Posts filed under ‘Israel’

Aqaba

We toured Aqaba our second and last night. Malik, our long-time friend, had invited his cousin along. Basma is a human rights attorney in Jordan who has been insisting on prison reform and women’s rights through both her activism and the cases she has chosen to take pro bono. The four of us had dinner, then drove to what Malik called the “suq,” which looks like a downtown main street. Aqaba has been declared a tax free zone, making everything there cheaper than elsewhere in Jordan.

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People were out in large numbers, buying gifts and the necessities for Eid, the three-day celebration that ends Ramadan and will begin either tonight or tomorrow night when someone sees the new moon that indicates the start of the new month, al-Hijja (month of the haj).

Malik’s best friend Arif met us downtown and took us to Aqaba’s brand new mall on the outskirts of town, mysteriously named “Aqaba City Center.” Basma was trying to find information on new digital cameras, and we were along for the ride. (We also found a supermarket with vanilla extract and baking powder, two things unavailable anywhere in Aleppo.)  While downtown was jammed and jumping, the mall was very quiet.

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I asked to look at the Crusader-era fortress that Faysal’s forces had struggled so hard to liberate, according to the movie at least. It is quite small. A plaza has been built on the water nearby to celebrate the “Great Revolt,” and a huge, special Great Revolt Flag waves over it. A nearby nightclub was playing local music quite loudly, and the plaza was full of people.

All five of us went to the Royal Dive Club, formerly a private facililty of the Royal Family, which they handed over for others’ use. From the pier that juts into the Gulf of Aqaba, an arc of lights indicates Jordan’s Aqaba, Israel’s Eilat, Egypt’s Taba, and just beyond the last green neon, Saudi Arabia’s Tabuq (5 km away). Arif told me that there were efforts to create an infrastructure to coordinate the needs of the four countries’ ports. (He also told us that local people are ambivalent when the US Navy makes its annual appearance at the Saudi port for joint exercises; though they disapprove and dislike American policy in the region, the annual event is great for Jordan’s struggling travel industry. Why is Jordan’s travel industry struggling? I asked. It’s because people think all the countries here are Iraq, he said. They don’t realize that we are very stable; people aren’t traveling to the region at all.

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The lights of Israel’s Eilat, just across the Gulf of Aqaba, from Jordan’s Aqaba.

The remarkable proximity of the four countries was startling, even after spending years looking at Middle East maps.  The lights of Eilat seemed visible everywhere; in the daylight, the mountains of Egypt seemed very close.   Back on the beach, the Diving Club’s big tent with couches, tables, and large pillows provides a comfortable place to sit while drinking coffee or wine, and listening to whatever the DJ plays. (You can ask him for your favorite music, Malik told William, but he will play his own anyway.) Over coffee, we talked about the causes of continuing regional conflict, and the ways to begin solving them, and the need for more academic, citizen, and journalist exchanges.

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We said goodbye to Arif, and the next morning to Muhammad Sea and the staff, and had a nearly-uneventful trip back to Amman (until the car began making dreadful scraping noises.  It is in the shop now.) 

October 13, 2007 at 2:09 pm Leave a comment

Updates

Josh Landis has summarized coverage of the incident.  BBC suggests that the Israeli press is worried about the IDF flight over northern Syria on the sixth.  I found the story but no related news online while looking for information about the military aircraft flying overhead for about 20 minutes this morning.  No news, no reassurance, no alarm.

I still can’t read Katie’s blog, which is blocked by the Syrian government.  She is now in Turkey, and can’t read my blog, which is blocked by the Turkish government

 William put together a wonderful panorama of the leather dyers establishment in the Fez suq.

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September 9, 2007 at 9:01 am Leave a comment

Israel Attacks Syria?

We first heard the news yesterday afternoon. William listens to BBC radio when he can find it, and around 2:00 he told me that Israeli jets had flown over Syrian airspace and the Syrians had fired on them. I assumed they had strayed over their common border inadvertently.

When we checked the BBC web site, it became clear that this wasn’t about an Israeli jet meandering a bit off course. The Israeli jet flew over Tall al-Abyad, near Raqqa, a part of Syria almost as far away as it could be. That made the BBC headline even more surprising. “Syria ‘fires on Israel warplanes’” suggests that Syria had taken action against an inactive Israel. The BBC story paraphrased Syrian sources that an IDF jet had broken the sound barrier flying over a small, northern Syrian town at 1 in the morning, been shot at by Syrian air defenses, forcing them to “drop ammunition over deserted areas and turn back.” (Drop ammunition over deserted areas? Does that mean bombing them?)

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The Syrian TV news last night was full of analysts and analyses, speculating why the Israelis would violate Syrian airspace. One retired general thought Israel was testing to see how Syria would respond, whether the country had the political will or military capability to reply to an Israeli provocation.

I was curious about how other TV news stations would cover the story. Mostly, they didn’t. The BBC spent the first large segment of its news broadcast reviewing the history and talent of Pavarotti, then went into a long discussion of the Chinese traveling exhibition currently at the British Museum. CNN made a brief mention of the Israeli flight, but went on to focus briefly on Pavarotti and then on a missing girl.

Before writing this post this morning, I thought I should see how the New York Times covered the story. “Israel is Officially Silent on Syrian Report It Entered Airspace,” reads the headline over one of the most common images in Syria, a photo of Syrian President Assad on a car’s rear window. The article begins with Syrian “reports” of the Israeli action, then continues with Israeli refusal to discuss it. The story includes Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s response to a journalist, “I don’t know what you are talking about.” NYT seems to challenge the credibility of the “report” by pointing out that it only emerged 12 hours after the incident. The article then describes efforts to calm tensions and ends with Israeli attacks on “militants” in Gaza.

Needless to say, I was surprised that the event hadn’t taken place. I checked Al Jazeera’s site, where the headline read “Israel ‘violates Syrian airspace.’” After repeating Syria’s claims, Al Jazeera continued, “’This event never happened,’ Israeli radio said, quoting an unidentified military spokesman.” The BBC’s analysis, posted two hours after the report on the incident, refers to it as an “alleged” event.

Reuters provided more context to the denial: “The Israeli military spokesman’s office said in a statement: ‘It is not our custom to respond to these kinds of reports.’ The office has typically commented on such reports, but a security source said the government had imposed a news blackout on the issue. A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also said there would be no comment beyond the military statement. The White House also declined comment.”

There may or may not have been an Israeli incursion into Syrian air space in the small hours of Thursday morning? (Or, as William suggests, it may have happened actually but not officially.) Why would the Syrians make up such a claim? Why would the Israelis refuse to acknowledge it? What would Israel’s intentions be in flying over northern Syria? Did they actually “discharge ammunition” in a hurry after being fired on by Syrian defenses, or bomb a specific target, or check out air defenses? Each of the news reports relies on different historical contexts to analyze the event–-or non-event–the information chosen and emphasized by each report suggesting varying conclusions about its implications for war, negotiations, or escalating tensions in the area.

September 7, 2007 at 8:23 am Leave a comment


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