Mare Nostrum: Jews, Palestinians And Our Mediterranean Identity

On a recent trip to Sicily, Israeli novelist A. B. Yehoshua was reminded of the Mediterranean's still powerful role as a meeting place of peoples and cultures.

Seashore in Castelluzzo, Sicily
Seashore in Castelluzzo, Sicily
Abraham B. Yehoshua*


PALERMO — Once more the Italians have spoiled me, and after the Mantua literary festival in September I made my way to Sicily to receive an honorary political science degree bestowed upon me by the University of Palermo.

It has been some time now that I have called upon Sicilians, and the authorities of Palermo in particular, to take up the initiative of turning the island capital into a Brussels of the Mediterranean. I've written many articles and held many conferences on the subject, and in these last few years, as I rapidly approach the end of my life, the idea of forging a Mediterranean identity has become fundamental, and of great importance to me.

After all, we Israelis and Palestinians, unable to do otherwise, are heading toward a single state, and thus have an urgent need to find a common identity that can help cement our coexistence. The Palestinians are undeniably a Mediterranean people, and fully half of the Jewish population in Israel comes from the banks of the Mare Nostrum. If we could accept this historical and geographical identity as a common denominator — our other differences notwithstanding — this would considerably contribute to a future possible coexistence.

The idea naturally pleases Sicilians, though for the moment no way to bring it to life can be seen on the horizon. Yet there is no more ideal location for an administrative, political, cultural and economic center than Sicily, which is positioned at the very heart of the Mediterranean.

If the Italian government were open to concretely supporting this project, the Arab countries of North Africa, Spanish Andalusia, Egypt, Lebanon, and naturally Israel would all greatly benefit.

If we could accept this as a common denominator, this would contribute to a future possible coexistence.

The ceremony at which I was awarded the honorary degree, attended by the dynamic mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, was beautiful and touching. The mayor's speech moved me, and the other speeches also proved beautiful and full of goodwill.

Despite having accumulated considerable experience in Italy, I was nonetheless taken aback when, upon entering the office of the dean of the university, I discovered on the wall facing his desk a large, ancient, classical painting depicting a nude woman. Anything of the kind would be unthinkable in the office of a university dean in Israel, England or America.

The weaving in of classical beauty to the fabric of everyday life in Italy is a surprising phenomenon. With a smile I wondered to myself whether the dean, when penning the promotion letter of some or other professor, ever sought counsel or advice from the nude woman calmly reclining before his eyes.

Salina island — Photo: Till Kottmann

After the speeches and the congratulations we moved on to the banquet, and it was here that a man, perhaps in his 40s, who had not been able to attend the ceremony, approached me.

Addressing me in an excellent Hebrew, he introduced himself as Adham Darawsha, a Palestinian from Galilee whose father, or uncle, had once been a member of the Knesset. Adham has lived in Palermo for many years, is the city's cultural councilor, speaks fluent Italian, and gave the impression of being very sure of himself, conversing as an equal with the mayor seated next to us.

I discovered in him an agreeable personality with a delicious sense of humor, who knew my novels and particularly admired my Palestinian romance, The Liberated Bride, whose subtleties he understood.

We got along right away. I asked him how many Palestinians like him were in Palermo. "There are only seven of us," he replied, "and we do nothing but quarrel." His typically Israeli frankness won me over, and I became interested in his story, the different stages of his life, and how he succeeded in adapting so well to a foreign culture so different from his own.

I'd like to steal you away from here.

The next morning he came to my hotel to take me to his office and introduce me to his colleagues. Naturally he knows my position regarding a single state for Arabs and Jews, and he agrees with me that, seeing and considering that the possibility of having two states has now vanished, there is no other solution. He speaks freely and critically of the Israelis, but also of the Palestinians. In short, he is a free-thinking man.

City officials and employees came to greet me in his beautiful office, and I had the impression that they had welcomed this Palestinian councilor, that they appreciated and trusted him.

I bid farewell to Adham with a warm handshake, and said to him as a joke, "I'd like to steal you away from here and take you back to Israel-Palestine, our shared homeland. If you do so well administrating the cultural life of Palermo, you could do the same in Haifa or Tel Aviv. But who would let you? Now that the distance between the Palestinians and the Israelis is growing, where in Israel would we find a mayor convinced that an Israeli Arab could manage his city's cultural life?"

The next day, falling prey to melancholic thoughts, I made my way to a film festival on the island of Salina, just facing Stromboli, where I was assured that by night one could see the volcanic eruptions. The island, the inn, and the hospitality were all perfect. It seemed like I had arrived in paradise to rest and regain strength before the elections in Israel, whose results I greatly feared, like all those who oppose Benjamin Netanyahu.

But here the Palestinians surprised us. They increased their voter turnout, and the result obtained is clearly better than that of the election five months ago. Faced with Netanyahu's hate campaign, the Israeli Arabs clearly expressed their desire to be part of the public and political reality of Israel, and the party that represents them is now the third-strongest power in the Knesset.

Now, I told myself, it's true that I didn't succeed in tearing Adham Darawsha away from Palermo, but something of his spirit has arrived with me in Israel. We can't lose hope.

*The author is an award-winning Israeli novelist, essayist and playwright.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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