Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
Saying he was answering a request from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to help out with Israel’s “PR”, or public relations, during its current Gaza offensive against Hamas, right-wing Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu gave a series of interviews to foreign media on Tuesday, including Reuters in
It’s not every day that a leader of a country’s main opposition party serves as what journalists call a “flak”, or PR spokesman, in support of political rivals.
With Israeli military forces in action against Hamas, it’s a time for unity, Netanyahu explained, six weeks before Israel’s national election.
Since Israeli air strikes began in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, Bibi, as Netanyahu is popular known, has been taking a back seat to Defence Minister Ehud Barak of Labour and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of the ruling Kadima Party.
In the big battle scene in the movie Braveheart, terrified whispers ran up and down the ragged ranks of sword-waving Scots that the English were ranged before them with “500 heavy horse” – armoured cavalry of devastating power in those days.
But the wild-haired hero-general William Wallace (actor-director Mel Gibson) rode his pony up and down the front ranks shouting: “We don’t have to beat them. We just have to fight them!”
Saturday is my day off from being Reuters correspondent in Gaza and I usually sleep until noon. This Saturday things didn’t go to plan.
My 7-year-old son Abdel-Rahman and his sister Dalia, who is 12, came home early from school, as they have been doing their mid-term exams, to wake me up and ask me to take them for breakfast at a seafront restaurant not far from Gaza’s port.
Two Algerians were detained by Egyptian authorities recently while trying to obtain a work visa from the Israeli embassy in Cairo, a local newspaper has reported, despite the fact that Algeria and Israel are still officially at war.
A survey, published by an Algerian newspaper, showed that up to half of Algeria’s young men are tempted by the idea of fleeing to Europe as illegal migrants to escape misery at home.
Why do so many people from a country – renowned by many in the Arab world for sacrificing up to one million people in a war to end 130 years of French rule – want to escape to Europe?
Algeria is a rich nation but its people are poor. It is the world’s fourth largest gas exporter and the tenth of oil. Foreign currency reserves have soared to $138 billion at the end of Nov. 2008 from $41 billion at the end of 2004.
Yet, the UNDP’s human development index, which measures quality of life, puts Algeria in 104th place, behind countries such as Cape Verde and Belize.
High unemployment, estimated at 70 percent among people under 30 – though official statistics give far lower figures – is driving many Algerians to desperate measures.
Earlier this year, police in the town of Chlef fought angry youths who had burned shops and buildings in the latest in a series of protests against lack of housing and jobs and what critics call an unresponsive political elite.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has led his North African Arab country out of a brutal civil war by combining military force with an amnesty for militants, but getting Algerians out of poverty appears to be proving more difficult.
He looks well placed to stay in office after his allies pushed through a law that allows him to seek a third term in office when his second term ends next year.
High oil prices over the past few years have helped the country of 33 million launch a $140 billion five-year national economic development plan and repay a large part of its foreign debt.
The Algerian government has promised a $100-150 billion national development drive from next year. But many Algerians ponder how to cope until such a plan takes off.
“We are desperate,” said Mohamed Tegar, a 32-year-old resident of Chelf. “We are six men living in a very small flat and all of us are unemployed. We don’t understand the local authorities’ reaction.”
Once again access to the Gaza Strip is in the news. This time, perhaps a little self-servingly, because foreign journalists are being denied access to Gaza by Israeli authorities.
The Foreign Press Association, which represents the collective interests of the international media covering the news in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, has filed a law suit with the Supreme Court demanding Israel lifts its ban on journalists entering Gaza. It has been in force for nearly three weeks, since violence flared with Israeli army raids and air strikes and Palestinian “Kassam” rocket fire from the coastal enclave.
When I began my assignment to Israel & the Palestinian Territories two months ago, I was determined to get out and about and see as much as possible for myself. I wanted to find out up close what life was like for the people who live here -- from the Palestinians lining up obediently to get through intimidating Israeli checkpoints, to the nightlife crowd a world away in chic Tel Aviv, to the Orthodox Jews in 16th century attire in their Jerusalem districts where you dare not drive on the Sabbath, to the Palestinian olive groves and to the settlers on the occupied land of the West Bank.
A beeper buzzed on the newsdesk of the Jerusalem bureau with a stark message in Hebrew: “Preliminary report – blast on bus on Namir Road in Tel Aviv”.
The information came from the Zaka emergency services, whose ultra-Orthodox Jewish volunteers were usually the first on the scene of suicide bombings on Israeli commuter buses during a Palestinian uprising that began in 2000. Their job: to collect body parts for burial.
The price of oil may have dropped by more than half in recent weeks but the Saudi petrodollar appears to have lost none of its allure, judging by the procession of very important visitors to the New York Palace Hotel this week and to the U.N. General Assembly. With President George W. Bush in the lead, they have all come to present their compliments to King Abdullah, the Saudi ruler, who has turned the Manhattan hotel and the world body into an extension of his court, complete, it would seem, with a Majlis to receive petitioners.
Naturally, all the VIPs visiting him are eager to congratulate his majesty on his interfaith initiative, a gathering of religious and political leaders which took place this week under the auspices of the United Nations. The meeting has attracted extravagant praise from, among others, Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, and Shimon Peres, the veteran Israeli president.
This is a common phrase used by both Israelis and Palestinians when asked about the negotiations process that was launched by U.S. President George W. Bush at Annapolis last year and which, according to Bush’s timeline, should have produced a Palestinian state by the end of his presidency in January.
Since the signing of the Oslo provisional peace deal 15 years ago, Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals, professionals, and politicians have held hundreds of meetings in Israel and in most European cities to promote dialogue and coexistence, in the hope that eventually Palestinians will have the state the accords outlined for them, living in peace alongside Israel.
Sometimes we journalists speak of stories that are so compelling, so important to tell that they “hit you in the face”. In the West Bank these days, we’ve begun to take that literally. In the past couple of weeks, Palestinian journalists working for international media, including Reuters, have become the targets of Jewish settlers in a way that has highlighted what many see as a violent trend among that community which has caused alarm not only among ordinary Palestinians but among Israeli leaders and their international allies, most recently the European Union . The EU noted an upsurge in violence during the annual harvest of olives, a key crop in the hills of the West Bank. The statement came out just hours after settlers had again attacked journalists, as well as Israeli police.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my colleagues, photographer Nayef Hashlamoun, was among journalists hurt when young Jewish religious settlers set about them in Hebron as they tried to cover efforts by local Palestinians and Israeli and foreign activists to pick olives. Israeli troops stepped in disperse the attackers and to offer medical aid to the journalists. But the soldiers’ actions were not enough to spare them criticism from fellow Israelis in the media. The incident led major television news bulletins in Israel that evening, with the channels questioning why the soldiers, part of the conscript army Israel deploys across the West Bank to protect some 300,000 settlers, had not arrested the assailants.