Jordan halts film that refers to historical Jewish presence

The movie follows the story of a young boy who finds a stone in Petra with Hebrew inscriptions. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 August 2019

Jordan halts film that refers to historical Jewish presence

  • The movie is based on a book by the same name
  • Critics say discussing a historical Jewish presence in Jordan could open doors for Israel to start claiming territories

RAMALLAH, West Bank: A fictional caper about an antiquities heist set in an ancient Jordanian city has stirred widespread outrage over the film’s portrayal of historical Jewish ties to Jordan, shining a light on the tenuous peace with neighboring Israel and prompting the government to suspend the movie’s production.
Based on a book of the same name, the movie, “Jaber,” follows a Jordanian boy who uncovers a stone in the rose-colored, rock-hewn city of Petra with a Hebrew inscription on it. He sets off to sell it to the highest bidder, but interested parties in Israel catch wind of the find, dispatching a Russian organized crime group to pursue the boy and retrieve the stone at any cost.
Opponents of the film say merely discussing a historical Jewish presence in Jordan could open the door to Israeli territorial claims to the Hashemite Kingdom. They point to Israel’s claims over the West Bank and east Jerusalem — war-won territories sought by the Palestinians — which Israel says are rooted in millennia-old Jewish ties, backed up by archaeological finds.
While such a scenario is unlikely in Jordan, the concerns reflect the hostility Jordanians feel toward Israel despite the two countries’ 1994 peace agreement.
“Any talk about Jewish history in Jordan could lead to political claims,” said Ali Elayan, who was slated to play a Jordanian police officer in the movie but withdrew over his opposition to the plot. “That is what happened in Palestine.”
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem, then under Jordanian control, in the 1967 Mideast war. Spurred on by religious Jews hoping to restore a Jewish presence in the biblical land of Israel, repeated Israeli governments have erected settlements in the territories that are widely seen as obstacles to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. The Palestinians seek the West Bank for their future state, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Since signing the landmark peace accord, Israel and Jordan have developed low-key yet strategic ties on energy, water and security. But the relationship has been tested in recent years. Last year, Jordan’s King Abdullah II decided not to renew parts of the peace deal regarding access to farming land. And two years ago, a diplomatic crisis was sparked when a guard at the Israeli Embassy in Amman opened fire after he said he was attacked with a screw driver, killing two Jordanians. Israel swapped out its ambassador to the kingdom and expressed “deep regret” over the incident. The guard, who claimed self-defense, received a hero’s welcome in Israel, infuriating the Jordanians.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the controversy surrounding the film.
While there is ample archaeological evidence of a Jewish presence in Jordan, only an extreme-right fringe of Israeli society seeks both banks of the Jordan River as part of Israel. An overwhelming majority of Israelis make no claim to Jordanian land and place high value on the peace accord.
Ordinary Jordanians — many of whom are Palestinian refugees or have ties to Palestinians — view Israel with animosity.
The movie was set to begin filming this month when actors began dropping out over the script and taking to social media to air their criticisms, sparking a public outcry. Seizing on the wave of public opinion against the movie, the government demanded that the director, Muhyiedeen Qandour, halt filming until an official commission studies the script and delivers recommendations on it. It is unclear how long that may take.
Qandour told The Associated Press that the film bears no political undertones. He rejected criticism that it invites Israeli territorial claims.
“Many civilizations passed through historical Jordan. You don’t see them now returning to claim parts of the country because they were here once in the past,” he said. “The argument made by some about the movie is simply naive and even childish.”
But opponents are still skeptical.
“We are not against Jews as Jews but we are against Israel as an occupying power which uses religion to take others’ land,” said Sari Al-Asaad, the former head of the Jordanian Actors Association, who opposed the movie and lobbied to derail it.
Israeli nationalists have pointed to biblical history and archaeological discoveries to back up their claim to the West Bank, a territory Israel views as “disputed” and whose fate should be determined in peace talks. The Palestinians have accused Israel of exploiting the Bible and ignoring other religions’ ties to the region to grab land. Israel in turn accuses the Palestinians of denying a Jewish connection to the region to strengthen its own claim.
Fears sparked by the film were stoked earlier this month when video emerged of Jewish visitors praying in a shrine said to be the burial place of Moses’ brother Aaron, located near Petra. Jordan shuttered the site upon discovery of the videos and ordered an investigation into the incident, according to the official Jordanian news agency Petra.
Clashes between Muslim worshippers and Israeli police at a key Jerusalem shrine holy to Muslims and Jews over the weekend have only bolstered critics of the film. The east Jerusalem holy site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is administered by an Islamic trust under Jordanian stewardship.
“The government and the people in Jordan are unhappy with the relationship with Israel on a number of levels,” said Daoud Kuttab, an Amman-based analyst. “Usually Jordanian officials try to defuse the tension, but this time they didn’t.”


Two engineers help fight Lebanese farming foe

Updated 19 August 2019

Two engineers help fight Lebanese farming foe

  • Early-warning system lets farmers know when to protect their crops from fruit flies
  • Mobile app tells them the best time to spray pesticides to halt their advance

DUBAI: An award-winning startup led by two female Lebanese engineers has created an automated early-warning system that allows Middle East farmers to protect their crops against the Mediterranean fruit fly, one of the world’s most destructive pests.

Fruit flies can devastate entire harvests and have infested over 300 types of vegetables, fruits and nuts globally, causing financial ruin to countless farmers in the Arab world.

However, an ingenious system designed by Nisrine El Turky, a computer engineer and university professor, and Christina Chaccour, an electrical engineer, will tell farmers via text messages and mobile app of the best time to spray pesticides to halt the pests’ advance.

“Many Lebanese farmers weren’t able to export apples because the quality of their produce wasn’t good enough,” said El Turky, co-founder of IO Tree.

“So many I met were desperate to sell a crate of apples for $2 (SR7.50), which is nothing. I wanted to help the sector by better integrating technology.”

Farmers were found spraying too much pesticide to try to kill fruit flies. (Shutterstock)

She began by investigating the difficulties that farmers faced, attending workshops and seminars, and visiting farms. She found the main problem was that farmers were spraying too much pesticide to try to kill fruit flies.

“I found a way that could reduce the use of pesticides and increase production.”

El Turky began working on the IO Tree concept in February 2018 and swiftly built a working prototype, which she showed to Chaccour, who promptly joined the company as a co-founder.

IO Tree’s technology is being tested on farms in Lebanon and the Netherlands. There are two prototype machines — one for indoor use and another for outdoor. The machines can be placed in an orchard, field or greenhouse.

“We need to ensure that the prototype functions in all conditions. Outdoors, there is sun, dust, rain and other weather factors that could disrupt its operation,” said El Turky, who still works up to 10 hours a week as a lecturer at Lebanon’s Notre Dame University.

Using machine learning and artificial intelligence, the machine’s sensors monitor indicators such as temperature and moisture, as well as studying plant stress.

The system can detect and identify pests, providing data on the likely scale of an imminent pest invasion and the best action the farmer should take to combat it. Information is conveyed to the farmer via IO Tree’s app.

“If you’re using pesticides, our app will tell you the best pesticide to use to tackle that problem, the quantity you need and when to spray.”

IO Tree’s sensors use machine learning to measure plant stress. (Supplied photo)

EL Turky said her technology had shown over 90 percent accuracy in identifying medflies.

“Machine learning means that every day the system becomes more accurate,” she said.

“We’re also working on identifying other pests, but medfly is our main target. Once medflies arrive at a farm, they will eat everything.”

IO Tree will enable farmers to use fewer pesticides, reducing environmental damage, while produce will be in better condition and can command a higher sales price.

“By using fewer pesticides, farmers will be better able to preserve biodiversity: Spraying kills a lot more insects than just pests,” she said. IO Tree has initially targeted all types of fruit trees, plus tomatoes and cucumbers, and the product will be launched commercially in September.

“We’re aiming at farmers directly,” said El Turky.

IO Tree’s services will be sold via subscription. After a farmer signs up for one year initially, the company will install its machines at the farm. The number of machines required per acre depends on crop type, crop yield, land topography and other factors.

The company’s initial target market is the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, though it also plans to expand to Europe and eventually worldwide.

The product’s potential has helped IO Tree win a string of startup competitions. It was selected to represent Lebanon GSVC 2019 (Global Social Venture Competition) at the University of California, Berkeley.

IO Tree also joined Lebanon’s Agrytech accelerator, which provided $44,000 in funding, and schooled the fledgling entrepreneurs in how to create and manage a startup.

 

• The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.