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IDF releases leading Palestinian nonviolent activist Ayed Morrar

Morrar was released without even appearing before a judge. Ahmed, his son, remains in prison pending an investigation into posts he wrote on Facebook. 

Ayed Morrar, who led the Palestinian village of Budrus in a nonviolent struggle against the separation barrier, was released from prison on Wednesday after being arrested by Israeli security forces two days prior.

Ahmed, Morrar’s son, who was also arrested remains in prison. His detention was extended for another five days pending investigation into posts he wrote on Facebook. The police released Ayed without any court hearing.

“It is simply bizarre,” said attorney Gaby Lasky, who represents Ayed and Ahmed. “Before the hearing, I spoke with the police. With the support of the military prosecutor they agreed to release [Ayed]. This wasn’t even the court’s decision, there was no hearing at all, no one signed off on this. I cannot explain it.”

The police’s conduct appears even stranger considering its response to the court following attorney Lasky’s urgent demand to release Ayed and Ahmed.

“This is the first stage of investigation,” the police wrote in response to Lasky’s demand. “There are numerous activities that form the basis of the allegations against the detainees but it is not possible to describe them in detail in this response due to their confidentiality.”

The police response also criticized Lasky. “Needless to say, Attorney Lasky almost automatically submits requests to shorten the length of detention with the intention of frustrating investigators.” In other words, the police representative is criticizing Lasky simply for trying to do her job – freeing Palestinians arrested arbitrarily – while in the meantime releasing Ayed before his hearing.

“This is not the first time the police have arrested activists engaged in nonviolent resistance to the occupation in order to intimidate them,” Lasky said. “Perhaps this is how [the police] are trying to stop their activities.”

WATCH: Israeli forces arrest Ayed Morrar and his son Ahmed:

Morrar was a key figure in the nonviolent protests against the separation wall, which swept Budrus during the early 2000s, after the state announced that it would confiscate 300 acres of land in order to build the separation wall. Those protests would serve as inspiration for other popular protests across the West Bank, in villages such as Bil’in and Nabi Saleh, against the wall and settlements.

In the film “Budrus,” which tells the story of...

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'With my head held high': Conscientious objector freed after 110 days in prison

The Israeli army had sentenced Helman to six separate prison sentences for his refusal to be conscripted into the military and, in his words, ‘take part in the occupation and Israel’s policies of oppression vis-a-vis the Palestinians.’

Conscientious objector Matan Helman was discharged from the Israeli army on Thursday after six stints in prison adding up to a total of 110 days behind bars. The official reason for his discharge: Bad, grave behavior.

Helman, 20, from Kibbutz HaOgen, first declared his refusal to be conscripted into the military for reasons of conscientious objection in November of 2017.

In an interview the day before appearing at the IDF induction base, Helman said: “I am at peace with my decision, which I have been deliberating for four years. I am at peace with my path, although of course I am afraid of what it will be like in prison.”

“But I believe that I am following my truth and that is what will keep me strong in prison,” he added, “and I have a lot of support from my friends and those around me.”

Military service in Israel is compulsory for non-Orthodox Jews and for young men in the Druze community. A small but growing movement of youngsters has taken a public stand in refusing to be conscripted, almost always resulting in prison sentences.

Helman has served his six prison sentences in “Military Prison 6,” where most male conscientious objectors are held alongside soldiers who have been imprisoned for various other reasons.

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Israeli army regulations do permit exemptions from military service for pacifism, but those exemptions are denied to anyone whose refusal is deemed political or tied to the occupation in any way. Only once in the past 14 years has the army recognized a conscientious objector.

About a month ago, ahead of one of his multiple sentencing hearings before an army conscientious objection committee, Helman submitted a statement in which he described why he decided to be a conscientious objector, and how learning about the occupation in his youth movement influenced that decision.

“I remember how surprised I was to hear about the siege [on Gaza], the checkpoints, the home demolitions, Israel’s control over water, electricity, and infrastructure, about the fact that we are ruling over millions of people without the right to...

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Blaming a child for the sniper's bullet that killed him

Education Minister Naftali Bennett claims 15-year-old Mohammed Ayoub wouldn’t have been shot dead by an Israeli sniper if he had been at school. Bennett’s comments reflect a reality in which Israeli soldiers kill with impunity. 

The Israeli army kills children. That isn’t new. Occasionally, the name of one of those children appears in the headlines, and the Israeli authorities are forced to respond. Their responses almost always expose a truth more terrible than the killings themselves.

That is what happened on Sunday morning, when Army Radio morning show host Razi Barkai asked Education Minister Naftali Bennett if “we had gone too far” in killing 15-year-old Mohammed Ayoub during the Gaza return march protests last Friday.

“If he had gone to school like every other kid,” Bennett responded, “there wouldn’t have been a problem.” That is what Israel’s education minister had to say about the murder of a child – killed by a sniper’s bullet – during a protest.

The first thing that came to mind when I heard Bennett’s horrifying response was that a less ignorant, and perhaps less racist, government minister would know that there is no class on Fridays in the Palestinian school system.

Then I pictured the tens of thousands of students that Bennett’s political allies – and Bennett himself – bring to hate-filled protests in the alleys and streets of the Muslim Quarter on Jerusalem Day. Mohammed Ayoub, unlike those children, was protesting on his land: the battered, besieged, and starved Gaza Strip that was his home.

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Then I thought about what kind of school system Bennett thinks the dead boy attended. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Education in Gaza, 327 school buildings and 199 kindergartens were damaged during the war on Gaza in the summer of 2014. Twenty-two of those schools were severely damaged; seven were destroyed entirely. In most schools in the strip, students are forced to learn in two, sometimes three shifts due to a classroom shortage.

Israel’s ongoing siege of Gaza has made rebuilding the schools nearly impossible due to the ban on importing most building materials. As have Washington’s cuts to UNRWA’s budget. Half a million children in the occupied territories have only partial, irregular access to education. And Bennett asks why Mohammed Ayoub wasn’t in school.

What would await Ayoub within the walls of...

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In Israel of 2018, bereavement is a 'lifetime achievement'

Israel awarded its most prestigious prize to Miriam Peretz, whose two sons were killed in combat in Lebanon and Gaza. Here are three Palestinians who lost their children, but won’t likely be recognized for their grief.

By Orly Noy

In the days of the Iran-Iraq War, before Iran sent out young — and often very young — men to the front, they would be handed a key to wear around their necks. The promise was that if and when they lose their lives out on the battlefield, the key would open the gates of heaven.

I was reminded of this horrifying story when I heard that Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett chose to award the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement — the most prestigious prize given to Israeli citizens — to Miriam Peretz, the mother of two IDF soldiers who were killed in combat in Lebanon and Gaza respectively. Israel does not send its soldiers to their possible death in order to make it to heaven, but in hopes that their deaths will reward their grieving mothers with a vaunted prize.

Many criticized the Israel Prize committee for failing in the past to give the award to women, Mizrahim, or other marginalized groups. Peretz, as a Mizrahi woman, is the perfect candidate. What is her lifetime achievement? Bereavement. The committee explained its decision as such:

Bennett, who went to Peretz’s house to announce that she had won, tweeted. “Miriam Peretz, ‘The Mother of the Boys,’ who mourned Oriel and Eliraz z”l, dedicated her life to education. Miriam did not choose her difficult life circumstances, yet chose to live and give life to an entire nation. She is the mother of us all.”

Let’s put aside the hypocrisy of a decision by a state that blames Palestinians for celebrating its dead as shahids (martyrs) and supporting their families, while at the same time awarding its most prestigious prize to a woman whose public status is the result of her sons’ deaths. If the criteria for winning awards is how constructively you deal with grief, then the following three people should have won not only the Israel Prize, but the Nobel Prize.

In January 2007, Bassam Aramin mourned the death of his 10-year-old daughter, Abeer. She was killed by a rubber bullet fired by a Border Police officer, after she bought herself a few sweets on her way home from school with...

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New video contradicts IDF narrative of killing in Jericho

Israeli soldiers shot Yasin al-Saradih in Jericho after he tried to attack them, then the army kept changing its story about how he died. New video shows soldiers abusing and beating him well after he was shot, without treating him.

Soldiers invade the heart of a Palestinian city, clashes ensue and a Palestinian is killed. When news of the killing breaks, the army changes its version of events over and over again. That is, until the video comes out, refuting each and every one of the IDF’s claims.

On February 22, at around 1 a.m., 20 Israeli soldiers entered Jericho’s city center on an arrest mission. Fifteen minutes later, some of the soldiers entered and searched a home while another group of soldiers waited at the end of the alley. The Israeli soldiers’ presence in a Palestinian city predictably led to clashes and stone throwing. At a certain point, Yasin al-Saradih, 35, ran with a metal bar attached to the rim of a car’s wheel and tried to attack the soldiers who were standing at the entrance to the alley.

Security cameras captured in the incident. Al-Saradih is indeed seen running toward the soldiers with a metal bar until one of them shoots him in his lower body at point-blank range. After he is shot, three more soldiers appear and begin kicking al-Saradih, who is laying on his stomach. They then hold him down, shine flashlights on him, kick him again, and drag him through the alley. After 10 minutes, during which he is not given medical treatment, one of the soldiers throws a tear gas grenade at the entrance to the alley, at which point the soldiers are seen evacuating al-Saradih, most likely to avoid the tear gas, outside the frame of the CCTV footage.

A full 15 minutes after that, the soldiers once again show up on the CCTV footage, outside the alley — this time carrying al-Saradih by his arms and legs. They put him in an army jeep that takes him away.

Not long after the incident, Palestinian rights groups — backed by the CCTV footage — reported that al-Saradih had been beaten to death by the soldiers. At that point the IDF Spokesperson changed its version of the events several times. At first, the IDF Spokesperson claimed that “a terrorist armed with a metal bar ran toward IDF soldiers...

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Defying racist legislation: New bill seeks to turn Israel into a true democracy

In the face of an onslaught of nationalist, anti-Arab laws, one lawmaker is proposing a simple alternative: transforming Israel into a state for all its citizens.

A few years ago, my colleague Noam Sheizaf conducted a fascinating interview with the executive director of Adalah, Hassan Jabareen, in which the former raised the idea that the rise of nationalist and anti-democratic legislation was actually a response to the Palestinian-Israeli public taking its citizenship more seriously — both its rights and the obligations that that citizenship entails. Considering the conduct of the government, as well as that of the Arab public in Israel over the past decade, it seems there is some truth to Sheizaf’s suggestion.

More than 10 years ago, between 2006 and 2007, Arab civil society organizations challenged the country’s Jewish majority by proposing a series of documents titled “The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel.” The documents did not merely demand formal recognition of rights for the Arab minority, but proposed the wholesale transformation of Israel from a nationalist ethnocracy into a democracy based on equal rights. These documents not only failed to stimulate the kind of public debate that was hoped for; over the last decade, they have been answered with a wave of discriminatory and racist legislation, including the Nakba Law, the Family Unification Law, and, perhaps most significantly, the Nation-State Law.

In light of the Nation-State Law, which is meant to formalize the status of Arabs as second-class citizens, Knesset Member Yousef Jabareen (Hadash, the Joint List) has proposed a new Basic Kaw in response: Israel, a Democratic, Egalitarian, and Multi-cultural State.

The parallels to the Nation-State Law are intentional: for every discriminatory clause, Jabareen, who has a PhD in law, has proposed democratic alternatives based on equal citizenship for Arabs and Jews. Whereas the goal of the Nation-State Law, according to the proposed bill, is “to defend the status of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, so as to define Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in the spirit of the principles in Israel’s declaration of independence,” the goal of Jabareen’s bill is “to define Israel as a democratic and multi-cultural state that guarantees complete civil, cultural, and national equality to all of its citizens.”

“Over the past several months discussion of the Nation-State Law, of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, has increased,” Jabareen said, explaining...

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Campaign for refugees a rare reminder of our collective morality

The campaign to stop the deportation of the asylum seekers is an encouraging reminder that Israeli society’s collective conscience has not yet totally disappeared. 

It is impossible not to gaze in astonishment at the Israeli public’s overwhelming mobilization for asylum seekers under threat of deportation. From educators to academics, from pilots who say they will refuse to fly asylum seekers against their will to residents of south Tel Aviv who oppose the deportation, it seems that not a single sector of Israeli society has refrained from expressing its contempt for the move.

The campaign is also understandably human, and there are a few explanations for why we have been seeing such a touching outpouring of support. Firstly, there is a real threat to asylum seekers’ lives, should they be sent back to Africa. Moreover, the shadow of Jewish history looms large over the public discourse on refugees and deportations. There is the fact that African asylum seekers — as opposed to Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, for instance — are physically present in our daily lives, and not virtual figures on the news. And demographically speaking, the asylum seekers are relatively few, and thus their plight can be contextualized as a humanitarian, rather than a political issue that could potentially pose a threat to the idea of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state.

Beyond those explanations, however, lies a deeper reason for this unprecedented campaign, which has seemingly awakened the collective Israeli conscience from its coma. For many years now, the Israeli public has looked at itself in the mirror and been frightened by its reflection. From testimonies by Breaking the Silence to the reports of a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and the demolition of homes and schools in the West Bank, we see a violent, vengeful, and belligerent society in our reflection. For years we learned to use all kinds of different mechanisms to try and live with this horrifying image. We have tried to frame the conversation about the occupation as a security issue rather than a political one. We have victimized ourselves. And worst of all, we have attempted to shatter this mirror whenever it threatens the protected spaces we built for ourselves, by persecuting and delegitimizing human rights organizations or closing off Gaza to journalists.

But our reflection isn’t going anywhere. We can continue to call Ahed Tamimi a “terrorist” until the end...

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Demolishing Palestinian schools 'a quiet population transfer'

By destroying schools in Palestinian villages in Area C and elsewhere, Israel is forcing Palestinians to make a cruel choice — between their land and their children’s futures.

When the children of Beit Ta’mar, a village south-east of Bethlehem, left their improvised schoolhouse for winter vacation about two weeks ago, they did not know if the building would still be standing when they came back.

To call the building a school is to exaggerate. It is comprised of five concrete rooms on the top of a hill, constructed by the village’s residents, who also built the road to the school.

“Last August, we asked the army for permission to build a school for the children in the village,” Hassan Brigiah says on our way to the site. “We didn’t receive an answer, and after we talked with a lawyer, we decided to set up six caravans to serve as classrooms. The army came and dismantled the caravans. While they were doing this I said to them, ‘but you didn’t give us an answer at all!’ It didn’t help. We decided to build a few classrooms out of concrete, and in the meantime, a lawyer managed to get an order to prevent them from being demolished until the government gives us an answer.”

The army has since provided an answer—negative, as expected. The reasons, as always, are technical and bureaucratic. Ever since, the threat of demolition has hung over the improvised first through third-grade classrooms. The Palestinian Authority provided tables and chairs, which is noted on a plaque. “We’ll build the homeland with the power of knowledge,” is spray painted on one of the walls.

The school is located in Area C, but close to Area B, in the West Bank, under Palestinian civil control, and entirely on privately owned land, Birgiah says, adding that the construction was financed by the villagers themselves.

“We are very close to Tekoa and Noqdim, where [Defense Minister] Liberman lives,” Birgiah adds. “They have a lot of influence on the government. Nearly every day, the settlers stand on the hill overlooking the school and survey our children with binoculars. The army is also here all the time, walking around, taking pictures, and leaving. They want to show us that they’re here, so that we’ll continue to live in fear.”

In general, the sense is that schools and educational institutions have become a hot target for the...

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Home demolitions in the Negev and Tel Aviv show the real face of government corruption

Corruption does not begin with Netanyahu’s cigars or pink champagne. It begins with an ideological system that sees entire segments of the population as undesirable and unnecessary, and as temporary residents in their own homes.

Last night, a striking episode in Amnon Levy’s documentary series, “The Real Faces,” aired on TV. The episode followed the residents of the Tel Kabir, Givat Amal, and HaArgazim neighborhoods, whom the government has designated as trespassers in their own homes. The government is now trying to evict them, to the benefit of real estate tycoons.

Yesterday, a court in Be’er Sheva convicted Sheikh Siakh A-Turi, 68, of trespassing, sentencing him to ten months in prison with a fine of 36,000 shekels. Sheikh Siakh, is a resident of the Bedouin village of Al-Araqib.

The residents of Givat Amal and Al-Araqib share the same tragic fate: they are among the most marginalized people in a country whose government has declared them trespassers on land on which they have lived for decades. In both instances, the government prevented them from formalizing their property ownership by a range of deceptive means. The government, in contrast, moved quickly to formalize and recognize the ownership of those citizens whom it actually values, in some cases spitting distance from where these “trespassers” live.

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To truly believe these stories, you must hear them again and again. The Mizrahi residents of these Tel Aviv neighborhoods could not formalize their ownership of the land on which they have lived for 70 years because they “missed” a small announcement in the Davar newspaper in 1951, inviting “any person who de facto owns, without a deed, an apartment or business on absentee property” to submit a request to formalize their ownership. Like their Ashkenazi neighbors—Mapai supporters and employees of the Tel Aviv municipality and the Custodian for Absentee Property—they, too, settled on property that belonged to Palestinians before 1948.

However, unlike their Ashkenazi neighbors, the Mizrahi residents had no way of hearing about an announcement published once in the Mapai party newspaper, and which allowed for a short window of two weeks to formalize property ownership. Those who read the announcement got recognized...

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In Jabal al-Baba, the trees are protected but the people aren't

The Bedouin community of Jabal al-Baba faces expulsion from their homes. The army eviction order says nothing about where they are supposed to go.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel generated among many Israelis and Palestinians the fear that something terrible—a kind of political earthquake that could devastate the region—might come in response. Residents of Jerusalem know this quiet fear all too well. The wary looks on the light-rail, the absurd number of police in the streets, the increased security at every bus station. A city in eternal preparation for disaster, in which the terror ignited by faraway pyromaniacs has turned its daily routine into a hell of suspicion and fear.

The truth is that while we wait uneasily for the next great catastrophe, it is already unfolding all around us, and on a daily basis. Not far from the boundaries of the “undivided” capital, Palestinian communities in Area C, which makes up 60 percent of the West Bank, are threatened with eviction and demolition—part of Israel’s policy of demographic engineering in the area to preserve its “Jewish and democratic” character.

Entire communities, from Susya in the South Hebron Hills to Khan al-Amer near Ma’ale Adumim, are threatened with expulsion. The fact that the transfer of a native population in occupied territory is a war crime has not stopped Israel from pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing in the area. War crimes don’t phase us anymore. When the Israeli army isn’t actively expelling Palestinian communities, it stands on the sidelines and gives settlers carte blanche to abuse and terrorize Palestinians shepherds.

The hope, perhaps, is that the Palestinians will eventually grow frustrated and acquiesce to leaving the territory voluntarily. Israel does not want Palestinians in Area C; it does not hesitate to use whatever means necessary to make that clear to them.

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Now, it is the Bedouin community of Jaba al-Baba’s turn. Like many other communities belonging to the Jahalin tribe, they were also uprooted from the area of Tel Arad, an area of the Negev close to the West Bank. They then leased land from Palestinian landowners in the area...

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There is no such thing as a 'good soldier' at a checkpoint

Those who believe it is possible to maintain an occupation without violence are wrong. The case of Ahed Tamimi illustrates why.

By Orly Noy

Israelis often claim that a soldier with the right moral education can operate a checkpoint without violating anyone’s rights. Many in Israeli media have made this claim with regard to the two soldiers filmed facing down Ahed Tamimi, the 16-year-old under arrest for shoving and kicking soldiers off the porch of her family’s home last week: that the soldiers demonstrated the good moral education they received, in the army or at home or both, by refraining from responding to Ahed Tamimi with violence.

I assume that there is some truth to these claims, especially in the reality of the occupied territories, where, in the eyes of the army, Palestinian lives are cheap. The fact that the two soldiers did not respond by beating Ahed Tamimi is indeed surprising in a reality in which soldiers shot and killed a wheelchair-bound protester in Gaza, and in which soldiers break into houses and arrest children in their beds in the West Bank. Without a doubt, it says something about those two soldiers. But it says something much bigger about this reality.

The case of Ahed Tamimi does away with the illusion of “the good soldier” at the checkpoint. It is possible that these soldiers acted the way they did because they feared being caught on camera, but it also very possible that these two soldiers came from good homes and believed in their hearts that they were “the good soldiers” at the checkpoint — the soldiers who act with humanity, who don’t beat, abuse, scream, or curse. It is absolutely possible that their morality is what prevented them from beating the girls who refused to accept the soldiers’ presence in their home.

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Nonetheless, with all the morality and humanity they demonstrated, they were still two soldiers who broke into the house of a family that has been attacked for years by the army whose uniform they wear — and in an occupied territory where Palestinians barely have the right to breathe without an official permit. The two young men may have had...

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'It took them 10 minutes to destroy what I built in a lifetime'

Ever since the Rajbi family home was demolished by Israeli authorities two weeks ago, the children have been staying with relatives, while the father sleeps in a tin hut next to the rubble. This is what it looks like when Israel turns its Palestinians into criminals against their own will.

The path to the Rajbi family home in East Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood, or what was their home until two weeks ago, is difficult to find, even with the help of navigation apps such as Waze. After driving off the main road, the half-paved alleyways blend into one another in a maze of dirt tracks. Three of them bear the exact same name. After a few attempts to find the house, Samir, brother of Issam Rajbi whose former home we are looking for, comes to our rescue. In East Jerusalem, this is not an especially effective milestone; the dirt mounds and remains of demolished homes are pile up on the way, every few hundred meters.

According to the Israeli organization Ir Amim, which tracks the goings on in East Jerusalem, there has been an increase in home demolitions in East Jerusalem since mid-2015. 2016 saw a record high of 123 housing units demolished. Since the beginning of 2017, 96 residential units and 59 other structures have been destroyed. For the sake of comparison, the yearly average preceding 2016 hovered at around 50 per year.

Around two weeks ago, on November 22, it was the Rajbi family’s turn. The family is comprised of a mother, a father, and eight children between the ages of 6 and 21. Like many of East Jerusalem’s Palestinians, the Rajbis are trapped by a lack of planning, preventing them any opportunity to legally build their home on their own land. This turns them into criminals against their own will.

“I have been submitting requests to delay the demolition since 2010,” says Issam. “The demolition order applied to the 30 meters around the house. I told them several times that I would demolish those 30 meters by myself. They told me ‘don’t do anything.’ Last Wednesday they came unannounced and began demolishing. I told their work manager that the order only applied to the 30 meters. He responded, ‘don’t even talk to me, I know what to do,’ and destroyed the entire house.”

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Fifty faces of occupation

A new exhibit by B’Tselem marks 50 years of occupation with portraits of 50 Palestinians born in the occupied territories, who have never known a day of freedom in their lives.

There is a checkpoint next to my house. It determines my life’s routine. It is a source of constant worry: whenever my children are on their way home from school or to another place, I’m worried. I want to travel, to sit on the beach, to visit Al Aqsa and my family in Jerusalem. But because of the checkpoints, I can’t. Sometimes it takes hours to cross the checkpoint. I just sit and lean against the grates. — Kharbiyeh Marwani, Hebron.

Last Friday, B’Tselem opened a photo exhibit at the Jaffa Art Salon to mark the 50th year of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. More than 40 photographers, men and women, took portraits of 50 Palestinians, residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

The subjects of the portraits come from different backgrounds and walks of life: from cities and villages, from refugee camps and communities under threat of expulsion, affluent and poor. But they all have one thing in common: they have never known a day of freedom in their lives.

Since its establishment 28 years ago, B’Tselem has documented human rights abuses in the occupied territories and attempted to raise the Israeli public’s awareness of these abuses. Contrary to the claims that the Right likes to make against human rights organizations, B’Tselem’s target audience is, and always has been, the Israeli public — which has not only a right but an obligation to know what happens in its name. At a time when Israelis are increasingly indifferent to anything having to do with the occupation, this exhibit attempts to bring the faces of Palestinians living under military rule to the Israeli street.

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I was thrown in jail when I was 23. I was released 22 years later, when I was 45. While I was imprisoned, my children grew up and got married. When I think about freedom, I think about the time I spent behind bars. — Zuheir A-Shashineh, Al Burg refugee camp, Gaza.

It is...

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