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Where is Palestine's Gandhi? Marching in Gaza

Rather than ask when the Palestinians will produce a Gandhi, we must ask when Israel will produce a leader that does not subjugate an occupied population through lethal violence.

By Neve Gordon

An injured Palestinian man being helped during the Great Return March in Gaza, east of the Jabaliya refugee camp. March 30, 2018. Palestinians tend to a boy injured during the Great Return March in Gaza, east of the Jabaliya refugee camp. March 30, 2018. (Mohammed Emad / Activestills.org)

An injured Palestinian man being helped during the Great Return March in Gaza, east of the Jabaliya refugee camp. March 30, 2018. (Mohammed Emad / Activestills.org)

For decades Zionists have blamed the Palestinians for Israel’s ongoing colonial project. “If only the Palestinians had a Mahatma Gandhi,” many Israeli liberals have exclaimed, “then the occupation would end.”

But if one truly wished to find Palestinian Mahatma Gandhis all one needed to do is look at the images of protesters on Friday night’s news broadcasts. An estimated 30,000 Palestinians joined the nonviolent March of Return, which aimed to set up a few camps several hundred meters from the militarized fence surrounding the Gaza Strip. Their goal was to protest their incarceration in the world’s largest open-air prison as well as the massive confiscation of their ancestral land. After all, 70 percent of Gaza’s population are 1948 refugees whose families had owned land in what became Israel.

As Gaza’s residents marched towards the militarized fence, I sat with my family, reciting the Haggadah for the Passover holiday, which tells us that “In every generation, it is one’s duty to regard oneself as though he or she personally had gone out of Egypt.” In other words, while the soldiers shot live bullets at the peaceful demonstrators, these soldiers’ parents were being asked to imagine what it means to live in Gaza and what it would take to liberate oneself from such captivity. And as my family went on to sing, “No more shall they in bondage toil, let my people go,” news sites reported that the number of Palestinians killed had reached 17, while several hundred had been wounded.

The accusation that Palestinians have failed to adopt non-violent methods of resistance, and therefore share responsibility for Israel’s ongoing subjugation and dispossession, not only completely disavows the vast asymmetry in power relations between the coloniser and colonised, but, just as importantly, fails to consider the political history of anticolonial struggles, not least the Palestinian one itself. Indeed, it completely ignores the fact that Israel’s colonial project has been upheld through attritional, protracted and widespread violence, and, despite what certain Western media outlets might present, the Palestinians have developed a robust and long-standing tradition of non-violent resistance. Moreover, the demand to adopt a non-violent ideology completely elides the history of other liberation struggles: from Algiers to Vietnam and all the way back to South Africa.

Palestinian non-violence

Palestinians protesting in Gaza during the start of the 'Great Return March.' March 30, 2017. (Mohammed Emad / Activestills.org)

Palestinians protesting in Gaza during the start of the ‘Great Return March.’ March 30, 2017. (Mohammed Emad / Activestills.org)

Friday’s nonviolent March of Return and Israel’s response to it are by no means an exception in the long history of Palestinian resistance. The march was organized to coincide with the anniversary of Land Day, which itself commemorates that tragic day in 1976 when Israeli security forces responded to a general strike and mass protest organized by Palestinian citizens of Israel whose land had been confiscated. In that peaceful protest, six Palestinians were killed and a hundred more wounded by the Israeli military.

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, matters have always been much worse, since all forms of nonviolent Palestinian resistance were banned right after the 1967 War. Political meetings, raising flags or other national symbols, publishing or distributing articles or pictures with political connotations, or even singing or listening to nationalist songs – not to mention organizing strikes and demonstrations — were illegal until 1993 (and some are still illegal in Area C). Any attempt to protest in one of these ways was inevitably met with violence.

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Just three months after the 1967 War, the Palestinians successfully launched a widespread school strike in the West Bank; teachers refused to show up for work, children took to the streets to protest the occupation, and many shopkeepers did not open their stores. In response to these acts of civil disobedience, Israel enforced severe police-style measures, ranging from nightly curfews and other restrictions of movement to cutting off telephone lines, detaining leaders, and increasing the harassment of the population. This, in many ways, became Israel’s modus operandi when dealing with Palestinian continued nonviolent resistance.

Indeed, it seems that there is widespread social amnesia regarding Israel’s reaction to Gandhi-style tactics. When Palestinians launched commercial strikes in the West Bank, the military government shut down dozens of shops “until further notice.” When they tried to emulate Martin Luther King’s transportation strike, the security forces completely immobilized the local fleet of buses.

Basel al-Araj, a Palestinian who was killed during a gunfight with Israeli soldiers on March 6, 2017, is seen in November 2011 during a Freedom Ride on a settler-only bus in the West Bank. (Activestills.org)

Basel al-Araj, a Palestinian who was killed by Israeli soldiers on March 6, 2017, is seen in November 2011 during a Freedom Ride on a settler-only bus in the West Bank. (Activestills.org)

Moreover, during the First Intifada, the Palestinians adopted massive civil disobedience strategies, including merchant strikes, boycotting Israeli goods, a tax revolt, and daily protests against the occupying forces. Israel responded by imposing curfews, restricting freedom of movement and mass incarcerations (to name only some of the violent measures). Between 1987 and 1994, for example, the secret services interrogated more than 23,000 Palestinians, one out of every 100 people living in the West Bank and Gaza. We now know that many of them were tortured.

Thus, the tragedy is that Gaza’s Passover massacre simply joins this long list of nonviolent resistance that has, historically, been met with violence and repression by Israel.

‘Riots are the language of the unheard’

Let’s imagine for a moment what it means to live in an open-air prison, year after year. Let’s imagine that we are the prisoners and the warden has the power to decide what food we can eat, when we have electricity, when we can receive specialized medical treatment and whether we can have enough water to drink. Let’s also imagine that any time we walk near the fence, we become targets for the guards. What acts of nonviolent resistance are actually open to us? Would you walk peacefully towards the fence? Thousands of Palestinians courageously did, and many paid the ultimate price.

Even though Gaza is, in many respects, unique, indigenous people have, historically, found themselves in similar situations. This was recognized by the United Nations, when it affirmed “the legitimacy of the peoples’ struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle.” Gandhi himself thought that in certain instances violence was an adequate strategic choice. “I do believe,” he wrote, “that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence I would advise violence … Hence also do I advocate training in arms for those who believe in the method of violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.”

One may wish it was otherwise – and I most certainly do – but not a single colonial project has ended without the colonized resorting to violence against their oppressors. Requesting for or even angrily demanding liberation has never done the job.

Palestinian protesters during the Great Return March, east of Shajaia. March 30, 2018. (+972 Magazine)

Palestinian protesters during the Great Return March, east of Shajaia. March 30, 2018. (+972 Magazine)

Ironically, this is also one of the key messages of the Passover Seder. The story of Exodus recounts how Moses approached Pharaoh several times, asking him to liberate the children of Israel from bondage. Yet, again and again, Pharaoh refused. It was only after horrific violence was deployed against the Egyptians that the Israelites were set free.

This, to be sure, is not something we should ever wish for, but when one looks at Israel’s response to the nonviolent Palestinian march, what is clear is that we must urgently find a way to turn the Zionists’ question on its head in order to prevent future bloodshed. Rather than asking when the Palestinians will produce a Mahatma Gandhi, we need to ask when Israel will produce a leader that does not support the subjugation of the Palestinians through the employment of lethal violence? When, in other words, will Israel finally rid itself of its Pharaonic ethos and realize that Palestinians have a right to freedom.

Neve Gordon is a Marie Curie Fellow and Professor of International Law at Queen Mary University of London. This article was first published on Al Jazeera English.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      Approaching in big number your neighbor’s border and trying to hurt his soldiers or to destroy his equipment by throwing stone or Molotov cocktails is not non-violent. It is a threat.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Itshak: Gaza doesn’t exist within “borders”, it’s a prison – in order to leave Gaza it’s necessary to get Israeli permission. It’s an upscale concentration camp.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ido

          @Bruce, so the blockade has nothing to do with the Islamic Jihadist terrorist organization who controls Gaza, who calls for the eradication of Israel and the murder of Jews, who declared war on Israel, firing thousands of missile and rockets at Israeli cities and attempted multiple times to kill Israelis, after Israel withdrew completely from Gaza, giving the Palestinians there a chance to show the world their peaceful intentions ?

          Nothing about all of that, right ? it’s purely a coincidence.

          Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordin Halevy

          Israel authorizes several hundred tracks to reach Gaza every day even if the Gaza entity is an enemy of the Jewish State. When the Hamas terrorists stop to threaten the Israeli population life will be easier for them.

          Reply to Comment
          • duh

            Gaza is a ghetto used by the Zionist movement to engineer a “Jewish” majority in 1949 lines. That will be the case Hamas or not.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Duh:
            The so-called “Ghetto” was never part of Israel.
            “Like the bigger “Ghetto” down the road called “Egypt”, these people will always have a low standard of living because Islam makes them stupid.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ido

        @Bruce, an early 1980s peaceful religious social welfare organization is in no way shape or form similar to today’s Hamas or even 1987 Hamas, an Islamic Jihadist terrorist organization who calls for the elimination of Israel. Saying they are one and the same is a lie.

        Hamas is an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, some of its leaders came from the original social welfare organization:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Hamas#Early_Islamic_activism_in_Gaza

        Reply to Comment
        • Bruce Gould

          @Ido: The question still stands: who helped Hamas become more radical?
          As for the ‘destruction of Israel’ stuff, here’s an assessment of Hamas from the Brookings Institute:

          https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/the-nationalist-versus-the-religious-implications-for-peace-with-hamas/

          Hamas’ acceptance of a two-state solution as a formal outcome or in the form of a long-term hudna both indicate that Hamas is ready to accept land and statehood in West Bank areas of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and give up larger claims over the area of historic Palestine.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            @Bruce, I answered your question, explained how the original welfare organization was not Hamas and gave you a link to their ideology inspiration, The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas being an official offshoot of that organization.

            Hamas most definitely does not accept any kind of two-state solution, as the Hamas leader in Gaza said at the beginning of the demonstrations last week, very clearly: they will not give up an inch of “Palestine”, and as I’m sure you know, Hamas like Fatah consider all of Israel, sea to the river, as theirs:

            https://www.timesofisrael.com/hamas-palestinians-will-not-give-up-one-inch-of-palestine/

            Hamas never changed any of their stated goals and they are still dedicated to the elimination of Israel. Read what they actually said regarding any “hudna” or change of objectives: “this would not mean recognition of the Zionist entity (Israel) or giving up any of the Palestinian rights”.
            Hamas is not changing its Charter, which explicitly calls for the elimination of Israel:

            https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/10213/hamas-new-charter

            Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      This by Neve Gordon is an excellent, landmark article. Finally the truth. Buried under so much propaganda.

      Here’s a good companion piece:

      By Noam Sheizaf | March 11, 2016
      Why do we only listen to violence?
      https://972mag.com/why-do-we-only-listen-to-violence/117773/

      Reply to Comment
        • Ido

          As usual a one-sided biased article filled with lies and neglecting to mention the uncomfortable truth regarding the Palestinians, their intentions and actions.

          “non-violent demonstrations” – Palestinians have been firing live ammo, using Molotov cocktail, firebombs, have been documented trying to cut through the border into Israel with automatic weapons, have been using slingshots, burning tires, roadside bombs were laid down etc. All hallmarks of non-violent protests.

          The Gaza blockade is the result of the Palestinian leadership in Gaza declaring war on Israel, openly stating that their goal is the elimination of Israel and the murder of Jews. They see all of Israel, from the river to the sea as theirs, they are not hiding this. In fact their own leaders openly said it at the demonstrations:
          https://www.timesofisrael.com/hamas-leader-protests-mark-the-beginning-of-our-return-to-all-of-palestine/
          https://www.timesofisrael.com/hamas-head-sinwar-says-gaza-protests-will-continue-until-border-erased/

          From the article: “Even before the protest began, Israeli spokespeople framed it preemptively as a Hamas production. If the march is merely Hamas’ political positioning, they imply, there is no need to seek a deeper understanding”.
          Hamas were involved in organizing the demonstrations and urging participants to clash with the army near the fence admitted by Ha’aretz no less:
          https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-forget-rockets-hamas-found-a-more-effective-way-to-agitate-israel-1.5962825

          Almost all the dead Palestinians have been confirmed as Hamas/Islamic Jihad terrorists, this are the 10 confirmed until Saturday:
          https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DZpjSI-XUAAZjz2.jpg:large
          17 have been killed from a crowd of allegedly 30,000. Clearly the IDF is just shooting at random civilians, right ?

          From the article: “Hamas is not Gaza and Gaza is not Hamas”. Hamas is the undisputed theocracy ruling over Gaza, an Islamic terrorist organization who openly call for the elimination of Israel. They and their actions are the reason the blockade exist.
          Their inner conflict with PLO, more accurately their refusal to lay down their weapons and submit to Abbas’ Fatah control is the reason the PLO halted payments of salaries and shipping of resources to Gaza instigating the latest Gaza crisis. The Palestinians admit it themselves.

          The Gaza civilians should protests against Hamas and their disastrous rule over Gaza. But we know what will happen to anyone who dares to stand against Hamas so I understand why they fear doing so.

          “Netanyahu declared his policy of “war on stone-throwers” in 2015, arguing that a stone justifies the use of deadly force. Perhaps to Humpty Dumpty it does” – maybe if the article writer’s brain was smashed by a rock she would come to the realization that they can kill.

          “The failure to resolve the Palestinian conflict” – and the Palestinians had no side in the matter, right ? this is basically entering science-fiction and fantasy levels.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Blah blah blah.
            Thanks so much.

            You’re like a vending machine stuck on one selection. Contents:

            – High fructose repetitive right wing talking points propaganda. (Base ingredient: “two sidedness,” as in “let’s call this endless brutal human rights-denying occupation a “two-sided” issue so as to prolong it as long as we want to. And always invoke “security” and victimhood, and say: “I have psychoanalyzed ‘them’ and determined ‘they’ want implacably to destroy us. Of course none of ‘us’ ever want implacably to destroy ‘them’. Oooh noooo.”) 81%
            – Israeli arrogance, condescending racism and obtuseness: 13%.
            – Blather with repetitive, whining, slander about “lies”: 5%
            – Human empathy: 0%
            – Substantive relevance that answers anything: 0%, or trace amount.
            – Nutritional value: 0
            – Flavor: Ankle-biter Special
            – Consistency (predictability): 100%, like a Budweiser, the same every time, pride taken in this, but the thin taste leaves a lot to be desired. Every time.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            @Ben, and as usual you ignore the actual facts, in a state of denial about reality, cling to a biased one-sided view of the situation but i digress. Let’s focus on the first lie for now:

            ““non-violent demonstrations”.
            Please explain how firing live ammo, using Molotov cocktails, firebombs, trying to enter through the border fence into Israel armed with automatic weapons, using slingshots, burning tires and placing roadside bombs constitutes as “non-violent demonstrations”.

            Then we’ll move to the second lie from your article which Ha’aretz admit themselves, how Hamas were involved in organizing the demonstrations and are urging participants to clash with the army near the fence.

            And as usual I would ask you to point to any fact in my post which you think is incorrect and prove it wrong.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Your repetitive description of the protesters is a lie about the vast majority of the protesters, including those who were shot to death.
            That is, murdered by army snipers. Who were only following orders,
            By the snipers’ commanders. Who were only following orders.
            By the General Staff. Who were only following orders.
            By the civilian leadership, the politicians, who gave the orders.
            Abetted by their accomplices, the populace, for whose favor the politicians compete.

            “…and that parents are proud of their soldier sons who shot fleeing demonstrators in the back.”

            read more: https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-in-gaza-israel-surpasses-its-usual-evil-1.5974217?v=1CCB5456F74516D588A08D5C39322A4E

            You can jump up and down and scream all you want but you can’t distract from this basic truth.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You write as if you did not know some basic truths. Go on, actually read Marilyn Garson. Go on, read it. All of it. Don’t pretend you can’t. There is no paywall:

            “…Tens of thousands of Gazans walked toward the border facing a heavily armed Israeli line. They walked toward rifles and drones. Israel had announced its deployment of a hundred snipers authorized to use live ammunition. And fire they did; the United Nations reports 15 dead and 1,416 wounded, including 750 hit by live ammunition, of whom 20 are in critical condition.

            Gazans walked into all that, demanding that we ask, “What is happening in Gaza to make them risk their lives?” That is the bedrock question. Layers of language are being heaped upon it, to obscure it.

            Even before the protest began, Israeli spokespeople framed it preemptively as a Hamas production. If the march is merely Hamas’ political positioning, they imply, there is no need to seek a deeper understanding.

            However, Hamas is not Gaza and Gaza is not Hamas. Civilian Gazans’ willingness to walk to that fence is not a measure of their support for Hamas. It measures their yearning to express themselves as humans and claim their freedom, even at immediate risk….

            https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/debunking-israel-s-talking-points-on-deadly-gaza-protests-1.5963880

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “On the first day of the march, which marked the beginning of 45 days of protests and events to mark Land Day and 70 years since the Nakba, Israeli troops Palestinians killed 17 and wounded 1,400 Palestinian demonstrators.

            The demonstrations are set to continue this coming Friday, and Israeli military officials have announced in advance that, like last Friday, soldiers will again use live fire against demonstrators — even if they are hundreds of feet away from the fence. Such orders should be considered illegal, and thus soldiers should absolutely refuse them, said B’Tselem.

            In the Israeli legal system, there exists an obligation for soldiers to refuse to carry out manifestly illegal orders. Orders to open fire on unarmed civilians, B’Tselem added, are a case of “unmistakable illegality patently evident in the order itself, it is a command that bears a clearly criminal nature or that the actions it orders are of a clearly criminal nature.”

            Like all other countries, B’Tselem said, Israel’s actions are subject to international law and restrictions on the use of weapons, specifically the use of live fire. International law limits the use of live fire to instances involving tangible and immediate mortal danger, and only in the absence of any other alternative. Israel, then, cannot simply decide that it is not bound by these rules, it asserted.”

            https://972mag.com/btselem-to-israeli-soldiers-refuse-orders-to-shoot-gaza-protesters/134398/

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            @Ben, “there exists an obligation for soldiers to refuse to carry out manifestly illegal orders” – exactly, that’s why they do shot violent protestors who try to enter Israel and those who fired live ammo and threw Molotov cocktails and those who tried to infiltrate the border, armed with automatic weapons.
            Those are not illegal orders. You are yet to answer one, just one, of the questions I asked you. Just like ytou refuse repeatedly to address the fact that the palestinians, or more accurately their leadership, consider all of Israel as theirs, from the river to the sea. The Hamas leader openly admitted it, very loudly, at the beginning of the demonstrations. Why can’t you ?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            @Bwn, “You write as if you did not know some basic truths. Go on, actually read Marilyn Garson” – on the contrary and I did read it. I pointed out 2 of the most basic lies in that article, lies you have yet to address (“peaceful non-violent” and “not a Hamas production”).
            “Tens of thousands of Gazans walked toward the border facing a heavily armed Israeli line” – and 19 were killed, almost all confirmed as active terrorists. Out of 30,000.

            ““What is happening in Gaza to make them risk their lives?” – let me guess, you like the article’s writer was not aware of the death threats from Hamas towards the Palestinians who refused to take part in the demonstrations:
            https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5221288,00.html

            Where is the Palestinian protests against Hamas who orchestrated this entire situation ? their war with Israel, their inner struggle with Abbas’ PLO, their stealing of funds and resources, their investment in terror tunnels instead of building houses, etc ?

            “Even before the protest began, Israeli spokespeople framed it preemptively as a Hamas production” – because it is a Hamas production, as admitted by Ha’arets themselves:
            https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-forget-rockets-hamas-found-a-more-effective-way-to-agitate-israel-1.5962825

            “Hamas is not Gaza and Gaza is not Hamas” – Hamas is the undisputed theocracy ruling over Gaza, an Islamic terrorist organization who openly call for the elimination of Israel. They and their actions are the reason the blockade exist.
            Their inner conflict with PLO, more accurately their refusal to lay down their weapons and submit to Abbas’ Fatah control is the reason the PLO halted payments of salaries and shipping of resources to Gaza instigating the latest Gaza crisis. The Palestinians admit it themselves, why can’t you ?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            @Ben, “Go on, actually read Marilyn Garson” – I did. I pointed out 2 of the most basic lies in that article, lies you have yet to address (“peaceful non-violent” and “not a Hamas production”).
            “Tens of thousands of Gazans walked toward the border facing a heavily armed Israeli line” – and 19 were killed, almost all confirmed as active terrorists or belonging to terrorist organizations. Out of 30,000.

            ““What is happening in Gaza to make them risk their lives?” – so you weren’t aware of the threats from Hamas towards the Palestinians who refused to take part in the demonstrations ?

            Where is the Palestinian protests against Hamas who orchestrated this entire situation ? their war with Israel, their inner struggle with Abbas’ PLO, their stealing of funds and resources, their investment in terror tunnels instead of building houses, etc ?

            “Even before the protest began, Israeli spokespeople framed it preemptively as a Hamas production” – because it is a Hamas production, as admitted by Ha’arets themselves:
            https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-forget-rockets-hamas-found-a-more-effective-way-to-agitate-israel-1.5962825

            “Hamas is not Gaza and Gaza is not Hamas” – Hamas is the undisputed theocracy ruling over Gaza, an Islamic terrorist organization who openly call for the elimination of Israel. They and their actions are the reason the blockade exist.
            Their inner conflict with PLO, more accurately their refusal to lay down their weapons and submit to Abbas’ Fatah control is the reason the PLO halted payments of salaries and shipping of resources to Gaza instigating the latest Gaza crisis. The Palestinians admit it themselves, why can’t you ?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ido

            @Ben, and you begin with an obvious lie “Your repetitive description of the protesters is a lie about the vast majority of the protesters, including those who were shot to death”, nope. False. So far 15 out of the 19 who were shot to death have been confirmed as active terrorists:
            7 operatives from Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, 1 operative of the military wing of the Islamic Jihad, 2 activists of Katayef al-Maqawama al-Wataniya al-Filastina – the military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, 1 operative of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the military wing of Fatah’s Shahid Nakhl al-‘Amudi faction,
            1 armed Hamas security forces operative, 1 military activist Fatah, 1 affiliate of Shada al-Aqsa – the Shahid unit of Nabil Mas’ud – an Iranian-oriented faction, 1 Hamas operative with an orientation to the Izz al-Din al-Qassam.
            Feel free to google them. I already linked to full description of 10 of them. You’re lying again.

            “That is, murdered by army snipers. Who were only following orders”: so 19 out of 30,000 is clearly a random massacre, right ? are you still in a state of denial about that as well ?

            “You can jump up and down and scream all you want but you can’t distract from this basic truth” – hilarious, you lie to yourself. You didn’t even touch the most obvious lies from your article about the “non violent peaceful demonstrations”, not to mention the second lie about Hamas being uninvolved in organizing the demonstrations and urging people to clash with the army near the fence which I asked you to address,
            why is that ?

            Reply to Comment
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