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The Gaza siege isn't about security. It's collective punishment, pure and simple

Israel shut down Gaza’s ability to conduct trade because of flaming balloons and kites that Palestinians have been floating over the border. There is no security justification, just collective punishment.

Israeli authorities often claim that the siege on Gaza is about security. Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups must not be allowed to import weapons or materials to build weapons, they say. It is a necessary measure. It’s about security.

That is partly true, sometimes. That is, except when it’s not.

The Israeli political leadership announced this week that it is cshutting down Gaza’s only commercial connection to the outside world. Not that the people of Gaza were allowed to do much trade with anyone before the crossing was closed, but now Israel took away the little commerce it had allowed until now.

Surely there is a good reason. A security reason.

Perhaps Israel received solid intelligence that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps was trying to sneak advanced weaponry into Gaza in a shipment of medical supplies? Or maybe the Shin Bet discovered a plot to place explosives in a furniture shipment destined for the West Bank?


Either of those scenarios would have been a legitimate reason to temporarily halt commercial activity at the Israeli controlled crossing so that shipments could be more closely inspected and to mitigate the threat. That’s not what happened.


The decision to tighten the siege on Gaza was collective punishment, pure and simple. Nobody is hiding that.

Israel’s political and military leadership were very clear that its decision to stop all commerce between Gaza and the rest of the world was a response to kites and balloons, sent from Gaza into Israel carrying crude incendiary devices, which have caused considerable damage to Israeli agriculture in recent months.

In other words, millions of people are being made to suffer because of the actions of a few. And the Israeli army has threatened to make things even worse if the kites and balloons continue. That is not a decision based on security considerations: it is a political decision — a political decision to destroy Gaza’s economy.

It is a political decision to ratchet up the suffering of a civilian population that Israel has been economically suffocating for over a decade. Businesses will go bankrupt. An economy with unemployment approaching 50 percent, where

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Hiding the occupation doesn't make it go away

A proposed law, said to be supported by Netanyahu’s government, would criminalize videotaping Israeli soldiers doing the dirty work of the occupation. But hiding something from sight doesn’t make it go away. Or does it?

If an Israeli soldier beats a Palestinian and no one is there to catch it on video, did it really happen? That is the question a group of Israeli lawmakers seems determined to find out.

A new bill, proposed by four members of Avigdor Liberman’s far-right Israel Beiteinu party, would make “videotaping, recording, or photographing Israeli soldiers carrying out their duty with the intention of eroding morale” a crime punishable by five years in prison. If the intent is to harm state security, the punishment doubles to 10 years in prison. The law would also apply to those disseminating such documentation.

According to a Haaretz report, the bill was expected to gain the support of the entire government in a vote on Sunday.

Here are three important things to note about this bill.

1. This is an explicit attempt to silence and criminalize the work of Israeli human rights organizations. The bill’s explainer section specifically cites the work of B’Tselem, Machsom Watch, and Breaking the Silence as its impetus. After a decade of going after human rights and anti-occupation groups’ funding, the ability of Israel’s critics to freely travel, and campaigns accusing them of treason, the government may now attempt to criminalize their activities outright.

Whenever despondency starts to set in, whenever the work of human rights and anti-occupation groups seems utterly futile, remember this bill — irrespective of whether it becomes law or is left to die in committee. This bill is a reminder that Israel’s right-wing nationalist government sees those groups’ work as threatening enough that it is constantly looking for ways to marginalize, disparage, and outlaw them and their work. Clearly, exposing the reality of occupation is a threat to the occupation, and by extension, to the current Israeli regime.

2. The law would only apply to Israelis, not Palestinians. Because Israel has not yet annexed the West Bank and therefore rules over Palestinians as non-citizen subjects of its military regime, laws passed by the Knesset do not apply to the 2.8 million Palestinian who live there. (In order for an Israeli law to apply to Palestinians, the commander of Israeli forces in the West Bank would...

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The most radical thing you can say in Israel

The Knesset won’t even allow this law to be discussed, let alone voted on, because it proposes making Israel a ‘state of all its citizens.’ Why is that so threatening?

The presidium of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, decided on Monday that a proposed law seeking to define Israel as “a state of all its citizens” is so far outside the acceptable political discourse that it cannot even be submitted to the legislature for debate.

The bill — a proposed Basic Law, the closest thing Israel has to constitutional amendments in a country without a constitution — sought to enshrine the principle of equality, recognize the existence of two national groups within Israel, create separation of religion and state, and most importantly: define Israel as a democratic state that belongs to all of its citizens.

Why is such a proposition so radical? Simply put, because it seeks to end the current situation, in which Israel is not, in fact, a country that belongs to all of its citizens — specifically, not to the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are not Jewish.

In a letter in support of the decision to disqualify the bill from being submitted, the Knesset’s legal advisor wrote: “The proposed ‘Basic Law: State of All its Citizens’ includes a series of clauses meant to change the character of the State of Israel from the state of the Jewish people to a state in which the Jewish and Arab peoples have equal standing.”

What a radical proposition.

The following is my translation of the bill, put forth by the Balad party, which was stricken down by the Knesset presidium. Judge for yourself just how radical it is. Think about what kind of country it describes. And think about what it means that a country belongs to only some of its citizens.

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IDF refuses to say what it's doing to avoid killing more journalists

Israeli snipers have killed two Palestinian journalists and shot at least 20 others in Gaza in recent months. What happened to the soldiers responsible? What is the IDF doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again? The army refuses to say.

Nearly two months after Israeli army snipers shot and killed two Palestinian journalists while they were reporting inside the Gaza Strip, the military is refusing to answer any questions about whether the responsible soldiers and commanders are being held accountable in any way.

Over the past two weeks, +972 Magazine has contacted the IDF Spokesperson’s Office five times with the following questions: What investigative actions have been taken into the two killings? Has a decision to charge or discipline the soldiers involved been reached? And, is the army is planning any changes to its standing orders or regulations in order to prevent other journalists from being killed or shot in similar situations.

Although the Spokesperson’s Office acknowledged receiving the questions, it ignored them and refused to answer on all five occasions.

On April 6, 2018, an Israeli army sniper shot photojournalist Yaser Murtaja while he was reporting on the Great Return March protests inside the Gaza Strip. According to numerous witnesses who spoke with a range of media outlets in the days and weeks since, Murtaja was wearing a vest clearly visible “PRESS” vest when he was shot. Israeli soldiers shot and wounded at least a handful of other journalists were shot and wounded that day. He died of his wounds the next day.

A week later, on April 13, 2018, an Israeli army sniper shot Ahmed Abu Hussein, who was also wearing a “PRESS” vest as he was reporting at the weekly protests inside the Gaza Strip. Two weeks later, he died in an Israeli hospital, where he had been transferred due to the severity of his wounds.

The army has not expressed any remorse for killing the two journalists, although military spokespeople did state that journalists were not deliberately shot. Nevertheless, hours after Murtaja was killed, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman accused him of being a Hamas operative, a claim that was largely refuted by reporting on the ground, including by the fact that Murtaja had recently been vetted by the U.S. State Department.


According to the Committee to Protect Journalists...

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Israel’s High Court just made an ICC investigation more likely

The court’s rejection of a lawsuit challenging the shooting of protesters in Gaza is a reminder that the Israeli legal system simply isn’t set up to investigate the policy makers and policies that result in alleged war crimes. 

Israel’s High Court of Justice may have just inadvertently increased the possibility that senior Israeli officials might themselves show up on the docket of the International Criminal Court one day.

Last Thursday night, the court rejected a legal challenge that sought to strike down the Israeli army’s policy of shooting unarmed protesters in the Gaza Strip. Six Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups had filed two parallel emergency petitions weeks earlier, before the worst of the violence had occurred, hoping to change the rules of engagement in time to prevent more killing.

But their motions to hold emergency hearings were not granted and by the time the justices reached a decision last week, the Israeli army had killed over 110 Palestinians in Gaza — more than half of them on a single day. Israeli snipers shot and wounded more than 3,600 others during the seven weeks of protests that culminated on May 14th.

Weeks earlier, the army had already announced that it was investigating a few of the killings, but it was the policy — the rules of engagement — that authorized Israeli sniper teams to shoot some 3,600 Palestinians that the rights groups had asked the court to review. The court said no.

When most people think of the ICC investigating alleged Israeli war crimes they think of the destruction and carnage the IDF wrought during the 2014 Gaza war. In all likelihood, that is not a realistic prospect. An investigation — and perhaps, one day, an indictment — is far more likely to result from the mass killing and shooting of protesters in recent weeks, or even settlement construction in the West Bank.

Short of simply not committing war crimes, the easiest way for a state to protect its officials and generals from ending up in The Hague is to set up effective, or even seemingly effective mechanisms for investigating itself. At the core of the ICC’s founding treaty, and the at foundation of its jurisdiction, lies the principle of complementarity. 

In short, complementarity means that the ICC will only investigate or prosecute alleged war crimes if the national legal systems — where the crime...

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68 Gazans have died while Israel's High Court deliberates if it's legal to kill them

The High Court has refrained from ruling on an urgent petition about whether it is legal for the army to shoot unarmed, civilian protesters who pose no threat to human life. They have the blood of 68 people on their hands.

The Israeli army has shot and killed 68 unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza while the Israeli High Court deliberates whether or not it is legal to shoot unarmed civilian protesters who pose no threat to human life. That number has likely gone up in the time since this article was published.

When a handful of human rights groups filed an urgent petition to the High Court on April 15, demanding that it strike down the army’s open-fire regulations that authorize shooting unarmed civilians just because of their proximity to the Gaza border fence, army snipers had already gunned down 33 unarmed protesters in the Great Return March, including three minors.

While the three Supreme Court justices deliberated, another 68 people have died. The rights groups asked for an urgent decision, hoping to stop the bloodshed.

The justices did not heed their request. No decision has been handed down. The shooting continues. Sixty-eight more people lost their lives.

If, after waiting until the shooting stops, the court ultimately decides that it is not permissible to shoot unarmed, civilian protesters just because of where they are standing, or because they are attempting to cross or even damage a fence, the blood of 68 people will be on their hands.

If the justices decide that it is, indeed, permissible to shoot unarmed civilians just because they might cross a fence, well, then they will have the blood of those 68 people and countless others on their hands.

It’s bad enough that this massacre is state sanctioned. By declining to rule in a timely fashion, however, this predictable massacre has also been sanctioned by the judiciary.

Israel’s Supreme Court is currently in a fight for its life. The legislature and government are threatening to strip the court of its power to overturn unconstitutional laws and policies. If, out of fear of further angering their detractors in Knesset, the justices did not use that power in this case then they don’t deserve to have it in the first place.

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Jerusalem by the numbers: Poverty, demolitions, and exile

As nationalist Israelis celebrate the ‘unification’ of the city, when Israeli troops occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, a look at the data shows a far bleaker picture of life for Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents.

The following is a collection of facts, figures, and statistics about Jerusalem compiled and published on the occasion of “Jerusalem Day.” Nationalist Israelis mark Jerusalem Day on Sunday to mark the anniversary of the conquest of East Jerusalem and the Old City in 1967. The celebrations include the “march of the flags,” where flag-bearing Jewish revelers march through the Palestinian neighborhoods of the Old City, chanting racist, violent and ultra-nationalistic slogans. Any counter protest by Palestinian residents is rarely tolerated by police.

While Jewish Israelis celebrate the “reunification” of Jerusalem, data shows that the city is anything but unified. From concrete walls that separate to budgets that discriminate, East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem — despite being a part of the same municipality — are hardly the same, let alone a unified city. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are just that – residents; they were not granted Israeli citizenship and do not have the right to vote in national elections, do not hold Israeli passports thousands have had their right to live in their home city revoked with the stroke of a pen.

The following figures were taken from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), published May 9, 2018, and Ir Amim (IA), published in January 2018.


  • Palestinians comprise 37.8 percent of Jerusalem’s residents. (CBS)
  • 61 percent (521,900) of all Jerusalemites live across the Green Line in East Jerusalem — in occupied territory. Of those, 320,300 are Palestinian and 211,600 are Jewish settlers. Despite a theoretical right to live anywhere in the city, a mere 1 percent of Palestinian Jerusalemites live in West Jerusalem. (IA)
  • 78.2 percent of Palestinian children in East Jerusalem live in poverty. The poverty rate for Palestinian Jerusalemites of all ages is 72.9 percent. For Jews in the city, the poverty rate is 29.8 percent. Both are higher than any other major Israeli city. (IA)
  • Israeli authorities revoked the residency of and exiled 94 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem in 2016, 52 of whom were women and children (data for 2017 has yet to be published). Between 1967 and 2015, Israel revoked the residency of 14,500 Palestinian Jerusalemites. (IA)



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You're far more likely to be killed protesting in Gaza than firing a rocket

Not a single rocket has been fired into Israel from Gaza in over two months, yet since March 30 Israel has killed more Palestinians in Gaza than it did in the previous 16 months, during which time militants launched over 60 rockets and mortars.

The Israeli army’s response to unarmed protests in the Gaza Strip over the last few weeks has been vastly deadlier than its response to rockets fired from the besieged territory over the past year and a half.

Israeli military forces have killed more unarmed Palestinians participating in the Great Return March protests in Gaza since March 30, during which time no rockets or mortars were fired into Israel, than it did in the preceding 16 months during which time Palestinian groups fired dozens of projectiles into Israel.

In fact, not a single rocket has been fired into Israel from Gaza since February 18, according to the IDF Spokesperson.

At least 40 unarmed Palestinians — including two journalists — have been shot and killed by Israeli sharpshooters and snipers in the vicinity of the Gaza border fence since March 30. At least 1,500 others were wounded by sniper gunfire, according to the United Nations data from earlier this week.

From November 2016 through February 2018, according to B’Tselem data, the Israeli military killed 28 Palestinians, only 36 percent of whom were participating in hostilities.

In fact, 57 percent of the Palestinians killed by Israeli troops in that 16-month period were unarmed and were shot in the vicinity of the border fence, either while participating in protests or trying to cross into Israel to find work, according to B’Tselem’s research. Another 7 percent were killed by Israeli naval forces while at sea.

There does not appear to be any correlation between periods when greater or fewer rockets and mortars were fired by Palestinian groups into Israel and the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces. Furthermore, only two of the Palestinian casualties, or 7 percent of all of the Palestinians killed between November 2016 and February 2018, were targeted in retaliation for firing rockets or mortars into Israel.

If we include the data of protesters killed during the Great Return March and a farmer killed near the border fence in early March 2018, it becomes even clearer that it is far deadlier to be an unarmed civilian in the vicinity of the Gaza border fence than an...

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The Israeli army's war on consciousness

The IDF Spokesperson describes its work as part of the army’s operations arm, speaks of ‘media operations,’ and defines ‘tarnishing the name of Israel’s enemies’ as one of its main goals.

“In the past few months we at the IDF Spokesperson’s Office have come to the understanding that we are actually conducting media operations,” IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis told a room full of Israeli journalists earlier this week. “The IDF’s digital platforms are operational tools in the operational arm of the IDF.”

In the chief spokesperson’s words, the military is engaged of “a war over consciousness” — changing what and how people think of Israel, its army — and if you’re an Arab, what you think of your own leaders, government, and society.

“We actually define different goals for each audience, different platforms, and most fundamentally, different messages,” added Manelis, whose background is as an intelligence officer. “We come up with an operational strategy. We conduct media intelligence about who we are trying to reach with what message.”

For Arabic-speaking audiences, the chief spokesperson explained, those operations are meant “to create deterrence and to blacken (tarnish) the enemy — either by explaining that our enemy is really bad and to tarnish his name and to say don’t join them, or to deter them against Israel.”

By effectively taunting Arabic-speaking audiences, including Hamas leaders, with pointed and controversial messages and posts on social media, the IDF is able to game social media algorithms so that audiences who would otherwise have no interest in interacting with Israel, let alone its army, are exposed to its propaganda, Manelis explained, giving the example of a recent Twitter face-off with senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk.


Manelis also boasted how IDF op-eds and articles published on social media in Arabic are at times reproduced almost in full by mainstream media in countries like Lebanon, and have even elicited direct responses from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. (Manelis also claimed that the army has successfully placed or published information in “two or three opposition sites” in Lebanon in recent months.)

For non-Arab international audiences, the goal is to “legitimize Israel’s freedom of operation,” Manelis continued, which in non-military terms parlance means neutralizing and countering public, political, and diplomatic pressure on Israel over its day-to-day military actions in the occupied territories including the...

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A state-sponsored mass shooting

On a day when military snipers shot hundreds of unarmed demonstrators, the army declares that ‘the circumstances in which journalists were wounded are unknown.’ The circumstances couldn’t be clearer.

Israeli army sharpshooters and snipers have shot over 1,000 unarmed Palestinian protesters inside the Gaza Strip in the past week, killing more than 30 people. This past Friday, at least six Palestinian journalists were reportedly among those shot at the Great Return March. One of them, Yasser Murtaja, a photographer for “Ain Media” who was reportedly wearing a helmet and vest clearly marked “PRESS” when he was shot, later died of his wounds.

“The IDF doesn’t target journalists with gunfire,” numerous publications quoted an Israeli army spokesperson as saying on Saturday, adding that “the circumstances in which journalists were wounded, supposedly by IDF gunfire, are unknown and are being looked into.”

Let’s stop right there.

The circumstances in which Palestinian journalists were shot by Israeli army gunfire couldn’t be clearer. The circumstances are that the Israeli army has shot upwards of 1,000 unarmed protesters in the span of a week.

The circumstances are that the Israeli military, which insists it doesn’t target journalists, has a highly discouraging record of failing to hold its soldiers and pilots and generals accountable for targeting and killing journalists in Gaza. That includes the 2012 assassination of two journalists who were traveling in a car clearly marked “TV,” numerous airstrikes on media and broadcast offices, and more.

The circumstances are that, week in and week out, Israeli security forces consistently fail to differentiate between Palestinian journalists and the protests and events they are covering, using violence against both without distinction. In countless cases, documented and undocumented, journalists have been clearly targeted by troops — and the army often brazenly defends that violence.


I am generally wary of making any predictions but here’s how I see this playing out. The Israeli army will eventually come out with a statement about how it cannot reach any definitive conclusions about who shot Yasser Murtaja, or why he was shot, but it will be able to definitively conclude that the Israeli army doesn’t target journalists — so he surely was mistakenly hit. A tragedy that can be blamed entirely on Hamas. (Hamas is...

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Rwanda is out, but Israel says it can still deport refugees to — Uganda?

International pressure led Rwanda to back out of a secret agreement to take in African asylum seekers deported from Israel. Now Israel says it has a nearly identical agreement with a second country, widely known to be Uganda. Kampala denies any such agreement exists.

Israeli insisted on Wednesday that despite the collapse of a deal with Rwanda to forcibly deport tens of thousands of asylum seekers, the mass deportations can continue because an agreement is still in place with a “second third country,” widely believed to be Uganda.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the cancelation of the Rwanda deportation scheme Monday night, saying that Kigali had buckled in the face of international pressure. Hours later, however, Netanyahu himself buckled under pressure from his political base and reversed his reversal of policy.

In a brief to the High Court of Justice Wednesday afternoon, the Israeli State Attorney wrote that Israeli in fact had secret agreements with two countries to take in asylum seekers forcibly deported by Israel. A “special envoy to third countries” departed Israel for the “second third-country” Wednesday morning to ensure it, too, won’t back out of its allegedly secret agreement with Israel.

Third country refers to a country other than an asylum seeker’s country of origin to which Israel aims to deport them. Israel has refused to divulge which countries those “third countries” are, although Netanyahu acknowledged for the first time this week that the “first third country” was in fact Rwanda.


In its filing to the High Court on Wednesday, the state attorney clarified that just because Netanyahu broke his own state secrets declaration by revealing who the “first third country” is (Rwanda), that doesn’t mean that the “second third country” (presumably Uganda) can now be named. That’s still a state secret — for now.

The foreign minister of Uganda, Henry Okello Oryem, told the AP on Tuesday that his country will turn back any deported asylum seekers sent there. “We do not have a contract, any understanding, formal or informal, with Israel for them to dump their refugees here.”

The special envoy was expected to report back by Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.

The state provided the updated information in response to a High Court petition demanding the release of several hundred asylum seekers who are being imprisoned for refusing to...

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A week of unbearable heartbreak in Israel-Palestine

From unarmed protesters gunned down in Gaza to hope snatched away from refugees, the human suffering this past week has been overwhelming.

This past week has been one of the more heartbreaking recent periods in Israel-Palestine. First, and this seems surreal to write for the umpteenth time, the Israeli army dispatched 100 snipers to open fire into a crowd of unarmed protesters last weekend, shooting over 700 people, killing at least 16. Some were shot in the back while running away.

Not only have the country’s leadership, its military, and its cheerleaders been completely unapologetic and dispassionate about what some have dubbed Gaza’s Passover Massacre, they have been brazenly shouting — seemingly to themselves — that it was actually the right thing to do. The outcome was not only predictable; it was the plan all along.

Pure heartbreak. And sorrow. And shame.

Then there is the way that Benjamin Netanyahu toyed with and ultimately broke the hearts of tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers — people who fled horrors most of us should be relieved we cannot imagine, and many of whom endured torture and other unimaginable horrors just to reach Israel. To find relative safety and security.

Monday night Netanyahu announced a deal that would have found a decent and dignified resolution for almost all of the tens of thousands of African asylum seekers in Israel. The mass, forcible deportation of refugees to Rwanda is off the table. Sweetening the deal, the UN was to work to resettle over 16,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals in Western countries, and Israel would grant legal status to an equal number of refugees who would be allowed to remain.

It was hard to imagine a better outcome for the tens of thousands of men, women and children who have been living in limbo, in fear, subject to crueler and crueler restrictions on their ability to live even semi-normal lives.

And then, just as quickly, just as much out of thin air as the solution had appeared, it was yanked away. Almost like a sick joke. While the world is facing its biggest migration and refugee crisis since the Second World War, Israel, a country of 8 million people, a country comprised almost entirely of refugees of some form or another, declared it is unwilling — not...

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Israel halts refugee deportation plan, UN to help with resettlement [updated]

After major public campaigns inside Israel and abroad, pressure on the Rwandan government not to accept refugees deported by Israel, and ultimately effective legal challenges, Israel announces it will scrap its mass deportation plan and work with the UN to resettle African asylum seekers in Western countries. This is a huge victory but there may be more fight ahead.

[Important update added at the bottom of this article.]

The Israeli government announced Monday that it was abandoning its plan to deport tens of thousands of African asylum seekers to Rwanda, following “mutual understandings” it had reached with the UN Refugee Agency. Under the agreement, UNHCR will work to resettle 16,250 African asylum seekers in Western countries and Israel will give legal status to a portion of the remaining African asylum seeker population in Israel.

This is a huge victory, primarily for the thousands of asylum seekers hopefully headed to countries that, unlike Israel and Rwanda, are willing to accept them. For those refugees who will finally get to stop living in fear of deportation, indefinite imprisonment, increasingly hostile laws targeting them and their livelihoods, and the insecurity of living without any legal status, this is among the better foreseeable outcomes.

It is also fairly clear that the massive anti-deportation movement played a pivotal role in pushing the Israeli government to agree to grant status to at least some of those African asylum seekers who are not resettled by the UN. Paradoxically, it was likely the deportation plan itself that motivated the UN to make its part of the deal happen.

The combination of anti-deportation rallies across Israel and around the world, activists and journalists (+972 Magazine included) working to expose how Rwanda and Uganda refuse to actually absorb the refugees Israel deports there, public and international pressure on the Rwandan government, strategic lawsuits challenging the deportation plan itself, and the right timing, all played a role in stopping the mass deportations.

Speaking through tears Monday afternoon, Michael, a 25-years-old Eritrean asylum seeker, described the news as a huge victory. “It’s all because of our struggle. God and the nation of Israel helped us — first they stopped the deportation, but now they are going to get us status, and that is really great.”


“They wanted to send us to Uganda and...

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