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Thousands of Israelis, Palestinians mark Memorial Day together

After numerous venues backed out of hosting the ceremony and the High Court had to intervene to allow Palestinian participants to join, the crowd exceeded capacity. Right-wing Israelis protest outside.

Nearly 7,000 Israelis and Palestinians held an alternative Memorial Day ceremony in Tel Aviv Tuesday night, organized by the Bereaved Families Forum and Combatants for Peace.

The overflow crowd was far beyond the capacity organizers had prepared for, and a significant portion of the participants were forced to stand or sit on the ground. The Israeli-Palestinian memorial event was held outdoors in HaYarkon Park after the initial venue for the event, an auditorium in the city of Holon, backed out claiming that the event was “political.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Israel’s High Court ordered Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to reverse his decision to bar entry to Israel to 110 Palestinians who were scheduled to participate in the ceremony. Last year, the Israeli army also refused to grant permits to the Palestinian participants, so a parallel event was held in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank.

This year’s speakers included Adi Kahlon, whose father Dov was killed in a suicide bombing in Haifa; Dr. Amal Abu Sa’ad, whose husband, Yaqub Abu Alqian, was shot and killed by Israeli police in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran; Jihad Zriar, whose son, Alaa, was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers in Hebron on his way to his grandfather’s house; and author David Grossman, whose son, Uri, was killed in the Second Lebanon War.

“Alaa was more than son to me, he was a friend to me. Together we shared the burdens of life,” Jihad Zriar said during his speech. “I miss you always, but especially today.”

Grossman urged the audience to ignore the protests and controversy that surrounded the alternative Memorial Day ceremony.

“There is a lot of noise and commotion around our ceremony, but we do not forget that above all, this is a ceremony of remembrance and communion,” he said. “The noise, even if it is present, is beyond us now, because at the heart of this evening there is a deep silence — the silence of the void created by loss.”

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Recently awarded the prestigious Israel Prize, Grossman added that he would donate half of his prize money to the Bereaved...

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Attempts to 'bypass' Israel's High Court will create a 'tyranny of the majority'

The government wants to strip the High Court of Justice of its ability to strike down unconstitutional laws, giving the government carte blanche to violate civil and human rights.

The Israeli government has in recent days advanced legislation to limit or strip the country’s High Court of Justice of its ability to strike down laws it deems unconstitutional. Critics warn that would create dictatorial powers for the executive, put the rights of the country’s Arab population and other minority groups at risk, and set Israel up for a constitutional crisis.

Israel does not have a formal constitution that codifies a balance of power or system of checks and balances, a situation that leaves the court’s authorities extremely vulnerable to being eroded and even revoked by the legislature.

“It’s basically the end of constitutional protection of basic rights in Israel,” explained Alon Harel, professor of law at Hebrew University. “Having a parliamentary system without a judiciary is basically a dictatorship of the executive branch.”

“We as citizens will not have anyone to defend us from the tyranny of the majority,” added attorney Debbie Gild-Hayo, policy advocacy director for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Israel’s equivalent of the ACLU.

Yousef Jabareen, a legal scholar and member of Knesset who sits on the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, noted that in the Israeli system the High Court’s role is to defend the rights of minorities and marginalized groups. “There is no real democracy that does not have meaningful judicial review.”

Limiting the High Court’s power has been a stated goal of the Israeli right for years. Last December, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked — both of the far-right Jewish Home party — unveiled a bill that would allow the Knesset to override a High Court decision with a simple majority, bar the High Court from overturn laws on procedural grounds, and increase the threshold required for the Court to strike down a law.

While the current push to limit the court’s power (or in the government’s terms, to bypass it) is a reaction to its repeated intervention in the government’s plans to imprison and deport African asylum seekers in recent years, the root of the issue is actually the occupation and the settlements in the West Bank.

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“The trigger in my opinion isn’t...

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In another blow to deportation plan, Israel frees jailed asylum seekers

Israel frees 200 asylum seekers imprisoned for refusing deportation after the government admits there is no secret agreement with Uganda that allows for the mass deportation of refugees.

Israel released 207 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers on Sunday, all of whom had been indefinitely imprisoned for refusing deportation to Uganda or Rwanda.

Israel’s High Court ruled last Tuesday that the government had until Sunday at noon to present a new agreement with Uganda that would allow the mass deportation of refugees to proceed.

In the absence of an agreement, the Court ordered the government to release all asylum seekers who had been imprisoned for refusing deportation to Rwanda or Uganda.

The state failed to meet the court’s deadline.

Over the course of the past month, the Israeli government’s plan to forcibly deport tens of thousands of African asylum seekers, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, frayed and appears now to have almost completely fallen apart.

After intense international pressure led Rwanda to back out of a secret agreement with Israel to accept deported refugees, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a different arrangement in early April. In exchange for the UN helping resettle 16,250 asylum seekers in Western countries, Israel would provide legal status to those who remained.

But just hours after announcing the UN deal, under pressure from the Israeli Right, Netanyahu cancelled it.

The Israeli government has since claimed that it was close to reaching a secret agreement with Uganda similar to the one it claimed to have with Rwanda (to accept forcibly deported asylum seekers).

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Ugandan officials, however, have repeatedly denied any agreement exists and even claim that Israel is giving forged travel documents, bearing the Ugandan Interior Ministry’s insignia, to asylum seekers that it deports.

Between 2013 and 2017, roughly 4,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers left Israel for Rwanda or Uganda under the “voluntary return” program, which will remain in place whether or not Israel reaches an agreement to forcibly deport the asylum seekers en masse. A special +972 Magazine investigation found that the overwhelming majority of those refugees deported to Rwanda or Uganda received no formal status or the ability to work — which Israel promised they would receive — and were forced out of the country.

An injunction against the government’s deportation plan remains in place...

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Liberman goes to war against alternative Memorial Day ceremony

Frustrated but unbowed, organizers of the Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony hope this year’s event will be the biggest yet. 

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced Tuesday that Israel would deny entry permits to 110 Palestinians who planned to participate in the annual Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony.

Liberman called the alternative Memorial Day ceremony, organized jointly by Combatants for Peace and the Bereaved Families Forum, a “show of poor taste and lack of sensitivity that hurts the bereaved families who are most precious to us.”

Israeli peace activists remained undeterred. “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” Nathan Landau, an organizer for the Israeli-Palestinian group Combatants for Peace, said by phone on Wednesday.

“Liberman’s decision is a cowardly one,” he added. “It reflects his deep fear of the brave people — bereaved family members, Israelis and Palestinians — who are choosing to commemorate this day in a different way.”

In a joint statement, Combatants for Peace and the Families Forum wrote, “It is the Defense Minister who is desecrating Memorial Day and hurting the Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families who want to pursue reconciliation.”

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This year has not been easy for the organizers of the Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony, which began in 2006. The initial venue for the event, an auditorium in the city of Holon, backed out of the agreement with the organizers after the municipality deemed the event “political.”

“After a month and a half of being in contact with [the venue], we suddenly got the call,” Landau recounted. “They said ‘listen, we can’t hold the ceremony here.’”

“I had told them what the event was at the very first meeting,” he continued. “I showed them the videos of [last year’s] ceremony — all the cards were on the table. But then I realized that was not the main consideration motivating them here: It was about fear.”

Despite the challenges, organizers of the event expect an even bigger turnout than last year, when 4,000 people attended the ceremony at Tel Aviv’s Exhibition Grounds. Last year, like this year, Israel refused to grant permits to Palestinian participants, so a parallel event attended by 800 people was held in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank.

“There is a great demand for shared recognition of the grief and the pain,” Landau said. “We expect a lot of people will come.” He estimated...

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Hundreds around the world protest Israel's plan to deport refugees to Uganda

Demonstrators gather in Tel Aviv and in front Ugandan embassies in cities around the world to protest Israel’s plan to deport tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to Uganda. 

Asylum seekers and activists protested in Tel Aviv and outside Ugandan embassies around the world on Monday against Israel’s plan to deport tens of thousands of asylum seekers there. After international pressure led Rwanda to back out of a secret agreement to accept asylum seekers deported from Israel, Israel now claims it has an identical agreement with Uganda.

The demonstrations come just one week after the Israeli government announced it was abandoning its plan to deport the African asylum seekers, most of whom fled Eritrea and Sudan, to Rwanda after reaching an agreement with the UN Refugee Agency. Under the agreement, UNHCR was supposed to work to resettle 16,250 asylum seekers in Western countries; Israel would provide legal status to the asylum seekers who remained in Israel.

A day after announcing the agreement, however, Netanyahu cancelled it due to intense criticism from the Right. The Israeli government now claims that “a second third country” — widely believed to be Uganda — has agreed to take in refugees deported from Israel.

In a brief to the High Court of Justice earlier in April, Israel’s attorney general wrote that Israel in fact had secret agreements with two countries to take in asylum seekers forcibly deported by Israel. A “special envoy to third countries” departed Israel for the “second third-country” Wednesday morning, April 3, to ensure it would not back out of its allegedly secret agreement with Israel.

Uganda has denied the existence of any agreement. Ugandan Foreign Minister Henry Okello Oryem told AP that his country will turn back any deported asylum seekers sent there. “We do not have a contract, any understanding, formal or informal, with Israel for them to dump their refugees here.”

Asylum seeker and international activists are hoping to repeat the success of the earlier campaign that forced Rwanda to pull of out its secret agreement with Israel. The combination of anti-deportation rallies across Israel and around the world, activists and journalists (+972 Magazine included) working to expose how both Rwanda and Uganda refuse to actually absorb the refugees deported by Israel, public and international on the Rwandan government, and strategic lawsuits challenging the deportation plan itself all played a role in forcing Rwanda to cancel its secret agreement with Israel.

Protests are taking place...

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The new Jewish-Arab movement that plans to save the Israeli left

Standing Together, a new joint Arab-Jewish movement, is aiming to transform Israeli politics. It won’t be easy, but the Israeli left’s first step back to power might be believing that it can win again.

The Israeli left is in the midst of an historic crisis. Out of power for over 20 years (with the exception of Ehud Barak’s brief and fractious stint as prime minster), Labor is now headed by a millionaire telecommunications executive who once served as a minister under Netanyahu. Meretz, the dovish, social-democratic party, barely made it into the Knesset in 2015. The peace camp is fractured and leaderless. Peace Now’s promising, young new director, Avi Buskila, resigned after barely a year and a half to seek the leadership of Meretz — he lost. A new crop of centrist parties — the strongest electoral challengers to Netanyahu — have mostly turned out to be Netanyahu-lite.

Into this howling political void, a new, left-wing movement called Omdim Beyachad (Standing Together) has emerged. The movement has begun to succeed where others faltered, drawing on the strategies and lessons of successful left-wing populist movements around the world. The movement is young — it first appeared in late 2015 — but it has been steadily growing in size and influence. Standing Together activists hope to make the movement into the guiding force of the Israeli left.

Standing Together has played a major supporting role in the public campaign to stop Israel’s deportation of African asylum seekers. Through the creative use of WhatsApp groups and phone-banking, its activists distributed thousands of anti-deportation banners that hang from balconies on major streets across Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Along with the Mizrahi-feminist group, “Power to the Community,” the movement helped bring 20,000 people to a massive rally in South Tel Aviv in late February. Two weeks before, it marched several thousand Israelis down Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street, displacing the far-right hooligans who have become a defining feature of the city in recent years.

Following the first week of Gaza border protests, during which the Israeli army killed 17 unarmed protesters and wounded hundreds more, Standing Together brought hundreds of protesters to the Likud party’s Tel Aviv headquarters. With their trademark purple shirts, signs, and, in this case, a gigantic banner, they declared: “a nation that occupies other nation will never be free.”

Standing Together activists are now preparing to protest Israel’s...

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The untold story of Jewish anti-Zionists in Israel

For nearly as long as Palestinians have resisted their displacement, small groups of Jews have joined them. Ran Greenstein’s ‘Zionism and Its Discontents’ brings to life the complex, often contradictory story of those Israelis who saw Palestinian and Jewish liberation as one and the same. 

Zionism and Its Discontents: A Century of Radical Dissent in Israel/Palestine (Pluto Press, 2014)

Solidarity with Palestinians facing eviction, expulsion and home demolitions has been a cornerstone of radical left-wing Israeli activism over the past decade. The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions raised international awareness of Israel’s ongoing forced displacement of Palestinians. Anarchists Against the Wall faced down Israeli military bulldozers. The Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement brought thousands of Israelis to East Jerusalem for weekly protests against evictions. Left-wing Israeli and international activists from various groups can be found alongside Palestinians facing forced displacement and home demolitions in the Negev, the Jordan Valley, and the South Hebron Hills.

That activism has a history. The destruction of entire villages and the removal of Palestinians from their land was part of the practice of Zionism long before Israel’s founding. And for nearly as long as Palestinians have resisted their displacement, small groups of Jews have joined them.

The urgency of present political demands, however, often buries the history of past struggles. And without historical consciousness, today’s activists risk repeating the mistakes of their predecessors. Ran Greenstein’s Zionism and Its Discontents: A Century of Radical Dissent in Israel/Palestine remedies this amnesia, providing a useable past for activists and scholars fighting for peace and justice between the river and the sea.

While the long history of resistance to Zionism is the subject of Greenstein’s book, Zionism and Its Discontents is not a history of events but a history of thought in action — a chronicle of the internal debates, shifting ideological positions, political aspirations, failures, and successes of four different movements from before Israel’s establishment to the present day. Greenstein deftly parses the sometimes arcane theoretical disputes of anti-colonial and left-wing groups as they attempted to articulate a politics of resistance to Zionism across the tumultuous twentieth century.

Greenstein begins with Brit Shalom, perhaps the best-known Jewish bi-nationalist movement during the British Mandate, which counted Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem, Henrietta Szold, and Hannah Arendt among its members and supporters. Greenstein shows that the movement lacked not for good intentions but rather clear-headedness. Many of the early...

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Jewish, Palestinian activists hold 'Freedom Seder' in occupied Hebron

Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement’s Freedom Seder in 1969, 100 Jewish and Palestinian anti-occupation activists read from a Haggadah written in English, Hebrew and Arabic, are joined by MK Mossi Raz and former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg.

As the setting sun turned the city of Hebron pink behind them, over 100 Palestinians, Israelis, and international activists held a “Freedom Seder” in the occupied city Wednesday, organized by the Hebron-based Palestinian group Youth Against Settlements (YAS) and members of All That’s Left, an anti-occupation collective comprised mainly of North American Jews.

The participants, including MK Mossi Raz (Meretz) and former speaker of the Knesset Avraham Burg, sat together on colorful plastic chairs in the gravel yard of the Youth Against Settlements community center in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood.

The event was planned to mark 50 years since the first Israeli settlement in Hebron when the process of dispossession of Palestinian land and homes in the city began, the organizers said.

“Today, as you know, most Israelis are celebrating the Passover holiday, but tonight it [is] different,” Izzat Karake, a Youth Against Settlements leader, said. “Israelis came here to join Palestinians and to tell the others, ‘we are standing for human rights and we are against the occupation.’”

“We are sitting in the same place but we are not equal,” Karake continued. “Because no one is free until all of us are free.”

Holding the Freedom Seder was not just a call for an end to the occupation but “an affirmation of our commitment to working to the end the occupation,” explained Daniel Roth, a member of All That’s Left and one of the event’s organizers,

Jewish tradition, identity, and culture form the crux of why Roth is working to build a just peace and end the occupation, he added. “A Freedom Seder that weaves together ancient tradition with modern tradition and brings the storytelling at the center of Passover to contemporary struggles is deeply compelling for me.”

The event was modeled on the 1969 Freedom Seder in Washington D.C., when 800 people — Jews, Christians, rabbis, ministers, black and white — commemorated Passover and mourned one year since Martin Luther King Jr’s murder. Arthur Waskow, an American Jewish civil rights activist, drafted the Freedom Seder’s Haggadah, which, in his words, combined “the story of the liberation of ancient Hebrews from Pharoah with the liberation struggles of black America, of the...

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Following deadly march, hundreds of Israelis rally for Gaza

Protesters denounce Israel’s deadly response to the Gaza return march on Friday, when Israeli troops killed at least 15 demonstrators and wounded at least 1,400. 

Some 300 Israelis protested along the Gaza border Saturday in solidarity with the Great Return March demonstrations in Gaza that began a day earlier. Across a field of wheat, the white tents of the march were visible through the early-spring haze.

The protest was organized by the Coalition of Women for Peace, a feminist, anti-occupation organization.

On the Gaza side of the border fence, Israel forces reportedly wounded 25 Palestinian demonstrators on Saturday.

On Friday, Israeli troops killed at least 15 and wounded 1,400 demonstrators taking part in the first day of the “Great Return March,” 45 days of protests and events planned to mark 70 years since the Nakba.

The protests in Gaza took place at several points along the besieged coastal strip’s border. The Israeli solidarity protest came partly in response to Israel’s violent suppression of the protest on Friday. At least 30,000 people took part in the march on Friday.

The Israeli army did not report a single injury among its troops, although it resorted to using deadly force against the unarmed demonstrators. A number of Palestinian youths threw stones and burned tires toward the Israeli border fence. Late in the day, after most of the marchers departed, the Israeli army said that two armed men approached the border and were subsequently killed. Israeli troops had already shot over 700 people before that incident occurred.

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“I don’t know what to say. There was no justification for what they did to us,” Hasan al-Kurd, one of the organizers of the Gaza return march, said after the protest ended on Friday. “I saw children and entire families standing more than half a kilometer from the fence and they still shot at them. Why? What threat do children standing hundreds of meters away pose to tanks and armed soldiers?”

“Today we suffered many deaths and injuries,” al-Kurd added. “But do they think this will really stop us? We don’t have any other options but to continue to protest.”

The organizers of the Gaza return march had said explicitly that the protest was meant to be nonviolent. And yet even before the march began Israeli security forces launched a public...

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Hundreds of asylum seekers in Israel to spend Passover behind bars

High Court extends an injunction against the planned mass deportation of African asylum seekers, but those already locked up for refusing deportation will spend the ‘festival of freedom’ in prison. 

Hundreds of African asylum seekers will remain in Israeli prisons this Passover, their fate on hold after the country’s High Court gave the government an extension — for the third time — to respond to a petition challenging the mass deportation of asylum seekers originally planned to start this Friday.

The court issued an injunction on March 15 against the deportations themselves, but Israeli authorities are still permitted to hand out deportation notices. The roughly 300 asylum seekers already imprisoned for refusing “voluntary deportation” to Rwanda or Uganda will remain behind bars until the justices make their final decision.

“It is inconceivable that the Jewish people will celebrate Passover while hundreds of asylum seekers wait in prison until the state is so kind as to submit its updated response to the court,” wrote Attorney Eitay Mack in response to the state’s request for yet another delay in the case.

Israel claims that Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers who agree to go to a “third country,” which Israel refuses to name but are known to be Rwanda and Uganda, will be able to live and work there legally. A +972 Magazine investigation earlier this year in Rwanda and Uganda, however, found not only that they are often denied legal status — they are often forced out of the country within days of their arrival.

The most serious legal challenge to the deportation plan yet, the current case targets the secret agreement with Rwanda that Israel says allows for the forced, mass deportation of asylum seekers — but which Rwanda has repeatedly denied even exists. The High Court approved a previous agreement with Rwanda in secret, but the petitioners claim changes have been made to it, and, therefore, that the court must reconsider its position, including whether current Israeli law even gives the government authority to carry out the mass deportations.

During a hearing earlier in March, the High Court justices expressed concern about Rwanda’s denial of the agreement’s existence, particularly about what this means for deported asylums seekers’ access to legal recourse if they are denied the protections Israel claims they will receive in Rwanda.

An estimated 38,000 asylum seekers, most from Eritrea and Sudan, currently...

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At Tel Aviv rally, a Mizrahi-asylum seeker alliance is born

Tens of thousands crowded Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday to show solidarity for asylum seekers facing deportation. ‘If we let the deportation happen, the Jewish people will have a stain on its history forever.’

It was an unusually hazy night in Tel Aviv. The lights from the stage caught the dust in long, yellow beams. Banners bearing slogans like “standing together against the deportations” rippled gently in the slight wind. Some 25,000 people were gathered in Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv to protest Israel’s plan to deport tens of thousands of African asylum seekers.

The words of Monim Haroon, a Sudanese asylum seeker and activist, echoed across the hushed crowed. “We thought that the state of Israel would understand us better than everyone else, but the Israeli government doesn’t want us here. The government calls us ‘infiltrators,’ puts us in jail, throws us out on the streets, pushes us into poverty, calls us ‘a cancer.’”

“They say that we’re not refugees,” Haroon continued. “So I want to ask the Israeli government, a person who fled a dictatorial regime is not a refugee? A person persecuted because of their ethnicity is not a refugee? A person who survived violence, rape, and torture in their country is not a refugee? A person whose village was burned and family murdered before his eyes is not a refugee? A person who survived genocide is not a refugee? Who here is a refugee?”

Shula Keshet, a veteran Mizrahi-feminist activist, took the stage next. “To call asylum seekers ‘infiltrators’ is racism! And to imprison them in Holot and Saharonim is deportation,” she declared. “To call Mizrahi families ‘trespassers’ is racism! And to destroy their homes to build luxury towers for real estate tycoons is deportation!”

Throughout her speech, Keshet, a life-long resident of the south Tel Aviv neighborhood of Neve Sha’anan, linked the asylum seekers’ struggle against the deportation to the struggle of south Tel Aviv’s poor and mostly Mizrahi residents against the ongoing gentrification of the area.

The need to pair an end to Israel’s deportation plan with the revitalization of south Tel Aviv has been a central part of the public campaign against the deportation — an attempt to show that the left is serious about correcting its historic blindness to the oppression that Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent face.

Though in power for nearly the entire period during...

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In one Palestinian village, the whole story of the occupation

Encircled by the separation barrier, threatened with demolition orders, and deemed illegal aliens in their own homes, the residents of the Palestinian village of Walajeh are fighting for their lives.

From the village of Walajeh, one can see much of Jerusalem. The round roof of Teddy Stadium, where the city’s soccer teams play. The towers of the Holyland luxury apartment complex, looming over the surrounding, low-slung buildings. The square, sandstone houses of the city’s southern neighborhoods. And from much of Jerusalem, one can see Walajeh. The deep green hills where the separation barrier — glinting razor wire and dull, grey concrete — slices through ancient farming terraces.

The problem, explains Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at the Jerusalem-based human rights group Ir Amim, is that few Jewish Israelis care to look. Tatarsky, also part of Engaged Dharma, a group that combines Buddhist meditation with social action, has been active in solidarity work in the village since 2010, when Israel began to build the separation barrier there. He has brought groups of Israelis to work with Palestinians in the village, planting trees and tilling land, since 2012.

Walajeh was the site of weekly protests against the construction of the separation wall in 2010 and 2011. The residents would march to the village entrance, next to the wall surrounding the adjacent Jewish settlement of Har Gilo, where they would face off with the Israeli army. The soldiers would violently disperse the demonstrators, firing tear gas, stun grenades, and, in some instances, live ammunition. Walajeh residents, sometimes joined by Israeli and international activists, would sit down in front of the bulldozers that destroyed their fields and olive groves.

Unlike other renowned Palestinian villages like Bil’in or Budrus, Walajeh was unable to sustain the regular demonstrations. Today, the village is surrounded by the separation barrier on three sides, severing it from much of its agricultural land.

Walajeh returned to the headlines in early March when Israel announced the re-opening of the nearby Ein Hanya spring, designated a national park by the Israeli government. Israel had just completed a 14-million-shekel renovation of the area around the spring, which includes an archeological site. As part of the park’s reopening, Israeli authorities plan to move the checkpoint that separates Walajeh from Jerusalem. The checkpoint’s new location will block the residents of Walajeh, as well as of the nearby village of Battir, from accessing the spring. The...

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In lead-up to mass deportation, Israel closes Holot detention facility

For the past four years, asylum seekers and their supporters have demanded that the Holot detention center be shut down. Now it’s finally happening, but not at all how they envisioned.

The Israeli government shut down the Holot detention facility, the open-air, desert detention facility built for African asylum seekers, on Wednesday after four years of operation. More than 13,000 asylum seekers were imprisoned in Holot without trial over the course of its operation, as part of the Israeli government’s efforts to force African asylum seekers out of the country.

The hundreds of asylum seekers who remained in Holot were released with nowhere to go and almost no means of survival. They are forbidden from living or working in the seven major cities (Ashdod, Bnei Brak, Eilat, Jerusalem, Netanya, Petach Tikvah, and Tel Aviv) where large asylum seeker communities exist that could support them. Another 300 were given a choice between “voluntary departure” or indefinite imprisonment.

Holot’s closure is part of Israel’s plan to deport tens of thousands of asylum seekers from the country. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan proposed the facility’s closure in November, arguing that Holot needed to be shut down because it had become a “comfortable” alternative to deportation for the asylum seekers.

The Israeli government announced in January that African asylum seekers had three months to leave the country. Those who remained by April 1st would face an impossible choice: indefinite imprisonment in Israel or deportation to Rwanda or Uganda.

On Thursday, however, Israel’s High Court of Justice issued an interim injunction against the deportation plan following a petition filed on behalf of 119 Israeli human rights activists. The court’s decision suggests that it has real concerns about the details of the secret agreement between Israel and Rwanda, which the Israeli government claims allows Israel to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, but which the Rwandan government has repeatedly denied exists.

While the injunction forbids the deportation of asylum seekers as long as it is in effect, the government will continue to conduct hearings for asylum seekers in preparation for the mass deportations, still scheduled to begin April 1. Additionally, the government will not send additional asylum seekers who refuse “voluntary departure” to Saharonim Prison. Asylum seekers currently imprisoned in Saharonim will not be released.

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