Lebanon, travel

When in doubt – Lebanon!

Lebanon was always a crossroad of the Mediterranean and the Arabian hinterland, so the country has a rich history. The earliest evidence of civilization in Lebanon dates back more than seven thousand years, so the amount of the stories waiting for you there is – huge.

There are many places worth visiting, from the famous old town of Byblos, to vibrating Beirut’s donwtown and colorful vineyards of Bekaa Valley (just to name some). Also important to mention – Lebanese cuisine has been praised among the biggest food lovers all over the globe for a long time now, so that’s a reason more to take your piece of Lebanese cake(s). Just be careful when crossing the road, the country is also famous for its crazy cab drivers.

Here are some photos to get you excited about this diverse country!















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Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Hummus with a side of harmony.

Author: Leigh Cuen/Your Middle East

Out of dozens of popular restaurants in the Old City, Hendy Sohela of Sohel Hummus is the sole woman running her own business. The restaurant’s walls are decorated with Qur’anic verses, images of the Dome of the Rock and a mounted TV screen, which broadcasts footage from the Islamic holy sites in Mecca.

Ancient Egyptians first mentioned the city of Acre in hieroglyphic carvings. In 66 CE, it was a base for the Romans when they crushed the Jewish revolt. Muslims conquered the city in 638, followed by Crusaders in 1104. Napoleon laid siege to it in 1799, but could not conquer it. Today, Acre still harbours religious diversity similar to that of Jerusalem. Yet Acre has its own unique social climate. People of all backgrounds enjoy equal opportunities in the city’s flourishing culinary scene.

Sohela inherited the restaurant from her father, Abo Sohel, in 1993. “It was hard to be the first woman running a hummus restaurant in the Old City. Hummus is a tradition in Acre. At first my family was against it,” said Sohela. “But my siblings supported me. After my father passed away, my mother became ill and one of my siblings went blind. It was up to me to uphold our family’s recipe.” In 2005, Sohela won first prize in a national competition hosted by Israeli celebrity chefs Oren Giron and Moshe Segev. She was awarded a plaque with a golden pita and her hummus was deemed best in Israel.


“Living side-by-side, working and eating together, this is how each generation learns to get along”

According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, almost all of Acre’s Old City residents are Arab, around 20 per cent of the whole city’s population. On weekends the neighbourhood is packed with people from across the north, evenly split between Arabs and Jews. They flock to restaurants in the Old City, from hip new venues to traditional, family-owned places.

David Harari, an official responsible for tourism in Acre, says the city annually attracts 100,000 tourists from all over the world. It’s home to numerous holy sites, including the Bahá’í Gardens at Bahjí, Saint George’s Church, the Jezzar Pasha Mosque and Or Torah, a Tunisian synagogue covered in art mosaics.

Sohela’s hummus restaurant is now a multicultural watering hole for northerners and tourists alike, Christians, Muslims, Jews and Druze. “My hummus is like a flower,” she says. “I am a Muslim woman, but a flower is not only the petals. The local farmers who supply ingredients and the customers I feed come from every community in Israel. When people eat good hummus together, they don’t argue. They shut up and eat happily.”

Today, Sohela says she enjoys equality with all the city’s businessmen, that now the only problem is finding parking near their busy restaurants. “I can’t say if I have the same rights as Jewish business owners. I’ve never been Jewish,” she says. “But I don’t feel any discrimination. Only politicians separate us into categories. In Acre, we are simply neighbours.”

Across the street, fellow hummus chef Issa Makhol, a Maronite Christian, agrees Acre’s culinary scene fosters peaceful coexistence. Makhol inherited his hummus restaurant from his grandfather who first opened the business in 1950. “This atmosphere could never happen in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv,” he says. “It is unique. Our diverse communities are equal and have a great relationship.”

Makhol believes routine non-threatening interaction fosters Acre’s unique climate of tolerance. “Regardless of history,” he says, “living side-by-side, working and eating together, this is how each generation learns to get along.”

A lot has changed since Sohela first took over her father’s restaurant across the street. Today, Makhol’s wife and mother also work at his family restaurant. He feels comfortable leaving the business under their control when he is away; it feels perfectly natural.

Acre’s economy thrives off of independent gourmet businesses, overwhelmingly owned by minorities. Sohela argues there isn’t any universal formula for replicating this economic empowerment. “Every woman must decide her own success. Maybe one wants a restaurant and the other wants to stay home with the children,” she says. “Success is not the number of women owning restaurants. It is that each exercises the right to choose for herself.”

Jordan, travel

The subtle vibrance of Amman, Jordan.

Three months ago, I was lucky enough to spend some days in Amman. I explored all the small streets seeming to lead nowhere, and realised that there’s no street or road leading nowhere, something’s always waiting out there. Some of the surprises I encountered are on these photos – like the painting in the abandoned building. I found it while walking an alternative route to Amman’s Citadel (a great place, especially if you like history combined with great views).

Amman’s downtown smells like spices and fresh juices (I recommend Palestine juice, close to King Abdullah Mosque – father and a son run the small stand, very kind and welcoming, offering fresh fruit and great juices  for 1JD). The cars are beeping, somebody is randomly selling chickens or pigeons by the road, and man are carrying around falafels and hummus for breakfast (if you want to try the best one – go to Hashem, an iconic downtown restaurant, locals eat there, food is cheap and yummy).

For the rest – I’ll leave you with the photos.




















Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Pakistan

The world cannot turn a blind eye to America’s drone attacks in Pakistan.

Author: Robert Fisk/ The Independent

Karim Khan is a lucky man. When you’re picked up by 20 armed thugs, some in police uniform – aka the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – you can be “disappeared” forever. A mass grave in Balochistan, in the south-west of the country, has just been found, filled with the “missing” from previous arrests. But eight days after he was lifted and – by his own testimony, that of his lawyer Shasad Akbar and the marks still visible on his body – tortured, Mr Khan is back at his Pakistani home. His crime: complaining about US drone attacks – American missiles fired by pilotless aircraft – on civilians inside Pakistan in President Obama’s Strangelove-style operation against al-Qa’ida.

There are, as the cops would say, several facts “pertaining” to Mr Khan’s kidnapping. Firstly, his son Hafiz Zaenullah, his brother Asif Iqbal and another man – a stonemason called Khaliq Dad – were killed by a drone attack on Mr Khan’s home in December 2009. Secondly, he had filed a legal case in Pakistan against the American drone strikes, arguing that they constituted murder under domestic law. And thirdly – perhaps Mr Khan’s most serious crime – he was about to leave for Brussels to address European Union parliamentarians on the dangers of American drone strikes in Pakistan.

In Madiha Tahir’s recent documentary film Wounds of Waziristan, Mr Khan had talked about his family loss. His son Hafiz was a security guard at a local girls’ school, and also studying for Grade 10. Asif, who had a Master’s in English, was a government employee. Karim Khan saw what was left of their bodies, “covered in wounds”. He found some of their fingers in the rubble of his home.

Thanks to constant reports of his kidnapping in the courageous Pakistani media and to the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court who ordered the Pakistani government to produce Karim Khan by next Thursday, the anti-drone campaigner is safe. For the moment.

But this is not going to set the world on fire. The “drone war”, as American journalists inevitably call it – after all, it’s not as if al-Qa’ida or the innocent victims are firing back with drones of their own – started under George W Bush, but most of the attacks, 384 of them since 2008, have been authorised by Mr Obama. The statistics of civilian deaths fluctuate wildly since most of the missiles are fired into the Pakistani frontier districts in which the government has little power. The minimum figure for civilian victims is almost 300 dead – some say almost 900 – out of a total of 2,500 killed. At least 50 people are believed to have been killed in follow-up strikes which slaughtered those going to the rescue of the wounded.

Of course, the drone syndrome has spread across the Middle East. The missiles rain down on al-Qa’ida and civilians alike in Yemen. The Israelis fired them into Lebanon in 2006; when a youth on a motorcycle fired at a night-time drone over Beirut, it fired back a missile that destroyed a downtown civilian apartment block. In Gaza, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported 825 deaths from Israeli drones during the 2008-09 war, a large percentage of them civilians.

Pakistani witnesses have told me that the missiles don’t just appear suddenly in the sky. The drones arrive in clusters – 10 or 12 at a time, circling villages for an hour or two – a looking for targets on behalf of their “pilots” in the United States. Until at least 2009, the Americans flew drones – the most impressive was called the Reaper – from air bases inside Pakistan. Hence the sensitivities of the boys from the ISI and their irritation with Karim Khan.

The ethical disgrace of the drone syndrome is not that Mr Obama – or some US officer near Las Vegas – decides on the basis of satellite pictures, mobile phone calls, numbers dialled and the speed of vehicles, who should live or die. The really shameful aspect is that the drone war has become normal. It has gone on so long – and been the subject of so much protest, so regularly – that it has become banal, boring, matter-of-fact.

It was just the same in the 1990s when the US and Brits went hunting for Iraqi targets over the so-called “no-fly zones” in Iraq. For years they bombed and missiled “military targets” that supposedly threatened them. In the eight months up to August 1999, US and British pilots had fired more than 1,100 missiles against 359 Iraqi targets, flying about two-thirds as many missions as Nato pilots conducted over Yugoslavia during the 78-day bombardment of the same year. As well as anti-aircraft batteries, oil pipelines were blown up, storage depots destroyed and dozens of civilians killed, including several in a Basra housing estate. But each air raid was merely “nibbed” in our newspapers – a nib is a single paragraph in an inside-page News in Brief column – so that an entire air campaign was effectively carried out behind the backs of the US and British public in the years before the 2003 invasion.

In southern Lebanon, the Israelis controlled for 28 years a torture prison at Khiam for insurgents and their families – women as well as men – and electricity was frequently used on inmates by Israel’s “South Lebanon Army” thugs. Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the International Red Cross complained. But I will always remember the words of a Swiss Red Cross official when I asked him, within sight of Khiam, why the world did not condemn this dreadful place. “It has become normal,” he replied.

And that’s it. Kill or torture often enough, over a long enough time – not too many massacres, just a dribble of deaths over months and years – and you’ll get away with it. If you kill the bad guys, it’s OK. Pity about the rest. Just make sure that the war is sufficiently prosaic, and don’t listen to Karim Khan.

Palestine, travel

A pinch of Nablus, Palestine.

I am already preparing for my palestinian  summer, so I am fiesting my eyes on many beautiful spots Palestine has to offer.

One of those is Nablus. It  is one of the oldest cities in the world, possibly first established 9000 years ago. It is placed between the two mountains Gerizim and Ebal, which will give you an amazing view when you are in the city.

The old town is particularly charming, full of flavours, sounds, fragrances, colors… Full of life.

Take a walk around those  winding narrow streets and – take it all in.









nablus_09-knafeh7 nablus_10-market




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travel, Yemen

Sana’a, Yemen: A city to see.

Sana’a is one of the oldest cities in the world and Yemen’s largest city. According to popular legend, it was founded by Shem, the son of Noah. Surrounded by ancient clay walls which stand 9–14 metres high, the old city contains more than 100 mosques, 12 hammams and 6,500 houses. Its multi-storey buildings decorated with geometric patterns get your attention right away, and during the night – it just might be one of the most romantic places in the world.

Just look at the photos.


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The nuclear talks with Iran move to the next level. Here is the context you need.

Author: Sam Khanalari/ Your Middle East

A NUCLEAR IRAN? Thirty-six years ago, American and Iranian negotiators gathered in Vienna during a series of talks that would result in the comprehensive nuclear program the Shah had long coveted. Little did they know, the Pahlavi dynasty would fall within the next twelve months, declaring the agreement null and void. Today, the P5+1 group and the Islamic Republic of Iran officially begin the first round of negotiations with a comprehensive nuclear agreement as their intended target. They are also meeting in Vienna.

American cooperation with Iran on its nuclear program first began in 1957 and there has since been international consensus that due to a variety of unique circumstances, the development of nuclear energy is required to satiate Iran’s growth. A study by the Stanford Research Institute in 1973 outlined Iran’s need for nuclear energy and “recommended the building of nuclear plants capable of generating 20,000 megawatts of electricity before 1994.”

The Shah took this recommendation to heart and, that same year, ordered Akbar Etemad, a trained nuclear physicist, to develop a master plan for a broad nuclear program. As Abbas Milani writes, “(l)ike every major policy decision in those days, it was a one-man act.”

“An IAEA report showed that the primary intelligence basis for the U.S charge of an Iranian nuclear weapons program for more than a decade had been erroneous”

Rapid population growth, environmental concerns such as shrinking water supplies, and finite reserves of natural resource constitute the greatest challenges to fulfilling domestic energy demands, and the nuclear option has been seen as a valid source of power to Iranians for over half a century.

The Ford administration famously supported Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear energy program and, in 1976, announced his backing for Iran’s ability to develop a complete domestic nuclear fuel cycle. However, documents declassified in 2009 from the Ford and Carter administrations reveal a somewhat similar discourse between the American leaders and the Shah as today’s ongoing negotiations. The documents reveal that just as the Shah’s “island of stability” began to collapse under popular revolt in the middle of 1978, Iranian and American negotiators had tentatively reached a comprehensive nuclear agreement that awaited President Carter’s signature.

At the time, American concerns were not directed, as they are today, towards Iran’s domestic enrichment capabilities. Instead, concerns were geared towards the reprocessing of spent fuel, a process that requires additional infrastructure the current Islamic Republic denies it has intentions of building.

“We do not have a reprocessing plant. We do not intend, although this is our right (under the NPT) and we will not forego our right, but we do not intend to build a reprocessing plant,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, last week.

But since Iran’s revolution of 1979, and despite an institutionalized resistance towards the use or procurement of weapons of mass destruction, much of the Western world has maintained a suspicion that the regime seeks to acquire a nuclear weapons program.

Earlier this month, investigative journalist Gareth Porter showed how intercepted messages from an Iranian university to foreign high technology firms spurred initial Western concerns over Iran’s nuclear intentions in the 1990’s, but in 2008 an “IAEA report showed that the primary intelligence basis for the U.S charge of an Iranian nuclear weapons program for more than a decade had been erroneous.”

Contrary to Western fears, Iran has previously demonstrated an aversion to retaliating to chemical attacks in kind. Throughout Saddam Hussein’s war with Iran, sarin and other chemical agents used by Saddam killed thousands in western and southern Iran. Documents declassified in the last year revealed the United States provided Saddam with intelligence support prior to a sarin attack in 1988.

“The Iraqis never told us they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona told Foreign Policy.

Considering the fact that less than forty years ago, Western governments not only supported but actively vied to participate in developing nuclear energy in Iran, the rationale behind today’s objections lies more in enduring strategic alignments and political allegiances than in any viable security concerns regarding proliferation or otherwise.

Thirty-five years removed from the revolution that transformed the region’s geopolitical landscape, for many Iranians, the nuclear narrative has since evolved beyond a need for energy diversification into a generational struggle for political independence as well as the rights provided under international agreements such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

According to Gallup polls conducted this time last year, nearly two in three Iranians support the continuation of Iran’s nuclear program. The report concluded that, “(t)he majority of Iranians are so far seemingly willing to pay the high price of sanctions.” The ongoing isolation as a result of its domestic advancements has coalesced various elements of Iranian society in support the government’s unwavering stance.

The election of President Rouhani is representative of this growing sentiment that has manifested in the current path of diplomacy pursued by the Iranian government, rather than the sanctions regime that has spurred record inflation, shrunken the economy, and cut the Iranian society off from the international financial system. Seventy two percent of eligible voters turned to the ballot box last June and elected Hassan Rouhani, one of six candidates, on the first ballot with over half of the votes.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”

Previous governments have denied accusations of a secret weapons program and the current Rouhani administration has made resolving the nuclear issue its top priority. Last September, President Obama recognized a religious decree by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei vowing Iran will never develop weapons of mass destruction along with Iran’s right to a domestic, yet “mutually defined enrichment programme”, providing his Iranian counterpart with room to maneuver domestic opposition during talks.

Rouhani’s government has since come to two agreements with the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) on November 11 and February 9, as well as the interim deal in Geneva with the P5+1 group. Top diplomats convened in Geneva last November to carefully craft the Joint Plan of Action, an interim agreement outlining mutually accepted confidence building measures and help set the scene for the comprehensive negotiations beginning today.

When it comes to a comprehensive nuclear agreement, as stated in the Joint Action Plan, “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”