials — even Americans — have found substantial evidence to that effect. And yet the Israeli narrative presents Hamas as a zealous, murderous terrorist group — the sworn enemy of every Israeli and Jew around the world.

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Official Israel has never admitted to supporting Hamas and every Israeli who dares talk about the need to speak with Hamas is immediately portrayed as a traitor. This is the same treatment IDF and Shin Bet officials received during and after the last war on Gaza, when they repeated the mantra that Israel must reach an agreement with Hamas. The same goes for the brief “Eurovision War” last week. Naftali Bennett, along with many on the right, have built a career on taking on the security establishment, which they view as weak and cowardly.

That’s why the cadre of right-wingers who joined hands last week to praise Netanyahu’s decision “to keep Hamas on its feet,” as journalist Galit Distal Atbaryan put it, is no less than amazing. The fact that this group runs the gamut from Netanyahu confidants — including Distal Atbaryan herself — to the prime minister’s critics, including far-right MK Betzalel Smotrich, is a sign that keeping Hamas in power has become a central policy of the entire Israeli right.

In the eyes of the right today, every Israeli patriot must wholeheartedly support the Hamas regime in Gaza. Leftist traitors, they say, support the possibility that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules over the West Bank, take control of the Gaza Strip, bringing Israel closer to the “pit of the two-state solution,” as right-wing pundit and former IDF Major-General Gershon Hacohen put it.

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The policy of “separating” the West Bank from Gaza isn’t new. It began in the late 1980s, with various prime ministers — from Yitzhak Rabin to Netanyahu — finding ways to make it more sophisticated it over the years. Now comes the reasoning behind the separation. No longer are we dealing solely with the question of ostensible security benefits that result in severing Gaza from the West Bank. Today, Hamas’ rule has added value, and maintaining its regime justifies Israeli civilian casualties (Palestinian lives, of course, don’t matter). In order to keep Hamas on its feet, writes Distal Abtaryan, Netanyahu is willing to pay “an almost inconceivable price — half the country paralyzed, children and parents in post-trauma, bombed houses, people killed.”

Why is Netanyahu willing to pay this price? The answer is simple: “Every home needs a balcony, and Israel is a home,” writes Distal Abtaryan, “the balcony of this home is Samaria… if Hamas crumbles, Mahmoud Abbas may rule the strip. If he rules it, voices on the left will encourage negotiations, a political settlement, and a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria as well… this is the real reason Netanyahu doesn’t annihilate Hamas, everything else is bullshit.”

Galit Distel Atabaryan. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Galit Distel Atabaryan. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Erez Tadmor, one of the founders of the far-right Im Tirzu movement and who headed Likud’s information campaign in the last elections, struck a similar tone on Twitter. “The split between Abbas’ Judea and Samaria and Hamas’ Gaza is optimal for Israel,” he tweeted after the ceasefire was announced. “When necessary, we can strike Hamas in Gaza and not be forced to withdraw to the Auschwitz borders in Judea and Samaria,” Tadmore wrote.

Yonatana Orich, who managed Likud’s campaign alongside Tadmor and is one of Netanyahu’s closest advisors, made similar remarks. “He (Netanyahu – M.R.) succeeded in disconnecting between Gaza and Judea and Samaria, and effectively shattered the vision of a Palestinian state in these two areas. Part of the achievement is linked to the Qatari money that comes to Hamas every month,” he explained in an interview to Makor Rishon before the latest round of fighting erupted.

Netanyahu’s supporters on the right aren’t alone. Although MK Betzalel Smotrich, who may soon become a minister, expressed disappointment over the fact that Israel did not kill 700 Palestinians — in retaliation for every rocket fired from Gaza — back in 2015 he called Hamas an “asset” and Abbas a “burden.”

In an interview with right-wing news website Mida, Gershon Hacohen, known for his criticism of Netanyahu from the right, explained that by refraining from taking down Hamas, Netanyahu “prevented Abbas’ plot to establish a united Palestinian state. We need to take advantage of the situation of separation between Gaza and Ramallah. This is a top Israeli interest, and it is impossible to understand the campaign in Gaza without understanding this context.”

Palestinian walk through the wreckage of a building damaged by Israeli air strikes, Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, May 5, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinian walk through the wreckage of a building damaged by Israeli air strikes, Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, May 5, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

As opposed to Netanyahu’s admirers, Hacohen is aware that support for Hamas is a trap for Israel. “Hamas created, with the threat of rockets, a difficult equation that cannot be denied,” he admitted. “Each day of rockets paralyzing the country carries heavy financial costs. That is why Hamas can cause us to prefer considerations of containment, because the price we pay is high.” Hacohen supports a severe response to Hamas but worries that such a response would be too successful. “To avoid a situation in which we have defeated Hamas but have fallen into the pit of a two-state solution,” he said, “we must, first of all, regulate control over Area C and stop the attempts of the PA to take over other areas under the auspices of the European Union.” First we annex, then we topple Hamas.

In the eyes of the Israeli right, the real threat to Israel is not Hamas’ violence and terrorism — the danger is a peace agreement with the PLO, Abbas, and the establishment of a Palestinian state. In the struggle against this danger, Hamas is viewed as an almost ideological partner. It, too, opposes Abbas, and has no interest in the PA ruling Gaza. That is why whatever strengthens Hamas is good for Israel, and whatever weakens it is bad for Israel. An Israel that wants to continue its occupation of the West Bank will want to continue to stand on the balcony and gaze at the Palestinians from above.

Meron Rapoport is an editor at Local Call, where this article first appeared in Hebrew. Read it here.

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Netanyahu wants you to think Israeli-Palestinian mourning is seditious

The prime minister pulls out all the stops in his failed attempt at preventing the annual Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony from taking place.

Participants seen during the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony, Tel Aviv, Israel, April 17, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Participants seen during the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony, Tel Aviv, Israel, April 17, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Prime Minister Netanyahu appears to have lied to Israel’s highest court this week in an attempt to shut down and delegitimize one of Israel-Palestine’s only successful fora for shattering the exclusive nature of national mourning.

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For the past 14 years, Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members to the conflict have come together on Israel’s Memorial Day to hold an alternative, joint ceremony. The ceremony marks the deaths of both Israelis as well as Palestinians who have been killed over the years.

Israeli leaders have consistently criticized the ceremony, organized by Combatants for Peace and the Parents Circle Family Forum, for what they say is commemorating Palestinian terrorists. For the second year in a row, Israel’s Defense Ministry, headed by Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, denied entry permits to 176 West Bank Palestinians from bereaved families who hoped to participate in the ceremony.

According to Netanyahu, the bereaved families pose a security threat.

When the organizers requested entry permits for Palestinians, the Defense Ministry initially denied the request due to the closure on the occupied territories on Memorial Day. The Israeli army places the West Bank under closure on Jewish and Israeli national holidays by shutting down checkpoints to Palestinian traffic.

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Combatants for Peace and PCFF appealed the decision to the High Court. In the state’s response, Netanyahu and State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit argued that the decision to deny entry to Palestinian participants stemmed from security concerns.

The High Court didn’t buy it and overturned the decision. In his ruling, Justice Yitzhak Amit slammed Netanyahu for claiming that the decision to deny entry came in light of the violence in Israel’s south. Yet Amit noted that the Defense Ministry made its decision prior to the latest round of fighting, and that there was no closure on the West Bank during that time. The court then ordered the state to allow 100 of the Palestinians to attend the ceremony.

Netanyahu took to social media to criticize the ruling: “The High Court’s decision is mistaken and disappointing. There should not be a ceremony that equates the blood of our sons to the blood of terrorists. That is why I refused to allow entry to the ceremony participants, and I believe the High Court should not have intervened in my decision.”

Netanyahu’s admission is astounding. As one Israeli blogger who goes by the pseudonym John Brown pointed out, the prime minister deliberately deceived the High Court, claiming after the fact that he denied those 176 Palestinians — who wanted to travel to Tel Aviv to commemorate the deaths of their loved ones alongside Israelis who sought to do the same — should be denied on moral grounds, not security considerations.

Right-wing protesters take part in a demonstration outside the annual Joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony, Tel Aviv, Israel, April 17, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Right-wing protesters take part in a demonstration outside the annual Joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony, Tel Aviv, Israel, April 17, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Netanyahu is no fool. He knew that, like last year when then-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tried to do the same, the High Court was likely to overturn the decision. He knew that an alternative Memorial Day event poses no threat to the State of Israel or his decade-long reign.

His goal, then, is symbolic: to portray any semblance of a Jewish-Palestinian alliance as an act of subversion and treason. To turn a ceremony that, for one night, would allow Israelis and Palestinians to share grief, reconcile, and imagine a different world, into a display of disrespect for Israeli soldiers and their families. The saddest part is that it seems to be working.

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Netanyahu’s embrace of far-right leaders leaves Jews vulnerable to anti-Semitism

By aligning himself with nationalist leaders who foster white supremacy, Netanyahu has abandoned world Jewry in a bid to bolster his own nationalist machinations.

By Rachel Shenhav-Goldberg

US President Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior to Trump departure to Rome at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2017. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

U.S. President Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv, May 23, 2017. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

For some years now, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been forming close diplomatic relations with far-right nationalist world leaders. This alignment might promote Netanyahu’s plan to strengthen Jewish nationalism in Israel, but it concomitantly weakens diaspora Jews and makes them more vulnerable to anti-Semitism and hate crimes in their own countries.

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Over the last five decades, anti-Semitism was in decline, particularly in the United States. Jews in the United States occupy powerful political positions, are key figures in the worlds of business and entertainment, are well integrated into American society. They are American in every sense of the word. However, as the horrific act of terror in a San Diego synagogue painfully reminded us last week, white nationalists and white supremacists have never accepted Jews as equals — or even as white.

White supremacy definitely still exists. Destroying 500 years of institutional structures and the internalization of privileged status is not that easy. Even the election of President Obama was in many ways merely a facade of progressiveness — a false hope. Research has shown that racism against black Americans actually increased during President Obama’s time in office. Furthermore, President Trump’s promise to “make America great again” gave white nationalists and white supremacists a nod to raise their heads and act.

The Anti-Defamation League reported that in the past year, a total of 1,879 incidents of harassment, vandalism, and physical assault were committed against Jews in the United States. This represents the third-highest number of reported incidents since the 1970s.

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Netanyahu’s policies and vision for Israel, alongside his narcissism and ambition to stay in power forever, have create divisions not only inside Israeli society but also between Israel and American Jews. Netanyahu’s idea of Israel is not a Jewish nation with equal rights for all, but as an Israeli-Jewish nation — abandoning both non-Jewish Israelis and non-Israeli Jews.

Further, Netanyahu’s my-way-or-the-highway worldview turns American Jews who oppose the occupation or who do not fully support Israeli policies into traitors. To replace the real or anticipated loss of their support, he has looked for allies elsewhere — ones who are comfortable with Israel’s own nationalist underpinnings.

The common denominator between all these leaders — Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and Donald Trump — is the often-insinuated but at times overt support of white national supremacy. They endorse and employ hate rhetoric, use racist terms, and undermine the rights of LGBTQ people and women. Their true goal is the promotion of the “old order” — demoting the position of and discriminating against minorities, a category that inescapably and invariably includes Jews.

The national supremacy these leaders promote in their countries is in many ways indistinguishable from Netanyahu’s agenda for Israel. Netanyahu is an intelligent man; every move he makes is calculated wisely and strategically. By aligning himself with far-right nationalist leaders who foster white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and the violence they produce, he has decided to abandon world Jewry in exchange for diplomatic support and the legitimization of his own nationalist machinations.

Israel has become a Jewish state that cares only for Jewish-Israeli citizens, breaking its commitment to protect diaspora Jews, not to mention its obligations to the non-Jews living under Israeli rule.

Rachel Shenhav-Goldberg is an Israeli living in North America. She has a PhD in social work from Tel Aviv University and a post-doctorate from the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on anti-racism in Israel and anti-Semitism in North America. She is also a group facilitator, practices social work, and volunteers with the New Israel Fund in Canada.

 

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Jerusalem orders kindergartens not to let ‘minorities’ visit

The municipality’s security department sends instructions to kindergartens in the city ordering that foreigners and ‘minorities,’ a euphemism for Arabs, not be allowed onto their grounds. Anti-racism group demands the city retract the orders.

Illustrative photo of Israeli children preparing for the first day of kindergarten in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Illustrative photo of Israeli children preparing for the first day of kindergarten in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Public kindergartens in Jerusalem were ordered by the city’s Emergency and Security Division not to allow “foreigners” and “minorities” into educational facilities in a document laying out security instructions distributed to kindergartens recently.

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Under a section titled “Entry of Visitors,” the document reads: “Do not allow the entry of foreigners into the kindergarten grounds — as a rule entry is not permitted for minorities, in any such case you must notify the area security officer.”

Minorities is a semi-official and universally understood euphemism for Arabs in its Hebrew usage in Israel.

The Racism Crisis Center, a project of the Coalition Against Racism and the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement, sent a letter to the Jerusalem Municipality last week arguing that the instructions were illegal and demanding that they be changed.

According to Hebrew-language newspaper Ma’ariv, which first reported the story, the Jerusalem Municipality responded that “security protocols for educational institutions are determined by the Israel Police and the Education Ministry.”

The security instructions sent out by the Jerusalem Municipality to kindergartens in the city.

The security instructions sent out by the Jerusalem Municipality to kindergartens in the city.

The municipality told Ma’ariv that it would fix the wording of the document. Its response did not indicate whether changing the wording would alter the instructions regarding discrimination based on nationality or ethnicity.

“Minorities, even if they are citizens and residents of the state, are [considered] dangerous foreigners by default,” wrote member of Knesset Aida Touma-Sliman of the Jewish-Arab Hadash party.

“The municipality said it would correct the instructions — but what else should we expect if the racist [Bezalel] Smotrich heads the Education Ministry?” Touma-Sliman wrote on Twitter.

Smotrich, an openly homophobic member of Knesset who has in the past advocated segregation, and whose parliamentary slate includes former followers of the outlawed terrorist group once led by Meir Kahane, has said that he will demand the education portfolio in the next government.

Open segregation — both official and unofficial — exists in myriad ways and places in Israel, from maternity wards to amusement parks, buses, hotels, public pools, roads, and housing.

Last year, Israel passed a constitutional measure that gives precedence to Jewish national rights in Israel without guaranteeing full equality for all non-Jewish citizens. It is believed that the legislation will be used in order to justify and uphold inherently racist and discriminatory policies and laws should they be challenged in the country’s Supreme Court.

In addition to the state-sanctioned racism and discrimination inside Israel, in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, there is an entirely different set of laws for Jewish Israelis and Palestinian non-citizen subjects. Those sets of laws and legal systems come with wildly different sets of rights, leading to increasingly common charges of an apartheid system.

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Left-wingers are busing Arabs to the polls in droves — for real this time

Playing on Netanyahu’s warning about Arab citizens of Israel voting in the last elections, a grassroots campaign raises tens of thousands of shekels to bring Bedouin from unrecognized villages to the polls — not quite in droves, but mini-bus by mini-bus.

Illustrative photo of an Israeli bus driving along an unpaved road in the Negev/Naqab desert. (Zoe Vayer/Flash90)

Illustrative photo of an Israeli bus driving along an unpaved road in the Negev/Naqab desert. (Zoe Vayer/Flash90)

On Election Day in 2015, Benjamin Netanyahu sent a video to his supporters warning that “Arabs are heading to the polls in droves, and left-wing organizations are bringing them in buses.” This Tuesday, his then-baseless exhortation will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

More than 1,400 Israelis have donated tens of thousands of shekels to a crowdfunded initiative to bus to the polls Bedouin citizens of Israel who live in unrecognized villages in the Negev desert (Naqab, in Arabic).

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Get-out-the-vote efforts are par for the course for nearly every party in nearly every democratic country these days. In the United States, both major parties field volunteers to drive voters to the polls. Even Netanyahu’s warning about droves of Arab voters was a scare tactic meant to push his voters off the couch and to the ballot box. Turnout is almost always a deciding factor in elections, and motivation to vote is a driving force in turnout.

The campaign to bus Bedouin voters, however, was designed to solve a different problem. So-called unrecognized Bedouin villages, where tens of thousands of Israeli citizens live, do not have the most basic infrastructure most developed nations afford their citizens. They do not have running water, electricity, sewage, paved roads, public transportation — and no polling places.

Anyone living in an unrecognized Bedouin village who wants to vote must travel significant distances in order to do so in most cases. And without a car, it’s extremely difficult if not impossible to pull off.

The initiative, which is being fully funded by a crowdfunding campaign run by “Zazim,” an Israeli grassroots organizing group akin to MoveOn, and the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages of Negev, is expected to bring between 6,000 and 10,000 Bedouin voters to the polls on Tuesday.

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According to Zazim’s website, as of Sunday morning the campaign had raised enough money to hire at least 40 mini-buses and all-terrain vans that can ferry as many as 15 voters at a time between their villages and polling places.

“A high percentage of people in unrecognized villages don’t show up to vote simply because they don’t have a way to,” estimated Atia al-Asam, head of the informal unrecognized villages council, which as part of the campaign mapped out what the villagers need to make it to the polls on Tuesday.

“The polling places are only in recognized villages,” al-Asam explained, adding that some are forced to travel up to 70 kilometers (over 40 miles). He believes it is the lack of transportation that makes most Bedouin residents of the unrecognized villages stay home on Election Day.

The state has an obligation to enable its citizens to vote, al-Asam said. “Why don’t they put polling places in the unrecognized villages where there are schools? It would solve the problem.”

“We don’t tell people whom to vote for,” al-Asam emphasized, “the point is that they vote.”

At Zazim, the message was more political, inasmuch as the legitimacy of Arab votes and voters has been politicized in Israel.

“In the 2015 elections, Netanyahu tried to present Arab citizens’ votes as a threat but the real threat to democracy is the worsening incitement against 20 percent of [Israeli citizens],” Zazim’s executive director, Raluka Ganea said, referring to the more-than 1.5 million Arab citizens of Israel.

“Our initiative is the grassroots answer to that incitement, Ganea added. “Our community is extending its hand in solidarity to the Bedouin citizens of the Negev, and is sending a clear message to all Arab citizens: your voice counts to us.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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No Bolsonaro, visiting Yad Vashem doesn’t make you a ‘friend of the Jews’

Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro’s visit to Israel this week is just the latest step in Netanyahu’s warming relations with a new cadre of authoritarian leaders. 

By Sergio Storch

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during a visit to Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, April 2, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during a visit to Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, April 2, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s four-day visit to Israel demonstrates just how important the South American country has become to Netanyahu over the past few years.

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The trip includes a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s renowned Holocaust museum, which commemorates one of the worst tragedies in history and sets out to ensure that genocide remains a thing of the past. For many, Yad Vashem serves as an inspiring example of how crucial collective memories are for strengthening both the identities and coping mechanisms of groups who have suffered violent persecution.

And yet, the meaning of a visit to Yad Vashem takes a different tone when the guest of honor represents hatred, oppression, and the devaluation of life. Netanyahu didn’t seem to worry about this when he brings Bolsonaro to the museum. After all, it is not the first time Netanyahu has invited a far-right nationalist leader to Yad Vashem; leaders of Hungary, Poland, and the Philippines — all of them known for their extremist policies and rhetoric — have also visited the museum alongside the Israeli prime minister.

Boslsonaro’s visit comes on the heels of his infamous “anti-crime package,” which increases sentences for serious crimes such as robbery, corruption, and embezzlement, and incorporates Bolsonaro’s campaign promise to back police officers who open fire at suspected criminals deemed dangerous by security forces. Brazilian human rights NGOs have labeled the package a “fake solution” that would only increase violence — as well as incarceration rates — among Brazil’s poor.

Netanyahu is no fool. On the eve of Israeli elections, by appearing with Bolsonaro at Yad Vashem he can sell the image of the leader of a 200 million-strong country ostensibly honoring Jewish suffering. But the visit goes beyond simple political calculus: Bolsonaro is just another leader being used in Netanyahu’s attempt to rewrite history and use the Holocaust as an attempt to justify Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a visit to the Western Wall, Jerusalem's Old City, April 1, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a visit to the Western Wall, Jerusalem’s Old City, April 1, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In turn, these heads of state receive the prime minister’s blessing, and a defense against charges of anti-Semitism, despite their hatred for various other minority groups, whether Muslim refugees, African migrants, Mexicans, or indigenous people. Visiting Yad Vashem washes these leaders of their guilt, even as their governments continue to dabble in anti-Semitism, as is the case in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has dabbled in historical revisionism when it comes to the role of both the Poles and the Palestinians in the Holocaust.

The turn toward authoritarian leaders, and their visits to Yad Vashem, are part of Netanyahu’s attempt to create an equivalency between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel. By visiting the museum, Netanyahu’s new allies prove they are Israel’s friends, thus reinforcing Netanyahu’s thesis. Brazilian Jews who supported Bolosonaro during the country’s elections last year did so based on the fabricated idea that he is a “friend of the Jews” — a notion that will only be bolstered by his visit to the museum.

Taken in its broadest meaning, Bolsonaro’s visit to Yad Vashem is another brick in the worldwide construction of a big lie in which Israelis and Brazilian Jews are duped into believing that an alliance of extremists is somehow in their best interest. And although Jewish communal leaders in Brazil have, in varying degrees, supported this doomed alliance, there is still a possibility for change. It is crucial that all those dedicated to human rights, democracy, and justice distance themselves from both the hubris of the Israeli government, and the authoritarian leaders who give it the backing Netanyahu so desperately needs.

Sergio Storch is a human rights activist in Brazil and a leader in the network of Brazilian Jewish Progressives. A version of this article was first published in Portuguese on Brasil 247.

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PHOTOS: Tens of thousands protest along the Gaza fence

Israeli troops kill three and wound hundreds more in the protests marking a year since the Great March of Return protests began, and coming as cease-fire talks between Israel and Hamas come to a head.

By Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org

A large crowd of Palestinian protesters gathers near the Gaza fence to mark Land Day and one year since the start of the Great Return March protests, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

A large crowd of Palestinian protesters gathers near the Gaza fence to mark Land Day and one year since the start of the Great Return March protests, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

GAZA CITY — At least 40,000 Palestinians protested at several locations along the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip on Saturday, marking Land Day and one year since the start of the Great March of Return protests.

Israeli troops used live ammunition, rubber-coated metal bullets, and tear gas to try and disperse demonstrators who approached the fence. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, Israeli snipers killed three 17-year-old boys during the protests, and more than 300 others were wounded, including five who were in critical condition.

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Adham Amara, 17, was shot and killed east of Gaza City, and Bilal Mahmoud Najjar and Tamer Aby el-Khair, both 17, were shot in east of Khan Yunis and died later at the hospital. A fourth man, Mohammad Saed, was killed along the fence before the protests began Saturday morning.

Protesters chant slogans during the demonstration, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Protesters chant slogans during the demonstration, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

 

Volunteer medics hold their hands above their heads as they try to reach a wounded protester near the fence, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Volunteer medics hold their hands above their heads as they try to reach a wounded protester near the fence, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

The return march protests began as a mass movement last year, demanding to fulfill the right of return for Palestinian refugees and an end to the Israeli siege. Israeli snipers and sharpshooters killed over 195 participants since March 30, 2018, including 68 in one day alone.

Land Day, March 30th, commemorates how in 1976 Israeli security forces responded to a general strike and mass protest of Palestinian citizens of Israel by killing six and wounding some 100 others.

A Palestinian protester throws a tear gas canister back toward Israeli troops positioned along the Gaza fence, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian protester throws a tear gas canister back toward Israeli troops positioned along the Gaza fence, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

 

Two Palestinian women suffer from tear gas inhalation, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Two Palestinian women suffer from tear gas inhalation, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

One woman at the protests on Friday, who gave her name only as Um Ahmed, 42, told +972 Magazine said she wanted the world to know Gaza will not be broken by anyone. “I am here today to demand my right to return to the land occupied by Israel. We will resist the occupier, even they kill us all,” she said, adding, “my hope is that the siege will end and that we could live in peace.”

The protests came as Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza, were said to be nearing “understandings” about a cease-fire following a tense several weeks that saw rockets fired at Tel Aviv and Israeli bombing raids across Gaza. Hamas’ demands reportedly focused on easing the blockade, while one of Israel’s central demands was that Hamas rein back the weekly protests along the fence.

A group of protesters takes cover from Israeli troops as they approach the fence, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

A group of protesters takes cover from Israeli troops as they approach the fence, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

 

Protesters throw back tear gas canisters toward Israeli soldiers, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Protesters throw back tear gas canisters toward Israeli soldiers, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

 

A group of protesters wave a Palestinian flag while trying to take cover during the demonstration, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

A group of protesters wave a Palestinian flag while trying to take cover during the demonstration, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

 

Medics evacuate a wounded protester who was shot in the leg by an Israeli sniper, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Medics evacuate a wounded protester who was shot in the leg by an Israeli sniper, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

 

A large group of protesters runs from Israeli sniper fire and crowd control measures, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

A large group of protesters runs from Israeli sniper fire and crowd control measures, east of Gaza City, March 30, 2019. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Editor’s note:
The casualty count was updated at 11:15 p.m. on March 30, 2019.

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You have the power to stop apartheid: An open letter to AIPAC

American Jews, who play such a central role in what happens in Israel, can put an end to the oppression of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line. But only if they tell Israelis that enough is enough.

By Marzuq al-Halabi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC Conference in Washington DC, on March 6, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC Conference in Washington DC, on March 6, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Dear AIPAC leaders,

In one of his most famous poems, “Think of Others,” Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish asks the reader to keep the other in mind at all times. This, he writes, should apply whether we are preparing breakfast, paying our water bill, or declaring war. I wonder, then, whether you, as you take part in your annual conference next week think about us over here? Do you think about me or my 19-year-old daughter Shaden, who these days is head over heels in love?

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Jewish people across the world have much influence over what is happening in Israel, a fact that to a large degree also affects my fate. Thus, as the third wheel in your relationship with the state in which I live, allow me to ask a few simple, banal questions. Ordinary questions, like those in Darwish’s poem.

Before you invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the conference goers, ask him about the daily, unbridled incitement against Israel’s Palestinian citizens, people yearn for a decent life, as do all the people of the world — as do you, Jewish-American citizens of the United States. Ask him and his friends about who gave them the right, the power, and the justification to pass the Jewish Nation-State Law, which creates a hierarchy between communities and nationalists, and which is a gateway to a racist state?

When they come to Washington D.C. to speak about the right of the Jewish people in its homeland, ask them about the rights of people such as myself, non-Jews, in their homeland. Do you know of Jewish values that undermine values of universalism, human rights, and democracy? Would you accept a situation in which American Jews are prevented from having the same rights as other citizens?

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My questions, of course, pertain to citizens of Israel inside the Green Line. These are residents of the State of Israel whose land was expropriated and never returned, even if it was never put to use. These are citizens, a third of whom are internal refugees, uprooted from their villages and towns in 1948 and forbidden to return, even if they live just a stones throw away. This is the lived reality of 100,000 residents of the unrecognized villages in the Negev, living on borrowed time.

Bedouin women collect their belongings from the ruins of their demolished homes in the village of Umm al-Hiran, Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Bedouin women collect their belongings from the ruins of their demolished homes in the village of Umm al-Hiran, Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

These people are the indigenous minority from before the 1948 war and the Nakba, making up 20 percent of the general population that lives on 3.2 percent of this country’s land. A relatively quiet national minority compared to others living under similar circumstances. A population that gave its blessing to the peace process and the Oslo Accords, one which has always taken its citizenship seriously. This goes for the Druze community as well, which forged a blood pact with the Israeli state, at least until the passing of the Jewish Nation-State Law.

And what about the occupied territories, the Gaza ghetto, and the daily injustices that long ago have been transformed into an apartheid regime? My apologies, but there is no other term that accurately describes what happens every day, every hour, in the West Bank. Jewish-only roads, fences, walls, checkpoints, closure, collective punishment, military operations against a civilian population, and nationalistic settlers, who make the lives of the Palestinians miserable.

Recently, as I made my way to a meeting of the Global Forum of the National Library of Israel, I passed through the city of Modi’in, which was partially established on land conquered in June 1967. There I saw fenced-off Palestinian villages with only one or two entries, under the control of Israeli soldiers. I saw a terrifying wall, which dismembers not only the land but also the lives of those who are forbidden from traveling freely — an elementary right of all people. Speaking to one of the discussion groups, I told them exactly what I had witnessed.

The separation wall in Shuafat refugee camp, in the background is Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev, East Jerusalem, January 24, 2017. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The separation wall in Shuafat refugee camp, in the background is Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev, East Jerusalem, January 24, 2017. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

From a bird’s eye view, Israel has never had it better: Military, economic, political, and strategic superiority over the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab countries. It appears that the feeling of being drunk on power has far surpassed the euphoria that took hold of the Jewish community following Israel’s victory in June 1967. This new feeling has left Jews in a stupor, effectively legitimizing Kahanism, hyper-nationalism, racism, and belligerence. The Jewish Nation-State Law was born out of this very feeling.

We are on the verge of witnessing Israel turn from an ethnic democracy into a full-fledged apartheid state, and there is no one left to put the genie back in the lamp. Right-wing leaders are exploiting the situation they created in order to frighten Jews in Israel and across the world of even the slightest possible change in the status quo. Meanwhile, they have succeeded in delegitimizing not only Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, but any Jewish citizen who believes in human rights. They have not succeeded in establishing a so-called Start-Up Nation, but rather a terrified citizenry subject to constant fear-mongering. The government takes advantage of this fear to justify the occupation’s crimes.

The feeling of total victory pushes Israelis to believe that the time has come to defeat the Palestinians once and for all. Yet life has its own set of rules. The fading relevance of the Green Line is creating a demographic balance between Jews and Palestinians between the river and the sea. To deal with this fact, the government will try to deepen its control over six million Palestinians. Oppression will lead to a cycle of resistance, subsequent greater oppression, followed by a popular uprising. More power will lead to expulsions, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. American Jews could end up paying the price for Israel’s actions, and the world may no longer be able to look you in the eyes.

Palestinian protesters seen at the Gaza border fence, during a 'Great Return March' protest, Gaza Strip, September 28, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Palestinian protesters seen at the Gaza border fence, during a ‘Great Return March’ protest, Gaza Strip, September 28, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

We can move toward a process of historic reconciliation only after the sense of Jewish supremacy is replaced by generosity, out of the understanding that the Jewish question is intertwined with that of the Palestinian question — that both will be solved between the river and the sea in historic Palestine. And while reconciliation is naturally a long and arduous process, it is preferable to apartheid.

AIPAC leaders, you who live thousands of miles from here, must listen to the voices of those who are not invited to deliver speeches at your annual conference — those whose voices were silenced or purposefully distorted. Please, do not believe those who tell you how good we have it in the Land of Zion. At the very least, cast doubt on what they say.

You, who play such a central role in what happens in Israel, can prevent the worst from happening. Tell them “no more.” Perhaps then we can bring an end to the injustices.

Yours,

Marzuq al-Halabi

Jerusalem

Marzuq Al-Halabi is a jurist, journalist, author. He writes regularly for Al-Hayat. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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