Category Archives: Middle East

Economic peace?

The phrase “economic peace” may not be the most popular phrase in the Middle East, since it was utilized for the election campaign of Likud.  However, economics seems to be a powerful element and things happen in spite of politics.

I am writing this because I just learned from the Good Neighbors blog about a new initiative by Wharton (I assume MBA) students, called LendforPeace.org. The initiatives seems to be a close replica of the Kiva, which I think one of the most innovative projects combining micro-finance with possibilities opened up by technological progress.  The main difference between Kiva and LendforPeace is the geographical focus.  In their own words:

LendforPeace.org is a not-for-profit Internet platform that allows individuals like you to make small loans to specific micro-entrepreneurs in the Palestinian Territories.

Our mission is to use micro-lending to promote economic opportunity and political stability in the Middle East.

The website was officially launced at the beginning of this month with a grant from Clinton Foundation after a pilot set of loans ($5000) was successfully returned in about half a year (you can learn more about it on their blog).

One of the “selling points” of the project is that it is established by two Jewish and two Palestinian students.  I presonally think that it would be even cooler if it these were two Israelis and two Palestinians in the team. Nevertheless I find these kinds of joint ventures encouraging.

Watching Queen Rania’s videos

As I wrote before, I find Queen Rania’s YouTube project very interesting and apparently thought and conversation promoting.  Also, as I wrote before, I do have a comment at least about one item published under her project (have not watched them all yet :).

It is a video about the stereotypes Middle Easterners encounter in the US, which is done with a lot of humor featuring young people sharing their thoughts. Here it is:

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I can really relate to people interviewed in the video in a sense of being tired from dealing with stereotypes. When people hear that I am from Israel, one of the most common responses (perhaps the most common) is “So, have you served in the army?”, which projects a very particular image of the entire people.

What I cannot relate to, is the way people in the interviews picture the way they would like to be treated.  All of them want everybody else to thank them for some positive (yet still stereotypical) characteristics or ancient achievements of their people.  For me that is a rather disappointing dream.

In my utopian world, the nominal labels attached to you, such as race, religion, nationality, etc., are really not important.  What important is what you put into these labels as a person.  I believe that I treat people first of all for what they and this is how I would like to be treated.  I wish the people in the video would simply asked to be treated for what they are.

I realize the constraints in which Rania’s project is operating as well as its stated purpose of “breaking down stereotypes about the Arab and Muslim worlds.”  I also realize that this is just a video amidst a myriad of other information and initiative related to the subject.  However I do think that she is in a more influential position than many other people.  This is why I think continuing framing the issue in terms of “us” and “them”, trying to show “them” that “us” are as good as “them” if not better, is not necessarily the best way to “bridging the East-West divide.”  I wish Queen Rania could raise above the regionalism and promote a more inclusive framework of tolerance and inclusiveness.

What do you think?

Queen Rania and copyright

Recently I have learned that the Jordanian Queen Rania has a YouTube channel.  You are welcome to check it out,  because it is rather interesting and is well done.

Officially the channel is dedicated to “breaking down stereotypes about the Arab and Muslim worlds and to bridging the East-West divide” and I am really curious how well it works from the queen’s point of view.  On the one hand, the comments on the channel page are not really constructive (to say the least).  On the other hand, I think that the content reflects a rather innovative approach to this sensitive topic and it is yet another example of different model for a leader communicating with her followers.  To a degree, it can be another chapter in my post about Obama not being the first leader to embrace the new media (Rania launched her channel about a year and a half ago).  I don’t mean this as a criticism of Obama.  On the contrary, I simply find this whole line of developments rather exciting.

The point of this post, however, is not just providing another example to the “Obama Effect“.  There was another something curious I’ve noticed while exploring Queen Rania’s channel.  It was actually about copyright…

My attention to the channel was brought by the Youtube channel of the Israeli TV Channel 2 (so many “channel” in one sentence :).  They aired a report about Rania winnig YouTube award for this inititiative and used her spoof of Letterman’s Top 10 while accepting the award at YouTube Live.  As I said, it was really well done and caught my attention, so I went on to check out the original.  I watched the same spoof again on the royal channel, but for some reason, not all the jokes worked for me.

Let’s see if you can spot the differences:

Here is the Channel 2 report (it is in Hebrew, but the actual video from Rania’s channel is English, so I think everybody can understand:

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And here is the current version of the video on the official channel of Queen Rania:

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If I watched it correctly, the scenes from Madonna’s clip and from 24 are now removed from the video.  I think particularly, the Madonna joke does not work without the visual.  My guess is that these scenes were removed due to the copyright rules YouTube are trying to enforce on the website.  I find it really fascinating.  It looks like even roaylties are subject to copyright wars.  I think it is interesting in itself.

Israel is not alone

It is believed that people who spend a lot of time together, tend to acquire characteristics of each other. It seems like countries that spend a lot of time side by side, tend to acquire similar policies. Here is a recent update about Iranian government now demanding the internet cafe users to register (including their ID numbers and specific times of using the cafes). Reminds me of earlier attempts of Shas to do practically the same in Israel and seems perfectly in line with the internet censorship initiative they are (unfortunately) successfully leading.

Tired of boycotts

One of my RSS subscriptions follows the blogosphere for instances of OneVoice. I blogged about this initiative before and about the ridiculous calls for boycotting it. Recently, thanks to this feed, i learned that a new season of boycotting Israel has began. How come the organizers of the boycott are not getting tired? It seems like even the media are tired of covering it and the current season is passing primarily unnoticed. Hopefully this lack of public attention will finally make the organizers rethinking this method and understanding that it is wrong and counterproductive.

Laughing for peace

Another positive piece of news i find on the Mideast Youth website – an Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour. They are a rather eclectic group of people – an orthodox Jew, a black Jewish convert, a Palestinian-American, and an American-Israeli. Interestingly, non of them is actually “native” in a sense of being born and spending their lives in a single place with one dominant identity. But they are united in their ability to laugh at themselves and to laugh at the situation. On an optimistic note, who knows… maybe if people can laugh together, they can also talk.

Joining me, CNN…

CBS:

and a selection of sketches from their DVD:

Here is more about how the show is received in their own words.

Positive News

Kind of inspired by the positive news project (whose US branch is actually located in Ithaca :) i decided to try and post some positive news here from time to time. So, here we go (some of it is not really new though).

Following my recent, not so pleasant, encounter in the blogosphere, i came across this website titled Middle East Youth (which i actually have seen before). It appears interesting at least in a sense that it has contributors from all over the region and it has some interesting and positive stories, that seem to escape mainstream media radar. For example here is a story of Israeli and Palestinian formula one enthusiasts who are going to compete together. And here is another story that people recommended in the comments about quite an old initiative where Israeli and Palestinian kids are brought together to play soccer. Actually i heard about the last one before and even met some people who have been involved. It was an interesting initiative and wonder if it’s still going on.

Although it appears small and insignificant, i think it is important that we remain aware of such grassroots (but not only) initiatives. The more of those we have, the more there would be hope for change (i even put a positive picture :).

flowers

And on a slightly different, but still positive, note I wanted to draw your attention to the approaching deadline for Stockholm Challenge submissions. It is a competition for an award in the field of ICT and development hosted by the municipality of (surprise, surprise) Stockholm. The deadline is Dec. 31. Good luck if you are applying!

So much for the discussion 2

If you had a chance to read my previous post with a similar title, you may want to visit it again. In a nutshell, I posted an update about my follow up on the blocked/unblocked comments on a blog of a guy who blogs about Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Bahrain and as a result he completely blocked me from commenting on his blog.

You can see the entire exchange in the original post and I am also posting my messages (that he claims he had never received) here.  You can also read his comment and my reply in the original post. Could be great to hear what you think…

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From: Dmitry Epstein
Sent: Monday, October 29, 2007 6:26 PM
To: ‘Haitham Sabbah’
Subject: RE: commenting on your blog

Thanks Haitham!
I am glad it was just a technical glitch.
Best,
Dima

and

From: Dmitry Epstein
Sent: Monday, October 29, 2007 8:11 PM
To: ‘Haitham Sabbah’
Subject: RE: commenting on your blog

Hi again!

If that’s OK, I have a question to ask. I am a doctoral student and among other things I study the blogosphere, particularly in relation to the conflict. One of the things I would really like to do is to survey bloggers about their practices. From your knowledge of Palestinian bloggers, do you think they would cooperate with such a study? Would the fact that I am Israeli make huge difference?

Thanks again!
Dima

So much for the discussion

13 Nov. Update

I emailed Heitham following his message with explanations, asking what he thinks about feasibility of my research idea (surveying bloggers). Unfortunately i haven’t heard from him since then (about two weeks now), which makes me think if approving my comments wasn’t just a reaction to this post. In other words, i wonder if the comments would get approved without me publishing this post.

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29 Oct. Update

I received a reply from Haitham today explaining that it was a technical issue and that my comments are up. I still think it would make an interesting research to inquire into bloggers’ practices, particularly when it comes to blogging about the conflict.

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It is always interesting when you personally encounter supporting evidence to your research in th daily life.

Just about a week ago I presented Dori’s and my research at AoIR. The study showed how the blogosphere discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is oriented towards violence and polarization. Just a couple of days ago, I commented on a blog dealing with the conflict and had a chance to experience one of the aspects of this mechanism myself.

Trying to organize my thoughts about the OneVoice incident, I follow the blogosphere buzz on the topic. This is how i reached Sabbah’s Blog, written by Haitham Sabbah, as far as i understand son of Palestinian refugees currently living in Bahrain. According to his own explanation:

The blog topics encourage healthy discussions on political, cultural, religious and life in Arab World, however, my chief interest is in the intersection between politics, individual liberty and freedom in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine. The vast majority of my blog posts touches on this in one way or another, and try to create a better understanding of what is going around and speaking the truth which is always hidden in Western media when it comes to Palestine/Israel conflict.

Browsing through the blog (which has an authority ranking of 244 according to Technorati) i saw a number of posts that drew my attention, so i left comments. After all it is a blog, and it is supposedly a discussion. Interestingly, when you live a comment on Sabbah’s blog, there is disclaimer: “Comments are free, facts are sacred but NO ZIONIST PROPAGANDA!” There is no criteria for what considered propaganda for Sabbah, but here is what I learned.

I commented on two posts. The first, titled “NO Hebrew, Arabic mix”, was a framed presentation of Haaretz article about protest to an opening of a mixed Arab-Jewish school in one of neighborhoods of Jerusalem. The second, titled “The crime of sitting next to women”, was yet another framed Haaretz article about a case of religious fanaticisms in Israel. When i say “framed” i mean that Sabbah actually re-posted the entire article, or the most of the article, preceded by a short paragraph that doesn’t leave much room for interpretation he would like to provide.

On the first item I left the following comment:

But what about ignoring the fact that this school was actually built, that the project exists, and how about making a different passage in bold, for example: “The Hand in Hand organization has two other bilingual schools, one in Gush Misgav and one in Kfar Kara, in addition to the one at Pat, which is co-managed by principals Dalia Peretz and Ala Khatib. The organization also has two kindergartens in Be’er Sheva.” Unfortunately, the nature of the news is such that they tend to pick on the negative, what good does it do amplifying it?

And here is my comment on the second item:

You don’t have to focus on the particular case to show some of the absurds that the orthodox community expresses in Israel. You can look at the protests against the gay parades, the lack of public transportation on weekends, and the list is long. But i still don’t see how is that making Israeli democracy “so-called”. Actually part of the ridiculous things that happen in Israel regarding religion is a result of organized groups taking advantage of the democratic mechanisms.

Sorry, but i find this particular post kind of funny in light of your disclaimer for comments that forbids Zionist propaganda :) There are substantive issues for criticism in Israel, but I don’t think that the particular link you make is one of them.

Please judge yourself whether it was or was not “Zionist propaganda”, but none of my comments was approved by Sabbah. This led me to assume that there was a technical problem or maybe they were considered “Zionist propaganda” and not, as i naively assumed part of “healthy discussion”. So, I sent Haitham the following message:

Hello Haitham,
I left a couple of comments on your blog the other day, but I see they are still awaiting moderation. I noticed that there is a bunch of new comments left after me, so I wondered if there is a particular reason that mine are not getting approved. Please let me know if there is any technical glitch or if you think I abused your blog policies.
Thanks!
Dima

 

I left the comments on October 26, and sent Haitham an email on the following day. However up until today i haven’t heard back. I assume that Haitham got my message because nothing bounced back and i saw him continuing blogging. Thus, after seeing another comment being approved on the same post while mine is still awaiting moderation, my conclusion is that he is not really willing to discuss, but rather to propagate his opinions (here are two screen-shots of my comments awaiting moderation: comment 1, comment 2).

Leaving the normative aspects of the particular incident aside for now, i would like to link it back to the study mentioned in the beginning. It is really interesting to see how the blogs are getting utilized as particularly individualized means of expression. Of course there are platforms where discussions happen, but it seems that there are more instances of Haitham’s behavior where people tend to control opinions presented in their personal spaces. Seemingly, the comments section is one of the features allowing the discourse thus making “new” media more democratic compared to the mainstream. However, as this particular example shows, this space can be utilized to construct a particular type of narrative and discourse, thus preserving and even amplifying dynamics of content selection in the MSM.

In general, the whole issue of comments in the blogosphere is being under-researched, and it could be really interesting to see how this space is used by both readers and bloggers. I think one way to address that would be surveying the bloggers. However i wonder, what my limitations are, as an Israeli, to conduct such a survey. I think i would need a Palestinian partner to undertake such a study.

Any thoughts or comments?