In recent months, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem have taken to the streets in protest over businesses operating on Saturday – the Jewish Sabbath when ritual law bans Jews from working. At times, the demonstrations have even turned violent, like a conflagration in July over a parking lot near the Old City. Most of the ultra-Orthodox ire has been directed at the Jerusalem municipality.Until now.Last week, the Shabbat Strife took a surprising turn with some ultra-Orthodox taking aim at the world’s biggest electronic chip maker for keeping their new Jerusalem plant open on the Jewish day of rest. Though the building is located in an industrial park on the outskirts of the city, it is nearby a religious neighborhood that strictly observes the Sabbath laws.Intel’s new electronic chip plant was inaugurated on Nov. 15, and the company said it would operate on Saturdays in accordance with its business needs and Israeli law. This announcement drew hundreds of angry ultra-Orthodox Jews who gathered outside the building. Some threw rocks at police trying to disperse the crowd.Since last week’s outburst, representatives of the ultra-Orthodox community, with mediation from religious parliament member Uri Maklev, have been trying to reach an agreement with Intel. An aide to Maklev said a likely solution to the quarrel would be to keep the plant open on Saturdays, but allow only non-Jews to work.Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, a leading Jewish sage, is expected to okay the deal. But Israeli radio is already reporting that not all of the ultra-Orthodox will be satisfied.The web portal run by the ultra-Orthodox reported (Hebrew) that Rabbi Elyashiv authorised sending a special envoy to the United States to meet with “the man in charge” – Craig Barrett, Intel’s chairman. An aide to Maklev said the legislator was unaware any envoys were being dispatched to negotiate with the company.The protests pit the ultra-Orthodox community against a multi-billion dollar manufacturer and Israel’s largest exporter. So far, it seems unlikely that Intel’s business in Israel will be affected. But if the disagreement escalates further, jeopardising Intel’s operations, there is a chance that the government, which has so far avoided getting involved such issues, may step in.Click below to watch footage of the protests in Har Hotzvim, Jerusalem on November 14, 2009:PHOTO: Ultra-Orthodox Jews take part in a protest against the operation of an Intel plant on the Jewish Sabbath in Jerusalem November 14, 2009. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
A group of Gazan women are beating high unemployment, achieving self-empowerment, and raising environmental awareness, all with a rather unconventional resource: garbage.
With funding from USAID, the Organisation for Supporters of Palestinian Environment launched a project that trains and assists 24 women in creating craft items for sale out of household garbage.
The Reuters news desk, along with many foreign journalists in Israel, received a peculiarly worded beeper message in English from the Israel Defence Forces Spokesman’s Office on Israel’s seizure of a ship carrying hundreds of tons of Iranian-supplied arms on Wednesday.It read as follows (the strangely worded part is in bold letters):IDF Spokesperson Update: ‘FRANCOP’, the weapons laden ship intercepted by the Israel navy, left the Ashdod naval port yesterday evening, after all of the arms and munitions had been unloaded. The ‘FRANCOP’ has continued on its way, sailing towards its original port of destination after the incidents of yesterday. Israel Navy personnel released the ship without complications and with best wishes for their continued safe journey. (This is a retarded sentence for foreign press, comes across as obsequious) the arms unloaded were transported overnight, under the supervision of sappers, to an IDF ammunition base in central Israel, where the weaponry will be properly and safely stored.The spokesman’s office issued an apology in a subsequent beeper message. An officer in the spokesman’s office told Reuters the unusual commentary in the original message was the result of a mistake committed by a low-ranking soldier.PHOTO: Israeli soldiers stand near munitions displayed at the port of Ashdod November 4, 2009, that according to the military was found on the Antigua-flagged Francop vessel, intercepted overnight in the Mediterranean Sea, 100 miles (160 km) from Israel. Israeli naval commandos have boarded the ship carrying Iranian-supplied rockets destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah group and taken the vessel to an Israeli port, the government said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
An Israeli coffee chain is boycotting ‘Turkish’ coffee in response to the current anti-Turkish sentiment in Israel following the screening in Turkey of a TV drama which portrays Israeli soldiers in a negative light.
Marketing manager of Ilan’s Coffee House Michal Steg said the chain decided to pull its “Istanbul coffee” off the shelves as a way to show support for Israel.”We sell more than 30 kinds of coffee and one of them is called Istanbul coffee, cafe Istanbul, and… we decided that we are going to take part of the feelings that we had in Israel and not to sell this coffee like for the next few weeks, days,” said Steg. “The idea is because we wanted to be part of what’s going on here and to feel more patriotic and so its a more kind of symbolic way to show it”.Coffee shop regulars had mixed opinions about the coffee shop’s reaction to the political dispute.”I know politically this is a bit of a tough time with Turkey but it’s still a friendly nation and I’m sure there are other forums to solve these problems but I wouldn’t go to the route of boycotting goods and products,” said Len, a Tel Aviv resident.Another Tel Aviv resident, Yehoshua David Merel, said the boycott is nonsensical because ‘Turkish coffee’ isn’t even really from Turkey. “The idea to stop selling Turkish coffee in Israeli coffee houses is ridiculous in my opinion because first off, Turkish coffee doesn’t actually come from Turkey, so you’re not in any way boycotting the country itself,” said Merel.Once-close ties between the Jewish state and Turkey, a secular state with a Muslim population, have deteriorated since Israel’s offensive earlier this year in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Turkey recently barred Israel from participating in a NATO war exercise in Turkish airspace and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the move was a result of public concern over the Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip. The drill was postponed indefinitely after other nations, including the United States and Italy, refused to take part without Israel’s air force. In January, Erdogan, who heads the Islamist-rooted AK Party, stormed out of a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in protest at the Israeli Gaza offensive.In recent weeks, Israelis have been protesting in front of the Turkish Embassy over what they see as Ankara’s anti-Israeli line.But Turkey still values its ties to Israel, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, the Turkish ambassador to Israel, said at a recent academic conference on Turkish-Israeli relations.”I understand today they are not going to discuss only bilateral relations but also Turkey’s roles in the world, Turkey’s role in the region. I believe of course, our relations are very important, but also it is very important to understand our roles in the world, and Turkey’s a positive impact on the region,” said Celikkol.Turkey has strengthened its relations with neighbouring Syria, viewed by Israel as an enemy state.”The ambassador actually pushed the government line that Turkey has a regional role, being a regional power. And it has certain ambitions, and he expects the Israelis to understand that. Of course this we can understand, but we cannot understand that the prime minister makes anti-Semitic statements,” said Professor Efraim Inbar of Israel’s Begin-Sadat Institute.Click below to see our October 27-29, 2009 coverage of the boycott, which include interviews with Steg, Celikkol and Inbar:PHOTO: An Israeli woman looks at a sign depicting a crossed out Turkish flag taped to the window of a coffee shop in Tel Aviv October 27, 2009. Picture taken October 27, 2009. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
It’s always a sunny day on Sesame Street in the West Bank, where the neighbors are friendly and the muppets never see an Israeli army checkpoint all day long.Shara’a Simsim, the Palestinian version of the popular television program Sesame Street, will air its fourth season on Palestine TV in January 2010. Funded through a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the new edition aims to teach Palestinian children that they can achieve their dream of an independent Palestinian state through tolerance, education and national pride, as opposed to anti-Israel violence.”Our problem is that for so long we’ve been focusing on resistance and we gave up on other things like culture, education and tolerance,” said executive producer Daoud Kuttab.The show will target mainly boys by teaching them non-violent ways of expression. Empowered characters such as six-year-old Basel, who in one episode is seen brushing his teeth, wearing his clothes and tying his shoelaces alone and then waving a Palestinian flag and declaring: “It’s Basel’s independence day!”, will serve as role models.The show’s Palestinian producers chose to make no reference to symbols of the Israeli occupation such as the West Bank barrier and the network of Israeli army checkpoints, which Palestinians say are sources of hardship.”This is a program for pre-schoolers and we don’t need to show them all the things they see too much of anyway, which are the tensions that exist in their daily lives,” said Gary Knell, president of Sesame Workshop, which produces Sesame Street.Although the program skirts issues related to Israel, it touches on the Gaza Strip and its 1.4 million residents who live under the rule of the Islamist group Hamas and are cut off from the West Bank, which is governed by the rival Fatah party.In one episode, a Shara’a Simsim character is upset after losing contact with his brother, who lives in Gaza. His friends send a paper plane to the enclave carrying a message asking the brother to get in touch. Contact between the two is restored.In the Gaza Strip, Hamas has its own children’s program which has been criticized for urging kids to fight Israel. Writer and actor of a children’s television program called “The Pioneers of Tomorrow” on Hamas-owned Al-Aqsa TV, Muhammad Ramadan, congratulated Shara’a Simsim on its success but said it also faces criticism.”I want to say that the successful work faces criticism. The program’s idea is to educate these children and teach them about the social concepts: prayers, charity, the morning prayers and other social issues,” said Ramadan on set in his bear costume. “We also focus on our lands that were stolen by the criminal zionists in 1948. These issues are normal for the Palestinian children. Our program does not argue about politics.”Knell told Reuters Sesame Workshop had asked international non-profit organizations, including the United Nations, to seal a deal with Hamas that would pave the way for Shara’a Simsim to be aired on a local television network in the Gaza Strip.”It is our goal to expose the children of Gaza to our programme. The children there have been in extraordinarily difficult circumstances not by their choice,” Knell said.In Israel, Rechov Sumsum promotes coexistence between the country’s Jewish and Arab citizens through Israeli-Arab muppets such as Mahboub (pictured left). The young blue muppet was dubbed and puppeteered by Israeli-Arab heartthrob Yousef ‘Joe’ Sweid who is fluent in Hebrew and Arabic. “It’s really funny, but the character I identified most with [of those I've played in my career] was ‘Mahboub’ because you return to something very basic — the child within you,” said Sweid of his experience on Rechov Sumsum in an interview with an Israeli website.An Israeli-Palestinian version of Sesame Street was made in 1996 but Kuttab insisted on having a purely Palestinian version, which translated into Shara’a Simsim.”This is 100 percent made in Palestine — from A to Z,” he said.Sesame Street celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. Its non-profit Sesame Workshop production firm takes pride in being the single largest informal educator of children in the world, with 30 active co-productions in 140 countries.Knell admits that fostering tolerance and peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a more grueling task: “When (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas and (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu wear Bert and Ernie watches, then our mission will be accomplished.”Click below to watch our October 20-22, 2009 coverage of Shara’a Simsim in the making and our interviews with Daoud Kuttab, Gary Knell, and Muhammad Ramadan:PHOTO: Palestinian actor Ezzat Natsheh speaks with puppet Kareem, operated by puppeteers Shaden Zamamiri and Raja’e Sandoqa, during the filming of a scene on the set of Shara’a Simsim in a studio in the West Bank city of Ramallah October 20, 2009. REUTERS/Fadi Arouri
Palestinian reconciliation efforts suffered another setback when President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree for presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 24, a move that was rejected by the Islamist group Hamas. Egypt has been mediating for over a year to heal the split between Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas but the two rivals have continuously failed to reach a unity agreement. (Read our Q&A to understand why the two Palestinian factions fail to reach an agreement on Cairo’s latest proposal.) Most Palestinians believe a unity deal is crucial to achieving Palestinian statehood but don’t think an agreement is likely. However, the rare case of successful Fatah-Hamas partnership in the West Bank village of Beita might convince them otherwise.
Elected leaders of this town come from different backgrounds and political affiliations but all serve on the same council, working in synergy to build a robust independently-funded infrastructure – a rarity in the Palestinian territories.
Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy for the “Quartet” of powers – the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations, was assailed by a Palestinian man during a visit to a mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday.”You are terrorism,” the man shouted as guards tried to cover his mouth. “He is not welcome in the land of Palestine.”Blair did not appear to be shaken. He told reporters most Palestinians and Israelis want a peaceful resolution to the conflict. “Frankly it’s not protests that will do that. It’s patient negotiation,” he added.Read more about the incident and why many Arabs don’t like the former British prime minister here.Click below to watch the incident, filmed live at the ancient mosque of Hebron on October 20, 2009:PHOTO: Middle East envoy Tony Blair passes through an Israeli checkpoint during his visit to the West Bank city of Hebron October 20, 2009. REUTERS/Nayef Hashlamoun
A new primetime drama series called “Ayrılık” (meaning ‘separation’ or ‘farewell’ in Turkish) recently made its début in Turkey on the state-run TRT 1 television channel. Israel’s Channel Two aired a scene from the fictional show, showing a Palestinian father holding a baby above his head and an Israeli soldier in full combat gear taking aim and shooting the infant. Since the broadcast, Israel-Turkey relations have been put under more strain. The heated debate about the show has further influenced previously close ties between the Jewish state and Muslim Turkey that have deteriorated somewhat since Israel’s December-January Gaza offensive. At the same time, Turkey has strengthened its relations with neighbouring Syria. (Read more here.)Leading Israeli daily newspapers Yedioth Ahronoth, Maariv and Haaretz have reported extensively on the show, wondering whether it pointed to growing anti-Semitism in Turkey. Tourism agencies said Israeli vacation bookings in Turkey have fallen steeply since the show was aired. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his disappointment in “the incitement on Turkish TV”. Netanyahu aides said Turkey, which has mediated indirect Israeli-Syrian talks, could not be an honest broker in any future peace negotiations. Commenters on Israeli web portal sites have called on Turkey to look in the mirror and take responsibility for what they termed its genocide against the Armenians.Professor Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, believes Turkey is “not clean of anti-Semitism”.”Anti-Semitism is not only in Arab countries, we can see now growing anti-Semitism even in Europe and unfortunately Turkey is not clean of anti-Semitism,” he told Reuters. “Basically we see a long term development in Turkish foreign policy, which is distancing itself from the West. We’ve seen the Turks deviate from European behaviour, for example accepting (Iranian) President Ahmadinejad in Istanbul, even inviting President Bashir of Sudan, who was indicted for war crimes. Just recently, the Turks announced they would not join sanctions against Iran as their American allies desire. So we see basically Turkey giving in to the Islamic impulses of the AKP Party (Turkish Prime Minister’s Tayyip Erdogan Justice and Development Party).”Click below to watch a selection from “Ayrılık”:Click below to watch our interview with the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman and Professor Efraim Inbar on October 15, 2009:PHOTO: Turkish protesters shout slogans against Israel to show solidarity with defenders of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque in central Istanbul October 5, 2009. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
Living conditions seem to be improving in the West Bank. Thanks to a recently gained sense of security and availability of funding, Palestinian farmers are diversifying their crop portfolio away from staples like tomatoes, for a competitive edge. Palestinians have announced the launch of one of their most ambitious real estate projects to date in the central West Bank. Nablus, long the industrial hub of the West Bank, the city’s once ubiquitous soapmakers who have survived a sharp decline in sales are eyeing new markets abroad for their all-natural product. A recent International Monetary Fund report projects real GDP in the West Bank to rise by about 7 percent this year, provided that remaining Israeli military restrictions are lifted. This growth will mark “the first substantial increase in living standards since 2005″, the IMF says. Cafes in Ramallah are bustling with business, and unemployment is down.Five years ago, such positive economic climate could not have been imagined. The West Bank’s economy had been weak and dwindling under checkpoints and roadblocks imposed by Israel following the Palestinian uprising of 2000. Things started changing this summer, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easing travel within the West Bank as part of an “economic peace” that he described as a prelude to a fuller accord with the Palestinians. Consolidating that vision despite his own reservations about Israel’s long-term intentions, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad unveiled a 65-page plan for building the institutions and infrastructure of the future state of Palestine.Many Palestinians, like Nimmer Nazal, acknowledge the economic improvements but are still wary of how long this trend might last. Israel has ultimate control of roads, energy, water, telecommunications and air space, and “there were checkpoints on the roads everywhere,” he said.”They stopped us going to market. We could take all day just getting into Jenin, which is only a few minutes away now,” Nazal told Reuters. “But everything still depends on the security situation. If the atmosphere goes sour, everything will collapse overnight.”There has been no major violence and Palestinians are enjoying an economic recovery, but some Israeli pundits say this is too reminiscent of the fleeting stability enjoyed just before past outbreaks of violence. A columnist for the leading Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth wrote: ”The statistics are clear and frightening: Every time the standard of living in the Palestinian parts of the West Bank reaches a new zenith, an Intifada (revolt) breaks out and turns back the wheel. This was the case in 1987, this is what happened in 2000, and this may be happen now.”
“Again, just like 22 years ago and nine years ago, the Palestinian economy is completing a period of impressive growth… What else can the Palestinians aspire for when they have advanced autonomy and when their standard of living skyrockets?”The economic normalization threatens the revolutionary and radical elements within Palestinian society, and they swore not to allow this normalization to take root. It’s perceived by them as indirect reconciliation with the occupation… The reinforcement of a Palestinian middle class, which may fall in love with a routine life, reject the ongoing struggle, and enjoy its proximity to the large Israeli market is anathema in the view of the militant leadership, and not only there…”The next Intifada, should it break out, may focus on Temple Mount, yet its logic will not really be related to religious feelings. Just like in previous times, its origin will be the volatile cocktail of a diplomatic dead-end coupled with an economic tie. As it turns out, the two don’t go well together.”
A commentary in the Israeli daily Haaretz analyzing the turnout at recent Palestinian protests in Jerusalem argued against the likelihood of another full-scale uprising erupting. (Read more about the recent clashes here.)Noting the improving living conditions of West Bank residents, Avi Issacharoff wrote: “Desperation has been made more comfortable.” Coupled with the lack of a strong leadership to rally the masses and organize effective demonstrations at more than one place at the same time, and the suppression of political Islamists in the West Bank, there is not a strong chance for a third uprising breaking out soon, concluded Issacharoff his commentary titled “An intifada of the wealthy”.Click below to watch Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad celebrating the National Olive Day on October 11th, by helping farmers pick olives:PHOTO: A Palestinian soapmaker counts the stock in a workshop in the West Bank city of Nablus September 28, 2009. Picture taken September 28, 2009. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis (WEST BANK)
U.S. President Barack Obama’s surprise Nobel Peace Prize win last Friday has generated mixed and wary reactions from the Israeli and Arab public.(Read our FACTBOX on reactions from the Arab Streets in Iraq, Iran, and Gaza.)A Twitter search for ‘Obama’, and ‘Nobel’ in Hebrew returned thousands of Hebrew-speaking users sarcastically tweeting their shock and doubt at the news. @shaiinbal tweeted, “Another proof that the Nobel Peace Prize has been used as a political tool. Obama has yet to help resolve the Middle East Conflict. But he might!”. (Read our Q&A on whether the Nobel is a “Peace” or “Political” prize.)Another tweeter @CandyFlossGirl wrote, “Hope the peace for which Obama received the Nobel Prize will be a bit more successful than the peace for which Rabin and Arafat received the prize.”Tariq Alhomayed, editor-in-chief of the Arabic daily newspaper Asharq al-Awsat called Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize a “down payment” for future action:
“When I was at primary school, my maternal grandfather would give us a small amount of money as a gift on the first day of our exams. My grandfather, may God rest his soul, used to say to us, “Whoever fails must give me back the money… it is apparent that Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize came as a “down payment” and as a way of [expressing] encouragement and goodwill, especially as Obama himself said that he considered the prize a “call to action.” If Obama achieves [something] then he will have deserved the prize, no doubt, but if he doesn’t, then who knows whether he should return it just as we had to return our grandfather’s money if we failed [our exams] when we were young!”
Using puns against Obama’s election campaign slogans “Change we can believe in” and “Yes, we can,” an Israeli pundit, Gideon Levy, wrote in a scathing editorial for the left-leaning daily Haaretz that Obama did not deserve the prize at all, only at most “a conditional award, an IOU”. In a more tame editorial, the Haaretz staff called Obama’s win “more an award for the hope of peace than a sign of recognition for making peace”.Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York, agreed that Obama was awarded for effort rather than action or tangible results. But he concluded on a somewhat positive note, noting that Obama is “a president whom we, the world, wish to succeed” and that the prize is an encouragement for America’s first black president to achieve his policy initiatives.Newsweek’s Ben Adler and Daniel Stone saw the Nobel Peace Prize committee’s decision as possibly less than praise for the freshmen president and more as “an extension of Europe’s middle finger to his predecessor”. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recommended that Obama receive the prize “on behalf of the most important peacekeepers in the world for the last century — the men and women of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps”.Click below to see Obama delivering a statement at the White House Rose Garden, on his winning the Nobel Peace Prize on October 9, 2009:Click below to see praise and criticism from around the world of U.S. President Barack Obama for winning the Nobel Peace Prize:Read our analysis on what honor and burden Obama faces by winning the Nobel award.PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama comments on winning the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize while delivering a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington October 9, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed