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Marwan Barghouti's continued relevance to the Palestinian public

Marwan Barghouti remains a hated figure in Israel for his involvement in terrorist activities during the second Intifada. However, his place as a national leader of the Palestinian people is unquestioned in the West Bank and Gaza. For this reason, Israelis will likely be seeing Barghouti on the other end of a negotiating table after his inevitable release from prison.

In a new book, smuggled out of jail page by page, Barghouti details his life behind bars in Israeli prisons. I have written a feature story about Barghouti’s new book, his current position inside Palestinian politics and where the campaign to free him is heading. You can read the whole piece at The National. Excerpts:

Fadwa Barghouti is a carefully appointed woman who has spearheaded her husband’s awareness campaign since the beginning of his current imprisonment. From the same village of Kober, Fadwa is a distant relative of Marwan, sharing the same fourth-generation great grandfather. Sitting in her comfortable office overlooking the Muqata compound where Yasser Arafat was confined by Israeli forces at the height of the Second Intifada, Fadwa remains confident that her husband will be released soon, but is visibly upset at the recent failure by Hamas to gain his freedom. “I know why he was not released,” she told me sipping sugary tea, “but I am not going to tell you.”

Sitting under the ubiquitous photo of her husband surrounded by Israeli prison guards with handcuffed hands held high, she glowingly reports that he is using his time in prison to enrich himself intellectually.

He is a ferocious reader, consuming books in English, Arabic, Hebrew and French on topics ranging from French colonial rule in Algeria to the latest biographies of the former US president Bill Clinton and Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister. He also has a deep respect for the work of Paulo Coehlo and the Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Liebowitz. Additionally, Barghouti has written two books and completed his PhD from the University of Cairo entitled, The Legislative and Political Performance of the Palestinian Legislative Council and its Contribution to the Democratic Process in Palestine from 1996 to 2008. His doctorate, like the recent book, was smuggled out of jail one page at a time and took years to complete.

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US-made tear gas an increasing and fatal component of popular protests

Residents of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank have been demonstrating, each week for the past two years, against the slow encroachment on their land by Israeli settlers. Gathering in the village centre on Friday afternoons, villagers along with Israeli and international activists attempt to march, under the watchful eye of soldiers, to a disputed agricultural spring which was confiscated recently by Israeli settlers.

Often protesters never even reach the edge of the village; crowd-control measures by the military regularly include barrages of tear gas and rubber bullets. Palestinian villagers claim that hundreds of protesters have been injured, some seriously, in the Nabi Saleh demonstrations. But no one had been killed there – until last week.

The death of 28-year-old Mustafa Tamimi may seem to have little in common with the more numerous deaths of protesters in Cairo over the past few days. Indeed the demonstrations are different from each other in many ways. But in protests from Tunis to Cairo to little Nabi Saleh, the use of tear gas by authorities, and the increasing number of related fatalities, has become a common thread in recent months.

Mr Tamimi’s injuries occurred amid a fairly common occurrence in the West Bank: protesters were throwing stones at armoured Israeli vehicles. As the demonstration slowed towards the end of the day, one Israeli jeep stopped as it was making its way out of the village. The vehicle’s back door opened wide enough for a tear-gas launcher, known to Israeli soldiers as a “ringo”, to fire a single canister of the gas.

Mr Tamimi, who was standing three metres behind the jeep, was hit directly in the face by the canister. The next morning he was pronounced dead in an Israeli hospital near Tel Aviv. Mustafa Tamimi was the 20th Palestinian protester killed by the Israeli army in the last eight years of unarmed West Bank demonstrations, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. Many of the deaths have resulted from the negligent and unlawful practices of Israeli soldiers.

Israeli army regulations stipulate that soldiers are not allowed to fire tear-gas canisters directly at protesters, since doing so can turn sublethal crowd-control devices into deadly instruments of war. There are also allegations that protesters in Cairo were killed just by inhaling the gas. Palestinians have opened court cases over violations of the Israeli regulation, but no case has resulted in the prosecution of soldiers. To make the situation more...

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Harper's Magazine confronts Israel's water wars

Harper’s Magazine recently published a report from the West Bank about Israel’s water wars with Palestinians. Below is a letter Joseph Dana wrote to Harper’s along with additional commentary regarding Ben Ehrenreich’s piece on water. 

Ben Ehrenreich’s account of the unarmed demonstrations in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh perfectly captures the Palestinians’ everyday struggles for things Westerners take for granted, from freedom of movement to access to water [“Drip, Jordan,” Report, December]. Bernard Avishai’s “Abraham’s Children” [Essay, December], on the other hand, adopts an outdated, simplistic narrative, arguing that, through economic cooperation, peace could finally be achieved. Read together, Ehrenreich’s account of the events shaping the conflict on the ground and Avishai’s idealistic argument seem to demonstrate how we must move on from the hopeful but failed logic of the Oslo process in favor of a practical discussion of civil rights. As the Israeli occupation becomes more deeply entrenched, a Palestinian uprising is increasingly likely. Without more reported pieces like Ehrenreich’s, how will the Western observer understand these developments?

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The above is a letter which will be published in the January issue of Harper’s Magazine concerning Ben Ehrenreich’s recent piece about water in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Few writers have the narrative ability to capture the subtitles of the perverse situation which exists in the West Bank like Mr. Ehrenreich. It is likely due to his keen writing eye, perfected in two challenging works of fiction that he was able to deftly capture the nuance which exists here and present them in a fluid and engrossing article. Indeed, the Kafkaesque system that Israel has created for Palestinians when it comes to all aspects of daily life requires the careful attention of a novelist in order to accurately capture the hardships that define life under Israeli rule. I have long thought that the situation which exists in the West Bank is ideal fodder from which a stimulating yet filthy novel can be written, and Ehrenreich’s piece confirms this feeling.

The piece takes the reader through a water journey in the West Bank—settlements with swimming pools and barren Palestinian villages—but ultimately addresses the structure of Israeli occupation with attention to detail that typifies the work of Amira Hass. Along the way, Ehrenreich dropped into the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh—a place which has been the subject of many +972 posts—and uses his outsider perspective to capture the human details...

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Coordinated American-Israeli effort working to smear critical voices

Last Friday evening, B’Tselem employees were busy sending out press releases and compiling media kits detailing the use of tear gas by the Israeli military in the West Bank.  For the past ten years, B’Tselem has been one of the only Israeli organizations documenting routine violations of military and civilian law by Israeli soldiers.  On Friday, an unidentified Israeli soldier shot and killed an unarmed Palestinian protester, with an American-made tear gas canister, who was throwing stones at armoured military jeeps in the village of Nabi Saleh. The military claims this was an ‘exceptional’ incident but the facts show that it is not.

Due to the great fear of factual discourse regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is an unprecedented attack taking place on the free flow of information underway in Israel and the United States. In Israel, organizations like B’Tselem have been targeted with anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset. Even former Israeli combat soldiers brave enough to openly talk about their experience in the West Bank and Gaza are labelled terrorists and marginalized in society. Israel’s democratic safeguards, for the Jewish citizens of the country, are eroding at an astonishingly fast rate. Some might argue that this was bound to happen in a country which deprived the democratic rights of 1.7 million citizens since its inception.

The seamlessness of the occupation, its entrenchment and maintenance, is taking place on both sides of the Atlantic. Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich’s recent comments regarding the “invention” of the Palestinian people confirm that those who wish to defend or at least ignore Israel’s occupation are increasingly interested in the elimination of the Palestinian people from American minds. Surprisingly, or maybe not, this corrosive thinking is now a component of the US presidential election.

Supporters of Israel’s current polices have renewed efforts to smear journalists and policy pundits who engage in factual discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Josh Block, former hit man of AIPAC, was exposed last week as leading a campaign of conservative journalists to smear journalists as “anti-Israel” and “borderline anti-Semitic” if they fail to follow the carefully scripted narrative of Israel discourse in the United States.  Block’s attack strategy specifically targeted liberal policy outfits like the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Media Matters with the intention to paint them as anti-Semitic based on their Israel coverage. Jennifer Rubin, the conservative Washington Post blogger who...

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A bittersweet goodbye

The great American writer Norman Mailer often referred to writing as “the spooky craft.” I am firmly convinced that had Mailer lived to see the blogging age we are currently living in, he would have felt that blogging has replaced traditional writing as the truly spooky craft.

For the past year and a half, I have written an average of one post every two days for +972. I have written about everything from South African political connections with Israel to Palestinian child prisoners in Israeli military jails. Using all media platforms at my disposal, I have refined a new form of journalism which mixes tweeting, photography and old-fashioned reporting, in order to present views from one of the world’s most news-saturated conflicts, which often go ignored in the mainstream media. +972 is a volunteer project, and unfortunately I’m unable to continue with this arrangement. That said, this project has been a labour of love from the start.

Journalism is at a transformative stage. Never before has it been so easy to quickly and widely publish information. Never before has it been so difficult to make a living as a journalist. +972 is a project in new journalism. When I joined the founding team of the site, I was hopeful that a new batch of voices would emerge as a source of respected information on the complex and emotional issues relating to Palestine/Israel. I’m happy to be able to say that after a year and a half, +972 has become a widely-cited legitimate English-language source of news and commentary from the region.

Today, I am announcing my departure from +972 on 1 January 2012. I leave +972 with a heavy but satisfied heart as I move toward more mainstream journalistic outlets with the hopes of bringing my new media experience to a larger audience. I am happy to announce that I will be airing my first piece of radio journalism in the following weeks on Monocle 24. Additionally, the first months of 2012 will see increased energy on a book project tackling identity issues on the ground in Israel/Palestine told through my personal journey. Naturally, I will continue reporting, writing and digesting the political and cultural events from my perch in Ramallah on a variety of platforms, including Twitter and in newspapers from South Africa to Abu Dhabi.  I plan to write a couple more posts in December on +972...

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+972 readers weigh in on Zionism debate

A critique of an article by a noted liberal Zionist leads to an interesting debate about Zionism.

In the polarized world of debate about Israel/Palestine, certain terms have acquired such strong connotations that an honest and factual discussion of important issues is almost at a standstill. From the family dinner table to college campus throughout the world, terms like “BDS,” “anti-Zionist” and “liberal Zionist” have become virtual conversation stoppers – depending on the circle. Yesterday, I wrote a strongly worded critique of Bernard Avishai’s new piece on the Palestinian Right of Return (RoR), which appears in this month’s edition of Harper’s Magazine. I accused Avishai of sloppy reporting, given the paucity of critical Palestinian voices in his piece. I argued that Avisahi abandoned a broad factual discussion of this complex issue in favour of pushing a tired Israeli narrative, often used by liberal Zionist writers, which assumes symmetry between the players and downplays the crucial barriers to the resolution of the issues on the ground.

While pointed, the piece was part of a larger attempt to expose the working conditions which many liberal Zionist writers employ when analysing Israel/Palestine. A specific point which deserves larger treatment is the incredible contempt which these writers often demonstrate to their audience by adopting positions of authority while willingly ignoring voices on the ground that to do not confirm their own viewpoints. Naturally, this criticism can be applied to all writing on the conflict, but given the ideological inconsistency of liberal Zionism, special attention is required to understand how the ideology has been so successful, especially in the American Jewish context.

The piece engendered the beginnings of a rich debate about the nature of Zionism in general, and specifically the liberal Zionist discourse. It is my belief that this is not only a crucial debate for Israeli/Jewish society but one of absolute necessity for Israelis and Palestinians to have in a joint and respectful capacity.

The following are a number of comments, some of which have been shortened for clarity (the language has not been changed). You can view the full comments on the piece itself. Using the handle Henry Weinstein, one commenter asked why I choose to address Avishai’s piece while the Israeli right presents many more problems for those concerned with Israel or, at least, an Israel with some semblance of morality:

My (shortened) response:

I think that liberal Zionism,...

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A sad commentary on the state of liberal Zionist discourse

Recent work by authors Bernard Avishai and Gershom Gorenberg reflect the inability of liberal Zionist champions to engage in an honest debate about the core issues of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The noted liberal Zionist writer, Bernard Avishai, has a longish piece on the Palestinian Right of Return (RoR) in this month’s edition of Harper’s Magazine (no online version yet). Before I discuss its content, I believe it crucial to note one general aspect of this piece. We must ask ourselves why an openly Zionist thinker who happens to be a Canadian immigrant is writing about Palestinian right of return without a Palestinian counter article. His penmanship of the article speaks volumes about the ability of the press in the United States on the ability to allow Palestinians to speak for themselves. His voice might be an important one, but the absence of a Palestinian view on an issue of such weight such as the Right of Return should be taken as a sign of how far the American press must go in changing the way it covers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Avishai’s article is exhaustive and draws upon a variety of interviews, both from high level officials and intellectuals. While his recollection of history tends to be grounded, it is in the current debate where he gets into hot water. Curiously absent, however, from Avishai’s piece is any discussion of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, one of the primary Palestinian civil society vehicles in fighting for the RoR as specified in UN Resolution 194. Also absent is any discussion with rank and file Palestinians living in the West Bank, a mere twenty minutes’ drive from Avishai’s residence in the formerly Arab Baka neighborhood of West Jerusalem. Although to his credit, Avishai does cite anonymous “friends in Ramallah” at points in the piece in order to bring in necessary but vague Palestinian voice in the West Bank.

While narrowly exhaustive, Avishai’s article is potholed with images of Israeli-Palestinian symmetry that do not exist. His choice of imagery carefully conforms to the accepted Western narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which effectively adopts the Israeli understanding of events on the ground. Namely, that the conflict, thought to be fought between two relative equals, is about peace and security. Take this sentence, which comes three paragraphs from the end of the piece, as an example:

You see, it is all...

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IMAGE: Israeli night raids resume in Nabi Saleh

The embattled village of Nabi Saleh saw a resumption of night raids last night. The house of imprisoned popular committee leader Bassem Tamimi was raided by Israeli soldiers at 02:00 this morning, according to Palestinian activist @Tweet_Palestine on Twitter. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

Night raid in Nabi Saleh 24 November 2011.

Night raid in Nabi Saleh 24 November 2011.

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Israel, South Africa deepen connection with attacks on press

The connection between Israel and South Africa seems to have deepened today, as both countries moved to limit press freedoms with laws targeting the media. In South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC)-led National Assembly passed a controversial secrecy bill, which aims to protect state secrecy but critics claim limits press freedom. According to the Mail & Guardian,

The Bill was meant to replace a piece of apartheid-era legislation that governed the classification of state secrets. [Ronnie] Kasrils [Former South African intelligence minister] sought to create legislation that would protect state secrets but also uphold the constitutional principal of transparent governance. It included a provision that would allow whistleblowers to leak information that was in the public interest without fear of reprisal.

According to Kasrils, this version of the Bill was never tabled in Parliament and was scrapped by ruling party representatives at the committee stage after he resigned from government in September 2008.

When the Bill reappeared, its provisions were even more draconian than before. The new draft sought to create a law that would allow any organ of state, from the largest government department down to the smallest municipality, to classify any document as secret and set out harsh penalties of up to 25 years in jail for whistleblowers.

Dimi Reider, writing on +972, described the Israeli libel law which passed its first Knesset reading early this morning in Jerusalem:

Under the bill, which is an amendment to the existing defamation law, the maximum compensation in a libel suit will increase exponentially from NIS 50,000 (~$13,000) to NIS 300,000, a whopping $80,000. Most journalists I know in Israel make between $2,000 and $3,000 a month, tops.

[The Libel Law] carries a clause that says such lawsuits might be won without proof of damages; and another clause that stipulates a reporter must publish the comment of his subject in full. In other words, I can get sued for writing that the author of the bill is more dangerous to Israel’s future than Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah combined; and, if a newspaper wants to run a 300-words report suggesting a certain company is engaging in malpractice, it must also run the full comment of the company – even if it’s 5,000 words long. With the likely result the report will not run at all.

While the secrecy bill and the libel...

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Police crack down on my talk (in Pittsburgh, not Palestine)

While Joseph Dana was giving a lecture at the University of Pittsburgh recently, police intervened to block the entry of a number of Occupy Pittsburgh activists. The experience reminded him of the very tactics – about which he was lecturing – designed to stifle Palestinian activism and debate.

Recent police violence at Occupy Wall Street events demonstrate a crackdown of legitimate political protest in the United States. Watching video (like the one embedded above) from a recent Occupy Oakland protest, one is certainly left with the feeling that American police are using increasingly violent methods of crowd control. Some Occupy events are beginning to look like Friday demonstrations in the West Bank. Last week, while giving a lecture at the University of Pittsburgh, I experienced some of the tactics used by police to stifle dissent and combat the occupy movement.

For the past two weeks, I have been touring around the East Coast, delivering lectures on the state of things in Palestine based on my reporting and commentary. Last Thursday, my tour stopped at the University of Pittsburgh for an event with Palestinian-American poet Remi Kanazi, organized by Students for Justice in Palestine.

The event started smoothly with Remi reciting his fiery poetry to an engaged crowd.  Midway through Remi’s set, a group of Occupy Pittsburghers triumphantly entered the cavernous auditorium where we were speaking, followed closely by an angry-looking group of police officers. Fists in the air, the occupiers announced that they were coming to the lecture. Within moments, the auditorium was buzzing. The organizer of our event, rather timidly, explained to Remi and I that an additional 30 occupy Pittsburghers were waiting to enter the lecture but the police were preventing them from attending. Now, the entire event was threatened with cancellation by the police.

An hour of chaotic back and forth between the organisers, protesters and police ensued as Remi and I kept speaking. We discussed the techniques which Israel uses to stifle Palestinian dissent in the West Bank. We talked about the rubber bullets that Israel fires on unarmed protesters in reference to what happen in Oakland, when police used similar bullets against Occupy Wall Street protesters (again, see video above).  I spoke about the first Intifada when Israel would routinely outlaw public political lectures. Even flying a Palestinian flag during those days was...

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Replacing the peace narrative with discussion of rights

Non-violent methods being used by Palestinians and their international supporters are helping to reframe the conflict from a discussion of peace vs. violence, into a struggle for rights under Israeli occupation.

Next week, a group of young Palestinians will board Israeli settler buses in the West Bank with the intention of traveling to East Jerusalem. The activists will likely be greeted by fully armed Israeli settlers, as well as soldiers. The threat of Israeli violence has not deterred Palestinians who maintain that they are prepared to pay a price to highlight Israel’s segregationist policies in the West Bank.

While not officially segregated, Israeli bus lines often pass through Jewish-only settlements which dot the rugged West Bank landscape. Palestinian entry to Jewish settlements is strictly forbidden, unless, of course, Palestinians are engaged in construction of the settlements, most of which are considered illegal under international law.

The upcoming protest event is being labelled by organisers as the Palestinian “Freedom Rides”. In the early 1960s, white and black activists boarded segregated buses in the American south in an effort to draw attention to the racism of Jim Crow legislation. The protests caused panic in the south and helped chip away at segregation in the US. Palestinian organisers hope that the same effect will take place in the West Bank although they understand that their battle begins with challenging the narrative of the conflict.

West Bank Freedom Rides are the latest in a series of non-violent efforts by Palestinian activists attempting to challenge the dominant narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Palestinian human and civil rights take a back seat to Israeli security concerns. Our general understanding is dominated by the Israeli narrative of the conflict as one in which peace and security are the major factors as opposed to rights and citizenship. Earlier this summer, I wrote the following in the opinion pages of the Mail & Guardian:

“In the wake of the Arab Spring, Israel is starting to lose its edge in convincing the international community that the conflict is simply about peace and not rights. Palestinian demonstrations on Israel’s borders and checkpoints have highlighted the sea change taking place.

It would seem that Israel’s only course of action in explaining its heavy-handed military response to unarmed demonstrators is to describe the demonstrators as violent rioters. In practice, unarmed resistance to the status quo of occupation meets extreme...

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New flotilla en route to Gaza Strip nearing coast

Update, 10:00 A.M. Friday, Israel time: Flotilla activists report they are some 80 miles from the Gaza Coast. Army Radio reports that Israel Navy ships are already at sea, set to stop the ships from reaching the coastal territory. AFP quotes a flotilla spokesperson who says all ship passengers have pledged not to resist an Israeli naval interception.  Meanwhile, Gazans await the ships at the port.

Amid growing international wrangling over the Palestinian statehood bid, activists with the flotilla movement on Wednesday launched another attempt to sail to the Gaza Strip in a challenge to Israel’s siege of the coastal territory. Dozens of international activists on board the two ships – the Canadian “Tahrir” and the Irish “Saoirse” – reached international waters late Wednesday afternoon.

The flotilla, dubbed “Freedom Waves for Gaza,” is carrying medical aid left over from the summer’s previous flotilla attempt. Organizers say that they expect to reach Gazan waters on Friday afternoon.

A press release stated that among the 27 activists on board the two ships is Majd Kayyal, a Palestinian student from Haifa. The press release quotes him as saying:

At roughly 4 P.M. Israel time, the New York-based independent media outlet Democracy Now!, which has embedded journalists on the Tahrir, tweeted to their more than 125,000 followers that the Canadian ship had set sail from an undisclosed eastern Mediterranean port. An Al Jazeera crew is also aboard the Tahrir.

Due to a misunderstanding of Turkish maritime law, which limits the number of passengers aboard a ship sailing for more than 24 hours, only some one-third of the activists intending to sail actually embarked.

Ehab Lotayef, an organizer on the Canadian ship, was quoted as saying:

+972 reported last week that activist ships had planned to set sail from Turkey this past Sunday. The Free Gaza Movement, a coalition of groups coordinating flotilla initiatives, denied the report. Wednesday’s move could further strain Israel-Turkey relations, which have been on the brink of collapse since an Israeli flotilla raid in May 2010 killed nine Turkish citizens. Recent reports suggested that Turkey intended to provide naval accompaniment for future flotillas, but the two ships that sailed on Wednesday did so alone.

The Tahrir unsuccessfully attempted to sail from Crete last July. The American ship that planned to sail from Athens is still under Greek military impound.

Noa Yachot contributed to this report

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WATCH: Olive harvest brings settler violence in West Bank

On the outskirts of the northern West Bank village of Qasra, a 19-year-old resident recently told me that settlers are not going to stop attacking Palestinians, simply because they don’t have too. According to the man, settlers live in a world of no consequence as if removed from the normal social contract of Western societies. One look at this year’s olive harvest, taking place throughout the West Bank over the next two weeks, proves the statement to be correct.

This morning (Friday), a group of armed settlers from the illegal outpost of Ash Kodesh (Sacred/Holy Light) approached a group of Palestinians picking olives, accompanied by Israeli and international activists. The Palestinians were from the nearby village of Jalud and had been picking olives in peace until settlers descended from their outpost. The settlers claim that the Palestinians “provoked” them by throwing stones, a claim denied by the Palestinians and activists.  Settlers also noted that the Palestinians did not get permission from the proverbial master of the land – the Israeli army – to have an olive harvest.  You can read their fantastic understanding of how the events unfolded on Ynet.

Palestinians claim that the settler attack was driven by pure malice. As you can see in the embedded video, many settlers had covered their faces with masks, with some carrying metal poles in addition to several firearms. Had the settlers only been defending themselves, one wonders why they would cover their faces—a practice popular among setters engaged in wanton violent attacks on Palestinian civilians and their supporters.

The Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement, a leftist activist outfit based in Jerusalem, posted the embedded video on Twitter, claiming that it shows a sound grenade thrown by settlers at Palestinians this morning. While this has not been independently confirmed, it comes weeks after the Israeli government announced that it would arm settlers with “less lethal”riot control gear, such as tear gas and sound grenades, ahead of feared violence surrounding the PLO statehood bid in the United Nations.  West Bank settlers remain the only group in Israel/Palestine with the ability to use violence in a brash and dangerous way while suffering virtually zero consequences.

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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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