Art, Freedom And A Subway Dream Crash Into The Cruel Truths Of Gaza

Art might be the only thing harder than politics to pull off in Gaza, with limits imposed by both Islamists and Israelis. Still, there are small and big achievements, like Palestinian artist Mohamad Abusal's dream of a full-fledged metro system c

A sign of the future? (Mohamed Abusal)
A sign of the future? (Mohamed Abusal)
Laurent Zecchini

It is the idea of an artist, the vision of a poet, halfway between a surreal dream and self-derision: what if we built a metro in Gaza? There would be seven underground lines between Erez in the north and Rafah in the south, the two checkpoints that mark the borders with Israel and Egypt. There would be 200 stations, along the seafront and in the refugee camps, and line 7 would allow them to connect with Gaza International airport if and when it is ever rebuilt.

It would be an environmentally-friendly metro run on renewable energy, with no male-female segregation and no political interference from the Hamas government. From their side, the Israelis would have to agree not to bomb the network and to prevent the power cuts that punctuate Gazan daily life.

The actual construction of the metro will not be a problem: in Gaza, where the number one industry consists of contraband tunnels under the Egyptian border, locals have a certain reputation when it comes to moving earth.

And so, some 1000 Gazan metro maps have been distributed, along with ticket samples, to give the country a nudge in the right direction.

That's the same type of nudge that turned Mohamed Abusal, the 35 year old Gazan artist, into the self-appointed father of the virtual metro in Gaza. He built a pole with a big ‘M" on top and carried it around Gaza wherever his inspiration took him, taking photos of pretend metro stations – at the beach or the port; in front of a mosque or a market; with palm trees, a donkey cart or a bombed building.

Initially taken aback, many Gazans have come to share his dream and have gotten to know the multi-talented artist. All this led to a photo exhibition at the French Cultural Center (CCF) in Gaza, which was then displayed in the West Bank. Mohamed Abusal had to be persistent to obtain the authorization he needed from the government. "I told them that it was just art, but it was hard for them to understand. They asked me lots of questions about why I had done it."

Maybe when it comes down to it, this has made Hamas face up to its own limitations: the Islamic Resistance Movement has had a Gazan metro in its pipeline since 2006, an ambitious project with a price-tag of a cool $1 billion! Sadly, work has never started due to a lack of funding. That leaves Abusal's imaginary metro far more real to those who let it feed their dreams.

What "European culture" means in Gaza

Of course, dreaming is often the hardest part in Gaza. Its artists are short of money and receive no subsidies from Hamas, which has "other priorities'. This is confirmed by Mustafa Al-Sawaf, Deputy Minister for Culture. The country's budget should hit $700 million in 2012, and perhaps "half a million dollars for culture" will be set aside, Sawaf says without conviction.

It is tempting to sympathize with this cultural decay, but the minister shows a hint of something slightly more worrying: "European culture means showing naked women in the street. In Gaza, some feminist NGOs receive funding to undermine our Muslim culture. Projects supporting the emancipation of women don't make any sense, because, in Islam, women are already free."

Al-Sawaf says that instead what is needed "is to educate people to give them clear guidelines on how to protect themselves from foreign influences." But how can this be achieved? Hamas "has ways of promoting Palestinian culture: painting, cultural nights, summer camps for young people, religious meetings." Of course.

There are two art galleries in Gaza, Eltiqa and Windows, and neither owes its survival to help from the authorities. Between power cuts, at Eltiqa you can discover the work of the courageous painters - Ibrahim Al-Awadi, Mohammed Al-Hawajri, Bashir Al-Sinwar, Raed Issa, Ruqaia Al-Lulu and others. The paint and the canvases were provided by the French cultural center, and indeed France is the only country which has maintained a cultural center and a consulate in the Gaza strip.

Just like the Gazan painters, who must keep their work free of political and religious topics, as well as nudity, the French cultural officials know where the boundaries lie. "I base my strategy on respect and dialogue with the local population: I am aware of the sociocultural environment in which we find ourselves," says Jean Mathiot, the director of the center.

However, Hamas is perhaps not the most repressive of the culture police: 95% of the French center's requests to invite foreign artists to the country are refused, not by Hamas, but by the Israeli authorities. So although Gaza is slowly opening its doors to foreign products, art and culture must keep clanking on the bars of a double prison: Israeli and Islamist.

Read the original article in French

Photo – Mohamed Abusal

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]


Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos


• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.


"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.


$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.


What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️


"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."


An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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