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A tragically unexceptional story of life and death under occupation

Three decades ago the Israeli military government canceled my sister-in-law’s Palestinian residency because she studied abroad for ‘too long.’ Now, Israel is denying her one last visit with her dying father. But my family will not allow her case, like thousands before it, to be buried in silence.

By Sam Bahour

If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?

If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
~Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

My father-in-law, Mughira Barghouty, is dying. At age 91, his health has severely deteriorated over the last six months. He has three daughters: Sawsan, Serene and my wife, Abeer. Serene and Abeer  live in Ramallah and have become full-time caregivers to their now bedridden father. Sawsan lives in Amman, Jordan. Of late, Mughira has repeated a single request: to touch his daughter Sawsan’s hand one last time. It was about to happen on the last day of April. Sawsan got all the way to the Israel border crossing, Israeli tourist visa in hand, but she was denied entry and told to go back to Amman. The family is crushed, but not surprised.

Mughira Barghouty

Mughira Barghouty

We live one floor above my in-laws, thus the bulk of calls for assistance come to my wife first. The calls are sometimes frantic, from my mother-in-law who notifies us that Mughira has fallen while trying to get out of bed. We rush downstairs, many times in the middle of the night, to deal with the situation. At other times, the calls range from mundane daily needs to assistance using the bathroom. The end of life is difficult to watch. Its ending is similar to its beginning — messy, chaotic, and fully dependent.

In such situations, the family’s main goal is to comfort their loved one. In our culture, if there is any possibility whatsoever to care for the dying person in their own home, this is the preferred option. The home truly does have a much more comprehensive meaning than in the West — and we are all engaged in a collective comforting exercise. Several months back, understanding that his health was failing, Mughira made a simple request: he wants to touch the hand of his third daughter, who lives in Amman, to bid her farewell. We immediately passed on the message to Sawsan.

Sawsan acted without delay. As a Jordanian citizen, she applied for an Israeli tourist visa — the only way a Palestinian citizen of Jordan can reach Palestine. This is done through certified travel agent. The process goes like this: you apply, pay a 50 JD (U.S. $70) application fee, then you wait, and wait, and wait some more. Eventually you get a call from the travel agent when the answer comes back: you either have approval, meaning an Israeli Interior Ministry tourist visa, or you are denied and have to start all over again. If you are one of the lucky ones and get approval, you must pay an additional 70 JD (US $100) fee and place a 20,000-30,000 JD (about US $28,000-42,000) bond (to guarantee you will not overstay the visa period) and you must travel the following day. Throughout the entire waiting period, you must be ready to travel on 24 hours’ notice.

Sawsan’s first application was submitted on September 23, 2014. She was notified it was denied in December 2014. So she started all over again, submitting a second application on March 2, 2015, paying the 50 JD (US $70) application fee again. She was notified on April 29, 2015 that her Israeli tourist visa was issued. She packed her bags in a hurry and headed out the following morning to the Jordan Border Crossing (near the city of Bisan, which Israel calls Beit She’an) to Israel (90 km from Amman) with a group in the travel agent’s bus.

At the Israeli border, which she has crossed numerous times before, she approached the border control window and submitted her passport and Israeli Interior Ministry-issued tourist visa.

“What’s your father’s name?” the border control official asked.

“Mughira,” Sawsan replied.

“Where have you visited outside of Jordan?”

“UK,” Sawsan answered. Sawsan’s son, Laith, graduated with a Masters in water engineering in December 2013 from Birmingham University and both parents traveled to attend the graduation ceremony of their only child.

“And Israel?” the official smirkingly added.

Sawsan (right), her son Laith (center) and husband Khaled (left) in the UK for Laith’s Master’s degree graduation ceremony, 2013.

Sawsan (right), her son Laith (center) and husband Khaled (left) in the UK for Laith’s Master’s degree graduation ceremony, 2013.

Sawsan shook her head in agreement, but found the question odd since she is a Palestinian, born in Ramallah, and has travelled many times over this same crossing.

The official instructed her to sit and wait. Meanwhile, the busload of people with whom she was travelling sat waiting her exit so they could continue on. Sawsan become anxious. Group after group, all of which arrived after her, one from Thailand and two from India, breezed through border control. Eventually an Israeli official came and advised Sawsan that she was being denied entry into Israel. Her bus was told to continue on to Israel without her.

The Israeli official brought her two copies of a form written in Hebrew and English; she is fluent in neither. The states two reasons for the denial of entry: 1) “Prevention of illegal immigration considerations”; and, 2) “Public security or public safety or public order considerations.” Despite her protests that she could not read the documents, she signed. Five hours after arriving at the crossing, she was escorted to a bus and sent back to Jordan.

Sawsan called home to Ramallah to inform her mother and sisters. The shock, anger and sadness that ensued is the same that can be found in nearly every Palestinian home at one time or another. After all, dispossession, occupation, and systemic discriminating is the hallmark of the pain Israel has applied to Palestinian society for 70 years, ripping it apart, family member by family member.

One may ask, why is Sawsan applying for a tourist visa at all? She was born in Ramallah and was issued an Israeli residency ID number at birth. When she turned 16 Israel issued her an ID card. But Sawsan’s case, like that of so many others, has a not-so-exceptional twist. Sawsan exited the West Bank in September 1977 to go and study in Latin America. At the time, Palestinians had to surrender their IDs upon exiting the West Bank and were given an Israeli “exit permit.” To renew the “exit permit” one had to physically return every 12 months.

An Israeli soldier locks a border fence. (Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com)

An Israeli soldier locks a border fence. (Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com)

Sawsan’s mother was able to get her three separate renewals, the maximum allowed without physically returning; the last was valid through September 1983. She didn’t make it back in time, and ultimately ended up getting married in Amman. That a Palestinian could lose their residency status in their birthplace is routine practice of the Israeli occupation.

She didn’t reenter the West Bank again until 1987, when Israel issued her a permit to visit based on the Jordanian citizenship she had since acquired. Most recently she visited Palestine with her husband, on a tourist visa, in 2011.

Under the 1994 Israel-Jordanian peace treaty Israeli citizens do not need to request a visa in advance in order to visit Jordan. They just show up at the border crossing, similar to the one where Sawsan was denied entry, buy a visa on the spot and enter Jordan. I have yet to hear of an Israeli citizen denied entry by Jordan.

After the Oslo Accords in 1993, Sawsan hoped she could get her Israeli-issued Palestinian ID reinstated, which would allow her to visit Palestine as she wished, without having to applying a visa every time. She applied for ID reinstatement through the Palestinian Authority, which liaises with Israeli officials, in 1999. Sixteen years later, she has yet to receive any response.

Sawsan wants to know why Israel is still holding her ID hostage after all these years. She wants her residency status back so that she can visit her birthplace and family. She is aware that she may not have the chance to bid her father farewell, but she wants to ensure she can spend more time with her aging mother.

Politicians and diplomats clearly are at a loss on how to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, how to address the right of return of five million Palestinian refugees. But is it so hard to get the Israelis to return the ID of a retired West Bank Palestinian mother who was born in Ramallah? We are committed to not let this be just another case, like the thousands before it, that is buried in silence. We have hired an Israeli lawyer to take up her case.

Mughira is an uncommon name in our society. It comes from Mughira ibn Shu’ba who was one of the more prominent companions of Prophet Muhammad. He belonged to the tribe of Thaqif of Ta’if. Mughira ibn Shu’ba was one of the last companions to see the Prophet before his death. It’s ironic that our Mughira will not be able to see his daughter, who lives two hours away, before his death, because an Israeli border control official has decided so.

What a way to live, and die.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant from Ramallah/Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network and co-editor of “Homeland: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians” (1994). He blogs at www.ePalestine.com. A Hebrew version of this article was published on Local Call. Read it here.

*** EDITOR’S NOTE ***

The Israeli Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority responded to +972: “Mrs. Barghouti filed a request to enter Israel a number of months ago, which was rejected by the Israeli mission in Jordan. Despite the refusal, she later requested to enter Israel as part of a tourist group. A tourist group approval is a group visa and not individual, and when it was discovered that she was actually trying to get around the embassy’s decision — she was denied entry. If she wants to bypass the mission’s decision she should appear there again and file a new application. Or an appeal.”

The IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Israel’s military government that controls the Palestinian population registry, wrote about the application to restore her identity card: “Our inquiry found that the Palestinian Authority did not file a request on Ms. Barghouti’s behalf. If and when a request is filed via the Palestinian Authority, it will be examined in accordance with the regulations.”

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    COMMENTS

    1. susy

      The answer from the Israeli Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority is so evil and basic.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        How so? Are you saying that you support fraud, maam?

        Reply to Comment
    2. tod

      This woman was born in Ramallah. Dear Israeli Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority, you have no right to deny her the possibility to visit her city and family.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        1. Israel is a country of laws. Yearly tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs and hundreds of thousands of other foreigners are granted tourist visas by Israel. Those foreigners – incl. ex (Jewish) Israelis – followed the law that guaranteed them their rights and they got the tourist visas they wanted by following the law. All Sawsan had/has to do is to follow the law and meet the same requirement everyone else is subjected to. Thus, I see no injustice in this particular instance.

        2. Sawsan has a Jordanian nationality, a Jordanian national passport and another nationality the author is not telling you about. If Sawsan wants to be granted a visa by Israel, she must meet the same requirements everyone else who applied and was issued a tourist visa is required to meet (incl. ex Jewish-Israelis!).

        3. If Sawsan does not agree with the decision of the Israeli Embassy to deny her visa, she can always appeal. Unlike in the United States and other countries that have no- or limited Judicial Review of the Acts of their governments in matters of foreign relations and diplomacy, all decisions of the Israeli Foreign Ministry are appealable all the way to the Supreme Court of Israel. Alternatively, Sawsan can – instead of the wrangling – actually study the decision to deny her a tourist visa, pinpoint the requirements she according to the Embassy did not meet, meet those requirements and then re-apply for a visa. Unfortunately, Sawsan did not do any of the above. Instead she chose to play hanky-panky with the law and was caught, while the author is engaging in smear and propaganda on her behalf.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ginger Eis

      1. In all Western countries, the law determines who is a citizen and who is not; who is a resident and who is not, etc.

      2. In all Western countries, the law determines how citizenship is acquired and lost and how residency is acquired and lost, etc.

      3. There is no Western country that has any such thing as everlasting and eternal citizenship and/or residency under any- and all conditions. That’s just pure fantasy!

      4. Compared to major Western countries, Israeli law re the loss of citizenship and/or residency is among the most liberal. For example, a German citizen (both natural born and naturalized) loses her/his German citizenship and residency if (s)he acquires the nationality of another country (see e.g. § 25 und 38 Aufenthaltsgesetz). The loss of the nationality is automatic and it does not matter where the recipient of the foreign nationality was residing at the time of the acquisition of said foreign nationality. This is just ONE way of losing nationality in Germany. Other Western countries go even further than the more protective German law. For example in The Netherlands, a Dutch citizen loses his citizenship for the mere fact that (s)he – for a period of 10-yrs – has unbroken residency in another country (see Article 15, section 1, subsection c, Rijkswet op het Nederlanderschap). And The Netherlands is said to be the most liberal country in the entire West (hihi, hihi)!

      5. In both Germany and The Netherlands a holder of a residence permit looses her/his residence permit if (s)he maintains residency in another country for a period of more than 6-months. In Israel, it is 12-months!

      6. What the author of this article is thus complaining about is nothing but standard practice in major liberal Western countries. Contrary to the assumptions of the author, no one acquires the ID of any country just so (s)he can visit that country anytime (s)he wants. In fact, none of the requirements for the (re)issuance of an (lost) ID is present in the entire presentation of the author. Most unfortunately, that which is standard and very lawful in other Western democracies becomes a major crime if practiced in the Jewish State.

      Reply to Comment
      • Josh

        Are you just kidding or you have blind eyes ?
        Everything that you write coldly is correct, but has absolutely no value if contextualized in the present situation : Israel is an occupying power in the West Bank and East-Jerusalem and therefore should not decide about citizenship there.
        A certain irony makes also that a Ramallah-born citizen losts his ID while a New-York born person will have automatically the right (for ever if his family remains Jewish, since Israel based its ideology and nationalism on the religion) to immigrate and get the citizenship : which country does that ?
        Israel controls all borders to reach the Palestinian cities : how can’t you feel something’s wrong and that there is an obvious lack of justice…?!

        Reply to Comment
        • Ginger Eis

          Israel is a country of laws. Yearly tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs and hundreds of thousands of other foreigners are granted tourist visas by Israel. Those foreigners – incl. ex (Jewish) Israelis – followed the law that guaranteed them their rights and they got the tourist visas they wanted by following the law. All Sawsan had/has to do is to follow the law and meet the same requirement everyone else is subjected to. Thus, I see no injustice in this particular instance.

          Reply to Comment
          • David T.

            Of course you don’t see no injustice in this particular instance. The victim of expulsion and denationalization is not Jewish and you support these crimes, if comitted by Jew.

            According to your general understanding of citizenship law Germany had the right to denationalize Jews, too.

            Israel denationalized its expellees. Germany allows expellees to return. All Western countries don’t violate the human right of return. And all Palestinians who lived in the territory that became Israel had the right to automatically acquire the citizenship of the new sucessor state according to international customary law.

            Reply to Comment
        • BigCat

          All European countries have laws that are either the same with- or similar to the Israeli law of Return. Checkout Greece and Germany for example. What exactly then is your problem? That Israel refuses to commit national suicide by flooding itself with tens of millions of Arabs who already have at least 22 Arab States? That Israel wants to secure just one State for Jews?

          Btw

          Israel did not decide the citizenship of Mrs. Barghouti. She did it herself. Mrs. Bargoughti is a citizen of the Kingdom of Jordan. She has Jordanian passport and residence permit. She has also lived in another country for more than a decade and may have the nationality of that country as well. Mrs. Barghouti is not an Israeli citizen, she never applied for Israeli citizenship and/or residence permit. Mrs. Barghouti is therefore a foreigner. That fact will not change if Mrs. Barghouti was born in Tel Aviv. Jewish Israelis who give up their Israeli nationality are treated the same as Mrs. Barghouti.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Jewish Israelis who give up their Israeli nationality are treated the same as Mrs. Barghouti.”

            What a crock. On all sorts of levels. You too will say anything. You too need to watch Yahuda Shaul for 98 minutes. Your life will never be the same:
            https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JxHE4KrLvj0

            Reply to Comment
          • BigCat

            Brian alias ”Ben” alias ”David T.”, you are really very obsessive about this Yehuda Shaul and his scurrilous-screed in his videos. It seems you have added him and his videos to a list of your fantasy-objects. Oh boy…. ‘hope you are not whacking it again….

            Unfortunately for you, your source did not contradict me. What I said still stands, i.e. “Jewish Israelis who give up there Israeli nationalities are treated the same as Mrs. Barghouti”, moron, because they are foreigners. If you have a source contradicting that, please present it. We are waiting….. Brian.

            Reply to Comment
          • David T.

            “All European countries have laws that are either the same with- or similar to the Israeli law of Return.”

            No. Their, laws doen’t differentiate between Jews an Gentiles, especially not after 1945 and allow expellees to return contrary to Israel.

            “That Israel refuses to commit national suicide by flooding itself with tens of millions of Arabs …”

            Not “tens of millions” of “Arabs”, but the Palestinians Israel expelled. But you support people flodding a country if they are Jews and you support a state whose national character can only survive, if it keeps people expelled based on heritage or faith as long as they are not Jews.

            Reply to Comment
          • BigCat

            More rambling mumbo jumbo from ‘Brian Ben David T. Dekkers’. LoL!

            Reply to Comment
        • Ginger Eis

          Israel is a country of laws. Yearly tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs and hundreds of thousands of other foreigners are granted tourist visas by Israel. Those foreigners – incl. ex (Jewish) Israelis – followed the law that guaranteed them their rights and they got the tourist visas they wanted by following the law. All Sawsan had/has to do is to follow the law and meet the same requirement everyone else is subjected to. Thus, I see no injustice in this particular instance. Your arguments fail.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You just can’t have any clue how coldly discriminatory, and thus Israel-besmirching in a totally back-firing way for your purposes, you sound Eis. You just can’t. If you think we are gonna buy that an “ex (Jewish) Israeli” or any Jewish person on earth is subjected to that sadistic seven month $42,000 bond be ready to travel with 24 hours notice plus gobs more contemptuous treatment rigamarole…. Who do you think you’re kidding? Have you listened to Yehuda Shaul yet?

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Josh is right. What a crock of coldly officious, irrelevant BS. In case you forgot, the illegally occupied territories are not under Israeli sovereignty. Josh is completely correct. And none of those countries bases manipulation of citizenship and residency and the right to travel, in illegally occupied territory, to come and go, on being race as Israel does and engages in the manipulative tricks on this that Israel does. And bases whether you can visit your dying father on an apartheid system and the heartless whims of an arbitrary bureaucrat. For you to drone on about “standard and lawful” practices and hold up Israel of all places as a paragon of lawful practice and as “liberal” on this of all things is breathtakingly dishonest. I mean, really, you’ll say anything. Eis, you as much as anyone here need to listen to all 98 minutes of Yehuda Shaul:
        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JxHE4KrLvj0

        Reply to Comment
        • BigCat

          Yet another rambling mumbo jumbo from Brian…eh…”Ben”. When Brian is not copying and pasting the opinions of others, he rants and rambles incoherently.

          Reply to Comment
    4. BigCat

      The IDF:

      “Our inquiry found that the Palestinian Authority did not file a request on Ms. Barghouti’s behalf. If and when a request is filed via the Palestinian Authority, it will be examined in accordance with the regulations.”

      Question:

      What exactly is the author complaining about?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      Gratuitous cruelty.

      “No one ever envisioned the actual possibility that power would fall one day into the hands of people with the demeanor of masters, for whom the oppression of another nation was second nature. Who ever imagined that the Jewish community might one day turn into a colonialist entity and lay the foundations of an apartheid regime as a permanent condition, and would want to engrave that shame in its law books on top of that?” – Ze’ev Sterhell

      Reply to Comment
      • BigCat

        “Mrs. Barghouti filed a request to enter Israel a number of months ago, which was rejected by the Israeli mission in Jordan. Despite the refusal, she later requested to enter Israel as part of a tourist group. A tourist group approval is a group visa and not individual, and when it was discovered that she was actually trying to get around the embassy’s decision — she was denied entry. If she wants to bypass the mission’s decision she should appear there again and file a new application. Or an appeal.”

        What is so gratuitously cruel about that – assuming you actually know what “gratuitous cruelty”, means moron? It happens all the time in your own country, Brian…eh…”Ben”. Somehow you think that by constantly copying and pasting the opinion of political pundits of Haaretz you are making any useful point? Oh boy… Brian…eh…”Ben”, it actually confirms again and again that your mind is empty and bankrupt as a result of which you constantly copy and paste the opinion of pundits to mask your own incompetence.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Herr Grosskatze,

          Empathy is a critical developmental trait. As per the above post, you show marked deficits. That’s the bad news. But don’t worry. You’ve told us you’re not much older than 15. We believe you. The good news is there’s hope for you yet:

          http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304561004579137514122387446

          Cognitive empathy,” or the mental ability to take others’ perspective, begins rising steadily in girls at age 13, according to a six-year study published recently in Developmental Psychology. But boys don’t begin until age 15 to show gains in perspective-taking, which helps in problem-solving and avoiding conflict. Adolescent males actually show a temporary decline, between ages 13 and 16, in a related skill—affective empathy, or the ability to recognize and respond to others’ feelings, according to the study….Fortunately, the boys’ sensitivity recovers in the late teens. Girls’ affective empathy remains relatively high and stable through adolescence.

          Reply to Comment
          • BigCat

            And yet another rambling mumbo jumbo from Brian…eh…”Ben”. Why don’t you begin by telling +972 and its readers why you went from Brian to “Ben” and why you for a period of time were posting as Brian and “Ben” at the same time?

            Reply to Comment
          • New Relic

            Not only that, but Brian has his characters talk to one another.
            His other hobby is walking off to gay porn and he engages in daddy role play with Richard Silverstain.

            Reply to Comment
    6. Bar

      I’d like to thank 972 for publishing the editor’s note. Seriously. If more of your articles would include the viewpoint or clarification of the authorities’ side, we’d have a better understanding of the situation. Perhaps the author of this piece, clearly an articulate and experienced writer, could use his gifts to help write the appeal letter? It’s possible that in explaining the situation, his sister in law could still see her father in time.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Great. But if the cold dismissive agents who summarily rebuffed her twice had taken the time to treat her with anything like the clarity (if that’s what it really is and not another run around–forgive my skepticism) and respect they treated +972 with then maybe a lot of unnecessary pain could have been avoided in the first place.

        Reply to Comment
        • BigCat

          Brian/”Ben”/”David T.”, I can assure that if the author of this article links a copy of the application form and/or the negative decision following that application, you will discover that the story of a “dying father” is not mentioned there and that the tourist visa application was denied for other reason the author is not willing to share with any of you here. The story of a “dying father” is nothing but a smoke screen designed to cover the truth and draw sympathy. But as usual you swallow every anti-Israel propaganda line sinker and hook while talking gibberish, you gullible, psychotic moron.

          Reply to Comment
        • David T.

          “Brian alias ”Ben” alias ”David T.”, you are really very obsessive … Yet another rambling mumbo jumbo from Brian…eh…”Ben”. When Brian is not copying and pasting the opinions of others, he rants and rambles incoherently. … Oh boy… Brian…eh…”Ben”, it actually confirms again and again that your mind is empty and bankrupt as a result of which you constantly copy and paste the opinion of pundits to mask your own incompetence. … And yet another rambling mumbo jumbo from Brian…eh…”Ben”. Why don’t you begin by telling +972 and its readers why you went from Brian to “Ben” and why you for a period of time were posting as Brian and “Ben” at the same time?”

          Yeah, Ben and not the ParanoidKitten is very obsessive. LOL.

          Reply to Comment
          • BigCat

            The fact that “David T.” paid close attention to- and made notes of what was said to “Ben” on thread where “David T.” was not even present, shows that “David T.” and “Ben” are two personalities of ONE person. You are not even smart enough not to convict yourself, moron.

            Really Brian. Go seek professional help. You need it. Take “Dekkers” with you, if you know what I mean. LoL!

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Your burgeoning paranoia is so similar to Gustav’s that I’m beginning to think you two are the same guy! LOL! But it’s probably just a shared characteristic of the hypernationalist right.

            Reply to Comment
          • David T

            “The fact that “David T.” paid close attention to- and made notes of what was said to “Ben” on thread where “David T.” was not even present, shows that “David T.” and “Ben” are two personalities of ONE person.”

            Rofl. The reasoning of a Hasbara troll: If A negates that A is B than the only logical conclusion is that A is B. See how Netanyahoo’s UN bomb picture messes with your brain? It’s getting very ugly.

            But please endulge us with more circular ideocies. What’s the motive? Why would Ben need to comment as David T., too?

            Give it all and please embrace your paranoia for comical purposes.

            Reply to Comment
          • BigCat

            Because the individual know as Brian is a very disturbed psychopath who is obsessed with Jews and Israel. He claims that he is a US citizen; he is unemployed, is not looking for work, but dependent on US government foods stamps; while others are at work, he runs from one Jewish website to the other reading and researching exclusively about Jews and coming back here to rant and ramble. Is that clear to you Brian Ben David T. Dekkers? We are also keeping an eye on “Michael’s Mind”, “A Conscientious Objector”, etc. to see when you will resurrect them from the dead.

            Reply to Comment
          • David T.

            My question was “Why would Ben need to comment as David T., too?”

            To insane to answer?

            Reply to Comment
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