Friday, September 08, 2006


I've always maintained that nobody really wins wars such as the one recently fought out between Israel and Hizbullah in Lebanon but I've been scratching my head for weeks over Hizbullah's boasts about how it miraculously defeated the region's strongest army and how its brave warriors (or what's now left of them) are now an inspiration for the entire Muslim world.

There was certainly no doubt in the mind of the Economist's leader writer that Hassan Nasrallah emerged the victor although the rationale for this conclusion was somewhat obtuse in NASRALLAH WINS THE WAR (The Economist August 19th 2006). Interestingly, the internet version carried a different headline banner for its internet version HIZBULLAH'S SHALLOW VICTORY :-

"Hassan Nasrallah and Ehud Olmert both say they won. But in asymmetrical warfare, the test of victory is asymmetrical too. Israel's prime minister set himself an absurd aim—the complete demolition of Hizbullah's power in Lebanon—and failed to achieve it. The shrewder Mr. Nasrallah said victory would consist merely of surviving, and Hizbullah, however battered, did survive."

An interesting interpretation but, as with most aspects of the violent history of this region, it's a touch delusional.

This is the sort of stuff that a little league coach would tell his eight year old kids. You know, "the objective is to have lots of fun and let's just ignore what the scoreboard says". That's an eminently reasonable approach when you're dealing with juveniles and trying to teach them how to enjoy their sport but war isn't sport.

Further, The Economist view is a touch confusing if not misleading, especially when you try to come to grips with the fact that the coach of the winning team was so shrewd that he spent the entire game hiding in a cave, that the grandstand is now a pile of rubble and that his first and second base, the pitcher and the catcher have gone missing. The only consolation is that the umpire's on his side and the team's sponsor (the local newspaper) is giving his performance some glowing reports!

But coming back to the war, I'd like to draw to your attention two interesting articles that might throw some light on the subject of who really won what?


"This is not a group of loosely affiliated cells of would-be hijackers or suicide bombers. Hezballah is a terrorist army, trained like an army, organized like an army, funded and equipped like an army, with one glaring difference. The main use of its arsenal was terror aimed at Israel's civilian population while hiding behind Lebanon's civilian population. Its intent was to cause maximum civilian casualties amongst both. This was not by accident. This was by design. This was Hezballah's war, planned and prepared for six years, funded by close to a billion dollars by Iran, aided by Syria."

Later, he says:-

"Every part of their war plan except the manipulation of the media failed."

And here's the punch line -

"There was, of course one other indispensable element to their war plan; the centering of their offensive capability against Israel's civilian population within Lebanon's civilian population. Much has been made in the Western press of Hezballah's benign social services function in Lebanon, of the hospitals and schools it has built. Almost no notice however has been paid to the large numbers of these hospitals and schools which were built over its military bunkers and rocket launching sites.

This was perhaps both the most cynical and barbaric disregard for innocent civilian lives of all of Hezballah's and Iran's strategic choices. It was also the most successful. It was predicated not on its knowledge of its enemy (Israel) but its true genius lay in its knowledge of the press. The calculus was simple: launch a rocket from within a civilian population; if you kill Jews that's a victory. If the Jews hit back and in so doing kill Lebanese civilians, that's a victory. If they don't hit back because they're afraid to hit civilians, that's a victory. Now repeat the process until you kill so many Jews they have to hit back and in so doing kill more Lebanese civilians. That's the ultimate victory, because they know that in striking just those chords exactly what music the press will play."

And the Media gives the game to Hizbullah at the end of the ninth inning. Man of the match is a player wearing a green helmet!


Nobody does a better job of debunking some of the many myths that have arisen from the recent Middle East War than Mr. Ottolenghi who concludes with these words:-

"What of Lebanon? Amidst the ruins of Beirut, the rubble of the bridges over the Litani, and the craters punctuating the highways, what does Nasrallah do? He proclaims victory. What does Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora do? He cries in front of the cameras, praises Hezbollah, and clings on to the myths of victory even as evidence of defeat is all around. They do not set up independent commissions, and they do not summon generals, politicians, and clerics, demanding they take responsibility. The last time an Arab country had its own commission of inquiry about a military defeat was in Iraq, in 1949. That precedent will remain the exception. Lebanon will not inquire now into how a foreign agent, having taken over half the country and infiltrated the government at all levels, dragged it into someone else’s war. It will do away with the need to understand what went wrong by proclaiming victory. So that when war returns, the 'shattered myth' will rise again, as reality catches up with the myths of Arab rhetoric."

And sadly ... that folks is the ball game for now.

When will they ever learn?


Anonymous said...

And on the subject, I'll bet you didn't know this piece of information revealed by Abraham Rabinowitz in today's Australian.,20867,20373839-2703,00.html

Forget the misleading headline and consider this fact:-

"Israel is principally concerned about the smuggling of long-range rockets with heavy payloads capable of striking the centre of the country.

It views these as strategic weapons, unlike the short-range Katyushas which accounted for the bulk of the 4000 rockets that struck northern Israel in the recent fighting. Almost all long-range rockets in Hezbollah's possession were destroyed by the Israeli air force in the first hour of the war."

When were we told that?

Anonymous said...

It is interesting how The Age has two
Staff writers on their payroll who contribute to the Anti Zionist non-stop diatribe along with Ed O 'loughlin and Michael Leunig,sara Miles.

Maher Mughrabi is a Palestinian and Waleed Aly local Muslim spokesman who in this weeks Sunday Age comes out with the usual anti American mantra and how Muslims and Arabs are forced in to terrorism because of American Foreign Policies..

I guess it would be unreasonable for The Age to offset their team of anti zionists with even one fair and balanced journolist.. but if that would be journolist ever critisised the Palestinians or Islamic world for placing the worldwide terrorism he would be accused of being part of the Jewish LobbY!

I would like to ask Mr Aly why is it there are so many other people in the world {Aborigines, American Indians, and Africans etc} who feel aggrieved and who don’t fly planes into tall buildings..ho Hum!

Wilbur Post said...

Actually, I think Mr. Aly sometimes writes things that make sense which is more than you can say about some Fairfax journalists.

Maher Mughrabi said...

The anonymous fellow's babble about a "team of anti-Zionists" aside, Waleed Aly is not a staff writer for The Age nor is he on the payroll. He is an occasional contributor, as are such luminaries as Ted Lapkin and Colin Rubenstein.

Maher Mughrabi said...

Indeed, the more one examines this babbling about Waleed Aly the more curious it becomes. I can say for a certainty that the "anti-Zionist" Mr Aly has never written about Zionism for any Australian newspaper, and the only time since March 2006 when Mr Aly's name has appeared in The Sunday Age is a brief quote in a piece about a theatrical work based on the life of Mamdouh Habib ("Circus with a serious core", September 3). Which Sunday Age was "anonymous" reading?

Indeed, of the last four opinion pieces that Mr Aly has written, only one has been for a Fairfax paper. Two appeared in the pages of The Australian and another in The Herald Sun. Time to start doing a little fact-checking of your own, O Nameless One. If you have an actual beef with the content of something I've written, as opposed to just playing games with labels, I do work for The Age, so you know where to call.

Wilbur Post said...

Mr. Mughrabi,

To be fair, you can see what I wrote in response to anonymous' reference to yourself and Waleed Aly.

I confess I haven't caught up with your writing but I will endeavour to do so in the future. As I pointed out, Waleed Aly actually writes things that make sense and it would delight me if people like him were involved in some sort of peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.

Firstly, because it would mean that there is a peace process in place and secondly, because I believe he has an understanding of the benefits of making peace as against what's presently happening over there.

I hope you're of the same view.

Whatever the case, I firmly believe your newspaper's coverage of the Middle East, which constantly emphasizes only one side's grievances and demonizes the other side, is doing nothing for the cause of educating its readers about the situation or helping us to find peace in the region.

Maher Mughrabi said...

Dear Mr Post

My remarks about "anonymous" and Mr Aly were addressed to "anonymous" and I hope I made that clear.

When you go looking for my work, you'll find it. And I have written (and lectured) about Israel and about Zionism in many venues, including the newspaper I work for. I am certainly "guilty" of being a Palestinian, however you will notice that "anonymous" does not actually cite anything in my work that he/she has a problem with. I don't waste time defending myself against vague imprecations, only precise allegations.

You are entitled to your beliefs about The Age's coverage. I'm an employee of the paper and so I'll recuse myself from that debate, other than to say I'm very happy and proud to work here.

However I would strongly recommend this book to you and your readers:

Wilbur Post said...

Thanks for your reply. I'll certainly have a look at your work with interest.

I'm familiar with "Suppression of Guilt" and understand what Dor's trying to say. Having been in Israel both immediately before the eruption of the "Second Intifada" and at the time of the "re-occupation", I can state categorically that he doesn't come near to convincing me. In fact I have my own very strong views as to why the Second Intifada broke out and if you keep reading this blog, I'll write about it one day. It's not the conventional view taken by either side.

I can say however, that I'm very proud that Israel has a free press and that it's possible to gain a diversity of views and opinions inside the country except those of the Kach Party which is banned for its racism. I await the day when the Palestinian people can ban their own parties which have racist themes throughout their charters.

I recall reading an article about SOG in the Guardian headed "Two sides to every story". That's the very point I try to make about the reporting of the conflict between Israel and it's neighbours.

When I want to find out what's happening in Israel and Palestine I go to Haaretz. Do you think the Palestinian public gets two sides from its own media? Do they get the truth from Al-Hayat Al-Jadida? Do you think we get it from the Age when O'Loughlin files his "news" reports? I know you can't answer that but I feel strongly that both sides must have their narratives heard if we are to have progress.

Finally, I'm upset that you have to plead "guilty" to being a Palestinian and apologise at any offense "anonymous" might have caused with his/her comment on this site.

Maher Mughrabi said...

Well, Mr Post, I look forward to your attempted rebuttal of Daniel Dor’s thesis, but until then I think some of the people who post here could certainly benefit from reading it, not because he provides a definitive explanation of why the second intifada began (he doesn’t, nor does he set out to) but because he makes a number of interesting points about the way such events are covered.

While your having been in Israel at the time will doubtless affect your perspective on the matter, you’ll understand if I’m reluctant to defer to anyone simply on the grounds of “insider” status; after all, Dor has actually worked in Israeli newsrooms. Have you? If the answer to that question is no, then by such “insider” logic you too might be at something of a disadvantage.

Your aspirations for Palestinian society as regards press freedom and the elimination of racism are duly noted by one who has worked hard all his adult life to advance such objectives. While “anonymous” babbles on about Mr Aly and I as “anti-Zionists” and apologists for Arabs and Muslims, a look at our actual work would confirm that we have both gone further in criticising elements of our own communities than many who call themselves “balanced” yet offer only boilerplate defences of Israel.

Your reference to Ha’aretz and al-Hayat al-Jadida raises many issues. First of all, if you do indeed rely on Ha’aretz for news, then you are by no means in the majority as far as Israelis go. Moreover, you would be aware if you read that newspaper carefully that in recent years it has had much to say on the heavy reliance of Israeli media (including itself) on briefings from the IDF which have subsequently turned out to contain misinformation and outright lies.

That said, there’s no doubt that Ha’aretz is a superior newspaper (one of the reasons for which is that it actually incorporates more Palestinian perspectives than its bigger-selling rivals). Pointing out that Palestinians don’t have an equivalent is an easy basket – we haven’t made an airline as good as El Al or an assault weapon as compact as the Uzi either. But one of the reasons for all this, whether you like it or not, is Israel itself. Indeed, in the case of media development this is particularly true: freedom of the press is a function of freedom of movement, freedom of association and access to locations and information, all of which Israeli occupation is instrumental in restricting, before we even talk about the additional and more recent effect of the Palestinian Authority on the work of such journalists as Daoud Kuttab and Maher Alami.

I think your portrayal of Palestinians as somehow reliant on newspapers like al-Hayat al-Jadida for all their news overlooks the fact that Palestinians are perfectly capable of comparing coverage from Israeli, Western and Arab sources and assessing their relative merits. Our experience at the hands of Arab regimes (including our own) is hardly likely to predispose us to unthinking trust in the media outlets of “our side”.

Which brings me neatly to your assessment of Israel, which you identify with and feel pride in. That Kach has been outlawed would perhaps be a greater source of pride if it wasn’t for the fact that a party which has inherited one of Kach’s cornerstone policies – ethnic transfer – is about to join the ranks of government in Israel, having received a far greater proportion of the popular vote than Rabbi Kahane ever dreamed of.

Your pride in Israel’s “free press” is another matter altogether. Some of the more impressionable people reading your blog here in Australia might get the idea from your use of this phrase that Ha’aretz and newspapers like it operate under roughly similar constraints to those experienced by The Age or The Australian. This is simply not true. Israel has an official censor to whom all stories deemed to involve security or “public order” are expected to be submitted, and who has the power to shut down newspapers (a power that has been used).

Indeed, some of the legislation that the Israeli censor uses today to enforce its control was “inherited” by the State of Israel from the British Mandate (the 1933 Press Ordinance and the 1945 Defence (Emergency) Regulations, for example). In May 1988, Yediot Ahronot – by far the country’s top-selling newspaper – appeared with a blank space on one of its pages: the censor had removed an article on the extent of censorship in Israel. In June 1988, after the closure of the Israeli weekly Derech Hanitzotz, hundreds of Israeli journalists took part in a symposium on erosion of press freedom in Israel. The debates of that symposium continue in various forms to this day. Dor’s reference to the fact that some Israeli media outlets did not draw attention to (or even sought to mask) the restrictions they operated under during the second intifada is highly instructive in this regard.

You may say that Israel is not Australia, and that there are security considerations which dictate a different approach in the Israeli case; all this is granted. But to then use the words “free press” without qualification is at best partial and at worst deliberately deceptive.

Wilbur Post said...

Whoa there. Did I say that a "free press" means that the press is totally unfettered; that there aren't laws to obey or that the "public interest" doesn't exist? Wasn't it your own newspaper that was prevented from publishing the names of three AFL footballers tested positive twice for drug taking?

To answer your question. No, I've never worked inside an Israeli or any other newsroom. However, I do know people who have done so, I occasionally get some 'inside information' and I trust their judgment and honesty. I've also travelled extensively through Israel and the West Bank and base part of my understanding on what I was told by Palestinians living in towns under PA control during the period 1995 to 2000, two of who I maintained correspondence until 2003 and who provided me with some interesting insights into what was happening from their perspective. So I might still be at a "disadvantage" as you call it; but it doesn't mean that Dor's views are the absolute last word on Israel's press.

Actually, it's a bit of a stretch for me to believe that the Israeli media as a whole ranging from the ultra right to ultra left is invested in the guilt-oriented discourse to the point of obsession. Indeed, I can mount a much stronger argument for the proposition that the opposite holds true and that the Israelis have taken the rap at the hands of the media for far more than they truly deserved.

I understand what you say when you claim that Israel might bear some of the responsibility for the fact that the Palestinians haven't made an airline as good as El Al or an assault weapon as compact as the Uzi but really, it's an excuse we've heard many times before and it's simply not good enough. I'd like to think the Palestinian people would take on some responsibility themselves and try to deal with the situation as Dor suggests, not on guilt-orientation but through solution-orientation.

That is exactly what didn't happen when Israel departed from Gaza in 2005 and ended its occupation of land inhabited by 1.4m Palestinians.

All we heard was the thunder of Quassam rockets, the noise of the destruction of greenhouses, the digging of more tunnels with which to import weapons of war into the hands of terrorists and the din of the critics who complained that Israel was still in "occupation" because it controlled the borders, the airspace, the ports etc. There were even those among the Palestinians who were desperately searching for a Gaza equivalent of the Sheba Farms to hang their "no end to occupation" hats upon.

We now have an elected Hamas government. That in itself, is twice the disaster for the Palestinians as Fatah ever was (and fivefold the disaster that Lieberman is/will be to Israel) and neither the Palestinians or the Israelis are any better off.

Portofino said...

Interesting discussion.

FWIW I don't believe the lynching of those Israeli soldiers or the countless atrocities committed by Palestinian terrorism including the suicide bombings that led to the "reoccupation" are a figment of anyone's imagination and nor does it have anything to do with Israeli guilt. It's another smokescreen.

Today, Southern Israel is being battered by rockets yet the world media focusses on events in Gaza only. Why not show both sides? That's what the media should be all about. We must not allow the obfuscations of a guilt ridden Israeli to get in the way of that. A fair media is all we ask for!

Maher Mughrabi said...

Dear Mr Post

First of all I think we need to separate what I have actually said from what you seem to think I have said. I certainly didn’t say that Dor’s views were “the absolute last word on Israel’s press”; I did say that they were a highly useful contribution. I also did not say that a “free press” means that the press is totally unfettered; I did say that there was a substantial difference between the position of the press in this country and that of the Israeli “free press” you proclaim your pride in. We shall return to the latter point in a moment.

To address the former point, you will recall that I said I awaited your contribution to the debate of which Dor’s study is a part. A further list of your personal contacts and geographical bona fides, though intriguing, is not an argument in itself. And I did not say you were at a disadvantage, either; I said that if we are to accept your implication that proximity is knowledge, then you might still be at a disadvantage. I am in fact very far from accepting the validity of such an idea.

What is more, for the second time in this comment thread you have informed this blog’s readers that you “can mount a much stronger argument” than that put forward by Dor. Yet assertion is not an argument either. Until you actually lay out your “stronger” argument, with examples and comparisons such as those Dor provides, we are reduced to talking about the blank pages of the Blank Pages. You have set yourself the task; the work remains ahead of you.

(On a related note: I don’t know who asked you “to believe that the Israeli media as a whole ranging from the ultra-right to ultra-left is invested in a guilt-oriented discourse”. It certainly wasn’t Dor, who discusses only five mainstream media outlets in his book: Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv, Yediot Ahronot and TV channels 1 and 2. None of these occupy an ultra-right or ultra-left position. Did you read the book, or simply flick through it at a store?)

To return to the matter of press freedom, I have to say that if comparing the legal embargo that applied to the naming of the AFL footballers with the work of the censor in Israel is a preliminary example of your argumentation, you may be better off having conversations with people like “anonymous” than people like me. Like most newspapers in the Western world, we are indeed fettered in what we can publish by legal and public interest considerations, especially where criminal cases are sub judice or where minors are involved. To say that this is somehow akin to the existence of a state censor who demands oversight of articles and has the power to close down publications without recourse to a court or arbitration of any kind is nonsense. At this point you have moved from the best case (partiality) well down the scale to actively deceiving your readers (many of whom may want to be deceived, of course).

Maher Mughrabi said...

In this regard, at least, your blog does make an interesting study. At the top of this thread you begin by saying that in your view no one wins wars of the type that recently involved Hezbollah and Israel (a statement with which I whole-heartedly agree; the whole thing was a many-faceted fashla from start to finish). But then you go on to link to an article where an Israeli insists that Israel “won” in every important sense, a view other posters are only too keen to reiterate.

When I attempt to temper your pride in the banning of Kach by pointing to the rise of Avigdor Lieberman, the response I get is not self-examination – a cheshbon hanefesh, if you like – but instead a classic attempt to deflect guilt outward by pointing at Palestinians and the election of Hamas (thankyou, Daniel Dor). Well, I can tell you that I have also written and lectured on the election of Hamas numerous times since January, and in doing so I have subjected them to sustained criticism. Once again, the ball is in your court. Yet you have the nerve to inform me that Dor’s injunctions apply to Palestinians and reject them when it comes to Israelis.

For the best example of all, look at the way you handled Julian Burnside’s comments in “Profile of a Death Threat”. All that stuff about old Jewish ladies and matzo balls may make “anonymous” chuckle or nod in righteous indignation, but it doesn’t bring us an inch closer to what it actually means for a Jewish person to write to someone like Gerald Kaufman telling him that “the wrong Jews died at Auschwitz” or for Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to receive letters during the Gaza withdrawal from his fellow Israelis threatening the safety of his family and telling him to go back to his stinking Arab home. Or, if we want to take a media example, for Jews to attack and burn the homes of the journalist Dan Margalit and the publisher Amos Schocken because they are “harming national morale”.

It is of course true that Jews have suffered historical persecution. Yet when I, in talking about present Palestinian failings, talk not about centuries of history but the proximate fact of Israeli occupation and military control, you accuse me of peddling “an excuse . . . it’s simply not good enough”. Well, let’s see.

Maher Mughrabi said...

I was particularly struck by the last phrase of your latest post, “and neither the Palestinians or the Israelis are any better off”. There was here the suggestion of mutuality and connection which one often struggles to find in the thinking of Zionists.

My point about occupation and its impact is not just that it is wrong (and I noted that you were willing to call the Gaza Strip occupied, something Israel was never able to bring itself to do) and has long-term effects that cannot be undone simply by its end, but that it has led to a state of affairs where, like it or not, Palestinian and Israeli existence are intertwined. Fashionable words like hitnatkut, hitkansut and “divorce” aside, the fact is that Israel still does have a crucial say in Palestinian development, yet it is not interested (in both senses of that word) in that development. This is one of the reasons that the Gaza withdrawal was never likely to produce peace.

The fact that Israel controls airspace, ports etc does of course affect the economy and the freedom of Gaza – it is ludicrous to suggest otherwise. So too does Israeli refusal to hand over Palestinian excise revenues. So too does an approach to anti-Israel militancy which, as Avishai Margalit has pointed out, claims to target the infrastructure of terrorism but in fact destroys infrastructure of all kinds, often with malice of forethought.

There are wider problems, but I have written about these extensively elsewhere and so won’t paraphrase here. However another book I'd recommend to your readers as particularly germane in the aftermath of the recent conflict is Jacobo Timerman's The Longest War. The author concludes that:

. . . what keeps us fighting is not a war but a conflict over equal rights. A peace agreement won't be enough. We'll have to
resolve the conflict over equal rights. And Israel has the strength to accomplish this.

I don't know who told "Portofino" that terrorism or the lynching of Israeli soldiers were the figments of someone's imagination. Once again, it was not Daniel Dor. Nor do I know a single western newspaper which failed to cover the lynchings of Vadim Norzich and Yossi Avrahami or which maintained silence when a suicide bomb went off in Israel. Indeed, almost every report I have seen on what is happening in Gaza has referred to Palestinian rocket fire on Israel. Once again, specific examples of this "bias" would be useful.

Wilbur Post said...

Mr. Mughrabi,

You're certainly remind me of the dog after a bone. I could debate you on and on ad infinitum but given your remark about the example of the suppression of footballer's names I wonder whether it's worth it. I wasn't making a comparison at all - just giving a recent example of a limitation on press freedom. We can go back to the days when Australia was at war if you want to find others of a like nature to that of military censorship in the Israeli press.

About my treatment of Burnside, you noted my sarcasm about old Jewish ladies and matzo balls but you obviously missed the point that Burnide was being as downright offensive as you can get.

Was the audience comfortable with this?

I wonder how they would have reacted had someone in this particular debate opened with words to the effect that they had received two death threats in their life and one was from a Palestinian?

Would I be out of order to suggest that they might have booed the speaker off the stage and accused him/her of racism?

Maher Mughrabi said...

You're certainly remind me of the dog after a bone.

Coming from a media "watchdog", I'll take that as a compliment.

I wasn't making a comparison at all - just giving a recent example of a limitation on press freedom. We can go back to the days when Australia was at war if you want to find others of a like nature to that of military censorship in the Israeli press.

Thankyou. You have just conceded exactly the point I was trying to make about press freedom. PS: I'm reliably informed that Australia is at war right now.

About my treatment of Burnside, you noted my sarcasm about old Jewish ladies and matzo balls but you obviously missed the point that Burnide was being as downright offensive as you can get.

If he was telling the truth about the death threat he received, I'm not quite sure how that's offensive any more than it is in those other documented cases which I referred to. Mind you, your whole Burnside post is almost devoid of logic.

Imagine if we said that 10% of crimes in inner-city Paris were by people of Arab descent. Doubtless it might then be relevant to talk about the historical disadvantage suffered by those people, or indeed to say that the criminals could not possibly have been Arabs like my beloved auntie Umm Rafiq, but this doesn't change the statistic or somehow meliorate the crimes. Nor should it prevent us from talking about them.

I wonder how they would have reacted had someone in this particular debate opened with words to the effect that they had received two death threats in their life and one was from a Palestinian?

Would I be out of order to suggest that they might have booed the speaker off the stage and accused him/her of racism?

In the absence of an actual case to test this hypothesis, I have to say that if someone received a death threat from a Palestinian, I'd expect it to be taken very seriously. If I responded to your stuff about the Hamas charter - which I have described publicly as a conspiracist and anti-Semitic document which damages the Palestinian cause - by flannelling about the occupation or my dear old granny and her falafel recipe, I'd expect you to fillet me, and rightly so.

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