In the shadow of conflict: Reporting on the humanitarian effort

In the shadow of conflict: Reporting on the humanitarian effort
1 / 3
Arab News reporters have traveled with Saudi Arabia’s aid agency KSrelief to deliver ambulances and aid, documenting their journeys while helping to evacuate people from Egypt’s Al-Arish Airport. (AN photo by Abdulrahman Shalhoub)
In the shadow of conflict: Reporting on the humanitarian effort
2 / 3
Arab News reporters have traveled with Saudi Arabia’s aid agency KSrelief to deliver ambulances and aid, documenting their journeys while helping to evacuate people from Egypt’s Al-Arish Airport. (AN photo by Abdulrahman Shalhoub)
In the shadow of conflict: Reporting on the humanitarian effort
3 / 3
KSrelief team in Egypt was present to witness the delivery of aid as part of Saudi efforts extended to Palestine in various humanitarian crises. (AN photo by Mohammed Sulami)
Short Url
Updated 24 December 2023
Follow

In the shadow of conflict: Reporting on the humanitarian effort

In the shadow of conflict: Reporting on the humanitarian effort
  • Journalists share their eyewitness accounts of their experiences

JEDDAH: For most of the past two months, all eyes have turned to Gaza, the strip of land on the southern tip of ancient Palestine, as shells and missiles have flattened the land, displaced millions and injured and killed thousands.

Due to restrictions on external reporting, much of the world’s view of these events has come from local reporters equipped with cameras, documenting the harsh realities faced by their community.

Journalists and reporters from the Arab region and beyond have long considered Palestine a crucial subject for coverage. The advance of military technology has only intensified the brutality of the assault the Palestinians have endured in the face of the Israeli army. The most recent bombardment on the Gaza Strip, once less visible to Western media, has now reached the world through the efforts of reporters and photographers from within the besieged area.

In the past few weeks, four Arab News reporters have traveled with Saudi Arabia’s aid agency KSrelief to deliver ambulances and aid and help the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, documenting their journeys while helping to evacuate people from Egypt’s Al-Arish Airport.

Ghadi Joudah, Abdulrahman Shalhoub, Sherouk Zakaria, and Mohammed Sulami traveled with aid convoys and medical teams, providing assistance, while reporting and sharing eyewitness accounts of their experiences




 A patient is seen lays down on a stretcher before boarding an evacuation flight bound for Abu Dhabi. (AN photo by Mohammed Fawzy) 

For journalists, the opportunity to report from Palestine, especially during times of active conflict, is both rare and perilous. The recent heavy bombardment has made it one of the most dangerous places for journalists, with many being restricted from entering.

Departing from Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport aboard the ninth Saudi relief plane on Nov. 9, Riyadh-based reporter Joudah and photographer Shalhoub boarded one of four cargo planes transporting ambulances that were set to cross through to Gaza via the Rafah border crossing.




Saudi aid agency KSrelief has delivered 20 fully equipped ambulances to the Gaza Strip via the Rafah border. (AN photo by Abdulrahman Shalhoub) 

“As we reached the cargo plane, the ground crew were moving briskly, meticulously loading the ambulances onto the waiting cargo plane. The crew, composed of dedicated individuals, worked tirelessly in unison to ensure that every aspect of the humanitarian mission was executed with precision and efficiency,” said Joudah.

“As we neared the Egyptian airspace, I was paralyzed with fear as I looked out the window and saw thick black smoke billowing from close range, but not close enough to see the Gaza Strip. I knew I was watching Gaza from above though; I knew I was witnessing an act of utter horror from above. Though I couldn’t see any landmarks, the thickness of the smoke was evident,” said Shalhoub.

Upon reaching Al-Arish, a desolate airport in the middle of the Sinai Desert, both Joudah and Shalhoub watched as the ambulances were unloaded and readied to head into Gaza.

While at the military airport, merely 45 minutes away from the Rafah crossing, a strong sense of longing hit the young reporter as she recalled a memory as a child.




(AN photo by Abdulrahman Shalhoub)

“Being in Al-Arish made my eyes tear up as I remembered being there in 1999 with my family as we crossed the Rafah crossing and into Gaza,” said Joudah.

She also recalled other memories as she huddled by one of the little windows on the plane as they flew close to Gaza, a small strip of land that has dominated the world’s news in recent months, but an area that was always on the minds of many Palestinians, Arabs and the international community.

“I wish I could have done more; I wanted to cross into Gaza and do something. Taking pictures is one thing, I would have been able to show the world the reality of Gaza through my lens, but if only I could have crossed and played with one child, made him smile, do something to alleviate his pain for a few minutes, it would have meant the world to him,” said Shalhoub.

Nearly a month later, on Dec. 1, Zakaria made her way to newly opened Abu Dhabi International Airport after boarding the fourth UAE flight to airlift injured Palestinian children and cancer patients, along with their families, from Al-Arish Airport in Egypt after they had been evacuated from Gaza via the Rafah border crossing.




An Etihad Airways flight evacuated 120 injured Palestinians and their families. (AN photo by Mohammed Fawzy)

It was the day the week-long truce had ended, and Israel had resumed its intense bombardment over Gaza, primarily across Khan Younis and Rafah in the southern area, that morning. Only a few evacuees were lucky to leave through the border that day with airstrikes hitting near the area, said Zakaria.

“Aboard the flight to Al-Arish, a strange sense of warmth, solidarity and safety prevailed amid the turbulent times. I saw a beautiful side of humanity unfold for the first time since I started covering the brutal war extensively online,” Zakaria said.

Zakaria added: “The stillness and eerie silence of the desert stood in sharp contrast with the intense bombardment taking place behind Rafah crossing, which was only 55 km away, about a 45-minute trip from Al-Arish Airport.

“The dark sky was lit with stars that night, but the only light that people in Gaza could see was that of rockets and missiles raining over their homes.”




Patients from the Gaza Strip who were evacuated from Al-Arish have landed in Abu Dhabi. (AN photo by Mohammed Fawzy) 

Nothing could have prepared Zakaria for what she was about to witness: the sight of weary, exhausted and elderly patients arriving in Egyptian ambulances and being transported to the tarmac on wheelchairs.

Children, some as young as two years old; men and women cold and alone: It was a heartbreaking scene of those who had made it through the gates of the crossing heading for a new life, while leaving loved ones behind.

Zakaria said: “Watching this scene unfold, the only question that echoed in my head was: What have those people done to be driven out of their homes in this condition? Deprived of the basic necessities of food, water, medicines, their families, memories and dreams.

Upon returning to the plane, Zakaria recalls seeing the faces of the passengers with shared common features: Eyes framed with intense black circles, frail figures, each carrying a small plastic bag with a few possessions, “and a gaze that simultaneously captured a mix of emotions — relief, guilt and hope.”

Zakaria spoke to many of the passengers as they made their way back to Abu Dhabi. All of them had lost family members, had been displaced at least four times in search for safe zones, and all left unsure if they would ever return to see their loved ones again. 

They were the lucky few after surviving intense bombing and receiving clearance to go through Rafah after clearing a tedious process to pass through.

Many were not so lucky.




Palestinian woman Sabra Moussa was evacuated from the Gaza Strip to Abu Dhabi. (AN photo by Mohammed Fawzy) 

Amna Hashem Saeed, an elderly pancreatic cancer patient, sat alone on the plane, tearfully telling Zakaria of her final moments with her only daughter. “I am left here to die, Mom,” Saeed repeated her daughter’s words as the city behind them was collapsing. Her husband had suffered a stroke a few weeks previously and has gone without treatment. Saeed herself had been refused the right to cross from Rafah for treatment in Turkiye seven times due to the security situation, before her evacuation to the UAE was finally accepted.

On the final leg of the flight, Zakaria told of how she saw a number of children, too young to comprehend the situation, either squirming in pain or playing with joy on the flight.

Among the children was 2-year-old Mohammed, who had no family except his ailing grandmother on the flight. “With his dreamy eyes and innocent smile, he climbed on my lap and played on the plane’s small screen before peacefully falling asleep in my arms until we landed in what must have been his first proper sleep in months,” said Zakaria.

“I don’t know the horrors this boy might have seen, but giving him this sense of safety was really humbling.”

She added: “It was difficult to comprehend that thousands of children like him will go to bed with the possibility that they will not see the next day.

“Walking by and seeing the child sleeping in my arms, Joe Coughlan, the flight’s medical commander, asked ‘Where else would you rather be?’

“My answer was ‘nowhere’.”


Wikipedia labels prominent Israeli civil rights organization ‘unreliable’ on Israel-Palestine crisis, antisemitism

Wikipedia labels prominent Israeli civil rights organization ‘unreliable’ on Israel-Palestine crisis, antisemitism
Updated 19 June 2024
Follow

Wikipedia labels prominent Israeli civil rights organization ‘unreliable’ on Israel-Palestine crisis, antisemitism

Wikipedia labels prominent Israeli civil rights organization ‘unreliable’ on Israel-Palestine crisis, antisemitism
  • Anti-Defamation League cannot be trusted as neutral source of information, Wikipedia editors conclude
  • Organization under scrutiny for its methods of tracking antisemitism and its rigid definition of the term

LONDON: Wikipedia has labelled the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Israeli civil rights organization, as “generally unreliable” for its work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, effectively declassifying it as a top source on its pages.

Editors of the world’s largest online encyclopedia concluded that the ADL, known as the premier Jewish civil rights organization in the US, cannot be trusted as a neutral source of information about antisemitism and the Israel-Palestine crisis.

“ADL no longer appears to adhere to a serious, mainstream and intellectually cogent definition of antisemitism, but has instead given in to the shameless politicization of the very subject that it was originally esteemed for being reliable on,” an editor known as Iskandar323, who initiated the discussion about the ADL, wrote in a debate thread.

Editors highlighted the definition of Zionism, the Jewish nationalist movement advocating for the creation of an Israeli state, as a key reason for the declassification.

The decision, which equates the ADL with tabloids, is a significant blow to the organization’s historical status as a key source of information regarding the tracking of antisemitism in the US.

The ADL has faced scrutiny for its methodologies and its rigid definition of antisemitism.

Experts repeatedly expressed skepticism about the organization’s decision to classify demonstrations featuring “anti-Zionist chants and slogans” as antisemitic.

Critics argue that this classification does not represent the full spectrum of antisemitism, because it excludes Jewish progressives and others critical of Israel.

The Forward, a US-Jewish newspaper, found at least 3,000 cases that raised concerns about the ADL’s logging system.

This decision appears to reflect ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s position that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism, full stop,” as he stated in a 2022 speech.

Greenblatt has often been criticized for his strong stance on the issue and has been accused of a partisan approach toward Israel.

In November, he endorsed Elon Musk, who had posted an antisemitic conspiracy theory on his X account, while more recently he described US student protests as Iranian “proxies” and compared the Palestinian keffiyeh scarf to a swastika.

In a statement, the ADL said the Wikipedia decision was part of a “campaign to delegitimize the ADL.”

“This is a sad development for research and education, but ADL will not be daunted in our age-old fight against antisemitism and all forms of hate,” the statement said.


US regulator says TikTok may be violating child privacy law

US regulator says TikTok may be violating child privacy law
Updated 19 June 2024
Follow

US regulator says TikTok may be violating child privacy law

US regulator says TikTok may be violating child privacy law

NEW YORK: The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced Tuesday that it had referred a complaint against TikTok to the Justice Department, saying the popular video sharing app may be violating child privacy laws.
The complaint, which also names TikTok’s Chinese parent company Bytedance, stems from an investigation launched following a 2019 settlement, the FTC said in a statement.
At the time, the US regulator accused TikTok’s predecessor, Musical.ly, of having improperly collected child users’ personal data.
TikTok agreed to pay $5.7 million under the settlement and to take actions to come into compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a 1998 law.
FTC chair Lina Khan said Tuesday on X that the follow-up investigation had “found reason to believe that TikTok is violating or about to violate” COPPA and other federal laws.
A separate FTC statement said that the public announcement of the referral was atypical, but “we have determined that doing so here is in the public interest.”
Neither Khan nor the FTC statement further specified the violations TikTok and Bytedance were believed to have committed.
TikTok said Tuesday on X that it had worked for more than a year with the FTC “to address its concerns,” and was “disappointed” the agency was “pursuing litigation instead of continuing to work with us on a reasonable solution.”
“We strongly disagree with the FTC’s allegations, many of which relate to past events and practices that are factually inaccurate or have been addressed,” it said.
“We’re proud of and remain deeply committed to the work we’ve done to protect children and we will continue to update and improve our product.”
The complaint comes a day after US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called for new restrictions on social media to combat a sweeping mental health crisis among young people.
Among the steps proposed by Murthy in his New York Times op-ed was notably a tobacco-style warning label “stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents.”
TikTok, with roughly 170 million US users, is facing a possible ban across the United States within months, as part of legislation signed by President Joe Biden in late April.
The company has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban, which is working its way through US courts.
Meanwhile TikTok has been targeted by several civil suits alleging the company insufficiently protected minors who use the platform.


Snap launches AI tools for advanced augmented reality

Snap launches AI tools for advanced augmented reality
Updated 18 June 2024
Follow

Snap launches AI tools for advanced augmented reality

Snap launches AI tools for advanced augmented reality
  • Snap hopes special lenses will attract new users and advertisers
  • AI-led Lens Studio reduces filter creation time and enhances realism

LONDON: Snapchat owner Snap on Tuesday launched its latest iteration of generative AI technology that will allow users to see more realistic special effects when using phone cameras to film themselves, as it seeks to stay ahead of social media rivals.
Snap has been a pioneer in the field of augmented reality (AR), which overlays computerized effects onto photos or videos of the real world. While the company remains much smaller than rival platforms like Meta, it is betting that making more advanced and whimsical special effects, called lenses, will attract new users and advertisers to Snapchat.
AR developers are now able to create AI-powered lenses, and Snapchat users will be able to use them in their content, the company said.
Santa Monica, California-based Snap also announced an upgraded version of its developer program called Lens Studio, which artists and developers can use to create AR features for Snapchat or other websites and apps.
Bobby Murphy, Snap’s chief technology officer, said the enhanced Lens Studio would reduce the time it takes to create AR effects from weeks to hours and produce more complex work.
“What’s fun for us is that these tools both stretch the creative space in which people can work, but they’re also easy to use, so newcomers can build something unique very quickly,” Murphy said in an interview.
Lens Studio now includes a new suite of generative AI tools, such as an AI assistant that can answer questions if a developer needs help. Another tool will allow artists to type a prompt and automatically generate a three-dimensional image that they can use for their AR lens, removing the need to develop a 3D model from scratch.
Earlier versions of AR technology have been capable only of simple effects, like placing a hat on a person’s head in a video. Snap’s advancements will now allow AR developers to create more realistic lenses, such as having the hat move seamlessly along with a person’s head and match the lighting in the video, Murphy said.
Snap also has plans to create full body, rather than just facial, AR experiences such as generating a new outfit, which is currently very difficult to create, Murphy added.


YouTube tests context ‘notes’ feature for videos

YouTube tests context ‘notes’ feature for videos
Updated 18 June 2024
Follow

YouTube tests context ‘notes’ feature for videos

YouTube tests context ‘notes’ feature for videos
  • Notes will allow users to provide additional context on videos

LONDON: Alphabet’s YouTube will soon allow users to add ‘notes’ that will provide context on some of its videos as part of a new feature that will be initially rolled out in the United States, it said on Monday.
YouTube will invite certain users and creators, as part of the initial test phase, to write notes that are meant to provide “relevant, timely, and easy-to-understand context” on videos.
The notes, for instance could clarify when a song is meant to be a parody, point out when a new version of a product being reviewed is available, or let viewers know when older footage is mistakenly portrayed as a current event.
Social media platform X has a similar feature called Community Notes through which it allows select contributors to add context to posts including tags such as “misleading” and “out of context.”
The notes feature on YouTube will be available initially on mobile to users in the US and in English. In this phase, third-party evaluators will rate the helpfulness of notes, which will help train the systems, before a potential broader rollout, YouTube said.
Viewers in the US will start to see notes on videos in the coming weeks and months.


Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard

Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard
Updated 18 June 2024
Follow

Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard

Greece says BBC report does not prove coast guard threw migrants overboard
  • BBC investigation alleges that the Greek coastguard caused dozens of migrant deaths between 2020 and 2023
  • Survivors have filed a criminal complaint against the Greek coast guard, accusing it of a slow response despite multiple warnings

ATHENS: Greece rejected Monday a BBC investigation that alleged its coast guard caused the deaths of dozens of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe, denying accusations it had broken international law.
In an investigation published on its website on Monday, the BBC counted 43 migrants it said had died in the Aegean Sea after being turned back by Greek coast guards between May 2020 and May 2023.
Nine of the dead were deliberately thrown overboard, the publicly funded British broadcaster added.
Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis denied the claims.
“We monitor every publication, every investigation, but I repeat: what has been reported is in no way proven,” he said, adding the coast guard “saves dozens of human lives each day.”
Greece has long been accused of carrying out illegal operations to force back migrants braving the perilous crossing from Turkiye’s western coast in the hope of reaching the European Union.
Though Athens has always denied the practice, numerous investigations by international media and rights groups have documented its existence, often with video evidence.
The BBC said its investigation examined 15 such pushback operations over a three-year period.
As well as basing its reporting on local media, NGOs and the Turkish coast guard, the BBC was able to interview eyewitnesses.
They include a Cameroonian national who said he and two other migrants were arrested after landing on the island of Samos in September 2021.
He said the police forced them onto a Greek coast guard boat, beating them as they went, before throwing them out into the water.
He was the only one to survive, with the bodies of his two companions — an Ivorian and another Cameroonian — washing up on the Turkish coast.
The eyewitness’s lawyers are calling for the Greek authorities to open a double murder case into the incident.
The EU said it was aware of the “terrible allegations.”
“Greek authorities, as in all EU member states, must fully respect obligations under the asylum and international law,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told journalists in Brussels.
Tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, have entered Greece in recent years from the sea and land borders with Turkiye.
The International Organization for Migration has declared the Mediterranean passage the world’s most perilous migration route.
In 2023, a migrant trawler with hundreds of people on board sank off the Greek coast, killing more than 600 people in one of Europe’s deadliest shipwrecks.
The survivors have filed a criminal complaint against the Greek coast guard.
They allege that the coast guard took hours to mount a response to the sinking ship, despite warnings from EU border agency Frontex and the NGO Alarm Phone.