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Israel scraps plan to forcibly deport African asylum seekers

After failing to reach an agreement with a ‘third country,’ Israel announces that its plan to deport tens of thousands of African asylum seekers has collapsed.

+972 Magazine Staff

The Israeli government informed the High Court Tuesday that its plan to forcibly deport tens of thousands of African asylum seekers has collapsed, after failing to broker a deal with “third countries” to resettle them.

The government announced that previous deportation orders would be cancelled and that asylum seekers would be able to renew their visas every two months. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri announced that Holot, an open-air desert detention facility for asylum seekers, would be reopened in light of the deportation plan’s collapse.

Earlier in April, Israel released over 200 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers from Saharonim prison — all of whom had been imprisoned for refusing deportation to Uganda or Rwanda — after the government failed to meet a court-ordered deadline to present a new agreement with Uganda that would allow the mass deportation of refugees to proceed.

Over the course of the past month and a half, the Israeli government’s plan to deport the African asylum seekers gradually fell apart after the High Court demanded the government present a deportation plan to resettle the migrants, or free them from detention.

Massive anti-deportation rallies across Israel and around the world, activists and journalists (including work by +972 Magazine) working to expose what happened to asylum seekers after being deported from Israel, public and international pressure on the Rwandan government, strategic lawsuits challenging the deportation plan itself, and the right timing all played a role in stopping the mass deportations.

After Rwanda backed out of a secret agreement with Israel to accept refugees deported against their will, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a different arrangement in early April: in exchange for the UN helping to resettle 16,250 asylum seekers in Western countries, Israel would provide legal status to those who remained. But just hours after announcing the UN deal, Netanyahu cancelled it, under pressure from the Israeli Right.

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The Israeli government then claimed that it was close to reaching a secret agreement with Uganda, similar to the one it claimed to have with Rwanda, to accept asylum seekers deported from Israel against their will.

Uganda officials, however, repeatedly denied any agreement existed...

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After Syria strike, showdown looms over the future of the Iran nuclear deal

The success of a coordinated military strike on Assad’s chemical weapon stockpiles actually bodes well for the Iran nuclear deal. 

By Shemuel Meir

Western powers made good on their warning to the Assad regime on April 14, 2018, and attacked the production and storage sites of the chemical weapons in his possession. The coordinated, wide-ranging operation by the United States, Britain and France (in contrast to Trump’s unilateral and hasty attack following the use of chemical weapons in Syria in April 2017) was aimed solely at chemical weapons sites. The Western powers emphasized that this was not the opening salvo of massive military intervention in Syria. The attack by three NATO members was intended to punish the Assad regime and deter it from using chemical weapons again.

Assad, however, was not the only address. The Western powers took action in order to prevent the erosion of international norms regarding the prohibition on the development, manufacture and use of chemical weapons. It is their responsibility to prevent the emergence of other rogue states, and to ensure that there are no violations of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, as well as other conventions in the realm of unconventional weapons. In this sense, Trump sent a clear message: even if the United States intends to withdraw from the Syrian arena, it will continue to enforce laws to prevent the proliferation of non-conventional weapons.

The lessons of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 for the elimination of non-conventional weapons under false premises (Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent nuclear weapons) were well understood. Western powers understood that they were required to provide conclusive evidence of violations of the chemical weapons treaty carried out by Assad’s army. The White House published a special document that presented a “large and extensive body of evidence” for Assad’s use of chemical weapons on April 7th. It was emphasized that the information was based on reliable intelligence materials that were verified by various sources. Meanwhile, France published a report based on open material and classified intelligence. Both reports clearly and unambiguously place responsibility on the Syrian army (mainly through identifying military communications and helicopters that dropped the “barrel bombs”).

How, you may ask? Syria’s chemical arsenal was dismantled between 2013-2014. Indeed, following the use of sarin gas on the outskirts of Damascus in August 2013, which led to hundreds of deaths, we witnessed an exceptional occurrence in the global efforts...

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Why the PA can't — and won't — stop paying prisoners' families

Israel’s demand that the PA stop paying the families of Palestinian prisoners is part of an intentional strategy to block any progress towards resolving the conflict. The problem is that it’s working.

By Yoni Mendel

The Israeli demand that the Palestinian Authority stop paying the families of prisoners in Israeli jails has spread like wildfire over the past year. It has become part of Israel’s hasbara arsenal, heard again and again, mainly whenever Israel fears that the international community — or, worse, the United States — intends to present a peace plan. In those cases, the demand appears to come from everywhere: from Israeli decision-makers and pundits, academics and online comments sections. Thus, it has become a slogan — hollow, yet effective.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put the issue of PA payment to prisoners’ families at the center of his speech during the AIPAC Policy Conference last month. “I have a message for Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas],” Netanyahu said. “Stop paying terrorists.”

This Israeli demand has apparently worked its way into the White House. During Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President Donald Trump’s meeting in Bethlehem in 2017, Trump reportedly told Abbas, “it is impossible to advance peace while funding terrorism.”

Last September, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely emphasized this message on the eve of White House envoy Jason Greenblatt’s visit. “There’s no sense in negotiating with those who support terrorism and continue to pay the families of terrorists,” Hotovely said.

Indeed, the demand is frequently on the tip of Israeli ministers’ tongues. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Education Minister Naftali Bennet, Science Minister Ofir Akunis, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan have all repeatedly called for the PA to stop paying prisoners’ families in the last year.

It is safe to say that the dramatic increase in frequency of this demand’s appearance is not a coincidence, but rather the result of an intentional strategy. By pushing the demand that the PA stop the payments to prisoners’ families, Israel is trying to achieve several goals simultaneously: to portray the PA as a supporter of terror, to shift the blame for the ongoing conflict away from Israel, and to stymie any attempt to renew peace negotiations. The strategy is smart and effective in that the Israeli public — and perhaps the current American administration — largely views the demand as legitimate.

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Israeli soldiers open fire on Gaza protesters fourth week in a row

Israeli forces reportedly kill at least four protesters and wound over 400 with live ammunition and tear gas during Gaza Return March demonstrations on Friday. 

By +972 Magazine Staff

Israeli forces opened fire on protesters participating in the Great Return March on Friday for the fourth consecutive week. The Great Return March, which began on Land Day, March 30, is a 45-day series of events planned to culminate on May 15, Nakba Day.

[This post is being updated as events unfold.]

Update: 7:10 pm

Palestinian and Israeli media reporting that four Palestinians have been killed during today’s protests in Gaza, among them a 15-year-old boy.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health is reporting that 445 people have been wounded from live fire and tear gas inhalation during Friday’s protests.

Update: 7:05 pm

Palestinian and Israeli media are reporting that Israeli forces have shot and killed a third Palestinian protester.

Update: 5:10 pm

Palestinian media are reporting that roughly 100 protesters have been wounded today.

Update: 3:20 pm

Palestinian media are reporting that a second protester has been killed by Israeli gunfire near Jabalia.

Update: 3:15 pm

The Palestinian Ministry of Health is reporting that at least 40 protesters have been wounded during the protests today.

As of 2pm on Friday, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that Israeli forces shot and killed a 25-year-old, handicapped Palestinian man during the day’s protests.

Earlier on Friday morning, IDF planes dropped leaflets warning Gaza residents against participating in the protests. “To the residents of Gaza,” the leaflets stated, “you are participating in violent public disturbances. Hamas is exploiting you to commit acts of terror. The IDF is prepared for anything. Avoid approaching the fence or damaging it […] Do not obey the orders from Hamas that endanger your lives. A different way is possible – your future is in your hands.”

Since the Great Return March began in late March, Israeli sharpshooters and snipers have shot over 1,000 unarmed Palestinian protesters, killing more than 30 people.

Israeli authorities have doubled down on the decision to use live fire against the unarmed Palestinian protesters, despite international criticism and calls for an independent investigation into the killings.

Following protesters during the first week of April, Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, warned that “violence against civilians — in a situation such as one prevailing in Gaza” could constitute war crimes.

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has urged Israeli soldiers to refuse...

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COMIC: When you hear good news in Israel-Palestine

By Noam Rabinovich

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Are Israeli Jews beginning to accept the right of return?

A number of new surveys shows that at least a fifth of Israel’s Jewish citizens are open to the idea of Palestinian refugees returning to their homes. So how do we reconcile this with the violence being meted out to Palestinians on the Gaza border?

By Eléonore Bronstein and Eitan Bronstein Aparicio

What is it about Gaza’s “Great Return March” that so threatens Israelis? What is it that Israelis are so actively preventing? The Gaza fence symbolizes the essence of the Jewish state, which was founded through the dispossession of the Palestinians, expelling the majority of them beyond its borders. Walls and fences were built — above and below ground — to prevent the return of those refugees. Today, as in the 1950s, they are considered dangerous “infiltrators.” Not much has changed when it comes to colonial thinking and practice.

Unfortunately, we must also admit that even when the atrocities become too much to bear, the violent Israeli response is not surprising. It almost goes without saying; perhaps the fact that there is nothing surprising in this kind of behavior is the real atrocity. That the emergency in Gaza has become a trivial matter.

That is why it was so surprising to discover the results of a new survey, conducted by the Geocartography Knowledge Group among 500 Jewish Israelis, for our book, Nakba in Hebrew. The survey shows that quite a few Israeli Jews, or at least many more than one would think, support the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.

Jewish Israelis were asked the following question: “In 1948, during the War of Independence, the majority of Palestinians who lived in the country were turned into refugees and have since been spread across the world. The right of return of the Palestinian refugees refers to the possibility of every Palestinian refugee (and his/her descendants) to decide between actual return to the place where they lived until 1948, and other forms of compensation. The significance of the recognition of the right of return may be that more than seven million Palestinian refugees will choose to return to Israel. To what extent do you support or oppose the right of return as presented?”

The detailed wording and inclusion of “over seven million” Palestinian refugees were meant to ensure that the respondents fully understand the significance of recognition and implementation of the...

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Palestinians in Gaza are reminding us that they exist

Reality is stronger than any propaganda campaign. It will ultimately break through and penetrate public awareness.

By Hagai El-Ad

Two million people live in the Gaza Strip. That’s a statement of fact, not opinion. Two million people live like prisoners in a prison built by Israel, and it seems that Israel’s sole vision for their future is to keep them jailed there forever.

What happens when the prisoners stage a protest? We’ll just shoot them from the other side of the fence. And if the gunfire looks bad on TV? We’ll send in the prime minister’s advisers in fancy suits to give interviews near the fence.

And if the inmates burn tires? We’ll look into prohibiting tires from being brought into the prison. And if the prisoners come to the protests by the busload? We’ll threaten the bus company owners, and so on, and so forth.

And so it goes, from one year to the next, one Friday to the next. In the meantime, the death toll rises and Gaza’s beleaguered hospitals are pushed ever nearer to collapse.

What’ll happen next Friday? Never mind reality. Have some more propaganda instead. It’s all their fault, says the man in the suit.

Here’s a question for Israelis: What would you do after living for more than a decade under blockade, on a small strip of land roughly half the size of New York City, in conditions of severe overcrowding with no seaport, airport or any other avenue by which leave? With no jobs, no hope, no future for you or your children, dependent on humanitarian aid that may well stop coming, with only a few hours a day of electricity, and water that’s polluted?

The Israeli propaganda machine dupes Israelis into thinking that the two million people living in the besieged Gaza Strip are not human beings. Instead, we are told, each and every one of them is actually a murderous terrorist. Here they come, hell-bent on destroying us. They are armed with stones and equipped with onions as shields. They’re a deadly, primeval swarm. Nothing but live gunfire every Friday and bombing and shelling every few years can keep them in check and ensure they toe the line in the prison we’ve confined them to.

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But what happens after the...

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Debunking the myth: White House envoy Jason Greenblatt is no moderate

Long hailed as the ‘moderate’ voice among Trump’s envoys to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt’s blanket support for the Israeli government has disqualified him from playing any meaningful role as a fair arbitrator.

By Aaron Magid

A growing understanding has emerged that amidst the hardline statements of U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, there is still a responsible adult working on the Middle East file: White House envoy Jason Greenblatt.

Following the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year, a prominent Jewish publication profiled Greenblatt late last year noting that Trump’s Middle East envoy is “beating expectations,” while media reports have praised Greenblatt for striking a water deal with Palestinians and tweeting about meeting with Gaza youth. An Israeli news article published in May 2017 even quoted a Middle East expert, saying that Greenblatt is doing a “terrific job” and seems more interested in “finding the contours of what is politically and practically possible than he is to hewing to ideological positions.”

But 14 months into his senior post, Greenblatt has shown a different face, routinely decrying Palestinian leaders across the political spectrum, while offering blanket support for the hawkish Israeli government. Thus, he has disqualified himself from playing any meaningful role as a fair arbitrator.

In what appeared as an open-minded September remark before international donors, Greenblatt said, “Instead of laying blame for the conflict at the feet of one party or the other, we are giving the parties space to make their own decisions.” However, the U.S. envoy has spent nearly his entire time in office doing exactly this, blaming the Palestinians again and again for the conflict.

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Greenblatt has blasted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for not citing Jerusalem’s importance to the Jewish faith. (His tweets ignored the fact that a senior U.S. official gave a November speech highlighting Jewish connection to Jerusalem but made no mention of any Muslim ties). He has repeatedly assailed Palestinians for attacking Israeli security forces in the occupied territories, and, astonishingly, penned an entire op-ed on the dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza, censuring Palestinians for their own suffering without once criticizing Israel despite the its 11-year blockade on the Strip. As a third party envoy, his role is not to always accept Israeli narratives over Palestinian ones.

In contrast, since beginning...

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Israeli soldiers open fire on Gaza protesters third week in a row

Several thousand Palestinians protest as part of the Great Return March, now in its third week. Over 100 injured by Israeli sniper fire.

Update: 6:35 pm

The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza is reporting that 701 people have been injured during the Return March protests. 17 of those injured are said to be medical personnel.

Update: 5:30 pm

The Palestinian Ministry of Health is reporting that over 500 Palestinians have been injured during today’s protests, 122 by live fire.

[This post is being updated as events unfold.]

Israeli snipers opened fire on thousands of protesters participating in the Gaza return march on Friday.  Friday’s protesters are part of the Great Return March, a 45-day series of events planned to culminate on May 15, Nakba day.

The number of protesters was smaller than the previous two weeks, with the demonstrators spread out across five different locations along the fence that separates Israel and Gaza. Some protesters burned tires, Israeli flags and threw rocks. The IDF claims some of the protesters also threw Molotov cocktails and an explosive device.

Friday’s demonstration is the third consecutive week Israeli snipers have opened fire on unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza.

Since the Great Return March began, Israeli sharpshooters and snipers have shot over 1,000 unarmed Palestinian protesters, killing more than 30 people. Last Friday, at least six Palestinian journalists were reportedly among those shot at the Great Return March. One of them, Yasser Murtaja, a photographer for “Ain Media” who was reportedly wearing a helmet and vest clearly marked “PRESS” when he was shot, later died of his wounds.

Despite international criticism and calls for an independent investigation into the killings, Israeli authorities have doubled down on the decision to use live fire against unarmed protesters. In a newspaper ad campaign published last week, human rights group B’Tselem urged Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to open fire on protesters.

Following last Friday’s protests, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda warned that “violence against civilians — in a situation such as one prevailing in Gaza” could constitute war crimes.

Inside Gaza, Palestinians built a tent encampment with different tents corresponding to the various villages and towns that were destroyed during the Nakba (in Arabic, the catastrophe), in 1948. During the 1948 war and its aftermath, more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled from their homes and Israel subsequently destroyed almost all of their...

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My great-grandfather saved Jews during the Holocaust. Now I'm in jail for refusing to enlist in the IDF

Helman says his family’s history of resistance to oppression inspired his decision to refuse to enlist in the Israeli army.

By Matan Helman

Two Israeli draft refusers were sent to jail last Tuesday. Ayelet Brachfeld, 18, from Tel Aviv, and Matan Helman, 20, from Kibbutz HaOgen. Helman, who has already served 90 days in military prison, faces another 20-day prison term. Brachfeld, who has already served 40 days in military prison, will spend another 30 days behind bars.

Before his imprisonment, Helman wrote a letter about his family’s uncommon story during the Holocaust. Helman’s father is Israeli, born on the kibbutz. His mother is Dutch. She moved to Israel to volunteer on the kibbutz, attracted by its socialist ideals. Helman’s mother’s grandfather — his great-grandfather, Richte — refused to enlist in the Nazi work camps during the German occupation of the Netherlands. Richte escaped and joined the underground resistance.

This is the letter Helman wrote.


When I was in grade 11, I traveled to Poland with Hashomer Hatzair [a socialist-Zionist youth movement]. Before the orientation before the trip, my mother told me her family’s story during World War II for the first time. On the fourth day of the trip to Poland, I read my family’s story at a ceremony commemorating the Righteous Among the Nations [non-Jews who saved Jews during the war].

My father’s family is Jewish, from Eastern Europe. My mother is Dutch. When the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, my great-grandfather Richte Taklenbroch was 28, married with three children. The Germans conquered the Netherlands in three days and quickly forced all Dutch young men to enlist in work camps to serve the German army.

Richte, my great-grandfather, refused to enlist, and joined the underground resistance. He hid in the family’s house in their village. At the same time, he attempted to join the resistance, to look for other ways to fight back against the Germans. Through the resistance, he met an old, Jewish couple and a Jewish woman. The three spent the last two years of the war hiding in Richte’s house. They would hide in a large closet, along with my great-grandfather. They could only leave the house at night to get fresh air. The resistance provided food rations for Richte’s guests. His wife would purchase food at different places in the area to avoid arousing any suspicion.

During the war, Richte’s family hid...

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Israel’s arms exports: A decade of war and new markets

As Europe stops relying on Israel for arms exports, the Jewish state is looking for new markets, forging alliances with right-wing authoritarians who will likely use those weapons against their own citizens.

By Ryan Wentz and Sahar Vardi

Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez was supposed to light a torch during Israel’s 70th Independence Day ceremony next week. But on April 9th, citing fear of protests in Israel against his inclusion, Hernandez cancelled his appearance. Indeed, there is a history of anti-Hernandez protests in Honduras and abroad; massive protests erupted following reports of corruption in the balloting in the country’s elections in December, in which he won by a very slim margin. According to human rights groups, at least 22 people were killed by security forces in the aftermath.

So why was Hernandez even selected to light a torch in the first place? Beyond Prime Minister Netanyahu’s domestic political considerations are the strong and growing ties between the two right-wing governments. Just two weeks ago, Honduras purchased $200 million worth of Israeli drones, begging the question: how does Israel’s arms trade affect and feed into its political and foreign policies?

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently published an updated report on international arms transfers, showing Israel’s numbers continuing to grow. While SIPRI only tracks the sales of leading companies in the arms industry — and there are many more sales, deals, and trainings that go unrepresented in these figures — the statistics give us a glimpse into the trends of Israel’s military exports.

Between 2008-2012 and 2013-2017, Israel increased its arms exports by 55 percent — the largest increase in the world. Looking at overall sales, one sees a dramatic increase in sales in 2015 and 2016, respectively, as well as two low points in 2008 and 2014, both followed by significant increase in arms exports. The figures raise a number of questions: what can explain the sudden decrease in arms sales one year, or a sharp increase in another? What can these numbers teach us about local and international politics?

The global economic crisis of 2008 could certainly be a contributor to the decrease in arms sales that year, but would not be enough to explain the increase the following year to a level higher than before the economic crisis. The other significant event that occurred in 2008 was Operation Cast Lead, which lasted three weeks and provoked international criticism over Israel’s excessive use of force and human rights violations in Gaza. As a result,...

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Gaza's humanitarian crisis began long before Hamas

The deliberate suffocation of Gaza began in the 90s, when the first restrictions on the movement of Palestinians were introduced. 

By Amir Rotem

A macabre drama has been playing out every Friday along the border fence separating the Gaza Strip and Israel, complete with live broadcasts, press coverage, commentary, and even real-time spectators. An armed military stands on one side of the fence, a mass of angry residents on the other. The world, and let’s admit it, most Israelis, generally prefer not to see Gaza. When they do, it is almost always in the context of a violent escalation.

The current wave of protests — a Palestinian initiative bookended by Land Day on one side and Nakba Day on the other — is compelling the world, Israelis included, to see Gaza and pay attention to its residents. The horrifying death toll and the hundreds wounded whose lives are forever altered, all on the Palestinian side, push us toward a more nuanced reading of reality than those offered by Israeli propaganda. Israel has maintained an intimate and intense relationship with Gaza’s residents for decades, day in day out — even when there is no shooting, even when no one is watching.

After years of slowly gliding down a slippery slope, the situation in Gaza has been in free fall over the course of the last year. A United Nations report once estimated that by 2020, Gaza would become unlivable. The estimate has since been modified to 2018.

The facts are well-known: a faltering electricity supply which, even when the system runs at its capacity (and it never does truly run at capacity) only meets half of actual demand; household taps only offering unportable water; partial and deficient waste disposal; a severe shortage of housing, schools and medical facilities; dangerous shortages in medicine and essential medical equipment; and some of the highest unemployment rates in the world, if not the highest, especially among young people, who make up the majority of Gaza’s population.

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The road to the present moment has been drawn-out and torturous. Things did not start with the recent Land Day protests, nor with the tightening of Israel’s closure on Gaza following the Hamas takeover in 2007. The deliberate suffocation of life in the Strip began long ago, when the first restrictions on the movement of Palestinians were...

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'We demand international protection for journalists in Gaza'

The shooting death of photographer Yasser Murtaja by Israeli snipers has left no doubt among Gaza’s journalists that they are being targeted. Now they are demanding solidarity from Israeli journalists on the other side of the border.

By Meron Rapoport

Last Friday was a difficult one for journalists in Gaza. Journalist Yasser Murtaja was shot and killed near Khan Younis during Gaza’s “Great Return March” at the border with Israel, despite wearing a protective press jacket. According to reports, he was standing over 1,500 ft. from the border fence when he was killed by Israeli sniper fire. Just two weeks before his death, Murtaja published a post in which he expressed his wish to photograph Gaza’s port from the air. Since then, the post has turned into a symbol.

Murtaja was not the only journalist to be shot that day. Photographer Khalil Abu Aadra was also wearing a press jacket when he was shot and wounded in the leg. Palestinians report that a number of other journalists were wounded by IDF fire that day.

“Our message to journalists in Israel is that they must condemn attacks on journalists in Gaza,” says Mohammad Zaanoun, a photojournalist in Gaza who has been taking photos for Activestills over the past few weeks. Zaanoun has two siblings, Ibrahim and Islam, who are also photographers. Zaanoun says that his brother photographed the evacuation of one of the casualties east of Jabaliya refugee camp, approximately 1,600 feet from the fence, when he was shot in the hand. At the same time, Islam, who works for a Palestinian television network, was wounded by a tear gas canister fired by Israeli soldiers from across the border.

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“I think that the army directly targeted photographers last Friday,” says Zaanoun. “Look at the facts. Not a single journalist was wounded the previous Friday. We usually stand behind the demonstrators; it is difficult to stand up front because of the noise and the smoke. We do not endanger anyone, we only pass on photographs of what is happening. We are demanding for international protection for photographers. International law forbids harming journalists.” Zaanoun says that the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court at the Hague following the attacks on journalists last Friday.

Zaanoun used to be in touch with Israeli journalists, who before the blockade...

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