Archive for January, 2013

Chefs offer their take on Jerusalem

January 04, 2013

LONDON (AP) — Two London-based chefs with roots in Jerusalem one day. The next, poster boys for peace.

Such has been the reaction to “Jerusalem,” a bestselling cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli, and Sami Tamimi, a Palestinian, built on their memories of a shared city and its delicious food. “Regardless of all the trouble, food is always there,” Tamimi said.

The men run gourmet delis and restaurants in London and have written an earlier cookbook together. They were known not for politics, but for saving some chic London neighborhoods from culinary boredom with Mediterranean-based recipes infused with fresh, exotic flavors.

That changed with the publication of “Jerusalem,” as observers took note of their unusual partnership. An Anglican minister used the chefs as an example of interfaith dialogue in a commentary on the BBC’s influential Today program. The New Yorker piled on with a profile titled “The Philosopher Chef.” Britain’s Daily Telegraph featured the partners on its news pages — no recipes attached.

Suddenly it wasn’t just about how much garlic goes into hummus. It was about them. “We’ve been very successful at attracting (attention),” Ottolenghi said. “We didn’t go out there declaring a political stance. All we did is say, this is the food that we like.”

The book contains a mixture of Palestinian and Jewish food, and the authors occasionally discuss what bothers them about their hometown, with its largely Jewish west and predominantly Arab east. “We would both like to see the city divided more equally between its peoples so it’s not a one-sided story as it is at the moment,” Ottolenghi said. “And it’s controversial. People can be offended or upset. But I don’t think they are, and I don’t think (they) should be.”

Their lucrative collaboration, built around five establishments carrying the Ottolenghi name, would have been harder to pull off in the city that gives the book its title. There is little social interaction between Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem, and business partnerships are very rare.

London was a different story. Perhaps largely because of its postwar history of appalling cuisine, the city was ready for them. Unlike other European countries that find it hard to stray from celebrated local specialties, London has long been willing to experiment, offering a welcoming home to this political odd couple.

Their establishments quickly gained attention with a high-flying crowd that wanted the staff to know their names when they picked up their cappuccino in the morning or their seared tuna at night. They don’t prepare comfort food in the traditional sense, but it is certainly comfortable to those whose food horizons are open to offerings such as roasted eggplant with feta yogurt, caramelized onions, crispy kale, sumac and lemon zest or chargrilled fillet of English beef with sweet coriander-mustard sauce

The company now employs some 200 people, a dozen of whom were beavering away recently at their London test kitchen and bakery tucked into the arches that form the base of a railroad bridge in the borough of Camden. While trains rumbled overhead, flour-covered bakers stacked pastry circles and rolled out breadsticks one by one under a corrugated steel roof.

Ottolenghi moved to London in the late 1990s after escaping a career path to academia and began to work as a pastry chef. In 1999, while riding his scooter, he happened upon the elegant deli Baker & Spice, and found all the things he loved: Fresh greens, rotisserie chicken and a California feel.

Tamimi had created the concept, and the two bonded over their love of food. Ottolenghi ended up working there, and when he started his own place in 2002, he asked Tamimi to join him. The men, both 44, never met in Jerusalem, but they have shared interests. Their recipes trace their adventures, like the time Tamimi and a childhood friend crept onto the roof of his friend’s house to snatch the figs laid out to dry. The roasted sweet potato and fresh fig salad recipe evokes this memory.

Joan Nathan, author of “Jewish Cooking in America,” says she was drawn to the book’s personal touch. The book isn’t the definitive work on the region’s cuisine, she says, pointing out for example that the famed Palestinian chicken dish Mousakhan is not included. But she says that doesn’t hurt its appeal. Nathan, who lived in Jerusalem in the 1970s, likes the way the book encompasses both east and west.

“It struck a chord with me,” she said. Though the two men stress their book is about food, they expected people to talk about its context. Politics touches everything in — and about — Jerusalem. Even food is contentious. There have long been arguments, with political overtones, about the origin of that Middle Eastern staple, hummus, with both Arabs and Jews claiming credit.

The chefs would prefer to prepare and enjoy hummus rather than analyze its history. But they know it’s impossible to avoid politics. “It’s always in the background,” Tamimi said. “You can’t really ignore it.”

Israeli cave: World’s first factory?




Archaeologists say Paleolithic production line made cutting tools by the 1000s; Qassem’s inhabitants were possibly early form of Homo sapiens.

In a cave not far from where thousands of Israelis work in hi-tech companies in the Afek Industrial Zone, their Paleolithic ancestors were engaged in some of their own cutting-edge innovation and manufacturing.

Indeed, the people who produced the thousands of knives and other tools in Qassem Cave between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago may have been the world’s first industrial workers, says Ran Barkai, who with two other Tel Aviv University archaeologists, Ron Shimelmitz and Avi Gopher, has been excavating the site.

Their findings, based on the examination of more than 19,000 stone implements produced and used by the cave’s inhabitants, appear in the October issue of The Journal of Human Evolution.

The people of Qassem Cave not only developed what appears to be the earliest system of mass production but engaged in other activities that Barkai and his colleagues describe as modern, such as parceling off their limestone habitation into areas dedicated to specific activities like butchering and eating. That pushes back the date for many practices by tens of thousands of years.

“We must be a bit cautious, but if what we found is what we think it is, it means modern human behavior and modern Homo sapiens appeared earlier than anyone thought before,” Barkai told The Media Line. “Tool production, the use of fire, hunting and meat-sharing practices – these are behaviors that are practiced usually by modern humans.”

Man’s ancestors were making simple stone tools in Africa at the time, but in Qassem Cave the inhabitants set up stone age production lines, as evidenced by the huge number of implements found by the archaeologists  Until now, the earliest instances of mass production date back to no more than 40,000 years ago.

“For many years, archaeologists linked the systematic production of blades to the Late Paleolithic period in Europe 30,000 or 40,000 years ago, and to Homo sapiens, and to such practices as cave paintings,” Gopher said in a statement issued by Tel Aviv University. “This gives us a glimpse into the daily life of the earliest cave people.”

Located about 12 kilometers (8 miles) east of Tel Aviv in the Samarian foothills, Qassem Cave is typical of the area, where caverns are created as acidic water dissolves the limestone rock that predominates the area’s geology. Originally an underground cavern, geological shifts created an opening that enabled the cave to be inhabited for 200,000 years before closing up again.

The cave and its industrial secrets remained lost to the world, the technology employed in it over the millennia never again used or replicated, as far as archaeologists know. The cave was revealed again when construction workers accidentally re-opened it 10 years ago it as they were widening a highway.

Barkai said the mass production of tools was facilitated by the technology developed by Qassem’s inhabitants. They developed cutting techniques that made very efficient use of their raw material, flint blocks, to produce tools with very little waste. They also turned out semi-finished products that could be turned into a completed tool with very little additional work.

The tools they made were highly specialized, designed for the various stages of hunting and butchering. Barkai said that long before place settings were invented, Qassem’s inhabitants may have been using knives as personal implements for eating. But the cave men (and women) of Qassem also had shared the use-and-throw-away culture of the modern era as well.

The tools they made were of very high quality – Barkai says examples he has in his lab look as sharp as new – but Qassem’s inhabitants didn’t trouble to reuse them or sharpen them as their peers did. That could be the reason that Qassem’s denizens needed to produce so much, he speculated.

“It appears they used these knives as expendable tools. They used them for a very short while for a very specific purpose, then for the next stage of work they would produce more,” said Barkai. “We know that the cave was surrounded by very rich outcrops of flint, so they had constant supply of raw material around them and they had very good tools to produce cutting tools quickly and efficiently.”

Who were Qassem’s inhabitants?

Barkai and his colleagues aren’t quite sure, but they speculate that they may have been a very early form of Homo sapiens, that is modern man. If true, that would push back the earliest known evidence for Homo sapiens, which now has records up to 200,000 years ago – at the tail end of the Qassem era.

The only direct evidence of who the cave’s people were is some teeth that have been uncovered and show a resemblance to those of modern humans. But the technology itself provides indirect evidence of how they had advanced intellectually and technologically.

“They had the capability of transmitting knowledge and technical skills, which were quite sophisticated,” Barkai said. “I have no doubt they used language.”

The team is by no means done with Qassem Cave. Barkai estimates there is another decade’s worth of excavating to do at the site, with their top goals of finding skeletal remains of the inhabitants that would give them more insight into who the inhabitants were and to better understand how different functions were assigned to different places in the cavern.

Source: The Jerusalem Post.


Teachers protest at UNRWA’s Gaza City headquarters

Wednesday 05/10/2011

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Thousands of teachers on Wednesday protested at UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City over the dismissal of a union official, a Ma’an correspondent reported.

The Local Staff Union called for the general strike on Wednesday, the second such action in a week, to protest at UNRWA’s suspension of the head of the union, Suhail al-Hindi.

Hamas sources said the UN agency had accused Hindi of meeting with Hamas political officials.

Buses took some 7,000 teachers employed at UNRWA-run schools to UN headquarters in Gaza city where they held a sit-in, calling for an end to “UNRWA political punishment of employees.”

“Death rather than humiliation” read a banner held by striking teachers. “Deception, lying and hypocrisy have become the core values of UNRWA,” read another.

The strike affected all of UNRWA’s 243 schools in Gaza.

Hindi told the teachers he would stand against “oppression and injustice” but added that Palestinians saw UNRWA as a symbol of the cause of refugees and that its role should be preserved “until the Israeli occupation is removed.”

UNRWA was founded in 1949 to serve refugees in Gaza, the West Bank and Arab countries after hundreds of thousands were displaced from Palestine when Israel was created. The agency’s most recent mandate extends to June 30, 2014.

Chris Gunness, UNRWA’s chief spokesman in Jerusalem, said disputes should be resolved internally and not through actions that undermine agency operations and services to refugees in Gaza.

“UNRWA is extremely concerned about the impact of further strikes on the education of 220,000 children in our schools, children whose right to education is being denied,” he said in a statement.

Earlier this week, Hamas accused UNRWA of trying to create a “parallel authority”.

“The Palestinian people cannot accept the punishment of an employee of the head of the employees union just because of his participation in a regular community activity,” said Taher al-Nunu, spokesman of the Hamas-led government in Gaza.

Hamas lawmakers often criticize UNRWA’s education policies and some accuse it of trying to teach material that encourages normalization with Israel or educates pupils about the Holocaust.

Islamist radicals opposed to mixed-gender activities are believed to be behind arson attacks on UNRWA-run summer camps.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.


Tunisia denies visas for Palestinian bloggers

05 Oct 2011

Eleven out of the 12 Palestinians invited to the Tunis meeting had their visas rejected by the Tunisian authorities.

Yasmine Ryan

TUNIS, Tunisia – As influential bloggers from across the Middle East and North Africa gather in the country where the Arab Spring began to share ideas and tactics, the absence of 11 Palestinians has served as a reminder that even if borders have faded in the online world, they remain a reality in the physical one.

Over 100 delegates from at least 15 different countries are meeting in Tunis, the Tunisian capital, for the Third Arab Bloggers meeting.

Unlike the bloggers and journalists from every other country, 11 out of the 12 Palestinians invited to the meeting had their visas rejected by the Tunisian authorities.

“It’s not a good feeling to me, why am I the only one here?” Saed Karzoun, who lives in Ramallah in the West Bank, told Al Jazeera.

Karzoun, who blogs at, does not know why his visa was the only one accepted. It could be because his profession is listed as “musician” or because he has traveled to Europe several times, he speculated.

Some of the other Palestinian bloggers spoke to the attendees over Skype on Tuesday afternoon. Despite this attempt to include the online activists, the virtual connection was not enough to allow the Palestinians to participate fully in workshops on skills, including how to present data in hard-hitting infographics and best practice for activists on Twitter.

Speaking to his compatriots back in Ramallah, Karzoun promised that he and the other attendees would demand answers from the country’s interior ministry.

Sami Ben Gharbia, one of the co-founders of the Tunisian dissident blog-turned-NGO Nawaat, said that it was unclear who had made the decision to refuse the visas – the embassy in Ramallah or the Tunisian interior ministry – and why they had done so.

The initial reason given by the embassy was that Nawaat was not a legal entity. Gharbia said this was not true, as they had registered Nawaat as an NGO in Tunisia, and in any case, all the other participants had been granted visas.

“It’s a huge debate, Tunisians are shocked and ashamed that their country is treating Palestinians this way, because Tunisians have never had a problem with Palestine,” Gharbia said.

The interior ministry was unavailable for comment.

Long tradition of solidarity

The Heinrich Boell Foundation, Global Voices Online and the Nawaat Association, which co-sponsored the event, issued a joint statement condemning the decision to refuse the visa requests.

“We demand an explanation from the Tunisian interior ministry and seek clarification as to why Palestinian participants were denied,” it read.

“An Arab Bloggers Meeting without participation from Palestinians is an offense to the long tradition of solidarity between Tunisia and Palestine, and deprives participants of a key contingent of the Arab blogging community.”

It has provoked discussion at the conference about the wider issue of difficulties Palestinians faced travelling in the Arab world.

An online petition against the decision was launched along with a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #VISArejected.

Razan Ghazzawi, a Syrian blogger participating in the meeting, tapped a sign on her back that read “OK, Pals denied entry. Let’s not just tweet about it.”

Amra, a Palestinian-American activist based in Ramallah, said that the Palestinians were being discriminated against because of their identity.

“We must ask ourselves, why the Palestinian participants were prevented. Is it a threat, and if so, to who?” she said in an emailed interview.

Joachim Paul, head of the Heinrich Boell Foundation’s Ramallah branch, said that it was important that Palestinian bloggers should have the chance to come to such events so that they could be part of the Arab blogging community.

“So many of the issues are also common issues, despite the differences,” Paul said.

‘Political decision’

Ali Shaath, who runs the Arab Digital Expression Foundation, said that the refusal was nothing new, but that it was disappointing that the Tunisian authorities appeared to be going against the spirit of the Arab Spring.

“It’s obviously a political decision,” he said.

Organizing events has long been difficult because of such barriers on travel, he said.

“Now with the Arab Spring, we think that this is a popular movement and it should open up borders within the Arab world,” he said.

“Maybe a no-visa policy within the Arab world is something that has to be lobbied for.”

The rejected bloggers come from the Occupied West Bank, Gaza, within Israel and a Palestinian living in Egypt.

On the first day of the meeting, some were still hoping that the bloggers would still make it.

“It would be an honor to meet such amazing people who have created change,” Dalia Othman, one of those stuck in Ramallah, wrote on her blog.

“Here’s hoping the Tunisian government would change their mind and grant us a visa!”

With only two days left of the conference and no sign of a change of heart from the Tunisian authorities, it appears Othman and the rest of the bloggers will have to wait until the next meeting.

Source: al-Jazeera.


Israeli-Palestinian clashes erupt in West Bank

January 01, 2013

TAMOUN, West Bank (AP) — An arrest raid by undercover Israeli soldiers disguised as vegetable vendors ignited rare clashes in the northern West Bank on Tuesday, residents said, leaving at 10 Palestinians wounded.

Israeli army raids into Palestinian areas to seize activists and militants are fairly common. The raids are normally coordinated with Palestinian security forces, and suspects are usually apprehended without violence.

The clashes began early Tuesday after Israeli forces disguised as merchants in a vegetable truck arrested one man. Regular army forces then entered the town, prompting youths to hurl rocks to try to prevent more arrests.

Israeli forces fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition as youths set tires and bins on fire to block the passage of military vehicles. In several hours of clashes, dozens of masked youths hid behind makeshift barriers, hurling rocks and firebombs at soldiers.

Faris Bisharat, a resident of Tamoun, said 10 men were wounded, some by live fire. Bisharat said the wanted men belong to Islamic Jihad, a violent group sworn to Israel’s destruction. It wasn’t clear how many men Israeli forces sought to arrest. There were no immediate details on how seriously the 10 were hurt.

The Israeli military said it arrested a “terrorist affiliated with the Islamic Jihad terror group.” It said two soldiers were injured during the raid. The fighting, which broke out in several parts of the town of some 8,000 people, were a rare, angry response. It was also unusual for Israeli forces to use live fire toward Palestinian demonstrators. Israel says it uses live fire only in extremely dangerous situations.