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Police target second 'Breaking the Silence' event in a week

Senior police brass hound venue over minor business license violations. Police shut down a similar Breaking the Silence event last week citing right-wing threats against it.

For the second time in a week, Israeli police have imposed restrictions on Breaking the Silence lectures scheduled to take place in private venues. The owners of those venues and Breaking the Silence claim police are silencing the organization’s message in a way that serves the right wing in Israel.

Breaking the Silence is an organization of former IDF soldiers that collects and distributes soldier testimonies about the occupation in order to show Israeli society exactly what it is sending its children to do. It has become the target of numerous right-wing attacks in recent years, including from members of the government.

Three high-ranking police officers, including a station commander, showed up on Sunday at Bar Kayma, a vegan restaurant-bar in south Tel Aviv’s Florentine neighborhood. The police brass asked the restaurant’s management various questions about the Breaking the Silence event planned for Monday. The officers noted that on the event’s Facebook page some 70 people had indicated they planned to attend the lecture, whereas the restaurant’s business license gives it a maximum capacity of 38 people.

“We have been in business for three-and-a-half years, during which we’ve had three to five events each week, most of which have had ‘attending’ numbers far larger than our maximum capacity, and most people don’t actually show up. We once had 1,000 people indicate they were attending. Nevertheless, this is the first time in all of those years that police have come here to talk about our business license,” explained Aharon Porat, one of the managers of Bar Kayma, and a member of the collective that owns the establishment. Police said that somebody reported the event to them.

“The officers said they are only concerned about the safety of the participants, and when we said that it sounds like a political matter they denied it. Then they started talking about all sorts of minor matters relating to our business license, like the fact that name of the manager of the restaurant isn’t up to date and that it’s not okay that we’re using the courtyard as a smoking area. They also said that we are responsible for what happens outside our establishment, on the street, if we turn people away and there are problems.”

After some discussion...

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Jews, Arabs march on Israeli checkpoint to demand an end to occupation

Hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians march along a major West Bank highway as part of a non-violent protest against the occupation, settlements and the recent wave of violence.

Some 300 Israelis and Palestinians marched on the Israeli army’s “tunnels checkpoint” south of Jerusalem Friday to demonstrate against the occupation, against the ongoing violence, and in support of two states.

The demonstrators gathered on Route 60, the southern West Bank’s main north-south artery that connects Jerusalem, Beit Jala, the Gush Etzion settlements, and Hebron. For an hour, the demonstrators marched north along the side of the road to drums while chanting political slogans. Israeli and Palestinian drivers passing the protest along Route 60 couldn’t miss the long procession and many reacted — either by yelling and curses, or with calls of support.

The demonstrators called to dismantle the settlements and end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. They also chanted slogans against violence and in support of Jewish-Arab cooperation. Israeli soldiers and police escorted the procession and there were no clashes of any sort.

At the end of the procession the protesters gathered next to the “tunnels checkpoint,” where a few speakers from “Combatants for Peace” gave speeches, noting that it should not be taken for granted that in days like these Jews and Arabs would take to the streets together to call for a non-violent end to the occupation.

“We are living in a difficult period, innocent people are dying every day and it is hard to see an end to these events,” said Meital Lukov, an activist with Combatants for Peace. “The courageous thing to do is to find common ground and to build a future on that basis, and to break the cycle of violence we’re in — to create a new tomorrow.”

Also speaking at the event, Chairman of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee and former member of Knesset Mohammad Barakeh, noted that there had been two vehicular attacks a couple of hours before the demonstration, one of them on the same road along which the protesters had just marched.

“We don’t want a single drop of blood to be spilt,” Barakeh said, “but he who creates this situation needs to understand that only peace will bring security. The blockade, the checkpoints, the abuse, the settlements — they cause everything bad that is happening here. We stand together and condemn this extremist [Israeli] government, in favor...

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Israeli journalists slam Netanyahu over closure of Arabic media outlets

The government shut down two Arabic-language outlets last week, leaving nearly 30 journalists jobless. The Union of Israeli Journalists: ‘Shutting down media outlets is nearly unheard of in democratic regimes.’

The Union of Journalists in Israel sent a letter to Prime Minister and Communications Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday, protesting the shutting down of two Arabic-language media outlet last week.

As reported on the media watchdog site The Seventh Eye, police and Shin Bet agents raided and shut down the newsroom of veteran newspaper, Sawt al-Haq wa Al-Hurriya, as well as the news website PLS48, while confiscating computers and other equipment. The raids were conducted due to the fact their publishers belong to a corporation owned by the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, which was made illegal last week. Approximately 30 journalists lost their job in one fell swoop.

The letter, which was signed by union chairman Yair Tarchitsky and was approved by the secretariat (of which I am a member), stated that “The shutting down of media outlets by security forces is a drastic step that is nearly unheard of in democratic regimes, specifically in Israel. We see this move as a direct threat to both freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Israel — two cornerstones of democracy — which must only be carried out in the most extreme cases.”

The letter further quotes the head of the Government Press Office (GPO), Nitzan Chen, who spoke last Monday at a Knesset hearing about his discomfort with the decision to close down the outlets.

According to Chen, the GPO — which is under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office and works directly with the Shin Bet intelligence services — actively tracks Sawat al-Haq and PLS48, adding that years ago the two outlets were found to have included inciting messages in their articles (after which journalists from both organizations were denied government-issued press cards). However, the organizations have since changed their ways, paving the way for employees to, once again, obtain press cards.

“In our view, even if a text is published that contains incitement, the proper way to deal with it is to punish the inciters through the criminal justice system, rather than by closing down entire news outlets, firing dozens of journalists who did absolutely nothing wrong, and silencing public discourse,” continued the letter, which was also sent to the public security minister, the...

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U.S. anthropologists vote to boycott Israeli academia

American Anthropological Association votes resoundingly to sever all ties with Israeli academic institutions, as a response to Israel’s ‘widespread, systematic, and ongoing violations of Palestinian rights.’

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) overwhelmingly passed a resolution to support the boycott of Israeli academic institutions during its annual business meeting on Friday. The resolution will go into effect only if it is approved by a final vote of all association members sometime in the coming months.

With over 10,000 members, AAA is by far the largest academic association in the United States to endorse the boycott at an annual meeting.

The resolution, which was resoundingly approved by a vote of 1040-136, will sever all ties between the AAA and Israeli academic institutions, although Israeli academics will be able to take part in events organized by the association. Moreover, every member of the AAA will be able to decide for her or himself whether or not to implement the decision in their work.

According to a statement by “Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions,” a group actively involved in supporting the resolution over the past few years, the “historic result” is a response to Israel’s “widespread, systematic, and ongoing violations of Palestinian rights, as well as to protest the complicity of Israeli academic institutions in these abuses.”

The group’s website lists several examples of the direct involvement of Israel’s academic institutions in the occupation, including the establishment of a university in the West Bank, the development of weapons and combat doctrines used by the military in the occupied territories, the decision by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC) to provide academic credits to students involved in hasbara efforts, etc.

According to the group’s site, a competing resolution rejecting the boycott under the guise of promoting “engagement” was soundly defeated by a vote of 1173-196.

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Attacks on Palestinian hospitals are a red line we must not cross

The next time a Palestinian disguises himself as a journalist to attack Israelis, remember that Israelis do similar things.

The next time Palestinians hide weapons in a civilian ambulance, the next time a stabber disguises himself as a journalist, the next time Palestinians shoot rockets from near a United Nations building, remember that officers from Israel’s Yamam (Special Police Unit) disguised themselves as a woman in labor on a wheelchair entering a hospital in Hebron in order to arrest a wounded suspect and kill his relative.

A quick look at the coverage of the event shows that, at least according to the Israeli media, there is nothing problematic about this. Some news outlets even seemed to celebrate the great feat of arresting a wounded person as he lay in a hospital. Only Haaretz decided to provide a response to the event by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, which stated: “Time and again Israeli security forces violate the special protection forded to hospitals and medical facilities. By doing so they are putting patients, hospital staff, and visitors at risk.” Ma’ariv, Mako, Walla!, NRG, and Ynet just don’t have the room for such criticism.

But this type of criticism is vital, whether in the context of a continual military occupation, in the context of perpetual attacks against Palestinians on different fronts, or in the context of collective punishment or Palestinian attacks on Israelis. We all have a clear interest that in a reality of bloodshed and fear, there will still be several red lines — a few positions and places that should have immunity.

This should apply, first and foremost, to anything having to do with the medical establishment: doctors, medics, ambulances, clinics and hospitals must not be attacked under any means, and we must not take advantage of them in order to hide weapons or use them as a military base. This goes for either side. The same must go for UN buildings, journalists, and others. The medical world, however, is top priority.

The arrest Wednesday night in Hebron’s Al-Ahly Hospital was a crime against all of our interests. The suspect in a stabbing that took place in Gush Etzion, Azam Azat Shalalda, was not hiding in the hospital — he was merely hospitalized there. And it’s not like he had much a choice.

One can still say that Palestinian fighters have no...

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No Netanyahu, we refuse to keep living by the sword

The Israeli prime minister says Israelis are doomed to a permanent state of war. It’s time to show him that we aren’t willing to come along for the ride — that we believe in a future for us and our children.

Although it is likely that Netanyahu didn’t intend it, the prime minister may have just granted the Left its ticket to victory. At a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on Monday, Netanyahu said the following: “I am asked if we will forever live by the sword – yes.” And with those eight short words, Netanyahu summed up the entire vision of the Israeli Right.

What about hope? No hope. Is our hand stretched out in peace? Only while holding on to the sword. You thought Likud had no platform? Well, it does.

The same was made clear to the Palestinians, just in case they expected anything different. “At this time we need to control all of the territory for the foreseeable future,” clarified the prime minister, adding that there will be no bi-national state here. The two nations will pay the price in blood.

This isn’t new. Analysts have previously stated that this kind of rhetoric is the Right’s only solution: more of the same. But this is the first time that the prime minister himself has clarified that this, indeed, is his political vision. On the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Mr. Peace and Security confirms that there will be neither peace nor security.

This is where the Left must come in and bring the exact opposite message. It won’t be Herzog or Lapid, who only utter the word “opposition” to reassure Israelis that “no difference between the coalition and the opposition” every time they seek to justify Netanyahu’s policies. It will be a real Left, with a message of hope for both Israelis and Palestinians.

This Left must use Netanyahu’s remarks over and over again, ensuring that Israelis never forget them. It must make clear that we will not live by the sword. That there is another way. To every man and woman who lives here and wants to continue living here, to all those who want to raise children here, to all those we can give hope that the Right never can.

And we need to be clear on how to do it: it is possible to...

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Why is it so hard for leftists to speak out amid terror attacks?

Because we are shocked by the terrifying violence. Because we don’t want to play into the interests of the Right. Because we don’t want to appear disconnected from our society. But mainly because we tend to forget that, unlike the right wing, we have a solution for the conflict, and it benefits both Jews and Palestinians — not one or the other.

Each morning it seems, or at least I wake up hoping, that this round of violence is over. That there won’t be any more attacks, that “neither side has any interest in an escalation,” as they like to say on television, and any moment now the clouds will cool things down, the rain will wash away all the tears and there will be just a little less bloodletting and pain.

But for now, until that happens, I feel like I have nothing to say. Nothing. Depression and speechlessness. Mostly after the murder of the two parents in front of their children. Mostly-mostly after the deadly stabbing in the Old City, and bewilderment at those people who refused to help the wounded woman. I simply have no words.

And that’s a pretty bad thing for a leftist journalist and blogger, for whom words form an integral part of life, who doesn’t have anything to say. And it seems that it’s not only me. I look around at other writers on Local Call and +972 Magazine and I realize I’m not alone. I refresh my Facebook feed and find the same silence. And what better cure for silence is there than writing about silence itself?

Why is it so hard for us leftists? Among other things, it seems that sometimes we forget, just a little, why and what we are struggling for. I’ll try and describe it through the things I thought about writing. First, I was certain that I would not play the apologetic condemnation game of the Right. I didn’t do anything wrong and our entire struggle — every day and on every front — is for peace, equality, social justice, and as a basic rule we are clearly fighting for life and oppose the murder of civilians. So no, we really don’t need to “condemn” anything.

I also thought of writing something about the shock, the pain, maybe about the fear. Maybe something along the lines of what Mijal Simonet Corech wrote, about a politics first and...

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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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