This Is Not An Article About 10 Things You Should Know On The “Arab-Israeli Conflict”

Chaos and violence continue in the Arab world as Gaza enters its 50th day under Operation Protective Edge, Islamic State gains full control of Raqqa, and Islamist militants take hold of Libya’s capital.
This article serves as a reminder that we need to re-think our over-confident analyses and convictions to gain a better understanding of the complex situations going on around.

Mish Jareedi

(Ibrahim Halawi)

The crisis is overwhelming; the tragedy is beyond one’s cognition. We have had to swallow the frustrating and brutal counter-revolution in Egypt and Bahrain, the bloody escalation in Syria and Libya, the geographic expansion of the so-called Islamic State, and to add insult to injury: the war on Gaza. We have had to pretend we’ve got our analysis right; that we have managed to connect the dots in a rational manner at times when the regional power constellation is at its peak.

We haven’t. Despite some exalted activists posting thousands of words on Facebook and getting shared as ‘words of wisdom’, we have yet to understand why and how this has happened. We are yet to understand the political economy of the counter-revolutions. We are yet to visualize the parallel processes of the revolts and the proxy battles and when/where/how did those processes dialectically clash. We are yet…

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How one woman’s Googling led to a boom of female-led TEDx events in Lebanon

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Dead Poets Society
The importance of one person’s idea in affecting a society.

TED Blog

Organizers show off their shirts at a TEDxBeirutSalon. Photo: Courtesy of TEDxBeirut Organizers show off their shirts at a TEDxBeirutSalon. Photo: Courtesy of TEDxBeirut

In 2008, Patricia Zougheib was at work in Beirut, Lebanon, when she came across a video of Jill Bolte Taylor describing her own stroke. She was awed, and Googled the three red letters she noticed in the background—T-E-D. “I started watching one talk after the other,” she says, “and I got hooked, big-time.”

For a while, Zougheib kept her TED habit her own special secret, watching talks alone at her advertising job. “But then I thought, after one year, ‘No, this is too good not to be shared.’” She introduced her husband to TED, and the two decided to invite some friends over to their house to watch and discuss talks.

TEDxSKE, the first TEDx event in Lebanon, started as a gathering of six friends — but it has led to a boom of TEDx events…

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We live with the meaning of “living” defined. We live up to that meaning, following similar or different paths that lead to common goals set by societies long ago. And I wouldn’t say we hate change or fear it. I’d say that we rarely think about it. Rarely do we notice alternatives. Rarely do we open our dictionaries and realize that words have plenty of hands fit to hold multiple definitions. Rarely do we open thesauruses and realize that limiting ourselves to certain words is absurd, for every word has tens that carry similar meanings to it. And this ruins our writings. It turns them to bland pieces of common-use words and figures that have lost their ring long ago.

It ruins our lives.

The following is a beautiful piece of writing by Maya Al Ajam, a  close friend of mine, on the subject of limiting ourselves, and in specific, our happiness, to definitions. Enjoy:

 I have pixelated a breath of darkness in the ever-bright illuminations of my mind. The darkness of definitions. I’ve been regurgitating the same album of quotes telling me about happiness whenever I blink the illusions I see on the inner side of my eye-lids into reality. The quotes got me started and now I’m giving them the permission to define me so I’d act upon them.

   Well, I was. Now, I’m not. I don’t regret that though. I’m content I climbed an extra step that tempted me to write this. As Oscar Wilde put it, “to define is to limit.” I can’t limit myself. I don’t want to limit my experiences or my emotions.

   Tonight I live my thoughts for we both agree we are one. We agree that we’re the conversations we exchange, the emotions we feed, the conclusions we trace, both sides of an argument. Our existence and the hidden pieces we are, yet blended in other existences. We agree that we can’t keep rereading the definitions. We agree that happiness, is not. Telling myself to smile won’t work. Happiness must feel shame when it realizes how bad people want it.

Life is not meant to flourish on definitions. Life is feeling, taking turn.

   Wait! See that! That’s a definition. Mine, not yours. You, yourself, are a dictionary ripped apart and thrown to the ripples of the ocean. Question that.

   Today, today the smiles in my being find comfort in transparent cups of tea and mint leaves seductively floating in the water. I find comfort in making my nephews crowns out of paper , and reading,  and manually looking up words in the dictionary, and writing. Yesterday, I found the smiles while talking with my closest friends, feeling what we’ve shared as beautiful song of a kid learning to play the guitar. Tomorrow, what is a happy tomorrow? How is a happy tomorrow? I’ll find out, tomorrow. I’m too busy to pixelate   a fake definition of a happy tomorrow within me.

   As I stand midst this road and look back at the fraction of my life stumbling as it dances, I mumble, “happiness.”  It whispers, “don’t chase it.”

TARA Expedition 2014

On Tuesday afternoon, TARA arrived to Beirut’s port for a stay that will last a week. On Saturday afternoon, I visited through a B2 scouts trip the TARA Mediterranean Expedition of 2014.

TARA is a 25 year-old scientific ship which collects samples and data from oceans and seas. It was originally made for the arctic sails and has carried several missions in Antarctica since. Its aluminum-based structure allows it to easily travel the snow and ice, and the most recent trip to the arctic had been TARA Arctic, an expedition between 2006 and 2008 out of which over two dozen scientific publications resulted. Research director Jean-Claude Gascard has repeatedly emphasized on the importance of the findings of this trip stating that he “wouldn’t be surprised if people are still publishing works based on [that] data ten years from now.” Another trip, TARA Oceans, which took place between 2009 and 2012, bought back about 28,000 samples which helped in the development of research and analysis regarding bacterial diversity and new species of coral.

Currently, the 2014 expedition’s mission is to accomplish scientific studies regarding plastic pollution and to promote awareness of environmental challenges in the Mediterranean region. The accumulation of plastic has long been a challenge to nature, and we still know little about the role and destiny of that plastic to be able to predict the impact it could have on man and the oceans. The expedition will be seven months long and cover 22 stops.

The trip was educational, recreational, and interesting. However, what interested me most was the TARA expedition’s story, for it shows once again that it only needs few people and a passion to start something that makes a difference. The TARA educational and scientific expeditions that started in 2003 carry a tale of a mother and son who shared their passion for the ocean, the planet and the people. The ship was built 1989, and after serving for years, was bought by Agnès B. and Étienne Bourgois. The story, told by Agnès Trouble, goes as follows:

“The ship began her days as the ‘Antarctica’. She was built by Jean-Louis Étienne and the naval architects Luc Bouvet and Olivier Petit. Later she became the Sea master under Sir Peter Blake who sadly died aboard. Further down the line Sir Peter’s wife, Lady Blake, showed great interest in my son Étienne’s dream of conducting polar and scientific expeditions… In 2003, Étienne and I decided to buy the boat to carry out environmental work. My contribution is the Agnès B. endowment fund which co-finances, alongside other vital partners, the Tara and her expeditions.”

So the TARA remains one ship whose voice has reached many countries and organizations, and whose mission has been admired by numerous people, from UN SG Ban Ki-Moon who said that the TARA is “an example to be followed within the scientific community,” to Prince Albert II of Monaco who commented that “the TARA teaches us how to love the sea,” to countless photographers, journalists, students, and a bunch of marine B2 scouts who praised the ship and its expeditions even more.

The TARA expedition at Zeitouny Bay ends on the 12th of August, and so does the exhibition “Our Planet Ocean” located in the room beside Beirut Yacht Club.        

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On the Israeli – Palestinian Conflict

Hamas and Israel agreed on a 72-hour ceasefire which started today morning at 8 AM local time and will continue till Friday morning. On what would’ve been Operation Protective Edge’s 29th day, the numbers are as follow:
• 1,717 Palestinians dead – 85 % of which are civilians ( According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, last updated on August 3)
• About 10,000 Palestinians wounded
• Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker dead
• 64 IDF soldiers dead

Numbers talk, but the dead are not mere figures. They are people who were supposed to be leading and fulfilling lives: A toddler who took his first steps a couple of weeks ago. A boy who liked collecting seashells by the shore of Gaza. A young woman who recently got engaged. A mother who enjoyed the sight of her smiling children.

But the toddler was burnt and only a disfigured little black corpse, blotched in red remained. The young boy was killed by the shore as he played with his friends, and only the sea knows the last words he said as his hands touched its waters for what he did not know was his last time. The woman’s fiancé lay dead under iron and stones, and she wept as his sweet voice echoed in her ears while she held her golden engagement ring close to her chest and traced its delicate cold figure with her hands . And the smiling children, they wept, too, as they clutched the vivid vermilion hands of their still mother and watched her eyes slowly roll back into their sockets.

The majority of Gaza has been turned to rubble. Its infrastructure is collapsing. Its only power plant, bombed on the 29th of July by Israeli forces, needs a year to repair, and 5 – 8 power plants out of 10 that conduct electricity from Israel have been disabled, some by Hamas’ rockets. Hospitals continue to suffer from medical equipment shortage and weak sanitation systems. UN schools are overcrowding as 11% of Gaza’s populations has been displaced.

The situation has been called a humanitarian crisis. Both sides have been accused of war crimes. The international community remains divided between condemnation of Israel, support of Israel, condemnation of both Hamas and Israel, or silent watch.

Assaults on Gaza date back to 1967 and the words of late Prime Ministers calling to “get rid of Gaza’s Arabs” and inhibit “the increase of the Arab population in Israel” seem to remain alive and in practice. Israel claims its right for self-defense when questioned about the motives behind all the operations it has led on Gaza since the elections of Hamas in the first Palestinian elections in January 2006.

The “self-defense” excuse is wearing out though– that is if the excuse was justified in the first place, for in accord with the International Law: the use of force is allowed without Security Council authorization in exactly one case: in self-defense after informing the Security Council of an armed attack, until the Council acts. Israel has not followed this procedure in most of its past operations.

Hamas is recognized to be seeking Israel’s end. The truth remains,however, that Hamas officials had repeatedly stated in the past their readiness for accepting a two-state resolution, a currently far-fetched resolution, but the only one that I believe would work in establishing peace in both Israel and Palestine. Yet, Israel had continuously blocked negotiations. Now I do not rally in full support behind Hamas. Its rockets aimed at civilians violate international humanitarian laws and constitute as war crimes. Its recent statement that “ all Israelis have become legitimate targets for the resistance” horrifies me, and its friend, the Islamic Jihadist Movement , scares the hell out of me. Yet so does the destructive Israel, which has taken the land from its owners by force then ironically established what it calls a “democratic” government and “the most moral army in the world,” both of which carried on with murder, destruction, and oppression in Palestine, and forced a siege on what came to be one of the worst open-air prisons in the world: Gaza.

Currently, Israel continues to blame the death of civilians on Hamas. It claims that Hamas is using the people as humanitarian shields. However, Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, and reporters from BBC, the Independent, and the Guardian have found no evidence of that. Amnesty International still stated that even if Hamas “direct[ed] civilians to remain in a specific location in order to shield military objectives, all of Israel’s obligations to protect these civilians would still apply.” It has also commented that “although the Israeli authorities claim to be warning civilians in Gaza, a consistent pattern has emerged that their actions do not constitute an ‘effective warning’ under international humanitarian law.”

The recent 72-hour ceasefire seems to be signaling the end of Operation Protective Edge. As much as I wish that the international community will continue with its war crime charges on both Israel and Hamas long after the operation ends, I don’t have my hopes up. All would probably return to “normal” in the next few weeks – the norms being described perfectly by Noam Chomsky in the following paragraphs :
“ For the West Bank, the norm is that Israel continues its illegal construction of settlements and infrastructure so that it can integrate into Israel whatever might be of value, meanwhile consigning Palestinians to unviable cantons and subjecting them to repression and violence.
For Gaza, the norm is a miserable existence under a cruel and destructive siege that Israel administers to permit bare survival but nothing more.”