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The West Bank villages under threat no one is talking about

While the media focused on Khan al-Ahmar’s nonviolent struggle against its destruction, Israeli authorities demolished 12 structures in a nearby Bedouin community, laying the groundwork for further evictions. 

Israel is fighting a war of attrition against the Bedouin villages east of Jerusalem. And yet, despite the looming threat of wholesale demolition and eviction, the villagers can finally breathe easy, after the High Court of Justice night froze the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar until July 16. This, of course, is far from a victory; ever since the same court gave the green light to the demolition in May, the villagers have been counting the days until their expulsion.

Over the past few weeks, the village has been the site of activity by Palestinian, Jewish, and international activists, as well as security forces who have been preparing for the eviction. The IDF has declared the area a closed military zone — refusing entry even to diplomats — all while paving access roads that will eventually be used to carry out the demolition.

Things reached a boiling point last Wednesday, when security forces clashed with activists who attempted to block Israeli bulldozers. The village remained untouched, yet the destruction Israel is meting out against the Bedouin communities of E1 is simply a matter of time and place. While the media was focused on Khan al-Ahmar, the Civil Administration demolished 12 structures in the adjacent Bedouin village of Abu Nuwar, leaving 62 people — half of them children — without a roof over their heads, in the summer heat.

One of them is Harba Hamadin, a young construction worker, husband, and father to a one year old. Following the demolition of their home, the family moved in with his parents in a packed structure with another 15 people. His brother and cousin also lost their homes, as did their children, nine in total. All of the kids, says Harba, witnessed the demolition, and have been in a state of deep anxiety ever since. “The demolition orders are from three years ago,” he says as he stands by the ruins of his home. “I do not know why they came now. The attorney says they need to give a month’s notice, but they said nothing.” Like Khan al-Ahmar, the state wants to move the residents of Abu Nuwar to a garbage dump next to Abu Dis in East Jerusalem. “This will destroy our entire community,” Harba says. “That isn’t our land, and the...

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IDF releases conscientious objector after 100 days in military prison

Brachfeld had declared her refusal ‘to take part in the oppression of the Palestinian people.’ It is very rare for the army to grant conscientious objector status to non-religious Jewish Israelis. A new lawsuit seeks to change that.

The Israeli army discharged conscientious objector Ayelet Brachfeld on Tuesday after imprisoning her for 100 days. Israel has compulsory military service, and Brachfeld refused to be drafted due to her opposition to the occupation.

It took four prison terms adding up to 100 days behind bars for the army’s conscientious objection committee to grant her the exemption. Most other conscientious objectors are ultimately discharged for “serious misconduct,” “unsuitability,” or are given psychological exemptions instead of being recognized as conscientious objectors.

Brachfeld, who lives in Tel Aviv, first declared her refusal to serve in the army back in February. She explained her decision at the time in a statement published on Facebook:

Upon leaving prison on Tuesday, Brachfeld said that as an Israeli, she has the responsibility to do “everything I can to stop this cycle of bloodshed. Refusing is my first step.”

Were she a religious Jew, she would have likely been released with little trouble. Secular conscientious objectors, on the other hand, are required to undergo a long and difficult process in the hopes of convincing the army to discharge them. It almost always ends in jail time, which can last up to 150 days.


A recently filed lawsuit seeks to challenge the army’s discrimination against secular conscientious objectors, as opposed to those who refuse to join the army for religious reasons.

Brachfeld is one of dozens of Israeli high school students who signed the “2017 Shministim Letter,” and who is being supported by Mesarvot — Refusing to Serve the Occupation, a grassroots network that brings together individuals and groups who refuse to enlist in the IDF in protest at the occupation.

Two additional conscientious objectors, Hillel Grami and Lohar Altman, are expected to declare their refusal to serve in the IDF in the coming weeks.

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WATCH: Gaza youth dance the dabke in Israeli sniper range

The world continues to ignore their plight so youth in Gaza are trying to find creative, new ways to fight Israel’s siege. Now we can only hope that Israel doesn’t declare dancing a form of terrorism.

Since the above video was published online last Friday, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head: a young Palestinian girl and a handful of boys dancing the traditional dabke along the Gaza-Israel border against a backdrop of plumes of smoke. Perhaps it is because the video manages to encapsulate so much of the story of the occupation and the siege in two-and-a-half minutes: the power dynamics between the occupier and the oppressed, the clenched fist of the former and the determination of the latter.

The video was filmed last Friday during the most recent of the Great Return March protests, which have been taking for three months now. In an interview with Rami Younis a few days before the protests kicked off, organizer Hasan al-Kurd emphasized how the plan was explicitly nonviolent — organizers said they objected to throwing stones and burning tires — and meant to communicate to the world the situation of Gazans living under siege. The organizers also said they wanted to send a message of peace to Israelis.

Indeed, even though Israeli did all it could at the time to paint the protests as violent, terror protests orchestrated by Hamas, and despite the disturbingly high number of protesters the IDF killed and wounded, the demonstrations, with few exceptions, remained nonviolent. As Meron Rapoport wrote last week, in May the Israeli government admitted in court that only 25 out of more than 100,000 protesters had tried to cross or damage Israel’s border fence at the time. No Israeli soldier was wounded during the protests. On the Palestinian side, more than 100 were killed.

And thus Israel proved to the Palestinians yet again that it is deadlier to protest along the border than it is to fire rockets over it. Soon enough, the language of violence once again reclaimed its place as the primary form of communication between Israel and Hamas. Thus, with a lower profile and fewer participants, the weekly demonstrations continue. Gazans are still heading to the border every Friday, risking Israeli sniper fire to remind the world that they are still living...

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Israeli activists bring images of Gaza dead to the heart of Tel Aviv

In the middle of the night, left-wing activists hung 115 kites along Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv’s central street — one for each Palestinian protester killed by Israeli forces during the Great Return March protests.

Israeli activists hung 115 black kites along Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard overnight on Sunday, in remembrance of every Palestinian killed by the Israeli army in Gaza during the Great Return March.

“We all witnessed what happened in Gaza over the past couple of weeks, says A., one of the organizers of the action. “There was a big escalation both in terms of what happened and the responses. We stood and watched how they opened fire on people who were demonstrating and, at the same time, the public’s indifference and the media’s coverage of the killing.”

The action was partially a response to the 60 Palestinians killed during the protests on May 14. A., who was abroad at the time, struggled to comprehend what had happened. “I returned to Israel and I was in shock to see that [here] nothing had happened — complete indifference.”

“There were, of course, actions by groups like the Coalition of Women for Peace and the solidarity protests in Haifa,” she added, “but I felt we needed to bring the faces of these 115 people who were killed, who have brothers and sisters and parents, to the Israeli public.”

“The kites were part of this, a follow-up to the pinning of the faces of those killed on the fence near Gaza,” A. said. “On Friday, kites with the names of those killed were flown. We took the next step and brought their faces to the heart of Rothschild, where one cannot smell the ash, and where it is easy to look away from the daily killing. We could not remain silent.”

In addition to the picture of the deceased, each kite bore their name in Arab and Hebrew, as well as their date of birth. “You see how young they were and you realize that we have been wardens guarding the prisoners in the world’s largest prison for three generations.”


The kites are also symbolic. Over the past few weeks, Palestinians have launched burning kites into Israeli towns on the border with Gaza, causing immense damage to local agriculture.

“People passed by, read, and looked at the names. Some ripped...

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What would you do if soldiers dragged your son out of bed in the middle of the night?

After more than half a century of occupation, most Israelis can no longer imagine themselves in the place of the Palestinians. But if we cannot imagine what it is like to live under occupation, we must at least confront its brutal reality. 

Twenty years ago, in March 1998, the head of the Labor Party Ehud Barak was asked by Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy what he would do were he a young Palestinian living under occupation. “If I were a Palestinian of the right age, I would, at some point, join one of the terrorist groups,” Barak answered.

Today, not only is it difficult to imagine a Jewish Israeli politician making a similar statement; the question itself sounds imaginary. Can we imagine ourselves as Palestinians? What a strange idea. If there is one thing 50 years of brutal military rule over another people has seared into the Israeli consciousness, it is that there is one law for us, and another for Palestinians — that our destinies as human beings were meant to be different.

When you consistently and systematically abuse the Other for decades, this separation of consciousness becomes a kind of survival mechanism. The fact that we cannot imagine ourselves in the place of those living in Gaza — for example, subject to a siege that forces one to live a life of suffering and extreme poverty — allows us to carry on without pangs of guilt.

This mechanism works not only in the more extreme cases such as Gaza, but perhaps even better when it comes to what we have learned to call “the routine of occupation.”

Take the video below, which was published by Israel human rights organization B’Tselem on Thursday: soldiers invade the Da’na family home in Hebron in the middle of the night, waking up the entire family, including children and the elderly, to look for stone-throwers. Israeli soldiers are allowed, by military decree, to carry out raids in every house at every hour, without a search warrant. They break in with weapons drawn. “You entered our home, enter respectfully,” says one of the family members to the soldiers. A heartfelt plea to soldiers in helmets. What does occupation have to do with respect?  

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The Israeli gov't is arguing that annexation is good for Palestinians

In a High Court case over a law to legalize Israeli settlements built on stolen, privately owned Palestinian land, the attorney hired to represent the government (because the attorney general refused to do so) argues that Palestinians, and not just settlers, would actually benefit.

Israel’s High Court of Justice heard arguments on Sunday against the “Formalization Law,” which would retroactively legalize settlements built illegally on private Palestinian land.

Sunday’s hearing was remarkable, and not only because of the law’s potential consequences. After all, it’s not every day that attorneys Michael Sfard and Hassan Jabareen, two of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers, find themselves on the same side as the Attorney General — and in opposition to the government and the Knesset.

For much of the hearing, Attorney Aner Helman, who represented the Attorney General’s office, gave such a stirring denunciation of the law’s human rights violations that one might have thought he was one of the petitioners in the case.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has refused to defend the law, calling it unconstitutional. Due to his refusal, the government was forced to hire a private lawyer, Attorney Harel Arnon, to defend the law in court.

Most of the hearing focused on two main questions. First, is international law the relevant in the case or should the law be judged according to Israeli law? If it’s the latter, should international law be ignored entirely?

Arnon quickly answered the first question: the lawsuit is a matter of striking down Knesset legislation, rather than an administrative order. “The petitioners, in practice, are asking the court to carry out a judicial coup,” he claimed. “They are demanding, in the name of foreign norms, to flip the scales that Israeli society designed for itself.” The suit, Arnon continued, constitutes an attempt to erode the authority of the Knesset.

After grounding his claim that the expropriation law should be judged solely according to the Israeli legal framework, Arnon took more than an hour to detail the central aims of the legislation. The immediate goal, he said, is for the government to take responsibility for a situation in which, due to a complex political reality, it’s own policy has been contradictory. On the one hand, the government has funded and supported the West Bank settlement enterprise, even when these activities were illegal in one way or another. On the other hand, the government didn’t formalize the situation — in other...

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In memory of Razan al-Najjar

The 21-year-old paramedic was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers while trying to aid wounded protesters near the Gaza-Israel separation fence. Many Israelis either refuse to believe she was actually killed or claim that her killing was somehow justified.

Around two weeks ago, a Facebook friend of mine proposed an experiment to a small group of us. Social media has become a boxing ring, she said. The two sides, left and right, dig into their positions and slug it out in the comments — and that’s if they don’t just “block” each other. My friend suggested that for a month, we try to engage in a productive dialogue with right-wingers on Facebook, even with the most combative of commenters. After all, our aim is to change what and how people think, and to do that, we need to speak to other side. Let’s try it, I said, if only for a month — to see what happens.

For the past two days, I’ve been thinking about Razan al-Najjar, the 21-year-old paramedic shot and killed by Israeli soldiers Friday near the Gaza-Israel separation fence. According to witnesses, she was wearing her white paramedic’s uniform, attempting to treat protesters near the fence when she was shot. Immediately following Razan’s death, her picture appeared everywhere on my Facebook newsfeed. I, too, shared a post with her picture.

The angry responses came quickly.

Here was an opportunity to try out the dialogue experiment my friend had suggested, I thought. Maybe because Razan in her white uniform was so different from the image of the terrorist that the Israeli collective imagination assigned the protesters in Gaza, I hoped there would be an opening for compassion, for second thoughts, for a discourse free from blind hatred.

I was wrong.

Instead, the following responses came pouring in: “What was she doing there in the first place? “Why didn’t she wait for the wounded in the hospital?” “You really think our soldiers kill protesters on purpose?” “That’s how it is in war.” “Hamas makes them to go to these protests.”

I tried to respond with calm, level-headed answers.

She didn’t wait for the wounded at the hospital because the Israeli army’s massive use of live fire made it necessary for first responders to be in the field — just like Israeli medics would at a mass casualty event.

And no, this is not “how it is in...

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The well-oiled legal machine that enables IDF violence

The majority of complaints by Palestinians about violence by Israeli soldiers go nowhere, and when they do, it can take over a year for the military prosecution to decide whether to even open an investigation.

In his latest article, my colleague Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man described the way in which Israel’s civilian and military court system is used as a fig leaf to prevent the International Criminal Court from investigating Israeli crimes in the occupied territories. The idea is simple: as long as the local legal systems effectively fulfill their role, the ICC has no mandate to intervene.

Meanwhile, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan is working to promote a new bill that would grant immunity to soldiers who are suspected of criminal wrongdoing during military operations. The truth is that Ben Dahan’s bill is entirely redundant: a new report published this week by Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din show that soldiers who allegedly commit crimes against the Palestinian population in the occupied territories enjoy near-full immunity.

According to Yesh Din, between 2011-2016 (data from 2017 has yet to be published), only 3.4 percent of investigations into attacks on Palestinians opened by the IDF’s Criminal Investigations Department ended in indictments. That’s 32 out of 948 cases. That number is especially striking considering the fact that the military prosecution decides ahead of time which cases it will prosecute. This means that most complaints by Palestinians do not lead to investigations.

In 2016 the military prosecution received 302 complaints of crimes committed by soldiers against Palestinians or their property. Forty percent of those complaints had to do with soldiers opening fire on Palestinians, 34 percent revolved around soldier violence, and 24 percent were lodged in response to property damage and looting. In 220 of those incidents, the military prosecution decided to either open an investigation or close the case. Out of those, only 46 led to investigations. The remaining 174 cases were ordered closed. Of the cases that were opened, only 6.4 percent led to indictments by the end of the first quarter of 2017. That’s five cases. One of them was the case of Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier who was filmed while executing a dying Palestinian.


So how does the military prosecution decide which cases will be opened for investigation? When it comes to incidents in which soldiers kill Palestinians, official policy says that the Criminal Investigations Unit...

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The persecution of Ezra Nawi

The fabrication of criminal cases against activists, particularly anti-occupation activists, has become an almost routine tool. Every one of us could find themselves the target of a similar right-wing campaign.

Two years ago, Israeli officials, right-wing activists, and the media put veteran left-wing activist Ezra Nawi in their crosshairs. After an investigative television show partnered with an extreme right-wing organization to target Nawi with a hidden-camera hit piece, Nawi was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport while trying to leave the country. Photos of him being led in handcuffs were published on the front page of every major publication.

He was denied access to a lawyer, a sweeping gag order was issued, and eventually he was released to house arrest. The accusations at the time ranged from accessory to manslaughter, conspiracy to commit murder, and making contact with a foreign agent.

Fast-forward two years and the only thing Israeli authorities are still accusing Nawi of is violating a clause in the “Law Implementing the Interim Agreement Regarding the West Bank and Gaza” — the Oslo Accords.

In its obsessive abuse of Nawi, Israel managed to resurrect the peace agreement it has worked so hard to kill. From the settlement enterprise to laws allowing the expropriation of private Palestinian land to IDF raids in Area A of the West Bank — which Oslo says are supposed to be under full Palestinian control — violating the Oslo Accords long ago became official Israeli policy. But now that they can be used against a left-wing activist, the Oslo Accords have suddenly become sacred. The irony of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked feigning concern about violations of the Oslo Accords is simply too much.

Nawi’s lawyers, Eitan Peleg and Lea Tzemel, said, following the announcement of the indictment, that a mountain of lies had turned into a molehill. One can understand why they would feel relief. The fervor with which Israeli authorities pursued Nawi made it seem that they would stop at nothing short of his head.

And yet the strange charge against Nawi, a charge for which no Israeli citizen has ever been tried, as well as the closing of the cases against two others arrested with Nawi,  proves what anyone with eyes knew from the beginning: the accusations are baseless and vindictive. This is political persecution.


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'I'll open up your face': The routine of collective punishment in Hebron

A new video shows Israeli Border Police preventing children from passing through a gate in order to reach their homes. This is what collective punishment looks like. 

Ever since Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem launched its Camera Project 11 years ago, the Israel public has had countless opportunities to get a glimpse of the routine of occupation from the point of view of Palestinians living under it.

Sometimes those videos create a public uproar, as happened with Elor Azaria, who was caught on camera executing a dying Palestinian, or the infamous settler from Hebron, who was seen spitting and cursing at the camera. Most of B’Tselem’s videos, however, convey the injustices of the occupation through the everyday, mundane experiences of humiliation, violence, aggression, and arrogance at the hands of the masters.

The same goes for the latest B’Tselem video, published Tuesday, which shows Israeli security forces standing in front of the main entrance to Gheith and A-Salaimeh, two neighborhoods in Hebron, on May 13th.

Through A-Salaimeh runs one of the main roads on which Palestinians are forbidden from traveling by car. There are military checkpoints at both entrances of the road, called A-Salaimeh Street, which leads to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. In 2012, the army built a barrier that divides the street into two: a paved road for Jewish pedestrians and vehicles, and on the other side, a narrow, dilapidated passageway for Palestinians who are forbidden from traveling by car.

On May 4th, the army enlarged the fence it had built at the beginning of 2012 at the entrance to both A-Salaimeh and Gheith. The fence has a single gate, which the army said must be kept open between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. in order to allow residents to pass through. However, according to B’Tselem, for the past year the gate has been closed at various times throughout the day. Closing off the two neighborhoods is especially harmful to students, who are forced to take an alternative path that forces them to pass through a checkpoint, extends their journey by 500 meters, and passes through a dark alley.


On May 13th, as the students were on their way back from school, they once again encountered locked gate. The video shows some residents of the neighborhood – mothers of the students –...

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'Open up or we'll tase you': Police arrest activists protesting Gaza violence

In the northern city of Haifa, Israeli police are arresting activists who are organizing demonstrations against the violence in Gaza.

Israeli police arrested and interrogated a number of Palestinian and Jewish political activists from the northern city of Haifa over the past several days, due to their participation in demonstrations following the killing of over 60 protesters in Gaza this past week. Among those arrested were General Secretary of Hadash’s Haifa chapter, Raja Zaatry, and Yoav Bar, an activist with the Abnaa al-Balad movement, who was arrested twice.

Iris Bar, a political activist and Yoav’s partner, describes what happened:

“On Monday evening, we held a protest. The harassment began the following day. I believe it has to do with the upcoming local elections. There is a Facebook group for Haifa’s residents, which has both Arab and Jewish members, and which is run by a right winger. Often you will see absurd conversations taking place there — Jews sending Arabs to Gaza, Arabs sending Jews to Europe. But it may be the only space in the country that is shared by Jews and Arabs of all political stripes. After Monday’s demonstration, some group members began putting pressure on the mayor. Someone wrote: ‘Why are you letting them protest?’ They probably felt that they had to do something.”

On Tuesday morning, the police began arriving at people’s homes. Most people were at work, so they caught only Yoav, who has more flexible work hours. I know of five activists who were paid a visit, both Jews and Arabs. The police came to their homes, some family members received frightening phone calls. I assume that there were others whom I don’t know about.”


On Tuesday we had another protest, and the police jumped on anyone who did not stand on the sidewalk, specifically on photographers who were documenting the demonstration. The police yelled ‘get on the sidewalk!’ hysterically at them, even though they were neither on the road nor blocking traffic.”

Majd Kayyal, a journalist and political activist who was also at the protest says that in the eyes of the police, the fact that an Arab stepped onto the road for five minutes is “the most catastrophic thing that can happen.”

“I think it is legitimate and legal, and shouldn’t worry the police,” Kayyal adds, “but they cannot understand...

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Why Israel's Eurovision contestant became a target for BDS

Netta Barzilai is an impressive performer with an impressive act that Israelis can be proud to be represented by. But that’s not all she represents.

Israel is buzzing with excitement over the country’s contestant in this year’s Eurovision, and for good reason. Netta Barzilai is talented, has an awesome vibe, and is a strong female character who bucks all of the traits we have become used to seeing in a female performer. If you are a left-wing, Jewish feminist, and even if you’re not, it’s hard not to fall in love with her.

So it wasn’t surprising that a campaign by Israeli boycott activists asking European viewers not to vote for Barzilai managed to rile so many people, including in various left-wing Israeli circles — and no small number of my friends.

Part of the outrage has to do with the fact that the boycott call singles out Barlzilai herself, not just as a representative of Israel the occupying power, but personally, as someone who was part of the Israeli Navy’s band during the 2014 war on Gaza. Barzilai, according to the boycott call, performed for Israeli soldiers right before they participated in the shelling of Gaza that summer.

I don’t know anything about Barzilai’s political views but I don’t get the impression that she has any special affinity for militarism or that she likes anything about the killing of innocent people. My impression was actually the opposite, and that’s the point.

One of the fundamental truths with which the boycott movement attempts to confront Israeli society is that all of us, even the humanists and human rights lovers among us, are responsible for the crimes of the occupation, whether we participate in them directly or indirectly.

That may sound absurd and baseless to the average Israeli, even those of us who are outspokenly outraged by images of soldiers abusing Palestinians at checkpoints or videos of snipers shooting protesters in Gaza.

What does Barzilai have to do with any of that? She wasn’t a combatant. She never shot anyone.

And that is exactly the point the boycott campaign is trying to make: one way or another, we are all accomplices.

Israel has fabricated complex social, legal, and social structures over the years in an attempt to foster our cooperation with the injustices of the occupation and to preempt any critical thoughts we might have...

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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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