Israel official doubted Palestinian protest icon, her family

Ahed Tamimi was charged on Jan. 1 with slapping Israeli soldiers near her home in the occupied West Bank. (Reuters)
Updated 25 January 2018

Israel official doubted Palestinian protest icon, her family

JERUSALEM: A senior Israeli official on Wednesday said he led a secret investigation into 16-year-old Palestinian protest icon Ahed Tamimi and her family, in part because their appearance — including “blond-haired, freckled” children in “Western clothes” — made them seem less like “real” Palestinians.
The stunning comments by Michael Oren, a deputy minister and former ambassador to the US, promptly drew accusations of racism from the family — the latest twist in a case that has turned into a public relations headache for Israel.
The case revolves around Israel’s handling of Ahed Tamimi, who was arrested on Dec. 19 for slapping two Israeli soldiers outside her West Bank home four days earlier.
Video of the scuffle quickly spread, giving Ahed worldwide attention. The girl, noticeable for her long blond curls, and her mother are now being held in jail. Ahed faces charges that carry up to 14 years in prison.
Oren told The Associated Press that he had led a classified parliamentary investigation into the Tamimis two years ago in which Israeli security agencies and diplomats participated.
The family has a long history of leading protests against Israeli policies in the West Bank that often turn into clashes with soldiers in their village of Nabi Saleh and Ahed has been involved in highly publicized scuffles with soldiers in the past.
Oren said his investigation looked into whether the protests were genuine or whether the family members were provocateurs, paid to send children to clash with soldiers.
Derisively calling the skirmishes caught on tape “Pallywood,” Oren claimed that “someone” was funding the unrest to harm Israel’s image, without providing evidence.
“The Tamimi family and those claiming to be part of the Tamimi family have been provoking Israeli soldiers for many, many years now,” he said. “The children were chosen on the basis of their external look, to look Western, freckled, and blond-haired.”
“They were dressed as Westerners,” he added. “They don’t dress the way children dress in the West Bank, for a very specific purpose: To get soldiers to react violently to them, to take pictures of this violence and to spread it around the world in order to delegitimize, discredit the state of Israel.”
He called it a “very sophisticated operation” that has succeeded in manipulating the Western press.
In an interview with Israeli Channel 10 TV, Oren claimed one boy appeared in different videos with a cast on one arm at one protest, and on his other arm at another protest, before disappearing from demonstrations altogether.
In a statement from his office, Oren said: “In discussions held in the committee, the issue of the family’s credibility was raised and if it really is a real family.”
Ahed’s father, Bassem Tamimi, called Oren’s investigation “silly and stupid” and said the investigation was racist.
“We, the Tamimi family, were here in Palestine before the creation of Israel, and we will stay,” he said. “Denying that Palestinians could be blond reflects racism in the Israeli society.”
Ahed has been celebrated by Palestinians as a national hero, and Israel’s treatment of her has drawn the attention of international activists, human rights groups and UN officials.
In the Dec. 15 video, she is seen approaching two soldiers standing outside her home. She yells at them, tells them to leave, then kicks and slaps them as they stand silently.
The family says the girl was upset because a young cousin had been shot in the head and seriously wounded with a rubber bullet fired by Israeli troops. But the altercation drew outrage in Israel over what some had seen as a humiliation of the military.
In a reflection of the tensions, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered the popular Army Radio station to ban any songs composed by Yehonatan Geffen, a leading journalist and songwriter, because of a poem he published that praised Ahed. Israel’s attorney general ruled that Lieberman has no authority over the station’s programming.
Opposition lawmaker Nachman Shai, a former chief military spokesman who is often critical of the government, acknowledged that the incident has become part of the war for the “hearts and minds” of people around the world.
But he said Israel had no choice in how to handle the case.
“She does not deserve to return home as if nothing happened,” he said. “You cannot ignore it, because that will cause other Palestinians to follow her.”
Tamimi was arrested in an overnight raid on Dec. 19, and her mother was arrested when she visited her daughter at a police station.
An Israeli military court has ordered they both be held for the duration of their trial — a process that is expected to take months. Ahed has been charged with 12 counts of attacking soldiers in five incidents going back to April 2016, while her mother has been charged with incitement. A cousin arrested with Ahed has been released on bail.
The family lawyer, Gaby Lasky, said the trial is scheduled to begin on Jan. 31, Ahed’s 17th birthday. She said she was hopeful the prosecutors would not seek the maximum 14-year sentence for the girl and would agree to a reduced sentence of several months.
Ahed is currently being held in a special prison wing for minors, where her conditions have improved, Lasky said. For the first week while she was interrogated, she said Ahed was not provided with a change of clothes or a coat, and threatened with the arrests of other family members if she did not talk.
Asked about Oren’s investigation, she said she was “ashamed” to hear a parliamentary committee was dealing with “wild conspiracy theories.”


Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”