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How Bedouin women were exploited to 'Judaize' the Negev at NY Fashion Week

An organization that settles Jews in the Negev, and with a central role in the story of displacement at Umm al-Hiran, enlists a famous Israeli designer to team up with Bedouin women for a NY Fashion Week fundraiser. The problem — nobody told the Bedouin women what they were up to.

Israeli designer Aviad Arik Herman, who made headlines earlier this year for designing Culture Minister Miri Regev’s famous “united Jerusalem” dress, entered into a blossoming “partnership” with Bedouin women culminating with a dress on display at New York Fashion Week this week, according to an article in Hebrew-language news site Ynet. The story, it turns out, is not as heartwarming as one might believe.

According to the article, the Or Movement enlisted Arik Herman to present an embroidered dress, designed by him and produced by the women of Laqiya. The Or Movement’s purpose is to settle the Negev and Galilee with Jews, and is behind the core “seed” community of Hiran, a Jewish-only town slated to be built on the ruins of an unrecognized Bedouin village called Umm al-Hiran.

So how did a group of women from unrecognized Bedouin villages, who are fighting to stop the demolition of their homes, come to cooperate with an initiative working to displace Beduoin just like them?

Asma al-Saneh, head of the The Association for the Improvement of Women’s Status, Lakia, the organization that runs “Desert Embroidery,” told me the Bedouin women had no idea in what they were taking part. “We never thought we would fall into such a deceitful trap. We never made headlines for our good work, and now this ruins our reputation.”

How was the contact made between you and the designer?

“A guy called and said he was a major designer and needed help. He came to us, at first alone, and introduced himself as a world-renowned designer who wants to present a dress in New York. He asked for help and brought the materials with him. He was a client like any other. He didn’t say he was making Miri Regev’s scandalous dress, and we had no idea who he was.

“Before he came to pick up the dress he asked if he could film. I thought it was good for publicity. I didn’t understanding who the people he brought with him were or why they were so silent. The next morning I woke...

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The Right's plan to beat Palestinians into submission

The good news: the Right has a plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The bad news: it’s as racist as you think.

The truth is that that there is no future in the Middle East for Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich’s new political program, which seeks to completely erase Palestinians from the river to the sea. There is no place for his plan here, nor anywhere else in the world. There will never be a place in this world for Jews alone without any room for “non-Jews.” I hope this is obvious to everyone.

But before you jump from your seat, let me be clear: Jews, like all people, deserve a place where they can live with dignity and in peace. I did not establish these facts, nor did the millions of Palestinians who were here before the establishment of Israel and who aren’t going anywhere.

What can you do? This is the universe in which we live. In 2017, there is no state on earth that is racially or religiously “pure.” There are two models for this kind of regime: the first is the Vatican, the second is the territory controlled by Islamic State.

Thankfully, ISIS’ mission is a difficult one that isn’t going as planned. Humans migrate across the world through water and land, reaching new places where they can live with other people. It is not always easy, and often depends greatly on the prudence of the nations and states that take them in. Just like in this country, where Jews lived in pre-state Palestine, and which took in millions of Jews after the 1948 War.

The problem arose with the relentless desire for complete and utter control by Jewish Israelis — who arrived here for various reasons — over the land, its resources, and its people. Everything must surrender to the Jews. In my opinion, this is what perpetuates the conflict between the Palestinians and the Jews in the region. No fence will help; no barbed wire will bring security to Jews who desire control, some of whom believe God granted them exclusive rights to this land.

But soon this will end. This week we learned about Smotrich’s “plan to end the conflict. Remember, this is the man who wants his son to be born in a sterile delivery room, where no black person can lay a hand on him, where no midwife will cut his umbilical...

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What are Israelis willing to do to end violence against Arab women?

Another Arab woman was gunned down by a masked assailant. What are you, Arabs and Jews who respect the police and just want peace, planning to do about it?

Another woman joins the list. This time it was Siham Azbarqa from Lod who was shot in her home on Monday and died from her wounds the following day. Once again it was a masked gunman with a silenced pistol who managed to take another life, leaving a city of 30,000 Arab citizens in total shock. Siham was murdered not far from where Dua’a Abu Sharkh was killed in front of her four children half a year ago.

Dua’a was also murdered by a masked gunman with a single shot to her head. The same fate put an end to the lives of Lilian Masoud, Yasmin Abu Sa’aluk, Amal Khalili, Abir Abu Katifan, Narmin Mughrabi, Sundus Shamruh, and many others. All of them killed by anonymous gunmen — all of them left to die in a pool of blood that had to be cleaned up by their grieving mothers.

And what are you, the readers, Arabs and Jews who respect the police and just want peace — what do you intend to do about this? Because Siham was murdered. She is no more — just like many other Arab women.

Come to one of our protests and perhaps you will finally feel our desire to live. Your momentary solidarity might provide temporary hope to a woman or young girl who is suffering. But when will you understand that our struggle is for your sake too? For the future of women in this cursed place? For the future of humanity itself?

Let’s start reporting ‘terrorists’

Palestinian women here are fighting for life, others are fighting for freedom of movement, equal pay, freedom of speech, representation in politics, etc. Our struggle belongs to everyone. And anyone who deludes herself into believing that this has nothing to do with her life may find herself facing down patriarchy, oppression, and violence all by herself — either now or further down the road.

Are we, Arab women in Israel, not worthy of a life of safety without guns?

Tell me the truth, because I am willing to accept the ugly truth. I would rather live with the fact that my life does not interest anyone than live a fantasy that I am equal to every other citizen of this state.

Do not...

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A Palestinian woman finds hope in American Jewish resistance

At the progressive Jewish conference of the year, a Palestinian politician wins rousing applause and a former U.S. presidential candidate talks of the injustices caused by the founding of the State of Israel — both seeds of hope for someone who wakes up every day to news of home demolitions and land grabs.

Several days ago I returned from 10 days of traveling in the United States. Throughout my stay I met many Jews, some more progressive and liberal than others. I met Americans of Palestinian, Syrian, Iraqi, and Moroccan origin. My journey through Trumpland came to an end with the annual J Street conference in Washington D.C.

New York has its own tempo. People are always hurrying, with every color and size mixing in Times Square. One can always recognize the locals, who stampede their way through the crowds in their suits, a thermos in one hand, a smartphone in the other.

Perhaps my tendency to stick my nose in other people’s business is problematic, but this does not mean the Big Apple has the legitimacy to beat me down.

A man in Times Square pushed me, causing me to fall flat on my face and break my nose. In one fell swoop I found myself bleeding all over my new jacket, as I laid on the sidewalk. A homeless woman helped me up, and friends who were there accompanied me in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

At the hospital, a doctor who looked over my papers saw the word “Israel.” He entered the room excitedly and told me: “Don’t worry, I’m also Jewish and you’re in good hands. Say, what do you think about Trump? Are you for one or two states?”

I looked at this excited redhead as I writhed in pain, and told him: “Trump is great. I hope he falls on his face just like me. Please just fix my nose. By the way I’m Palestinian and you’re also in good hands!”

Start talking about the occupation

We reached the J Street conference with one goal in mind: to take part in the progressive Jewish conference of the year. I wanted to meet leftists of all stripes in order to get them interested in the issues facing Palestinian women in Israel, as well as Arab-Jewish relations. Reaching that goal, especially with a broken nose and broken English, was not especially easy.

Very quickly...

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By siding with the police, the media incites against Arab citizens

The majority of Israeli journalists simply copied the official police version of the deadly events in Umm el-Hiran last week, effectively painting 20 percent of Israeli citizens as terrorists.

Kudos to the state: the Israeli media is now taking an active part in the government’s incitement.

Last week we were lucky enough to read news reports so ludicrous that they actually posed a danger to the average thinking mind. It was clear that aside from those who were present at Umm el-Hiran when Yaqub Abu Al-Qi’an was shot to death by police, no one actually knows what exactly happened. Thus, the majority of the public must rely on the media.

As a result, we ended up with two contrasting narratives about what exactly occurred. On the one hand we had citizens and activists who are connected to the Bedouin struggle in various ways, and who were watching the impending demolitions on Facebook Live. On the other are those who depend on news outlets whose journalists are not necessarily present at the scene itself, and thus rely on the police’s version of the events when writing their reports.

That is why we started off the morning with headlines such as “ISIS attack against security forces,” or “Vehicle attack by member of the Islamic Movement during evacuation of illegal structures in the Negev.” Yes, the media reached a new level of disconnect in its coverage of the events at Umm el-Hiran, with the majority of reporters siding with the official versions (even if they often contradicted one another).

By the afternoon, the police released edited aerial footage of the shooting — which did not support its initial version — thus undermining its own narrative. One cannot watch Abu Al-Qi’an’s car slowly driving along — before he is shot a number of times and suddenly speeds up — without calling into question the official version.

The same goes for the story of Joint List head Ayman Odeh, who was shot by a sponge-tipped bullet fired by the police. The media was quick to claim that Odeh was struck by stones thrown by locals, despite the fact that there were no stones being thrown at the time. Hours later, news outlets stitched together photos of Odeh lying near the police alongside shots of youth throwing stones, which took place hours after — at which point Odeh was already in the hospital.

Slowly, more distortions continued to roll out — part of a policy of “lie now, fix later,” which has...

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One inciting prime minister and 11 destroyed homes

Hundreds of Palestinian citizens demonstrate against the demolition of homes in the Arab town of Qalansuwa earlier this week.

In a week during which the Israeli media focused mostly on itself and Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest corruption scandal, we in the Arab community focused on our homes, and our basic right to live on this land. This past week the government destroyed 11 homes in the town of Qalansuwa, striking a blow against a fifth of the population.

The prime minister shared a Facebook post titled “Our forces destroyed Arab homes,” unleashing the venom of his followers, hungry for revenge and driven by hatred, since blaming Arab citizens for arson is no longer effective. One Facebook post and 11 demolished homes. The Joint List called an emergency meeting, as did the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, Qalansuwa’s mayor stepped down, and a general strike was called. Social media networks were flooded with photos of bulldozers and armed security forces diligently destroying homes whose status was in the process of being formalized. It was an underhanded move; no one could oppose it or even expect the bulldozers at 6 a.m.

The message delivered to the average Israeli went as follows: the government takes action against illegally-built homes in both Qalansuwa and Amona. But the only thing these two places share is that they are built on Palestinian land: in Qalansuwa the residents built the homes on their land, and in Amona the settlers stole land that does not belong to them and built their homes using the public’s money. In Qalansuwa the homes were demolished, while the residents of Amona are taking their fight to the High Court to prevent the demolition of their outpost. The residents of Qalansuwa will not be afforded alternative housing, the settlers will be handsomely reimbursed with both housing and money.

How can one even make the comparison? With Netanyahu, everything is possible — as long as the people keep supporting him. The news of the demolition “calmed” supporters of human rights following claims that no one was living in the homes that were demolished (which turned out to be false), bringing an end to the public discussion.

Who gets to speak?

The Arab leadership was roundly criticized for using the tired tactic of calling for a general strike in the Arab sector. There were calls among the community to rebuild the homes, for the resignation...

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What Palestinians need from our Jewish allies

We want to work with the Israeli Left to build a future based on equality and justice for all. But not at any cost.

I was recently asked about what kind of conditions need to exist to for real Arab-Jewish partnership to exist in the Israeli Left.

Opinionated, smart Palestinians (I try my best to be one of them) will do all they can to avoid this question. That makes sense, since any attempt to rise to the challenge is actually roundabout way of admitting that such partnership is possible. This takes the Arab, and the Jew for that matter, out of their comfort zone.

Left-wing Israeli Jews are already in an uncomfortable position, and they have stopped dreaming of taking power long ago. At this moment they are busy trying to position themselves as victims of the Right’s persecution. I understand that the feeling of perpetual, stinging defeat over having no potential Jewish political partners is too difficult to bear, and thus they must find a different partner. And yet, Israeli Jews still have an easier time than Arabs in fantasizing about a left-wing Arab-Jewish partnership.

Tired of cleaning up the mess

One of the reasons is that we Palestinians have one last outpost that won’t be occupied by any Israeli: we are the ultimate victims of the Zionist enterprise. This becomes all the more complex when taking into account that our status is a result of the doings of the socialist-Zionist founders of the Zionist movement. They are the ones who carried out the Nakba of the Palestinian people. And yet their descendants now find themselves a minority in Israeli society. It is hard to wrap our heads around this concept, I know, but the time has come to deal with this fact — at the very least on a theoretical level.

I will go out on a limb and try to rise to the challenge: how can we built partnership, alliances, or coordination between Palestinian and Jewish citizens against the violent rule of the Right?

I do not take this challenge on because I am especially brave. On the contrary, I am actually afraid. The last two years, full of incitement by politicians — including our prime minister — and a never-ending list of anti-Arab laws has led to this fear. Blaming Palestinians in Israel for the ills of society, including the Holocaust, means that fear is inevitable.

But these generalizations...

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Syria, my love

The Syria that was once an icon of enlightenment and education has been erased, crushed under barrel bombs and proxy power struggles, as the world watches and waits to see how it will all end. What, after all, have we learned from history?  

Run, run away all you strong and invulnerable Israelis, and all you Palestinian freedom fighters pursuing liberation from the occupation, Jewish and Arab human rights activists, seekers of peace and fellowship between peoples. Let’s all run away from Aleppo, Idlib, Palmyra, Raqqa, Homs and all the Syrian cities that have been destroyed.

Who needs to see more horrors, bloodshed, mass executions and shelling of pale, thin people wrapped in winter blankets while fleeing for their lives? Let’s wait for the pictures of bodies dragged by bulldozers into mass graves; let’s wait for the pictures of piles of shoes — this time in color, and high-quality — and whisper quietly to one another about what they remind us of.

Arab leaders who are anxious over their rule, Arab nations who are the champions of silence and prayer; thousands pray and yearn for a malignant disease and horrible death to take Bashar al-Assad away from this world and free the Syrian people from a merciless dictator. In other mosques, people pray for members of the Islamic State to be wiped out and thank their new god, Putin, for the victory of Assad the “lion.”

Let’s wait for a drone with a camera and satellite photos, and share pictures of immense destruction in emotional Facebook posts. Let’s count ‘likes’ and silly yellow faces while our fellow human beings, a few hours away from us, are counting bodies and children whose lives have been lost. Let’s keep warm in our heated homes and curse Russia, Turkey, Iran and the U.S., Israel and the UN, and let’s hone the curses that will supposedly defeat the military powers. Facebook statuses will down their jets and stop Russia’s bombs, which have been falling on Aleppo continually for the last few weeks.

Half a million people have been killed, millions have become refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Europe and Canada, while here in Israel, the Jews are celebrating the arrival of the F35 fighter jet and Israel’s ever longer arm. Where is this arm meant to reach? Iran? Iraq? Where exactly? Perhaps into the...

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Between hope and despair: A Palestinian woman's journey to Trumpland

A month after Trump’s election I found myself traveling across the United States. Along the way I met with a 103-year-old Jewish journalist, who reminded me that despite the good will of American Jewry, we live in two separate worlds.

I spent 10 intense days between airports, malls, presentations, and meetings — switching between Hebrew, Arabic, English, and back to Arabic. On the last of my journey to the United States, on behalf of my village, Wahat al-Salam—Neve Shalom, I began losing a sense of time. I felt overwhelmed by the Americans I met, who were only beginning to make sense of Trump’s victory, and who were feeling anxious and helpless as they faced the future. Somehow I found myself crying in the bathroom stall in a fancy retirement home in Florida.

As I made my way to a meeting with veteran journalist Zel Lurie, I was stopped by an old woman who smiled at me and said, “Sorry that I’m stopping you, honey, but I saw you walking around and every time I saw your face I thought my daughter had come for a visit. The same height, the same hair, the same smiling face…but you are not my daughter.”

“I am not your daughter, I am here for a visit,” I responded with a heartbroken smile. She cried in that bathroom, just like I did. We stood next to one another facing the mirror, two women, me in my forties and she in her eighties. Both of us looking for a warm embrace as we faced the cruelty of the world around us.

The person accompanying me didn’t understand why I was crying. “Welcome to America,” he said. “That’s how it is here.”

“They throw your parents into an old folks home? That’s your America?” I asked. He explained that no one “throws” their parents into retirement homes, and that the elderly themselves pay for their stay there, that things are generally nice here, and that the kids spread out across the country, that it’s hard for them to “sustain their parents, you know.”

All of the caretakers at the center were black. The polite man who accompanied me looked at me and without saying anything said, “It’s not what you think! They want to work here.” Yes, sure, they want to work here out of free will. Just like you will hardly find any Jewish...

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No fires or inciting politicians can destroy our shared society

The wildfire that struck Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam left our Jewish-Arab village more resilient than ever before. We invite Israel’s politicians to learn from us on how to heal our society’s wounds.

Our country has been up in flames this past week. Hundreds of fires have broken out in various areas resulting in tens of thousands of people being evacuated from their homes. The first fire started last Tuesday at Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam, a unique community between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where Jews and Arabs live together in equality, which struggled to quell the flames and bring peace to the region. My husband and two children and I were evacuated from with 300 others, fearing of our lives and the destruction of our homes.

It was frightening for all of us. However what was even more frightening was the reaction of some of the countries journalists and politicians who used the opportunity to ignite and inflame hatred, claiming that arson was the cause of the wildfires. Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett posted an unfortunate and irresponsible Facebook status, in which he wrote that “The only ones capable of setting the land on fire are people to whom it does not belong.” Rather than unifying and reassuring Israeli citizens — if only slightly — Bennett incited against an entire public and inflamed the public atmosphere.

Following the elections in the United States, the world has become a dangerous place, as sparks have begun to fly in all directions, igniting hatred and fear. We have seen this over the past decade in Europe with new immigrants, and we now see it in the U.S., as white supremacists begin to cheer on Trump’s victory as a victory for the ‘white race,’ while graffiting swastikas on walls.

The fire at Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam was clearly an unfortunate accident, as was the one in the neighboring town of Nataf. One reporter, an expert in arson, deemed the fire an “inspiration” to other supposed pyromaniacs, giving second and third-rate politicians carte blanche to do what they are best at: incite. But perhaps the journalist was right; since the fire in my community was an inspiration. We made it through the freezing night together in the fields below our homes, where we realized that our community can teach this country’s leadership a thing or two about humane behavior in times of crisis.

Cohesion and unity in the face of fire is not so surprising in our community – the first and only Jewish-Arab...

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As Arab women become statistics, their killers walk free

Sana al-Zana was murdered and buried in the desert late last year. The media didn’t report it, the police did little to nothing, and the killer is still walking free.

I recently discovered that us Arab women are a skillful bunch: it turns out that in Israel of 2016, an Arab woman can put an end to her life, bury herself in the middle of the desert, get rid of the evidence, return to her family as a lifeless body, and be buried once again — without anyone raising suspicions over the cause of death. Along the way she is also able to ensure that everyone returns to a life of normalcy: the police, the attorney’s office, the forensic institute, the family, the village.

This story began this past summer when I published a Facebook status on the murder of Amana Yasin, who was pregnant at the time she was stabbed to death and the fifth Arab woman to be murdered in 2016. While mourning her death along with other Facebook users, something surprising happened. A woman I do not know sent me the following message: “You are mistaken, Samah. My neighbor was murdered several months ago, and she is not included in your statistics.”

The anonymous neighbor told me that a young Bedouin woman, Zana al-Sana, from the village Lakiya in the Negev Desert, disappeared for a period of time. It was announced in the village that al-Sana died and received a modest burial. Everybody knew, however, she was killed by her family. People came to the mourner’s tent and knew she was murdered, yet nobody talked about it. The story was not repeated in the media, and indeed al-Sana’s death did not become a statistic.

Using her name alone, without a date or any leads, I began searching for documentation of a similar case in the south. There was simply no mention of al-Sana anywhere. I told the story to +972’s Haggai Matar and asked for help in speaking to the police and the state attorney. The story sounded completely insane: how come no one knew to tell me what actually happened?

After speaking to the police I found out that al-Sana did indeed disappear last December. The police searched for her and arrested her brother after they heard he had threatened her. Shortly after his arrest, al-Sana’s family members found her body half-buried in the desert, not...

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No one is lifting a finger to protect Arab women

Before she was murdered by her ex-husband, Huda Abu Sarir was betrayed by the rest us. She was murdered because we raise men unstable men alongside strong, steadfast women.

I drove into the tiny, empty Jaffa alleyway on my way to the home of Huda Abu Sarari, an Arab woman who was murdered by her ex-husband a week earlier. I had a long list of questions and dilemmas following a discussion I held earlier that day with activists from Jaffa: should we demonstrate against our society or against the establishment, which oppresses us? Is this the pure struggle of Palestinian women, or does our common fate tie us to others? Should we invite political parties? Should we speak about violence generally, or only gender violence?

I sat and pondered these questions, yet I could barely speak a word and couldn’t hold back my tears. The women told me the hard truth about Huda; listening to them I realized that my dilemmas were nothing compared to her life, which was cut short last week. Here, around the table set up to prepare Huda for her burial, one can find all the answers. Soon, the white sheet will cover her body, and the truth will be buried in the wet sands of the sea, which she loved so much.

‘Like a monster’

Huda Abu Sarari was forced into an engagement at 14 years old — only her mother managed, after much difficulty and pain — to delay the wedding until she was 14. At 19 she was already a mother. Tell me: was this not a murder? The death of a dream? The end of her future? The killing of a blossoming, strong woman?

These walls and the small courtyard have witnessed many screaming matches, they have been struck many times. Here and there they have seen blood. “This is how we were raised, sit aside and shut up,” Eness, Huda’s only sister, said as tears streamed down her face. Men are born with power and total control, as if it were an inseparable part of their being.

Huda divorced after much suffering, returned to her family’s home and dreamt of turning over a new leaf — one that would allow her to study, work, and simply live. But a divorced woman is treated like a monster, a ticking bomb. She is erased. “As if she weren’t a human being,” says her aunt....

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Palestinian culture is flourishing — thanks to Miri Regev

Each attempt to silence Palestinian artists only makes our voices grow louder. It’s time to admit that Miri Regev is the best thing to happen to Palestinian culture since Israel’s founding. Period.

I generally do not tend to write about the Mizrahi struggle and what kind of effect Regev is having on it. But in my eyes she is undoing the hard work of Mizrahi activists and functioning mostly as Netanyahu’s emissary, who uses her to spread hatred and fear in the backyards of Israeli society, where the Mizrahi struggle began. Regev does the job well — she removes the burden of racism and oppression from Netanyahu, while making sure to keep the Mizrahi struggle at bay.

Far be it from me, as a Palestinian citizen who shares this country with Arab Jews (or Jewish Arabs), to judge what Regev does vis-a-vis the Mizrahi struggle. Only time will determine its fate once the Regev era is over. But when taking into consideration the outcome of Regev’s stint as culture minister in Israel, I am convinced as a Palestinian that things have never been better.

The Palestinian national poet, Mahmoud Darwish, would never have received all of this exposure, since never has there been such widespread public discussion of his poetry. And this is probably the opportunity to break it to the culture minister that Darwish has been dead for eight years. So no, Mrs. Regev, there is no way to force him to change the words to his poems and threaten to cut him off from state funds.

When was the last time a Palestinian actor was not ashamed of winning an Israeli prize? When was the last time a Mizrahi poet from Lod performed on stage alongside a Palestinian rapper from Lod? Can you remember the last time a Palestinian actress dedicated her Ophir Prize (the Israeli equivalent of an Oscar) to the women living in the 36 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev Desert?

This puts Regev in a tough spot, to the point that she tried to pressure Haifa’s municipality to cancel Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar’s performance at an Arab-Jewish music festival.

The territorial war over the public’s consciousness began long ago. After our military defeat came nearly 20 years of military rule. The 70s brought about the end of the Shin Bet’s shadowy rule, the control over our education, and the aggressive attempt at Israelizing us. Only in...

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