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Netanyahu is stuck with Hamas, and he likes it that way

Netanyahu understands that keeping Hamas in power comes at a heavy political price. But as long as it thwarts the possibility of a Palestinian state, it’s worth it for him.

By Meron Rapoport

Weak. Giving into to terror. Those were the words Avigdor Liberman used to describe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his press conference on Wednesday announcing his resignation as defense minister. The severe remarks came a day after Netanyahu agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas, following the most violent flare-up on the Gaza border since the 2014 Gaza war.

Liberman’s resignation, first and foremost, stems from political considerations. With elections approaching as early as March 2019, he understands the political value of appearing as someone who did not give in to Hamas. Following the almost-war in Gaza earlier this week, he recognizes that Netanyahu is now being perceived by the Israeli public as a coward, and he wants to exploit the moment to its fullest.

Liberman is not alone in bashing Netanyahu. Hundreds of Israelis demonstrated in the southern city of Sderot on Tuesday, burning tires and chanting “Bibi, go home!” Education Minister Naftali Bennett called the cabinet’s decision to accept an Egyptian-brokered unacceptable. This is nothing new: already since the 2014 Gaza war, Bennett has been trying to portray Netanyahu as a faltering leader who lacks the courage to “do the right thing” — that is, bring down Hamas.

And it wasn’t only right-wing politicians who tried to present Netanyahu as weak. Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay and other centrists took turns attacking the prime minister. Even former Prime Minister Ehud Barak joined the fray, saying “Netanyahu went bankrupt and surrendered to Hamas under fire.”

Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy decided to see Netanyahu’s apprehension in a positive light, calling him a “man of peace.” His article was written a few days before the latest flare up, but one can assume that the cease-fire with Hamas only strengthens his thesis. Levy reminds readers that in 12 years as prime minister, Netanyahu had only gone to war once, in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, on the other hand, waged two major wars in two years. Netanyahu, Levy writes, is one of the most “anti-war prime ministers we have had.”

But both the criticism of Netanyahu’s cowardice on the one hand and the praise for his moderation on the other miss the point entirely. Netanyahu is an ideologue...

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The health system in Gaza cannot handle another war

A new war would lead to the collapse of an already-debilitated medical infrastructure in Gaza, Palestinian health officials warn.

By Amjad Yaghi

GAZA CITY — Fear has been palpable across Gaza for the past couple of days, not only in homes but also in hospitals and medical clinics. For years, health professionals have warned of a looming collapse of medical services. If Tuesday’s nascent, Egyptian-brokered cease-fire doesn’t hold, a war would devastate Gaza’s medical infrastructure, Palestinian health authorities say.

On Monday, Gazans experienced one of the most difficult nights since the war in 2014. After Israeli special forces bungled a covert operation deep inside the strip, the ensuing firefight nearly led to a full-fledged war. The barrage of Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket fire into Israel that followed, only made the situation worse.

It’s not just that Gaza’s hospitals and clinics are in bad shape: they are still busy treating people who were wounded in previous rounds of violence, most recently during the Great Return March. Israeli snipers shot thousands of demonstrators, leaving Gaza’s hospitals overwhelmed to the point that hundreds of patients had to make do with treatment in hospital corridors, sometimes on the floor.

Health services in Gaza have been stretched even thinner since early November, when 12 people contracted the swine flu, six of whom ended up dying. There is no vaccine for the virus in Gaza, neither in the Ministry of Health’s stocks nor in private practices, which is emblematic of a far broader problem.

The shortfall of medicine and equipment is threatening entire medical care programs, said Maher Shamieh, the general director of primary care at Gaza’s Health Ministry. Of the 143 drugs currently available, Gaza has run out of almost 100, with 16 more medicines expected to be used up in the next month. A war in Gaza will lead to an “uncontrollable medical crisis,” he said.

Compounding the deficit in medicine is a lack of specialists, according to the director of government hospitals in Gaza, Dr. Abdel Latif al-Hajj. There are 12 government hospitals in Gaza that employ about 2,000 doctors, of whom 800 are specialists, explained al-Hajj. Part of the problem, he explained, is that various issues resulting from the Palestinian political division between the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government in Gaza have disincentivized younger doctors from joining government hospitals.

Israel has imposed a land,...

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With the lights on longer in Gaza, Palestinians dare to hope

A few more hours of electricity a day may not sound like much, but in Gaza, it expels the sense of ever-looming doom and gives people something to hope for.

By Muhammad Shehada

For the first time in years, Gazans were able to enjoy the simple pleasure of going about their daily lives relatively uninterrupted and without stress when, under the supervision of the United Nations, diesel was suddenly allowed into the besieged enclave. The fuel, funded by Qatar since early October, increased the electricity supply across the strip by 4-5 hours than in previous months, keeping the lights on for up to 16 hours at times.

A few more hours of electricity may not sound like much, but this respite meant the world to me and my family — and to almost everyone else in Gaza. It has inspired a strong sense of hope, especially among those of us in the shrinking middle class.

There are usually two discrepant images of Gaza shared with the world: one in which doom is inevitable, only a footstep away, and another of semi-deserted beach hotels, luxurious resorts, shopping malls and fancy restaurants. The daily routines of middle-class Gazans — children enjoying the smell of their mother’s freshly-baked bread and spinach pastries, relatives exchanging generous invitations to colorful feasts, families huddling around the TV in cold evenings, old and young people gathering around a cozy fire every night to exchange stories and roast chestnuts — fall between the cracks.

Unfortunately, these interactions are constantly threatened by an ever-looming hopelessness that hollows young Gazans of life and purpose. More and more businessmen are going bankrupt and serving time in prison due to unpaid debts, which means more families can’t afford rent or make ends meet. One of the most devastating scenes in Gaza is of promising children dropping out of school to wander from house to house, begging for a few shekels; they turn back empty handed at almost every door, because people no longer have the financial capacity to extend a helping hand.

It doesn’t have to be this way; doom shouldn’t be Gaza’s only future. Supervised flows of money could pay the thousands of government employees who have been receiving little or no salaries for years. An internationally-run industrial zone could secure jobs for tens of thousands of Gaza’s unemployed university graduates. If Gazan entrepreneurs were permitted to travel, they could...

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The thousands of undocumented Gazans living in limbo

By Amjad Yaghni

Wafaa Abu Hajjaj has been active in the media industry in Gaza for the past eight years, working as a correspondent for various local and regional television news outlets. But she has also been deprived of dozens of job opportunities abroad because she doesn’t have a Palestinian identification card. Without it, she can’t be officially employed or access government services.

Abu Hajjaj appealed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to obtain residency and a passport in 2015, but to no avail. Her 70-year-old father, Abdel Mun’em Abu Hajjaj, suffers from heart disease; he too has been denied access to medical treatment, both in and outside Gaza, for the same reason.

Abu Hajjaj and her father are among thousands of undocumented Palestinians in Gaza.

Israel withdrew its military and civilian presence from the Strip in 2005, but one of the countless ways it still exercises immense control over the lives of Gazans is through its control over the Palestinian population registry. Many simple types of changes to the registry, including changing the address or place of one’s residence, still require the Israeli army’s approval.

Under the Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian Authority, only Israel can has the power to authorize the entry of anyone, including Palestinians, into the occupied territories. Likewise, only Israel has the authority give residency status for spouses and children of Palestinians, including those living abroad, through a family unification process.

Also under Oslo, Israel and the Palestinians negotiated the return of 600,000 Palestinians from the diaspora to the occupied territories, according to Saleh al-Zeq, the director of the General Authority for Civil Affairs (GACA) in Gaza. Israel agreed to approve family unifications in five batches, but since the Second Intifada in 2000, it stopped processing all Palestinian applications for visitor permits and family unification.

When Hamas took over Gaza in June 2007, Israel severed all ties with the Palestinian authorities there, and soon after imposed a blockade on the coastal enclave. By then, it had already processed four of the groups that were approved under Oslo talks, but the final batch of 4,645 people is still pending to this day, according to al-Zeq.

“When the ministry reviewed our applications for identity cards, I was informed that, since Hamas took over Gaza, family reunions were no longer possible. For 12 years I’ve been carrying a temporary ID that amounts to nothing,” said Abu Hajjaj....

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As a journalist, I learned not to believe anything the Israeli army says

In March 1987, Oren Cohen, then a reporter in the occupied territories, received a tip about a female Palestinian detainee who had been tortured and had a miscarriage in prison. Authorities denied she even existed, until Cohen exposed their lies. Today, he says, no one would even care.

By Meron Rapoport

The film industry loves the press. The investigative journalist, the lone wolf who receives a call late at night from an unknown source speaking in a hoarse voice: “Wait for me at the corner of a dark street, I’ll be wearing sunglasses, I have something to tell you.” That’s when the intrepid journalist sets out to expose the truth.

Reality, it turns out, usually looks quite different. In the case of Oren Cohen, it was nearly the opposite of the classic imagery. A reporter for the now defunct Israeli daily Hadashot, Hazan’s biggest scoop was exposing the story of Naila Ayesh, a young Palestinian woman who was arrested while pregnant, tortured to the point of miscarriage, and denied medical treatment. Israel’s defense establishment remained silent about her arrest for a month.

This story, Cohen said, reached the ears of many reporters in March 1987. Roni Ben-Efrat, then an activist with the far-left group, Derech HaNitzotz, which also published a newspaper by the same name, gathered the information about Ayesh in order to gain the interest of Israeli journalists. In an article published by Derech HaNitzotz two weeks after the scandal was exposed, Ben-Efrat said that the information had been in the hands of “senior journalists in the print and television media,” but that they chose not to publish it, since the police denied holding anyone by the name of Naila Ayesh in custody.

In truth, Ayesh was held at the Russian Compound, a notorious police detention and interrogation center in central Jerusalem, for a month. “If it’s a choice between the Palestinian newspaper al-Fajr or the police, I believe the police,” Ben Efrat said, quoting a veteran television reporter explaining why he decided not to publish the story.

Cohen was unconvinced. Even after a year-and-a-half of working as Hadashot‘s correspondent in Gaza, his experience taught him not to believe what the defense establishment says about Palestinians. “In all my years on the job, there was hardly a story that I heard from Palestinians that turned out to be untrue, and I’m talking an incredible level of detail,” said Cohen, who was assigned to cover the occupied territories for most of the First Intifada for Hadashot (Full disclosure: I also worked for Hadashot at the time – MR).

“On the other hand, all the responses I received from officials were completely...

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When the occupation dictates your life — and your funeral

Long before he died in a work accident on an Israeli construction site, Muhamad Barghouth’s life was dictated by the violent whims of military occupation. 

By Aviv Tatarsky

Last month, the grandson of a very close friend of mine was killed. Muhamad Bargouth, 22, whose grandfather I have grown close to in my many visits to the Palestinian village of Walajeh over the years, was killed in an accident at an Israeli construction site not all that far from his family home. Accidents can happen. But Muhamad’s death was more than accident: his life was marked by the violence Israel’s occupation visited upon his family and village — violence that also steered his life toward that construction site where he died.

Israeli security forces arrested Muhamad’s father and grandfather in the 1990s. The two were imprisoned for several months without ever being put on trial, during which time they were tortured. Muhamad’s father never fully recovered from the physical and psychological damage.

In 2010, when Muhamad was 14, Israel began building the separation barrier on land belonging to his village, Walajeh, located in between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The barrier cut through his family’s plot, less than 200 feet from his home. Muhamad’s teenage years were marked by explosions that blasted holes in the landscape of his childhood and Israeli bulldozers uprooting the orchards his grandfather planted. As a teenager, he had to get used to the tear gas regularly thrown and shot at nonviolent protestors demonstrating along the route of the barrier near his home. It was there that he witnessed soldiers beating and arresting his friends and relatives.

Muhamad graduated from school a few years later. Under different circumstances, he would most likely have continued on to university, as many of his peers living in the occupied territories do. He grew up with a close, supportive family, with a kind and assertive grandmother and a charismatic, open-minded grandfather who was a leader in the village council. But studies did not interest Muhamad much — that’s the way it is when you grow up with a father who survived torture, and when you experience the trauma and violence of the separation barrier snaking by your home.

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Even without a university degree, Muhamad could have made a living off the land; his grandfather was a skilled farmer who carried the ancient...

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The rise of the global far-right could energize the anti-occupation movement

The warm relations between Israel and a new crop of anti-democratic leaders are tragic, but they also expose the true nature of Israel’s relationship to the Palestinians.

By Eli Bitan

Only hours after Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil last Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to phone the extreme-right candidate. Netanyahu accepted Bolsonaro’s invitation to Brazil, inviting the president-elect to Jerusalem, after the latter declared his intention to move the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem.

Bolsonaro is a vulgar and violent man. His aggressive remarks leave no doubt regarding the kind of policies he plans on enacting. He also wholeheartedly supports Israel and its actions, which is hardly a surprise. With Trump, Orban, Modi, Duterte and others, it has become self-evident that far-right leaders will immediately side with Israel, to which the Jewish state responds with a reciprocal warm embrace. There are few who are still embarrassed by this show, but in Israel, Netanyahu has been able to celebrate these victories as if he himself were kingmaker.

The more Israel becomes excited by these leaders, seemingly vestiges of centuries passed, who were elected with the help of Vladimir Putin, the more they feel it necessary to ignore Palestinian suffering and pledge support for continued occupation. The more right-wing commentators spout the main argument of the Right today, the more their opponents understand the extent to which the Israeli government and the occupation need both racism and regressive ideas to exist.

The congruence between the violence and the hate that these officials spread, and their complete, unquestioned support for Israel is astounding. It is doubtful whether there is anything that proves the irrelevance of all kinds of “liberal” justifications for the settlement enterprise and the occupations quite like the support of right-wing authoritarians. The world now sees who vouches for Israel — the only thing left to do is draw a line in the sand.

And yet the Foreign Ministry, the hasbara industry, the Jewish Agency, Birthright — they are all busy figuring out how to market this package deal. Netanyahu, of course, heads this industry, and each appearance on the world stage proves what his rivals have always claimed about him. Yet the occupation has long ago become Israel’s official policy.

This much is clear to all those who oppose this new wave of elected officials, and it is good news for Palestinians and activists who for decades have tried to convince Western leaders that the occupation and the settlements are littler more than theft and dispossession. That there is no connection between the occupation and the Holocaust...

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Why Gaza’s status quo is unlikely to change

In Gaza, despite Hamas’ pacification, a shift to nonviolent protests, and UN warnings of collapse, Israel shows little intention of lifting the blockade.

By Tareq Baconi

Ceasefire discussions between Israel and Hamas appear to be progressing, following an increase in hostilities in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have agreed to adopt “new tactics” and curb potential militarization in the Great Return March protests, in exchange for an easing of the blockade. However, the coming days and weeks are likely to remain fragile.

These ongoing developments in the Gaza Strip are testing the limits of the dynamic that has shaped relations between Hamas and Israel since a stifling blockade was first imposed on Gaza eleven years ago. This dynamic has generally taken the form of an equilibrium of belligerence, whereby both Israel and Hamas rely on force to negotiate short-term gains while avoiding political or ideological concessions.

Since 2007, Hamas and other factions have relied on rocket fire and tunnel attacks to protest the hermetic blockade of the Gaza Strip, which they view as an act of war that legitimates the use of force in self-defense. Ostensibly in response to these rockets, Israel carries out military incursions, extrajudicial targeted assassinations, and has, so far, inflicted three devastating assaults on the territory.

The dynamic, which is largely defined by what happens on the battlefield, has given way to indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel. Through various rounds of ceasefire and related discussions, Israel has pursued what it calls “calm for calm,” whereby it alleges to cease military operations in the Gaza Strip if Hamas stops rocket fire and tunnel attacks. Hamas, on the other hand, has conditioned such calm on the lifting of the blockade.

The two parties have unofficially operated within this framework for eleven years, during which Hamas has become increasingly effective at policing resistance to ensure the longevity of ceasefires. Israel, meanwhile, has failed to sufficiently ease the blockade, relying instead on what its security establishment openly refers to as “mowing the lawn.”

Shortly after Israel’s last such operation in the summer of 2014, a report issued by the state comptroller berated the government for failing to develop an effective strategy toward the coastal enclave. Inadvertently, the report highlighted that, for the Israeli government, the status quo around the Gaza Strip is in fact quite sustainable and did not merit any long-term...

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How the settlers took over Israel

Over the past 13 years the settler Right succeeded in establishing itself as a hegemonic force in Israeli politics, education,  judiciary, culture, and society. If the Left has any chance of pushing back, instead of moderating itself it must radicalize.

By Rami Kaplan

A sense of doom has overcome the left-wing camp in Israel these days. The prospect of replacing the right-wing government appears more out of reach than ever, and even the term “left wing” has become a slur. The Left’s despondency could be because its flagship issue of the past 30 years, solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is either too complex or even outright impossible. It could also be that the country is simply moving further and further to the right, in line with broader global trends.

There is truth to all these explanations, but the feeling of despair — following a protracted period in which the Left has been unable to have an impact — has made these factors appear more decisive than they actually are. I argue that the downfall of the Israeli Left is largely a result of strategic steps implemented by the Right, which have defeated the former in the struggle for hegemony and leadership in Israeli society. These are steps that can be overturned.

In the last decade, right-wing organizations and parties have adopted new methods, which have been described as “incitement,” “anti-democratic,” “fascist,” “populist” and a “changing of elites.” There are parallel patterns around the world, but in Israel they appeared in the context of a strategic shift, set in motion by the settler movement over a decade ago, toward a “war over hegemony.” The goal of this persistent, calculated initiative is to destroy the Left’s sources of influence and install a right-wing hegemony instead. Since the Left has indeed lost this war, it is expected to continue and expand; the Left has to increase its awareness of this war and find a way to fight back. Its downfall should be understood not as inevitable, but rather as a misstep that can and should be fixed by reorganizing itself and taking strategic steps that can have an impact.

The spark that lit the flame of the Right’s hegemony war was the 2005 Gaza Disengagement. It raised the question: how is it possible that the Likud, led by Ariel Sharon, is withdrawing from occupied lands and evacuating settlements? Right-wing...

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New Al Jazeera film uncovers 'rotting foundation' of U.S. Israel lobby

A new Al Jazeera documentary provides a sobering look at a lobby that continues to defend Israel’s control of Palestinian lives, despite the many Americans turning against it.

By Antony Loewenstein

There’s a moment near the end of the four-part, Al Jazeera documentary on the U.S. Israel lobby — censored by its own network due to pressure from the U.S. government and incensed U.S.-based, pro-Israel lobbyists — where the show’s undercover reporter, “Tony,” films a key Israel advocate in Washington. Eric Gallagher was a senior manager at The Israel Project and admits that the dominant pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, faces an existential crisis.

“People at AIPAC know that something has changed,” Gallagher says. “They know something is wrong. They are not as effective as they used to be.” He worries that the day is coming soon when AIPAC wouldn’t be able to deeply influence the Israel lobby crafted in the U.S. Congress, as it does today, and that the pro-Israel lobby will have to operate without AIPAC’s power. “There’s this big bowling ball that’s being hurled towards them [AIPAC] and the response is to run faster,” Gallagher continues. “They need to get on the bowling ball and start dancing.”

Gallagher doesn’t explain why so many Americans are turning against Israel in public opinion polls. The latest figures from The Economist and YouGov, an online data analytics firm, find that U.S. liberals, millennials, and women have turned against the Jewish state in large numbers. The 50-plus year occupation of Palestinians and their lands, constant killings of civilians in Gaza, and the Trump administration’s obsessive embrace of Israel’s hard-right are all factors.

Republicans and conservatives still back Israel in large numbers, as do many in the evangelical Christian community (though younger members are more skeptical). For the foreseeable future, however, Israel will likely receive unprecedented financial, military, and diplomatic support from the United States.

Tony films Gallagher in a Washington D.C. café explaining that “the foundation that AIPAC sat on is rotting. There used to be widespread public support for Israel in the United States…I don’t think that AIPAC is the tip of the spear anymore, which is worrisome, because who is?”

It’s a telling admission in a documentary that’s full of them. Following Al Jazeera’s 2017 examination of Britain’s Israel lobby — a film that uncovered extensive...

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Arming Jews hasn't saved us in the past. Why would it now?

The massacre at the Pittsburgh synagogue last weekend has led many to return to an age-old question: should Jews be arming themselves in the face of violent anti-Semitism?

By Roni Masel

It didn’t take long for President Donald Trump to offer his two cents on the cause for the shooting at Tree of Life Congregation last Saturday, which left 11 people dead. Not long after news of the massacre broke, Trump said the following:

He is right about one thing: the debate surrounding Jewish armed self-defense is long and recurring.

All roads lead to the late 19th century, when the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Jewish organization supporting refugees and immigrants, and which reportedly drew the rage of the Pittsburgh shooter, was founded. Upon its establishment, HIAS’s goal was to help Jewish refugees fleeing Eastern Europe due to political and economic instability, and sometimes violent outbreaks that came to be known as “pogroms.” Emigration was certainly one way Jews chose to confront and survive these hardships. However, local community leaders in Eastern Europe had other solutions, one of the most prominent of which was armed self-defense.

In the eyes of community leaders, Jewish self-defense could remedy two plights at once: on the one hand, they believed it would prevent or minimize the threat of anti-Jewish violence. On the other hand, armed self-defense could play an important symbolic role: to rehabilitate the image of the despised diasporic Jew, the coward and effeminate nomad, so often portrayed as a slim, weak, urban, and degenerate creature. It doesn’t take much to detect the strong anti-Semitic overtones of these images, but movements on both ends of the Jewish political spectrum — Zionists and socialists alike —recognized these to be the “plights” of the Jew, which required fixing.

This sentiment culminated in the famous Hebrew poem “In the City of Slaughter,” written by Jewish poet H.N. Bialik after the horrific pogrom in Kishinev in 1903. The poem accuses the Jews of Kishinev of cowardly and passively accepting their fate and on the following morning going around from one community to the other, shnorring, collecting funds like beggars. In one of the cruelest and most unsettling moments in the poem, Jewish men are described peeping from their holes and hiding places, watching their wives being raped by pogromists, doing nothing and praying “A miracle, O Lord, — and spare my skin this day!” The most astonishing fact about...

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I wish we could mourn Pittsburgh as one Jewish people — but we can't

I keep hoping that our Jewish leaders will take one moment to do what they say they are here to do: defend Jewish lives when we are under attack. But they haven’t.

By Simone Zimmerman

I want to mourn with my people.

I want to mourn with all of my beloved Jewish people in Pittsburgh and around the world who are reeling from the sight of 11 Jews gunned down during Shabbat morning services. Eleven Jews who were beloved grandparents, friends, siblings, community members. The ones who always showed up to synagogue on time, and who lost their lives for it.

I want to mourn with my beloved Jewish people who feel terror and are wondering if anyone else sees our pain. Who feel the echoes of the violence our people have faced for thousands of years in our bones.

I want to mourn with all of my beloved Jewish people, but as the Israeli Right exploits this tragedy for their political gain, aided by their apologists in the American Jewish establishment, it is clear that even in our mourning, we are divided.

Deflecting and scapegoating 

Following the massacre, Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted, “They were killed because they are Jews… We must never forget that. We are one,” and thanked President Trump for his support of the victims.

In an interview with MSNBC, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer deflected a question about Trump’s anti-Semitic dog whistles by justifying criticism of George Soros before pivoting to criticizing campus pro-Palestine activists and Louis Farrakhan. He insisted that anti-Semitism, “has been going on for many many centuries,” and that Trump’s election had nothing to do with what happened in Pittsburgh.

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Others were even more explicit with their message. Naftali Bennett, Israel’s diaspora and education minister, who flew to Pittsburgh to participate in the memorial hosted by the local federations, said, “From Sderot to Pittsburgh, the hand that fires missiles is the same hand that shoots worshippers. We will fight against the hatred of Jews, and anti-Semitism wherever it raises its head. And we will prevail.”

The...



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Three generations after the Nakba, still struggling to define home

For Madlaine Ahmad, born and raised in Doha to Palestinian parents with Jordanian citizenship, the answer to ‘where are you from?’ is never simple, and always seems to be wrong.

By Madlaine Ahmad

I changed my Facebook profile picture the other day. It was a photo of a fair woman covered in gold and henna. It would have been clear to anyone from bilad al-sham (the Levant) that she was from the Gulf region, where women dress up a certain way. “How beautiful,” one person remarked. The comment that followed, by a Palestinian friend, surprised me: “Women are beautiful, but the hands of our women in particular are the most beautiful.” I didn’t understand what she meant, and a discussion ensued: “If you lined up everybody’s hands side by side, I would still be able to distinguish those of the Palestinian falaha (peasant), and I would feel an immense love for her.”

We Palestinians stand out in many ways: with our scorched arms after the harvest, our diaspora, the occupation, our widows and orphans, and death – so much death. Usually, the word “Palestinian” elicits images of a child hurling stones at a military tank, and the perception is that only Palestinians who live within the borders of Sykes-Picot still suffer, that those who freed themselves from these invented borders managed to survive and thrive. Well, let me tell you about my experience, as a Palestinian whose ancestors escaped.

My Palestine story is brief. It does not contain death, or soldiers, or hurling rocks. I have never had to face the occupier, but I also haven’t been fortunate enough to visit any part of Palestine. During the 1948 war, my grandfather fled with his family to Karak in Jordan. They were told they would be able to return in a matter of weeks. They set up tents and planted wheat and waited for Palestine, but Palestine never came. In a heartbeat, the Palestinian dream was lost, and they became victims of history, uprooted, with nothing but a key to a home they would never return to.

They moved to Amman, where they tried to forge a new life with their nine children. They could only afford a two-bedroom house – one room for the chickens they were raising, and another to sleep the family of 11. My father told me how, at 13, he helped build the railway that...

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