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Inside the Middle East
December 20, 2012
Posted: 943 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: Culture •Egypt •Inside The Middle East •Israel •Jerusalem •Lebanon •Morocco •Palestinians •Pictures •Religion •UAE •Video •Women


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August 25, 2012
Posted: 1027 GMT

Over 8000 people live in the Palestinian town of Allar. A number, 15 year old Bashaer Othman says is manageable to govern.

Othman has probably spent the best summer of her life. She ran the town…Literally.

Othman became the youngest girl in the world to serve as a mayor, when she was chosen as part of an educational youth program for the position.

“The real challenge is when I become a minister, I will deal with all Palestinians, not only 8000 people” says Othman.

For this ambitious leader this position has made her “fall in love” with political and social work and even made her consider a major in international studies upon graduation.

“Palestinians need a true leader and I want to be part of this leadership.” She says.

Othman tells CNN, she has been attending meetings and giving speeches and even signing off on projects for her town.

No shying away for this girl. She has been working at the municipality for almost a month and half and is already making some changes.

She wants to start a local civil defense unit.

“When there’s a fire, people used to wait for firefighters to come from a nearby town. Am currently working on opening a fire department with 6 branches across my town.”

Out of 255 members at the Local Youth Council in Allar, 12 boys and girls were elected to work as members of the municipality and Othman was elected to become the mayor for 2 months.

In the little time that she has this young mayor is hoping to give back to her fellows. And her friends are hopeful she will start a change that will make their future better.

The dearest project to her heart is renovating the town’s library. She says “I think it all starts with education.”

Othman, a usual contender in poetry and reading competitions in her town, thinks youth can start by reading.

“The library has been sitting there for years. The books are old and no one wants to go there.”

Othman has all the support she needs from Allar’s regular mayor, Sufian Shadid, who handed the power to her for two months

The youngster says she meets with the mayor everyday for an hour and they go over the projects she is working on.


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Filed under: Palestinians •West Bank •Women


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August 7, 2012
Posted: 1046 GMT

In Amman, Jordan, our team met the women of Jordan's national boxing team, the first female boxers in the Middle East. Nineteen-year-old Baraa Al-Absi is hoping her tenacity in the ring will lead to fighting on a bigger stage, like the Olympic Games. Except for one thing – Al-Absi is not technically allowed to box while wearing her headscarf, or hijab. Like many Muslims, Al-Absi wears the hijab for religious reasons. She’s not willing to take it off for anyone – even if it means quitting her team.

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Filed under: Culture •Inside The Middle East •Jordan •Palestinians •Women


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January 20, 2012
Posted: 1727 GMT

It was slightly before midnight last Friday when Mahmoud Abu Rahma was walking home from his office at the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza City. But before he made it to his house he was set upon by three masked assailants. The men stabbed Abu Rahma multiple times in the leg and shoulder while screaming that he was an "atheist" and a "collaborator".

Even as the attack began Abu Rahma says he knew what it was about.

Three weeks ago, on New Year's eve, he published a scathing article on a Palestinian news website titled "The Gap Between Resistance and Governance." In it he took Palestinian political factions to task for their lack of tolerance, rampant corruption, and liberal use of torture and arrests to harass those who criticize them.

"Power and authority with a poor moral foundation are doomed to fail. They will destroy themselves and lead their people to corruption and injustice," Abu Rahma wrote in the essay.

"The people of any nation have a responsibility to criticize those who lead them. We must look in the mirror before we can see ourselves clearly. "

Mahmoud Abu Rahma
Mahmoud Abu Rahma

Abu Rahma also criticized armed militant groups for endangering the lives of civilians.

The unsparing critique on the powers-that-be in the West Bank and Gaza brought an immediate reaction.

Abu Rahma says he was quickly subjected to a series of threatening email and phone calls and three days after publication a group of masked men entered his building and beat him up.

During the course of the second attack Abu Rahma was able to escape his assailants and get home where family and friends got him medical attention.

The Hamas-controlled Information Ministry in Gaza said in a statement the government was investigating the circumstances of the attack on Abu Rahma and called it a violation of human rights. It also said Gaza authorities respected the right of political expression as long as it conformed with "national responsibility."

But international rights organizations like Human Rights Watch say the governments in both Gaza and the West Bank are complicit in the abuse and harassment of Palestinian critics using both detention and torture as a means of repression.

"Hamas's failure to protect Abu Rahma, who has been a leading voice for human rights in Gaza, sends a chilling message to other human rights defenders," says Human Rights Watch's Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.

"Hamas needs to investigate the attacks against him promptly and thoroughly and to appropriately punish those found responsible."

Speaking on the phone from Gaza, Abu Rahma says he does not know who is behind the "cowardly attack" but says the attempt to silence those looking to improve Palestinian society will not work.

He remains unbowed and said the tremendous outpouring of support following his article and subsequent attacks has only stiffened his resolve.

"I am confident that the Palestinian people will stand together for human rights and self freedom of expression"

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Filed under: Fatah •Gaza •Hamas •Human Rights •Palestinians •West Bank


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January 13, 2012
Posted: 1441 GMT
Imad Farajin on the set of Palestinian satire Watan Ala Watar (courtesy Iman Farajin)
Imad Farajin on the set of Palestinian satire Watan Ala Watar (courtesy Iman Farajin)

This week a court in the West Bank City of Ramallah overturned a government ban on the broadcast of a highly popular Palestinian satirical television show called "Watan Ala Watar".

Described as a Palestinian version of the American show, "Saturday Night Live", "Watan Ala Watar" or "Nation on the Edge" served up a weekly offering of cutting political and social satire which spared no one in Palestinian society and angered more than a few in the Palestinian Authority.

Sketches on the shows routinely featured parodies of Palestinian political factions including Fatah and Hamas and offered send-ups of sensitive cultural issues like the enforcement of veils for women in Gaza.

Speaking to CNN about the show in 2009, writer and actor Imad Farajin said that when it came to subject matter there were no sacred cows.

"We talk about Abu Mazen, the Palestinian president, and for Arab people to talk about their president through comedy show is not easy, but we did it and I am proud of it," Farajin remarked

The program was pulled off the Palestinian Authority controlled television station in August during the heavy viewing period of Ramadan after a number of Palestinian officials complained that the show unfairly misrepresented them and did damage to their reputations.

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Filed under: Culture •Fatah •Gaza •Hamas •Palestinians •West Bank


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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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