Will truth become a casualty of the Israel Gaza war?

Will truth become a casualty of the Israel Gaza war?
The tower was home to the offices of Associated Press, the American news agency, the Qatar-funded Al-Jazeera media network and local news outlets. (AFP)
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Updated 18 May 2021

Will truth become a casualty of the Israel Gaza war?

Will truth become a casualty of the Israel Gaza war?
  • Israeli government under fire over destruction of building that housed offices of AP and other media outlets
  • Attack in Gaza City is the latest in a long line of events when the media has found itself in the line of fire

DUBAI: Amid the scenes of horror and human suffering unfolding in the Gaza Strip in recent days, one series of images stands out.

Shortly after 3 p.m. local time on Saturday, a salvo of rockets fired by Israeli drones struck a high-rise in central Gaza City. Five minutes after that first strike, heavier missiles fired by Israeli fighter-bombers slammed into the 12-story building, witnesses said, causing the structure to collapse in a cloud of dust and debris.

Israel has flattened other buildings in Gaza over the past week — just as it did during its 2014 ground incursion — and destroyed tunnels and houses said to be used by leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the territory. But this attack was different.

The tower was home to the offices of Associated Press, the American news agency, the Qatar-funded Al-Jazeera media network and local news outlets.

In a tweet, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said it was “striking Hamas weapons hidden inside civilian buildings in Gaza,” but the claim has yet to be proven. The AP said it had “no indication” Hamas was in the building, something which would have been “actively checked” so as not to put journalists at risk.




Last week’s events in Gaza are hardly the first time that the media has found itself in the line of fire during a Middle East conflict. (AFP)

The AP also said a dozen of its staff members and freelancers were in the building at the time of the IDF warning. All seem to have escaped unhurt. Al-Jazeera has also reported no casualties although it says valuable equipment and footage have been lost.

Information warfare has long been at the heart of the Israel-Hamas conflict. Both sides understand that powerful and simple imagery and story-telling can sway international opinion in a way that months of formal diplomacy or conventional military action cannot. Often outcomes are contested, while underlying events and motivations are hard to discern, emerging only after months and years of inquiry.

That said, last week’s events in Gaza are hardly the first time that the media has found itself in the line of fire during a Middle East conflict. In 2019 a US court found Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government liable for the death of American war correspondent Marie Colvin, 56, in February 2012 in the besieged city of Homs. She and French photographer Remi Ochlik, 28, died when the building they were in was shelled.

In 2003, a shell fired by an American tank at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad killed two journalists, a Reuters cameraman and a Spanish television anchor. The hotel had been a favorite of journalists and media personnel covering the US-led invasion.

Then there was the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla incident, when six boats manned by mainly Turkish pro-Palestinian supporters tried to sail to the Gaza Strip, only to be stopped at sea by abseiling Israeli commandos.

The activists were trying to illustrate that Gaza was (and is) closed to the outside world, that Israel controls access and that Palestinians living in the territory are under siege with few, if any, economic opportunities. The activists claimed to be simple humanitarians, albeit ones supported by professionally equipped TV crews and other media.

Israel said that hard-liners intent on confrontation had joined the more peaceful protesters. These agitators massed on one of the six boats and sparked the ensuing violence by trying to seize soldiers’ weapons. At least nine people died in the incident.
To Israel’s supporters, the actions of the commandos showed military skill and bravery.

To detractors they came across as trigger-happy troops intent on defending an illegal blockade.

On this latest occasion, Israel said that along with the journalists and residents who lived there, the high-rise in Gaza City also housed a Hamas intelligence unit. Israel often accuses Palestinian militants of using civilians and civilian buildings as shields for their activities.

“It is a perfectly legitimate target,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday in the wake of the tower’s destruction. Defenders of his stand quickly pointed to an article by Matti Friedman, a former AP journalist, published in The Atlantic magazine in 2014 after Israel’s bloody incursion into the Gaza Strip. Friedman wrote that he had seen that the building was also being used by Hamas.

“Hamas understood that reporters could be intimidated when necessary and that they would not report the intimidation. The AP staff in Gaza City would witness a rocket launch right beside their office, endangering reporters and other civilians nearby — and the AP wouldn’t report it, not even in AP articles about Israeli claims that Hamas was launching rockets from residential areas,” Friedman wrote.


That interpretation is contested — strongly. AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement on Sunday that his agency had operated in the Al-Jalaa Tower for 15 years. “We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building,” he said, adding: “We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.”

The building’s other tenant, Al-Jazeera, has long been the Israeli government’s bete noire. In 2017, Israel said it was banning the news organization on the grounds that it was too close to Hamas.

At the time, Avigdor Lieberman, then Israeli defense minister (and a political hard-liner), described some of the outlet’s coverage as “Nazi Germany-style” propaganda. Other Arab states have often accused the TV station of propagating the views of Qatar as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, which is close to Hamas.

Al-Jazeera’s defenders say that the channel tells the story from both sides of any conflict and takes care to obtain comments from spokespeople in Israel. It has also pioneered coverage in previously obscure and dangerous locations, such as Gaza and Afghanistan, and provides a voice for those previously neglected.

The truth, according to Al-Jazeera’s supporters, is that the nationalist Israeli government, led by Netanyahu, is trying to suppress inconvenient truths and deflect attention from its own activities such as settlement building, which almost all of the international community views as illegal.




What the world does know is that journalists have often been caught in the crossfire, both literal and metaphoric, of these divergent views. (AFP)

However, speaking to Arab News on the condition of anonymity, a former Al-Jazeera journalist said: “If anyone has followed Al-Jazeera’s coverage of Middle East upheavals through the decades, be it the Iraq invasion and insurgency, the overthrow of Egypt’s Islamist government or Israel’s wars with Hamas and Hezbollah, they will be in no doubt about the network’s editorial agenda.

“During the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, this overtly hostile approach of a TV network financed by a strategic ally left US administration officials so frustrated, angry and powerless that President George Bush reportedly considered bombing Al-Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha in 2004.

“Israeli officials probably experience the same disappointed rage at the network’s aggressive coverage every time conflict erupts in Gaza, which could well be the reason behind incidents like the attack on the high-rise — unless, in each case, the Israeli government knows something that the rest of the world doesn’t know.”

What the world does know is that journalists have often been caught in the crossfire, both literal and metaphoric, of these divergent views.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom, a think tank, claims that between 2000 and September 2018, Israel killed 43 journalists in the West Bank and Gaza. And on Monday, Ignacio Miguel Delgado Culebras, the Middle East and North Africa representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said that over the past week the CPJ has documented the bombing of three buildings housing 15 media outlets.

“Local journalists have also been injured covering the airstrikes and many lost their equipment in the bombed outlets. Journalists are also being hurt and arrested while covering protests in the West Bank. There is no indication that these violations of press freedom will subside any time soon,” Culebras said in a statement to Arab News.

“The IDF had known the locations of the buildings and warned residents to evacuate shortly before the airstrikes. They also claim that those buildings housed Hamas intelligence and military offices or some sort of Hamas’ presence, even though AP has said that they had no indication of such presence.

“These bombings and the fact that no foreign journalists are being allowed in Gaza raise the suspicion that Israel is trying to prevent coverage of the airstrikes and military operations in the Gaza Strip.”

Finally, some experts say, events in Gaza and elsewhere in the West Bank and Israel illustrate the growing dangers to journalists operating in conflict zones where front lines are often difficult to discern.

According to Aidan White, founder of the Ethical Journalism Network, the destruction of media assets in Gaza City is serious but by no means unusual. “If one looks back over the past 25 years, the targeting of media institutions and journalists themselves has increased dramatically,” he told Arab News.

This is happening “not least because the capacity of the media to report from war zones — and to be able to report wrongdoing and inappropriate behavior or war crimes — is greatly enhanced, and changing technology has had a lot to do with it.”

The phrase “truth is the first victim of war” could not ring more true now amid Israel’s campaign in Gaza. But then again, the truth rarely is told during times of war. History is written after the battles have taken place, the truces are signed and the fighting has ended.

It is the facts gleaned during moments of crisis and violence that are pivotal to this writing of history.

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


Arab youth find a ‘safe space’ on invite-only app

Arab youth find a ‘safe space’ on invite-only app
Updated 12 June 2021

Arab youth find a ‘safe space’ on invite-only app

Arab youth find a ‘safe space’ on invite-only app
  • Mental health, identity and politics are favorite topics in Clubhouse’s virtual chat ‘rooms’

BANGALORE, India: Pia Abou Antoun, a 19-year-old Clubhouse moderator based in Beirut, still remembers  the heartfelt moment she experienced during an early session on the invitation-only audio app.
“A young woman from Egypt shared her story for the first time — she had always struggled with her weight and appearance. After being bullied through her childhood, she developed anxiety and depression,” Antoun said.
“She started crying and it was a very emotional moment for all of us in the room. It really touched my heart, as I could relate to her.”
Antoun is the founder of Dare Female, an online platform that encourages discussion on mental health, and also hosts regular sessions on Clubhouse, the social networking app that allows users to join virtual “rooms” on discussions that interest them.
Users can moderate, actively engage or simply sit in on these conversations. Rooms provide privacy options ranging from open to invitation-only, closed rooms. Much like a Zoom conference, users have to raise their “hand” to be allowed to speak.
Clubhouse was initially launched as a niche app catering to San Francisco’s tech and venture capitalist community but has found immense popularity in the Middle East. In February this year, the app had more than 4 million downloads in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
According to a Carnegie Melon University analysis, a wide range of political, social and cultural topics have already been discussed in Arabic-language Clubhouse chat rooms, including “politics, identity, religious beliefs and sexual orientation.”
Initially, Antoun sat in on rooms with nearly 100 members and quickly realized that people wanted to discuss mental health.
“We lack mental health awareness,” she said.
Recent research in the Arab Gulf countries reveals that there are high levels of stigma, negative beliefs and inappropriate practices associated with mental illness.
A 2019 Arab Youth Survey found that 50 percent of respondents in 15 Arab countries believe that mental illness carries a stigma.
Dr. Sarah Rasmi, psychologist and founder of Thrive Wellbeing Center in Dubai, said that while mental health has become prominent in public discussions in the past few years, particularly with the millennial and Gen Z demographic, it still carries a level of stigma. In this demographic, some of the issues she sees in her practice are work-life balance, procrastination and burnout.
“One of the most important things we can do to combat stigma is to normalize the conversation around mental health,” Rasmi sid. “By normalizing the conversation, we also encourage people to seek help at an earlier stage.”
As Antoun began hosting Clubhouse discussions, she found the voice-only aspect of the app immensely liberating. “People tend to speak freely, without fear of being judged. This authenticity and vulnerability really unite people.”
The community aspect of Clubhouse can be likened to a virtual support group. If individuals are uncomfortable talking about mental health within their inner circle, a support group can help normalize the experience and make people feel less lonely.
“Particularly in societies where seeking mental health support is still stigmatized, individuals find support groups a safe place to share, process and bond with people who are living through a similar experience,” Rasmi said.
Ally Salama, 24, founder of the mental health and wellness magazine EMPWR has moderated several therapeutic and powerful sessions on Clubhouse. 
Given that social media is frequently criticized for filtering reality and diminishing authentic human connection, Clubhouse, in some ways, brings back the connection.
“Audio platforms are not only more intimate, but also allow for enhanced connectivity, space for discourse, and a deeper, more meaningful conversation,” Salama says.
The Dubai-based mental health advocate believes that the Clubhouse audience is much more intentional. “You don’t just stumble into a room or end up swiping or seeing a story on your feed,” he said. “They actually come into your room and commit to the discussion.”
As attention has become a valuable commodity, the topic of mental health has grown more urgent. Citing statistics from the region, Salama said Clubhouse reflects society. He describes young people seeking an outlet on Clubhouse rooms for anxieties and worries compounded by the pandemic crisis, as well as turmoil in Lebanon and Palestine.
Clubhouse can offer more nuanced and meaningful discussions compared with other social media platforms, but 24-year old Mahmoud Khedr doesn’t attribute this solely to the app, adding that purposefully designing and clearly defining the objectives of the room can benefit discussions.
As the co-founder of
FloraMind, a platform that works with schools and government organizations to address mental health issues among youth, Khedr hosts frequent rooms on Clubhouse.
However, his sessions are much more targeted and specific to particular communities, such as Arab youth in the US or mental health support groups for men. He brings in both mental health experts and people with particular experiences to offer fresh and interesting perspectives.
While the term “safe space” has become a catchall for any new platform, mental health advocates are mindful of how they define this phrase within Clubhouse. Khedr includes a trigger warning since content can include difficult conversations, such as suicide attempts.
“Confidentiality is a priority and we hope people respect that by not recording or sharing content discussed in the session,” he said.
Other ground rules include being empathetic, giving space for people to share, and refraining from offering unsolicited advice on mental health.
Salama also works with psychologists to ensure that the vocabulary and language are inclusive and safe for everyone.
“The important thing to remember is that anything we see on social media does not substitute for therapy,” Rasmi added.
She suggested that social media users be mindful of disclaimers and consume content from a credible source. As the next best step and if needed, she recommends individuals contact qualified professionals.


This British YouTuber is showing the world what life in Saudi Arabia is really like

Obayd Fox, now 16, moved to Saudi Arabia when he was 10 after living in Egypt for six years and started documenting what it was like to grow up in the Kingdom. (Screenshot/Obayd Fox YouTube)
Obayd Fox, now 16, moved to Saudi Arabia when he was 10 after living in Egypt for six years and started documenting what it was like to grow up in the Kingdom. (Screenshot/Obayd Fox YouTube)
Updated 11 June 2021

This British YouTuber is showing the world what life in Saudi Arabia is really like

Obayd Fox, now 16, moved to Saudi Arabia when he was 10 after living in Egypt for six years and started documenting what it was like to grow up in the Kingdom. (Screenshot/Obayd Fox YouTube)
  • Obayd Fox shot to YouTube success at just 14, with an inside look at the Umrah pilgrimage
  • ‘It’s not like Dubai, it’s not like Egypt. It’s Saudi, it’s different,’ he told Arab News

LONDON: A teenage British YouTuber might not be the first place one looks for a step-by-step guide to Umrah or for a tour of Madinah’s Grand Mosque — but for millions of people around the world, Obayd Fox has become the first point of call for all things Saudi Arabia.

With half a million subscribers and over 20 million views across his videos, the teenager’s videos are not only becoming an internet sensation in the Kingdom and beyond, but they’re also overriding ingrained narratives about what life is really like in one of the world’s most misrepresented countries.

Fox, now 16, moved to Saudi Arabia when he was 10 after living in Egypt for six years. He told Arab News that it was initially hard to adjust: “Egypt has so much more greenery than Saudi Arabia.”

But since arriving all those years ago, Fox explained, he has not only embraced the country’s unique natural environment, but the Saudi people have made him feel more at home than he could have hoped for.

“One thing I always say about the Saudi people — and I’m not just saying this — they are, I think, the nicest people, honestly. They are so kind, you can meet anyone on the street and they’re so nice to you.

“There’s a respect that Saudi people have. When you greet them they ask about you, how you are, how your family is. Everyone does it.”

Fox’s “vlogumentaries,” as he calls them, feature him and his group of Saudi friends embracing all that the country has to offer — and they receive hundreds of thousands of views. 

From inside looks at how Saudis do Ramadan to dune bashing in the Kingdom’s famous deserts, his channel gives a direct and unfiltered insight into what it’s like to grow up in Saudi Arabia.

“My videos have ended up being a lighthearted view of what I experience when I’'m there — no bias or anything. I enjoy it, I like living in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

He told Arab News that the Kingdom’s recent drive for international and domestic tourism means there’s plenty to keep him entertained.

“You can camp in the desert, and if you have a good car you can go off-roading and stuff — those are the things I’d recommend people do,” Fox said. But his number one suggestion for a visitor: “There’s no doubt in my mind that early morning snorkelling in Jeddah is my top recommendation.” 

His next destination, he hopes, is AlUla. “I’ve seen all the YouTube videos and I really want to go.”

The young YouTuber, who despite his online success is currently studying to complete his A-level exams, explained that, to his friends back in the UK, the Kingdom feels overwhelmingly foreign — completely alien to their own lives.

“Saudi, for them, feels like such a distant mythical land that nobody can even imagine,” he said. And while his videos give them something of an insight about what it’s really like, he explained that what people should really do is visit the country and experience it for themselves.

“It’s completely different to anywhere you’ll ever go,” said Fox. “It’s not like Dubai, it’s not like Egypt. It’s Saudi, it’s different.”

He added: “And then you can say: ‘yeah — I went to Saudi Arabia.’”


Dan Bolton launches new events agency BE Experiential

Dan Bolton launches new events agency BE Experiential
Updated 11 June 2021

Dan Bolton launches new events agency BE Experiential

Dan Bolton launches new events agency BE Experiential
  • BE Experiential aims to change the events industry through a “people-first” and “experiential” approach

DUBAI: The pandemic majorly disrupted the events industry, with live events coming to a standstill. Disruption has continued well into 2021 in many countries.

At a time of gloom for the industry, entrepreneur Dan Bolton saw an opportunity to create a new kind of events agency, BE Experiential, which aims to bring an “experiential” and “people-first” approach to eventing. 

Bolton launched his first company, Dan Bolton Creative Management agency, in October 2015 in the UAE. Covering all things entertainment, the agency is responsible for “talent management, show design and production, which includes choreography, costumes and prop design as well as casting services for a selection of clients that are now looking at securing performance-related talent in the region for live shows, productions, and increasingly, digital content,” Bolton said.

The new agency, BE Experiential, was created on the back of the current agency, offering “different but complementary services,” catering to the wider event experience through services such as “event design and production, staging, tech & AV, guest experience, decor, augmented reality, and guest list management,” he added.

“We started to discover throughout 2019 that brands and clients wanted us to handle the whole production and creativity for particular projects, which is something we did not necessarily do at the time if it was not purely entertainment-focused,” said Bolton, explaining the rationale behind the launch of BE Experiential.

Entertainment and the overall event experience have increasingly become intertwined, resulting in a natural progression of sorts where the agency would support clients through the entire process.

“It made sense to our clients to engage with us to develop and deliver the complete narrative of the event and experience from A to Z,” he said.

The pandemic changed everything. Bolton had to put the launch of his new agency on hold. Clients were canceling events.

“Many people believed that we were permanently living in a ‘new normal’ and that live events, entertainment and music were not possible to return,” said Bolton.

This frustration led to the birth of Breakout DXB, a live community event supporting independent musicians and artists, held in November 2020. “It was the brainchild of Lobito Brigante and myself and was born mostly from frustration at the time that the events industry was completely on pause and that entertainment was particularly affected. Many of our friends and colleagues were out of work and struggling both mentally and financially,” said Bolton.

Following discussions with entities such as Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, event partners and health and safety professionals such as GallowGlass, Bolton and Brigante made the decision to host Breakout DXB.

But not everyone was comfortable with live events.

For example, the agency worked with P&G on a series of hybrid activation spaces using two local artists that created art works within JBR and CityWalk that could be viewed through an augmented reality application.

“Digital technologies and the virtual world have been encroaching into the live experience space for some time and last year has only forced this to gather pace and accelerate,” said Bolton.

However, live events aren’t going anywhere, he said. In fact, the appetite for attending live events together will only increase in the coming months.

Even when the pandemic began and everything from meetings to gyms was going virtual, “we made a solid decision to remain committed to live and in-person events no matter how difficult it would be,” Bolton said.

“We live for the ability to be on stages and bring people together face-to-face. If we suddenly pivoted towards all things digital, it would be completely contrary to what we believe in and would go against the authenticity we strive to live by as a company,” he added.

However, he admitted that digital technologies will have an increasingly important role to play. 

“As we can see from the discussions we are having with brands and clients, there is a desire to balance both worlds and merge them into a holistic experience where the end consumer has the choice and ability to attend in-person or live stream and follow remotely,” he said.

 BE Experiential is currently based in the UAE with operations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“This is certainly our focus for now as we rebuild from the madness of the last 15 months.

“However, I would be lying if I said that we were not discussing some incredible opportunities in Qatar, Saudi, the rest of the region, and Europe,” said Bolton.


Amazon now says remote work OK 2 days a week

he company’s new remote-work plan is similar to other large tech companies. (File/AFP)
he company’s new remote-work plan is similar to other large tech companies. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 June 2021

Amazon now says remote work OK 2 days a week

he company’s new remote-work plan is similar to other large tech companies. (File/AFP)
  • Employees at Amazon won’t have to work in offices full time after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
  • This follows backlash from some employees to what they interpreted as the expectation they would have to return to the office full time once states reopen.

SEATTLE: Corporate and tech employees at Amazon won’t have to work in offices full time after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

The Seattle Times reports the online retail giant said in a company blog post Thursday that those workers can work remotely two days a week. In addition, the employees can work remotely from a domestic location for four full weeks each year.

Amazon’s work policy update follows backlash from some employees to what they interpreted as the expectation they would have to return to the office full time once states reopen.

Some tech companies had launched recruiting campaigns that seemed targeted in part at Amazon workers’ dismay over an end to remote work.
Most Amazon employees will start heading back to offices as soon as local jurisdictions fully reopen — July 1 in Washington state — with the majority of workers in offices by autumn, the company said previously.

Amazon has about 75,000 employees in the greater Seattle area. The company’s new remote-work plan is similar to other large tech companies.
Google said last month that it expected roughly 60 percent of its workforce to come into the office a few days a week, and for 20 percent to work from home full time. Google also gave all employees the option to work remotely full time four weeks per year. Facebook and Microsoft have both said most workers can choose to stay remote.

Amazon’s new policy could add to the challenges faced by Seattle’s traditional business core. In pre-pandemic times, tens of thousands of Amazon workers commuted into the South Lake Union neighborhood north of downtown every day. Most haven’t returned.

More than 450 downtown retailers, restaurants and other street-level business locations have closed permanently in the 16 months since the pandemic sent office workers home, according to a Downtown Seattle Association survey.

Of the roughly 175,000 people who worked in downtown offices before the pandemic, 80 percent continue to work remotely, according to association data.


Amazon may see $425 million EU privacy fine

The case relates to Amazon’s collection and use of individuals’ personal data and violations under EU’s data privacy rules. (File/AFP)
The case relates to Amazon’s collection and use of individuals’ personal data and violations under EU’s data privacy rules. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 June 2021

Amazon may see $425 million EU privacy fine

The case relates to Amazon’s collection and use of individuals’ personal data and violations under EU’s data privacy rules. (File/AFP)
  • Amazon could be fined approximately half a billion dollars under the EU's privacy law, revealed the Wall Street Journal.

Amazon.com Inc. could be fined more than $425 million under the European Union’s privacy law, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter.

Luxembourg’s data-protection commission, CNPD, has circulated a draft decision and proposed a fine highlighting Amazon’s privacy practices among the bloc’s 26 national data-protection authorities, the report said.

The case relates to Amazon’s collection and use of individuals’ personal data and violations under EU’s landmark data privacy rules known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a source told the Journal.

GDPR requires companies to seek people’s consent before using their personal data or face steep fines.

An EU court ruling last month annulled an order that required Amazon, which has its EU headquarters in Luxembourg City, to pay back taxes to the country.

Amazon was not immediately available for a comment.