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Why I'm not fighting for a 'better Israel'

Can a national ethos that needs to balance out its democratic ideals with demographic domination ever provide an avenue for implementing a truly progressive agenda? A response to Maya Haber.

The commemorations of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination have a strange tendency: once a year the Israeli peace camp gathers, both physically and virtually, to reflect on how exactly we got to this particular political moment. This year, discussions have been especially tumultuous after it became clear that the rally in Rabin’s honor, organized by two centrist organizations, would be a wholly apolitical affair — one that aims to bring together the “moderate majority,” including leftists, rightists, centrists, and settlers.

The conversations led to some interesting critiques worth engaging with. Alon Mizrahi wrote a powerful piece on these pages, in which he argued that Israel cannot be a democracy as long as it holds millions under military dictatorship, and that the Left’s mission should be to end that dictatorship. At “Haokets,” Lev Grinburg revisited Rabin’s attempt to build an unstable political coalition across ethnic and national lines that granted him the legitimacy to enter talks with Arafat, and how that coalition quickly unraveled following the prime minister’s murder.

Over at Jewish Currents, Maya Haber published an informative piece titled, “Why there’s hope for a progressive agenda in Israel.” In it she details how following the Rabin assassination, when the Israeli Right was at its political and public nadir, American neoconservatives exported their ideology to Israel by building an infrastructure that would put the Right back in power.

Through a network of funds, think tanks, media outlets, and philanthropic initiatives, American right-wingers “infused Israeli politics with neoconservative ideology, trained political leadership, and provided a media platform from which to attack the left,” Haber writes. Think tanks like the Shalem Center set the tone for Israel’s neoliberal economic policies, while websites such as Mida have orchestrated smear campaigns against left-wing groups such as Breaking the Silence.

Haber’s piece is worth reading for its historical breadth. Unfortunately, it never really lays out what a progressive agenda in Israel looks like. The reader is left with a nebulous optimism that seems entirely detached from the present reality. “Much like the right in the 1990s,” Haber writes, “the Israeli progressive camp now understands that in order to make Israel a better place, it needs to gain power. They have identified the vulnerabilities of the right and...

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Reckoning with the murder of a prime minister

The White House chief of staff, who claimed the American Civil War was born out of an inability to compromise, can teach Israelis a thing or two about just how toxic political amnesia can be.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly went on national television this past week to repeat a lie. Speaking about the removal of statues of controversial historical figures such as Commander of the Confederate Army Robert E. Lee, Kelly, often viewed as the “adult” tapped to bring order to an anarchic White House, told CNN on Tuesday that it was the “lack of an ability to compromise” that led to the Civil War.

Whether intentionally or not, Kelly had parroted a trope that has long accompanied the American memory of its bloodiest and deadliest war: that the inability to reconcile two different, morally equivalent ways of life — rather than the institution of slavery — laid at the heart of the conflict between the Union and the Confederacy. These arguments were most commonly put forth in the postbellum years, when Southern leaders spoke of the “Lost Cause,” downplaying the role of slavery and emphasizing states’ rights and the “southern way of life,” against which the North ostensibly inveighed.

In the years that followed, and up until the around the middle of the last century, the official narrative of the Civil War propagated by the victors also minimized the role that slavery played, often as a token of reconciliation that would allow the North to avoid facing questions about its questionable strategy of compromise with the South.

Kelly’s historical revisionism has since been widely panned, yet his remarks serve as a stark reminder of a fundamental fault line that splits Americans over how they view their own history, and consequently, the present. Kelly’s remarks also happen to echo a different process of historical revisionism currently taking place in Israel.

The past week, Tel Aviv saw a flurry of activity as it prepared for its annual rally to commemorate the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In recent years, the ceremony has been a primarily low-key affair, with decent turnouts and political figures who recycle tired slogans borrowed from the Oslo days. Controversy erupted this year, the 22nd since Rabin’s murder, after it became clear that rally organizers Darkenu (“Our Way”) and Commanders for Israel’s Security had omitted any mention of Rabin’s assassination from their advertisements:

The outcry, including by Labor stalwart Shelly Yachimovich,...

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IDF using Facebook to threaten to destroy Gaza family's home

The army says Hamas built a tunnel under a six-story apartment building that houses the Hammad family, threatening to destroy it. Most of the family has already fled.

The IDF is using Facebook to threaten to destroy the home of a Gaza family, claiming Hamas has built a tunnel directly underneath it.

On August 10, Yoav Mordechai, commander of the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), announced on the unit’s Arabic Facebook page that the IDF had discovered two tunnels built by Hamas, which has ruled the Strip since 2006, under both an apartment building and a nearby mosque in the town of Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip.

In his post, Mordechai warned the residents living in and around the six-story apartment building — home to 21 members of the Hammad family, including four women and 12 children — that Hamas was using them as “human shields,” and thus their lives are now in danger due to a potential Israeli military strike on the area.

According to Adalah — The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, some of the family members fled the building in response to the threats. The less fortunate ones, who had nowhere to go, stayed behind.

That same day, Israel’s Channel 10 published aerial imagery of the building along with remarks made by Israel’s Southern Command Chief Eyal Zamir, who reiterated the claim that Hamas had been digging tunnels under the home, without providing any evidence.

Several days later, Omar Hammad, the owner of the building, received a phone call from an individual who identified himself as a member of Israeli military intelligence, who proceeded to inform Hammad that he and his family’s lives were in danger.

Over the past few years, Hamas has developed a sophisticated network of tunnels, running some dozens of miles below the Gaza Strip, which are used both to smuggle goods and for military purposes, including infiltration into Israel.

Adalah and the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights have both called on the IDF to immediately halt its threats against the family and other civilians in Gaza, which they say violate international law.

According to the Geneva Conventions, acts or threats of violence that seek to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.

“International law forces us to distinguish between civilians and enemy combatants,” said Adalah attorney Muna Haddad. “According to the law, even the presence of a large number of combatants,...

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What's dividing Israeli society? Just don't mention the occupation

Is it possible to discuss the sources of Israeli disunity without addressing the country’s military regime in the West Bank and siege on Gaza? Can Israelis ever accept Palestinians as part of that conversation?

The plight, let alone the very existence of millions of disenfranchised people living under Israeli military rule, was nowhere to be found at the Anti-Defamation League’s first-ever Summit on Social Cohesion in Israel Tuesday.

Actually, that’s not entirely correct.

“We are no longer the occupiers, we have become the occupied,” former Defense Minister and erstwhile Labor Party leader Amir Peretz declared ironically to the hundreds of people gathered at the ADL-organized event at a hanger in Tel Aviv’s Port.

“Our children may leave the territories but the territories will never leave them,” Peretz quipped, hinting at the human cost average Israelis pay for maintaining endless military rule in a country with mandatory conscription.

The major factor underlying Israeli disunity, according to the former defense minister, is 50 years of military dictatorship in the occupied territories. And any search for unity must go beyond the IDF and Israel’s wars, which have consistently brought together Jewish Israelis of all political stripes.

It was not surprising, then, that Peretz was the only speaker to be heckled. “This isn’t a political event! I thought we came here to talk about social cohesion!” one audience member shouted until security approached.

And in a sense she was right.

Can talking about social cohesion, or lack thereof, ever be considered apolitical in today’s Israel? Can we actually discuss the foundations of Israeli disunity without addressing the military dictatorship over the West Bank and the siege on the Gaza Strip, both of which, as Peretz sees it, bleed over the Green Line and lead to an increase of violence within Israeli society?

There was no shortage of speakers Tuesday who decried the state of extremism and tribalism in Israel. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai called racism and inter-group divisions “a bigger threat than anything else.” Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon excoriated Israel’s lack of leadership and growing socio-economic gaps, pondering why social unity cannot exist outside the Israeli army. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro warned that the Israeli government’s refusal to work toward a two-state solution, along with its often illiberal values, will have an impact on diaspora Jewry.

At a time when Jews around the world are feeling more and more estranged from Israel...

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In the crosshairs: Israel's war of attrition on political dissent

The attempt to outlaw Israeli human rights organizations means the Jewish state may soon be forced to shed its image of a liberal democratic state. Are Israelis ready for that?

The war of attrition against Israel’s human rights community took a dark turn last week. Hardly anyone noticed.

According to reports, Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin is currently working on a new bill that would outlaw Israeli anti-occupation NGO Breaking the Silence, along with any other organization that harms IDF soldiers or promotes boycotts of the Jewish state. The bill reportedly has the full backing of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who will review it for approval ahead of voting.

Breaking the Silence, an organization made up of former Israeli soldiers that collects and publishes testimonies of IDF transgressions in the occupied territories, called the bill an attempt by Netanyahu to distract the public from numerous corruption investigations that threaten to topple his rule.

The claim isn’t unfounded: Netanyahu’s cronies in the Likud Party are carrying out a parliamentary scorched earth campaign to shield the prime minister from accountability, including establishing a parliamentary committee to investigate foreign government funding of left-wing NGOs. Levin’s bill, then, does away with etiquette. No longer will the Israeli Right harp on the issue of funding alone. In its war of attrition, the goal has become the total elimination of dissent.

This war has been years in the making — it is, after all, a project of patience. The collapse of the Oslo process and the consequent foundering of the peace camp gave rise to a galvanized brand of right wing, one that sought to carefully undo the work of its predecessors in the Zionist Left. Doing so required a number of carefully crafted steps: supplanting peace negotiations with endless settlement building; creating physical and psychological distance between Israelis and the reality in the West Bank and Gaza; marking Palestinian citizens of Israel, long suspected as fifth columnists by the Israeli establishment, as enemies of the state; and silencing political dissidents through draconian legal warfare, and often the threat of real violence.

A bygone era

Breaking the Silence, from its onset, aimed straight for the heart of the Israeli consensus. Long before its members toured American campuses and spoke to the United Nations, the organization was simply a way for members to hold a frank conversation about the things they did and saw as soldiers of occupation. There was nothing especially revelatory...

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Sorry Ben Gurion, Israeli court says 'Hebrew Labor' is illegal

A jobs website for Jews only is fined for violating Israel’s anti-discrimination laws. The founding generation of Israeli leaders very much espoused the idea of ‘Hebrew Labor’ and not hiring Arabs.

In a judgement that would have upended one of the earliest tenets of Zionism and surely upset Israel’s founding father David Ben Gurion, a Jerusalem court on Monday ruled that a job listings website that publishes ads exclusively for Jews is illegal.

The judgement concluded a lawsuit filed by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and Mossawa Center against the owner of the site, Avodah Ivrit (“Hebrew Labor”), claiming that it violates Israel’s anti-discrimination laws. The website publishes wanted ads by businesses and employers that only hire Jewish staff, as well as job seeking ads by Jews only, while prohibiting Arab citizens of Israel from doing the same. Avodah Ivrit was forced to pay NIS 40,000 ($11,300) in damages.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, the site alleged that hiring non-Jews poses a both a “security threat” as well as a “threat to the Jewish people” due to potential miscegenation, according to the ruling. The site also includes a user feedback page, where users described the “good feeling of employing Jews,” and the “satisfaction of employing my Jewish brothers, rather than giving money to those who are deemed my enemies.”

Erez Liberman, who co-founded Avodah Ivrit and is named as the primary defendant, rejected the claim that Avodah Ivrit discriminates against non-Jews, and that its work focuses on “doing good for the Jewish people.” He further claimed that Israel’s anti-discrimination laws were not intended to prevent groups of people who share special bonds, from helping one another. Moreover, IRAC and Mossawa’s lawsuit, Liberman said in court filings, rests entirely on the fact that Israel is a democratic state, while his claim is based on Israel’s Jewish character.

Judge Einat Abman-Muller rejected Liberman’s claim that his website and its customers’ preference for Jews should not be considered a form of discrimination, instead ruling that the law prohibits discrimination in the provision of public service on the basis of religion, race, or nationality. Furthermore, Amban-Muller noted that Israel’s values as a Jewish state prohibit discrimination and mandate equality: “The vision of Israel’s prophets became the pillar of fire leading the struggle in support of the weak and the different toward equality.”

The idea of Jewish-only labor played a formative role in Zionist history, however. For years during the...

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Israeli forces shoot 11-year-old Palestinian in head with rubber bullet

Not a single Israeli outlet covered the incident.

The Israeli army shot an 11-year-old Palestinian boy in the head with a rubber bullet Monday night during a raid on Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said that the child was evacuated in a moderate condition to Israel’s Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem after Israeli forces shot him in the forehead with a rubber-coated steel bullet.

According to Ma’an News Agency, the boy was one of three Palestinians wounded by rubber bullets after Israeli forces entered the camp, leading to clashes with local youth. The boy was evacuated to Hadassah Medical Center. Two other Palestinians, including a 60-year-old man, were also wounded by rubber bullets. Ma’an reported that an Israeli police spokesperson said he was “not familiar” with the incident.

This is certainly not the first time Israeli forces have shot and severely wounded Palestinian children with riot dispersal weapons. In December 2014, Israeli troops shot five-year-old Muhammad Jamal Ubeid with a sponge-tipped bullet as he was stepping off a school bus near his home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya. In May 2015, Jerusalem Police shot a 10-year-old boy in the eye during clashes in Shuafat refugee camp. In November 2016, 15-year-old Fares Bayed was shot in the head by a rubber bullet outside Jalazun refugee camp in the West Bank. He remained in a vegetative state for several months until he died in a Ramallah hospital. There are countless other examples.

Israelis rarely hear about such stories because the media tends not to give them much prominence. In the case of Monday night’s shooting, not a single Israeli outlet covered the incident. Can anyone imagine the same kind of radio silence had the roles been reversed and it were a Palestinian who shot an 11-year-old Israeli child in the head with a rubber bullet?

h/t Idan Landau

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The police brutality haunting Tel Aviv's 'backyard'

For nearly an entire week in early August, it felt as if Jaffa was teetering on the edge. Enraged over the shooting death of 22-year-old Mahdi Sa’adi at the hands of an Israeli police officer, hundreds of Arab youth hit the streets for several days of spontaneous demonstrations on one of the ancient port city’s main thoroughfares.

Mainstream media ran a story most Israelis have become desensitized to, portraying the youth as Arab rioters burning trashcans, smashing car and storefront windows, blocking roads, and throwing stones at security forces.

The killing catalyzed the city’s youth — most of them from its poorest neighborhoods — to protest years of firsthand police brutality and a growing sense of disillusionment over any potential for change. The headlines missed the real story: the Arab residents of Jaffa saw Mahdi’s death not as a random killing resulting in a confrontation gone wrong — they saw it as murder.

Mahdi Sa’adi was killed in the early hours of July 30 when police were called to respond to a shooting an incident on Yefet Street, in the heart of Jaffa’s mostly-Palestinian Ajami neighborhood. Sa’adi and a friend, Suleiman, were reportedly driving on a motorcycle in the area. Suspecting that the two were somehow involved in the shooting, police attempted to apprehend them. A chase ensued. Mahdi was reportedly shot between four and six times in his upper body on one of Jaffa’s backstreets, not far from Army Radio station. A single bullet hit Suleiman, severely wounding him.

At around noon the following day, a few dozen Arab youth gathered around Haj Kahil Square and began burning tires and throwing stones at police, sounding the opening salvo of a week-long standoff between a small group of protesters and large numbers of riot police stationed along Yefet Street, which was immediately sealed off.

“What happened that day was extraordinary,” recalls Abed Abu Shehada, a local activist and a member of Jaffa’s Islamic Council. “We haven’t seen young people take to the streets spontaneously since the first days of the Second Intifada in 2000. To do so requires a certain political culture that I didn’t even know existed.”

Minor clashes continued throughout the day and into the night. News outlets sent out spurts of push notifications, effectually tying the confrontations to clashes at the Temple Mount that had broken out a week prior. For the average Israeli, the headlines only reaffirmed...

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What happens when teaching diaspora Jews about occupation gets 'too political'

An item on Israel’s top news program falsely accused a volunteer program that allows young diaspora Jews to directly engage with the occupation, of sending its members to clash with IDF soldiers, causing it to lose its main source of funding. Now one of ‘Achvat Amim’s organizers is speaking out: ‘I hadn’t experienced being lied about and mischaracterized in public in such an extreme way before.’

Karen Isaacs was on her way to her sister’s wedding in Toronto when Israel’s most-watched news program ran a primetime item accusing her and her partner Daniel of sending diaspora Jews into violent confrontations with IDF soldiers in the West Bank. Channel 2 openly based the segment almost entirely on information provided to it by radical right-wing group Ad Kan, which had put Isaacs’ organization, Achvat Amim, in its crosshairs.

According to the report, Achvat Amim participants took part in “violent clashes” with Israeli soldiers at Sumud Freedom Camp in the South Hebron Hills. Sumud was a nonviolent direct action by diaspora Jews, Palestinians and Israelis meant to allow the Palestinian residents of Sarura to to return to their homes, decades after being displaced. Ad Kan, which has a history of “infiltrating” left-wing organizations and recording their every move with hidden cameras, this time relied on videos and materials that were openly published by the activists themselves.

Channel 2 ran their report without any comment from Isaacs or Roth, perhaps because they were out of the country at the time. Meanwhile, the item focused squarely on Achvat Amim’s funding, which largely comes from Masa Israel Journey, a Jewish Agency-funded organization which offers young Jews study, internship, and volunteer opportunities in Israel. Weeks after it aired, Masa decided to pull its funding from the organization. Since then, Achvat Amim has launched a crowdfunding campaign to ensure its program can continue running.

Achvat Amim (“Solidarity of Nations”) is a five-month volunteer program in Jerusalem that allows young diaspora Jews to directly engage with the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through human rights work and critical education. Based on the core value of self-determination for all peoples, the program brings young adults from North America to work alongside organizations that seek to end the occupation. It began as the brainchild of Isaacs and her partner, Daniel Roth, two Canadian-Israelis who moved to Israel in November 2011, both of whom grew up in Hashomer Hatzair, a global left-wing Zionist youth movement that places a strong emphasis on social justice. The first Achvat Amim cohort arrived in the spring of 2014.

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Settlers illegally expand West Bank race track in IDF firing zone

Since +972 Magazine visited the site earlier this year, the track has been paved — despite an Israeli army order to stop construction. The Israeli military often uses firing zones to displace Palestinians.

Israeli authorities have continued illegally building a state-of-the-art race track in the West Bank, despite IDF stop-work orders issued earlier this year.

In February, +972 Magazine reported that the track was being constructed just north of the Petza’el settlement in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank, on a large tract of land near Wadi al-Ahmar and Route 505. The only catch: the track is partially inside an IDF live firing zone in the occupied West Bank — a designation Israeli military authorities often use to displace local Palestinian populations.

When +972 Magazine visited the site earlier this year, the area was fenced off, with large mounds of dirt and stacks of metal located on site, including what appeared to be metal bars that will form the overhead to mark the starting point. Since then the track, which is being funded by the Jordan Valley Regional Council, has been fully paved, seemingly in contravention of military orders.

Although Israel rules the West Bank under military law due to its status as occupied territory, Israeli settlers have nevertheless established limited civilian local government institutions, nearly identical to those inside Israel proper, although they are ultimately subordinate to the military government.

According to Micky Yohai, a veteran Israeli racer who is behind the project, the 1.2 kilometer long track was supposed to be ready by May 2016. Ultimately, the track is slated to include a motocross track, a drag strip, and a 3.2 kilometer paved track. In an interview with Ynet last year [Hebrew], Yohai said the project would begin with a dirt track — the first sign of success of a two-year process with the Jordan Valley Regional Council, headed by David Alhayani, who “is strongly pushing the issue.”

Alhayani declined to answer +972 Magazine’s questions on the matter in February. He previously told Ynet that the track would provide athletes with the ideal place to race, making no mention of the fact that it would run through an IDF training zone.

The Israeli army’s Civil Administration, which serves as the military government in the West Bank, told +972 Magazine back in February that it had issued a stop-work order against the track, and acknowledged that the facility was being built...

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Israel is razing a Bedouin village to build a Jewish-only town on its ruins

Israeli authorities have promised the courts that the displaced Bedouin residents would have an opportunity to live in the new community. New documents show that is far from the case.

Despite assurances made to Israel’s High Court of Justice, a new town being built on the ruins of a Bedouin village in southern Israel is intended for Jews only, according to the bylaws of the future town’s cooperative association.

Israel first notified the residents of Umm al-Hiran, Bedouin citizens of Israel, that it plans to demolish their entire village and build another community in its place 15 years ago. A legal battle has been taking place ever since, although Israel’s top court ultimately approved the plan — partially based on assurances that the current Bedouin residents would have the option of living in the new community.

According to the bylaws of Hiran, the future Jewish town, which were uncovered by “Adalah — The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel,” acceptance into the community will be open only to “Jewish Israeli citizens or permanent residents who observe the Torah and the commandments according to the values of Orthodox Judaism.”

The National Planning and Building Council, which first approved the plan to build the town atop Umm al-Hiran, had promised it would be open to all Israeli citizens, regardless of religion or nationality. The High Court took the state at its word when it claimed Bedouin would be allowed to live in a future Hiran.

Adalah Attorney Myssana Morany sent a letter to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday, demanding he prevent the allocation of plots in Hiran to the “core” group of the town’s cooperative association, and ensure that Umm al-Hiran’s current residents are included in the new town’s planning.

Israeli law offers two seemingly contradictory stances on ethnic or religious housing segregation. On the one hand, the state cannot discriminate in the allocation of land to its citizens. On the other hand, communities are allowed to exclude would-be residents if they would alter the character of the community — meaning they can discriminate on any number of grounds.

Prior to Israel’s founding in 1948, Umm al-Hiran’s residents lived northwest of where the village currently stands. Like many Bedouin, they were expelled during and after the 1948 war, and like most Arab citizens of the nascent Jewish state, they were placed under strict martial law until 1966.

In 1956, the local military governor forcibly...

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Forget Al Jazeera — Bibi should halt his own government's incitement

Netanyahu is calling to shut down Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau, accusing the station of incitement to violence amid tensions over the Temple Mount. Has he heard what his own ministers have been saying recently?

Palestinian incitement has long been Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scapegoat for the lack of progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For him, Palestinian calls to violence — not the settlement enterprise or 50 years of military dictatorship — is what prevents peace. Netanyahu regularly uses this rhetorical tactic to undermine an already impotent Palestinian Authority whenever it is politically convenient. In recent years, the prime minister has also used claims of incitement to take severe punitive measures against Palestinian organizations and individuals.

On Thursday, however, Netanyahu pulled a page right out of the playbook of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when he vowed to shut down the Jerusalem office of Al Jazeera — one of the most popular news outlets in the Arab world and a steady critic of Israeli policies — accusing it of incitement to violence amid tensions over the Temple Mount.

In a Facebook post published Wednesday, Netanyahu said he had appealed multiple times to law enforcement agencies demanding the offices of the Qatar-based news network be closed. “If this does not happen due to legal interpretation, I will work to enact the required legislation to expel Al Jazeera from Israel,” Netanyahu wrote.

Over the past few years, Netanyahu’s government has taken active steps in outlawing several Palestinian political movements in Israel (a tactic that has its roots in the early years of the state). In September 2015, former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon signed off on the banning of two Muslim organizations, the Murabitun and Murabitat, for alleged incitement to violence on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Two months later, he outlawed the northern branch of the Islamic Movement for similar reasons.

In the occupied territories, the Israeli army regularly shuts down Palestinian radio stations under the pretense that their broadcasts incite the masses to violence. Meanwhile, Netanyahu lambastes the Palestinian Authority for naming public squares after terrorists who killed innocent Israeli civilians, and for fanning the flames of incitement when tempers flare around the Temple Mount.

Furthermore, Israeli law enforcement, as well as the Shin Bet, frequently round up and charge Palestinians — both in Israel and the West Bank — for alleged “incitement.” Just last week, Read More

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How the world missed a week of Palestinian civil disobedience

The violence of the past week, and the media’s coverage of the bloodletting, erased a central aspect of the story: Palestinian mass civil disobedience.

For many Israelis, the violence over the past few weeks around the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is little more than a result of Muslim intransigence in the face of legitimate Israeli security concerns. This, after all, has been the major talking point among both the Israeli leadership as well as the media. For Palestinians, on the other hand, the metal detectors erected last week by Israeli authorities at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa compound sparked outrage and protests.

That outrage stemmed from the government’s decision to install the metal detectors — in defiance of both the IDF and the Shin Bet’s recommendation — that eventually led to the deaths of four Palestinian protesters at the hands of Israeli security forces, and the brutal murder of three Israeli settlers by a Palestinian attacker that same night. But the violence, and the media’s coverage of the bloodletting, erased a central aspect of the story: Palestinian civil disobedience.

“We need to understand that there has been a major, continuous nonviolent protest taking place in East Jerusalem for over a week,” says Aviv Tatarsky, a field researcher for Ir Amim, a Jerusalem-based NGO that works to build a more equitable city for all its residents. “The decision to boycott the metal detectors and refrain from going up to Al-Aqsa, the continuous stream of people to the gates of the compound, the mass prayers, all of these are a form of civil disobedience. And as such, it is a legitimate form of protest — whether or not we agree with it.”

“For Israelis, framing the protests in East Jerusalem as ‘nonviolent’ is at best strange and at worst scandalous, since the metal detectors were installed following the killing of Border Police officers at the site two weeks ago, and because three Israelis were murdered just a few days ago,” Tatarsky continues. “But in order to understand the nonviolence of the protests, the Israeli public will have to differentiate between the actions of individuals — who aren’t even from East Jerusalem — and the mass protest movement that includes most parts of Palestinian civil society in Jerusalem.”

+972 Magazine spoke to Tatarsky about the delicate status quo at the Temple Mount, the possibility of bringing an end to the violence, and the media’s unwillingness to cover Palestinian nonviolence.

What do the events of the past...

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