East London’s streets become canvas for pro-Palestine art 

East London’s streets become canvas for pro-Palestine art 
A mural of Palestinian journalist Wael Al Dahdouh in London by Nacho Welles. (Creative Debuts)
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Updated 29 February 2024

East London’s streets become canvas for pro-Palestine art 

East London’s streets become canvas for pro-Palestine art 
  • Nine graffiti murals spotlight Palestinian journalists and doctors in Gaza with their Instagram handle
  • 'History will judge us all,' Creative Debuts founder says

LONDON: When exploring East London, a vibrant display of creativity and dissent is evident.

Amid the backdrop of coffee shops spinning vinyl records and speakeasies tucked away in butcher shops, the streets have become a canvas for an array of art voicing solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The latest addition has been the “Heroes of Palestine” project, a collection of nine graffiti murals celebrating the resilience of frontline workers in Gaza.

A mural of Palestinian journalist Bisan Owda in London by Lours. (Creative Debuts)

First launched by the art platform Creative Debuts in January, each mural spotlighted a civilian journalist along with their Instagram handle. They include Motaz Azaiza, Wael Dahdouh, Plestia Al-Aqad, Bisan Owda, Hind Khoudary, and Doaa Al-Baz.

Citizen journalists, who are risking their lives to document Israel’s bombardment and military invasion of Gaza, have played a crucial role in humanizing Palestinians.

Through platforms like Instagram, they have forged deep emotional bonds with a global audience, drawing attention to the death and destruction brought on by the war. 

“The murals bring it back to the human beings on the ground and the fact that there’s a huge, tremendous loss of life,” Creative Debuts founder Calum Hall told Arab News. 

“There’s a horrendous amount of casualties, with 90 percent of the population displaced. There’s obviously the situation happening in Rafah at the moment, which is devastating,” he added.

The community-driven project has captured the attention of both the local community and a global audience, with Hall noting that “as far as social media goes, the murals are by far the most engaged pieces we’ve ever done.”

A mural of Palestinian doctor Ahmed Moghrabi spray painted in Peckham, London. (Creative Debuts)

Following the campaign’s initial success, Creative Debuts expanded their project in February to include a tribute to Gaza’s doctors.

Hall says the murals, which have all been seen by their subjects in Gaza via social media, also serve to boost morale.

“Particularly, with the medical professionals, they’re dealing with such harrowing circumstances all the time. So, if we can even provide a 1 percent bit of hope, encouragement, and love, that has a knock-on effect for the people around them.

“We want the people out there to know they’re being seen, know they’re being heard, and know they’re being loved.”

Meanwhile, Hall advocated for the use of street art as a form of activism, a conduit for dialogue, and a tool to connect communities.

“Street art is for the people. It’s the most accessible art form, so it very much should be depicting what’s going on in society.

“Everyone loves it, taking photos, engaging with it. But it is a form of rebellion, it is a form of activism in itself and it’s the perfect way for us to get this campaign out.”

A mural of Palestinian journalist Plestia Alaqad in London painted by  Ed Hicks. (Creative Debuts)

Israel’s brutal war on Gaza, now in its sixth month, has killed nearly 30,000 people, the majority of whom are women and children.

As of Feb. 15, a YouGov poll indicates that 66 percent of Britons want Israel’s war to stop. However, the UK government has not called for an immediate ceasefire, nor has it halted the transfer of arms to Israel amid concerns that they might be used to commit “war crimes” against Palestinians.

London has witnessed some of Europe’s largest pro-Palestine protests since October, with regular marches on Saturdays, drawing hundreds of thousands.

“What seems to be really apparent is there’s a disconnect between how serious the issue is, how the politicians are handling it, and what the public thinks,” Hall said.

“I think that’s creating a bigger fissure between the public and the people in charge in this country,” he added.

The founder concluded: “The murals are an important legacy for all of us, to rally behind the people in Gaza but to also let our politicians know that we’re not happy about it.

“We’re not happy seeing this destruction and devastation in real time on our social media; it’s unavoidable. History will judge us all.”

Creative Debuts has launched a GoFundMe to continue the creation and documentation of the “Heroes of Palestine” murals, with funds directly allocated to the artists, materials, and the photographer.

Court orders release of prominent Palestinian professor suspected of incitement

Court orders release of prominent Palestinian professor suspected of incitement
Updated 55 sec ago

Court orders release of prominent Palestinian professor suspected of incitement

Court orders release of prominent Palestinian professor suspected of incitement
  • Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian was under investigation after questioning Hamas atrocities, criticizing Israel
  • Insufficient justification for arrest, says court
  • Detention part of a broader campaign, says lawyer

LONDON: The prominent Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor, Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, was released on Friday after a court order rejected police findings.

The criminologist and law professor was arrested the previous day on suspicion of incitement. She had been under investigation for remarks regarding the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas and for saying Israelis were committing “genocidal crimes” in the Gaza Strip and should fear the consequences.

On Friday, the court dismissed a police request to extend her remand, citing insufficient justification for the arrest, according to Hebrew media reports.

Protesters gathered outside the courthouse to demonstrate against Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s arrest.

Israeli Channel 12, which first reported the news, did not specify where Shalhoub was arrested but her lawyer later confirmed she was apprehended at her home in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem.

“She’s not been in good health recently and was arrested in her home,” Alaa Mahajna said. “Police searched the house and seized her computer and cellphone, [Palestinian] poetry books and work-related papers.”

Mahajna described Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s arrest as part of a broader campaign against her, which has included numerous threats to her life and of violence. 

The professor was suspended by her university last month after calling for the abolition of Zionism and suggesting that accounts of sexual assault during the Hamas-led attacks on Israel were fabricated.

The suspension was initially criticized by the university community as a blow to academic freedom in Israel. However, the decision was later reversed following an apology from Shalhoub-Kevorkian and an admission that sexual assaults took place.

Since hostilities began last year, numerous dissenting voices in Israel have faced arrest for expressing solidarity with victims of the bombardment in Gaza.

In October, well-known ultra-Orthodox Israeli journalist Israel Frey was forced into hiding following a violent attack on his home.

Bayan Khateeb, a student at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, was arrested last year for incitement after posting an Instagram story showing the preparation of a popular spicy egg dish with the caption: “We will soon be eating the victory shakshuka.”

Sony, Apollo discuss joint bid for Paramount, says source

Sony, Apollo discuss joint bid for Paramount, says source
Updated 19 April 2024

Sony, Apollo discuss joint bid for Paramount, says source

Sony, Apollo discuss joint bid for Paramount, says source
  • Paramount is already in an exclusive deal with Skydance Media over possible merger

LONDON: Sony Pictures Entertainment and Apollo Global Management are discussing making a joint bid for Paramount Global, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The companies have yet to approach Paramount, which is in exclusive deal talks with Skydance Media, an independent studio led by David Ellison, though some investors have urged Paramount to explore other options.
The competing bid, which is still being structured, would offer cash for all outstanding Paramount shares and take the company private, the source said.
Sony would hold a majority stake in the joint venture and operate the media company, and its library of films, including such classics as “Star Trek,” “Mission:Impossible” and “Indiana Jones,” and television characters like SpongeBob SquarePants, according to the source.
Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Tony Vinciquerra, a veteran media executive with deep experience in film and television, would likely run the studio and take advantage of Sony’s marketing and distribution.
Apollo would likely assume control of the CBS broadcast network and its local television stations, because of restrictions on foreign ownership of broadcast stations, the source said. Sony’s parent corporation is headquartered in Tokyo.
The New York Times first reported the Sony-Apollo discussions. Paramount and Sony declined comment. Apollo could not be reached for comment.
The private equity firm previously made a $26 billion offer to buy Paramount Global, whose enterprise value at the end of 2023 was about $22.5 billion.
A special committee of Paramount’s board elected to continue with its advanced deal talks with Skydance, rather than chase a deal “that might not actually come to fruition,” said two people with knowledge of the board’s action.
The board committee is evaluating the possible acquisition of the smaller independent studio in a stock deal worth $4 billion to $5 billion.
Skydance is negotiating separately to acquire National Amusements, a company that holds the Redstone family’s controlling interest in Paramount, according to a person familiar with the deal terms. That transaction is contingent upon a Skydance-Paramount merger.

Meta releases beefed-up AI models, eyes integration into its apps

Meta releases beefed-up AI models, eyes integration into its apps
Updated 19 April 2024

Meta releases beefed-up AI models, eyes integration into its apps

Meta releases beefed-up AI models, eyes integration into its apps
  • AI model Llama 3 takes step towards human-level intelligence, Meta claims
  • Company also announced new AI Assistant integration into its major social media apps

SAN FRANCISCO: Meta on Thursday introduced an improved AI assistant built on new versions of its open-source Llama large language model.
Meta AI is smarter and faster due to advances in the publicly available Llama 3, the tech titan said in a blog post.
“The bottom line is we believe Meta AI is now the most intelligent AI assistant that you can freely use,” Meta co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a video on Instagram.
Being open source means that developers outside of Meta are free to customize Llama 3 as they wish and the company may then incorporate those improvements and insights in an updated version.
“We’re excited about the potential that generative AI technology can have for people who use Meta products and for the broader ecosystem,” Meta said.
“We also want to make sure we’re developing and releasing this technology in a way that anticipates and works to reduce risk.”
That effort includes incorporating protections in the way Meta designs and releases Llama models and being cautious when it adds generative AI features to Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, according to Meta.
“We’re also making Meta AI much easier to use across our apps. We built it into the search box right at the top of WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram messenger, so any time you have a question, you can just ask it right there,” said Zuckerberg in the video.
AI models, Meta’s included, have been known to occasionally go off the rails, giving inaccurate or bizarre responses in episodes referred to as “hallucinations.”
Examples shared on social media included Meta AI claiming to have a child in the New York City school system during an online forum conversation.

Meta AI has been consistently updated and improved since its initial release last year, according to the company.
“Meta’s slower approach to building its AI has put the company behind in terms of consumer awareness and usage, but it still has time to catch up,” said Sonata Insights chief analyst Debra Aho Williamson.
“Its social media apps represent a massive user base that it can use to test AI experiences.”
By weaving AI into its family of apps, Meta will quickly get features powered by the technology to billions of people and benefit from seeing what users do with it.
Meta cited the example of refining the way its AI answers prompts regarding political or social issues to summarize relevant points about the topic instead of offering a single point of view.
Llama 3 has been tuned to better discern whether prompts are innocuous or out-of-bounds, according to Meta.
“Large language models tend to overgeneralize, and we don’t intend for it to refuse to answer prompts like ‘How do I kill a computer program?’ even though we don’t want it to respond to prompts like ‘How do I kill my neighbor?’,” Meta explained.
Meta said it lets users know when they are interacting with AI on its platform and puts visible markers on photorealistic images that were in fact generated by AI.
Beginning in May, Meta will start labeling video, audio, and images “Made with AI” when it detects or is told content is generated by the technology.
Llama 3, for now, is based in English but in the coming months Meta will release more capable models able to converse in multiple languages, the company said.

Authors withdraw from PEN America Literary Awards in protest against stance on Gaza

Authors withdraw from PEN America Literary Awards in protest against stance on Gaza
Updated 19 April 2024

Authors withdraw from PEN America Literary Awards in protest against stance on Gaza

Authors withdraw from PEN America Literary Awards in protest against stance on Gaza
  • 30 writers sign open letter criticizing organization for its ‘failure to confront the genocide of the Palestinian people and defend our fellow writers in Gaza’
  • They call on its CEO, Suzanne Nossel, its president, Jennifer Finney Boylan, and the entire executive committee to resign

DUBAI: Thirty authors and translators have signed an open letter to PEN America in which they declined, or withdrew their work from consideration for, the organization’s 2024 Literary Awards, in protest against its “failure to confront the genocide of the Palestinian people and defend our fellow writers in Gaza.”

In the letter, sent to the board of trustees this week, the writers said they “wholeheartedly reject PEN America and its failure to confront the genocide in Gaza” and demanded the resignations of the organization’s CEO, Suzanne Nossel, its president, Jennifer Finney Boylan, and its entire executive committee.

The signatories include the co-founder of the PEN World Voices Festival, Esther Allen, as well as Joseph Earl Thomas, Kelly X. Hui, Nick Mandernach, Alejandro Varela, Maya Binyam and Julia Sanches.

Allen this month said she had declined the PEN/Ralph Manheim Award for Translation. She posted a message on social media platform X on April 5 in which she said she had done so in solidarity with more than 1,300 writers who had criticized PEN America for its silence “on the genocidal murder of Palestinians,” and “in celebration and memory of, and in mourning for, all the Palestinians silenced forever by US-backed Israeli forces.”

Similarly, Binyam recently withdrew her debut novel “Hangman” from consideration for the PEN/Jean Stein and PEN/Hemingway awards.

In an email to PEN America, a copy of which she posted on X on April 11, she said she considered it “shameful that this recognition (of her work) should exist under the banner of PEN America, whose leadership has been steadfast in its dismissal of the ongoing genocide, and of the historic struggle for Palestinian liberation.”

In their open letter this week, the signatories said: “Writers have a responsibility to be good stewards of history in order to be good stewards of our communities.”

They added that they “stand in solidarity with a free Palestine,” and refuse “to be honored by an organization that acts as a cultural front for American imperialism” or “take part in celebrations that will serve to overshadow PEN’s complicity in normalizing genocide.”

In response, PEN America said: “Words matter and this letter deserves close scrutiny for its alarming language and characterizations.

“The current war in Gaza is horrific. But we cannot agree that the answer to its wrenching dilemmas and consequences lies in a shutting down of conversation and the closing down of viewpoints.

“We respect all writers for acting out of their consciences and will continue in our mission to defend their freedom to express themselves.”

The awards are due to be handed out during a ceremony on April 29 in Manhattan.

US congressional committee releases sealed Brazil court orders to Musk’s X, shedding light on account suspensions

US congressional committee releases sealed Brazil court orders to Musk’s X, shedding light on account suspensions
Updated 19 April 2024

US congressional committee releases sealed Brazil court orders to Musk’s X, shedding light on account suspensions

US congressional committee releases sealed Brazil court orders to Musk’s X, shedding light on account suspensions

RIO DE JANEIRO: A US congressional committee released confidential Brazilian court orders to suspend accounts on the social media platform X, offering a glimpse into decisions that have spurred complaints of alleged censorship from the company and its billionaire owner Elon Musk.
The Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee late Wednesday published a staff report disclosing dozens of decisions by Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordering X to suspend or remove around 150 user profiles from its platform in recent years.
The 541-page report is the product of committee subpoenas directed at X. In his orders, de Moraes had prohibited X from making them public.
“To comply with its obligations under US law, X Corp. has responded to the Committee,” the company said in a statement on X on April 15.
The disclosure comes amid a battle Musk has waged against de Moraes.
Musk, a self-proclaimed free-speech absolutist, had vowed to publish de Moraes’ orders, which he equated to censorship. His crusade has been cheered on by supporters of far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro, who allege they are being targeted by political persecution, and have found common cause with their ideological allies in the US
De Moraes has overseen a five-year probe of so-called “digital militias,” who allegedly spread defamatory fake news and threats to Supreme Court justices. The investigation expanded to include those inciting demonstrations across the country, seeking to overturn Bolsonaro’s 2022 election loss. Those protests culminated in the Jan. 8 uprising in Brazil’s capital, with Bolsonaro supporters storming government buildings, including the Supreme Court, in an attempt to oust President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from office.
De Moraes’ critics claim he has abused his powers and shouldn’t be allowed to unilaterally ban social media accounts, including those of democratically elected legislators. But most legal experts see his brash tactics as legally sound and furthermore justified by extraordinary circumstances of democracy imperiled. They note his decisions have been either upheld by his fellow justices or gone unchallenged.
The secret orders disclosed by the congressional committee had been issued both by Brazil’s Supreme Court and its top electoral court, over which de Moraes currently presides.
The press office of the Supreme Court declined to comment on the potential ramifications of their release when contacted by The Associated Press.
“Musk is indeed a very innovative businessman; he innovated with electric cars, he innovated with rockets and now he invented a new form of non-compliance of a court order, through an intermediary,” said Carlos Affonso, director of the nonprofit Institute of Technology and Society. “He said he would reveal the documents and he found someone to do this for him.”
Affonso, also a professor of civil rights at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said that the orders are legal but do merit debate, given users were not informed why their accounts were suspended and whether the action was taken by the platform or at the behest of a court. The orders to X included in the report rarely provide justification, either.
The Supreme Court’s press office said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the orders do not contain justifications, but said the company and people with suspended accounts can gain access by requesting the decisions from the court.
While Musk has repeatedly decried de Moraes’ orders as suppressing “free speech” principles and amounting to “aggressive censorship,” the company under his ownership has bowed to government requests from around the world.
Last year, for instance, X blocked posts critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and, in February, it blocked accounts and posts in India at the behest of the country’s government.
“The Indian government has issued executive orders requiring X to act on specific accounts and posts, subject to potential penalties including significant fines and imprisonment,” X’s global affairs account posted on Feb. 21. “In compliance with the orders, we will withhold these accounts and posts in India alone; however, we disagree with these actions and maintain that freedom of expression should extend to these posts.”
Brazil is a key market for X and other social media platforms. About 40 million Brazilians, or about 18 percent of the population, access X at least once per month, according to market research group eMarketer.
X has followed suspension orders under threat of hefty fines. De Moraes typically required compliance within two hours, and established a daily fine of 100,000-reais ($20,000) for noncompliance.
It isn’t clear whether the 150 suspended accounts represent the entirety of those de Moraes ordered suspended. Until the committee report, it wasn’t known whether the total was a handful, a few dozen or more. Some of the suspended accounts in the report have since been reactivated.
On April 6, Musk took to X to challenge de Moraes, questioning why he was “demanding so much censorship in Brazil”. The following day, the tech mogul said he would cease to comply with court orders to block accounts — and that de Moraes should either resign or be impeached. Predicting that X could be shut down in Brazil, he instructed Brazilians to use a VPN to retain their access.
De Moraes swiftly included Musk in the ongoing investigation of digital militias, and launched a separate investigation into whether Musk engaged in obstruction, criminal organization and incitement. On April 13, X’s legal representative in Brazil wrote to de Moraes that it will comply with all court orders, according to the letter, seen by the AP.
Affonso said the committee’s release of de Moraes’ orders were aimed less at Brazil than at the administration of US President Joe Biden. The report cites Brazil “as a stark warning to Americans about the threats posed by government censorship here at home.”
Terms like “censorship” and “free speech” have turned into political rallying cries for US conservatives since at least the 2016 presidential election, frustrated at seeing right-leaning commentators and high-profile Republican officials booted off Facebook and Twitter in its pre-Musk version for violating rules.
“The reason why the far-right needs him (Musk) is because they need a platform, they need a place to promote themselves. And Elon Musk needs far-right politicians because they will keep his platform protected from regulations,” said David Nemer, a Brazil native and University of Virginia professor who studies social media.
In the US, free speech is a constitutional right that’s much more permissive than in other countries, including Brazil. Still, the report’s release seemed to invigorate Bolsonaro and his far-right supporters.
Late Wednesday, soon after the court orders were released, Bolsonaro capped off a speech at a public event by calling for a round of applause for Musk.
His audience eagerly complied.