Tag Archives: occupation

Deconstructing Israeli Democracy: Ben White, Max Blumenthal, Camelia Suleiman

Watch livestream here.

As part of Palestine Awareness Week 2013, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality presents a panel discussing the Israeli occupation of Palestine and apartheid regime. Ben White will be discussing apartheid policies and how flawed the mainstream understanding of Israel as a “democracy” is. Max Blumenthal will be adding to this discussion the domestic projection of right-wing Zionism through Islamophobia, hasbara, lobbying, etc. Dr. Camelia Suleiman will conclude with the successes and failures of Israeli and Palestinian women peace activism.

DeconstructingIsraeliDemocracyMar29

Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer specializing in Palestine/Israel. He also writes on the broader Middle East, Islam and Christianity, and the ‘war on terror.’ Ben has been to Palestine/Israel many times since 2003 and has a BA in English Literature from Cambridge. He is the author of two books, Israeli Ap…artheid: A Beginner’s Guide and Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy.

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. He is a writing fellow for the Nation Institute. His book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller.

Camelia Suleiman has a Ph.D. in Linguistics from Georgetown University. Her research interest is in the area of language and identity in relation to gender, politicians’ use of language in the media, and national identity. Her articles have appeared in a variety of journals including ‘Pragmatics’, ‘Journal of Psycholinguistic Research’, ‘Middle East Critique’ and ‘Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication’. Her book, ‘Language and Identity in the Israel-Palestine Conflict: The Politics of Self-Perception’ was published in 2011 by I.B. Tauris.

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Continuing Through Bitter Days

By Banen Al-Sheemary, University of Michigan alumna
Follow Banen on Twitter @balsheem

 

Ten years ago today, I remember sitting in front of the television watching the sky turn bright yellow from the massive blasts. Slowly, I turned away from the screen to see my parents’ reaction: absolute silence.

 

That was the first time I had seen my parents watch the TV news without voicing an opinion. I only saw their sullen silence as they watched their beloved country explode into flames.

 

My twelve-year-old self had already been indoctrinated with the quintessentially American good guy / bad guy mentality, to which many unfortunately adhere. I struggled to understand the logic behind the invasion of Iraq. Was Iraq a bad country? What had we done wrong? Why is it America’s right to invade and change it? I looked over at my parents again and I could tell their hearts were reeling.

 

“Believe it. Liberation is coming,” said an arrogant George W. Bush as he spread more war propaganda in his visit to Dearborn, a city in Michigan with the largest Iraqi diaspora community in the United States. All I knew was that the ruthless Saddam Hussein would soon be gone. But what I didn’t know was what would become of Iraq.

 

Soon I would find the answer: under the guise of cynically named Operation Iraqi “Freedom,” the Iraq I knew would be completely destroyed.

 

March 20, 2003 marked the day I was able to return to the country from which my family fled as refugees in the early nineties. It was the day “Shock and Awe” began (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8OkP5yHArM). CNN’s Wolf Blitzer stated that in his thirty years as a journalist, he had never witnessed anything as severe as the attack on Baghdad. With no concern for civilian life, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s genocidal “shock and awe” bombardment on the people of Iraq was America’s quick and easy solution to its imperialist intent for the country.

 

In an instant, Iraq was forever changed. The Cradle of Civilization was overtaken by incessant chaos, destruction, and death. Now, it is a nation of 4.5 million orphans, 2 million widows, over 4 million refugees, with over half the total population in the country living in slums.

 

This is the new Iraq.

 

As the Bush Administration boasted about its murderous accomplishments, all I could see was the rising Iraqi body count. The post-2003 Iraq is not the country my parents longed for.

 

Barred from returning to Iraq until 2003, I will never know the country in which I was born. I was too young to remember my family fleeing during the first invasion of Iraq. Before we fled, we got rid of all our belongings. My baby pictures were burned to ensure that when Saddam’s thugs checked, there would be no proof of my existence. It was as if my identity was erased, and until March 20th, 2003, I was locked from the this part of my life.

        

 

From Operation Desert Storm, to the sanctions of the Clinton Administration and the 2003 occupation, I still couldn’t decipher the US Government’s plans for Iraq. But what I was consistently sure of was the jingoistic attitude that pervaded every American administration and that shaped a foreign policy meant to degrade human life.

 

Iraq saw treacherous times in the nineties because of the imposition of history’s most comprehensive sanctions to date. Iraq was broken and denied any ability to thrive, even in the most basic of ways. These brutal sanctions led to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children. My older sister recalls Clinton’s secretary of state Madeleine K Albright’s infamous interview in which she was asked if the price of half a million Iraqi children was worth it. She simply said: “We think the price is worth it.”  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4PgpbQfxgo).

 

It was an easy decision for the Clinton Administration to make on behalf of all Iraqis, because Iraq was forced to pay. As young as I was, I understood that people of different religions and backgrounds weren’t treated as equals. The dangerous underlying notion that certain people are more worthy of life than others heavily shapes American foreign policy and is upheld from one administration to the next.

 

In retrospect, the amount of propaganda that fueled and attempted to legitimize the war is staggering. I recall watching the news and being angry at the distorted images of Iraq and its people. I now understand how the media engineered public opinion to justify the invasion. Maintaining the “us versus them” binary was crucial in validating the administration’s agenda and furthering the so-called War on Terror. Soon enough, I heard my classmates echo these falsities and other absurd made-for-CNN headlines. I’ll hold back on the silly names I’ve been called as a result of this.

 

Hearing my parents’ stories about Iraq helped me put the pieces together. The story starts in their young adult years.

 

My parents never experienced Iraq under sanctions. During the seventies and eighties, the country was a powerhouse of academia with a thriving economy. In 1979, an Iraqi dinar was equal to $3.20. Nowadays, an Iraqi dinar is practically worthless. Saddam’s effort to lead in the Arab world led to many positive reforms, especially for women. As was required by the state, my mother enjoyed free transportation to work and a six month fully paid maternity leave. Despite his cruel methods of subjugation and obsession with monopolizing and maintaining power, his push to make Iraq the leader of the Arab world resulted in economic and social reform.

 

My family resides in southern Iraq and we, amongst others, have been brutally persecuted by Saddam’s party for decades. Many of the conversations I have about post-Saddam Iraq revolve around “Well, Iraq is better now because Saddam is gone and America is there.” However, the sanctions, Saddam’s regime, and the American invasion and occupation all left millions of Iraqis with broken homes, empty fridges and bleak prospects for the future. Whether under totalitarian rule or a foreign occupation, millions of Iraqis are still suffering. The meaningless discussion of which regime Iraq is better under is irrelevant and ought to be put to rest.

 

Ten years passed. In my University of Michigan classes, discussions about Iraq still revolve around that same foolish debate. The outright denial of the claim that oil played a decisive role in the invasion is still somehow considered a legitimate stance.

 

It was time for me to return and experience the Iraq of today.

 

January 2012 marked my first return to Iraq. Before my flight, I sat in the airport reading as the time passed. Hundreds of American soldiers returning from Iraq were received by family and friends, applause, and even a news crew. I shook my head because of what the soldiers represented to me. For many, they symbolize freedom, nobility, and honor. To Iraqis, they are the physical embodiment of terror, supremacism and occupation.  

 

I thought back to the times I was called un-American because of my criticisms of American policies in Iraq and refusal to support the military. I was “crazy” for not supporting the push to remove Saddam from power. Most Americans equated support for the administration’s bombing campaign with patriotism and justice, with a complete disregard for the consequences of war and foreign occupation.

 

Iraq has become fragmented and pieced. I think of how long it will take to assemble the pieces back together, and to try to bring together those shards of glass that once made a beautiful piece of work.

 

Nowadays, the occupation dictates every aspect of Iraqi life. The remnants of the brutal invasion manifest themselves on the faces of the people that continue to live and struggle there everyday. Suicide and car bombings, fighting between armed militias, kidnappings, and snipers result in a feeling of despair and no sense of security. Simple everyday tasks like walking to a local market or sending children off to school became impossible.

 

On my first day back in Iraq, massive explosions rocked Baghdad. I was awakened to the realities of this so-called newly democratic country. Both the Iraqi and American governments promised many things for the people, like building a sewage system. They could not even fulfill this basic necessity.  Inadequate water resources have caused massive death and disease in several cities. The two-hour electricity limit halts any work that needs to be done for the day. Birth defects will continue for decades because of the depleted uranium weaponry used by American soldiers (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/03/2013312175857532741.html).

 

This was Iraq.

 

“The war in Iraq will soon belong to history” stated Barack Obama, in an address marking the supposed end of the occupation of Iraq. America will remember it as history, but Iraqis live through it every day.

 

I shy away from reading articles on the commemoration of the invasion of Iraq, written by journalists who don’t understand. I become frustrated and always stop after reading just the headline. I laugh at every mention of the ‘lessons to be learned’ so that America can move forward. Iraq is stuck in a phase of sorrow, but we as Americans must learn from the occupation? I watch as oil companies, “defense contractors,” and corrupt government leaders profit off of an occupation that cut Iraq from any lifeline it had. The fortress called the U.S. embassy, staffed by thousands of foreign soldiers, stands as a permanent reminder of the occupation. America is able to move forward and rebuild its economy, but Iraq and its people must endure the harsh realities of the unwelcoming decades to come.

 

A lesson to learn from Iraqis is one of human dignity and perseverance through trying times. Have we learned? In a new documentary covering Dick Cheney’s legacy, he mentions, “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it in a minute.” And today, mainstream media outlets and the government aggressively continue to build a case against Iran, eerily reminiscent of what we saw ten years ago.

 

We will never learn until they stop seeing people and countries as strategic plans, as means to an end, as valueless unknowns.

 

My first visit to Iraq was in 2012, because the occupation had made it too dangerous to travel there in earlier years. One afternoon, my uncle and I drove through Hilla. I forced him to speak about the occupation. After an hour of hearing horrendous stories of crimes committed by American soldiers, he tiredly says, “We are nothing to them. To America, we are simply strategic. Through their eyes, our lives aren’t worth anything.” That was the end of the conversation.

 

I noticed that Iraqis never speak of the occupation. It was like a faint, unthinkable memory. I sensed that Iraqis have perseverance built within them because of the decades of unrest that they have lived through; they keep on living every day as they can. These are the Iraqis that are reconstructing what is rightfully theirs.

   

Everyday Iraqis have been partaking in reconstructing Iraq after a destructive occupation in which they were robbed of their agency, future and country. Iraqis create and expand projects as the current government continues to neglect the citizen’s needs. Upper class Iraqi citizens and expatriates living in the West play a role in funding these projects. Many social service facilities are being rebuilt, with a focus on widows, orphans, the elderly, and disabled.  Whether it is building bridges or starting up a water filter company, these projects are opening doorways for job opportunities and steadily decreasing unemployment rates. Despite the lack of security and political and economic turmoil, the hardships that Iraqis face are slowly easing and will be ultimately resolved by the resilient Iraqis that continue to resist and struggle for a better life. Iraqis are forging a path of their own to recreate their Iraq: one away from the government’s corrupted plans and free from the American occupation’s stifling grasp.

 

Ten long and painful years have passed. The orphan Mustafa from Baghdad says “I feel like a bird in a cage here. I wish there was someone to listen to us.”

 

Iraqis are listening. I see the same resilience and perseverance in Iraqis that I see in my parents. Years will pass before Iraq will prosper, but I see a future for Iraq because of the millions who are working for it.

 

When I visit Iraq I smile and blink the tears away. The anger from my heart dissipates when I see shops open for business, human rights organizations assisting widows and orphans, and college students organizing an event for Iraqis. It will come together. Justice and progress will flourish because the people demand it- and they will succeed. This is Iraq.

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Viewpoint: Unfounded claims

By Bayan Founas, LSA junior at the University of Michigan
Viewpoint published in The Michigan Daily

A recent viewpoint in The Michigan Daily (“Israel acted in defense,” 11/18/12) claimed that Hamas initiated the recent violence between the Gaza and Israel “without justifiable provocation.” This claim, however, is misleading and feeds University students false information. According to Reuters on Nov. 8, Israeli military forces crossed the border into the Gaza Strip in an apparent incursion, prompting retaliatory fire — at the Israeli force, not into Israel — from the Popular Resistance Committees, a militant group in Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces returned fire, killing a 12-year-old Palestinian boy in the process. This incident ended a two-week standstill in violence between the two parties.

On Nov. 14, Israel launched “Operation Pillar of Defense,” which resulted in the death of 170 Palestinians and the injury of 1,220 more, most of whom were civilians. The people of Gaza faced relentless bombardment from the air and sea, with any semblance of calm quickly interrupted by the buzz of a drone or roar of an F16.

The viewpoint also states that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 with “hope for peace,” but IDF only repositioned their forces on the periphery of Gaza. The blockade imposed on Gaza has been equally — if not more — abusive and oppressive on Gazans than the pre-2005 Israeli occupation there. The Gaza Strip is one of the world’s most densely populated regions, with its 1.6 million residents living in what has been deemed the world’s largest open-air prison.

Amnesty International reports that more than 70 percent of Gazans depend on humanitarian aid for survival. They also report that “Israeli authorities hindered or prevented hundreds of patients from leaving Gaza to obtain medical treatment,” as well as workers and students from pursuing their jobs and education, respectively. And, as we now know from a recent Ha’aretz report, food consumption in Gaza has been restricted — by calculating a minimum number of calories per person — so as to keep Gazans on the brink of starvation. The policy can be summed up by the following quote from Dov Weisglass, an adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” Thus, the collective punishment of the Palestinian people, in this case via starvation, has been a part of Israel’s “defense” strategy, in clear violation of international laws and covenants on human rights.

The viewpoint mentions the dropping of warning leaflets in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead in Dec. 2008, a three-week Israeli offensive. But given the inescapability of the besieged Gaza Strip, these leaflets functioned more as death sentences than well-intentioned warnings. The three-week assault resulted in more than 1,400 Palestinians killed and more than 5,300 wounded, as well as more than 10 Israelis killed and more than 500 wounded. Of the 1,400 Palestinians killed, more than 900 were civilians. The killing of almost 1,000 civilians is not collateral damage as the authors state — it is a massacre.

Israel’s recent onslaught on Gaza’s civilian neighborhoods is part of a pattern that reemerged again a few weeks ago during Operation Pillar of Defense, the death toll consisting mostly of Palestinian civilians. This operation included a strike that killed three generations of the same family, which resulted in nine total fatalities, including four children aged between 1 and 7. The Dalou family has no affiliation with any militant group, yet Israel has yet to issue anything resembling an apology to any of the victims.

Moreover, a ceasefire was mediated last Wednesday by Egypt to halt this recent escalation, which Israel has repeatedly broken over the week by shooting civilians near the border fence for protesting. About 19 people have been wounded and 20 year old Anwar Qudaih was shot dead.

Israel cannot claim self-defense as long as it occupies, annexes and destroys Palestinian land, while collectively punishing an entire population for resisting that occupation. This punishment includes restrictions on movement and essential goods, kidnapping and torture, the destruction of homes and theft of resources. As long as Israel’s brutal occupation continues, so too will the resistance from Palestinians, until their genuine cries for freedom are heard and recognized.

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The RED House

By Rayan El Zein, LSA Junior at the University of Michigan

Tall frontal arches fronted its pedestrian passers. Paralleled windows scattered its outer brick walls. Edged balconies limb-ed out of its core. Yes. It was a sight for sore eyes. Near the sea, on Yarkon Street, there stood a hefty Palestinian Tel-Aviv building known as the “RED” house.

During sunset, among Tel-Aviv locals, the house was known to acquire a reddish pink tinge, hence the name. In the 1920s, the RED house served as a head office for local Jewish builders and craftsmen. It was definitely not your typical maze of office cubicles. It’s productive purpose didn’t last for much longer however. As the end of the year 1947 came along, the pinkish reddish tinge slow but gradually transformed into a cold-blooded terracotta.

On March 10, 1948, the RED house was suddenly out of service. On that cold Wednesday afternoon, eleven members of the Zionist underground militia, Hagana, called in an emergency meeting. Some were veteran Zionist leaders while others were militia Jewish soldiers, however, all were noble ethnic cleansers. With much deliberation, together the Hagan members gracefully scribed a document titled Plan Dalet, also referred to as Plan D. Basically, this document could not have stood ground among such eleven minds without this complex, obscure, and elaborate purpose; the Palestinians had to go. The objectives were simple and straight to the point: implement a large-scale intimidation scheme, bombard and lay siege to villages, set anything that looks like a house on fire, plant mines wherever it’s possible for a Palestinian to exist, and last but not least, expel all Palestinians. And they meant it. No Palestinian Left Behind. None. Continue reading

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Dear Iraq

By Banen Al-Sheemary, LSA Senior at the University of Michigan

Dear Iraq,

You think I have forgotten you, but I carry you everywhere. When I watch the world through my eyes, I see you. I can’t help but think of you with my every move and action. I always tie the struggle of the Iraqi people to my life. At least I try. I really do.

Driving on the outskirts of Fallujah, Iraq.

You know what God hates the most? Hypocrites. I feel guilty that I can walk into my house and turn the lights on whenever I want to. There is always an abundance of food in the fridge and clean running water available. I can sleep at night, safe and sound. After morning prayer, I watch the sun rise and say alhamdillah. The rays of light are from the same sun rising in the same sky, but you don’t get the feeling that I get from it. To you, it’s another hard day. Your days are tense and rigid because of car bombings and snipers. You have many days of uncertainty. Yet you still say alhamdillah. I get to hear birds chirping and the world beginning to wake. You are accustomed to the sounds of military warplanes hovering above you or tanks strolling down the roads. I never had to worry about military jets buzzing overhead ready to drop death and destruction. In stark contrast to what you suffer through, I see life here. This is why I feel like a hypocrite. If I don’t struggle with you, then I am a stranger to you. Continue reading

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An Apology

By Suha Najjar, Sophomore at the University of Michigan

I finally came home last night from my weeks long trip to Gaza. Descending into Detroit and seeing all the lights, the cars, the vast neighborhoods, I began to think that the people below are probably thinking about what bar they will be spending St. Patrick’s Day at, while in the meantime, people in Gaza are wondering what they are going to do in the next 15 hours without any electricity or gas in their home. That a college student may be mourning the loss of the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA tournament, while a mother in Gaza mourns the death of her 12 year old child trying to understand what her son had done to have his life taken away. While a father is mowing his green lawn here, a father in Gaza struggles to keep rain out of his house as it gets flooded because the roofs aren’t really roofs, but rather scraps of wood and metal tied together (besides why did anyone need to build roofs, they were only supposed to be in this refugee camp for a short while before they could finally go back to their own home). Continue reading

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Back To Baghdad

By Farah Erzouki, Sophomore at the University of Michigan

Between 105,718 and 115,471. With an extra 13,750 on the side; added on from War Logs Wikileaks (via Iraq Body Count). The number of people who have been killed in my Iraq. The only time I have hated numbers more than in Calculus class is now, when it has contributed to the dehumanization of my people. Nothing angers me more than the world seeing my brothers and sisters as numbers. Nothing angers me more than the propaganda machine we call mainstream media, that so cleverly and brilliantly masks the realities behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq. If the implications were not so devastating, I would commend these television networks for how perfectly they portrayed Operation “Iraqi Freedom” to favor the United States, the benevolent supreme. Continue reading

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Multiple Oppressors, One Struggle

By Zeinab Khalil, Sophomore at the University of Michigan

I never imagined that I would have to write this. I would rather not, but this a problematic trend that needs to be addressed.

Headlines of 50, 60, 100 people killed in a Syrian city make their way to us each day. The gruesome images that no one wants to look at are there. The videos that the Assad regime hopes we will eventually become desensitized to or become too sick to watch anymore are there. The horrifying stories of toddlers murdered at gunpoint are documented and known. The reports of journalists killed by the Syrian army’s shelling for trying to do their job are there. Everything we need to know to make a sound judgment about the “situation” in Syria is here. There is no question about the Assad regime’s ongoing savage and merciless attacks on the Syrian people- protesters, rebels, and civilians, whoever they may be. There are names and faces behind these numbers. They come with families, careers, ambitions and feelings. They are human. Yet some seem to have forgotten this fact, and have turned this into a question of conspiracies, dirty politics and double standards. Continue reading

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Affirm Life

By Mohammed-Ali Abazeed, Senior at the University of Michigan. This piece was also featured in the Michigan Daily, which can be seen here.

Khader Adnan, a 33-year-old Palestinian man, just completed a hunger strike of 66 days. Israeli forces arrested Adnan on Dec. 17, 2011 in the middle of the night at his home in the Palestinian village of Arraba. Following 18 days of torture and humiliation, Adnan was imprisoned without charge or trial. Israel’s practice of administrative detention — allowing authorities to detain individuals indefinitely without any requirement to charge — stands in direct violation of international law, which states that this form of detention is allowed only in certain circumstances. However, B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, states, “Israel’s use of administrative detention blatantly violates these restrictions. It is carried out under the thick cover of privilege, which denies detainees the possibility of mounting a proper defense.” Continue reading

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The 51st Star

By Banen Al-Sheemary, Senior at the University of Michigan

Day 5: Waiting for the darkness to fade away and the light to break in was nerve wrecking. I was anxious to get out of the car and to step onto the sands of Iraq for the first time since my family had fled after the first invasion in 1990. This is the land of the two rivers, the Cradle of Civilization. I just wanted to hold Iraq in my hands. I was cold and exhausted because of the long ride from Damascus. I arrived to Fallujah. The sun began to rise, making the sky different shades of orange, pink, and red, as if a canvas appeared before my eyes. My heart was beating fast. I took a breath and looked up. The sunlight made the horror in front of me a clear picture. A picture that will forever remain with me. With this single glance, I quickly wished that I had never come. The car sped away leaving a cloud of dirt behind it. The air cleared and I was still standing, unable to move. I wanted to get back into the car and drive far away from this unknown place. I wasn’t prepared to see how much the occupation of Iraq had broken the country. Reading articles, statistics, and news reports never prepared me for this.
I walked through a town that had been destroyed and deserted. Seized, conquered, and forgotten. I stood as if I was stuck in place. Stuck like the people of Fallujah, unable to escape the poverty, fear, and despair. I stared in awe and disbelief. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath. I could not breathe properly even if I tried to. I fought back tears. With clenched fists and my body trembling with weakness, I knew I had to keep moving. I had to get away. Is this the Iraq that I had come back to? I trudged along with my head down, unable to face the repeating images that I would witness for miles ahead. I felt myself wanting to fall and crumble to pieces, just like the buildings around me that had been blown to pieces in 2004 by American forces. Blinking as if I had just awoken from a nightmare of sorrow and uncertainty, my mind collided with reality. Surely, this is how the citizens of Fallujah must feel on a daily basis. With death and wreckage everywhere, the souls of the dead filled the air. I again had to stop and regain myself. The thought of thousands killed on these same sands made my tears flow uncontrollably. Now I understood why articles claimed Fallujah was hit the hardest by American forces. How hard I cried for Iraq. Silenced. Continue reading

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