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The slow death of Israeli citizenship

As the Right consolidates its power over nearly every sphere of Israeli politics, it is slowly turning citizenship into a matter of ideology. Non-Jewish citizens aren’t the only ones who will suffer.

By Marzuq Al-Halabi

Thousands of Israeli Jews wave flags as they mark Jerusalem Day in Damascus Gate on their way to the Western Wall, East Jerusalem, May 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thousands of Israeli Jews wave flags as they mark Jerusalem Day in Damascus Gate on their way to the Western Wall, East Jerusalem, May 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The concept of citizenship in Israel has always suffered from significant inadequacies, whether due to the Law of Return or to state policies that make acquiring citizenship an extremely difficult feat. The current situation, for example, allows the state to claim that Bedouin citizens in the Negev aren’t citizens at all and that their blue ID cards were issued to them by mistake, even if they and their tribe were here long before the establishment of the state. Moreover, the situation allows the state to convince its High Court of Justice to uphold, time and time again, a law that restricts Palestinian spouses on both sides of the Green Line from family reunification.

The same goes for foreign workers and asylum seekers — they are good for doing work that Israelis aren’t willing to do, yet we must prevent them from obtaining citizenship at all costs, while denying them human rights. Furthermore, the state has thus far succeeded at convincing the High Court that there is no such thing as an “Israeli nation.”

Analyzing the current state of Israeli citizenship is no less problematic. Citizenship, after all, is not a formal issue limited to identification cards and papers. There are various layers of Israeli citizenship: one for Jews and one for Arabs; one for veteran citizens and one for immigrants; one for those who live in the center of the country and one for those in the periphery; those who are rich and others who are not. Arab citizens in Israel will justifiably claim that the principle of equality — a foundational principle in any democracy — does not apply to them in many aspects of life, thus infringing upon their rights.

In fact, “equality” does not appear in legislation, nor in any of Israel’s basic laws; it exists only in a number of landmark High Court rulings. Moreover, discrimination against Arabs and other groups exists under the guise of bypassing citizenship through national institutions that privilege Jewish citizens. Even the Law of Return gives preference to a Jewish person living abroad over the Arab in Israel.

Palestinian citizens take part in a general strike in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, in the northern town of Sakhnin, on October 13, 2015. (photo: Omar Sameer)

Palestinian citizens take part in a general strike in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, in the northern town of Sakhnin, on October 13, 2015. (photo: Omar Sameer)

If we look at the concept of fundamental citizenship as it pertains to the allocation of resources — material, symbolic, and spatial — we will understand the depth of the inequality that Arab citizens suffer. The indigenous population, which makes up approximately 20 percent of Israel’s citizens, lives and exists on three percent of Israeli land. Every Arab community has lost approximately seven percent of the land owned by its residents before the Nakba in 1948, through land expropriations for “the benefit of the public,” enshrined in laws and regulations passed for this very purpose.

The state has managed to build 700 new towns since its founding, yet not a single Arab town has been built. Israel’s Arab population has for years been suffering from a lack of infrastructure development, services, and budgets. A new law would allow the demolition of Arab homes while restricting the authority of the courts to interfere. Israel is defined as a Jewish country subject to continual Judaization, in which the Arab is viewed as a nuisance, an invader, even a foreigner. The Arab citizen is entirely excluded from the symbols of the state, even though he/she is used as a fig leaf in its ceremonies, or as a way of legitimizing the state in the eyes of its victims.

Not only Arabs

The political space is an additional realm in which we can analyze the essence of citizenship vis-a-vis Arab citizens. Arabs have always been excluded from decision-making positions. In politics and in the economy, they have been dependent on Israeli Jews — consumers of politics, rather than producers.

This trend has only worsened under the formal policies of Israel’s right-wing government over the past decade. The ethnic democracy creates at least two kinds of citizenships: that of the preferred ethnic group and that of those who do not belong to it. But that does not end with Israel’s Arab citizens. The cheapening of citizenship threatens all those who oppose the government’s policies, even if they make up the bread and butter of the country’s preferred ethnic group.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, MK David Bitan, Culture Minister Miri Regev and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a Knesset plenum session, December 5, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, MK David Bitan, Culture Minister Miri Regev and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a Knesset plenum session, December 5, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It is far easier today to torpedo basic political activities through divide and conquer tactics, delegitimization, and deeming people anti-Israeli traitors. That was done to Breaking the Silence and other civil society organizations who deal with human rights. The attacks on cultural institutions who are unwilling to give up on the role of art — to critique the powers that be and bring forward the voice of the silenced, to speak out against the regime and corruption — is a testament to the attempt to silence artistic freedom of expression.

Death to the citizen, long live the regime

Slowly but surely, Israeli citizenship is diminishing in the face of the Right’s crusade. Citizenship has been damaged by a regime that is attempting to draw its boundaries according to a specific ideology. And all those who stray from that ideology or oppose it will have their rights compromised. What is the significance of restricting the right of Israeli citizens from demonstrating in front of the attorney general’s house if not an attempt to clamp down on political rights that are part and parcel of our civic participation?

After decades of “ethnic citizenship,” it seems that Israel is headed toward “ideological citizenship.” In totalitarian Communist regimes of the past, this type of citizenship was characterized by doing away with society for the benefit of the state, and the state for the benefit of the party. Thus, citizenship is wholly negated for the purpose of praising the regime and its symbols.

Tell me that this is far from happening in Israel for some reason or another, and I’ll tell you: no other situation can arise from the right’s policies — only ideological citizenship, in which the regime will live and the citizen will perish. The nation-state law will only be the first constitutional step toward this kind of citizenship. Because all blind nationalism that sanctifies itself will immediately oppress all those who dare call it into question, especially from within. Jews have already been in this situation — as victims.

Marzuq Al-Halabi is a jurist, journalist, author. He writes regularly for Al-Hayat. This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      A few weeks ago the Forward carried this essay on this issue –
      “Why Stripping Non Jews of Their Israeli Citizenship Threatens Zionism””

      http://forward.com/opinion/382754/why-stripping-non-jews-of-their-israeli-citizenship-threatens-zionism/

      “The essential thread here is not as much discrimination against non-Jews in Israel as it is the danger to Israel and to Zionism — the danger to all Israelis — that results when government officials toy with Israeli citizenship. Stripping Zayoud of citizenship retroactively justified his crimes against Israel. Voiding Bedouin Israelis’ citizenship devalues the citizenship of all Israelis and frustrates Zionist ideals. These are actions that weaken Israel and sabotage Zionism. All that Israel has done is to attack itself.”

      Reply to Comment
    2. JeffB

      @Marzuq Al-Halabi

      I’m going to take the opposite point of view here. The combination of birth inherited nationality that is difficult to change and nationality discrimination is a hard policy to defend. A nationality that is defined by ideology and behavior is by definition easy to defend. I’ve argued for making Judaism more expansive like most state churches. Adopting things like Ruthian conversion rather than the strict conversion standards that the Rabbanite prefers. But either solution works equally well by making “Jewish Citizen” distinct from “Halachically Jewish” (very strictly defined). One could then be a Palestinian “Jewish Citizen” even though they weren’t halachically Jewish (potentially even an active Muslim or Christian). If we to just call this Jewish Citizen designation an Israeli Nationality where most Jews and Palestinian loyalists are part of this Israeli Nationality you are well on the way to a viable 1SS with equal rights for all. You are correct that playing this game absolutely endangers birthright citizenship for Jews, but it solves the problem for those Palestinians willing to live as Israelis. It also solves the problem for the several hundred thousand Jewish nationals the Rabbanite is holding in limbo.

      Could this be used to exile the far left? Yes. I think that’s unlikely but sure there is a slim danger. On the other hand that danger fixes the main complaint the far left has with Israeli society. It creates a reasonable path to resolving the conflict. I think you may want to reconsider your objections.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @JeffB: “Jewish citizen designation”? You really don’t what apartheid is, do you?

        Reply to Comment
        • JeffB

          @Bruce

          Yes Apartheid is two peoples occupying the same territory under different legal systems.
          That’s one outcome I’d like to avoid.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Yes Apartheid is two peoples occupying the same territory under different legal systems.”

            Uh, nope. That’s way too sanitized and narrow. And peculiarly devious and slippery. (But what’s new? That ineffable JeffB je ne sais quoi. One recognizes it anywhere.)

            The crime of Apartheid is defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            @JeffBee
            “That’s one outcome I’d like to avoid”

            You definitely live in an alternate universe or you live by a strict code of alternative facts. In ‘israel’, apartheid is something that is firmly entrenched and is completely unavoidable. You can see if from the air and you can feel it in a taxi, when your racist driver points at a young woman in a hijab and says “you just know she’s a terrorist”. You are ridiculous, you know that? You don’t have magic words or ideas, like a child who covers eyes and ears as if that will make the reality he doesn’t like to see or hear disappear.

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            Oops, I forgot you are an exceptionally long-winded troll.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            And obviously, by JeffBee’s own definition of apartheid–”two peoples occupying the same territory under different legal systems”–Israel and the territories is already an apartheid state. Can’t avoid an outcome that already exists. So JeffBee is now on record admitting that the entity comprising Israel and the territories it occupies is an apartheid state.

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Ben

            I’ve said before Area-C is an apartheid state. That’s not a new admission. I don’t agree Israel is an apartheid state but Area-C certainly qualifies.

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            That’s like saying the cancer in your brain, lungs, colon, liver, pancreas – choose your organ JeffBee – isn’t going anywhere! Relax! It’s only going to destroy your brain, lungs, colon, liver, pancreas, whatever and the rest of you will be perfectly fine! So by your “logic”, slavery was okay in america as long as it stayed in the south. It didn’t harm the rest of the country, or do any harm to those african americans who lived the life of Riley in the north, right? Not the sharpest tool in the shed, fred.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The entity comprising Israel and the territories it occupies is an apartheid state. You cannot weasel that down to “Area C.” It’s all one entity. You are utilizing Israel’s own having it both ways, working both sides tactic. There is a clear demarcation of Area C from Israel when it wants to spin it that way, and there is no actual demarcation of Area C from Israel when Israel wants for its own purposes to spin it that way. And the way it spins it depends on who is Jewish and who is Arab and a host of related matters. That’s apartheid. By your own defintions! I’m just quoting you, JeffBee!

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Ben

            I have said that Area-C is a territory in Israel. I have said that Area-C has an apartheid structure. It does not follow from that that Israel is apartheid state though. Because there are other governmental structures within the state. In particular most of the state is governed by a democracy. If one were going to characterize Israel you use the designation that applies to most people and most territory.

            USA prisons have different laws for guards and prisoners. That doesn’t make the the USA apartheid state either.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Another peculiar, splendidly confused text, JeffB. With you one always has to ask, “what does it mean”? You grind out obfuscation like a meat grinder grinds out sausage. All one has to do is start using plain English and the trouble starts. Who is this Jewish-Muslim Citizen or Jewish-Christian Citizen? By what right does a 21st Century democratic state demand conversion to Judaism in whatever form, or to any religion at all? Forced conversion? Seriously? And if everything is a mix and match religious jamboree then what is the point of your insistence on “Jewish Citizen,” whatever that means? And whatever then is wrong with “Israeli Nationality,” all by itself, without the religious criteria and fumbling about? Pray tell, what “reasonable path to resolving the conflict” does your proposal create? Become “Jewish” you Palestinians or we kick you out? Become “Jewish” you Palestinians and we “let” you in? You think this is not on the face of it a human rights violation , a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a violation of human decency? If you think that, you are beyond help.
        As Bruce says and it needs to be repeated: “Jewish citizen designation”? You really don’t know what apartheid is, do you?

        Reply to Comment
        • JeffB

          @Ben

          By what right does a 21st Century democratic state demand conversion to Judaism in whatever form, or to any religion at all?

          I think by “21st Century democratic state” I think you mean a Western European style democracy. Western European style democracies came about in Western Europe as a result centuries of state sponsored cultural shaping creating a unified the unified cultural identity. This unified cultural identity is what allows for an extremely liberal democracy while preserving a common interest for the state to act in defense of. Your argument is like asking “why should a 21st century oven have to let dough sit idle instead of directly cooking it”. Israel hasn’t gone completely through a process of cultural unification (though it is making tremendous and rapid progress) and so lacks the capability to have that sort of state. It is not an option yet. If one ever wants to ever have a viable 21st democracy they need to let the yeast do its thing. It is in short the argument for a 21st century democracy that grants that right.

          Forced conversion? Seriously? And if everything is a mix and match religious jamboree then what is the point of your insistence on “Jewish Citizen,” whatever that means?

          When did I insist on “Jewish Citizen”? That’s quite inaccurate. I commented that Israel evolves along these lines that’s probably a strong net positive. That’s far short of insistence.

          And whatever then is wrong with “Israeli Nationality,” all by itself, without the religious criteria

          Nothing. As I said in my post it is much the same thing. The difference is a change in language. One way or another the Haredi rabbinate’s definition of conversion needs to be weakened. The Israeli Nationality in a context of a state church is likely to require conversion into the state church. The “Jewish Citizen” vs. “Israeli Nationality” simply changes the locus of the state church.

          Pray tell, what “reasonable path to resolving the conflict” does your proposal create? Become “Jewish” you Palestinians or we kick you out? Become “Jewish” you Palestinians and we “let” you in?

          Yes it creates a possibility for evolution of their society.

          You think this is not on the face of it a human rights violation , a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention,

          The fourth geneva convention applies to territory under occupation. Cultural shaping is something a government not an occupying power does. So no it is not a violation of the fourth Geneva Convention anymore than it is a violation of Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            – You are most definitely not for yeasting the dough. The last thing the Israeli state is doing is yeasting. It is killing of, not yeasting. It is killing off any elements that clash with Jewish supremacism in the mix.

            – You’re right, you don’t “insist” on anything, JeffB, you slip and slide and insinuate and sneak. Engaging your arguments is like trying to grasp a hold of an eel.

            – “likely to require conversion into the state church”…forcing Palestinians to become Jewish or be kicked out…“creates a possibility for evolution of their society.” For those of us who speak plain, direct English and not Orwellian JeffBeesian, let me translate that:

            “Conversions of ‘citizens’ to Judaism will be coerced on one level or another and this may take a while but that’s the plan. Palestinians will be coerced into being Jewish and, niftily, we will call this “evolution.”

            And this is not a gross human rights violation and just plain crazy because, get this, a government is doing it.

            “Cultural shaping is something a government not an occupying power does.”

            Another Orwellian JeffBeesian pronouncement that strings together two accumulated exercises in magic. It’s not an occupation because, let us recall, all an occupier has to do is have “claims” and “desires” and presto, no occupation! (Do rapists get out of jail free because they have “claims” and “desires” too? Inquiring minds want to know.) But now, as well, it’s not an occupation because “cultural shaping” is going on, and if you do “cultural shaping” it means you are not an occupier. Other folks call it brutal repression and human rights violation but if we rename it “cultural shaping” then, magic!

            Did you follow that folks? According to JeffB, occupiers magically become non-occupiers when they have “claims” or “desires” and when we call what they do “cultural shaping.” Then they become “governments.”

            Notice to all illegal brutal occupiers: Just call it “cultural shaping” and everyone will stand back and say: “Oh, hey, you’re doing cultural shaping! And silly me I thought you were brutally occupying! I’ll just stand back then and you go right ahead, you non-occupier! Cultural shaping is going on!

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Ben

            Yes. Sarcasm aside once a state starts governing a territory, applying civil law, then there is no occupation. That’s the international law. The definition of an occupation is the application of martial law in hostile territory. Nothing more, nothing less.

            As for “brutal repression”, the “brutal repression” I’ve described is of the sort I live under. It is what I witness every day. It is only in your mind that people’s opinions about their culture are unchangeable.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Sarcasm aside”

            Translation: “Let is just lay aside your argument, which employs sarcasm to make its points, because I can’t win the argument.”

            As for what follows after that, notice the crude sleight of hand? Israel is not actually “applying civil law” to any of the non-Jewish people it occupies. It is actually applying two separate legal codes, one civil (for Jews) and one military (for Arabs), and in practice applying these two unequal codes in vastly unequal ways. By your own definition,” the application of martial law in hostile territory,” it is most definitely an occupation. By your own definitions! I‘m just quoting you, JeffB! Do you even read what you write before you hit “Submit”?

            (Btw, while we are occupied with your definitions, let us recall that you have also stated your definition of apartheid–”two peoples occupying the same territory under different legal systems.” The entity comprising Israel and the territories it occupies is, by your own definition, an apartheid state. You are on record admitting that Israel and the territories constitute an apartheid state.)

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Ben

            In Area-C the existence of a civil law which constrains the military means that there is not martial law in Area-C. What there is however is a military government over the Palestinians.

            As for Israel… Israel practices apartheid in Area-C. It does not practice apartheid in Area-A, Area-B, Jerusalem, Gaza, Golan or Green Line Israel. Saying Israel is an apartheid state is simply inaccurate as I’ve said 30 times before. Obviously it is not a good idea that it has two legal codes anywhere in its territory. And the best solution for that is to eliminate the ambiguity by dropping the notion that Area-C is “occupied”. It is you and your comrades who encourage the apartheid by not recognizing the obvious that Area-C is Israeli territory and should be put under Israeli law.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Israeli civil law constrains the military only with respect to (illegally transferred in) Israeli Jewish inhabitants. It does not constrain the military with respect to (indigenous) Palestinian inhabitants. These facts do not mean that there is not martial law in Area-C. Your differentiation between martial law and military law and government is meaningless or trivial. We might even say slippery.

            Israel practices apartheid. At least you admit the truth. “Israel is an apartheid state” is a simplification and a distortion—meant to deceive by narrowing the scope artificially. I have promoted clarity and honesty by calling it not “Israel” but “the entity comprising Israel and the territories it occupies.” And have pointed out how Israel plays a double game, having it both ways, erasing or enforcing at whim the border between Israel proper and Israeli-occupied territory to suit its needs at the moment.

            These ambiguities cannot be eliminated by “dropping a notion.” International law does not contain a provision for “dropping the notion” by one interested party at its whim. Nor is it “obvious” at all that Area-C is Israeli territory rather than Israeli-occupied territory. If it were so “obvious” then constant massive deployment of an occupying army, applying martial law, with brutal measures employed day and night, would not be needed to keep the restive native population under massive, brutal repression, now would it. Not so “obvious” after all, is it?

            (Personal comment to you, separate from my argument: I find that much of your argumentation consists of carefully, assiduously skirting facts, weaving a narrow lawyerly course between them, averting one’s gaze, meant to ignore the obvious facts on the ground with respect to human rights and real people. The one word that I think captures the character of that tactic or strategy best is “slippery.”)

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Ben

            These facts do not mean that there is not martial law in Area-C. Your differentiation between martial law and military law and government is meaningless or trivial.

            Neither one. If there exists a civilian government that is controlling the military then the territory isn’t hostile anymore. Military X defines territory Y as hostile or not depending on whether the government of Y is supportive of X’s presence. Once we agree there is a government and that government is supportive of X’s presence then we don’t have an occupation anymore. Again the definition of an occupation includes the phrase, “The presence of a hostile army proclaims its Martial Law.” The army must be hostile for there to be an occupation. So yes the existence of a government capable of administering civil law instantly disqualifies a territory as occupied.

            If it were so “obvious” then constant massive deployment of an occupying army, applying martial law, with brutal measures employed day and night, would not be needed to keep the restive native population under massive, brutal repression, now would it. Not so “obvious” after all, is it?

            I don’t agree with you that’s either happening nor needed. The population of Area-C is primarily settler (http://www.btselem.org/topic/area_c) . The Israelis at this point are the “natives”. Now obviously Israel is deploying a large number of troops to maintain law and likely to avoid ethnic warfare between the various ethnicities in Area-C. But there is little doubt who would win an ethnic conflict in Area-C were to to happen at this point.

            But this is all besides the point.
            Greece (1967–1974), Spain (1936–1975), Argentina (1976–1983) all had repressive military governments that didn’t mean they were occupied.

            Reply to Comment
    3. The Israeli rabbinate has been trying to undermine the secular state since well before 1948. Reaching a modus vivendi is definitely challenging, as is demonstrated fully with the tensions between demands of shariah law in the neighbouring states.

      Over the course of a couple of hundred years religion has been expunged from western, democratic states, only to reemerge when a small but significant part of the population challenged the status quo. Up till now, it seems to me that the challenge has been framed in such a way as to make matters worse rather than lead to real change.

      Reply to Comment
      • JeffB

        @Mark

        I don’t think the core of the problem is the Israeli Rabbanite. The core of the problem are secular Israelis that recognize the extreme Rabbanite as being authoritative. The old expression about Israelis “the synagogue they don’t go to is orthodox”. The American Jewish community has the same degree of crazies and in somewhat similar numbers to Israel of 20 years ago. But they have never had much power over the Jewish community. Groups like B’nai B’rith (Hillel’s parent), American Jewish Council, AIPAC… have always insisted on an inclusive Judaism. The only serious issues of debate as far as inclusion have been extremely fringe organizations: messianic Jews and Jewish Voice for Peace. The Haredi sects (excluding Chabad) are themselves on to the side they are not in the center. And of course Chabad is inclusive.

        Israel does 2 things that strengthen the Haredi tremendously.
        a) The secular support extreme interpretations and can’t stand more liberal forms of the religion.
        b) The Haredi are subsidized to maintain a lifestyle that would otherwise be completely non-viable without heavy subsidy.

        The 2014 law could have made a huge difference on weakening (b). I think Yesh Atid and Zionist Union were silly in allowing a coalition to form that undermined that law for petty political reasons. Integrating the Haredi community is just as important as integrating the Palestinians.

        On (a) I think the National Home party is doing the best job here. They alone are willing to challenge the Israeli notion that shtetl Judaism and the Mizrahi / Sephardic variants
        are the only form of Judaism. I wish Meretz, ZU, Yesh Atid… would help.

        As for religion disappearing from Western Societies I’m not entirely sure I’d agree. Obviously in many western countries people are secular so it doesn’t play a role. Where that’s not true it does. For example in the USA at the national level the Republican Party is the White Evangelical Protestant Party and the Democratic Party is the Catholic Party. Ireland is also a clear good example. Most European countries don’t have religious diversity where they do you see a mixture. Even in secular countries though religious affiliation plays a role.
        The UK Anglicans dominate the population and tilt slightly conservative. However for the non Anglican voters religion is highly determinative of party. Jews overwhelmingly vote the Conservative party; while Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus are overwhelmingly Labor.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      Israel is a Jewish State. The minorities can live in peace here if they respect the laws and the Jewish sovereignty. Like in all countries in the world. Before making my Aliyah, we lived in Egypt and then in Switzerland. We perfectly knew that Egypt is an Islamic country and Switzerland a Christian one. We were members of a minority. The Islamic Egypt expelled us because we were Jews.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “…Switzerland a Christian one…”

        In no way is Switzerland a Christian state in the way you conceive Israel to be a Jewish state.

        Reply to Comment
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