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Israel to indefinitely imprison asylum seekers who refuse deportation

In a move unprecedented in Western countries, Israel’s outgoing interior minister announces plan to compel asylum seekers to leave the country. Israel’s High Court has repeatedly struck down laws that authorized the indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea will face deportation to third countries or face unlimited imprisonment in Israel under a new Interior Ministry policy set to be implemented in the coming days. Israel will provide asylum seekers 30 days notice, at the end of which, if one refuses to leave, they will face indefinite detention, according to a statement released by the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority on Tuesday.

The two countries are said to be Rwanda and Uganda, though Israel has not divulged the information. Up until now, Israel has exerted pressure on asylum seekers to leave by holding them in the Holot detention facility and offering them cash to leave, either back to their home country or a third country. But it always required their written consent. The new policy would be entirely coercive: either they leave, or face indefinite imprisonment.

Six NGOs, among them the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Amnesty International and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, slammed the move as illegal, dangerous and yet expected.

“The initiative of the Ministry of Interior exposes what we’ve all known [...] – there is no such thing as ‘voluntary departure.’ The decision of the minister of interior and attorney general removes the disguises the State employed before and makes it clear that Israel will work to deport asylum seekers in any way possible, including illegal ones,” the organizations said in a statement.

According to a report in Haaretz on Tuesday, there is no precedent in the Western world for this type of deportation of asylum seekers to third countries. Israel is a signatory of the UNHCR 1951 Refugee Convention, which forbids compelling asylum seekers to leave a country with the threat of imprisonment.

Outgoing Interior Minister Gilad Erdan said the move will “encourage infiltrators to leave the borders of the state of Israel in an honorable and safe way.” Human rights groups, however, say Rwanda and Uganda are not safe countries for asylum seekers leaving Israel, and that they have no legal status or protection once arriving, ultimately resulting in them leaving for yet another country.

It was not clear if the new measure would be implemented before...

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WATCH: Masked settlers throw stones at Israeli activists

Incident comes one week after six-year-old girl was wounded by stone-throwing in the exact same location.

Settlers from the illegal outpost Havat Maon in the southern West Bank hurled rocks at a group of Israeli activists on Saturday, just one week after a six-year old Palestinian girl was attacked and wounded in her head in the exact same place.

Three settlers, who appear to be quite young, used slingshots to hurl stones at the group of activists. No one was hurt in the incident.

In the video, you can hear Guy, a documentarian of the occupation and veteran activist from Ta’ayush, a Jewish-Palestinian activist group that hold weekly nonviolent activists in the occupied West Bank, calling the police to come quickly. They arrived within 10 minutes, he told +972, but didn’t make a genuine effort to find the assailants.

“This is especially troubling because of how often it has been occurring, over and over. The girl who was hurt here just last week — her father was stabbed here exactly four years ago. There have been dozens of violent incidents like this, all from Havat Maon,” says Guy. This time, he added, the police appear to be taking a more active role in investigating the incident, likely due to media coverage.

The Mount Hebron Regional Council told Israeli news site Walla! that they do not know the identity of the settlers and are against violence, but added that “Ta’ayush anarchists come every week with Palestinians to the area to stir provocations,” that they are “funded by foreign governments” and “intentionally edit videos to make the residents [settlers] look bad in the foreign press.”

Ta’ayush activists has been documenting violence from the Havat Maon outpost for over a decade.

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Israelis elected a non-democracy

Obama must understand that these elections were more than just a referendum on Netanyahu — they were a referendum on Israel’s character, and Israelis did not vote for democratic ideals.

Many on the center-left in Israel are still trying to wrap their head around Netanyahu’s victory. They simply cannot grasp that most Israelis really want another right-wing government led by Netanyahu. In Tel Aviv and Haifa, the only two of Israel’s 10 largest cities where the Zionist Union got more votes than the Likud, some people seem to be rationalizing the victory with the anti-Arab, fear-mongering campaign Bibi led in the final days of the campaign.

The argument is that people were so perturbed by his apocalyptic warnings that lefties and Arabs would take over the Knesset that they decided to to vote for him at the last minute. Another version of the same rationale is that they were so angered by what Netanyahu called the foreign funded, left-wing backed hate campaign against him by the media and left-wing NGOs that some decided to vote for Netanyahu as — get this — a protest vote against the anti-Bibi propaganda.

I don’t buy either version. Those who voted for Netanyahu did so because they firmly believe in continuing the status quo that existed before him and that he has entrenched for the last six years. Whether or not they were vacillating between different parties on the Right, the bottom line is that the majority of Jewish Israelis chose to elect parties that share the vision of Greater Israel, religious nationalism, racism and intolerance of internal dissent.

To put it succinctly, Israelis chose to elect an undemocratic leadership, within a system that is democratically impaired to begin with. As MK Ahmed Tibi famously said, Israel is a democracy for Jews and Jewish for Arabs. In the aftermath of this election, it is clear that most Jewish Israelis are not only perfectly fine with that, but even within the confines of Jewish democracy, they do not mind state-sponsored incitement against other Jews (the “Left”) who don’t agree with the party line.

Palestinian citizens on the other hand, turned out in high numbers to vote for the Joint List, who ran on a platform of full democracy and equality, as well as the recognition of Palestinians as a national minority. However, only 7,000 Jews voted for them. In...

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How the Joint List has already made history in Israel

No matter what happens on election day, or what kind of coalition is formed afterwards, the Joint List’s very existence has already changed the face of Israeli history.

The fact that the Joint List is likely to be the third largest slate in the next Knesset means they cannot be ignored. All the Israeli papers, analysts and news broadcasters are suddenly forced to relate to “the Arabs” — the 20 percent of the population that are normally out of sight and mind when Israelis goes to the polls.

It was both groundbreaking and satisfying to see Joint List chair Ayman Odeh’s face alongside those of Netanyahu, Bennett, Herzog and Liberman on the Friday evening news. It may not seem like a big deal, but this alone is a game changer.

The very fact that mainstream Israel is forced to look at and hear an Arab politician on “their” television channel is unprecedented, and a much-deserved slap in the face to all the right-wing party leaders who have at best ignored and at worst directly incited against Palestinian citizens of this country. Never mind the fact that almost all the media outlets refer to the Joint List incorrectly as “the United Arab List,” the “Joint Arabs List” or just “the Arabs.” In truth, the very fact that they must now mention them at all is significant.

As Odeh pointed out in several recent interviews, his constituents are a natural and integral part of the Israeli landscape. In many of the interviews I have seen, the hosts have asked him a variation of, “What is it like to go from being anonymous to the leader of the third most popular slate overnight?” Odeh always answers that he is in fact very well known on the Arab street, as he has been active in politics for the past decade.

As far as I can recall, this is the first time Palestinian citizens of Israel have a presence in the election cycle and thus a presence in the Israeli discourse. Regardless of how many seats they end up getting or their role in the upcoming government — this is already revolutionary.

One example of how the Joint List seems to be pushing Palestinian citizens to vote is a video by Tamer Nafar from the Palestinian hip hop group DAM, in which he repeatedly says, “I’ve never voted before in my life,” but...

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We're not stuck with Palestinians, we're stuck in our own fear

A group of ex-generals is warning Israelis that another Netanyahu-Bennett government will mean being stuck with the Palestinians forever. But no matter what happens, Israelis and Palestinians will always be stuck with each other.

“With Bibi-Bennett, we’ll be stuck with the Palestinians forever.” I noticed a billboard carrying that slogan the other day and was immediately appalled. It is among the most offensive and racist I’ve seen in this campaign — and there is no lack of competition in that department. (i.e., Lieberman just added to his “death penalty for terrorists” slogan a suggested policy of beheading Palestinian citizens of Israel who support terror.)

At first I thought it was an election campaign poster, maybe by the Zionist Camp. But it is in fact sponsored by an obscure group of former army generals, self-proclaimed “experts in national security” who call themselves the “Peace and Security Association,” one of many ad-hoc groups popping up lately to campaign against Netanyahu. Their years of professional experience, it appears, qualifies and drives them to campaign on hatred and disgust for the Palestinians — which makes them no different than Bennett, Netanyahu, Liberman and others.

But the Palestinians are human beings, not objects you are “stuck” with. And if anyone is stuck, it is the Palestinians — “stuck” with Israel’s occupation for nearly half a century. It is hard to articulate in words just how insulting it is for a group of privileged members of Israel’s version of the military industrial complex to address an entire national group over which it has total control in such a way — and in the name of peace, no less. Think about what it is like for Palestinians citizens of this country to walk past these sign.

And I have news for the “Peace and Security Association”: no matter what happens, Israelis and Palestinians will always be “stuck” with one another. One state or two states, whatever the constellation, Israelis and Palestinians will have to find a way to live together and cooperate — economically, socially, politically, on every level.

So telling Israelis that by unseating Netanyahu they can avoid being stuck with Palestinians is not only offensive, it’s inaccurate and misleading. It is the same misguided thinking that inspired the Labor camp to negotiate and sign the Oslo accords: the idea that it is somehow possible to give the Palestinians a little money and some semblance...

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WATCH: Rightists attack Palestinian MK Zoabi and staffer at panel

Palestinian Knesset member Haneen Zoabi and her media adviser and acting Joint Arab List spokesperson Emilie Moatti were attacked by rightists Tuesday during a panel at the Ramat Gan College of Law and Business. The attackers were identified with extreme right-wing settler Baruch Marzel, who is running with Eli Yishai’s Yachad party.

The assailants violently interrupted the panel Zoabi was speaking on, before physically getting on the stage and pouring cola on her head. Moatti was reportedly hit in the head with a flagpole outside the building while Zoabi’s staff members attempted to evacuate the MK. Moatti was taken to the emergency room at Ichilov and reportedly suffered a light concussion.

The attack came just hours after Marzel published a status on his Facebook page, which read, “Zoabi, I’m coming for you,” and included details of the event, calling on his supporters to attend. After the attack, Marzel boasted on Facebook that he had managed, as promised, to prevent her from speaking at the panel, which focused on the status of women in Israeli society and was attended by several female Knesset members from across the political spectrum. Marzel has been campaigning with the slogan, “I will wipe Zoabi’s smile off her face.”

The police were notified about the threats, yet did not send anyone to secure the event. “The racist and violent attack by right-wing party activists on Zoabi and her staff illustrates the right’s approach and is a direct continuation of its incitement and effort to exclude Arab representatives from the Knesset,” the Joint Arab List said in a statement following the attack.

Related:
No parity between Zoabi’s democracy and Kahane’s racism
The road to a fourth Netanyahu gov’t runs through Haneen Zoabi

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WATCH: Soldiers taunt, set dogs on Palestinian teen

Israeli army decries video showing soldiers taunting and setting dogs on Palestinian, despite it being IDF policy.

A leaked video showing a 16-year old Palestinian being attacked by two canines, while being held by two IDF soldiers, was posted on Facebook on Monday by former Knesset member and far-rightist Michael Ben-Ari (who later removed it). It quickly spread around the web and made headlines in Israel.

WARNING: Footage may be disturbing to some

The incident itself took place last December 23 in between the Karmei Tzur settlement and Beit Ummar, a Palestinian village in the southern West Bank. The video — considered classified material not meant for public consumption — was filmed by a soldier, who can be heard saying “Who’s the coward now?” and egging the dogs on by saying “Bite him.” The IDF issued a statement to the press today that this is a highly irregular incident that should not occur, and that an investigation will be opened, after which the necessary steps will be taken.

But according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which reported on this incident when it happened, the IDF has a policy of using canines to arrest Palestinians — a method the organization has consistently demanded the IDF cease. Therefore, the army’s dismayed response contradicts its regular arrest procedure, likely directed by orders from above. B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli told +972 that while it is indeed awful to see a dog sink its teeth into a human being, the video doesn’t show anything irregular by IDF standards. It appears to show the moment when soldiers try to pull the dogs off the youth in order to arrest him for throwing stones. According to Michaeli, the issue is not with the soldier who egged on the dogs, but rather with the policy as a whole.

It is unclear why Ben-Ari chose to post the video, since it only makes the IDF look bad. However, it is ironic that thanks to him, Israeli viewers have a chance to see this cruel method in action.


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PHOTO: Settlers build Star of David on Palestinian land

Settlers built a Star of David made out of rocks on private Palestinian lands in the village of Shweika in the South Hebron Hills on Saturday. The settlers, who live in the illegal outpost Eshtamoa near the village, built the Star of David in order to obstruct Palestinian residents’ sheep from grazing, and as a crude way of marking territory.

The army prohibits Israelis from entering the valley below the outpost since it is recognized as private Palestinian land. Therefore, the fact that they were able to build this giant Star of David indicates that the IDF is clearly not enforcing the order.

Last year, settlers from this outpost badly assaulted a Israeli Ta’ayush activist in this same spot.

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Stop giving Netanyahu publicity

The best way to object to Netanyahu, his Congress speech and his policies, is to ignore him.

Since the Netanyahu Congress speech episode began last month, the press, and specifically foreign press, has been flooded with items on the Israeli prime minister. Not a day has gone by without a headline about Netanyahu’s lavish spending, incompetence regarding the housing crisis, his assault on media and academics, and of course his incitement against centrist political rivals.

Netanyahu has redefined the phrase, “bad publicity is good publicity,” since none of this appears to be hurting Netanyahu in the least at home. As Gershom Gorenberg previously wrote,”I’ve come to realize that the focus on him is a strategic success for the prime minister’s election campaign. It distracts voters’ attention from minor questions such as the Palestinians, peace, housing prices, and poverty.” Attacking Netanyahu hasn’t helped either, which Herzog and Livni’s Zionist Camp has learned. And this is why, for example, Israeli news site Ynet (whose owner, Noni Mozes, is anti-Netanyahu) has decided to make the high cost of living and labor disputes the top headline every day for the past few weeks — rather than explicitly attack the prime minister.

It also has yet to be seen how this position hurts him vis-a-vis diplomacy with the U.S. Sure, Democrats have condemned the planned speech, while others have gone as far as to boycott it, and yes, it will be great to see the room half empty when he gives his speech. But I am talking about real consequences, such as economic pressure that could force the Israeli leader to change his policies. Until that happens, Netanyahu will continue to act with impunity, going so far as to turn down a closed-door meeting with Democrats, which he called “partisan. Remember, this is coming from the prime minister who is blatantly identified with the Republican Party, and who openly supported Mitt Romney in the last U.S. presidential election.

J Street, the DC-based liberal Zionist lobby group that supports postponing the speech until after the elections, published a large ad Thursday morning in the New York Times condemning the planned speech. The ad, along with their “Bibi doesn’t speak for me” petition, both included a large photo of the the prime minister. Why give the man more publicity? Why make it about him when we should be talking about the issues? This...

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Netanyahu is not Ben-Gurion, and 2015 is not 1948

The Israeli prime minister is not using his Congress speech to gain votes in this election, rather, he is using his election campaign to gain favor for the Congress speech and serve his megalomaniac vision of being the savior of Jews worldwide.

Netanyahu’s recent campaign video, released Saturday night, has nothing to do with the Israeli election and certainly does not target the Israeli voter. It is intended for U.S. President Barack Obama, the White House, American Jews and more broadly, U.S. Democrats.

The video compares David Ben-Gurion’s decision to declare independence in 1948 over the objections of then U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall, with Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress, behind the backs of Obama and Kerry amid the deeper rift with the White House and State Department.

“Would we be here today if Ben-Gurion hadn’t done the right thing?” the video asks, implying that if the first prime minister of Israel hadn’t stood up to the U.S. there would be no Jewish state. This perfectly serves Netanyahu’s message that any deal with Iran is an existential threat to Israel — on par with the very establishment of the country.

Netanyahu posted the video on his Facebook page along with the message: “Congress is the only place where a bad deal can be stopped. It is the right and essential thing to do to safeguard Israel’s security and existence.”

However, most Israelis don’t really care about the speech in Washington, and it most likely won’t affect Netanyahu’s votes. Likud voters aren’t going to turn away from the party and I’d even wager that most rightists admire Netanyahu for standing up to Obama. On the other hand, the Israelis who are concerned about the deepening conflict with the U.S. already disagree with Netanyahu’s approach to diplomacy, which has increasingly isolated Israel.

Netanyahu knows this. This latest clip isn’t an election campaign video. It is a foreign policy stunt aimed at softening the backlash from Washington, American Jews and Democrats alike. It is an attempt to regain bipartisanship on the Iran issue by reminding people that Israel is an unstable country that has to go it alone against all odds. Presumably, Netanyahu hopes he can score some points among liberal Americans who associate Ben-Gurion with the Israel they knew and love — the Israel that was respectful of its allies.

It is also worth noting that the comparison...

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Joint Arab List launches Hebrew campaign: 'My answer to racism'

Jewish Israelis who value equality and want a ‘sane’ country should support the Arab-dominated list, says member Masud Ganaim at Tel Aviv launch event.

The Arab Joint List launched its Hebrew-language campaign in central Tel Aviv Wednesday evening and unveiled its slogan: “My answer to racism.” Displayed behind the chairmen of the four parties on the list, the phrase was set against a photo of graffiti reading, “Arabs out,” the scene of one of many anti-Arab hate crimes that have become commonplace in recent years.

Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Arab-Jewish Hadash party and the head of the joint slate, comprised of three Arab parties and Hadash party, spoke along with Masud Ganaim of Ra’am, Jamal Zahalka of Balad and Ahmed Tibi of Ta’al.

Odeh presented the Joint List’s platform as one advancing equality, social justice and national justice, but said that main element of the platform is national rights for Arabs.

“We deserve civil and national equality,” Odeh said. “We have heard a lot about social justice. We have been fighting for it for decades.”

The newly elected Hadash chairman said that even though not every Israeli will vote for them, the list represents everyone and is reaching out to the weak sectors of society, including Mizrahi Jews and Ethiopians. Narrowing the gaps between Arabs and Jews and encouraging the employment of Arab women is a top priority, he added.

Odeh also addressed the wider political landscape, lamenting that in Israeli society that those who support the Jewish nation state bill are considered the mainstream, while people who are pro-Democracy are considered radical. “One state for all Jews is considered centrist, while one state for all citizens is considered radical.”

Ganaim said they the Joint List is being portrayed as anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, but that any Jewish citizen who values equality and pluralism and who wants a “sane” country should support them. “We want the Hebrew public to hear us. We want to give a calming message.”

Tibi explicitly said that an end to the occupation is one of the party’s main issues.

All four men expressed confidence that the party will garner 15 mandates, noting that if voter turnout in the Arab sector is at least as high as Jewish turnout (67 percent in the last election), then they are guaranteed 15 Knesset seats. Most polls have the List at 12 or 13 seats currently.

MK Haneen Zoabi, who is a...

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Why Democrats must stand up to Netanyahu

With more and more people on both sides of the aisle pushing back against Netanyahu’s planned speech, the Obama administration — through congressional Democrats — has an opportunity to reinforce its Iran policy without any pushback from the Israel Lobby.

The pushback against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s scheduled address to a joint session of Congress on March 3 just keeps snowballing. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden confirmed Friday that he will not be attending. That is a big deal considering his historically strong support for Israel and that since 2009 he has only missed one joint session of Congress. In addition, three senior Democratic congresspeople have announced they will be absent, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has indicated that other Democrats may not attend. Pelosi herself reportedly said that she “hope[s] the event will not take place.

Within the American Jewish community, Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman on Friday explicitly called on Netanyahu to cancel his speech. Foxman’s statement is noteworthy because it goes even farther than the position of more progressive J Street, which has only called for Netanyahu to postpone the speech until after Israeli elections two weeks later. (AIPAC, expectedly, is encouraging everyone in Congress to attend the speech.)

Considering all the backlash, which has also come from many conservatives, some are now speculating as to whether Netanyahu might find some excuse to cancel the contentious appearance in Washington. The prime minister and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer have certainly not made any indications in that direction, although Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi on Friday did tell the press that Netanyahu was apparently misled by Boehner into thinking the invitation had bipartisan support.

I am not interested in predicting whether Netanyahu will change his plans. But if the Democrats are unable to rally together behind an unequivocal demand for at least delaying the speech, if not canceling it, then this story will go down in the history of U.S.-Israel relations as unusually illustrative of the problematically dominant role Israel plays in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy.

What is unique about this incident is the circumstantial ease with which Democrats could come out against the speech without being smeared as anti-Israel. Netanyahu’s plan is in many ways unprecedented.

James Fallow writes in The Atlantic:

Many people may not be surprised because they have become...

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Devoid of issues, elections devolve into clash of personalities

Instead of discussing increasing violence against civilians, border skirmishes and the assassination of an Iranian general, Israeli politicians are busy putting out tasteless and tactless campaign videos attacking each other with name-calling.

It’s not just the occupation and Israel’s violation of basic rights that are missing from this election season, but any reference at all to the daily violence that has become such a routine feature in the country.

In the last 10 days alone, two Israeli citizens from the Bedouin city of Rahat were killed by police, 77 Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank – many of them children –  were made homeless due to Israeli home demolitions, a nine-year old Palestinian from East Jerusalem was arrested by undercover Israeli police, and 12 Israelis were stabbed on a public bus in central Tel Aviv.

And this doesn’t even include the latest news from Tuesday, when two rockets fired from Syria exploded in the Golan Heights, nine days after an Israeli helicopter strike on the Syrian city of Quneitra killed five, including a Hezbollah commander and an Iranian general.

That is a lot of violence, and these are just the more prominent incidents of recent days.

You wouldn’t know that any of this was happening by watching Israel’s election campaign, now in full swing. Most of the Jewish, Zionist parties vying for Knesset seats have not mentioned these incidents at all, and for those that have, it hasn’t become part of their campaign in any way. Sure, words like “security” and “strength” are thrown around, but they are entirely devoid of content. Everyone wants security; the question is how it can be achieved. The only mention of some of the recent violence came from Israeli Arab politicians, who said that the situation in Rahat was another determining factor in the push to create a joint list of Arab parties.

Instead of discussing the violence and offering concrete proposals for coping with it, Israeli politicians are busy putting out shoddy, tasteless and tactless campaign videos, like the one below released yesterday by the Labor party. The content of the video is based solely on the fact that Isaac Herzog’s nickname, “Buji,” sounds like the word boogie from the 1977 popular song, “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie.” That’s the only reason it was made. In the video, Herzog is called a “mega-nerd” devoid of “muscles,” but is also described...

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

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