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Last night in south Tel Aviv, the 'time bomb' went off

What’s going on between Israelis (including Israeli Arabs) and African refugees, and the prospects for more vigilante violence. 

Here’s my suggestion for preventing more vigilante riots like last night’s in South Tel Aviv’s Hatikva Quarter. One, put lots and lots of older, cooler-headed cops and soldiers on the southside, and in Eilat, Arad and every other place where there are large concentrations of African refugees. The main purpose is to deter further attacks on them, the other is to cool the locals’ grotesquely inflated – though not entirely imagined – fear of getting murdered, raped or mugged by them.

Two, the refugee population in south Tel Aviv and Eilat has to be drastically thinned out and relocated throughout the country,  to cities, towns, kibbutzim and moshavim, whether the Africans or Israelis at large like it or not. We cannot “dump” this problem on South Tel Aviv and other poor communities; it’s unjust to the Israeli residents there and dangerous as hell for the refugees.

After being relocated, the Africans have to be allowed to work, or at least be given food, shelter, clothing and health care so they can live.

The big flaw in my plan, though, is that it would not stop the influx of Eritreans, Sudanese and other Africans coming across the border from Sinai, an influx that now stands at 2,000 to 3,000 people a month. In fact, it would probably increase their numbers (though the border fence, supposed to be completed by the end of the year, should reduce them). At some point, Israel would have to decide whether to let the refugees remain where they are, or start building many, many refugee camps in which to hold them. (Currently, there are some 60,000 African refugees in the country.)

By rights as well as by international agreements that Israel has signed, deportation is not an option. These people’s health, safety and very lives would be in danger if they were sent back to Eritrea and Sudan, if not because of the monstrous violence, humanitarian and human rights conditions for everyone there, then because they “deserted” their homeland and went, of all places, to Israel.  Until now, no other country has agreed to take more than a tiny handful of them, even for money; other countries have their own refugees, why should they take Israel’s?

So that’s my plan. Of course, it would never be adopted because Israeli cities, towns, kibbutzim and moshavim would not agree to take in thousands or even hundreds of Africans. And it’s not necessarily because they’re Zionists or racists. On Sunday, Haaretz ran a story about the Israeli Arab village of Kafr Manda, which welcomed the entry of Sudanese refugees when they numbered a few dozen, but which feels overwhelmed now that there are hundreds of them.

“I know people are starting to look at us suspiciously and that bothers me. I see young women walking down the street who, when they see one of us, they run away, and that’s hard. We didn’t come here looking for problems, but to make a living and get away from worse conditions,” Ismail says.

Sheikh Mohammed Nimr, the imam of the Ashuhada mosque on the eastern edge of Kafr Manda, where many of the Sudanese men come to pray, is concerned. “When they first came here and found work, we welcomed them. After all these are people who suffered persecution and are looking for shelter and we as Palestinian Arabs and Muslims view it as our moral duty to help them.” But Nimr says concern over their numbers is growing. “What started out as a few dozen is now many hundreds,” he says.

Nimr said religious and community leaders called a meeting in the mosque where they explained to the refugees “that we would not tolerate social problems or God forbid behavior that does not conform to our values as Arabs and Muslims. Nimr said, “No doubt the issue now requires the central government to step in.”

The main problem with such large numbers of African refugees being concentrated in South Tel Aviv, or Kafr Manda, is not the threat of violent crime, including rape, although, as I’ve written, this was pretty likely to arise because of where they come from, what they’ve been through and what they’re going through now.

No, the real problem for the communities where they’ve settled is that they are black, male, young, poor and on the streets in large numbers. The sight of them scares the hell out of people. Their presence would be scary in a residential black community, too; in a non-black residential community, they appear all the more alien and threatening.

“I don’t want to even see them,” a woman in Hatikva  told me after an angry, loud, racist (though at least non-violent) anti-refugee rally there about a year ago. Of everything I’ve heard from people in the neighborhood, that remark seems to be the bottom line.

So the idea, very popular among progressives (and police) to let the refugees work since that would bring down their crime rate, however high or low it may be, is beside the point. Even if every single African refugee in South Tel Aviv, Eilat and everywhere else they’re concentrated were perfectly law-abiding, they would still be widely feared and loathed. They are a large, alien-looking, suspicion-arousing presence in residential, family neighborhoods.

For at least a year, people have been using the term “time bomb” to describe this situation. Last night, the time bomb went off. For refugees and Israelis, we  all have a real, serious, dangerous problem on our hands, and I don’t see any decent, humane solution that has a chance of being adopted. Meanwhile, I don’t think I’m alone in expecting the vigilante violence to get worse.

Read also:
How mainstream Israeli politicians sparked the Tel Aviv race riot
How I survived a Tel Aviv mob attack
Africans attacked in Tel Aviv protest; MKs: ‘infiltrators’ are cancer
Using rape to justify racism

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    1. Mitchell Cohen

      There is NO way on earth that these refugees will be allowed in any of the “limousine liberal” (to borrow a term from another poster on another thread) neighborhoods, kibbutzim, moshavim, etc.

      Reply to Comment
    2. max

      Larry, you’re right, but why rub salt into wound?
      You’ve got here a platform – 972mag – whose readers will be delighted to stop bitching and start acting where they can help, since this is why they come to this site.
      They could start by lobbying their governments to understand that although Israel is the closest refuge for these poor people (somehow the Arab Spring didn’t cover this domain yet, but of course we expect them to, since otherwise we’d be racist), it can’t be expected to handle it by itself. They need to help, and each of the commentators here should volunteer to either pay for or shelter a refugee in her/his home.
      A platform, a cause, the right concerned people: where’s the action?

      Reply to Comment
    3. If this hate campaign is specifically aimed at Sudanese, rather than Erirean, asylum seekers, this raises a rather interesting question. If I have understood correctly, these are Muslim Sudanese who fled the south because the independence movement was anti-Muslim — its rationale is that the southerners are, or should be “African Christians (and animists)” (sic) as opposed to the “Arab Muslims” of the north. Of course, this is, like all ethnic cleansing, an arbitrary incision into a naturally mixed population. But Israel played quite a major role in inciting, funding and arming the southern independence struggle, so the flight of Muslims from the new “Christian (and animist)” state constitutes a sort of living reproach against Israel’s own incitement of religious and racial bigotry in Sudan, which it conducted for its own regional political purposes (control of the Red Sea littoral states).

      Reply to Comment
    4. Jack

      Funny, you are not taking a stance against the attacks against the minority groups, no you rather stand on the mob side, saying that these people should be sent home. While putting the blame on the victims.
      I wonder what you would say if there would be a systematic attacks on jews somewhere in the world. With your argument, those attacked should be sent home…

      Reply to Comment
    5. Elisabeth

      Max, here is a comparison of the number of refugees per 1000 inhabitants by country.
      (To give you some perspective.)

      The numbers are of 2010

      Reply to Comment
    6. caden

      Larry, try not to take this personally but this makes two columns in a row that I agree with.

      And Elizabeth, how many African ECONOMIC refugees do you have in your town, or non-white refugees of any kind.

      Reply to Comment
    7. max

      Elisabeth, I think that even by your joke Israel sits quite nicely compared to most European countries!

      Reply to Comment
    8. Jack


      You seems to have a penchant for pitting against minorities. Is it really hard for you to condemn these attacks?

      Reply to Comment
    9. Elisabeth

      “even by my joke”?
      I have no idea what that means.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Gili

      Larry, I think you are offering a band aid solution. The time bomb that you speak off is not only about the asylum seekers it is about government negligence and cyncism in pitting two weak populations, the poor and underserved residents of South Tel Aviv and the asylum seekers. A good comprehesive plan could have taken advantage of the influx of asylum seekers a lot of whom are educated. There are many migrant workers in Israel who take jobs that could be given to asylum seekers not to mention the resident of South Tel Aviv.

      Also, in reading this and your previous commentary I found a tone in your writing that doesn’t fully comprehend the larger historical and regional context of this situation. Maybe I am reading into it and there is nothing there. Nevertheless, I feel that as Jews we should be extra accommodating to any refugees and it is only fair that we do our part in helping those persecuted worlwide. Perhaps you already know it but there is a good primer on 972mag about the refugees and asylum seekers. http://972mag.com/myths-facts-and-suggestions-asylum-seekers-in-israel/33740/

      Reply to Comment
    11. Elisabeth

      Anyway, here a comparison of the numbers (2010):

      Refugees per 1000 inhabitants
      Syria 50.5
      Jordan 79.2
      Iran 13.2
      Lebanon 11.9
      Saudi Arabia 9.4
      Sweden 8.3
      Norway 7.5
      Germany 7.1
      Switzerland 6.1
      Netherlands 4.7
      UK 4.7
      Austria 4.5
      Denmark 4.3
      Algeria 2.7
      France 2.6
      Belgium 1.6
      Israel 1.3
      Egypt 1.2
      Lybia 1.0

      Reply to Comment
    12. Mikesailor

      This would almost be comical if it weren’t so sad. Black Africans running from violence attempt to escape such violence by entering another country which apparently doesn’t want them. Yet, the Jews constantly castigate the countries who, prior to WWII, didn’t allow Jews to enter for asylum. Curious how history repeats the same themes. Have blacks become the new Jews?
      And, Larry, there are according to your figures now 60,000 African refugees living in Israel. And you continually state there are 2-3,000 per month entering. So, the blacks all arrived within the last 2 1/2 years? And the Israeli government has still not developed an orderly system for either adjudicating asylum claims, nor for refugee relocation, nor dealing with them in any way except dumping them on the streets without even temporary work permits? And as to stating that you understand their so-called predilection toward crime because of ‘where they come from’, isn’t your racism showing just a bit? Pre-WWII, many Western countries were saying the same about another group of refugees. I don’t recall however, even with the influx of refugees into those countries, their politicians either advocating or turning a blind eye toward race riots and violence against the unhappy newcomers. In that respect Israel has set a new low for human behavior.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      A thought experiment: Jewish refugees settle in Arab neighborhoods in large numbers. The long-time Arab residents resist what they see as the destruction of their neighborhoods. Finally, anti-Jewish riots erupt. How would the various +972 contributors and commenters react to that?

      Reply to Comment
    14. Jewish refugees from where?

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    15. Elisabeth

      Aaron, that is not a thought experiment: It is history. It happened, in the ninteen twenties as you very well know.

      Zionist immigration caused fear and tension and resulted in riots and attacks. I am not sure if the immigrants should be called refugees though,as many immigrated to Israel for ideological reasons.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      Jewish refugees from someplace analogous to Eritrea. What difference does it make where? Imagine poor, jobless Jewish refugees flooding into Arab neighborhoods. With whom do you sympathize – gut feeling? How many +972 contributors would condemn the “anti-Semitic” Arabs who are trying to save their neighborhood from the Jewish migrants?

      Reply to Comment
    17. Jack

      Weird argument, couldnt we agree that any violent attack on minorities are wrong? Dont you condemn these attacks?

      Reply to Comment
    18. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      I’m just a racist troll, so here’s my opinion. The question of African violence is a red herring. Larry’s penultimate paragraph is quite correct about Israeli attitudes, and the Jews in south Tel Aviv have every right to try to preserve the existence of their communities, even if threatened by aliens who were perfectly law-abiding and respectable.
      You may ban me now.

      Reply to Comment
    19. I couldn’t form any sort of ‘gut feeling’ until I knew where they came from and why, so that I could form a mental image of what sort of Jews they were, what sort of political, military and economic resources they may have, and so on. If you say, “well then, imagine they’re penniless: real refugees with no friends and nowhere to go,” then I have to wonder, how could that happen, today? Maybe if the Iranian government expelled the Jews of Iran — but the Iranian government is not that stupid. The only Jewish refugees I could imagine today would be from an anti-Semitic government coming to power in the West, but the Jews of such a country would not be without political political power if it did happen. So it’s a nonsensical hypothesis.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      Jack, great job missing the point! Of course I condemn the attacks.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      Rowan, it’s not a nonsensical hypothesis. It’s a HYPOTHESIS. But I’m not asking you to play the game if you don’t want to.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      Elisabeth, ethnic migration is one of the great themes of +972. The contributors themselves don’t understand that, but it’s true nevertheless. Every instance of migration to every community is unique, obviously, and that should never be forgotten. You yourself pointed to some obvious differences. But +972 errs in the opposite direction, ignoring the commonality between Zionist migration into the Land of Israel, Jewish migration into east Jerusalem, haredi migration into Beit Shemesh, African migration into south Tel Aviv, and a thousand other instances instances of ethnic migration in the Land of Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Elisabeth

      “Imagine poor, jobless Jewish refugees flooding into Arab neighborhoods.”
      There is no need to imagine, I will simply look at the past: History is a more solid base than imagination.
      You speak of poor Jewish refugees, but the Zionist immigrants in the nineteen twenties (when there were anti-Jewish pogroms in Palestine) were often richer and better educated than the indigenous population. And they immigrated out of idealism. They had an agenda and were not strictly refugees.
      And this is a BIG difference with the situation now: They had an agenda. They wanted to establish a sovereign Jewish state in the territory. The fears of the Palestinians were a lot more real (as history has shown) than the fears of the people of Tel Aviv now. Or do you really believe the Africans want to establish their own state on your territory, like the Zionists wanted in the nineteen twenties?

      Reply to Comment
    24. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      Correction: I didn’t meant to call the haredim an ethnie.
      I also left out a +972 classic on that theme: Lisa Goldman’s migration into Jaffa.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      Elisabeth, no, I meant exactly what I said: a thought experiment. The HYPOTHESIS is that the Jewish refugees are analogous to the African refugees. Any similarity to Zionists in the 1920s is purely coincidental, ha-ha. Really, look at it as a thought experiment.
      My point is that almost everyone here has an ethnic ax to grind. Isn’t that pretty obvious?

      Reply to Comment
    26. max

      There are many ways of comparing ‘refugee support’ within the site you refer to, you chose one.
      Incidentally, you chose the one that refers to the number of people who received the refugee status, not number of ‘potential refugees’ that entered the country.
      Within the (irrelevant) one you chose, you compare with the Arab countries who – to a large degree – contributed if not created the refugee problem you now associate with them.
      Then, there’s the time element – again Israel’s region is the only one in the world where refugees count for ever… can you really be honest and compare?
      Finally, you choose the EU countries with a high refugee %, but of course you know that – as I wrote – Israel sits rather comfortably when all European countries are concerned.
      I assume you didn’t realize the points I mentioned above, otherwise it’d be a very dishonest approach.

      Reply to Comment
    27. caden

      Still waiting Elizabeth. How many African ECONOMIC refugees are on your block. Give me a number.

      Reply to Comment
    28. Jack

      Emmigration doesnt mean end to state. If Israel cant tolerate black in their state, they should stop using the word democracy to describe itself.

      Reply to Comment
    29. max

      Elisabeth, I wonder about your ‘disagreement’ with Aaron – you’ve already acknowledged that in all countries, including yours, there’s a threshold over which the population – and politicians – react aggressively.
      That you may not care if you were to live next to and surrounded in your own country by people with whom you have no cultural or otherwise affinity, is remarkable, but the point here is that the universal attitude is different, and should not be treated lightly.
      That is not to condone politicians with no morals or violent mobs, it’s rather the call to not provide them with ammunition

      Reply to Comment
    30. the other joe

      Caden, I am missing something, how do you know they are economic migrants rather than legitimate refugees?

      Reply to Comment
    31. Piotr Berman

      Refugees are all over the world, but rabble rousing politicians in government majorities are somewhat less frequent, and they present a problem that may be tackled more easily. Note a little hunt for leftist journalists that was part of the riot.

      The main target of political xenophobia is typically “the enemy within”.

      Concerning solving hard problems that have humanitarian dimension, incitement is surely the worst approach. If nothing else, it requires a lot of negotiations and some “carrots”.

      Reply to Comment
    32. max

      Piotr, despite your observation, Israel didn’t yet suffer from reactions as seen in France, UK, Germany and Russia…
      So there must be something good at the base of its population 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    33. max

      TOJ, apparently the majority of Eritreans are draft dodgers.
      I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes if they’re returned to one of the worst HR faring countries, but it does raise some questions when you see the local impact.
      Incidentally, Jordan is going to return a few of them to Yemen in the next few days

      Reply to Comment
    34. caden

      Because Joe if it was political or religious persecution they would just be happy to go to neighboring countries. But they don’t do that, do they. They’re economic refugees who are going to a 1st world country. That’s what this is about

      Reply to Comment
    35. Piotr Berman

      There are many waves of refugees in Africa. For example, 100,000 from Mali in Burkina Faso, and I guess in the last few months, because northern Mali is overrun by Tuareg fighters.

      Eritrea is much more repressive than Ethiopia and military service is 7 years. Because of a war between Eritrea and Ethiopia that is not truly finished, this is a very tangled situation.

      I lived for a little while in Germany in a neighborhood with many Africans (and more Turks). I did not see any problems. In Germany and Russia there are some problems with skinheads, but politicians stay away from that.

      Reply to Comment
    36. Joel


      Brilliant comparison above.


      Reply to Comment
    37. Elisabeth

      Max, what I did is, I took the Netherlands and its neighbors and then Israel and its neighbors + I added a couple of countries in North Africa out of personal curiosity. The Netherlands and the circle of wealthy countries around it are popular destinations for refugees, as is Israel. That is a fair comparison.

      If you don’t like it, do some work and make up a better list. You claimed Israel had so many refugees that I personally had to take people from Israel in my own home in the Netherlands or shut up. I have shown you that my country and the ones that surround it have taken many times more refugees than Israel in the past, and so it will take a couple of years for Israel to catch up. Until that time, don’t speak to me in such a high tone.

      And I don’t like being called dishonest.If I had looked up the number of potential refugees you would have said: “Oh, but you deport 2/3, the numbers are irrelevant”. Give me the relevant numbers then? Go ahead, do some work.

      Most refugees in Europe came in the last 30 years. I have no idea after how many years they stop being counted as refugees. Please look it up for me if you are so keen to make a point about it.

      Finally, the countries surrounding you (with the big exception of Egypt) have many times more refugees than you. Syria has taken many people from Irak, for instance but the majority of refugees come from your own country. You think Israel has no responsability at all for the fact that they lost their home? Fine. I don’t care. The fact still is that the countries around you have taken in many more refugees than you, and only now that it is happening to yourself the whole world is blamed and you demand that they help you. Have some perspective.

      By the way, look around Amsterdam, where I grew up and lived on and off until recently. You will see people from all over the world. I have always found myself completely comfortable in those surroundings, and of my most intimate friends, one is from Surinam and the other from Morocco (both refugees actually, now that I think about it) and I find it remarkable that you immediately conclude that I could have no cultural or other kind of affinity with non-Western people. That says a lot about you.

      Reply to Comment
    38. the other joe

      Actually, people seeking asylum can seek it in any safe country. It is a ridiculous argument – which can only be used by racists – to claim that someone is an economic migrant when they could have gone somewhere closer. What safe countries are there between Sudan, Eritrea and Israel? The fact that Jordan is expelling people is of no relevance given that Jordan is hardly a paragon of virtue in human rights and that they’re already harbouring far more refugees than anyone else in the region.
      Don’t lecture me or anyone else from a northern European country about accepting refugees when we already have tens of thousands of people who have been granted refugee status from around the world you arrogant fucks. Do you know how hard it is to be given refugee status here? Do you have any fucking idea what these folks are running from?
      And for some fool to claim that Sudanese refugees are exporting some kind of Islamic fundamentalism when the vast majority of them are Christians expelled from the North is so far beyond the truth as to be ridiculous. Talk about blaming the victims.
      Israel encourages some economic migration and for those it does not want, it enforces closed borders. How the fuck do you think someone got into Israel without a valid-looking refugee claim or an economic visa?

      Reply to Comment
    39. max

      TOJ, “How the fuck do you think someone got into Israel ” – by walking and suffering weeks and longer till the open border between Egypt and Israel.
      When you don’t know, ask. Your pretentious rage is funny at best.
      ” from a northern European country” – actually, Israel should learn from some of them how not to over do the hospitality thing, lest hate murders become too common

      Reply to Comment
    40. the other joe

      Yeah, people can just walk into Israel from Egypt. Of course they can.

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    41. Cyrus

      They themselves “infiltrated” there some 60 years ago but don’t call this as “Cancerous”!
      It’s been 60 years they have been expelling people from their lands, bombing them and killing them.

      Come on, they have been importing slaves and cheap labor and now that their economy is going down they go on a “black bashing trip.”

      Reply to Comment
    42. max

      TOJ, and once you find out that you’re ignorant on these matters, and just a tad too arrogant, would that change your view?

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    43. caden

      Send them on to Amsterdam and where Joe lives. Israel is a tiny country and can’t afford to take in half of Africa.

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    44. the other joe

      Caden, you have 1) no idea where I live and 2) no evidence that we’re not already taking our fair share of refugees. Israel is not taking more than a tiny tiny percentage of the refugee problem in Africa, stop talking rubbish.
      Max, please prove to me that there is a significant migration of people across the borders from Egypt. I don’t believe there is – and if there is, maybe you need to be campaigning for better Border Police that spend less time hassling Palestinians and more time worrying about the threats from the Egyptian border.

      Reply to Comment
    45. the other joe

      Furthermore, Caden, before you speak more shit about African migrants and what Israel’s neighbours are doing, you should know that there is a significant migrant population in Egypt of Sudanese refugees who fled the war.

      Reply to Comment
    46. max

      Elisabeth, I don’t think that it makes sense to address the issue as a “my country did better than yours” type of debate. I take it as a compliment that because I defend reason and seem to know what I’m talking about you assume to know what my country is… which is irrelevant to the subject.
      Based on the stats you refer to, your country should be looking at Pakistan, Syria and Iran as the beacon of openness… and if you look at Europe and start from countries such as Portugal and Spain – then Italy, Greece, Slovenia, Hungary, Finland… the totality of EU’s ex-Soviet countries… you’ll see that Israel sits well in comparison.
      My call wasn’t directed at you personally, but at the general Israel bashing from various people here, regardless of what else can be taken as benchmark. Obviously, something similar is happening in Israel, where the residents of those – rather poor – places where the refugees stay, reject the critique of their reaction coming from people who have not a single refugee on their street

      Reply to Comment
    47. the other joe

      @Max, maybe you can explain this to me: according to that, the PM claims 60,000 people crossed from Egypt. The PM’s spokesman says there is an issue with 700 Sudanese migrant. That is quite a difference in number.
      How many of those 60,000 end up living and working inside Israel? Even if this number is accurate (which I doubt), how many are picked up by the authorities and expelled immediately (or even shot at)? How long do you honestly think an illegal could last in a suburb of Tel Aviv without being picked up? How do you know that this particular community has not already been granted refugee status or is in the process of being considered for refugee status?
      And if the border is as leaky as all that, how come militants continue trying to fire rockets from Gaza rather than crossing into Israel at the Sinai?

      Reply to Comment
    48. the other joe

      According to this table http://www.flickr.com/photos/61221198@N05/6996550292 – which is from an Knesset report here http://www.knesset.gov.il/mmm/data/pdf/me02765.pdf
      of 33439 ‘infiltrators’ up to end of 2011, 26,164 received a 2(a)(5) permit.
      This is “A temporary licence to reside [in Israel] as a visitor for a person who is in Israel without a residency permit and has been given an expulsion order – up until his departure from Israel or his expulsion”.
      Which shows several things: first the idea that people can cross the Sinai and not be picked up by the Border Police is crap. Second, the Israeli government is aware of 33,000 (where does the 60,000 come from? Have another 30,000 arrived in 6 months?), which it has decided are apparently not refugees but has not expelled them. So whose fault is that? Finally 7000 are not given this 2(a)(5) status – which presumably means they are either given refugee status or no status. Why would they be given neither?

      Reply to Comment
    49. Elisabeth

      “I take it as a compliment that because I defend reason and seem to know what I’m talking about you assume to know what my country is… which is irrelevant to the subject.”

      Ok, I am taking a break Max. I am having a really hard time following this! Cheers.

      Reply to Comment
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