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A farewell from +972 Magazine's editor-in-chief

A reflection and goodbye from Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man, +972 Magazine’s outgoing editor-in-chief.

When I began working at +972 Magazine nearly seven years ago, I was the organization’s first full-time employee. It was the eve of the 2013 Israeli elections, and looking back all these years later, things felt very different.

True, Netanyahu had already been prime minister for a few years but Ehud Barak was his main partner and Tzipi Livni would join him a few weeks later. The world was just learning who Naftali Bennett was. The Kerry peace process hadn’t yet spectacularly imploded — it hadn’t even begun. The Palestinian popular protests against the wall — and the joint struggle — were a weekly source of inspiration.

The biggest difference between then and now is that back then, hope was a lot easier to find. On the heels of Israel’s social justice movement, for many Israelis there existed a lofty idea of what might be possible. There was a peace process to speak of, and although many of us here at +972 Magazine were among its loudest critics and skeptics, even Benjamin Netanyahu still claimed to support Palestinian statehood. The most horrible summer most of us can remember, the summer of 2014, hadn’t yet happened. The Dawabshe family still existed.

The list of tragic and deflating developments could go on and on, and indeed it does. But there have also been moments of great — and small — hope. For me, much of that hope could be found in grassroots movements that refuse to give up.

There was the protest movement that halted the Prawer Plan, the largest forced displacement of Palestinians planned by Israel at least since 1967. There were the years of protests and organizing that fought back Israel’s policies toward African refugees and ultimately stopped their mass deportation. And although it was subverted and ended in a massacre, a grassroots movement in Gaza reminding the world that real men, women, and children live there (the Great March of Return) was one of the boldest and bravest initiatives to challenge the status quo that I’ve ever seen.

And then there is one of the biggest changes, the hardest to pinpoint or see, and which only history will be able to judge: the long-time-coming transformation of the way the world talks about Israel-Palestine, the...

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When an American in the IDF meets a Palestinian American in Hebron

An American serving in the Israeli army in Hebron says that in her job granting and denying Palestinians permission to work and travel, it’s a ‘conversation starter’ to meet Palestinians who back home would have full rights like her.

The video below was published Sunday by COGAT, the unit of the Israeli Defense Ministry charged with administering the military occupation of the Palestinian territories. COGAT has a rich history of producing tone-deaf videos seemingly meant to do little more than make COGAT look like the benevolent arm of the occupation, for which Palestinians should be nothing but grateful. (See here, here, and here.)

The videos are almost too easy to rip apart. Indeed, nearly every line in this latest video could warrant an entire article dissecting its obscene distortion and white-washing of reality. A dissertation could be written just about the self-aggrandizing image of the benevolent occupier.

But let’s forget about all of that for a moment and just focus on one line. One sentence.

This particular video is about Alyse, an American immigrant to Israel who serves in the IDF’s oxymoronically named Civil Administration, a part of COGAT. Soldiers in the Civil Administration and COGAT determine where Palestinians may live, where and when they may travel (including to other parts of the occupied territories like Gaza and East Jerusalem), whether they can build or expand homes on their own land, whether they own that land at all, whether an Israeli settler can steal that land, whether two soccer teams from different parts of Palestine can play each other, and on and on.

At one point in the video, Alyse, who hails from Chicago and is now stationed in Hebron, notes that it’s “a huge conversation starter” to meet Palestinians who are also from the United States.

“It’s always interesting to meet people who are so different than me yet have such a similar background,” she says.

The video speaks for itself. But here are two things to ponder:

1. What exactly is a “conversation starter” when someone with no rights is begging a soldier in a foreign occupying army for permission to travel or work? What does that “conversation” look like? How “interesting” is it that the person standing on the other side of the glass with almost no rights could have, just a few weeks earlier, been riding next...

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A sliver of hope

Even when our leaders engage in the type of demonization that educates our children to believe the other side isn’t even worthy of speaking to, they still see the value in talking — even while they kill each other. Some thoughts about Gaza.

By the time you read this there’s a pretty good chance a war will have broken out between Israel and any number of militant groups in Gaza. By the time I wrote this, too many people had already been killed. And yet it can stop. It must stop.

I’m not talking about the broader conflict. Clearly the siege must be lifted and the people of Gaza must be given the same freedoms, security, rights, and opportunities as every Israeli or anyone else in the world.

Today, it is the more immediate context of this killing that gives me a tiny sliver of hope to mitigate the immense sadness and anger that accompany seeing photos and videos of dead children, bombed out homes, guided missiles and unguided rockets flying toward homes, Israelis running to bomb shelters and Gazans just running because they have no shelters.

That hope comes from the fact that Israel and Hamas have been engaged in cease-fire talks for months now and that this shooting and killing — again, without forgetting the ever-present context of occupation and siege and humanitarian disaster — is the result of those talks breaking down.

That hope is drawn from the fact that Israel and Hamas are talking about not killing each other — even while they’re killing each other.

I can’t repeat enough that even a multi-year cease fire would not be enough. It would not absolve a single one of us from doing whatever we can to ensure that millions of people aren’t subject to collective punishment and the whims of foreign politicians and military commanders for access to potable water, electricity, food, medical supplies, and the right to move within one’s own country let alone travel abroad. It doesn’t absolve us of righting historic wrongs, seeking equitable solutions,...

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Jerusalem orders kindergartens not to let 'minorities' visit

The municipality’s security department sends instructions to kindergartens in the city ordering that foreigners and ‘minorities,’ a euphemism for Arabs, not be allowed onto their grounds. Anti-racism group demands the city retract the orders.

Public kindergartens in Jerusalem were ordered by the city’s Emergency and Security Division not to allow “foreigners” and “minorities” into educational facilities in a document laying out security instructions distributed to kindergartens recently.

Under a section titled “Entry of Visitors,” the document reads: “Do not allow the entry of foreigners into the kindergarten grounds — as a rule entry is not permitted for minorities, in any such case you must notify the area security officer.”

Minorities is a semi-official and universally understood euphemism for Arabs in its Hebrew usage in Israel.

The Racism Crisis Center, a project of the Coalition Against Racism and the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement, sent a letter to the Jerusalem Municipality last week arguing that the instructions were illegal and demanding that they be changed.

According to Hebrew-language newspaper Ma’ariv, which first reported the story, the Jerusalem Municipality responded that “security protocols for educational institutions are determined by the Israel Police and the Education Ministry.”

The municipality told Ma’ariv that it would fix the wording of the document. Its response did not indicate whether changing the wording would alter the instructions regarding discrimination based on nationality or ethnicity.

“Minorities, even if they are citizens and residents of the state, are [considered] dangerous foreigners by default,” wrote member of Knesset Aida Touma-Sliman of the Jewish-Arab Hadash party.

“The municipality said it would correct the instructions — but what else should we expect if the racist [Bezalel] Smotrich heads the Education Ministry?” Touma-Sliman wrote on Twitter.

Smotrich, an openly homophobic member of Knesset who has in the past advocated segregation, and whose parliamentary slate includes former followers of the outlawed terrorist group once led by Meir Kahane, has said that he will demand the education portfolio in the next government.

Open segregation — both official and unofficial — exists in myriad ways and places in Israel, from maternity wards to amusement parks, buses, hotels, public pools, roads, and housing.

Last year, Israel passed a constitutional measure that gives precedence to Jewish national rights in Israel without guaranteeing full equality for all non-Jewish citizens. It is believed that the legislation will be used in order to justify...

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Annexation is more than just a declaration

By drawing a line at formal annexation, the international community is hobbling its ability to respond to Israeli changes on the ground.

Benjamin Netanyahu declared on the eve of Israel’s April 9 elections that if reelected he would begin annexing the West Bank. Only, if we’re being precise, he didn’t. Israeli leaders have almost never used the word annexation, yet the absence of that terminology has never prevented the country from permanently acquiring territory by force.

Netanyahu did not say that he will formally annex the West Bank but what he did say is that he will gradually extend sovereignty to every last Israeli settlement in the territory. What he has said countless times over the past decade is that Israel will maintain full military control over the entire West Bank forever.

The only change is that Netanyahu has stopped paying lip service to the idea of a two-state solution; now he is going to take explicit credit for implementing the policy he has pursued unswervingly since entering politics — to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state .

For far too long the international community, supporters of Israel in the United States, and even those on the left in Israel have, by allowing themselves to be lied to about Israel’s intentions about a two-state solution, been naively deceiving themselves.

Much of that deception was rooted in the discourse of closing windows of opportunity. We need to act before it’s too late, they would say, without any willingness to discuss when or where the “too late” line lies. Worse, they refused to ask themselves honestly what would happen — or what they would do — when it was crossed.


That isn’t to say that if progressive American Jews or European governments had agreed there was a line in the sand that we would have a two-state solution today. But maybe, just maybe, they would have been better positioned to respond when it was irrevocably crossed.

Which brings us back to today. Netanyahu wants to annex the settlements, refuses to end the military occupation of the West Bank, and will no longer entertain the idea of even a sovereign-less, “state-minus” version of Palestine. The White House will not even condemn the prospect of Israeli annexation in the West Bank and is expected within the...

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The best outcome of these elections is if things don't get worse

These elections have turned into a referendum on the annexation of the West Bank — but that’s not something for Israel to decide. Five thoughts on Israel’s upcoming elections.


In many ways Tuesday’s general elections in Israel seem fixed if you’re among the ranks of people hoping to see Benjamin Netanyahu end his decade-long reign as prime minister. Even if his challenger, Benny Gantz, wins a plurality of Knesset seats, besting Netanyahu’s Likud, he still doesn’t have the numbers to form a government.

As Dahlia Scheindlin has written here on numerous occasions, there is simply little chance that the blocs of parties — left, center, and right — change enough in size in order for a left-wing or center-left government to be formed. That is particularly true when you remove the Arab parties from the equation: no Arab party has ever been invited into a ruling coalition and the current candidates don’t seem eager to change that.

There is one wildcard, though. At the behest of Avigdor Liberman, Israel raised the election threshold from 2 percent to 3.5 percent in a bid to keep out smaller Arab parties. That didn’t work because the four small Arab parties ran on a joint slate, getting a record 13 seats together. This time, however, that higher threshold could be a game changer.

In the current election cycle, the right-wing bloc is saturated with smaller parties, many of whom are teetering on the electoral threshold. If they don’t receive 3.5 percent of the overall vote, their piece is simply removed from the pie, affecting the relative allocation of Knesset seats in each bloc.

There are 6,339,279 Israeli citizens eligible to vote on Tuesday. Assuming they all vote, if two right-wing parties get only 3 percent of the overall vote and don’t pass the threshold, that is more than 380,000 votes that aren’t going to any right-wing party. When the total number of votes garnered by each party is divvied up into 120 seats, therefore, the size of the right-wing bloc shrinks. The irony is that because the blocs rarely shift in size, the more successful Netanyahu’s Likud performs, the greater the likelihood that he siphons votes away from smaller right-wing parties.


Pollsters are woe to predict how that could play out, but all seem to agree that it could change the electoral...

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Annexation is happening whether Netanyahu is reelected or not

Netanyahu’s declaration that he will annex parts of the West Bank is alarming, but it only names a process that was long ago put into action, and which is now part of the mainstream Israeli discourse.

Four years ago, on the eve of Israeli elections, Benjamin Netanyahu promised in a television interview that there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch. He retracted the statement a few days after winning, but only those who wanted to believe him actually did. Opposing Palestinian statehood has always been Netanyahu’s policy. He has diverged from it on rare occasions, when he was under enormous pressure to do so, and even then with a conspiratorial wink to his supporters.

On Saturday, again on the eve of Israeli elections, Netanyahu stopped winking. Asked point blank in a television interview if he will annex a bloc of West Bank settlements in his next term, he responded unambiguously in the affirmative.

“Will we move to the next stage? The answer is yes,” the prime minister said. “I will apply [Israeli] sovereignty — and I don’t differentiate between settlement blocks and specks of isolated settlements. Each of those specks is Israeli and we have a responsibility as the government of Israel.”

Netanyahu’s pledge to annex parts of the West Bank should not surprise anyone who has followed Israeli politics in recent years. Others in his political coalitions, and even his own party, have been talking openly about annexation for years. More centrist Israeli thinkers are talking openly about plans for creeping, or de facto, annexation that are almost indiscernible from the right wing’s plans, or at least their desired outcome.

Case in point is Micah Goodman’s recent article in The Atlantic, published simultaneously in Hebrew and English, that lays out what he claims would be a consensus eight-point plan to “shrink” the conflict instead of solving it. Goodman, a rising public intellectual who claims to spurn labels of right and left, is peddling an idea that is no less an annexation plan than Netanyahu’s.

After laying out the various ways in which Israel will continue to control the West Bank more or less as it does today, albeit while granting Palestinians a few more building permits and replacing a few checkpoints with segregated bypass roads, Goodman offers the following:

Goodman’s plan, unlike Netanyahu’s ploy to rally the right-wing base on...

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These elections are a choice between resignation and despair

Four years ago, the prospect of another Netanyahu government meant perpetuating the status quo. This time, the opposition is offering the status quo — and Netanyahu something far worse.

The short distance between resignation and despair is the difference between knowing that things aren’t going to get any better and the fear that they could very easily get worse and there’s nothing to do about it. In many ways, that feels like the theme of the upcoming Israeli elections — at least for the small minority of Israelis whose political identity and priorities are wrapped up in the fights to end the occupation and seek an equitable society.

Four years ago, the last time Israelis went to the polls, I wrote that the only thing that could have possibly defeated Benjamin Netanyahu was hope and vision: hope for change, vision of a better future, anything really. Nobody was offering such a vision. And absent an alternative worth taking a risk for, there was nothing more reasonable for Israelis to do than to choose more of the same — stability.

This time around, things seem far bleaker. Without any vision of their own, Netanyahu’s main challengers have adopted a platform that is basically just a more palatable version of the status quo. Continued occupation. No lifting the siege on Gaza. More collective punishment and oppressive policies. No push to resolve the conflict. A Benny Gantz-led Israel would merely make the current discriminatory and undemocratic reality prettier, thereby reducing any international pressure to change course.

The only discernible difference between the current administration and the “Blue and White” alternative is a few less radical right-wingers in the government, and an ostensibly less corrupt prime minister. In other words, this time around it’s the challengers who are offering the status quo as their vision — resignation.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, is taking huge strides to the right, leaping over lines many thought even he would not cross. Faced with corruption charges and a cadre of generals vying to replace him, the prime minister has paved a political future for himself that, if he is tasked with forming a fourth consecutive government, could set Israel-Palestine on a path far worse than anything we’ve seen in decades.

In the nearly 10 years that Netanyahu has consecutively occupied the Prime Minister’s Office, each of his governments — and the accompanying political climate — have been more nationalist...

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JVP just declared itself anti-Zionist and it's already shifting the conversation

‘We often play the role of being able to say things that the rest of the movement cannot,’ Jewish Voice for Peace director Rebecca Vilkomerson says in a wide-ranging interview about the group’s decision to come out as opposed to Zionism, how to fight the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and recent attacks on Black-Palestine solidarity.

Jewish Voice for Peace’s announcement that it opposes Zionism, published quietly on its website earlier this month, has thus far come and gone without much fanfare or public attention. It simply wasn’t surprising for many.

“This doesn’t change anything about our focus or our political analysis,” JVP’s executive director, Rebecca Vilkomerson says, explaining that the change is not a huge departure for the organization in either practice or principle. “It just names something that hasn’t been named before.”

Naming, however, can have powerful repercussions. Just a few days after the statement went up on JVP’s website, an umbrella group of Jewish organizations in Boston voted to expel any of its members who partner with anti-Zionist Jewish groups.

In many ways, JVP’s decision to declare and formalize its position on Zionism is reflective of the political moment in the United States at large, but also specifically regarding Israel-Palestine. After years in which its supporters took great pains to try and prevent Israel from becoming a divisive, partisan issue, it seems all sides are drawing lines around each other — and just like a growing number of issues, both sides seem to be embracing those divisions, hardening their positions, and demanding litmus tests of varying degrees from their supporters.

The decision to adopt those lines, however, is not always just about standing on a particular side but also creating space for others to fit within them. While much of the demand to make the change came from within the organization, Vilkomerson says in a telephone interview last week, another part had a lot to do with JVP’s Palestinian partners, helping frustrate attempts to label Palestinian activists as anti-Semitic, and making it easier for JVP chapters to enter into explicitly anti-Zionist coalitions.

At least temporarily, the result has been advancing a small shift in the discourse about Zionism. This week, J Street, one of the only other progressive Jewish political outfits on the national scene, came to the defense of JVP and the Workmen’s Circle, the organization that was threatened with banishment from the Boston...

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Israel spraying herbicides inside Gaza violates int'l law, rights groups say

In an urgent letter to Israeli military officials, three human rights groups demand that Israel immediately stop spraying the dangerous chemicals into Gaza.

The Israeli army is continuing to spray dangerous herbicides on agricultural fields inside the Gaza Strip, three years since +972 Magazine first reported on the practice. This week, three Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups sent a letter to Israeli military officials demanding they immediately cease spraying the dangerous chemicals into Gaza.

The latest instance of spraying herbicides, using a reportedly carcinogenic chemical, took place in early December. A variety of crops inside Gaza were damaged as a result, according to the rights groups.

“The farmers have sustained massive losses in the past as a result of spraying, and been exposed to the health risks associated with the chemical agents used in the spraying,” Al Mezan, Gisha, and Adalah wrote in their letter to Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with the country’s attorney general and military advocate general.

“The spraying is a highly destructive measure, infringing on fundamental human rights and violating both Israeli and international law,” the rights groups added in a joint statement Wednesday.

Israel has for years maintained a unilateral “no-go zone” inside the Gaza Strip, and regularly sends bulldozers and other equipment across the fence to level land and destroy plants and trees in order to maintain a clear line of sight. Since the start of 2015, the Israeli army crossed the fence upwards of 207 times in such operations, an average of more than twice a week.

In December 2015, the Israeli army admitted for the first time, in response to questions from +972 Magazine, that it was also using herbicides inside Gaza. According to follow-up reporting by Amira Hass in Haaretz, close to 3,500 acres (14,000 dunams) of farmland in Gaza have been damaged by the practice. The spraying has also damaged Israeli crops along the fence.

The letter from the three human rights groups further reveals that the chemical being sprayed by Israeli military contractors, Roundup, has been determined by the World Health Organization to be a carcinogen and is not meant for aerial spraying, both due to the health risks and also the risk posed to nearby crops.

In 2016, the farmers demanded the army compensate them for the damage. The army refused.

Despite the IDF’s confirmation to +972, and later to Gisha, that...

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Who gets to vote in Israel’s version of democracy

Israel is about to hold elections, but not everyone living under Israeli rule gets a vote. A breakdown of who has rights and who doesn’t.

On April 9, 2019, Israel will hold general elections. Israelis will head to the polls to choose their elected leaders and representatives. If they are unhappy with the way things are going, like citizens of democracies around the world, their votes will help shape the ideological and political direction of the government and the institutions it controls.

In a vacuum, that sounds like fairly standard democratic practice. But there is nothing standard about Israel’s democracy.

Israeli citizens get to vote in Israeli elections, choosing elected leaders and how they rule the country. But the Israeli government doesn’t just rule over Israeli citizens, or just over Israel, for that matter.

Nearly 14 million people live under Israeli rule. The extent of that control varies, as does the ability of those 14 million people to exercise control over the policies, personalities, and institutions that determine so much about their day-to-day lives.

At the end of 2018, the population of Israel was approximately 8,972,000 people. That includes more than 330,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who do not have Israeli citizenship and thus do not have the right to vote in national elections. It also includes more than 214,000 Jewish Israeli citizens who live in occupied East Jerusalem and more than 435,000 Jewish Israelis who live in the occupied West Bank.


Then there is the West Bank, which has been governed undemocratically by the Israeli military since it occupied the territory in 1967. Prime Minister Netanyahu has vowed again and again, the Israel will not give up military control over the West Bank — ever.

In that territory, over which Israel plans to rule in perpetuity, live more than 2,623,000 Palestinians — over 2,953,000 including East Jerusalem Palestinians — who do not have the right to vote in Israeli elections. In the West Bank, Israel and its army are responsible for everything from road infrastructure, deciding who may live where, who may build where and what, who is allowed to move between different parts of the territory and when, who is allowed in and out of the West Bank, who is allowed to hold a political protest (only Jews), what...

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+972 photographer Oren Ziv wins prize for Khan al-Ahmar coverage

Ziv spent countless days and nights in the village this year, documenting the nonviolent struggle against the Israel army’s planned demolition and forcible displacement.

+972 Magazine and Local Call* correspondent Oren Ziv won a prize for his photography of the struggle against the demolition and forcible displacement of Khan al-Ahmar this week. Ziv won first prize for a series of photographs in the Society and Community category of the Local Testimony photography exhibition, which opens Thursday in Tel Aviv.

Photo of the year was awarded to Haaretz photographer Olivier Fitoussi for his photograph of Prime Minister Netanyahu and members of his Likud party taking a selfie to celebrate the passage of the Jewish Nation-State Law. The photo was widely circulated, and a long-time Jerusalem Post cartoonist was fired for parodying the photo in the image of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

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The Local Testimony exhibit, in its 16th year, runs concurrently with the World Press Photo exhibition. It features documentary and press photos from Israel and Palestine submitted by professional photographers working in the area.

Ziv, one of the founding members of Activestills, spent countless days and nights photographing and reporting on the Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists who set up camp in Khan al-Ahmar to nonviolently resist Israeli military plans to demolish the village and forcibly displace its residents. Ziv’s reporting on Khan al-Ahmar was conducted on behalf of Hebrew-language site Local Call, where he is a staff writer, and was also published in English on +972 Magazine.


Spending so much time in the village, Ziv wrote in October, showed him “that despite all of its previous losses, the popular struggle in the occupied territories is still alive.”

When Prime Minister Netanyahu, under unprecedented international legal pressure, called off the demolition, “[f]or a moment, it was possible to see how a defiant, popular, nonviolent struggle could accomplish the impossible,” Ziv added.

Another member of Activestills and +972 Magazine contributor, Keren Manor, won the same prize in last year’s competition for her reportage documenting the Israeli police killing of a Bedouin man in the village of Umm al-Hiran.

The Local Testimony photography exhibition is open to the...

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This doesn't end well

There are zero prospects of finding a way out of this situation. Nobody is coming to end the occupation, and there will be no end to the violence until the violence of the occupation ends.

One of the most depressing things about Israel-Palestine is just how predictable and cyclical the violence can be. The almost-war in Gaza, the new wave of shooting, ramming, and stabbing attacks in the West Bank, the nightly Israeli army raids deep into Palestinian cities, the clashes that will soon become a regular feature of the coming months, the vigilante settler violence — it’s almost identical to the year before and the year before and the year before.

Go a little further back and there’s an actual war in Gaza, Israeli military operations in cities jokingly referred to as being under Palestinian control, more settler violence, the inevitable mounting casualties — some combatants but also children and random civilians on both sides.

The violence is inevitable. Three years ago, in a moment of violence that felt identical to this one, I wrote that it is precisely in times of violence that we most need to talk about peace. And yet then, and even more so now, there is no prospect of peace. Talking about peace feels like a delusion — one meant to distract from a reality in which so many people are working to advance the opposite of peace, whatever that might be.

“When people talk about addressing the violence at times like these they are generally referring only to Palestinian violence directed at Israelis, not the structural violence of Israel’s occupation and the deadly physical violence it visits on Palestinians,” I wrote. “Getting back to ‘normal’ is the goal of Israel and Israel alone.”

There is nothing okay about targeting civilians, and the shooting attack that left a pregnant woman in serious condition and killed her then-unborn baby, are nothing short of abhorrent. At no point in the history of the world has there been a single situation in which one population oppressively ruled over another that didn’t result in unpalatable violence.

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There is also the palatable violence — the violence of a foreign...

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