Lebanon Should Participate In Eurovision 2018

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The Eurovision is quite the global thing. More than 200 million people tune in each year to watch the show, not just from the 42 countries which happen to be members of the European Broadcasting Union that have the right to participate, which is why you see countries such as Israel or Australia or even Azerbaijan participating.

The 2017 version of the Eurovision concluded yesterday with Portugal getting crowed the winner after votes from the people in those 42 member countries and their juries allocated points. They succeed Ukraine, which was voted the winner in 2016 in an obvious political jab at Russia.

The Eurovision, apart from being a celebration of (bad?) music, isn’t only about the music but about the politics behind all the ways these countries interact with one another. Regardless, it’s still interesting to watch and pretend to be surprised that Cyprus, for instance, voted for Greece. I’m shocked. Can you even fathom it?

In 2005, Lebanon was supposed to participate through Tele-Liban and Aline Lahoud in that year’s version of the Eurovision. Except, as is always the case, Israel happened. You see, Israel also happens to be a member of the European Broadcasting Union and has been since the 1950s, which means they’ve been participating for over 4 decades in the Eurovision contest and have actually won 3 times.

The problem for us, therefore, becomes in the fact that we pretend they don’t exist and have laws that forbid us from even acknowledging their existence, which was why we had to withdraw in 2005, be banned from participating for 3 years and pay a penalty: Tele-Liban didn’t show Israel on the official poster of the event. When they were confronted about it, they replaced the poster with a generic one about Eurovision. They were then told they’d have to broadcast the Israeli contestant’s song, which they couldn’t legally do, leading them to withdraw.

Israel, however, will not be participating in the 2018 Eurovision, as they announced live on air yesterday as they allocated their points. Their announcer said:

“This is IBA, Channel 1 calling from Jerusalem. For the past 44 years, Israel has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest, winning three times. But tonight, is our final night, shortly IBA will shut down its broadcasting forever, so on behalf of all of us here in IBA, let me say thank you Europe for all the magical moments and the beautiful years. And hopefully we shall meet again in the future.”

For how long Israel won’t be participating in Eurovision remains to be seen, but I believe this gives Lebanon an opportunity to finally participate and avoid all the drama we went through in 2005. And why wouldn’t we? We have good singers, as long as we don’t send Star Academy grads. And we can deliver a good show, if we invest enough.

I believe that private TV stations such as MTV and LBC would and should jump at such an opportunity. They’d get the ratings, the ad money and the international exposure they always crave. It’s also a good medium for the country to have exposure on such a scale, in a setting that doesn’t involve talking about the Syrian crisis or some other issue that plagues the region.

So dear MTV or LBC or some other private media company with similar resources, connect with the organizers of next year’s Eurovision and check what we need to do in order for us to participate. It should be fun.

No, this isn’t a Phoenician attempt at building bridges with European BFFs It’s not a political move, even if the competition can have political undertones, at distancing Lebanon from its Arab history. It’s just a medium for fun, healthy artistic competitions and we need such things in this country.

I vote to send Hiba Tawaji. Who’d your pick be?

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Which iPhone 5 to Buy in Lebanon?

I told you about this before (here and here) but minister Sehnaoui confirmed it on twitter yesterday.

Nicolas Sehnaoui iPhone 5 tweets

For the many Lebanese who will benefit from the price reductions (the phone is going for $800 max these days for the 16GB capacity) to buy the iPhone 5 either for themselves or for their loved ones this Christmas, there’s one important thing you need to ask the shop from which you’re buying the phone: which country did you get it from?

If they got their iPhone 5 from the United States or Canada, model being A1428, the LTE that will launch later in 2013 won’t work on it as the chips are incompatible.

If the country of origin is anything in Europe or Australia, then it will work. The model should be A1429.

If you can’t but buy it from the United States, here’s a way you can do it: send the person buying it for you to an Apple Store and get them to buy a no-contract Verizon iPhone 5. It will have the sim card slot fully unlocked and its LTE capabilities are compatible with the frequency that’ll be launched in Lebanon soon.

For those of you who have already bought their iPhone 5 without asking about the country of origin, tough luck. Odds are you won’t be able to benefit from LTE once it’s rolled out.

Lebanon’s Twisted Perception of Beauty

When a journalist wrote an article in the Huffington Post about Lebanon’s babes and botox in its capital, many Lebanese stood against the article in uproar.

This is not us. These are not our women. This is not our city.

Do they have a point? Sure they do. After all, not all our women boast plastic faces as they strut their heels and behinds on the tables of Beirut’s rooftops. But what people seem to fail to realize is that the side of Lebanon portrayed by the Huffington Post is the one we want to get across to the world.

Check out this video from 2011. I have written about it before (check it here).

I disagree with the content of the video. I dislike the categorization of Lebanese joie de vivre as something only related to partying the night away. But when the only face even your ministry of tourism is giving of your country is that of rooftops, nightclubs and night life, what could you expect from a journalist who’s coming to your country to see the supposed highlights your country has to offer?

When you tell someone to come visit specific places in a country and they judge a country based on the places you recommended, you can’t but blame yourself for that.

Even I am guilty of that. Whenever a French person decides to inform me he thinks my country is full of Islamists where women are forced to wear the veil in order to go out of their homes, I go on and on about our nightlife, among other things. And I’m not even a fan of nightlife to begin with.

What David Constable has noticed is a phenomenon that runs deeper than should be acceptable in Lebanese society. Have you ever seen a woman your grandmother’s age with her face so plasticized that she looks downright disgusting? I have seen way too many of those, the last one of them as I boarded my flight to France. Have you seen girls your age who decide the moment they finish high school to start injecting their lips and cheeks? Well, I know some girls like that.

And the list goes on.

No, I’m not saying everyone does it. I’m not saying all our women are plastic. I’m not saying all our women can be summed up with boobs and botox. What I’m saying is that we have a lot of them and what is “odd” is usually the thing that sticks out the most. Simplest example? We don’t notice the calm days we get throughout the year but when all hell breaks loose for a few days or weeks, we judge the entire year accordingly. And we get judged as an “unsafe” country by everyone else according to those days as well.

It’s the same premise when it comes to boobs, babes, botox and Beirut.

A friend of mine, whom I met abroad, has a Lebanese mother and a non-Lebanese father. She has a typical European face: blond, a little nose and green eyes. When she visited her mother’s homeland a while back, she got interrogated by random people on the streets who wanted to know the surgeon who fixed her nose – because no one can have a nose like that – and the place where she got her contact lenses – because no one can have eyes that green.

We have many people who want those little inconspicuous noses that don’t require them to choose a specific side every time them want to change their Facebook profile picture. We have many people who want bigger breasts and asses. We have many people who want to have chest implants to go off all macho. We have many people who want to change their faces, look younger and have bigger lips in the process.

Are those “many” people the entirety of the Lebanese population? No. Are those “many” also present in other societies? Perhaps. But if you look closely, you will find many even among your close friends who have at least had something done – the fact that we can get loans as well to do so isn’t helping. On the other hand, in a one month stay in Europe, I have failed to see as many botoxed babes here or women who dress up for a wedding every day before going to work.

Many in our societies in Lebanon like to show off. Be it through their phones, cars, clothes or even through plastic surgery. And those are the people we like to show the world because they are the ones who help us change the stereotypes others have of us. But with the baggage of the bling-bling crowds comes something else entirely, which is another stereotype: we are a country of fake people.

Are we fake? Absolutely not. Beirut has much more to offer than just that. Lebanon has way more to offer than rooftops and night clubs. But that idea won’t change anytime soon. Especially when the only thing we want people to see in Lebanon when they come here is Gemmayze, Skybar, Downtown and Zaitunay Bay. Demand of  our ministry of tourism to change tactics and to change the way it promotes the country  and then we get to be in uproar over an article turning our entire society plastic.

A European’s Trip to Palestine/Israel: Hebron

Foreword:

Daniel is an avid reader of my blog from the Netherlands who visited Israel/Palestine recently and came back with a lot of stories worth sharing. His stories stem from a perspective different from what the media portray of that part of the world. His trip has changed his opinion regarding the struggle between Israel and Palestine. This will be a series of posts where he tells you what went through on his trips. The political conclusions, if present, reflect Daniel’s opinion and may not necessarily reflect my own. 

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I had always planned on visiting Hebron, which was always in the news due to the extreme tensions between its Arab inhabitants and Jewish settlers. The Palestinians of Hebron are considered more conservative than the Palestinians in say Ramallah, and the Jewish settlers are much more radical than other settlers. Hebron has a history of ethnic violence which has caused deliberate civilian deaths on both sides, and the violence is much older than the state of Israel. Due to its political complexity and history, I had to see this place for myself.

I started my journey to Hebron at the Beersheba central bus station. As I stood in line for the bus to Hebron  I was the only white European gentile, all others were distinguishably religious Jews, some of them spoke American English. At first I was simply denied transport. “You cannot go to Hebron, only people who live there”, by which he meant the settlers. I was disappointed, yet definitely not in the mood to give up.

Palestinian street towards the Cave of the Patriarchs, Palestinians live here, but commercial activities are forbidden.

By coincidence, I got to talk with other tourists who planned on seeing Hebron, and who had been there before.  “Never say you are going to Hebron, tell the bus driver you are going to ‘Kiryat Arba’ (a Jewish settlement just outside Hebron)”, one of them said. Twenty minutes later I was on my way to Kiryat Arba. Despite the fact I was now in an area so hotly disputed, the trip through the Westbank felt strangely normal, like any other bus ride.

We arrived in Kiryat Arba, in the middle of what is supposed to become an independent Palestinian state at some point in our future. For a place notorious for its militant settlers and violence, it could not have been more dull. The supermarket was boring, the streets were boring, and the people seemed boring besides the inhospitable looks some of them gave us. Without any trouble we simply left the settlement through the gate. Only after we left the gate, everything started to get surreal.

Less than a five minutes walk from Kiryat Arba, the first Arab houses of Hebron appear. We looked like tourists and the locals seemed friendly. They had no reason to be. Most houses used to have shops on the first floor, these were all closed by Israel for “security reasons”. The Arabs were allowed to live here but commercial activities were strictly discouraged. I quickly found out this is the shortest way to get to the “Cave of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque” which is of high importance to Jews and Muslims alike. It is also the place where the Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein from Kiryat Arba killed 29 Muslims and wounded many others while they were praying. Far-right Israeli activists claimed it was a “preemptive strike” to stop Palestinian terrorists. Their extremist movement was banned shortly after this mass murder. Similarly, Palestinians have also fatally attacked Jews praying on several occasions.

The pathway to the Cave of the Partriarchs structure.

We saw a large Jewish party was going on just 100 meters away from the Cave of the Patriarchs, the most bizarre and provocative place to hold a party, only meters away from the nearest Arab houses. We passed a large group of soldiers on a grass field who appeared to be on some sort of trip. “Go to Tel Aviv”, one of the female soldiers shouted in English, “this place is nothing”.

Before we entered the Cave of the Patriarchs the soldiers asked for our religious background and nationalities. They took my Swiss knife, but they didn’t seem to care “we’ll give it back when you are done here”. He did give it back, with a smile on his face. Not being Jewish or Muslim has its benefits in this place: both want our sympathy.

A Jewish party going on in Hebron. From their clothing you can tell they are religious Orthodox.

Only fifty meters away there was another checkpoint. Beyond this point there’s Palestinian Authority control. The soldier asked the same question “Chrisitian?/Jewish?/Muslim?”, again it’s best not be part of one of the warring factions.

Immediately after the checkpoint the Arab market of Hebron starts. The place is crowded and full of touristic items I had absolutely no interest in buying. After the narrow market ended, we reached downtown Hebron. A man had been following us ever since we came in from the Israeli side. A few times he inquired about our nationality and our religion. He stood next to me and pointed at a street  – “Israiil” he said – indeed, right next to downtown Hebron there seemed to be a closed off street. Another man asked me if I was Jewish. The fact that people were inquiring about my religion did not make me more happy at all. Downtown Hebron doesn’t look too happy either, it is mostly crowded and poor, its people dress conservatively which made me wonder about the strength of Hamas in this city. The only men I met with guns were guys from the Palestinian security forces, who were more willing to share a picture with me, after I told them I was Dutch – not Jewish. The best part of Hebron is that it’s outrageously cheap, a pita with falafel is only 66 cents (US$), those greedy Zionists easily charge you six times as much!

Access to a seemingly random street is blocked, it also appears to be a “border” between Palestinian and Israeli controlled zones.

I had enough of downtown Hebron. The place breathed the frustration of the Palestinian territories, and I was uncomfortable with people asking about my religion. In order to leave this place you have to pass another Israeli checkpoint to get to a new neighborhood. This neighborhood has Arabs living in it, but because of its proximities to a few Jewish houses, all shops were closed (“security reasons”), and people will have to pass through the checkpoint to go shopping. The same Palestinian was still following us. We “got rid” of him some time later. I do not say this as a joke, but to explain what happened next. Right in the middle of Hebron there are a few Jewish homes close to the Tomb of Yishai and Ruth, guarded by equally many soldiers. Needless to say this place was off limits to Arabs, so much for our friend. I noticed an armored civilian car next to a home, who would decide to live somewhere if you have to drive your kid to school like this? The alleyway to the Tomb of Ruth and Yishai is fenced off by steel walls and leads to an open space guarded by a single soldier. He took us up to his guard tower and asked for a smoke. Nobody had cigarettes. Instead he showed us his gun. On top of his guard tower I made one observation: in every direction there were only large Arab neighborhoods.

View from the guard tower at the Tomb of Yishai and Ruth.

As we continued our walk through the Jewish-only area of Hebron, one of the tourists I joined showed me one of the most bizarre places. We looked down upon the market of Hebron we visited thirty minutes ago, on top of the market the Israeli military placed a fence. I had not even noticed when we were walking there. The fence is meant to prevent Jewish settlers from throwing stones and other items on the Arabs doing their shopping. I decided I had enough of this place, as holy as Hebron may be, I had seen nothing holy that day. I went my own way to find the fastest way out of Hebron.

Close to the bus stop two soldiers were on guard. I decided to chat with them until the bus showed up. A Norwegian peace monitor car passed by, they are meant to keep the peace between Israel and the Palestinians. “You see those guys?”, the soldiers asked me, “every time we respond to Arab violence within seconds they are there to document it. I never saw them when the Arabs do shit”. “Yeah shit,” the other soldier said “this whole place is just bullshit, it’s just either boring or hell you know?”. The soldiers I met in Hebron either spoke badly of Arabs or spoke badly of the fact they (Israel) were in Hebron. They all came across as frustrated.

Objects thrown on the Arab market from the Jewish street above.

My bus arrived and I said goodbye to the soldiers. Twenty minutes walking from downtown Hebron, I entered a regular Israeli bus in the middle of the Palestinian territories. Later that evening I arrived in Haifa to meet a friend. A beautiful Arab girl served “the best Palestinian Arak” with water and ice cubes. She asked us where we went in Israel (and yes, she said Israel). I told her I actually went to the Palestinian territories. “Where?”, she asked.
“Ramallah”, I said. “Ah, very nice”. End of conversation, I truly had had enough of Hebron. I didn’t want to discuss it anymore.

During my visits in Palestine/Israel, I met many friendly people with whom I shared great conversations. I certainly have certain sympathies for Israel’s people despite disagreeing with many of its government’s actions.

Yet the behavior of the settlers of Hebron contradict all those reasons to “like” Israel. My visit to Hebron required me to rethink my political stances, but more so it inevitably required a serious conversation on human ethics. Israel’s reputation is naturally damaged because of the way it deals with the conflict. The Israeli government has to prove it will take serious steps to remove itself from where the conflict is happening, if not its poor international standing will simply perpetuate. While I believe the Palestinians have their fair share in deliberately perpetuating this conflict as well, nothing justifies the status quo in Hebron.

Palm trees and a well taken-care of street in a Jewish zone of Hebron.

The brother of the murderer of Yitzchak Rabin was freed from prison some time ago. He had served 16 and a half years and never showed signs of regret or remorse for helping his brother kill the peace process. Ten seconds after his release he showed the victory sign, was embraced by friends and quickly scuttled to a Westbank settlement, where a gathering will be held in his honor. Outside of the prison, Leftist Israelis were protesting his release. And a former leader of the security service said his brother should have been executed a long ago.

It kind of shows the mentality of the settlers I encountered around Hebron, because it is a massive stronghold for his fanbase.

The entrance to a Jewish street is guarded, soldiers are seen chatting with settlers.

A few weeks prior to his release, I met with the representative of the Palestinian Authority in the Netherlands (we don’t recognize Palestine so we don’t have a full embassy), who used to be close to Yasser Arafat. He warned me that this man would become an idol for extremists upon release. While I disregarded most of what he had to say as pure Fatah narrative propaganda, I’m afraid he was right and I was wrong.

Internet Speed At Google

Just to make things worse for us Lebanese who want to get our average speeds up from the ridiculous 256Kbps at which they are today, Google’s internet speed has been revealed.

To put things into perspective, these are 1000 times faster than the 512Kbps speed some of us in Lebanon brag about. And another thing hampering our Lebanese internet connection is an unbelievably slow ping time (depending on ISP, the fastest you can get is 100 ms). With Google, it’s 3 ms.

And since Lebanon is not the benchmark when it comes to internet speeds, the average internet speed in Europe is around 12 Mb/s and that in the US is around 10 Mb/s.

Finally, just to show you how strong a connection this is, look at a download of a 8GB game:

And I was happy about the 1 hour it takes for my 350MB episodes to finish. Let the mourning over our pathetic situation start.