Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine, travel

From Jerusalem to Jericho (in photos).









Bruno Fert: From Jerusalem to Jericho.

A traveler descends from Jerusalem’s height to Jericho’s depth, some eight hundred twenty-five feet below sea level.

1. Damascus gate, the entry point to the arab quarter of the old city of Jerusalem. It is also the the departure point of the Naplouse road which leads to Damascus.

2. A dry river bed in Sahara Yahudan (Judean desert).

3. Gorges of Wadi Qelt

4.  Man washes in the basin sources of Ein Farah.

5. The Orthodox Monastery of St George Koziba, miraculously clinging to the cliffs of Wadi Quelt

6. Caravanserai Wadi Musa near Jericho.

7. Wadi Musa cemetery

travel, Yemen

Marvelous Shahara (bridge), Yemen.

I’ve already posted about the beauties of Yemen several times, and this is one more place to add to must – see Yemen list. Maybe it’s just easier to say – see EVERYTHING.

Shahara is famous for the Bridge of Sighs which is even featured on the country’s 10 Rial coin. This engineering marvel spans a sheer 300 foot deep canyon. Built in the early 17th Century, this famous bridge has stood the test of time.

From both sides of the bridge the mountains parted and revealed a glimpse of the enormous valley. The bridge must be crossed in order to access the mountain fortress town of Shahara and its beautiful terraced fields.

Just look at it!







For more photos, and info – there’s a great collection at BoomsBeat.


art of resistance, Syria, travel

Syrian weapons of mass art: Introducing Tammam Azzam.

Now, this man I am about to introduce has some amazing work, waiting for the world to notice it properly. We’ve entered the fourth year of the war in Syria recently, and this is one way of marking that disheartening fact.

Syrian artist Tammam Azzam experiments in the application of various media. For Azzam, such methodology facilitates the creation of an artwork as a “hybrid form”, one that is capable of borrowing and multiplying as it evolves. Born in Damascus in 1980, he has recently relocated and lives in Dubai.

His recent works employ digital media and street art references to examine the ongoing political and social upheaval in Syria and the cycles of violence and destruction tearing his country apart. Azzam cleverly reconfigures iconic symbols into poignant reflections of the turmoil facing his countrymen and the neglect of the world to their plight.

The following is (some of) his work, from the series – Syrian Museum, Bon Voyage, and Syrian horoscope.

dali syrian museumSyrian museum, Dali. Azzam

syrian museum matiseSyrian museum, Matisse. Azzam

syrian museum klimtSyrian museum, Klimt. Azzam

syrian museum louyal kayaliSyrian museum, Kayali. Azzam

syrian horoscope geminiSyrian horoscope, Gemini. Azzam

bon voyage damascusBon Voyage, Damascus. Azzam

starvationStarvation. Azzam

classroomClassroom. Azzam

For more of Azzam’s work and his (contact) info, go to his facebook page.

art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine, travel

In photos: Al-Walaja village faces “slow death” as Israel takes its land.

Author: Anne Paq / The Electronic Intifada

Sheerin al-Araj, a prominent Palestinian activist from al-Walaja described her village this way in her TedEx Ramallah talk in 2011:

Al-Walaja is a microcosm of Palestine. It’s a window into the Palestinian people’s suffering. It’s a glimpse into the Palestinian people’s resilience, the Palestinian nation’s resilience. For me it is one of the most beautiful places on earth and believe me I have been to many places…. Among this beauty, there is madness – madness that stems from the Israeli occupation that began back in 1948. In October that year, my entire village was forced out by Zionist militias and we scattered all over the world as refugees, mainly in refugee camps in Amman, [Jordan].

Al-Walaja is a beautiful Palestinian village of around 2,000 people, located partly in the occupied West Bank’s Bethlehem governorate. It is well known for its water sources, its beautiful landscapes and agricultural terraces. According to UNWRA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, the village used to span more than 17,793 dunums (4,400 acres).

But after more than six decades of continuous dispossession, it stands to be reduced to around 3,000 dunums through the completion ofIsrael’s separation wall in the West Bank – meaning a loss of around 85 percent of its agricultural lands and a painful share of its cultural heritage.

The original village of al-Walaja used to be located a few kilometers away in today’s Jerusalem district, with its vast agricultural lands reaching into today’s Bethlehem area and occupied East Jerusalem.

In 1948, when most of historic Palestine was ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias, the residents were forced to leave. Some 75 percent of the village land, including its built-up area, was annexed to the newly declared State of Israel, from which the villagers have been barred ever since. While most fled to refugee camps in the region, some residents settled in caves and mud houses on village lands that lay across the 1949 armistice line (“Green Line”) hoping to return. As this hope dwindled over time, they built permanent structures and created today’s al-Walaja.

In 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, half of the new al-Walaja (2,095 dunums) was incorporated into Israel’s unilaterally expanded and annexed “Jerusalem municipality,” although residents of this area were not granted residency rights and subsequently faced decades of fines and house demolitions.

In the next decades, more village lands were illegally annexed for the construction of the Gilo and Har Gilo settlements, as well as for the construction of a “bypass road” that is reserved for the exclusive use of settlers. The construction of the wall, which began in 2007 in spite of an ongoing legal battle and protests, constitutes the latest chapter of the continuing history of dispossession of al-Walaja.

Once completed, it will encircle the built-up area of the village and annex most of the remaining agricultural lands to the ever-growing “Jerusalem municipality.” A single checkpoint will regulate access to the rest of the West Bank. Experience indicates that residents will likely face arbitrary difficulties reaching their work places, schools or basic services and will effectively be denied access to their agricultural lands on the other side of the wall. Many will see no option but to leave.

I started to visit al-Walaja in 2006 for one of the first organized demonstrations against the wall and have been documenting both the villagers’ resistance and the ongoing dispossession of their lands ever since. I witnessed the harsh repression against the villagers’ unarmed demonstrations. Old people, women and children sitting in front of the bulldozers violently dragged away by the Israeli army. Hundreds of trees uprooted. Pieces of mountains blown up. Farmers and shepherds losing their livelihoods and hope. Barbed wire and military gates erected around the village. Beautiful landscapes forever destroyed.

As the wall is about to be completed, it is urgent that we witness the ongoing struggle of the people of al-Walaja against the slow death of their beautiful village.

Al Walaja, West Bank, 23.11.2013

Absiya Jafari, who is more than 100-years-old, holds a Palestinian passport issued during the British Mandate, which governed Palestine from 1923 to 1948, belonging to her husband and herself, November 2013. The original village of al-Walaja was completely destroyed in 1948 during the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing that led to Israel’s establishment in 1948 – and all villagers were forced to leave and became refugees. Many fled to Jordan, Lebanon and the Bethlehem area. Today, 97 percent of the residents in al-Walaja are refugees.

Al-Walaja, 26.11.2013

Mohammad Awadallah, 72, near his house, November 2013. His house was damaged by explosions when the Israeli army blew up parts of the mountain to enlarge the route of the separation wall and he owns two dunums on the other side of the wall. He said, “the impact of the wall is that we are now in prison and lost our land. In addition there will be a gate at the entrance of the village, which will cause the collapse of the life of the village.”

Demonstration and cultural event, Al Walaja, West Bank, 28.9.2012 Demonstration and cultural event, Al Walaja, West Bank, 28.9.2012 Demonstration and cultural event, Al Walaja, West Bank, 28.9.2012 Demonstration and cultural event, Al-Walaja, West Bank

A cardboard representation of the character Handala, created by the Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali, during an event protesting the building of the wall, September 2012. Handala is a symbol of Palestinian resistance and steadfastness.

*For more photos and stories go to Electronic Intifada

art of resistance, Iran, travel

Mosque flowers of Iran.

Mohammad Reza Domiri Ganji is an Iranian photographer, famous for his beautiful panoramic photos (his facebook page here).

These are his photos of mosques, full of color and amazing light. They’re almost like mosque flowers.

The mosques on the photos –  The dome of the Seyyed mosque in Isfahan; The Nasīr al mulk mosque, or pink mosque, in Shiraz;  The vakil mosque in Shiraz; The ceiling of the fifth floor of Ali qapu in Isfahan; The Imam mosque in Isfahan; The Jame mosque of Yazd.










Oman, travel

Majlis al Jinn, Oman: World’s second largest cave or Where spirits meet.

Majlis al Jinn is the second largest known cave chamber in the world, as measured by the surface area of the floor (it ranks lower when measured by volume). The cave is located in a remote area of the Selma Plateau at 1,380 metres above sea level in the Sultanate of Oman. It’s name means the meeting place of the jinns, jinns being the supernatural creatures in Islamic and Arabic folklore.

Access to the cavern is only through a free descent of one of three vertical entrances in the ceiling. Cavers entering Majlis al Jinn require about 200m of specialized rope and equipment to descend and ascend safely. For several years tourism companies had been providing caving trips into Majlis al Jinn, providing equipment and training.

It might take up some time to prepare for it, but it’s definitely worth it.

Here are some photos to prove it.


Sand Passage of Kabal


majlis-al-jinn-cave_8517_990x742photo © National Geographic


art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Can a focus on “Palestinian narrative” be dangerous to Palestinian rights?

Author: Sarah Irving / The Electronic Intifada

There are two main strands to Anna Bernard’s book Rhetorics of Belonging (Liverpool University Press).

Both have significance towards how Palestine is thought and written about in the West and how Western liberals categorize “good” and “bad” Arabs, selecting what they wish to hear and believe about Palestine.

First is an exploration of how Palestinian and Israeli literature — notwithstanding current interest in translations of Arabic literature into English — is surprisingly little read in the context of postcolonial and comparative literature.

On this we find the academic Ella Shohat’s suspicion that the usual African and South Asian texts of “postcolonial” studies are chosen because of their political distance from American concerns, alongside the fact that they are often written in English. When it is read in universities or for the pages of publications such as The New York Review of Books or literary supplements of London newspapers, Bernard writes, Palestinian and Israeli literature is usually seen as representing a national narrative. This emphasis on “narrative” rather than justice can, Bernard argues, be dangerous to Palestinians.

Increased “receptivity” to the “Palestinian narrative,” she asserts, has created a situation where to hear what Palestinians have to say — and then to juxtapose it against theHolocaust and centuries of European pogroms — allows Western liberals to carry on ignoring Palestinian rights while offering a briefly sympathetic ear.

“Wishing the nation away”

Postcolonial scholars also, Bernard contends, have an ideological tendency to “wish the nation away.” The evils of exclusive nationalism are thus confused with calls for liberation from those who are excluded and repressed precisely because of their nation. Western scholars may have the luxury of celebrating their cosmopolitanism. But in doing so they fail to acknowledge the experiences of those who have no option to walk away from fixed identity because it is the means by which others persecute them.

The second main strand is the idea that it is possible — indeed, necessary — to look at Palestinian and Israeli literature alongside each other. To do so, Bernard argues persuasively, is not to grant the narratives themselves moral or political equivalence — to see Israeli claims as equal to Palestinian.

To acknowledge that these literatures relate to one another, Bernard argues, is to understand the ways in which they often represent reactions to the same circumstances.

“Cannot be separated”

Indeed, she cites Edward Said in his assertion that “we know these histories cannot be separated and that the Western liberal who tries to do so violates, rather than comprehends, both.”

This approach leads to an unpicking of the ways in which Palestinian and Israeli writers do (or do not) represent their respective nations in their writings, and the ways in which other scholars and critics have read literature on this theme.

Bernard explicitly focuses on writers whose works are widely available in English, namely the Palestinians Edward Said, Mourid Barghouti, Sahar Khalifeh and Anton Shammas, who is a Palestinian citizen of Israel; and the Jewish Israelis Amos Oz and Orly Castel-Bloom.

Through the autobiographical writings of Said and Barghouti, Bernard explores themes such as how Western readerships construct their ideas of what it means to be Palestinian — sometimes, in Barghouti’s case, in contradiction to the writer’s explicit rejection of his “representativeness.”


Bernard scrutinizes why Oz’s novels are often held up by commentators in Europe and America as proof of a “sane” or “rational” Israel. Such commentators have often, Bernard suggests, absorbed Oz’s disingenuous projection of himself in this role.

In doing so, they ignore both the racist implications of his narratives — which “construct an attractive and marketable Jewish Israeli nation-state, and … naturalize a separatist demographic imaginary” — and Oz’s own support for acts of Israeli military aggression. The works of Sahar Khalifeh and Orly Castel-Bloom are analyzed from the starting point that they are often viewed in the West as the writing of women before being the writing of a Palestinian or an Israeli. This invokes a discussion of how women writers and activists in both Palestine and Israel have positioned themselves vis-à-vis the international gaze.

Both, Bernard argues, have been affected by foreigners’ preconceptions and used by them for their own purposes.

No neat categorization

Finally, Anton Shammas’ novel Arabesques is examined as an example of a work which does not fit neatly into categories of either “Palestinian” or “Israeli” literature. Shammas wrote Arabesques in Hebrew but focused mainly on Palestinian characters.

In doing so, his literary project seems to mesh with the call he famously made in 1985 for the State of Israel to live up to its democratic claims by allowing its Palestinian citizens their full political — and thus social and economic — rights.

Shammas’ call exposed A.B. Yehoshua, like Oz, a “reasonable Israeli” and a darling for international liberals, as harboring anti-Arab ideas “not significantly different from … Meir Kahane” (a US rabbi who advocated the expulsion of all Palestinians from “greater Israel”). But the novel itself is less clear-cut, using complex patterns of fictional identity and storytelling to render all claims to authenticity or authority problematic.

This is an academic book (with, sadly, an academic price-tag) which assumes some prior knowledge. But the novels and autobiographies discussed are well-known and accessible. Bernard’s writing is clear and readable, exploring a range of ideas which are significant not just for scholars of literature and nationalism, but for those with a more general interest in Palestine.


Iraqi Leadership: Tensions Exacerbate the Difficult Road Ahead.

Author: Emilio Giuliani / Muftah

Amidst an increasingly dire security crisis, Iraq’s national leadership continues to struggle with internal grievances and disagreements over the best way to move the country forward. From debates over federalism to arguments over who is to blame for Iraq’s rise in sectarian violence, the country’s top leaders are failing above all else to set a positive example. Instead of focusing on shared goals, Iraq’s political leaders remain preoccupied with their differences, a typical feature of inefficient politics. This inability to unite ideologically reflects wider sectarian divisions facing the population as a whole.

The growing wave of violence plaguing Iraq has become an increasingly pressing issue, particularly since extremist insurgents from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the jihadi group that was recently disavowed by al-Qaida, gained significant control over the western cities of Ramadi and Fallujah in recent months. The Iraqi government and local tribes are currently mounting a counter offensive against ISIL but the relative success of the group thus far has been unprecedented. The precarious situation in the Sunni dominated Anbar province where Ramadi and Fallujah are located underscores a national deterioration in security that is not slowing down. In January 2014, the death toll in Iraq was estimated to be at least triple that of January 2013.

It is clear that political reconciliation is a necessary precondition for ending Iraq’s seemingly never-ending cycle of sectarian conflict. But, incessant infighting among Iraq’s leadership only serves to exacerbate any effort toward an efficient and lasting resolution.

The good news is that reconciliation is not completely implausible, particularly since competing political parties continue to participate in government. The two largest blocs in government, the ruling State of Law Coalition and the secular Iraqiya list, are expected to somewhat dissolve in the upcoming parliamentary elections slated for April 30th. This will result in the formation of smaller, more cohesive parties instead of the current broad and fragile alliances between different ideological groups. The elections may fall on more sectarian lines, but it will push the most effective and long-sighted candidates to seek to win favor from voters beyond their base. Looking forward, the Iraqi leadership should expedite its reconciliation efforts with all those parties willing to make political concessions for the sake of lasting stability and peace.

While trying to combat increasing sectarianism and violence inside the country, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has faced pressures, from inside and outside the country, that have further complicated efforts to resolve these problems. Internationally, Maliki has been caught between developing greater ties with the United States and building a relationship with neighboring Iran. Domestically, the prime minister, who is Shi’a, has faced sectarian-fueled criticisms from Iraq’s Sunni leaders.

These two issues are intimately connected, as the Iraqi government continues to seek help from the U.S. government to deal with increasing violence inside the country. At the same time, uniting Iraq’s divided Shia and Sunni leaders is key to helping combat insurgent groups. The Iraqi government’s legitimacy domestically depends heavily on marginalizing extremist groups like ISIL while continuing to cooperate and work with the Sunni community at large.

Maliki and other top leaders in the Iraqi cabinet have continued to request additional resources from the United States to fight insurgents while simultaneously affirming they would reject any kind of foreign troop presence in the country. But, Maliki has also been criticized by the United States for ignoring the Iranian resources, weapons, and fighters passing through Iraqi airspace on their way to Syria to help bolster Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Resolving the government’s interest in building ties with Iran with its need for US support to combat terrorist groups will be key in moving the country forward.

On January 23rd, the Speaker of the Council of Representatives, Iraq’s highest-ranking Sunni official, Osama al-Nujaifi, visited the United States to discuss Iraq’s deteriorating security situation and to appeal for further assistance from the United States and the international community. Nujaifi’s comments on the pressing security situation in western Iraq and ongoing political disagreements among top tier Iraqi politicians revealed the tension and sense of urgency present amongst the Iraqi leadership.

Nujaifi acknowledged government shortcomings in moving the state forward but laid much of the blame on the current administration and Maliki’s ruling Dawa party, a Shia political group. Nujaifi contended that broken promises to Sunni tribes and the failure to facilitate discussion on greater autonomy for the western provinces were the root causes of the country’s ongoing political instability.

Maliki has correctly noted that countering the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in cities like Ramadi and Fallujah depends heavily on the support and cooperation of local Sunni tribes. While he has requested their help, their compliance depends on the willingness of their tribal and political leaders to once again ally with their Shia counterparts in the interest of defeating insurgent groups.

The Maliki government’s use of anti-terror brigades, which report directly to the office of the prime minister, has also come under heavy criticism from Sunni leaders for their unilateral and extrajudicial actions. Last month, Nujaifi’s brother and governor of the volatile Ninevah province, Atheel al-Nujaifi, accused the special forces of killing his nephew and placed blame squarely on Maliki’s government.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni Deputy Prime Minister, argued that politicians are capitalizing on sectarian divisions and that political reconciliation is a more critical issue than dealing with al-Qaida’s encroachment and influence on Iraqi politics.

Regardless of the political motivations behind these and other similar statements made by Nujaifi, Mutlaq and other top Sunni officials, criticism and open dissent toward their Shia counterparts in government only serve to exacerbate tensions between Sunnis and Shia throughout the country. Reconciliation between Sunni and Shia leaders in the government, especially at the highest levels, must first occur before Iraq’s sectarian conflict stands a chance of dissipating.

For starters, Maliki and Nujaifi must stop arguing on clearly sectarian lines. Maliki should accept blame for deteriorating relations between the government and Iraq’s Sunni population and ensure that the government hold up its end of the bargain after striking deals to compensate Sunni tribes who fight against the ISIL. Simply paying the tribesmen is not enough, however. Given their pivotal role as defense units in the Anbar province, the government should also grant them greater authority and integrate them further in federal politics.

For his part, Nujaifi must stop blaming Maliki’s camp for the current situation, and help facilitate cooperation between Sunni leaders and the Shia-majority government in fighting sectarian violence and Islamic extremism.

While there may well be merit to many of the accusations made against Maliki, partaking in a constant blame game will only serve to further undermine the legitimacy and authority of the central government as a whole, at the expense of the safety and well being of the Iraqi people. Reconciliation is the only conceivable answer. While the specter of al-Qaida continues to loom, its presence can only be fought and eventually eradicated by a truly unified opposition.

The United States has finally started to take notice of the dangerous situation in Iraq and has acted more directly to help counter al-Qaida’s revival in Iraq, though continued political and logistical aid will be even more crucial looking further ahead. Washington recently sent Hellfire missiles and reconnaissance ScanEagle drones to Baghdad while additional pending U.S. legislation could see shipments of Apache helicopters over the next three years.

Despite the increase in U.S. military aid, Iraq has allegedly also signed several arms deals with Iran in violation of international sanctions, according to a recent Reuters report. If this is indeed the case, the United States and the international community will inevitably want to hold Iraq accountable and disincentivize such a back channel relationship. At the same time, the severity of the ongoing crisis and Iraq’s limited capacity to overcome it alone cannot be downplayed. It is therefore understandable that Iraq should look to multiple sources for assistance.

The ultimate goal, of course, is for Baghdad to become wholly militarily self-sufficient. Thus, resolving the current security situation should be an immediate priority so that Iraq move forward and focus solely on strengthening its military. Focusing only on purging militants and insurgents is a short-term solution. Unless the root causes are fully addressed, Iraq’s long-term problems will remain unsolved. Ensuring free and fair elections and promoting conciliatory dialogue between Iraq’s political leaders, irrespective of political party or ideology, is vital to the sustainability and durability of a prosperous Iraqi state.

The country’s leaders are directly requesting help in facilitating these political processes and the international community has an opportunity to assist them wisely and well. This opportunity should be taken advantage of, before it is too late.

Iran, travel

Golestan Palace, Iran: Shine on you crazy diamond.

Golestan Palace, pronounced “Kakheh Golestan”,  is the former royal Qajar complex in Iran’s capital city (Tehran). The Palace is all that remains of Tehran’s Historical Citadel (Arg). In its present state, Golestan Palace is the result of roughly 400 years construction and renovations. The buildings at the contemporary location each have a unique history.  The building complex has been built and modified during four different dynasties: Safavid, Zand, Qajar and Pahlavi. All of them left their unique traces.

I often associate music with buildings. For Golestan, it’s Pink Floyd’s Shine on you crazy diamond.

Come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger,
You legend, you martyr, and shine!

We can agree that it’s an amazing piece of history and art. There’s the White Palace, The Hall of Brilliant Diamonds, The Hall of Ivory, The Hall of Mirrors, Sun Building,.. Let the photos take you through it.













In picture: A look into Golestan Palace in Tehran


For more photos and info, go to iranreview.


Lebanon, travel

Beqaa Valley, Lebanon: In vino vita.

Famous Latin phrase In vino veritas (in wine [there is the] truth), could be rephrased to In vino vita (in wine [there is] life) when it comes to the Beqaa Valley.

The Beqaa Valley is a fertile valley in east Lebanon, and today it remains Lebanon’s most important farming region. The valley is home to Lebanon’s famous vineyards and wineries. Wine making is a tradition that goes back 6000 years there.

Here are some of the grapes picking photos I collected around the web, so you can get a better impression of wine scented life in Beqaa Valley.






To match feature LEBANON-WINE/