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Asylum seekers to Israel's president: 'Look us in the eyes'

Israel plans to begin deporting tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in the coming months. Hundreds gather outside the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, hoping to tell him their stories.

By Yael Marom

Several hundred asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan demonstrated in front of Israeli President Rivlin’s official residence in Jerusalem Monday night, calling on him to stop planned mass deportations. The asylum seekers, including many women and children, were joined by dozens of Jewish Israelis, among them several Holocaust survivors.

The demonstrators chanted “we are refugees,” “refugees don’t deport refugees,” and “the deportations are a catastrophe—recognizing the refugees is the solution.” One elderly Jewish woman held a sign reading: “this Holocaust survivor remembers what it means to be Jewish and what it means to be an asylum seeker.” Many of the asylum seekers held up pictures of friends and family members who left Israel and were murdered, imprisoned, or tortured.

The Israeli government has said it plans to give asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea a stark choice in the coming months: accept deportation to Rwanda or Uganda, or go to prison indefinitely. Upon leaving Israel, however, asylum seekers are not being given legal status in either of those countries. Many are forced into another life-threatening journey, vulnerable to exploitation, humiliation, human trafficking, frequent arrests, demands for bribes, and violence. Testimonies of refugees who left Israel describe kidnapping gangs and even executions by ISIS. Many choose to risk their lives trying to reach Europe from Libya by boat.

On Monday night, it was impossible not to think of those who may lose their lives in the coming months. Who will be raped? Whose children will not have enough food? Who will drown in a desperate attempt to reach Europe and rebuild their life? It was hard to look into the eyes of the asylum seekers without tearing up from shame and fear of the fate that awaits them.

Throughout the protest, the asylum seekers called on President Rivlin to come outside and speak with them. “We’ve gathered here today to ask the president to come out and meet us, to look us in the eyes, to listen to us, to speak with us, and to find a solution,” one asylum seeker cried through a megaphone in the direction of the president’s residence. “The people here are on the brink of being deported....

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Thousands of asylum seekers protest deportation outside Rwandan embassy

The demonstration, held by African asylum seekers, Israelis, and international activists, marks the opening of a new front in the struggle against the deportation. 

By Joshua Leifer

Approximately 2,000 asylum seekers demonstrated outside of the Rwandan embassy in Herzilya on Monday against the Israeli government’s plan to deport them. The demonstrators, joined by Israeli and international human rights activists, chanted “We are Eritrean, we are not Rwandan” and “refugees are not for sale.”

“Israel must check our asylum requests and provide us protection,” the organizers of the protest said. “We are demanding that the Rwandan embassy oppose any agreements with Israel.” The protest organizers also called on Israelis to join them in resisting the deportations.

The Israeli government approved the deportation of asylum seekers, most of them from Eritrea and Sudan, to third countries, including Rwanda and Uganda, in December of last year. According to the government’s plan, the asylum seekers will face a “choice”: deportation or indefinite imprisonment.

The government claims to have agreements with Rwanda and Uganda, under which Israel will pay those countries $5,000 for each refugee they take in from Israel. Israel will also pay $3,500 to each asylum seeker who agrees to leave, though beginning in April, that sum will gradually decrease to incentivize the asylum seekers to leave. As recently as early January, however, the governments of Rwanda and Uganda denied reaching a deal with Israel.

Attorney Asaf Weitzen, formerly of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, said earlier this month that public pressure on the Rwandan government could be key to fighting the deportations. “There’s a reason Rwanda is keeping this a secret, why they won’t talk about in public,” Weitzan said, adding that activist efforts should focus on protesting in front of Rwanda embassies around the world and flooding them with emails and faxes.

As my colleague Yael Marom writes, the agreements between Israel and Rwanda and Uganda are not new. For years, Israel has paid asylum seekers to leave to those two countries. And while the Israeli government insists that the asylum seekers who leave will not be in danger, the testimonies of hundreds of asylum seekers who left paint a very grim picture of what awaits them upon their departure: torture, rape, mass and arbitrary imprisonment, forced labor. They are often denied status and prohibited from working. When attorney Anat Ben Dor of Tel Aviv University’s Refugee...

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'I won't fly refugees to their deaths': The El Al pilots resisting deportation

At least three pilots for Israel’s flag carrier publish declarations publicly refusing to take part in the forced deportation of asylum seekers should they be asked to. The Israeli government is giving tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers a stark choice: deportation or indefinite imprisonment.

By Yael Marom

At least three El Al pilots in recent days published public declarations of their refusal to take part in the deportation of asylum seekers to countries where their lives may be in danger.

Captain Yoel Piterbarg, a pilot on Israel’s national airline, wrote the following on Facebook (Hebrew):

Israel is populated primarily by Jews who, in their near and distant pasts, were refugees in countries around the world. The vast majority became citizens and a small number remained refugees. Most went through the Holocaust, many were forcefully expelled from their countries, and many others emigrated out of a desire to improve their lives in better countries that agreed to accept them.

Out of all people we, the Jews, must be attentive, empathetic, moral, and leaders of public opinion in the world in how we treat the migration of refugees, who have suffered and continue to suffer in their countries of origin.


I will not fly deported refugees against their will for the legal reason (there is no other legal reason) that they are likely to endanger the safety of the flight.

In another Facebook post, El Al pilot Shaul Betzer wrote (Hebrew):

As part of the Jewish people, as someone who was raised and educated with Zionist values that renewed the existence of our nation in the Land of Israel, who has lived here his entire life, who has taken part in missions behind enemy lines, which required no small amount of courage and belief in the justness of our path, recognition of Jewish morality and the sanctity of every human being whoever they may be, all in order to ensure ourselves and the generations to come that we will never again be refugees and reliant on the goodness of others.

There is no way that as pat of the flight crew, I will take part in flying refugees/asylum seekers on their way to a destination, in which their chance of survival after arrival (“a third country”) is close to zero.

Not much courage is required for such a mission, but I...

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Not just Ahed: Israel holding 300 Palestinian minors in prison

There are hundreds of Palestinians like Ahed Tamimi: denied bail and held in detention until the end of their trials. Over 400 more are imprisoned without ever being charged with a crime.

By Joshua Leifer

While the case of Ahed Tamimi has garnered international media attention, the Israeli military prison system’s treatment of Ahed and her mother is not unique. Israel Prison Service (IPS) statistics published by Israeli anti-occupation organization B’Tselem earlier in January reveal that Israel is holding over 300 Palestinian minors in prison. Over 180 of those minors are being held in detention until the end of legal proceedings, without having been convicted, like Tamimi.  

According to IPS data handed over to B’Tselem, as of the end of November 2017 there were 5,881 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, of whom 1,775 were being detained until the conclusion of legal proceedings. Over 400 were administrative detainees, including three women and two minors (aged 16 and 18). Administrative detention is a measure Israel uses to detain Palestinians (and some Jews) indefinitely without charge or trial. It is meant to be adopted rarely and with moderation. In practice, however, Israel uses administrative detention as a first, not last, resort.

In total, 2,200 Palestinians were being held in Israeli jails without having been convicted of any crime.

The data shows a sharp increase in the number of imprisoned minors over the past three years. In December 2014, there were 181 Palestinian minors in Israeli jails. By December 2015, that number had jumped to 477. The total number of Palestinian administrative detainees peaked in April of 2016 at 692.

B’Tselem spokesperson Amit Gilutz condemned the systematic practice of denying bail to Palestinian defendants in Israeli military courts in a statement issued on Wednesday, following the rulings in Ahed and Nariman’s cases. “The routine decision, prior to sentencing, to imprison a person who has not been convicted until the end of legal proceedings in fact empties the legal process of substance,” he said.

The military court system, Gilutz continued, “is one of the most destructive apparatuses of the occupation whose goal is not to pursue justice or truth but to maintain Israeli control over the Palestinian people. So it is in the case of the Tamimi family, and in hundreds and thousands of other cases.”

Joshua Leifer is an associate editor at +972 Magazine.

Correction: An earlier version of this article left out the year during which...

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Social media giants feel the heat at Palestinian digital conference

At the Palestine Digital Activism Forum, representatives from both Google and Facebook faced a crowd that demanded to know why the two companies cooperate with Israel’s attempts at silencing Palestinians.

By Joshua Leifer

Not long after the Arab Spring began, social media companies rushed to embrace the popular narrative that their platforms had the potential to change societies and reform institutions. If the revolts across the Middle East and North Africa were any indication, the revolutions of the 21st century would not be televised but livestreamed, tweeted, shared, and liked.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a letter to potential investors the week the company went public—and almost exactly one year after Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resigned—that “building tools to help people share can bring a more honest and transparent dialogue around government that could lead to more direct empowerment of people, more accountability for officials and better solutions to some of the biggest problems of our time.”

However, as social media companies grew in the years that followed, they shifted from bromides about social change to cooperating with governments, including authoritarian ones. What’s important now is the bottom line.

The shift in social media companies’ orientation to dissent was on full display in at the Palestine Digital Activism Forum on Wednesday, organized by 7amleh (pronounced Hamleh). Headquartered in Haifa, 7amleh, the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, provides social media training for Palestinian activists in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, advocates for greater internet access and for the protection of Palestinian freedom of expression online, and runs campaigns of its own. Recent campaigns focused on restoring electricity to Gaza and opposing violence against the Palestinian LGBT community.

Several hundred people attended the forum, held at the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Ramallah–Al Bireh. The panelists included representatives from human rights groups, including Joshua Franco, a researcher at Amnesty International, Omar Shakir, director of Human Rights Watch – Palestine, Mahmoud Hassan, a lawyer at Addameer, and Dr. Issam Abdeen, Head of Regional and Local Advoacy at Al Haq, as well as representatives from Google and Facebook.

The representatives from Google and Facebook did not receive a warm welcome. The Q&A session following the panel on which they spoke, titled “Global Trends on Digital Rights: From International Perspectives to Palestinian Reality,” was contentious and tense. Attendees, sometimes angrily, demanded answers about Facebook’s cooperation with the Israeli government...

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Abbas' speech shows he is burning bridges with the U.S.

Abbas’ attack on Trump and top White House officials signals that he no longer wants the U.S. involved in peace negotiations. Gradual recognition of a Palestinian state is now his preferred course of action.

By Elhanan Miller

Those who survived Mahmoud Abbas’ tedious history during his speech to the PLO Central Committee on Monday, and avoided the temptation of focusing on the Palestinian president’s style over substance, was able to hear the core of his oration: redefining the Palestinian Authority’s relations with the United States under President Trump.

The speech’s central message focused on the utter refusal to return to the negotiating table with Israel through American mediation. Abbas proposed the five UN Security Council’s five permanent members, along with Germany (known as the P5+1) — who negotiated with Iran over its nuclear deal — as a possible alternative for mediation.

In the first part of his speech, Abbas emphasized the role of the United States in the history of the region’s colonization, in order to justify the “divorce.” Today, says the Palestinian president, the United States speaks in two voices: while the White House treats the PA as a state (Abbas mentioned the fact that Trump surveyed the Palestinian honor guard on his visit), and Congress — under pressure from certain lobby groups — treats it as a terrorist entity.

Abbas claimed that in 2011, when the U.S. demanded he refrain from joining UNESCO, he insisted on joining as a matter of principle to prove that Palestinians will not bow down before imperialistic dictates. The humiliation continued, said Abbas, in November of last year, when the Americans threatened to shut down the PLO’s diplomatic mission in Washington D.C. The Trump administration then reversed its decision, saying it would renew the mission’s permit every seven months, as long as the Palestinian flag is removed from the building.

“That is how the battle between us began,” said the Palestinian president. “We tell them: if the flag is removed, we will close down the office. Enough. We do not need an office, and we do not want to sit in Washington. They said ‘No, no, no. Not to that far.'” This, said Abbas, was how the PA reformulated its relationship with the United States.

Abbas claimed that today the U.S. has made peace with the Palestinians gradually becoming part of 500 conventions, agreements, and international bodies, yet warns against the PA joining 22...

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Between determination and despair: Meet the refugees fighting deportation

The Israeli government has begun the first stages in its planned deportation of African asylum seekers. Refugee activists and advocates are preparing to fight it. 

By Joshua Leifer

The start of the new year marked the first stages of the Israeli government’s plan to deport the roughly 40,000 asylum seekers, most from Eritrea and Sudan, currently living in Israel. The government announced in early January that asylum seekers have three months to leave the country; those who remain in Israel after the three months will face a choice: deportation or prison.

The Population and Immigration Authority also announced that it was recruiting additional inspectors to carry out the deportation, offering a bonus of 30,000 NIS, or roughly $9,000, to civilians willing to participate in the deportation operation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet is reportedly exploring the possibility of forcefully expelling the African asylum seekers en masse. “We have removed about 20,000,” the prime minister told his cabinet during the first week of January. “Now the task is to remove the others.”

Human rights and refugee advocacy organizations in Israel and abroad have condemned the Israeli government’s plan and pledged to fight the deportations. A coalition of human rights groups issued a joint letter condemning the Israeli government’s plan: “Israel is sending refugees to an unsafe country, and many of them to their deaths.” Under the government’s plan, the asylum seekers will be deported to Rwanda or Uganda. Meanwhile, starting in April, employers of asylum seekers will be fined and the $3,500 departure grant to asylum seekers will be gradually reduced.

Refugee activists described the feelings among the different asylum seeker communities as a mix of determination and despair. “People are frustrated, depressed, and exhausted,” Mutasim Ali told +972. “All of the protests we’ve done haven’t done anything. The opposite has happened. Government policy has gotten harsher and crueler.” But, he added, “We will continue to struggle with all the tools we have. In the end, justice will win out.”

Ali, a refugee rights activist originally from Darfur, was the first Sudanese national to be granted residency by the Israel government. To date, the Israeli government has recognized only 11 individuals, including Ali, as refugees.

Ali stressed that stopping the deportations would depend on Israeli citizens taking action alongside the refugees. “This is absolutely the struggle of Israeli citizens,” he said. “The only way to stop this is through the Israeli...

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It is our silence that allows Israel to deport asylum seekers

Fifty years on, Martin Luther King Jr.’s words resonate more than ever: those who are silent are all part of the problem. It is they who have allowed Israel to neglect south Tel Aviv and to condemn asylum seekers to torture and death.

By Sapir Sluzker-Amram

On January 15, Americans observed Martin Luther King Day, marking 50 years since the civil rights leader was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. The struggle for equal rights in the United States was not won in court but in the streets — by people who had had enough of the status quo and organized to effect change.

In 1965, the city of Selma was at the center of the struggle for civil rights and against segregation. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech there, amid the chaos and the real fear of violence and death. One specific sentence still stands out to me:

Those brave people who took the streets knew that they would face severe, even deadly, police violence. They protested knowing they would likely face time in prison. They did not stand idly by. And they were not at risk of facing merely an argument with a police officer, a few hours or even a night in jail, or a nasty post on Facebook from Yoav Eliassi — a right-wing rapper know as “The Shadow” with a violent following — and his friends. It’s true that those are all unpleasant. But that is what struggle and resistance looks like when there is no choice.

The Israeli government will soon deport tens of thousands of people to their deaths and we will stand idly by. We won’t share a post on Facebook because we fear a family member or friend will respond with “What about south Tel Aviv?” or “It’s our country.” So we choose to avoid confrontation. We won’t go to a demonstration because we had a long day at work and, besides, it won’t make a difference.  We won’t read the testimonies of asylum seekers or look at the pictures of the bodies of people who experienced torture — people with whom we have brushed shoulders — because it is too hard for us. We would rather watch cute cat videos.

There is nothing underlying the slogans “Not in My Name.” I suggest we take get rid of it entirely. The deportations will be carried out in the name of all those who sit quietly, too afraid to say anything.


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Living among the dead in Gaza

I asked a man who lives among the graves in Gaza how he could bear to live among the dead. He challenged me. ‘How is living among the dead is worse than living among the living?’

By Mohammed Arafat

When I was a child, I used to pass by the Ma’madany [“Baptist”] graveyard in Gaza City with my dad whenever we went to the market. I always cried and held my father’s hand tightly because I had heard that people lived among the tombs. A frightening thought.

When I grew up, I was endlessly curious; I wanted to learn more about everything around me. But this graveyard remained shrouded in mystery — until a few days ago. When one of my neighbors died, I was hesitant to go to his funeral because I did not know him personally. Finally, I went. I walked in the procession along with hundreds of his relatives, and went to the graveyard, my old nightmare, to bury him. This was my first chance to find out if the story was true.

And it was. I trembled when I saw dozens of people camped out among dead, looking at us while we buried our friend. I wondered if we were the strangers — since we had invaded their “big house” — or whether they were, since they had left our world to live among the graves.

I left the crowd of people and gradually crept closer to those “strangers,” pretending to look for a grave of a relative. I got closer until I saw entire families living in small, makeshift homes made of tin plates. Children and their parents watched the funeral while playing games on and beside the gravestones spread among their homes.

I decided to strike up a conversation with one of the men by asking if he knew where to find my relative’s grave.

“Do you know where the Arafats’ graves are?” I asked a man whom I learned was Mohammed Khail, 34, after shaking his hand. He guided me to some of my relatives’ graves, with his little daughter following us.

“I was wondering why you guys are living here,” I said tentatively. “Did you lose your homes during the last war on Gaza?”

“I was born between the tombs,” he said.

His words shocked me. My heart started to beat fast.

“My parents were expelled from their village [in the land now called Israel] during the 1948...

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Killing the Iran deal with a thousand cuts

Much like President Trump is undermining his predecessor’s other flagship achievement, the Affordable Care Act, the president is attacking the Iran nuclear agreement piecemeal. The result will be tragic.

By Paul Pillar

Don’t be either fooled or relieved by President Trump’s waiving, for now, of nuclear sanctions on Iran, and thus his forgoing of an explicit withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement. Trump still is determined to destroy the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), though not necessarily in the way he threatens, or in a way some have feared. He is set on destroying the JCPOA partly because of the same guiding principle, if it can be called that, steering so much of his presidency, which is to tear down any significant accomplishment of his predecessor. His effort to destroy the accord also is motivated by his submission to elements that do not want anyone to reach agreements of any sort with Iran—such elements mainly being the right-wing government of Israel and its backers in the United States.

Trump’s effort is impeded by the fact that the JCPOA is working. It continues, as confirmed by international inspectors, to fulfill its purpose of blocking all possible paths to a possible Iranian nuclear weapon. Iran continues to comply with its obligations under the agreement. As such, the JCPOA continues to serve the interests of the United States and of international security and the cause of nuclear nonproliferation. These evidently are not interests that motivate Trump, but he cannot afford to be honest about his actual motivations. The fact that the agreement is working prevents him from making any case for withdrawing from the agreement directly and explicitly.

Trump’s statement on this subject blows all the confusing smoke that can be blown about Iran and about the JCPOA, with much of it having nothing to do with the JCPOA. As usual, the smoke is filled with misconceptions, such as that a cash settlement that resolved an issue of undelivered aircraft that the shah ordered 40 years ago supposedly was part of the nuclear deal, when in fact it was not. Or that we should get angry over how Iran “has funded, armed, and trained more than 100,000 militants to spread destruction across the Middle East,” when some of those militants have been fighting on the same side as the United States and its allies against Islamic State.

The portions of the statement...

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Banning the Quakers won't stop our struggle for justice in Israel-Palestine

The American Friends Service Committee once saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust, now we are being banned from entering Israel due to our support for a nonviolent struggle for equality. 

By Brant Rosen

Israel revealed this week a list of 20 groups from around the world it was banning from the country, due to their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. For me, the list represented more than just another news item. As staff person for one organization included on the list – the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker group dedicated to peace and social justice – this news hit home personally as well as professionally.

As a rabbi who works for AFSC, I am proud of the important historical connections between the Jewish community and our organization. As the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum itself has noted, the AFSC was at the forefront of efforts to help and rescue Jewish refugees after 1938, “assisting individuals and families in need… helping people flee Nazi Europe, communicate with loved ones, and adjust to life in the United States.”

The museum has also acknowledged that “the AFSC helped thousands of people in the United States transfer small amounts of money to loved ones in French concentration camps (and helped) hundreds of children, including Jewish refugees and the children of Spanish Republicans, come to the United States under the care of the US Committee for the Care of European Children in 1941–42.”

AFSC became involved with a different group of refugees, the Palestinians, several years later. At the end of 1948, while military hostilities in Palestine were still raging, the UN asked the AFSC to help spearhead the relief effort in Gaza, which was rapidly filling up with Palestinian refugees. Historian Nancy Gallagher has noted refugee relief was not the ultimate goal of their work in Gaza – rather, they “had accepted the invitation to participate in the relief effort with the expectation of assisting in the repatriation and reconciliation process.”

In March 1949, AFSC Executive Secretary Clarence Pickett offered a six-point plan to solve the refugee problem, urging “a substantial repatriation of Arabs into the State of Israel.” However, when it became clear that there was no international will for a political solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, AFSC formally stated that it wished to withdraw from Gaza, stating that “prolonged direct relief…militates against a swift political settlement of the problem.”

I have long been dismayed at the...

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How the Israeli Right succeeds at making itself the victim

From prostituting women to befriending anti-Semites, the Israeli Right has reached a level in which revealing its transgressions only evokes wonderment among its supporters.

By Almog Behar

We are in the historical stage of the ideological Right, in which every single detail, which would have previously embarrassed the right wing, now only strengthens it.

The most recent example of this phenomenon is that of Ateret Cohanim, the settler organization that used prostitutes, front organizations, and threats of murder to buy Palestinian properties in East Jerusalem. The story, published by Haaretz’s Nir Hasson, did not lead to condemnations by the Right. The majority of the ideological Right is not looking to justify these deeds through ideology or religion, since they view the organization’s deeds as a mitzvah on the way to taking control of more land. Ateret Cohanim’s cleverness evokes wonderment rather than criticism.

A smokescreen for the regime

Similarly, the relationship between the Israeli Right and anti-Semites, which has included inviting the latter to visit settlements and partner together on projects, evokes the same feeling among the Israeli Right that revelations about Trump evoke among his supporters: hatred for the media and the Left, along with a deep belief that support for European and American anti-Semites is worth it, so long as it is coupled with support for Israel, Zionism, and Islamophobia. As Yair Netanyahu, son of the prime minister, recently wrote on his personal Facebook page, the real danger is the Left, including groups such as Black Lives Matter and the BDS movement, rather than the extreme right that believes in white supremacy or neo-Nazism.

Moreover, revelations of corruption among figures such as Netanyahu and Liberman, much like the Russia investigation, evoke even more hatred toward the media and the Left, along with a feeling of persecution and victimization. This despite them being in control of the country. Beyond that, the Right believes their leaders’ corruption is a good thing, since such corruption can be used to promote its ideological goals. After all, a good leader must know how to lie and apologize; honesty and decency are for weaklings, and harms the nation.

Meanwhile, the recent revelations about the Netanyahu family do not convince anyone who wasn’t already convinced about their corruption. The repeated reports on Sara Netanyahu’s alleged treatment of her workers at the Prime Minister’s Residence led to a sense that the prime minister’s wife was the victim of persecution...

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COMIC: How the West Bank was won

By Noam Rabinovich

By Noam Rabinovich

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