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Israeli exceptionalism at the United Nations

Israeli officials mistakenly dismiss criticism as the product of an ‘anti-Israel bias.’ But when a state agrees to uphold certain universal human rights and then fails to do so in practice, it would be unfair for the international community to not criticize that state.

By Brad Parker

Israeli ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

Last month, Israel ended a 20-month boycott of the United Nations Human Rights Council when Israeli officials participated in the Universal Periodic Review, a process where every UN member state has their human rights record reviewed before the council. The process is designed “to ensure equal treatment for every country” by assessing each country based on the same body of international law. Yet, at the opening of Israel’s review session on October 29, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Eviatar Manor, declared, “The unfair treatment of Israel must come to an end.”

To be clear, the international community is not treating Israel unfairly; Israel is simply being treated and recognized as the persistent human rights violator that it is. The deep-rooted notion of Israeli exceptionalism inherent in Ambassador Manor’s statement is consistently used to delegitimize any international criticism of Israel’s serious human rights violations against Palestinians.

If Israel wants improved standing in the international community, its leaders must take responsibility for what is truly exceptional: a 46-year-old military occupation where systemic discrimination and persistent human rights violations are deeply entrenched and impunity reigns.

In the West Bank, there are two separate legal systems operating in the same territory and the sole factor in determining which laws apply to a person are his or her nationality and ethnicity. Israeli military law, which fails to ensure and denies basic and fundamental rights, is applied to the Palestinian population, including men, women and children; while Israeli settlers living in the West Bank are subject to the Israeli civilian and criminal legal system. Aside from the blatant violation of universal non-discrimination guarantees, why is this unique?

Today, Israel is the only nation to automatically and systematically prosecute children in military courts that lack basic and fundamental fair trial guarantees. Around 500-700 Palestinian children are arrested, detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system each year. The majority of Palestinian child detainees are charged with throwing stones, and 74 percent experience physical violence during arrest, transfer or interrogation, according to evidence collected by Defence for Children International Palestine. No Israeli children come into contact with the military court system.

During Israel’s Universal Periodic Review session on October 29, Israel’s uniqueness was unmistakable as numerous UN member states, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland and others, commented on or criticized Israel’s lack of respect for international law and its systematic ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention.

In a system based on principles of universality and reciprocity, where a state agrees to uphold certain universal human rights and then fails to do so in practice, it would be unfair for the international community to not criticize that state. This is exactly why Israel’s persistent failure to comply with or even to respect international law makes its non-compliance an issue of unique importance to other UN member states.

Despite the fact that Israel has ratified all the major international human rights treaties, and, as a result, has bound itself to act in accordance with those treaties; Israeli authorities persistently disregard and fail to comply with international law.

In 1991, Israel ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). During its initial review over a decade later in 2002, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations body that monitors implementation of the CRC, expressed serious concern regarding “allegations and complaints of inhuman or degrading practices and of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children” during arrest, interrogation and detention.

This past summer, over a decade later, the Committee on the Rights of the Child again reviewed Israel’s compliance with the CRC and found the situation was even worse. The Committee found that Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces were “systematically subject to degrading treatment, and often to acts of torture” and that Israel had “fully disregarded” previous recommendations to comply with international law.

Following a March 2012 Human Rights Council vote that established an international fact-finding mission to investigate and assess the effects of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian rights, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the council “hypocritical” with an “automatic majority against Israel.” Israel then severed all ties with the council.

Instead of viewing the Human Rights Council vote as a statement of international consensus condemning Israel’s illegal settlement endeavor, Israel chose to further isolate itself from the international community. As a result of the boycott, in an unprecedented move, last January Israel became the first and only UN member state to boycott its Universal Periodic Review. The move sparked intense debate among diplomats, and instead of sanctioning Israel, the Human Rights Council decided to reschedule Israel’s session for October 29.

No doubt, criticism by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, actions taken by the UN Human Rights Council and other pressure has forced Israeli leaders to respond by making slight changes to the military law applicable to Palestinian children. However, these changes undoubtedly fail to address the systematic and widespread ill-treatment Palestinian children face in the first 24-48 hours after an arrest, according to evidence collected by Defence for Children International Palestine.

Israeli officials, including Mr. Netanyahu, mistakenly dismiss any and all criticism of Israel’s persistent human rights violations against Palestinians as simply the product of an “anti-Israel bias.” The failure to recognize international condemnation of its human rights record, or to implement human rights-respecting policies will soon lead to not just a growing international consensus willing to condemn Israeli human rights violations, but one that demands actual accountability. In short, the perpetual state of exceptionalism is coming to an end.

Brad Parker is an attorney and international advocacy officer with Defence for Children International Palestinean independent child-rights organization dedicated to defending and promoting the rights of children living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. DCI-Palestine provides free legal assistance to children, collects evidence and conducts advocacy targeting various duty bearers. Follow DCI-Palestine on Twitter and Facebook. Follow @baparkr.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Kolumn9

      Human Rights Council:
      - passed more resolutions against Israel than the rest of the world combined.
      - employs clearly biased ‘special rapporteurs
      - has Israel (and only Israel) as a permanent item on the agenda
      - recently had the following countries become members that sit in judgement of Israel: China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia

      The reason why Israeli leaders dismiss criticism from such a body as hypocritical and transparently biased is because it is. If you expect Israelis to take such bodies seriously perhaps these bodies should first at least display a modicum of objectivity rather than being platforms for the persecution of Israel by the automatic majority the Palestinians and their supporters enjoy in such bodies.

      I think Israel should have ignored the Universal Periodic Review entirely. There is very little to gain from playing along with such a lopsided game. Israel’s presence only gives this body the semblance of universality. Once stripped of that the body will gradually decline in importance until it withers rapidly into what it is already – a useless body run by dictatorships and failed states to deflect attention from their own gross violations of human rights.

      Then again, I would hardly expect a fair representation of the situation from a group like “Defence for Children International Palestine”. It is yet another organization funded by European and far-left groups whose entire reason for existence is to produce propaganda in the persistent media war against Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • un2here

        Peace will come with the return of the Refugees.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Peace for them, death for us. I suppose it is a peace of sorts, but, I am not particularly interested in that kind of peace. I like life.

          Reply to Comment
      • JG

        “- passed more resolutions against Israel than the rest of the world combined.”

        Maybe you should start to wonder why that happens and what Israeli actions in occupied terretories may have to do with it………

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >Maybe you should start to wonder why that happens

          Why wonder? It is clear as a day that Israel is being singled out due to the fact that it is a Jewish state.

          >and what Israeli actions in occupied territories may have to do with it………

          Israel is not doing anything more or worse than any other occupying power.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Philos

      Brad, you fail to understand Israeli thinking. They want to be measured on how they treat Israeli Jewish children. You see it’s unfair that anyone would suggest that international treaty obligations and human rights extend to the untermenchen Arabs, Eritreans and other non-Jewish under Israeli jurisdiction. Understand that and you’ll understand the logic of Israeli claims of hypocrisy. You’ll also feel sick to your stomach at the totally repugnant self righteousness

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Hardly. We wish to be judged by the same standards as Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Iran, Sri Lanka, the United States, etc, etc…

        Some of those might not even pretend to be democratic states, but I have yet to see how ‘universal humanitarian principles’ should be applied in such a way as to give all these horrendous violators of human rights a pass while singling out Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • Danny

          “We wish to be judged by the same standards as Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Iran, Sri Lanka”

          Then stop calling yourself a democracy, stop claiming you are a modern, progressive society and, most importantly, stop pumping billions of dollars/euros each year from hapless U.S./E.U. taxpayers by pretending to be these things.

          Until then, you will be held accountable for your deceit.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            What bloody difference does it make what we call ourselves for a body whose guiding principles are supposed to be universal? It is as if ‘universal humanitarian principles’ are not so ‘universal’ after all.

            For example last week North Korea publicly executed 80 people for watching foreign movies. Is North Korea going to appear as a permanent item on the agenda of the UNHRC? No. So, stop with the nonsense. I’ll accept criticism, but not from organizations or people that continue to pretend that there isn’t a blatant double standard at work here. They have zero credibility.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gearoid

            Even a intellectually dishonest troll like you should be able to understand a simple difference.

            The UN has influence over Israel. It should, if Israel is any of the things (liberal, democratic, peaceful) that it claims to be. The UN has no influence over North Korea. Even China barely does.

            Your false equivalencies are just more cowardly attempts to change the subject.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            That is absolutely retarded. You are basically saying that the UN’s role is to judge/punish countries on the basis of the way they define themselves rather than on the basis of any universal standard of human rights or anything else for that matter. In other words, there is not even a pretense of universality or objectivity in the application of international law when it comes to the UN and Israel. To paraphrase, there is a transparent and blatant double standard.

            Just admit there is a double standard or continue to appear the fool. Let me give you an example. In this UNGA session the assembly will pass 26 resolutions. Of these 22 are against Israel. 972mag is forced to make a big deal every time some disgusting graffiti is posted or a house is burned down or a house is built. This is the issue that should take up 22/26 resolutions at the UN? Really? Not the 80 people that got shot for watching foreign movies in North Korea. Not the hundred thousand that are dead in Syria. Not the summary executions in Iran. Not the numerous countries where dictators deprive all their people of even the most basic human rights. Yeah. Clearly I am the troll and you are the impartial judge of the objectivity of this absurd international institution.

            And in case you haven’t noticed, no the UN doesn’t have any influence over Israel. The disgusting treatment by the UN of Israel is such that no one in power actually takes it’s bodies seriously. So there goes even that justification.

            Reply to Comment
          • un2here

            The US isn’t giving billions in military aid to North Korea, neither is the EU giving them preferential conditions for their inner market. Maybe they should? – or maybe they should just in all fairness drop Israel under the proverbial bus.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Nonsense arguments are these.

            >The US isn’t giving billions in military aid to North Korea

            China does.

            >neither is the EU giving them preferential conditions for their inner market

            Maybe it is because N. Korea does not have anything worthy to offer, leave alone their laughable ideology and hunger-struck population.

            Reply to Comment
          • The difference between North Korea and the Israeli occupation is pretty straight forward: North Korea is sovereign and, absent signed treaties, can do what it likes internally, alas; actually, even with signed treaties, and remember that treaties can be abrogated. Palestinian children in the WB are under an occupying force, internal Israeli reports written to the contrary notwithstanding; there are many Security Council resolutions which recognize Israel as an occupying force. What is really happening here is that de facto annexation is being taken as de jure sovereignty. As effective annexation grows, indignation over outside interference will as well.

            Yet there is much hypocrisy over action as applied: those singling out Israel often engage in much worse in their own land, and to refuse this obvious fact allows one to be legitimately charged as agenda biased. And I have no doubt that States party to the CRC have failed the treaty; but, again, sovereignty is not a shield over CRC violations in the WB.

            The law evolves hypocritically and fitfully, sometimes reversing itself completely before later moving forward. Many States focusing on Israel are hypocritical or worse, I have no doubt. But the law advances by focusing on instances as such under evolving jurisdiction. Hypocrisy does not negate the present instance. That one can do something somewhere is not barred because one cannot do something everywhere.

            Holding all this, I still do not see these UN forums as very important, save as independent outlets for accumulated facts. Israel will have to change internally. The outside world can point things out, refuse kinds of aid, even sanction; but change awaits change in whatever one thinks of as the Israeli constitution.

            Reply to Comment
        • carl

          Kolums no one of the countries that you mentioned is occupying the land and the lives of millions of ‘other’ without taking any responsability for the occupied, while exploiting their natural resources. You are not the victim, please cope with it.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Isaiah

      Mr Brad Parker,is this the only reason why 22 UN resolutions passed condemn Israel and while only 4 for the rest of the world?You single out only Israel as the violator of human rights but failing to mention the incitement and terrorism activities carried out by Palestinians.
      You claim to defend children,why are you not defending the 400+ children that were gassed by Assad?Why are you not condemning Palestinians for sending their children to suicide bombing mission.
      Its obvious to me that just like the UN you are a bigoted excuse of an advocate who is always looking to use Israel as a scapegoat

      Reply to Comment
    4. Joe Y

      With all the human rights violation in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, you think Israel deserves special condemnation? Russia, China, Venezuela, the list goes on…
      Where do Arab citizens have the best protection of human rights in the middle east? Israel.
      Furthermore, China, Russia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia among others were just appointed to the UN Human Rights Council. Credibility? Zero!

      Reply to Comment
      • carl

        Again, no one of the countries that you mentioned is occupying the land and the lives of millions of ‘others’ without taking any responsability for the occupied, while exploiting their natural resources. You are not the victim, please cope with it.

        Reply to Comment
        • JohnW

          Russia is not occupying the lands of millions? Where have you been all your life?

          Try Chechnia for one.

          You might also remember the kuril Islands which Russia annexed from Japan after WW2.

          http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuril_Islands_dispute

          That’s the problem with you guys. You are opinionated and ill informed. A very bad combination.

          Reply to Comment
          • IlonJ

            The word “occupation” has come to be a ‘catch all’ accusation to try and bash Israel over the head by haters of Israel.

            What is not very well understood by most of the accusers is that occupation in itself is not criminal. Particularly if the occupier has been willing to end the occupation which Israel tried since 1967. But the Arabs have a different agenda. They did not just want to end the occupation of the West Bank. They consider the land of Israel as occupied land too. That is why every peace initiative by Israel has either not had any takers or was rejected outright.

            And who can blame the Palestinian Arabs? They are on a good wicket. Western nations are subsidising their existence. They can put their hands on their heart and excuse every act of terrorism that they perpetrate by saying, “hey we are under occupation it is our right to resist”. And in the meanwhile, they reject every Israeli peace offer unless it is unconditional surrender by Israel. The Palis figure they can hold out this way indefinitely until Israel surrenders to their peace terms. And they figure that after they do, in stage two it will be easier to finish their national agenda. The total elimination of Israel.

            In the meanwhile, they play the victim and repeat endlessly: Occupation, occupation, occupation …

            Reply to Comment
          • Jack

            “Particularly if the occupier has been willing to end the occupation which Israel tried since 1967.”

            If Israel has been willing to end the occupation ever since 1967, then why has Israel confiscated more and more land from the Palestinians and built more and more illegal settlements on occupied land ever since?

            “That is why every peace initiative by Israel has either not had any takers or was rejected outright.”

            You mean that Israel outright rejected the Arab League’s Peace Initiative which offered Israel peace and normal relations with the entire Arab world, including a recognition of Israel, if Israel ended the illegal occupation.

            Now, if Israel has been willing to end the occupation since 1967, why didn’t they? Israel has also been crying that the Arab states won’t recognize Israel – but in 2002 they offered to do it. But Israel outright rejected it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ilonj

            You forgot to mention the right of return demand. That is a show stopper.

            Reply to Comment
          • JohnW

            Whats’a matter Carl? The cat cut your tongue?

            You mada a mistake. Be a man and acknowledge it.

            Reply to Comment
          • carl

            JohnW, be a man is an expression that you probably learnt under the army. Here you cannot use your weapons, but just your knowledge. Up to now, you were unable to provide a noteworthy argument.
            No state in the world recognizes as ‘disputed’ the Palestinian Territories. I know that for you this is hard to cope with, but you have to accept the reality. If you compare the OPT to the Kuril islans it means that you dont have any clue about what you are talking about. Be a man and go to study deeper the issue.

            Reply to Comment
          • JohnW

            What about Chechnia then? That is different too?

            Actually, I think it IS. Next to Russia, Israel has nothing to be ashamed of. As compared to what the Russians did to the Chechens.

            But please, continue to pretend that Israel is the root of all evil. We are used to it from haters of Israel. But sometimes we just can’t stomach your double standards so we speak up.

            But now I will just shut up. I’ll say no more. You have the floor. Do your worst.

            Reply to Comment
          • carl

            JohnW, you are again wrong on every point.
            “What about Chechnia then?”
            Russia is not building settlements in Chechnya, nor moving through incentives of every kind part of its population there.

            “Next to Russia, Israel has nothing to be ashamed of”: both should be ashamed (and thankfully many Israelis and Russians are fighting for changing these shames).

            “continue to pretend that Israel is the root of all evil”.
            In your mind, you need your barbarians. It makes you feel better. As for your knowledge, I never pretended that Israel “is the root of all evil”. Simply, OPT and Western Sarah are the only 2 places in the world in which occupying powers are exploiting the land and the natural resources – and in this respect the situation in the West Bank is not comparable to Western Sarah – without taking any responsability for the local occupied populations.

            “your double standards..”: no double standard, it is just a matter of knowing or not the issue.

            “I will just shut up”:
            Good decision. First study better what you are writing about.

            Reply to Comment
          • carl

            JohnW, please study a bit more the topic.
            Russia never started to build settlements in Chechnya or to fund the emigration of Russian citizens in Chechnya.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Each and every your comment proves that the “left” exists solely due to lack of education and ignorance of middle-class citizens.

            “The fortress of Groznaya (fearsome) was founded in 1818[7] as a Russian military outpost on the Sunzha River by general Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov which was a prominent defence centre during the Caucasian War. After the annexation of the region by the Russian Empire, the military use of the old fortress was obsolete and in December 1869 it was renamed Grozny and granted town status.[7] As most of the residents there were Terek Cossacks, the town grew slowly until the development of oil reserves in the early 20th century. This encouraged the rapid development of industry and petrochemical production. In addition to the oil drilled in the city itself, the city became a geographical center of Russia’s network of oil fields, and in 1893 became part of the Transcaucasia — Russia Proper railway. The result was the population almost doubled from 15,600 in 1897 to 30,400 in 1913.[7]”
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grozny

            The Caucasian War of 1817–1864, also known as the Russian conquest of the Caucasus[1] was an invasion of the Caucasus by the Russian Empire which ended with the annexation of the areas of the North Caucasus to Russia and the Ethnic cleansing of Circassians.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caucasian_War

            Reply to Comment
          • carl

            lol. only a limited mind can find a connection between the Caucasian War of 1817 or the fortress of Groznaya of 1818 and the funding of settlements currently implemented by Israeli authorities in the OPT. are you sure that you don’t get the difference? russia is not building settlements in Chechnya, nor moving through incentives of every kind part of its population there.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            “Carl
            Friday
            November 15, 2013
            Again, no one of the countries that you mentioned is occupying the land and the lives of millions of ‘others’ without taking any responsability for the occupied, while exploiting their natural resources.”

            On Friday, November 15 you had claimed that “Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Russia, China and Venezuela” are not occupying the land and the lives of millions of others.

            Turkey is occupying part of Kurdistan https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_Kurdistan

            In Egypt Copts are misrepresented in the Parliament. Nearly 10 000 000 of Christians are held hostage at Muslim majority will.

            Iran occupies parts of Azerbaidjan, Kurdistan and UAE

            Russia occupies entire Caucasus plus parts of the sovereign Republic of Georgia, Japan and few others.

            China occupies Tibet and Xinjiang region, where Uyghur majority lives.

            >only a limited mind can find a connection between the Caucasian War of 1817 or the fortress of Groznaya of 1818 and the funding of settlements currently implemented by Israeli authorities in the OPT.

            Caucasian war was started in 1817 when Russia tried to occupy Caucasus. In 1995 the war was continued as Chechen rebels tried to break free, succeeded but were forcibly re-occupied in 2000.

            Jewish-Arab wars were started in 1920′s, when Jews tried to get equal rights with Arabs in Mandate Palestine.

            >are you sure that you don’t get the difference?

            No difference whatsoever, live alone that Russia had started a bit earlier, had exterminated a magnitude or two more people and has installed a pro-Russian government.

            >russia is not building settlements in Chechnya, nor moving through incentives of every kind part of its population there.

            If some facts are beyond your scope of knowledge it does not mean that said facts are not existing – but rather that your scope of knowledge is too limited.

            http://news.rambler.ru/20450365/

            Also, China transfers millions (literally) into Tibet and Xinjiang.
            https://litigation-essentials.lexisnexis.com/webcd/app?action=DocumentDisplay&crawlid=1&doctype=cite&docid=9+Cardozo+J.+Int'l+%26+Comp.+L.+173&srctype=smi&srcid=3B15&key=286e6c59ec29a801e5b31bc9da1b9cac

            p.s. You are such a fantastic idiot. Poor Palestinians. Having an ally such as yourself is a sure way to lose even what could not be lost under normal circumstances.

            Reply to Comment
          • carl

            Trespasser I am sure that you really think that you have written something great.

            In Abkhazia, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and East Turkestan, the “occupying powers” of these areas have created in loco nominally independent states (TRNC-Turkey, Abkhazia-Russia and so on), and/or are not building settlements in their “occupied territories” (Chechnya is just an example), and/or have incorporated the local inhabitants as their citizens: with all the guarantees, rights and problems that this entails.
            In Tibet, despite China’s annexation of the area (Tibetans are citizens of a country) and the fact that according to the Dalai Lama the region is not seeking independence from China, a severe repression is taking place. European powers, contrary to what could be said regarding to the Israeli-Palestinian context, bear no historical responsibilities for the current situation in Tibet. Nonetheless, Chinese embassies in London and elsewhere attract weekly protests and Beijing, ironically, continues to accuse Western countries of being unfairly singled out.

            I never claimed that there are not other countries in the world that are occupying external territories, but instead that only in the OPT and Western Sarah the occupying powers do not have taken any responsability for the occupied peoples.
            Again, is it possible that you don’t get it? Are you able to write something clever now?

            Reply to Comment
          • JohnW

            Carl

            If I would have written the waffle that you wrote above, you would have muttered something about Hasbarah trolls.

            Now let me tell you that you are just waffling and backtracking on everything that you originally said which was something like ‘none of those other countries occupy other peoples lands’ but now at least you had to admit that Israel is not the only country which is an occupier.

            At least you are making progress. I like to see progress being made by “progressives”.

            Reply to Comment
          • carl

            JohnW,

            Happy to see you again on board.

            This is my original quotation:
            “Again, no one of the countries that you mentioned is occupying the land and the lives of millions of ‘others’ without taking any responsability for the occupied, while exploiting their natural resources.”

            Can You tell me exactly where I backtracked “on everything that you originally said”? You cannot cut the sentence as you like.

            Again, this is the sentence. I expect now from you a clever comment:

            “Again, no one of the countries that you mentioned is occupying the land and the lives of millions of ‘others’ without taking any responsability for the occupied, while exploiting their natural resources.”

            Reply to Comment
          • JohnW

            Carl

            Thank you. Happy to be back.

            No need for a clever comment from me. You seem to be clever enough in trying to make a unique monster out of Israel.

            Here is your sentence that I did not bother to mention which you are so uppity about:

            ” without taking any responsability for the occupied, while exploiting their natural resources.”

            Just ask the Chechens if they agree with you that the Russians took responsibility for them. And if so, then how?

            As for the natural resources of Chechnia and the Kiril Islands. Yeah right, the Russians just wanted to occupy those places for the sake of occupying. Keep on believing that Carl. I don’t.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Richard Witty

      I think the assertion, “we want to be treated equally” is just and laudatory.

      Every good and bad should be named, and proportionally.

      So, it can be seen, evaluated, corrected universally, so that the world becomes a more habitable place.

      Reply to Comment
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