Tag Archives: Israel

Broad alliances trump Trump for Israeli security

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
May 27, 2017

Israel lives in a hostile neighbourhood, and has always had trouble making and keeping trustworthy friends.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) during the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem September 30, 2016. Amos Ben Gershom/Government Press Office (GPO)/Handout via REUTERS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) during the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem September 30, 2016. Amos Ben Gershom/Government Press Office (GPO)/Handout via REUTERS

Many of the European countries were supportive both before and immediately after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. That support, though, grew on a strong sense of shame for the treatment of Jews within Europe for a couple of thousand years, and culminating in the Nazi-led Holocaust. The guilt felt by one party is never a good basis for a relationship.

And lurking behind it is that anti-Semitism continues to lurk in Europe, often camouflaged as opposition to Jewish nationalism –Zionism – or support for Palestinians displaced in the creation of Israel.

The United States took over as the chief foreign patron of Israel in the 1960s, and that relationship remains essential. But Washington’s support for Israel has been tempered by its overall Middle East policy and, until recently, its strategic dependence on oil from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. These Arab states are major financial and political supporters of the Palestinians, including Palestinian terrorists.

Also, Washington’s enthusiasm for Israel has often depended on the personal chemistry between the President and the Israeli Prime Minister. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not only disliked each other, their political philosophies had almost no meeting point.

So Netanyahu’s glee at the arrival of the avowedly pro-Israeli Donald Trump in the White House is understandable. However, what is evident from Trump’s visit to Israel this week, as part of his royal progress from Saudi Arabia to the G-7 summit in Sicily, is that support sometimes has a down side.

With an uncouth braggart like Trump, his friendship can be more deadly than his antagonism. First, in Washington, he boasted to visiting Russian officials that he had intelligence information about a plan by the Islamic State group to use bombs concealed in laptop computers to bring down passenger aircraft. Then, in Israel with Netanyahu at his side, Trump denied that he told the Russians the information came from Israel, thus confirming the source.

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The Islamic State group has doubtless gone on a hunt for the Israeli spy in its midst, and it was therefore no wonder that Netanyahu looked as though he was about to explode. The British also discovered this week, in the wake of the Manchester bombing and the leaking to the U.S. media of information about the police investigation, that with Trump in the White House, no one’s secrets are safe.

Solid and dependable diplomatic relations with supportive countries are becoming more important than ever for Israel in the face of the growing world-wide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The BDS was started in July 2005 by nearly 200 Palestinian non-governmental organizations. The purpose of the campaign is to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, and to try to force Israel to return that land to Palestinians. To that end, the BDS is focussing on the construction by Israel of illegal – that is the United Nations’ word – settlements, particularly in the West Bank, and what the campaign calls the construction of an apartheid-like domination of the Palestinians by the Israelis.

The BDS organizers call on supporters around the world to boycott Israeli goods, withdraw investments in Israeli companies and to apply sanctions they say are mandated by several UN resolutions. The hope is that economic purgatory will force Israel to retreat in a way that terrorism and military action by the Palestinians and their supporters have failed to do.

Branch organizations promoting BDS have sprung up all over the world, including in Canada, Australia, Norway, Japan, South Korea, the U.S., Germany, Italy, Britain and India.

So far, however, the campaign has had only limited success. Several pension funds have excluded Israeli companies from their portfolios, so have some banks. There have also been some boycotts by various universities and academic organizations of Israeli scholars. But most western governments and individual political parties have refused to get involved in BDS, as have most of the major trades unions in Europe and North America.

One of the few exceptions is Canada’s Green Party, which voted last year to endorse BDS despite the objection of leader Elizabeth May, the party’s only Member of Parliament.

A study by the Rand Corporation in 2015 calculated that if the BDS campaign continued for 10 years, it could damage the Israeli economy to the tune of $US47 billion. While substantial, this would not be a death blow to the Israeli economy or be powerful enough to force the government to retreat from the occupied lands.

Even so, the Israeli government is moving to shore up and expand its diplomatic relations as a hedge against the possible success and expansion of the BDS campaign.

The Netanyahu government’s chosen forum is to expand its arms sales and defence co-operation, especially with Western and Eastern Europe, which accounts for 28 per cent of the nearly $US7 billion-worth of arms and security equipment exported by Israel every year.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Israel is the world’s sixth largest arms manufacturer, and its exports account for 10 per cent of the global arms trade.

China used to be a major market for Israel’s military equipment. But that was shut down by former President George W. Bush, who was upset about the sophistication of the weapons systems and technology Israel was selling to China. Now, India is the single largest customer for Israeli arms.

The Israeli military equipment industry is a natural development for a country that was forged in war and which has lived under a state of siege since its founding in 1948.

Israel decided to build a domestic arms manufacturing industry after the 1967 Six-Day War. Embargoes by former weapons supplies such as France exposed the vulnerability of Israel to political actions by its putative friends.

There was already a sophisticated Israeli small arms industry, and it moved into the production of major weapons systems first by adapting and upgrading other people’s products, such as British and U.S. tanks, or by filching plans. In the 1970s, Israel acquired through Switzerland the plans for French Dassault Mirage III fighter aircraft and started manufacturing its own version under the name Kfir. This aircraft became one of Israel’s first major export successes, including, in the 1980s, to the apartheid regime in South Africa, where the plane was called the Cheetah and faced off against Soviet-made MiG-23s flown by Cuban pilots backing the government forces in the civil war in Angola.

Since then, Israel’s arms industry has gained a global reputation for excellence in a number of niche areas. These include drones – unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), avionics systems and flight optics technology, surveillance reconnaissance equipment, military command and control systems, and an array of artillery and missiles.

Many of the weapons and surveillance systems Israeli manufacturers have developed spring from the country’s own pressing needs to secure its borders, and identify and neutralize terrorists.

Thus the streams of refugees heading for Europe in the last couple of years from the wars in the Middle East and impoverishment in north and western Africa have created a market for Israeli high tech goods. That, together with the waves of terrorist attacks across Europe, has spurred demand for Israeli equipment for border security, as well as continuing co-operation to learn from the Israeli experience in managing terrorist threats and such things as civil aviation security.

Immigration of Jews to Israel from Eastern Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 has created a ready link for Israeli arms manufacturers. Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus and other former Soviet states are all customers for Israeli arms. Poland is Israel’s biggest customer and closest ally among the old East Bloc countries. Warsaw buys Israeli anti-tank missiles and is negotiating to buy $US1.1 billion-worth of UAVs.

Another major customer for Israeli UAVs is Russia itself, perhaps ironically given Moscow’s intervention in the civil war in Israel’s antagonistic neighbouring country, Syria. Despite that intervention, relations between Israel and Moscow are good at the moment, allowing Israel to sell military hardware to areas of Russian national interest such as the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Not surprisingly, the U.S. Department of Defense is not best pleased with Israel. Washington enables the sale of large amounts of U.S. state-of-the-art military gear to Israel and is therefore concerned about Israel’s military sales to Moscow and China. The Department of Defense is also miffed when Israel turns up as a competitor for U.S. business, such as Germany’ recent decision to buy Israeli drones rather than U.S. UAVs.

The overall picture that emerges is of a country that has found ways to survive and thrive in a hostile world. So Trump should not invest too much in his loudmouth promise this week to broker a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians that would create a lasting peace. In any case, having seen him up close it is unlikely that either the Palestinians or the Israelis would trust Trump to act as a go-between.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Israel marks 50 years of struggling, “United Jerusalem”

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man (C) looks ahead as he walks through a market in Jerusalem May 11, 2017. Picture taken May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Maayan Lubell
May 26, 2017

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A half-century after Israel captured East Jerusalem, the holy city remains deeply divided by politics, religion and ethnicity – and struggling with grim economic realities.

A treasure fought over for millennia, it is also one of the poorest areas under Israeli control. About 45 percent of Jerusalem’s nearly 900,000 people live below the poverty line, compared with 20 percent of Israel’s national population.

The poorer groups in Jerusalem are the fastest-growing: ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredim, who make up a fifth of the population and Palestinians, who comprise more than a third.

Many young, secular and educated Jewish residents are opting to leave, alienated by the religious atmosphere and high living costs, said the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research (JIIS) think tank.

After the 1967 Middle East war, Israel annexed the Arab east of the city to the Jewish west to create what it regards as its united, eternal capital. Palestinians in East Jerusalem complain of second-class status and official neglect.

“Jerusalem is a city that faces substantial challenges economically and that is partly because of the population that it houses,” said Naomi Hausman, an economics professor at the Hebrew University.

Israel is this week celebrating the 50th anniversary of the capture of East Jerusalem. Its claim to the whole of the city as its indivisible capital has not won international recognition.

Palestinian visitors gather at a look-out point on the Armon Hanatziv Promenade in Jerusalem May 11, 2017. Picture taken May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a state they seek to establish in the occupied West Bank and in Gaza.

About 80 percent of Jerusalem’s Palestinians and about half the Haredim live below the poverty line.

Haredi men generally dedicate themselves to religious study and few Palestinian women have jobs.

Only 58 percent of Jerusalem Jews are in employment compared with 64 percent nationally, and just 40 percent of the Palestinian population work, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks past women at a bar in Jerusalem May 11, 2017. Picture taken May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Each year, about 8,000 more people leave Jerusalem than move to the city, according to CBS data, with much of the exodus made up of young Jewish people frustrated by the high cost of living and lack of job opportunities.

Ilana Butrimovitz left San Francisco for Jerusalem but spent barely a year there before moving away.

“I feel more free in Tel Aviv, not to mention the night-life and the beach,” said the 30-year-old chef. “The vibe is better and there are more job opportunities for young people.”

Jerusalem’s light rail line threads its way through the city’s contrasting zones – past Haredi neighbourhoods where men in black garb walk the stone alleyways, by downtown cafes and pubs, alongside the walled Old City and to a sprawling new business quarter.

“It’s a city where everyone knows how to live together in equilibrium on a daily basis. There are also, obviously, divisions and surely the east-west division is the biggest,” said Hausman.

Pedestrians cross a street next to the light rail trams in Jerusalem May 11, 2017. Picture taken May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

“DEAD END”

Palestinian men are often employed on the bottom rungs of the labour market ladder, according to the JIIS.

“It’s a dead end for us,” said Hussam, a 28-year-old Palestinian lawyer in East Jerusalem. “Plain and simple: no, we do not have the same opportunities as Israelis.”

Israeli businesses are often reluctant to employ Arabs, Hussam said, and some jobs are off limits for Jerusalem’s Palestinians, who do not hold full Israeli citizenship, but are designated “permanent resident”.

Some public sector jobs require full citizenship, and some employers want staff who have served in the Israeli military.

“It fills one with despair, with anger, with frustration,” said Hussam, adding that he planned to leave for Europe.

People pass by the seventh station of the cross on Via Dolorosa, or the Way of the Cross, believed by Christians to be the route Jesus Christ carried his cross to his crucifixion, in Jerusalem’s Old City May 20, 2014. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly/File Photo

Residential and business taxes in the city are among Israel’s highest, meaning higher-earning residents are propping up the poorer ones.

“Dynamically, doing this local redistribution is extremely problematic for a city, it can cause the city to attract more and more non-working and low-skill types until the city is in a poverty trap,” Hausman said.

Maya Chosen, senior researcher at the JIIS, said Israeli authorities were finally acknowledging they needed to intervene.

Since 2016, Israel has allocated almost a billion shekels (around 193 million pounds) to a five-year plan to improve the business environment and expand tourism. One goal is to boost the city’s high-tech sector and entice more start-ups to move there.

“They are trying to draw stronger populations, engineers, upper-middle class, to balance the weaker populations in Jerusalem,” said Tzah Berki, senior vice president at Dun & Bradstreet Israel.

Between 2012 and 2015, high-tech investment in Jerusalem more than quadrupled to $243 million, according to the JIIS.

The Palestinians of East Jerusalem say they have seen little of the benefits.

“It’s just not on the radar of East Jerusalem’s residents,” said Nisreen Alyan, head of the Jerusalem Programme at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

“There is barely a school that teaches IT in East Jerusalem. In terms of location, the companies are inaccessible and most East Jerusalem residents don’t speak Hebrew.” The drop-out rate among high school seniors is 30 percent.

Local kids play next to a wall painted with graffiti in El Bustan (King’s Garden) part of Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem June 21, 2010. REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

Only 10 percent of the municipality’s budget goes to East Jerusalem, Alyan said.

Jerusalem’s mayor, former high-tech entrepreneur Nir Barkat, does not dispute there is a gap between the west and east. But he says it is a result of a shortage of funds and bureaucratic red tape going back decades to when the east was under Jordanian rule.

“It’s not politics, it’s poor management and we’re catching up,” he told Reuters.

Youssef Qarain, a 73-year-old barber in East Jerusalem, recalls the day when the 1967 war broke out. Fifty years later, he sees little chance of Palestinian prospects improving.

“Simply, when you are under occupation, what can you hope for?” asked Qarain.

 

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Additional reporting by Lee Marzel, Sinan Abu Mayzer and Suheir Sheikh; Editing by Luke Baker, Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Roche)

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Shimon Peres funeral joins Israeli, Palestinian leaders — briefly

Grandchildren of former Israeli President Shimon Peres lay a wreath on the grave of their grandfather during the burial ceremony at Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Grandchildren of former Israeli President Shimon Peres lay a wreath on the grave of their grandfather during the burial ceremony at Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

By Jeffrey Heller and Jeff Mason 
September 30, 2016

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) during the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem September 30, 2016. Amos Ben Gershom/Government Press Office (GPO)/Handout via REUTERS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) during the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem September 30, 2016. Amos Ben Gershom/Government Press Office (GPO)/Handout via REUTERS

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli and Palestinian leaders shook hands during a brief chat and U.S. President Barack Obama gently reminded them of the “unfinished business of peace” at the funeral Friday of Shimon Peres, the last of a generation of Israel’s founding fathers.

But there was no indication that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s rare visit to Jerusalem and the amiable words he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exchanged would lead to any movement in long-stalled peacemaking.

Peres, a former president and prime minister who died on Wednesday at the age of 93, shared a Nobel Prize for the interim land-for-peace accords he helped reach with the Palestinians as Israel’s foreign minister in the 1990s.

Long-hailed abroad and by supporters in Israel as a visionary, Peres was seen by his critics as an overly optimistic dreamer in the harsh realities of the Middle East.

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“I know from my conversations with him, his pursuit of peace was never naive,” Obama said in his eulogy of Peres, who did much in the early part of his 70 years in public life to build up Israel’s powerful military and nuclear weapons capabilities.

With divisions deep over Jewish settlement in Israeli-occupied territory that Palestinians seek for a state, as well as other issues, U.S.-sponsored negotiations on a final agreement between the two sides have been frozen since 2014.

Netanyahu and Abbas have not held face-to-face talks since 2010. Abbas opted to attend Peres’s funeral, making the short drive from nearby Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, through Israeli military checkpoints.

“Long time, long time,” Abbas told Netanyahu and the prime minister’s wife Sara, after shaking his hand before the start of the ceremony held in the “Great Leaders of the Nation” section of Mount Herzl cemetery, overlooking a forested valley.

Welcoming Abbas, as participants recorded the encounter on their mobile phones, Netanyahu said of the Palestinian leader’s attendance: “It’s something that I appreciate very much on behalf of our people and on behalf of us.”

In Israel for just a few hours to pay tribute to Peres, Obama said in the eulogy that Abbas’s “presence here is a gesture and a reminder of the unfinished business of peace”. He was the only speaker to acknowledge Abbas’s presence.

In Gaza, ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, hundreds of Palestinians rallied after Friday prayers condemning the participation of Palestinian and Arab leaders in the funeral.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C) sits alongside European Council President Donald Tusk (L) as they attend the funeral of Shimon Peres, 93, on Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem, September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C) sits alongside European Council President Donald Tusk (L) as they attend the funeral of Shimon Peres, 93, on Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem, September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool

FRONT ROW

Abbas was given a front-row seat between European Council President Donald Tusk and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Obama briefly greeted the Palestinian leader with a kiss on each cheek before walking down the line to stand next to Netanyahu.

“Even in the face of terrorist attacks, even after repeated disappointments at the negotiation table, (Peres) insisted that as human beings, Palestinians must be seen as equal in dignity to Jews and must therefore be equal in self-determination,” Obama said in his address.

U.S. officials have held open the possibility of Obama making another formal effort to get peace negotiations back on the agenda before he leaves office in January, possibly via a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Netanyahu recalled in his eulogy that he had once argued with Peres, a former leader of the centre-left Labour Party, about what was more important for Israel – peace or security.

“Shimon, you said, ‘Bibi: the best security is peace.’ And I said, ‘without security there can be no peace.'”

“And you know what our surprise conclusion was? We are both right… The goal is not power. Power is the vehicle. The goal is existence and co-existence,” Netanyahu said.

Peres, who suffered a stroke two weeks ago, was buried in a Jewish religious ceremony in a plot between two other former prime ministers, Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir. Rabin was assassinated by an ultranationalist Israeli in 1995 over the interim peace deals struck with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

“Gone too soon,” one of Peres’s two sons, Yoni, quoted his father as telling him when asked what he wanted as his epitaph.

Amos Oz, the celebrated Israeli author and peace campaigner who was a long-time friend of Peres, said in his eulogy it was time to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. “We must split this house into two apartments,” Oz said. “Where are the brave and wise leaders who will continue his legacy?”

The rulers of Egypt and Jordan, the only Arab states to have signed peace treaties with Israel, in 1979 and 1994, were not in attendance. But the Egyptian foreign minister came and King Abdullah of Jordan sent a telegram of condolences.

Britain’s Prince Charles, French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former British leaders David Cameron and Tony Blair also were at the funeral.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Luke Baker and Mark Heinrich)

See also: SHIMON PERES: Israeli nationalist first, peacemaker second — Analysis

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Healing the Divide: Israelis help ill Palestinians

Every day, hundreds of Israeli volunteers drive ill Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to hospitals in Israel. Shaul Adar joins them on the road and learns why they see their neighbourly help as a step on the journey to peaceful coexistence.

 

By Shaul Adar
September, 2016

At 6.30am, the Eyal border crossing is a picture of human misery. The official name is “border crossing”, but nobody uses this term. Israelis and Palestinians alike say “Makhsom” – meaning barrier or roadblock – which reveals the psyche of movement between Israel and the West Bank.

Thousands of Palestinian workers, mainly men, who have made it through the rigorous security check via steel pens, are looking for a bus, pickup truck or employer that will take them for a valuable day of work inside Israel proper. The narrow road leading from the crossing to the main road and on to the centre of Israel is gridlocked. Israeli police and border patrol are watching from a distance while it seems every traffic law is disregarded. It can take hours in overcrowded conditions, facing petty tyranny from the guards, and there is no guarantee of being allowed to the other side.

Behind rows of buses is a policeman from the Palestinian Police Force and Leila, his three-year-old daughter, who suffers from high blood pressure. They are on their way to Tel HaShomer hospital, near Tel Aviv, for treatment for the little girl. They are foreigners in this country – from Israel’s estranged neighbours, no less. Yet amid the car engines, horns and general mayhem, the father and daughter sitting on a rock appear to be the calmest people around. They are comfortable in the knowledge that someone is coming to pick them up. That someone is my brother, Amir Adar, a software engineer, a 60-year-old Israeli citizen and a volunteer for Road to Recovery, a group of Israelis who drive sick Palestinians to Israeli hospitals from Israel’s borders with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

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Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza since the Six-Day War in 1967. Although there are hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza, they are not as well-equipped as the ones in Israel. Many people with cancer, people who need a transplant or children who need dialysis have to go to Israel for life-saving treatments. While the Israeli health system is not responsible for the health of Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority pays high tariffs for any treatment for its citizens (as well as those in Gaza), which makes the Palestinian patients welcome and valuable guests. The problem is getting them into Israel, and to the hospital, in the first place.

Today, both the West Bank and Gaza are fenced and Palestinians require a permit to enter Israel. There is some cooperation between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, which runs civil matters in the West Bank, but the Hamas movement, which controls Gaza, is committed to the destruction of Israel.

Following the collapse of the Oslo Accords and peace treaty in the 2000s, the short journey from Gaza to an Israeli hospital is now a Herculean task. Sick Palestinians need to see a local doctor, who will refer them to a specialist, who then may ask to send them for treatment in Israel. From there, the Palestinian Authority Health Office will need to authorise it, get a permit from an Israeli coordination officer, find the right hospital, and send a commitment to pay the bill. This process alone can take weeks or even months.

With relationships between Israel and the Palestinians at a nadir, each case is scrutinised by both sides. To get the permit to enter Israel, Palestinians may be asked to work for the Shabak, or Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security forces. This makes any travelling patient a suspected traitor in local Palestinian eyes, while equally the Israelis fear a breach of security. The patient is only allowed one person to accompany them and that person must be cleared by the security services. Many, mainly young men, are not allowed in, so the burden falls on grandmothers and grandfathers to put a child at ease. Each journey in and out is a long haul of bureaucracy, checks and border crossings, and fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Palestinian patients make their way to the crossings from the West Bank and Gaza, clear all the checks, and then need to make the much longer, expensive and intimidating way across Israel. This is not a time when a Palestinian can feel safe inside Israel.

This is why my brother is here today.

Ordinary volunteers like him take sick Palestinians from border crossings to Israeli hospitals and back again. Without them, patients like Leila would have no option but to take a taxi into Israel, which is too expensive for most Palestinians. Road to Recovery’s 500 volunteers provide them with a free ride and the company of an Israeli to ease their fears.

Thanks to the morning rush hour, the 30 km drive takes three hours. The journey takes us through some of the most affluent neighbourhoods of Israel, a world away from the living conditions in the West Bank, and, traffic aside, there are no further problems or delays. “Shukran,” says the father warmly (thank you in Arabic). “No thanks needed,” answers Adar in Arabic. “It is my duty. It’s also an opportunity to brush up my Arabic.”

5.30am, Haifa

It is dawn the next day. I am at Rambam Medical Centre in Haifa, in the north of Israel by the sea. In a battered white Citroen people carrier named Junky are two girls from Gaza, and one mother and one father. The driver is Yuval Roth, the founder and engine behind Road to Recovery.

The 60-year-old white-haired Israeli is a semi-retired maker of stilts for performance artists, a former juggler who taught generations of Israeli jugglers, and son to a Holocaust survivor father. In 1993, he lost his brother Udi, who was kidnapped and shot by a Hamas unit on his way back home from a reserves service in Gaza. Roth’s reaction was to join the Parents Circle – Families Forum, a joint group of bereaved Israelis and Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. There they can share their pain and discuss ways to improve the situation.

In 2006, he was asked by Muhammad Kabah, a fellow member of the forum, to drive his brother for cancer treatments in Israel.

“For me it was just like a helping a neighbour,” says Roth, when he starts the 160-km journey south to the Erez crossing into Gaza. “I’m from Pardes Hanna and he is from a village near Jenin. There is a border between us but we are still neighbours. That was the start and then I had more requests, so I’ve asked for help from family and friends.”

Roth began driving sick Palestinians on a regular basis, with others soon joining his cause. Word of mouth spread, and six years ago Roth received a donation of US$10,000 from the singer Leonard Cohen, and Road to Recovery was born.

“His donation pushed me to found the trust and enabled us to increase the number of volunteers,” he says. The resulting media coverage has brought the organisation to the awareness of like-minded Israelis and in 2015 it was able to make more than 8,000 patient trips, covering over 550,000 km, with an operating budget of 570,000 shekels ($150,000). The proposed 2016 budget is double that, at 1.17 million shekels, raised largely from donations from Israel and abroad.

The greatest sacrifice the volunteers make is not the missed sleep, the snail’s pace of their drives or the waiting. It is losing the option to turn a blind eye to suffering. While most Israelis don’t want to know about the hardship of Palestinians, let alone sick Palestinians, Road to Recovery volunteers are brought face to face with the misery of the conflict’s most vulnerable people.

“I do it for many reasons,” says Adar. “First, to help people who need it the most. For me it’s not a tall order, nothing too demanding. It’s also a political act and I want to set an example for my children. This is the place I’m living in. If I close my eyes the problem will still remain. For any chance of an agreement in the future we must have a better day-to-day life right now. I owe it to myself as a human being not to sit idle.”

These are the last days of spring in Israel. Jacaranda trees are in full purple bloom, huge flocks of storks and pelicans are making their way back north to Europe, and the hills are still green before the harsh summer will turn them dry yellow. But the land is under a cloud. The relationship between Israelis and Palestinians has been deteriorating constantly since the breakdown of the Oslo accords, and today it is arguably worse than ever. Most young Israelis and Palestinians have no opportunity to meet each other; fear and hate are the prevalent feelings.

These are the days of incitement and a poisonous atmosphere. In April 2016, Bezalel Smotrich, a right-wing member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, said that he would not want his newborn child to be taken care of by Arab staff at an Israeli hospital. The remark revolted many Israelis. Israel is a highly divided society but the fact that an active member of parliament would say such a thing was shocking. The Israeli health system is supposed to be a meritocracy, with many Israeli-Arab doctors and nurses. Jews and Muslims and other minorities are meant to receive treatment without discrimination.

“Indifference drives me mad,” said Arnon Rotbart, 51, a lawyer in Tel Aviv, and a fellow Road to Recovery volunteer. He wishes the Israeli public would give more thought to the living conditions of Palestinians. “These people need help,” he told me when we met in his office. “They can value the goodwill of Israelis to show compassion and empathy and they can spread it around them. The hateful, aggressive approach, the utter indifference, is something that I want to make a stand against. When a member of the Knesset says that he doesn’t want to be near an Arab baby in the maternity ward because in 20 years time that baby will grow up to be a murderer, I want to ask why we won’t give that baby the tools to be our friend.”

I also met Road to Recovery’s coordinator with Hamas, who did not want me to publish her name. Her day job is in a factory, but in her spare time she works with Road to Recovery because, she says, every child deserves medical treatment and shouldn’t pay the price for the conflict. “I feel that Israel is responsible for the condition in the Gaza Strip, the hospitals and the lack of facilities. I can’t ignore it,” she told me.

I ponder this in the back of Roth’s car, as I talk with Maisa, the mother of Lian, a three-year-old girl. They live in Rafah, in the south of Gaza. The girl has had a liver disease and had to undergo a liver and kidney transplant. “I did some tests in Rambam and I was found eligible to donate a liver lobe. It was a very easy decision for me,” says Maisa in fluent Hebrew. “First she had the liver transplant and later the kidney and she is, praise God, all right. I’m also, praise God, well. We come every month or two for a check-up or if there is an emergency.”

Roth is driving the children to the border – the Eyal crossing – so they can get back home to Gaza. That is relatively far away from Haifa or the West Bank – a taxi would have cost the families around 500 shekels. A journey to Haifa from the Gaza border can last six hours, including inspections, but Maisa says that recently it has become much better. “We only have to go through a security check once. The staff at Rambam are very good to us. For me, it’s like a second home. We lived there for three years, and it’s like a family to me now. They give with all their hearts with true love to children and parents. They wake up in the early hours and they do good for people, for sick children. I’ve never heard of anything like it.”

As our journey to Rambam goes on, Roth’s two phones ring every few minutes. The garage is calling about a repair for his other car, Muhammad Kabah is looking for work, and there is a barrage of calls about a juggling festival Roth is organising in the next week during the Passover vacation.

“I used to be a mediocre juggler but I’m proud to say that I’ve raised generations of wonderful Israeli jugglers,” says Roth. “Everybody can be one and I taught many who became world-class. The key point is to throw the item correctly to the right place. Yes, gravity will bring it down but much later then you think. If you throw it right you make more time for yourself. So don’t panic! Once you understand it there is no stress and you can juggle away.”

I ask how many balls are in the air running Road to Recovery. “Today it’s about seven,” he says. “Manageable.”

The other girl in the car with us is Afnan, a charismatic nine-year-old from Gaza City. She is perhaps the organisation’s best-known patient, following an Israeli TV piece two years ago about the 2014 conflict known as Operation Defensive Shield. Afnan, then bald from cancer treatment, was on her way back home from Haifa with her father when, following a Hamas missile attack, the roads and crossing were closed. Staying in Haifa was the safe option, but Afnan was homesick after not seeing her mother and brothers for nine months.

The decision to turn back led to tears and heartbreak as Roth – also the driver that night – ended up detouring to Kibbutz Hatzerim near Beersheba, 200 km south of Haifa, where he grew up. With Israeli Air Force jets taking off from the nearby base on their mission to bomb in Gaza, and Beersheba targeted by Hamas rockets, Afnan met Israeli kids her age in a shelter. It was surreal. “They show that TV programme at universities now, in courses about conflict solving,” says Roth. “After just a few questions about the conflict, the kids started to play with her normally. Kids are clean, not yet corrupted by hate, and we need to learn from them.” A few hours later, the crossing opened and Roth was able to drive Afnan and her father to their home, albeit to a war zone.

8am, near Jaayus

Halfway to the Erez crossing, on the motorway to avoid the metropolis of Tel Aviv, you can see the olive-tree-covered hills of Samaria on one side and Greater Tel Aviv on the other, with the barrier, sometimes fencing and sometimes the infamous wall, separating Israel and the West Bank. I peer out the car window to the east, where, just a few kilometres away, is the village of Jaayus. Two days ago there, I met Naim El Beida, Road to Recovery’s Palestinian coordinator for the West Bank. He, alongside Roth, is one of two indispensable people to the operation.

El Beida works as a building site manager in Israel (“I helped build the country,” he said with pride). He is always with his phone and a big black diary, organising trips to hospitals and making sure there are no last-minute problems. El Beida, a peace activist, was referred to Roth when a poor relative was looking for transport for his sick son. The father knew that El Beida was well connected in Israel and a mutual friend told him about Roth. “I immediately liked the activity,” he told me. “I believe it is the path for coexistence, without violence or wars. These two people can’t separate; nobody will take us so we have to live together.

“One patient led to another and now I don’t have a moment for my own. My number is passed from sick person to another. My wife told me, ‘It’s the phones or me,’ but because of my belief in my work and the help it provides for my people I told her it will be the phones!”

Today, El Beida’s number is available in every Palestinian hospital and with every medical secretary. He is one of the first people a seriously ill Palestinian would call after receiving grave medical news. He helps in many ways – as a translator, a fixer, smoothing out small problems that get in the way of a patient getting treatment. He sees the families before the first trip and after it. The difference is huge.

“I know that everybody is afraid the first time. They don’t believe it can happen. If during the previous week a group of soldiers come into your home and mess it around and cause havoc and a day later, I tell them, a Jew will come to the crossing and take you to a hospital, you’ll be confused. Some people have never met nice Israelis like our members. Some of them have just met soldiers and Shabak security service – only threatening Israelis. One mother came back from her first ride and couldn’t believe it. She said: ‘These are Jews? The driver spoke Arabic and bought sweets for the kid.’

“I told her that there are many Jews, some are good and some are bad, and it is the situation that caused them to be bad. In a different situation we would have met and become friends.”

“I wake up at 3am for work,” he told me and four other Israelis who visited him that morning. “I return in the evening and then start coordinating trips until I collapse into bed. It does affect the family, the kids and my health, but it is my calling. I want to sow the seed of respect between the people and help everybody that needs it.”

10am, Moshav Ma’agalim

As our car drives further south we reach the light-brown borders of the Negev desert and turn west towards the Mediterranean. After a rainy winter the colours are a mix of the red soil and the dark green vegetation. The Israelis who live here are in the range of Hamas missiles and have had their share in the never-ending circle of violence.

Moshav Ma’agalim is a small cooperative of religious Jews, and when Roth makes a stop there to deliver stilts to a customer, everybody takes the opportunity to stretch their legs. You can feel the tension. Nobody says a word but some glances are exchanged and when we make the short way to the Erez crossing in less than half an hour, everybody is relieved.

While Road to Recovery has its supporters, a common reaction is “the poor of your city come first” – the Hebrew version of “charity begins at home”. In other words, why are you helping outsiders (and, to some, their enemies)? Roth does actually help poor Israelis as well, as part of his volunteering work outside of Road to Recovery. But that saying follows the volunteers everywhere. “Among my friends there’s a lot of support, but I keep hearing that phrase,” says Amir Adar. “I almost prefer blatant racism to this. I wonder how many of them help the poor.”

Road to Recovery is politically neutral, but the vast majority of the members are middle-class Ashkenazi (Jews of European descent) lefties. Some of them were high-ranking officers in the Israeli Defense Force, others were ordinary soldiers who 30 years ago served in Gaza and chased the stone-throwers they now carry in their cars.

There are a low number of Arab-Israelis among them, but a recent TV programme aired in January on Channel 2, the most popular TV channel in Israel, brought Road to Recovery a wave of new volunteers, with new moral conundrums for Roth to deal with.

Roth received a call from the head of Israeli settlers in the Samaria region, saying that they wanted to help. “I almost choked,” Roth tells me as we drive. “I told him that I’d call him back because I didn’t know what to do. I asked other members and they didn’t understand my question – they said yes, of course we should work with them, but it’s still not clear-cut for me.”

This is the kind of dilemma you can find in this crazy region. The settlers want to help but there remains an ideological rift for Roth. “I don’t have a problem with a right-wing Israeli – I’d welcome him into the organisation. But in my world there is no such thing as a nice settler. The fact you are a settler is the problem. Thanks for your will to help but you are sitting on a land that doesn’t belong to you and that’s a problem.”

10.30am, Erez crossing

We can see by now the fences around Gaza and a big wall; yellow signs warning not to take photos of the security facility welcome you to the big crossing at Erez. Despite this, it is a surprisingly modern and pleasant terminal, and our car is allowed to park near it. The kids, Afnan and Yuval, are clearly happy to be near home. Their parents unpack suitcases and plastic bags. Afnan, with a big green Maccabi Haifa Football Club bag on her back, carries a number of boxes of Matzoth, the unleavened substitute for bread for observant Jews during the coming seven days of Passover. She gives a hug to Yuval and the two of them and their parents make their way into the terminal to be examined by the two sets of crossing guards, Israeli and Hamas.

There are three more Road to Recovery cars parked here. One of them is driven by Amram Mitzna – a former brigadier general in the Israeli army, the second-highest rank, a former mayor of Haifa, and a former chairman of the Israeli Labour Party.

Among Road to Recovery’s other members are Aluma Goren, a former captain of the Israeli national basketball team, and Eran Schandar, a former state attorney.

What a contrast, I think, to the two children I am waving goodbye to. They are the most vulnerable people. They live in the harshest conditions under the despotic Hamas regime and the ever-watchful eye of Israel’s Shabak security service.

Even the Palestinian health bodies are not too eager to help such families, according to Road to Recovery’s Gaza coordinator: the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is in conflict with Hamas in Gaza, so the Authority is less than keen to be seen helping people from the Strip. The contrasts between the abject poverty in Gaza and the affluence of Israel, the mayhem of daily life in Gaza and the Israeli bureaucracy, lead to a constant culture clash that can drive even the most committed person into despair. Even among Road to Recovery volunteers there are moments of doubt.

I hear stories of patients’ families turning treatment areas into storage spaces while they gather donations – money, goods – mainly from Arabs living in Israel. Roth says he’s heard the stories and can understand it to some extent, as some families come from terrible poverty. “Some of them don’t have anything.”

Yes, he says, there are some times when people take advantage of Road to Recovery, and some do rile him. Like yesterday, when a volunteer drove to Rambam Medical Centre to collect a patient who wasn’t there. It turned out that the family had gone out shopping in Haifa. “They didn’t understand what we are. We are not taxi drivers,” says Roth. “It happens every now and then, but 95 per cent are people who need us and without us they could die.”

“A Gazan is like an onion with so many layers,” said the coordinator. “They will tell you what you want to hear because they attempt to survive between Israel and Hamas. I know what happens in the cars, the relationships that are formed and the understanding that we are the same. That is why Hamas opposes our actions in principle. They are willing to let it happen because they know it is a matter of life and death. But they do it with gritted teeth.” (The Israeli government is more than fine with their activities – it secures money for the hospitals, after all.)

If running Road to Recovery is juggling with seven balls in the air, cooperating with Hamas is juggling them on a tightrope over a volcano. A lethal conflict is always a possibility, and once in a while there is a breakdown in communication. The last one was over a “fun day”, when the organisation takes sick Palestinian children not to the hospital but to the beach or a festival for relaxation. Hamas deemed this a step too far and “normalisation with the Zionist enemy”. But in most cases the desperate need for life-saving treatments helps ease the tension.

11am, on the road to Haifa

After a short break, Roth collects two young mothers with a toddler each and we head north once again. It’s another 160-km journey but Roth doesn’t show any sign of tiredness. It is a quiet, calm drive, although again Roth’s phones are buzzing with calls – at any one time it could be last-minute problems at a crossing or something to do with the juggling festival. But he values the drive. He says it’s time he can spend on maintenance of the most important resource – the volunteers.

In rare cases when a patient doesn’t turn up, or when a passenger’s family is brusque, Roth does his best to smooth things over. “A week ago a volunteer poured his heart to me after he drove somebody and didn’t get even a thank you or goodbye. They just left. I do understand his feeling. There are people like that but I try to remember we don’t know what they’ve been through at the hospital.”

Sometimes people get too involved. They form a bond with a family, and expectations that may not be met. By the nature of their work, volunteers have to deal with dramatic situations, such as when a nine-year-old boy with cancer had an infection and a high temperature. He had to go for emergency treatment in Israel, but could only go with his grandmother. The boy, fearing for his life, cried that he wanted to die with his mother by his side. Her permission arrived at the last minute, when the boy was at the crossing, allowing the mother and child to travel for the treatment that saved his life.

Naturally, there are also deaths, many of them of children. Road to Recovery volunteers may visit the bereaved. In some cases the relationship forged during the treatment is strong enough to be maintained even during and after a death. As Roth tells me, “We try and visit bereaved families and we are told, ‘Though our child has passed, it doesn’t mean we have to end our relationship.’ When it comes from them, it does give you strength despite the sadness.”

A long day’s work comes to an end as we pull in one last time to Rambam Medical Centre in Haifa. The two mothers and kids complete the journey and check in.

In a perfect world there would be decent hospitals for the Palestinian people. In a better world the Israeli hospitals and the Health Ministry would take care of the crossings and transportation. In the real world it’s up to Yuval Roth and his group. Roth’s next hope is to make Naim El Beida a full-time West Bank coordinator with an office. “That is the dream and it will make a huge change,” says Roth. “In the meantime our job is to drive the needy and by that to create a little hope, some pockets of a better future.”

Some names have been changed.

Creative Commons

This article first appeared on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence.

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The evil of Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli government photo.

Israeli government photo. Benjamin Netanyahu

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
October, 2015

He’s the wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. And he has been for far too many years.

For those people, like myself, who believe in Israel’s right to exist but also believe that this belief doesn’t give Israel the right to do whatever the hell it wants, Benjamin Netanyahu’s continued racist and potentially internationally criminal actions have made things so bad in Israel, one really has to question how long the country can survive with him as its leader.

There are so many examples to choose from, but let’s start with the most recent.

His declaration that the Holocaust was not indeed conceived by Adolf Hitler and his gang of cronies like Himmler, and Goebbels, but was actually cooked up by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Netanyahu made the charge while giving a speech at the opening of the World Zionist Congress this week in Jerusalem.

Now Husseini was no sweetheart. And rather than going into his extensive dubious background, I would refer you to the first link at the bottom of this page from Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo that explores this more fully.

But to say that Hitler, as one scholar put it, was little more than a “clueless anti-Semite” convinced by an Arab Palestinian Muslim to conduct the Holocaust is so vile, and so racist, so historically inaccurate, and so the wrong thing to say at this particular moment in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, that when I first heard it, I momentary wondered if Netanyahu had gone crazy.

Fortunately, I was not the only person who reacted this way.

Dozens of historical scholars, including many well-known Jewish historians, denounced Netanyahu’s comments as ridiculous. As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, “Prof. Dina Porat, chief historian of Yad Vashem, [the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem] called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that Hitler did not seek to exterminate the Jews until his meeting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem at the time, Haj Amin al-Husseini ‘completely erroneous, on all counts.’ “

Completely erroneous, on all counts.

In fact, not a few historians pointed out that what Netanyahu was doing was giving a boost up to the Holocaust deniers by seeming to say “Oh, Hitler he didn’t really want to hurt the Jews. He had to be pushed into it.”

Which leads us to ask: why did he do it?

Benjamin Netanyahu is evil.

Oh he’s not evil in the way that Al-Qaeda is evil, or the Islamic state is evil. That evil is truly on the level of the Nazis, and the sooner it is wiped from the face of the earth, the better.

No, he is evil like Erdogan is evil, like El-Sisi is evil, like Jean-Marie Le Pen is evil, or like Pamela Geller is evil. It is a cynical evil that seeks out the darkest parts of a human and twists into something misshapen and foreboding. It relies on fear of the other, suspicion and violence. But mostly fear.

For the ultra-nationist and far-right settlers movement, it must have been music to their ears. It gave them just another excuse – maybe the ultimate excuse – to continue to brutalize Israeli Arabs and Palestinians.

We’ve seen this trait of Netanyahu raise its head before this week’s “completely erroneous” statements about Hitler.

During the most recent Israeli election, facing what look like imminent defeat, at the last second he resorted to making racist statements about the Palestinians, and assuring his thuggish supporters that there would never be a peace deal as long as he was the Prime Minister of Israel. And in the jigsaw puzzle world of Israeli politics, where small parties with only two or three seats can dictate the fate of the entire nation, that was all he needed.

And here’s the really sad part of what Netanyahu has done.

Israel is a great nation, that has produced some of the greatest thinkers, scientists, businessmen and technologists that the world has ever seen. For many, many years it was the only democratic nation in the Middle East. And the people who lived there rightly felt proud of its place in the world.

And that is what Netanyahu has destroyed. Under his leadership Israel has become in many places (and not just in the Arab world or in Muslim countries) an international pariah. Israel is no longer looked at by many people as the one true voice of democracy in the Middle East, but instead as a racist occupying power, guilty of war crimes which it refuses to admit, a country whose products are worthy of being boycotted by many, a country of one law for one group of citizens and another law for another group of citizens.

When I was a kid I had nothing but admiration for Israel. I read everything I could about it. I was seduced by the myth of Israel, and felt that, after the Holocaust, the world needed a place like Israel.

I don’t feel that admiration so much anymore. While I will still support Israel’s right to exist, I can no longer support its actions in its own country or in the world at large. For me, much of this falls at the feet of Benjamin Netanyahu. And I will never forgive him for that.

Nor, I think, will the world. And one day, I feel fairly certain, neither will Israelis.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Welcome to Facts and Opinions. Try one story at no charge and, if you value our work, please chip in at least .27 per story or $1 for a day site pass, using the “donate” button below. Click here for details. 

LINKS:

Netanyahu Reduced to Defending Hitler. Really …
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/netanyahu-reduced-to-defending-hitler-really

Netanyahu’s fairytale about Hitler and the mufti is the last thing we need
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/21/netanyahu-faitytale-hitler-mufti-holocaust

Mass Murder of Jews in Europe Started Months Before Hitler Met Mufti, Historians Say
http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.681661

Blame it on the mufti
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/10/blame-mufti-jerusalem-nazi-netanyahu-151022103157506.html

Peace activist Rabbi Arik Ascherman attacked by knife-wielding settler in West Bank
http://mondoweiss.net/2015/10/ascherman-attacked-wielding

Yad Vashem’s Chief Historian on Hitler and the Mufti: Netanyahu Had It All Wrong
http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.681718

Germany Assures Bibi: No, We Did It
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/germany-assures-bibi-no-we-did-it

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Real journalism has value. Thank you for your support. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Supporting BDS not “anti-Semitic”

Members of Neturei Karta Orthodox Jewish group protest against Israe. Photo l by Peter via Wikimedia, Creative Commons

Members of Neturei Karta Orthodox Jewish group protest against Israel. Photo by Peter Mulligan via Wikimedia, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA  
May, 2015   

It’s the question of the moment: Is the BDS movement a legitimate way to protest the actions of the Israeli government, or it is a slick anti-Semitic attempt to undermine, or even destroy, the state of Israel?

The Boycott, Diversify, Sanction movement was created in 2005 by 171 non-governmental Palestinian organizations, to organize and promote “non-violent punitive measures” against Israel until, as it says in Wikipedia, it “complies with the precepts of international law” by:

  • “Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall [build along the 1949 Armistice line that cuts off almost 10% of the West Bank and 23,000 Palestinians];
  • Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel o full equality; and
  • Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and property as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”

There is a fair degree of debate on how effective the BDS movement is, and how much effect that it is having on Israel’s economy.

An editorial in The Economist argued that the campaign is “gaining weight,” and that while once seen as as the hobby of “crackpots,” it is turning mainstream.

On the other hand, while the movement has achieved some successes in stopping large firms from doing business with Israel, and contributed to some companies and universities divesting from Israel, Alastair Sloan writes in  in the Middle East Monitor that trade from Western countries to Israel is actually rising,Or that the movement is unintentionally damaging the Palestinian economy, what little there is of it. 

Some well-known critics of Israel, such as MIT professor Noam Chomsky, who supports many but not all similar goals as the ones espoused by BDS, warns the campaign risks backfiring, particularly when it compares itself to the South African divestment movement.

“While there is … a growing domestic opposition in the United States to Israeli crimes, it does not remotely compare with the South African case,” he wrote in 2014, quoted by The Guardian. “The necessary educational work has not been done. Spokespeople for the BDS movement may believe they have attained their ‘South African moment’, but that is far from accurate. And if tactics are to be effective, they must be based on a realistic assessment of actual circumstances.”

The actual effectiveness of the BDS movement itself is still undecided.

But the real question, and the one that has been provoked by the recent actions of prime minister Stephen Harper’s government in Canada, is about anti-Semitism. Under the new draconian Bill C-51, the Harper government has threatened to charge anyone who openly supports the BDS movement with a hate crime.

Is calling for the boycott of business with Israel an anti-Semitic act? Or is it a legitimate non-violent way to protest the actions of what many people increasing regard as a government that has shown itself to be mendacious, untrustworthy and a constant breaker of international laws?

I would argue that it is the latter. Denying the Holocaust is anti-Semitic. Not recognizing Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitic. Calling for the destruction of Israel is very anti-Semitic.

But it is a common tactic of many far-right or conservative supporters to say that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. Nonsense. The actions of the government of Israel cannot be judged in such an artificial way. It is possible to support Israel but condemn actions undertaken by its government.

When the government and military undertake actions like they did in 2014 in Gaza, that many other people and nations in the world say crossed a line from legitimate self-defense to constitute war crimes, or when Arab citizens of Israel are treated as second-class (or worse) citizens and often subjected to ridiculously racist laws, people and organizations around the world who oppose these measures have a right to protest them in a non-violent way. Supporting the goals of the BDS movement – whether by taking part in protests or by making an effort not to buy Israeli products, particularly those made in illegal Israeli settlements – is one way for them to do that.

It’s also important to note here that the support for the BDS movement is quite broad and includes Jews. The Jewish Forward recently carried not one but two stories that covered Jewish involvement in BDS. In one piece, it looked at how the “birthright” tours that take young American Jews to Israel are actually backfiring in some cases and leading these young people to support BDS. The second, an opinion piece which is actually opposed to BDS, at least acknowledged that there are young Jewish students who have joined BDS (although the author describes this as “capitulation”).

Supporting BDS is a personal decision. Some people may find other ways, through other actions or words, to protest the actions of the Israeli government. But for many, it will remain a popular choice, to express their support for Palestinians and to press the Israeli government to comply with international laws, stop the building of illegal settlements in occupied land, and improve treatment of its Arab citizens.

 

That does not make it anti-Semitic. It does make it a way to legitimately express your concerns about events in a part of the world that affects everyone.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015 

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

References: 

Economist editorial: http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21595948-israels-politicians-sound-rattled-campaign-isolate-their-country

Noam Chomsky in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/02/bds-boycott-campaign-israel-noam-chomsky

Birthright Paves Path to BDS: Forward: http://forward.com/news/israel/307941/birthright-paves-path-to-bds-for-some-participants/?utm_source=Newsletter+subscribers&utm_campaign=c5ad45ad48-Daily_Briefing_5_11_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2dce5bc6f8-c5ad45ad48-25790869

On the “academic intifada,” Forward.com http://forward.com/opinion/307951/how-american-jews-can-fight-the-academic-intifada/

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation (below), by telling others about us, or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page. 

 

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What about Israel?

Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem

Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem. Creative Commons

TOM REGAN  
March 8, 2015  

You really have to hand it to the Israeli government – in fact, a long succession of Israeli governments. There is probably no government in the world more skilled at being able to get what it wants, or that knows just the right buttons to push, to get what it wants from the government of the United States. 

We saw that this month in Washington when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to address the United States Congress at the invitation of the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner. The Israeli government has a way of making its point, even when doing so might not serve its more long-term interests. In this case Mr. Netanyahu’s visit drastically complicated the relationship between the Obama administration and his government, which has caused much concern in both countries.

It probably doesn’t matter. Netanyahu knows that for all the huffing and puffing that goes on in official Washington circles about the crisis in the United States relationship with Israel, there are few relationships that are less susceptible to criticism than it is. Netanyahu knows that the Israeli-American relationship has long been protected both by the outspoken support of Jewish organizations in America and by many American politicians, particularly Democrats, who know how important the Jewish vote is to their electoral success.

And that’s why it’s time for that relationship to change. Maybe that relationship has been protected from a much needed critical examination for too long and the Israeli government feels that it has a mostly freehand to do what it wants, without having to worry about what the most powerful government in the world, and its major ally, will say. For while the results may have fulfilled the Israeli government’s goals at the time, they have often lead to serious problems and complications for the United States with other allies in the region and the world.

(I use the term Israeli government rather than the more commonly used Israel because the Israeli government is not Israel nor all Israelis. Because of its largely dysfunctional electoral system, the Israeli government is cobbled together like a Rube Goldberg-contraption, in which small far-right parties can exert influences that far outweigh their actual representation among the Israeli people. Israel is not a monolith, despite the attempts by Mr. Netanyahu to paint it as such.)

Now I am not for a moment advocating the end of our relationship with Israel. Israel is an important ally of the United States, and the two countries have long and historic ties. But the world is a changing place and it’s time for the relationship between United States and Israel to take on a new form, one that offers a little more tough love from our side then we have shown in the past.

The most important thing to understand about the way the Israeli government conducts itself with both its neighboring states and with the world at large is that the Israeli government will do what it thinks best for the state of Israel, and it really doesn’t give a damn about what the rest of the world thinks. It is most concerned about its security, and that is understandable. When you consider the Holocaust of the last century, and the enmity of many neighboring states to its existence, it’s easy to see why the Israeli government really doesn’t give a Fig Newton about what organizations like the United Nations think about its actions.

But too often this “we don’t give a damn what you think” approach helps in the short-term but is disastrous for the country’s future. History won’t stop happening. By trying to constantly maintain a secure status quo and not crafting a secure long-term future, the Israeli government is actually making that country less safe.

Just look at its current policies and actions: Its reluctance, or even refusal sometimes, to deal with the rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, the ongoing establishment of illegal settlements, the treatment of Arab-Israelis as second-class citizens in their own country, its bellicose actions towards countries like Lebanon, its wars that affect civilian populations in places like Gaza or Beirut, its use of weapons that have been banned by international organizations. These policies not only fail to provide Israel with the security it so desperately wants, and create many security and economic problems for the United States as well, but have also turned Israel into a pariah in the eyes of many around the world.

And as noted above, these actions have also created problems for this country. The Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians, to give just one example, has long been a source of recruitment and funding for terrorist organizations that seek to strike the U.S. And it has often created problems with Arab allies in the region whose support is just as important, if not more so, that Israel’s to finding a solution to the region’s turmoil.

And yet what has caused problems for Israel because of its situation, may be just what this government needs. That is why it makes sense for the United States government to adopt the Israeli government’s “what’s best for us” approach. It is time for the U.S. government to update its view of what is the best way to deal with the situation in the Middle East, and what best for the United States. Period.

Often that will mean supporting many of the same things that the Israeli government supports. But sometimes it won’t.

If the United States adopts a “What’s best for the U.S.” policy in dealing with the Middle East, perhaps Israeli leaders will see the need to ameliorate and fix their policies towards the region and the world that are not providing Israeli citizens with the security they want, nor the admiration and support of other countries which Israel will need to survive in the long-term.

Because the Israeli government cannot continue to make the same decisions in the same way again and again and again, and neither can the United States. For if we continue down this same old tired road, nothing will ever change and we still will be asking “What about Israel?” for many years to come.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com 

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Film Board in Canada, and for the Christian Science Monitor and Boston Globe newspapers, and National Public Radio, in the United States. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

 

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Jerusalem attack: The third intifada is here

 

Jersualem’s Western Wall, or wailing wall, and the adjacent Temple Mount are Judaism’s most sacred spaces. ZACHI EVENOR/CREATIVE COMMONS

Jersualem’s Western Wall, or wailing wall, and the adjacent Temple Mount are Judaism’s most sacred spaces. ZACHI EVENOR/CREATIVE COMMONS

By Asaf SiniverUniversity of Birmingham
November 21, 2014

The attack on a Jerusalem synagogue in which four Jewish worshippers were killed and eight were injured has sparked new fears that fighting between Israel and Palestinian could flare up once more.

The attack, by two Palestinians carrying meat cleavers and a gun, has the potential to kick off fresh religious confrontation and a third intifada.

The immediate trigger for the attack was the death of a Palestinian bus driver in Jerusalem. The Israeli authorities who carried out the autopsy on the body concluded that the driver hanged himself but a Palestinian pathologist who participated in the autopsy argued that the bus driver was probably murdered. Hours earlier a Palestinian had stabbed an Israeli with a screwdriver near the Damascus Gate.

In a conflict littered with seemingly isolated incidents, attacks and counter-attacks, it is sometimes difficult to see the wood for the trees. But taking a long-range view of the conflict since the failure of US secretary of state John Kerry’s mission to the region that ended in April 2014, the inescapable conclusion is that the third intifada is already here.

The city of Jerusalem, and the dispute over Temple Mount/Harem al-Sharif in particular, is at the heart of this conflict. This is the holiest site in Judaism. It is where God is believed to have created Adam, where Abraham offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God, and where the two Holy Temples once stood. For Muslims, it is from this spot that the Prophet Muhammad visited Heaven during his nocturnal journey. It is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem following the June 1967 war and continues to manage security and access to the holy sites of the old city, but the mount is managed by Muslims.

On October 29, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem attempted to assassinate a prominent rabbi who advocated free Jewish access to Temple Mount. In response, Israeli authorities temporarily closed off the site to both Jews and Muslims. Israel has since allowed access once more but the violence has not abated. Jerusalem is still very much in the eye of the storm.

The attempt on the rabbi’s life was the culmination of months of tension in East Jerusalem. The city is home to around 250,000 Palestinians who hold Israeli ID cards and pay taxes to Israel, but there have been repeated efforts by certain Jewish religious groups to buy Palestinian property in order to create a Jewish majority in the city.

The synagogue attack is therefore neither isolated nor random. The murder of Jews in their place of worship by Palestinians is hugely symbolic though. This was not merely an attack on the Jewish state, but an attack on Judaism itself.

In the first intifada of 1987, the Palestinians rose up against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza for the first time. The 2000 intifada followed a failed peace process. But this intifada is not being fought over territory or negotiating positions. It is a religious conflict that is bubbling up as a result of contrasting claims to sovereignty over the Holy City of Jerusalem.

The language used by both sides to describe the current tensions points to these religious undertones. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has asked the international media to refrain from using the Jewish name of Temple Mount when reporting the story. It says the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is not a disputed territory and so any other name for it is null and void. The Israeli government, on the other hand, has characterised the synagogue murders as the latest in a series of acts of Palestinian terrorism designed to damage Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem and to kill Jews just because of their religion.

The Israeli government has responded to the attack by ordering the immediate demolition of the perpetrators’ houses and the bolstering of security in the city. This decision was as swift as it was predictable, and is unlikely to calm the situation.

But Israel’s options are limited – the Palestinians of East Jerusalem are not subjected to the same restrictions of movement and employment as the people living in the West Bank and there seems to be no central authority behind these spontaneous attacks. Israel has accused the Palestinian Authority of inciting this wave of religious violence against Jews in Jerusalem but the organisation does not have the civil authority in the city to bring the situation under its control.

Tensions will without doubt escalate in the coming days and weeks. It is clearer than ever that Israelis and Palestinians will not resume the stalled peace process for the foreseeable future. To think so would be naïve at best.

This intractable conflict has long been defined by issues such as the future of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the fate of Palestinian refugees. Now the added burden of more religious tensions is certain to condemn the people of the Holy Land to many more years of bloodshed.

Creative Commons

The Conversation

Asaf Siniver does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Further reading on Facts and Opinions:

Israel at the Boundary, by Chris Wood (Free public access*)

A friend — I hope I may still call him one — recently chastised me for selectiveness in my criticism on social networks of Israel’s Gaza campaign, and my comparative silence about the horrors occurring in Syria and Iraq. The unspoken implication that there was something particular about Israel that inclined me to single it out, embedded another: that the something particular was Israel’s Jewishness. The suggestions are sufficiently morally impugning, and implicate enough of my personal friendships, that they deserve a thoughtful response. 

Hamas Leads Gaza Down a Dead-end Street, by Jonathan Manthorpe (Paywall*)

Not the least of the problems of finding any kind of solution to the plight of the Palestinians is that the Hamas zealots who control Gaza are incompetent terrorists and jihadis. Hamas’ sole strategic objective, the purpose of its jihad, is to overrun Israel and drive its 6.1 million Jewish residents into the sea. This latest month-long conflict shows Hamas has no capacity to do that and has no idea how to go about it.

The Cold War 2.0, by Jim McNiven (Free public access*)

For 40 years, one big contest played out in the world. It was a kind of arm-wrestling match between the Soviets and the Americans. I use the word ‘Soviets’ to distinguish one contestant from its successor of sorts: today’s Russians. Eventually, the Soviets could not keep their end of the game going and walked away from the table, into history. The last decade of the century was one where there was but one superpower — and it wanted to party. The attacks on America on September 11, 2001, brought that party to a halt. It signified a new game was beginning; not one of two superpowers engaged while the rest of the world largely stayed out of the way, but one where arm-wrestling was replaced by a kind of hide-and-seek.

The Decline in Global Violence, By Andrew Mack (Free public access*)

In the new Human Security Report, The Decline in Global Violence: Evidence Explanation and Contestation, global security specialist Andrew Mack examines a critical question: Has the long-term threat of violence — war, terrorism, and homicide —  been decreasing or increasing worldwide? For some, the answer seems clear. Many in the strategic community concur with General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has said today’s world is “more dangerous than it has ever been.”  But Mack writes that there is little evidence to support them.

Jon Stewart Learns What Happens When You Criticize Israel (F&O Blog)

 

*You’ll find lots of great free stories inside our site, but much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising, and reader payments are essential for us to continue our work. Journalism to has value, and we need and appreciate your support (a day pass is $1 and a monthly subscription is less than a cup of coffee). 

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

 

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On Israel

Is-wb-gs-gh_v3To simply report on news about Israel is to enter a minefield. To comment is to invite extreme reactions of a sort experienced in few other issues. This week F&O columnists Chris Wood and Jonathan Manthorpe enter the fray with thoughtful, informed essays:

Israel at the Boundary, by Chris Wood (Free public access)

A friend — I hope I may still call him one — recently chastised me for selectiveness in my criticism on social networks of Israel’s Gaza campaign, and my comparative silence about the horrors occurring in Syria and Iraq. The unspoken implication that there was something particular about Israel that inclined me to single it out, embedded another: that the something particular was Israel’s Jewishness. The suggestions are sufficiently morally impugning, and implicate enough of my personal friendships, that they deserve a thoughtful response. 

Hamas Leads Gaza Down a Dead-end Street, by Jonathan Manthorpe (Subscription)

Not the least of the problems of finding any kind of solution to the plight of the Palestinians is that the Hamas zealots who control Gaza are incompetent terrorists and jihadis. Hamas’ sole strategic objective, the purpose of its jihad, is to overrun Israel and drive its 6.1 million Jewish residents into the sea. This latest month-long conflict shows Hamas has no capacity to do that and has no idea how to go about it.

 

Related reading:

The Cold War 2.0, by Jim McNiven (Free public access)

For 40 years, one big contest played out in the world. It was a kind of arm-wrestling match between the Soviets and the Americans. I use the word ‘Soviets’ to distinguish one contestant from its successor of sorts: today’s Russians. Eventually, the Soviets could not keep their end of the game going and walked away from the table, into history. The last decade of the century was one where there was but one superpower — and it wanted to party. The attacks on America on September 11, 2001, brought that party to a halt. It signified a new game was beginning; not one of two superpowers engaged while the rest of the world largely stayed out of the way, but one where arm-wrestling was replaced by a kind of hide-and-seek.

The Decline in Global Violence, By Andrew Mack (Free public access)

In the new Human Security Report, The Decline in Global Violence: Evidence Explanation and Contestation, global security specialist Andrew Mack examines a critical question: Has the long-term threat of violence — war, terrorism, and homicide —  been decreasing or increasing worldwide? For some, the answer seems clear. Many in the strategic community concur with General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has said today’s world is “more dangerous than it has ever been.”  But Mack writes that there is little evidence to support them.

 

Jon Stewart Learns What Happens When You Criticize Israel (F&O Blog with video, free)

 

 

 

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1.) 

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Chris Wood on the ‘double standard’ of criticizing Israel

Facts and OpinionsNatural Security columnist Chris Wood reported from the first Palestinian intifada in 1988, for Canada’s Maclean’s magazine. The fierce global debate over Israel’s latest conflict with residents of Gaza prompted him to reflect on the alleged ‘double standard’ of criticizing Israel amid the region’s wider violence. Here is an excerpt of his essay Israel at the Boundary, in F&O’s Loose Leaf column (free public access):

PikiWiki_Israel_30033_Olive_tree

An olive tree, in Israel

I have been privileged (and I don’t use the word lightly) as a reporter to witness a moderately wide range of human sorrows. One of my most vivid memories is of the hospital in Gaza City, so overwhelmed by the injured at the hands of Israeli Defence Force beatings, and so undersupplied, that a reeking yellow stream of blood, urine and puss oozed thickly down a bare concrete hallway.

That was in 1988, before Israeli-Palestinian relations reached their present abyss. Perhaps the experience has affected my judgment in the present. But I find that reality has a way of doing that to me. 

A friend — I hope I may still call him one — recently chastised me for selectiveness in my criticism on social networks of Israel’s Gaza campaign, and my comparative silence about the horrors occurring in Syria and Iraq. The unspoken implication that there was something particular about Israel that inclined me to single it out, embedded another: that the something particular was Israel’s Jewishness.

The suggestions are sufficiently morally impugning, and implicate enough of my personal friendships, that they deserve a thoughtful response … click here to read Israel at the Boundaryby Chris Wood (Free public access).

 

Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by subscribers and readers who purchase a $1 site day pass. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. Sign up here for email notices of new work with the subscribe form on Frontlines, where we also post small stories.

 

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