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Cheer up! Trump's victory gives us reasons to be optimistic

The election of Donald Trump is a reminder that when the American people want change, they go out and make it. When will the same thing apply to Israelis?

The grief that overcame my Facebook feed Wednesday morning is understandable. The thought that a violent, racist, anti-Semitic man such as Donald Trump will now hold run the most powerful country in the world is nothing short of frightening.

And though I understand this kind of reaction, it is wrong to view Trump’s election in apocalyptic terms. Not only because the anxiety and desperation paralyze us politically, but because things are generally more complex than a simple black-and-white reality — and that reality often tends to disprove even the most founded predictions.

This, of course, goes both ways: the Israeli Left was euphoric following Ehud Barak’s election as prime minister in 1999 — an election that to many signaled the end of the dark days of the Netanyahu era, ushering in a new era of light and hope.

Who would have believed at the time that it was Barak who poisoned the state’s relations with its Arab citizens, who would make sure every Israeli knew they have ‘no partner’ in Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, rendering any negotiations to bring about the end of the occupation meaningless. For better or worse, leaders should also be evaluated by the correlation between the hopes and the fears that accompanied their election — both by their supporters and opponents — vis-a-vis what they accomplish.

As Israeli citizens, we can find solace in the fact that our prime minister is no longer the most outlandish leader in the club to which we pretend to belong. Compared to Trump, even Netanyahu appears to be reasonable, responsible, and restrained.

But beyond all this, Trump’s election — grotesque as it is — expresses a deep American belief in the need for change, along with the understanding that it is not a good thing when one party remains in power for too long. In this sense, the American people force both the Democrats and the Republicans to remain alert, to know that their rule is anything but assured.

In the short term, Trump’s election appears to be a catastrophe. At the same time, however, it expresses the exact opposite of a paralyzing cynicism: instead it expresses the belief that the public can take the wheel and change direction. Even...

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Seeing the 'other' on Yom Kippur, in Jerusalem

On Yom Kippur in 1967, the Year of Forgetting, I put on

my dark holiday clothes and walked to the Old City of

For a long time I stood in front of an Arab’s hole-in-the-wall

not far from the Damascus Gate, a shop with

buttons and zippers and spools of thread

in every color and snaps and buckles.

A rare light and many colors, like an open Ark.

I told him in my heart that my father too

had a shop like this, with thread and buttons.

I explained to him in my heart about all the decades

and the causes and the events, why I am now here

and my father’s shop was burned there and he is buried here.

When I finished, it was time for the Closing of the Gates

He too lowered the shutters and locked the gate

and I returned, with all the worshippers, home.

(By Yehuda Amichai, “Jerusalem 1967”, translation by Stephen Mitchell as published by NPR)

If one were to place Jewish holidays on a continuum ranging from those between oneself and fellow man, i.e. those grounded in our surroundings, and those between man and God, Yom Kippur would at the very edge of the latter end of the scale. It is the day most clearly intended to gather for dialogue with oneself and with God.

That is where Amichai’s poem draws its power, and the reason I love it so — even on this day, or perhaps especially on this day, it doesn’t cease seeing those people around us, the Other, in this case the Arab shop owner in Jerusalem’s Old City.

He stands and speaks with him, even if in his heart, even if it’s a difficult conversation, instead of going to prayers, and imagines the store as the Holy Ark of a synagogue, nothing less. His conversation with the Other, his ability to see the Other at all, winds up taking the place of prayer on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. That is astonishing to me.

By the time I write this Israel will have already placed a full military closure on the Palestinian territories ahead of Yom Kippur. East Jerusalem will...

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Why I'm not on my way to Gaza (the IDF had nothing to do with it)

Technical problems kept myself and almost 20 other women off the latest Gaza flotilla. Despite my disappointment, I wish these inspirational women nothing but a safe journey.

“If everything goes according to plan, on Monday, September 26 an all-woman flotilla will set sail for Gaza. If everything goes according to plan, I will be on that flotilla.” That is what I wrote before leaving for Messina, Sicily to join the eighth Gaza flotilla last week. My doubts were apparently well founded, since everything did not go according to plan.

In fact my doubts began even before leaving Israel. At that point we had already learned that one of the two boats (which turned out to be small sail boats), the Amal—Hope, was having severe technical problems and would not set sail alongside the Zaytouna. But the flotilla’s organizing team promised that intense efforts were being made to find a replacement boat, and that chances were high that two boats would set sail together.

The staff eventually found a replacement, the “Amal-Hope II,” on which technical problems were also subsequently discovered, preventing the replacement boat’s departure as well. By Saturday it was doubtful whether either of the Amals would be able to join. That would mean that nearly half the women who came from across the world would not be able to go on the journey.

The widow

Despite that very real possibility, we continued planning for departure. Messina’s mayor, who cordially hosted the delegation, allowed us to use the gorgeous city hall building for our meetings, receptions, and public events. He came to each one in jeans, sandals, a faded tricot shirt with the words “Free Tibet” printed on it, and a scarf decorated with the colors of the Palestinian flag. The warmth he projected, as well as his sincere support for us, was worlds apart from Nir Barkat, the pretentious, extremist mayor who holds the keys to Jerusalem, my home city.

Some of the most memorable moments of our time in Messina were at the nonviolence workshops at city hall. The motif of nonviolence is a central one to the flotilla — not only as a method of action but as moral and ideological position. The workshop, which was led by a veteran activist from the U.S., included a simulation of the boat’s takeover by the Israeli navy. Since a handful of participants had already sailed on previous flotillas, one could only assume that the simulation was an accurate reflection of what could actually happen.

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Why I'll be on the Gaza flotilla this Jewish New Year

In the days before Rosh Hashana, days of introspection and forgiveness, I am reminded that by virtue of my identity as an Israeli citizen I am responsible for the disaster and tragedy befalling the people of Gaza. Introspection begins with opening one’s eyes and recognizing one’s sins, and only then trying to repair them. There is no more Jewish act than that.

If everything goes according to plan, on Monday, September 26 an all-woman flotilla will set sail for Gaza. If everything goes according to plan, I will be on that flotilla.

Naturally, the decision to join the flotilla was preceded by various considerations. But above all towers the image of one girl, Muna, whom I saw three years ago in a film by Gaza-based director Fida Qishta, which tells the story of Gaza after Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009.

Qishta’s film documents the destruction of her city during the war. She is no CNN reporter and has no interest in hiding the horrors of that war: the bombings, the white phosphorous, children’s bodies, more bombings, the cruel and arbitrary attacks on fisherman, gunfire at farmers who cannot work their land because it is too close to the no-go zone, a father who harrowingly calls out for his son among the wreckage, and a 10-year-old girl, Muna, who accompanies Qishta throughout almost the entire movie, pointing out the location where the people she knew were killed.

She is incredibly bright and well-spoken, and very to the point. Time after time she insists on taking Qishta to the house where the Israeli army concentrated her loved ones before bombing it. Muna lost 21 members of her family, including both her parents and several brothers. She remembers every torn limb that she saw that night, along with her dying parents and her brother uselessly begging the soldiers to let them leave.

In her room in her brother’s house, she talks about her dreams and shows Qishta her drawings. “Sometimes I see my mother in a dream, only there am I able to see her now, but even in the dream I know that she actually died and won’t come back.” In the neighborhood, or what is left of it, Muna agrees only to play with other orphaned children, since she doesn’t want to hear another mother call out for her children to come inside.



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How Israel is turning one Arab party into a security threat

Balad isn’t the first political party in Israel to be suspected of violating campaign finance laws. But it is the first one to have its members arrested in overnight, commando-style raids.

There are two possible ways to describe the dramatic, highly-publicized arrest of dozens of activists and senior members of the Balad party earlier this week:

“The police opened a wide spreads investigation against Balad over suspicions of fraudulently transferring millions of shekels to the party’s coffers during the 2013 elections.”

Or: “In an overnight operation security focus raided the homes of dozens of Palestinians, arresting them for pro-Palestinian activism.”

Most Hebrew-language media outlets that reported on the story chose a variation on the first headline. In my eyes, however, the second headline is far more accurate for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I have no idea how Balad’s election fundraising campaign functioned, whether in 2013 or in general. As a supporter of the party, I want to believe that nothing illegal was done. However, what I do know for a fact is that there is hardly a single party in Israel that was not been suspected or convicted of violating Israel’s campaign finance law. I am also sure that the members of these parties were not arrested in the middle of the night, as if in a top-secret commando operation. Not even when suspicions were far greater and more severe — not even when the suspects were high-level officials. This isn’t the “language” in which Israel functions in the political-civil sphere. In Israel, night raids and arrests are a “natural” response to security threats.

It’s no coincidence, of course: the State of Israel has for years attempted to remove Balad from the political arena and turn the party into a security threat. Lacking the desire or even the ability to deal with the kind of discourse Balad promotes — perhaps the only party that has consistently presented a detailed vision for a real democratic future for this country — Israel prefers to turn it into a threat.

Think about how many times the words “terrorists,” “traitors,” or “spies” come up in the context of Balad. Not just from talkbackers on the Internet, but from ministers and MKs in the Knesset plenum. The sentiment behind every single attempt to delegitimize the party, from the repeated attempt to have the Knesset Ethics Committee ban its members from running in...

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The Iranian-German who made a film about the annihilation of Ukraine's Jews

Director Farschid Ali Zahedi fled Iran for Germany following the Islamic Revolution, where he became fascinated by Jewish history and the Holocaust. After four years of work he is now releasing his latest film on the extermination of Jews in the Ukrainian city of Kovel. Orly Noy sat down to speak to him about debuting his film in Israel, the memory of the Holocaust, and the bleeding wound of his homeland. 

Before the Second World War, the Ukrainian city of Kovel was home to an significant and flourishing Jewish community. During the Nazi occupation, which lasted from 1941 to 1944, the Jewish population of the city was almost entirely annihilated.

Two men were primarily responsible for carrying out the extermination: Erich Kasner, the head of the local German administration, and Fritz Mantay, a German police officer. Twenty years went by before the two were located by German authorities and were put on trial for their crimes. The trial took place in the German city of Oldenburg and lasted 13 months.

“We Believed the Sun Would Rise Again,” the new film by Iranian-German director Farschid Ali Zahedi, looks at the the destruction of Kovel’s Jews, bringing its story to the big screen for the first time. Zahedi is a former political activist in Iran who fled the country after the revolution and was granted asylum in Oldenburg, where he runs a local cinematheque.

A story hardly told

“I arrived in Germany in the middle of the 1980s. During my first years there I was very busy with issues having to do with Iran and human rights in general, while at the same time I continued to work as a cinematographer and began doing some directing,” Zahedi tells me at a Jerusalem cafe, following his visit to Yad Vashem, a day after his film was screened at Beth Volyn (named after the district in which Kovel is located) in Givatayim. “Later I founded the cinematographers and directors union in Oldenburg, which I still head today.

“Life in Germany caused me to become very interested in the Jewish history of the place, and I made a few films about the city’s Jewish history. I was mostly interested in the question of what happened to the property that they left behind when they were taken to the extermination camps. What happened to their homes, their writing tables, their clothing. I researched the issue and published a book, which won me...

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Born again peaceniks: How ex-IDF generals clean their conscience

For years they have served in high-ranking positions in the Israeli army, taking part in the most violent aspects of the occupation. Only once they leave do they suddenly discover that, perhaps, military rule isn’t such a great idea.

By now it has become a tired ritual: every once in a while a former high-ranking member of Israel’s defense establishment “wakes up” and discovers — to his and his supporters’ utter surprise — that over the past 50 years Israel has been maintaining a violent occupation over millions of people who lack basic rights. This week came Gen. Gadi Shamni’s turn to express remorse for his part in upholding the occupation, while getting his 15 minutes of fame. “We are the world champions of occupation,” he said at a glitzy conference at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, promoting himself to the rank of “occupation champion,” no less.

The Israeli political discourse loves these kinds of expressions — the kinds of scandals that supply ammunition to every side of the inter-Jewish political map: the Right will become enraged over the politicization of the security establishment and the need to uproot the subversive elements that prevent it from “getting the job done.” Meanwhile the Left will hug its new star, who uses his storied past to legitimize his current positions. The Palestinians will continue to look on at the Israelis who have, for the past 50 years, been astounded to discover — time and time again — that the occupation exists.

This ritual repeatedly raises the question of why these insights arrive a moment after the army uniform comes off — not before. Personally I tend to believe it stems from a place of utilitarianism: as long as they wear the uniform, they have a clear interest to not see or recognize the crimes they are complicit in. They reap very real benefits from this type of blind spot: promotions, ranks, salaries, status. The “moment of clarity” also has its benefits: symbolic capital, prestige, etc.

It is possible that there are less cynical psychological explanations for the phenomenon, but that question is less important at the moment. We must not focus on the processes — psychological or social — which create these security-oriented “born again” peaceniks, but rather on whether they put their money where their mouth is. Okay, we understood that the occupation is immoral and that the army is the body maintaining the occupation. Now...

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The metamorphosis of a Jewish supremacist

David Mizrahi, once a vocal anti-Arab hatemonger, makes amends in a heartfelt Facebook post, and begins preaching tolerance and acceptance. In the current climate in Jerusalem, that is a brave and commendable thing to do.

David Mizrahi was once a prominent member of La Familia, a notorious Jewish supremacist chapter of the Beitar Jerusalem fan club.

Three years ago, he famously refused to shake hands with professional Arab footballer Mohammed Ghadir. But on Sunday, he published the following on Facebook:

Three years ago I arrived at Mohammed Ghadir’s home, accompanied by a Channel 2 TV crew. You can still see the footage on YouTube. Mohammed showed me great hospitality, but I was very rude to him and refused to shake his hand. It was a time I was full of racism and hatred of Arabs, leftists, and anyone who thought differently.

The following year I worked in a packing warehouse, where I met Arabs for the first time and realized they weren’t monsters, like I had thought. Most of them want to live normal lives, have a job and earn a living, and that their lives aren’t easy at all. I realized life wasn’t black and white. For some time afterwards, Bnei Sakhnin [Ghadir’s club] fans used to lift banners bearing my name.

I will never forget the Arab bus driver who took us from [the settlement of] Ma’ale Efraim to Jerusalem, and how he gave us cold drinks on a hot day. My mother was so happy. Yes, he was an Arab but we talked about our lives and realized we all had pretty much the same problems.

The first time I ever met an Arab was when I was 23.

Jerusalem is divided between different people – leftists and rightists, secular and religious – these definitions erect walls and restrict our humanity.

At the end of the day, when you talk to someone on the level and do it genuinely you realize that we all have a lot in common, even when we disagree with each other, which is fine. They look different and they think different, but we must respect each other, we are all the sons of one god.

I then shed all my prejudice and the preconceptions that I had, having grown up in Jerusalem during the Second Intifada, having seen blown-up buses and having thought every Arab was a terrorist. Many times...

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Global protests highlight severe water crisis in Gaza and West Bank

An international light installation coordinated by the ‘Water Coalition’ calls for equal water rights for Palestinians.

Activists across the world organized light installation protests over the past few days to bring attention to the diminishing water supply for Palestinians in the West Bank, along with contamination and severe water shortages in the Gaza Strip. In a display of lights reflected in the water, activists from Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Boston, New York, Houston, Johannesburg, Melbourne, and Perth stood alongside ponds and beaches forming illuminated words reading, “Water is a basic right,” in different languages.

Israel has taken control of most sources of water in the West Bank. The amount of fresh water produced by the Mountain Aquifer, located inside the West Bank, stands at an average of 400 million cubic meters annually. During the Oslo Accords Israel began rationing 80 percent of that water to its own citizens, while the remaining 20 percent went to the Palestinian Authority.

Following over-pumping of the aquifer, salt accumulation, and water loss due to faulty pipelines, these figures changed for the worse. Today the distribution of water between Israel and the Palestinian Authority stands at 86 percent versus a mere 14 percent.Throughout the sweltering summer months, Israeli policies have prompted water outages in the West Bank.

As it stands, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank suffer from a severe shortage of water for drinking, bathing, cleaning, irrigation, livestock and crops. The situation in Gaza is worse: as if the water shortage isn’t enough, recent studies indicate dangerous contamination of existing water reservoirs due to the ongoing blockade on Gaza, which began in 2007, and the inability to desalinate water due to the lack of electricity.

The organizers of the project indicate that fresh water consumption per capita, for domestic and urban purposes in Israel and the settlements, stands at an average of 183 liters daily. The average consumption per capita in the Palestinian Authority stands at 73 liters alone for domestic, municipal, and industrial purposes. This amount is less than the minimum designated by the World Health Organization for daily consumption per person.

The installation was organized by activists from the Coalition of Women for Peace, which is part of the “Water Coalition,” comprised of 20 organizations working together to defend Palestinians’ right to water. Reem Amer, general co-coordinator of WCP, and among the organizers of...

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Israel's liberal paper whitewashes the disappearance of Yemenite children

In the 1950s thousands of babies, children of mostly Yemenite immigrants to lsrael, were allegedly taken away from their parents and given up for adoption to Ashkenazi families. Now an investigative report by Haaretz reveals dozens of Ashkenazi children also disappeared, arguing that the crime was not racially motivated.

Yemenite children's affair.

On Friday morning, Haaretz readers woke up to find that the newspaper had decided to dedicate its lead story to a piece titled “Dozens of Ashkenazi Babies Mysteriously Disappeared During Israel’s Early Years.” The article, written by Ofer Aderet, was labeled as an exclusive investigatory piece that tells the story of Ashkenazi families whose children disappeared during the early 1950s.

On paper  the article is yet another layer in the thorough investigation by the liberal newspaper vis-à-vis the stories of the children – the vast majority of them Yemenite – who were disappeared during the first years of the state.

One may wonder about the Haaretz’s decision to frame the piece as an “exclusive,” since the Kedmi Commission, which convened in 1995 to investigate what came to be known as the “Yemenite Children’s Affair,” found 30 cases of disappeared children belonging to new immigrants from the U.S. and Europe. But this is a minor issue – publishing interviews with the families of disappeared children is an important contribution to exposing one of the most horrifying chapters in Israeli history, one that the establishment has done its very best to try and bury.

‘Just like the Yemenite children’

Perhaps this is the reason why it was so depressing to discover that, along with exposing another important piece of this tragic puzzle, Aderet’s article seems to contain a hidden agenda: by claiming that “this was done to everyone,” we see an attempt to erase the racial component of the crime.

Orna Klein, an Ashkenazi Israeli whose sister disappeared and who now collects information on disappeared Ashkenazi children, told Aderet the following:

Just like the Yemenis. This, it turns out, is the bottom line with which Aderet hopes to leave his readers. The author of the piece himself wrote the following on his Facebook page: “Ashkenazim also disappeared from hospitals during the founding of the state. How many? Dozens, at the very least. Under what circumstances? Just like...

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No Bibi, Palestinians succeed despite Israel — not because of it

By urging Israel’s Palestinians to take a more active role in civil society, Netanyahu erases an entire history that existed in this land before Zionism.

It is not entirely clear what drove Prime Minister Netanyahu to use this moment and release a video directed at Israel’s Arab citizens. It clocks in at just over three minutes, and I must admit that I couldn’t get through the whole thing. Maybe if it were broadcasted on FaceTime. Maybe.

But the minute and a half that I did watch were enough to see the depth of the man’s cynicism and deceptiveness, and even that no longer surprises anybody.

Netanyahu patronizingly “praises” Israel’s Arab public for their accomplishments: how lovely! You have members of Knesset, judges, doctors, pharmacists, scientists, and renowned authors! In doing so, Netanyahu is actually praising the state for doing going above and beyond to allow Arab citizens to have access to these pleasures.

Netanyahu is using jargon usually deployed by “enlightened” leaders when speaking to immigrant communities: look at how wonderfully you have been absorbed into society, you’re nearly one of us. Of course this kind of rhetoric is imbued with condescension, but there is one important point we must not forget: Palestinian citizens of Israel are not immigrants — they are an indigenous population whose existence was destroyed by Zionism. Now the State of Israel can bask in the crumbs it gives them after all the destruction.

City centers full of judges, doctors, scientists, authors, and everything else you give the Zionist state credit for — they all existed here, Mr. Prime Minister. They existed and flourished before they were made to fight for their existence and the crumbs the state has been so kind as to throw their way over the years. These are the same people you seem so proud of.

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Stop fantasizing about a coup in Israel

As the images of the attempted coup in Turkey flooded the media, some in the Israeli Left began fantasizing about our own version of a military takeover.

Along with millions of others across the world, I closely followed the coup attempt in Turkey over the past weekend. Rather than being glued to the television, we stayed up until the early hours of the morning looking at Facebook Live feeds from the streets of Istanbul and Ankara.

No less fascinating was the response to the coup attempt among many of my Facebook friends. Coups, it turns out, are an exciting thing — especially for societies that find it difficult to bring about their own revolutions, and are therefore resigned to observe other nations’ revolts from far away. This becomes all the more relevant when coups try to topple regimes such Erdoğan’s, whose policies vis-a-vis Turkish political dissidents and ethnic minorities have grown increasingly loathsome over the past few years.

And yet there was still something surprising, not to say strange and worrisome, about how quickly some of my friends — with whom I share much in common politically — not only cheered on the sight of tanks in the streets of Turkey, but even went as far as fantasizing about a similar scenario in Israel. For instance, the “Hadar Matzav” Facebook group, which was closely associated with the social protest movement in Israel, published the following status: “Think about this kind of thing happening here, on a Friday evening, army forces spread out quietly in strategic locations, and then at night fighter jets fly so low you can hear them — and suddenly everyone understands a coup is underway.” They certainly were not the only ones.

Their interests, our interests

When people who are politically and socially engaged long, out of frustration, for a popular uprising by tanks and fighter jets, they assume that militaries are neutral institutions, bereft of any interests, which can be used as an “invisible” tool for carrying out the “will” of the people. Let the army take care of the bad guys, they say, and then it will transfer rule over to the people through democratic elections. In their eyes the military is nothing more than an all-powerful robot. The truth is that armies are organizations, and like any other organization they have their own agendas and interests — ones that not only don’t always coincide with those of the public, sometimes they are...

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Israel's national scapegoat

Since members of Israel’s parliament can’t take out their anger about the Turkey reconciliation deal on Netanyahu, they go for the easiest target around — Haneen Zoabi.

For all nine years of my childhood in Iran, I never personally encountered anti-Semitism. We lived in a mixed neighborhood, I studied at a Jewish high school along with non-Jews, and I cannot remember even a single instance where I was insulted or attacked for being Jewish.

From time to time I would hear stories from older family members about quarrels with the neighborhood hooligans who would harass them for being Jewish. The motif almost always repeated itself: the thugs would always demand the Jews apologize. “Ask for forgiveness, Jude,” they demanded, blocking the path until the Jew apologized for his or her existence. Only then would they be able to pass. Or not. Either way, it could have easily resulted in blows.

I recalled these stories as I watched a group of Knesset members attacking Haneen Zoabi as she spoke in Israel’s parliament about the Turkey reconciliation agreement on Thursday, demanding she apologize. The leader of the pack was MK Hamad Amar, the deputy speaker of the Knesset and a member of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman‘s Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Amar repeatedly demanded that Zoabi apologize for calling the IDF soldiers who killed nine unarmed civilians on the Mavi Marmara “murderers.” When she refused, the deputy speaker had Zoabi removed from the plenum. Dozens of soldiers and officers who were visiting the Knesset as guests looked on from the gallery. Amar was particularly worried about upholding their honor. Let the Arab apologize.

It is clear that Netanyahu’s reconciliation agreement with Turkey put members of Knesset, particularly those on the right, in an embarrassing position: on the one hand, it is clear that by apologizing for killing Turkish citizens aboard the Mavi Marmara and agreeing to compensate the families, Israel is admitting that their deaths were unwarranted. And what does one call the unwarranted killing of unarmed people if not murder? On the other hand, they cannot take out their anger on Netanyahu. So they take it out on Haneen Zoabi, of course.

What was really terrifying wasn’t the violence directed at Zoabi, although as I watched the live broadcast of her speech there were moments when I truly feared for her physical...

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