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Tapping the 'hidden spring' of anti-Semitism in Orban's Hungary

BUDAPEST, Hungary — In Hungarian, there is an expression that anti-Semitism is like a hidden spring, often imperceptible yet omnipresent, a source that can be tapped by demagogues, polemicists, and politicians. It is a dangerous source, Adam Schönberger explains, for when it is tapped, it can cause a flood.

Schönberger is a veteran Hungarian activist and co-founder of Aurora, a café and community center operated by Marom, a Jewish youth-group that he also directs. When we meet there on a Monday evening in late August, Aurora, located in Budapest’s Eighth District, is buzzing. Opposition activists type away on laptops in a corner near the bar. Old Hungarian men and young German tourists drink beers beneath walls plastered with posters and stickers — calls for a slam poetry contest, radical anti-war slogans, exhortations to veganism. In the courtyard, the organizers of Budapest Pride, Hungary’s largest LGBTQA+ event, are taking a cigarette break.

Aurora is a space that defies easy definition. More than just a bar and café, it is a venue for underground music and parties, an occasional art gallery, a meeting place for activist groups, home to the offices of human rights NGOs, and a prayer space that hosts regular Jewish services. During the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, when thousands of asylum seekers were stuck in Budapest, barred from continuing on to Western Europe, Aurora became a shelter. “A lot of families lived here temporarily,” Schönberger tells me. “It was one of the major clothes storage [points]. It was one of the centers.”

“We said there are no concerts until this situation is solved. This place will be a shelter until we find a place for these people,” Schönberger recalls. “And we were the only Jewish organization that did that — that actually addressed the issue.” Other Jewish groups shied away from publicly aiding the refugees, he says, “because it was too political.”

With its combination of radical, queer politics, punk sensibility, and secular Jewishness, Aurora sits at the fault-lines of contemporary Hungarian politics. Under the regime of Viktor Orbán, elected with a super-majority in parliament for a third consecutive term, Hungary in the midst of a dramatic slide into authoritarianism. Eszter Susán, who co-founded the space with Schönberger, says Aurora “is one of the last bastions of resistance.”

It was a difficult summer, and an even more difficult year, for the resistance. In the span of two...

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Israel's different responses to Jewish and Palestinian stone throwers

Jewish settlers who throw stones at Israeli forces hardly face serious consequences. For Palestinian stone throwers, the consequences can mean death. 

In the West Bank, the consequences for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers differ dramatically, depending on who’s doing the throwing. The same act, when carried out by Jews in the West Bank, is met — often literally — with a soft-gloved hand. When carried out by Palestinians, the punishment can be as severe as death.

Israeli forces routinely raid Palestinian homes in the middle of the night to arrest children suspected of stone throwing. In many instances, Israeli soldiers have responded to stone throwing by Palestinians with tear gas, rubber bullets, and even live ammunition. “Stones kill,” said Education Minister Naftali Bennett after Israeli forces shot and killed 17-year-old Mohammed al-Casbah for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers in 2015. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has said that “anyone who throws stones is a terrorist.”

When Jewish settlers throw stones at Israeli soldiers, however, a different set of rules apply. Two weeks in June show the deadly, gaping disparity between what Palestinians who throw rocks face — and what faces Jews who do the same.

When Israeli police, unarmed and dressed in special t-shirt uniforms, arrived at the illegal outpost of Tapuach West to evict 10 buildings on Sunday, they were met by hundreds of right-wing settler protesters who threw stones, bleach and other objects at them. Eleven officers were reportedly wounded, and police arrested just six right-wing activists.

Five days earlier, during the eviction of 15 houses in the illegal outpost of Netiv Ha’avot, hundreds of religious nationalist protesters similarly occupied the homes and threw stones and other objects at the police. Six police officers were reportedly injured during the eviction, including one officer who was hit in the head by a rock. Just three protesters were arrested; they were later released. The others returned to their homes safely after police dragged them out of the houses they had been occupying.

Six days before that and roughly 60 kilometers north, in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, 21-year-old Izz ad-Din Tamimi joined a group of Palestinian teenagers throwing rocks at heavily armed Israeli soldiers. According to the IDF, Tamimi approached the soldiers and threw a rock, hitting one of them, who opened fire. Tamimi was shot twice — in the neck and chest — from a distance of roughly 50...

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'They destroyed everything': Israel's decades-long war against the Jahalin Bedouin

Expelled by Israeli forces from the Negev, then forced to live next to a garbage dump, the Jahalin Bedouin have lost their ancestral homes and their traditional way of life. The impending forced displacement of Khan al-Ahmar is just the latest struggle in the Bedouin tribe’s history of dispossession. 

Just outside the Palestinian town of Eizariya in the occupied West Bank, on the side of a busy highway, sits a set of small trash-strewn plots. Bent remnants of metal pipes protrude from piles of crumpled cans and broken bottles. Shredded plastic bags flap in the wind as cars rush by. Garbage trucks unload their toxic cargo at the Abu Dis dump just 500 meters away. The smell of burning rubbish makes the air sharp.

This area is known as Jahalin West, where the Israeli government plans to forcibly transfer the 181 residents of Khan al-Ahmar, a Palestinian Bedouin hamlet facing imminent demolition.

Israel’s High Court ruled in late May that the government could relocate the inhabitants of Khan al-Ahmar despite their opposition to the planned relocation site. As of this writing, the residents of Khan al-Ahmar say they plan to stay on their land — even if army bulldozers demolish their homes and the school that serves the village’s children and those from the surrounding villages.

“Would you take your family to live in this area, near the dump?” asks Eid Abu Kammis, the Khan al-Ahmar community’s spokesperson, a few days after the court’s decision.

What exactly awaits the Bedouin of Khan al-Ahmar remains uncertain. If the army were to demolish the village tomorrow, “it would be a kind of standoff and the question would be who would capitulate first,” says Jeremy Milgrom, a member of Rabbis for Human Rights who has worked with Bedouin communities in the area for two decades.

If the residents of Khan al-Ahmar stay on their land against the government’s wishes, the army could declare a closed military zone and arrest them, Milgrom adds. They could also disperse and look for new land elsewhere.

As of now, no accommodations have been made at the site of Jahalin West ahead of the planned demolitions. No infrastructure, water, or electricity. No temporary modular homes await them like the ones Israeli settlers from the Nativ Avot outpost moved into Tuesday after Israeli police evicted them.

Khan al-Ahmar has been fighting the Israeli government’s attempts to demolish the village...

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Charged with killing Palestinian teen, two soldiers to walk free

Israeli soldiers shot 16-year-old Samir Awad eight times in the back, killing him. After a two-year delay, they were finally indicted. Now, five years after the killing, the prosecution is dropping the charges against them.

Indictments against two former Israeli soldiers charged with killing an unarmed Palestinian teenager will be dropped, the state prosecutor announced Monday.

The two former soldiers, whose names are under gag order, had been charged for the “reckless and negligent use of a firearm” that killed 16-year-old Samir Awad near the village of Budrus in 2013. Awad was shot in the back eight times by soldiers who had been lying in ambush near a hole in Israel’s separation barrier. He was not armed, nor did he pose a threat to anyone. He was running away when he was killed.

The army claimed Awad was attempting to damage part of the separation barrier when the soldiers opened fire.

The case has been ongoing since 2015, when Israeli authorities — after a more than two-year delay — finally indicted the two soldiers.

Why, after three years of legal proceedings, did the prosecutor decide to drop the charges?

During a hearing in the Ramle Magistrate’s Court in early May, the prosecutor admitted the case against the soldiers had been “badly damaged.” The defense had argued that prosecuting the two soldiers for illegally killing Samir would constitute “selective enforcement” of the law. To prove their point, they demanded that the state reveal statistical data regarding criminal investigations and prosecutions of other soldiers who have killed Palestinians, as well as the case materials themselves. Israeli authorities did not want to provide those files, on which the outcome of the case likely depended.

Israel’s civilian and military justice systems rarely prosecute Israeli soldiers for killing Palestinian civilians. According to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, between 2011 and 2016, just 3.4 percent of investigations into attacks on Palestinians opened by the army’s Criminal Investigation’s Department ended in indictments.

“The prosecutor’s announcement of the cancellation of the indictments against the two soldiers involved in the killing of the youth Samir Awad constitutes another example of the impunity enjoyed by soldiers who wound Palestinians,” Yesh Din said in a statement issued in response.

“The bottom line is that the military system protects soldiers who violate the law and wound Palestinians, while leaving Palestinians defenseless,” the statement continued.

It took Israeli authorities more than two years to indict the soldiers who shot Samir —...

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The demolition of an entire Palestinian village could be days away

With a green light from the Supreme Court, Israel is set to a demolish an entire Bedouin village in the West Bank. Human rights advocates warn that the demolition would constitute a grave violation of international law. 

Israel’s Supreme Court approved a government plan to demolish an entire Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank last Thursday. Following the Court’s decision, army bulldozers may arrive at Khan al-Ahmar, the tiny Palestinian hamlet caught between the Israeli settlements of Kfar Adumim and Maaleh Adumim, any time after June 1.

The ruling follows two lawsuits filed by Attorney Shlomo Lecker on behalf of the residents of Khan al-Ahmar against the demolition plan.

“It is clear that this is a crime,” Lecker said on Sunday, adding that he thought the court’s ruling opened the door to intervention by the International Criminal Court in the Hague. “Until this case, I didn’t see the possibility of that, but this ruling is something new in terms of that option.”

According to Lecker, the court’s decision creates a precedent that threatens thousands of Palestinian Bedouins living in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel is attempting to forcibly expel Bedouin communities and move them into Palestinian cities and towns. Between 180,000 and 300,000 Palestinians live in Area C, which makes up over 60 percent of the West Bank and is under full Israeli military control.

For nearly a decade, the residents of Khan al-Ahmar have been fighting the Israeli government’s attempts to demolish the Bedouin village and forcibly transfer its inhabitants to an area adjacent to a garbage dump near the West Bank town of Abu Dis. The village has become an internationally-known site of resistance to Israel’s practice of forcibly transferring Palestinians out of Area C, and, in the past, pressure by American and European diplomats succeeded in helping to stave off the demolitions.

Prior to Thursday’s ruling, the Israeli government was required to propose a viable new location for the displaced communities, Lecker explained. Yet following the ruling, in which the judges acknowledged that the relocation plan for Khan al-Ahmar was not implementable, this is no longer the case.

“This ruling says something very simple,” Lecker continued. “The state does not have to provide any alternative at all.”

The round of lawsuits that ended last week began in 2009, after an Italian NGO helped build a tires-and-mud school for the...

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U.S. Embassy move could prove to be 'the perfect storm'

Policy experts warn that Trump’s decision could amplify Palestinian hopelessness, which along with other events could lead to violence. It could also wake people up to reality, however, and that may not be a bad thing.

The streets of Jerusalem are lined with American and Israeli flags, and the signs for the new U.S. Embassy have gone up. But as Israel celebrates the U.S. Embassy moving to Jerusalem, Palestinian and Israeli policy experts warn that the Trump administration’s decision could have potentially dangerous consequences.

“The move has filled the Palestinian people with frustration and emphasized the situation of hopelessness, of lacking any serious hope of developments [coming from] negotiations,” said Professor Omar Yousef, head of the graduate program in Jerusalem Studies at Al Quds University.

The Trump administration broke decades of international consensus by moving the embassy and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Until May 14, every foreign embassy in Israel was in Tel Aviv, a diplomatic protest of sorts — a refusal to recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem.

That frustration is being channeled into calls to demonstrate, Yousef added. “I’m afraid it may erupt into violence because even peaceful demonstrations are provoked by the police and it leads to clashes.”

“There will be blood,” warned Daniel Seidemann, founder and director of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an Israeli NGO that tracks political developments in the city. “Utter hopelessness is the great destabilizer.”

“I’m not sure that there will be significant violence this week — it’s not generally geopolitical events that spur convulsive violence,” Seidemann clarified, “but we’ve got a perfect storm of Jerusalem Day, the move of the embassy, Nakba Day, the March of Return in Gaza, Ramadan.”

Apart from the potential violence, the move, experts say, has dealt a fatal blow to the U.S.-led peace process.

“It puts the United States in a position where it is so identified with one side that it cannot be an honest broker in the future,” explained Yudith Oppenheimer, executive director of Ir Amim, an Israeli rights and advocacy group that focuses on Jerusalem. “The U.S. had a huge role in mediating political processes in the Middle East.”

“The U.S. has disqualified itself for the foreseeable future,” Seidemann concurred. “The old order is dead, the new order has yet to emerge.”


However, Yousef suggested, the disqualification...

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Israel (still) loves Iran

A 2012 viral social media campaign brought Israelis and Iranians together when it seemed like the region was on the brink. With the threat of war looming again, +972 Magazine speaks to Ronny Edry, one of the founders of the ‘Israel Loves Iran’ campaign.

In 2012, Israel and Iran looked to be on the brink of war. Prime Minister Netanyahu told an audience at AIPAC in March of that year, in what became known as his “nuclear duck” speech, that “all options” were on the table to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Foreign policy analysts, along with regular Israeli and Iranian citizens, fretted that Israel would carry out a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program, sparking a regional war.

The threat of a looming war led Ronny Edry and Michal Tamir, two Israeli graphic designers, to launch a Facebook campaign called “Israel loves Iran,” which quickly went viral. Israelis posted pictures of themselves, and sometimes their families and friends, with the text: “Iranians, We will never bomb your country, We love you.”

In response, an “Iran Loves Israel” Facebook page cropped up, then similar pages like “Israel Loves Palestine” and Palestine Loves Israel.” The campaign eventually coalesced into an umbrella initiative called Peace Factory, run by Edry and Tamir, which put the “Israel Loves Iran” campaign posters on 70 buses in the Tel Aviv Area.

As the threat of war between Israel and Iran looms over the region once again, +972 Magazine spoke to Ronny Edry by phone on Friday.

“The idea then was really to connect to the Iranian people,” Edry explained. “In 2012, very few people [in Israel] had Iranian friends on Facebook, if at all.”

From that perspective, the campaign succeeded. “I, and a lot of my friends, have a lot of Iranian friends now,” he said. “We developed deeper connections. I travelled abroad and met them.”

The current situation today is even scarier, he continued. “Today it looks like the war has basically started.”

What made the 2012 campaign successful, Edry reflected, was that it gave people a sense that they were not alone in dealing with a frightening situation; it gave them a way to do something positive about it.

“People were able to see that we’re not so different from each other, that most people don’t want war,” Edry said. “And from there tons of connections developed.”

That simple success,...

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A victim is the suspect at the trial of the soldiers who killed him

Samir Awad was unarmed when he was shot in the back eight times by soldiers. During his killers’ trial, the judge and defense treated the dead boy as if he was the one being charged with a crime.

In Israeli courts, the rare trial of a soldier who killed a Palestinian invariably becomes a trial of the Palestinian they killed. Tuesday morning in the Ramle Magistrate’s Court, where two former Israeli soldiers are on trial for killing 16-year-old Samir Awad, was no exception.

Samir was not mentioned once by name during the nearly four-hour cross-examination of one of the two soldiers on trial. The judge and defense lawyers reflexively referred to Samir as “the suspect” — as if the dead boy was being charged with a crime instead of the soldiers who shot him.

“It is as if nobody died,” remarked one of the Israeli activists who had come to support Ahmad, Samir’s father.

Samir Awad was shot in the back eight times by soldiers who had been lying in ambush near a hole in Israel’s separation barrier. Samir was not armed. He did not pose a threat to anyone. He was running away at the time he was shot.

For shooting and killing Samir, A. and B., the two former soldiers whose names are under gag order, are charged with “reckless and negligent use of a firearm.”

When Ahmad Awad, Samir’s father, finally reached Room 207 in the Ramle Magistrate’s Court Tuesday morning, he was not allowed to enter. He had woken up early that morning to make it from the West Bank village of Budrus, through a checkpoint that he needed a special military permit to cross. From there, an Israeli activist picked him up and drove him to the courthouse, a drab, tan building on a street named after Israel’s first president.

Ahmad has been making this trip since 2015, when Israeli authorities — after a more than two-year delay — indicted the two soldiers who shot and killed 16-year-old Samir in January 2013.

Teeth gritted and arms folded across his chest, Ahmad toed at the waxed-tile floor and waited outside the courtroom where his sons’ killers sat. Inside, the presiding judge, Rivka Glatz, held a short, closed-door mediation session between the prosecution, the soldiers who shot Samir, and their lawyers. Ahmad asked to be present for the mediation but was told to...

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Top court hears first major challenge to IDF's live fire in Gaza

Human rights groups argue the army’s open-fire regulations violate international law. The government claims the use of deadly force is justified — even against unarmed demonstrators.

Israel’s High Court of Justice heard on Monday a major challenge to the IDF’s rules of engagement, which permit the use of live fire against demonstrators who pose no danger to human life.

Monday’s session saw opening arguments in two petitions submitted by several prominent human rights organizations — one by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Yesh Din, Gisha, and HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual and one by Adalah and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights — in the wake of deadly violence against mostly unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza over the past month.

While the IDF’s open-fire regulations are not publicly available — the army refused to disclose the rules of engagement in response to the petition, claiming that they are classified — the army’s actions at the border and statements made by top commanded formed the legal basis for the petition.

The human rights organizations argue that there is no prohibition on holding demonstrations in Gaza, that violence or attempts to cross or damage the Gaza barrier fence should be seen as civil disturbances — not armed warfare — and, therefore, that the demonstrations are neither subject to the laws of war nor instances in which the use of live fire is justified.

“The state is referring to passages that turn international law on its head,” said attorney Michael Sfard, representing Israeli NGO Yesh Din, during Monday’s hearing. Sfard charged that the government had fabricated a new legal category to justify using deadly force against individuals who present no immediate danger to human life, but who are part of a mass or large group that could pose a danger in the future.

On the one hand, Sfard pointed out, the state has not defined the Gaza protsters as combatants. On the other, the state claims that it can use deadly force against protesters as instigators — even if they do not present an immediate threat.

“The use of deadly force against a civilian is only permitted if that civilian poses an immediate danger, these are the rules of international law,” Sfard stated. “We are dealing with the most dramatic power the state has — to injure, to wound, to kill. This isn’t the place for legal games.”


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In limbo, asylum seekers await government's next move

In the absence of a UN deal and with the collapse of Israel’s mass deportation plan, African asylum seekers again face an uncertain future.

The roughly 38,000 asylum seekers living in Israel, most of whom fled Eritrea and Sudan, again face an uncertain future. The Israeli government’s mass deportation plan collapsed last week after the government failed to broker a deal with a “third country” that would resettle refugees deported against their will. Earlier in April, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a deal with the UN to resolve the refugee issue, only to scrap it less than 24 hours later.

The Israeli government now appears to be pursuing several new options simultaneously. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked embarked last week on a trip to East Africa, which included stops in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Kenya. Some asylum seeker advocates suspect that Israel is attempting to negotiate a deal with Kenya to accept refugees deported against their will.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri announced last Tuesday that the government would re-open Holot – a desert, open-air detention facility for asylum seekers – following the collapse of the mass deportation plan. To do so, the government will need to pass a new law that reauthorizes the detention of the asylum seekers in the Holot facility, attorney Elad Cahana, of Tel Aviv University’s Refugee Rights Clinic, said by phone on Sunday. The governing coalition opted last December not to renew the law that kept Holot open, setting the stage for the mass deportation plan.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and other members of the governing coalition are also advancing legislation to strip Israel’s High Court of Justice of the ability to strike down laws as unconstitutional. Netanyahu and Shaked were expected to meet with Supreme Court President Esther Hayut on Sunday to discuss the various “court override” proposals. Last December, Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett unveiled a bill that would allow the Knesset to override High Court decisions with a simple majority, bar the High Court from overturning laws on procedural grounds, and increase the threshold required for the Court to strike down a law.


If passed, a court override bill could have dramatic consequences. “It [would be] basically the end of constitutional protection of basic rights in Israel,” Alon Harel, professor of...

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'Nakba Day killings': Cop gets 9 months prison for killing unarmed teen

Former Border Police officer Ben Deri pled guilty to a reduced charge of negligent manslaughter for killing an unarmed Palestinian teenage boy in Beitunia four years ago. He was not charged with the killing of a second boy.

Ben Deri, the Israeli border policeman who shot and killed 17-year-old Palestinian Nadeem Nawara on Nakba Day four years ago in the West Bank village of Beitunia, was sentenced to nine months in prison on Wednesday. He will likely only serve seven.

Nawara and another Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Daher, who died in identical circumstances at the same location an hour apart but for whose death Deri was not charged, were killed from a considerable distance that day and posed no danger to anyone at the time of their murders.

Deri’s unit had been authorized to shoot less-lethal, rubber-coated bullets but instead he loaded live rounds into his weapon. The state had originally charged him with manslaughter but ultimately accepted a plea deal for negligent manslaughter.

As part of the plea deal, Deri claimed he had accidentally loaded live bullets into his weapon. Because of the plea deal, the court was never given a chance to rule based on the plethora of video and forensic evidence against Deri. Nawara’s family objected to the plea deal.

In the hours after the deadly shootings, the Israeli defense establishment, hasbara activists, and politicians rushed to deny that Israeli forces had used live fire that day. Even after CCTV footage documenting the moments of the two boys’ murders surfaced, Israeli officials created and stoked conspiracy theories that the entire scene was staged, that the footage was fabricated or tampered with.

When CNN footage was released showing the shots that killed the boys, it became impossible to deny that Israeli forces had been responsible. One of the bullets was recovered from Nawara’s backpack — it had pierced his chest and exited his back, coming to rest among his schoolbooks and papers.

A police forensics investigation determined that border policeman Ben Deri, 21 at the time, had fired the shot that killed Nawara. No autopsy was performed on Abu Daher. Deri was never charged for killing the second boy. Two other protesters were wounded by live fire that day. Deri was not charged for shooting them either.


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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.”


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.


“The trigger in my opinion isn’t...

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