Inside the Middle East
December 20, 2012
Posted: 943 GMT

A look back at the highlights of 2012 covered on Inside the Middle East.

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Filed under: Culture •Egypt •Inside The Middle East •Israel •Jerusalem •Lebanon •Morocco •Palestinians •Pictures •Religion •UAE •Video •Women

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December 17, 2012
Posted: 618 GMT

A look back at the highlights of 2012 covered on Inside the Middle East.

Want to see more?  Follow the show on Facebook for all the latest from 'Inside the Middle East.'

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Algeria •Bahrain •Culture •Dubai •Egypt •Inside The Middle East •Iran •Iraq •Israel •Jordan •Kuwait •Lebanon •Morocco •Oman •Saudi Arabia •Sports •Tunisia •Turkey •UAE •Women •Yemen

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November 14, 2012
Posted: 949 GMT

AFP/Getty Images


It's a story that combines three of the region's most critical issues – it's a dispute in Jerusalem, a dispute between Arabs and Israelis... and a dispute over water. All rolled into one, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most venerated sites in Christianity, has had its bank accounts frozen over $2.3 million of unpaid water bills, with monks threatening to close the church in protest.

The church receives about a million pilgrims a year and stands at the site where Jesus Christ is believed to have been crucified and buried.

The water bill is backdated fifteen years to the time when a new company took over the supply. For decades the church was exempt from paying water bills until the Israeli water company began pressing it to pay up a few years ago.

Issa Musleh, spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem told the UK newspaper The Guardian: "They have frozen our account. This is a flagrant act against the church."

"The church is completely paralysed. We can't pay for toilet paper. Nothing. [The water company] Hagihon has declared war on us," a Patriarchate official told the Hebrew-language daily Maariv.

In a statement to Maariv, Hagihon said it had been in talks for several years with church representatives with the aim of reaching a settlement of the debt. It was prohibited by the Israeli Water Authority from exempting any party from water charges, and more than 1,000 religious institutions in Jerusalem paid their bills regularly, it added.

According to the English-language daily Haaretz, Greek Orthodox priest Isidoros Fakitsas said that the move has impaired the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to pay bills and salaries including 500 priests and monks, 2,000 teachers and the running costs of over 30 Christian schools that the church runs in the Palestinian territories and Jordan.

As a result, the church is considering closing for a day in protest, shutting the doors to pilgrims for the first time in centuries. The church is seeking international backing.

As with all issues concerning the Holy City, the issue has become politicized within the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“If they want to cut water off then we will ask the pilgrims and visitors to bring their own water with them and we will explain to them what is happening so that they would know about the Israeli arbitrary policies being practiced against the holy places,” Musleh told the Palestinian news agency WAFA.

The church is no stranger to controversy. The most memorable incident is probably the brawl between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks a few years ago that police had to forcibly break up.

Stay tuned to CNN for more coverage of this story out of Jerusalem.

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Filed under: Israel •Jerusalem •Religion

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June 10, 2012
Posted: 1315 GMT

US pop icon Madonna performs on stage during her first ever concert in the Gulf as part of her MDNA world tour at Abu Dhabi's Yas Island Stadium on June 3, 2012. An estimated 25,000 fans cheered and screamed as the Material Girl finally appeared on stage more than two hours late, wearing a skin-tight black outfit from her "Girl Gone Wild" album. (MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/GettyImages)

More than 20,000 fans waited in the warm weather for almost two hours before the 'Queen of Pop' Madonna kicked off her concert in Abu Dhabi last week, but her controversial performance is still echoing throughout the region today.

Coming from Tel Aviv in Israel, where she debuted her world tour last week, Madonna opened her Abu Dhabi gig with a series of religious, sexual and violent acts that left fans in both countries both mesmerized and shocked.

Some Madonna fans in the UAE, according to this columnist from Gulf Newspaper, were upset at the pop star for not abiding by their relatively conservative society.

At least one Twitter user noted a contradiction:

Madonna opened her first act  in Abu Dhabi with religious chants, and featured a huge cross on stage which was later cut in half.  In a later scene, Madonna carried an AK-47 and used it – mockingly – to kill a few of the dancers on stage.  She then proceeded to strip her clothes, albeit partially, leaving some fans with their jaws dropped in surprise.

It wasn't just in the UAE. Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Culture •Israel •UAE

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January 11, 2012
Posted: 1632 GMT
New houses are seen in West Bank Israeli settlement of Qedar, on the outskirts of Jerusalem (Getty)
New houses are seen in West Bank Israeli settlement of Qedar, on the outskirts of Jerusalem (Getty)

As Israelis and Palestinians attempted to give peace a chance this past week with a second Jordanian sponsored meeting of the two sides, a new report issued by an Israeli settlement watch dog organization is likely to further dim the unlikely prospect of any breakthrough between the parties.

Tuesday, the anti-settlement activist group Peace Now released a new report citing a 20% increase in the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank in 2011. The report found that the number of plans for new Jewish homes in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem was at its highest number in a decade with over 3,600 housing units approved and preliminary plans made for another 2660.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Peace Now director, Yariv Oppenheimer, said, 2011 "will be remembered as the 'year of the settlers' regarding construction in the West Bank" and claimed the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was jeopardizing the possibility of a two-state solution.

The Israeli government described Peace Now’s figures as exaggerated and spokesman Mark Regev offered this pointed retort:

"The current Israeli government has been attacked by the leadership of the settlement movement for being the "worst government in Israel's history" when it comes to settlement construction. And it is indeed true that we have shown more restraint on the issue of settlement than any previous Israeli government. We initiated the unprecedented ten-month settlement moratorium and even since the conclusion of that moratorium we continue to exercise great restraint."

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Filed under: General •Israel •Palestinians •Peace Talks •West Bank

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December 28, 2011
Posted: 1032 GMT

A newly discovered 2000-year-old coin-sized clay seal is shedding light on one of the most significant periods of Jewish history, Israeli archaeologists announced Sunday.

The seal was found in an ongoing archaeological excavation taking place along Jerusalem’s Western Wall and carries an Aramaic inscription, which researchers say translated as “Pure for God.”

The find dates back from between the 1st century B.C. to 70 A.D, the period in which the second of two Jewish temples was destroyed by the Romans during the course of a Jewish revolt.

In a statement, the Israeli Antiquities Authority, which oversees archaeological excavations in the area, said it represented a first-of-its-kind discovery and constitutes “direct archaeological evidence of the activity on the Temple Mount and the workings of the Temple during the Second Temple period.”

Haifa University archaeologist Ronny Reich, who has spent four decades digging around the Old City of Jerusalem, said the seal revealed details about some of the administrative procedures used by temple officials to oversee religious offerings.

"If you wanted to give a drink offering to the temple you went and bought an impressed seal from one person, a priest obviously, and then gave him the money,” Reich explained. “You went to the other man and received against this coupon lets call it a drink offering. And then went to the temple to offer it.”

The excavation is taking place beneath the religious compound know as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. The site is revered by both religions and previous archaeological activities in the area have sparked violent confrontations between Israeli and Palestinians.

At the press conference to announce the find, archaeologists were flanked by two government ministers from the right-wing Likud party who used the discovery to press Jewish claims of sovereignty over Jerusalem.

“The works of the digs are uncovering our roots,” said Education Minister Gideon Saar. “They could not be carried out if Israel was not the sovereign in control of Jerusalem and emphasized the work in this area.”

The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, where the excavation is located, and Palestinians consider the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state.

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Filed under: Archaeology •General •Israel •Jerusalem •Judaism •Palestinians •Religion •Video

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August 24, 2011
Posted: 1546 GMT
Israelis gather to board a train to enjoy Jerusalem's light rail system's first day of operation (Getty)
Israelis gather to board a train to enjoy Jerusalem's light rail system's first day of operation (Getty)

After years of delays, hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns and stiff political opposition, Jerusalem's ultra-modern light rail project was finally launched this past Friday in what transportation officials are calling "a dream come true".

Originally planned to embark on its debut journey in 2006, Jerusalem's grandiose light rail trains finally opened their doors for thousands of passengers anxious to experience the electric wonder.

"This is a new era for the public system", says Nadav Meroz of the Jerusalem Transportation Masterplan, a body established by city officials in an effort to put an end to major traffic backups across the dense city.

But with costs that escalated like a runaway train to an astounding price tag of $1.2 billion dollars– almost double the original estimate– not all are certain that this was money well spent. "The train has transformed from a mean's to an end to a goal of its own (one) that justifies all means and crushes everything on its way in order to produce fat profits to its planners", residents of one of the impacted neighbourhoods complained in a letter sent to local newspapers.

But transportation officials say otherwise. "This system is going to give service to the people of Jerusalem for decades now. So I believe it is worth it, of course", Meroz tells CNN.

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Filed under: Israel •Jerusalem •Palestinians

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August 5, 2011
Posted: 1511 GMT
The Abu Hajjaj family home in Gaza
The Abu Hajjaj family home in Gaza

This week, Israel's Defense Ministry agreed to make an extraordinary payment – an award of almost $150,000 to a Palestinian family in Gaza.

It is the first pay-out to any party claiming harm during the course of Operation Cast Lead – Israel's three-week offensive in Gaza that began at the end of 2008, according to the Ministry and human rights organizations

The settlement was negotiated by the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) on behalf of the family of a mother and daughter killed by Israeli soldiers during Cast Lead. The payment is to be made to the family in return for their dropping the claim against the Israeli military.

The family of Riyeh and Majda Abu Hajjaj filed their claim against the Israeli military two years ago – with the help of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem The family claimed that on January 4th, 2009 the mother and daughter were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers as they and other civilians evacuated a house in a Gaza city neighbourhood while carrying white flags. The family said they were not able to retrieve the bodies from the scene until two weeks later because of continued fighting in the area.

In a statement to CNN the Israeli Ministry of Defense said the claim was settled out of court "because the Defense Ministry believes that it was exceptional (not reflecting at all on the norm) and justifies the granting of reparation."

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Filed under: Gaza •Hamas •Human Rights •Israel •Palestinians

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Posted: 1019 GMT
 Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon speaks before a Knesset committee.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon speaks before a Knesset committee.

He is a vocal proponent of Israel's foreign policy and his no holds barred approach to diplomacy has bought him many critics, but love him or hate him, it is hard to ignore Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

With an extremely high-profile on the web,  Ayalon, a member of Avigdor Liberman's Yisrael Beiteinu nationalist political party and a former Israeli ambassador to United States , has been recognized by Foreign Policy Magazine as one of the leading politicians around the globe utilizing social media.

Whether spending his time tweeting in 3 different languages, openly voicing personal opinions on his Facebook  wall, making new friends on Google+ or posting videos and publications on his slick website , Ayalon has earned himself thousands of followers around the globe.

Ayalon's most recent and controversial social media venture is a new YouTube video  titled "Israel Palestinian Conflict: The Truth about the West Bank" in which he attempts to poke holes in what he says are some common misconceptions regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and vigorously advocates Jewish presence in them. The video has drawn some quarter of a million views and not surprisingly has attracted a mix of comments of condemnation and praise.

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Filed under: Israel •Palestinians •Social Media

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July 13, 2011
Posted: 941 GMT
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