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'My best friend was Jewish': A young East Jerusalemite speaks

I teach writing at a Palestinian university in the West Bank. Several of my students have been gracious enough to share their experiences with +972, albeit anonymously. This is the final installment in the four-part series. 

With the other pieces, I’ve let the student speak first, only adding my comments at the end. But this excerpt points toward a surprising ideological issue that arose between my student and myself, so I feel the need to preface it.

During discussion in class one day, the subject of Israel’s renaming of destroyed Palestinian villages arose. This student felt frustrated with my insistence on using only Arabic place names and she took a position that proved unpopular with her peers: that both the Jews and Palestinians have historical and emotional connections to the land and that, accordingly, both the Hebrew and Arabic names should be used and respected.

Not only was I surprised by her stance, it also challenged me. My student seemed more comfortable and more at peace with Israel than I am. Our in-class discussion, as well as the essay she wrote shortly thereafter, opened many questions, and they’re questions I don’t have answers to.

Has my student, who grew up in East Jerusalem, been brainwashed by attending (Israeli-controlled) public schools? The difficult economic situation and the housing crisis there–both results of the occupation–forced my student and her family to leave East Jerusalem in 2009, two years before Israel took the step of outright censorship of Palestinian textbooks. However, as an employee of the Israeli school system tells me, Palestinian teachers who are openly critical of Israel risk losing their jobs. Hatim Kanaaneh does a nice job of giving a firsthand account of this in his memoir A Doctor in the Galilee. He also describes how those who march in line with Israeli ideology might find themselves rewarded.

So is my student just repeating what she learned in a school system that strips her of her Palestinian identity? Or are her views the result of being a part of the normalizing, “co-existence” program she mentions below? Is she just being pragmatic or is she just navigating the reality she finds on the ground as best she can?

The process of moving from one town to another takes weeks, and they were the toughest weeks in my life…...

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The 'smaller' indignities of occupation

I teach writing at a Palestinian university in the West Bank. Several of my students have been gracious enough to share their experiences with +972, albeit anonymously. This is the third of four short essays. Read parts one and two.

As my siblings and I sat alone in an unfamiliar place waiting for my mother, I tried my best to keep a strong face in front of them. How I felt, on the other hand, was the exact opposite of strong.

It was the middle of July during the summer of 2006, the first time I came to visit Palestine. My mom, my siblings and I, all made the tiring journey across the Atlantic ocean so that we could visit the place we had a connection to. We landed in Tel Aviv Airport at 3 p.m. and I couldn’t have been more excited to see what this “homeland” was all about. But as we made our way to the visa booth, we were escorted into a long hall with empty white rooms. The soldier, who could barely speak English or Arabic, pointed my siblings and I to a single room and took my mom somewhere else.

When I realized what was happening, my panic took over and I rushed to the soldier to tell him to leave us with our mother, but he wasn’t having it. Across the hall was another room with another Arab family, including one older woman. When she saw what was happening she told me to sit down, and not to worry. I couldn’t see how I wasn’t going to worry when I was suddenly in charge of caring for my two-year-old sister, my five-year-old brother and my nine- and 10-year-old sisters. I was only 11 at the time.

We sat there for four hours waiting for my mom, but it felt like a lifetime. No one would tell me where she was, or what we were waiting for.

My siblings, especially the younger ones, wreaked havoc on the area we were waiting in. They screamed, cried, complained about hunger and even decided they needed to use the restroom. At first, I did what I was taught, which was to subdue my siblings into listening to me and behaving, but after an hour of doing that, they just stopped caring. The panic I had been keeping down, finally surfaced and I began...

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'Land isn't enough; the army takes olives, too'

I teach writing at a Palestinian university in the West Bank. Several of my students have been gracious enough to share their experiences with +972, albeit anonymously. This is the second of four short essays. Read part one here.

I went with my family to our olive groves in order to pick  olives. We went there full of happiness. When we arrived each one of us took his pail and stared to pick olives. We raced to see who could pick the most olives as quickly as possible.

When we finished in the afternoon, the Israeli soldiers came and forced us to give them what we picked. When my father objected, they threatened him.

And so my student and her family turned over the pails of olives, the fruit that they’d joyfully picked together.

No, the Nakba wasn’t enough for Israel. It’s not enough that the Palestinians have been dispossessed, that Israel continues to eat away at what little land the Palestinians have left, that many Palestinian farmers can’t even reach their property. It’s not enough that Israel restricts freedom of movement, hijacks water resources, and stunts the Palestinian economy.

No, none of that is enough. When Palestinians do have access to their land and their olive trees, and when a family has a nice day harvesting their hard fought crop, Israel can’t stand that either.

The war on the Palestinian olive harvest

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'Dad's in prison': A young Palestinian woman speaks

I teach writing at a Palestinian university in the West Bank. Several of my students have been gracious enough to share their experiences with +972, albeit anonymously. This is the first of four short essays.

It was a sunny day. I woke up at six o’clock to get ready for my new life because it day was a big day; it was my first day of college, so I was super excited and nervous at the same time. I wore my new clothes and asked mom for her blessing. When I arrived at the college I took some lectures and met new people. The whole day was super awkward; it is natural because it is a new thing, new experiences and finally, I went back to home. When I entered I started to yell, “hey I’m back, I am here.” But it was like nobody was there.

I thought that I would find my mother waiting for me and she would start asking about my day but that did not happen. I was like, “hello, does anyone hear me?” I went to the living room; my family was sitting there and they were sad.

I asked them what is wrong. Did something bad happen? After a while they said, your dad, Israel took him to jail after they hit him and broke his pelvis. I was totally shocked. I asked them, why? What did he do? As I know, he has a permit, right! Mom answers he had one but his permit was not extended it is not valid, so that is why. But they could give him a chance to make new one.

Oh yes, Israel does not care about these issues. If they see he has a green ID and he does not have a permit, without thinking they will take him to prison. Simple as that.

I had told him before. I told him that he should stop working there, but he always said that work in Jerusalem is much better than work in territories because there the wages are better than in the territories.

Seven months have passed without seeing my dad, without hearing his voice. My father is my hero. I cannot imagine my life without him, without his blessing. Every...

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Girls throw stones, too

Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp is located right next to the separation barrier and the massive Israeli checkpoint known as 300. As Aida is subject to frequent raids by both Israeli soldiers as well as Palestinian Authority forces, it sees regular clashes.

A young woman who lives in Aida told me that last week, when Israeli forces entered the camp, she and other girls threw stones at the soldiers. Before the soldiers had a chance to arrest or shoot at them, the girls scattered, running into any house they could.

The young woman told me that while an elderly woman let her into her home, the old lady scolded her. “Girls shouldn’t be throwing stones,” she said. “That’s the boys’ job.”

“But all the boys do is sit inside, typing on Facebook,” my acquaintance protested.

She added that while some people consider advocating for Palestine on social media a form of resistance, she doesn’t feel that it’s making a difference on the ground here. Or at least it doesn’t make a difference from her perspective, as a refugee who lives in the West Bank, who passes through military checkpoints every day, whose right of return seems like a distant dream even though it’s guaranteed by UN resolution 194.

The young woman threw stones because she felt there is nothing left to do. She is fed up with everyone: the Israelis, the PA, the Palestinian political parties, Palestinian leaders (or a lack thereof), the international community; the people who spend time on their computers rather than making a revolution; those in her society who think women can’t or shouldn’t fight for their rights when there is an occupation to fight; those who think that fighting the occupation is a man’s work.

The media plays a role in the latter, she says. “All you ever see is pictures of boys throwing stones,” she told me. “What about us?” By depicting the Palestinian struggle as a man’s struggle, it creates and reinforces the idea that women can’t or shouldn’t participate.


I could draw some conclusions here about how this moment shows the many obstacles that make a Palestinian intifada unlikely. Or I could be optimistic and say something about one woman and her hope. But maybe there’s no larger lesson here. It’s just another day in the refugee camp.

‘The NY Times’ investigates a Palestinian hobby
When the...

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When will Israelis start speaking Arabic in public?

A disturbing encounter at a Jerusalem mall reminds Mya Guarnieri that speaking a second or third language does not mean you have to give up your own.

Living in Bethlehem, working at a Palestinian university, studying Arabic; writing about the occupation and Israel’s treatment of migrants; standing by my partner, who is under intense pressure from his family to leave me because I’m Jewish. All of this could be considered “political work.” But maybe this isn’t the type of work that affects change. Maybe change happens on a smaller scale? With smaller seeds?

I was in Jerusalem’s Talpiyot neighborhood running errands when, as I entered a shopping center, an Ethiopian security guard was arguing with a Palestinian employee. “You shouldn’t speak Arabic here,” the Ethiopian man yelled. “This is the Jewish state and, here, we speak Hebrew. You want to speak Arabic? Go to Ramallah!”

A year ago, I would have yelled at him that this is Palestine and that Hebrew is the occupiers’ language. But I’ve learned that coming out swinging doesn’t sway anyone’s opinions.

“Wait a second, wait a second,” I smiled. “We should all speak Arabic, we should all speak each other’s languages. We’re here together, there’s no other way forward.”

“You speak Arabic?” the Palestinian fellow asked.

“I’m learning.”

“You see?” the Palestinian fellow said to the Ethiopian security guard. “She speaks Arabic and Hebrew. We can use both here.”

It might seem ridiculously simple. But it reminds that the conflict isn’t just about land and borders. It’s also about public space and which language we hear and use in that space.

Speaking Arabic in public can be considered an act of resistance. I remember Palestinian boys from Jaffa cruising down my old street in central Tel Aviv, driving slow, playing Arabic music at top volume: a moving protest that said “We are here and we refuse to disappear. We refuse to sit quietly where you tell us.”

But having one language in public doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for the other language. Speaking a second or third language— simply including it in the public space—does not mean you have to give up your own. Language can be about more than protest, and perhaps the way we use it can also forge new spaces.

Which, perhaps, is what I was trying to tell the Ethiopian security guard. I wonder if I made him think. Did...

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'Israeli troops shoot Palestinian teen in back near Ramallah'

Witnesses, Israeli army offer contradictory stories about whether clashes were taking place, but neither suggest the boy took part in any violence. The teen, Wajih Wajdi al-Ramahi, is pronounced dead at a Ramallah hospital.

Israeli forces reportedly shot and killed a 15-year-old Palestinian boy as he stood outside of a school in the al-Jalazoun refugee camp Saturday afternoon.

Residents of the camp, which is located in between Ramallah and the Israeli settlement of Beit El, told Maan news agency that Wajih Wajdi al-Ramahi was standing outside of the camp’s school when he was shot in the back with live ammunition.

According to AFP, al-Ramahi was the 26th Palestinian to be killed by the Israeli army since the start of 2013.

An unnamed Israeli army source told Israeli news site Walla that “a unit from the Givati Brigade was operating in the camp in order to locate stone throwers. During the course of their operations, a violent incident developed while soldiers were attempting to arrest a suspect. They shot in the air and for an unknown reason the youth was shot.”

However, residents of al Jazaloun told Maan that there were no clashes or violence that “might have provoked the killing.”

On Twitter, Palestinian journalist and activist Linah Alsaafin remarked: “People stressing how there were no clashes/rock throwing going on, but even if there was so what? Not an excuse for murdering a child!”

While Maan and Walla both report that al Ramahi was 14, AFP and activists on Twitter put the boy’s age at 15. Others said he was 13.

Palestinians from the camp immediately began protesting.

A local journalist told +972 that al Jazaloun residents began to protest in Ramallah’s city center and asked storekeepers to close their shops. The protest was stopped when Palestinian Authority police forces arrived and ordered the refugees from al Jazaloun to go back to the camp; stores remained closed in Ramallah’s city center.

Palestinian authorities said they would conduct an autopsy Sunday morning, Ynet reported (Hebrew).

On Friday, Israeli forces shot two Palestinians in Bethlehem near the separation barrier at Aida refugee camp.

PHOTOS: Israeli forces shoot Palestinians with live fire in Bethlehem
IDF closes probe into killing of Mustafa Tamimi in Nabi Saleh 

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Decades of dispossession and discrimination: Umm al-Hiran

While the Prawer Plan has made international headlines, Israel’s Bedouin have suffered from dispossession and discrimination since the state was established. Such is the story of Umm al-Hiran, which will be destroyed so a Jewish town of Hiran can be built in its place.

In the unrecognized Bedouin village Umm al-Hiran, 600 people are waiting for the Israeli High Court of Justice to decide their fate.

Abed Abu Al-Qia’an is a 49-year-old resident of Umm al-Hiran, which Israel plans to empty and destroy in order to make way for a new Jewish town, Hiran. “The children are panicking. All the time, they’re asking us, ‘What will happen?’” he says, adding that kids from the village have trouble concentrating in classes because “they go to school not knowing if they’ll come home to a house or not.”

Earlier this month, the Israeli cabinet approved the state’s plans to demolish Umm al-Hiran to make way for Hiran, which is designated for Jewish religious nationalists. The current residents of Umm al-Hiran, who are citizens of Israel, will be forcibly transferred to the nearby township of Hurah.

This will not be the first time the village’s inhabitants are displaced. Prior to Israel’s founding in 1948, the residents lived northwest of where Umm al-Hiran stands today. Like many Bedouin, they were expelled from their homes in the Negev during and after the 1948 war.

Like most other Arab citizens of the state, Bedouin in the Negev lived under martial law until 1966. It was the Israeli military government that in 1956 ordered the Abu Al-Qia’an family to move to their current location. Salim Abu Al-Qia’an’s parents were among those who were transferred to the land. “The state brought us here by force,” he says.

Israel confiscated the Abu Al-Qia’an’s original land in 1948 in order to establish Kibbutz Shoval.

According to Attorney Suhad Bishara, director of the land and planning rights unit at Adalah – Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Abu Al-Qia’an family first petitioned to get their property back in the 1970s.

“Of course the state doesn’t recognize these claims,” Bishara says.

Approximately 40 years later, the Abu Al-Qia’ans’ case is still pending.

Read +972′s interview with Suhad Bishara: ‘When I look at the Prawer Plan, I see another Nakba’


According to Salim Abu Al-Qia’an, the villagers got the first notice that they would be evicted from...

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'They're all named Mohammad nowadays'

Mya Guarnieri confronts discrimination, identity politics — and the occupation — as she searches for an apartment in Bethlehem. Read her previous post, ‘Reflections on one state from the West Bank.’

Not knowing much about my background, the elderly landlord who doesn’t rent to Jews called and asked me to come sign a lease. Despite my reservations, I agreed.

The landlord ushered me in and we sat on a couch on her large, enclosed balcony.

“First, I must ask you,” she began. “What is your religion?”

“I don’t see how that’s really relevant.” While I understand that she and her family have suffered greatly since 1948, I don’t think that every Jew should be held responsible for that suffering.

“What is your religion?” she insisted.

“I’m secular,” I said. This is mostly true. I make a nod to Shabbat by cooking and having a big meal on Friday evenings with loved ones and by lighting candles when I get around to it — sometimes that’s sundown, sometimes it’s at 10pm. I try not to work on Saturdays. My holiday observance is similar.

She nodded. “Because, me, I’m Catholic.”

“That’s nice,” I smiled.

It seemed that the subject was closed. But my soon-to-be landlord went on, asking personal questions about my partner: How often will he visit? Will he stay over? How many days a week? What is his work? Where did he grow up? Where does he live now? What village does his family come from? What is his family name? What is his first name?

“Mohammad,” I answered.

“They’re all named Mohammad nowadays,” she said derisively, rolling her eyes.

It hit me—this woman doesn’t like anyone who isn’t Christian. I was uncomfortable. But, I reasoned with myself, I was there to lease an apartment. Her feelings about Jews and Muslims are her business.

Against my better judgment, I signed the lease.

But I remained troubled. Not by my landlord’s attitudes but by my own dishonesty. And—I asked my partner, who appreciates the Jewish holidays—what happens when Chanukah comes? Will we light candles in secret, staying away from the windows as we do so? Will we hide the hannukiah during the day in case the landlord comes in to the apartment while we’re gone? What about my Hebrew books? Will I put them on the bookshelf? Turn them around, spines in? What if the landlord snoops and finds my Israeli passport?

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Reflections on one state from the West Bank

The first time I went to my current sublease in Bethlehem, I noticed something strange on the floor — the Star of David. When I moved into the place and looked closer at the pattern, I noticed a menorah. Here I was, in the heart of a Palestinian city, and the floor was “Jewish.”

My apartment is in a home that is at least 100 years old. Hand-painted floor tiles were common in wealthy homes — Christian, Muslim, and Jewish — throughout pre-state Palestine. While I know that the land wasn’t always divided, the current context makes it hard to imagine a Palestinian family putting such tiles into their home.

But here the floor is and it gives me hope. It reminds me that the land has seen better years and that better years might be on the horizon. Not in a divided land, because we’ve already seen that division doesn’t work, but in a land where symbols of Judaism or Christianity or Islam might appear in one another’s homes.


Those who are opposed to a shared, democratic state sometimes cite security as a reason that Israel must remain a Jewish-majority state. But a one-state solution would privilege the security of every individual rather than that of an individual religious (and/or ethnic) group. And to those who argue that the separation barrier has lead to a drop in suicide bombings, I offer a basic from Statistics 101: correlation doesn’t equal causation. Further, the fact that tens of thousands of Palestinian workers come into Israel without permits everyday suggests that if a suicide bomber really wanted to get in, he or she could. (The fact that some people manage to come in without permits does not mitigate Israeli restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement).

Some opponents of a one-state solution also say that the state’s character must remain Jewish for purposes of identity. But why?

If anything, having a Muslim partner has actually strengthened my understanding of and deepened my connection to Judaism. He is very curious about the religion and customs. Not only did he study up on Rosh Hashanah before he came to the holiday dinner, he had questions for me. Answering them helped me reflect on the occasion. And, his general questions about Judaism remind me that there’s no better way to understand a subject than to teach it. I’d like to think that my curiosity about...

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Why West Bank Palestinians avoid traveling at night

Something so basic, so normal, so human — like going home late from work, visiting family or a loved one in another town — becomes an overwhelming and frightful task in the face of the occupation.

Last night, when I was headed from Ramallah to Bethlehem, I went through a checkpoint. As the service taxi I was on slowed down and approached the checkpoint, I saw an unusually large number of soldiers. There were two armored jeeps and a police car. I counted more than 10 soldiers. They were searching a small car. A man, presumably the driver, was on the ground on the side of the road, handcuffed and blindfolded.

The scene was disturbing to say the least. A ripple of fear ran through the passengers on the service taxi, even though the soldiers didn’t stop us. Everyone craned their heads to see what was happening. Once the man was out of sight, passengers continued to shift in their seats and speculate about what was happening.

The image of a human being, bound and left on the ground, stayed with me all night. When I woke up this morning, I wondered about the man. What happened to him? Was he detained? How will he feel driving at night in the future?

A lot of Palestinians I know don’t travel between West Bank cities at night. For one, public transportation shuts down fairly early in the West Bank. Secondly, the army seems to be more active at night than it is during the day (although, the daytime is difficult in other ways – as I wrote about here) and this creates an environment of fear that is especially pinned to the night.

A Palestinian colleague explains to me that the tendency not to travel or go out at night started during the First Intifada, “when there were curfews, when people stayed in and parents were overprotective because going out meant facing soldiers.”

“It’s that fear which is…” he trails off and taps his chest to show how it’s been internalized. He says that when friends ask him to go out at night, it’s reflexive for him to suggest they stay in instead. “When you grow up like this since you’re a kid it affects you. The generation that is young now is the one that grew up with this.”

But, as the scene at the checkpoint last night suggests,...

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Stepped up Israeli harassment leads to clashes in Abu Dis

The presence of Israeli security forces around Al Quds University in Abu Dis has led to clashes with students twice in the past week. Israeli forces, who have used rubber-coated bullets and tear gas, are trying to provoke the students, the university’s executive vice president claims.

Yesterday, while I was teaching my 9:30 a.m. composition class at Al Quds University in Abu Dis, I heard the crack of rubber-coated bullets being fired outside. A few of my students jumped in their seats. Eyes wide, they looked at me for a cue. I continued teaching, although I saw students running past the window and the hallway next to my classroom was soon full of students coughing from the tear gas they’d inhaled outside.

As I was inside teaching, I didn’t see firsthand how the clashes began. But according to Ma’an News Agency, “[an] Israeli border police patrol stopped and searched several students at the main gate of the university in Abu Dis, inspecting identity cards and detaining several students for over an hour.”

When Israeli forces then tried to enter the university, which is located in Area B, staff stopped them. As the staff is unarmed, it is safe to assume that they used nonviolent means to prevent the armed Israelis from going on campus. Israeli forces then fired tear gas and rubber coated bullets at the school. Dozens of students suffered from gas inhalation; Ma’an also reported that eight were treated at the Abu Dis Emergency Center after they were hit by rubber-coated bullets.

This was the second time in less than a week that Israeli soldiers came to campus, causing clashes to break out at Al Quds University. Last Wednesday morning, as I walked in a side gate around 9:30 a.m., I heard rubber-coated bullets being fired. Inside the campus, I found students choking and coughing from tear gas and crowding the hallways of a building as they sought refuge from the clashes between heavily armed soldiers and a small number of youth who had nothing but stones.

Speaking to Ma’an, Al Quds University Executive Vice President Imad Abu Keshik said, “Israeli forces claim that they are stationed near [the] Al Quds University campus to oversee construction and maintenance work on the separation wall.” But I’m here at least four days a week and I pass the separation barrier on my way to and from campus, and I have...

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Palestinians struggle to remain in 'unified' Jerusalem

As Israelis march today to celebrate the ‘reunification’ of Jerusalem, Palestinian East Jerusalemites struggle against skyrocketing rents and building restrictions to remain in municipal borders. 

Every day, investors knock on the door of a small home in Kufr Aqab, a village on the Palestinian side of the separation wall but inside Jerusalem’s municipal borders. The tidy, one-story, two-room house is surrounded by new apartment buildings, some reaching nine stories high. Contractors are currently finishing more than 1,000 units in the area; billboard advertisements suggest many more are to come.

The same phenomenon is occurring in other Palestinian neighborhoods that are technically part of Jerusalem, but separated from the ancient city sites by the huge concrete wall.

Apartment buildings are popping up like mushrooms in these areas. The sound of construction fills the air.

Kufr Aqab – once full of open, green spaces – is now “crowded” and “dirty,” says Amira, an 18-year-old Palestinian woman who lives here. She asked not to be identified by her real name out of fear of endangering her Israeli-issued Jerusalem residency permit.

Residents pay taxes to the Jerusalem Municipality but receive far fewer services than the neighboring Jewish districts of Jerusalem. While Palestinians constitute approximately 35 percent of the city’s population, only eight to ten percent of the municipal budget is allocated to their communities. “We have to hire someone to come and take [the garbage] because the city won’t come,” Amira says. “They will pick up everything on the main street but not behind it.”

Refuse collection is a long-standing issue for Palestinian East Jerusalemites; even Israeli officials have raised concerns about the issue, and the influx of new residents means things will only get worse.

Numerous requests for comment from the Jerusalem Municipality for this article have been unsuccessful.

Unplanned growth has already stretched Kufr Aqab’s infrastructure to the point of breaking, Amira and other residents say. “What once was a spacious entrance into the neighborhood is now a small, rough, tight road that does not allow cars to pass through it. The entrance [has been narrowed] by two new buildings on each side that have taken space from the road to enlarge their buildings,” Amira explains.

Residents say contractors are left to their own devices. And the investors who knock on Amira’s door everyday – asking the family to sell their home so they can tear it down to make way for even more...

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