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No way to defeat Jewish terrorism without ending the occupation

For the extreme right, violence against Palestinian civilians is not solely a result of racism — it is, first and foremost, a form of control.

The vast majority of settlers are not violent, although different levels of violence toward the Palestinian population in the occupied territories have accompanied the settlement enterprise since its inception. These acts of violence are never an outlier, but as a direct consequence of the situation in the West Bank.

The public turns a blind eye to this fact whenever these events happen. The responses to the murder of the 18-month-old baby Ali Dawabshe, are a sign that we will continue to ignore the bigger picture.

The defining characteristic of the occupation is that it includes two civilian populations living alongside one another, which are subject to two different legal systems. The Palestinians live under a military regime, while every Israeli who lives or even visits the settlements “brings” the Israeli law with them, including all the legal protections she or he is granted.

The second defining characteristic of the occupation is the Israeli desire to slowly expand the territory and resources for the Jewish public, while slowly lessening Palestinians’ territory. This combination — a military regime with civilian settlement — is what causes the Israeli occupation to look and feel a lot like colonialism or apartheid, even if there is not an exact overlap. This is the essence of the regime, regardless of the question of whether or not this is our forefathers’ land, or who was here first.

Colonialism always goes hand-in-hand with racism, and extreme racism is always accompanied by violence. Even if the original motivation that brings about a colonial situation is not racist, at a certain point the ruling group must somehow justify its own privileges, which inevitably leads to racist worldviews. For example, that the occupied population is not “ready” to have all their rights, or that it is inherently weak and violent; that it doesn’t appreciate life as we do; that it prefers to live in close, dirty quarters, etc. The struggle against racism in Israel — to the degree that it even exists — will fail as long as the occupation exists, since we will always need racism in order to justify the occupation.

But racism cannot fully explain the violence toward Palestinian civilians. Some of the more infamous attempts to...

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Go ahead, tear down the High Court — watch the occupation crumble

In response to the demolition of two high-profile settlement buildings, an MK in the ruling coalition calls for the destruction of the High Court itself. He may not have thought that one through.

Israel’s High Court of Justice on Monday ordered the state to demolish two apartment buildings in the settlement of Beit El. Israeli police and military forces carried out the order within hours, leading to physical clashes with settlers and exceptionally harsh attacks on the court by right-wing members of the government. Human rights groups hailed the ruling as a victory.

But today of all days, it is important to remember that the High Court itself is one of the most important cornerstones propping up the occupation. The Israeli High Court of Justice has never written a single ruling (not even one!) that has come close to putting a wrench in the gears of the occupation. Quite the opposite. The court’s justices have given their stamp of approval to each and every instrument the State of Israel uses to impose its apartheid regime on the Palestinian population.

The argument that settlements are not a violation of international law has been endorsed by the High Court. Demolishing Palestinian homes as collective punishment meted out on innocent family members — approved by the court. Imprisonment without charge or trial, even of minors — approved. Deportations — approved. Extrajudicial assassinations — approved. Torture — approved. The separation fence and its route that annexes occupied territory — approved. Exploiting Palestinian natural resources in the West Bank for the benefit of Israel and Israelis — approved.

The High Court’s primary role is building a legal framework in which all of those things can be carried out: how and where to establish settlements. How to expropriate land. How to deport Palestinians. How to assassinate them. How to annex land. How and when to torture. Somebody needs to do it. That is why High Court is important. So in cases like the two apartment buildings in Beit El, the court stages a high drama. It sets the boundaries with exceptional cases like this. And that, too, is important.

The High Court has made some important rulings and set a number of positive precedents for the citizens of Israel. But the Palestinians living in the territories are not citizens, and they have almost exclusively been harmed by the court and its...

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Pro-Netanyahu daily invents Obama 'quote' against Iran deal

Owned by Adelson and aligned with Netanyahu, Israel’s most-read newspaper has now devolved to actually making things up about Obama.

The pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom has devoted itself to attacking the Iran nuclear deal in recent days. “A shameful surrender,” “Under Obama, Iran is becoming the regional superpower,” “Every new detail just proves how stupid and dangerous the deal is” — these are just some of the ways the paper’s columnists have described the deal in recent days.

But now, Israel Hayom, which is printed and distributed for free at a considerable loss by American casino mogul and Republican party bankroller Sheldon Adelson, is taking the battle beyond the editorial pages. On Sunday the paper ran a double-spread headline that stretched journalistic ethics to their limit, or rather, ignored them altogether. The headline read: “The deal will strengthen terrorism,” with the quote, attributed to President Obama, printed in huge white-on-black letters. The sub-headline read: “The nuclear deal will likely channel money to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and The Quds Force.”.

The only problem: the U.S. president never said any of that. The headline was completely made up, and the sub-headline took the quote out of context. Here is what Obama actually said in the BBC interview that was “quoted” by Israel Hayom. I bolded the relevant sentence, but the rest is important for context:

SOPEL: But the net effect of lifting sanctions is that billions more will go to groups like Hezbollah, the Assad regime, and that is going to destabilize the region even more.

OBAMA: Well, keep in mind, first of all, we’ve shut off the pathways for Iran getting a nuclear weapon, which was priority number one. Because if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon, then they could cause all those same problems that you just listed with the protection of a nuclear bomb. And create much greater strategic challenges for the United States, for Israel, for our Gulf allies, for our European allies.

Second, it is true that by definition, in a negotiation and a deal like this, Iran gets something out of it. The sanctions regime that we put in place with the hope of the Brits, but also the Chinese and the Russians and others meant that they had funds that were frozen. They get those funds back. A large portion of those funds are going to have to be used for them...

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Tel Aviv bank index drops following think tank report on settlements

The European Council on Foreign Relations publishes a paper recommending the EU take measures against financial institutions that do businesses in the West Bank. Israeli bank stocks dip shortly after Israeli media quoted a Reuters article on the report.

The degree of nervousness in Israel over potential future sanctions against local companies that do business in the settlements was evident for all to see Tuesday. Publicity surrounding an EU think tank report on the topic caused the Tel Aviv banking index to drop 2.3 points in less than an hour (a total of 2.46 points for the day).

The report, published by the European Council on Foreign Relations, included a series of recommendations intended to create a distinction between formal EU-Israeli ties and those that create complicity in its settlement activities in the West Bank. It put a special emphasis on the banking system. (Read the full report below.)

According to the reports’ authors, Hugh Lovatt and Mattia Toaldo, “differentiating between Israel and its settlement activities within the EU’s bilateral relations is one of most powerful tools at the EU’s disposal for challenging the incentive structure that underpins Israeli support for the status quo.”

The report recommends the European Commission “task its directorates general with reviewing their existing interactions with Israel to assess whether differentiate between Israel proper and the settlements.” A special emphasis is placed on the banking system, which conducts financial activities in the settlements — mostly mortgages and loans — but also has many interests in Europe.

The ECFR has no formal capacity within EU institutions, but the alarm bells in Israel rang nonetheless. A Reuters piece on the report was picked up by the local media and published by Ynet at 1:03 p.m. Shortly thereafter, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange’s banking index took a dive. The Israeli media was quick to connect the drop to the news items on the report.

The three major Israeli banks — Hapoalim, Leumi and Discount — lost 2.6-2.7 percent each. They also had led the day in trade volume.

Sources in the banks dismissed the report, stating that it carries no formal weight. The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the matter for the same reason. The market, however, sent a different signal. And while the stocks may rise again tomorrow, the unexpected drop revealed how...

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'For the first time in history, Jews can take part in war from home'

Avi Benayahu, who served as IDF Spokesperson during both Operation Cast Lead and the Mavi Marmara incident, explains his worldview and tactics in a lecture obtained by +972 Magazine, including how he sent army officers pretending to be civilians onto foreign television news. 

Until Brigadier-General (ret.) Avi Benayahu was appointed to be the IDF Spokesperson in 2007, the unit did little more than send Israeli newspapers photos of soldiers celebrating Passover. But between 2007 and 2011, Benayahu — then-Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi’s right-hand — revolutionized the antiquated unit, transforming it into one of Israel’s leading “hasbara” (propaganda, or “public diplomacy”) outfits. The unit’s methods and aims still rely heavily on his work.

Benayahu, a self-described technophobe, opened a “new media” division, which included an active, multilingual presence on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The project did so well that he was asked to lead another new media initiative after his term ended. During his time as spokesperson, Benayahu led the army’s public relations effort surrounding Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, as well as the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. In 2011 he was elected “Media Man of the Year” by the Israel Public Relations Association.

But Benayahu was not only known for his initiative. He became notorious for his aggressive approach toward the media and journalists, especially those of whom he wasn’t fond and with whom he didn’t work closely. For example, he didn’t hesitate to order IDF soldiers to confiscate equipment and work product from journalists, only to release bits and pieces of their reportage when it served senior officers.

It was Benayahu’s relationship with Ashkenazi and his inner circle that led to the spokesperson’s fall from grace. From 2011 on, his name was associated with the “Harpaz Affair,” over which leading IDF officers were interrogated about attempts to discredit then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his nominee to become the next chief of staff. Benayahu was even arrested at one point.

Today Benayahu works as a private consultant. His public image has yet to recover from the Harpaz Affair, but in the current climate, his methods and ideas are more mainstream than ever. In a country that has given up on diplomacy and long-term policy thinking, Benayahu represents the only viable alternative: a combination of military power and propaganda. “I don’t like when we apologize during war,” he recently said. And nowadays, Israel...

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Despite its wishes, the EU only deepens the occupation

The European Union is substituting pressure on Israel for dialogue. How else will it be able to continue building schools and solar panels in the occupied territories?

The European Union is one of the most demonized bodies in Israel at the moment, and the hate is no longer coming only from the extreme right. The working assumption in the Israeli mainstream is that the EU is biased against Israel, that it supports different forms of sanctions and boycotts, and that it is trying to isolate Israel and force it to withdraw from the occupied territories.

The truth is entirely different. While the EU might support the two-state solution, and the leaders of its member states are far more committed to two states than the Obama administration, it is also one of the main bodies helping Israel maintain the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza.

The goal of Israel’s policy is maintaining the current reality in the occupied territories, in which Israel effectively rules the West Bank, continues to support settlement growth, enjoys quiet due to security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and the IDF is able to act freely. All this is done without having to bear the real cost of the occupation, especially since foreign bodies fund the Palestinian Authority, train its police officers, prevent chaos in the refugee camps and maintain civil infrastructure.

The EU is one of the sustainers of the status quo. In fact, it has built the PA twice — once after Oslo, and once again after Israel destroyed the civil infrastructure in the occupied territories during the Second Intifada. Since then, Israel has taken on less and less responsibility for the civilian population under its rule (except for in Area C of the West Bank, where creeping annexation has become the norm). The vacuum is filled by aid organizations and NGOs — UN development agencies, EU and USAID projects, etc. Their effect goes beyond the financial cost of maintaining the occupation and bleeds into every aspect of Israel’s responsibility for the millions of Palestinians civilians under its authority.

Israel is willing to let all these organizations work freely, as long as they differentiate between humanitarian/civilian activities and the political aspects of their work. If they stray from their mandate, the state will fiercely attack them, marking members of the organizations as “personas non grata” and make it difficult for...

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Netanyahu vs. Iran: The political scoreboard

Netanyahu put Iran at the top of his political agenda. He was able to push the international community into action but found himself sidelined when it counted. He got the opposition to back him in trashing the deal, but never got the security establishment on board with a military option.

The nuclear deal signed with Iran is “a stunning historic mistake,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the world on Tuesday. Netanyahu loves to remind us all that he was among the first to highlight the threat Iran poses to Israel — and all of mankind. In his first speech before Congress, in 1996, Netanyahu called Iran “the most dangerous regime [in the region],” and warned about it obtaining nuclear weapons.

When he returned to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2009, Netanyahu made Iran the centerpiece of his policy. At times, he was almost alone in his quest – or obsession, as some have described it. Quite often, there was no way of delineating where the perceived security risks ended and political considerations began. That was true both at home and in Netanyahu’s unprecedented intervention in domestic American politics, all the way to his controversial speech in Congress on the eve of the Israeli elections, in breach of diplomatic protocol. Was it the old Bibi trying to use any possible platform to improve his standing in a tight race, or was it Netanyahu the statesman throwing everything he had into the single-most important issue of his life?

It’s difficult to tell. Netanyahu certainly took the issue of Iran far, but his actions were unconvincing at times. If Iran was a real existential threat to Israel, why fight with President Obama over the settlements? Why alienate the Democratic Party’s “elites?” Certainly, a little goodwill on the Palestinian issue would have gone a long way in getting his message across to the U.S. president. But with Netanyahu, these sort of confrontations are a feature, not a bug. And unlike previous Israeli prime ministers, he has proved extremely capable at transforming those types of diplomatic confrontations into political gains back home.

At first, Netanyahu’s aggressive approach on Iran didn’t go over so well with Israelis. Most of the public remained skeptical and opposed to the military option. Senior politicians came out against him, including former president Shimon Peres and former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Olmert even went so far...

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The death penalty is making a comeback in Israel

By sentencing Palestinians convicted of murder to death, the Israeli Right will only bring the mutual cruelty between Jews and Palestinians to another level. 

No one really wants to look back and learn anything from history. Every colonial regime convinces itself at some point to raise the level of brutality in order to force the natives to accept their situation. It seems like this is the path we must also take.

Avigdor Liberman’s party is promoting an initiative that would allow military tribunals to sentence terrorists who were convicted of murder to death. Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party already announced it would back the bill, as did some Likud ministers. This was kind of expected. After all, the Right has been calling on IDF soldiers to open fire on Palestinian stone-throwers, which can itself become an informal death sentence.

In fact, the military regime in the West Bank has the legal option of using the death penalty, but the prosecution rarely demands it, and rightfully so. The new bill is intended to change this policy and allow a majority of justices to sentence people to death (as opposed to a unanimous decision, which is the current requirement). However, capital punishment does not prevent acts of murder; even the Americans are starting to internalize this fact. It surely will not deter Palestinians. Those who were willing to carry out suicide bombings will also be willing to take the risk of being hanged.

Imposing the death penalty in Israel, aside from the inevitable international drama that would accompany any sentence, will bring the mutual hatred and cruelty between Jews and Palestinians to another level. The British learned this lesson not long ago.

In 1947, the Irgun Jewish underground group kidnapped two British sergeants, Sgt. Clifford Martin and Sgt. Mervyn Paice, threatening to kill them if the death sentences passed on three Irgun militants were carried out. The three had been captured by the British during a prison break, tried, and convicted on charges of illegal possession of arms, and with the “intent to kill or cause other harm to a large number of people.” When the three men were executed by hanging, the Irgun killed the two sergeants and hung their booby-trapped bodies in a eucalyptus grove. Menachem Begin even wrote an open letter to one of the fathers of the sergeants, in which he blamed the British government for the incident.

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A most moral occupation: Keeping the prisoners in line

Does Israel have the right to turn millions of the people under its control into prisoners simply because it is afraid of what might happen once they are released?

The UNHRC report on Gaza and testimonies published by local watchdog group “Breaking the Silence” have sparked yet another round of debate over the IDF’s moral standards, or lack thereof. These debates have become yet another way for Israeli society — and at times, the international community — to talk about the occupation without actually discussing it. My heart goes out to the people at Breaking the Silence, since I have a feeling that this time around they are in the midst of a war they cannot win.

The objective of the Israeli occupation is control. In fact, that has long been Israel’s goal vis-a-vis the entire Palestinian people, even before 1967. Unlike many Palestinians, I do not think that the Zionist movement made a decision to ethnically cleanse the land of its residents; 1948 was the exception — not the rule. In the years following the war, and to this day, Palestinians have been removed from their homes and land, but in most cases they are not expelled from the country. In fact, the Israeli strategy stems from a recognition — on the part of the ruling elites, including both Labor and Likud — that the Palestinian population will ultimately remain here alongside the Jewish population.

There is zero chance that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will ever agree to their current situation of their own volition. And unlike most other occupying powers eventually do, Israel is not interested in granting them citizenship. Therefore, Israel’s only course of action is to control the Palestinians by force. This has been the objective of Israeli policy for decades, again, with the support of Labor and Likud alike.

This objective is the only way to explain the many actions Israel takes, which are sometimes improvised, other times planned ahead of time, and often seem to contradict each other. In practice, they are all put in place to maintain a system of control. This is the line of thinking that connects the anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset, the military operations in Gaza and the prime minister’s declared war on the BDS movement.

Testimonies: ‘This is how we fought in Gaza’

In order to maintain...

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How every Israeli profits from the occupation

Israel’s government, economy and citizens regularly exploit everything they can from the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians the bare minimum for survival. If Israelis want change, they’ll have to come to terms with reality.

Contrary to popular belief, the boycott is not the greatest threat facing Israel, at least not at the moment. However, now that BDS has become a household name, it is perfect opportunity for Israelis to have an honest conversation about the occupation. As opposed to the angle being peddled by Yedioth Ahronoth — which has been leading an open campaign against the BDS movement through a series of articles and op-eds — it is clear that the support for the BDS movement overwhelmingly stems from our control over millions of people in the West Bank and Gaza who lack basic rights.

The occupation is one of Israel’s biggest national projects, if not the biggest. Every single part of the population — not to mention the Israeli economy — take part in it. From the hi-tech industry that develops our most advanced combat and surveillance devices, to the major Israeli corporations of the Israeli economy, to the thousands of people who have manned checkpoints and patrolled the streets of the West Bank over the years — everyone has had a role.

There are those who claim that the occupation is a burden on the State of Israel. Perhaps they are right. But we cannot ignore the fact that it is also profitable, even for those who live in central Israel and are convinced that the “extreme right” is to blame for everything. First and foremost, there are the profits that come from a number of business ventures in the West Bank: the mines that Israel controls, which bring down the costs of building across the country; tourist sites; or just about any industry that relies on the cheap Palestinian labor.

Even the land itself is profitable for Israel. The Israeli government solved the housing crisis in the ultra-Orthodox community by moving over 100,000 people to two cities on the other side of the Green Line. Imagine how much this kind of land would be worth in central Israel. Or what about Jerusalem, which for years has ceased expanding westward, only eastward?

The markets of Ramallah and Khan Younis carry Israeli goods. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are...

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What to expect from Netanyahu's fourth government

The new government, which could  survive longer than most observers expect, intends to resume the implementation of the Prawer Plan, aimed to force the Bedouin Palestinian population in the “unrecognized villages” into a narrow territory. 

Benjamin Netanyahu’s fourth government was sworn in in the nick of time. Due to last-minute controversies over cabinet positions, President Reuven Rivlin and the family members of the new ministers had to wait a couple of hours for the special Knesset session to begin. Alongside the coalition negotiations, prolonged to the very maximum allowed by the law, Thursday night serves as a reminder of the difficulties Netanayhu is sure to face in maintaining his narrow coalition, which rests on the support of a mere 61 lawmakers out of the Knesset’s 120.

This, however, doesn’t mean that it will be a short-lived government, as some observers were all too quick to predict. Israel had similarly narrow governments in the past, and some of them even carried out major policy decisions: Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo II agreement in 1995 with an unstable 61 government, and Menachem Begin invaded Lebanon in 1982 with the same majority. (Though, admittedly, declaring war with a narrow coalition is not a big deal, since most of the opposition usually supports any military action the government undertakes.)

The fate of a coalition is often determined by the interests of a certain party in breaking away from the government and risking elections or, worse still, being left out when an alternative government is formed. Right now, I don’t see any party with such an interest, nor do I see any member of the coalition – not even the mere two necessary – who would benefit from siding with the opposition. The settlers and the hard right certainly don’t have a better alternative than this government, and the same goes for the ultra-Orthodox. My hunch is that for the time being, Netanyahu is not going anywhere.

Executing policies is a different thing, though, and this government will have very limited room to maneuver. This means an endless give and take with every MK on each bill – be it inconsequential legislation or major reform.

It’s clear that this government will not change course on the Palestinian issue. The traditional distinction between “pragmatists” and “hardliners,” or “hawks and doves,” doesn’t make sense here. All of the members of this government who have some sort of bearing on...

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Israeli Right renews its fight on funding for human rights orgs

Legislative attacks on EU funding of human rights activities could backfire by forcing the Europeans to revisit the basis for its entire economic relationship with Israel — something that not even BDS has succeeded at accomplishing.

The Israeli Right is once again seeking to introduce legislation that would limit the ability of human rights and anti-occupation organizations to seek funding abroad. As part of coalition negotiations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party is demanding that foreign-government funding of local institutions require approval by the Defense Ministry and the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The next government is unlikely to adopt Bennett’s demand as policy, but some softer version may very well reach the Knesset floor, and even gain the necessary majority to become law.

The right-wing media is already preparing the ground. Right-leaning newspaper Makor Rishon (now owned by Jewish American billionaire Sheldon Adelson) published a major article last weekend based entirely on press releases by NGO Monitor, and focused on the European Union’s support for human rights organizations and other similar groups in Israel.

Like most of the public debate around this issue, the portrait the article painted was biased and one-sided — the organizations themselves weren’t even given a chance to comment. The Jewish Home party and NGO Monitor are not interested in the wider, general effect of foreign entities on the public debate in Israel, nor do they seek to look into the entire array of political organizations that are funded from abroad. They will not, for instance, tell you very much — if anything at all — about right-wing non-profits’ sources of funding. (NGO Monitor itself is funded abroad, and doesn’t have the most transparent record.) The goal of the Jewish Home and NGO Monitor is to attack what they see as the last political platform for anti-occupation activity inside Israeli society. (Full disclosure: the non-profit that operates this site is among the organizations that are often attacked by NGO Monitor. Eight percent of +972′s budget last year came from the Heinrich Boell Foundation, which is defined as “a representative of a foreign government” under Israeli law.)

There is little doubt one way of gaining influence is to fund certain activities, and that includes gaining political influence. “Soft power,” the common phrase used to describe such humanitarian, cultural or economic activities by governments, already betrays this fact. Every country...

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You can boycott anything in Israel — except the occupation

The ‘boycott law’ won’t put an end to the BDS movement — its real importance lies in the criminalization of all opposition to the occupation.

A few months ago, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called for a boycott of businesses owned by Arab citizens of Israel. Such remarks — blunt racism directed at 20 percent of Israelis, regardless of their actions, opinions or political affiliations — are now well-embedded within the Israeli mainstream. Liberman himself is a legitimate coalition partner as far as either Labor or Likud are concerned. Meanwhile, the call to boycott those who profit from the occupation is now officially considered a civil offense. This is the bottom line of the High Court of Justice’s verdict, which approved the Knesset’s anti-boycott law (with the exception of a single article) on Wednesday afternoon.

The verdict is a 200-page long formidable act of legal acrobatics and eye-rolling. A boycott, the court declares, is a form of discrimination. One of the justices even goes so far as to use the Orwellian term “political act of terror.” Yet boycotting is a very common political act, both in Israel and elsewhere. There are those who boycott shops that sell animal fur, others who boycott restaurants that serve non-Kosher food, people who boycott Turkey due to its politics, and much more. All of the these take place unperturbed in broad daylight, and are often promoted by political parties, civil society organizations and public figures. And this is before we even begin to speak of racially-motivated boycotts that target the Palestinian population — these go unhindered as well. But a boycott of settlements products? Forbidden. The bottom line is that today in Israel, one can boycott anything and anyone, except the occupation.

Justice Meltzer, who wrote most of the verdict, argues that the boycott — and especially the academic boycott — “silences intellectual discourse.” In other words, it is the boycott that hurts democracy and freedom of speech. In the abstract world of the High Court, the occupation is an intellectual issue to be debated rationally in the public sphere. In reality, however, the occupation is a regime that deprives millions of their political rights, thus denying them the possibility of participating in the public decision-making process. If Palestinians had the right to vote and participate in the political sphere that determines their destiny, there...

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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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