Analysis News

Settler violence: It comes with the territory

Unlike any other aspect of the occupation, settler violence is something nobody outside the radical fringe in Israel will defend. This, alone, they’ll denounce. And yet, nobody — in Israel or internationally — has found the political will to put a stop to the decades-long phenomenon, even when the victims are U.S. citizens.

By Larry Derfner
Photos by Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor and

The burned door of the Khalil family home, months after settlers set it on fire while seven family members slept inside. (Photo:

Kamal Shaban, a farmer in the West Bank village of Sinjil, is watching workmen repair a local family’s house that had recently been firebombed by settlers in the middle of the night, forcing the parents and five children asleep inside to flee to the rooftop. As for himself, Shaban tells me that during the autumn olive harvests, settlers have stoned the laborers in his fields, turned over a tractor, stolen sacks of olives and once broke a worker’s arm with a big rock – all under the eye of Israeli soldiers required by the Supreme Court to protect the farmers.

He asks: “Why do the United States, the European Union and the United Nations call Hamas terrorists and Hezbollah terrorists, but they don’t call these people terrorists?”

The phenomenon of settler violence against Palestinians, which is as old and as vibrant as the settlements themselves, tells you everything you need to know about how serious Israel is about ending its rule over a foreign people. It also tells you everything you need to know about how serious the world is about forcing Israel to end it.

Settler violence, lately characterized mainly by masked young men roaming the West Bank and attacking Palestinian farmers with stones, clubs or rifles and burning their olive groves, their fields, and occasionally their schools, mosques and homes, is a unique feature of the occupation. Unlike every other aspect of it – the conquest of another people’s homeland by military force and land theft, the brutality, the house demolitions and expulsions, the whole system of officially sanctioned subjugation – settler violence is something nobody outside the radical fringe in Israel will...

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The writing on the wall: Boycott is top story in Israel's No. 1 paper

Following Channel 2 News’ remarkable Saturday night prime-time feature on the boycott of Israel, ‘Yedioth Ahronoth’ delivers same warning in big, bold letters on Monday’s front page.

Front page of ‘Yedioth Ahronoth’, January 20, 2014

“100 leaders of the economy warn of boycott on Israel,” reads the lead headline in Monday’s Yedioth Ahronoth. The sub-headline includes the quote, “The world is losing its patience and the threat of sanctions is increasing. We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians.” The commentary next to it by star columnist Sever Plocker is titled, “It’s the economy, Bibi.”

Yedioth is almost as popular and influential an Israeli newspaper as Channel 2 is an Israeli TV news show. Between Channel 2’s Saturday night prime time wake-up call about the boycott and now this one, it’s likely that the Israeli public is beginning the process of waking up. The Israeli government – probably not so much. Which means the boycott will continue to grow, until some Israeli government in the indeterminate future is awakened by it, too.

The Yedioth story reports that some members of “Breaking the Impasse,” a recently formed group including the biggest names in Israeli and Palestinian business, took their warning to Netanyahu a week ago in a meeting ahead of Wednesday’s World Economic Forum in Davos. “Israel must reach a diplomatic solution – urgently,” a statement from the business leaders said. The group, led by Israeli high-tech partriarch Yossi Vardi and Munib al-Masri, long-time titan of the Palestinian economy, are to meet in Davos after the four-day conference to plan their next moves.

The stagnation in the peace process, which began with the Second Intifada in September 2000, couldn’t last forever. It appears to be stirring now, thanks to one thing: the spread of the boycott from protesters to professors to European governments, a dynamic that has come in response to that stagnation. And I expect the boycott movement to go through a major growth spurt very soon. The nine-month allotment for the Israeli-Palestinian talks runs out on April 29; my guess is that John Kerry is now looking for a way to cut his losses. Everyone understands that when Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was quoted last week in Yedioth  trashing Kerry and his peace mission, he was just echoing Netanyahu’s views.


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Boycott goes prime-time in Israel

The country’s number-one news show runs lengthy piece on the growing movement – and blames it not on anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing, but on settlements.

Stock photo boycott activists in France. (Photo: Olga Besnard /

On Saturday night the boycott of Israel gained an impressive new level of mainstream recognition in this country. Channel 2 News, easily the most watched, most influential news show here, ran a heavily-promoted, 16-minute piece on the boycott in its 8 p.m. prime-time program. The piece was remarkable not only for its length and prominence, but even more so because it did not demonize the boycott movement, it didn’t blame the boycott on anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing. Instead, top-drawer reporter Dana Weiss treated the boycott as an established, rapidly growing presence that sprang up because of Israel’s settlement policy and whose only remedy is that policy’s reversal.

In her narration, Weiss ridicules the settlers and the government’s head-in-the-sand reaction to the rising tide. The segment from the West Bank’s Barkan Industrial Park opens against a background of twangy guitar music like from a Western. “To the world it’s a black mark, a symbol of the occupation,” she reads. “But here they insist it’s actually a point of light in the area, an island of coexistence that continues to flourish despite efforts to erase it from the map.” A factory owner who moved his business to Barkan from the other side of the Green Line makes a fool of himself by saying, “If the state would only assist us by boycotting the Europeans and other countries causing us trouble …” The Barkan segment ends with the manager of Shamir Salads saying that between the European and Palestinian boycott, he’s losing about $115,000 to $143,000 a month in sales. “In my view,” he says, “it will spread from [the West Bank] to other places in Israel that have no connection to the territories.”

Weiss likewise ridicules Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who runs the government’s “hasbara war,” as he puts it. Weiss: “Yes, in the Foreign Ministry they are for the time being sticking to the old conception: it’s all a question of hasbara. This week the campaign’s new weapon, developed with the contributions of world Jewry: (Pause) Another hasbara agency, this time with the original name ‘Face To Israel.’” She quotes...

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The Palestinians should thank Ya'alon

He’s dealt a blow to Israel’s prospects in the all-important blame game.  

By making Israel look like the rejectionist side in the peace process, and by doing so in a spectacularly galling way, Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon’s verbal attack on John Kerry has helped the cause of ending the occupation.

It’s no mystery that the overriding goal of both Israel and the Palestinians in Kerry’s peace talks has been to avoid getting blamed for their inevitable failure. Now, after Ya’alon dissed Kerry and his diplomatic baby so thoroughly and contemptuously – and, even more to the point, without getting a word of reprimand from Netanyahu – it will be tougher yet to cast the Palestinians as the guilty party and Israel as the innocent one when this peace charade finally ends. (The deadline is April 29.) It’ll be tougher, too, to say both sides are equally at fault. It will be easier to say the Netanyahu government, not Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, is the obstacle to peace.

And that’s good. That will put the wind at the PA’s back if, God willing, they go through with their threat to return to the UN as soon as the Kerry talks are finished to press their case for independence, including by taking Israel to The Hague over the occupation. It will push more conflicted liberals into the BDS camp. It will make it extremely unlikely that Kerry, Obama and the rest of the administration, after being trashed publicly like this, will mount a very spirited defense of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians when they come under international attack.

With his gruff, stereotypically military manner, his harsh rhetoric, his arrogance and his pro-settlement, anti-Arab politics, Ya’alon is a poster boy for the occupation. Just when the world was ready to forget the bad old Sharon, he’s been reincarnated.

Read more:
The problem is Netanyahu, not Ya’alon
Ya’alon’s jab at Kerry proves Israel isn’t in the peace-making business

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When Sharon was great

If Israel ever does take down the occupation and make peace with the Palestinians, Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza will stand as a crucial stepping stone on the way.

Former Prime Minsiter Ariel Sharon (Photo: Mikhail /

The single greatest demonstration of political leadership I’ve ever witnessed in my 62 years in America and Israel was Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza. No other Israeli politician could have done it – nobody else could have defeated the settler movement and its hardcore allies. Anyone from the left would have had the entire right wing, moderates and radicals, against him, which would have scared the Israeli mainstream stiff, and a move to evacuate 8,500 settlers and the Israeli army from the interior of Gaza, which Israel had occupied for nearly 40 years, never would have gotten off the ground. To pull off something as cataclysmic as disengagement – the bulldozing of 21 settlements in Gaza plus another four in the West Bank, accomplished in six days in August 2005 – a prime minister has to have a decisive majority of the Israeli public behind him; otherwise the resistance of the settler movement, which more than makes up in fanaticism for what it lacks in numbers, will stop him.

While there were other politicians on the right who wanted to get out of Gaza, any of them would have been overrun by the Likud and the other nationalist parties, because while the idea of cutting loose from Gaza may have appealed to them, the thought of actually trying to do it and facing the wrath of not only the settler movement but of their parties, their colleagues, their friends, their families and their own psychological barriers was way, way beyond their ability to even contemplate. It took somebody of immense popularity and prestige – somebody of such stature that he could turn the moderate right wing completely around so that it would follow him even out of Gaza – to not only plan but go through with disengagement. That somebody also had to be sufficiently cunning and ruthless to win that political battle over the settlers, a battle that lasted almost two years. And that right-wing leader also had to be convinced at the bottom of his soul that disengagement was necessary; otherwise he would...

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The release of killers is not a cause for celebration

An objection to a +972 post.

I looked at the photo essay published in +972 Magazine yesterday, about the West Bank celebrations for the 26 released Palestinian prisoners, and I thought: are we celebrating these killers’ release, too? Are we cheering them as heroes too?

+972 practices what’s called engaged journalism – the writers, editors and photographers here all take a stand on the subjects we deal with, and while there are differences of opinion among us, we’re all agreed that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and African refugees is wrong, and this opinion is right up front in all the stuff we publish. And when Activestills’ photographers take photos of Palestinian, Bedouin or African refugee protests, it’s clear from the photos that Activestills, and +972 as the publisher, supports them. And that’s fine with me because I support those protests, too.

But in the same way, the message from the photo essay of the heroes’ welcome for the freed Palestinian prisoners is that Activestills and +972 welcomes them as heroes, too. I doubt that anybody at +972 actually takes that view; I know I don’t. It’s one thing to support the release of these people from prison, and even to accept, in principle, as I do that Palestinians have the same right to strike back at their foreign masters as does any other subject people, including the Jews of pre-state Israel. It’s quite another thing, though, to cheer the killers as heroes.

And while I’m sure that the other people at +972 weren’t inwardly congratulating these prisoners on winning their freedom, either, that’s the message which gets conveyed by the photo essay.

It seems that whoever wrote the text and captions for it was uncomfortable with the subject: there is no mention of the crimes the prisoners committed, no clue that they killed people – Israeli soldiers, civilians and Palestinians suspected of collaboration. The writer or writers, I’m convinced, did not want to say that the freed prisoners were killers or who they killed because that would have struck an extremely dissonant chord in such a celebratory photo essay.

So the inconvenient detail about the nature of the prisoners’ crimes was left out. And its absence couldn’t be more conspicuous. The impression left by that absence is that +972 is telling its audience that the release of these men is indeed a cause for celebration – but...

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The world's blatant double standard - in Israel's favor

The American Studies Association may be singling out Israel for boycott, but if you look at the serious, painful punishments the world metes out to oppressor nations, Israel is not being singled out, it’s being let off the hook.

As of Friday at noon, a Google search of “human rights sanctions” turns up over 40 million results. There are human rights sanctions and other punishments against China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Yemen, Belarus, Cuba, North Korea and lots of other countries. And these sanctions weren’t put in place by some minor academic group like the American Studies Association, but by the United States of America, the European Union and/or the United Nations Security Council. Furthermore, these sanctions hurt those countries quite a bit more than the ASA’s boycott of Israeli colleges is likely to hurt Israel.

Yet you would think from the reaction to the recent ASA boycott that no other country in the world is being punished for its human rights violations. Everybody’s jumping on ASA president Curtis Marez’s quote on why the organization was going after Israel instead of other, far worse malefactors: “One has to start somewhere,” he told The New York Times. But while the ASA may be starting with Israel, the powers-that-be in the world have gone after any number of human-rights violating countries – yet still haven’t gotten to Israel and its 46-year military dictatorship over the Palestinians.

If you look at the serious, painful punishments the world metes out to oppressor nations, Israel is not being singled out, it’s being let off the hook.

Would Israel’s defenders like to see the world treat this country like it treats Iran – by “bringing it to its knees” with “crippling sanctions,” not to mention the clamor from some quarters to bomb its nuclear facilities?

Or would they like Israel to be treated like Syria – by freezing its foreign assets and denying entry to any Israeli involved in the occupation? Would they want the U.S. to arm some of the groups fighting Israel? Would they have preferred Israel being one step away from getting bombed by the U.S.? Would they rather that the world powers destroy Israel’s chemical weapons – or would they choose the ASA boycott?

Or if not like Syria, would Israel’s advocates want this country to...

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Mandela: I was inspired by Begin's struggle against the British

Mandela’s statements about Begin on the one hand and Arafat on the other should make just about everyone uncomfortable.

In Chapter 42 of his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom,” Nelson Mandela describes how, in 1961, he began forming the African National Congress’ (ANC) military wing to launch guerrilla attacks on the apartheid regime. “I, who had never been a soldier, who had never fought in battle, who had never fired a gun at an enemy, had been given the task of starting an army. … I began in the only way I knew how, by reading and talking to experts.”

Mandela recalls that he read about Castro and Che Guevara, about Mao Tse-Tung, about the uprisings in Ethiopia, Kenya, Algeria, even about the Boer revolt against their former British rulers. He mentions three books that were crucial to his education.  One was Commando by Deneys Reitz about the Boer rebellion. The second was Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China about Mao’s revolution.  And this was the third:

Interesting. It gets even more interesting when you read what Mandela told Yasser Arafat in 1990, two weeks after he was released from 27 years in prison:

Mandela against apartheid, Begin against the British Mandate, Arafat against the occupation. Their differences as rebel leaders are not as important as what they had in common: All three took up arms in the cause of freedom.

Seeing Mandela’s miracle: A trip from Israel to South Africa
On Mandela’s legacy: Three political innovations

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Why aren't Netanyahu and Peres going to Johannesburg for Mandela's memorial?

Bibi says it’s the expense, Peres says it’s a flu he can’t kick. More likely it’s two other reasons: Israel’s past and present.  

Nelson Mandela’s death brought up some inconvenient memories for Israel and the Diaspora Jewish establishment: Israel’s extremely fruitful alliance with apartheid South Africa until the very, very end; the anti-Mandela stance of right-wing Zionists because of his support for Arafat and the PLO (as well as for Gadhafi); and mainstream South African Jewry’s comfort with the apartheid regime (notwithstanding the brave opposition by a greatly disproportionate number of the country’s Jews). Then there’s the present-day, ongoing inconvenience of the similarity between apartheid and the occupation, and the awkwardness of having to praise a man who chose violence over submission while vilifying Palestinians who make the same choice.

It seemed, though, that this embarrassment over the Israel-South African apartheid alliance was going to blow over; official Israel and its supporters obviously were stonewalling the subject, it was just a few pain-in-the-ass leftists who kept harping on it; in another day or two they’d get tired.

But now this embarrassment has been shoved into the spotlight by none other than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. They’re doing what no national leader in his right mind would dare do: They’re snubbing Mandela’s memorial service  in Johannesburg.

Since Mandela’s funeral in his rural birthplace next Sunday is going to be a more intimate affair with no foreign VIPs invited, Tuesday’s memorial service, because of Mandela’s uniquely exalted stature, is going to be the most prestigious event since I don’t remember when.  Presumably every head of state in the world will be there – except Israel’s.

On Monday, Netanyahu announced he was going to Johannesburg with his wife Sara, then a few hours later he changed his mind, saying the expense was too high – nearly $2 million. This was a jaw-dropper coming from the guy who, with his wife, spend the public’s money on personal luxuries like no Israeli prime minister and wife every have; Bibi and Sara are Israel’s Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Besides, Israel is going to send somebody to the Mandela service, reportedly either Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein or Justice Minister Tzipi Livni; how much cheaper can it be to send one of them and their bodyguards instead of Bibi, Sara and theirs – especially if Sara were to stay...

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U.S. 'security plan': Another decisive cave-in to Netanyahu

Once again, the Obama administration hangs Abbas and the Palestinian Authority out to dry. 

Halfway through the scheduled nine-month Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, there’s been a break in the action, or rather the inaction: the Obama administration, once again, has sought to end the deadlock by backing Netanyahu’s illegitimate demands and hanging the Palestinians out to dry. Last Friday the Americans presented a “security plan” (“security” in the American lexicon means security for Israelis, not Palestinians) that calls for Israeli troops to remain in the Jordan Valley – in the West Bank, in a future Palestine, on the Palestinian side of their border with Jordan – as part of the peace treaty.

The Palestinian Authority hasn’t responded officially to the plan, but an unnamed Palestinian official was quoted saying it wasn’t acceptable because it would extend the occupation – Israeli control over Palestinian territory.

The plan also calls on a future Palestinian state to be denied the right to military weaponry beyond the needs of a police and anti-terror force, and gives control of a future Palestine’s borders to a joint Israeli-Palestinian team, possibly with Americans also involved, according to Haaretz.

Read +972′s full coverage of Kerry’s peace process

This is ridiculous. This is a security plan that comes at the cost of Palestinian independence and sovereignty. A country required to tolerate former enemy troops on its soil and at its border crossings, and that’s barred from having an army, is not an independent, sovereign state. Certainly not when it stands next door to the regional military superpower that’s been subjugating it for a half-century. Imagine what Israel would say to a security plan that left it without an army, with Palestinian troops sharing authority with the IDF at the border crossings into Israel, and with Palestinian troops on the Israeli side of the Israeli-Jordanian border.

That’s what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry just proposed to the Palestinians – Kerry, that true believer in the “two-state solution.”

The security plan is what Netanyahu has been waiting for. Since the talks with the Palestinians started in August, there has been no movement at all; the Palestinians, whose position remains where it left off in the abortive 2007-2008 Annapolis talks, are waiting for Netanyahu to present his “map” of where Israel should end and Palestine begin, which he hasn’t done, insisting all along that he needs security guarantees first. And...

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Seeing Mandela's miracle: A trip from Israel to South Africa

This piece was originally published as ‘Coming home from the land of miracles’ in the Jerusalem Post, April 11, 2007, after a family trip I took to South Africa. I think it says something about the difference between that country and Israel, and is also a description of the new society that Mandela and his comrades wrought.

I was watching my seven-year-old boy and some black kids chasing each other around a jumping castle at a family restaurant in Johannesburg, a sight that could not have been seen a generation ago. After the joy of it passed, I got a little wistful. What were the chances, I thought, of my son running around a jumping castle with a bunch of Arab kids in Israel – and so freely, so unself-consciously, with their Jewish and Arab parents sitting around hardly paying attention, treating it  just as normal Israeli kid behavior?

I don’t know of a restaurant, or park, or any public place in this country where that could happen. The way I saw blacks and whites mingling easily during my vacation in South Africa – or at least middle-class blacks and whites – was something I don’t think I’ll ever see between Jews and Arabs over here. Frankly, I wouldn’t bet that my seven-year-old son will ever see it, either.

And maybe the worst part is that I don’t think most Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs are bothered by this. Some definitely are, but most Jews and Arabs here do not want to mix with the “other kind,” unless it’s to sell them something. The Arabs would like equality, of course, but otherwise the majority of them seem as agreeable with the separatist, segregationist, mutually hostile Israeli status quo as a majority of Jews are.

My wife is from South Africa, and I’ve been there several times since my first visit a few months after Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, which spelled the beginning of the end of apartheid. Over the years, I saw Johannesburg shopping malls fill with black and white customers being served by black and white clerks, everyone sauntering around each other, standing in line together, smiling politely, without a hint of tension in the air. It was like apartheid had never existed. Once I ran into a Jewish school principal I’d met and mentioned...

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Under the radar: Israel's security establishment supports new Iran agreement

The Israeli brass’ stated view of the Geneva talks and Sunday’s accord is plainly at odds with the loud, sustained ‘gevalt!’ coming from the Prime Minister’s Office and cabinet.

The news from Israel is that Israel hates the Iranian nuclear deal struck in Geneva – but the news is not entirely accurate. It’s true, of course, that Netanyahu and his government ministers (with the exception of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni) think the agreement is bad, very bad, very very bad, and that Obama and the West sold the Jews out to Hitler again. But there are some other extremely powerful Israelis who don’t think the agreement is so bad, and who certainly prefer it to the no-agreement that Bibi and AIPAC were driving toward – and these Israelis make up the country’s military-intelligence establishment.

It shouldn’t be a big surprise; these are the same people who, with an assist from President Shimon Peres and the Israeli media, stopped Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak from bombing Iran like they wanted to last year. Israel’s generals don’t relish going head-to-head with the United States, they don’t live on paranoia, apocalyptic visions and scare-mongering, and right there you have enough to understand why they don’t go along with Netanyahu on Iran. The Israeli brass are certainly not peaceniks. They’re not sanguine at all about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. They are not opposed in principle to bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities – in fact, like with most Israelis, their preferred solution is for the U.S. to bomb them. But unlike Netanyahu and the right, they don’t automatically see red when they look at Iran, and they don’t delude themselves that the West can force Iran to surrender outright, to give up its nuclear program, at the negotiating table, which is what Netanyahu has been demanding all along.

Unlike the prime minister and his followers, the Israeli military-intelligence establishment are a sober bunch, they deal in possibilities, and they are not denouncing this agreement or the negotiations that preceded it. Instead, their message has been that an agreement which slows down but does not dismantle Iran’s nuclear project is far preferable to the alternative – which is not, as Bibi would have it, more Iranian concessions, but rather Iran’s departure from the negotiations and no Iranian concessions.

Unfortunately, this dissent on the part of the brass is not coming...

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Who needs anti-Semites when we've got Bibi?

This time it’s true: Israel really is trying to manipulate the U.S. into going to war.   

Who can disagree any longer that Israel is out to push America into war – and is putting on quite a show of it, too? The Obama administration is trying to neutralize Iran’s nuclear program diplomatically, and Bibi Netanyahu and the Israel lobby are the unquestioned, highest-possible-profile leaders of the campaign to stop them. Netanyahu is all over TV around the world, beating the drum against this “very, very bad deal” being put together in the Geneva talks, which resume Wednesday. His American-accented emissary Naftali Bennett is walking the halls of Congress, right in the White House’s face, lobbying senators and congress members to crank up the sanctions on Iran. Meanwhile, AIPAC and the rest of the Israel lobby, of course, are blasting away with the same theme.

America, together with Russia, China, Britain, Germany (but evidently not France), are trying to make peace with Iran, which is a pretty important, fairly historic mission  – and Israel is out in front trying to torpedo it. After warning that the failure of the Geneva talks “could … become a pathway to war,” a recent New York Times editorial concluded:

[I]f talks fail now, Mr. Netanyahu and the hard-line interest groups will own the failure, and the rest of us will pay the price.

Food for thought, no?  

But Netanyahu isn’t saying he wants the talks to fail or, God forbid, for America to start a war by bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. No, he wants to prevent that – by intensifying sanctions and forcing Iran to agree to tear down its nuclear project completely and let inspectors inspect where they please. That’s reasonable, isn’t it? This is how an Obama administration official summed up Netanyahu’s strategy to the New York Times this week:

Mr. Netanyahu “will be satisfied with nothing less than the dismantlement of every scrap of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure,” one administration strategist said the other day. “We’d love that, too — but there’s no way that’s going to happen at this point in the negotiation.”

Netanyahu’s idea of diplomacy with the Iranians is to present them with terms of surrender – to agree that they have no right to build anything connected...

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