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Over 100 Jewish scholars condemn Trump admin for exploiting anti-Semitism

More than 100 Jewish academics sign open letter demanding the Trump administration stop exploiting anti-Semitism in order to quash criticism of Israel on college campuses.

Jewish academics are fighting back against the Trump administration’s attempts to silence criticism of Israel on college campuses. More than 100 Jewish scholars have signed an open letter to the U.S. Department of Education in response to its demand that the Duke-University of North Carolina Consortium for Middle East Studies modify its curricular programming or face defunding.

The open letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose signatories include renowned scholar Judith Butler, Noam Chomsky, and artist Molly Crabapple, condemns the Education Department’s recent investigation of the consortium and subsequent ultimatum as “an unfounded and anti-democratic campaign of intimidation” and charges the Education Department with “exploiting fears of anti-Semitism” and “using Jews and our concerns over anti-Semitism to try and justify repressive policies.”

The letter also denounces the “shocking Islamophobia running throughout” the Education Department’s letter announcing the investigation’s findings.

DeVos ordered the investigation into the Duke-UNC Consortium following a complaint that a conference it hosted last March on the politics of the Gaza Strip — which featured several well-respected American, Israeli, and Palestinian experts — demonstrated “severe anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

The Education Department has, under Trump, adopted an aggressive posture toward criticism of Israel and particularly the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement — a change perhaps best embodied by the appointment of the department’s civil rights chief, Ken Marcus. A longtime professional pro-Israel operative, Marcus has pushed the government to define the BDS movement as anti-Semitic and to designate anti-occupation and Palestine solidarity activism as violations of Jewish students’ civil rights.


But while the initial complaint of anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitism was the ostensible catalyst for the Education Department’s investigation, the letter announcing its findings made no mention of either anti-Semitism or Israel. Instead, the Education Department claimed the Duke-UNC consortium was failing to meet its requirements for federal funding by focusing too much on cultural studies courses and topics like “Love and Desire in Modern Iran” and not enough on “advancing the security and economic stability of the United States.” Thus, what began with the pretext of investigating an already spurious accusation of anti-Semitism turned into a rare federal intervention in the curricular programming of an academic institution.

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Israel's one-state reality is sowing chaos in American politics

Until U.S. lawmakers and major Jewish organizations adjust to the current one-state reality, the acrimony that has marked the last several years under Netanyahu and Trump will only intensify.

For decades, the two-state solution has been the central pillar of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Washington. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, every single U.S. administration has been committed, at least nominally, to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Yet the expiration of the two-state paradigm under Prime Minister Netanyahu and the lack of a clear alternative to take its place has kicked that pillar away, disordering the politics of Israel-Palestine in the United States. Until American decision-makers adjust to the current one-state reality, the acrimony, chaos, and division that have marked the past several years will only intensify.

Without the pretext of a peace process, the Trump administration is pursuing a post-two-state agenda rife with draconian measures taken against key Palestinian institutions, from closing the PLO office in Washington to slashing funding to UNRWA. Today, the administration’s Middle East policy is being set by right-wing, pro-settlement officials, and Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” if it is ever released, is sure to be a gift to the Israeli territorial-maximalist right and will not likely include a Palestinian state. These shifts dovetail perfectly with Israel’s annexationist policies on the ground in the occupied territories.

U.S. politicians and the major Jewish-led organizations that deal with Israel-Palestine have so far failed to adjust in response. Almost all remain committed to a two-state solution, despite the clear intentions of both the Trump and Netanyahu administrations to bury it once and for all. And so, in the gap between their stated positions and the reality on the ground, confusion, hedging, and half-measures pervade.

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Liberal Zionist organizations like J Street and the New Israel Fund are attempting the difficult, ineffectual dance of outwardly opposing the BDS movement while simultaneously opposing measures that seek to outlaw boycotts of Israel. AIPAC stalwarts in Congress have attempted to bolster support for the two-state solution only to be rebuked by Israeli MKs, including several high-ranking members of Netanyahu’s Likud party, who called a Palestinian state “far more dangerous” than BDS.


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Thousands of Jews protest ICE raids across U.S., 44 arrested in NYC

A growing movement of American Jews is mobilizing against U.S. immigration policy across the country. ‘We’re fighting for the soul of our country, for our very humanity.’

NEW YORK CITY — Hundreds of American Jewish demonstrators staged a sit-in at one of Amazon’s flagship stores in New York on Sunday, to protest the company’s ties to the big-data firm Palantir, which contracts directly with Immigration and Custom Enforcement forces. The action resulted in the arrest of 44 people, including a New York City councilman, several rabbis, and high-profile public figures like Eli Valley and Molly Crabapple.

The protest, organized by a coalition of Jewish groups including T’ruah, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), and Never Again Action, as well a number of synagogues, was organized in solidarity with immigrants threatened with deportation by ICE and who are vulnerable to attacks by white nationalist terrorists. It was one of many protests involving thousands of American Jews in cities across the United States planned to coincide with Tisha B’Av, a traditional Jewish day of mourning.

After a silent march through midtown Manhattan, the protesters, dressed in black, occupied the Amazon store and conducted a Tisha B’Av service that combined the traditional liturgy with readings of testimonies from immigrants detained by ICE. Speakers drew direct parallels between the treatment of Jewish immigrants during World War II and that of Latinx immigrants today, and the crowd periodically chanted the refrains “close the camps” and “never again is now.”

“The cries of the Jewish people, of our people, against the forms of oppression visited upon us through our migrations across Jewish history, require us to speak out about what’s being done now,” said Brad Lander, a Jewish city councilman from Brooklyn who was among those arrested during the sit-in inside the Amazon store. Lander pointed to the similarities between the historical experiences of Jews and those of Latinx immigrants today, a parallel that the Never Again Action protests have insisted on drawing.

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“Amazon has chosen to make itself a corporate partner to ICE,” he added. “And if they’re either so addicted to profit or so callous to suffering that they are willing to continue to...

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The American Jews invoking the Holocaust to talk about Trump's migrant camps

In the face of dire conditions at U.S. border patrol facilities, many American Jews are increasingly unafraid to invoke their people’s history to warn against what may come next.

Weeks after New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s comments comparing immigration detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border to concentration camps, reports of dire conditions at U.S. border patrol facilities continue to pour in.

Men, women, and children, some as young as infants and toddlers, forced into dirty, squalid, and overcrowded cells, or in other cases, held within chain-link fence enclosures outside in the summer heat. At least 24 immigrants have died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since President Trump took office.

Despite all this, many Jewish organizations — from the right-wing Orthodox Coalition of Jewish Values, to the Republican Jewish Coalition, to the Anti-Defamation League — have continued to insist that any comparison between what is happening in the United States and what happened in Europe under the Nazis is not only offensive but impossible.

The Holocaust, they argue, was too horrible ever to compare to any present event, and doing so somehow harms the memory of those who suffered in the Nazi camps.

Quite a few American Jews, however, including the descendants of Holocaust survivors, seem to disagree. Over the past week, thousands of Jews have taken to the streets of major U.S. cities to protest the Trump administration’s policies of family separation and migrant detention along the southern border, as well as the aggressive detention practices of ICE and Border Patrol forces.


Hundreds demonstrated outside an ICE detention facility in New Jersey, where 36 protesters were arrested, while roughly 1,000 protesters shutdown traffic last Tuesday in Boston, where 18 people were arrested. Hundreds more joined recent protests in Philadelphia, Providence, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

At a time when many Jewish organizations have refrained from harshly criticizing the Trump administration because of its strong support for the right-wing Israeli government, these Jewish protesters, facing down police and often risking arrest, have rejected with their own bodies the narrow moral vision of the communal organizations that claim to represent them. The protests, led by a new Jewish group calling itself Never Again Action, have insisted on drawing a clear parallel between the U.S. government’s treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers and the Holocaust.


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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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