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What I Saw When I Guarded the Border with Gaza Jacob Katz

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Jacob Katz. (Image courtesy Jacob Katz)

Jacob Katz is a 25-year-old former IDF soldier from Florida who returned to Israel this week. Here, he tells of his time with the IDF from 2018 to 2019, where he patrolled the Gaza border at the same spot where Hamas terrorists bulldozed the fence and invaded Israel on October 7.

I remember trying to peer through the fence between Israel and Gaza. The thick metal rods interwoven between its beams are criss-crossed tightly; its thick steel beams towered 20 feet above my head. Simply touching it would set off a silent alarm. When I looked up at the tangles of barbed wire at the top, I thought no one could ever penetrate this wall, let alone the terrorists who bulldozed through it on the morning of October 7.

The last time I saw that fence was five years ago, when I slept in a bunk room with nearly a dozen other Israeli soldiers just 500 meters away as a part of a 130-person unit that guarded the border. 

I grew up in southern Florida as the only kid on my travel soccer team who wore a kippah. The fact I am the grandson of Holocaust survivors is a cornerstone of my identity. It was their stories combined with my own visit to the concentration camps in Poland that inspired me to delay college for two years to serve in the IDF. I know Israel—even in these darkest days—is the reason the future of the Jewish people is ensured. 

I would never pretend to speak on behalf of the soldiers standing next to me, let alone the IDF. This is my perspective from the time when I held a machine gun and had more than 800 bullets strapped to my chest. I never fired at a single rioter; most of the time it was relatively quiet along the border. 

There are certain sense memories from that time and place that I will never forget. One thing was the garbage. On the other side of the fence, there are huge piles of garbage that have been burned so often, they have turned a dusty gray. Stray dogs roamed around, and every once in a while a rogue sheep wandered near the fence until a shepherd fetched it and directed it home. In the distance were green pastures and a modest treeline slightly obscuring the boxy concrete homes of northern Gaza.

Once or twice a week there were protests, which often devolved into riots. 

On May 15, 2019, the day after Israeli Independence Day, hundreds of Gazans gathered about 500 meters from the fence, black smoke billowing above them as they burned tires and inched toward the border. They were marking what is known in Gaza as “Nakba Day.” More people started streaming in on all sides, until the fence was lined with protesters for hundreds of feet in every direction. 

From our lookout spot inside the bunker, I could feel strong explosions in my chest from over 500 meters away as rioters tried to blow up the fence. And when I peered through, I didn’t just see Hamas or Islamic Jihad terrorists; I saw families—men, women, and children all milling about. Music played on loudspeakers. Mounted on a hill in the distance, a large Palestinian flag rippled in the wind. 

The rioters often interspersed themselves among families and children, progressing toward the fence to create chaos and confusion. I believe they knew our hands were tied. The protest organizers took advantage of our commitment to protecting innocent life, which applied on both sides of the fence.

I remember patrolling the dirt road along the fence during another riot, sitting in the back of an armored jeep as my commander used a joystick and a red button to launch canisters of tear gas over the fence toward rioters on the other side. 

(Image courtesy of Jacob Katz)

I vividly remember a woman in a burka walking toward the fence carrying what looked like a grenade in her fist, her arm extended from her body. She must have been 150 feet away when my commander launched one of the canisters. As soon as the clouds of gas began to rise from the ground, she collapsed as others came to her aid. 

I later saw a group of four or five small kids kicking around a used tear gas canister as it fizzled out, as if it were a soccer ball. The kids couldn’t have been older than eight, and their clothes hung on their small bodies like they were recent hand-me-downs from older siblings. 

I wondered what my life would have been like if I had been born on the other side of the fence. Would I have agreed with those who told me to wish for the death of another people? 

As Israel prepares for a potential ground invasion of Gaza, I think of those kids and I hope they were able to flee. But I also wonder what role they now play. Today, they’re probably 13 or 14. How long does it take for those who were used as pawns to become the people moving the pieces? 

I believe with my whole heart that we had to protect the border and that each soldier was singularly aimed at that goal. And I’m not ashamed we had weapons to do it. But in the big picture, do I want to live in a world where 19-year-old Israelis don’t need to fire tear gas at 8-year-old Palestinians? 

It is my dream.

Jacob Katz is a 2023 graduate of Princeton, currently in Tel Aviv working to raise money and collect supplies for IDF soldiers on the front lines. Read Amjad Abukwaik’s Free Press piece about growing up, leaving, and coming back to Gaza. 

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May 27, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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The White House hosted a three-day state visit for President William Ruto and First Lady Rachel Ruto of Kenya beginning on May 23, 2024. The visit marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Kenya and is the first state visit for an African leader since President John Kufuor of Ghana visited in 2008.

The Biden administration has worked to develop ties to African nations, whose people are leery of the United States not only because of what Biden called the “original sin” of colonists importing enslaved Africans to North American shores, but also because while the Soviet Union tended to support the movements when African nations began to throw off colonial rule, the U.S. tended to support right-wing reaction. More recently, during the Trump years the United States withdrew from engagement with what the former president allegedly called “sh*thole countries.”

In contrast, officials from the Biden administration have noted the importance of the people of Africa to the future of the global community. Currently, the median age on the continent is 19, and experts estimate that by 2050, one in four people on Earth will live on the African continent. 

Saying that Africans must have control over their own countries and their own future, U.S. officials backed the admission of the African Union to the Group of 20 (G-20), welcoming the organization’s 55 member states to the intergovernmental forum that focuses on global issues, and pledged more than $55 billion to the continent to aid security, support democratic institutions, and advance civil rights and the rule of law. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, First Lady Jill Biden, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have all visited the continent, where they have emphasized partnership with African countries for economic development rather than a competition with China and Russia for resource extraction. 

In March 2023, Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia to emphasize the connections between Africa and North America, focus on the importance of democracy as Russian disinformation in Africa is driving pro-Russian and anti-U.S. sentiment, and announce U.S. investment in the continent as well as calling for more. 

But in July 2023, those efforts appeared to take a step back when a military coup in Niger deposed elected president Mohamed Bazoum. A few months later, the ruling junta asked the forces of former colonial power France to leave the country and turned to Russia’s Wagner group for security. In March, U.S. diplomats and military officials expressed concern about the increasing presence of Russia in Niger, and a few days later, officials told close to 1,000 U.S. troops stationed in the country to leave as well. Russian troops moved into a military base the U.S. has been using. 

The U.S. says its troops will leave by mid-September and has pledged to continue negotiations. Niger was a key ally in the U.S. antiterrorism efforts against armed forces allied with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Neighboring Chad has also asked the 100 U.S. troops in the country to leave.

Meanwhile, in the year since her trip to Africa, Vice President Harris has focused on digital inclusion in Africa, recognizing that the spread of digital technology has the potential to promote economic opportunity and gender equality and to create jobs, as well as open new markets for U.S. exports. Last week, she announced that the African Development Bank Group and Mastercard have launched the Mobilizing Access to the Digital Economy Alliance (MADE), which is working with public and private investors to provide digital access for 100 million individuals and businesses in Africa over the next ten years, focusing first on agriculture and women. 

Kenya’s President Ruto won election in 2022, promising voters that he would champion the “hustlers,” the young workers piecing together an income informally. U.S. ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman, former chief executive officer of eBay and Hewlett-Packard and unsuccessful 2010 Republican candidate for governor of California, has supported this idea of economic development. Focusing on “commercial diplomacy,” she has worked with Ruto to encourage business investment in Kenya.  

At a state luncheon with President Ruto last week, Harris reiterated her belief “that African ideas and innovations will have a significant impact on the future of the entire world—a belief driven in part by the extraordinary creativity, dynamism, and energy of young African leaders” and by the continent’s young demographic. She reiterated the need to “revise and upgrade the U.S.-Africa narrative, which is long overdue; and to bring fresh focus to the innovation and ingenuity that is so prevalent across the continent of Africa.” She warned: “Any leader that ignores the continent of Africa is doing so at their own peril.” 

While Kenya’s main economic sectors are agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism, it is also a technology hub, and Harris called out its “Silicon Savannah,” a technology ecosystem that produced the cellphone-based money transfer system M-PESA, as well as startups making biodegradable plastics, creating drinking water from humidity, and so on. 

Ruto thanked Harris and Biden “for helping us reshape, reengineer, and write a new narrative for our continent.” Africans “are going to write our own story,” Ruto said, adding that the narrative of “this continent of conflict, trouble, disease, poverty” is “not the story of Africa.” “Africa is a continent of tremendous opportunity,” he said, “the largest reserves of energy—renewable energy resources; 60 percent of the world’s arable, uncultivated land; 30 percent of…global mineral wealth, including those that are necessary for energy transition; the youngest continent, which will produce 40 percent of the world’s…workforce by 2050 and where a quarter of the world’s population will be living, providing the world’s biggest single market. In short,” he said, “Africa is a rich continent and a continent of opportunity.”  

In a conversation with Vice President Harris and Ambassador Whitman, President Ruto said that the young population of Africa is “tech hungry” and that technology “is the instrument that we can use to leapfrog Africa from where we are to…catch up with the rest of the world.” The digital space, he said, is the space that will create the greatest output from young people and women. To that end, he said, Kenya is investing 30% of its annual budget in education, training, knowledge, and skills. 

As part of his reach for global leadership, Ruto has put Kenya at the front of an initiative backed by the United Nations for a multinational security intervention in Haiti, where officials have asked for help restoring order against about 200 armed gangs in the country, coalitions of which control about 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 exacerbated political instability in Haiti by creating a power vacuum, while weapons flowing into the country, primarily from straw purchases in the U.S., fed violence. Last year, then–prime minister Ariel Henry had pleaded with the United Nations Security Council to bolster Haitian security forces and combat the gangs.

The U.S. declined to lead the effort or to provide troops, although it, along with Canada and France, is funding the mission. On Thursday, Biden explained that “for the United States to deploy forces in the hemisphere just raises all kinds of questions that can be easily misrepresented about what we’re trying to do…. So we set out to find…a partner or partners who would lead the effort that we would participate in.” Kenya stepped up, although Kenyan opposition leaders, lawyers, and human rights groups are fiercely opposed to deploying Kenyans to the Caribbean nation. 

The Haitian gangs oppose the Multinational Security Support Mission (MSS), which is supposed to consist of 2,500 troops, 1,000 of whom are Kenyans. The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Chad, and Jamaica have officially notified the United Nations secretary-general of their intent to send personnel to the mission. Other nations have said they will support the mission, but as of May 20 had not yet sent official notifications. The MSS was supposed to arrive by May 23, but a base for it in Port-au-Prince is not yet fully equipped. Experts also told Caitlin Hu of CNN that Haitian authorities have not done enough to explain to local people how the mission will work, and Haitian police say what is most necessary is more support for local police.  

Kenyan news reported that the advance team of Kenyan police officers who went to Haiti to assess conditions for their deployment there will recommend a delay in deployment.

Notes:

https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/media-advisory-state-visit-president-william-ruto-and-first-lady-rachel-ruto-the-republic

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2024/02/16/statement-from-press-secretary-karine-jean-pierre-on-the-state-visit-of-president-william-ruto-and-first-lady-rachel-ruto-of-kenya/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2024/02/16/remarks-by-vice-president-harris-at-the-munich-security-conference-munich-germany/

https://apnews.com/article/biden-g-20-summit-politics-africa-china-04ce188209d1fac0c4f9e946825e3c2f

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/5/20/us-set-to-evacuate-illegal-troops-from-niger

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/02/politics/us-russian-forces-niger-base/index.html

https://apnews.com/article/niger-chad-us-troops-withdrawal-russia-aa852a79bac39aaa679af3663b56deaa

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2024/05/24/fact-sheet-vice-president-harris-announces-public-and-private-sector-commitments-to-advancing-digital-inclusion-in-africa/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2024/05/24/remarks-by-vice-president-harris-and-president-william-ruto-of-the-republic-of-kenya-at-a-state-luncheon/

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/trump-referred-haiti-african-countries-shithole-nations-n836946

4/background-press-call-previewing-the-vice-presidents-trip-to-ghana-tanzania-and-zambia/

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-03-23/putin-s-mercenary-prigozhin-shifts-focus-after-ukraine-setbacks

https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2023/mar/25/harris-heads-to-africa-amid-bidens-courtship-of-co/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-64451376

https://sg.news.yahoo.com/africa-worlds-future-touring-us-090551181.html

https://apnews.com/article/kamala-harris-africa-ghana-tanzania-zambia-china-a1ecb70d87bfecf3b983d15afc498379

5/fact-sheet-u-s-africa-partnership-in-promotin-peace-security-and-democratic-governance/

https://www.csis.org/analysis/prioritizing-partnerships-africa

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2024/05/21/whitman-ruto-kenya-cabinet-consideration-00159251

https://academic.oup.com/afraf/article/122/487/205/7133587

https://blog.prif.org/2022/11/08/have-the-tables-turned-what-to-expect-from-kenyas-new-hustler-president-william-ruto/

https://press.un.org/en/2023/sc15432.doc.htm

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/05/24/haiti-kenya-security-force/

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/3/13/who-are-haitis-gangs-and-what-do-they-want-all-you-need-to-know

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/longform/2024/3/25/a-criminal-economy-how-us-arms-fuel-deadly-gang-violence-in-haiti

https://www.npr.org/2024/05/19/1252380146/us-troops-leave-niger

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/24/americas/haiti-gang-mss-kenya-explainer-intl/index.html

https://www.state.gov/un-security-council-authorizes-multinational-security-support-mission-to-haiti/

https://www.citizen.digital/news/kenyan-police-advance-team-returns-from-haiti-as-deployment-faces-delay-n342868

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2024/05/24/remarks-by-vice-president-harris-and-president-william-ruto-of-the-republic-of-kenya-during-a-moderated-conversation-on-digital-inclusion-in-africa/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2024/05/23/remarks-by-president-biden-and-president-william-ruto-of-the-republic-of-kenya-in-joint-press-conference/

https://news.un.org/en/story/2024/05/1149831

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I Helped Make Standing Rock Go Viral. Now I Regret It. Lucy Biggers

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Lucy Biggers poses at Standing Rock in December 2016, after she went live from the camp on the NowThis Facebook page. (All photos courtesy of the author)

Eight years ago, I was in my mid-20s, and like many of my colleagues at NowThis News, I was completely aligned with the company’s left-wing content. As a social video producer, each day I logged on and searched my newsfeed for stories and videos that would appeal to our millions of Facebook followers. I called myself a journalist but really I was an early social media influencer, pushing a very specific point of view. 

The stories that got the most engagement were ones that elicited strong emotions, either happiness or anger. A “happy” story was one in which the good guys—LGBTQ activists, BLM protesters, climate change warriors, and the like—won some battle against greedy capitalists, cops, or (insert white authority figure here). An “angry” story was one in which those oppressors screwed over the good guys. When I came across a story I thought could go viral, I quickly edited the video and added subtitles and music. Then I’d sit back and wait for the reaction from our like-minded followers.

So, in October 2016, when the actress Shailene Woodley popped up on my computer screen, I knew she was going to generate a whole lot of views.

The clip showed her speech after she won an award from the Environmental Media Association. For months, she had been deeply involved in trying to block the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Flanked by several members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, she spoke emotionally about the importance of stopping the oil pipeline.

“What we are seeing right now at Standing Rock is that thousands of people are committed to fighting and winning a battle against corporate greed with nothing but love and compassion, prayer, and ceremony,” she said. “I’m calling out to everyone in this room tonight, show up. Don’t just tweet about it. . . Go to Standing Rock. Go to Standing Rock.

I quickly did my thing: I ran the video through my editing software, moving the best moments to the beginning. I added emotional music by searching “heartfelt” and “somber” in our music library. I wrote some subtitles. Then I posted it.

Within 24 hours, the video had over 1 million views. By December, that number was up to 17 million. 

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opposed the pipeline because it was going to be routed underneath Lake Oahe, where the reservation gets its water, which they consider sacred. Even though the pipeline would be 95 feet below the lake, the tribe feared a leak could contaminate it. The protests began in April 2016, when some 60 members of the tribe rode on horseback for miles to set up the Sacred Stone Camp, which soon became known as Standing Rock. They vowed to stay until the pipeline was stopped.

Over the next few months, thanks to the viral clips shared by NowThis and other left-leaning social media sites, hundreds and then thousands of people joined the camp. The Native Americans led the protests, sometimes locking themselves to pipeline machinery or trespassing on the construction sites. Every day, protesters uploaded videos of these “acts of resistance” to Facebook. 

Woodley was a regular at Standing Rock, often livestreaming on Facebook. In one grainy video, she talked about the evils of capitalism, the threat of climate change, and out-of-control corporate greed. She talked about her vegan diet and the increasing difficulty of finding nontoxic foods. In my mind, all of these issues were connected. Late-stage capitalism, colonialism, commercial agriculture, and corporate greed were all part of the mindset that was leading a greedy pipeline company—Energy Transfer Partners—to desecrate Native American land.

For months leading up to Woodley’s speech, I had watched videos of the Standing Rock protests every day, all day long. The term doomscrolling hadn’t been invented yet, but that’s what I was doing. In mid-October, I had watched footage of the police clashing violently with Standing Rock protesters. I quickly edited the footage for NowThis. The next day, Senator Bernie Sanders reshared my video to his millions of followers. Talk about validation!


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Rashida Tlaib Speaks at Detroit Conference Tied to Terrorist Group Francesca Block

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Rep. Rashida Tlaib speaks at the People’s Conference for Palestine last Saturday. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Over the weekend, while most Americans were barbecuing and honoring our fallen soldiers, U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib was in Detroit, speaking at a conference alongside two people with links to a U.S. designated terrorist organization. 

Tlaib was a surprise speaker Saturday at the three-day “People’s Conference for Palestine.” Minutes before she took the stage at the Huntington Place convention center, hundreds of attendees, many dressed in keffiyehs, danced and sang along to music, which one of the organizers told the crowd was a “medley of songs from the first Intifada.” Then he introduced Tlaib, who walked up to the podium with her fist in the air as the audience stood and cheered.

In her 15-minute talk, the Michigan congresswoman accused Israel of “war crimes” and called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “murderous war criminal.” She also appeared to threaten Joe Biden’s election prospects in her state. Referring to the campus protesters, Tlaib stated: “It is disgraceful that the Biden administration and my colleagues in Congress continue to smear them for protesting to save lives no matter faith or ethnicity. It is cowardly. But we’re not gonna forget in November, are we?” 

Wissam Rafidi, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist terrorist group founded in 1967, also addressed the conference. The PFLP, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization, is not as prominent as Hamas or other terrorist groups. But has, among other things, claimed responsibility in 2019 for exploding a device that killed a 17-year-old Israeli girl in Dolev, a settlement in the West Bank.

At the conference on Friday, Rafidi said, “These Zionists lie like they breathe. I want to assure everyone that there is no longer a place for a two-state solution for any Palestinian. The only solution is one democratic Palestinian land which will end the Zionist project in Palestine.” He also said: “Hamas is part of the resistance of the Palestinian people.” 

Another speaker at the conference was Sana’ Daqqa, the wife of a PFLP terrorist who was sentenced to life in prison for the 1984 abduction and murder of an Israeli soldier. Speaking on both Friday and Sunday, Daqqa praised the anti-Israel movement on U.S. campuses. She then referenced the Hamas massacre on October 7, called the al-Aqsa Flood, as the response to Israel. “The only thing that can stop this is a flood,” she said. “This is what the resistance intended, that the flood would become floods throughout the entire region.” 

The conference was organized by over a dozen pro-Palestine groups, including The People’s Forum, which owns the conference’s website domain. As a recent Free Press investigation showed, The People’s Forum is funded by multimillionaire Marxist Neville Roy Singham, who was born and became wealthy in America but now lives in Shanghai where he funds a number of propaganda sites boosting the Chinese Communist Party. People’s Forum’s executive director Manolo De Los Santos also spoke at the conference, calling for the end of America. “We have to bring down this empire with one million cuts, and those one million cuts have to come from every sector of struggle in this room,” De Los Santos said.

The group’s involvement in the conference “underscores foreign influence efforts into destabilizing U.S. institutions through grassroots activism,” said Alex Goldenberg, lead intelligence analyst at the Network Contagion Research Institute, which researches the spread of “hostile ideological content.”

“The rhetoric from speakers, including those with direct ties to terrorist organizations, glorifies violent resistance and revolutionary actions,” Goldenberg added. “This, coupled with the call for sustained and intensified direct action, raises the alarming possibility that individuals are being indoctrinated to embrace and participate in violence.”

The People’s Forum and its partners, including the Palestinian Youth Movement, are now organizing a rally in D.C. on June 8, calling on protesters to serve as a “red line” and to “surround the White House.” 

“Their explicit objectives are to organize and mobilize protests over the summer, which should raise significant national security concerns,” Goldenberg said.

In February, Tlaib’s sister helped organize a protest vote in Michigan’s Democratic primary against Biden’s policy of supporting Israel in the Gaza War. More than 100,000 Michigan voters cast their ballot for “uncommitted,” including Tlaib herself. As of press time, Tlaib’s spokesperson had not responded to a request for comment from The Free Press

Francesca Block is a reporter for The Free Press. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @FrancescaABlock. Eli Lake is a Free Press columnist. Follow him at @EliLake

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