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50 shades of orange: The international redhead festival

Thousands of redheads gathered for one weekend in a Dutch city to celebrate their identity, talk about their hardships, and do a bit of speed-dating for the sake of future generations. And me? I’m still trying to find out where I fall on the ginger spectrum. 

On Sunday of last week, a new world record was set for most redheads in a single photo. 1,722 redheads of all shades were photographed together in Dutch city of Breda during the tenth annual international redhead festival, also known as Redhead Days.

The redheads came dressed in blue shirts and held sunflowers to mark 125 years since the death of the most famous Dutch redhead of all time — Vincent Van Gogh — breaking the previous record by a mere 50 people, which was previously set by the participants at the festival two years ago. According to organizers over 40,000 participants from more than 80 countries came to celebrate the redhead identity, of them several thousand actual redheads, although only a small portion stayed for the final day when the group photo was taken.

I decided to attend the festival exactly one year ago after I went to the Israeli redhead festival in Kibbutz Gezer (check out pictures here, Hebrew), which was organized by Ofri Moshe, who dreamed of reaching the international conference by had to make do with the local version.

Blonde beginnings

The excitement was palpable on the train from Amsterdam to Breda. On the platform stood a redheaded worker from Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the Dutch railway company, who was busy gathering all the redheads she could find and sending them to first class. Other passengers, including family members or partners of the redheads, were not allowed to enter the car when the company photographer came to snap photos of the historic moment.

Most of the passengers in the first class car were children (only some of their parents were redheads), who looked happier than ever to finally be part of the majority. That, in fact, is part of the point of the conference.

“Many people, and especially young children, feel insecure because of their different hair color, and often feel ashamed or think something is wrong with them. The conference tries to instill in them a feeling of pride,” says Bart Rouwenhorst, a resident of Breda who started the conference back in 2005. But here’s the...

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Labeling settlement goods only strengthens the occupation

When the Israeli government does everything in its power to erase the Green Line and subjugate the Palestinian economy, boycotting settlement goods does little to challenge the regime.

In order to understand the decision by the European Parliament on Thursday to overwhelmingly support a motion in support of labeling of goods produced in West Bank settlements on, one must look at a different event that took place Europe a few weeks back.

Two weeks ago, a Luxembourg supermarket chain “Cactus” decided to boycott fruits and vegetables made in Israel. The reason: Israeli vegetable suppliers do not mark produce that comes from the settlements. The result: after pressure by consumers against selling settlement goods, Cactus decided not to carry any Israeli produce at all.

Back to the parliament: the significance of the decision to label the goods, which is set to become the operative policy of the European Commission, is two-fold. On one hand, we see another diplomatic maneuver on the part of the EU as a result of its dissatisfaction from an ongoing occupation and an Israeli government (and opposition leadership) that seems disinterested in ever ending it.

You might hear a semi-critical person in Luxembourg or Berlin saying: “I don’t buy settlement goods.” He or she may even add: “But I am not anti-Israel. On the contrary. I buy Israeli products that aren’t tainted by the military regime.”

This despite the fact that the separation between the two is entirely artificial. After all, how does one view a product made inside Israel, but which uses raw materials from the West Bank and sends its waste to an industrial zone that exploits Palestinians? How is one supposed to view a bank headquartered on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard that gives mortgages to homes in West Bank settlements. Or what about a product made entirely in Israel, but whose company pays taxes that end up going to the defense budget, the next war on Gaza, or home demolitions in the Jordan Valley?

Long-term optimism?

The European Union is trying to highlight the Green Line in a reality where Israel continues to erase it whenever it is convenient. The EU is trying to pretend as if there are two separate different regimes — a democratic, legitimate one in Israel, and a military regime in a faraway land — in a...

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Israel's new police chief: Architect of segregated West Bank roads

Three things to know about Gal Hirsch, Israel’s incoming police chief who has supported segregated roads and the shooting of a Palestinian youth.

1. During the Second Intifada, following a number of sniping and fire bomb attacks by Palestinians on Israeli cars, incoming police chief Gal Hirsch banned Palestinians from traveling on Route 443, turning it into a road for Israelis only. This despite the fact that the road was built on private and public Palestinian land, and with the understanding that Israel would see the road as a way to serve local Palestinian residents. This also created a situation in which Palestinians aiming to shoot Israeli cars could do so easily, since the road was made exclusively for Israelis.

In 2009 the High Court rejected the racist policy of separation on Road 443. However, the army found ways to circumvent the decision. Today, although Palestinians are now allowed to travel on the road, traffic arrangements work to direct them to use poorer, alternative roads.

2. After being forced to leave the IDF in the wake of the Second Lebanon War, Hirsch became an independent contractor and started a company called “Defensive Shield,” after the name of the 2002 operation on Gaza in which he served as a top general. The company’s site reveals that it specializes in “supplying combat, police and military equipment,” in addition to providing security consultancy, among other fields.

3. Hirsch was recently among those who backed Brigade Commander Israel Shomer, who shot and killed a Palestinian stone-thrower, firing three bullets at his back and head. Hirsch described the boy as a “terrorist,” and justified shooting, despite a video that clearly shows that Shomer chose to get out of his military vehicle, chase the Palestinian boy who was trying to escape, and shoot him in the back even though there was no apparent threat to his life.

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

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British national challenges Israel's policy of deporting peace activists

Israel’s Interior Ministry banned British peace activist Gary Spedding from the country for 10 years, claiming that he was an anti-Semitic liar who might start a riot. Unlike other activists who have suffered the same fate, Spedding isn’t giving up without a fight.

An Israeli court is slated to rule next month on a case involving a British human rights activist who was denied entry into the country, deported, and banned for 10 years, who claims that the Interior Ministry is targeting him for his political views.

It all began on January 9, 2014. Gary Spedding, a 25-year-old British pacifist and human rights activist, arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport for a short visit of a little over a week in Tel Aviv and Bethlehem in order to meet with local activists (myself included) and political leaders. It was supposed to be Spedding’s fifth visit to Israel/Palestine in four years, with the previous four going off without a hitch.

The visits were intended to allow Spedding, who is committed to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, to continue learning about the issue from up close, and talk to people about the relative success of the Northern Ireland peace agreement. Despite his young age, Spedding is a one of the central activists in the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland — the only joint Protestant-Catholic party in Northern Ireland’s parliament.

But upon stepping up to the passport control at Ben-Gurion Airport, Spedding was taken to a small room where he said the security team logged onto his mobile phone without permission and scanned through his contacts, text messages and email, manually copying some of the content onto a notepad. He also underwent a lengthy full-body check, and was eventually jailed before being deported. I was told by the Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration that Spedding had been banned for 10 years because of his activities on social media, fearing that he could start riots in Israel or the occupied territories if allowed into the country. Countless activists have undergone the same procedure, from artists to intellectuals to left-wingers.

Spedding began his legal battle against his deportation while still in detention, and continued to pursue upon his return to Britain. After Attorney Gabi Lasky failed to convince the Interior Ministry to change the decision, Spedding submitted an appeal to the Entry to Israel Law Review Tribunal.

These kinds of bans have...

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The IDF's new tool for tracking Palestinian protesters: Drones

What has four propellors and a camera?

Participants in the weekly protests against the separation wall in the West Bank village of Bil’in were surprised Friday to find that the army was using a new tool to put down the demonstrations. For the first time, a small drone equipped with four propellors and a camera hovered above the protesters as they marched toward the wall and chanted slogans.

I asked the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit what the purpose of the drone was; I have yet to receive a response. The camera can be used for a number of purposes, although in light of past experience, it is likely to be used to assist soldiers in dispersing demonstrations or photographing protesters for arrests or to use in future trials. Bil’in photojournalist Haitham Khatib managed to snap a photo of the drone as it hovered above the protesters on Friday:

Photos taken at the demonstrations help the army arrest and interrogate protesters, especially young ones, are often used to incriminate protest organizers.

In April 2014, the army revealed yet another weapon for suppressing demonstration: a remote-controlled water canon that was installed atop the separation wall in Bethlehem, which allows the tracking and dispersal of protesters without the presence of soldiers.

Israeli army installs remote-controlled weapon atop separation wall
‘Israel increasing use of live fire at West Bank protests’
Bil’in: Photographing a decade of popular struggle

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

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High Court approves detention of asylum seekers without charge, but only for 12 months

The High Court of Justice capitulates to the threats of Israel’s right wing and approves the prolonged detention of asylum seekers.

By Haggai Matar

Israel’s High Court of Justice approved on Tuesday the third and latest version of the Prevention of Infiltration Law, after it struck down the two previous versions passed by the Knesset. In doing so, the justices have approved the law, which would see asylum seekers who reached the country temporarily jailed for three months, while limiting imprisonment at the Holot detention center — for all asylum seekers — for a period of a year, rather than a year-and-a-half.

In her opinion, President  Justice Miriam Naor wrote that she believes the state when it claims that detention in Holot is not an attempt to “break the spirit” of the asylum seekers and cause them to leave the country. Following the announcement of the rule, Culture Minister Miri Regev said that she hopes the decision will not harm the “infiltrators’ return to their home countries.”

However, Naor found that the detention period of 1.5 years to be unreasonable. Thus the justices rejected the clause regarding the length of detention, giving the state six months to come up with a new one. Until then, detention in Holot will be limited to one year.

The decision will likely directly affect the nearly 2,000 asylum seekers currently in Holot, who will be made to remain there (aside from those who have been in the detention center for over a year, who will be released), and many others who have either received or will receive summons to Holot. As opposed to claims made by the right, the effect on the residents of south Tel Aviv — where the vast majority of asylum seekers are concentrated — will be minimal as long as the government refuses to implement a proper policy for dealing with asylum seekers. After all, Holot can only hold 3,000 people, despite the fact that there are tens of thousands of asylum seekers in Israel.

Tuesday’s ruling comes on the heels of continuous threats from Israel’s ministers, headed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, against the High Court. The ministers have openly stated that should the High Court reject the law for the third time, the government would push legislation that will limit the court’s ability to intervene in legislation. Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party has already announced that...

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Israel to start force-feeding Palestinian hunger strikers

One month after administrative detainee Khader Adnan’s successful hunger strike, the Knesset passes a law to allow for the force-feeding of Palestinian prisoners.

The Knesset passed a law early Thursday morning that sanctions the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners in Israeli jails. The law passed by a small margin, with 46 lawmakers in favor and 40 opposed.

The so-called “hunger-strike law,” considered more “gentle” than the original bill proposed last June, allows a judge to sanction the force-feeding or administration of medical treatment if there is a threat to the inmate’s life. This applies even if the prisoner refuses.

The bill comes in the wake of a successful 50-plus-day hunger strike by Palestinian administrative detainee Khader Adnan last month. This was Adnan’s second extended hunger strike against his administrative detention; in 2012, Adnan won his release in a similar deal that ended a hunger strike. Most of the most high-profile hunger-strikes have been by Palestinian administrative detainees, which are held without sentence or trial.

The Israeli Medical Organization (IMA) has long announced that its doctors will refuse to carry out the procedure. In the past, Israel Medical Association Chairman Dr. Leonid Edelman said that the IMA will not protect doctors who will be tried at the International Criminal Court. The IMA’s position is praiseworthy, even if it stems from potential sanctions by the World Medical Association.

Force-feeding is considered a form of torture according to the World Health Organization. Not a single prisoner has died of hunger strike in the history of Israel, due to the wise conduct of both the prisoners themselves and the state, the latter of which often came to diplomatic solutions. On the other hand, five prisoners have died as a result of force-feeding before the practice was stopped by the Israel Prison Service (IPS). The Knesset is now bringing us back to the days of serious injuries, torture and death threats against prisoners.

The IMA must begin circulation a mass petition among Israeli doctors who refuse to carry out the procedure. It must enact special training, especially for doctors who work at hospitals that treat hunger strikers, as well as IPS doctors, in order to explain to them why they must not take part in force-feeding, which dangers they will be exposed to should they breach medical ethics, and what kind of support they will receive if and when they...

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Court denies equal rights to Palestinian workers in Israeli industrial zone

National Labor Court rules that unlike their fellow Israeli workers, Palestinians in a no-man’s land industrial zone will remain subject to the Jordanian labor laws of 1967.

Israel’s National Labor Court rejected an appeal by Palestinian workers from the Nitzanei Shalom Industrial Zone this past Sunday, ruling that they will continue to be subject to the Jordanian labor laws of 1967, rather than Israeli laws.

The three appellants — Abdel Hamid Yahiye, Ahmed Shayib and Mujhad Harsha — sued their former employers in Tel Aviv’s Regional Labor Court in 2010 after they were fired for demanding retroactive payment from their employer. The regional court rejected the suit, and the three — with the help of Attorney Ehud Shiloni and the workers’ rights group, WAC-MAAN — appealed to the National Labor Court.

In a two-page ruling, the judges of the National Labor Court established that the industrial zone, which borders Tulkarem, is not part of an Israeli settlement, but rather is located in “no-man’s land” and was established to promote “economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, and the employment of Palestinians.”

The ruling allows the state to discriminate against Palestinians in three ways: first vis-a-vis their peers and superiors at the factory; once vis-a-vis the Palestinian workers in nearby Tulkarem, who are subject to Palestinian labor laws; and once vis-a-vis workers in Jordan, whose labor laws are far more progressive than the ones established in 1967. The only workers who will continue to be subject to the old, draconian Jordanian laws are the Palestinian workers of the industrial zone.

According to the judges, the workers’ contracts clearly state that they will be subject to the Jordanian law, and that Israeli workers in the factory work in maintenance and security — positions that “cannot be compared to those of the appellants.”

The old Jordanian laws do not require employers to pay pensions, nor does they force employers to compensate workers for sick leave after the third day of absence, while providing only minimal vacation days and low severance packages.

In 2007 Israel’s High Court ruled, after 40 years of military rule in the occupied territories, that Israel’s labor laws will apply to Palestinians who work in the settlements. In the “Givat Ze’ev” ruling, the nine justices decided unanimously that because the employers and the workers never formally agreed which labor laws they will follow; and because the settlements constitute “legal enclaves”...

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Casting Jewish-American boycott activists as hypocrites

Israel’s top weekend news show forgets about journalistic integrity when painting American Jewish supporters of the BDS movement as hypocritical, ungrateful and misinformed. 

Last Friday, Channel 2′s popular weekend news show, “Ulpan Shishi,” ran a report by senior anchor Danny Kushmaro, who traveled to the United States to interview the Jews behind the boycott Israel movement [Hebrew]. Why Jews, specifically? Because Kushmaro believes Jews must have a special connection to Israel.

In fact, the report also included interviews with Israel-loving Jews, as well as a reminder to the viewers that prominent American Jews donate money to NYU, which, of course, is a reason why the university should support Israel. He also speaks nostalgically about the Rothschild family, which was known for its “Jewish philanthropy and investment in Israel.”

But when American Jews’ “special relationship” to Israel turns into a platform for criticism, Kushmaro draws the line. When Alice Rothschild, a Jewish activist against the occupation who lives in Boston, says she does not want to donate to Israel like other members of her family and that she boycotts and criticizes the country, Kushmaro accuses her of hypocrisy for singling out Israel.

When Rothschild says that she cares about Israel and is worried about the direction it is going, Kushmaro interrupts: “You will tell us what the right way is? You, living in the comfort of Boston, will tell us what the right way is?!” It turns out that only a multi-billionaire from the comfort of Las Vegas who funds the prime minister — along with the most widely-read newspaper in Israel and a number of other American politicians — can tell us what the right way is. It turns out that only members of AIPAC, who live in the comfort of Washington D.C. and try to ensure continued U.S. support of Israel can tell Israelis what the right way is.

Why us?

Kushmaro attacks Rothschild and reminds viewers of American support for other countries. Channel 2 even went so far as to create an infographic showing a map of several countries that receive aid from the U.S. Afghanistan tops the list with $13 billion, $1.5 billion goes to Egypt, while half a billion dollars go to South Sudan and the Palestinian Authority, respectively.

But there is something strange about this map: Israel is not mentioned. Why? Doesn’t Kushmaro wants to compare Israel to...

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Nuclear deal will usher in an era of Iranian diplomatic engagement

Put aside the details for a moment. The nuclear deal signed in Vienna today will force Iran to act through diplomacy, not violence. The other option? A nuclear Iran that acts recklessly and orders strikes on Western targets.

The decision to sign a nuclear agreement with Iran this morning was the right one. At the end of the day we can only take one of two paths: either we go the way of diplomacy, or we go to war. Either a path through which Iran becomes part of the international community, or it is pushed out using sanctions and isolation.

We must, of course, discuss the details of the agreement: why will inspectors only be allowed arranged visits to Iran’s nuclear facilities? Does the agreement adequately prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb in the future?

But even if Iran does obtain a nuclear weapon at some point, it is not insane enough to use it. Iran is not a suicidal country. Even Netanyahu’s closest associates say that Israel is not actually worried about nuclear annihilation. That isn’t the issue.

The issue is Iran’s position as a regional superpower, not to mention a global energy superpower. Israel’s worries stem, first and foremost, from the fact that the U.S.-Sunni alliance (led by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, among others) is a comfortable one for Israel — one that does not threaten it and fights its enemies. Iran, on the other hand, leads the Shia axis, supports Hezbollah, Assad and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and is increasingly influential in Iraq. As an accepted member of the international community, Iran’s power in the Middle East will only grow. That is what threatens Israel.

Iran’s legitimacy, however, will not grant it carte blanche to act recklessly. It has signed an agreement with six world powers, according to which problems will now have to be solved through diplomacy. The truth is that the more isolated Iran is, the more likely it will act however it wants, including by ordering Hezbollah strikes on Israel as a means of attacking the West (just as the U.S. and the Soviet Union manipulated Israel and the Arab states during the Cold War). An Iran that is integrated into the world economy and diplomatic system, on the other hand, is an Iran that knows its decisions carry a price. It is well aware that the sanctions regime,...

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Jailed Palestinian lawmaker pleads innocence

Khalida Jarrar, who was arrested for representing the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Palestinian legislature, rejects all charges against her as trial opens in West Bank military court.

Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar, who was arrested in March and has been imprisoned ever since, plead innocent Monday as her highly-publicized trial began in the Ofer military court in the West Bank. The trial was attended by Jarrar’s family members, a number of journalists, as well as a delegation of EU diplomats who expressed their concern over her detention.

Jarrar, who serves in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has been charged with 12 counts relating to her membership in the party, which is defined by Israel as an illegal organization. Nearly all the charges have to do with Jarrar’s participation in demonstrations, interviews, speeches and visits to solidarity tents for Palestinian prisoners. Only one charge relates to incitement to kidnap Israeli soldiers, despite the fact that the witness to this charge admit that he is not sure he heard Jarrar say anything to that extent.

Jarrar’s attorneys, Mahmoud Hassan and Sahar Francis from Addameer, a Palestinian NGO that works to support Palestinian prisoners, rejected all the charges and declared that she would plead innocence on all counts. The military prosecutor, Captain Almaz Ayso, stated that the prosecution would hand over classified material to the court, which the defense will not be able to see or challenge.

Jarrar’s attorneys asked that the computers that were confiscated from Jarrar’s home near Ramallah during an army raid in March — during which she was arrested — be returned to her should no incriminating evidence be found. Ayso said that they would receive in answer in the coming days.

The short hearing ended after Hassan and Francis announced that they would file their pre-trial motions in the next few weeks, which will be followed by the presentation of evidence sometime in July. Jarrar will remain in prison during this time, after the military appeals court upheld a request to keep her in custody until the end of legal proceedings. In April she was placed in administrative detention, which means she was to be indefinitely detained without being sentenced or facing trial, but was later sentenced in the wake of a global campaign to release her.

Read: 12...

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Netanyahu threatens new TV station for Palestinian citizens of Israel

The new satellite station, ‘Palestine 48,’ aimed at Arab citizens of Israel, presents an opportunity to use the community as a bridge between Israel and Palestine, a member of its board says.

Israeli Communications Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday declared his intention to shut down a brand new television station, “Palestine 48.” A day later, its employees and management vowed that they would not fold so easily. The station began pilot broadcasts on Thursday morning from Nazareth, and for the time being, its launch schedule is proceeding as scheduled.

Israeli authorities — and the Netanyahu government in particular — have been targeting Arab cultural institutions in recent weeks, cutting off funding for an Arabic-language theater in Haifa and threatening to do the same to a children’s theater in Jaffa operated by an Arab actor.

According to Sanaa Hammoud, a member of Palestine 48’s advisory board, the Netanyahu government is in the midst of a campaign to silence and exclude 20 percent of Israel’s citizens, ultimately de-legitimizing their citizenship itself.

But in addition to the principled issue, Hammoud warned, the government’s campaign endangers the constitutionally protected freedoms of occupation and expression. (While Israel does not have a constitution, it has “basic laws,” which have constitutional standing.)

“If anybody is violating the law,” Hammoud added, “it is not us — it’s Netanyahu.”

A promotional advertisement for Palestine 48:

Palestine 48 is a niche television station aimed at Palestinian citizens of Israel (inside ’48 borders, hence its name), operated by the Palestinian Broadcast Authority. The station describes itself as a family station that covers news, society, culture, art and more, with an emphasis on happenings in Arab society in Israel.

Palestine 48 started broadcasting from Nazareth on Thursday. It has limited programming planned for he month of Ramadan, known for high ratings for television in the Arab world, after which it plans to expand its offerings.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday ordered the director-general of the Communications Ministry to examine all penal and administrative tools at his disposal in order to shut down the station’s broadcasts. Netanyahu, who is also the communications minister, took particular issue with the Palestinian Authority funding.

Palestine 48’s programming is being filmed in Nazareth and in other locations inside Israel, but not in fixed studios — only with mobile broadcast units. The programs are beamed...

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WATCH: Soldiers attack Palestinian journalists in West Bank refugee camp

Soldiers push, throw stun grenades and point their guns at Palestinian journalists reporting on clashes in Jalazone refugee camp.

A video published last weekend showed a group of soldiers from the Kfir Brigade assaulting a Palestinian man in Jalazone refugee camp, throwing him on the ground while kicking and beating him with their guns. Four of the soldiers were sentenced — one of them was reprimanded, one was given 30-day confinement, and two others received 28-day suspended sentences each.

On Tuesday, activists from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) — which brings activists from around the world to participate in acts of nonviolent protests against the occupation — released a longer video that captures more of the incident in Jalazone. The new video shows soldiers repeatedly harassing a group of Palestinian journalists who are standing at a distance from clashes between residents of the camp and soldiers.

The soldiers are seen trying to push the journalists away from the scene of the clashes, swear at them, repeatedly point their guns at them, push them and throw stun grenades at them. At one point, the journalists respond to the soldiers by swearing at them. However, it is clear from the video that they pose no threat to the soldiers.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit responded to the second video, stating that the the commander of the Kfir Brigade, Col. Asher Ben-Lulu, has properly investigated the incident in Jalazone, and found that it was “a violent riot that lasted a number of hours, during which the rioters threw Molotov cocktails, rocks and stones at the soldiers. At one point, a company commander was wounded by a stone thrown at his face, he was evacuated from the scene with a possible cracked eye socket.”

While the IDF Spokesperson’s response detailed the sentences of the four soldiers involved in assaulting the man in the first video, there is no mention of the Palestinian journalists harassed by the soldiers, despite not posing a threat to them.

Over the past few months there has been several incidents of violence by Israeli soldiers toward journalists in the West Bank. Last month, a journalist was struck in the eye by a rubber bullet. The IDF Spokesperson has yet to respond to the incident. Two months ago, soldiers were videotaped throwing stones at and attacking Israeli and Palestinian photojournalists during...

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