Adonis Diaries

Archive for January 2014

“Internal revolt”?  Scarlett Johansson, Oxfam, SodaStream, Israel West Bank settlements…

The Israeli Daniel (Dony) Birnbaum is CEO of the SodaStream bottling plant company located in the occupied West Bank. He claims that the plant employs about 1,600 and 500 are Palestinians enjoying equal pay as Israelis.

The neighboring Palestinian communities lack running potable water and electricity. A Palestinian said: “If we need to go to the hospital we need a permit. we need permits to go pray at the mosques, to visit relatives…”

Mind you that the water the company is using belong to the Palestinians, but Israel is abusing the Palestinian rights to their resources and denying them the proper ratio quantity and ruining their agriculture.

Actress Scarlett Johansson, having the ambassador role with Oxfam for the last 8 years, has been promoting SodaStream ads.

Although Oxfam, an international charity organization, has not endorsed boycott, divestment and sanctions,  it opposes trade with Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

There is an “internal revolt” within Oxfam for refusing to cut ties with Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson, an Oxfam insider has told The Electronic Intifada.

The dispute within the global charity is largely along transatlantic lines, with Oxfam America stamping on anything seen to be critical of Israel.

Johansson is one of Oxfam’s “Global Ambassadors” but recently signed a deal with SodaStream, an Israeli firm with a factory in an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Ali Abunimah posted on Electronic Intifada this Jan. 27, 2014

“Internal revolt” at Oxfam over Scarlett Johansson affair, insider says

Scarlett Johansson in a screenshot from an Oxfam fundraising video.

The insider, who is familiar with the organization’s internal deliberations, asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to media.

The insider decided to speak out from a belief that Oxfam was suffering serious damage to its credibility by standing with Johansson.

“We do a lot of good work, but it is being overshadowed by all the negative publicity,” the insider said.

“Thorniest issue”

The Johansson affair “has really brought out one of the thorniest issues within Oxfam,” the insider said.

Although Oxfam has done a lot of lobbying both publicly and privately on the issue of Israeli settlements, it has faced intense resistance from Oxfam America.

Oxfam operates as an international federation with national affiliates including Oxfam America, Oxfam GB, Oxfam Belgium and, in The Netherlands, Oxfam Novib.

Fundraising fears

Unlike other national affiliates, “Oxfam America doesn’t invest one cent in the Palestinian territories, or even Israel. They don’t have any programs in the West Bank or Gaza,” the insider explained.

“Yet they [Oxfam America] always claim that anything Oxfam says on Palestine or Israel affects their fundraising. They almost have veto power on what Oxfam does on Palestine,” the insider added.

While these tensions have been present for some time, the Johansson episode has brought the “anger” to the surface within the organization, the insider said.

The insider noted that the situation became much worse after Matt Herrick, spokesperson for Oxfam America, told The New York Times’ blog The Lede last week that Oxfam had not even asked Johansson to end her deal with SodaStream.

“There are a lot of good people at Oxfam who are really pissed off at what Johansson did and even more pissed off at Matt Herrick’s comment,” the insider said.

One unmistakable sign of the disarray at Oxfam came this morning when Oxfam GB tweeted, and then a short time later deleted, a statement on the controversy.

Hurting Palestinian partners

Now the insider fears that Oxfam’s position could harm its programs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip which provide vital support to Palestinian communities.

“Oxfam has a lot of Palestinian partners and is one of the more respected international organizations working in Palestine,” the insider said.

These fears could be right.

It was revealed today that the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) has written to Oxfam calling on it to sever its ties to Johansson. PNGO includes virtually all of Oxfam’s Palestinian partners.

Palestine’s Boycott National Committee issued a public statement making the same demand today.

It remains to be seen whether the internal struggle will be resolved in favor of a principled stance and solidarity with Palestinians under occupation, or whether those more concerned with protecting Israel and Oxfam America’s bottom line will ultimately prevail.

Note 1: AP released this statement:

A statement released by Johansson’s spokesman Wednesday said the 29-year-old actress has “a fundamental difference of opinion” with Oxfam International because the humanitarian group opposes all trade from Israeli settlements, saying they are illegal and deny Palestinian rights.

“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after 8 years.  She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.”

Note 2: Suppose SodaStream negotiate that:

1. Two third of the employees be Palestinians

2. The neighboring Palestinian communities receive running potable water as much as the company is using.

3. The neighboring Palestinian communities get connected to the public utility as the company is and paying as the company is paying

4. The company makes the additional effort to coax the Israeli government to prevent Israeli settlers from cutting down the olive trees and ruining the Palestinian fields…

Why Daniel Birnbaum refuses to join the campaign against settlers cutting down olive trees and protecting the Palestinian agriculture from the onslaught of the Israeli ruffians?

Would you think that the case of boycotting  SodaStream will be harder to defend?

Note 3: If you try to get information on SodaStream, you’ll be hard-pressed to discover that it is located in the West Bank.  This company knows that it is antagonizing the world community.

Extremist Jihadists freed from Syria prison at the onset of uprising in 2011

People in the Levant knew since 2011 that the regime of Bashar Assad freed over 1,000 Islamists from prisons, without any preconditions, in order for them to start the armed struggle.

Anyone who reads Arabic could find all these information from the dozens published books on the Syrian uprising and the brutality of the regime before and after the revolution.

Let’s hear what Phil Sands , Justin Vela and Suha Maayeh have to say, and possibly more details and other pieces of intelligence…

Phil Sands , Justin Vela and Suha Maayeh published this January 21, 2014

ISTANBUL / AMMAN // Syrian intelligence agencies released Islamist militants from prison to deliberately subvert a peaceful uprising and ignite a violent rebellion, according to a former regime security official.

The claim comes ahead of peace talks in Switzerland on Wednesday, which President Bashar Al Assad’s government said should “fight terrorism”, a term he uses to describe all armed opposition groups.

But according to the former security officer it was the regime that intentionally exacerbated radicalism shortly after the uprising began in March 2011 in order to make itself the least bad choice for the international community and Syrians alike.

“The regime did not just open the door to the prisons and let these extremists out, it facilitated them in their work, in their creation of armed brigades,” said the former member of Syria’s Military Intelligence Directorate, one of more than a dozen of Syria’s secretive intelligence agencies.

Assad regime set free extremists from prison to fire up trouble during peaceful uprising

The former officer said most of the releases happened over a period of four months up until October 2011 and that the project was overseen by the General Security Directorate, another of Syria’s widely feared security organisations and one of the most important.

Under pressure from opposition groups and the international community, the regime set free hundreds of detainees from jail in the first few months of the uprising as part of an amnesty.

But many political prisoners and protesters backing the peaceful uprising were kept in prison, while others, including known Islamist radicals and violent offenders, were quietly released.

Some former inmates of Saidnaya prison, a facility 50 km north of Damascus, went on to become prominent members of insurgent groups.

Zahran Aloush, commander of the Jaish Al Islam; Abdul Rahman Suweis of the Liwa al Haq; Hassan Aboud of Ahrar Al Sham; and Ahmad Aisa Al Sheikh, commander of Suqour Al Sham, were all held in regime jails prior to the uprising.

The commander of the powerful Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al Nusra, Abu Mohammad Al Jolani, is also rumoured to have been among those set free, although little is known about his true identity.

“Most of the important people in these extremist groups were in Saidnaya prison, not just Zahran Aloush. There were many of them and the regime let them go very deliberately,” the former intelligence officer said.

From the start of the uprising, the regime insisted it was facing an Islamist insurgency as a way of justifying its murderous response to overwhelmingly peaceful demands for political reforms.

To give that narrative credence and bolster support among the fearful religious minorities it depends on for support, as well as Syria’s moderate mainstream population, the regime sought to create instability inside Syria, including acts of violence by Sunni extremists, said the former intelligence officer. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

He is one of a small number of Alawite security officers who defected from the regime in protest at its tactics to break the uprising.

Although he left his position as head of a military intelligence unit in northern Syria in the summer of 2011, he remains in contact with some former colleagues and has not joined the opposition.

In fact, he believes Al Assad should remain in power as a preferable alternative to radical Islamist factions that have come to dominate the armed rebellion.

Groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and Jabhat Al Nusra have been infiltrated by Syria’s security forces, the former intelligence officer said, with regime personnel helping them wage war against other Islamic groups and, in some cases, even against Syrian regime forces.

“This regime is clever, no one on the outside will ever understand what goes on inside,” he said, describing a shadowy system of intelligence branches spying on each other, betraying one another, sometimes promoting attacks by armed rebels on other security branches – all in the name of serving the president.

The officer, who served for 12 years in military intelligence, including a long stint in Aleppo, said Syria’s security agencies played a key role in sending Islamist insurgents to Iraq to fight US forces following the 2003 invasion, with President Al Assad fearful Syria would be America’s next target.

Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital – now a ruined cityscape, smashed by artillery and airstrikes – was a key recruitment and transit hub for militants.

When the fighters returned to Syria, many were jailed or executed by the securty services, the former officer said, as the authorities sought to reign in extremists who, back on home turf, might pose a threat to the regime.

However, with the 2011 uprising against Bashar Al Assad refusing to die down after several months, the regime once again sought to exploit radical Islamists to make itself appear as a bastion of secular moderation.

“The regime wanted to tell the world it was fighting Al Qaeda but the revolution was peaceful in the beginning so it had to build an armed Islamic revolt. It was a specific, deliberate plan and it was easy to carry out.

“There were strong Islamic tendencies to the uprising so it just had to encourage them,” he said.

Another former regime official who has not joined the opposition agreed that there was a policy on the part of Mr Al Assad’s forces to create violence and terrorism to legitimise a crackdown on the opposition.

“You release a few people and you create the violence. It’s contagious,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Weapons were made available to radical elements of the opposition in key hotspots, including Deraa and Idlib, the former military intelligence officer said.

This is not something I heard rumours about, I actually heard the orders, I have seen it happening,” the officer said. “These orders came down from [Military Intelligence] headquarters Damascus.”

The officer remains angry about the strategy of stoking radicalism, saying it was a key reason why he left his post.

An incident in Jisr Al Shoughour, in northern Syria, in June 2011, proved decisive, after hearing higher ranked officers saying it was necessary to provoke sectarian bloodshed there, including the slaughter of fellow Alawite officers by Sunni rebels, in order to “serve the nation”.

“They [the regime] fed us nationalism but at the expense of our blood, they sold our blood to create Takfiris” he said, a reference to a radical Sunni ideology that regard Alawites as heretics who should be killed.

The claims of this officer could not be independently verified and he did not have documents supporting them.

Syria’s security branches have, overwhelmingly, remained fanatically loyal to the regime with each depending on the other for survival.

Some regime supporters admit former detainees have joined the insurgency, but say that was not the authorities’ intention and is, rather, the responsibility of international powers, which pushed Mr Al Assad to free all political prisoners, including Islamists.

In other cases, rebel fighters say they were radicalised by the routine torture practised in regime detention cells, with security service brutality boosting the appeal of extremist groups.

Islamic radicals are now a major participant on all sides of the Syrian conflict, with Sunni rebel groups battling one another as well as against Shiite militias fighting alongside the regime.

The increasingly sectarian proxy war, with Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab Gulf states backing opposite sides, has killed in excess of 120,000 people, wounded hundreds of thousands more and forced upwards of 6 million Syrians to flee their homes.

It is a conflict that shows no sign of abating.

Opposition activists say about 1,500 inmates of Saidnaya, a major regime prison for Islamist militants, were freed by the Syrian government.

A former Saidnaya prisoner, jailed for three years but released before the uprising started, said many inmates went on to join armed rebel factions.

“Some of the important radical leaders [of armed groups] were in there including Jolani [the head of Jabhat Al Nusra], he said. “The Islamists were held in a separate wing of the prison but some of them like Aloush were famous. I didn’t see Jolani but people said he was in there,” the former detainee said.

Major General Fayez Dwairi, a former Jordanian military officer involved in Amman’s response to the growing crisis in Syria, said the Assad regime was directly involved in the growth of Islamic extremism.

“Many of the people who established Jabhat Al Nusra were captured by the regime in 2008 and were in prison. When the revolution started they were released on the advice of Syrian intelligence officers, who told Assad ‘they will do a good job for us. There are many disadvantages to letting them out, but there are more advantages because we will convince the world that we are facing Islamic terrorism’,” he said.

Maj Gen Dwairi said 46 leading members of Jabhat Al Nusra had been in Syrian regime custody, including its leader.

He also said Islamic groups had been infiltrated by Syrian intelligence agents.

A western security consultant, who has been involved in secret negotiations involving Jabhat Al Nusra, said senior figures involved with that group had been in Syrian prisons.

There have been other cases of the complex relationship between extremist militants and the regime. Some reports have said that after seizing oil fields in eastern Syria in 2012 Jabhat Al Nusra struck deals with the regime to transport the oil to the coast for export.

The former Syrian military intelligence officer said Mr Al Assad and his senior lieutenants had ruthlessly outmanoeuvred western and Arab states, dragging them into a regional sectarian war that, perversely, gave the regime better odds of survival than a peaceful uprising and gradual democratic change would have.

Western capitals now fear the Islamist-dominated opposition more than they do the regime, he said, making President Al Assad a potential ally rather than enemy.

“Syrian security opened the doors to the prisons, and they knew what would happen,” he said.


(So far nothing new in this article, not even names of Syrian security officers)


Are you an Adopted person? Watch your mouth…

There are lists of things NOT to say to a pregnant woman, and now suggested alternative to adoptive parents 

 posted this JANUARY 24, 2014 (selected as one of the hot posts)

Ten Things NOT to Say to Adoptive Parents.

A few days ago my 10 months pregnant friend at The Measured Mom posted a great list of things NOT to say to a pregnant woman, and politely suggest some alternatives. 

I laughed out loud reading some of them, remembering how many of them were said to me — and, shamefully, how many I have said to my pregnant friends, since I have forgotten what it’s like to walk around with another human being inside of you!

When I’m with my fellow adoptive girlfriends, you will often hear us say, “Oh, you won’t believe this one!” as we share the latest offensive thing someone has said to us.

But just as I’ve been guilty of saying, “You look like you’re ready to pop!” to my overdue pregnant friends without meaning to make them feel worse simply because I’ve only been pregnant once and have forgotten all about it, other well-meaning people say some of the things on this list simply because they’ve never adopted and don’t know what else to say…or not say.

So I collaborated with some other adoptive parents to come up with this following list:


1. “Now you’ll get pregnant!”

Perhaps your friend is adopting because of infertility, but adoption is not a fertility treatment — and your friend is most certainly not adopting because she thinks, “THIS will do the trick!” When you say this, it can also make your friend feel as though you’re not excited about her adoption and view it as a “second choice”.

2. “He’s so lucky!”

Adopted kids are anything but lucky. They have experienced the loss of a first family and perhaps even the loss of their birth country and language. These kids don’t feel “lucky” to come to America — they are grieving the loss of their home and everything that is familiar. When you say this, it glosses over that loss. (Depend how old was the adopted kid, and whether he already speaks his native language and doesn’t miss the previous environment…)

3. “How much did he cost?”

Our child is not a car. If you really need to know this, Google it. (Girls less than 8 year-old are being sold/married for peanuts in the refugee camps)

4. “Can’t you just go and pick him up?”

Umm…no. Because that would be kidnapping.

I once saw someone make this comment when a girlfriend shared a post on Facebook about how much she was aching to hold her daughter in Congo. It took every ounce of self-restraint I had not to comment and say, “Because she wants her daughter to languish in an orphanage just a little while longer.”

Adoptions are a complicated business and they take time, and it’s not because we adoptive parents aren’t doing everything in our power to move things along.

5. “We’ve always wanted to adopt. But first we are going to have a few of our own.”

Along these same lines are “Do you have any real kids?” or “Is your daughter your own, or is she adopted, too?”

When you differentiate between kids who are adopted and not adopted, terms such as “biological” or “birth children” are the ones to use. (Why?)

When you distinguish our bio kids by calling them “your own” or “the real kids”, then you make it seem as though the adopted child is not truly part of our family.

6. “Why didn’t you adopt from America? There’s plenty of kids here that need homes.”

Yes, this is true — but we are not obligated to only adopt from our own country.

Should children from Ukraine/China/Ethiopia/Congo/etc. be disqualified simply because they aren’t from here (and have no one available in their birth country to parent them)? Adoption from ANYWHERE should be celebrated.

(Except Palestinian, Iraqi, Yemeni or Syrian kids…?)

7. “Don’t adopt from Ukraine. My neighbor’s second cousin’s uncle did, and their kids were totally messed up from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.”

What I mean by this is, when someone tells you she’s adopting, don’t share with her your adoption horror stories. Adoptive parents are required to go through adoption training. (And if they had no idea that training is needed?)

They are well aware of the challenges they may face and don’t need you to point them out.

(Is this article dedicated to highly educated and informed couples?)

8. “I totally know what you’re going through. I adopted a dog once.”

It’s not the same. I promise. (For the first 6 months it is the same)

9. “What happened to his real mom?”

 I’m his real mom. A better way to distinguish me from his first mom is to use the term “birth mom”, because when you say it this way it demeans the importance of my role in my child’s life.

And unless you are close friends with the person you’re asking this to, it’s best to respect the privacy of their child’s story and not even go there. You wouldn’t really approach a perfect stranger and ask her to share the details of her labor, would you?

10. “Are you worried he is going to have HIV/be retarded/be messed up/be black?” 

These are all things that have been said to my friends or myself. For real. I hope I don’t have to explain to you why they are offensive. (Do explain. Aren’t these problems very critical?)

But let’s end positively, shall we? Here’s a few things to try instead…

1. “You are so lucky to have him.”

An older lady once said this to me at the coop, and I promptly turned into a blubbering mess because I truly did feel grateful to have him. I so appreciated how she acknowledged that HE is the gift. (Like an iPhone or a cooking set?)

2. “Tell me about your son.”

Adoptive parents are dying to talk to you about the child they’re expecting. They want to tell you about the nursery/bedroom they’re getting ready and show you the latest picture.

But we don’t get to do that very often because we don’t have bulging bellies that give us away. And sometimes, people feel awkward around us so they don’t ask us about our kids. Ask us!  (Is he retarded/ messed up…?)

We are proud parents, and we want to tell you why!

3. “I’m throwing you a shower.”

Baby showers aren’t just for moms who are giving birth — or even for families who are adopting newborns.

Adoption is STRESSFUL in SO MANY INEXPLICABLE WAYS. Give your friend the chance to celebrate and feel like the expecting mom that she is! 

4. “You are all in my prayers.”

This old stand by is a good one. Adoptive children are dealing with grief and trauma, people. Our families need your prayers to heal from this! (What kinds of prayers? Reciting from a Book?)

5. “You are doing a great job.”

Adoptive parents often feel guilty and beat themselves up. Parenting techniques that worked with our bio kids may not work for our adoptive kids, and there may be days where we feel as though we are complete failures.

I’ve had to come to terms with a lot of my own baggage and imperfections and accept that I’m not always in control in BIG WAYS since becoming an adoptive mm.

I can’t tell you how much it means to me when a friend says something along the lines of, “You’re doing such a wonderful job.” or “I can tell how much he loves you.” (What does he know of how you are bringing up your adoptive kid?)

6. “I’m bringing you dinner.

This may be overlooked because your friend is adopting a five-year-old and it’s not as though she just delivered a baby. But….YOUR FRIEND IS ADOPTING A FIVE-YEAR-OLD.

Whether or not her family is growing by one newborn or one teenager, her family is growing and it is going to be chaotic for her. So bring her dinner. (Not once)

7. “Congratulations!”

We’re excited and it means a lot to us when you recognize that. (The good excitement?)

Okay, adoptive parents — what did I miss?

Is there anything that was jaw-droppingly offensive that someone said to you OR something someone said that really made your day? Share it in the comments!

Ways to slash your grocery bills: Be savvier

At this time of year you don’t have to look far to find a Top 10 of “how to save”,  or “be savvier”, “be more frugal”,  “Clear the Xmas credit card” etc  – but they all seem to say the same old things, many of which you’ve seen before.

Turn a blind eye on the advertisement purpose this time around.

Just diminish all kinds of detergents and their quantity for your daily usage: They are Not meant to kill bacteria, but to fool your sense of smell that it is clean .

Just select fresh food: All industrialized food have plenty of carcinogen ingredients added to them…

James posted:

10 ways to slash your grocery bills. End of.

How many times do you want to be advised “don’t go shopping on an empty stomach”, or “stick to a shopping list”…? This new list I hope is different.

It’s practical to do, it’s realistic and each item can give you genuine savings.

If you follow all 10 advices, it really could make a dramatic difference to your grocery bills.   Also, you’ll start to see why we have Aldi on our site and why we designed a mobile app that works in stores.

1.     Become a Savvy Buy addict

  • We only call them Savvy Buys if they are truly amazing deals.  We’ve done the maths for you so take advantage.
  • The numbers are black and white – there are no fancy tricks here!
  • You’ll never find this kind of information promoted by the individual supermarkets


2.   Sticking to a favourite store?  That’s so last year!

  • If you are able to, don’t stick to just one store.
  • Each store has different products on offer, plus the price guarantees offered by Tesco, Sainsburys and Asda mean that in theory you won’t miss out if certain products are at a better price in your favourite store.  Do your research first though.
  • Use Aldi for saving on those basics, plus you will find that their award winners are a steal!

3.   Become a proud cherry picker

  • One for the super organised, but the savings are huge – and this is a trend that is really catching on
  • When you plan your shop don’t choose a store.   Put your shopping list together on our site or app (see No.10)  and then see where to get each item for the best price
  • If there is something you want but it is not on offer in any of the stores, or our pricing graph shows that it is expensive at the moment – then either wait to buy it another time or try an alternative.  Whatever you do, don’t be overpaying!

Fairy poor offer

4.   Start bulking

  • Our American cousins have been doing this for years, and we should all start doing it too.
  • Use our pricing graphs to see when a price is the lowest it has been all year, buy it in bulk and store it.
  • Some classic examples of products that will suddenly appear on a great deal and ideal for bulking are: washing liquid, shower gel, tinned tomatoes, crisps, toilet paper, deodorant, toothpaste and fizzy drinks.


5.     Swap and Save

  • This is not just about swapping to the supermarkets own brands, although they are often as good as the leading brands and a lot cheaper.
  • This is about checking the unit prices of products because often you can spend more on a bigger box but save because the unit price is lower.  Somewhat alarmingly, this can sometimes work in reverse too.
  • We see many examples where you can buy two smaller boxes of a product that works out cheaper than the larger pack.
  • This all sounds like hard work, but use our site or our app and we’ll do all the comparing and make the suggestions for you – even if you are in the store.


6.    Be told instantly when your favourite products are on offer

  • Sounds too good to be true, but this is one of our most popular features.
  • Price Alerts – we have them on every single one of the 100,000+ products on our site and app.
  • Flick the little price alert button next to any product and we’ll email you the instant it goes on offer.  You can have an alert for as many products as you like.  We even have an area on our site where you can see which ones you have flicked.


7.    Don’t overpay for convenience

  • All the big supermarkets are in a race to open as many convenience stores as possible.   This is great for all of us as it gives us easier access to the products we like.
  • But beware; you are paying for the convenience.   Prices are NOT necessarily the same in the convenience sized stores as they are in the main supermarkets – you are generally paying a lot more.   They still have special offers, but again these tend to be different to what you see in the bigger shops.   So only buy the bare essentials.  Or if you are not sure, scan any product to see how the ‘big store price’ compares.

8.    Cashback on the products you normally buy

  • Cashback is great.   It soon mounts up and you can then spend it on whatever you want – rather than most loyalty schemes, vouchers or other bonuses where most rewards have to be spent or ‘redeemed’ in the place you earned them
  • It won’t make you rich, but getting a few pounds back on products you would normally buy anyway is a nice bonus.
  • We give it away on many products on our site, but did you know we also have it on our app for products you buy in actual stores?   We don’t care where you shop, we just want you to save.

9.    Don’t be caught out, never assume it’s a good deal just because it’s ‘on offer’

  • I’m a sucker for offers.  I like a deal as much as the next person.  So in store I look out for the big posters, the giant ‘Save’ messages, and the bright promotional ends.  When online I go straight to the offers section and look for the price cuts.  But do you realise that not is always what it seems?
  • Ever seen a product and thought that it’s always on offer?  Me too.  Always check the pricing graphs to see the average price of a product across the previous year.  You may find that the offer price you are drawn to is actually similar or more expensive than the average price!
  • The other pitfall is that the special offer you like may be on an even better deal in another supermarket, or worse still cheaper at normal price in another store!


10.    mySuperlist – all the savings tips rolled into one

  • A portable money saver.  Your very own offer checker, budget manager, list manager, cashback earner, and swap & save searcher.
  • This is undoubtedly the best way to achieve most of the other savings tips on this list.   It’s like having every single store in your pocket, but with a friendly assistant showing you the best (and worst) deals, what to buy from each store, checking prices for you, what to swap and save.  It will even carry your shopping (okay, not yet!)
  • Here is a link to the android version and iphone version.


There you have it – our top 10.  We don’t care where you shop; neither do we care if it is online, in-store or both.   We don’t work for any retailers and we don’t charge anyone for the features we offer mentioned above or for downloading and using our app.    We just want to help consumers spend less and never overpay – which has been our mission now for over eight years.

Have a savvy year!  (If you have enough money to save)

Brown spills, sewage dump…: Beirut, Na3meh, Khaldeh…

For over 15 years, Sukleen (one of the Hariri clan company) has been renewing its contract with the government without bidding procedures and used open air dumps for its garbage collection enterprise.

Sukleen has been charging the municipalities $140 a ton of garbage and paid directly from the municipality fund (like taxes on payrolls), while the few private providers allowed to work and independent municipalities with their own system are paying $40 a ton.

Saida had amassed a hill of garbage and the municipality is fooling us that this hill will become a green garden for the citizens, eventually.  With potential perspectives and architectural plans… to back it up.

In Na3meh, the people have been suffering from increased cancer problems, living in an environment of constant stench. They endeavored to sit-in and prevent any more trucks to empty garbage.  The government has again promised to resolve this problem within two years...

Brown spills of Khalde

It’s a nasty sewage dump- mainly flowing from southern Beirut, Khaldeh and the suburbs like Aramoun/Bchamoun/Choueifat…

Noticed most of your recent posts have to do with that short trip you took to Jordan- best way to learn about Lebanon is to leave it for a few days every couple of weeks- refreshes your perspective

In addition to the landfill crisis on Beirut’s streets–covered on this blog yesterday— there appears to be a heavy dose of brown stuff spewing into the Mediterranean near Beirut Airport, as seen in these pictures I took a couple of days ago.
You can see the runway at the top right. And the output point appears to be near a sea resort near Khalde, a few hundred meters before the Ouzai tunnel running underneath the tarmac.
Zooming in on the same area in Google Maps, the brown substance appears to come from very close to this resort, near a green area, before being flushed out to sea via a short canal:
Zoom out and you can see the extent of the damage across the coastline:

But these satellite images could be quite dated– in some parts of Beirut I have noticed Google earth images to be 2-3 years old.

Judging by my current airplane window shots, could this mean that the slime has been pumped out constantly for 3 years or even much longer?
No wonder Sidon and Khalde are not safe places to swim.

En reponse a M Nehmat Frem ce soir sur telelumiere qui a specule qu'uniquement 15% des libanais seraient capables de trier leurs dechets, j'aimerais preciser qu'entre les annees 1996 et 1998 les habitants de Bsharri furent les habitants du premier village au Liban a trier leurs dechets a la source (c.a.d chacun dans sa maison). En effet environ 80 % des habitants avaient participe au tri des dechets organise par le Comite de Sauvergarde de l'Environnement de Bsharri, projet que la municipalite de Bsharri avait malheureusement refuse de reprendre lors de sa reprise de pouvoir en 1998. Avec de la bonne volonte, de la patience et du courage, rien n'est impossible M. Frem.
In response to Ne3mat Frem who speculated that only 15% of Lebanese (meaning municipalities, baladiyat?) are able to sort out their garbage… I would like to remind M Frem that between 1996-98 the citizens of the town of Bsharreh were the first to sort out their garbage at the source, their homes.
Indeed, 80% of the inhabitants participated in the project Safeguarding the Environment Committee. Unfortunately, the next municipality refused to take up that project.
With will, patience and courage, nothing is impossible.
The French text posted by Habib Rahmet:
En reponse a M Nehmat Frem ce soir sur telelumiere qui a specule qu’uniquement 15% des libanais seraient capables de trier leurs dechets, j’aimerais preciser qu’entre les annees 1996 et 1998 les habitants de Bsharri furent les habitants du premier village au Liban a trier leurs dechets a la source (c.a.d chacun dans sa maison). En effet environ 80 % des habitants avaient participe au tri des dechets organise par le Comite de Sauvergarde de l’Environnement de Bsharri, projet que la municipalite de Bsharri avait malheureusement refuse de reprendre lors de sa reprise de pouvoir en 1998. Avec de la bonne volonte, de la patience et du courage, rien n’est impossible M. Frem.

Former Saidnaya Islamist prisoners released in 2011: And in picture…

Former Saidnaya prisoners turned rebels:

January 21, 2014

1. Zahran Aloush, commander of the Jaish Al Islam – the most powerful single rebel group fighting around Damascus – and head of the military front in the Islamic Front coalition. His brigade claims to have carried out the attack on the Syrian government’s national security headquarters in Damascus on July 18, 2012 that killed Asef Shawkat, Daoud Rajha and Hassan Turkmani.  (There was no destruction in the meeting place: A high-tech operation executed by the US embassy across the building)

2. Abu Mus3ab Al Suri, a leading thinker among Islamic radicals and an opponent of the Assad dynasty, was reported as freed from Syrian regime custody in February 2012. He was initially captured in Pakistan and is believed to have been moved from there to Syria as part of the US secret rendition programme.

3. Ahmad Aisa Al Sheikh, commander of Suqour Al Sham and head of the Shura Council at the Jabha Islamiya, which was created on November 22, 2013.  One of the most influential rebel commanders in Idlib province, commanding a brigade known for discipline and deep resources, it runs 3 field hospitals, a Sharia court, and a prison.

4. Hassan Aboud, leader the Syrian Islamic Front, an independent coalition of hardline Islamist groups in which Ahrar Al Sham, the movement he leads, is the largest and dominant faction. Some reports suggest ex-inmates of Saidnaya prison formed Ahrar Al Sham, after they were freed in early 2011. It has been involved in recent fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

5. Abu Adnan al Zabadani, Syrian Islamic Front. He fought US forces in Iraqi in 2008, was subsequently arrested by Syrian intelligence on his return and then freed from Saidnaya prison in late 2010.

6. Abdul Rahman Suweis of the Liwa Al Haq, a 47 year old former paratrooper officer in the Syrian armed forces, arrested in 1999 for membership of Hezb Al Tahrir. Spent 11 years in prison, released in an amnesty at the start of the uprising in 2011.

7. Abu Suleiman Al Kordi, the general Amir of the Tajamo3 Saraya Al Ansar in the eastern area, a former Saidnaya prisoner.

8. Abu Mohammad Al Jolani, the commander of Jabhat Al Nusra, is rumoured to have been among those set free from Saidnaya prison, although little is publicly known about his true identity and background. Some reports suggest he was held and freed by US forces in Iraq.


Institute For the Study of War, Assafir newspaper (Lebanon), Joshua Landis website ‘Syria Comment’ and Aron Lund’s research for the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

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Stay at home moms: What is your worth?

Troy Polamalu posted:
Shout out to you stay at home moms.
This info-graphic really puts into perspective everything you do.
Shout out to you stay at home moms. This info-graphic really puts into perspective everything you do. In my opinion, priceless.

Stay-at-home moms: you don’t owe the world an explanation

Posted on January 26, 2014 by  (selected as one of the top posts)

Once, several months ago, I wrote this post about Stay-at-home moms.

It was a simple expression of gratitude for stay-at-home moms, particularly my wife.

It got some attention. It was viewed around 3 million times in two days.

I never intended to be an official spokesman for SAHMS across the nation. You do not require my services, nor am I equipped to provide them.

Plenty of you can eloquently defend your vocation, and because you have experience in the arena, you can do so more richly and convincingly than I ever could.

I’m just a guy who loves his wife and appreciates the sacrifices she makes for the family. That’s really the entirety of my insight into this subject.

So it’s with appropriate hesitancy that I offer just one suggestion to all of you.

Here it is:

1. Don’t pay any attention to people like this.

In fact, don’t even click on the link. It’s a blog post, from a website called Thought Catalogue, entitled, “I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorry.”

The gist: this woman has no kids, she’s never been married, she has zero understanding of what goes into raising children or maintaining a healthy marriage, yet she’s decided to degrade you because, presumably, the poor girl is hard up for cash and needs to get a ton of cheap hits so she can collect on the ad revenue. (How can I get ad revenue? I posted so far 4,100 articles)

I don’t usually take to reading incoherent, half baked, inflammatory trash.

And what is my take? Well, she raises some interesting points and we should all pause for a moment to reflect upon her observations.

My one experience with wading unwittingly into the “Mommy Wars” taught me something.

It taught me that our broken, confused society has convinced many stay-at-home moms that they need to justify or apologize for their choice to opt out of the hallowed ”job force” in favor of full-time mothering.

You don’t. You really, really don’t.

If you read the comments under that ridiculous article, you’ll see women expressing outrage, but also offering explanations as to why they decided not to outsource their mom-duties.

It pained me to see this. You’re raising your kids, it’s as simple as that. You shouldn’t have to give a reason, anymore than you should have to give your reasoning for drinking water or walking on two legs. (Why not? If Stay at home moms feel the need to explain?)

I think motherhood should be promoted, and the institution of the family should be defended, but you do an excellent job of that simply by being moms.

The disrespect for SAHMs stems from ignorance. The only cure for ignorance is truth (again, what is meant by truth?), and there are two ways to administer a dose of it: you can say it, or you can demonstrate it.

All I do with this blog is say it. As moms – out in the world, against the odds, against the grain, giving of yourself, dedicating your lives to you children — you are demonstrating it. You are living it.

Many of your critics just haven’t done it.

They haven’t been in the trenches all day, every day, shaping children into respectable adults, and doing it themselves, by hand, with sweat and tears and heartache.

They haven’t sacrificed everything for another person.

They don’t know what that is — what it feels like.

They don’t know what it’s like to be in charge of another human being’s entire life. All day. Every day.

They don’t know what goes into running a house.

They’ve never been there. They live in a civilization built by people who put in the sort of work and made the sort of sacrifices that they themselves would never be willing to make. And, in their comfort, in their arrogance, in their brokenness, they mock.

They mock you.

But they don’t know what they’re saying. They just don’t know.

And what is this argument about, really?

Is it better to have a job or take care of your family full time? Is that the controversy?

What a twisted point of view we have in this culture. This is what happens when you buy into the notion that mankind, and especially womankind, achieved emancipation through industrialization.

The Industrial Age and the advent of consumerism gave birth to the modern idea of a “job,” and the pinnacle of freedom and self fulfillment is to have one of them.

Or so we’re told. Ironically, this is a traditionally left-wing point of view, but hating capitalism is also a traditionally left-wing point of view.

The free market is evil, they say, but the ultimate expression of female liberation is to participate in it. (This opinion is Not clear. Need to be developed on)

What a dizzying philosophy these people profess.

And with this philosophy we haven’t just put the cart before the horse, we’ve severed the cart from the horse completely, and now we’re sitting in the cart waiting for it to gallop off into the sunset.

The point is, jobs exist as a means to care for your family. Some jobs are meaningful in their own right, but most, when separated from family, serve no great purpose other than as vehicles for personal advancement.

What’s the point of personal advancement? The answer is either

A) to amass wealth and material possessions for your own enjoyment or

B) to be in a better position to use your abilities to serve others.

You, stay-at-home moms, are using your abilities to serve others, and you’re doing it in the most direct, purest way possible: motherhood. (And when she has time to serve herself? She doesn’t deserve to think about her well-being?)

Beyond all of this, the worst thing about trying to convince women that there’s something wrong with “staying home” is that it fools young girls into being ashamed of their feminine instincts.

Most girls are not naturally competitive and ambitious — at least not competitive and ambitious in the sort of way that men tend to be, the sort of way that has always made men into fighters and hunters and conquerors.

It is a very good thing that women are not this way. (General statements are false)

Women naturally desire to love others and sacrifice themselves. They care about relationships. They aren’t as concerned with getting ahead as they are with elevating those around them.

None of those characteristics will serve you well in many jobs. They won’t help your “career advancement.” They will only make you vulnerable, and put you at the mercy of your less scrupulous competitors. (Distributing false opinions?)

This is why it is dangerous to see “the professional world” as an end in and of itself.

But you know all of this. The people who don’t know probably won’t be convinced by anything I have to say.

Pay no attention to them. They don’t deserve to be taken seriously.

Besides, you’ve got better things to do with your time. (Like what again? Serving a bunch of brats and a husband and mother-in-law, father-in-law…)

Note: And these  Stay at home moms need not explain: They have to wait for Watt Walsh to do the explaining? From a male instinct perspective?


“Goodbye Gaza. This vast Prison Camp for 1.7 million Palestinians”

Hazem Balousha was uncharacteristically despondent when he greeted me recently at the end of my long walk through the open-air caged passageway that separates the modern hi-tech state of Israel from the tiny, impoverished, overcrowded Gaza Strip.

After 3 years reporting on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, our Middle East correspondent is coming home to the UK.
With heavy heart  pays a farewell visit to Gaza and pays tribute to the resilience, creativity and humour of its people
 published in The Observer this January 25, 2014

Goodbye Gaza: our correspondent reflects on her time in the Middle East

Hazem has been a colleague and a friend for three and a half years, a relationship built over more than 20 visits I’ve made to Gaza.

He arranges interviews and provides translation; but most importantly he helps me understand the people, the politics and the daily struggle of life in Gaza. We have talked for hours in his car, over coffee, at his home.

Hazem has accompanied me to grim refugee camps and upmarket restaurants; to the tunnels in the south and farms in the north; to schools and hospitals; to bomb sites and food markets; to the odd wedding party and rather more funerals. In the face of Gaza’s pressure-cooker atmosphere and bleak prospects, he – like so many I’ve met here – has always been remarkably good-humoured.

Palestinians enjoy the weather on the beach in Gaza City

The beach in Gaza City, ‘Gaza’s one magnificent natural asset’. Photograph: Mohammed Salem/Reuters

But not this time. As we waited for Hamas officials sporting black beards and bomber jackets to check my entry permit, I asked Hazem: “How’s it going?”

He shrugged, and began to tell me about the many phone calls he’d had to make to find a replacement cooking gas canister recently, and how his small sons whine when the electricity cuts out for hours each day, depriving them of their favourite TV shows.

gaza hazem baloushaHazem Balousha.

“This is what we have come to. We wake up in the night worrying about small things: cooking gas, the next power cut, how to find fuel for the car,” he said dejectedly. “We no longer care about the big things, the important things, the future – we just try to get through each day.” (Not much different from the poor in Lebanon who cannot afford private providers in electricity, potable water…)

The people of Gaza are reeling from a series of blows that have led some analysts to say that it is facing its worst crisis for more than six years, putting its 1.7 million inhabitants under intense material and psychological pressure.

Israel’s continued blockade has been exacerbated by mounting hostility to Gaza’s Hamas government from the military regime in Cairo, which sees it as an extension of Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood.

The Egyptians have virtually cut off access to and from Gaza, and as a result Hamas is facing crippling financial problems and a new political isolation.

Power cuts, fuel shortages, price rises, job losses, Israeli air strikes, untreated sewage in the streets and the sea, internal political repression, the near-impossibility of leaving, the lack of hope or horizon – these have chipped away at the resilience and fortitude of Gazans, crushing their spirit.

This was my last visit to Gaza before returning to London to live and work.

I moved to Jerusalem in May 2010, to report principally on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also social and cultural issues and the regional upheavals that erupted three years ago.

Since I first came here almost 10 years ago, I had been fascinated by the place, its people, its history and its compelling complexity.

I arrived eager to learn more about what is frequently called the world’s most intractable conflict, and to try to understand the powerful feelings of historical injustice on both sides.

I am leaving angry about an occupation that has lasted close to half a century, weary of Israel’s grinding oppression of the Palestinian people, cynical about the political leadership on both sides and in the international community, and pessimistic that a fair resolution will be reached.

Before heading home, I needed to say goodbye to Gaza, an extraordinary and unforgettable place.

David Cameron once described it as a prison camp, which is exactly how it feels, hemmed in by walls and fences on three sides. On the fourth side, the Mediterranean, Israeli war ships patrol the horizon; overhead, F16s roar and drones buzz around the clock.

“They are exercising their engines,” said Hazem with a wry smile, as a plane screeched over us. But they also unleash missiles on weapons stores, military training sites and militants’ homes in response to rockets launched at civilian targets in Israel.

Not many outsiders get to see Gaza.

As a foreign journalist, holding an Israeli-issued press card and a Hamas-issued Gaza residency permit, I can enter relatively easily.

Israeli journalists are banned by their own government, which means their readers are rarely exposed to first-hand reports.

Israel allows diplomats, UN staff and accredited aid workers to cross Erez, the border crossing at the northern tip of Gaza which it controls, and issues special permits to Palestinian officials and foreign delegations.

Pretty much everyone else is barred.

gaza; erez walkway

The caged walkway at the Erez border crossing between Israel and Gaza. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Consequently, the vast hangar-like terminal on the Israeli side echoes to the footsteps of these few, plus a tiny number of Palestinians, nearly all of whom are going to or returning from business trips or hospital visits.

Since a number of suicide bombings at Erez a decade ago, the Israeli border and military personnel remain in offices high above the ground level, watching through blast-proof glass and CCTV, and issuing instructions via speakers. It is an eerie and unsettling experience, however many times you do it.

Once you have passed through Israeli passport control, arrows direct you down a high-walled narrow corridor and through a series of turnstiles that take you to a remotely operated steel door in the vast concrete wall built along the border.

The other side of the wall is Gaza, but you are confined to a long caged corridor through the Israeli-designated “buffer zone”.

For the fit and healthy, it’s a 15-minute walk to the official Palestinian Authority office, where your passport is checked again.

Attesting to the bitter political divide between the Fatah-run PA and the Hamas government in Gaza, Hamas officials run a separate entry process in a handful of shabby Portakabins half a mile down the road.

Here you need to present your Hamas entry permit and have your bags checked for contraband, including alcohol. Booze-smuggling is not tolerated; if found, it is immediately poured into the ground.

Inside Gaza, there are few restrictions imposed on foreigners. I’ve often been asked if I have to wear a headscarf on Hamas-controlled territory.

Only once have I been asked to cover my hair, when visiting the Islamic university which operates a strict dress code for women students and staff – but I do have a “Gaza wardrobe” of trousers and long-sleeved, loose-fitting shirts.

The vast majority of women in Gaza wear the hijab, but not all; and among those who do, there is a cheering amount of fashionable creativity and individuality on display.

Another question I’m frequently asked is if I feel safe. The answer is yes and no.

I’ve never felt in danger from any Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas or otherwise, except from customary gunfire at funerals. But I’m constantly aware of the risk of being inadvertently caught in an Israeli airstrike.

During Operation Pillar of Defense, the 8-day war in November 2012, I lay awake at night listening to shells launched by Israeli warships whizz past my hotel window, the sound of overhead bombing, and the whoosh of Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets being fired out of Gaza. I was very frightened – and acutely aware that Palestinians faced a far bigger risk.

Fourteen months after that mini-war, on this last visit, Hazem and I talked of the hope – now long faded – that swept Gaza when the Israeli army and Jewish settlers pulled out in 2005.

The sense of liberation at the time, and the dream that Gazans might be free to determine their own future, and become a model of a future state of Palestine, was swiftly dashed on the rocks of Israel’s political actions and military operations, and the rise of Hamas.

Another brief moment of hope came in May 2010.

Under intense international pressure following the killing of 9 pro-Palestinian activists on board a flotilla of boats attempting to break the blockade of Gaza, Israel eased its draconian siege which had been in force since Hamas took control of the strip.

Then, I talked to factory owners who were desperate to begin importing raw material and exporting finished goods, fishermen impatient to take their boats beyond a 3-mile limit imposed by Israel; families who longed to visit relatives in the West Bank without having to travel through Jordan.

gaza tunnels

Palestinians clean up the tunnels destroyed by Egyptian forces, who flooded some of the tunnels with sewage. Photograph: Getty Images

But now, 8 and a half years and two wars since Israeli “disengagement”, Gaza is still blockaded and hope is rare. Israel controls most of its borders, deciding who and what can get in and out.

Almost all exports are still banned; fishermen are regularly shot at by the Israeli navy; families are still separated. And in recent months, Egypt has destroyed hundreds of tunnels which had been Gaza’s life support system, and has locked down the sole border crossing at the southern end of the strip, cutting Gazans off from the outside world.

Inevitably, the consequences of the policies of Israel and Egypt – plus the continued political enmity between Hamas and Fatah – have had their most acute impact on ordinary people.

In Gaza City, Hazem and I passed long queues of vehicles, whose drivers were waiting for hours to buy fuel. One, his face filmed with stress-induced sweat, suddenly leapt from behind the wheel of his yellow taxi to yell at another motorist.

Omar Arraqi had waited in line for two hours to partially fill his near-empty fuel tank, and there was no way he was going to allow the interloper to push in front.

Yelling and finger-jabbing have become routine at Gaza’s gas stations; sometimes punches are thrown. “People have fights all the time,” said Arraqi, whose income has dropped by 70% since Gaza’s fuel shortages took hold.

The government fixes rates for taxi journeys – the only form of public transport in Gaza – while the cost of fuel, when available, has rocketed. Arraqi said it was becoming increasingly hard to buy food as prices of basic provisions were also rising.

But he was most worried about the health of his 2-year-old daughter, who was born with hydrocephalus. After two failed operations in Gaza, she had surgery in Egypt – but since the Cairo regime closed the border crossing last summer she has had no further treatment. “Without help, she will be disabled,” said Arraqi, worry etched across his face.

His story was one of many accounts of daily small-scale struggles I heard during my last visit. The manager of a family-owned clothes shop told me he’d reduced his staff from 25 to 12, as well as cutting their wages by 10%.

Families whose breadwinners are among the tens of thousands who have lost their jobs, or whose pay has been cut, told me they have less money to spend in the markets, where prices have shot up as a result of higher transport costs and the absence of cheap Egyptian goods.

The price of a kilogram of tomatoes has quadrupled, along with steep hikes in the cost of essentials such as flour and sugar.

Electricity is rationed, currently 8 hours on followed by eight hours off. Some families are cooking indoors on open fires, at considerable risk of injury.

Children are forced to study by candlelight. People set alarms for the early hours in order to be able to take a shower or charge their phones or send an email. Mealtimes are now determined by power supply rather than tradition.

Gaza’s hospitals have to take into account the vagaries of the power supply when scheduling surgery; pharmacies are running low on medicines.

Roadworks and half-finished buildings – new homes, hospitals, schools – are abandoned as the lack of materials makes completion impossible.

Last month, a devastating storm swept through the Middle East bringing chaos and destruction to Gaza. At least 10,000 families were made homeless by flooding; children had to wade through rivers of rainwater mixed with raw sewage to reach school.

The storm wiped out fruit and vegetable crops. “After almost 7 years of siege, we were simply unable to cope,” a local aid worker told me.

An indication of personal desperation and social unravelling lies in an unprecedented rise in property crime, previously almost unheard of in Gaza. Domestic violence is also increasing.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, is feeding more than 800,000 Gazans – almost half the population, and a record number.

But UNRWA is also facing a catastrophic 20% drop in income while need is rising. “So much pressure has built up,” Robert Turner, UNRWA’s director of operations, told me. “How far can Gaza bend before it snaps?

Gaza has come close to breaking point before – especially during the brutal three-week war with Israel in 2008-9. But I’ve always been impressed by the resilience, creativity and humour of ordinary people, despite their adverse circumstances and repeated setbacks.

Memories of many individuals I met will stay with me for a long time.

In June 2012, I visited the artist Maha al-Daya at her home just after she returned from a four-month stint as artist-in-residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, leaving her 3 young children in the care of her husband amid some disapproval.

As Maha showed me her colourful seascapes and vivid abstracts, she laughed when I asked her how she found inspiration in the dust and destruction of Gaza. “This is what I see,” she said, adding that if I looked for colour and vibrancy against the grey backdrop of Gaza, I would also find it.

Long before he shot to global fame after winning Arab Idol last year, I met singer Mohammed Assaf at a wedding party at which he was performing. He told me he had been arrested more than 20 times by Hamas security forces, who demanded he stop singing in public.

He refused to be deterred: “My message as a Palestinian is that we not only speak or fight or shoot, but we also sing,” he said.

gaza  Izzeldin Abuelaish

Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish. Photograph: AP

I spent a glorious day on the beach – Gaza’s one magnificent natural asset – with 12-year-old Sabah Abu Ghanim, a passionate surfer who regularly hogged the single ancient board shared between friends and family and who studied surfing techniques on the internet.

Sabah told me she felt “freedom and happiness” in the waves that crash into Gaza’s coastline. Yet she accepted without resentment the conservative social mores that would require her to give up her beloved sport when she reached puberty.

I cooked maftoul, a type of couscous, and made cheese- and herb-filled pastries with the women of the Zeitun Kitchen, who run a successful collective business catering for weddings and parties from premises that regularly lack power. Along with a tightened waistband, they left me with an indelible memory of cheerful gossip and laughter as they worked in the gloom and stifling heat.

I had the privilege of meeting Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, a remarkable obstetrician whose 3 daughters were killed in an Israeli airstrike in January 2009. His anguished telephone call moments after their death to an Israeli television presenter and friend was broadcast live to shocked audiences.

His book, I Shall Not Hate, was a testimony to an extraordinary capacity to overcome. “Hate is a poison, a fire which burns you from the inside,” he told me at his family’s home, which then still bore the scars of the shelling, in Jabalia in northern Gaza. “It’s easy to destroy life but very difficult to build it.”

These and others belie the demonic image of Gazans, often promoted by Israel. Rather, they are overwhelmingly decent people who simply want food on the table, a better life for their children, dignity, respect and freedom.

But not all my encounters were positive.

I also met grieving mothers who expressed fervent hope that their infant sons would grow up to avenge their dead fathers or siblings by killing Jewish children, a profoundly depressing illustration of the cycle of violence here.

I listened to Hamas officials saying the bloodshed of their own civilian population was necessary in the fight to the death with the “Zionist entity”. I witnessed the funerals of children, saw the destruction of homes, felt growing despair and the near-extinguishing of hope.

And – despite’s Israel’s intentions when it tightened its siege following the Hamas takeover in Gaza in 2007 – I’ve seen the Islamic party’s power become more entrenched during my time here.

Hamas was elected on a wave of revulsion against the corrupt Fatah old guard and on a track record of providing practical support and services to the population, as well as a pledge to lead the resistance against the Israeli occupation.

Hamas has since suppressed political opposition, enforced an Islamic code of social conduct and, with its repeated rocket attacks, provided Israeli politicians with a useful justification for some of their more extreme right-wing policies.

Now, after the brutal crackdown on Hamas’s ideological parents, the Muslim Brotherhood, in next-door Egypt, the faction is facing a crisis. It is unable to ease the harsh living conditions of the people of Gaza, thanks to the calamitous loss of income and cash flow following the closure of the tunnels. It is now politically isolated in the region, and its unpopularity at home is growing. Yet its power is unchallenged.

“This is Hamas’s hardest moment, its worst crisis since it won the election in 2006,” Mkhaimer Abusada, professor of political science at Gaza’s Al Azhar university, told me over sweet mint tea. “But we are very afraid. Hamas does not allow any protests, any opposition. We’re sick and tired of Hamas, but we don’t have an alternative.” Gazans, he added, had become “hostages to Hamas and Fatah, Israel and Egypt – they are all gambling with our lives. I think the worst has not yet come. There will be more miserable days ahead.”

The UN recently warned that Gaza was rapidly becoming uninhabitable. But this is not as a result of a natural disaster – an earthquake, say, or a typhoon – but of destruction, de-development, suffocation and isolation caused by the deliberate policies of Israel and Egypt, with significant contributory factors from both Hamas and Fatah.

And the material and psychological siege of Gaza has profound consequences not just for the population, but also for regional security.

On my last morning in Gaza, the terrace restaurant of the beachfront hotel I have frequented over recent years was almost empty. Few journalists and diplomats come to Gaza these days, as attention – understandably – has swiveled to crises elsewhere in the region. “The world has forgotten us,” one Gazan told me.

After breakfast, Hazem drove me back to the Erez border crossing, through streets in which donkey-drawn carts are replacing fuel-thirsty vehicles, and men while away their lives sipping coffee on plastic chairs for the want of a decent day’s work.

I left a place that I have grown to care deeply about with a profound sense of gloom about its future. After Hamas officials gave me permission to go, Hazem and I risked a socially unacceptable parting hug and he wished me good luck.

But it’s he and the people of Gaza who need luck, and a lot of it.

Davos Forum, Richest people…: “How to make our clan richer?”

The world’s wealthiest people aren’t known for travelling by bus, but if they fancied a change of scene then the richest 85 people on the globe – who between them control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together – could squeeze onto a single double-decker.

The extent to which so much global wealth has become corralled by a virtual handful of the so-called ‘global elite’ is exposed in a new report from Oxfam on Monday.

The report warned that those richest 85 people across the globe share a combined wealth of £1tn (1,ooo billion) as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population.

 published in, this January 20, 2014

Oxfam: 85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world

As World Economic Forum starts in Davos, development charity claims growing inequality has been driven by ‘power grab’
The InterContinental Davos luxury hotel in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos

The InterContinental Davos luxury hotel in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos.
Oxfam report found people in countries around the world believe that the rich have too much influence over the direction their country is heading. Photograph: Arnd Wiegmann/REUTERS

Working for the Few - Oxfam report

Source: F. Alvaredo, A. B. Atkinson, T. Piketty and E. Saez, (2013) ‘The World Top Incomes Database’,

Only includes countries with data in 1980 and later than 2008. Photograph: Oxfam

The wealth of the 1% richest people in the world amounts to $110tn (£60.88tn), or 65 times as much as the poorest half of the world, added the development charity, which fears this concentration of economic resources is threatening political stability and driving up social tensions.

It’s a chilling reminder of the depths of wealth inequality as political leaders and top business people head to the snowy peaks of Davos for this week’s World Economic Forum.

Few, if any, will be arriving on anything as common as a bus, with private jets and helicopters pressed into service as many of the world’s most powerful people convene to discuss the state of the global economy over 4 hectic days of meetings, seminars and parties in the exclusive ski resort.

Winnie Byanyima, the Oxfam executive director who will attend the Davos meetings, said: “It is staggering that in the 21st Century, half of the world’s population – that’s three and a half billion people – own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all fit comfortably on a double-decker bus.”

Oxfam also argues that this is no accident either, saying growing inequality has been driven by a “power grab” by wealthy elites, who have co-opted the political process to rig the rules of the economic system in their favour.

In the report, entitled Working For The Few (summary here), Oxfam warned that the fight against poverty cannot be won until wealth inequality has been tackled.

“Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table,” Byanyima said.

Oxfam called on attendees at this week’s World Economic Forum to take a personal pledge to tackle the problem by refraining from dodging taxes or using their wealth to seek political favours.

As well as being morally dubious, economic inequality can also exacerbate other social problems such as gender inequality, Oxfam warned.

Davos itself is also struggling in this area, with the number of female delegates actually dropping from 17% in 2013 to 15% this year.

How richest use their wealth to capture opportunities

Polling for Oxfam’s report found people in countries around the world – including two-thirds of those questioned in Britain – believe that the rich have too much influence over the direction their country is heading.

Byanyima explained:

“In developed and developing countries alike we are increasingly living in a world where the lowest tax rates, the best health and education and the opportunity to influence are being given not just to the rich but also to their children.

“Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations. We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. In too many countries economic growth already amounts to little more than a ‘winner takes all’ windfall for the richest.”

Working for the Few - Oxfam report

Source: F. Alvaredo, A. B. Atkinson, T. Piketty and E. Saez, (2013) ‘The World Top Incomes Database’, Only includes countries with data in 1980 and later than 2008. Photograph: Oxfam

The Oxfam report found that over the past few decades, the rich have successfully wielded political influence to skew policies in their favour on issues ranging from financial deregulation, tax havens, anti-competitive business practices to lower tax rates on high incomes and cuts in public services for the majority.

Since the late 1970s, tax rates for the richest have fallen in 29 out of 30 countries for which data are available, said the report.

This “capture of opportunities” by the rich at the expense of the poor and middle classes has led to a situation where 70% of the world’s population live in countries where inequality has increased since the 1980s and 1% of families own 46% of global wealth – almost £70tn.

Opinion polls in Spain, Brazil, India, South Africa, the US, UK and Netherlands found that a majority in each country believe that wealthy people exert too much influence.

Concern was strongest in Spain, followed by Brazil and India and least marked in the Netherlands.

In the UK, some 67% agreed that “the rich have too much influence over where this country is headed” – 37% saying that they agreed “strongly” with the statement – against just 10% who disagreed, 2% of them strongly.

The WEF’s own Global Risks report recently identified widening income disparities as one of the biggest threats to the world community.

Oxfam is calling on those gathered at WEF to pledge:

1. to support progressive taxation and not dodge their own taxes;

2. refrain from using their wealth to seek political favours that undermine the democratic will of their fellow citizens;

3. make public all investments in companies and trusts for which they are the ultimate beneficial owners;

4. challenge governments to use tax revenue to provide universal healthcare, education and social protection;

5. demand a living wage in all companies they own or control; and

6. challenge other members of the economic elite to join them in these pledges.

(Pledge my ass call)

• Research Now questioned 1,166 adults in the UK for Oxfam between October 1 and 14 2013.

Little has Egypt to celebrate this January 25, 2014

CAIRO — As Egypt’s interim president and ministers of defense and interior celebrated the third anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, countless authors and TV show hosts continued to smear the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship.

On this day in 2011, Egyptians took to the streets and called for an end to decades of torture, killings and injustice, but now these authors and TV hosts accuse the revolution’s youthful participants of disloyalty, espionage and call for crushing those who dare criticize the police.

Three years after the uprising that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt is more polarized than ever.
Author Mohannad Sabry Posted this January 23, 2014
A couple of hours after the celebration aired on national TV — as I was in a taxi heading to Cairo’s Zamalek neighborhood — a radio news program received a call from a top official of the Beni Suef governorate, commenting on a militant attack at a checkpoint on Jan. 23 that killed five police officers.

A woman mourns during the funeral of 5 Egyptian policemen who were killed when masked gunmen on motorbikes opened fire on a checkpoint, Beni Suef, Jan. 23, 2014. (photo by REUTERS/Al Youm Al Saabi Newspaper)

“This terrorist attack is an attempt against the harmony and unity shown through the constitutional referendum, but it will only make us more persistent in our fight against terrorism,” said the official.

His comment was followed by random calls from listeners pledging to join the Jan. 25 celebrations in Tahrir Square and in every major square across the country. They called for celebrations in all Egypt’s squares — the squares that are remembered for being the sites of bloody confrontations over three years of unrest.

Celebrating a constitution that never satisfied the wishes of the dead youth and was boycotted by those who are still alive,” said the cab driver. “What a pity!”

I looked at the driver, a grim man likely in his late 50s, and said, “If the radio audience heard us say that, we would be accused of disloyalty and supporting a terrorist organization.”

That’s why I keep my mouth shut. I wouldn’t have hissed if I hadn’t seen that smirk on your face,” said the driver without looking at me.

I don’t know if the driver took me for a Muslim Brotherhood member because of the smirk, but it didn’t really matter. Members of the April 6 Movement, secular activists, high school students and even foreign correspondents are in Egyptian jails along with hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood officers and members.

The conflict between the government official’s comment on “harmony and unity” and the taxi driver’s confession to keeping his “mouth shut,” summed up the collective analysis of 3 Egyptians that I interviewed over the past three years.

I saw Egypt’s developments through their experiences, along with dozens of other activists and apolitical people.

The first was Mai Raafat, a woman in her early 30s who organized a campaign for securing medical treatment for the victims of the January 25 Revolution. Rafaat connected me with several victims, one of whom I featured in an article I wrote on the first anniversary of the revolution.

Back then, Rafaat’s campaign assisted dozens who were injured during the violent confrontations of January 2011, and provided aid for the families of dead protesters. Some of the volunteers running the campaign alongside Rafaat were themselves injured victims of the revolution.

Speaking to Rafaat by phone on Jan. 22, she wasn’t the enthusiastic and optimistic person I met in 2012. Instead, she was pessimistic and resentful as the revolution’s anniversary approached.

“Some of the victims continue to receive aid from nongovernmental organizations. Some lost hope in finding a job due to their disabilities and others prefer to live on minimal aid than take the few jobs offered by the government or outsourced by the organizations,” said Rafaat.

“We tried to resurrect the campaign in recent months but were shocked to see people refusing to donate blood because the victim we were trying to help was injured in the dispersal of the pro-[Mohammed] Morsi sit-in last August,” she said.

Rafaat’s words reminded me of Gaber Sayyed, a January 2011 victim whose surgery was canceled because pro-Mubarak nurses refused to treat him.

“They were humiliating me for being an [anti-Mubarak] protester,” he told me in a January 2012 interview at his house, where he was bedridden in a thigh-high cast autographed by his friends. One note read: “The police are thugs.”

As for Rafaat, she was in a position similar to  the taxi driver’s: “Isolated, because if I defend an injured member of the Muslim Brotherhood, or am sympathetic to them, I would be accused of disloyalty and being a member of [a] terrorist organization.”

The second was Fouad Mokhtar, a private company employee who paid $600 to print a massive poster emblazoned with the names and photos of slain protesters. His poster was hung on the facade of a Tahrir Square building during the 18 days of the uprising, then pulled down and spread in the middle of the square before it disappeared.

Mokhtar, a 32-year-old who joined the protesters in Tahrir Square in January 2011, decided to boycott the constitutional referendum held less than two weeks ago. “I believe the referendum was a despicable show that I would have never taken part of,” said Mokhtar.

He recalled a story of a non-voter who was attacked by several supporters of the constitution in front of a polling station in Cairo’s southern district of Maadi.

“He was physically attacked by other citizens as the military and police personnel securing the polling station watched, just because he revealed his intention to vote against the constitution because it allowed military trials of civilians,” said Mokhtar. He said that Jan. 25, 2014 “will be a continuation, not a celebration.”

“This is a continuation of January 2011, not an anniversary,” he stressed.

The last of the three people I interviewed — who were all fierce critics of Mubarak, Morsi and the current interim, military-backed regime — is a Bedouin tribesman and Sinai activist who refused to have his name mentioned.

The revered tribesman, who took part in organizing the anti-Mubarak protests in North Sinai during the 18 days of protests, fled North Sinai after his house was shelled in the wide-scale military operation that kicked off in the aftermath of Morsi’s ouster on July 3, 2013.

This man who I met with countless times, spending several nights at his house in a remote North Sinai village — before it was destroyed along with dozens of Bedouin homes in September 2013 — spoke with me via the Internet and refused to reveal his location.

“There is no place for moderate speakers now. The stage is reserved for fanatics and propagandists of the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. The remnants of Mubarak’s regime are waging war on any form of change since 2011.”

He said, “Every drop of blood worsens the situation and further divides the country. Neither the constitution nor the anniversary and celebrations will absorb the anger of anyone who suffered injustice and remains without compensation, if not further violated.”

The last time we spoke was a few days after his house was destroyed last September. Back then, he told me that his house “is not the main issue. I could rebuild the house again, but what seems impossible is refilling the widening gaps between different sectors of the Egyptian people, and other gaps between the people and the state.”

Two days ago, he said he is “afraid Egypt is pacing toward another phase of civil strife, not nationwide celebrations.”

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