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One destroyed village and the ghosts of the past

For decades, Jews and Palestinians alike would wander through the abandoned village of al-Walaja, encountering ghosts of the past, and facing the intimacy of a stranger’s home.

By Natasha Dudinski

A spring walk in Nahal Refaim. Blue sky, cheerful sun, red anemones, white almond trees, and the rocky green Jerusalem hills. It is the most beautiful part of the year, filled with hopes for something new; groups of weekend hikers dot the valley’s trails. I follow my own unbeaten path, zigzagging between the present and the past.

The three stone houses along the road are there regardless of the season. They were once an organic part of the landscape, built by people who lived here for centuries planting trees, growing vegetables, raising goats and sheep, and maintaining an ancient irrigation system based on local springs and agricultural terraces. They probably did many other things which I know nothing about.

By the time I saw these houses for the first time many years ago, their inhabitants were long gone. The overgrown wild vegetation surrounding them still held their memories. I did not yet understand the language of these memories, but I could feel them. The air was thick with them. There were no bars over the windows yet, allowing any curious passerby to enter. One could touch the inner walls and hear the voices and whispers, laughs and cries left behind in the nooks and crannies of the old house. I wanted to know to whom they belonged, why did they leave, where did they go, and would they ever come back?

Later my friend Sheerin told me her and her family’s stories about her village of al-Walaja and about the springs of Ein el Hanniya, Ein Balad and Ein Lavan. I have kept coming back to this valley ever since — it was love at first sight, which hasn’t disappeared over the past 20 years. I now have my own memories of the place, too.

A few years ago, the concrete separation wall began to snake its way through the valley, cutting al-Walaja off from most of its lands, including water springs and ancient agricultural terraces. And then, someone in Israel’s corridors of power came up with a brilliant idea: to turn all this breath-taking beauty into a national park.

First came the fence. Then the ancient nymphaeum at Ein al-Hanniya was cleaned of graffiti and other patina. A centuries-old irrigation system was excavated and its inner workings...

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Taking protests to the frontline in the U.S. and Israel-Palestine

As injustices continue to mount up in the U.S. and Israel-Palestine, young activists are taking the fight to politicians and powerbrokers.

By Yaser Abu Areesha

David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel, sat through questioning in a Senate confirmation hearing this week, as part of the process any nominee has to go through before their appointment is approved. He wasn’t expecting the surprise that Palestinian and Jewish political activists — all U.S. citizens — had prepared for him.

Friedman’s responses were cut short throughout the hearing by young people who hurled accusations at him regarding his views on a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and over his support for the settlement enterprise in the West Bank. Friedman, who favors moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, discovered that the road to the Temple Mount is not decked with roses. His frozen expression and fixed gaze every time an activist interrupted him and was removed from the hearing gave him away.

These young people expressed their opinions to Trump’s appointee freely and directly. They could have staged a more regime-friendly demonstration outside the hall, but chose what is becoming a more and more prominent tool for protesting in front of decision-makers: the in-your-face protest.

A similar protest took place in Israel on Thursday evening. In a small, quiet room stood Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh, present for a ceremony to mark the opening of a police station in Jaffa. The pair were joined by dozens participants, among them the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, respected members of the Jaffa community, police officers, members of the public — and several social and political activists who had prepared a surprise similar to that received by Friedman.

The activists — Inbal Sinai, Yigal Rambam and Khaled Jabarin — cut off Erdan as he was speaking. Rambam accused Erdan of incitement and racism against Palestinians and Ethiopians. Jabarin asked him who he thought had shot Yaqub Abu Al-Qi’an to death in Umm el-Hiran last month, prior to a series of violent home demolitions.

Sinai demanded that Erdan apologize for his incitement against Palestinian citizens of Israel during the “wave of arson” that wasn’t and for the “ISIS ramming attack” in Umm el-Hiran. The three protesters were hauled out of the room, detained and released under restricted conditions, including...

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How I dealt with masked men with guns pounding on my door

I’m used to frequent nighttime police raids in East Jerusalem. But a particularly frightening episode led me to seek solace in a childhood obsession: the NBA. 

By Suleiman Maswadeh

I loved to watch NBA games as a child, even though they were broadcast late at night. An ardent LA Lakers fan, I would rarely miss a game, and watching Kobe Bryant prey on other teams was an absolute delight.

I’ll never forget my mother’s stock response whenever she caught me watching a game on my computer at four in the morning. “Shut down the computer and go to sleep now or I’ll wake up your father so he can deal with you,” she would say sharply. Of course I knew all too well that my mom would never wake my poor father, who used to come home from work late almost every day and had to get up early the following morning in order to wait in an interminable checkpoint queue on the way to work.

So I’d switch off the computer screen, and tell my mother grudgingly, “Here, see — I’ve switched off the computer, I’m going to bed straightaway, just don’t wake dad up, please.” Ten minutes later, I was back watching Kobe steamrolling all the other teams.

Time went by, and my passion for watching NBA games started to dissipate. Studies and work ate up my time, and I no longer had the energy to get up in the middle of the night. It’s difficult to rise so early and watch a game with one eye open, while not cheering loudly because your family is sleeping soundly. Moreover, by that time the Lakers had turned into the league’s whipping boys and their style of play had become dour and dull. In other words, I’d decided that sleep was preferable.

An invasion in the middle of the night

Late one night last month I was shaken from my bed by Israeli riot police pounding on the door to our house. At first, I thought the noise was from people in the building fighting over a parking spot again. But when I heard shouting in Hebrew and the neighbor screaming, and when I felt my room shaking from the blows to the door, I realized it was serious — another terrible incursion by black-clad, masked invaders.

I leapt out of bed in a panic, opened the door and was faced with...

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I was IDF property for three years — today I'm traumatized

Every time I hear about another Druze who refuses to go to the army, I think about how he won’t have to suffer. He will avoid the trauma of becoming the human property of the IDF.

By Fayez Abu Hayeh

“Soldier, straighten up!”

It was 2 a.m., I was lying on the ground, my backpack under me. The commander yelled: “Soldier, straighten up!” and I, an exhausted soldier, didn’t understand. All I wanted was a place to escape to, a framework that would take me in. Today I understand that I was the IDF’s property, like every Druze, like everyone who serves in this army. It was a long and tiring day, the day I finished my enlistment process that unfortunately most Israeli children will have to undergo.

My army experience began with great excitement. Between the hallways of the IDF induction base in never-ending lines. We were children, full of wonderment. I remember exchanging words with others. I made small talk on the bus after waving goodbye to the parents of my friends. My parents did not come because I never told them I was enlisting. As we drove off, I looked back at my friends’ parents and all I could think was, “I am going to protect you, to protect you from an enemy that sees you only as an enemy and wants to cause you harm.”

I waited three years for another vaccine or x-ray of my teeth. Today I understand that our time was meaningless. We each received dog tags and military IDs with our personal number — that’s it. That’s all I was during my service. A number. In the eyes of the army, that was the moment I ceased being Fayez Abu Hayeh; rather I was turned into an entity defined by six digits. I was so excited back then. A day before my enlistment, I finished my final matriculation exam in math. My induction symbolized the end of my childhood and the beginning of a real, adult life. How naive I was.

December 2012

Then came Operation Pillar of Defense, in which Israel decided to attack “terror” targets in Gaza. It had been nearly two years since I enlisted, I was 20 years old and serving in the navy. I worked as a mechanic on missile boats. We were assigned to one of the career soldiers, alongside whom we worked on and fixed engines.

I remember it like...

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Downstairs, from heavenly Aleppo

Aleppo, your stories will come back to my ears, like a child who sits on his grandmother’s knees.

By Mati Shemoelof

Aleppo, I, Matityaho Ibn Shifra, your old daughter, a grandson of your Arab-Jews, mourn the erasure of your city of poetry,

Aleppo, how did they forget to save your libraries?

Aleppo, was it not fireworks that lit the skies of the Arab spring? Or were the night stars shining all night long?

Aleppo, tell me who is the devil that drops explosive barrels upon your residents, and thinks that in this way — they will write his name in love,

Aleppo, will you listen to the old, weeping Iraqi who lives inside of me? Here, at the gates of our European towns, stand thousands of your sons and daughters, standing with keys to lost homes, waiting to enter.

Aleppo, rich poems will flourish in your botanic gardens; Free, we will walk among your Middle Eastern shifting sand-novel-dunes; freedom will be tattooed on our children’s hands, red words of prayer will spread in the wind,

Aleppo, torn poetry books fly in the wind; your children’s memory squashed beneath the rubble,

Aleppo, the few who read your heart’s beating poems fighting with those who don’t know shit about the little girl who dances while she writes a love letter to her mom,

Aleppo, your daughters, are the new Jews, who are exiled between the libraries of the world, and inside their headphones you can hear the compassionate womb of the Oud,

Aleppo, we will not fight with weapons that lead to victory. Nope. We will put our hopes in the gentle candle wax and surrender to mountains of words where the sweet snow melts into rivers; where love springs out,

Aleppo, tell us again how we can raise neighborhoods of believers and atheists; among the alters who scattered our souls,

Aleppo, your stories will come back to my ears, like a child who sits on his grandmother’s knees.

January, 2017.

Mati Shemoelof is an Israeli author, poet, editor, journalist and activist based in Berlin. Visit his website here.

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Pallywood: The dark matter of the Zionist universe

Two recent cases of Israeli troops caught murdering Palestinians demonstrate the power, and limitations, of an entire nation deciding to believe what it wants to believe, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

By Eishton

They call it “Pallywood.” Like Dark Matter, it’s a non-observable phenomenon, derived from our need to settle the contradiction between the viewable and the expected.

As we gazed out into the stars, a universe presumed to be slowing down by gravity, was actually accelerating and expanding. Matter should have given the opposite result (contraction), and antimatter was insufficient in quantity to explain the forces pulling the universe apart. There had to be something else, something invisible yet massive, which though we can’t directly detect or prove, makes sense of the world as we know it.

Such is the nature of humanity, that we fill the void of knowledge with knowledge we presume is unavoidable. Greater than our inability to understand the cosmos is our lack of desire to accept a cosmos which is not as we believe it to be.

Psychologists call this “cognitive dissonance,” which creates “belief disconfirmation“: a paradox between our beliefs and what we see does not change those beliefs (which is very painful for most people to do) but leads us to create distorted interpretations or selective blindness — to bend the seen to the will of the desired.

The birth of Pallywood

For most Israelis and others in the pro-Israel camp, the day the the galaxies were first detected to be moving in the wrong direction was September 30, 2000. A video depicting the possible killing of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durrah by the IDF was broadcast onto television screens all over the world. Israelis have been indoctrinated to believe their army, which maintains the longest military occupation in modern history, is “the most moral army in the world.” Yet here was a video that showed our north star of morality, our righteous IDF, might actually be pointing south.

Faced with the possible collapse of their values and beliefs, Israelis craved an explanation of the images on their televisions. The government asked two people from outside law enforcement, Nahum Shahaf and Joseph Doriel, to “investigate” the killing of al-Durrah. The two were known conspiracy theorists with no background in criminal investigations, who have been laughed out of Israeli courts repeatedly when giving “expert testimonies” in criminal trials (constantly finding...

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Why is Trump's adviser wearing a medal of Nazi collaborators?

Donald Trump’s deputy assistant, Sebastian Gorka, has appeared in multiple photographs wearing the medal of a Hungarian group that collaborated with the Nazis.

By Eli Clifton

The White House’s omission of Jewish victims of the Holocaust in its statement for Holocaust Remembrance Day raised objections from Jewish groups across the political spectrum but the Trump administration’s combative defense was perhaps the most surprising move by a presidency facing record low approval numbers. Last Monday, Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka refused to admit that that it may have been poor judgment not to specifically acknowledge the suffering of Jews in the Holocaust.

Gorka was an odd choice of proxies for the White House to put forward in defense of its Holocaust Remembrance day statement.

He has appeared in multiple photographs wearing the medal of a Hungarian group listed by the State Department as having collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.

When asked on Monday whether the White House’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement was “questionable in being the first such statement in many years that didn’t recognize that Jewish extermination was the chief goal of the Holocaust,” Gorka told conservative talk show host Michael Medved:

That statement is particularly noteworthy when viewed in the context of Gorka’s apparent affinity for a Hungarian group with a checkered past.

Gorka, who worked in the UK and Hungary before immigrating to the U.S., was photographed at an inaugural ball wearing a medal from the Hungarian Order of Heroes, Vitezi Rend, a group listed by the State Department as taking direction from Germany’s Nazi government during World War II.

Gorka did not respond to a request for comment but appeared to be wearing the medal on his chest during the Trump inauguration ball and in an undated photo posted on his Facebook page.

Eva Balogh, founder of the news analysis blog Hungarian Spectrum and former professor of Eastern European History at Yale University, confirmed to LobeLog the identity of the medal worn by Gorka. She said:

Gorka’s PhD dissertation lists his name as “Sebestyén L. v. Gorka,” which suggests that he is carrying on his father’s title, albeit in an abbreviated format, according to Balogh. After this story first broke on LobeLog, Gorka addressed his public display of a Vitezi Rend medal in a video published by Breitbart, noting that he wears it to honor the experience of his parents under...

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Trump and Netanyahu: A shared art of exploiting terrorism

Trump is using the same framework for understanding terrorism to justify his Muslim ban and immigration policy that Netanyahu and Israel have exploited to justify half a century of occupation.

By Naomi Dann

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit with President Trump at the White House this week. It will be a true meeting of minds. Both leaders are bombastic and rely on false claims, fear-mongering, and stereotypes to pursue discriminatory, racist, and violent policies.

The parallels would be comical if they weren’t so harmful. Just last week, Trump asserted, based on no evidence, that people were bussed to New Hampshire to vote against him, almost echoing Netanyahu’s much derided 2015 effort to turn out voters in his favor with the racist claim that “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out.” The two leaders have shown their appreciation for each other’s policies, with Trump repeatedly pointing to Israel as the model for his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and Netanyahu tweeting his support.

Trump’s discriminatory travel ban is in many ways an implementation of what Netanyahu has long advocated. As Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev wrote recently, Trump and his adviser Steve Bannon are taking a page from Netanyahu’s book on radical Islam. “It’s time to put an end to the era of unfettered immigration for all,” Netanyahu wrote in his 1996 book Fighting Terrorism. “Terrorists from the Middle East and other places have turned the United States, Germany, Italy and other countries into terrorist sanctuaries.” Israel already has restrictive and discriminatory immigration policies, which privilege Jewish immigration while barring Palestinian refugees from returning to their homeland. It also maintains a ban on immigration from several of the same specific Arab countries, Iran, Iraq and Syria, as well as Lebanon.

Trump’s invocation of terrorism as the basis of his discriminatory executive order targeting Muslim immigration also draws on a deeper discourse that has roots in Israel and with Benjamin Netanyahu himself. Journalist Kevin Toomis, writing in The New Statesman in 2004 credits Netanyahu as a central figure in the development of “counter-terrorism,” which he characterizes as “a bogus intellectual justification for authoritarianism, military repression and neoconservative Islamophobia.” The anti-Muslim bigotry in the discourse of counter-terrorism and national security is by no means new in the United States or in Israel. But in the context...

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Love under siege in Gaza

In honor of Valentine’s Day, three tales from Gaza of the impossible conditions for families and couples created by Israel’s closure of the Strip.

By Tania Hary

To receive a permit to travel to and from Gaza via Erez Crossing, Israel must determine that your reason for travel is humanitarian in nature or that you meet a list of exceptional circumstances (like playing for the national football team or being a trader). Traveling to visit your mother you haven’t seen in 10 years isn’t considered to be humanitarian in nature, unless, God forbid, she’s ill with a fatal condition.

Traveling for the purpose of attending a wedding is possible, but only if the groom or bride is a first-degree relative. Traveling to your own wedding doesn’t count. Gaza, like all other places in the world, is full of people who love. Here are three stories from the Strip, not just of romantic love, but of all kinds of love under closure. The stories stand out for how ordinary they are, on the one hand, and how extraordinary the circumstances are in which they take place.

Kept apart for undisclosed ‘security reasons’

Shadi and Aya were married in the Gaza Strip just before the devastating military operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. Aya, an American citizen and newly pregnant, was evacuated from the Strip mere days after the operation ended, along with hundreds of other Palestinians holding foreign nationality. She thought it would be a matter of a few short months before Shadi joined her in the United States.

After getting all his paperwork together, Shadi submitted a request to travel to a U.S. immigration visa interview at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. The consulate serves Palestinian residents of the occupied Palestinian territories. As part of standard screening procedures, visa applicants must attend an in-person interview in Jerusalem. Residents of the West Bank and Gaza require permits from the Israeli military to attend these interviews; for residents of Gaza it’s much harder and rarer for them to receive the permits due to the closure of the Strip.

From December 2014 to April 2016, Shadi missed three appointments at the consulate either because the Israeli authorities didn’t respond on time or didn’t respond at all to his application permits. Each time he missed an appointment, he’d schedule another one, submit a new application and start the waiting process...

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The civic duty to oppose home demolitions on both sides of the Green Line

The demolitions in Qalansuwa, Umm el-Hiran, and Israel’s new ‘land grab law’ are one and the same. So is the obligation to oppose them.

By Raied Haj Yahya

The Netanyahu government’s high profile demolitions in Qalansuwa and Umm el-Hiran in recent weeks are clear instances of systemic discrimination against the Palestinian minority in Israel, which comprises 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry. What many in Israel conveniently call “illegal construction” is actually the construction of homes on private land owned by individual Palestinian citizens of Israel. State authorities and planning commissions have erected almost insurmountable institutional and planning barriers for Arab citizens seeking construction permits, forcing them to instead build their homes — on their own private property — without the necessary legal documentation.

Since 1948, over 700 new Jewish towns and communities have been established within Israel, while not a single Arab town has been built (with the exception of several townships designed to concentrate the Bedouin population, freeing up their land for Jewish settlement), despite countless promises by the Israeli government over the years. Eligibility for state-subsidized mortgages are largely restricted to discharged soldiers, effectively excluding the 1.7 million Palestinian citizens who do not serve in the army from becoming first-time home owners; local master plans for Arab towns have not been expanded in decades; and national master plans consistently neglect the needs of the growing Palestinian population.

Israeli land, housing and planning policies have long promoted Jewish demographic dominance — referred to by officials as “Judaization” — by expropriating Palestinian land and expanding existing Jewish communities and establishing new ones, all while deliberately inhibiting the expansion of Palestinian towns at a level that meets natural growth rates.

The case of Umm el-Hiran, however, sets a dangerous precedent by legitimizing, for the first time since the Nakba, the eviction of Palestinians and destruction of their communities (within Israel) with the unabashedly declared intention of establishing Jewish communities atop their ruins. The attitude of the state toward its Palestinian citizens embodied in this case not only affirms the fact that rights in Israel of 2017, just like that of 1948, are assigned based on ethnicity, not citizenship — it also compels us to seriously ask whether the Israeli government views Palestinian citizens inside its territory with the same hostility it regards Palestinians in the territories.

The almost simultaneous occurrence of the Qalansuwa and...

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A note to our readers

From the 972 Board of Directors,

Nearly two months ago 972 – Advancement of Citizen Journalism, the non-profit operating this site, decided to part ways with our Executive Director, Sawsan Khalife’.

The dismissal of Khalife was the result of professional disagreements. Following a short proceeding in labor court today, Khalife retracted the unjust accusations she had leveled. In kind, +972 retracted its list of grievances as well. As part of the agreement finalizing her dismissal, Khalife’ will receive a modified compensation package. We wish her all the best.

We are glad this ordeal is behind us, and have nothing but confidence in our staff and bloggers, whom we fully support. And thank you – our partners and readers – for the continued trust and support you have placed in us for nearly seven years.

We will continue our work doing independent, on-the-ground, critical journalism, and continue to serve as a platform and home to a broad range of communities, as part of our commitment to democracy, ending the occupation, peace, equality, social justice, transparency, and freedom of information.

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The cops at the checkpoint always remind me which side I'm on

Until I learned Hebrew, I saw Jews as frightening, scary, armed people who expelled us from our land in 1967, now working on finishing us off. Does that surprise you?

By Suleiman Maswadeh

My name is Suleiman, I am 22 years old and I was born in Jerusalem’s Old City. Despite the fact that it is located only hundreds of meters from my home, for most of my life Jaffa Street in central Jerusalem was like a foreign, European country. In my childhood, the word “Jew” referred to either Israeli Border Police or riot police. West Jerusalem was a frightening place where death was always a possibility.

My life as an East Jerusalem kid was exceptionally frustrating. My parents made sure that my day began at school and ended at home. “Don’t buy anything from street vendors and don’t speak to strangers, and God help you if you go out with the boys to throw stones at Jews,” my grandmother told me every week, after handing me 50 shekels and imploring me, in a whisper, not to tell my mother.

I saw Jews as frightening, scary, and armed people who expelled us from our land in 1967, and were now working on finishing us off. An ultra-Orthodox man making his way to the Western Wall was a good enough reason for me to pick a different route. And the settlers? They are a completely different story. It was enough to see settlers accompanied by armed security guards in the Old City for the anxiety to paralyze me.

Does this surprise you? Come on. What did you expect? I didn’t speak a word of Hebrew my entire life, aside from the one sentence my dad forced me to remember: “Ani gar b’Yerushalayim,” I live in Jerusalem. This sentence was supposed to convince the Border Police officer at Damascus Gate that I simply wanted to return to my house. What did you expect? When the only Hebrew I knew was what I heard on the news, or from the police officer who handed out tickets in the neighborhood, or from those who wear knitted skullcaps who rampage through the Old City on “Jerusalem Day.”

You’re Christian, right?

After a few years, I decided to stray from the general East Jerusalem path and went to study in an Israeli academic institution. A year and a half ago I finished studying Hebrew at Hadassah...

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'The settlers love us when we shoot Arabs'

Elor Azaria’s trial exposed just how influential the actions and ideas of radical settlers are on the conduct of Israeli soldiers in the West Bank.

By Dean Issacharoff

Two years before Elor Azaria fired one bullet into the head of Abed al Fatah a-Sharif in Tel Rumeida, Hebron before shaking the hand of Israeli settler Baruch Marzel, I stood in an IDF uniform in the same exact place. As video footage of the incident went public, and especially during the testimony phase of the trial, the public became exposed to the extent to which settlers in Hebron influence IDF soldiers’ conduct in violent and destructive ways.

The truth is I did not need the evidence to realize just how deep and significant this phenomenon is. From my experience as an officer in Hebron, the fact that settler Ofer Ohana yelled before the shooting, “The dog is still alive, somebody do something,” and the fact that Azaria received a handshake after he fired his gun was predictable. In fact, it almost goes without saying for anyone who has served in Hebron.

Like Azaria, I also experienced the manipulative behavior of Hebron’s settlers at that exact intersection. Nearly two years before Azaria pulled the trigger, the night the bodies of Gilad Sher, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Ifrach were found – the three were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas – our company prepared for retaliatory settler attacks. I deployed my soldiers along the steep road that leads to the Jilber Junction at the entrance to the Palestinian neighborhood in the heart of the Jewish settlement of Tel Rumeida. A Palestinian family, a mother, father, and several small children – walked on the street toward their house. As they got closer to the junction, the settlers screamed louder and louder. I knew that it was going to be violent. I ordered the soldiers to encircle the family and protect them with our bodies.

When the settlers realized we were not going to let them touch the family, they started throwing stones and screaming at us. I heard them say things such as “Nazi,” “You are confused,” “You don’t know who you are protecting.” The truth was at that moment they were right. At that moment, as an IDF officer, I truly did not understand who I was protecting – the Palestinians from the settlers or the settlers from the Palestinians.

Azaria is not alone

Another officer who served in...

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