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This summer's wave of protests gives us reason to be optimistic

From asylum seekers demanding their wages to protests against the Gaza blackout to raising awareness over disappeared Yemenite babies, this summer’s protests give us every reason to stay optimistic about this place.

It’s hot outside. The Israeli summer often brings with it a new wave of social and political protests, and yet it looks like summer 2017 will be a special one.

Since the social justice protest of 2011 — and its successors in the following years — there has been a sense that Israeli citizens have lost faith in their ability to influence, change, protest, and get results. Meanwhile, the strengthening of the Right, the delegitimization of the Left and Israel’s leaders attempt to smear any protest as an act of subversion have had an immeasurable impact. The terrible war in summer 2014, which left thousands dead, resulted to the smallest number of anti-war demonstrators than in any previous war. Those who did come out to protest were met with the brutal violence of the thuggish right wing.

We also saw the rise of large protest movements: housing struggles, demonstrations against Netanyahu’s gas deal, the protest by Ethiopian-Israelis against police violence, and more. But for the most part, every movement stood by itself, for itself. Not so this summer.

The struggles that have erupted over the last three weeks are impressive and extraordinary. Yes, the fact that people have reasons to march in the streets is infuriating in its own right, and sheds a light on the worrying behavior of this government. But things that would have previously passed by the wayside are now energizing and enraging people, pushing them to protest, and even connect between struggles.

What follows is a rundown of only a small portion of the important protests from the past month:

Yemenite children affair: The mainstream media mostly ignored the powerful demonstration that took place in Jerusalem this week, where over 2,000 people came to break a silence of almost 60 years. Those outlets that did cover the protest did the bare minimum. But look at the photos, read Orly Noy’s report, and understand what kind of incredible thing took place here last week, which included solidarity from both the Left and the Right.

Gender violence: The continuing terror against women brought out hundreds into the streets. Whether they were Bedouin women protesting in the south, women in Ramle and Lod, or the demonstrations that took place across Israel last week, it is clear that the police and government’s failure to provide...

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PHOTOS: Thousands protest in J'lm over disappeared Yemenite children

Thousands of Israelis took to Jerusalem’s streets on Wednesday evening to demand answers over the disappearance of Yemenite, Mizrahi and Balkan babies in the early years of the state. 

By Yael Marom, Eli Bitan and Haggai Matar

Thousands of people gathered in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening in order to protest the kidnapping of Yemenite, Mizrahi and Balkan babies in the early years of the state. The demonstration was organized by Amram, an NGO dedicated to researching and exposing the affair, and called for recognition of the state’s crimes as well as justice for the affected families.

Hundreds of members of families who lost their children were among the protesters, who held signs that read, “We won’t forget or forgive,” “Justice for the families of Yemenite, Mizrahi and Balkan babies,” and others with photographs of the kidnapped babies, and members of the families concerned who had passed away.

There were no formal political speeches at the protest, but stages were set up on every street corner, from which tearful family members told their stories after years of silence and incredulity. 

Amram’s Tom Mehager called it “a historic demonstration. Thousands came from across the country and echoed the cry over where the children are. The country is corrupt. The State of Israel must provide answers to the families of the kidnapped children, which the families emphatically demanded today.”

Ze’ev, who had traveled south to Jerusalem from near Hadera, said: “Two of my uncle’s children were kidnapped, and to this day we don’t know what happened to them. One disappeared two weeks after they got to Israel; a few months later, his daughter wasn’t feeling well and then disappeared.

“The Yemenite community is too quiet, too nice, too gentle. Our parents’ innocence was exploited… The families [must be] reunited. Forget money, we just want to know what happened to the children and to see them again,” Ze’ev added. “What do you say to a mother whose child was taken 70 years ago?”

One of the speakers was Tsvia Adani, the daughter of Saadia and Yehuda Levi, whose sister was taken at the age of nine months. She recounted how her parents’ child had been taken by force, despite their battling to prevent it.

Adani also spoke of how many Knesset members and government ministers are now calling for...

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Israel's national wound that cannot heal

A group of dedicated activists have been working tirelessly over the past several years to force the state to come clean about the disappearance of hundreds of Yemenite children in the early days of the state. They might just succeed.

Yemenite children's affair.

One of the aspects that is easiest to forget about the Yemenite children affair is that it is not a historical one. The disappearance of hundreds of Yemenite babies is not an old story, but rather a continuing injustice — even today. For the families who lost their children, who still do not know their fate, it has been a festering wound for nearly 60 years.

This means living an entire life of pain and doubt, of knowing that you wake up in the morning and drive to work, go to the supermarket, pay taxes, while your country remains silent over the disappearance of your child or your sister. That the doctors who treat you were educated by those who took part in disappearing children. That politicians deliberately prevent the state from formally recognizing the injustice, from apologizing, from compensating the family, and from supporting the attempt to find the children. That one of your close family members, whom you have never met, could pass you by on the street without knowing they have another family.

It is an unbearable burden to have to carry for 60 years. To understand the pain, all one needs to do is listen to just a few of the hundreds of testimonies published by Amram, an Israeli NGO dedicated to researching and exposing the disappearance of the Yemenite children. Through the tears of the parents, sisters, and brothers, one can understand how every day without answers is another day that the children are kidnapped — all over again.

Over the past few years, a small group of dedicated activists from Amram and other organizations have been able to break through the silence. They do not organize in a vacuum — it was the decades-long struggle by the families that led them to the journey toward recognition. Exposés published in newspapers such as HaOlam HaZeh in the 1960s and Haaretz in the 90s also broke that silence. The heroic struggle of Rabbi Uzi Meshulam, who led a...

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PHOTOS: Hundreds block Tel Aviv traffic to protest gender violence

Thousands of women demonstrate across Israel against gender violence and the police’s unwillingness to fight it.

Over 1,000 women and men demonstrated in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square on Saturday night following the murder of four women by their family members over the past week.

The protesters, who directed much of their anger at Israeli police’s inability or unwillingness to bring the perpetrators to justice, chanted slogans such as “twenty women a year — where is the state?” “Bibi, Bibi, wake up — the blood of women is not cheap,” and called for a “women’s intifada.” Fourteen women have been murdered by spouses or family members in Israel since the beginning of the year.

The rally in Tel Aviv, which was organized by the “Tizkor” movement, included speeches by victims of gender violence, including Michal Greenwald, whose father murdered her mother. +972 Magazine and Local Call blogger Samah Salaime also spoke to the crowd about the connection between women’s struggles against violence, the police turning a blind eye to murders in Arab society, the illegal weapons that make their way from security forces to the streets, and called on protesters to burn tires rather than light remembrance candles.

A representative from the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) also spoke, but quickly left the stage after being heckled by a group of Mizrahi feminist activists. WIZO was said to be heavily involved in the disappearance of hundreds of Yemenite babies in the first years of the state.

At the end of the rally, dozens of activists blocked traffic on Rothschild Boulevard. The police informed the protesters that they were partaking in an illegal demonstration, but were outnumbered by hundreds of other demonstrators who joined and spontaneously began marching through the streets of central Tel Aviv. The police eventually gave up on trying to disperse the protest and allowed the march to continue for over an hour.

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'Sodastream workers allege being threatened over unionizing attempts'

According to a lawsuit filed by Israel’s largest labor union, Sodastream workers who tried to organize reported being harassed by the company’s management. Sodastream denies the allegations.

Israel’s major worker’s federation filed a NIS 15 million lawsuit against Sodastream this past month, claiming that the company attempted to disrupt workers’ attempts to organize. The story hit the Israeli press on Friday after news website Davar Rishon publishing a string of testimonies from the case.

According to the 15 million-shekel suit, filed by the Histadrut — Israel’s organization of trade unions — Sodastream workers who tried to unionize were harassed, and the testimonies brought forth by Davar Rishon, a Histadrut publication, accuse the company’s management representatives of racism and exploiting the occupation.

One example came from a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem and a Sodastream employee, whose wife is a West Bank resident and whose children have severe medical problems. According to the man’s court testimony, an Israeli security guard at the company promised him that he could arrange for his wife to receive entry permits, or to enter Israel without papers with the help of a contact in the Border Police — so long as the Palestinian man helped to break up the attempts at unionization:

He claimed he was a security guard, but he was not wearing the security company’s uniform, he had no weapon, and no two-way radio. He heard the conversation between me and my wife and asked ‘What happened to you?’ So I told him about my son’s medical problem and about the situation with my wife. He said ‘I can help you. I have a friend in the Border Police who can move you to the hospital without a permit.

…then he told me ‘I will help you with the children, but I want you to help me work against the union. I want you to report everything you see in the factory to me. If someone signs another person up to the union — tell me who it is. If someone signed up for the Histadrut and you see him sleeping during his shift — photograph him.”

The employee initially agreed to help act against the workers, but discovered that the security guard couldn’t keep his promises, and now supports the trade union’s organizing.

The reliance of these employees on bureaucracy and permits from a military regime is a weakness that can be...

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New beginnings at +972 Magazine

Dear readers,

It is with great excitement that I write to inform you that the board of “972 — Advancement of Citizen Journalism,” +972 Magazine’s publisher, recently appointed me executive director of our organization.

I’ve been a blogger at +972 Magazine for over five years now, and in that time I’ve seen the site grow to become one of the most important and influential sources of news and analysis on Israel-Palestine. Serving as a primary source of information for journalists, diplomats and political activists the world over, +972 Magazine’s impact goes far beyond the more-than 1.2 million readers who visit us annually. The same is true of Local Call, the Hebrew news site our NGO publishes in partnership with Just Vision.

My experience, both as a journalist in the mainstream media and as a political activist against the occupation, has taught me just how great the need is for independent, on-the-ground journalism in our region. We need to uncover the silenced stories. We need to offer a platform for marginalized, diverse voices in our society. And we need to do so while fearlessly declaring our commitment to peace, equality, and freedom of information. +972 Magazine puts that agenda into action on a daily basis, and for that I am extremely proud to be a part of this important organization.

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Our collective success is shared by many: the bloggers who volunteer their writing skills, the committed team of editors, the programmers, translators, designers and legal advisors, our partners in the Activestills photography collective, and of course, you — our readers, for whom we do this work.

As I enter this new position, I look forward to the challenges ahead: protecting everything we’ve done so far, but also strengthening and growing our work moving forward. In order to explore new topics and bring new voices, and mainly to protect the independence of both sites, one of my first priorities as executive director is to fortify the grassroots foundation of reader donations that keep us going. More than a quarter of our annual budget comes from donations from you, our readers. I would love to see...

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PHOTOS: Thousands protest law punishing African asylum seekers

African asylum seekers march through central Tel Aviv to protest a law that deducts 20 percent of their wages.

Photos by Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org

Over 3,000 Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers marched through central Tel Aviv Saturday night against a new law that docks 20 percent of their salaries, which will be repaid only when they leave the country. Marching alongside Israeli activists, business owners who employ asylum seekers, and residents of south Tel Aviv, the protesters chanted “We are refugees — not slaves!” as they walked through Rothschild Boulevard, the city’s main thoroughfare.

The members of Knesset behind the new law, which went into effect on May 1, did not hide their intention of withholding asylum seekers’ salaries as an incentive to push them to leave (despite the fact that the state has admitted that it cannot deport them, and that they have a right to live and work here). According to the law, employers of asylum seekers will have to deposit another 16 percent of the salaries into the fund, in addition to another fee they must pay for hiring asylum seekers and foreign workers.

Following the march on Rothschild Boulevard, the protesters gathered in Habima Square for a demonstration. Merav Barzilay, the owners of Meshek Barzilay in Tel Aviv’s Neve Tsedek neighborhood, spoke to the crowd about her close relationship to her Eritrean workers: “This last month we were shocked to discover that we need to reach into our employees’ pockets and take 20 percent of their salaries. The state cannot expel them, but it expects us, the restaurant owners to do the dirty work and harm them. I am supposed to walk up to a worker who earns 5,000 shekels, take her money and give her only 3,500? We ask the High Court of Justice to reject this illegal law.”

“I am a mother of three children, I pay for rent, food, transportation, and more. I simply have no idea what to do,” said Eden Tesfamariam from the Eritrean Women’s Center. “It’s just not enough money, and I have no idea where to go. But I won’t leave Israel.”

Zehava Vaknin of “Power to the Community,” a group comprised of asylum seekers and long-time residents of south Tel Aviv, told the crowd that cutting asylum seekers’ wages will only lead to a deterioration in the conditions of all those who live in the...

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The Israeli Left must show up to protest 50 years of occupation

After 50 years of a racist military regime, it’s time for the Israeli Left to go out and protest en masse — and, in the face of such an urgent task, to overlook our differences.

Things can sometimes be very simple. Read, for example, the following invitation to the anti-occupation protest taking place in Tel Aviv this Saturday night:

We are about to mark 50 years of occupation. Fifty years of a racist military regime, which operates two separate legal systems in the West Bank — one for Jews and one for Palestinians. Fifty years in which Jerusalem has remained divided, although along national lines rather than recognized borders — separating citizens who get to build, receive services and take part in democracy, and those who suffer from systematic discrimination and home demolitions. Fifty years of Gaza seeing military rule replaced by a brutal siege and wars. Fifty years of destruction, killing and needless deaths.

Fifty years too many, as +972 Magazine’s project to mark half a century of occupation has been called. Fifty years that could have been prevented, and which we are obligated to bring to an end.

We are also witnessing the nonviolent uprising of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, who have been on hunger strike for 40 days in a demand for the basic rights that Jewish prisoners (including security prisoners) already receive: protection from extended administrative detention with no trial; the right to telephone access (under supervision); the right to study in jail in order to lay a foundation for the future once they’ve been released; the right to visits. There has been a growing protest movement in support of the prisoners both in the occupied territories and among Palestinians in Israel; meanwhile, dozens of the hunger strikers are already under medical supervision and are entering a hazardous phase of their strike.

Where is the Israeli Left today, in the face of 50 years of occupation, 40 days of hunger strike and popular Palestinian protests? Where is its own protest against the occupation? Where is the mobilization against the Israeli consensus, which chooses the status quo of settlements, perpetual military rule, siege and racism? Where is the opposition to the anti-democratic processes being driven by this extreme right-wing government, which censors art, shuts down Palestinian movements, parties and media outlets...

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Civil society groups join forces to protect freedom of speech

Dozens of civil society, feminist, and anti-occupation groups form the ‘Council for the Protection of Freedoms’ to fight back against the government’s and public’s attacks against freedom of expression.

Representatives from over 30 civil society organizations gathered on Friday in Nazareth for the founding conference of the “Council for the Protection of Freedoms.” The council was established to fight back against the feeling among various organizations that their activities and freedom of expression are at risk. The goal will be to protect these freedoms from both the government as well as various tendencies among both Jewish and Arab society.

The conference organizers pointed to various examples in which these freedoms are being limited, including the nation-state bill, the cancellation of three events organized by left-wing NGO, Zochrot, the government’s new initiative to prevent left-wing NGOs from filing petitions to the High Court, the attacks on B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, etc. On Saturday, following pressure from a right-wing student group, Hebrew University cancelled an academic conference focusing on academic research on Palestinian prisoners.

The initiative is being organized by I’lam Media Center, which works to protect and promote the rights of Arab journalists and media institutions, and the Van Leer Institute. The initiative includes independent journalists, former judges, and dozens of human rights, feminist, and anti-occupation organizations. According to Shai Lavi, the head of the Van Leer Institute, the initiative will strive to bring in additional organizations of different kinds, including cultural, religious, and academic groups. The council will be headed by Kholod Massalha, a Palestinian journalist and projects coordinator for I’lam.

“Over the past few years there have been growing doubts over the most basic freedoms. The assumption is that we are in a new reality, which requires a new mode of action,” said Professor Amal Jamal, the head of I’lam and a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, during the conference’s opening remarks. “There is a process of normalizing attacks on human rights organizations. This was not part of our reality in the past, and the fact that organizations and activists are being criminalized is unusual and dangerous. Although we haven’t reached a point in which we cannot speak out at all, we must still act before we get there. This means we must go beyond the differences between us — and there are differences — for the sake of maintaining a pluralistic lifestyle.”

According to...

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How Israeli police solved a case of suspected 'terrorism' in record time

An initial police report on an attempted stabbing in the West Bank uses the word ‘terrorist’ to describe the suspect. Only when it transpires that the would-be attacker is Jewish does the word ‘terrorist’ vanish.

It’s amazing to watch terminology change in realtime.

At 4.19 p.m. on Tuesday, the Israel Police released a statement saying that a “suspected terrorist,” who they claimed had tried to stab a soldier at the Hizma checkpoint in the West Bank, had been “neutralized” and was in serious condition.

Eight minutes later, the following update came out: “After an initial assessment, the suspect appears to be a youth (Jewish), and not Palestinian!”

Take note that the word “Jewish” is in brackets, perhaps because as soon as we refer to someone who was shot at a checkpoint as a “youth,” it’s clear that he’s not a “terrorist.” In a further statement, the police spokesperson variously referred to a “person” or a “young man” who charged at security forces with a knife. The last report from the police (for the time being) described him as “the young male suspect who had been neutralized.”

Just to compare, pretty much every police spokesperson report on a Palestinian suspected of attempting an attack on soldiers is immediately referred to as a “terrorist.”

The Israeli media also quickly retracted the term “terrorist.” John Brown, an Israeli blogger, showed just how quickly Channel 10’s tweets switched from referring to an “attempted terror attack” and a “terrorist” to an “incident” and “a person who was shot,” who had potentially “tried to commit suicide.”

Ma’ariv, meanwhile, tweeted: “The neutralized ‘terrorist’ is Jewish.” Other media outlets started reporting the possibility that the man who drew a knife was mentally unstable or was trying to commit suicide — something which is very rarely, if at all, checked as quickly when the person who’s been shot is Palestinian (despite the fact that numerous Palestinians who have drawn a knife have turned out to have been trying to take their own lives).

This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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Israeli government bars Palestinians from joint memorial ceremony

The Israeli Defense Ministry canceled all permits for Palestinian peace activists from the West Bank to attend a joint ceremony on the eve of Memorial Day.

For the first time in the 12 years since its founding, Sunday’s joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony will take place in Tel Aviv without Palestinian peace activists.

In previous years the Israeli Ministry of Defense has allowed tens and even hundreds of Palestinians into Israel so they can attend the event; on this occasion, however, every single permit was canceled. The Defense Ministry claims its decision was in response to the stabbing attack that took place in Tel Aviv two weeks ago, carried out by a Palestinian who had used a permit to cross from the West Bank into Israel.

Various legal petitions to get the decision overturned failed, and the organizers decided to hold a parallel event for Palestinian activists in Beit Jala, next to Bethlehem. Hundreds were expected to participate, including dozens of Israeli activists.

The ceremony is a joint initiative of the Parents Circle Families Forum and Combatants for Peace. In a press statement responding to the Defense Ministry’s decision, Combatants for Peace said: “Separation, intimidation and the heated and violent public discourse push away the hand that is outstretched in peace to the other side.”

The Parents Circle Families Forum added that the decision is “another assault on bereaved families and parents, who have paid the most painful price of all for the conflict. The defense minister’s decision…demonstrates the state’s unwillingness to listen to or even recognize the suffering of the other side.

“Our Palestinian partners are trying to instill a message of hope into a society consumed by despair,” the statement added.

This year’s ceremony was also threatened by activists on the extreme Right, who bombarded the organizers with thousands of hateful messages and death threats. On Sunday morning, the organizers submitted a complaint to the police, and the ceremony is being held under the protection of police and private security guards.

The ceremony will feature speeches from bereaved family members — both Israeli and Palestinian — including Roni Hirshenson, who lost one son in a suicide bombing and another to suicide; Meital Ofer, whose father was killed in a terror attack; Siam Nuwara Abu Nadim, whose son was shot dead by a Border Police officer; and Marian Saada, whose 12-year-old sister was killed after...

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A May Day surprise for Palestinian workers at an Israeli checkpoint

Members of Knesset and labor activists from Hadash hand out flowers and workers’ rights pamphlets to Palestinian laborers as they exit an Israeli military checkpoint.

Palestinian workers coming into Israel through the IDF’s Eyal checkpoint Thursday morning probably didn’t expect to be handed flowers by members of Knesset.

But that’s exactly what happened at 5 a.m. in one of the busiest checkpoints for Palestinian laborers who cross into Israel each morning for work. At the crack of dawn, three Hadash MKs from the Joint List, along with members of the Hadash caucus in the Histadrut labor federation, stood outside the checkpoint and handed out red flowers and pamphlets explaining workers’ rights in Israel.

The May Day event was held a few days early because Memorial Day in Israel falls on May 1 this year, with the latter marked according to the Jewish calendar.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians pass through IDF checkpoints every day to reach their workplaces in Israel, and many others find circuitous ways of entering the country to make a living. In order to get to work on time, many are forced to leave their homes at 2 or 3 a.m. to wait in long lines at the checkpoints, and once they are through, board buses that take them into the Israeli cities where they work, often in construction.

At the Sha’ar Ephraim checkpoint, not far from Eyal, Palestinians launched two workers’ strikes in recent years in protest of their treatment by the private company to which the Israeli army outsourced the checkpoint’s operations. Both strikes were successful: by refusing to pass through the checkpoint, and thus not showing up for work in Israel, the Palestinian workers compelled the authorities to improve conditions at the checkpoint. (See the video below.)

Palestinian laborers notched another victory this past year, successfully reaching a collective bargaining agreement with a large mechanic shop in the Mishur Adumim settlement. The workers, organized by the Ma’an union, faced serious obstruction and union busting by management, who went so far as to get one organizer’s entry permit revoked by the army in order to stop him from speaking with other workers.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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The Palestinian leadership's wish for two states cannot be ignored

With Hamas’ new charter about to confirm the organization’s commitment to a two-state solution, the unifying demand from the Palestinian leadership for a resolution to the conflict can no longer be denied.

The debate over one state, two states, three states or something in between for Israel-Palestine has once again risen to the fore. At times, the one-state solution has been presented as the best, most likely and most realistic option, by figures as diverse as President Trump, Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett and eminent Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua, along with the radical Left (Palestinian and Jewish alike).

But as I recently wrote, the overriding principle in the struggle against the occupation and for peace is recognizing that everyone who lives in this land must be part of the solution. No decision can be taken without Palestinian involvement. And on Thursday, it became clear that the Palestinian leadership has coalesced around a single option: the two-state solution.

Hamas’ new political platform, revealed in Haaretz, will ratify the organization’s official recognition of the two-state solution (a change which, by the way, Hamas embarked on 11 years ago). This is also the position of Fatah, of course, and that of the Palestine Liberation Organization, as well as of the vast majority of the political parties that represent Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Knesset.

Representatives of the majority of the Palestinians who live under occupation have stated time and again their commitment to the two-state solution (alongside the same commitment from every Arab and Muslim country as part of the Arab Peace Initiative, and the support of almost every other country in the world for that plan).

We can, of course, talk about versatile solutions to particularly sensitive issues, whether it’s simple land swaps or complex confederated arrangements, as proposed by the “Two States, One Homeland” movement. But any discussion on a resolution — especially in Hebrew — that fails to address the sweeping Palestinian demand that two states form the basis of a solution, simply continues to trample on the rights of the occupied, and dictate their destiny to them.

This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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