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Besieged on all sides, Gaza's journalists are risking their lives to do their job

Not only must Gaza’s journalists worry about Israeli snipers at the fence — they are also forced to work without sufficient protective gear, access to psychological support, or free speech protections.

By Dina Saeed

GAZA CITY — The deaths of Yaser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein, who were shot by Israeli snipers while covering the Great Return March protests on the Gaza–Israel fence, uncovered Israel’s brutal crackdown on the nonviolent movement.

But their deaths also highlighted the dangerous conditions that journalists in Gaza work in, often risking their personal safety to document the lives of Palestinians in the strip.

Without sufficient protection gear, access to psychological support, stable streams of payment, and free speech protections, journalists in Gaza are struggling to build their careers.

Hosam Salem gave up his studies in computer engineering to follow his childhood dream of becoming a photographer. After self-funding an exhibition, and promoting his photos on social media, he succeeded in landing freelance gigs with news agencies.

According to Salem, lack of personal security is the most common problem that freelance journalists encounter. For example, the Israeli government prevents the entry of helmets and protection vests, under the pretext that Hamas uses them for terrorist purposes. The protective equipment that is available within the strip is often too expensive for journalists to buy independently.

Some have found it more affordable to simply sew their own press vests. Others, like Salem, can only do their jobs if and when colleagues are willing to share their gear: “Whenever I come closer to the borders, I borrow the vest and helmet from my colleagues to take good and clear pictures. I do not have another choice, taking pictures is my only income.”

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Another problem that journalists in Gaza face is timely payment. Because of the high rate of unemployment, journalists work with news agencies based outside the enclave. But it’s not easy; Salem, for example, said he is still owed $1,200 from a European news agency for his work covering the 2014 war on Gaza. After Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2006, the Israeli government imposed even harsher restrictions on the besieged population, which...

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Escaping Gaza is easier now — for Palestinians who can afford it

Egypt has kept the Rafah crossing from Gaza continuously open since May, diverging from a years-long policy. But leaving the Strip is only the first of many challenges.

By Pam Bailey and Fadi O. Al-Naji

GAZA CITY — Um Ibrahim tried but failed to persuade her youngest son to reverse his decision to emigrate. The Gazan mother, who asked not to use her real name, has already “lost” two of her sons: one, a physician who managed to flee to Germany, and the other, also studying to be a doctor, to Portugal and then the United States. Now, her only remaining son is waiting his turn to leave Gaza via the Rafah crossing into Egypt, where he hopes to obtain a visa and join one of his brothers.

The young man has a relatively good job as an architect; he earns what is considered a rare, high salary of $1,000 a month. It is also tradition in Palestinian culture for at least one son to stay at home and care for his parents. Yet Um Ibrahim’s husband approves, and has even encouraged his last son’s departure.

“These last harsh years have totally convinced me that Gaza will never offer a shining future. I don’t want any of my children and their children to grow up with their dreams halted in every direction by walls,” he says.

This family is not unusual. According to a 2018 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 50 percent of adults in Gaza dream of emigrating due to political, economic and safety conditions. Gaza is struggling with surging unemployment rates — the highest in the world — and more than two-thirds of its nearly 2 million population lives in poverty.

Brain drain

There are two ways to leave Gaza: the Erez crossing into Israel, which requires a very difficult-to-obtain permit that is only available to people who fall into specific, Israeli-defined categories, including those with serious illnesses and approved businesspeople; and the Rafah gateway to Egypt. Rafah is the only option for the vast majority of Palestinians living in Gaza.

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Prior to May 2018, Rafah opened for only a few...

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The Israeli army is putting humanitarian workers at risk in Gaza

According to the Israeli media, the soldiers who took part in a botched intelligence operation in Khan Younis earlier this month were dressed up as humanitarian workers. If the details are true, it could put countless people in danger.

By Yael Marom

Israeli troops impersonated humanitarian workers in order to carry out an intelligence operation deep inside the Gaza Strip, according to details of the botched operation leaked by Hamas and reported by the Israeli media. If true, the operation could put bona fide humanitarian operations and employees at risk in the coastal strip, where two-thirds of the population is reliant on humanitarian aid.

The operation gone wrong, which left both senior Israeli and Hamas commanders dead, brought the two sides to the brink of war earlier this month.

The Israeli military censor forbade Israeli media outlets from publishing most details of the incident. After Hamas began leaking details of what happened, however, some Israeli journalists followed suit, primarily repeating the information released by Hamas, and presumably with the permission of the IDF Censor.

On Friday, Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari reported that the Israeli special forces team had entered Gaza through one of the two civilian crossings into the strip, either Erez or Rafah, with forged documents.  “They rented a house in Gaza and operated under the guise of a humanitarian aid organization,” Yaari said on a primetime news broadcast.

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A day earlier, Walla! News reporter Amir Bohbot published the following account, also presumably with the approval of Israel’s military censors:

Palestinian reports indicated that the special unit’s operations were part of a longer, broader operation. For that purpose, the unit rented a building and a yard in the Gaza Strip from a Palestinian police officer who did not know with whom he was dealing. Members of the special unit told the officer that they were running a humanitarian aid organization that specializes in distributing food to the needy in Gaza.

For this purpose, the unit operated undercover as Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to distribute aid and managed to get into the homes of Hamas members. According to the [Hamas] reports, some of which appeared...

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Not so fast, Bibi: Why new sanctions won't bring down the Islamic Republic

President Trump’s new sanctions on Iran were widely praised by Netanyahu and the media. But they may not bring about the outcome so desired by the Israeli leader and his followers.

By Shemuel Meir

President Trump’s recent declaration on the renewal of the oil and finance sanctions on Iran were greeted with great enthusiasm by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu thanked President Trump for the severe sanctions, which would impose a “huge stranglehold” on the Islamic Republic and could do away entirely with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement led by President Obama. Netanyahu’s announcement was filled with superlatives of “an historic day,” and “a great day for the State of Israel,” taking personal credit for standing alone against the world in the battle against the “Iranian threat.”

Israeli commentators have adopted Netanyahu’s line. The main problem with the discourse on Iran was that while it may have been based on the prime minister’s factsheet, the facts were not always in his favor.

Political commentators also refrained from asking questions. Will the new sanctions lead to the final dismantlement of the “bad” nuclear agreement? Will it lead to the collapse of the Islamic Republic, as U.S. National Security Advisor Bolton and U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo had hoped to bring about? Would the sanctions have any effect on Iran’s regional policy? Would the possible cancellation of the nuclear agreement be a positive contribution to Israel’s security, as Netanyahu claims?

Are these the toughest sanctions and maximum pressure on Iran? Not necessarily. Trump retracted his original plan to bring Iran to its knees through the imposition of a “zero exports” policy vis-à-vis the country’s oil supply. Eight countries — China, India, South Korean, Italy, Greece, Japan, Turkey and Taiwan — received an exemption (albeit a “temporary” one, but in the Middle East it is hard to distinguish between temporary and permanent) from the sanctions and will be able to continue to import Iranian oil. These waivers would leave the U.S. room for future diplomatic maneuvering. It is also worth noting a special exemption that passed under the radar: India was allowed to continue its infrastructural works for the development of Chabahar, a strategic harbor in southern Iran opposite Oman.

Netanyahu praised himself and strongly hinted that he was responsible for SWIFT’s (Society for the Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) financial sanctions. But his presentation of the facts was incomplete, and the...

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Airbnb's decision isn't about the Jews — it's about the occupation

The attacks on the vacation rental company for its decision to pull all listings from West Bank settlements miss one thing: Airbnb does not support boycotting Israel.

By Frima (Merphie) Bubis

On Monday evening, American hospitality company Airbnb announced it would be pulling its listings from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The announcement came just a few days before Human Rights Watch and Israeli settlement monitoring organization Kerem Navot were set to publish a major report about Airbnb listings in the West Bank — some of them on private Palestinian property in some of the most violent outposts in the West Bank.

Israeli officials and pro-Israel activists rushed to condemn the decision by declaring it anti-Semitic. Many Israelis and Jews who don’t necessarily support the occupation quickly bought into the self-victimization narrative, saying they felt that the decision unfairly targeted Israel. “Look at China or Yemen,” they said. “Why are they not being singled out?”

I, too, wondered whether there were other destinations Airbnb has pulled from its listings. I found that the company does not offer its services in countries such as Syria and Iran. Despite the hysteria, Israel is not being sanctioned by the company. Moreover, Airbnb has said that it would be looking into dropping its listings in Western Sahara, a territory under occupation by Morocco.

Airbnb’s decision, however, did not apply to listings in cities such as Tel Aviv, Mitzpe Ramon, or Haifa, but rather referred to “Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.” Those who support the settlement enterprise have every right to be outraged. But why are progressive Israelis and Jews — who support ending the occupation and a peaceful resolution with Palestinians — buying into the claim that Airbnb’s decision is singling out the Jewish state, and thus is anti-Semitic?

Why the settlements?

The decision not to operate in the settlements is clear cut. Airbnb’s new policy does not exclude listings inside Israel, nor does it prevent Palestinians in occupied territory from benefiting from its platform. The decision, instead, highlights the illegality and immorality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which violate international humanitarian law and are often built on private Palestinian property.


But this is not merely a dispute over territory. The existence of the settlements, home...

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'We hope the regime lasts': When Israel enjoyed cozy ties with Brazil's military dictatorship

Archival documents show how Israel helped prop up the Brazilian junta, supplied it with weapons and military expertise, and even signed a number of nuclear agreements.

By Eitay Mack

Just under a month ago, following an especially tumultuous election season, Brazilians elected Jair Bolsonaro as president of their country. Bolsonaro has been a member of the National Congress, Brazil’s parliament, since 1990, where he was part of a group of vocal, extreme-right backbenchers who longed for the days of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 until 1985.

His election was welcomed by the Israeli right, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu going so far as to announce he would attend Bolsonaro’s swearing-in ceremony in January.

A haphazard transition

Those who long for the era of the dictatorship ignore the fact that Brazilian security forces disappeared hundreds and arrested and tortured thousands of its own citizens. Brazil served as a model for other murderous regimes, and the military dictatorship intervened in other countries in South America and and supported their dictatorships. It backed Pinochet’s coup and the suppression of dissent in Chile, aided the military coup in Bolivia, helped Uruguay put down internal revolts, and helped coordinate Operation Condor, in which the dictatorships of the Southern Cone worked in concert to eradicate left-wing activists and guerillas.

Brazil is likely the only country in Latin America that did not undergo a process of self-examination following the dark years of dictatorship. A law passed in 1979 granted immunity to officers responsible for the junta’s crimes. And while a National Truth Commission was established decades later, in 2011, as opposed to other similar commissions, it did very little investigating. In fact, the commission mostly summarized reports by human rights organizations, testimonies of victims of the dictatorship, and CIA documents handed over by the Obama administration.

Brazil’s power structures, its society, and its economy have changed very little since the transition to democracy. Part of the blame surely lies with the left-wing and centrist parties that have ruled the country for the past 33 years, and which feared confrontation with the military establishment. The left’s failure in the most recent elections only added insult to injury: the Worker’s Party, which ruled Brazil since 2003, permitted Luiz Inácio Lula De Silva to run for president from his prison cell, where he was serving time for corruption. The party changed its candidate at the last minute, replacing De Silva with economist Fernando Haddad. It wasn’t enough to defeat Bolsonaro.

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In the age of Trump and Netanyahu, progressive values are winning

The victories of progressive candidates in U.S. midterms and Israel’s municipal elections prove that it’s possible to overturn national far-right policies.

By Bar Gissin and Maya Haber

Something remarkable happened in the last few weeks: progressive candidates won elections in Israel and the United States, despite the rise of far-right, anti-democratic politics in both countries.

This might come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t be. Many Jewish Israelis support ending the occupation, women’s right to pray at the Wailing Wall, and LGBTQ’s right to get married and adopt children. Similarly, most Americans approve of labor unions, support same-sex marriage, want stricter gun control, and oppose illegalizing abortions.

So why do the policies of the Israeli and American governments fail to reflect voter demands?

The reason is simple: President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu use fear to channel voter anxieties. Just look at how Trump repeatedly labels refugees as criminals and belittles their claims of persecution to mobilize the Republican base. Similarly, for the past 20 years, Netanyahu has been stoking existential fears, warning of attacks by Iran and Hamas in Gaza. Countering this hate has trapped liberals and progressives in a defensive, apprehensive posture, leaving little space to push a proactive agenda forward.

However, the progressive campaigns in recent Israeli municipal elections and American midterms provide a promising off-ramp. Progressives in each country enlisted volunteers and built local grassroots campaigns that proved stronger than fear and hatred. Activists in both countries knocked on doors, spread their agenda, and dispelled red-baiting from conservative candidates.


In Pittsburgh, Pa., for example, the Republican opponent of state senator-elect Lindsey Williams desperately turned to Cold War-style red-baiting and tried to label Williams as a socialist. Such farcical tactics fell flat, as Williams’ canvassers directly appealed to voters’ support for workers’ rights and Medicare for All. Progressives scored victories across the U.S. with similar appeals, electing democratic socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Julia Salazar, Franklin Bynum and Rashida Tlaib to Congress.

In Israel’s recent municipal elections, progressives won even in the most unlikely communities. In October, the Left-leaning Meretz-Mekomi party became the largest party in Rosh Ha’Ayin. The Mekomi-Local Leadership movement was established two years ago to form a network of local elected officials and promote progressive values in municipalities. In Rosh Ha’Ayin,...

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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, air...

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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.


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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