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When Jewish militants dug underground tunnels

Seventy years ago it was the Zionist militias who dug underground tunnels and hid weapon caches among the civilian population. So why is it so difficult for Israelis to understand when Hamas does the same today?

A female officer in charge of the range at the Hen women's corps camp near Tel Aviv, Palestine, gives a demonstration in the handling of a Sten gun on June 15, 1948 in the Arab-Israeli War.  Although non-combatants, members the new women's Army in Israel are taught to use guns for defense. (AP Photo/Public Domain)

A female officer in charge of the range at the Hen women’s corps camp near Tel Aviv, Palestine, gives a demonstration in the handling of a Sten gun on June 15, 1948 in the Arab-Israeli War. (AP Photo/Public Domain)

Whether we like to admit it or not, the Israeli press intentionally ignores the realities of Gaza. One would be hard-pressed to find articles about the fall-out from last summer’s Gaza war, including home reconstruction, destroyed infrastructure, high unemployment rates and the trauma that will likely stay with many of the victims for the rest of their lives.

Even during the war itself, Israel’s biggest television station consciously refrained from showing images of destruction in the Strip in its broadcasts, while the country’s biggest newspaper could barely dedicate a paragraph to the deaths of innocents killed by IDF airstrikes.

It is staggering to think that seven months after Israel embarked on a 54-day military adventure, which led to the deaths of 2,200 Palestinians (500 of whom were children), and 66 Israelis soldiers and five civilians (including one child) — it seems like nothing ever happened.

So when do we hear about Gaza? When Hamas and Fatah go head to head, when the international community fails to make good on its commitments, when Israelis are killed or wounded by Gaza militants or when the army happens to discover a new underground tunnel that it missed during Operation Protective Edge.

* * *

This weekend, while leafing through the Hebrew print edition of Haaretz, an obituary caught my eye. The piece, written by Ofer Aderet, described the life story of Yehudit Ayalon, who was born in Latvia in 1924 and moved to Palestine in 1936. In 1945, two years before the war broke out, Ayalon and a group of her friends from her Zionist youth group were enlisted into the pre-state Haganah militia for a secret mission.

“They didn’t tell us what they wanted us to do,” she said. “They just told us it would be dangerous and secret. We decided to do it, because it was very Zionist. Here I had the opportunity to do something small that would lead to the establishment of the State of Israel.” The group was soon to find out exactly what its top-secret mission was: building an underground bullet factory.

A photo of a 'slik' weapons cache in Kfar Giladi. These underground hideouts served the different Zionist militias in the lead-up and during the 1948 War. (photo: Avi1111/CC BY-SA 2.5)

A photo of a ‘slik’ weapons cache in Kfar Giladi. These underground hideouts served the different Zionist militias in the lead-up and during the 1948 War. (photo: Avi1111/CC BY-SA 2.5)

The factory, named “Machon Ayalon,” was established in an eight-meter deep pit the size of a tennis court — built under a fake kibbutz near the city of Rehovot — created to disguise the factory from the British. Ayalon describes living a double-life full of secrets, tensions and lies, not to mention the danger of being discovered by British soldiers.

Between 1945-1948, Machon Ayalon produced millions of bullets for the famous “Sten” guns, which were used by the Zionist paramilitaries at the time. Ayalon wholeheartedly believed that their efforts “helped tip the scales” in Israel’s favor.

Ayalon’s story is by no means unique. The war effort in the run-up to the 1948 War was a national one, which included soldiers and civilians alike. And like the Hamas militants of today, each and every pre-state Zionist militant group — be it the Haganah, Etzel or Lehi — operated against the British and the Palestinians by building secret weapons factories or hiding weapon caches — known in Hebrew as slikim — among the civilian population. These acts are not retroactively condemned as war crimes by Israelis; on the contrary, they are part and parcel of Zionist mythology and the founding story of the Jewish state.

Don’t believe me? Walk around Tel Aviv and look for the faded, bronze plaques that mark and tell the stories of weapons caches, ambushes against British soldiers and offices that served as illegal meeting points for leaders of the various Zionist militias. Had the State of Israel of today faced off with the pre-state Zionist movements, it surely would have condemned their human rights violations and bombed them into oblivion; no different than what we saw this past summer against Hamas militants who hid weapons in schools and mosques, dug tunnels and built primitive missile factories.

Israeli soldiers discover a tunnel in the Gaza Strip during ‘Operation Protective Edge,’ July 20, 2014. (Photo by IDF Spokesperson)

Israeli soldiers discover a tunnel in the Gaza Strip during ‘Operation Protective Edge,’ July 20, 2014. (Photo by IDF Spokesperson)

What are we to learn from all this? Not that building bullet factories in kibbutzim or hiding weapons in mosques is acceptable, and not that the Zionist militants and Hamas are one and the same. Rather, the story of Yehudit Ayalon reveals a truth that Israelis have become blind to: oppressed groups will often commit the most immoral acts in the name of resistance to their oppression. And supporters, be they Israelis or Palestinians, will both use the same rhetoric to justify the need to commit those acts.

Nowadays any Israeli can take a tour of Machon Ayalon museum, which honors the Haganah recruits who lived those double-lives and built countless bullets in the factory under a fake kibbutz. I wonder what kind of museums they will open in Gaza 60 years from now.

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    1. I would hardly call the Palestinians an oppressed group, rather it was the Palestinian Arabs who were oppressed under the British Mandate.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bill

      Hilarious comment.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Joel

      ” So why is it so difficult for Israelis to understand when Hamas does the same today? ”

      Uhh…because Hamas governs the Gaza Strip and is supposed to look after the health and welfare of it’s citizens, not to squander resources playing at toy soldiers with the State of Israel.

      Edo. You’re a complete ass.

      Reply to Comment
      • Wotnow.

        Great article, highlighting the Zionist double standards.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Weiss

      Welcome to GAZA …

      Warsaw Ghetto version 2.0

      And that’s why they resist…just like the Jews did

      Hypocrisy at its worst ….

      Reply to Comment
      • Kareem Jeans

        Your comments, Weiss, are essentially Holocaust Denial
        You are profoundly stupid to make such comparisons
        No,wonder you spend most of your waking hours ashamed
        You’re a parenial loser bitch.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Trevor Wells

      Change will not come via the Knesset but making use of the Knesset as part of the process is important. In other words the time for Arab participation towards equal rights for all in the Knesset has come. With 14 representatives fully backed by the now internationally recognised legitimate and Amnesty trained armed wing of Hamas, the Knesset will be used as another weapon in the struggle for equal rights. Isreal will have to change, not because of debate in the Knesset, but rather because of BDS and the outside world recognising that Israel is in Contravention of Article 49 of the Geneva Convention. The International Criminal Court will play an important role. Palestine has agreed to the rules of that Court. The United Nations will play an increasingly more important role now that Isreal has sent out a very significant but loud and clear signal to the world that it is more interested in territorial gains than in human rights.

      Reply to Comment
    6. diana

      I dare you to publish the following:


      WAR IS HELL for all of humanity. It’s part of who we are as human beings. It’s unavoidable and thus I prefer to be in the winning side. We, Jews spent too many years being punished, admonished, expelled, discriminated. I am glad Machon Ayalon produced millions of bullets. I would have been killed if not. I am sorry for the lives lost Jews and Arab alike.
      Zionism is not an illness, it is the healing process that came out from our past and of the Holocaust.
      I am tired of being on the wrong end of the stick and I am glad to be on the winnig side. Your story is poor. You don’t offer any solutions. You just whine…………Stop crying and contribute a constructive possible solution to the problem.

      Reply to Comment
      • rivelle

        @ Diana and the ultra Zionist ultra nationalist conception of the “right end of the stick”

        “Analysis by International Legal Team

        In 2009, a comprehensive 18-month independent academic study was completed for the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa for the South African Department of Foreign Affairs on the legal status of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.[62] The specific questions examined in the study were whether Israeli policies are consistent with colonialism and apartheid, as these practices and regimes are spelled out in relevant international legal instruments. The second question, regarding apartheid, was the major focus of the study. Authors and analysts contributing to the study included jurists, academics and international lawyers from Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, South Africa, England, Ireland and the United States. The team considered whether human rights law can be applied to cases of belligerent occupation, the legal context in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and related international law and comparative practices. The question of apartheid was examined through a dual approach: reference to international law and comparison to policies and practices by the apartheid regime in South Africa. Initially released as a report, the report was later edited and published in 2012 (by Pluto Press) as Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

        Regarding international law, the team reported that Israel’s practices in the OPT correlate almost entirely with the definition of apartheid as established in Article 2 of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. (The exception was the Convention’s reference to genocidal policies, which were not found to be part of Israeli practices, although the team noted that genocide was not the policy in apartheid South Africa either.) Comparison to South African laws and practices by the apartheid regime also found strong correlations with Israeli practices, including violations of international standards for due process (such as illegal detention); discriminatory privileges based on ascribed ethnicity (legally, as Jewish or non-Jewish); draconian enforced ethnic segregation in all parts of life, including by confining groups to ethnic “reserves and ghettoes”; comprehensive restrictions on individual freedoms, such as movement and expression; a dual legal system based on ethno-national identity (Jewish or Palestinian); denationalization (denial of citizenship); and a special system of laws designed selectively to punish any Palestinian resistance to the system.

        Thematically, the team concluded that Israel’s practices could be grouped into three “pillars” of apartheid comparable to practices in South Africa:

        The first pillar “derives from Israeli laws and policies that establish Jewish identity for purposes of law and afford a preferential legal status and material benefits to Jews over non-Jews”.

        The second pillar is reflected in “Israel’s ‘grand’ policy to fragment the OPT [and] ensure that Palestinians remain confined to the reserves designated for them while Israeli Jews are prohibited from entering those reserves but enjoy freedom of movement throughout the rest of the Palestinian territory. This policy is evidenced by Israel’s extensive appropriation of Palestinian land, which continues to shrink the territorial space available to Palestinians; the hermetic closure and isolation of the Gaza Strip from the rest of the OPT; the deliberate severing of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank; and the appropriation and construction policies serving to carve up the West Bank into an intricate and well-serviced network of connected settlements for Jewish-Israelis and an archipelago of besieged and non-contiguous enclaves for Palestinians”.

        The third pillar is “Israel’s invocation of ‘security’ to validate sweeping restrictions on Palestinian freedom of opinion, expression, assembly, association and movement [to] mask a true underlying intent to suppress dissent to its system of domination and thereby maintain control over Palestinians as a group.” ”


        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Yea, Right, the UN and it’s pronunciations on Israel. Now read this …

          “Guess who is the number one violator of women’s rights in the world today? Israel. Violating the rights of Palestinian women.

          At least that is the view of the UN’s top women’s rights body, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). CSW ends its annual meeting on Friday, March 20 by condemning only one of the 193 UN member states for violating women’s rights – Israel”

          So much for the UN. It isn’t Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria or other assorted serial violators of Women’s rights. It’s Israel and only Israel!

          What credibility does the UN have?

          Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            I agree Gustav. Now if the UN had been able to publish its report listing Israel, ISIS, the Taliban and Boko Haram as serious violators of children’s rights that would have made far more sense. (http://mondoweiss.net/2015/03/including-childrens-violators). Also the repeated complaints that Israel tortures children and employs them as human shields. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/20/us-palestinian-israel-children-idUSBRE95J0FR20130620) Also the forthcoming report that Israel has exceeded the 100+ child death-toll of the Taliban (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/16/taliban-attack-army-public-school-pakistan-peshawar)many times over in the last few years (http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.583928)

            Having said that I agree with you about the UN stance on women’s rights in Palestine I smell something very fishy here. The same reports about a one-sided and very unfair attack on Israel are recycled by the same old sites that wish to undermine the UN and Palestine (Arutz-Sheva, Fox News) but I have yet to find coverage about this on major credible news sources (imperfect I know but far more trustworthy are the BBC, the Guardian and the New York Times), The Guardian describes the conference without even mentioning Israel/Palestine (http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/mar/10/world-leaders-pledge-womens-rights-equality-csw-2030) so I simply say: until I can research further I will reserve judgement, since it is not entirely out of the question for pro-Israeli propagandists to dupe us all.

            Reply to Comment
          • Felix Reichert

            Gustav, you can read? Are you sure?

            “In 2009, a comprehensive 18-month independent academic study was completed for the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa for the South African Department of Foreign Affairs”

            Nothing about the UN…

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            No, no, no says Felix. The UN was not the body which wrote the report. It was commissioned by the South African Government.

            Well, Felix, thanks for acknowledging (by implication) the bias of the UN. But I have news for you. The anti Israel bias in the UN stems from biased countries like South Africa who are one of the main cheer leaders and supporters of the Arabs in the UN.

            South Africa has plenty of it’s own problems to solve. Things like AIDS and crime. It is a rich country full of natural resources. Following the dismantling of the Apartheid regime, the SA government had a chance to show case a successful country running by native Africans. What did they do instead? They created another basket case because they are more concerned with the Middle East than what is happening in their own country. I suppose they can use the Jewish state as a distraction. It is a very old tactic. Shame on the SA government!

            Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Great comment Diana. I agree with what you say wholeheartedly.

        The writers and posters of this magazine pretend that we Israelis are the root of all the problems and therefore they expect us and us alone to solve the mess.

        They pretend that Palestinian Arabs and even Hamas are just innocent victims who did not contribute to this mess, and therefore they expect nothing from them to contribute to solutions.

        No matter how much they whine, no matter how many times they threaten us with their stupid little project (BDS) that will never lead to a lasting solution. Their way just perpetrates the hatred and the war and may lead to a catastrophe for everyone. They are playing with fire because sure as hell we are not willing to return to our previous status of being an oppressed minority under the boot of the likes of Hamas, ISIS or anyone else.

        Those who imagine that they can wear decent Israelis down and defeat us, should read up on pyrrhic victory. They should also heed our pledge: Never Again!

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          The purpose of this article is to make us out to be hypocrites with double standards.

          It asks us, how come we admonish Hamas for doing what we supposedly did? But did we?

          Yes, we too dog tunnels and hid arms in civilian areas. That bit is true. But what happened when soldiers came to search the civilian areas? Did we resist and fired on the soldiers? No we didn’t. We gritted our teeth and hoped that they would not be able to find the arm caches and if they did and arrested some of us? We did not fire at the soldiers but went with them. Had we resisted, and fired on the soldiers, as Hamas resists against our soldiers, rest assured that we would have come out second best and our civilians too would have been killed in the cross fire. But we were not as dumb as Hamas and we did not take on an overwhelming superior force. Had we done so, we would have been blamed for the consequences. And rightly so!

          By the same token, Hamas is to blame for the consequences of their own actions of putting civilians in harm’s way. Anything less is hypocrisy.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            An interesting attempt by Gustav to rewrite history, but yes you are hypocrites because Zionist forces (the Stern Gang and Irgun, but at one time even the Haganah) used exactly the same methods to drive the British out of Palestine that Hamas uses in its attempts to drive Israel out of Occupied Palestine – bombs, mortars and attacks on security forces.

            Little publicity has been given to the Davidka, the precise equivalent of Hamas’ home made rockets. It was “a homemade Israeli mortar used in Safed and Jerusalem during the early stages of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. Its bombs were reported to be extremely loud, but very inaccurate and otherwise of little value beyond terrifying opponents… The secret of the Davidka was its 40 kg (88 lb) bomb… The head of the bomb was essentially a large can filled with nails, rocks, or any other material which could be used for shrapnel. This meant that the blast effects of the weapon were completely random and of dubious efficacy as an anti-personnel weapon… Small pieces of metal and tubes were welded onto the outside of the casing, reducing the weapon’s accuracy even further than its already non-aerodynamic design, but contributing greatly to the whistles and shrieks which it made when in flight. The noise was its most important effect, so that anyone attacked by a Davidka mortar would hear the shell seeming to fall very near to them before bursting very loudly, increasing the fear factor.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davidka) Sounds very similar to Hamas Qassam rockets (also named after a local folk hero) which according to an Israeli military assessment poses “more a psychological than physical threat.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qassam_rocket)

            You are probably right about not attacking British forces searching for weapons caches hidden in civilian areas, but this was out of prudence rather than innate pacifism, since the British army boasted one soldier for every five Jews in Palestine, a much larger force than you can put into Gaza operations. Notwithstanding this enough British soldiers were murdered, including being hung, to drive the British first of all into heavily-fortified “Bevingrads” and then out of the country altogether. “Between November 29th 1947 and June 1948, 214 British servicemen lost their lives, including the 28 killed when the Stern Gang blew up the Khantara to Haifa Express at Rehovoth on February 29th 1948.” (http://www.britishforcesinpalestine.org/inmemoriam.html)

            The methods employed against the British are absolutely no different from those employed by Hamas against the Israelis: “The main perpetrators of these attacks were the militant groups Lehi (also known as the Stern Gang) and Irgun. The two groups, which financed their campaigns through bank robberies, extortions, and private donations, attacked British military and police installations, government offices, and ships being used to deport illegal migrants, often with bombs. In at least one case, a police station was attacked with a large truck bomb. They also sabotaged infrastructure such as railroads, bridges, and oil installations. Some 90 economic targets were attacked, among them 20 trains which were damaged or derailed and five train stations which were attacked, and about dozen attacks against the oil industry were carried out, including a March 1947 Lehi raid on the Shell Oil refinery in Haifa which destroyed some 16,000 tons of petroleum. Jewish insurgents regularly staged killings of British soldiers and police officers throughout Palestine, employing booby traps, ambushes, snipers, vehicle bombings, and shooting attacks. British armored vehicles faced attacks by remotely detonated IEDs disguised as milestones which blew vehicles off the road and killed or injured occupants. They were seen by the insurgents as their most cost-effective weapon.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_insurgency_in_Palestine)

            And then people have the nerve to call you a hypocrite with double standards!!!!!!!

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            “You are probably right about not attacking British forces searching for weapons caches hidden in civilian areas, but this was out of prudence rather than innate pacifism”

            You are a thick head, aren’t you Bryan?

            Nowhere did I (or we) claim that we Zionists are pacifists. We are not. We are different from the old Ghetto Jews who WERE pacifists, who didn’t fight back and who were despised and murdered by their millions because they were easy targets to the cowards amongst whom they lived both in Europe and in the Arab world.

            What we are not, though Bryan, and never have been, are hypocrites no matter how much our enemies and tetractors (like you and the author of this article) are trying to prove.

            I’ll say it again. We did not fire on superior armed forces from within civilian areas so they had no reason to kill our civilians in cross fire. If we would have and our civilians would have suffered the consequences, we would have accepted that fact and would not have whined about it.

            Did we fight the British? Of course we did because they treated us unjustly. We were not the only ones who did. And since you got over the resistance of other nationalist guerilla forces, elsewhere in the world, against the British, you should get over our resistance too. But somehow when it comes to Jews, some people (like you, Bryan) seem to have very long grudge memories. Never mind. We will still get on with our lives in spite of little haters like you Bryan.

            Reply to Comment
    7. Brian

      Nicely focused article, Edo. You make the point nicely. The ability of some here to completely miss the point you’re making, and to argue you are making the very point you clearly are not making, never ceases to amaze me. And nice link to Scheizaf’s article about the Viet Cong’s and McMamara’s differing perspectives. An excerpt:

      “Nations will make inconceivable sacrifices in these kinds of struggles. An entire one percent of the Jewish population was killed in the 1948 war. The public accepted it painfully and with a stiff upper lip because they felt, just like the Vietnamese, that they were fighting for their lives and for their freedom. We have become so much more susceptible to loss, not because we went soft, but because we have a deeper understanding that despite all the “we’re fighting for our future” slogans, 2014 is not 1948. […]

      The people of Gaza support Hamas in its war against Israel because they perceive it to be part of their war of independence. A Hamas warrior who swears by the Quran is no different from a Vietcong reciting The Internationale before leaving for battle. These kind of rituals leave a strong impression, but they are not the real story…”

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        “Palestinians using tactics of building secret weapons factories or hiding weapon caches — known in Hebrew as slikim — among the civilian population. These acts are not retroactively condemned as war crimes by Israelis; on the contrary, they are part and parcel of Zionist mythology and the founding story of the Jewish state.”

        The above paragraph in the article demonstrates that I did not miss the mark. The author is trying to make us out to be hypocrites.

        Anyone who is interested, can read my previous post which clearly rebutts such a proposition.

        Reply to Comment
        • andrew r

          Um, Gustav? We’re supposed to support the Israelis because they’re just too civilized for something like this. That whole propaganda bubble is burst by learning the Yishuv armed groups also behaved in a similar “barbaric” fashion. Hypocrisy is concerned with the value judgement, and they were still putting civilians at risk regardless.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Um Andrew, if you don’t see the difference between firing at a superior military force from within civilian areas and not doing so, that is your problem. It betrays your jaundiced view and your bias.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            How the Yishuv tactically used their weapons or refrained from doing so isn’t the issue. It’s that they stashed weapons in civilian areas at all. While their successors in the IDF and their supporters in the western world portray themselves as more civilized than Hamas. They’re objectively hypocritical.

            And your defense is not as coherent as you believe, because while the Haganah and Revisionist groups may not have literally fired their explosive shells from civilian areas, they were still attacking the British and using the dwellings for cover. So even then they violated the high principle you’re employing here.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            It IS 100% the issue.

            The accusation against us is that civilians died in Gaza while we fired back at Hamas who was firing on our civilians (by the way which never seems to worry you lot).

            We on the other hand had the sense not to be as stupid. Had we not been, had we been as stupid and immoral as Hamas, our civilians too would have died in the cross fire and unlike Hamas, we wouldn’t then whine about it.

            Reply to Comment
      • The vehemence of certain comments here underscores the importance of the message of this article. Thank you for the research and information. History is a great teacher.

        Reply to Comment
        • Joel

          No Carol. The vehemence underscores the fact the article is bullshit. No one in Israel, save Edo, cares if Hamas builds sliks for storage, shelter or smuggling under the Egyptian border.
          Israelis do care that many of the tunnels are built for infiltration into Israel.

          Reply to Comment
    8. Andreas

      Everybody is right here and I want to add my little comments to the general wizdom:

      I am usually very nice and fair to everybody (including moslems) but in a war – for example – I’ll shoot my enemy. Why is that ? I guess because I believe my commanders are better then my enemy’s commanders and certainly not because I think I’m a better person then the one I shoot. There are always people who think the enemy is right and his brethen are wrong and this is one of the paradoxes of democracy 🙂 .I have never heard of someone from Gaza Strip voicing critical words about the ruling Hamas. I’ll voice my critic of Netaniahu (believe me I have a full gut) but certainly not in this forum.
      Edo, my darling, you should have a broader view of the World; start acting like an adult.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Rick Green

      Commenting only on the comment by Julianne, who is still in high school and knows only the biased story she was told, which probably included nothing about how Gazans got themselves into the fix they are in: Gaza could have had peace and prosperity too after Israel withdrew all its’ troops and forced all the Jewish civilians to leave in 2005, but instead the Gazans started shelling, with mortars and rockets, the nearby towns in Israel, including Sderot. They did this either the very day Israel withdrew or the next day, no later, and continued daily.

      Then, they elected members of a terrorist group, Hamas, to run their affairs, and accordingly, they have spent all the money that could go to improving the lives of Gazans on munitions to attack Israel, which of course counter-attacks and causes inevitably more damage in Gaza.

      Let Gazans throw out Hamas and make peace, and they will have peace.

      Reply to Comment
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