Israel Resource Review 23rd February, 1999

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Am Echad: Preserving One Jewish Nation
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Am Echad Israel spokesman

Sunday's Mass Prayer Gathering

The Sunday, 14th February, prayer gathering of a broad cross-section of Orthodox Jews -- media estimates of the crowd ranged between 250,000 to 500,000 participants -- and was descibed by the Israeli media as the largest such gathering in the Israel's history. The widespread predictions of possible violence and bloodshed proved to be utterly baseless. The gathering, which lasted more than two hours, passed without incident, and when it was over the huge crowd dispersed quietly.

The prayer vigil was called against a backdrop of escalating hostility to religious observance in Israel and the usurpation of representative government by the judicial branch, in particular the Israeli Supreme Court.

I. The World's Most Activist Court

In the opinion of many commentators, there is no more powerful supreme court in the world than the Israeli Supreme Court. No other supreme court has assumed such responsibility for resolving all the problems of society, says Hebrew University's Ruth Gavison, one of the directors of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. There is no area, in the words of another leading commentator, "too political, too contentious, or too trivial to escape [the Supreme Court's] vigilant eye." In recent years, the Supreme Court has repeatedly entered areas in which there are no traditional legal materials to guide it: neither statute or judicial precedent.

'The Barak Court's judicial activism has thrust the Supreme Court into the center of many of the value conflicts that divide Israeli society, a role for which it is completely unsuited. The Supreme Court is totally unrepresentative of Israeli society. In a country in which over 50% of the population is of Middle Eastern origin, there is not one justice of Middle Eastern descent. In a country, in which 20-25% of the population is religiously observant, only one permanent member of the 15-member Court is religious. (Justice Barak and his colleagues largely control the selection of their successors, with little input from the Knesset and the executive branches.)

Not only is the Supreme Court highly unrepresentative, but it has followed an explicitly elitist vision in its value choices. In Justice Barak's words, a judge should be guided in those cases involving broad value choices by the values of "the enlightened society in whose midst he dwells." "The values of the enlightened society," he has made clear, does not mean a social consensus, but only those values which are, in his words, universal -- i.e., neither Jewish nor non-Jewish -- progressive, and worthy of enlightened nations.

In no area involving conflicting societal values has the Court's unrepresentative nature and its elitist vision been so keenly felt as that of religion and state. The Barak Court has consistently failed to acknowledge that the affirmation of Israel as a "Jewish state," in both the Declaration of Independence and the Basic Laws is not meaningless verbiage. Rather Justice Barak has simply defined "Jewish" as synonymous with "democratic," which he then defines in terms of rights, both enumerated and unenumerated.

Justice Barak's vision, while consistent with that of a very small minority of Israeli society, which would define Israel as merely a "state of its citizens," is far from that of Ben-Gurion and the other signatories to the Declaration of Independence, as well as the majority of citizens today.

Israel's founders viewed the creation of the State as the fulfillment of a 2,000-year-old dream. And they recognized that Jewish identity would be the glue holding society together. To preserve a single Jewish identity, for instance, they placed all issues of personal status under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate.

By refusing to treat the term "Jewish" as an independent source of values, the Supreme Court has left itself vulnerable to the charge, voiced most recently by former Justice Tzvi Tal that it "has completely cut itself off from the tradition of the Jewish people." Under Justice Barak, every aspect of the fifty year status quo arrangement on matters of religion and state has been eroded, with a resulting loss of identifiable Jewish character to the State. Laws against commercial activity on the Sabbath have been undermined, the jurisdiction of the religious courts restricted, the importation of non-kosher meat permitted, and the Chief Rabbinate's authority over conversions dramatically reduced.

The Supreme Court has ordered hearings on a suit to bar ritual circumcision in Israel. Over the ages, tens of thousands of Jews have died rather than give up circumcision, the first commandment given to the Jewish people. Yet for the Israeli Supreme Court it is not unthinkable that the first self-proclaimed "Jewish state" in nearly two millenia might outlaw ritual circumcision. Nor has the Court acknowledged that it has no authority to prevent parents from circumsizing their children.

Here are a few other examples of the Court's appropriation of broad policymaking functions from the Knesset and the executive branch and of its creation of new rights out of whole cloth:

  • Two years ago, the Supreme Court overruled the decision of the Supervisor of Traffic to close a two-block stretch of Bar Ilan Street in Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Such routine decisions about the direction of traffic are never subjected to judicial review. Justice Barak then went on to appoint a commission to study the entire issue of Sabbath street closings on a national level, a remedy far beyond the narrow case in front of the Supreme Court and involving the type of policy-making normally associated with the other branches.
  • Last year the Supreme Court ordered Educational TV to screen a film celebrating teenage homosexuality, without citation of one statute or judicial precedent mandating such a result. The Supreme Court thereby effectively created a new right to promote one's lifestyle on public broadcasting.

II. Delegitimization of the Religious Population

As part of an escalating campaign of delegitimization of religious Jews and religious observance, major parties have based both local and national campaigns around the slogan "Stop the Chareidim" or "Stop the Blacks."

In response to the opening of a national religious kindergarten in Kfar Saba, signs appeared advocating "exterminating the chareidim at birth." Yet no protest was heard. Ssimilarly Justice Barak himself did not protest when a Beersheba magistrate likened religious Jews to "huge lice" in his presence. Indeed Barak praised the speech, and only three weeks later, after complaints from religious leaders, was the magistrate reprimanded.

A leading journalist savors the idea of tying the beards of all the "weird chareidi rabbis together and setting them on fire" and another -- a former Knesset member -- declares his greatest national service would be to go into Mea Shearim with a submachine gun to "mow them all down," and again there is no outcry.

In Tzoron a new religious school opened last September, with twenty first-graders. For more than a month, these little children had to run had to run a daily gauntlet of forty to sixty demonstrators, some accompanied by attack dogs, to enter the school. The school building was regularly pelted with stones, with the children inside, and defaced. These demonstrations were encouraged by Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, who came to Tzoron to urge the local population to resist the scourge of religion.

Am Echad is an umbrella organization designed to ensure an accurate portrayal of Orthodox Jews and Judaism in the media and to serve as a resource for journalists seeking a greater understanding of the Orthodox community.
Tel: (+972-2) 652-2726

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Jordan Rejects Confederation with Arafat
Al-Ahram Weekly
18th-24th February, 1999

Arafat's Ladder
by Graham Usher

"With the dust barely settled on his father's grave, last week King Abdullah was confronted with the one issue he almost certainly would have preferred to have stayed buried, at least during the opening months of his reign".


. . . Palestinian President Yasser Arafat revived the debate over the form of the political association between Jordan and any future Palestinian entity. "We want [King Abdullah] to know that the Palestinian National Council has agreed to a confederation with Jordan," said Arafat. More alarming still -- as far as Jordan was concerned -- were the comments by PA spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeineh, that discussions on a "confederacy" between Jordan and the Palestinians should happen sooner rather than later.

. . .

In 1985, the Palestinian National Council (PNC) endorsed the idea of a confederation between Jordan and any future Palestinian state. Never set out in detail, the decision had been taken in the context of a rapprochement between Arafat and King Hussein following the PLO's eviction from Beirut in 1982. Following a souring in relations between the PLO and Jordan in 1986, however, the confederation idea, though never formally abandoned, was quietly shelved. Since then, the unspoken status quo -- shared by both King Hussein and Arafat -- was that the issue of a confederation should only be raised after a Palestinian state had been established "on Palestinian soil". It is this status quo that Arafat and Rdeineh's comments have thrown into doubt.

. . .

In recent weeks, the Palestinian leader has been under inordinate pressure to publicly postpone his "right" to declare unilaterally a Palestinian state when Oslo's interim period expires on 4 May. As part of the Wye River Agreement, the US gave Israel a written pledge that it "opposes and will oppose" any unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. Last month, the European parliament also made it known that a "premature" Palestinian UDI would create a "complex situation" in the region. Israel's Labour and Centre parties have also stated that a Palestinian state should be "a result of negotiations" rather than an independent Palestinian action.

The unspoken assumption behind this chorus of restraint is that any attempt by Arafat to go it alone would almost certainly help Binyamin Netanyahu's election prospects rather than those of Ehud Barak, especially if the Israeli leader, in retaliation, carries out his threat to annex those parts of the Occupied Territories under Israel's control. Such an action would bury whatever tenuous hopes the US and Europe have about resurrecting Oslo in the wake of the Israeli elections.

It is a scenario Arafat probably shares. His problem is that having climbed the tree of threatening a unilateral declaration of statehood on 4 May, he needs a dignified way to descend from it. By floating the confederation idea, he could mount a retreat in the name of "coordination and discussion" with Jordan rather than climbing down meekly due to American and European pressure. Should the confederation idea also receive a positive response internationally -- and especially in Washington -- Arafat could also claim this as another implicit recognition of a Palestinian state.

So far, the international response to his call has been led by Jordan. "As for confederation or any other future relation between Jordan and the Palestinians," commented Jordan's information minister, Nasser Joudeh, on 14 February, "we will cross that bridge when we come to it". For now, "the most important thing . . . is that Jordan concentrates . . . on helping and supporting Palestinians win their full rights on Palestinian soil, meaning the establishment of their national state."

This is a polite way of saying that confederation should stay on the shelf and that Arafat, having climbed the tree of 4 May, should not look to Amman to provide him with a ladder.

No Takers in Amman
by Khaled Dawoud

"The Jordanian government and opposition parties alike reacted angrily this week to the proposal by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat for a confederation with Jordan, Khaled Dawoud reports from Amman."

Quotes from text
"Arafat's proposal . . . would only help Israel's declared intention of establishing Jordan as an alternative homeland for the Palestinians." [IMRA: Israel simply has no such intention.]

"Abdul-Majid Zuneibat, supreme guide of Jordan's main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Arafat's proposal at this particular junction was an invitation to Judaise Jordan and an attempt to avoid declaring an independent Palestinian state by solving his problems at Jordan's expense. We vehemently reject this call."

Full Text

The Jordanian government and opposition parties alike reacted angrily this week to the proposal by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat for a confederation with Jordan.

Jordanian Prime Minister Fayez Al-Tarawneh immediately declared that the topic was not up for discussion at this particular time and that there could be no talk of confederation before the creation of an independent Palestinian state was complete.

Several parliament members also issued statements expressing "dismay and surprise at Arafat's proposal", describing it as an attempt by the Palestinian leader to add to Jordan's problems at a time when the country is struggling to overcome its grief at the death of King Hussein.

George Hadad, a columnist at the daily Dastour newspaper, said that not long ago the late King Hussein had publicly asked Arafat to refrain from raising this issue until the occupied Palestinian territories had been liberated. Hadad said that Arafat's proposal, made only four days after Hussein's death, would only help Israel's declared intention of establishing Jordan as an alternative homeland for the Palestinians.

With the expiry date of the Oslo Agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinians approaching on 4 May without any hope of a breakthrough in the peace process, Jordanian officials and opposition groups fear that the proposed confederation may be meant as an alternative to Arafat's threat to unilaterally declare an independent state, thus giving Israel the justification to transfer hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to Jordan. If this were to come about, it would seriously aggravate Jordan's economic problems. The country is already suffering from a lack of economic resources and sky-rocketing unemployment.

Abdul-Majid Zuneibat, supreme guide of Jordan's main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Arafat's proposal at this particular juncture was "an invitation to Judaise Jordan and an attempt to avoid declaring an independent Palestinian state by solving his problems at Jordan's expense. We vehemently reject this call."

Like other Jordanian commentators, Zuneibat said that Jordanians and Palestinians have been united by force of circumstances over the past decade, "but any talk of a confederation should be left until after the establishment of a Palestinian state. That way, the union would take place voluntarily between two independent nations."

An Old Card
by Sherine Bahaa

"Yassar Arafat surprised the international community by reviving the old call for a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. Sherine Bahaa spoke to analysts about the possible reasons behind the proposal".

Full Text

"A confederation with Jordan" was former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres' answer, when asked what came next, following the signing of the 1995 interim agreement between Palestine and Israel.

Today, four years later, observers agree that a confederation remains the most likely scenario. In the words of one Arab analyst, "The current situation proves that establishing a Palestinian entity is inevitable, but it also proves this entity will not amount to an integrated state."

Khalil Shkaki, head of the Palestinian Research Centre in Nablus, believes that a majority of Palestinians support the idea of a confederation for "historical, strategic and social reasons." According to Shkaki, Palestinians think that some form of unity between the two populations might be useful. "It might well be asked whether a Palestinian state without some form of unity with Jordan would be viable," Shkaki told Al-Ahram Weekly.

At a regional meeting of his mainstream Fateh faction in Hebron last Friday, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said that the Palestine Liberation Organisation's (PLO) parliament in exile favoured a confederacy with Jordan, if the country's newly crowned King Abdullah approves of the idea.

"Arafat wanted to confirm earlier positions and reassure Jordanians that Palestinian policy remains unchanged despite the death of King Hussein," said Shkaki.

The timing of Arafat's announcement of the revival of the proposal is one considerable source of controversy. Though some analysts point to his need to find a solution before the 4 May Oslo agreement deadline which is now looming, others regard his statement as an attempt to influence, if not preempt, the Jordanian decision. Abdel-Wahab Elmessiri, an expert on Zionist affairs, inclines to the first opinion. "The confederation with Jordan would represent a way out for him," said Elmessiri, who sees the Palestinian leader as essentially pragmatic. "Arafat's position is very difficult. The Arab states are divided. He is confronting Israel on his own, and he has to rely on his wits to work out a solution for himself."

Political analyst Mohamed Sid-Ahmed subscribes to the second point of view. Sid-Ahmed believes that it is the precarious nature of the regional situation which has induced Arafat to bring the confederation proposal forward once again. "There is a new power structure in Jordan, and it is a vulnerable one," Sid-Ahmed said. He attributes this vulnerability to a number of reasons. A much-loved heir to the throne, who had held that position for 35 years, was suddenly removed, and replaced by an inexperienced young man, who now finds himself king. As Sid-Ahmed points out, it is obvious that not everybody in Jordan is pleased with Hussein's choice of Abdullah as his successor.

Sid-Ahmed believes that Arafat saw an opportunity to raise the matter again, especially as Netanyahu has been obliged to call for early elections. "Netanyahu cornered inside the country, and the Jordanians in a weak position: this is a golden opportunity to put everybody on the defensive with a step of that sort," he explained.

Meanwhile, the United States have unveiled a plan by President Bill Clinton which had been shelved due to the Monicagate trial. The Americans are proposing a tripartite Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. According to US officials, the Clinton scenario would commit the three partners to a plan which would ensure stability in the region. It would also serve to reinforce the American-Jordanian relationship. An invitation has already been sent to the new Jordanian monarch, King Abdullah, to visit the US and address the Congress.

This is a scenario which does not appeal much to Elmessiri, who views the Americans as inveterate pragmatists. "They never address fundamental issues. That's why they keep cooking up new 'solutions' for the Arab-Israeli conflict," he said. "Will this mean the implementation of the 1948 UN resolutions? Can this confederation solve the problem of the refugees of 1967, or of sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza?" Elmessiri believes that the Palestinian issue has gone beyond political endeavours and pragmatic solutions. For him, Israel was always determined to separate the land from the people, so as to achieve at least a partial fulfillment of the Zionist slogan, "A land without people, that would be modified to read, A land divorced from the people."

He continued: "Unfortunately for Israel, the Palestinians are growing in numbers, they are highly educated and they have the support of the Arab and Islamic peoples. This leaves the Israelis with a problem which so far has no answer in the Zionist lexicon."

However, this does not mean there are no benefits to be drawn from a three-way confederation, should it ever materialise. "It would strengthen relations between the Jordanians and the Palestinians, strengthen the new regime being set up in Jordan and also create a better bulwark against any intrigues or conspiracies that might be hatched at this juncture by people like Ariel Sharon," Sid Ahmed commented. "Moreover, a confederation would put an end to the criticisms now emerging from within the ranks of the Palestinians of the Palestinian Authority."

An Alliance of Equals
by Mahgoub Omar
Expert on Palestinian affairs and a columnist at Al-Ahaab newspaper

Quotes from text
" . . . Arafat . . . has forced Jordan, as represented by the new king, Abdullah, to reject the proposal, at least temprarily. . . . the new monarch still feels that his success depends on a domestic Palestinan majority, yet cannot be sure of this constituency's loyalty."

"Shimon Peres has announced that, if Labour wins the forthcoming elections, he will back the declaration of a Palestinian state, and welcome the establishment of a confederation. . . . Netanyahu . . . has refused the idea categorically."

Full Text

The late King Hussein had proposed that Jordan join a confederation with the Palestinian authority set up after Israel's withdrawal. The Palestinians had always opposed this suggestion; some requested that it be postponed until after Israel had withdrawn from occupied territory and a referendum on the question had been held; others refused altogether, for reasons related to the Palestinians' experience in Jordan under Hussein. Now Arafat, by turning the tables, has forced Jordan, as represented by the new king, Abdullah, to reject the proposal, at least temporarily. It has not been long since King Hussein's death, and the new monarch still feels that his success depends on a domestic Palestinian majority, yet cannot be sure of this constituency's loyalty.

The rapid refusal is probably due to the fact that the effective players in Jordan -- King Abdullah's power base -- are the tribes, the army and the ruling family. Former Crown Prince Hassan's followers are also in favour of distancing the Palestinians. In any case, it is now up to the EU, and especially Britain, to make a move. The creation of a confederation, of course, would imply that a Palestinian state has been recognised -- precisely Arafat's intention.

Shimon Peres has announced that, if Labour wins the forthcoming elections, he will back the declaration of a Palestinian state, and welcome the establishment of a confederation. As for Netanyahu, he has refused the idea categorically.

Translations by
Dr. Joseph Lerner,
Co-Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
P.O.BOX 982 Kfar Sava
Tel: (+972-9) 760-4719
Fax: (+972-9) 741-1645

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Major Israeli Arab Political Party Strives to Replace Israel
by Dr Aaron Lerner

A review of the National Democratic Alliance party platform finds that it works for the establishment of a regime in the region that would supercede Israel (article 15). The party also acts against encouraging Arabs to serve in the army (11a) and Palestinians who help Israel (11b) and supports the return of the 1948 refugees into Israel (13).

Curiously, Minister of Communications Limor Livnat today only charged that the party rejects the Jewish character of the State of Israel (article 2) and supports the negation of the Law of Return (part of the citizenship law - article 3).

Relevant excerpts from the party platform as well as from today's cabinet communique appear below:

National Democratic Alliance Party Platform

The following is IMRA's unauthorized translation of excerpts from the Hebrew version of the 1996 election platform of the National Democratic Alliance party.

2. The National Democratic Alliance will struggle for changing the State of Israel into a democratic state for all of its citizens - Jews, Arabs and others . . .

3. In order to void all types of discrimination between citizens based on race, nationality, religion, sex, and political affiliation the National Democratic Alliance will act for the enactment of democratic legislation based on changing the citizenship laws, and insure the Arabs in Israel citizenship truly equal to that of the Jews. This based on UN charters on this matter. This law will be the legal basis for social equality and political participation in state of all its citizens.

4. The Arab Israeli citizens are a part of the Palestinian nation and the Arab people in its national and cultural identity.

5. The National Democratic Alliance will act for the recognition of the Arabs in Israel as a national-cultural minority, and will defend its right to autonomy over those matters that distinguish it from the Jewish majority in the state, and at the top - matters of education and culture. The National Democratic Alliance will act for the recognition of the minority to establish institutions, organizations and authorities that will act on a voluntary basis to handle and develop religious, educational and cultural services, preserve traditional heritage and values, matters of charity and social solidarity. The minority has the right to independently manage these institutions, with ties and participation in the central government that will be a state of all its citizens, on the basis of the interests of the general public and subject to law.

11. a. The National Democratic Alliance will act against the policy of drafting Arabs to the army, and against propaganda encouraging the draft in the Arab society and Arab schools.

b. The National Democratic Alliance will act against collaborators and against the policy of residing them in Arab villages and cities in Israel.

c. The National Democratic Alliance is committed to the matter of Palestinian and Arab political prisoners and their release from prison, and in particular those of them who are Israeli citizens.

13. The National Democratic Alliance will act to achieve a just overall and viable peace solution for the Palestinian problem on the basis of the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in the occupied territories since 1967 whose capital is eastern Jerusalem, the break up of the settlements established in these territories and the resolution of the refugee problem on the basis on international law and UN decisions on these matters.

14. The National Democratic Alliance will work for the full withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces from all occupied Arab territories- the Golan Heights and South Lebanon to the borders of the fourth of June 1967.

15. The National Democratic Alliance see itself a part of the strong democratic movement in the region that acts for the establishment of a democratic regime in the region on the basis of equality and agreement between the states and people without any foreign hegemony. Such a regime will be a condition for economic development, social advancement and the protection of human rights and honor.

Israel Cabinet Communique
(From the press release of the Israel Government Press Office)

At the Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 21st February, 1999:
The Communications Minister referred to remarks in praise of Hizballah made by MK Azmi Bishara at a meeting of his National Democratic Alliance party, and to reports about the party's platform -- which allegedly rejects the Jewish character of the State and supports the negation of the Law of Return. The Attorney-General said that he will investigate the matter.

The Prime Minister clarified that MK Bishara's remarks are serious, but that they must be viewed as representative of an extremist minority of Israeli Arabs, and not be attributed to the vast majority of this constituency -- which remains loyal to the State.'

Dr. Aaron Lerner is the Co-Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
P.O.BOX 982 Kfar Sava
Tel: (+972-9) 760-4719
Fax: (+972-9) 741-1645

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Antisemitic Expression on Official Palestinian Authority Media?

Palestinian Media Watch, under the direction of Itamar Marcus, has released another sampling of recent anti-Semitic incitement in the Palestinian press. These include an article in the daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida from 18th January, 1999, which states:

"In the meantime, Israel adds additional massacres to the heritage of heavy bloodshed . . . Many among the historians and social science researchers delve into the interpretation of the Jewish "Israeli" psyche, and the [interpretation] of the Torah texts, in connection with the historical persecution complex and the massacres of others. However, the reality is that the massacres are a clear, political act in the blood filled history of the Zionist entity . . . This is not a policy of a party, faction, stream or person. This is a continuing, non-stop system, which has not changed, will not change, and which was never given up on, whether the power lay with those called 'extremists' of the 'right wing' from the Likud party and the religious streams, or with those who are classified as 'moderates' of the Labor party crowd and the streams which are affiliated with the left. Massacre is the basis of the State of Israel . . . is the core of their beliefs . . . Israel will never willingly stop the acts of massacre . . . This [stopping] is rejected from an Israeli point of view and whoever approves [it] will merit the same fate as Rabin. There is no forgetting. There is no forgiving . . ."
[by Tallal Slaman, Editor of Alsapir Lebanese newspaper]

A sermon by Sheikh Yussef Abu Snineh, broadcast over Voice of Palestine Radio on 15th January, 1999, included the following:

"There is no difference between the names and nicknames, and there is no difference or advantage in the increase of the Israeli parties. The Labor or the Likud, doves or hawks, or the Third Way, or the Right. They all serve the Israeli society and Zionist ideology which is based on the occupation of the land of Palestine, the expansion of the settlements and the 'Judaization' of the city of Jerusalem. They all are different sides of the same coin whose name is the Zionist occupation. The truth that the Muslims, East and West, must know is that our struggle over Palestine is an ideological struggle between Islam and the enemies of Islam . . . How long will this shame go on, how long the disgrace, oh Muslims. Has not the time arrived for the Islamic nations to rise and throw off their being controlled states and to liberate themselves of the shackles of Imperialism?"

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