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Hamas didn't start this fight, but it won't win it either

If Hamas allows Israel to drag it into another lopsided fight, it will not only cost the lives of countless innocent civilians in Gaza, it will also distract from ongoing mass resistance to the siege.

Israel’s killing of Hamas commander Nour Baraka on Sunday and the predictable response from the Islamist movement have sparked fears of renewed hostilities between the two sides. Although it remains unclear whether Baraka’s killing was planned or the result of a botched Israeli “intelligence-gathering” operation, many observers see parallels with Israel’s 2012 assassination of Ahmad Al Jabari, then the head of Hamas’ military wing. That incident set off eight days of fighting in which six Israelis and 167 Palestinians were killed.

If the deadly exchange six years ago was about avenging a senior Hamas commander, its casualties, even according to the Israeli military’s official figures, were mostly civilian. The same outcome would surely follow another confrontation, as any sustained Israeli air assault would no doubt send Hamas operatives into hiding. Both sides know this, and though Netanyahu has demonstrated time and again that he will not hesitate to kill innocents, especially in pursuit of domestic political gain, what options does Hamas have?

To explore this question, we must be clear about what is at stake.

Whether they intended it or not, Israel’s military planners know that Baraka’s killing will bait Hamas. Any sustained response by the Palestinian faction would clearly benefit Netanyahu, who has been lambasted by his political opponents for allowing $15 million in Qatari cash to be transferred to the Strip, mostly as a stop-gap against its ongoing descent into chaos.

Yet despite the fallout from that move, Netanyahu has a more pressing political problem — mass resistance to Israel’s ongoing siege and the humanitarian disaster it has created.

According to recent estimates, some 200 Palestinian protesters, part of the thousands who march each week along Israel’s self-declared “border” with Gaza, have been gunned down by state snipers while a further 18,000 have been injured, many by live fire. These victims include the wheelchair-bound 29-year-old Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, whom Israeli snipers shot in the head with live ammunition, an act the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called “truly shocking and wanton”; and 21-year-old volunteer medic Razan Al-Najar, who wore a white uniform and, according to eyewitness reports, had her hands raised when an Israeli sniper shot...

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In my Palestinian grandfather's story, I find reasons to endure

Like all refugees, Ahmad Badawi Mustafa Ayoub left the world unmoored, his memories rent from the land that made them. But his story, like Palestine’s itself, will matter well beyond the next negotiation. No empire, no flag, or sovereign can change that.

The Government of Palestine’s Directorate of Education, from its Samaria branch in Nablus, informed Ahmad Badawi Mustafa Ayoub that his teaching duties had been re-assigned on December 8, 1936. The 35-year-old had 11 days to report to a new school in Deir el-Ghusoun, a village that, according to a 1931 British census, was home to some 450 households, all of them Muslim.

It was in this boys-only school that the third eldest of my five aunts learned to read and write. While the other village parents kept their young daughters at home, my Palestinian grandfather, the teacher from Samaria, sat his at the classroom’s helm, where the lords of the British Empire held no rein.

In this post-peace era, palls cast over our long negotiation with Israel, these little histories can seem too quaint. After all, with so many threats against our identity, so many of our people stripped of agency, we Palestinians must spar with an awful present. But in this fight, our family chronicles make for more than wistful conversation. They give us more reasons to endure.

I was reminded of this while scrolling through an archive of my grandfather’s papers, struggling to draw some perspective from the rush of eulogies for Oslo’s ninth life. What I discovered — in his Ottoman birth certificate, his British teaching credentials, his various letters from this or that Jordanian directorate — was evidence of a life more resolute than the three sovereigns that defined it.

Ahmad was born in 1901 to Al-Haj Mustafa Ayoub, a Sufi poet from the village of Majdal Sadeq and was a subject of the vast and waning Ottoman Empire, which had by then ruled Palestine for some four hundred years. When his son was barely out of infancy, Ayoub (Arabic for “Job”) moved his family to Shweikeh, just outside the northern Palestinian town of Tulkarem. There, Ahmad completed his early schooling before enrolling in Jerusalem’s Rashidiya School.

According to a biography written by another of his grandsons, the day of Ahmad’s departure was a festive one, with neighbors and their children gathering to see the young pupil off. Back then, it seems, it was a sight to...

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Palestinian Authority, Hamas use torture to silence dissent, report finds

A new report by Human Rights Watch documents dozens of cases whereby the Palestinian authorities in both the West Bank and Gaza use arbitrary arrest and torture to repress critics.

A new Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigation published Tuesday draws on 86 cases of arbitrary arrest, abuse, and torture by Fatah and Hamas authorities in the West Bank and Gaza to call for an International Criminal Court probe, as well as a suspension of aid to Palestinian security forces. According to the report, acts of repression by the two Palestinian authorities against Palestinians engaged in peaceful speech and nonviolent protest “may amount to a crime against humanity.”

Citing the Palestinian Authority’s accession to “a range of international treaties,” including the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which the ruling Hamas government in Gaza has said it is also bound by, the report concludes that torture in both jurisdictions is systematic and amounts to official policy.

“The habitual, deliberate, widely known use of torture, using similar tactics over years with no action taken by senior officials in either authority to stop these abuses, make these practices systematic,” write the authors. “They also indicate that torture is governmental policy for both the PA and Hamas.”

In one case, a Gaza civil servant was arrested merely for being tagged in a friend’s Facebook post, which called for protests against the ongoing electricity crisis. Like several others cited in the report, he was subjected to “positional abuse” or shabeh — torture techniques widely used by Israeli interrogators — that made him feel “severe pain in my kidneys and spine” and as if his neck would “break” and his “body is tearing up inside.”

Abdullah Abu Sharekh, a 55-year-old math teacher from Gaza, was arrested intermittently between January 2017 and January 2018 for criticizing a Hamas leader’s comments on Facebook. He spent long stretches of time in a room called “the bus,” where Internal Security agents force detainees to stand or sit in a small child’s chair for hours, sometimes days. “You can’t imagine how painful it was,” Abu Sharekh told HRW. “I decided to leave them alone, so they’ll leave me alone.”

In the West Bank, Alaa Zaqeq was detained for his university activism with the Islamic Bloc, a student group associated with Hamas. Intelligence Services officers handcuffed and blindfolded him, slammed him against the wall, then pursued to torture him. Zaqeq told HRW that an...

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Ceding the Palestinian narrative to ... Palestinians

Marcello Di Cintio’s book, ‘Pay No Heed to the Rockets,’ ends up revealing something discomforting about us: our notions of Palestinian life may have little to do with how Palestinians experience themselves.

Pay No Heed to the Rockets,” Marcello Di Cintio, Counterpoint, 2018.

Marcello Di Cintio’s Pay No Heed to the Rockets borrows its title from Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine’s most widely translated poet, who, amid the sounds of destruction accompanying Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, marks one night under siege with a how-to on coffee brewing. The passage, even in translation, brilliantly evokes the banal, methodical persistence of the civilian in wartime:

This idea, that the daily horrors of life under siege could be little more than an afterthought, especially to those who experience them most intimately, should be the least surprising takeaway of Di Cintio’s meandering, yet deeply satisfying survey of the Palestinian literary scene. But by ceding so much of the narrative to the authors he meets, he ends up revealing something discomforting about us, their English-speaking audience: our notions of life in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel may have little to do with how Palestinians experience themselves.

This insight is not new, of course. In his 2012 memoir, Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine, Ramallah-based author Raja Shehadeh recalls an episode in which he was asked to recount his experiences before a roomful of Palestinian Americans. Di Cintio, who refers to all of his interview subjects by their first names, retells the scene: “Raja knew what they wanted to hear: ‘an inflamed passionate denunciation of the Zionist enemy as the source of all our troubles.’ Raja, though, could not oblige.”

“Only later did I realize that to do so would have been a betrayal of my own existence,” the Palestinian author wrote in Strangers. “To simplify my life and paint it in black-and-white terms was to deny my own reality, which I mainly experienced in tones of gray.” While noting Raja’s impressive accomplishments as a lawyer and founder of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, Di Cintio heralds the author’s ability to express such nuance, even when the issues at stake can seem zero-sum (see, for example, Shehadeh’s recent measured response to Yossi Klein Halevi’s Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor).

Over and over, Di Cintio’s subjects, most of them younger and lesser known than Shehadeh,...

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Fortress Israel and the quiet dignity of Palestinian resistance

Peter Beinart’s interrogation at Ben Gurion Airport made headlines not because of his clout as a public intellectual, but thanks to the quiet dignity of Palestinian children, women and men who have endured Fortress Israel for years.

I first lost my father in the heat of a Jericho summer, 20 years ago this week. He disappeared, or so it seemed, between the river and the “rest area,” a concrete-columned bus depot known to Arabs as the istiraha. Teeming with travelers, some on their way to Jordan, others inbound for the West Bank, it was an easy place to lose one’s bearings, and foreign tourists were known to bypass it by paying extra for a private cab.

My father, though, was no tourist. Born and raised in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, he had lost his right to return in the 1967 war, when his absence — he was a medical student in Baghdad — cost him his residency.

For years, Baba had balked at the idea of returning. “Samer, in the final analysis,” he would say, employing a favorite phrase, “I simply can’t ask permission to visit my own home.” But five years after the Oslo Accords, he, like others of his generation, the last to be born before 1948, sensed his time was short. He began to ponder the possibility of an imperfect homecoming.

After months of jockeying, I had managed to get him an Israeli-issued permit to enter the West Bank. A cousin, still a resident of Tulkarem, had used his hawiya, or Palestinian identity card, to sponsor Baba, and the timing — late August, with its promise of freshly picked figs — was enough to sway him toward the trip.

Like the town that abuts it, the Jericho “rest area” sits at the lowest point on earth. At the time, travelers from Jordan could get there, from the Israeli-administered crossing point, by bus. There, they would navigate the way station, distilling from the noise of diesel engines and generators the names of various West Bank destinations, shouted in quick succession by drivers anxious to sell their last seat. “Al Quds! Al Quds! Al Quds!” signaled the onward journey to East Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. Ramallah, Nablus, or Bethlehem rose from the bustle, too.

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For all its motion, the istiraha also served as a designated waiting area for friends...

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Lessons from my Palestinian mother about Jerusalem — and resistance

For 70 years, Israel has tried to erase Palestinian history. And for 70 years, Palestinians have resisted erasure. My mother helped me understand how. 

In her expansive history of Jerusalem, British author Karen Armstrong describes a peculiar pastime of Moshe Dayan, the Israeli general who, in 1967, captured the city’s eastern half. Dayan, it turns out, was “the most famous of Israel’s amateur archaeologists,” an avid practitioner with “a quasi-religious passion” for unearthing fragments of Jerusalem’s Jewish past.

This “patriotic archaeology” was more than hobby, though. Dayan saw in it a way to inspire allegiance, among Jewish Israelis, to the state. “They learn that their forefathers were in this country three thousand years ago,” he told an interviewer. “By this they fight, and by this they live.”

For the Palestinian family in exile, archaeology takes on different meaning. Deprived of the land, we sift instead through the memories of our kin, our living history held in the mesh of imagery and idiom.

I recall how, two decades into the Oslo process, I pried open a box my mother had asked me to hold in safekeeping (“in a cool, dry place,” she said). In it, I found hundreds of faded photographs — my mother’s history, hidden all those years in sepia stills. There she was outside her home in Bethlehem, a scout in neckerchief and beret. There she was, at Jerusalem’s Mamounia school, then just a bus ride away.

It was this living Palestinian history that Jerusalem’s Israeli “liberators,” Dayan at heir helm, sought to erase. In July of 1950, after he had ordered the destruction of an eleventh-century structure, said to be the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Dayan made no attempt to conceal the act: “The detonation was carried out by the Coastal Plain District,” he proclaimed, “at my instruction.”

What followed was equally remorseless. By the time this particular campaign of erasure had ended, Dayan’s army had destroyed three-quarters of the mosques that fell within Israel’s newly established borders. As the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé has documented, such was the fate of entire Palestinian villages, hundreds of them summarily razed by Israel’s first generation.

If the truth of that early “cleansing” has now been documented by Pappé and others, it would be a mistake to think of it as past. As my colleague Edo Konrad reminded +972 readers earlier this month, Dayan’s eulogy to...

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'UNRWA shouldn't be held hostage to politics'

As the U.S. slashes the Palestinian refugee agency’s budget, Netanyahu is urging it be abolished altogether. Some believe that shuttering UNRWA would somehow make the Palestinian refugee problem extinct. ‘Not true,’ says the agency’s director in Washington.

The Trump administration announced this week that it had cut by more than half its contribution to the UN Relief Works Agency for Palestinian refugees.

The agency provides life-saving assistance to 80 percent of the population in Gaza, food assistance for over a million Palestinians throughout the region, and schools for over half a million children.

Trump’s announcement of the funding cuts first came in a series of tweets in which he lamented getting “no appreciation or respect” from the Palestinian leadership, and its rejection of the his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” Trump tweeted in early January.

To better understand what is at stake and why some are taking advantage of this moment to advocate eradicating the agency altogether, +972 Magazine spoke with Elizabeth Campbell, Director of the UNRWA Representative Office in Washington. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Do we know yet when this decision would take effect, and how soon it would impact the agency?  

The decision has already been made. UNRWA received $60 million from the United States and at this time has no information that there will be any additional funding forthcoming. It is more than an 80 percent cut over last year’s funding. It is already impacting the Agency in every possible way, since the United States was the largest donor. We are mobilized and responding by asking every citizen who cares about helping to keep 525,000 kids in school to donate to UNRWA.

Israel has taken the U.S. funding cuts as an opportunity to renew its demand that UNRWA be dismantled and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, ultimately take responsibility for Palestinian refugees. Why does Israel want that, and what would the consequences be?  

UNRWA is mandated by the majority of the UN’s member states to provide assistance and protection to five million refugees. To change this mandate, the members of the UN would need to revise UNRWA’s mandate. UNHCR is unable and unwilling to otherwise take responsibility for Palestine refugees. The two main reasons that people argue for this is because they...

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Our pledge to the next generation of Palestinians and Israelis

What actual change will look like is not for journalists to decide. What we can do, however, is invite those who care about this land and its people to reckon with the inconvenient questions before us.

The night before I traveled to Gaza to cover the 2014 war for +972 Magazine, I received a call from Noam Sheizaf, +972’s executive director at the time. “I want you to know we are all behind you,” he said.

“We” were the collective of mostly Jewish-Israeli bloggers that, six months prior, had invited me to become a regular contributor to the site. By the time I’d had my first conversation with Noam, I had only ever met one of them in person, but I felt a deep and mutual kinship with each and every one of my fellow writers.

To understand why, one need only read Lisa Goldman’s open-hearted reflections about Nabi Saleh published this week, in which she describes her experience as the lone Israeli journalist covering the weekly protests there. As Lisa’s piece demonstrates, +972 is not only challenging Israel’s official narratives about the occupation, it is doing so through the kind of writing that goes beyond platitude to evoke empathy and reflection.

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Anything less would disrespect you, our readers, and—more to the point—do little to generate new ways of thinking. The brutal truth is that bravado is too much with us in this conflict, and so much of what we read or hear leads to further entrenchment, not change.

Of course, what actual change will look like is not for the blogger or social media personality to decide. I, for example, am in no position to barter my Palestinian mother’s right of return for a few bylines, especially in a language that is not her own. Neither can I presume to speak on behalf of the Palestinians I met in Gaza three years ago.

What I and my fellow contributors to +972 can do, however, is invite those who care about this land and its people to reckon with the inconvenient questions before us: how is it that, in Gaza, the killing of more than 500 children in 50 days...

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The limits of the Palestinian struggle in Gaza

Gaza-based journalist Saud Abu Ramadan talks to +972 about the limits that Palestinian protesters face in Gaza and asks, how, under the existing conditions, the residents of Gaza are supposed to resist.

Saud Abu Ramadan is a Palestinian journalist based in Gaza. On July 30, 2014, his office on the eighth floor of the Al Basha tower was destroyed by Israeli tank shelling, an experience he spoke to +972 about at the time. On Saturday, he gave his perspective on the latest developments in Gaza, where four people have been killed by Israeli forces since Thursday.  

Thirty years to the day after they gave birth to the first intifada, the Palestinians of Gaza came out en masse Friday, calling for an end to the Israeli occupation and affirming Jerusalem as their nation’s capital. The anniversary made of the protests a kind of rite, recalling the First Intifada’s “children of the stones” and offering a reminder that, three decades and as many wars later, Israel had failed to extinguish that generation’s yearning.

Like those who came before them, Palestine’s new ranks form a body politic that, against all odds, has kept that common cause. This, after all, is the Oslo generation, reared in the purgatory between process and peace, its geographies rent by racial gerrymandering and force. Yet if the protests in Gaza echoed those in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, there was also one painfully obvious difference: in Gaza, the object of the Palestinians’ rage was nowhere to be seen.

Abu Ramadan reminds me that, except for its two “ground wars” in 2009 and 2014, Israel’s occupation has, for more than a decade, been managed from a distance. Snipers are barricaded behind the territory’s buffer zone. Pilots are harnessed in supersonic jets. Drone operators sit at banks of screens, executing death warrants from above.

That anonymity may help explain why Gaza has borne the brunt of Israel’s violence in recent years, registering more Palestinian civilian deaths in the 51 days of Operation Protective Edge than in the six years of the First Intifada. And if Israeli airstrikes and shelling over the last three days are any indication, the Netanyahu government seems intent on exacting a high price for the Palestinians’ present protest.

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Is Jerusalem forcing a new direction for the Palestinian struggle?

‘This is the least expensive occupation in history,’ says one Palestinian resident. What he wants in return are equal rights in a democratic state. Could this be the future of the Palestinian national movement?   

When I first met Osama Essawi in the summer of 2014, Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” had claimed its 500th Palestinian child, displaced a quarter of Gaza’s population, and sparked demonstrations across the globe. I asked Essawi then why he thought Jerusalem had erupted in protest while the West Bank — with one notable exception — remained largely quiet.

“Easy,” he said. “We don’t have a Palestinian Authority to stop us.”

On Thursday, one day after Donald Trump dubbed his city Israel’s capital, Essawi spoke with me from his home in Jerusalem. When I asked him what the mood was, the 33-year-old Palestinian went silent. Minutes later, he sent me a voice message, apologizing. The Israelis had clashed with a group of protesters, he said, and “there was commotion in the village.”

The village is Issawiyeh. Like their name, Osama’s family is rooted here. Their home, where three generations now live, faces Mount Scopus to the south, the Jewish-only settlement of French Hill to the north, and, to the east, the Israeli-defined boundary of Jerusalem, which separates the city from the West Bank.

These days, the scenes on either side of that boundary can look identical. Meter-high stone blocks cut off the entrances to Jerusalem’s Palestinian enclaves. Israeli military checkpoints ration entry and exit to West Bank towns and villages. Villagers are routinely attacked, detained, or doused with so-called “skunk” trucks.

And everywhere, Palestinians have this in common: they are a people besieged.

In a sense, then, the protests marking this week’s announcement, which included a Palestinian general strike in Jerusalem, are nothing unusual. According to Essawi, Trump’s speech was met with a collective shrug in his village, though he acknowledges that American recognition could make an already bleak situation worse.

“This was a green light for Israel to speed up its colonization of Jerusalem,” said Essawi, a longtime activist whose cousin, Samer, was among the first Palestinian political prisoners to participate in a hunger strike. After being released in late 2013, he was detained again six months later.

Essawi recalls how, in the summer of 2014, his village was known as “little Gaza,” with a reputation for fierce clashes with Israeli security forces. The Israelis had closed both entrances...

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Absent in the clamor about Jerusalem are the Palestinians of Jerusalem

In Arab capitals speculation turns to panic about Trump’s expected reversal of policy on Jerusalem. Meanwhile, nobody seems to be talking about — or to — the Palestinians of Jerusalem, whose daily reality of occupation will remain irrespective of what comes next.

Speculation was rife on Tuesday that the U.S. president would soon break with the international consensus on Jerusalem, formally acknowledging it as Israel’s capital. Whether that acknowledgement would come in the form of a speech, a directive to move the U.S. embassy there, or both remained unclear as of this writing, but the prospect of such a dramatic break from longstanding White House policy seemed to evoke unrestrained panic in Arab capitals.

The official Saudi Press Agency ran a statement from the Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs warning of “grave and negative consequences.” Jordan’s top envoy tweeted that the U.S. move would “trigger anger,” not to mention violate UN Security Council resolutions. And none other than Mahmoud Abbas cited the threat to “regional and global security and stability.”

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Yet absent from the frenzy were Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents themselves, who just four months ago led a week-long nonviolent protest that rallied thousands of Muslims and Christians in what +972 Magazine’s Edo Konrad called an act of “mass civil disobedience.” At issue then was access to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, which the Netanyahu government, against the advice of both the Israeli military and internal security service, had restricted by erecting metal detectors.

Writing at the time, another of my colleagues, +972 Magazine’s Amjad Iraqi, saw the protests as evidence of Palestinians “reviving their agency” in Jerusalem: “Christians and secularists were seen standing alongside conservative Muslims in prayer, affirming that the fight for Al-Aqsa is a national cause and not just a religious one,” he wrote shortly after the protests ended.

And yet, despite pressuring the government to remove the metal detectors, what Palestinians hailed as a triumph of peaceful protest was already being claimed by others.

Some press reports had it that Netanyahu had acceded, not to the protestors’ demands, but to a deal put forward by Jordan’s King Abdallah, who had sought some recompense for the murder of two Jordanian nationals by an Israeli embassy guard...

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Palestinian rights make a rare appearance in Congress

A first-of-its-kind bill introduced this week focusing on the rights of Palestinian children could pave the way for greater transparency and accountability in America’s dealings with Israel.   

Members of Congress on Tuesday introduced a bill requiring the U.S. Secretary of State to certify that funds bound for Israel “do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” The proposed legislation, put forward by Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum, had ten co-sponsors when it was announced.

Although that number may seem small, especially when measured against the 268 current co-sponsors of the so-called Israel Anti-Boycott Act, the “Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act” is further evidence that the Palestinian rights movement in the U.S. is gaining unprecedented ground.

“As the first-ever bill on Palestinian human rights introduced in Congress, we see [this] as a direct challenge to the systemic impunity enjoyed by Israeli forces,” said Brad Parker, an attorney with Defense for Children International-Palestine, which has been working to support McCollum and other members of Congress through its No Way to Treat a Child campaign.

According to a statement issued yesterday by DCI-Palestine, in the West Bank alone, some 10,000 Palestinian children — defined as those between the ages of 12 and 17 — have been “subject to arrest, detention, interrogation, and/or imprisonment under the jurisdiction of Israeli military courts since 2000.” And during Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza, 535 Palestinian children were killed “as a direct result of Israeli attacks,” according to a report posted on the organization’s website.

That all of this has done little to moderate Congressional exuberance over Israel’s policies is no secret. But behind the scenes, a group of activists has been patiently engaging with members willing to question the status quo on Israel. McCollum is one of those members.

Her bill caps a three-year advocacy campaign, spearheaded by DCI-Palestine and the American Friends Service Committee, to expose Israeli abuses against Palestinian children. Although the proposed legislation stands little chance of passing into law, Jennifer Bing, program director of AFSC’s Palestine Israel Program, says the effort behind it has helped build awareness on Capitol Hill about Palestinian rights.

“Three years ago, when we started this campaign with DCI-Palestine, few people in Congress knew about the systematic detention of Palestinian children in the Israeli military court system,” says Bing. “Today we have ten champions in Congress who are speaking up for the rights of Palestinian children and asking for accountability. We expect more to join them and for the issue...

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ACLU launches first major challenge of anti-BDS legislation

The lawsuit offers the most stark example yet of how anti-BDS legislation threatens Americans’ First Amendment rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union announced Wednesday that it had filed suit on behalf of a Kansas public school educator who was asked to disavow a boycott of Israel as a condition for payment. The case comes amid growing concerns that recent state-level legislation across the United States is chilling free speech among proponents of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.

The Kansas law, which came into effect on July 1 of this year, directs the state to “require written certification from all individuals and companies with which it enters into contracts” that they are “not engaged in a boycott of Israel.”

“The First Amendment prohibits the government from using its financial leverage to impose an ideological litmus test,” said ACLU attorney Brian Hauss. “This law is an unconstitutional attempt by the government to silence one side of a public debate by coercing people not to express their beliefs, including through participation in a political boycott.”

A member of the Mennonite Church, Esther Koontz “decided not to buy consumer products made by Israeli companies and international companies operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories,” the ACLU said. Her decision is in line with the church’s July 2017 resolution “to avoid economic support for the military occupation of Palestinian territories.”

The resolution, which also called on Mennonites “to examine the legacy of anti-Semitism in their own history and life,” followed earlier successful divestment motions by the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church.

“You don’t need to share my beliefs or agree with my decisions to understand that this law violates my free speech rights,” Koontz said. “The state should not be telling people what causes they can or can’t support.”

A nine-year veteran of Wichita public schools, Koontz, a math teacher, now develops school curricula and trains teachers. She had been asked to sign the anti-boycott certification as part of her engagement with the Kansas Department of Education’s Math and Science Partnerships program.

The ACLU complaint asks the court to strike down the state law and bar the Kansas Department of Education from requiring the anti-boycott certification. Legal experts cite as precedent a 1982 Supreme Court decision that reversed a hefty financial judgement against the NAACP for its seven-year boycott of white merchants in Claiborne County, Mississippi. Writing on behalf of the...

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