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Black Lives platform is a victory for transnational struggles

Black American activists have delivered a powerful message to Palestinians and other oppressed communities around the world: you are not alone in your causes.

Of all the discussions I ever had about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, undoubtedly the most engaging ones were with delegations of black Americans who visited the region to learn firsthand about Palestinians in the occupied territories, inside Israel, and in refugee camps. These groups – made up of community organizers, students, journalists, judges, and others – not only found commonalities with the experiences of Palestinians, but shared their own lessons of struggle against racism, state violence, and inequality.

The “Invest-Divest” chapter of the platform of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) is an outcome of that growing exchange between black Americans and Palestinians. The chapter, which partly addresses foreign policy concerns in various countries, outlines clear and practical ways for Americans to help in ending the Israeli occupation. These include engaging the Leahy Law to withdraw military aid for human rights violations; campaigning against private security companies like G4S; and fighting state legislation aimed at silencing BDS activism in the U.S.

The platform’s alliance with the Palestinian struggle – including its support for BDS, which was founded by a Palestinian civil society coalition much like the M4BL – has raised the public profile of the Palestinian cause at a very critical time. The political leaderships in Palestine, Israel, and the U.S. have shown little will or legitimacy to make progress in the conflict, leaving grassroots and civil society movements as the only agents actively challenging the worsening status quo. Thus by including their cause among their international priorities, black activists have delivered a powerful message to the Palestinian people: you are not alone in your struggle.

At the same time, the M4BL arguably overstepped its position when it used the word ‘genocide’ to describe Israel’s oppressive policies toward Palestinians. The problem here is not mere semantics and arguments over definitions. Many people like myself have lived and learned alongside survivors and descendants of survivors of genocides in Sudan, Rwanda, Armenia, and the Holocaust, to name a few. For all the crimes that Palestinians are subjected to, placing our situation on the same pedestal as history’s most egregious and murderous atrocities gives us an unwarranted exceptionalism which, in my view, undermines the transnational consciousness that we are trying to promote. The M4BL is certainly right to...

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Black-Palestine activists should highlight police brutality in Israel

Police violence in Israel is nowhere near the scale and severity of that in the United States or the occupied territories – but they do share key elements that achieve the same purpose.

By Amjad Iraqi

The transnational solidarity movement between Palestinians and Black, indigenous, and other minority Americans has made significant strides in promoting the struggle of Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But in its focus on challenging Israel’s military regime as an institution of oppression, the movement – like many other outsiders – has sometimes overlooked another oppressive institution that operates inside Israel itself: the national police force.

In fact, when American activists of color tour the region, many find that their experiences in the United States are even more accurately mirrored by those of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population within the state’s 1948 borders. The conditions of many Arab towns in Israel remind the activists of impoverished ghettos in American cities; segregationist laws in land and housing echo those of the Jim Crow south; and in particular, the stories of police brutality sound starkly like those in the U.S.

Like minorities in America, the Palestinian citizens’ experience with Israeli security authorities is embedded in a history of violence, distrust, and impunity. In October 1956, when Arab communities in Israel were still under military rule, soldiers shot and killed forty-nine Palestinian citizens in Kufr Kassem as they were returning home from their farms. In March 1976, police killed six Palestinian citizens during the first Land Day protests, which have been commemorated every year since. During the mass demonstrations of October 2000, police killed twelve Palestinian citizens and one resident of Gaza, and wounded hundreds more, using rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition, including sniper fire.

These acts of state-sanctioned violence, among many over the years, are coupled with both negligence and harassment by police in Arab communities. Policemen rarely arrive to investigate scenes of local Arab gun violence and, if they do come, are never heard from again. Plainclothes officers have been known to storm into local stores in broad daylight in search of undocumented Palestinian workers from the West Bank. Residents even remember how, years ago, newly-inducted Israeli soldiers stopped and searched vehicles at the entrances of Arab towns in Israel as training for managing checkpoints in the occupied territories.

Police practices...

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Why Israel can’t kick its addiction to collective punishment

Israel’s revocation of permits and closure of Yatta this week reflect its need to keep the Palestinian issue at bay by controlling and threatening their people for every action of a few.

A Palestinian family from Nablus was supposed to visit their relatives in an Arab town in Israel for Ramadan later this month. They were especially excited that they would get to see the beach in Jaffa for the first time, which despite being only an hour’s drive away was normally inaccessible to them as residents of the West Bank. But on Thursday morning they were informed that they couldn’t go anymore: their permits to enter Israel had been revoked because of a shooting in Tel Aviv by two Palestinian gunmen on Wednesday evening.

The family had nothing to do with the attack in Tel Aviv. But the Israeli government seemed to think otherwise when, just a few hours after the incident, it suspended the permits of 83,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who had hoped to see distant family members, vacation in cities in Israel, and pray in Jerusalem during Ramadan. On the same day, the Israeli army sealed off the shooters’ hometown of Yatta near Hebron, trapping its 64,000 residents while soldiers raided homes in search of the attackers’ accomplices.

For many Israelis, these heavy responses are logical security measures: they can increase the chances of achieving operational goals, and deter others from committing similar attacks by demonstrating the severe consequences for such actions.

This approach, however, is abhorrently illegal and immoral – and simply doesn’t work. Collective punishment has been Israel’s main response to Palestinian altercations of any kind for decades, from demolishing the homes of Palestinian attackers’ families to imposing a blockade on 1.7 million people in the Gaza Strip. Yet all these policies have failed to dissuade Palestinians from resenting the occupation or from resisting it violently or nonviolently. If anything, they only refuel Palestinians’ antagonism, feed the cycle of violence, and make future attacks all the more likely.

The damaging effects of collective punishment are well known to many Israeli decision-makers. But in their unwillingness to address the conditions that fuel Palestinian violence (the occupation being a principal source of them, as Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai stated this week), they have stuck to the same oppressive policies of the past in order to contain...

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Nakba Day attests to the power of our grandparents’ stories

For young Palestinians, Nakba Day is dedicated to remembering the catastrophes that our grandparents went through. But with every passing year, we realize how much the day belongs to our catastrophes too.

My maternal grandfather was born in 1929. Although Alzheimer’s disease eroded his memory during the later years of his life, he had a surprising knack for recalling his experiences growing up in Haifa under the British mandate of Palestine. He described the open plains he crossed with friends to swim at the beach; the diplomats and missionaries who traveled through Haifa’s German Colony; and the port and railway that linked Palestine to other Arab cities and the Mediterranean region. Although he couldn’t remember that he had repeated these stories countless times before, I never grew tired of hearing them; they breathed life into a world I could only read about in books and gaze at through black-and-white photographs.

Like all Palestinians of his generation, my grandfather lost that world in 1948. At the time he was living in Tira and studying at a British school in Tulkarem, but when the war broke out he joined a local resistance group to fend off Zionist forces from the village. The armistice agreement made Tulkarem part of the Jordanian-ruled West Bank, while my grandfather was made an Israeli citizen in Tira. For 18 years he lived under Israeli military rule, watching the village’s lands being confiscated and used to build new Jewish settlements. When he wanted to leave the village, he had to get a permit. When he wanted to walk to a neighboring field, he had to be searched at a checkpoint.

Military rule ended in 1966, and my grandfather – by then a historian and a teacher – was able to explore the land again. But the country he remembered had changed. Hundreds of villages and their inhabitants had disappeared. The main road going up Haifa’s Carmel mountain was no longer known by the Arabic “Shere’ al-Jabal” but by its new Hebrew name “Derech Hatziyonut.” When Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza the following year, the soldiers who once guarded the entrance of Tira were now stationed near his old school in Tulkarem. The occupation was both a gift and a curse: it allowed my grandfather to reconnect with his Palestinian brethren, but at the cost of their subjugation under the same regime he had endured.

For young...

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A law banning torture in Israel? Don’t hold your breath

An anti-torture law currently being drafted by the Justice Ministry is not enough to fix an entire legal system that allows the practice to be used against an occupied population.

During its review session at the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva on Wednesday, Israel’s representatives informed the committee that the Justice Ministry is drafting a bill that, for the first time, would explicitly enshrine torture as a crime under Israeli law. This appears to be a very positive development in a years-long battle to end Israel’s use of torture, championed by torture victims, human rights groups, and UN bodies.

Past experience, however, warns us not to be optimistic about this news. Israel ratified the Convention Against Torture in 1991, and many Israelis argue that the country’s domestic legal system already offers safeguards that ban torture – with some exceptions. A 1999 Supreme Court ruling supposedly regulated the practice, but the ruling actually provides loopholes for security agencies to employ torture methods under vaguely defined circumstances. Contrary to the wanton actions taken by sadistic regimes like in Syria, torture in Israel (both psychological and physical) is often carried out in a highly controlled and methodical manner, sugar-coated by terms like “moderate physical pressure” and justified by “necessity” and cases of “ticking bombs.”

Along with the court’s ruling, Israel has an array of legal and administrative tools that enable the use of torture. For example, a temporary order which has been repeatedly renewed since 2002 exempts the Shin Bet from making any kind of recordings during interrogations of “security” suspects; in other words, the security service has a carte blanche to torture detainees with no evidence to hold them to account. Knesset members have introduced further legislation, like the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which would enshrine various emergency regulations into official law and, by broadening the definition of what constitutes a “terrorist,” would grant the state more draconian powers. All the while, not a single criminal investigation has been opened into the use of torture by Israeli officers and interrogators, despite over 850 complaints filed since 2001.

So why, after 25 years of ignoring its obligation under the torture convention, is the Justice Ministry finally initiating an anti-torture law? Several factors are at play, but a major one has to do with recent domestic developments. Last December, Israel’s right wing was outraged by reports that the Jewish citizens...

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The tragic resilience of Israel’s unrecognized Arab villages

Abu Saleh, a 73-year-old farmer, speaks with a raspy but strong voice as he points to his crops. “Everything you see around you is food grown from my own land. These carrots, this zucchini, these olives…they are all part of my survival.” He lifts his head, his voice starting to shake with anger. “Now they want to tear down my home and remove me from my livelihood. They want to rip my heart from my land – just to put the heart of someone else.”

Abu Saleh is a resident of Ramiya, an Arab community of 50 families nestled within the Jewish city of Karmiel in northern Israel. The vast majority of visitors to Karmiel will never know that Ramiya exists at all: it is hidden behind a wall of clustered bushes, making it easily mistakable for forestation that was waiting to be cleared. From the main road, the only sign of the village’s existence is a wooden shack with a banner reading “Remaining in Ramiya” in Arabic and Hebrew next to an image of the Palestinian cartoon Handala stopping a bulldozer in its tracks.

Ramiya, which has been continuously populated since the Ottoman Empire, once encompassed nearly 600 dunams, or 150 acres, of agricultural land. But in 1976, the Israeli government seized most of the village’s property along with those of many other Arab villages across the Galilee. On March 30th of that year, thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel protested the sweeping confiscations in what became the first “Land Day,” a day of protest and commemoration marked every year since. The 1976 demonstrations, some of which were held not far from Ramiya, were brutally suppressed by Israeli police, who killed six Palestinian protesters and wounded scores more.

The confiscated land was used to build hundreds of new Jewish towns and cities in line with a national development plan called “the Judaization” of northern Israel. Karmiel, the city that surrounds Ramiya today, was established on land belonging to several Palestinian villages, including Ramiya. Today luxury apartments belonging to wealthy Jewish Israelis cover the area, with construction sites nearby breaking ground in preparation to build even more. “Israelis forget that we were not dropped onto Karmiel,” says Abu Saleh. “Karmiel was dropped onto us.”

For years the Karmiel Municipality has pressured its Palestinian residents to yield the remainder of their property and to relocate to another area...

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The right to boycott is non-negotiable

Regardless of one’s views of BDS, it is ridiculous that one should have to tell self-proclaimed ‘democracies’ that the right to boycott is a basic civil right, not a punishable crime. 

Last week, over 120 people attended a conference in Nazareth on the subject of “BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and ‘48 Palestinians (citizens living inside Israel’s 1948 borders).” Although the discussions were lively, many participants were cautious with their choice of words: Israel’s Anti-Boycott Law – which allows groups and citizens to be sued for calling for a boycott of Israeli institutions, including settlements – cast a heavy shadow over the event.

The anxiety of discussing the subject of boycott would have seemed an implausible scenario a decade ago. Boycotts, we always learned, are a legitimate method of political expression, praised in our history books and modern politics as an example of how nonviolence can be more powerful, moral, and strategic in advancing human rights struggles around the world.

Now, in a corrupt twist, the very countries that purport to uphold civil rights have become the main forces undermining them. In recent months (and years), governments and local authorities in the USA, France, the UK, and others have advanced new laws, administrative decisions, and behind-the-scenes pressures to stem the rising tide of BDS activities – simply because they are being applied against Israel. This transnational counter-movement, as Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman recently detailed in the Intercept, is part of a “very coordinated and well-financed campaign” to censor BDS – and “it is succeeding.”

The political backlash to BDS was always expected; similar attacks by state authorities had targeted the boycott movements in the Jim Crow south and against apartheid South Africa. What is shocking, however, is not only the extent to which authorities are working to crush today’s BDS movement, but the use of legal measures to restrict or fully silence boycott activities against Israel. These include criminal convictions of BDS activists in France; the threat of penalties against local councils in the UK that boycott Israeli goods; and new regulations that will fully incorporate West Bank settlements into the US’s trade with Israel, among others.

The authorities’ manipulation of legal tactics against BDS has severely compromised citizens’ rights. When the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the Anti-Boycott Law last year in a 5-4 ruling, the majority of justices departed from technical arguments and Read More

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The domino effect of persecuting Arab politicians

The government’s latest attempts to oust Balad from the Knesset are part of an intensifying campaign against Arab political movements, regardless of their different stripes.

Three months ago, when the Israeli government outlawed the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, Palestinian citizens of Israel feared that they were witnessing the beginning of an intensified campaign against Arab political groups. Many suspected at the time that the government’s next target would be the Balad party, the nationalist faction of the Joint List, which has been in the crosshairs of consecutive Israeli governments since the 1990s.

Those suspicions were confirmed last week when the Knesset Ethics Committee banned all three of Balad’s Knesset members from attending parliamentary sessions for 2 to 4 months (they can still vote on legislation). The unusual decision was made after the MKs met with families of Palestinians from Jerusalem who had killed or attacked Israelis in recent months. Israeli authorities are refusing to release the attackers’ bodies, and the families were seeking help in arranging their return for burial.

Palestinian citizens of Israel had mixed views of the Balad MKs’ meeting with the attackers’ families. Many argued that the MKs were fulfilling their parliamentary roles in a humanitarian case, particularly one in which families were being collectively punished. Others argued that the MKs should have been more mindful of the scrutiny they were under, particularly regarding an issue most Israelis saw as morally and politically abhorrent.

Despite these debates, Palestinian citizens were nonetheless startled by how Jewish politicians spun the MKs’ meeting to justify the Knesset suspension. The media, and most Israelis, took little interest in the meeting’s purpose, and instead focused on a “minute of silence” in which the MKs stood for the recital of the fatiha (the Quran’s opening verse), as is customary at gatherings for deceased persons. The political storm framed the incident as an endorsement of violence on the part of the Balad MKs. Also not lost on Palestinian citizens was the government’s clear double standard: punishment was being vetted out against Arab MKs for meeting with families of “terrorists,” while Jewish MKs who did the same were condoned.

The Ethics Committee’s decision, however, was just the beginning: the prime minister himself ordered that a new law be drafted to drastically expand the Knesset’s powers to remove representatives from the parliament. The new amendment would allow a...

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‘They’re fighting ordinary people who want to live ordinary lives’

Two taxi rides gave a small glimpse into some of the daily realities of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents — ordinary people forced to live in unordinary circumstances.

“These houses were once neighbors,” says Naseem, a Palestinian taxi driver, as we drive through the neighborhood of Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem. He points to the separation wall to our right, jammed between homes that were mere meters away from each other. “These people are even from the same families. Now they have to walk or drive around the wall and through a checkpoint, just so they can visit one another.”

Naseem, who is in his early 50’s, speaks with a soft voice and a relaxed demeanor as he drives me from Jerusalem’s central bus station to Ramallah. I would normally use the regular public buses, but an attack on Qalandiya checkpoint just a few days before has me wary of running into trouble or going through more tedious security checks.

I give Naseem the name of the street where my meeting was located, but he has never heard of it. I call my colleague in Ramallah to ask for directions, she tells us the hotel nearest to the building. “Ah of course!” laughs Naseem. Palestinians generally don’t navigate their towns by street names (if they had any); instead we ask for the closest neighborhoods, landmarks, or family homes. “These street names in Ramallah are all new,” he says. “They name them after this country or that donor or that historical person. I don’t know if anyone even uses them to get around.”

Naseem lives in the Old City of Jerusalem with his wife and six children. His family is poor, and with a high rent and daily expenses, he says it is hard to make ends meet. He doesn’t mind his job – “I like having a simple life,” he says – so long as he can support his kids and help them enter higher professions. His eldest daughter just began her pharmacy studies at university.

I ask Naseem how life has been for him in the city during the past few months. Since October, Jerusalem has been the epicenter of violence both from Palestinian knife and car attacks against Israelis, and from the Israeli security forces’ crackdowns and closures on Palestinian residents and neighborhoods. Naseem gives me the same answer I always hear from Palestinians in the city: “Hiya se’ib (it’s...

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Israel's housing policy for Arabs is designed to fail

Israel’s housing system is not ‘failing’ its Palestinian citizens. It is working exactly as it was intended: to minimize Arab lands in order to maximize Jewish communities.

Half an hour north of Tel Aviv stand several hills offering a natural panoramic view of the bustling Arab towns of Taibeh and Tira, their congested neighborhoods, and their narrow roads and alleys. Surrounding the towns are the smaller and orderly Jewish villages and farming communities of Sha’ar Efraim, Sde Warburg, Ramat Hakovesh, and others. The hilltops used to be empty; now they are home to high-rise apartments of the new Jewish town of Tzur Yitzhak, along with Tzur Natan, Kokhav Yair and Tzur Yigal.

The view from those hills encapsulates Israel’s land policy toward the Palestinian communities in the state that survived after 1948. Although Taibeh and Tira are among the largest localities in the area (about 40,000 and 24,000 residents respectively), they are physically constrained by the sparse Jewish communities around them, whose populations are at most in the few hundreds or thousands. Many of the surrounding lands once belonged to Palestinians but were transferred to Jewish owners during the state’s formative years. The roads and highways around Taibeh and Tira further serve as barriers that prevent the towns from expanding.

This man-made landscape is not only the result of decades-old policies – it is an active process that continues to this day. Just last week, Israeli authorities demolished a home near Taibeh that belonged to a family of 11, which was built without a construction permit on land that was zoned for agricultural use. The Israeli tractors were accompanied by masked police forces that used stun grenades and “skunk” water to disperse and arrest protesting residents.

The following day, Haaretz reported that the attorney general approved recommendations to “increase enforcement of planning and construction laws,” which includes carrying out demolitions against illegal buildings and issuing fines against their inhabitants. Members of the Palestinian leadership in Israel connected these developments to Netanyahu’s call to enhance law enforcement in the Palestinian sector, a message he championed after last month’s shooting in Tel Aviv. The new plan amounts to harassment of the Palestinian community, the Palestinian leadership maintains.

Israeli authorities claim the demolitions are about applying the rule of law, saying that thousands of Palestinian citizens are refusing to follow planning procedures and abide by their local and regional...

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More police won't solve Arab crime in Israel

The government is exploiting the shooting attack in Tel Aviv to disguise discriminatory policies against Palestinian citizens as an effort to bring the rule of law to an ‘unruly’ society.

Prime Minister Netanyahu directed a range of comments at Israel’s Palestinian community Saturday night, speaking at the scene of a deadly shooting attack in Tel Aviv. A day earlier, a Palestinian citizen from northern Israel opened fire at a bar, killing two and wounding eight.

Netanyahu denounced what he called “lawless enclaves” in the Arab sector; condemned the “wild incitement of radical Islam”; encouraged Arab integration through the IDF; and declared that police presence will ramp up in Palestinian towns and villages. “Whoever wants to be Israeli must be Israeli all the way,” he said, adding that he “will not accept two states within Israel.”

Netanyahu’s comments have been widely criticized as amounting to racist incitement, with commentators accusing the prime minister of blaming the Palestinian community in Israel for the actions of a man with a personal history of crime and mental health problems. Local and national Palestinian leaders in Israel publicly condemned the attack in Tel Aviv, while some Jewish politicians joined in blasting Netanyahu for “lashing out” at Palestinian citizens.

There is, however, another concerning element of Netanyahu’s comments that is not being given enough scrutiny: his call to increase law enforcement in the Palestinian communities in Israel.

On the surface, it would seem that this measure is actually a positive move. Not only do Palestinian communities face high levels of crime and violence, but Palestinian citizens themselves have long demanded that police become more involved in addressing these problems, with many initiatives for trust-building and cooperation being pursued by local Palestinian leaders, civil society groups, and certain police branches.

Netanyahu’s “solution” in the wake of the Tel Aviv attack, however, is deliberately misleading. As Palestinian citizens have long criticized, Israeli law enforcement authorities have historically taken little interest in the Arab sector unless they related to security matters, excessively belligerent mob activities, or political and anti-war demonstrations.

The reason for this, as the Abraham Fund’s Co-Director Thabet Abu Rass told +972 Magazine in October, is that the Israeli police “are not operating as a civic service for the [Arab] community, but as a security-oriented institution for the state.” This is reflected in Israel’s...

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Arab group in Israel paves new future for town's next generation

University students from Tira are proving they can be a force for change in the Palestinian community in Israel. The key: taking the fate of their hometown’s youth into their own hands.

Three weeks ago, the building of the municipality of Tira, a Palestinian Arab town in the Muthalath (“Triangle”) area of Israel, was bustling with over two hundred people gathering in its auditorium.

Five speakers took the stage and delivered captivating talks on five different topics, all of which were nothing short of inspiring. Fadi Matar, the 24-year-old founder of the organization behind the event, described the process of making it happen in a community not used to such initiatives. A professor and scientist then spoke about how his own experience could be an example for youths to build a successful and fulfilling career. An activist made the case for why youths should visit Palestinian villages destroyed and depopulated during the Nakba. A fashion designer showcased how to create modern women’s clothing out of their grandmothers’ traditional Palestinian gowns. And a man told the story of how he channeled difficult moments in his life into a passion for Arabic calligraphy.

The “Tira Talks” were organized by the Academiyu al-Tira (“the students/educated of Tira”), a local collective of Arab university and college students from the town. Inspired by the TED talks format, the Academiyu initiated the event as a creative way to invigorate new social interests and ideas among the town’s residents.

“We wanted to give members of our community a stage to speak about their lives, experiences, and special pursuits,” said one of the organizers. “We want our town to know the diverse kinds of people we have in our midst.”

Tira, a largely conservative Muslim town, has for years garnered a negative image among both Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel as a place of crime, reckless driving, and gun violence – problems that indeed affect the town to this day. However, local initiatives like the Academiyu are showing that there is much more to the town than these stereotypes, with many even seeing their work as playing an important role in countering Tira’s social troubles.

+972 Magazine spoke with two members of the Academiyu: Mais Jondia, 21, an accounting student at Tel Aviv University; and Aseel Bishara, 21, a medical student at Ben-Gurion University. The two spoke about the beginnings and purpose of the collective and...

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In Bethlehem, even running is a political statement

Despite their difficult circumstances, Palestinians in Bethlehem find ways to remind the world that Israel’s occupation cannot exist forever.

The organizers of the Palestine Marathon, held annually in the West Bank city of Bethlehem since 2013, recently announced that its next run will take place on Friday 1st April, 2016.

The event – one my most memorable highlights of 2015 – is a thrilling experience. The thousands that gathered in Manger Square, where the run kicks off, included Muslim and Christian Palestinians, internationals from dozens of foreign countries, and even some Israeli Jews. Some came to support the marathon’s motto of “the right to movement;” some just came for the exercise. A few joked that they were practicing running away from soldiers for the next time they went to a demonstration.

As the runners passed through the streets, we were watched by children cheering and waving Palestinian flags from their windows, with the occasional men teasing from the sidewalks: “Forget this crap habibi, yalla come have coffee with us!” Among the crowds were groups wearing T-shirts promoting various causes, while artists walked by showcasing their work. This year one artist, Rana Bishara, carried a large wooden cross covered with empty tear gas shells used by the Israeli security forces.

The most notable feature of the Palestine Marathon, however, is the route itself. Starting from the Church of the Nativity (said to be the site of Jesus Christ’s birth), runners are taken through the streets of the city and into the Aida and Dheisheh refugee camps – the entrance to the former marked by an arch with a giant key representing the Palestinian right of return. The route then goes along Israel’s separation wall, where runners witness firsthand the concrete barrier enclosing the town, the security towers and cameras leering down at them, and the graffiti displaying political images and defiant slogans.

Bethlehem is in many ways an exceptional place in the West Bank due to the mix of its religious significance, cultural vibrancy, international presence, and relative autonomy as an urban center in the PA-governed Area A. But even with its stature, the historic city cannot escape the fate of the other Palestinian communities in the West Bank.

Friday marked the 49th Christmas which Bethlehem has celebrated under Israeli military occupation. While thousands gathered around the massive lighted tree in Manger Square to the sounds...

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