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Israel takes a page from the Guantanamo playbook

Netanyahu is pushing a new bill to allow the force-feeding of Palestinian hunger strikers. The prime minister is in good company.

American practices at the prison at Guantanamo Bay are giving Benjamin Netanyahu ideas.

Earlier this week, a draft bill authorizing the force-feeding of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners passed the first of three readings in the Knesset. Of the roughly 300 prisoners presently fasting in protest of Israeli administrative detention, at least 70 are hospitalized around the country, shackled to their beds. If the bill becomes law, dozens of them may be forced to undergo the procedure.

Netanyahu is personally pressing for the law, prodded along by the Shin Bet security service. The Shabak is calling for a tough approach to the mass strike and refusing to negotiate with the prisoners lest they see any benefit from their protest. The prime minister is in good company. He explicitly cited the United States as inspiration, reportedly telling Israel’s Channel 2 that “in Guantanamo, the Americans are using the method of force-feeding too.”

The echoes of the U.S. example don’t stop there. Like its American and international counterparts, the Israeli Medical Association, to its credit, won’t go along, citing “the sanctity of life and the duty to respect the autonomy of the patient.”

Read: ‘Administrative detainees must have done something wrong’

Force-feeding, by all accounts, is an excruciating procedure that causes immense pain and has been declared “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” by medical experts the world over. Watch this video of rapper Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) being force-fed under the Guantanamo procedure (warning: it’s hard to watch), or consider this description of a method used at the island prison, a variation of “the water cure,” which has roots in the Spanish Inquisition:

In 2012, Khader Adnan, a Palestinian held in Israel without charge or trial, agreed to stop his 66-day hunger strike in exchange for release from prison. Several other hunger strikes, including that of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak, were called off under similar terms. The prisoners managed to mobilize their only vestiges of autonomy – their bodies – in protest of a manifestly unjust practice. Israel, faced with the fallout of their deaths, no longer found them too dangerous too free.

But the Shin Bet is clearly seeking to avoid a repetition of those earlier successes. “You can’t have a situation...

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Announcing: +972 travel series 'The Round Trip' now available as e-book

The Round Trip, the much-loved travel series by Yuval Ben-Ami, has been published as +972’s first e-book.

While +972 blogger and travel writer Yuval Ben-Ami traveled for three weeks around Israel’s borders, I mostly stayed put. But editing the series that was borne of that journey was an exhilarating experience. The 22 posts that made up “The Round Trip” were written one a day, in real time, on the road. At any given hour of every single day, we – Mairav, my co-editor at the time, and I – could expect the next installment of Yuval’s adventure, as he zig-zagged through the weird patchwork that makes up this land. I never left Tel Aviv, but I could barely keep up.

“The Round Trip” turned into a fascinating exploration of the 1967 borders. In the first post of the series, Yuval describes the physical and symbolic nature of his trip:

The resulting journey along Israel’s shifting frontier is strange, surreal, and beautiful. It is at once a travel chronicle – rich with diverse cultures, foods, and vistas – and an account of war and displacement. It is alternately inspired by an incredible diversity of hospitable people, and plagued by the sense that something here is going very wrong.

And now, “The Round Trip” has been published as an e-book, in +972 Magazine’s first foray into the format. We’re incredibly excited that after tracking the adventure in real time, our readers can now experience the completed journey, in book form.

The e-book brings you the entirety of the series in one, attractive package. Except for some stylistic edits, the text and the many photographs that made up the original series remain intact. The e-book was produced using the program iBooks Author, so you can click here to buy it if you have an iPad and live in one of these countries.

Buy The Round Trip here>>

If you don’t own an iPad or can’t buy the book due to Apple’s geographic restrictions, we will be happy to send a PDF version in exchange for a donation of $6 or more to +972. You can use this link to donate, and just add a note saying “I would like to receive a copy of The Round Trip.” You can also send us an email at after your donation is confirmed,...

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Israeli plan to offload Eritreans: An affront to international law

Israel’s supposed plan to send tens of thousands of Eritrean asylum seekers to an unspecified African country raises enormous humanitarian, human rights and political concerns.

The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees recognizes that:

This is another way of saying that countries bordering conflict zones – often poor and unstable themselves – tend to endure the primary burden of protecting refugees. (Kenya, for example, is presently home to more than half a million refugees.) The resulting concept of “burden sharing” has since become a critical principle of international refugee law.

It is widely accepted that resettlement is meant to function as a mechanism for burden sharing – not, as in what Israel proposes, for rich countries to offload onto poor ones.

Moreover, the resettlement of refugees must ensure the receiving country will go far to actively protect the rights of those being resettled and refrain at all costs from deporting them. From UNHCR:

As for Israel’s stated expectation that it will reject 100 percent of asylum applications filed by Eritreans: I’m curious to know how it will square that with the rest of the world’s recognition that Eritreans are likely to face torture or execution upon deportation home, rendering many of them eligible for refugee status. The same article to which I linked above notes that 74 percent of Eritrean asylum seekers worldwide were recognized as refugees in 2011.

Let’s hope Israel is bluffing. (At the end of this Haaretz report, Or Kashti provides a helpful roundup of all the other times the state has made bogus claims about paying a country to take its refugee population.) But the intention itself is disturbing. We know that Israeli policy is often driven by its demographic interests, which take precedence over human rights and other universal principles. This plan, however, would constitute a particularly egregious declaration that Israel exempts itself from the obligations that come with being a member of the world.

Myths, facts and suggestions: Asylum seekers in Israel

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Palestinian prisoners, Eritrean refugees: On the outskirts of Israeli law

In the case of the refugees trapped on the Israeli border, as in the matter of hunger striking prisoner Khader Adnan, Israel’s highest court wriggled out of a decision, escaping the shackles of democracy and international law that are supposed to guide its work.

Last February, a Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail was on the verge of death, more than two months into a hunger strike he had launched in protest of his administrative detention order under Israeli military law. On Sunday, February 19, the High Court of Justice agreed to hear Khader Adnan’s petition against the order – and scheduled the hearing for five days later, the following Thursday. The date came as a surprise, as it was clear that Adnan might not make it that long. Indeed, as his condition rapidly deteriorated, the High Court agreed to move the hearing up by two days. But before it could rule on the petition, which challenged the entire administrative detention system, the state struck a deal with Adnan’s attorneys, securing his agreement to call off his strike in exchange for a guaranteed release two months later.

Yesterday marked the end of a saga that saw 21 Eritrean asylum seekers stranded for seven days behind a fence on the Israel-Egypt border in the scorching desert sun. They had all made the harrowing journey through Sinai, likely enduring the horrors of notorious torture camps run by human smugglers in the desert peninsula. The Israeli soldiers stationed on the border were instructed to give the asylum seekers little water and no food, and aid workers were refused access to them. Refugee rights organizations petitioned the High Court of Justice to demand Israel adhere to principles of international refugee law and allow the asylum seekers entry to submit their refugee claims. The High Court heard the petition on Thursday, but decided to wait until Sunday to hand down its decision, leaving the group languishing in the desert. But several hours later, the state announced it had reached a “deal” with the asylum seekers, whereby two women and a child were allowed entry, while 18 men were delivered to the hands of Egyptian soldiers.

What do these stories have in common? In both cases, justice for imprisoned non-Israelis was sought in Israel’s highest court. In both cases, the court made a concerted effort to evade...

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Palestinian 'Speed Sisters' navigate life and the racetrack

They navigate the racetrack, Palestinian society, competition in a male dominated sport, and a military occupation. But “outside the car is one thing. Inside the car is another world.” So begins the trailer for a documentary in the works that tracks the lives of five women race car drivers – Palestine’s own “Speed Sisters.”

Betty Saadeh, Maysoon Jayyusi, Noor Daoud, Marah Zahalka, and Mouna Ennab make up a team of Palestinian women competing against men and one another in monthly autocross races in the West Bank city of Jericho. Their lives are documented in “Speed Sisters,” a film directed by Amber Fares.

Fares, a Canadian filmmaker living in Ramallah, met the women when she was tapped to make short films about them for a British Consulate project. Those films have turned into what will be a full-length documentary. Fares hasn’t finished filming, but her movie has already generated substantial online buzz and has been picked up by Bungalow Town Productions, a prominent British documentary film company. A grassroots donation campaign was recently launched to bring the film into post-production, and funding from high profile film foundations is on the horizon. If all goes according to plan, the film will be released in the fall of 2013.

The Speed Sisters range in age from 21 to 34, and hail from all over the West Bank. Two grew up abroad, like Betty, 31, who was born in Mexico and returned to Palestine with her family during the Oslo period. (She is also the only Speed Sister to enjoy corporate sponsorship, from Peugeot.) Others, like Marah, 21, have spent their lives in Palestine. Maysoon, 34, an UNRWA employee from Ramallah, manages the group and is also an occasional racer. They all enjoy support from their families for what some – inside and outside the West Bank – may consider an unorthodox or unacceptable passion for women. (Marah, in fact, developed her taste for the road as a child, listening from the backseat as her mother, a driving instructor, gave lessons.)

Not just any hobby 

In the West Bank, driving and racing evoke more than a means of transport or a fast and furious hobby. The military occupation that controls Palestinian roads often turns what would otherwise be a simple drive into a maze of checkpoints, permits and interrogations. Despite these obstacles, cars also represent ultimate freedom for some.

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South Sudanese child abuse victims face expulsion with families

Among the hundreds of South Sudanese slated for deportation is a group of children who have been removed from their parents’ custody due to severe domestic violence. The authorities have not taken steps to ensure their protection, and they risk not only immediate deportation, but a forced return to abusive families.

South Sudanese victims of child abuse who have been removed from the custody of their parents by Israeli welfare services are being targeted for deportation along with their families.

Yedioth Ahronoth reported today that immigration authorities arrived this week at several boarding schools at which South Sudanese refugee children were placed following court orders separating them from abusive parents. In one case, the authorities attempted to remove two panicked young girls – sisters who had reportedly suffered severe abuse at the hands of their father – but were stopped by school administrators upon consultation with local Welfare Ministry representatives.

In another case, a boy was removed from his boarding school and returned to the custody of his parents, without the involvement of welfare representatives. A Ministry of Interior spokesperson claimed the boy was not in the care of welfare services, but had resided in the boarding school upon his parents’ request. She told +972 that he would not be deported without a welfare assessment. However, he is now in Saharonim detention center with his family – all of them in deportation proceedings.

Roughly 20 South Sudanese children – belonging to 10 or so families – have been removed from their homes upon court order, as a result of child abuse. When the government announced several months ago its intention to deport all of the South Sudanese nationals residing in Israel, refugee advocates appealed to the Ministry of Interior on behalf of the children and their families, requesting it stay their deportation pending the conclusion of family treatment.

The MOI spokeswoman told +972, however, that the ministry has no list of the children in question, and that immigration officials went to the boarding schools “randomly” after they arrested South Sudanese parents who told them they could not fly without their children. She also said that the deportation of children removed from their parents’ care would be examined by welfare authorities on a case-to-case basis. A representative from the Aid Organization for Refugees, however, told +972 that she had been contacted by welfare officials asking her “what to do,” raising concerns of...

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U.S. exhibit to display nonviolent struggle led by Palestinian women

Next month, the Palestinian non-violent resistance movement will take center stage at an art gallery in New Mexico. Mati Milstein, an Israeli photojournalist, has spent the last year documenting the activities of a group of women activists fighting the occupation. He discusses “Nesa’iyéh (a woman thing),” his exhibition of their struggle as depicted through his lens, in an interview with Noa Yachot. 

How did you get involved in the project?

I was in downtown Ramallah on March 15, 2011, photographing Palestinian demonstrations calling for unity between disparate political factions. I noticed that many of the protest leaders were, in fact, women. Though I did take note of this unusual fact, it initially remained filed somewhere in the back of my head. As the following weeks passed and I continued to photograph Palestinian protests in the West Bank, I realized I was seeing the same women – week after week – that I had seen at that protest in Ramallah.

I began talking to them, trying to get a grasp of this new and unusual image (at least new and unusual to me) of women leading men in Palestinian street protests. Eventually described by the international media as the “March 15th” group, these women (together with their male colleagues) were a very loose coalition of like-minded individuals, non-violent in their strategy and totally independent in their political affiliations. In parallel with photographing their political actions, I also sat and listened to them, attempting to educate myself and understand their approach and objectives: eliminating the Israeli occupation, confronting the totalitarian nature of the Palestinian Authority, altering their own place as women in a patriarchal Middle Eastern society.

I was intrigued and quite soon realized that this was something unique in our region that I wanted to document.

What do the pictures convey in your eyes?

The Israel-Palestinian conflict is dominated by a very specific sort of visual images: armed soldiers shooting guns, young men throwing stones, tanks, warplanes, flags, suffering. These images are dictated by an accepted and assumed paradigm that dramatically influences our perception of the conflict, of each side party to the conflict, and of the nature of “acceptable” interaction and communication. You rarely see conflict-related images of women – Palestinian or...

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Khader Adnan agrees to stop hunger strike in exchange for April release

The Prime Minister’s Office reported on Tuesday that Khader Adnan, now on the 66th day of his hunger strike, will call off his protest in a deal that will see him released on April 17. The report was confirmed on Tuesday evening by Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, which has been overseeing the case.

Announcing the deal, Ofir Gendelman from the PMO tweeted, “#khaderadnan announced that he is ending his hunger strike. If there’s no new evidence against him, he will be released from custody on 17.4.”

Israel’s High Court of Justice had been set on Tuesday afternoon to hear a petition against Adnan’s administrative detention, but the hearing was canceled and the petition withdrawn in the wake of the deal. The court clarified that the deal is incumbent upon the military court’s agreement not to extend Adnan’s detention past April 17, as long as new substantial evidence against him does not come to light. The court’s announcement can be read here, in Hebrew.

An Addameer press release explained that the terms of the agreement met the conditions outlined by Adnan to call off his strike: that his detention would not be extended, and would be counted from the date of his arrest and not from January 8, the date the detention order was issued. The press release also calls into question the danger to security that Israeli authorities claim Adnan poses:

Adnan, who is affiliated with Islamic Jihad, was arrested on December 17, after which he immediately launched his hunger strike in protest of his administrative detention. He is presently hospitalized at Ziv Medical Center in Safed, and has not been charged or notified of the suspicions against him.

Ahead of the hearing, which was originally set for Thursday but moved up last minute, hundreds demonstrated in front of the Ofer Prison in the West Bank. According to Omar Rahman, Israeli forces sprayed demonstrators with teargas and “skunk” water. Injuries and arrests were reported.

Rumors that Adnan would be released abounded on Twitter ahead of the planned hearing. Addameer, the Palestinian prisoner support organization, tweeted that they could not confirm these rumors, and activists called for caution.

On the rumors, the organization tweeted, “We know that Israelis are trying to negotiate a deal & we cannot confirm until we know the details of the deal and #KhaderAdnan‘s position,” later adding that,...

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Citizens aid homeless refugees in face of state chokehold

Cold winter nights present new humanitarian challenges to homeless asylum seekers. While concerned citizens try to help, there is little they can do against a government explicitly working to make the lives of Israel’s refugee population as miserable as possible. 

South Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park is home to a steady rotation of some 150 refugees and asylum seekers who spend their nights on its lawns. A typically temperate winter recently made way for an unusually cold stretch, and earlier this week, it was reported that a homeless asylum seeker froze to death in the park.

The news had a ripple effect, prompting concerned citizens and groups to gather coats, blankets and food – collected from both sympathetic businesses and purchased privately – to bring to the park. Even the Tel Aviv municipality seemed to have sprung into action, issuing a call for volunteers to help distribute blankets and hot food to homeless refugees.

Despite the reports, it is unclear whether the man in question was actually an asylum seeker, or if he died. But the response to the reports highlights the helplessness of sympathetic citizens in the face of state policy to turn the lives of asylum seekers in Israel into a living hell. As Israel’s asylum climate steadily deteriorates, the struggle for survival in Levinsky Park could presage a larger humanitarian nightmare.

The municipality now distributing food and blankets is the same municipality that recently ordered its contractors to fire the some 800 refugees and asylum seekers they employ, primarily in street cleaning. The move came despite a clear commitment the government made to the Supreme Court to refrain from enforcing a ban on hiring asylum seekers, thereby explicitly sanctioning their employment.

This is also the same municipality shutting down refugee-owed businesses and threatening to rescind the tax benefits enjoyed by African churches providing much-needed shelter to some homeless asylum seekers. And this is the same municipality that every morning throws out the blankets – donated by citizens desperate to do the little they can – that the refugees hide in and around the park when they embark on their daily search for work.

The desperation on display at nightfall in Levinsky Park is jarring, but the government, with the cooperation of municipalities, is working to ensure that it does not remain limited to southern Tel Aviv. The string of measures the government is simultaneously...

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High Court rejects NGOs' petition against Nakba law

By Noa Yachot and Roi Maor

The High Court of Justice dismissed on Thursday a petition contesting the so-called “Nakba Law,” which enables the state to reduce public funding for institutions that commemorate the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. Read the ruling here (in Hebrew only).

The law, passed in March of last year, originally sought to criminalize the commemoration of the Nakba Law. Its latest version, called Amendment 39 to the Budget Foundations Law, threatens to withdraw public funds from bodies considered to have acted to associate feelings of mourning with the establishment of Israel’s independence. From the petition to the Supreme Court:

If the Minister of Finance sees that an entity has made an expenditure that, in essence,
constitutes one of those specified below (in this section – an unsupported expenditure), he
is entitled, with the authorization of the minister responsible for the budget item under
which this entity is budgeted or supported, after hearing the entity, to reduce the sums
earmarked to be transferred from the state budget to this entity under any law:
1. Rejecting the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state;
2. Incitement to racism, violence or terrorism;
3. Support for an armed struggle or act of terror by an enemy state or a terrorist
organization against the State of Israel;
4. Commemorating Independence Day or the day of the establishment of the state as
a day of mourning;
5. An act of vandalism or physical desecration that dishonors the state’s flag or

A three-justice panel rejected the petition submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, who argued that the law constitutes a dangerous violation of free speech. The three sitting justices refused to rule on the merits of the law’s constitutionality. Instead, they argued that the legal question is not yet “ripe” for a decision, because no institutions have yet suffered the law’s effects.

In joining the decision of Justice Miriam Naor, outgoing Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch wrote:

The petitioners claim that the mere fact of the law constitutes a violation of free speech, a chilling effect on public discourse and a blow to the right of Palestinian citizens of the state to express their identity and...

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TIMELINE: The Anat Kamm affair

In the spring of 2010, it emerged that a young journalist had been under house arrest for several months for leaking documents that led to the publication of an investigative report on IDF misconduct. Thanks to an unprecedented media blackout, the case made headlines around the world. Anat Kamm, who was originally sentenced to four-and-a-half year prison sentence for the leak, left prison on January 26, 2014 after being approved for early release. Uri Blau, the journalist behind the report, was sentenced to four months community service, as part of a plea bargain. This is how the case unfolded.

December 14, 2006 The High Court of Justice rejects a petition against the IDF practice of targeted killings of wanted militants. However, the ruling – former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak’s last – restricts the practice, establishing circumstances that render such killings unlawful, including when arrest is possible or in cases where the killing would cause disproportionate harm to civilians. The decision can be found in full here.

June 20, 2007 The IDF kills Palestinians Ziad Subahi Mahmad Malaisha and Ibrahim Ahmed Abd al-Latif Abed, in what it presents to the public as a gunfight that erupted during a routine military raid in the West Bank.

Summer 2008 Anat Kamm, a 21-year-old reporter for the Walla portal’s media news website, transfers documents she had burned to a disk while serving as a clerk in the IDF to Haaretz journalist Uri Blau. (Her account of her actions as presented to the court is found here, in Hebrew)

November 28, 2008 Haaretz reporter Uri Blau publishes an investigative report in Haaretz Magazine based on the documents he received from Kamm. The report reveals that the IDF had approved well in advance the targeted killing of Malaisha, contravening the High Court ruling and intentionally misleading the public. The report was attributed to “classified IDF documents” and had been approved by the Military Censor before going to press. The pages of the report depicted scanned images of the documents Blau had acquired from Kamm.

September 15, 2009 Haaretz and the Shin Bet security service reach an agreement requiring Blau to transfer certain classified documents in his possession in exchange for the agency’s pledge not to investigate his sources. Blau handed over dozens such documents (See Haaretz editorial, How the Shin Bet Broke its Deal with Haaretz). The state...

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PHOTOS: Tel Aviv takes part in day of global protests

Some two weeks after the forced removal of the last of the tents that represented the summer protest movement, Israelis on Saturday joined demonstrators all over the world in a coordinated day of protests against the financial system. Events took place in various Israeli cities. In Tel Aviv, the main event was held in the square of the Museum of Art, where at least 1,000 people gathered.

The square was turned into somewhat of a political fair, with discussion circles, stalls promoting a dizzying number of political parties and movements, an ecological corner and finger painting for children. Organizers made a concerted effort to link the event to global protests, with a Twitter corner projecting related tweets from around the world, another screen broadcasting video footage from New York, and another that featured Israelis attending protests in New York and Croatia, skyping in to a panel discussion.

In a sign of the Tel Aviv municipality’s growing hostility toward the protest movement, the city refused to supply electricity for the event, and organizers were forced to bring in generators to provide power. Earlier in the day, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai intervened to cancel a police-approved party on Rothschild Boulevard, the focus of the summer tent protest. Activists have called on protesters to come to the boulevard at 10 P.M., where they intend to hold the party – newly billed “Occupy Rothschild” – as planned. Some photos from the museum event:

All photos by Noa Yachot

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