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The 'Holy Land Five' and the fight to delegitimize Palestine advocacy

Five Palestinian-American men are serving time for providing aid to Palestinian refugees. Their conviction 10 years ago spurred broader efforts to criminalize Palestine advocacy in the United States.

Ten years ago, United States federal prosecutors shut down what was then the biggest Muslim charity in the country, a foundation supporting Palestinians refugees. Authorities seized all of the Holy Land Foundation’s assets and put five of its leaders in prison.

Over the past decade, the case has set into motion a broad and powerful effort to criminalize and sanction Palestine advocacy in the United States. It created a chilling effect that forces many Americans to think twice before supporting Palestinian or Muslim charities to this day.

Shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the FBI raided the offices of Holy Land Foundation. In 2004, federal agents arrested five of the foundation’s leaders on charges of funneling material support for a designated terrorist organization — Hamas. After a second trial — the first resulted in a mistrial — they were sentenced to prison, two of them to 65 years.

“The mainstreaming of the idea that support for Palestinians is something that should be scrutinized originates with cases like Holy Land,” said Diala Shamas, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“It starts with the material support framework, where any kind of support for Palestinians is labeled and smeared as support for terrorism, but you see that in the rhetoric today, it’s everywhere,” Shamas added.

Material support laws are intentionally kept vague and broadly-defined, and they have had a significant chilling effect on several civil rights issues in the United States, according to Shamas.

Furthermore, targeting the Holy Land Foundation had a very intended political effect; it mattered that the government was not only going after what was at the time the largest Muslim charity in America, but also one that was focused on providing relief to Palestinians.

“These people were convicted for providing charity,” Nancy Hollander, the defense attorney who represented Abu Baker, told +972. “They were never charged with, convicted or arrested for any violent act. The government chased every dime that they spent, and knew where it all went, and it went to charity. It’s just that the government’s position was that they were feeding the wrong kids.”

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Israeli incursions into Gaza are the rule, not the exception

Israeli troops have crossed into Gaza over 70 times this year alone, according to the UN. And those are only the incursions we know about.

Since Israeli special forces troops got into a deadly firefight with Hamas commandos deep inside the Gaza Strip Sunday night, Israel has dropped dozens of bombs and missiles into Gaza and Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel.

The New York Times described the special forces raid as “the first known Israeli ground incursion into Gaza since Operation Protective Edge, in July 2014.”

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Since the start of 2015 through the end of October 2018, the Israeli army made 262 known ground incursions and operations to level land inside the Gaza Strip, including over 70 this year alone. This does not include the unknown number of covert operations like the one that went awry on Sunday.

As one retired Israeli general explained on national television, such covert raids across enemy lines are actually rather routine. “Activities that most civilians aren’t aware of happen all the time, every night and in every region,” Tal Russo told Israel’s Channel 10 while discussing the events in Gaza.

According to data obtained by +972 Magazine from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel carried out 21 incursions into Gaza in 2014 (excluding the seven-week war). The next year, in 2015, that number more than doubled, to 56 incidents. In 2016 and 2017, 68 and 65 incursions took place, respectively. By end of October 2018, 73 such incidents had been recorded, according to the UN data.

What is exceptional about Sunday’s action is not that Israeli soldiers crossed into Gaza, but that the military operation was exposed. Most of the time when Israeli forces infiltrate the coastal enclave, they remain within 200 to 300 meters of the border fence, Ibtisam Zaqout, head of field work at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights explained to +972.

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Soldiers routinely cross in military bulldozers, not by foot, mostly to raze and level land in order to maintain line of sight in the Israeli-maintained “buffer zone” along the border, she added.

Israel hasn’t consistently determined the perimeter of this access-restricted area along the fence with Gaza, and it has often employed deadly...

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Lost in Occupation: How Google Maps is erasing Palestine

A new report details the ways Google Maps’ mapping process in the occupied territories serves the interests of the Israeli government, while contradicting the company’s stated commitment to human rights.

When Tariq Asedih plans a trip from his village near Nablus to Ramallah, Google Maps “can’t find a way” for the 36-kilometer journey. Instead, he has to navigate from a nearby Jewish settlement, and even then, the available routes direct Asedih to roads that Palestinians are not allowed to use.

Not only does Google Maps not recognize Palestine (the browser instead navigates to an unlabeled area) – its entire user experience ignores the reality of occupation. In doing so, Google is violating its commitment to international human rights, according to a new report by 7amleh (pronounced “Hamleh”), the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media. Google claims its mission is to “organize the world’s information” and make it “useful,” but the report argues that Google Maps advances the interests of the Israeli government, and mostly serves Israeli citizens.

The State of Palestine was recognized by 138 of the 193-member United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2012, but has never been labeled as such on Google Maps. Israel is not only identified as a country, but Jerusalem, which was granted international status in UNGA Resolution 181 and remains a final-status issue, is marked at its capital. While a “West Bank” label does exist, Israeli settlements there appear as if they are located inside Israel.

Meanwhile, Palestinian villages unrecognized by Israel, both in the occupied territories and within the Green Line, are either misrepresented or entirely left out, while the names and locations of Israeli settlements are clearly noticeable. Even relatively small Jewish-Israeli communities appear on the map, but Palestinian villages are only visible when extremely, almost intentionally, zoomed in on.

Unlike other cities or villages, Bedouin communities in the Negev, which existed before Israel was established, are marked by their tribal designation, rather than the actual names of their villages. Considering that these villages are under the constant threat of demolition by Israeli authorities, their misrepresentation or omission from the map becomes “a method of enforcing the eradication of unrecognized Palestinian villages,” the report argues.

In addition to biased mapping, 7ahmel says Google prioritizes Israeli citizens when offering routes. The map ignores the segregated road system in Israel-Palestine and the resulting movement restrictions, such as checkpoints and...

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No justice for Bil'in Palestinian activist shot dead by Israeli soldier

Nearly a decade after an Israeli soldier killed Bassem Abu Rahmeh while he was nonviolently protesting in Bil’in, Israel’s High Court decides once and for all that his killer will never see the inside of a courtroom.

More than nine years after an Israeli soldier killed Palestinian activist Bassem Abu Rahmeh at a protest in Bil’in, Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected a third and final appeal against the army’s refusal to prosecute or punish anyone for his death.

The court, however, accused military police and prosecutors of handling the case with negligence, particularly for their inability to identify Abu Rahmeh’s killer.

Justice George Karra was particularly piercing, writing in the judgment that Israeli law enforcement officials’ conduct, “or rather, [their] failure to investigate, led to the spoliation of evidence, and to the inability to find the person responsible for the victim’s death. And that is regrettable.”

Abu Rahmeh, 30, was nonviolently protesting against the separation wall in Bil’in when an Israeli soldier fired an extended-range tear gas canister directly at his chest, against IDF regulations. The injury killed Abu Rahmeh almost immediately.

The unarmed, popular protests in Bil’in, a Palestinian village near the West Bank city of Ramallah, started in 2005. Residents and Israeli and Palestinian activists marched weekly to protest the separation wall, which cut them off from nearly 2,000 dunams of their agricultural land. Abu Rahmeh, one of the more prominent figures in the early days of the struggle, was featured in the Oscar-nominated film “Five Broken Cameras,” directed by Guy Davidi and Imad Burnat.

“This was supposed to be an easy case: a killing that was captured by three cameras, top experts identifying the source of the lethal shot, and a clear violation of the rules of engagement,” said Michael Sfard, one of the human rights attorneys representing Abu Rahmeh’s family and Yesh Din in the case. “Both the military police and the military prosecution have made it clear in this case that they will do anything they can to deny justice to the victim, and obstruct any chance of getting to the truth.”

Subhiyeh Abu Rahmeh, Bassem’s mother, first demanded that the military investigate her son’s death a few days after the April 17, 2009 incident with the help of two Israeli human rights organizations. Israel’s Military Advocate General (MAG) responded only a year later, declining to open an investigation, citing a lack of...

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Border agents tell Jewish American 'the IDF doesn't want you in Israel'

Julie Weinberg-Connors, who is in the process of making ‘aliya,’ or immigrating to Israel as a Jew under the Law of Return, was told that they were being deported because of the army’s objections over their visits to the West Bank. They were eventually let in.

Jewish-American Julie Weinberg-Connors was denied entry to Israel Wednesday night and told that “the [IDF] does not want you in Israel,” where Weinberg-Connors holds residency and is in the process of immigrating under Israel’s Law of Return.

Border Control agents eventually reversed course and allowed Weinberg-Connors, 23, into the country after media outlets, including +972 Magazine, and several members of Knesset asked the Interior Ministry and Israeli army about the denial.

Weinberg-Connors was meant to start yeshiva studies at the Pardes Institute on Thursday.

According to Attorney Leora Bechor, authorities had already flagged and questioned Weinberg-Connors about their political activity and affiliations before arriving back in Israel on Wednesday, where the American citizen has been living already for a year. (Weinberg-Connors prefers they/them pronouns.)

“They already knew that they wanted to deny her [entry] and they just had to find a reason,” Bechor told +972 Magazine, noting that Weinberg-Connors was flagged for questioning before border control authorities had a chance to ask her any questions. “It was clear their plan was to make sure she did not enter.”

Bechor, who was on the phone with Weinberg-Connors during parts of the detention and interrogation, said she heard a border control agent tell her client, “the Civil Administration does not want you in Israel.” The Civil Administration is the Israeli military body that administers the occupation of the Palestinian territories. The army, however, does not have the authority to determine who may enter Israel.

The denial of entry form given to Weinberg-Connors said they were being deported back to the United States for illegal immigration considerations. Weinberg-Connors was asked about visiting Khan al-Ahmar, a Palestinian village under imminent threat of forced displacement and demolition. Ultimately, they were allowed to enter after signing a document agreeing not to visit the West Bank.

Weinberg-Connors is in Israel on an A1 visa, a temporary residency status granted to people who the state has decided are eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return, or in other words — Jews....


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This Palestinian Life: Uncovering the stories of women behind the wall

A podcast highlighting stories of Christian Palestinian women aims to inform new audiences on how occupation impacts their personal lives.

A mother in the West Bank struggling to explain to her child, on reaching a checkpoint, that no, they have not yet arrived at the zoo. A grandmother in Beit Sahour who wishes to join her family in the diaspora, but lives alone in Palestine, to provide care for her elderly father. A young woman from Bethlehem who dreams of becoming a director in Egypt but is held back by societal expectations and patriarchal norms.

These are a few of several women’s stories featured on “Women Behind the Wall,” a new podcast which aims to “amplify minority perspectives in the Israel-Palestine conflict,” according to the project founder, Shadia Qubti. The show centers around the stories of Christian Palestinian women – a double minority group in terms of gender and religion – in an attempt to expose how the occupation impacts their lives.

According to Qubti, Palestinian society is very diverse and rich, but “in the media, we do not reach the average peoples’ stories.” She believes there is a humanizing power to storytelling, and “these moments, hopefully, will make the listener intrigued to understand more.”

The only Palestinian on a team of three producers, Qubti, who is also Christian, served as the bridge between the speakers and the listeners. “I acted as a filter,” she said, gaining the women’s trust on the one hand, while also protecting them and being attentive to their hesitations. As any other minority group, Christian Palestinians struggle with “the balance between being who you are, but also respecting the environment around you,” without perpetuating stereotypes, Qubti added.

Qubti and the team realized that putting the spotlight on Palestinian Christians is likely to attract a Christian Western audience. She calls it an “alternative entry point” to the occupation; a “less intimidating” way for “people to be aware of what is happening here, and the toll it takes on everyone.” Especially since over the past decade, she added, religion has become an element that exacerbates the conflict.

Evangelical Christians are the largest pro-Israel demographic group in the United States. According to a poll conducted by Pew Research Center in 2013, twice as many white evangelicals (82 percent) as Jews (40 percent) believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people. A more recent...

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As Israel enshrines Jewish superiority, what's next for its Palestinian citizens?

With the passing of the Jewish Nation-State Law, Israel has fundamentally redefined its relationship with its Palestinian minority. Now, Arab citizens are coming together to fight a law that entrenches their second-class status.

Tamer Nafar, the famed Palestinian rapper from the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lyd, said he regrets not participating in the Arab-led protest against the Jewish Nation-State Law last Saturday. Yet he believes he would have regretted joining the demonstration just as much.

Nafar, one of the progenitors of the hip hop scene in the Middle East, has built his career crafting sharp, punching lines that describe the reality of Israel’s Palestinians. His hesitation reflects a larger sense of unpreparedness ­– but not surprise – from the full impact of the Jewish Nation-State Law, which enshrined a superior set of rights for Jewish Israelis last month, and the direction in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government is headed.

“It’s scary. I have two kids, I don’t want them to suffer. The situation here is getting worse,” Nafar said.

Members of the Palestinian community in Israel launched a campaign to repeal the law — headed by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee — an umbrella organization that represents the country’s Arabs, which make up 20 percent of Israel’s population. Tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens, together with Jewish supporters, demonstrated against the law in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square over the weekend, a week after the Druze community held their own mass protest in the same square.

Now that the campaign is gaining momentum, the committee and its allies are getting to work. They plan to mobilize Arab communities, apply international pressure on Israel, and forge Jewish-Palestinian partnerships. That is, if they manage to overcome years of internal fragmentation.

What many Palestinian citizens of Israel can agree on is that the impact of the Jewish Nation-State Law is not solely symbolic. “It doesn’t only change our relationship with the state on the ideological and legal levels – the law has real ramifications,” said Raghad Jaraisy, an attorney who directs the Arab Minority Rights Unit at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). The law can determine whether Arabs can live in ethnically mixed neighborhoods, whether Arab cities can expand, and whether Arab citizens would be able to speak their native language freely in public.

Jaraisy added that the law is likely to embolden many Jewish Israelis to...

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Israeli, Palestinian support for two states hits record low

A new survey finds that fewer Jewish Israelis and Palestinians now support the two-state solution. And while support for armed struggle against the occupation has dropped, more Jewish Israelis now support a ‘definitive war’ against Palestinians.

By Henriette Chacar

Support for a two-state solution is at the lowest level among both Israelis and Palestinians in almost two decades, according to a public opinion poll published on Monday.

The poll, conducted in June and July among representative samples of 2,150 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and 1,600 Israelis, was a follow-up survey to several previous studies conducted by Dr. Khalil Shikaki and Walid Ladadwa from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah, along with Israeli pollster and +972 Magazine writer Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin and the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research (TSC).

Support for the two-state idea began to steadily decline more than 10 years ago, but first dropped below 50 percent for both populations last December, following Trump’s controversial announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In the six months since, backing for the two-state solution dropped three points each for both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, from 46 percent to 43 percent.

The research also found that Palestinian citizens of Israel follow a separate trend, with stable and high backing for a two-state solution at 82 percent.

When asked about the next step in the conflict, both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis favored reaching a peace agreement over violence – 84 percent among Palestinian citizens of Israel, 45 percent among Jewish Israelis, and 41 percent among Palestinians (47 percent in the West Bank and 29 percent in the Gaza Strip). Among Palestinians, this represents a significant rise compared to only 26 percent of respondents who chose this option following the Trump declaration and is closer to levels seen in June 2017.

However, a fifth of Jewish Israelis called for “a definitive war” against the Palestinians – the highest figure of the last three surveys. In June 2017, only 12 percent of Jewish Israelis supported that option. By contrast, fewer Palestinians opted to “wage an armed struggle against the Israeli occupation” – 27 percent as opposed to 38 percent six months ago.

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The research team attributed the declining support for two sates to perceived lack of feasibility and lack of trust. They found that 47 percent of...

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What spurred Israel's Druze to demand equality now?

For most of Israel’s minority groups, the Jewish Nation-State Law was far from surprising. But for many Druze citizens, who for decades have served in the military, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Eman Safady, like many Druze citizens of Israel, felt personally betrayed by the Jewish Nation-State Law. A journalist from the village of Abu Snan in the Galilee and an officer at the Union of Journalists in Israel, she was one of the tens of thousands of protesters who took to Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square last weekend to oppose the law.

The Jewish Nation-State Law did not shock most of Israel’s minority groups. The law is merely a symbolic acknowledgment of a discriminatory reality they’ve long grown accustomed to, in which Israel and its institutions favor Jewish citizens over non-Jews. The law explicitly declared that Israel belongs not to its citizens but to the Jewish people, and stripped Arabic of its status as an official language.

For the Druze community, which has traditionally been categorized differently than other Arabic-speaking, non-Jewish minorities in Israel — the law elicited strong feelings of abandonment.

“They’re trying to anchor our second-class status in law,” said Safady. “Before, I would feel discriminated against, particularly as a woman. But now our inequality is being flaunted in our faces.”

Lately, Safady continued, it seems the Israeli government has been trampling on everybody’s rights, be it the LGBTQ community fighting for equality or secular and non-Orthodox Jewish Israelis advocating for stronger separation of religion and state. This sense of urgency has contributed to the outrage, she said. But there is also another shift taking place — one that began several decades ago.

Israel recognized the Druze community as a distinct ethnic and religious minority, separate from Arab groups, in 1957. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, as of 2017, there were approximately 141,000 Druze in Israel, or 1.6 percent of Israelis. The population grew when Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. although the vast majority of Druze from the Golan never took Israeli citizenship.

In the mainstream Israeli narrative, the Druze are loyal to the state — an anomaly in Israeli perceptions of its minority populations — most visibly because they serve in the military. In the Israeli lexicon, the relationship, with an eye on military service, is commonly referred to as a “blood covenant.” This tradition...

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A new activism, a new politics, a new generation of Palestinians in Israel

To most Jewish Israelis they don’t have names or faces — they are at worst rioters and stone-throwers waving Palestinian flags; at best they are a discriminated-against minority.

Their new activism is partly the result of generational divides and new technologies that have connected them to the rest of the Arab world that had been shut off since the birth of the State of Israel. In part it is the result of recent Israeli attacks against their relatives in the West Bank and Gaza, discriminatory police violence and a long history of political repression.

No small number of factors has helped shape this new generation of Palestinian activists in Israel. They go by different names, define different identities for themselves and have different political tactics and goals. They fight for Palestinian national liberation and Israeli civil rights, prioritizing each based on strategic and tactical considerations, and have varying approaches to mainstream politics.

Most of the young activists describe themselves as Palestinian, and when they take to the streets they wave the Palestinian flag, something that was almost unheard of in previous generations inside Israel. Their national identity and its expression, however, are greatly influenced by living in the Jewish state.

“The first time my father saw me carrying the Palestinian flag, he lost his mind,” says Abed Abu Shhadeh, 26, from Jaffa. “Before Oslo it was illegal to do that, and Palestinians would have been extremely afraid of the flag. Today, we have dozens of them.”

Technically, the flag of the Palestinian Liberation Organization is illegal to display in Israel, and the PLO is still listed as a terrorist organization. In practice, that prohibition hasn’t been enforced since Israel began dealing directly with the Yasser Arafat and the PLO in the 1990s. Much has changed.

This is the third generation of Palestinian citizens of Israel. The first generation experienced the Nakba, the displacement and expulsion of the majority of Palestinians from the borders of present-day Israel in 1948, along with the destruction of nearly all of their villages. The second generation was raised in fear: they were raised by survivors of the Nakba, lived under Israel’s military government and were constantly threatened and controlled by the State, Rawan Bisharat explains.

“The third generation, especially since the Intifada of 2000, is the generation that is rebelling. They are characterized by strength,” she continues. But often times their parents tried to reel...

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How a Galilee Palestinian beat the odds to become an Arab Idol finalist

On his way to the finale of one of the most important shows in the Arab world, Haitham Khalailah had to deal with the Shin Bet, restrictions on the movement of Palestinian citizens and the fraught connection between Palestinians in Israel and the rest of the Middle East. Will he be the second Palestinian in a row to be crowned winner?

By Yael Marom and Henriette Chacar

Haitham Khalailah, a 24-year-old Palestinian singer from Majd al-Krum, competed Friday night in the finale of Arab Idol – the most popular singing competition in the entire Arab world. Hundreds of millions of viewers will have to decide by Saturday night whether Khalailah — who was able to unite Palestinians in the occupied territories, Israel and around the world — should win. The other two finalists are Hazem al-Sharif of Syria and Majd al-Madani from Saudi Arabia.

Haitham sang two songs in the semifinals, the first of which was Saber Ruba’i’s “Ahla Nisaa al-Dunia” (“The most beautiful women in the world”), followed by “‘Ala Dal’ona,” one of the most important and well-known Palestinian folk songs, which had the entire studio audience on their feet.

Khalailah performs “‘Ala Dal’ona” during the Arab Idol semifinals:

Khalailah began his Arab Idol journey alongside Manal Moussa, another contestant from the north who caused quite a bit of controversy and was subsequently voted off in the quarterfinals. Moussa took a different approach than Khalailah, and succeeded in angering just about everyone.

Moussa started off strong, and seemed like she had a very good chance of reaching the finals. But something happened along the way, likely due to her political, pro-Palestinian rhetoric – which may have been used to get more votes – and the rhetoric of her family members, which contradicted her stance.

Two months ago we wrote about the complexities of Manal and Haitham’s appearance on the show, which included dealing with the Shin Bet, restrictions on the movement of Palestinian citizens of Israel and the fraught connection between Palestinian in Israel and the Arab world.

Read more: Representing Palestine, not Israel: Arab Idol’s contestants from Israel

While the songs and performances are the most central element of the show, Arab Idol also serves as the political focal point of the Arab world. And Khalailah is the shining hope of the Palestinians, who have experienced unrelenting attacks in...

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What Palestinian media is saying about the Jerusalem violence

From the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir to unrelenting settlement expansion and police harassment, the sources of anger in East Jerusalem are many. But the aspirations and provocations of right-wing Israeli Jews to change the status quo in the Aqsa Mosque compound seems to the driving force. A survey of major Palestinian newspapers.

By Henriette Chacar

Many Palestinians are calling it the “Car Intifada.” In the span of just a couple of weeks, three Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem made their vehicles into weapons and ran over pedestrians, killing four Israelis and wounding dozens more. This is hardly a new terror tactic, but the proximity of the attacks on top of intensifying tensions in Jerusalem all contributed to it its name — to it even being given a name.

So what’s going on in Jerusalem? Why is this happening now? And what is the Palestinian media’s narrative of the latest events in Jerusalem?

Since Israel seized control of Jerusalem’s Old City in 1967, during the Six Day War, Israel has vowed to maintain the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. That arrangement stipulates that non-Muslim visitors may visit but may not pray at the site. Over the years Israeli authorities have largely enforced those rules, although a series of recent events has made Palestinians increasingly suspicious of Israel’s intentions.

Photos of the month: The holy city nears its boiling point

Palestinian media was reporting perceived Israeli challenges toward the status quo on the Noble Sanctuary since early June, even before the war in Gaza broke about. The June 3rd headline in Palestine’s most widely read broadsheet, Al-Quds, read: “Israel bans Muslims, allows Jews to enter al-Aqsa Mosque.” Citing local sources, the news item mentioned that, “more than 60 extremist settlers stormed the mosque courtyards on Tuesday and performed Talmudic rituals under police protection. Meanwhile, Palestinian worshipers were prohibited from entering al-Aqsa Mosque to pray.”

Multiplying layers of anger

By June 13th, Al-Quds reported on tightening restrictions and worsening measures being taken towards Muslim worshippers, including “crackdowns, arrests and [issuing] orders banning entry to al-Aqsa for periods reaching several weeks, not to mention the confiscation of worshippers’ ID cards and the difficulties in regaining them.” It also criticizes the absence of Arab and Islamic pressure on Israel in the case of al-Aqsa.

The perceived al-Aqsa takeover was joined by yet another layer of anger in...

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Channeling loss to stimulate change: 71 days of dialogue in Tel Aviv

The forum of bereaved families rests on the belief that the only way to end violence between Israelis and Palestinians is by recognizing the humanity of ‘the enemy’ through open and honest dialogue. That goal, however, appears to be as far away as ever.

By Henriette Chacar

It’s hard to imagine how one might begin solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by leading by example. The hundreds of members of the Parents Circle forum of bereaved Palestinian and Israeli families aren’t naïve, but they insist on trying.

The Parents Circle Families Forum, a grassroots organization of over 600 Israeli and Palestinian families bereaved as a result of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, channel their loss to stimulate change. They pose an alternative to animosity and revenge by actively promoting reconciliation. So just before this summer’s Gaza war broke out, the Forum erected a “dialogue tent” outside one of the most  prominent symbols of Tel Aviv’s culture – yet inside its bubble. Sitting outside the Cinemateque, rotating shifts of bereaved Israelis – and a few Palestinians – have been inviting the public to listen to their stories – and hoping to help them replace the need for vengeance with a process of dialogue and understanding.

Many of the Forum’s members joined the organization after a journey, at the end of which they realized that violence only begets more violence. For Yuval Rot, joining the Forum wasn’t an obvious or intuitive decision. Yuval’s brother, Udi, was on reserve duty a month after the Oslo Accord was signed in 1993. While hitchhiking back home to Kibbutz Hatserim, Udi was killed by three Hamas activists who disguised themselves as settlers.

To Yuval, participation in the Forum was contingent upon finding answers to a few burning, and personal questions: “Is it legitimate to use my personal grief as a tool? Do I want to expose my pain and share it with the public?” But believing in the ability of the Forum’s activities to save lives outweighed his hesitations. While his experience in the Forum hasn’t changed his political views, it amplified the sense of urgency and responsibility. There was no time to spare; in order for the cycle of violence to end, something had to be done.

Yuval found the Parents Circle Families Forum to be the best framework through which he could influence reality and do something effective and efficient on the ground. It was his interaction with...

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