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UN: 75,000 Palestinians in Gaza still displaced from 2014 war

Only 16 percent of destroyed or severely damaged households have been made habitable, a new UN survey finds.

Some 75,000 Palestinians, including an estimated 44,000 children, remain internally displaced in the Gaza Strip almost two years after the devastating war with Israel that killed over 2,000 people, according to a United Nations survey of the situation published Tuesday.

An estimated 18,000 housing units (16,965 households) in Gaza were either destroyed or severely damaged during the war. Only 3,000 of those housing units, or 16 percent, have since been rebuilt or otherwise rendered habitable, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Of the internally displaced households that owned their original residences, 62 percent are living in rented accommodations today. Do to the severe housing shortage, however, what people report as rented accommodations often include “store rooms, unfinished units, substandard apartments in relatives’ or neighbors’ buildings, or with extended families,” the UN report states.

Another nearly quarter (23 percent) of those whom the OCHA survey considered internally displaced are living “in the rubble of their damaged homes.” Sixty-three percent of internally displaced households have not yet started repairing their damaged homes, and of those that did start, 61 percent were doing so with humanitarian grants and assistance.

Internally displaced Gazans are forced to deal with economic, food and housing insecurity, according to the survey, which found that 70 percent rely on humanitarian assistance for survival, and 87 percent had purchased food on credit in the past year. Fifty percent of internally displaced households said they fear being forced to leave their current places of residence.

The OCHA report and other UN officials made sure to note, however, that just rebuilding the destroyed homes is not enough.

“We must secure peace and focus on building Gaza for the future,” UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council earlier this year. “This means providing clean water and sufficient energy, creating jobs and a sustainable economy, restoring free movement for people and goods and, above all, ensuring integration between the West Bank and Gaza under a single democratic and legitimate Palestinian Authority.”

The OCHA report provided three prescriptions for moving forward: 1) Removing restrictions on importing building materials toward a full lifting of the blockade; 2) Reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas in order to enable effective governance in Gaza;...

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IDF admits discriminating against Palestinians in home demolitions

Senior army officer testifies to Knesset committee that building enforcement is ‘far more severe against Palestinians’ than Jews. There are over 11,000 Israeli demolition orders pending against Palestinian-owned structures.

The Israeli army demolishes Palestinian homes in the West Bank at disproportionately higher rates than it demolishes Jewish settler homes, a senior Israeli army officer told a Knesset sub-committee on Wednesday. The admission demonstrates yet another way in which Jews and Palestinians are held to different legal standards, and often different legal systems in West Bank.

“Our enforcement against Palestinians is hundreds of percentage points higher [than against Jews],” Maj.-Gen. Yoav ‘Poli’ Mordechai told the Knesset Sub-Committee for Judea and Samaria (West Bank) Affairs.

Mordechai, who serves as the IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a position that is effectively the military governor of the West Bank, was addressing a perception by settlers that Israeli authorities single them out when it comes to enforcement against illegal building.

In January of this year U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said that, “at times there seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians.” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the time called Shapiro’s remarks “unacceptable and incorrect.”

And yet back at the Knesset sub-committee on Wednesday, Mordechai reiterated that, “enforcement is not only equal, it is far more severe against Palestinians in recent years,” carefully placing responsibility for the discriminatory policies on the Israeli political echelon.

“The officers in the IDF’s West Bank legal advisor’s unit act according to the directives of the generals, who act according to the directives of the Chief of General Staff, who acts according to the directives of the defense minister,” Mordechai said.

The COGAT head went on to explain why he would not give exact figures about how many Jewish versus Palestinian homes the army demolishes.

“Because it affects foreign policy we decided, and I think it is the right decision, to only present those numbers in a closed forum,” he said at the sub-committee meeting.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is currently conducting a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine. Settlements and home demolitions are known to be a part of the prosecutor’s examination, which might help explain why the Israeli army is disinclined to release exact figures about the discriminatory nature of home demolitions in the occupied...

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The fiction of autonomy in Ramallah is making the occupation stronger

A nearly averted shootout outside Abbas’s house in Ramallah has led to renewed talks about restoring Palestinian autonomy in parts of the West Bank. But outside the framework of a peace process, such steps only help the occupation endure.

Israeli and Palestinian security forces came dangerously close to a direct, armed confrontation in late December 2015. An Israeli army unit was on a routine nighttime incursion into Ramallah, deep into Palestinian-controlled territory, when it found itself face to face with armed members of the American-trained Palestinian Presidential Guard.

Either the Israeli military’s mapping software didn’t include the security cordon around Mahmoud Abbas’s official residence, or the officer responsible for planning the mission that night thought the Presidential Guard would simply stand aside and let them drive right up to the Palestinian president’s home, or right by it — it doesn’t really matter.

The Presidential Guard troops did not stand down. They refused to let the Israeli army arrest squad enter the sterile space surrounding Abbas’s house, and after 15 very tense minutes, the Israeli troops turned eventually around. What could have been a serious crisis was closely averted, but the message, intentional or not, was clear.

“They ordered Abu Mazen’s guards to disappear,” PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said at the time to Defense News, which broke the story. “They were practically in his garden, approaching his house just to tell him ‘We’re here.’ As if he needs to be reminded. Personally, I don’t know why Abu Mazen is taking all of this. I honestly don’t know.”

Palestinian President Abbas confirmed that the incident happened in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 television last week.

The idea of Israeli troops closing in on the home of the PLO chairman and Palestinian president surely evoked memories of when Israel sent tanks to put Yasser Arafat under siege at his presidential compound, the Muqata’a, at the height of the Second Intifada. That incursion, which came amid the most violent period in years, signaled an end to whatever dreams of Palestinian autonomy the Oslo Accords had promised.

Twenty-one years ago, Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization signed the Oslo II agreement, which divided the West Bank into three areas: A, B and C. Israel was to retain full administrative and security control in Area C, over 60 percent of the West Bank where most Israeli settlements are located. In Area B Israel...

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'Israeli maternity wards segregate Jewish, Arab mothers'

An investigative report finds that numerous Israeli hospitals are openly implementing segregation. But journalists have exposed the phenomenon for at least a decade and nobody seems willing to do anything about it.

Despite years of denials and regulators vowing to tackle the problem, a number of major Israeli hospitals continue to segregate Jewish and Arab mothers in maternity wards across the country, according to an investigation published Tuesday by public radio broadcaster Israel Radio.

In some hospitals the segregation is unofficial policy; in others it is implemented at the behest of patients.

The segment on Israel Radio included recorded conversations with three separate hospitals in which a Jewish reporter posed as an expectant mother shopping around for a maternity ward.

The reporter asked a maternity nurse in each hospital whether after giving birth she could avoid being placed in the same room as a non-Jewish (read: Palestinian) woman.

“That’s not a problem, we always do that,” answered a maternity nurse at the Mt. Scopus campus of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital.

Is that an official policy of the hospital? The reporter followed up.

“Of course,” the nurse responded. “Especially in the maternity ward… we always try to arrange separate rooms.”

Another hospital, Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, told the reporter that it couldn’t guarantee a segregated room but that the maternity staff always tries to keep Jews and Arabs separate. “We try not to mix,” even when patients don’t request it, a representative was recorded as saying.

Two hospitals, Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva and Rambam in Haifa, were found to not practice segregation in maternity wards.

Nothing new

The phenomenon of segregating Jewish and Palestinian women in Israeli hospitals is far from new, and it has been reported by major media outlets for at least the past decade.

A 2006 article in Haaretz highlighted the practice in two hospitals in northern Israel. One of the hospitals defended the policy at the time citing “differences in mentality” among Jewish and Palestinian patients.

Six years later, in 2012, the Ma’ariv daily newspaper did an undercover investigation in which it found identical results at some of the exact same hospitals that Israel Radio exposed as implementing segregation. “We try to not put Arabs in the same rooms [as Jewish women],” a Ma’ariv reporter was told in the maternity ward of Kfar Saba’s Meir Medical Center at the time.

All...

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The only way to ensure Palestinian lives matter

The IDF’s decision not to charge Abed Fatah al-Sharif’s killer with murder should not surprise anybody — it is entirely consistent with the impunity Israeli security personnel have enjoyed for decades when it comes to killing Palestinians.

The Israeli army’s Military Advocate General on Thursday announced that it will not seek murder charges against a soldier who was videotaped executing Abed Fatah al-Sharif, an incapacitated, wounded Palestinian man suspected of stabbing a soldier in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron last week. (The soldier’s identity is widely known but cannot be published here due to a court-imposed gag order.)

The decision surprised some, although it is not quite clear why. To the best of my knowledge no Israeli soldier has ever been charged with murder for killing a Palestinian.

According to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, in the period between 2003 and 2013 (excluding 2010, for which the IDF refused to provide data, possibly because that data would cover the Mavi Marmara incident), military police opened criminal investigations into the killing of 179 Palestinians. Of those investigations, only 16 led to indictments. None of the indictments carried murder charges.

When Israeli soldiers are charged with illegally killing a Palestinian or a foreign national, the charges range from nominal lesser crimes like illegal, reckless or negligent use of a weapon, to more slightly-more-serious ones like negligent manslaughter or manslaughter.

Even the most egregious and seemingly clear-cut cases of intentional, unjustified killings of Palestinians — both by Israeli soldiers and Border Police officers — have resulted in minimal charges or none at all.

One case from 2010, which is breathtakingly similar to the execution of Abed Fatah al-Sharif, resulted in no charges at all. Border Police officer Maxim Vinogradov fatally shot Ziad Jilani, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, directly in the head at close range while the latter lay wounded in the middle of the street. No charges at all.

Just a day before the army announced that Abed Fatah al-Sharif’s killer will face manslaughter rather than murder charges, the IDF prosecutor announced it was closing its investigation into another high-profile, video-taped shooting death: the killing of Mohammed Abu Taher, an unarmed Palestinian teenager who was shot by a sharpshooter at a protest in 2014. The army concluded that Abu Taher was not hit by IDF fire.

A Border Police officer was charged with...

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Israel's Knesset just voted on a very dangerous law for democracy

The draft law, which passed the first of three votes on Monday, would allow the expulsion of Arab MKs from the Knesset. It is one of several recent steps by the Netanyahu government to limit Palestinian political participation.

Minutes before leaving for the spring recess Monday night, Israel’s Knesset passed the first reading of a law allowing legislators, with a three-quarters super-majority, to expel other members of Knesset for making statements they deem beyond the pale. The law is widely understood to have been drawn up to specifically target Arab-Palestinian members of the Knesset, particularly of one faction, a legislative move that represents a serious and worrying escalation of populist tactics normally brought out only in election seasons.

The bill, which is a proposed change to Israel’s equivalent of a constitutional amendment, will now go back to committee and must then pass a second and third vote becoming law. Since the election in which Benjamin Netanyahu re-assumed power in 2009 and through the progressively rightward leaning governments he has led ever since, Jewish Israeli politicians have attempted to disqualify or suspend Palestinian-Arab members of Knesset from the Balad faction at least half a dozen times.

The latest attempt, which resulted in the suspension of the party’s entire slate of MKs, was not enough it seems. On a separate track, it is now clear that the Supreme Court will continue to overturn populist maneuvers aimed at disqualifying candidates from running for office in the first place. So now the entire government, from the prime minister on down, is trying to craft a new, far more worrying tool to effectively expel lawmakers whose ideologies and views they find objectionable.

The bill advanced on Monday would permit a simple majority of 61 members of Knesset to initiate suspension proceedings against an MK for one of three offenses, including simply making a public statement to the effect of: negating the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; incitement to racism; and supporting an armed struggle against the State of Israel.

If the “Knesset Committee” finds the MK guilty of acting on or making statements that cross those red lines, it can refer the case back to the full Knesset where a 90-vote supermajority can suspend them indefinitely. If that happens, the “suspended” MK would lose their seat, which would be filled by the next person on the...

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The unravelling illusion of Palestinian autonomy

Palestinians have been told for decades that limited autonomy in the West Bank is just a stop along the road to sovereignty. But more than 20 years after Oslo failed to usher in independence, the illusion is unraveling — and fast.

The key to the arrangement that keeps Israel’s occupation of Palestinian feasible is the illusion of autonomy. Palestinians have their own government, their own security agencies and forces, consumer service providers, schools, and yes, autonomous areas.

But make no mistake, they are all illusions.

And every once in a while the benevolent occupiers push things a little too far. They decide to stop playing along with their own illusion, convincing themselves that the Palestinians, and the Palestinian Authority, are so invested in the comfort and stability they provide that they wouldn’t dare withdraw consent.

The thing with a bad illusion is that the audience needs to consent — it needs to practice some sort of willful suspension of disbelief. Sometimes that collaboration is based on explicit or implicit agreements; sometimes it is symbiosis. But when you rely on the audience for the stability of your rather precarious act, the charade is constantly at risk of collapsing.

The Israelis security apparatus has been very worried for the past six months or so that the gig is up — that sooner or later, Palestinian security forces are simply going to stop playing along with the illusion, that they will turn their weapons on Israel.

Israel relies on Palestinian security forces, loyal to PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, to protect its settlements and the entire structural integrity of the occupation from those Palestinians who do not want to play the game. According to the Oslo Accords, the interim contract that is supposed to regulate the entire production, Palestinians have autonomous areas — mostly known as “Area A.” Israel is supposed to say out of those areas, which basically comprise the major Palestinian cities in the West Bank.

But Israel doesn’t always play by the rules. In fact, it hasn’t played by the rules for a long, long time. During the Second Intifada, a time in which both sides abandoned their roles as dictated by the game plan, drawn up in the numbing cold of the Norwegian winter, the rule book went out the window. Israel decided, unilaterally, that its troops would have full freedom of movement and action wherever they wanted, even in...

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Latest boycott victories signify new momentum for BDS

That people are openly questioning whether policy changes by multinational corporations are the result of BDS is itself already a victory.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activists have had quite a bit to celebrate in recent months. High profile companies targeted by BDS like SodaStream, Orange, Veolia, and now Ahava and G4S have all moved out of Israeli West Bank settlements or out of the Israeli market altogether.

Of course, none of those companies, with the partial exception of SodaStream and Orange, will admit the changes have anything to do with the Palestinian-led movement trying to build international pressure on Israel to end the occupation and recognize various fundamental Palestinian rights.

And while BDS proponents and opponents will trade barbs arguing whether each case constitutes a victory or a “#BDSFail,” the fact that people are openly questioning whether policy changes by multinational corporations are the result of BDS is itself already a victory.

Ahava’s decision to move a few kilometers south of the Green Line will not save the dying Dead Sea, return Palestine’s plundered resources, or end the occupation. G4S’s decision to pull out of the Israeli state security market will not end Israel’s use of administrative detention or torture in the prisons the company once helped secure.

Veolia’s decision not to renew contracts in the settlements will not stop subsidized Jewish-only bus lines running throughout the West Bank nor will it make it any less convenient to be a settler. And SodaStream’s move into Israel proper did actually harm Palestinian workers, albeit only because the Israel government decided to retaliate against them by refusing to issue work permits.

What will change is that other companies will now think twice before bidding on contracts in Israel and the occupied territories, before trying to sell their products and services in Israel and the settlements, and yet others already here will see withdrawing from the Israeli market as more and more of a legitimate option.

People have often asked me whether BDS is working and my answers are often cynical. “Talk to me when HP and Intel pull out of Israel,” I would respond. But the truth of the matter is that although that day is still impossibly far off, it is the momentum built by smaller victories that make larger steps even imaginable.

The success of the boycott...

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Ethnic cleansing poll a dangerous sign for Israel

The vast majority of Jewish Israelis don’t want to give up their privilege. But nobody has the right to ‘democratically’ deny rights to another.

The most shocking piece of information to come out of a Pew Research Center survey of Israeli society published Tuesday is that nearly half of Jews in the country say they support the ethnic cleansing of Arabs. Forty-eight percent of Jewish respondents agreed/strongly agreed that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.”

Digging deeper into the data, however, that glimpse into the collective political mindset of half of Israel’s Jewish population becomes less and less surprising. Furthermore, the full set of data makes the prospect of Israel voluntarily ending the occupation and becoming a state of all its citizens appear more distant than ever.

The picture of the Jewish Israeli body politic drawn by the Pew survey seems to mirror the state of Israel’s politics, an indication that Israel’s system of government is more akin to a tyranny of the majority than democracy.

For instance, we learn from the survey that the vast majority of Israeli Jews (79 percent) think Israel should give preferential treatment to its Jewish citizens. A statistically identical number (76 percent), with some obvious dissonance, say they believe that democracy is compatible with a Jewish state. Democracy without full equality for all citizens, however, is only a democracy in name.

Another insight, which is possibly more troubling although not as sexy a headline, is that there is no viable political force or portion of Israeli society that opposes those illiberal currents which run straight to the core of Israel’s national identity — a system of government that academic Oren Yiftachel termed ethnocracy.

Where is the political opposition? Where are those political forces, those peace-seekers and civil rights crusaders who would fight for a better, more equal, liberal and democratic future? Where is the Left?

The Pew survey found that only 8 percent of Jewish Israelis today identify with the political Left — 92 percent with the Center and Right. Or in other words, there is no Left. Indeed, the only Zionist party that places itself on the political Left, Meretz, holds a mere five of 120 seats — 4 percent — in the country’s parliament, the Knesset. (There are non-Zionist parties that are often identified with the Israeli ideas ascribed to liberalism and the Left,...

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Tourist killed, over a dozen Israelis wounded in spate of attacks

In three attacks within a matter of hours, individual Palestinians carry out stabbing and shooting attacks in Tel Aviv, East Jerusalem and Petah Tikva. All three attackers are killed on the scene.

A Palestinian man stabbed 13 people, wounding 12 people and killing one, before being shot to death by Israeli police along the Jaffa waterfront Tuesday evening. The fatality was an American tourist, police said, and two of the other victims were “minorities,” official-speak for Arabs.

Two other attacks took place within a matter of hours elsewhere in Israel and East Jerusalem.

In the second attack, in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva, a Palestinian man stabbed an Israeli man in a liquor store. In that attack, the victim reportedly pulled the knife out of himself and, together with the store owner, proceeded to stab the attacker to death.

In a third attack, a Palestinian man shot two Israeli police officers in the head and neck along the seam line where East Jerusalem meets West Jerusalem. One of the officers was in critical condition, the other’s injuries were described as serious.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on Tuesday, although there was no evidence the attacks were meant to coincide with his visit. Police denied that there were any ties between the three attacks. All three attackers were killed at the scenes of the respective attacks.

Video from the Jaffa attack showed police officers training their guns on the suspect, wounded lying motionless on the ground, as bystanders urging the officers to shoot him in the head. One bystander can be heard telling them not to shoot.

For the past five months, since October 2015, individual Palestinians have carried out hundreds of stabbing and shooting attacks against Israeli security forces and civilians. The vast majority of the attacks have taken place beyond the Green Line — in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

This is the second high-profile, multiple-casualty attack in Tel Aviv since the start of the year. On New Year’s Day, a Palestinian citizen of Israel shot and killed three people on Dizengoff Street, an area known for retail stores and sidewalk cafes.

Since the spate of stabbing attacks began, Palestinians have argued that Israeli security forces were shooting to kill alleged and potential attackers even when they could have been safely apprehended, with many describing Israel’s policy as extra-judicial killing.

At...

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Report alleges abuse, torture at Shin Bet interrogation facility

A new report by B’Tselem and Hamoked includes testimonies of Palestinian detainees who were held in Israel’s ‘Shikma’ interrogation facility.

Human Rights organizations “Hamoked — Defence of the Individual” and B’Tselem on Wednesday published a report that draws on affidavits and statements from 116 Palestinians who spent time in the Shin Bet’s (Israel Security Agency) Shikma interrogation facility.

The Palestinians, all of whom were “security detainees” — which means they were suspected of political crimes or terrorism-related offenses as opposed to criminal suspicions — spent time at Shikma between August 2013 and March 2014.

Some of the testimonies describe Shin Bet methods of inflicting physical pain as part of interrogations. ‘Imad Abu Seriyeh, a 22-year-old handyman from the West Bank refugee camp of Nur Shams, near Tulkarem, described a special chair he was forced to sit in for hours:

Others, like T.A., whose full name is withheld, described being served uncooked, inedible food for weeks on end:

The report also details the use of solitary confinement as an interrogation technique. Ibrahim Msallam, a 30-year-old Palestinian man from the southern West Bank city of Yatta, describes how solitary broke him:

Torture is not legal in Israel, but a High Court ruling in 1999 sent a clear message to Shin Bet interrogators: the court said that if a Shin Bet agent decides in real time that torturing a terrorism suspect is necessary to stop an imminent attack, the necessity of stopping a “ticking bomb” becomes an adequate defense for having illegally used torture. That was all the Shin Bet needed — a narrow legal opening. (Note: there is no exception to the ban on torture under international law.)

The publicity surrounding cases involving Jewish terrorism suspects, however, gave us a window into just how far Israel’s security services, and the country’s justice system, have taken. Twisting that small opening intended as a tool for making impossible decisions in extraordinary circumstances, the Shin bet has turned it into an Israeli version of the Bush White House’s Torture Memos.

But even with the exception carved out by the country’s top court, the B’Tselem/Hamoked report suggest that authorities have even more ways to sidestep the formal ban on torture — outsourcing the practice to Palestinian intelligence agencies.

One-third of the Palestinian detainees interviewed for the report were arrested by Palestinian security forces prior to their arrest and interrogation by Israel’s...

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Meet the YouTube star taking the Jewish world by storm

Avi Schwartzberger just launched an outlandish, hilarious video series showing the most taboo sides of Israeli society through the lens of a Birthright alumn. A terrifyingly real interview with a not-quite-real person.

Ever since Peter Beinart first awoke North American Jewry to the increasingly pronounced dichotomy between Zionism and liberalism among young Jews, the discourse on Israel and Palestinian civil rights has become more nuanced and inclusive, paving the way for the rise of organizations like If Not Now, Open Hillel, and J Street.

But six years have since passed, and all that is about to change. Budding YouTube star Avi Schwartzberger, a self-described “Canadian Jewess who fell in love with Israel on Birthright,” is on a one-woman mission to return world Jewry’s relationship with Israel to the black-and-white, zero-sum paradigms of yesteryear.

“I wanted to make something viral to make all the haters shut up,” Schwartzberger told me in her first English language interview to be published since her new video series, “Avi Does the Holy Land,” took the Jewish world by storm.

In the first four episodes of what promises to be a biting satirical critique of Israeli society, Avi, whose too-bad-to-be-true persona seems to be throwing a good number of her viewers for a loop, transitions from a what-the-hell-is-going-on episode full of tips for future Birthright participants to more serious attempts at journalism. Take, for instance, the episode where she comes up with her own offensive solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade.

Oh yeah, and then there’s the episode where she interviews the man who stands for everything she stands against — Peter Beinart.

Asked to describe what the hell it is that she’s doing, Avi, who isn’t quite a real person, says: “think hard-hitting journalism with a sexy Zionist touch. I’m a cross between Oprah, Golda Meir, Fiddler on the Roof, and Bar Rafieli.” She’s also unabashedly racist, refuses to recognize the existence of the Palestinian people, and understands the nuances of Israeli society about as well as Benjamin Netanyahu understands Islam.

However, when Avi offered to give an interview to +972, I couldn’t resist. So with a healthy dose of willful suspension of disbelief, I sat down with Ms. Schwartzberger this week to discuss how she became the young woman she is today, what she hopes to accomplish...

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From Haifa to Beirut: '48 Palestinians challenge regional isolation

For Palestinian citizens of Israel, especially those from the Haifa area, Beirut holds near mythical stature. The two cities share near-identical Arabic dialects, cuisine and the cultural elements, and just a few decades ago traveling between them would have been a mere two-hour drive. Today that is almost unimaginable

That disconnection between the Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel, or “’48 Palestinians” as they are sometimes called, and the wider Arab world has been a source of pain and resentment ever since the borders slammed shut in 1948. The majority of Palestinians were locked outside, but over 1 million live in Israel today.

“Who gave anyone permission to separate us from our natural environment,” Maisan Hamdan poses to me when we meet in Haifa a few weeks after she made a rare, and seemingly impossible visit to Beirut. Hamdan, a 24-year-old activist against the conscription of Druze and others Arabs into the Israeli army, had been invited to take part in a series of workshops at the American University of Beirut.

And while the trip may seem impossible and unlikely to many, a small but growing number of Arab citizens of Israel have been quietly traveling to Lebanon in recent years — from journalists like Majd Kayyal to two contestants in the Arab Idol singing competition last year to academics and others.

Israeli citizens are forbidden from traveling to enemy states, Lebanon does not accept Israeli travel documents, and the vast majority of Palestinian citizens of Israel have only an Israeli passport. But, it turns out,’48 Palestinians who have an official invitation from a Lebanese institution can obtain a special travel document from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, which can then be used to visit Lebanon via Jordan. (All Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike can legally travel to Jordan and Egypt.)

Hamdan had been invited by the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship to speak about her activism in Urfud (“refuse” in Arabic) a movement that encourages and supports Druze citizens of Israel who refuse or resist mandatory conscription into the Israeli army.

We meet on a cold, quiet morning at a Palestinian-owned café in Haifa to talk about her still-fresh visit to Beirut, the city’s striking similarities to Haifa, how it’s different for a Jew and an Arab to refuse conscription into the Israeli army, and why recent stabbing attacks might be increasing the rate of refusal in...

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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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Illustrations: Eran Mendel