Analysis News

'They left us no choice': On military escalation and its Israeli rationale

The alternatives to military action shouldn’t only be examined when things blow up, but rather in the context of the months and years that preceded this latest round of fighting.

When it comes to using military force, I find Netanyahu to be one of the most restrained prime ministers Israel has ever had. I don’t think Bibi wanted this escalation, nor does he believe that it serves his immediate political interests. He did give Hamas a chance for a ceasefire, and the army is escalating its attacks on Gaza very gradually – unlike in Operation Cast Lead for example, in which it adopted the notorious “shock and awe” doctrine.

Once rockets fall on Israeli cities, the government’s response immediately enjoys local and international legitimacy. I would have liked to see the army use more restraint, but it is clear that responding to rockets is the norm in the international system, regardless of the “who started” debate. When Hamas or any other organization fires rockets on Be’er Sheva or Tel Aviv, it supposedly doesn’t leave Israel with much choice but to retaliate. At least that’s how the argument goes.

But things also have a certain context that the Israeli public simply ignores. Hamas is weaker than ever. The tunnels to Gaza were destroyed and Egypt closed the border. Israel is preventing Hamas government employees from receiving their salaries, and has even threatened to deport the UN official who tried to solve the latest crisis. In recent weeks, Hamas’ politicians in the West Bank were also arrested.

Hamas isn’t just a militant organization. It is also a movement that represents half of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories and runs the lives of 1.8 million people in Gaza. Leaving Hamas with its back to the wall gives the organization an interest for this kind of escalation, despite the fact that Hamas knows that Palestinians will pay a much greater price than Israelis.

Some questions need to be asked: maybe the months and years of relative calm before this escalation were a good time to lift the siege on Gaza? Perhaps Israel should have recognized the new Palestinian technocratic government? Maybe there was a way for Hamas to undergo a process of politicization, similar to that which Fatah went through?

All these issues were never discussed in Israel; raising them now, in the current atmosphere, is...

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A premier failure: Where is Israel's leadership?

With Netanyahu’s hints at revenge, his imperviousness toward the rage surrounding the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir and his complete absence in the Israeli media, the prime minister is a party to the growing Jewish-Arab animosity.

Instances of violence between Jews and Arabs are piling up: the video from the bus in Tel Aviv, reports of ‘price tag’ attacks, police violence, continued protests in Shuafat, protests in Wadi Ara and the Triangle, and there, overnight, a few Jewish drivers were reportedly attacked.

In contrast to the Palestinians, the Jewish public hasn’t been exposed to the horrifying details of Muhammad Abu Khdeir’s murder because of a court gag order. As usual, consumers of Hebrew-language news media are spared the context and the other side simply becomes rioters.

It’s not a deterioration on the scale of the events of October 2000 but things aren’t headed in a good direction; the weight attention news and social media are giving a few incidents contributes to a sense that things are getting out of control, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anybody sitting in front of Facebook all day will likely be convinced that marauding rioters are on ever corner and that people are being lynched on an hourly basis.

Read +972′s full coverage of the kidnappings

The most remarkable phenomenon, however, is the complete absence of any leadership on the Israeli side — especially the prime minister and the police brass. As Raviv Druker pointed out, if the Israel Police had carried out its investigation into the murder of Abu Khdeir as transparently and publicly as possible, the Jewish public would understand why the level of rage among Palestinians at the moment is the same that the Jews are feeling, and the Palestinians would at least be a feeling that the case was getting some attention. But instead of all that, the police helped spread rumors blaming the victim. It couldn’t have been any worse.

The prime minister has lots of tools at his disposal — from giving a speech to the nation to a paying a condolence visit to the Abu Khdeir family — that could have been used irrespective of the killers’ identity. Netanyahu has not even condemned the Jewish violence and calls for revenge; instead he mumbled something about Israel being “a nation of laws.” It feels like...

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How the public was manipulated into believing the teens were alive

Details under gag order could have suggested early on that the abducted teens were murdered. The government-led campaign calling for their release helped the legitimacy of Israel’s military operation in the West Bank. Local and even international media played along.

The following issue is not the heart of the kidnapping affair, the Israeli military operation or its aftermath — but it does carry an important lesson, especially for journalists. The bottom line is this: the Israeli public has been manipulated.

Details of the ’100′ call (the local equivalent of 911) and what investigators discovered in the car used for the kidnapping of three Israeli teens earlier this month were well known by security service heads, top ministers — and even journalists — early on in the affair; but not by the public because it was all placed and kept under a tightly held gag order. The blood found in the car, the sound of gun shots in the emergency call, evidence of live ammunition and the fact that there hasn’t been a single instance of two or more people being held hostage in the West Bank in decades – all that led to a single logical assumption: the teens were no longer alive. Yet at the same time, the Israeli public was told the teens were being held by Hamas, and a public campaign calling for their return was launched.

The result was the shock most Israelis felt once the bodies were discovered – terrible disappointment that could be avoided only by those with knowledge of the details under gag order.

Every other day or so, senior officers briefed the media and reiterated that the army’s working assumption is the abducted teens were still alive, sometimes adding that there is no evidence which suggests otherwise. This was a deception. On one of those days, Finance Minister Yair Lapid went on live television and said the 100 call is “impossible to decipher.” That was a deception too. And here is the most absurd part: while those sources were feeding the public with misconceptions, they added warnings against “spreading rumors on social media.” Well, I have news for you: the next tragic event will see many more such rumors because the public will take for granted that there are secrets which shed light on the events – as if we don’t have enough conspiracy theories here as it is.


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Analysis: The end of the 'cheap occupation' era

Israel may soon have to say goodbye to its tight-knit cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and the relative calm that comes with it. 

The discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teens who have been missing for the last 18 days, along with the public calls for vengeance heard in Israel today, could mark the beginning of a new era in the West Bank – one that is considerably less stable. This might not be a third intifada but it is also not the relative calm or the close military coordination Israel enjoyed over the last five to six years.

While the public rage in Israel is understandable, it could turn into hate crimes and other violent attacks on Palestinians. There have been initial reports on such incidents already, although luckily they have not resulted in fatalities.

I believe that the Israeli government has no interest in a violent escalation right now. Netanyahu’s nationalistic rhetoric was always at odds with his relative restraint when it came to the use of military power; his record on this issue is much better than any of his predecessors. Most chances are that Bibi will take some very public measures while keeping things under control. His real goal will be to score points on the diplomatic front, especially against the new Palestinian unity deal. The legitimacy of Hamas participation in the PA and PLO has already suffered from the kidnapping, and the fatal blow might come if Israel is able to present significant evidence that links Hamas decision makers to the murder.

Read +972′s full coverage of the kidnappings and ‘Operation Brother’s Keeper’

Surely, events might spin out of control (a Palestinian teenager was killed by IDF forces in Jenin last night) but even if the Israeli government does not initiate large-scale military action, the proximity of the kidnapping to other major developments – the collapse of the diplomatic process, the growing pressure on Hamas in Gaza and the attempt to form a Palestinian unity government – may bring about a new era in the West Bank.

Israeli army officer next to the site where the bodies of three missing teens were located, June 30 2014 (photo: Activestills)

An Israeli army officer standing near the site where the bodies of three missing teens were located, June 30 2014 (photo:...

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The end of the hunger strike and mounting pressure on the PA

The PA’s lack of support for hunger striking prisoners, together with its security coordination with Israel during ‘Operation Brother’s Keeper,’ are further deteriorating its credibility among Palestinians.

Illustrative photo of Palestinian prisoners in an Israeli military prison (By ChameleonsEye /

Illustrative photo of Palestinian prisoners in an Israeli military prison (By ChameleonsEye /

Reports on a deal that would end the hunger strike by some 70 Palestinians prisoners broke in the Hebrew media on Tuesday night and has been confirmed in the two days that passed since. According to Ynet News, the prisoners will return to eat, and in return, some punitive measures that Israeli Prison Service placed on them, such as separation from each other and fines, will be cancelled

Assuming that there are no other articles to the agreement – and according to the PA’s minister for prisoners, there aren’t – this is a complete victory for the Israeli government and the tough line it has maintained throughout the strike. It’s not only that the strike ended without any achievements for the hunger strikers, one can’t imagine a similar protest breaking out in the coming months, or even years.

The prisoner issue is one of the most painful for Palestinian society, and with this deal Israel has bought itself relative quiet on this front for some time to come. One might speak of a Palestinian success in creating some awareness on the issue of administrative detention, but even this achievement is balanced by the success of Israeli hawks, who believe that every Palestinian action must be met with a forceful response.

There is nothing surprising about seeing the more powerful side winning over the weaker party. But there are lessons which are in line with other trends on the ground.

The hunger strike included roughly 100 prisoners, and around 70 of them were and still are hospitalized. Some stopped eating for over two months, sustaining themselves only on water and minerals. This was a tremendous human effort, carried out simultaneously by dozens of people, and under the toughest of conditions. The prisoners were handcuffed to — and isolated in — their hospital beds.

I think that the strike failed for three main reasons: the line the Israeli government took, which made it clear the government would...

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When 'The New York Times' embeds its reporters with the IDF

Embedded journalism is a controversial issue. Many claim that it replaces oversight and criticism with propaganda. I tend to agree. This admiring tone was evident in the pieces published by embedded Israeli reporters this week during the IDF’s crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank. It must have also been part of the reason why Haaretz chose not to run such a report.

The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren had no such concerns. Just like reporters from Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth, Rudoren was embedded within an army unit conducting searches for the missing teens.

Halhul, West Bank, 16.6.2014

The report she filed is not a news item—it’s a PR piece. Despite the fact that the recent military operation has been criticized for targeting Hamas’ political arm, Rudoren has chosen (or perhaps sent by the IDF Spokesperson) to join the searches, not the arrests. This is not where the news is happening. When Rudoren mentions the more controversial aspects of the IDF operation, she takes a jab at the “human rights chorus.” And when she describe the trackers she accompanies, the story lacks all context – historical, political or social. Bedouin volunteer rates in the IDF are dropping, which has to do with the increasing alienation Bedouin feel, especially surrounding the issue of the unrecognized villages. You won’t find any of this in the piece; the Times‘ interest in the Bedouin is limited to their role in the IDF at a time of military escalation.

Don’t let Netanyahu’s hostility to the Times confuse you. Like other correspondents before her, Rudoren writes pieces like a mainstream Israeli—even when her work can be construed as critical of the Israeli government, it is always done on Israeli terms. The Palestinian context—the issue of prisoners, for example – is absent to nonexistent. The entire interest in the Palestinians is minimal. I am not sure that a Times journalist would have filed such a report from an embedded mission with the U.S. military. Not after Iraq. With Israel it is different.

What happens when the IDF embeds Israeli reporters
‘The New York Times’ investigates a Palestinian hobby

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Film Review: 'Policeman,' a study of the Israeli alpha male

By leaving the Palestinian conflict in the background, filmmaker Lapid manages to skip over the common ‘shooting-and-crying’ formula, in which Israeli protagonists are portrayed more as victims than perpetrators of the conflict.

The timing of the release of Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s debut, “Policeman,” was very unique in Israel: October 2011, right after that summer’s so-called Tent Protests, which saw hundreds of thousands Israelis take to the streets over social and economic issues. “Policeman,” which was shot and completed before the surprising demonstrations erupted, tells the story of a confrontation between a group of young revolutionaries plotting to kidnap a local tycoon, and a police officer in an anti-terror unit that will be called upon stop them.

When Lapid wrote a script about violent internal struggle over economic issues in a country whose politics had been dominated by the conflict for a century, it must have seemed like science fiction (in interviews, Lapid referred to it as “a fantasy”). By the time the film was released Lapid’s fantasy seemed more like a prophesy, winning the movie a nice turnout and more attention than one could expect from a movie that is very challenging, both in style and in content. And yet don’t be fooled: at the heart of “Policeman” lies a delicate deconstruction of modern Israeli identity, and like everything Israeli, it has a lot to do with the Palestinians.

Yiftach Klein as Yaron in the Israeli film Policeman (© 2014 Corinth Films)

Yiftach Klein as Yaron in the Israeli film Policeman (© 2014 Corinth Films)

I know Lapid pretty well so I got to see “Policeman” in an early screening, and I haven’t seen it since. But the movie, which was screened in New York  last week, stuck with me in more than one way. Right now there aren’t any future screenings listed on the film’s site, but if there are in the future, I recommend checking it out.

The plot is basically broken into two: In the first 40 minutes we get to know Yaron (played by the excellent Yiftach Klein) – a member of an elite police unit, popular with his friends and with women, an all-Israeli alpha male. Two important events take place in his life – Yaron and his unit members are facing an investigation regarding the killing of a Palestinian detainee,...

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Reward activism and diplomacy, not violence

Far too many times Israel has mocked peace initiatives and adored violence. Altogether, it seems that the government is about to score major points in the propaganda war, only that each such victory is another step on the path to defeat.

As Israeli news outlets moved to live coverage mode over the weekend, I had a chance to speak with a friend who is involved in the politics of the mainstream Israeli left. He was enraged by the Palestinians, “who are again missing an opportunity.” At a time when Netanyahu is finally cornered, blamed for the failure of the peace talks, when we are moments away from public European intervention – so claims my friend – and when the coalition’s fractures are clearly visible — at such a moment, comes this terror attack that turns everyone against the Palestinians, takes the pressure of the government, and unites the public behind the prime minister. Next it will be discovered that Hamas is connected to the kidnapping and the West will reconsider its recognition of the Palestinian unity government.

I have heard these rants from other people as well, and many others on the Left simply preferred to stay silent over the past few days. The Israeli Left is clearly embarrassed by the more violent moments of the Palestinian struggle. Sometimes that embarrassment turns into anger about “the lack of a partner” on the other side, as if the Left is a PR person who discovers his client is a psychopath.

At times like this it is worth remembering that the Palestinians don’t work for the Israeli Left — or for the American peace camp, for that matter — and their national goal is not to score political points against Bibi or to improve the approval ratings of Meretz, Tzipi Livni or J Street. The sooner the Left stops analyzing the world through the lens of its own political interests, the better (this is also true for all those complaining that the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a “Jewish State,” thus making it more difficult to sell the negotiations to a reluctant Israeli mainstream).

The Palestinians are conducting a national struggle for freedom, one which has heroic aspects to it but also despicable and intolerable ones like the latest kidnapping. Every such national liberation struggle in history has gone the same way, including our own.

In the past, Israeli society...

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Livni’s number two: We should leave the government now

MK Mitzna adds that he hopes the departure of his party from the coalition will lead to its downfall.

Amir Peretz, Tzipi Livni and Amram Mitzna [right] (photo: Yotam Ronen /

Amir Peretz, Tzipi Livni and Amram Mitzna [right] (photo: Yotam Ronen /


Amram Mitzna, former head of Labor party and currently number two in Tzipi Livni’s Tnuah party, called on his fellow party members to leave Netanyahu’s government due to the prime minister’s lack of commitment to the peace process. “I don’t believe Netanyahu anymore that he is interested in a settlement with the Palestinians,” said Mitzna in a public political event in Kfar Saba.

Mitzna added that he hopes the Tnuah’s departure from the coalition will make the government fall. Netanyahu’s collation has 68 members but without Livni it would only have 62, only one seat more than a Knesset majority. Estimates are that such a narrow government will either be highly dysfunctional or will collapse altogether.

This is a new position for Mitzna, suggesting the great depth of his disappointment with Netanayhu. Only recently, Mizna published an op-ed in Haaretz explaining that his party’s presence in the government puts checks on the extremism of the Jewish Home party, and it was thank to Livni that negotiations with the Palestinians took off in the first place. Recent events, such as Netanyahu’s response to the Palestinian unity government and the announcement of 1,500 new settlement housing units could have contributed to Mitzna’s change of heart.

On Friday, Channel 2 reported that leaders of the centrist parties – Lapid, Livni and Herzog – have begun secret talks on establishing a bloc that would challenge Netanyahu and Lieberman’s Likud-Beitenu party. Some early negotiations also included former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon. So far, no breakthrough has been reached.

The peace industry’s slippery slope
Tzipi Livni joins the ‘Israel apartheid’ club

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Jeffrey Goldberg joins the 'Haaretz'-bashing club

American columnist’s liberalism stops at Ben-Gurion Airport. But then again, we already knew that.

For many years there was a running joke at Haaretz is that if every person who called to cancel their subscription actually had one, the paper wouldn’t have suffered a financial crisis. The latest to join the club is Jeffrey Goldbreg, who tweeted earlier today:


What made Goldberg jump was an article by Palestinian columnist Salman Masalha criticizing the policy of racial profiling policy at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport. Unlike almost every other place in the world, racial profiling is part of the protocol for Israeli citizens while traveling through their own country’s airports; if you are a Palestinian – which is the case for one in every five Israelis – you are likely to spend way more time in security, and suffer a long questioning and body searches, both of which can often times be humiliating. There has been tons of writing on this issue, from many angles.

Goldberg’s take, however, is unique: he actually prefers Israel’s security procedures (i.e. racial profiling) to the U.S. system of random screenings, or something that pretends to be random. Dump your political correctness and let the Jew through, was Goldberg’s message last time he visited the issue.

In the Twitter conversation that followed, Goldberg tried to explain his anger by citing a racist comment Masalha used to describe one of the security personnel in the airport; but that is just silly. If Goldberg were to stop reading every Israeli news outlet that at some point published a racist remark, I wonder where he is going to get his news from. (UPDATE: reading the Hebrew original, I think Masalha’s comment was ironic, not racist. Goldberg simply missed it).

The bottom line is simple. Goldbreg’s own liberalism literally stops at Ben Gurion, and not for the first time. When Haaretz – Israel’s liberal paper – runs an op-ed from the perspective of a Palestinian citizen, Goldberg is so insulted by his tone, that he abandons the paper altogether. Well, he is in good company.

Jeffrey Goldberg: TLV airport security should ask me if I’m Jewish

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Public reading of soldier testimonies to be held in Tel Aviv on anniversary of occupation

 Avner Gvaryahu, spokesperson for the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence: ‘We want as many public figures as possible to assume responsibility, in broad daylight, for the kind of stories every soldier knows to tell.’

Breaking the Silence, an organization made up of ex-IDF soldiers that seeks to expose the reality of the occupation, is organizing a public reading of soldier testimonies from the West Bank and Gaza in central Tel Aviv’s Habima Square. The event will mark the 10 year anniversary of the organization, which has taken a leading role in documenting Israel’s control over the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

“The Israeli public and the media are not willing to hear about what is taking place in the occupied territories,” says Avner Gvaryahu, an ex-IDF paratrooper who has been with BTS since 2007. “The story surrounding [the killing of two Palestinian teens in] Beitunia proved that. If this wasn’t caught on tape, the story wouldn’t have made headlines. The public’s reflex is to remove any responsibility from us. Nobody denies that two teens were killed, and yet this fact is not debated, and nobody needs to account for it.

Meretz leader Zehava Galon (photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

Meretz leader Zehava Galon will be among those reading testimonies in Tel Aviv (photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

“There is a better chance that we will hear about Britain’s Royal Family or what Obama wore today [in the media] than about a whole people whose future, present and past are linked to us. Our testimonies reflect a reality that is missing from the public debate. It’s not about a right-wing or left-wing media – people simply don’t want to discuss the occupation.”

The public reading will take place on Friday, June 6th and will last for ten hours, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Among the dozens confirmed to participate are prominent academics, journalists, authors, actors, NGO workers, activists, ex-soldiers and politicians. Some of the more well-known participants are author Amos Oz and head of the leftist Meretz party, Zehava Gal-On. Journalist Amira Hass of Haarez will also read, as will +972’s Yossi Gurvitz. I recognize some of the names from various Israeli refusal movements among the participants.

“We thought it was time that those responsible for the reality in the West Bank – namely the Israeli public –...

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Israel renews restrictions on nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu

Despite serving 18 years in prison, including 11 in solitary confinement, Vanunu is forbidden from traveling and speaking to the media. Recently, he was denied a permit to speak before the British Parliament, following an invitation by 54 MPs. 

The Israeli interior minister and the IDF Central Command have decided to extend restrictions on nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu’s freedom of movement and speech. Vanunu’s attorney, Avigdor Feldman, has been notified on the decision and told +972 Magazine he will once again petition the High Court of Justice on Vanunu’s case.

Since his release from prison in 2004, Vanunu hasn’t been allowed to leave Israel, enter a foreign consulate or embassy, come within 500 meters of an international border, port or airport or enter the West Bank. He is forbidden from speaking to journalists, and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) monitors all foreign nationals with whom he meets. The Shin Bet must also approve Vanunu’s meetings with a foreign national who the Israeli media says is his partner.

Last month, Vanunu’s request to travel to London for a three-day visit was denied. He had been invited to speak before the British Parliament (his invitation was signed by 54 MPs) as well as to attend an Amnesty International event. Feldman also petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice against that decision.

Vanunu was a radiation technician in the Negev Nuclear Research Center, which according to foreign sources, is a facility used to develop and manufacture nuclear weapons. Vanunu was fired in 1985 due to his political activism for left-wing causes. In 1986 he gave extensive details regarding the Negev facility to British Sunday Times reporter Peter Hounam, along with pictures he took without authorization. The Mossad later lured Vanunu to Rome where Israeli agents kidnapped and renditioned him back to Israel. He was convicted of treason and espionage, and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Vanunu sepnt his first 11 years in solitary confinement; he went on to serve his sentence in full – up to the very last day. The restrictions regarding his freedoms of travel and speech shouldn’t be confused with terms of parole (as CNN does here); they came in addition to his sentence. In 2010 Vanunu served two and a half months in prison for violating the restrictions placed on him.

Feldman describes those restrictions as new form of punishment placed on Vanunu after he fully paid his debt to society,...

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How will the EU elections affect Israel-Palestine?

The EU’s measures on settlements, limited as they were, remain a source of serious concern in Jerusalem. Some in the Israeli Right hope that the rise of the ‘Euro-Skeptics’ will rid Israel of the problem. 

The year 2013 was a turning point with regards to the European Union’s role in Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until then, one could hardly speak of any European political involvement that transcended the role of banker for American-led efforts and various civil society initiatives. The working assumption was that the Americans will create the solution, the Europeans will pay for it, and that’s it.

In fact, until very recently, one could hardly speak of European diplomacy on any front; diplomacy and foreign policy was left to the member states. The creation of an EU foreign ministry of sorts — in the form of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy — did change things, though. Press coverage of the crisis in Ukraine already started a discussion about – and not for the first time – “the EU’s policy.”

Greater involvement by the EU in Israel/Palestine is also the result of changes on the ground, most notably the American failure to generate any positive political process, especially on the Israeli side. While Europe backed Secretary of State Kerry’s recent efforts, the EU also took serious independent measures of its own. The much-discussed settlement guidelines regarding grants to Israeli entities and the decision on labeling of settlement products gave many the feeling that the EU is indeed becoming a leading actor in the region.

In the Israeli Right today, many see the EU as extremely hostile to Israel, a point of view that has led to the public humiliation of the EU’s most pro-Israel elements, as was demonstrated during the visit of EU Parliament President Martin Schultz in Jerusalem. At the same time, the Israeli Left and some other elements think that the EU is the greatest hope for ending the occupation now that the U.S. appears unwilling or unable to do it.

Read also:
The day Europe got Israel’s attention

In recent months I had the chance to speak EU diplomats and bureaucrats, including those involved in the Middle East. They all dismissed such theories. Everyone I spoke to began by stating the EU doesn’t want to and cannot replace the U.S. in the region, nor...

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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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