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Canadian Trapped in Gaza

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    After Annapolis Jewish Voices for Peace Those around the world who expected little more than cursory speeches from the Annapolis meeting this past week were
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 3, 2007
      After Annapolis
      Jewish Voices for Peace

      Those around the world who expected little more than cursory speeches
      from the Annapolis meeting this past week were not disappointed.
      Annapolis delivered those speeches, a few photo-ops and, something
      that was not as sure a result, a re-starting of discussions between
      Israel and the Palestinians. But the outcomes were also deeply flawed.


      Annapolis was a one-day meeting that consisted of a lot more style
      than substance. Nonetheless, it was an important event in that it
      re-started a diplomatic process. Seven years of effective
      disengagement, have conclusively proven that absent such a process,
      matters get dramatically worse. The re-start of negotiations offers at
      least the hope of a slowing down of violations of international law,
      and certainly affords more opportunities for activists to work to
      influence the process. The fact that the Arab world is in support of
      this process (as opposed to the Camp David summit in 2000, for
      example) is an improvement over past conditions.

      That said, the makeup and direction of both the conference and its
      intended aftermath seem to be more of the same thing that has failed
      so miserably in the past. Diplomatic engagement is good, but in order
      for it to be successful it must meet the following standards, none of
      which have been met by the agreement signed in Annapolis:

      • International law must be the guiding principle of all the talks and
      Palestinians' human and civil rights must be given the priority. In
      the short term, that means addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza
      and the dreadful conditions and restrictions in the West Bank which
      violate international law. In the long term, it means a full
      acknowledgment that the Palestinians are entitled to full
      self-determination, not only that which Israel will allow.

      • Talks must be mediated in an honest and even-handed fashion. The US
      has shown time and time again that it is incapable of being an honest
      broker, and chances are that a future president will do no better, so
      the US must allow other bodies, such as the EU, UN or Quartet to fill
      that role.

      • All concerned parties have to be engaged. It is absurd to believe
      that Hamas can be left outside of the entire process and that Abbas
      can then obtain any kind of peace deal that can survive in the real
      world. Moreover, it is not just to try to reach agreement if all the
      factions of one side or the other do not have their representation and
      their say.

      • Iran must also be engaged so that an agreement can be sustainable
      and regional stability enhanced.

      • Talk is fine, and important, but it must be accompanied by immediate
      steps toward improving conditions, otherwise it is doomed to failure.
      The disastrous Oslo process, which saw the doubling of Israeli
      settlements while peace was being negotiated, taught the world the
      importance of matching actions with words.

      • Israel has every right to pursue security and the ending of shelling
      of its towns. But this issue does not supersede all others, and
      Israel, which has utterly failed to provide that security by military
      means, should be seeking to engage all the players, including Hamas,
      precisely to serve that interest, among the others we have listed.

      These are basic elements that are necessary for any progress, and they
      were missing before Annapolis and remain so.

      When our leaders fail us, it is up to civil society organizations and
      individuals everywhere to do everything possible to pressure our
      governments to put these issues on the table. Today we have an opening
      which we should take full advantage of, however small, to remind the
      world that a lasting and just peace really is possible if these basic
      standards are met. We cannot sit idly and wait for our leaders to make
      these commitments without pressure from citizens, religious groups,
      advocacy groups and others.

      Human Rights and the Situation on the Ground

      Virtually ignored in the various speeches at Annapolis was the fact
      that Israel intends, as soon as December 2, to begin cutting off
      Gaza's power supply. The construction of the wall and expansion of
      existing settlements is continuing, as is Israel's confiscation of
      Palestinian land. The hundreds of checkpoints and numerous Israeli
      military operations in both the West Bank and Gaza daily are continuing.

      Conditions in Gaza continue to deteriorate even before the power
      reduction, and the conditions in the West Bank have seen little
      improvement in the past few months despite the infusion of some
      badly-needed funds. Lives are being lost daily, and other lives are
      being devastated. Can anyone, whatever their proposed solutions and
      whatever their views of the larger conflict possibly believe that
      these conditions create an atmosphere where even the best intentions
      for peace can flourish?

      It would not have been difficult to arrange for some immediate relief
      to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and at least some substantive
      measures to make some noticeable improvement in conditions in the West
      Bank, but this did not occur. Given that Israel has already made clear
      its intention to worsen those conditions, it is hard to see how any
      follow-up can make positive progress.

      Israel-Palestine Talks

      The conference saw Israel and the Palestinian Authority commit to
      negotiations aimed at a comprehensive treaty by the end of 2008.
      Whether that is realistic or not is open to debate, but left
      unaddressed are conditions that are necessary for such talks to have
      even a faint hope of success. Chief among these is the current lack of
      Palestinian unity in its leadership. Hamas has been completely
      isolated from these proceedings, and from any point of view, that
      means there is no possibility of any agreement forged between Mahmoud
      Abbas and Ehud Olmert, however unlikely that may be, actually taking hold.

      True, Hamas' popularity has slipped considerably in recent months. A
      recent poll indicated that around 20% of Palestinian voters would vote
      for a Hamas candidate, much fewer than actually did vote for Hamas in
      the 2006 election which triggered sanctions against the Palestinians
      because the US, Israel, the EU and the Arab League as well were
      dissatisfied with the results of that election. But 20% is still a
      significant minority, and that figure encompasses only those who would
      vote for Hamas—their view on peace talks are likely shared by
      significantly more Palestinians. While that can be overcome through a
      political process expressing the will of the majority, it cannot
      simply be isolated and ignored. That is neither just, as that is the
      voice of a significant portion of the population, nor is it practical
      as 20% is enough to de-stabilize any agreement.

      Another major problem is the list of documents that Ehud Olmert
      recited as the basis for future talks. He mentioned UNSC resolutions
      242 and 338, which is good. He mentioned the Roadmap, which is
      considerably less useful, but its inclusion was to be expected. But he
      also mentioned George Bush's 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon, which
      promised that Israel would not have to return to the 1967 borders and
      that no Palestinian refugee would ever return behind the Green Line.
      We at JVP have long decried this letter as the most egregious
      political and diplomatic blunder. Even if one believes that those
      promises should characterize a final deal between Israel and the
      Palestinians (which is not JVP's stance), it is obvious that such a
      declaration by the US pre-empts any useful negotiations. This letter
      is only one among many examples of the US acting as an Israeli ally
      and not as an "honest broker" and demonstrates why the US is not seen
      as capable of being that honest broker. What does it leave the
      Palestinians to bargain with? Even as staunch an Israel-first advocate
      as Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY) decried this letter in Congress
      earlier this year. For any possible progress in talks, this letter
      must be rescinded, which is precisely what Olmert fears and was trying
      to prevent in his speech.

      The Roadmap is the basis for the final status talks. It is not a good
      one, as the document is very thin, includes no enforcement mechanisms,
      and does not use human rights as a primary guide. But it is not going
      away as long as George Bush is president, so it is what there is. The
      lack of enforcement was addressed only minimally by installing the US
      as an arbiter and requiring periodic judgments from the US as to
      whether the two sides are meeting their obligations, but still
      providing no mechanism to address non-compliance. This can conceivably
      lead to some pressure on Israel to actually act on freezing settlement
      growth and removing outposts, all of which could, if promoters of
      justice and peace can act forcefully, lead to the beginning of removal
      of settlements. That is a very thin hope, and it comes at a price.
      Now, the US is the sole arbiter, rather than the Quartet (the US, UN,
      EU and Russia). True, the US dominated that group as well, but it had
      to make at least some effort to appease the other bodies, which do not
      have the "special relationship" with Israel that makes US mediation
      and brokership so problematic. Now the only "broker" is the one that
      clearly declares its favoritism for one side over the other. It's hard
      to see how that can lead to positive results. It will be important in
      the coming months to renew efforts for wider international involvement.

      Syria, Iran and the Arab League

      Syria's last-minute agreement to attend the conference was an
      important positive development. If one looks carefully, however, at
      the words of both Olmert and Bush, we see laid bare the different
      goals of the US and Israel. Olmert's speech included a call for peace
      with all the surrounding states, and his listing of the different
      directions of those states (north, east and south), was clearly meant
      to include Syria. Bush, on the other hand, explicitly stated that
      Syria was not to be part of the process yet. Mahmoud Abbas, for his
      part, stated clearly that any peace deal must include Syria and the
      return of the Golan Heights. It is important that this call be
      supported, not only because dealing with Syria is a necessary
      component of a sustainable peace, but also because Syria can be
      instrumental in bringing Hamas into the process. This is necessary
      both to heal the rift among the Palestinians, but also for any chance
      for a sustainable peace, whatever the parameters.

      This also touches on the continuing effort to isolate Iran. It is
      foolhardy to set up a situation where peace negotiations are a threat
      to Iran. This only sets up failure and the intensification of the
      already dangerous standoff with Iran. Bombastic rhetoric aside, Iran
      has proven over the years that they can be engaged in diplomatic
      processes and it is indispensable to do so in this regard.

      Olmert's brief acknowledgment of the Arab League offer, issued in 2002
      and repeated earlier this year, was positive but far from sufficient.
      The Arab League put this proposal forward as the outline of
      negotiations, because it addresses the basic Palestinian demands and
      offers Israel exactly what it wants--peace, full recognition and full
      normalization of relations with the Arab world. That this is not the
      basis for the continuing talks is indefensible. True, the Arab
      League's current positioning has at least as much to do with their
      fear of Iran as it does with justice for the Palestinians, but they
      are also not in favor of escalating the tensions with Iran, much less
      of a war which will cause their region great harm. This argues not
      only for engagement with Iran and negotiations with Syria but also
      demonstrates how much potential there is right now for a just
      resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel and the US are
      apparently determined, however, to let this chance pass by.


      Canadian woman is trapped behind Gaza borders
      Sat. Dec. 1 2007
      CTV.ca News Staff

      Asmaa Olwan left her home in Canada for what she thought would be a
      short visit to her ailing parents in the Gaza Strip. Eight months
      later she and her two young children are still stuck there, trapped by
      closed borders in a political war.

      "I want to go back to my home and my job and my husband," Olwan told
      CTV's Janis Mackey Frayer in Gaza City.

      Olwan, a resident of Regina, already lost her job as a teacher while
      waiting for a chance to get home. She said she's getting more
      desperate to leave every day.

      She and five other Canadian families are trapped in the diplomatic and
      economic siege on Gaza, launched after the anti-Israeli group Hamas
      took control of area.

      Most foreigners were evacuated long ago, but Israel has so far refused
      to let the last of the stranded Canadians out. Egypt, the only other
      country to border the region, also stopped allowing people across its
      border with Gaza -- leaving it isolated from the world.

      Hamas has been firing rockets into Israel since it took control of the
      Gaza Strip in June.

      Israel has responded with incursions and border patrols.

      In October, the Israeli government declared Hamas-led Gaza a "hostile
      entity" and approved plans to cut off electricity to the area.

      The desperation of the situation is not lost on Olwan, who is not sure
      why Israel will not let her cross the border and return to Canada.

      "If there's any danger, I don't know, they can put us in a cage and
      get us out," she said.

      Alan Baker, the Israeli ambassador to Canada, says there are security
      concerns to clear up before they can allow her cross the border.

      "We have no apparent reason to deny innocent Canadians the right to go
      home," Baker said.

      Meanwhile, Canadian officials have not offered Olwan a guess as to why
      Israel would consider her family a threat.

      "I trust them and I give them my vote to help me in these situations
      and they've done nothing," she said.

      With a report from CTV Middle East Bureau Chief Janis Mackey Frayer


      Torturing Palestinian Detainees
      By Stephen Lendman
      14 November, 2007

      B'Tselem is the conservative Israeli Information Center for Human
      Rights in the Occupied Territories with a well-deserved reputation for
      accuracy. A group of prominent academics, attorneys, journalists and
      Knesset members founded the organization in 1989 to "document and
      educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights
      violations in the Occupied Territories, combat the phenomenon of
      denial prevalent among the Israeli public, and help create a human
      rights culture in Israel" to convince government officials to respect
      human rights and comply with international law.

      Its work covers a wide range of human rights issues that include
      detentions and torture. In May, 2007, it prepared a detailed 100 page
      report titled "Absolute Prohibition: The Torture and Ill-treatment of
      Palestinian Detainees" that's now available in print for those who
      request it. This article summarizes its findings that represent a
      joint effort by B'Tselem and HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the
      Individual that was founded in 1988 to support Palestinian rights
      during the first intifada in the late 1980s.

      Since the early 1990s, B'Tselem published more than ten reports on
      Israelis' use of torture and mistreatment of Palestinian detainees.
      This is the latest one in an effort to raise public awareness and help
      abolish these abhorrent practices. The findings are based on
      testimonies solicited from a small "unrepresentative" sample of 73
      Palestinian West Bank residents who were arrested between July, 2005
      and January, 2006, agreed to tell their stories, and who met
      predetermined criteria for the study.

      They were chosen from the names of 4460 Palestinian detainees whose
      relatives contacted HaMoked for help to locate their whereabouts.
      HaMoked provides this service because Israel violates international
      law and its own military regulations by denying family members any
      information about who was detained or where they're being held. From
      its many years investigating Israeli torture, B'Tselem believes the
      information in this report accurately reflects the types and extent of
      Israeli abusive practices.

      Torture, abuse or degrading treatment are abhorrent in any form for
      any reason, and long-standing international law forbids these
      practices under all circumstances. The four 1949 Geneva Conventions
      banned any form of "physical or mental coercion" and affirmed sick,
      wounded, war prisoners and civilians must be treated humanely. All
      four conventions have a common thread called Common Article Three that
      requires all non-combatants to be treated humanely at all times. There
      are no exceptions for any reasons, and violations are grave breaches
      of Geneva and other international law that constitute crimes of war
      and against humanity.

      Nonetheless, the 1987 Landau Commission (headed by retired Israeli
      Supreme Court Chief Justice Moshe Landau) cited the "necessary
      defense" provision in the Penal Law to recommend using "psychological
      and moderate physical pressure," to obtain evidence for convictions in
      criminal proceedings. Its justification was that coercive
      interrogation tactics were necessary against "hostile terrorist
      activity" it defined to include not just threats or acts of violence
      but all activities related to Palestinian nationalism.

      Later in September, 1999, Israel's High Court of Justice (HCJ)
      responded to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel's petition
      (PCATI) and issued a landmark decision (reversing Landau
      recommendations) and barred the use of torture against detainees. It
      was, however, a hollow gesture as at the same time it ruled pressure
      and a measure of discomfort were legitimate interrogation side-effects
      but should not be used to break a detainee's spirit. It then added a
      giant loophole allowing interrogators to use physical force and avoid
      prosecutions in "ticking time bomb" cases even though international
      law allows no exceptions, and Israeli authorities could claim that
      excuse for anyone in custody.

      Since its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank (the OPT) in 1967,
      Israel imprisoned over 650,000 Palestinians according to the
      Palestinian peace and justice group MIFTA. That's equivalent to about
      one-sixth of the OPT's population today. The security services
      currently hold around ten to twelve thousand Palestinian men, women
      and children in its prisons under deplorable conditions with many
      under administrative detention without charge. Based on earlier
      assessments by Hamoked, B'Tselem estimates as many as 85% of them are
      subjected to torture and mistreatment in custody even though most of
      them aren't accused of terrorism. These practices are routinely and
      systematically used against political activists, students accused of
      being pro-Islam, sheikhs and religious leaders, people in Islamic
      charitable organizations, relatives of wanted individuals or any man,
      woman or child Israel targets for any reason.

      B'Tselem's May, 2007 report states that the Israeli Security Agency
      (ISA - formerly called the General Security Service or GSS) admits to
      using "exceptional" methods that include "physical pressure" of
      interrogation in "ticking bomb" cases that can be used as an excuse to
      abuse anyone. In addition, law enforcement officials openly admit
      harsh measures are approved retroactively so that Palestinian detainee
      rights can be freely violated without fear of recrimination. In other
      words, ISA interrogators know the rules - don't ask permission, use
      any methods you wish, and don't worry about the consequences after the
      fact. There won't be any, and it shows in what detainees told B'Tselem.

      They reported being "softened up" for interrogation from the moment of
      their arrest to when ISA agents took over. Abuses at the outset
      included beatings, painful binding, swearing, humiliation and denial
      of basic needs. The ISA procedure then included seven key forms of
      abuse that violated the detainees' dignity and bodily integrity. They
      were inflicted to break their spirit, but international law calls it
      torture when it includes verified intent, severe pain or suffering,
      improper motive, and involvement of the state. All those conditions
      apply to Israeli abusive practices that included:

      -- isolation that prohibited detainees from contact with family, an
      attorney or ICRC representatives; this exacerbated detainees' sense of
      powerlessness by creating a situation in which they're completely at
      the mercy of interrogators; it's also known to cause them serious
      psychological harm when continued for extended periods;

      -- psychological pressure from solitary confinement in "putrid,
      stifling cells three to six square meters in size" with no windows or
      access to daylight and fresh air; a fixed overhead light on 24 hours a
      day; walls made of rough plaster making them uncomfortable or
      impossible to lean against; a water faucet on one wall and some cells
      with sinks; a usually dirty and damp mattress and "filthy putrid"
      blankets on the floor; nothing else in cells; reading and writing
      materials not allowed; in many cells, toilets were holes in the floor;
      detainees denied all human contact except for guards and interrogators.

      -- physical conditions in solitary confinement cells are regulated in
      Criminal Procedure Regulations issued by Israel's Minister of Internal
      Security with the approval of the Knesset Constitution, Law and
      Justice Committee; they don't apply to "security detainees," however,
      so cells have no bed, chairs and most often no sink; nothing else
      provided including use of a telephone and right to have visitors
      provide items; cells were too small to walk around in, and no daily
      outside exercise was allowed;

      -- detainees weakened from lack of physical activity, sleep
      deprivation and inadequate food; they're denied basic needs like food
      and liquids, medicines or the right to relieve themselves; throughout
      long hours of interrogation, they're shackled to a chair unable to
      move hands or legs even minimally; they had nutritional deficiencies
      and food received was inadequate, cold, improperly cooked, flavorless
      and often repulsive in appearance; many detainees resisted eating as
      long as possible;

      -- shackling in the "shabah" position that's the prolonged and painful
      binding of detainees' hands and feet to a standard-sized
      unupholstered, metal frame, rigid plastic chair fixed to the floor
      with no armrests; hands tightly bound behind the back in adjustable
      plastic handcuffs and connected to a ring at the back of the seat to
      stretch them uncomfortably below the backrest; legs bound to the
      chair's front legs; detainees were unable to get up throughout
      interrogation that on average lasted eight consecutive hours without a
      break and on the first day ran 12 hours; later in the interrogation
      period, sessions shortened to four or five hours;

      -- interrogations only for a small portion of this time; for most if
      it, interrogators were out of the room; at those times air
      conditioning turned up to uncomfortably cold levels; most often only
      one meal served during a day's interrogation; very sparing toilet
      privileges allowed; nearly all detainees complained of severe back,
      neck, shoulder, arms and wrist pain during interrogation; numbness or
      loss of sensation in limbs also reported; the Israeli High Court of
      Justice (HCJ) ruled in 1999 that all "shabah" shackling procedures are
      unlawful since they violate rules for "reasonable and fair
      interrogation" and injure detainees' dignity and well-being; ISA
      interrogators ignore the ruling with impunity;

      -- cursing and humiliating strip searches of detainees as well as
      shouting, spitting in the face and other related abusive practices;
      detainees forced to strip naked and submit to body searches while
      being yelled at and mocked;

      -- intimidations made to include threats of physical torture (called
      "military interrogation"), arrest of family members and destruction of

      -- using informants ("asafirs") to get information that's not abusive
      as such but is a very questionable method following preparatory
      "softening up."

      B'Tselem then discussed "special" interrogation methods that mostly
      involve physical violence:

      -- sleep deprivation for 30 to 40 hours during which detainees left
      painfully shackled in interrogation rooms; guards frequently awakened
      detainees between midnight and 5AM; various type oppressive noises
      used at night to interfere with sleep;

      -- use of "dry" beatings that included punching, kicking all parts of
      the body, striking with rifle butts and face slapping; detainees hit
      with clubs, helmets and other objects; heads slammed against a wall,
      floor or hard surface; beatings inflicted when detainees' hands were
      bound behind their back, and they were blindfolded; additional
      beatings during physical inspections with their hands cuffed;

      -- painful binding with handcuffs or other devices tight enough to cut
      off blood flow circulation and cause swelling;

      -- sharp twisting of the head forcefully and suddenly sideways or

      -- forced "frog" crouching on tiptoes with cuffed hands behind the
      back accompanied by shoving or beating until detainees lost their
      balance and fell forward or backward; this method inflicts pain by
      increasing pressure on leg muscles and also hurts wrists after falling;

      -- use of forced "banana" position that involves bending the back in a
      painful arch while the body is extended horizontally to the floor on a
      backless chair with arms and feet bound beneath it.

      Prison killings also occur like the October 22 one at the notorious
      Ketziot Detention Center in the Negev desert where 2300 Palestinians
      are held under very harsh conditions. It happened at 2AM when prison
      guards began searching tents and strip-searching inmates in a
      deliberate middle of the night provocation. Prisoners resisted and
      about 550 members of the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) Metsada riot
      dispersal unit responded with excessive force by beating them with
      plastic clubs and rifle butts as well as firing rubber-coated bullets,
      live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades that set tents ablaze and
      caused as many as 250 inmate injuries and at least nine serious ones.
      During the assault, Mohammed Al Ashqar was killed after being shot in
      the head.

      The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) maintains that prisoner
      abuse, repressive tactics and killing Palestinians is official Israeli
      policy that's become even worse under current IPS director, Beni
      Kaniak. PCHR reports he instituted these punitive measures:

      -- reductions in food and cleaning materials rations;
      -- additional items prisoners forbidden to have;
      -- confiscated prisoners' money and prevented none sent from families
      to reach them;
      -- widespread use of solitary confinement;
      -- periodic movement of prisoners to new facilities to prevent any
      sense of stability;
      -- repeated unannounced harsh late night raids like the October 22 one
      at Ketziot.

      These tactics and Palestinian detainee torture and abuse are condoned
      "under the auspices of the Israeli law enforcement system." B'Tselem
      reported since 2001, Israel's State Attorney's Office got over 500
      complaints of these practices but investigated none of them. Overall,
      instances of detainee mistreatment are rarely looked into and even
      fewer ever result in indictments. Further, despite its 1999 ruling,
      Israel's High Court of Justice (HCJ) aids ISA interrogations by
      refusing to accept even one of hundreds of petitions brought before it
      for redress. HCJ also lets ISA conceal information from detainees that
      abusive orders were issued against them or that legal petitions were
      filed on their behalf. It further allows evidence obtained under
      torture to be used in criminal proceedings.

      B'Tselem and HaMoked are committed to ending Israel's use of torture
      against Palestinian detainees. They cite the example of the US Army's
      September, 2006 Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector
      Operations as a proper guide to conducting interrogations even though
      authorized physical and psychological brutality became official
      administration policy under George Bush post-9/11. Nonetheless, this
      manual covers 18 interrogation methods experience showed work under
      varying situations and conditions. They range from establishing trust
      between interrogator and detainee to the use of ruses and
      psychological manipulation. In all cases, they don't involve torture
      or other unlawful practices.

      It's one thing to have rules and laws and another to abide by them.
      The US under George Bush condones and practices "the harshest
      interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency"
      according to once secret Department of Justice (DOJ) legal opinions.
      It's no different in Israel where the ISA systematically and routinely
      uses banned interrogation measures with impunity. B'Tselem and HaMoked
      want these practices ended and urge the Israeli government to halt
      them by enacting enforceable laws "strictly prohibiting torture and
      cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" in accordance with
      international law.

      They further recommend every complaint of abuse and torture be
      investigated by an independent body, persons found to have broken the
      law to be prosecuted, and that "every detainee receives minimum humane
      conditions." Israel claims to be a civilized state. It's about time it
      acted like one.

      Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
      lendmanstephen @ sbcglobal.net.

      Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The
      Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMIcroEffect.com Mondays
      at noon US central time.



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