Desert tree planting sows discord within Israel’s coalition

Desert tree planting sows discord within Israel’s coalition
Israeli police wrestle down a man during a Bedouin protest in the southern Israeli village of Sawe Al-Atrash in the Negev Desert. The demo was against a controversial afforestation project. (AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2022

Desert tree planting sows discord within Israel’s coalition

Desert tree planting sows discord within Israel’s coalition
  • Bedouin accuse Israeli courts of enabling expropriations as part of a campaign of disenfranchisement

SAWE AL-ATRASH, Israel: Government-sponsored tree planting in an Israeli desert has set off violent protests by Bedouin Arabs who see the forestation as discriminatory encroachment by the state, sowing discord within Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s ethnically mixed coalition.

Coming days before the Jewish arbor festival of Tu Bishvat, the drive to turn the sandy expanses of the southern Negev green hails back to Israel’s founding pioneer narratives.

But the nomadic Bedouin claim private ownership over nationalized land being zoned and accuse Israeli courts of enabling expropriations as part of a campaign of disenfranchisement that has kept many of their community in off-the-grid breeze-block encampments.

The diggers rolled this year despite an appeal by Mansour Abbas, a Bennett coalition partner from Israel’s Arab minority, for a deferral “while we work on a decent plan that would grant Bedouin citizens honorable lives and livelihoods.”

“A tree is not more important than a person,” he tweeted.

Authorities have said the flattening of the dunes and planting of trees is necessary for conservation and modernization.

At the Negev village of Sawe Al-Atrash, Bedouin scuffled with riot police on Wednesday after a night in which authorities said protesters blocked roads, stoned motorists and forced a train to halt by piling rocks on its tracks.

Mansour’s United Arab List party was boycotting parliamentary votes, a coalition spokesman said.

If sustained, that could deny Bennett his razor-thin majority and bolster the Jewish-nationalist opposition.

Asked how far UAL was willing to go, party lawmaker Iman Khatib Yassin said: “All the way.”

“We came into this partnership hoping to find partners who understand that Arab citizens of the country have a basic right and deserve basic rights on their lands,” she told Kan radio, while stopping short of any threat to quit the coalition.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist, urged a halt to the contested forestation.

Despite successive governments’ pledges of equitable Negev investment, “the Bedouin problem has been forsaken,” he said in a statement.

The religious-rightist Bennett did not comment. His ideologically kindred housing minister, Zev Elkin, saw no need to heed such calls. “These are state lands,” Elkin told 103 FM radio.

Some protesters on Tuesday evening hurled stones at vehicles on a highway near Beersheba, blocked the railway line and torched a vehicle. Police said two officers were wounded in the violence and local media reported at least 18 people arrested.

The government announced a compromise in which it would complete the day’s planting and launch negotiations on Thursday. Authorities withdrew heavy machinery from the area as the tensions appeared to ease.

The Bedouin are part of Israel’s Arab minority, which makes up some 20 percent of the country’s population.

They have citizenship, including the right to vote, but face discrimination. Arab citizens of Israel have close family ties to the Palestinians and largely identify with their cause.


UAE president marks national day with pardon for hundreds of inmates

UAE president marks national day with pardon for hundreds of inmates
Updated 27 sec ago

UAE president marks national day with pardon for hundreds of inmates

UAE president marks national day with pardon for hundreds of inmates
  • The announcement was made ahead of the 51st National Day

DUBAI: UAE PresidentSheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has ordered the release of 1,530 prisoners, ahead of UAE's 51st National Day, state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

The pardoned prisoners had been sentenced to jail terms for a variety of offenses.

Sheikh Mohamed also pledged to settle the financial obligations of the released prisoners.

“The President’s pardon gives the released prisoners an opportunity to rethink their future and positively contribute to the service of their families and communities in order to lead successful social and professional lives,” the statement added.


Egyptians call on British Museum to return Rosetta Stone

Egyptians call on British Museum to return Rosetta Stone
Updated 29 min 3 sec ago

Egyptians call on British Museum to return Rosetta Stone

Egyptians call on British Museum to return Rosetta Stone

CAIRO: The debate over who owns ancient artifacts has been an increasing challenge to museums across Europe and America, and the spotlight has fallen on the most visited piece in the British Museum: The Rosetta Stone.
The inscriptions on the black granite slab became the seminal breakthrough in deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics after it was taken from Egypt by forces of the British empire in 1801.
Now, as Britain’s largest museum marks the 200-year anniversary of the decipherment of hieroglyphics, thousands of Egyptians are demanding the stone’s return.
‘’The British Museum’s holding of the stone is a symbol of Western cultural violence against Egypt,” said Monica Hanna, dean at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport, and organizer of one of two petitions calling for the stone’s return.
The acquisition of the Rosetta Stone was tied up in the imperial battles between Britain and France. After Napoleon Bonaparte’s military occupation of Egypt, French scientists uncovered the stone in 1799 in the northern town of Rashid, known by the French as Rosetta. When British forces defeated the French in Egypt, the stone and over a dozen other antiquities were handed over to the British under the terms of an 1801 surrender deal between the generals of the two sides.
It has remained in the British Museum since.
Hanna’s petition, with 4,200 signatures, says the stone was seized illegally and constitutes a “spoil of war.” The claim is echoed in a near identical petition by Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former minister for antiquities affairs, which has more than 100,000 signatures. Hawass argues that Egypt had no say in the 1801 agreement.
The British Museum refutes this. In a statement, the Museum said the 1801 treaty includes the signature of a representative of Egypt. It refers to an Ottoman admiral who fought alongside the British against the French. The Ottoman sultan in Istanbul was nominally the ruler of Egypt at the time of Napoleon’s invasion.
The Museum also said Egypt’s government has not submitted a request for its return. It added that there are 28 known copies of the same engraved decree and 21 of them remain in Egypt.
The contention over the original stone copy stems from its unrivaled significance to Egyptology. Carved in the 2nd century B.C., the slab contains three translations of a decree relating to a settlement between the then-ruling Ptolemies and a sect of Egyptian priests. The first inscription is in classic hieroglyphics, the next is in a simplified hieroglyphic script known as Demotic, and the third is in Ancient Greek.
Through knowledge of the latter, academics were able to decipher the hieroglyphic symbols, with French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion eventually cracking the language in 1822.
‘‘Scholars from the previous 18th century had been longing to find a bilingual text written in a known language,’’ said Ilona Regulski, the head of Egyptian Written Culture at the British Museum. Regulski is the lead curator of the museum’s winter exhibition, “Hieroglyphs Unlocking Ancient Egypt,” celebrating the 200th anniversary of Champollion’s breakthrough.
The stone is one of more than 100,000 Egyptian and Sudanese relics housed in the British Museum. A large percentage were obtained during Britain’s colonial rule over the region from 1883 to 1953.
It has grown increasingly common for museums and collectors to return artifacts to their country of origin, with new instances reported nearly monthly. Often, it’s the result of a court ruling, while some cases are voluntary, symbolizing an act of atonement for historical wrongs.
New York’s Metropolitan Museum returned 16 antiquities to Egypt in September after a US investigation concluded they had been illegally trafficked. On Monday, London’s Horniman Museum signed over 72 objects, including 12 Benin Bronzes, to Nigeria following a request from its government.
Nicholas Donnell, a Boston-based attorney specializing in cases concerning art and artifacts, said no common international legal framework exists for such disputes. Unless there is clear evidence an artifact was acquired illegally, repatriation is largely at the discretion of the museum.
‘‘Given the treaty and the timeframe, the Rosetta Stone is a hard legal battle to win,’’ said Donnell.
The British Museum has acknowledged that several repatriation requests have been made to it from various countries for artifacts, but it did not provide The Associated Press with any details on their status or number. It also did not confirm whether it has ever repatriated an artifact from its collection.
For Nigel Hetherington, an archaeologist and CEO of the online academic forum Past Preserves, the museum’s lack of transparency suggests other motives.
‘‘It’s about money, maintaining relevance and a fear that in returning certain items people will stop coming,’’ he said.
Western museums have long pointed to superior facilities and larger crowd draws to justify their holding of world treasures. Amid turmoil following the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Egypt saw an uptick in artifact smuggling, which cost the country an estimated $3 billion between 2011 and 2013, according to the US-based Antiquities Coalition. In 2015, it was discovered that cleaners at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum had damaged the burial mask of Pharaoh Tutankhamun by attempting to re-attach the beard with super glue.
But President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s government has since invested heavily in its antiquities. Egypt has successfully reclaimed thousands of internationally smuggled artifacts and plans to open a newly built, state-of-the-art museum where tens of thousands of objects can be housed. The Grand Egyptian Museum has been under construction for well over a decade and there have been repeated delays to its opening.
Egypt’s plethora of ancient monuments, from the pyramids of Giza to the towering statues of Abu Simbel at the Sudanese border, are the magnet for a tourism industry that drew in $13 billion in 2021.
For Hanna, Egyptians’ right to access their own history should remain the priority. “How many Egyptians can travel to London or New York?” she said.
Egyptian authorities did not respond to a request for comment regarding Egypt’s policy toward the Rosetta Stone or other Egyptian artifacts displayed abroad. Hawass and Hanna said they are not pinning hopes on the government to secure its return.
‘‘The Rosetta Stone is the icon of Egyptian identity,’’ said Hawass. ‘‘I will use the media and the intellectuals to tell the (British) museum they have no right.’’


UAE’s moon rover launch delayed

UAE’s moon rover launch delayed
Updated 30 November 2022

UAE’s moon rover launch delayed

UAE’s moon rover launch delayed
  • Rashid Rover is now scheduled to launch at 8:37 a.m. (GMT) on Thursday, Dec.1

DUBAI: The launch of the UAE’s moon rover has been delayed by one day for “additional pre-flight checks”, it was announced on Wednesday.

Rashid Rover, the Arab world’s first lunar mission, is now scheduled to launch at 8:37 a.m. (GMT) on Thursday, Dec.1, from Cape Canaveral in Florida, US, SpaceX said in a statement.

 

 

The UAE’s lunar mission is the product of a partnership with SpaceX and Japan-based ispace inc., which created the HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lunar lander aboard the Falcon 9 rocket.

The Emirati-made Rashid rover, weighing 10 kilograms and stored inside the Japanese lander, is due to land around April 2023 on the visible side of the Moon, in the Atlas crater after a five-month journey.

Once launched, the integrated spacecraft will take a low-energy route to the moon rather than a direct approach, the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center earlier said.

If the lunar mission succeeds, the UAE will be the fourth country to land on the moon. The mission will also see the first spacecraft funded and built by a private Japanese firm to land on the moon.


US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans
Updated 30 November 2022

US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans
  • Critics of Iran say it has fomented war and unrest across the Arab world by supporting powerful armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Palestinian territories

BAGHDAD: The US team’s victory over Iran at the World Cup on Tuesday was closely watched across the Middle East, where the two nations have been engaged in a cold war for over four decades and where many blame one or both for the region’s woes.
Critics of Iran say it has fomented war and unrest across the Arab world by supporting powerful armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Palestinian territories. Supporters view it as the leader of an “axis of resistance” against what they see as US imperialism, corrupt Arab rulers and Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.
The divide is especially intense in Lebanon and Iraq, where heavily armed Iran-backed political factions vie for political influence with opponents more oriented toward the West. In those countries, many believe Iran or the US are due for comeuppance — even if only on the pitch.
Others wished a plague on both their houses.
“Both are adversaries of Iraq and played a negative role in the country,” Haydar Shakar said in downtown Baghdad, where a cafe displayed the flags of both countries hanging outside. “It’s a sports tournament, and they’re both taking part in it. That’s all it is to us.”
A meme widely circulated ahead of Tuesday’s match between the US and Iran jokingly referred to it as “the first time they will play outside of Lebanon.” Another Twitter user joked that whoever wins the group stage “takes Iraq.”
The Iran-backed Hezbollah was the only armed group to keep its weapons after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war. It says its arms are needed to defend the country from Israel and blames Lebanon’s economic crisis in part on US sanctions. Opponents decry Hezbollah as an “Iranian occupation,” while many Lebanese accuse both the US and Iran of meddling in their internal affairs.
In Iraq, the 2003 US-led invasion led to years of intense violence and sectarian strife, and Iran-backed political factions and militias largely filled the vacuum. While US forces and Iran-backed militias found themselves on the same side against the Islamic State extremist group, they have traded fire on several occasions since its defeat.
Both Lebanon and Iraq have had to contend with years of political gridlock, with the main dividing line running between Iran’s allies and opponents.
In Yemen, the Iran-aligned Houthi militia captured the capital and much of the country’s north in 2014. The Houthis have been at war since then with an array of factions supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two US allies.
In Syria’s civil war, Iran supported President Bashar Assad’s government against rebels, some supported by the West. In the Palestinian territories, it backs Hamas and Islamic Jihad, militant factions that do not recognize Israel and have carried out scores of attacks over the years.
Interviews with soccer fans in Beirut and Baghdad revealed mixed emotions about the match.
In Beirut’s southern suburbs, a center of Hezbollah support, young men draped in Iranian flags gathered in a cafe hung with a “Death to America” flag to watch the match.
“We are against America in football, politics and everything else,” Ali Nehme said. “God is with Lebanon and Iran.”
Across the city on the seafront promenade, Beirut resident Aline Noueyhed said, “Of course I’m not with Iran after all the disasters they made. Definitely, I’m with America.” She added, however, that the US also was “not 100 percent helping us.”
The post-game reaction in the streets of Beirut after the US defeated Iran 1-0, eliminating it from the tournament and advancing to the knockout round, was far more subdued than after the previous day’s win by Brazil — a fan favorite in Lebanon — over Switzerland.
In Baghdad, Ali Fadel was cheering for Iran, because “it’s a neighboring country, an Asian country.”
“There are many linkages between us and them,” he added.
Nour Sabah was rooting for the US because “they are a strong team, and (the US) controls the world.”
In Irbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north, fans also gave mixed reactions.
Twenty-seven-year-old Zainab Fakhri was rooting for the US to beat Iran “to punish the Iranian regime that has been oppressing the women’s revolution,” referring to recent protests there.
At the same cafe, Aras Harb, 23, was backing Iran. “We prefer them because my family were able to flee there during the war, and the Iranian people are kind.”
Saad Mohammad, 20, had been hoping for a tie, fearing that a win could worsen an already alarming security situation. If locals celebrate the win, he said, “I fear Iran will launch rockets at us.”
Although the Iran supporters were visibly upset at their loss, the crowd filed out after the game without incident.
Regional politics hovered over the last matchup, at the 1998 World Cup, when Iran famously defeated the US 2-1, eliminating it from the tournament. That came less than two decades after Iran’s Islamic Revolution toppled the US-backed shah and protesters overran the US Embassy, leading to a prolonged hostage crisis.
French riot police were on site at the stadium in Lyon that year, but they weren’t needed. The teams posed together in a group photo, and Iran’s players even brought white roses for their opponents.
In this year’s matchup, allegiances have been scrambled by the nationwide protests gripping Iran, with some Iranians openly rooting against their own team. The players declined to sing along to their national anthem ahead of their opening match, in what was seen as an expression of sympathy for the protests, but reversed course and sang ahead of their next one.
In some neighborhoods of Tehran, people chanted “Death to the dictator!” after the match, even though it was past midnight local time.
Danyel Reiche, a visiting associate professor at Georgetown University Qatar who has researched the politics of sports, said World Cup fandom is not necessarily an indicator of political affiliation, even in countries with deep divisions.
Local sports in Lebanon are “highly politicized,” with all the major basketball and soccer clubs having political and sectarian affiliations, he said. But when it comes to the World Cup — where Lebanon has never qualified to play — fans latch on to any number of teams.
That’s true across the region, where fans sporting Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo jerseys can be found from Gaza to Afghanistan.
“This is one of the few spheres where people have the liberty and freedom to choose a country that they simply like and not the country where they think there’s an obligation for them to be affiliated with it,” Reiche said.


Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage

Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage
Updated 29 November 2022

Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage

Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage
  • Under an agreement signed on Tuesday in Rabat, they will cooperate in efforts to combat the illegal trafficking of cultural property

RABAT: The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization will work with authorities in Morocco to protect heritage in Sub-Saharan African countries, under a partnership agreement signed in Rabat on Tuesday.

In particular they will cooperate in efforts to combat the illegal trafficking of cultural property. They will also share their expertise in the protection of cultural artifacts with specialists in museums, promote the role of museums in African societies, create inventories, and train heritage-conservation experts.

The agreement was signed on behalf of Mohammed Mehdi Bensaid, the Moroccan minister of youth, culture and communication, and Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s director-general.