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An open letter to a future Israeli soldier

I honestly believe you want the best for this country, but if you care about the Israeli society, there are other ways to make a difference. Joining the IDF only perpetuates the status quo — one that is bad for Israel and much worse for Palestinians.

By Ido Liven

Israeli soldiers attend a ceremony commemorating the IDF paratroopers, October 10, 2016. (Sraya Diamant/IDF Spokesperson)

Israeli soldiers attend a ceremony commemorating the IDF paratroopers, October 10, 2016. (Sraya Diamant/IDF Spokesperson)

Congratulations. You are 18 years old today. We don’t know each other but your birthday is especially important to me. Let me explain. When you were born, I joined the IDF. I shouldn’t have.

Don’t get me wrong — it was a truly life changing experience. I met some of my best friends during my army service and have had some positive experiences. I even learned how to cook in some godforsaken outpost on the border with Jordan. And, ultimately, this crucial period of my life has undoubtedly influenced the person I am today — the person who now would have preferred not to be there.

I was told I was helping to protect my country. And I believed it. But it would be a lie to say that my participation in the occupation — or my service as a combatant in a Multiple Launch Rocket System unit, a weapon whose cluster munition has been banned by an international treaty since August 2010 — have made anyone safer.

Lies I told myself

I still would like to think I have made a difference, that someone else in my place would have done a much worse job; that I positively influenced my friends, maybe even my commanders, and helped prevent even worse things from happening; that perhaps I made life easier for some Palestinians. From the perspective of those days, it is possible. But all of this is completely insignificant in the broader picture, not only the army’s, but of my own service.

Yes, I lied to myself. Trying to bring about change from within in order to help end the occupation, at least in the army, is not possible even if you are the chief of staff. After all, the IDF is an executive body that carries out government policies (and in practice also perpetuate the justification for its existence), and the system is designed to co-opt each and every member.

So, yes, I would like to think that I have done some positive things as a soldier, but focusing on them in retrospect would be nothing more than cleaning my conscience. In fact, whatever justice I may have took part in was not just dwarfed by my overall role, it practically camouflaged the other injustices I partook in. Because being an IDF soldier — even if an ethical one — has at the very least made me a witness, and in practice I became complicit in repressing another people.

Israeli soldiers surround Jewish settlers near the West Bank city of Nablus, January 20 2017. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers surround Jewish settlers near the West Bank city of Nablus, January 20 2017. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

I was in a base overlooking Ramallah when the Second Intifada broke out. Back then I vowed never to put a human being between the crosshairs of my rifle. Today I am proud to say that I stuck to this vow, or at least I am glad I was never in many situations that forced me to test it.

It might be a cliché, but when you were born, when I joined the army, your mother also probably wished you would never have to enlist. Just like my own mother — just like many other Israeli mothers.

Yet 18 years later the wishes of Israeli parents are not the only thing that remained constant. Fifty years later the Israeli occupation is still here, and publishing these words was — and still is — seen as nothing short of treason by many.

Paying the price and making a change

Israeli soldiers detain a Palestinian man following a house raid in the West Bank city of Hebron September 20, 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers detain a Palestinian man following a house raid in the West Bank city of Hebron September 20, 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

But here’s the thing: there are alternatives. There are a number of excellent organizations that support the choice of young people at the point in their life when they begin to consider a different course than the one we have all been told is the right one to take. I have met some of them, and I know that the people involved in these organizations care about the Israeli society – its moral character, not just its image – no less than any other Israeli. I dare say that their commitment for a better future for Israelis and Palestinians supersedes that of many others.

If you are reading this, I honestly believe you want the best for this country. And if you care about the Israeli society, there are other ways to make a difference. At this point, joining the IDF would only help perpetuate the status quo, one that is bad for Israel and much worse for Palestinians.

It doesn’t mean there is no price to pay. I know this is far from being an easy decision, and given the consequences, I sincerely wish people will never have to face such a choice. But in the current state of affairs, for an individual who wishes to participate in creating a better future for Israeli society, opting to refuse to serve in the army carries a vastly larger potential to actually make a difference. At the very least, choosing to go against the flow, not to conform, would necessarily make the people around you — those who appreciate and care about you — think honestly with themselves about this dilemma.

Activists circulate a petition in support of Israel conscientious objectors, Tel Aviv. (Einav Zilber)

Activists circulate a petition in support of Israel conscientious objectors, Tel Aviv. (Einav Zilber)

I don’t remember considering refusing when I was about to join the army. It wasn’t just that I was a scared, obedient youngsterI probably just did not want to be different from my peers. A conformist. Maybe I didn’t have the guts to claim I was a pacifist (which I wasn’t) or go to the mental health officer to get an exemption. I know others who did. I just was not aware of what serving in the IDF actually means.

On the day you were born I joined the IDF. I had no doubt that I was doing the right thing, and I genuinely believed that the challenges to come are the way for me, for every caring citizen, to somehow contribute to my country. I was wrong.

Today you are 18 years old and are likely about to join the army. But try to think about it again. Try to think about the baby who was just born today – will you be able to say that by joining the IDF you helped improve Israel for her or him?

Ido Liven is an environmental activist and a former journalist. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Grandpa Frost

      What a bunch of hopeless drivel. Israel is surrounded by bloodthirsty enemies who wish to murder Jews for no other reason other than them being Jews (and don’t lecture me on the alleged existence of the occupation because it’s a blatant lie). On top of that the IDF is the only force that keeps all the land between the river and the sea (aka Israel) from turning into another Syria. The Arabs should be groveling at the feet of the IDF because the IDF keeps them safe from each other.

      Reply to Comment
      • John

        racist

        Reply to Comment
        • Grandpa Frost

          The term “racist” has become a synonym for the term “factual” when used by the anti-Israel movement.

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “…and don’t lecture me on the alleged existence of the occupation because it’s a blatant lie….”

        Why bother posting nonsense like this? No one is going to take you seriously and you’ll just highlight why English language +972 exists, to penetrate outside the cult. Earth flat too? There was an NBA basketball player recently who said he didn’t think the evidence was in on the earth being round. He’s not being taken seriously either but at least he’s entertaining. You? Not so much.

        Reply to Comment
        • Grandpa Frost

          Well, if the occupation does exist, then I challenge you to prove that it does. Actually, we’ve been through this, and you failed miserably. Would like to give it another try?

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Look, Frost, feel free to make stuff up, about me or about the occupation, but don’t expect others to take you seriously. As for who has to prove what, you’ve got the standards inverted. In the evidence based world, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If you claim that the Loch Ness Monster exists, then it is incumbent on you to prove it, not for me to disprove it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Grandpa Frost

            The existence of the occupation IS the extraordinary claim, the Israeli control of Judea and Samaria in no way meets the definition of occupation. Not only is the “occupation” a lie, it’s a blatant, despicable lie designed to dehumanize the Jews of the Holy Land. It is the modern-day version of the deicide charge. The Israelis are no more guilty of being an occupying power, and the Jews are guilty of killing somebody’s god.

            Reply to Comment
          • Baladi Akka 1948

            I think you’re a pro-Palestinian activist pretending to be an Israeli extremist in order to discredit the Zionist enterprise, it’s borderline antisemitic, no Jew would be such a blatant idiot in real life.

            Reply to Comment
          • Grandpa Frost

            You can call me every name in the book, I don’t care. You have offered absolutely no factual arguments. You simply can’t. Your whole cause is morally and intellectually bankrupt. And it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I agree with Baladi Akka 1948’s diagnosis. We can go to that page and see you didn’t win the argument, Frost. Your imperviousness to reason and evidence is what is on display. If you think I’m going to take the time to spell it all out for you all over again, you’re mistaken.

            You’re a lot like the creationist zealot who is shown samples from the several layers of the Burgess Shale, then pre-human and human remains from 200,000 and 50,000 year old sediments in Africa and the Middle East, and then is shown living evidence of evolution taking place in real time in the descendants of Darwin’s finches on the Galápagos Islands, and has it patiently explained to him how nothing in the natural world makes sense except in the light of evolution, but then doggedly proceeds to say “but the Bible says….”
            But that’s the thing. What you’re really up to here is, like the tireless gambit of the creationists, trying to insert “teaching the controversy” into the curriculum when there is no genuine controversy.

            The topic of this article is a letter from an Israeli soldier written with the utmost verisimilitude and courage and sobriety and good faith. A scandal. A phenomenon that needs explaining. Your response is to bury your head in the sand and chant “there is no occupation.” Like a Branch Davidian at Waco.

            It is clarifying.

            But you know, it occurs to me I’m giving you too much credit. And the funny thing is you self-righteously say people are calling you names but you started this all with supreme arrogance and name calling in your first sentence calling this soldier’s letter “drivel” and proceeding from there to trot out the old, crude propaganda standbys, “blood thirsty” and “enemies who wish to murder Jews for no other reason other than them being Jews.” And then, it gets better, you go on to ask me to pretend the lesson already imparted to you says the opposite of what it says, and want me to laboriously spell it all out again. Really, are you a Palestinian secret agent?

            Reply to Comment
          • Grandpa Frost

            Anyone who is even remotely capable of critical thinking would recognize, that not only did I win the “argument”, but that you never had one to begin with. In the thread I linked to above, you attempted to manipulate the definition of “occupation” and I called you out on it. And then you failed to explain exactly how the Israeli control of Judea and Samaria constitutes occupation. You are very well aware of that fact, and that is the ONLY reason you are not even attempting to engage me on this. Unfortunately, very few people are truly capable of critical thinking, that is why the anti-Israel movement exists in the first place.

            I am amazed at your ability to mischaracterize things. Calling someone’s letter “drivel” does not constitute name calling, no more than the Israeli control of Judea and Samaria constitutes an “occupation.” For your information, words have meanings and you are not at liberty to manipulate those meanings at your whim. This is exactly the kind of behavior the enemies of the Jewish people have been engaging in throughout the ages.

            I could be a Palestinian secret agent if such a nation existed. Unfortunately, for you, there is no evidence for an existence of such a people. Not historical, not archeological, not any other kind. I stand by every single word I wrote above. The enemies of the Jews are indeed bloodthirsty (look at what they’re doing to each other!), and they do want to murder Jews for being Jews. But not only the Jews! The murderous intifada has gone global.

            After utterly failing to prove your point, you claim that you have imparted some kind of a lesson to me accuse me of arrogance in the same paragraph! What temerity!

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Grandpa Frost

            I think you may be right about the use of the term racist.
            What I found interesting in your little thread with Ben is that he used the definition, “Military occupation is effective provisional control of a ruling power over a territory which is not under the formal sovereignty of that entity.” A definition with me he’s been calling mendacious, pedantic, dishonest….

            Reply to Comment
    2. i_like_ike52

      Although I respect Ido and thank him for his service, he is like the Quakers and Mennonites in the US and UK during World War 2. They wanted to be clean in their consciences so they refused to fight, so they let everyone else do the dirty work for them and fight in order to PROTECT THEM and ensure THEIR rights to sit it out, which they wouldn’t continue to enjoy had the Axis won the war.
      Ido shuts his eyes to what is happening throughout the Middle East. Perhaps he should see the situation of minority groups like the Yazidis, the Christians (even those in Egypt, not just Syria or Iraq where they are being killed or driven out of the country) and then think what wuold happen to the Jews of Israel if the IDF were to do what he wanted and let down its guard on us. The Palestinians have repeatedly been offered an independent state which would mean the end of the “occupation” and the removal of the settlements, but they prefer to maintain the status quo. His real argument is with them, not the IDF>

      Reply to Comment
    3. Liz

      Maybe what the writer wants is an IDF that is dedicated to protecting Israel rather than using so much of its resources to sustaining an illegal occupation.

      Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        What you call “the occupation” started in 1967 when Nasser and the rest of Israel’s Arab neighbors promised to “throw the Jews into the sea”. Israel has repeatedly offered to “end the occupation’ but the Palestnian negotiators refused to talk. Israel unilaterally withdrew from southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip and received rockets and terror attacks in return. That’s why the IDF is still in Judea/Samaria. Ido seemed to ignore all these facts in his selective morality.

        Reply to Comment
      • Grandpa Frost

        Right, the UN and Haaretz are non-biased sources. I’ve looked at the links you’ve provided and I still don’t see how the Israeli control of Judea and Samaria meets the definition of occupation. Can you point out a specific part of the document or the presentation that offers such proof?

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          “I still don’t see how the Israeli control of Judea and Samaria meets the definition of occupation.”

          That’s nice. But your own Israeli High Court and GOI see how, and have for at least 38 years now. I guess they’re not as smart as you, though.

          “The Israeli High Court of Justice determined in the 1979 Elon Moreh case that the area in question was under occupation and that accordingly only the military commander of the area may requisition land according to Article 52 of the Regulations annexed to the Hague IV Convention. Military necessity had been an after-thought in planning portions of the Elon Moreh settlement. That situation did not fulfill the precise strictures laid down in the articles of the Hague Convention, so the Court ruled the requisition order had been invalid and illegal.[25] In recent decades, the government of Israel has argued before the Supreme Court of Israel that its authority in the territories is based on the international law of “belligerent occupation”, in particular the Hague Conventions. The court has confirmed this interpretation many times, for example in its 2004 and 2005 rulings on the separation fence.[26][27]

          In its June 2005 ruling upholding the constitutionality of the Gaza disengagement, the Court determined that “Judea and Samaria” [West Bank] and the Gaza area are lands seized during warfare, and are not part of Israel:

          ‘The Judea and Samaria areas are held by the State of Israel in belligerent occupation. The long arm of the state in the area is the military commander. He is not the sovereign in the territory held in belligerent occupation (see The Beit Sourik Case, at p. 832). His power is granted him by public international law regarding belligerent occupation. The legal meaning of this view is twofold: first, Israeli law does not apply in these areas. They have not been “annexed” to Israel. Second, the legal regime which applies in these areas is determined by public international law regarding belligerent occupation (see HCJ 1661/05 The Gaza Coast Regional Council v. The Knesset et al. (yet unpublished, paragraph 3 of the opinion of the Court; hereinafter – The Gaza Coast Regional Council Case). In the center of this public international law stand the Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, The Hague, 18 October 1907 (hereinafter – The Hague Regulations). These regulations are a reflection of customary international law. The law of belligerent occupation is also laid out in IV Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War 1949 (hereinafter – the Fourth Geneva Convention).[28][29]’”

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Status_of_territories_captured_by_Israel

          Reply to Comment
          • Grandpa Frost

            Ben, Why do you call it “your” Supreme Court? Why do you assume that I am Israeli? Why do you think that I agree with everything Israel says or does? The Israeli Supreme Court is known to have a leftist bias. I cannot wait for a judicial reform in Israel so this leftist activism from the Court ends.

            Let’s go back to the definition of the occupation that you dishonestly attempted to manipulate in the other thread. “Military occupation is effective provisional control of a certain ruling power over a territory which is not under the formal sovereignty of that entity, without the volition of the actual sovereign.” Now, since there was no sovereign in control of that territory at the time of Israeli takeover, the land cannot be considered occupied. Case closed.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You know, I really should have realized you are not Israeli but an American preoccupied with fantasies. You occupy that lonely territory of the American who thinks the Israeli government of today is too left wing. Your ideas are so divorced from on the ground reality that it seems obvious now that an Israeli who knows what is what and is capable of embarrassment would never write what you write. You drop in here to “teach the controversy” that does not exist and you want to tie me and everyone else up here in a “controversy” that is as real as the evolution-creationism “controversy” is. Grandpa Frost I am pleased to have folks visit the page you are referring to and read it all the way down to the bottom. I told you that then and I say it now. The case is indeed closed. The real questions are elsewhere, contained in the articles of +972 Magazine. I am not going to play your “teach the controversy” distraction game even if you don’t even understand the game you are playing.

            Reply to Comment
          • Grandpa Frost

            Once again… not even a slightest attempt to come up with a counter-argument. No surprise there though. It is a pattern. Not just your personal pattern, but it’s the pattern of the entire anti-Israel movement.

            Reply to Comment
          • duh

            Frost, Herzl left all the proof we need that the Zionists are occupiers:

            “In the first excitement I wanted to write to Eulenberg [German count who acted as intermediary between Herzl and the Kaiser] and make proposals in case it was true. Germany would have to welcome a Jewish settlement in Cyprus with delight. We would rally on Cyprus and one day go over to Eretz Israel and take it by force, as it was taken from us long ago.”
            [Complete Herzl Diary vol. III p. 1023, 6 Jan. 1901]

            It’s a shame the latter-day followers of his movement are a bunch of self-entitled whiners. Herzl would’ve taken pride in being an occupier.

            Reply to Comment
          • Grandpa Frost

            Duh: What is the source of this quote? Assuming this quote is authentic, which is highly doubtful, how does it prove that Israel’s present day control of Judea and Samaria constitutes occupation?

            Speaking of self-entitled whiners, why is it that the self-proclaimed Arab refugees of 1948 still demand a “right” of return? They are the ONLY ones in the world to make such ridiculous demand. After all, their side were the aggressors and they lost! There is no precedent in human history when a country, which was a victim of aggression who ended up defeating the aggressors was responsible for aggressor’s refugees!

            Reply to Comment
    4. Marianna Tsvitov

      thank you. I agree with every word. I will pass it on to my daughter who is turning 18 in a few months.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Jan

      About 20 years ago my Israeli born niece and her Israeli born husband packed up their three children and left Israel forever.
      Both of them had served as oppressors in the Occupied Territories and did not want that same fate to behall their children. They knew that what they had done was never going to bring peace to Israel, only more hatred.
      One of their children, all of whom are now grown, is an amazing artist. About four years ago he travelled to Palestine where on the apartheid wall he painted a portrait of an elderly Palestinian man mourning for his lost land. He went in trepidation wondering how the Palestinians would treat him as he was carrying an Israeli passport. He had no worries. He was welcomed with incredible hospitality and was invited for meals at several of their homes where he experienced amazing hospitality. Three years ago he gave a TED talk about this experience ending it with these words ” That wall must come down.”

      Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        It is always touching to hear how hospitable Palestinians are. A lot of the “progressive” descriptions of their visits emphasize how delicious their food is. Well, there are plenty of “right-wing” Israels and even “settlers” who are just as hospitable and good cooks as these Palestinians.
        I think the political situation and the endemic antisemitism that is all too prevalent in Palestinian society which honors terrorists who butcher helpless civilians. Dont’ forget that even “moderate peace partner” Abbas honors terrorists and has called on his people to kill Jews determines Palestinian policy more than Palestinians offering delicious snacks.

        Reply to Comment
    6. duh

      In case you hadn’t noticed, I gave a citation for the quote already. Here’s a scan with the quote still readable (bottom right page).
      https://postimg.org/image/g5a7ij37v/

      Another relevant point, Herzl met with the German Kaiser in 1898 to discuss a protectorate over Palestine. Though that obviously never happened, he was prepared to take advantage of a European military. Basically conspiring to usurp the post-Ottoman sovereignty over Palestine that would have rightfully belonged to the resident Ottoman citizens. This is what the Labour Zionists eventually accomplished with some help from the British and since they were continuing his work, the whole land from river to sea is occupied territory, not only the West Bank.

      “They are the ONLY ones in the world to make such ridiculous demand.”

      We could go over the ridiculousness of claiming territory on the basis that according to a 3000-year-old scroll, you might possibly had ancestors there 2000 years back. It’s also worth mentioning that unless I missed something, Israel is the only state in modern times to be literally created off the back of a refugee crisis.

      Reply to Comment
      • Grandpa Frost

        Duh: Wow! What a great logician you are! You’ve even surpassed our friend Ben!

        1. Just because something is in a book, it doesn’t mean it’s accurate. I could not find this quote anywhere online. And given the hostility Jews and Israel experience on a daily basis, that quote should be all over the Internet.

        2. The early zionist movement was very peaceful. There was never intent to commit any violence against the Arabs, the British or anyone else. They also never intended to expel anyone from the land they were inhabiting. All violence was initiated by the Arabs, starting with the massacres in the 1920s and culminating in the Arab revolt of the 1930s. All Jewish violence was either retaliatory or defensive. Both Arab and Jewish refugee crises of 1948 were the result of Arab aggression.

        3. I’m not sure you realize it, but you’re contradicting yourself by bringing up the meeting between the Kaiser and Herzl. All it shows is that the Zionists were always working within the framework of the law, attempting to secure the support of leaders around the world, which they eventually did with the Balfour declaration. “…conspiring to usurp the post-Ottoman sovereignty over Palestine that would have rightfully belonged to the resident Ottoman citizens.” Citizens or imperial subjects? What is the basis on which that sovereignty belonged to the imperial subjects? Did they ever have democratic rule in that area? Did they even understand the concept of democracy? If you’re going to use that argumentation, I can argue that the citizens of Palestine never asked to be a part of the Rashidun Caliphate which brought about Arab Muslim settlement of the land of Israel. And that basically means that every Arab Muslim in most of what we call today “the Arab world” is an illegal settler.

        4. You quote me: “They are the ONLY ones in the world to make such ridiculous demand.” Funny how you’re not event attempting to show how the point I made was invalid in any way. Basically, what you’re saying here is “Well, you claims are ridiculous too!” Well, they’re not.

        It is highly irrelevant whether you believe in the divine origin of the Bible or when it comes to the Jewish claim to the land. The Jewish presence in the land of Israel has been continuous since the time of the Roman exile, because not all Jews had been expelled from the land. The Jews may not have been the majority of the the population, but nevertheless their presence was constant. It has now been proven by genetic science that all Jewish communities in the Middle East and Europe originate from the land of Israel. Not only that, the Jews throughout the world have always mentioned the Land of Israel in their daily prayers (among so many other things). In other words, the Jews have maintained their identity which is indigenous to the land of Israel.

        Compare that with the identity of the group of people who are erroneously called “Palestinians”. Arabs began referring to themselves as Palestinians only after 1967. There has never been an Arab Muslim entity called “Palestine.” The very term “Palestinian” comes from the Hebrew word “Plishtim” (singular “Polesh”) which means “squatters” or “foreign invaders”. How ignorant of the history of the region do you have to be to come up with such a name!

        You say: “…Israel is the only state in modern times to be literally created off the back of a refugee crisis.” No, again, Israel was a victim of Arab aggression, and both Jewish and Arab refugees crises were the result of that aggression.

        Reply to Comment
        • duh

          “Just because something is in a book, it doesn’t mean it’s accurate. I could not find this quote anywhere online.”

          Usually books have these things called footnotes and a bibliography, though a diary is a primary source. This was sourced directly from Herzl’s diary. Get over it. For that matter, where are you looking online for it, “anti-Israel” sites?

          “All it shows is that the Zionists were always working within the framework of the law,”

          It shows they intended to get the result of a military invasion without having to do the dirty work themselves. Which of course was largely accomplished by the Balfour Declaration and British Mandate. A “protectorate” was the official name, for example, of the British rule over Kenya and German rule over SW Africa.

          “What is the basis on which that sovereignty belonged to the imperial subjects?”

          This strikes me as a nonsensical question considering most people in defunct empires became nationals of the successor states. Palestine was one of the few exceptions because it had been settled by a foreign political movement that premeditated demographic engineering and carried it out after the British left.

          “It has now been proven by genetic science that all Jewish communities in the Middle East and Europe originate from the land of Israel.”

          DNA evidence doesn’t give anyone title to land unless your worldview is something along the lines of Heinrich Himmler.

          Reply to Comment
      • JeffB

        @Duh

        It’s also worth mentioning that unless I missed something, Israel is the only state in modern times to be literally created off the back of a refugee crisis.

        You missed something.
        Angola — created a non colonial state via. the mass ethnic cleansing of Europeans. It then followed a horrific ethnic civil war between tribes with 4m displaced
        South Sudan — created based on 2.5m displaced persons
        Pakistan — created because of the refugee crisis in India and partition
        Bangladesh — created in response to 10m refugees from the fighting with Pakistan

        Should I keep going?

        Reply to Comment
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