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U.S. embassy sends settlement wine to anti-settlement groups

The diplomatic faux pas is indicative of just how impossible it is to distinguish between Israel and its illegal settlements these days.

Human rights organizations in Israel were in for a surprise on Monday when they opened Rosh Hashanah gift baskets sent by the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. Among the various goodies delivered in honor of the upcoming Jewish New Year — such as chocolates and honey — was a bottle of wine produced in the occupied West Bank.

A broad range of organizations including Peace Now, B’Tselem, and Yesh Din which focus on Palestinian rights and settlement expansion in the occupied territories, were among those to receive the gift basket.

The wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon named “Dolev,” is produced by the Zion Winery located in the West Bank settlement Mishor Adumim. The winery’s website provides a terse historical description, omitting any mention of the fact that it operates out of occupied territory:

The Israeli wine industry is made up of six large wineries — Carmel, Barkan, Golan Heights, Teperberg 1870, Binyamina and Tishbi — and dozens of medium and small wineries, totaling over 150 wineries, and about 12,000 acres of vineyards, according to settlement watchdog Who Profits.

While the wine industry is known for providing information about the origin of grapes that are used in the production of wine, there are several methods to conceal information concerning grapes from settlement vineyards in occupied territory. Investigating the connections of the Israeli wine industry to settler vineyards, Who Profits found that while grapes from the Golan Heights are used quite openly, the wineries that use grapes from West Bank vineyards most often use a myriad of methods to conceal their origins.

Settlement goods, including wines, have been the target of boycotts both inside and outside Israel over the past several years. Vinters in the West Bank have reported an increasingly difficult time selling their products as a result of the growing movement to boycott Israeli products, which was bolstered late last year after the European Union passed a set of guidelines to accurately label the origins of Israeli goods produced beyond the Green Line. EU member states are now able to determine which punishments to enforce on anyone who does not abide by the regulations (the regulations require states to levy sanctions against those who violate them).

The embassy’s decision to include settlement wine in holiday gift baskets is even more curious when considering the U.S.’s position vis-a-vis settlement goods. Every single U.S administration...

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Israeli demolitions leave 53 Palestinians homeless

Israeli authorities have demolished more Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank thus far in 2016 than in any other calendar year in the last decade.

Israeli authorities destroyed 33 structures, 20 of them homes, across the West Bank since the beginning of August. The demolitions have left 53 people, including 25 minors, homeless, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

The demolitions began on August 4th in the Al-Mu’arrajat community in the Jordan Valley, where four homes were destroyed and 14 people were left homeless. On August 8 authorities bulldozed two homes in the village Fasayil in the Jordan Valley, leaving 12 people without shelter. On August 9 authorities demolished five homes, leaving 27 people homeless, in the Um al-Kheir community, located in the South Hebron Hills.

Israeli authorities have demolished more Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank thus far in 2016 than in any other calendar year in the last decade. As my colleague Natasha Roth previously pointed out, Israel justifies administrative demolitions by arguing that the structures in question have been built without a permit.

WATCH: Israeli authorities demolish home in Um al-Kheir

All homes and structures demolished by Israel were located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under both Israeli civil and military control. The Palestinians as well as the international community consider the area to be part of a future Palestinian state. Israel, on the other hand, wants Area C, where the settlements are located, to remain in its hands.

However, it is nearly impossible for Palestinians in Area C to obtain building permits: between 2010 and 2014 the army’s Civil Administration granted just 1.5 percent of requests. The IDF recently admitted that when it comes to demolitions in the West Bank, “enforcement against Palestinians is hundreds of percentage points higher [than against Jews].”

The demolitions come on the backdrop of increasing pressure and condemnation against Israel for its home demolition policies. Just last month, European Union ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen slammed Israel for destroying Palestinian homes in Area C. Last week U.S. officials warned the Obama administration would respond harshly should Israel demolish the West Bank village of Susya —  which has been under threat of imminent demolition for several years — and that it was “troubled” by Israel’s “provocative” razing of three EU-funded shelters in the West Bank.

Since 2006, B’Tselem reports, Israel...

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WATCH: Border cop confiscates Palestinian girl's bicycle in Hebron

Video shows Border Police officer taking away eight-year-old Anwar Burqan’s bicycle and throwing it into the nearby bushes.

An Israeli Border Police officer was caught confiscating a bicycle from an eight-year-old Palestinian girl in the West Bank city of Hebron last week.

In a video shot by B’Tselem volunteer Raed Abu Ramileh and published Tuesday afternoon, the officer appears to seize Anwar Burqan’s bike as she rides along a chain-link fence on al-Ibrahimi Street, before throwing it into the bushes.

In September 2012, Israeli security forces put up a the fence along al-Ibrahimi Street, adjacent to the Cave of the Patriarchs, leaving the main road on one side of the fence, and a narrow, unpaved and rough pedestrian path on the other. In recent years, B’Tselem has documented security forces prohibiting Palestinians from entering the paved side of the fence, though there is no official ban on Palestinian presence there.

According to B’Tselem, Burqan lives in the nearby apartment in the neighborhood of a-Salaimeh with her parents and six of her siblings.  Her father, Amer Burqan, is confined to a wheelchair. Anwar told B’Tselem field researcher Manal al-Ja’bri that they have no yard at home and that because of the crowded conditions she and her siblings play out in the street and ride their bicycles on the paved part of the divided street.

Anwar said that on Monday, July 25, 2016, his daughter was playing on al-Ibrahimi Street with her sister and two brothers. She was riding a bicycle belonging to one of her brothers when an Israeli Border Police officer ran over and confiscated it. He shouted at her to go home and she burst into tears.

In response to the footage, the Border Police Spokesperson released the following statement:

Hebron is the Palestinian city where Israel’s regime of exclusion and separation is at its most bare-faced and brutal. The city is divided into two sections, H1, which is governed by the Palestinian Authority, and H2 — roughly 20 percent of the city — which is under Israeli military rule. There Palestinians live under a regime of closures and checkpoints, where roughly 850 Israeli settlers are free to do as they please (which often includes violence against Palestinian civilians) under the guise of military occupation.

Over the past decades Hebron has turned into one of the most heavily guarded areas under Israeli control. At least 650 IDF soldiers are stationed...

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Israeli conscientious objector released from military prison after 160 days

Tair Kaminer is released from Prison 6, where she served multiple sentences for refusing to serve in the Israeli army.

Photos by Oren Ziv /

Israel’s longest-serving conscientious objector Tair Kaminer was officially released from prison Monday night, after serving approximately 160 days for her refusal to join the Israeli army. She is the longest-serving female conscientious objector in Israeli history.

Late last week a military committee found that Kaminer, 19, was not fit for military service due to her “poor and severe behavior” — namely the fact that she refused to serve in the army due to her opposition to its policies in the occupied territories.

The decision to release Kaminer comes a week after she stood before the IDF’s conscientious objectors committee, where she laid out her case for exemption. The committee has historically decided to not exempt female conscientious objectors such as Kaminer, who declare their refusal to enlist in the army due to their explicit opposition to the occupation (as opposed to pacifism, for example).

Kaminer spoke to +972 outside Prison 6 upon her release: “The fact that I knew that I was part of a larger struggle against the the oppression of the Palestinian people — the fact that I was part of a larger group of people who are working for peace — that kept me going while in prison. It’s a great feeling to put that experience behind me.”

Omri Brenes, another female conscientious objector, is also serving time in military prison for refusing to enlist due to her opposition to the occupation. She is currently waiting for a response from the conscientious objectors committee on her case. Meanwhile, Kai Hen, a conscientious objector who spent 30 days in prison, was released from prison earlier this week.

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Why won't Israel allow GoPros and model airplanes into Gaza?

The Israeli military decides to shut down all postal services in the Gaza Strip in response to the attempted ‘smuggling’ of mail-order GoPro cameras, WiFi antennas, and slingshots.

GoPro cameras, routers, model airplanes, Wi-Fi antennas. If you’re planning on bringing these items into the Gaza Strip any time soon, you may want to reconsider. On three separate occasions in recent weeks, authorities seized goods transported into the Gaza Strip through various Israeli crossings, which they alleged were going to be used by Hamas for military purposes.

Last month, Israeli Defense Ministry inspectors at Kerem Shalom Crossing intercepted dozens of wetsuits, which according to the Defense Ministry, were “destined for terrorist elements in the Gaza Strip, including Hamas’s naval commando unit.”

Two days later authorities at Erez Crossing intercepted a slew of goods including “security cameras, 14 small UAVs, UAV components and model airplanes, binoculars, laser pointers for weapons, communications equipment and electronic boards, tasers, weapons components, diving watches equipped with flashlights, flippers, miniature cameras, GoPro cameras, DVR cameras, banned electronic components, satellite communications equipment, surveillance cameras, telephone switchboards, Wi-Fi antenna, packages of motion sensors, routers and slingshots.”

That same day Ministry of Defense Crossing Authority officials stopped an Israeli pull-trailer transporting a dismantled 4×4 pickup, which the Defense Ministry alleges was “deconstructed in a way to facilitate reassembly, even including packages of screws.”

Toy-sized drones, model airplanes, wetsuits, surveillance cameras, routers, GoPro cameras — the list of dubious goods that are not allowed into the Gaza Strip keeps getting stranger.

Surely one can understand Israel’s vigilance when it comes to dual-use (civilian products that could be repurposed for military use) items entering the Strip. Yet Israel has been known to restrict everything from A4 paper to cardamom to chocolate to potato chips from reaching the besieged enclave.

This is the same Israel military regime that at one point made precise calculations of Gaza’s daily caloric intake to avoid malnutrition (when Israel limited commercial shipments of food into Gaza in 2006, senior government adviser Dov Weisglass explained that “the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to make them die of hunger.”)

In response to the “smuggling attempts” of mail-order GoPros and slingshots, the Israel military decided to shut down postal service for the entire Gaza Strip. But Gaza’s not occupied anymore.

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Alice Walker, Dave Eggers call for release of jailed Palestinian poet

Over 150 literary luminaries sign letter expressing solidarity with Dareen Tatour, who was imprisoned for a series of poems she published on Facebook.

Over 150 renowned writers, poets, and literary figures, including Alice Walker, Dave Eggers, Natasha Trethewey, and Susan Abulhawa have signed on to an open letter calling for the release of jailed Palestinian poet, Dareen Tatour.

Tatour, a 33-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel from the village Al-Reineh near Nazareth, was arrested by Israeli authorities in October of 2015 for a series of poems she posted on her own personal Facebook page and YouTube during the height of latest wave of violence between Palestinians and Israelis. She was charged with incitement to violence and identifying with a terrorist organization.

The main clause of her indictment was based on a poem that she had allegedly posted on YouTube under the title: “Qawem ya sha’abi, qawemhum” (Resist my people, resist them). Another main clause in the indictment relates to a news item, cited in a post on Tatour’s Facebook page, according to which “The Islamic Jihad movement calls for continuing the Intifada all over the [West] Bank…” The same post calls for a “comprehensive intifada.” (Read more about Tatour’s arrest here).

The letter marks the launch of an international solidarity campaign organized by Jewish Voice for Peace and Adalah-NY to demand Tatour’s release, as well as to draw attention to the widespread arrests and detentions of Palestinians for political expression on social media, as well as Israel’s targeting of Palestinian writers and artists.

The letter states:

We believe in the rights of artists and writers to freely express their artistic vision, and share work freely. The Israeli government’s actions reveal a desire to silence Tatour, part of a larger pattern of Israeli repression against all Palestinians.  Expressing resistance to oppression and Occupation through poetry is by nature non-violent and should not be criminalized by any government.

We, the undersigned – writers, artists, and people of conscience from around the world – believe that poetry is not a crime. We are calling for poet and activist Dareen Tatour to be released immediately from house arrest and for all charges to be dropped.

Tatour spent the first three months of her detention in three separate prisons before being transferred to house arrest. An Israeli court insisted that she be kept at a distance of...

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IDF releases longest-serving female conscientious objector

Tair Kaminer released from military service after spending 150 days in prison for her refusal to serve due to the IDF’s policies in the occupied territories.

Israel’s longest-serving conscientious objector Tair Kaminer was granted exemption from military service on Thursday after spending nearly 150 days in an IDF prison.

On Thursday morning a military committee found that Kaminer, 19, was not fit for military service due to her “poor and severe behavior” — namely the fact that she refused to serve in the army due to her opposition to its policies in the occupied territories.

The decision to release Kaminer comes a week after she stood before the IDF’s conscientious objectors committee, where she laid out her case for exemption. The committee has historically decided to not exempt female conscientious objectors such as Kaminer, who declare their refusal to enlist in the army due to their explicit opposition to the occupation (as opposed to pacifism, for example).

Before her imprisonment, Kaminer performed a year of national service with the Israeli Scouts (“Tzofim”) in the southern development town of Sderot. There she volunteered with children who suffer from trauma following multiple wars in Gaza and continual rocket fire on the city. “The children I worked with grew up in the heart of the conflict and have had extremely difficult experiences from a young age, experiences that caused them to feel hatred, which can be understood, especially when it comes from young children,” Kaminer wrote in a statement published this past January.

“Like them, many children who grow up in Gaza or in the West Bank, in an even more difficult environment, learn to hate the other side,” the statement read. “They, too, cannot be blamed. When I look at all of these children, and the next generation on both sides and the reality in which they grow up, I see only more trauma and pain. And I say enough! That is why I refuse: so that I do not take an active part in the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the injustices that the Palestinian people face under occupation, so that I do not take part in this circle of hate in Gaza and Sderot.”

Omri Brenes, another female conscientious objector, is also serving time in military prison for refusing to enlist due to her opposition to the occupation. She is currently waiting for a response from the conscientious objectors committee on her case. Meanwhile, Kai...

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What does justice look like for victims of Jewish terrorism?

A reminder that the victims of Jewish and Palestinian violence never encounter the same system of justice. 

On Thursday Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected a petition to stop the demolition of a home to a Palestinian man accused of aiding three Palestinians in a shooting attack that killed Border Police officer Hadar Cohen in February.

The appeal was filed by the father of Bilal Ahmed Abu Zeid, the Palestinian who is accused of providing weapons and transportation to the three men in the attack. In his appeal, Abu Zeid’s father claims that the demolition of homes is an illegal act according to international law, and argued that the demolition cannot be approved until his son is proven guilty. According to the father, the demolition would leave his youngest children without a home.

Not only is Abu Zeid accused of aiding the three attackers — that is, he didn’t take part in any of the violence — he hasn’t even been convicted of a crime in a court of law. This, however, is enough for the authorities to issue an order to have his home destroyed.

The decision to green light Abu Zeid’s home came on the same day that a Palestinian family, victims of Jewish terrorism, petitioned the High Court in support of a home demolition. The parents of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the 16-year-old boy who was burned to death by three Israeli Jews two years ago, submitted their petition on Thursday, demanding that the court order Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to demolish the killers’ homes.

The Defense Ministry had previously told the parents  there was no need to destroy their homes due to what Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg called an unimaginable difference in the “quality of the attacks, in their quantity, and in particular with regard to the environment – the firm and decisive wall-to-wall condemnation on the Jewish side, which is not the case on the opposite side.” It would behoove us to remember Justice Sohlberg’s remarks the next time the High Court is praised as the bastion of Israeli liberalism tempering its extremist leaders and legislators.

Abu Khdeir’s brutal murder was certainly not the first (nor the last) act of Jewish terror against Palestinian civilians. But even in the worst, most serious and deadliest cases — Eden Natan-Zada who murdered four Arab citizens in a shooting rampage, the members of the...

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Israel puts Palestinian prisoner advocate in administrative detention

Hasan Safadi placed under administrative detention for six months, after being accused of affiliation with an illegal organization and visiting an enemy state.

Israeli authorities placed a Palestinian prisoners’ rights activist under administrative detention for six months beginning last Friday, 40 days after he was first detained and taken in for interrogation.

Hasan Safadi, who works as media coordinator for Addameer, an NGO that supports Palestinian prisoners in both Israeli and Palestinian prisons, was set to be released from detention on June 10 by order of Jerusalem’s Magistrate’s Court, after paying NIS 2,500 in bail and obtaining third-party guarantees. Later the same day, however, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman signed an administrative detention order against Safadi, effectively overriding the court’s decision.

Administrative detention is a procedure that Israel uses to imprison detainees based on secret evidence, without charging them or allowing them to defend themselves at trial. Administrative detention orders may be renewed indefinitely.

Safadi was first arrested on May 1, 2016 as he was crossing Allenby Bridge from Jordan into the West Bank on his way home from an Arab Youth Conference in Tunisia. From there he was transferred to the Russian Compound interrogation center in Jerusalem.

During his trial, the military prosecution allegedly claimed that Safadi was affiliated with an illegal organization and has visited an enemy state (Lebanon) more than one time. It further claimed that he has conducted illegal activities without specifying exactly what those activities are, and argued that he is affiliated with other Palestinian detainees without identifying the names of said detainees.

According to Addameer, Safadi was subjected to sleep deprivation, long interrogation sessions, and was put in stress positions with his hands tied throughout the interrogations. He was also denied access to an attorney for a period of 10 days, as well as family visitations.

On Monday Israeli military authorities also renewed the administrative detention of Palestinian circus trainer and clown Mohammad Abu Sakha for an additional six months, from June 13 to December 12. Abu Sakha is known for working with special needs children in the West Bank, and runs the Palestinian Circus School. He was first arrested on December 14, 2015 while he was crossing Zaatara military checkpoint near Nablus on his way to work in the village of Birzeit, near Ramallah.

According to Abu Sakha’s lawyer, he was barely investigated by the police for general charges, all of which he denied....

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Netanyahu's paper uses Orlando massacre to demonize Israel's Arab citizens

Sometimes all it takes is a single visual to drive home the point. For Israel’s most read newspaper, visuals have become a way to race-bait and incite against Muslims, specifically against Israel’s Arab population.

On Monday morning, pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom published a photo montage comparing Omar Mateen, the American citizen who murdered 50 people at an Orlando gay club on Sunday, and Neshat Melhem, who murdered three Israelis in a shooting spree in Tel Aviv on New Year’s day. Above the side-by-side mugshots of the two killers, the editors of the paper decided to print the words: “A chilling similarity.”

The background: Israel Hayom is owned by far-right American casino mogul and Republican bankroller Sheldon Adelson. The paper, which is handed out for free, was created by Adelson as a platform for Netanyahu’s politics, all while circumventing Israel’s extremely strict campaign finance laws. He finances the paper reportedly at a considerable loss, selling ad space significantly below market value to put his competitors at a disadvantage. The paper, now the country’s most widely read, has dramatically upended Israel’s media landscape, and is considered just one of the ways Netanyahu, who also serves as the country’s communications minister, is able to maintain control over the public discourse.

The reason: Mateen and Melhem both wear glasses, and their heads are shaved. Oh, and they are both Muslims who have committed acts of terrorism and murdered innocents. And because it is not convenient to mention the more obvious parallel — between Mateen and Yishai Schlissel, who attacked the Jerusalem Pride Parade in June 2015 and murdered a teenage girl with a knife. Their crimes are far more similar; the only significant difference being that Schlissel was not able to use an assault rifle to inflict mass damage in the crowded parade. Mateen, on the other had, had little difficulty purchasing his weapons in Florida.

The context: The photos were used to illustrate an article by Israel Hayom columnist Boaz Bismuth — known for his ties to Sheldon Adelson and support for Donald Trump — who writes about the Orlando attack as proof that Obama cannot contend with Islamic terrorism let alone recognize it. The schadenfreude is hard to miss:

Bismuth refers to Israel only in passing when he writes about last week’s attack by Palestinian gunmen, which left four Israelis dead in a central Tel Aviv restaurant:

According to Bismuth,...

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Tel Aviv mayor says the occupation is a cause of Palestinian terror

Huldai tells Army Radio that Israel may be the ‘only country in the world holding another nation under occupation without civil rights.’

Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai shocked many Israelis Thursday morning when he cited Israel’s occupation as one factor that leads Palestinians to turn to terrorism. Speaking on Army Radio about Wednesday’s deadly shooting attack in Tel Aviv and reported celebrations of it in the West Bank and Gaza, Huldai argued that Israelis should focus instead on the fact that Israel is “perhaps the only country in the world holding another nation under occupation without civil rights.”

“On the one hand the occupation has lasted 49 years, and I took part in it,” Huldai told veteran journalist Ilana Dayan, “I recognize the reality and know that leaders with courage must look to take action and not just talk. The fact that we are suffering does not lead to a change in understanding of what must be done… There is no courage to do what needs to be done in order to reach a [peace] agreement.”

“There is no way to hold people in a situation of occupation and think that they will reach the conclusion that everything is okay and they will continue to live like that,” Huldai added.

Huldai is a former Israeli Air Force pilot and a Labor Party stalwart, through and through, and his comments come at a time of crisis for both Labor and the Israeli Left at large. Labor Chairman Isaac Herzog is in dire straits with his party after repeatedly taking hawkish positions vis-a-vis the Palestinians and what can only be described as groveling at the feet of Prime Minister Netanyahu to join his far-right coalition.

Herzog’s sycophantic behavior did little to bolster his support. On the contrary, it only widened an already existing chasm between the right and left flanks of the Labor Party. Enter Huldai, whose comments on the source of Palestinian violence can be viewed as the opening shot in his race for the Labor leadership. Like Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat — who seems to be perpetually mulling a run against Prime Minister Netanyahu to lead Likud — Huldai could be playing the long game.

Huldai’s comments come at a time when the occupation has all but disappeared from the Israeli public consciousness, and Palestinian violence is seen as senseless and random. However, they...

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Feminist Palestinian lawmaker freed from Israeli prison after 14 months

Palestinian parliamentarian Khalida Jarrar served 14 months for incitement and membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Feminist Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar, who served 14 months in an Israeli prison, was released Friday morning to a crowd of chanting supporters.

Jarrar, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was sentenced on December 6, 2015 at Ofer Military Prison. She is a well-known critic of the Palestinian Authority and specifically its security coordination with Israel. After eight months of imprisonment, some of which was spent in administrative detention, Jarrar signed a plea bargain, in which she admitted to charges of incitement, as well as belonging to the PFLP — a party she represents in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) — which is defined by Israel as a proscribed organization.

Jarrar was accused on 12 counts, the majority of which involved her parliamentary work and activism, including participation in protests, an interview with the media, a visit to a solidarity tent for Palestinian prisoners, and giving speeches. She was accused of one count of incitement to kidnap soldiers, however the witness on this count stated that he was not sure that he heard Jarrar say anything to this effect.

Jarrar was arrested in April of this year at her home and was placed under house arrest for several months, after she refused to follow an internal expulsion order demanding she move to Jericho within 24 hours for a period of 1.5 years. Following her arrest, Jarrar was placed under administrative attention, which led to a worldwide campaign advocating for her release. She was eventually released from administrative detention and put on trial.

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh came to greet Jarrar as she left prison, saying: “Khalida Jarrar was arrested and jailed, at first with no trial, in an attempt to silence her struggle against the occupation. But in the end, they only emboldened her power and her struggle.”

Jarrar was first elected to the PLC in January 2006, following years of political activism in support of women and prisoners. She is married, has two daughters, and is the first woman to be elected to the PLC on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Between 1993 and 2005, she headed the Palestinian NGO Addameer, a Palestinian NGO that supports...

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Unraveling Netanyahu's Sephardic spin

Netanyahu knows that even in 2016, Mizrahim have the ability to kick him out of power.

Benjamin Netanyahu has seen better weeks. Between being strong-armed by members of his cabinet over the confirmation of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister, and the fact that his wife, Sara, may soon be indicted over her unscrupulous handling of the prime minister’s households, the past few days have been rough. But amid the turbulence, Bibi was able to find a golden calf and, true to form, milk it for all its worth.

On paper the story seems both simple and innocuous: early last week Netanyahu announced that his brother, Ido, had taken a D.N.A. test, according to which the Netanyahu family can actually trace its roots back to Spain. Thus, Netanyahu implied, Israel finally had its own (at least partially) Sephardic prime minister.

Until that moment, Netanyahu was thought to be of Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) background, just like every single other prime minister who preceded him. This point cannot be overstated: whether they have come from the political right or left, Israel’s heads of state have all belonged to the same ethnic group (often referred to as “the white tribe”) — one which is credited with forging Israel’s founding myths, forming the political and military establishments, and dominating the country’s cultural life. In order to understand the significance of Netanyahu’s declaration, however, we need to understand how ethnicity became an essential component in Israel’s culture wars.

In the first years following the state’s formation, MAPAI (the precursor to today’s Labor Party) led by Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, did just about everything it could to ensure that Mizrahim (Jews from Muslim or Arab countries, sometimes referred to as Sephardim, or Sephardic Jews) were materially and culturally marginalized. Contrary to the image of a free, democratic state that Israel peddled to the world, Mizrahim encountered an authoritarian state that sought to keep them ghettoized and politically impotent. North African immigrants were sprayed with DDT upon their arrival, hundreds of Yemenite babies were disappeared and sometimes given up for adoption to Ashkenazi families, Mizrahim were forced into exploitative, menial labor, large numbers were directed upon arrival to far-flung development towns that quickly became slums, and any attempts at revolt (and there were attempts) were brutally put down by the state.

In 1977 Likud leader Menachem Begin...

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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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