Inside the Middle East
December 20, 2012
Posted: 943 GMT

A look back at the highlights of 2012 covered on 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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November 14, 2012
Posted: 949 GMT

AFP/Getty Images


It's a story that combines three of the region's most critical issues – it's a dispute in Jerusalem, a dispute between Arabs and Israelis... and a dispute over water. All rolled into one, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most venerated sites in Christianity, has had its bank accounts frozen over $2.3 million of unpaid water bills, with monks threatening to close the church in protest.

The church receives about a million pilgrims a year and stands at the site where Jesus Christ is believed to have been crucified and buried.

The water bill is backdated fifteen years to the time when a new company took over the supply. For decades the church was exempt from paying water bills until the Israeli water company began pressing it to pay up a few years ago.

Issa Musleh, spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem told the UK newspaper The Guardian: "They have frozen our account. This is a flagrant act against the church."

"The church is completely paralysed. We can't pay for toilet paper. Nothing. [The water company] Hagihon has declared war on us," a Patriarchate official told the Hebrew-language daily Maariv.

In a statement to Maariv, Hagihon said it had been in talks for several years with church representatives with the aim of reaching a settlement of the debt. It was prohibited by the Israeli Water Authority from exempting any party from water charges, and more than 1,000 religious institutions in Jerusalem paid their bills regularly, it added.

According to the English-language daily Haaretz, Greek Orthodox priest Isidoros Fakitsas said that the move has impaired the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to pay bills and salaries including 500 priests and monks, 2,000 teachers and the running costs of over 30 Christian schools that the church runs in the Palestinian territories and Jordan.

As a result, the church is considering closing for a day in protest, shutting the doors to pilgrims for the first time in centuries. The church is seeking international backing.

As with all issues concerning the Holy City, the issue has become politicized within the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“If they want to cut water off then we will ask the pilgrims and visitors to bring their own water with them and we will explain to them what is happening so that they would know about the Israeli arbitrary policies being practiced against the holy places,” Musleh told the Palestinian news agency WAFA.

The church is no stranger to controversy. The most memorable incident is probably the brawl between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks a few years ago that police had to forcibly break up.

Stay tuned to CNN for more coverage of this story out of Jerusalem.

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Filed under: Israel •Jerusalem •Religion

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Israel •Jerusalem •Palestinians

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March 24, 2011
Posted: 1054 GMT

A woman was killed and more than 50 other people were wounded in a blast near Jerusalem's central bus station, as the evening rush hour began Wednesday, authorities said.

Mayor Nir Barkat condemned the terrorist attack as "cowardly."

The explosion took place in a crowded area with "a lot of civilians and two buses," said Yonatan Yagadovsky, a spokesman for Israel's emergency services.

"Three to four are in critical condition. The rest of the casualties are moderately to lightly injured," he said before the woman's death was announced. The injuries came from both the force of the blast and from flying shrapnel, he said.

Wednesday's explosion was caused by a medium-sized device in a bag that had been left near the bus station, Israeli police and medical officials said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the terrorist attack.

David Horovitz, the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, said it was odd for an unattended bag to go unnoticed in security-conscious Israel.

All the people hurt in the blast were located between the bus station and a bus, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Read more...

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Filed under: Israel •Jerusalem

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March 22, 2011
Posted: 652 GMT

Following in the footsteps of several other Republicans considering a presidential bid, Sarah Palin was in Jerusalem Monday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and take in some local sight-seeing.  Media was not high on her list of priorities so we were only able to catch up with her at a hastily arranged photo-op at the Western Wall. No public word from her camp about this Telegraph report that says a visit to the West Bank city of Bethlehem was aborted at the last-minute for reasons unknown.

Filed under: General •Israel •Jerusalem •Netanyahu •Video

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January 24, 2011
Posted: 1231 GMT
A former Israeli government official claims Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas almost reached a deal in 2008.
A former Israeli government official claims Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas almost reached a deal in 2008.

Palestinian negotiators offered to give up large areas of East Jerusalem to Israel during negotiations dating back to 2008, the Al-Jazeera network said, suggesting Palestinian leaders have been willing to offer much larger concessions in private than they had previously acknowledged in public.
On Monday a former Israeli government official said an agreement was almost reached during negotiations between former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from the end of 2006 to September 2008.
"After dozens of meetings between Olmert and (Abbas) there was a proposal that was reached ... this offer was on all the issues we call core issues," Yanki Galanti, a former Olmert spokesman, said in an interview Monday with Israeli Army radio.
The core issues in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are considered to be the status of Jerusalem, borders and refugees. Read more...

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Filed under: Israel •Jerusalem •Media •Palestinians •Peace Talks

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January 3, 2011
Posted: 1408 GMT
Scene from film Secular Quarter #3. (courtesy Jerusalem 2111/David Gidali)
Scene from film Secular Quarter #3. (courtesy Jerusalem 2111/David Gidali)

Palestinian soldiers and United Nation's tanks look on as utlra-orthodox Jews protest in the streets....Smoke billows from the windows of the Knesset as protestors participate in a rebellion to overthrow the government....The walls of the Old City are painted red and adorned with the logo of the country's largest cable television company....

These are just a few of the controversial visions of what Jerusalem may look like a century from now as expressed by filmmakers in the recent International Animation Competition.

Organized by an Israeli city planning organization the competition asked directors to submit one to three-minute films that portrayed an "urban sci-fi vision of the city of Jerusalem" a hundred years from now. Contest organizer Daniel Wiernik, said they received almost a hundred submissions from 10 different countries, though the majority of the films came from Israel.

All of the contestants were required to post their work on-line where after an initial round of public voting the most popular films were screened by a panel of judges including famed Avatar and Titanic producer Jon Landau and German film director or Wim Wenders.

Ranging from the utopian to the dystopian the films offer an interesting variety of visions and commentary on the future of one of the world's holiest and most divided cities. While many of the films offer grim and sobering predictions for the city Wiernik said he was surprised at how many were optimistic considering the genre requirement.

The winning short, Secular Quarter #3, was created by Israeli filmmakers David Gidali and Itay Gross and depicts a ghettoised Jerusalem where the city's population is separated by huge iron walls inter-connected by large domes covering swaths of the city. As night approaches aircraft hover over the city lifting the walls and allowing the a face to face encounter between a black-hatted ultra-orthodox Jewish male and a young and a tattooed secular female.

The duo, who are film students in Los Angeles, took home a ten-thousand dollar prize for their efforts.

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December 26, 2010
Posted: 735 GMT

Ecuador is the latest country to recognize an independent Palestinian state.

Ecuador recognizes Palestine as an independent state within its borders.
Ecuador recognizes Palestine as an independent state within its borders.

The government said on Friday that President Rafael Correa recognized "the Palestine State as free and independent within its borders since 1967."

Others countries - such as Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay - recently made the same move. These diplomatic initiatives come after the breakdown of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinians have been seeking international recognition of an independent state, a strategy to achieve statehood outside the framework of talks with Israel.

"Sadly, the Middle East continues to face wars and violent events that have led to the death of many innocent people, a situation contrary to the humane and pacifist position established by the Ecuadorian Constitution. This recognition is meant to reinforce the valid and legitimate wish of the Palestine people to have their own free and independent state," the Ecuadorian government said. Read more...

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November 18, 2010
Posted: 2041 GMT

It's late afternoon in Jerusalem and Moses Levi is making one of his frequent visits to the Western Wall.

"They say this is where the presence of God is," Levi says as he ambles across the plaza of Judaism's holiest site, a mere stone's throw away from Islam's sacred al-Aqsa Mosque.

"That's why you have Muslims here, Christians here, and obviously you have the Israelites here.  When everybody disagrees about everything, they agree about one thing:  that this is where they need to come to pray."

Like many of the worshippers there, he is dressed in traditional garb – a silver-striped silk robe, black knee-length pants, a white knit skullcap, and specially knotted fringes dangling from the sides of his legs.

In many ways, Levi is indistinguishable from the thousands of ultra-orthodox Jews who call Jerusalem home.  The only hint of something unusual is the Kurt Cobain T-shirt he wears under the robe, the black Ray-Ban sunglasses, and the signs of recognition on the faces of tourists passing by.

Levi is, in fact, far from your standard ultra-orthodox adherent to the Jewish faith.

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Filed under: Culture •General •Jerusalem •Judaism •Religion •Video

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