Presiding bishop on Middle East peacemaking: Engage, don’t divest

Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles presents a globe representing peace among the Abrahamic faiths to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. The globe is a duplicate of those given to faith leaders at a Los Angeles interfaith event coordinated by Bruno that marked the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Photo/Penny Jennings

[The Episcopal News – Diocese of Los Angeles] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori urged Episcopalians to “invest in legitimate development in Palestine’s West Bank and in Gaza” rather than focusing on divestment or boycotts of Israel, during a March 25 “Middle East Peacemakers” luncheon in Los Angeles.

“The Episcopal Church does not endorse divestment or boycott,” the presiding bishop told more than 200 people gathered at the California Club in downtown Los Angeles. “It’s not going to be helpful to endorse divestment or boycotts of Israel. It will only end in punishing Palestinians economically.”

She also called for “a two-state solution with a dignified home for Palestinians and for Israelis” and for “deeper engagement, people of different traditions eating together, listening to each other’s stories,” she said, adding that the interreligious, multi-ethnic gathering hosted by Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles was an example of what is possible.

Bruno concurred. “Bishop Katharine and I have the same opinion about peace in Jerusalem and what kind of settlement should be taking place there, and we checked it out with Bishop Suheil Dawani and he agrees with us,” he said.

Dawani also addressed the gathering, which raised in excess of $50,000 for ministries and pilgrimages in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem as part of the companion relationship with the Diocese of Los Angeles. Dawani echoed Jefferts Schori’s call for deeper engagement through visits and relationship building with “the living stones,” the people of the land who face economic hardship and such other challenges.

Because of concerns about “the Christian community (where) we are losing so many young families and young people who leave and look for a better future outside our land,” education and formation for young people is a major priority, he said.

The Diocese of Jerusalem sponsors some 20 educational institutions for more than 6,400 Arab children regardless of faith. They include kindergarten through high school classes and centers for children with special needs, as well as technical and vocational institutions.

Bishop Suheil Dawani of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem addresses the March 25 Middle East Peacemakers luncheon, which raised more than $50,000 for ministries in his diocese. Photo/Penny Jennings

Dawani noted especially “Educate for Hope,” an initiative founded several years ago by Mary Bruno, spouse of Jon Bruno, which helps educate children in Zababdeh, one of the few remaining predominantly Christian towns, located between Nablus and Geniene in Palestine. Funds administered through St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Zababdeh seek to help children build lives for themselves, stay in their home country, and help stem the steady decline of the Christian population in the Holy Land. Educate for Hope now sponsors about 56 students each school year, at a cost of about $700 per child.

Similarly, the Department for Peace, Reconciliation, and Interfaith Dialogue, created when Dawani was enthroned as the 14th Anglican bishop in Jerusalem in 2007, oversees Kids4Peace, a program that brings Christian, Jewish and Muslim children from the Holy Land to summer camps with their U.S. counterparts in for peace-building and formation, Dawani said.

The department also oversees other interfaith peace-building efforts, including a continuing emphasis on women’s empowerment. An upcoming interfaith women’s conference will further those efforts by bringing women together for prayer, conversation and leadership training.

Dawani also praised the contributions of American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, which offers support for many ministries and projects.

Emphasizing the need for Jerusalem to “remain open for all,” he added, “We need your support to work for peace and justice.

“Jerusalem is known as the city of God, the home of the three Abrahamic faiths. It is a beautiful city, a special place. It must remain open for all. Jerusalem is for unity and not for division. Jerusalem is for everybody,” he said amid applause.

Encouraging visits to the Holy Land he said, “It is very important for our people when you come and visit,” adding that such visits offer hope and that the diocese values its partnership with other dioceses throughout the church.

“Our hearts always welcome you. Please come and visit us,” he said.

The diocese encompasses 6,000 Anglicans in 27 parishes throughout Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Syria and Lebanon, and more than 30 schools and healthcare institutions, educating about 6,400 students in schools, employing about 1,500 people and maintaining about 200 hospital beds.

Prayers were offered at the start of the luncheon by Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center and by Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.

Bruno presented both Dawani and Jefferts Schori with a glass globe inscribed with symbols of the three Abrahamic faiths, including the Jewish Star of David, the Islamic crescent moon and the Hands in Healing cross-a cross made of hands of all colors reaching out to hold each other, the iconic representation of his ministry as bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles.

The globes were unveiled during the “One Light, One Faith, One Peace” interfaith service Bruno organized to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Hundreds of Christians, Muslims and Jews, in addition to civic leaders, attended the event on the steps of the Los Angeles City Hall on Sept. 10, 2011. A representative from each congregation, synagogue and temple served as designated “light-bearer” to take a globe back to his or her house of worship as a reminder of hope and the need to work for peace.

“It has a candle inside it and I pray when you get discouraged you light the candle and pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” Bruno told Dawani.

Olive tree centerpieces were the gifts of the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and offered to anyone who wanted them, provided they were to be planted in a church or school yard as a symbol of peace, Bruno told the gathering.

Jefferts Schori described a previous visit to the Holy Land at Dawani’s invitation several years ago, just before Easter and Passover, when she encountered both suffering and pain but also hope of new life through interfaith collaboration in the West Bank and Gaza.

“We met the faithful of several traditions who in spite of and likely because of their daily experience were engaged in hope-filled living, bridge-building, seeking understanding, finding ways to work together,” she said.

“We saw hope and healing for all at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital,” an institution of the Jerusalem diocese.

“Wherever we went we met communities of Christians and Muslims working together. We met leaders of all three Abrahamic faith traditions working together for peace. We met others including representatives of this [Los Angeles] diocese who come to the land of the Holy One to learn and listen, to pray and to build relationships.

“Pilgrimage forms peacemakers, people who stand in solidarity with those who suffer,” she said.

She added that the Diocese of Jerusalem “is a deeply faithful leader of peace-building, often one person and one encounter at a time.” She urged Episcopalians to support the ministries of the diocese.

“They continue to seek partners of solidarity and witness like the people gathered in this room. They continue to seek support for their work of educating and forming new leaders of different faiths to be peacemakers. They develop health care and healing ministries to serve people of all faiths. They are advancing interreligious dialogue, building solidarity and bridges of understanding. They’re developing social and economic infrastructure in Palestinian territories. They are helping to build a society of peace with justice for all, the city of Salaam and Shalom.”

But, she added, there is no quick fix to the Middle East conflict.

Ultimately, peace will take “continued engagement,” the presiding bishop said. “It takes living out of the deep place of hope. Out of the deep and soul searing sort of hope, the kind that is borne of rejecting fear. What can we do here?

“We can urge our legislators and government to encourage dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. We can urge them to refrain from de-funding hopeful initiatives. We can urge Israel to freeze the settlement activity. We can urge the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel’s right to exist. We can condemn violence everywhere.”

“I would urge you to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, to pray and work together for a society of peace with justice for that vision that is shared by all Abrahamic faiths. Salaam, shalom, peace.”

— The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for The Episcopal News.

Comments

  1. Mark James says:

    “The Episcopal Church does not endorse divestment or boycott.”

    I am extremely heartened to hear that. I would leave TEC in a heartbeat if they ever followed the Presbyterians in divestment.

    • How can we “invest” in Palestine under such brutal oppressive conditions? It’s a red herring to say “invest, don’t divest” and changes the subject from what is actually happening there. How does this fit in with justice and mercy? Investing in Palestine AFTER the occupation is over is a great idea however. This, from a Presbyterian who is hoping the denomination finally votes after an 8-year process to not profit from the occupation. Call it “not investing in non-peaceful pursuits.”

  2. Sunny Hallanan says:

    What was that expression about “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?” Since 1967 – same strategy – same results from Israel.

  3. Leon Spencer says:

    “The Episcopal Church does not endorse divestment or boycott.” Reminds me of the Church Pension Fund during the anti-apartheid struggle. There is certainly a process involved in considering divestment, not least of which is what Palestinians are saying, and what voices to listen to when opinions differ. But eventually the Episcopal Church did support divestment in South Africa (in a way), and in any case, the argument that divestment “will only end in punishing Palestinians economically” is a tired and sad excuse not to do so. We might also ask ourselves how our engagement with the State of Israel has been working for us in supporting justice and dignity for Palestinians over the past 60+ years.

    • Addison Bross says:

      Amen.

      • John Heermans says:

        Amen Amen The beginning of the collapse of apartheid was when divestment became a reality. Israel will milk the peace process for as long as possible and continue to build in the illegal occupied territories until the world plays hard ball with them as it did in South Africa.

  4. Eileen White Read says:

    The Rev. McCaughan’s otherwise excellent article left out the means by which we who care about Middle East peace can support the Episcopal Church’s programs in the Holy Land that were mentioned at the L.A. luncheon. That is through the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, at http://www.afedj.org.
    Since 1989, Americans have given more than $20 million in supplies and cash gifts to support the dozens of schools, churches, hospitals, clinics, and social services programs run by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem in five countries – Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
    I have made a pilgrimage twice since 2009, and have visited the school in Zababdeh mentioned in the article, as well as the Princess Basma Centre for Disabled Children near Jerusalem’s Old City and at least a dozen other Episcopal facilities serving truly needy children and adults. My husband and I have made a donation and have just joined the AFEDJ board of trustees. I urge all of those who read this article on ENS to consider joining us.

  5. Cotton Fite says:

    As a point of clarification, the Palestinian Authority has already recognized Israel’s right to exist. At present it is Israel that frequently does not recognize the rights of Palestinians to their own land. Israeli authorities have waged legal battles for more than 20 years to take the land owned by Daoud Nassar south of Bethlehem for which he has more than adequate documentation of generations of ownership by his family. Nassar’s creation of the Tent Nations program on his land is a witness to his commitment to peace and reconciliation in spite of continued harassment by Israeli authorities.

  6. Cleon (Chips) Shutt,jr. says:

    Prior to 1939, there were those who called for a “deeper engagement with the Nazis, people from different traditions eating together, listening to each other’s stories” in order to have peace.

    Urging our legislators and government to encourage dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leaders? Urging Israel to freeze the settlement activity? Where have we been for the last 10 years? These ideas will only support and encourage continued illegal occupation and colonization of Jerusalem and the West Bank and collective punishment of Gaza residents. Are we not complicit to these crimes?

  7. Randy & Doni Heyn-Lamb says:

    As two of the 200 or so in attendance we would say that the Presiding Bishop’s comments were met with something less than enthusiasm. In fact, after the initial astonished gasps, the feeling of energy being sucked from the room was palpable.

    By the show of hands earlier in the meeting, perhaps two-thirds of the attendees had made pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine, some of us on multiple occasions. And some of those present were born in “the land of the Holy One.” These were not people who need to be lectured on being engaged in achieving Middle East peace.

    As a statement of fact, “the Episcopal Church does not endorse divestment or boycott” is true enough. But that does not mean that there is unanimity of opinion on what our position should be, or that the current policy of the Episcopal Church will always be so. Many of us who are deeply engaged in the peacemaking process have come to believe that Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) are a legitimate nonviolent tool to bring about desired change in society.

    On a personal level, we have been engaged in a several-years long process of examining our investments and purchases to make sure, to the degree we are able, that we boycott products and divest ourselves from companies based in the illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories as well as companies in Israel (and the United States) which profit from the illegal Occupation. We also purchase products from Palestine like olive oil, soap, olive wood items and handwork whenever possible.

    Does this make us anti-semitic? Hardly. If a committed, self-proclaimed Zionist like the Jewish American professor Peter Beinart can publish an Op-Ed last week (in the New York Times of all places!) calling for BDS on the illegal settlements in the West Bank, why shouldn’t American Episcopalians examine the issues and explore all the options available as we seek to support our Israeli and Palestinian sisters and brothers and be faithful disciples of Jesus.

    And while the Episcopal Church does not YET endorse divestment or boycott, the winds of change are blowing in our Church on this issue as well. This summer, at our General Convention, resolutions will be introduced calling on the Episcopal Church to commit herself to engage in a three-year study of the issues which make finding a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians difficult. The resolution will recommend the use of the Kairos Palestine document (co-authored by the Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek and other Palestinian Christians http://www.kairospalestine.ps/sites/default/Documents/English.pdf ) and a newly revised Episcopal version of Steadfast Hope (available from the Episcopal Peace Fellowship http://epfnational.org/PIN/the-episcopal-version-steadfast-hope-now-available/ ). We believe both documents should be read and discussed by all Episcopalians concerned about the Mideast.

    Among several factual errors in her speech, the Presiding Bishop said that the Palestinian Authority needs to recognize Israel’s right to exist. And yet the Palestine Liberation Organization (from which the PA was born) recognized that right nearly 25 years ago, despite Israel having neither a constitution nor defined borders.

    And we question her contention that BDS will harm the Palestinians. Palestinians have little opportunity for international trade and ever fewer opportunities to work in Israel. So economic pressure will be felt in the illegal settlements and Israel, where it is intended to move people toward peaceful change. It is hard to imagine BDS having a more harmful effect on the Palestinians than the current Israeli practices of closed borders, internal checkpoints, and land confiscation do.

    We pray that our Presiding Bishop will hear the prophetic voice of those like Archbishop Desmond Tutu who believe that “if an elephant is standing on the tail of a mouse, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

  8. Maurine and Bob Tobin says:

    We spoke today with Suhaila Tarazi, Director of Al Ahli Anglican Hospital in Gaza, where access to electricity has fallen to one or two hours a day. We as a church can and should offer humanitarian aid, but such aid becomes endless and increasingly inadequate if we never address the root cause of Palestinian suffering resulting from Israel’s ongoing blockade, occupation and expropriation of land and resources. Sadly, the Presiding Bishop ignores these basic issues.

    As others have noted, the Presiding Bishop’s remarks contain both historical inaccuracies and calls for the church to continue efforts that have failed repeatedly. However, it is bewildering that she claims that BDS will “only harm Palestinians,” when in fact, many Palestinians, including signers of the Kairos Document, representing every single Christian denomination in the Holy Land, have called for BDS. How condescending to assert that we American Episcopalians know better than Palestinians what is good for them.

  9. Cabell Tennis says:

    Most of the postings in response to this statement that the Episcopal Church should ‘invest and not divest’ reflect the fact that this has been the nonproductive path we have been on for decades. It has not brought an end to the oppression. An honest review of the options reveals that Boycott, Divestiture and Sanctions are the only NON VIOLENT actions that have any chance of ending the oppressive occupation that our nation has been supporting. I will do my best to refuse to support the occupation through BDS.

    It comes to mind that the denial of strong non violent action may come out of a primarily political point of view. It keeps an eye on AIPAC, the captivity of the Congress, and the cost to any elected official to resist the actions of the Israeli government which will not stop the settlements (colonies) in the West Bank and the embargo of Gaza and worries about unsettling the strong Zionist establishment. On the other hand a growing number of us are moved to act for peace through justice rather than a political calculus. Is this not about justice? What does justice require of us?

  10. Newland Smith says:

    As one whose first General Convention as a Deputy was in 1988, I have worked on a number of the resolutions on Israel/Palestine but beginning with the 2009 General Convention the Episcopal Church appears to be on a plateau at the same time that there are new movements for a just peace in Israel/Palestine. I hope there will be the opportunity for a discussion on next steps for our Church at our coming General Convention so we will be able to move beyond the position set forth by Bishop Katharine.

  11. Sami Joseph says:

    I am deeply saddened that Christian Church leaders around the globe seem to be either blissfully ignorant or prefer to bury their heads in the sand. The facts are:
    1. Israel has never ever had any interest in any just peace. It has no reason to because it knows that westerners lack the moral courage to call a spade a spade.
    2. Western Church leaders, as well as politicians, always call on the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to exist, but had never ever asked the Israelis to recognize the rights of the indigenous people of Palestine!

  12. Charles C. Read says:

    Several posts ago, a writer accused the Presiding Bishop of distorting the Palestinian Authority’s record on recognizing Israel. As I interpreted Bishop Katharine’s remarks at the Middle East Peacemakers Luncheon in Los Angeles, the newly combined Palestinian Authority – which will soon include Hamas – has yet to come out with a statement recognizing Israel’s right to exist and renouncing violence (though the new unity-PA is widely expected to).

    The same writer, a couple, claimed that Bishop Katharine’s comments “sucked the air out of the room” and that the response from the 200 attendees to Bishop Katharine included “astonished gasps.” What I heard was very loud, enthusiastic, and sustained applause from a room full of mainstream L.A. Episcopalians who heard just what they wanted to hear from their Presiding Bishop. I assume the “gasps” were coming from the couple writing the comment.

    I have never found it useful to claim distortion on someone else’s part by adding one’s own distortion. Peter Beinart did not, in his recent New York Times op-ed, endorse the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. His op-ed called for a Zionist-led boycott of settlements and items produced in settlements – a tiny fraction of Israel’s Gross Domestic Product. Moreover, Mr. Beinart noted his personal abhorrence of boycotting anything Jewish, as he is Jewish, and compared his notion of a settlement-specific boycott to that led by the progressive movement against Arizona for its anti-immigrant laws.

    Finally, it is important to note that no moderate Jewish organizations, nor mainstream Christian denominations, are in favor of the BDS movement against Israel. No “winds of change” claims by BDS activists will make it so. The Episcopal Church has repeatedly reaffirmed its position on the Israel-Palestine issue. I am grateful to Bishop Katharine for coming to Los Angeles and once again setting the record straight.

  13. How incredibly sad the Presiding Bishop’s “make nice” talk to the powers-that-be in downtown LA after decades of oppression and death in downtown Palestine. How incredibly sad the brave words in these comments by leaders of EPF’s Palestine-Israel Network who have recommended to the General Convention a shameful, embarrassing resolution that urges us to “study” the 2009 Kairos Document and report our thoughts to the next GC in 2015.

    I have been to Palestine (http://www.diakonoi.org/diakoneo/Vol33-4.pdf) and know apartheid when I see it.

    It is past time for a resolution that will urge the church and its people to boycott goods made on settlements on occupied Palestinian land and to disinvest from American companies (e.g., Caterpillar, Motorola, Veolia) that profit from the occupation. And it is past time for us to say that we find it offensive to be called anti-Semites when we criticize the ill-considered, mean-spirited policies of a right-wing Israeli government.

    If a church will not speak the truth, who will?

  14. Cleon (Chips) Shutt,jr. says:

    For decades the Palestinian people in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza have endured military occupation, the taking of their land by force, demolishment of their homes, loss of their major water sources, siege and collective punishment – all of this done with the support of American taxpayers to the tune of billions of dollars annually, because our elected officials refuse to acknowledge or address those injustices for fear of losing votes due to extremely well organized and effective Zionists here and abroad.

    In this country growing numbers of people believe that most churches, including our Episcopal Church, have largely ignored the injustices committed daily against the Palestinians. Many people believe our Church leaders have closed their eyes and ears to these crimes and violations of international law. Do our leaders not have an obligation and responsibility to speak out against these injustices which our nation is supporting – and make sure we do something effective about it?

    We appeal to our Church leaders to summon the courage to call for and commit our Church to an organized program of education for all our members to become informed about the conditions, events and reasons which have led to today’s continuing injustices in what many of us call the
    Holy Land and our country’s policies in supporting them…and to do that now!

    By committing our Church to this program, many people in this country who have lost faith in our Church as a moral force in our society, will immediately be attracted and there will be tremendous support from them and people of many other faiths. Christians, Jews, and Muslims here and abroad are begging us to wake up and stand up for what we profess to believe in – peace and justice.

  15. Didn’t the likes of Schori call it “constructive engagement,” rather than “deeper engagement,” the last time? I liked that better; it had a nicer ring to it. More practical; less hippie dippie.

    Thank God the Anglican Communion still boasts Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose support for the Palestinian struggle against Israeli apartheid (as he describes it) is legendary. His words might prove particularly illuminating for Schori:

    “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

    Or as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paraphrased Dante Alighieri:

    “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”

  16. Ethan Vesely-Flad says:

    I would like to see the full text of the Presiding Bishop’s speech; but with that in mind, I am deeply disappointed in what the PB is reported to have said on this critical issue. As Leon Spencer highlighted (and given his experience, he writes with authority), her statement that our church does not “support boycott or divestment” sounds chillingly like words that were spoken by resistant church leaders in the 1970s &’80s as BDS momentum grew during the anti-apartheid movement. “We know better,” many church leaders said, arguing against BDS, despite the overwhelming call by black South Africans for disinvestment, economic & political boycotts, and more.

    That same dynamic exists today. Some 2,800 Palestinian Christians — including the Patriarchs of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, and the Mayor of Bethlehem — have already publicly signed the Kairos Palestine document calling for support of BDS. This growing list of “living stones” from the small remaining indigenous Christian community in the Holy Land includes Episcopalians. Shouldn’t ENS interview Bishop Dawani and ask him whether he completely opposes the BDS movement, or if there are aspects of it that he supports? It would be helpful to hear the voice of the indigenous Palestinian Christian leader on this issue, not just our Presiding Bishop and Bishop Bruno.

    The closing message from the Presiding Bishop, as reported here, is particularly weak. It makes general, bland and/or hopeful calls to “encourage dialogue” (which we have done for decades); to urge our U.S. political leaders “to refrain from de-funding hopeful initiatives” (to what does this refer? Why not specifically address the real issue — widespread efforts in Congress to increase funding for Israel and slash the modest funding for the Palestinian Authority?); to “urge Israel to freeze the settlement activity” (again, we’ve done this for years — can anyone point to any measure of success on this front?); and to “condemn violence everywhere” (who could argue with this?).

    Finally, I find it ironic to read this article having just digested Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” earlier today, on the eve of the anniversary of his murder. There are so many quotes in that extraordinary and timeless letter about the need for nonviolent direct action that would serve us well to reflect on in light of this current debate. I offer this one selection:

    “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait!’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

    I would urge our presiding bishop, her staff, and our clergy and lay leaders to listen seriously to the Christian leaders of Palestinian church-based and human rights organizations that have signed the Kairos call (Holy Land Trust, Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, Palestinian Center for Rapprochement, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, universities, etc. etc.) as well as a growing number of Jewish anti-occupation activists (from groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, the Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence, the Shministim refuseniks; and in limited ways by Tikkun, The Shalom Center, and others). Let’s have an open conversation at General Convention about this timely issue, and not attempt to dictate ahead of time what The Episcopal Church does or does not endorse.

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