GAZA: A seaside cafe lounge built entirely from recycled materials has become the first of its kind in Gaza.
Hana Al-Ghoul, a Palestinian woman in her 30s, and a team of young entrepreneurs are the inspiration behind the eco-friendly Al-Bahar Elna (The Sea is For Us) venture.
Through the cafeteria, Al-Ghoul and her volunteer helpers urge visitors to Sheikh Ajleen beach, southwest of Gaza City, not to pollute the area.
Cafe seats are made either of used tires or wooden cargo boxes, ornamental plants are potted in old plastic fuel boxes, and the walls are constructed from recycled waste containers and adorned with artworks produced using pieces of cloth.
Al-Ghoul, born in the coastal Egyptian city of Alexandria, told Arab News that the idea to set up the cafeteria was aimed at urging people, indirectly and in a fun way, to preserve the seashore and was part of an integrated environment-friendly project to keep the beach clean.
She said her team also used theatrical, musical, and lyrical performances to put across their message.
“We are waiting for a large number of people to gather on the seashore to enjoy our theatrical performances that carry the message of preserving the beach and the environment,” she added.
The cafeteria was damaged during the Israeli Gaza conflict in May and a library featuring several plants and a children’s books section was hit.
Cafe manager Ali Muhanna, 33, one of Al-Ghoul’s friends, said they started the initiative in 2019 after Gaza’s municipality granted them a plot to launch the project.
They also gained funding from the Abdul Mohsen Al-Qattan Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
“We started at that time by training a group of young people on the methodology of community organization, which allows using the available resources to make necessary changes and finding alternatives. The training covered areas such as stand-up comedy, theater skits, singing, drawing, music, and recycling,” Muhanna added.
The number of participants in the initiative has fallen from 45 to seven due to deteriorating economic conditions in the area.
A Palestinian wedding in Israel stirs memories of 1948 expulsion of Arab inhabitants of Biram and Iqrit
Descendants of inhabitants of the two villages view ceremonies in local churches as acts of remembrance
George Ghantous and Lauren Donahue recently tied the knot in an abandoned Maronite church in Biram
Updated 20 sec ago
Daoud Kuttab AND Botrus Mansour
AMMAN/NAZARETH: When George Ghantous, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and Lauren Donahue, his American fiancee, were planning their wedding, there were lots of details that needed to be agreed upon. But the couple settled on one important decision from the outset: The wedding would take place in an abandoned church in the village of Biram, George’s ancestral home.
In 1948, during the war that resulted in the creation of the state of Israel, the people of Biram — a mainly Christian village high in the mountains of Galilee above Safed, not far from the Lebanese border — found themselves caught up in the fighting.
It was occupied by Israeli forces who, seven months later in a well-documented incident, expelled the residents of Biram and of Iqrit, a village about 21 kilometers away.
Caught in the crossfire of a conflict between the Israeli army and Arab guerrillas operating from bases in Lebanon, the inhabitants of the two villages, who mostly made a living from cultivating fruit trees, were ordered to leave their homes for two weeks until the situation stabilized.
Seventy-three years later, the villagers and their descendants — now citizens of Israel, whose properties are supposed to be protected by Israeli law — still have not been allowed to return.
Worse still, despite an Israeli High Court decision in the 1950s upholding the villagers’ property rights, the Israeli army demolished, presumably as a deterrent to any future return, all the buildings in both villages except for a Melkite church in Iqrit and a Maronite church in Biram.
Maronites, who now live mostly in Lebanon, are a branch of the Syriac Church, which split from the Greek Orthodox faith in the seventh century. Melkites are another Syriac branch who adhere to old Byzantine rites.
In addition to having their wedding service at the church in Biram, Ghantous and Donahue visited the ruins of the house in the village where the groom’s grandparents once lived. There, they performed a traditional ritual that normally takes place at the home of the newlyweds.
The bride, dressed in white, and the groom, in black, stuck unbaked bread dough, decorated with flowers and coins as symbols of prosperity and happiness, to a lintel above the main entrance to what remains of the building.
“If, God forbid, the dough does not stick, then a shout of dismay is heard by the guests as this is bad luck and the marriage may be doomed,” Michael Oun, an authority on Middle East history and a relative of the groom, told Arab News. “When they make the dough, the groom’s family takes good care to make sure that it really sticks.”
Fortunately for the happy couple, the dough did stick. But in addition to marking the start of their married life together, the ritual also served as a political statement making it clear that even members of this third generation of Palestinian Christians have not forgotten the villages their families were forced to leave, and to which they one day hope to return.
Ghantous said that he was made aware of his grandparents’ original home from an early age and has visited it on many occasions, at Christmas and Easter and to attend baptisms and weddings.
“We were raised in this beautiful place, under its sky and among the trees and the refreshing breeze,” he told Arab News. “Our spirit and our parents’ and grandparents’ spirits are here among the houses and among ourselves. It is natural that this would be the place where our joy is realized.”
Over the years, Israeli leaders of all parties have promised to help the villagers of Biram and Iqrit to return to their homes, only for the promises to be broken amid fears that it might encourage other Palestinians to demand the return of their ancestral lands and homes.
Rejecting the demand, Lior Haiat, spokesperson of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Arab News that the official position on the issue remains unchanged.
Ayman Odeh, a member of Knesset and head of the Joint List, the main Arab bloc in the parliament, accuses Israeli authorities of paying lip service to the demands of the people from the villages, instead of taking corrective steps.
“Not only do they not have the will but they are unable to go beyond the security blockade,” he told Arab News.
Odeh claimed Reuven Rivlin, who served seven years in the mainly ceremonial role of president of Israel, once made a promise that he would not allow his term in office to end without the people of Biram and Iqrit being allowed to return.
“Rivlin’s term ended (in July this year) and his promise has not materialized, even though he was the highest authority in Israel, albeit a symbolic one,” Odeh said. “He clearly couldn’t bypass the instructions of the security agencies that form the deep state.”
Odeh said he also received assurances from Yitzhak Herzog, Rivlin’s successor as president, but these have yet to translate into action.
“I asked him to send a letter of support to the people of these two villages and he did,” Odeh said. “Now he is president and his first visit was to a Jewish settlement in the occupied territories.”
Ibrahim Issa was 14 years old when Biram was occupied and destroyed. He is now 87. When Arab News spoke to him on Sept. 10, he had just left church after the regular morning mass for older former residents of the village. He said he visits the village with his wife at least twice a week.
“I was raised in Biram and have eaten its figs and grapes, and played in its roads,” he said. “That is why I love it and cling to the hope of returning some time. I have been coming to Biram and stayed in the area after its demolition, even during military rule. I have followed the whole struggle for 73 years.”
Bishop Elias Chacour of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, perhaps the most famous former resident of Biram, is the author of “Blood Brothers,” a best-selling memoir of life as an Arab citizen of Israel.
Now retired, he was eight when the village was taken over by the military. He lobbied Shimon Peres, the Israeli former president and prime minister, to allow the residents to return.
“I told him: ‘I come to you as a son of Biram. Biramites are still alive,’” Chacour told Arab News. “Peres replied: ‘That was a long time ago.’ I told him: ‘You kept remembering Palestine for 2,000 years and then you traveled to Palestine and caused us damage and you want us Biram people to forget?’”
Chacour sees little hope of progress under the new Israeli government, but considers Mansour Abbas, an Arab citizen of Israel who leads the United Arab List in the Knesset, as the only politician capable of moving things forward. Still, he thinks Biram will endure.
“As long as the people of Biram and their descendants live and remember the village,” Chacour told Arab News, “Biram will not die.”
Iqrit and Biram: A history of expulsions
As fighting raged between Arabs and Jews in 1948, Israeli troops occupied Iqrit, a village of 616 residents. The leaders of the village signed a surrender document. The local priest reportedly even greeted the troops with a Bible in his hand while chanting in Hebrew, “Welcome, Oh children of Israel.”
A week later, the commander of the Israeli troops ordered the inhabitants of Iqrit to leave and travel southeast to the Arab village of Rameh “for two weeks until the security situation will allow them to return,” according to historical records. The villagers did as they were told, leaving most of their belongings behind.
The same fate befell Biram, a village with a population of 1,050. Its people also were ordered to leave for two weeks and given a promise that they would be allowed to return soon. They went to the nearby village of Jish, about 5 kilometers to the east, and moved into the homes of Muslims who had fled the fighting during the war.
Iqrit and Biram: A history of expulsions
The ruins of both villages are located a few miles from the border with Lebanon. Iqrit is about 21 kilometers to the west of Biram. The residents of the former were Melkite Greek Catholics and the latter were mostly members of the Maronite church. Both are eastern sects of the Catholic church.
When the residents of Iqrit failed in their efforts to ensure the authorities would keep their promise and allow them to return to their homes, they appealed to the Supreme Court of Israel. In July 1951, the court ruled that they should be allowed to return. The Israeli army ignored the decision and demolished the village on Christmas Eve, 1951, leaving only the church standing.
Biram fared no better. Its appeal to the High Court failed on a technicality and Israeli fighter jets demolished the village in July 1953. Former residents watched its destruction from a place that later became known as “Wailing Hill.” Again, only its church was spared.
Soon after, large sections of land near Biram were designated public parks. Other areas were incorporated into new Jewish settlements. In 1968, with the end of military rule in Israel, former residents and their families were granted the right to be buried or get married in Biram.
•Daoud Kuttab in Amman and Botrus Mansour in Nazareth
The rebels died in the fighting and from airstrikes by the military coalition backing the government
The Houthis in February escalated their efforts to seize Marib
Updated 42 min 23 sec ago
DUBAI: More than 140 rebels and pro-government troops have been killed this week as fighting intensifies for Yemen’s strategic northern city of Marib, military and medical sources told AFP Friday.
At least 51 loyalists were killed in the past four days, most of them in clashes in the province of Shabwa and the neighboring governorate of Marib, multiple military sources said.
They added that at least 93 Iran-backed Houthi rebels also died in the fighting and from airstrikes by the military coalition backing the government.
The Houthis rarely report casualty numbers, but figures were confirmed by medical sources.
The Houthis in February escalated their efforts to seize Marib, the government’s last northern stronghold, and the fighting has killed hundreds on both sides.
According to the military sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Houthis have made advances and seized four districts — one in Marib and three in Shabwa.
Yemen’s conflict flared in 2014 when the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa, prompting intervention to prop up the internationally recognized government the following year.
Earlier this week, Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg, the UN’s new envoy for Yemen, was in Oman, which has played a mediating role in the Yemen conflict.
He met with Omani and Houthi officials, including top rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam.
“Sustainable peace can only be achieved through a peacefully negotiated settlement,” said Grundberg, according to a statement on Tuesday. “It is imperative that all efforts are directed toward revitalizing a political process that can produce lasting solutions that meet the aspirations of Yemeni women and men.”
While the UN and Washington are pushing for an end to the war, the Houthis have demanded the reopening of Sanaa airport, closed under a Saudi blockade since 2016, before any ceasefire or negotiations.
The last talks took place in Sweden in 2018, when the opposing sides agreed to a mass prisoner swap and to spare the city of Hodeidah, where the port serves as the country’s lifeline.
But despite agreeing to a cease-fire in Hodeidah, violent clashes have since broken out between the rebels and pro-government troops around the strategic city.
On Wednesday, donors pledged an additional $600 million to tackle Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, as the UN and other aid agencies warned that vital aid programs would be cut this year without more funding.
This year’s $3.85 billion aid response plan to what the UN describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis had been only half funded before Wednesday’s high-level UN meeting co-hosted by Sweden, Switzerland and the EU.
A significant gap in funding for the aid response in Yemen, which has been divided by seven years of war, opened up last year, forcing some aid programs to close and the UN to warn of increasing risk of famine.
Palestinian-Armenian dispute over Jerusalem land deal intensifies
Israeli municipality and Armenians agreed to turn a piece of sensitive land in the old city into a parking lot, but ‘one could smell a rat’
Updated 49 min 15 sec ago
AMMAN: A land row between Palestinians and an Armenian church in Jerusalem has intensified with the head of the Higher Presidential Committee of Church Affairs in Palestine appealing for peace to the religious and political leadership in Armenia.
An agreement between the Armenians and Israeli Jerusalem municipality to turn a piece of sensitive land in the old city of Jerusalem into a parking lot took effect on Jan. 1. Jewish residents of the Old City have had exclusive use of the parking lot, which has caused concern among the Palestinian leadership and members of the tiny Armenian community.
Officials of the Armenian Patriarchate insisted that the contract with the Israeli Jerusalem municipality and the Jewish-centric Jerusalem Development Authority does not constitute selling or leasing land but is simply a financial operation.
The Higher Presidential Committee of Church Affairs in Palestine wrote to Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manoogian reminding him that the Armenian quarter is part of occupied Palestinian territories where UN resolutions, including the 2017 UNSC Resolution 2334, apply.
Letters by senior Palestinian officials were also sent to the Catholicos of All Armenians Patriarch Karekin II, calling land transactions in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem a violation of international law since the area inside the Old City of Jerusalem is an “integral part of the Palestinian occupied territories” governed by relevant international resolutions.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry has also been “urged to intervene,” a statement by the Higher Presidential Committee stated.
The dispute follows the secrecy over land deals in the Old City of Jerusalem organized by the Armenian patriarchate in Jerusalem in cooperation with the Israeli institution.
Ramzi Khoury, the president of the Higher Presidential Committee of Churches in Palestine, told Arab News that the aim of the letters sent to Armenian officials is to force the church in Jerusalem to open up and coordinate with us: “Our main goal is to uncover what is hidden.”
The letters were sent twice, but there was no response.
While Khoury focused on a 10-year lease to the Israeli municipality of an empty plot to be turned into a parking lot, he did not specify a much more serious deal with a Jewish Austrian investor to lease the same land for 99 years to build a large hotel in a sensitive area between the Armenian and Jewish quarters.
Sources in the Armenian Patriarchate say that the hotel deal is opposed by the majority of the Armenian St. James Synod which has not met in more than three years.
A senior Armenian leader from Jerusalem told Arab News on condition of anonymity that he has always suspected a much bigger deal than the parking lot one: “From when the patriarch and his director of real estate began their effort, one could smell a rat.”
The Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Sevan Gharibian and the head of the real estate department Rev. Baret Yeretsian are accused of going against the wishes of their own synod and that of the nearly 1,000 Armenian Christians who live in the occupied city of Jerusalem.
In a statement issued on Sept. 22 by the chair of the Armenian Patriarchate Synod, the church said that they had ratified the agreement and noted that the lease provides “a steady income of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to support the Armenian patriarchate.”
The statement signed by Father Samuel Aghazian admitted that a “luxurious hotel structure” would be built based on a long-term lease without imposing any risk to the full and exclusive ownership of this land.
An Armenian website Keghart called what is happening in Jerusalem a scandal. In an editorial on Aug. 31, the publication reminded the Armenian patriarch that the Armenian Quarter and other “Patriarchate-owned” real estate does not even belong to the Armenian Church or to the St. James Brotherhood.
“They are the possessions of the Armenian nation. Every last inch of holy land Armenian property was purchased through the donations of Armenian pilgrims, nobility, kings, and charitable organizations over a millennium. Twice in recent centuries, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem was bankrupt and was close to losing all its real estate. It was rescued by Armenian merchants and regular Armenian patriots.”
The Keghart editorial supported Palestinian and international law by concluding that “every inch of the holy land falls under strict local and international laws hence no one has the right to split up that one entity into different trading parts.”
Health alert as Lebanon’s stray dog problem fuels rabies fears
Students demand answers after abandoned pets found shot and poisoned on Beirut campus
Updated 26 min 56 sec ago
BEIRUT: Video images showing the remains of stray dogs shot and buried on the state-funded Lebanese University’s Hadath campus in suburban Beirut have highlighted the growing problem of animals abandoned by their owners as the country’s economic crisis worsens.
Up to 50,000 stray dogs are estimated to be roaming the streets of Lebanon, according to welfare activists, with most unneutered and unvaccinated, posing a public health risk as the animals become increasingly aggressive and stocks of vaccines to combat rabies run low.
Images of five dogs found buried on the university campus sparked widespread anger this week after it was revealed the animals were being fed and cared for by students after having been abandoned.
Lebanese University’s 75 hectare campus is unfenced, and houses a large number of faculties as well accommodation for students, deans and visiting professors, and sports and health facilities.
Animal welfare activist Ghina Nahfawi told Arab News that the stray dogs were given names by students and would respond when offered food.
“We noticed one of the dogs became their leader and would tell the rest that it was OK to approach us,” she said.
“Last Friday, we could not find any trace of the dogs. Some were saying that the university administration and security guards wanted to get rid of them.”
Nahfawi said that students’ fears grew after another dog was found alive but in pain with symptoms suggesting it had been poisoned with Lannate, an insecticide that is highly toxic to livestock and wildlife.
“We saw blood and found some dogs that had been shot. We were told others were buried on the campus, but we did not believe it until we came across a foul smell and started digging with our hands, only to discover the bodies of five dogs.”
She said that students were told that other dogs, including pups, had been taken to mountainous areas and left to fend for themselves, and may have been killed by other animals.
Roger Akkawi, vice president of the animal charity Paw, told Arab News that up 50,000 pet dogs in Lebanon have been abandoned by their owners amid the pandemic and the devastating devaluation of the Lebanese pound.
“Most of the dogs left on the street are unneutered and unvaccinated. People think dogs are good hunters, but that’s not true — they depend on humans to survive,” he said.
“What people do not realize is the mating of two dogs may lead to the birth of an additional 400 dogs within two years, and that goes along with diseases resulting from the failure to vaccinate against rabies.”
Akkawi warned that Lebanon is “heading toward a catastrophe” because authorities have ignored the problem.
“People will encounter dogs on their doorsteps; many will die and no one will dare touch the bodies and bury them for fear of disease. Although the rabies vaccine is subsidized by the state, it is not available because suppliers do not care about importing it. The vaccine is only available in small quantities and for emergency cases.”
Amid the social media uproar over the killing of the stray dogs, students demanded an explanation from the university’s administration, calling for those responsible for the “massacre” to be held accountable.
In response, university authorities released a statement expressing regret for “the way in which the issue of stray dogs was addressed on and around the campus.”
The statement added: “A serious investigation has been opened. The administration had reached out to an animal welfare association and the Hadath municipality several times, but no radical solution was reached.”
The administration said that several students had been bitten by two dogs, adding that the strays are a threat to public safety in light of the lack of medicines and vaccines against rabies.
However, Nahfawi said that there is no evidence of students being attacked by dogs at the university. “The campus has been turned into a burial ground for dogs; that’s what really happened. They disregard all laws and accuse us of exaggerating the issue. This is shameful.”
She added: “The municipalities are responsible for addressing such issues, but they do not consider this a priority at the moment. Do they realize that unneutered and unvaccinated dogs pose a threat to people because we lack vaccines against rabies?”
According to Akkawi, the answer is to “trap, neuter and return dogs to nature.”
He said that the charity is training volunteers to handle stray dogs, but lacks funds to buy equipment and vaccines. “Municipal budgets do not take this matter into account, especially during the economic crisis we are experiencing.”
Akkawi said that the government does not consider the issue of stray animals a priority.
“We met the interior minister and warned that imposing lockdowns and keeping people at home during the pandemic would lead to massacres of stray dogs, which depend on restaurant waste to survive. We asked to be allowed out at night after curfew to feed dogs with the food we bought, but our request was rejected.”
Nahfawi said that while some may consider anger over the dog’s deaths as absurd compared with the suffering of people in Lebanon, “society will not become more peaceful and tolerant if it does not learn to properly deal with the most vulnerable beings.”
In August 2017, President Michel Aoun signed animal protection and welfare laws that include rules for treatment of stray dogs by municipalities.
In August 2018, the Ethical Treatment of Animals group won a ruling from the Lebanese judiciary jailing a man for 10 days and fining him $2,650 for mistreating dogs. The ruling was the first of its kind issued by a judicial authority in Lebanon, criminalizing the harming of animals.
As economic crisis bites, Lebanese army withdraws soldiers from Beirut suburbs
The military has been struggling due to Lebanon’s economic meltdown
Updated 24 September 2021
BEIRUT: The Lebanese army has ‘redeployed’ soldiers away from several regions, notably Beirut’s southern suburbs, with its command saying in a statement that the redeployment is intended “to reduce the economic burdens on the army.”
The military has been struggling due to Lebanon’s economic meltdown. In his notorious speech in March, Joseph Aoun, commander of the Lebanese Army, said: “Soldiers are struggling like other people; a soldier’s salary has lost its value and soldiers are going hungry like others.”
Aoun, who is currently visiting Turkey, met with his Turkish counterpart and other officials on Friday and requested logistical support, including equipment and machinery.
He will also visit Washington at the end of September to ask for direct American aid and promises of military assistance for the Lebanese army.
In recent months, some soldiers have deserted as the depreciation of the Lebanese pound has seen the relative value of their salaries plummet to the equivalent of $60 per month. Army command claims the number of deserters is “limited.”
Residents of the Lebanese capital’s southern suburbs were surprised when the army withdrew its forces from checkpoints in the area. Soldiers have been deployed there since 2013, when the suburbs were targeted by bombings that were blamed on Daesh, and seen as connected to the war in Syria and Hezbollah’s interference in the interests of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Lebanese army command stressed on Friday that its troops would “continue to set up observation points in all areas, work on patrols, and carry out security missions.”
Meanwhile, dozens of families of victims of the August 2020 explosion in Beirut Port gathered in the capital to protest against the political pressure being placed on Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation into the blast.
Bitar was recently threatened by Hezbollah and, on Friday, the attorney representing Nohad Machnouk, the former interior minister who is accused in the case, filed a request to dismiss Bitar from the investigation.
If Bitar were to be dismissed from the case, he would be the second judge to have been removed from the investigation. Like his predecessor, Judge Fadi Sawan, Bitar has issued a subpoena for a former prime minister, ministers and security officials in connection with the explosion..
Machnouk visited Dar Al-Fatwa — Lebanon’s highest Sunni authority — and gave a speech there in which he claimed that Bitar “takes his orders from” Salim Jreissati, a member of the Free Patriotic Movement led by Gebran Bassil and an advisor to Lebanese President Michael Aoun, Bassil’s father-in-law.
Machnouk warned against summoning former Prime Minister Hassan Diab — also accused in the case — based on a subpoena Bitar issued after Diab failed to show up for questioning. He said Bitar is implementing “a political agenda, away from the constitution, law and logic.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has also previously accused Bitar of being “politicized.”
Former minister Youssef Fenianos — another accused in the case — has requested that the file be transferred from Bitar to another judge.
The campaign against Bitar intensified on Friday. Jaafarite Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Qabalan said in his Friday sermon: “It is not allowed to play with fire. What happened in the investigation … increases strong doubts about fabrication as well as (demands for) the dismissal of Judge Bitar, as the country is teeming with corruption.”
After his meeting with the president on Friday, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi said: “Sects should not deal with justice; we are a country that separates between religion and state.”