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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Definitions

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.”

Change and Revolutions – Quick Late Thoughts

The talks that have been happening on social media websites regarding “change” and “revolution” have been something alright. I respect all the tweeps going after change. That is a step at least, but what shouldn’t be forgotten is that it’s not the only step.

Now what I’ve been admiring is the consistency with which some people have been working on to get hashtags to trend. That’s good. 

But, they’re just hashtags.

Yes, they’ll spark a thought for the need of change in the mind of the reader, but let’s not forget that the reader is someone who’s leisurely browsing his timeline, and the hashtag might cease to mean nothing to him once he passes over it. 

Let’s also bear in mind t the fact that instead of trending words where we call for change in a 140-character tweet, we could tweet something that actually changes. Petitions. Mentions to people in charge. Dates of the protests taking place. Reasons of why we should be interested in the cause. Actual substantiated and compelling reasons, not the shallow surface ones that we hear on adds or in political speeches aimed at getting submissive votes.

Another important point is accepting the disagreements that are going to come from people around and taking them to consideration. Consciously questioning your actions and words and accepting constructive criticism. Accepting one another, and that goes to everybody. It’s not a matter of who’s right, but a matter of what’s right, and unless we learn to take an objective view towards all options and thoughts available, change will never happen.

Lastly, yet most importantly, is the actual work that should be done, and that isn’t necessarily just “on the streets”. There are ways other than protests. Organizing meetings where you personally meet with everybody of interest in the topic.That’s already done on a larger scale by NGOs, and we can make them possible on a smaller scale too. Organizing school clubs or awareness campaigns in schools, taking time to talk with your classmates and open up their eyes on what they may not be aware of.Actual contact with humans, in person, and not over screens, because those leave a greater impact on the person.

Social media is good to start the talk and group together people of similar interests, but it’s just the start,a pencil. We should now take it and write. 

Crows

What I would never confess,was the intensity with which I loved those black crows.

On hazy autumn afternoons, I’d wander and look for their beaks in wheat fields and skies saturated with specks of sand carried by blonde rays. Their black feathers would camouflage perfectly during the night time, and so I had to rush after school to catch a glimpse of them before dusk. 

I had torn the scarecrow down, severed its cotton limbs and stuffed my bed mattress and pillow case with what remained of them. I had ripped off the clothes it wore and handed them down to Sarah and Jen who lived by the garbage bins at the corner of the next street. I congratulated myself on those disguised deeds done to quench my thirst with short-lived shots of dopamine and serotonin. 

I spent hours in our dim basement on dark Friday nights fashioning a chair out of logs of teak, crafting a picture of them on its back with perfect delicacy and their names on the front carefully.

And on a Saturday dawn, with sun rays kissing the seat a good-morning through holes in the walls, I had carved my last letter and dusted off of it the dirt.

I carried it on my back to the center of the field and cautiously set it down on a worn-out rug I had stolen from my neighbor’s yard during midnight the other week. He’d go on without it fine, but the chair, no it can’t touch the soil. 

Then by its four feet, I left bowls of fresh water that glistened as light played on their surface, and on the seat I placed a nest of auric straw.

Slowly, I stepped back. The wheat had grown tall. Its grains toyed with my hair and caressed my tanned skin. I suppressed a giggle. I had heard a “caw”, but it gradually faded.

It’s been hours. The wheat grains seemed to be swaying more slowly now as I waited.

I stood in that golden heaven, but was too busy waiting for their black majesty.

I had built them a throne, in my mind and in that field. 

Deemed Insane

At the edge of a cliff I sat, inhaling the beauty around. The sharp smell of pine trees , of damp soil, of blossoming dandelions revived my weary senses.  I looked up at the starry night. I needed no glasses to see the stars. Their light reaches the eyes of all but the blind, and I know every constellation by heart. I came from them, in the end. How can you not recall the name of your parents?

The breeze bought a shiver to my naked body, but I wasn’t going to put any clothes on. I had none after all. I had left them at the foot of the ward’s fence. I wanted nothing to do with those men.

I was put in a psych ward, deemed insane by mad men. I was draped in a light blue gown, strapped to a bed. A transparent orange bottle with a white cap stood on the table at my side. Filled with light red capsules, “Lithium,” it read.

“She’s lost her mind,” men in white cloaks whispered among themselves.

But no I did not believe that. I would never lose my mind, I cherished it too well. Besides, the voices, they’ve quieted down, but they haven’t left. They’re still here. I still talk to them all the time. Every single one. They would leave with my mind if it had left. They hate me, I know.

But they’re the only ones I talk to, the only ones whose questions I answer and whose answers I accept.  They asked me why we were here as I lay on that bed.

“I don’t know. They say they’re waiting for my mind. They’ve called me insane. Yet what is insanity?

Is it just a derangement of the mind? But wait that would affirm that my mind hasn’t gone, and that’s not what was said.

Is it losing all sense? No, I could see and hear well.

 Common sense, maybe? That is possible, I confess.

 Is it living in an illusion? Or becoming delusional?

 Is it talking with ants? Conversing with pets?

Or was I viewed insane for those thoughts in my head? Not the ones that walked on sidewalks but the rebels that leapt, and danced in meadows, then crashed and wept. The ones that took the wrong step, and continued with the wrong dance, twirled in an incorrect direction, started a renaissance.

Maybe they thought that’s where my mind had gone, to that green meadow to bring them back again. So they locked me in this white room, with fluorescent lights overhead, and waited at the door of my house with cuffs and guns loaded with lead.

They refused a rebirth, debunked its need. They would dissect it, kill it, watch it bleed.” 

Circles

I’ve always been a circle, rolling about in a world of angled shapes. Soft edges, no breaks, my outline incapable of blending in with rectangular figures nor with triangular blocks. 

 I’d roll on solid hard pavements, and on lofty green grass, on one way high-ways non-stop. I’d get bruised;my curved lines torn. I would wait for them to mend, an incomplete circle with no beginning or end. A one-side coin waiting to be seen, for one-sided coins are but figments of imagination, virtual sides in  real minds. And so I’d roll on, unperceived. 

But I always feared corners, for where the lines meet, cages reside; and I, too weak, a vulnerable circle, would get easily trapped inside. Yet they were unavoidable. I crashed too many times. I got engulfed, their lines tied me up, suffocated me, to their strain I had to succumb. But the pain was not physical, my rim remained intact. The corners stabbed my insides, the empty inside of my curved lines. Insides that got reminded of their vacancy when they got in contact with those perfectly full corners; and they longed to be full themselves.

Until you came along, perfectly round, a circle like me, too, and we crashed. Our circumferences overlapped, entwined, each a separate side of the same coin, and together we joined. Then they were able to see me. I was still hollow, but my outline, not thin anymore, was now seen and heard. At least now I’m a curved line that belongs to the real world.

Let’s Not Let the Case Drop

It’s not the first time buildings shake and window glasses break. not the first time smoke rises in the skies of Beirut and phone networks stop working, definitely not the first time ambulance sirens are heard mixed with the cries and screams of the hurt and scared and frightened.

At 4:10 PM, an explosion took place in Beirut’s southern suburb, ending the lives of four civilians. Less than a week ago, on Friday, an explosion took place in Downtown, taking away the lives of eight. Total death toll :ten. Ten in less than seven days dead because some terrorists decided they can do so.

It has happened a handful of times in Beirut and its surroundings.It happens everyday or the other in Tripoli. People die; their names forgotten in a few days, the whole incident forgotten in a few weeks.
Apparently, nothing’s new. We’ve adapted, got used to the scent of blood hovering in the streets.

And that is just sick.

It’s sick that we got used to it, that we’re ready to continue our daily routine a few hours after hearing of the explosion. It’s sad that people die in such a gruesome way just because they happened to be passing by the wrong place at the wrong time, and it angers me how the media turns their death into a scoop, and how politicians use it for their own benefit and for encouraging hate between people of different religions and sects. One of the victims of last week’s explosion was a 16 year-old boy called “Mohammad Chaar” – a name that would’ve gone unnoticed if it weren’t for his friends, who did something unusual : They tried to organize something. They organized a peaceful march from his school ” Hariri Highschool II ” to the site of the explosion in Downtown,Beirut. The march was joined in by many teenagers from all around Lebanon, who didn’t necessarily know Chaar but wanted to give out a message, a cry. They wanted to let their call for change reach the entire country. And they did; the march got great media coverage. Social media buzzed with talks about Chaar. Tweets about him filled timelines; hash-tags like ‘ #TheMohammadChaarRevolution ‘ and ‘ #RIPMohammadChaar’ trended.

And then what?
In the past two days, the thoughts of Chaar gradually faded, and if it weren’t for the explosion today, which reminded people of what happened a few days ago, I bet his memory wouldn’t have survived the rest of the week.

Often, when we’re first introduced to a new idea,we get excited about it. We always pour ourselves into it at the beginning. A sense of fulfillment fills our hearts as we take the first few steps. It’s quite beautiful at first, that feeling of initiating a change, of doing ‘something’ – a twist from the every-day routine. But what’s disappointing is that most of the time, the idea withers away before getting the chance to blossom. We get bored, or tired. More ‘important’ things fill our time, or so we claim. We get sucked into the never-ending hurricane of selfishness, self-doubt, and laziness. ‘What’s it to me? How will I make a change?’ and so we sit and wait for other people to continue our work. That’s exactly why Lebanon’s been in this sad state for the past decades. Oh, sure, blame the politicians, the government, certain terrorist groups, and other countries, but we’re to blame too, because we’ve been sitting here and allowing them to do what they do : to steal and kill and control.

I’m not saying that tomorrow we should all go to the streets and protest. This surely will not work, since a large group of people is still blindly swallowing what their religious and political leaders are telling them. A real revolution can only work if all the people stand together, which does not seem possible in Lebanon at the moment. What we should do ,though, is try to wake these people up, show them the truth; and gradually, change will come.

What we should do is not let the case drop once the blood dries.