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Beware of the Outsiders - The AUT Boycott and Divestment Initiatives


Peace in the Middle East will be made by people who live in the Middle East. For us, compromise and realism are urgent, because only pragmatism and good sense will allow us to live as normal people. For us, our enemies are also our neighbors, human beings whom we meet and people who work with us. Ideologues who have no stake in the conflict can be a great obstacle to peace. Whether they are Christian Zionist partisans or Christian anti-Zionist partisans in the USA or Europe, or Bundist Jews or Marxists or Land of Israel fanatics in Brooklyn or Los Angeles, they should not be dictating the agenda. They don't live here. They will fight to the last Israeli Jew and the last Palestinian Arab to aggrandize themselves and forward their own outmoded and unrealistic ideological agendas.

The divestment initiatives and the boycott of Israel initiated by the British Association of University Teachers (AUT) highlight the damage that can be done by outsiders. They result from initiatives begun by those who do not want peace at all, who object "in principle" (what principle?) to the existence of Israel. They hide their program behind opposition to the "occupation" to make it more attractive, but they occassionally let it slip that they consider all of Israel to be occupied Palestine.

Outrageous initiatives succeed at first in aggrandizing the initiators. They get free publicity and crow about their "accomplishments". The initiative to force Caterpillar Corporation to divest from Israel was a flop, but Jewish Voice for Peace was very proud of their flop, because it gave them great publicity. It doesn't matter that it is grossly unfair and doesn't contribute to peace. The important thing is to get your name in the newspaper, right?

The AUT boycott is mostly the result of efforts by Susan Blackwell, an anti-Zionist activist who doesn't bother to hid the fact that she thinks Jews do not have the right to self-determination, because she judged that it is so. Is she an anti-Semites as well? That is not quite clear. Blackwell supports the anti-Fascism movement, but her Web site includes links to Nazi Web sites. However, it is hard to argue that someone who denies the right of self-determination to members of a national group is not a racist.

The AUT boycott, which succeeded at least for now, is based in part on false premises. Haifa university was boycotted for allegedly trying to expel Ilan Pappe, who backed the Master's Thesis of a student who was proven to have faked his data. In fact, Haifa university did not try to expel Pappe because of the thesis. They let the issue be decided in court. Bar-Ilan university is boycotted for supporting The College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel. It is somewhat absurd however, to hold individuals responsible for the doings of their university administrators. Most tellingly, Palestinian and Israeli academics have signed an agreement on academic cooperation in which they have agreed to facilitate free exchange of information and mutual support. The AUT boycott contradicts the wishes of Palestinian academics.

The boycotters and divestment advocates claim that their initiatives are like the boycotts of apartheid South Africa. They point out that like Black Africans in Apartheid South Africa, Palestinian Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank do not have the right to vote and cannot participate in Israeli society. However, that claim is specious, since it assumes that the occupied territories and Israel are part of a single state. Israel has not annexed the territories, which are the subject of dispute to be adjudicated by peace negotiations, not settled by boycotts. Germans and Japanese under allied occupation could not vote in US elections either, but nobody complained about "Apartheid."

The boycott provoked angry opposition not only from Zionist and Jewish groups, but from friends of the Palestinians, John Strawson, an associate of Bir Zeit University and friend of the Palestinians wrote about the AUT boycott and comparison to South Africa:

This wide measure of international, and in particular UN involvement, ensured that this was a not a personalized vendetta and never aimed at South Africans. As an activist in the Anti-Apartheid Movement I well remember stressing that the boycott was against apartheid not against South Africa. It was not a matter of individuals arrogantly deciding what was a good for a national liberation movement – or selecting which academics they liked and which they did not according to a subjective political test. Placing Israel in the same category as apartheid South Africa is as crude as it is inaccurate. In fact it detracts from the actual apartheid features of the Israeli occupation the passes, the road system, checkpoints, closures and most dramatically, the wall.

Strawson condemned university boycotts in general, citing the case of the Chinese occupation of Tibet:

I do not think that an academic boycott of Israeli universities is correct in principle. Boycotts of universities always undermine academic freedom which must be seen as undesirable. The Chinese occupation of Tibet (for nearly 5 decades) has not provoked a call for a boycott for this reason. Exchanging ideas, debating issues, working on common projects, collaborative publishing ventures are valuable in and of themselves.

The university sector in Israel is currently under attack from the right wing for being too liberal, particularly on the Palestine question. Many academics need our support.
There is much original work being undertaken on history and politics, which undermines many of the reactionary ideas which are used to justify the occupation, settlements and the wall. See for example Baruch Kimmerling’s Politicide: Ariel Sharon’s War against the Palestinians, (Verso, 2003). Ilan Pape’s work is challenging and although his alleged treatment is singled out as the main reason for the boycott of Haifa University, his work is published and widely read in Israel. Even his support for the boycott was published as an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post.

Strawson also took issue with the anti-Zionist sentiment that motivated the boycott:

...These arguments all lead to an uncomfortable position that whereas all other self-declared nationalisms have validity, the Jews have no such claims. Yet in different ways the arguments about Zionism can be easily adopted to almost all other national situations. Yet no one asks ‘So exactly how is it that you are Australian?’ This question is posed to Jews a great deal. While there are honorable Anti-Zionist positions they are few. On the whole Anti-Zionism is close to, or a mask for, Anti-Semitism

When the UN passed the infamous "Zionism is Racism" resolution it prompted the building of new settlements. Similarly, the reaction to the boycott was not long in coming. The Israeli cabinet announced defiantly that it was upgrading the College of Judea and Samaria to the level of a University, bypassing academic review processes. Ariel is clearly problematic. It is stuck in the middle of Palestinian territory and its continued existence would probably be an insurmountable obstacle to peace. In the past, has not been part of the Israeli consensus regarding territory that must remain Israeli in any settlement. However, the AUT boycott threatens to make Ariel part of the Israeli national consensus. Another blow for peace.

With "peace advocates" like Susan Blackwell and her friends, who needs warmongers? May a benificent providence save the Palestinians and the cause of peace from friends and supporters such as these.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 18 comments

While I fuly commend efforts to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis, I too am wary of outsiders. But I object to you being overly selective in your assessment as to who is an outsider and who is not. It's all too easy to put the blame for political actions at someone else's door. Politics require men of vision and courage, not easily sidetracked by a bunch of academics. Indeed peace will only be achieved by people who live in the Middle East when they acknowledge that wrong has been committed by all sides, and make moves to recognise that fact, not build walls to lock in despair. Tell me, how can anti Zionism (a political Israeli/Jewish movement) be deemed anti semitic when Arabs are semites too? Please refrain from using the term 'anti semitic' when you are writing about someone else's political objections - nothing short of deception. Only when we find the courage to face the truth and face our enemy as equals with an open hand, not down the barrel of a gun (weapon or word), will peace in our time be achieved. Everything else at this point is irrelevant. Salams from a troubled land -

Posted by jan saval @ 05/05/2005 10:36 PM CST

Jan Saval wrote: "Tell me, how can anti Zionism (a political Israeli/Jewish movement) be deemed anti semitic when Arabs are semites too? Please refrain from using the term 'anti semitic' when you are writing about someone else's political objections - nothing short of deception."
First, I don't think anti-Zionism is a coherent or Israeli-Jewish movement. Anti-Zionists oppose the right of the Jewish people to self determination for several reasons: we have to wait till the Messias comes, Jews don't deserve their own state because they crucified Jesus Christ, Jews are not a people but a religion, they were so ungrateful to what the Gentiles offered them that they lost their right to a country, they dispossessed the Palestinians, etc.
I think it is discriminatory (and thus, anti-Semitic) to support the right of self determination to all other people but to the Jews (in the same way, I think it racist to deny the Palestinians their right to statehood). The fact that both Jews and Palestinians did a lot of wrongs to each other doesn't deprive neither of them from their right to statehood. The initiators of the AUT boycott deny the Jews their right to self determination and are opposed to a two-state solution.
Second, anti-Semitism refers to Jew-hatred, not Arab-hatred, although indeed Arabs are also Semitic people.
Jan Saval wrote: "Only when we find the courage to face the truth and face our enemy as equals with an open hand, not down the barrel of a gun (weapon or word), will peace in our time be achieved."
This is very true, and both people have to acknowledge the wrongs they did to each other. I don't think however the AUT boycott contributes to that in any way, on the contrary. It singles out one party as the bad one and runs counter to cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian academics and the critisism of Israeli academics on the occupation. It indeed doesn't face 'the enemy' as equal with an open hand, but uses 'the barrel of a gun (weapon or word)'. It says 'we are the good guys and you are the bad guys, and he that not will be taught must suffer'. Quite patronazing and not contributing to peace at all.

Posted by Ratna Pelle @ 05/06/2005 10:29 AM CST

Anti-semitism is a term coined by Europeans about 200 years ago to described an irrational aversion to Jewish people as a collective. The utilisation of the term Semite within this was / is a euphemism for Jew. Anti-semitism should more correctly be termed "Miso-judaism".
Until the 1970's anti-semitism was accepted universally to mean "miso-judaism". However following repeated allegations that "Arabs" and their supporters expressed views which were anti-semitic. The Arabs and their supporters disputed this by seeking to claim that they couldn't be anti-semitic as they were "Semites". This claim was always disingenuous, and sought to mask a fascistic hatred of Jewish people. It also went a way to mask the fact that Arab, Muslim & radical left movements espoused views which were disturbingly close to those of the Nazi party etc.
If we truly want peace to evolve, then we must treat all parties equally and apply the same standards of behaviour. Sadly the international community has not done this, and consequently has alienated many Jews & Israelis and enabled oppressive regimes around the world to get away with murder and worse.
In specific regard to the AUT activists - if one analyses their statements, one can only conclude that they support the view that a "Crusade" is being undertaken against Islam and that genocide committed by Muslims is permissible. IMO many of these so-called radical left-wingers exhibit racist views about both Jews and Arabs - Jews are pernicious by nature & Arabs are basically ignorant savages - these views are very similar to British and other western bourgeois views of the late 19C & early 20C.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 05/06/2005 10:47 AM CST

Thankyou Ratna, Rod, for your comments, points noted. (sorry mistake made in my first reply. I was not referring to 'anti' Zionist movement as Israeli/Jewish - rather Zionism itself. apologies)

But we are still no further on are we? Israel is now a member of the world community, rightly so, and as such is governed by international law just like everyone else. Perhaps it's time to move on from semantics and rhetoric and engage in immediate action to right the wrongs.
As you say Rod, "If we truly want peace to evolve, then we must treat all parties equally and apply the same standards of behaviour". First on this list is the nation state and that should also apply to Israel(note: Israel's non implementation of numerous UNSC resolutions on Palestinians, refusal by Israel to sign on to the nuclear non proliferation treaty etc). I believe this is the point of the academic boycott, not denying the Jews a homeland, as Ratna infers. The sense of alienation that you say is being felt by "many Jews & Israelis" is also being felt by Arab and Muslim too. So you see it is time to move forward, accept constructive criticism, acknowledge that others have rights too and work towards that end. There is huge change in the Arab world today. Israel has already achieved a great deal; it now holds the trump card, but is being shackled by its own idealism, walls and all. Relinquish the fear, act on injustice equitably within one's own borders and then the boycotts and the criticisms from whatever source, will fade into the pages of history, along with the degradation of a military occupation. Do we have the courage?

Rod - afraid I do not agree with your assessment that AUT activists support a crusader viewpoint against Islam "and that genocide committed by Muslims is permissible". that's outrageous! Genocide (caused by racism) by any party (including Israel: Jenin, Sabra and Shatila, aftermath of 1948 in then Palestine) should be fought by us all; as you say Rod: "Sadly the international community has not done this." But then we are going down the same worn out path of the past. We look to our politicians to right the wrongs, so that our academics don't have to pay the consequences in the future. Do they have the courage?

Posted by Jan Saval @ 05/06/2005 06:07 PM CST

A well balanced view on why boycott of Israeli academia and economy is not productive to peace at this time....sey

Posted by seymour alberts @ 05/06/2005 07:51 PM CST

Jan Saval,
could you please explain why you view the AUT boycott ar 'constructive critisism'? What is constructive in cutting off all contacts, and saying, as the advocates of this boycott do, 'you are racist Apartheid warmongers, that need to be isolated by the international community'?
Others have rights too as you wrote, certainly. To be more specific, both Israeli's and Palestinians have rights, and both violates the right of the other to live in peace. Could you please explain why only Israel should be punished for violating them?
You wrote: "Relinquish the fear, act on injustice equitably within one's own borders and then the boycotts and the criticisms from whatever source, will fade into the pages of history, along with the degradation of a military occupation. Do we have the courage?"
I agree with you that both sides should 'act on injustice equitably within one's own borders', but why does this justify a boycott against one country only? Is Israel the only country that does injustice to others? I think if whe should apply the same standards of behaviour to all countries, then a lot countries should be boycotted... I don't think this constructive anyway however, and better to cooperate with people in those countries that oppose injustice done by their country and so strengthen them.

Israel has been boycotted by the Arab countries from 1948 on, occupation or no occupation (or do you call all of Israel 'occupied territory'?), and the AUT boycott is instigated by the same people that protested the breaking of the Arab boycott by Europe. Look at the website of Sue Blackwell, one of the leaders of this boycott, and you will see that she doesn't support a two state solution. None of the advocates of this boycott do. In their view, all Zionists are bad and out to expell the Palestinians from their land. That's why I said the AUT boycott is denying the right of self determination of the Jews. Without a two state solution, that grants the right to a homeland and live in peace for both Palestinians and Jews, the violence will go on. This boycott doesn't promote peace and cooperation, but alienates also the Israeli left and will nourish the israeli sentiment that the whole world is against them and they can't expect justice from the outside world.

Posted by Ratna @ 05/08/2005 11:25 AM CST

Jan - I think you misunderstand my statement, probably because I did not articulate it clearly. The individuals behind the AUT boycott and their political allies in UK repeatedly express the opinion that the West is prosecuting a "crusade" against Islam. This view concords with that of many Muslim pundits here, whom regard the current situation in terms of the the Crusades. I for one find it very disturbing that this reference to a centuries old religious conflict in which the Christian world and the Islam world were pitted against each other. In last weeks election the Respect party stated that the West is prosecuting a war against Islam - you will note that they won in the Bethnal Green & Bow constituency with it's large Muslim population. There seemed to have been almost challenge to Respect of why they consorted with political movements such as Baath that have committed appalling attrocities against Muslims and others.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 05/09/2005 10:22 AM CST

The boycott seems very strange to me. Universities are places for exchanges of ideas and learning, and often the most liberal places in society. This appears to be an attack on Israel, as many other countries also have human rights issues (were there boycotts against British universities when Britain was occupying Northern Ireland?, what about rights issues in China, other Middle Eastern/African countries (hello freedom? in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Nigeria, actually almost any country on the globe has issues,... ). Too bad professors in universities feel the need to get into political boycotts, must take time away from their teaching, which should be their focus.

Posted by Karen @ 05/09/2005 02:59 PM CST

Dear Jan and all,
I will not go into details because others at this site and elsewhere explained most of the points quite well. A few items:
1- Anti-semitism was coined in the 1880s - the exact information is somewhere at this Web site.
2- Anti-Zionism is not a Jewish movement, though there are Jewish anti-Zionists. Sue Blackwell is not Jewish. "Anti-Zionism" as a term was popularized by the USSR "anti-Zionist" campaign, which was pretty much warmed-over anti-Semitism. There is information about that at the Web sites linked from this blog page.

3- Many people opposed to Israeli policies (including MidEastWeb!) and particularly the Engage group have been protesting the boycott and are actively involved in trying to undo the boycott. British academic people should please go to http://www.zionismontheweb.org/AUT/aut_boycott_revote.htm where there is information on the current campaign.
4 - Regarding anti-Zionism, a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, John Strawson has written "While there are honorable Anti-Zionist positions they are few. On the whole Anti-Zionism is close to, or a mask for, Anti-Semitism. " You can find the whole article at the Engage Web site as well as Zionism on the Web. We have disabled html hyperlinks in comments because of spammers. My apologies for any inconvenience.

Ami Isseroff

Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 05/10/2005 08:05 PM CST

Hi Ami,

I think you are being unfair in your comments about Jewish Voice for Peace. In my experience, they are very compassionate people, and, while they are obviously very critical of Israeli conduct, they do not engage in the gleeful vilification of Israel that people like Sue Blackwell do. The whole point of selective divestment initiatives like Caterpillar is that it is targeted not at Israel, but rather only at companies that profit from the occupation. You call it "grossly unfair", but is there any doubt that "grossly unfair" can be used to describe the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as the United States' contribution to relationship (indeed, can anyone say that the United States has been "even-handed" in its approach to the Middle East?) There is no question, in my opinion, that the gross power disparity between the Palestinians and Israelis has been a major obstacle to peace, and has served to radicalize Palestinians, to the breakdown of Oslo, and the expansion of support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The actions of the IDF against the non-violent protest at Bil'in -- where IDF not only bombared the protesters with tear gas and plastic bullets, but actually planted undercover agents to goad the protesters into violence -- demonstrate the effect of this disparity in power.I certainly think there's a defensible case to be made that the selective divestment promoted by JVP can serve as a nonviolent form of pressure and equalize the negotiating process.

Posted by Peter @ 05/12/2005 08:36 AM CST

Hi Peter,
I’m afraid you quite the naïve. What are the caterpillar vehicles if not an effort to minimize casualties on both sides? The bulldozer takes only the house where a sniper is located, cutting down the collateral damage that a bomb can cause. There is also no need for an infantry unite to take that house, an operation that is likely to coast lives. As for civilians’ inhabitants, they are given plenty of time to leave.
Peter, could it be that caterpillar is been sued simply because they think this one can stick?
Just what will you have us do against the suicide bombing, and the armed groups that lunch them? Nothing? Or should we level towns and villages, Russian artillery style?

As for the causes of Palestinian radicalization, if you check history, you’ll find that targeting civilians is a prominent and constant feature of Palestinian violence since the very beginning of the conflict.

--- planted undercover agents to goad the protesters into violence ---- ? Sounds exactly like the kind of vilification Sue Blackwall spreads. Plus those demonstrators are small and closed tightly groups; any outsider would have been easily exposed. Seems to me they where trying to cover their own true violent nature, that is finally exposed.

Tell me Peter, is anyone who says peace, automatically gains your trust?
From these “peace activists” is where the call for boycott, originally came from. A total boycott, now they try selective, because they kept failing achieving an official total boycott.

Posted by Dvar Dea @ 05/12/2005 08:09 PM CST

The issue of the power imbalance is frequently stated suggesting that this is unfair to one party or another. However in this case Israel's power is limited. Israel lacks allies in the UN to drive through resolutions against Human Right abuses by Muslim states. Whereas the UN has seemingly passed more resolutions against Israel than any other country. Has it been fair that Israel has consisently singled out for special attention regarding its actions, whereas the majority of the UN membership has breached Human Rights with no condemnation?
Are not the industries that supply the Kalashnikovs and the bullets used by the Palestinians equally or more deserving of sanctions than Catepillar? Yet the world says nothing!
If you look back over the years you can easily see that vast resources were expended by the Palestinians and their allies in prosecuting the war. This resource could have been used in developing the West Bank & Gaza economically & socially. Yet it did not occur. Whereas the Israelis used their resources to develop their economy & society. The consequence of the Palestinian policies has rendered them impoverished and incapable of competing with Israel at any level.
Is it fair that the world demands that the Israelis negotiate with the Palestinians, when the Palestinians quite clearly have shown little collective willingness to live at peace with Israel?
Every time someone claims that the power imbalance is unfair, they provide the weaker faction with an excuse not to reform themselves and take responsibility for their own actions.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 05/12/2005 09:20 PM CST

Dvar and Rod,

I’ll try and respond to all your points soon but, for now, I just want to point out that the part about undercover agents at Bil’in provoking the police into violence was reported in Haaretz – I’m posting the link below. If you read the last paragraph, you’ll see that even military sources don’t deny using undercover provocateurs: "Stone-throwing by the undercover forces is part of the way in which they operate in such instances"


There’s also a video of the protest at the Gush Shalom website.

Posted by Peter @ 05/13/2005 01:49 AM CST

Helloand How are you?
I wait your email.
good bye.

Posted by mohmmadalikhajehnouri @ 05/13/2005 09:51 AM CST

Hello Peter,
Jewish Voice for Peace is always blaming Israel for everything in the Middle East. They sound as nice peace loving people, but they don't acknowledge in any way that not all Palestinians are peace-loving and dismiss effords of Palestinian radicals like Hamas to blow up peace, as happenend in the past. That is not to say Israel is always so peace-loving, but as I'm sceptical to JVP I am too, for example, sceptical to StandWithUs or ZOA that blame everything on the Palestinians.
As to the unequal power-balance between Israelis and Palestinians, you forget the broader picture of Israel being surrounded by Arab states, and even in Arab states that have made peace with israel anti-Semitism is virulent and few people there think Israel has a right to exist. Also Europe is quite anti-Israel and has refused for example to put Hezbollah on the list of terror organizations. Except for the US, Israel is quite isolated. And the US is not only an ally of Israel, but also supplies Saudy Arabia and Egypt with weapons and has its strategic interests there. So Israels position is not that 'comfortable' as you might think.
As for my trust in peace groups like JVP and Gush Shalom and the like: I saw recently a map from Gush Shalom used for a petition against the wall/fence. It said that over 50% from the West Bank will be annexed by Israel and the Palestinians will be locked up in Bantustans. The Israeli government decided on 20 february that the new route of the wall/fence will bring 7% of the West Bank on the Israeli side (which is not the same as annexing them). The previous route of the fence (about which the ICJ ruled) would bring 16% of the WB on the Israeli side. Have they been sleeping for over a yaer (and also then, there were no approved plans of the Israeli government for annexing half of the WB), or is this anti-Israel propaganda? Anyway, I don't trust their figures and maps without backing from other sources.

Posted by Ratna @ 05/13/2005 10:50 AM CST


Following Peter’s links, no collaboration of his claims head been given there, other then that there has been an undercover activity at the scene.
The Ha’aretz link brought also the IDF version of the event that stone throwing by the Mista’arvim did occur, but only after it had begun by the locals, and only as a mean of maintaining their cover. Bringing both sides of the story is what newspapers do.

The gush shalom videos do not support either of the claims because none of the Mista’arvim was caught in the act. As the films shows, they came from behind the main attraction, where all the cameras were and most of the demonstrators, hardly a place for goading.

As for the “peace” activists, the reason why I put their title under quotation is shown in the outright lies they shouted. They told the soldiers that they are protecting nothing – a lie, the barrier had reduced the success rate of suicide bombing by over 90%. In the protecting the path of the barrier they are protecting the lives of the people it saved, could it be that these peace activists regard the lives of Israeli women and children as nothing?
They accused the soldiers of war crime based on the international court resolution of the barrier. Another lie, because that was just an advisory ruling, it takes further resolutions by the security council to declare it a violation of international law (which usually include sanctions). And even then they are aimed against governments and not individual soldiers – another lie by the “peace activists.”

Posted by Dvar Dea @ 05/17/2005 03:12 PM CST

Dvar - Your comments reminded me of a verse from Leonard Cohen's "Stories of the Street". It was the "peace" activists shouting, and I remembered their contorted faces on TV.

I know you've heard it's over now
And war must surely come,
The cities they are broke in half
And the middle men are gone.
But let me ask you one more time
O children of the dust,
These hunters who are shrieking now
Do they speak for us?

We all should pause and ask ourselves if these shrieking voices speak for us? It is not just the peace activists, but all those angry clusters of people who claim to speak for the "majority".

Posted by Rod Davies @ 05/17/2005 10:35 PM CST

Rod, I can think of words from another famous song:

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won't be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgment day,
On the bloody morning after....
One tin soldier rides away.

The only difference is that while Hamas justifies its hate and war in the name of heavens, these guys are doing it in the name of peace.

It may be presumptuous for anyone to talk in the name of the majority, but we can all do the simple thing of trying to find out what the truth is. Not the absolute/holy truths, but the simple historic facts and what democracy, peace and racism are all about. Canceling one side isn’t peace isn’t peace its racism.

Posted by Dvar Dea @ 05/18/2005 12:24 PM CST

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