Saturday, May 21, 2022

Indiana Jones fan's Suffolk treasure find 'largest' Claudius reign hoard

Almost 750 gold and silver Roman and Iron Age coins were found in a Suffolk field

Hundreds of ancient coins unearthed by a metal detectorist could be what experts say is the largest precious metal hoard found in Britain dating from the reign of Claudius I.

Lifelong fan of fictional film archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones, George Ridgway, 31, found 748 Roman and Iron Age gold and silver coins near Ipswich in 2019.

He said he was "stunned" by the find.

The hoard is still being valued by the British Museum in London.

Mr Ridgway, a butcher, from Ashbocking, in Suffolk, caught the treasure-hunting bug as a toddler, and was obsessed with Harrison Ford's film character, Indiana Jones.

George Ridgway has been "history-hunting" since he was a toddler, he said

As a child he dressed as "Indy", and on many occasions, still does, sporting the fedora hat and the occasional whip.

He was "passionate" both about Indiana Jones and metal detecting - "and I still am", he said.

George Ridgway dressed as Indiana Jones when he was a child - and he still does - sometimes

Harrison Ford played Indiana Jones in several films

In September 2019, he came across an unusual crop marking in a Suffolk field, while tracing Roman roads on Google Earth.

"I found two Roman brooches, then a Julius Caesar silver denarius dating from 46-47BC," he said.

"After about two hours, I had found 180 coins - I was stunned, really."

He went on to find parts of a broken pot and further coins, which he believes had been buried together as one stash.

"My dad slept at the site for the first two nights to protect it," Mr Ridgway said.

It took about three months, working with archaeologists, to uncover the rest - a total of 748 coins - although Mr Ridgway said he had found others, since.

He was given his first metal detector at the age of 13 - and is still hooked

He said his childhood dream of being a real-life Indiana Jones seemed to be coming true.

"I wanted to be like him - something resonated with me from a very early age - locating mystic relics - he's such an iconic figure."

He is still passionate about the fictional adventurer Indiana Jones

Further finds at the Suffolk site have led Mr Ridgway to believe there is evidence of a previously unknown Roman settlement, which he hopes to explore further with county archaeologists.

He said his hoard was declared treasure by the Suffolk coroner last year, and the finds are currently at the British Museum, being examined and valued.

The coin hoard is still being valued by experts

Dr Eleanor Ghey, the British Museum's curator of Iron Age and Roman coin hoards, said: "I would say that it is the currently the largest precious metal hoard found in Britain that dates from the reign of Claudius I (AD41-54).

"It is unusual because it combines Iron Age coins of Cunobelin (who ruled in the North Thames area and had a power base at Colchester) with Roman coinage.

"Most other mixed hoards found in East Anglia usually combine Roman coins with the local East Anglian Iron Age coins from Norfolk and Suffolk (which are associated with the Iceni, the tribe of Boudicca)."

Of particular note within the hoard is a gold coin of Claudius dated just prior to the Roman conquest of Britain in AD43, she said.

"Roman gold coins of this period are rarely found."

A British Museum expert described this one gold coin as being of a type "rarely found"

While the hoard's modern-day value is yet to be determined - and the money will be shared between Mr Ridgway and the Suffolk landowner - Dr Ghey said: "In terms of its ancient value, it would equate to over two years' pay for a Roman legionary soldier."

Mr Ridgway described her comments as "awesome and amazing", but stressed he did this for "the love of history-hunting" rather than for monetary gain.

It is hoped the hoard will go on permanent display at Ipswich Museum in the future.

Australia's conservative PM concedes election defeat

Agence France-Presse
Posted at May 21 2022 11:46 PM

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison conducts morning television interviews on Federal Election day, in the seat of McEwen in Melbourne, Australia, on May 21, 2022. Mick Tsikas, EPA-EFE

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison admitted defeat in national elections Saturday and said he was stepping down as leader of his conservative Liberal Party.

"Tonight I have spoken to the leader of the opposition and the incoming prime minister, Anthony Albanese, and I have congratulated him on his election victory," Morrison said.

The 54-year-old outgoing leader, who won an election three years ago that he termed a "miracle", said he took responsibility "for the wins and the losses".

"That is the responsibility of leadership and as a result I will be handing over the leadership," Morrison said.

Noting that voter support had fallen for the major parties, the prime minister said Australians had suffered "great upheaval" over the past few years, which have been marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, drought, bushfires and floods.

"It has imposed a heavy price on our country and on all Australians. And I think all Australians have felt that deeply," he said.

Morrison's voice cracked with emotion as he thanked his wife Jennifer and his daughters, "the loves of my life".

"I have no doubt under strong leadership of our coalition, three years from now I am looking forward to the return of a coalition government."

UK looks to climate action with Australia's new PM

Boris Johnson tells his counterpart that he will collaborate on 'shared challenges'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday congratulated Anthony Albanese on his election as Australia's new leader, vowing to work together on trade, military ties and climate change.

"Our countries have a long history and a bright future together," Mr Johnson said in a message to the Labor party leader, according to Downing Street.

Mr Johnson shares a centre-right ideology with Australia's defeated leader Scott Morrison, and their conservative parties have looked to the same electoral strategists for advice.

But the pair differed on climate change, a defining issue of the Australian election.

"As thriving likeminded democracies we work every day to make the world a better, safer, greener and more prosperous place," Mr Johnson told the incoming Australian prime minister Mr Albanese.

The UK leader hailed a new post-Brexit free-trade agreement between their countries, and a defence partnership also involving the United States that will see Australia deploy nuclear-powered submarines for the first time.

Pledging to collaborate with Albanese on "shared challenges", Mr Johnson said the "only distance between us is geographical".

In a nod to China's growing assertiveness, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted that Britain would also work with Albanese's new government "for a free and open Indo-Pacific".

The British Labour party also enjoys close links to its Australian counterpart, working together at elections with both parties enduring a decade in the political wilderness.

Updated: May 21, 2022, 1:37 PM
Florida lawmakers scramble to fix a property insurance crisis before hurricane season

Roofing scams targeting insurance companies are leading to higher bills and fewer options for homeowners, officials say.

Insurers blame unscrupulous roofers and scheming lawyers for a financial crisis that has forced homeowners to scramble for coverage. 

Matt Chase for NBC News
May 21, 2022, 
By Jon Schuppe

An avalanche of lawsuits fueled by roofing scams has plunged Florida into a property insurance crisis that has forced dozens of companies to shut their doors, drop customers, raise rates or flee the state. It’s a slow-motion collapse that lawmakers have known about for years but have failed to fix.

The mess has made it harder for people to protect their homes in a state that is frequently battered by high winds, hard rains and hail and is increasingly vulnerable to climate change. Things could get worse if the state is hit by a major hurricane, which hasn’t happened since 2018, experts say.

At stake is Florida’s ability to withstand natural disasters, and its reputation as a place to live well cheaply.

“Florida is the most volatile prop insurance market in the country and it is on the verge of collapse,” said Mark Friedlander, spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry association.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, acknowledged the emergency last month, when he ordered the state Legislature to come up with a solution before the June 1 start of hurricane season. Lawmakers will begin their special session on Monday.

The crisis is largely the result of a plague of roofing scams, fed by loopholes in state law and a string of court decisions that allowed them to proliferate, insurers and government officials say.

The scam works like this: Contractors knock on doors offering to inspect homeowners’ roofs for storm damage. They say they can help get a roof replacement covered by insurance, and they persuade the homeowners to sign away their rights to file the claims themselves. The contractors then file fraudulent damage claims, and when the insurance companies balk, the contractors sue. The insurance companies usually settle the disputed claims for many times more than the original claim. Most of that money goes to the contractors’ lawyers in the form of a “contingency fee multiplier.” Some lawyers file hundreds of such lawsuits a year.

The homeowner may get a free roof, but everyone pays for it through increased rates.

“Ultimately, the victim is every Floridian who is buying their neighbors’ roofs,” said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg who has criticized the state Legislature for not acting faster.

Andre Hall found himself in the middle of a scam in December, after roofers showed up at his home in St. Johns offering to inspect his roof for damage. They said they found some, and got him to sign a document that he didn’t understand — which he later learned required his insurance company to pay the roofers. But Hall is pushing back, trying to prevent the roofers from coming on his property, a stand he said he is making on principle.

“They strong-arm you into using them. And they strong-arm the insurance company,” Hall, 56, said.

In the state Legislature, attempts to reform litigation practices pit the insurance industry against trial lawyers, another politically powerful group. The Florida Justice Association, which represents trial lawyers, says the insurance companies’ claims about fraud and frivolous lawsuits are overblown, and that the companies are to blame for poor financial management. The group accuses the companies of using the issue to erode consumers’ rights to pursue legitimate claims, and regulators of poor oversight of insurers.

“A lot of this is brought upon themselves,” said Tyler Chasez, an Orlando insurance attorney and Florida Justice Association representative.

Lawmakers passed measures in 2019 and 2021 that were supposed to curb the schemes. But the insurance industry’s net losses have risen in each of the past five years, surpassing $1 billion in 2021, according to state officials.

Eight insurance companies operating in Florida have gone out of business since 2021, including three in the past three months. Those that remain have sought rate increases ranging from 15 percent to 96 percent and have become more selective about who they will cover; some are asking homeowners to replace their roof in order to get a new policy. Others are dropping customers; one company recently announced that it was canceling 56,000 policies.

The Insurance Information Institute estimates that average premiums in Florida could rise up to 40 percent this year.

The losses have made the Florida insurance industry so tumultuous that the “reinsurance’’ companies that insure them against sudden spikes in claims are charging higher rates. That puts insurers on even shakier ground.

“If we see significant hurricane activity, we have no doubt that there will be multiple failures,” Friedlander said. “And every policyholder pays for the failures.”

If an insurance company goes out of business, its claims are picked up by state-run funds.

If those funds run dry, homeowners end up paying to replenish them.

“And when these companies go under, you have hundreds of people losing jobs,” said Joseph Petrelli, president of Demotech, which rates insurance companies. He warned earlier this year that unless the state Legislature passed significant reforms, his company would likely downgrade the financial stability ratings of several insurance companies doing business in Florida.

The closings, rate increases and dropped policies have triggered a rush of homeowners to a state-run insurer that is meant to be a carrier of last resort. The insurer, Citizens Property Insurance Corp., said it is signing more than 5,000 new policies a week and has doubled its rolls in two years to more than 800,000. The bigger the company gets, the more at risk it is of being unable to pay claims if the state is hit with a major hurricane.

“I blame the government for allowing this to happen,” said Adriane Almeida, whose annual premium on her home in Sebastian doubled last year from about $2,400 to about $4,900 without an explanation from her private insurer.

Almeida is 60 and receives Social Security disability benefits. After getting notice of the rate hike, she enrolled with the state-run insurer. Her premium dropped to about what it was before the rate increase. But Citizens Property Insurance has asked the state permission to impose an 11 percent rate increase of its own.

“This is not fair to the people,” Almeida said.

Next week, the job of fixing things will fall, again, to state lawmakers.

State Sen. Jim Boyd, chair of the Committee on Banking and Insurance, introduced a package of bills Friday that included stricter rules on roof replacements, restrictions on how contractors advertise and a prohibition on insurers refusing to cover homes with roofs less than 15 years old. The legislation would curb attorneys’ fees and require insurance companies to explain in more detail their decisions on damage claims. Boyd also proposed giving insurance companies more access to a state-run Hurricane Catastrophe Fund.

If the Legislature doesn’t pass meaningful change, experts said, then more companies will go out of business, and property insurance will keep getting harder and more expensive to find.

Jon Schuppe is an enterprise reporter for NBC News, based in New York.

Climate change exacerbating severe dust storms in Iraq, experts say

Government officials urged to be proactive in devising strategies to prevent further escalation

Mina Aldroubi
May 20, 2022

Climate change is one of the main factors behind a flurry of dust storms hitting Iraq, government officials and experts have said.

Over the past few weeks Iraq has been engulfed by sandstorms leaving thousands in hospital and forcing flights to remain grounded while colouring its skies blood red.
Climate change driving dust storms

Climate change in Iraq is “making summers hotter, drier and longer, draining water resources faster, leading to desertification which is turning more green areas into arid ones that lose soil and dust escapes from,” Sajad Jiyad, a fellow with the Century Foundation, told The National.

Iraq has suffered from great loss of agricultural and rural land and the United Nations has found up to 31 per cent of Iraq's surface is desert. More could become desert if policies aren't enacted – the UN says 39 per cent of Iraq is affected by desertification, with a further 54 per cent in jeopardy.


Many of the areas have been "converted into housing due to increasing population demands, resulting in less vegetation and natural barriers to sandstorms, and also more pressure on water resources”, Mr Jiyad said.

In addition “drought, loss of rivers and lakes, and the dams installed have dried up large areas of land”.

In further escalation, Iraq’s Environment Ministry said on Wednesday that Baghdad has been “exposed to sixty tonnes of dust and dirt which is seen as the largest global pollution in the region".
Damage to Iraqi land

Experts have warned for years that increased dust storms will negatively damage the country’s economy, agriculture, citizen’s livelihoods and general industry.

The government has said the country is set to experience 300 dusty days in the next year.

This will “endanger health, bring transport to a standstill, damage the economy and have negative effects on agriculture, industries, maintenance of buildings, and power generation and distribution,” Mr Jiyad said.

“It is likely there will be a large generation of young children with respiratory issues as they are forced to live with extremely bad air quality."

The UN envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, on Tuesday said the current wave of dust storms has exceeded those of recent years.

"Ever since [February], Iraq has been battered by intense dust and sandstorms that obscure the sky, send people running for shelter, even resulting in sickness and death," she told the UN Security Council.

The sandstorms are expected to become more frequent, she said, and "continued inaction ... comes at enormous costs".

'Government action needed'

Why does Iraq keep getting clouded under severe dust storms?

For Azzam Alwash, head of the non-governmental group Nature Iraq, climate change is making weather patterns more extreme and frequent in the country but officials in Baghdad have failed to act quickly enough to prevent it.

“What is also accompanied with it is the fact that Iraq has been losing its arable land to desertification, to salinisation. My frustration with Iraq officials – they now talk about climate change as the reason for all of this,” Mr Alwash told NPR.

“Well, I cannot deny that climate change is part of it but it has become an easy excuse for not acting. In reality, they could have worked with this 20 years, 30 years ago and prevented this thing from getting more severe."

Government officials should have spent the past two decades "modernising irrigation, reducing the loss of agricultural land to salinisation, reducing the desertification, stopping ... or limiting the pastoral activities to certain areas".


Officials are used to reacting but not being proactive, Mr Alwash said.

Mr Jiyad, meanwhile, said the government in Baghdad must "increase the amount of green areas and natural habitats, reducing overconsumption of water resources" and introduce "incentives to encourage protection of rural areas".

Officials have planned out "strategies but the politicians lack the political will to see them through", he said.

The country is rich in oil and is known in Arabic as the land of the two rivers, in reference to the legendary Tigris and Euphrates.

However, the frequency of dust and sandstorms has intensified in recent years as it has been linked with the overuse of river water, more dams, overgrazing and deforestation.

Updated: May 20, 2022

Dust fills the air in Baghdad. AFP


Key Iraq irrigation reservoir Lake Hamrin close to drying out

Successive years of low rainfall and a sharp reduction in water flow have reduced much of Lake Hamrin to a dust bowl, according to a senior official.

Prolonged drought and Iranian dam construction are to blame for the lake drying up, 
according to a senior adviser [Getty]

The New Arab Staff & Agencies
20 May, 2022

Iraq's Lake Hamrin, a once-vast reservoir northeast of Baghdad that is the sole source of water for irrigation across Diyala province, has nearly dried out, a senior official said Friday.

Successive years of low rainfall and a sharp reduction in the flow of water down the Sirwan River from neighbouring Iran have reduced much of the lake to a dust bowl, the official told AFP.

"There has been a sharp reduction in the water level -- reserves currently stand at 130 million cubic metres against two billion cubic metres normally," said Aoun Dhiab, a senior adviser in the water ministry.

Dhiab said a number of factors were to blame including the prolonged drought and Iranian dam construction and river diversion projects upstream.

Dhiab said it was not the first time water levels had fallen so low. "In 2009, the lake dried out completely. There was just a stream."

He said the impact on surrounding farmland should not be underestimated.

"There are no other sources of water in the province -- the volume arriving in Lake Hamrin is the volume used in the province."

He said the government had asked Iran to increase the flow of water across the border. Otherwise all that could be done was to pray for higher rainfall next year.

The problem is not exclusive to Diyala province. The World Bank predicts that without major changes, Iraq will have lost 20 percent of its water resources by 2020.

The country is classified as one of five most vulnerable to climate change effects and desertification. Water shortages have led this year to reduced quotas for rice and wheat farmers.

Iraq's upstream neighbours Iran, Turkey and Syria experience similar shortfalls, meaning that its appeals for help generally fall unheaded.
Iraq records first death from weeks-long dust storm

Iraq's health ministry recorded the first death and said thousands have been hospitalised by the country's wave of dust storm

This is the first known death since the storms began [Getty]

Iraq's recent wave of dust storms have left one person dead and thousands hospitalised due to breathing difficulties, the health ministry said.

At least 5,000 people have been hospitalised from the storms began, with 2,000 of the cases alone recorded in the capital city Baghdad, the ministry announced on Thursday.

The ministry urged people with respiratory problems to stay indoors as much as they can and to wear a mask if they go outside.

This is the first known death since the storms began.

Iraq was hammered by a series of such storms in April, grounding flights and leaving dozens hospitalised with respiratory problems.

Amer al-Jabri, of Iraq's meteorological office, said that the weather phenomenon is expected to become increasingly common "due to drought, desertification and declining rainfall".

Iraq is particularly vulnerable to climate change, having already witnessed record low rainfall and high temperatures in recent years.

Experts have said these factors threaten to bring social and economic disaster in the war-scarred country.

In November, the World Bank warned that Iraq could suffer a 20-percent drop in water resources by 2050 due to climate change.

In early April, environment ministry official Issa al-Fayad had warned that Iraq could face "272 days of dust" a year in coming decades, according to the state news agency INA.

The ministry said the weather phenomenon could be confronted by "increasing vegetation cover and creating forests that act as windbreaks".


Japan's Aum Shinrikyo Cult Removed from U.S. Terrorist List

   Washington, May 20 (Jiji Press)--The U.S. State Department said Friday that it has removed five groups, including Japan's now-defunct Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, from its list of foreign terrorist organizations.
   Aum Shinrikyo, which committed many serious crimes including the 1995 deadly sarin nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subway system, was dropped from the list possibly because former Aum Shinrikyo leader Chizuo Matsumoto, who went by the name of Shoko Asahara, was executed in 2018.
   The department reviews the list every five years. Aum Shinrikyo was added to the list in 1997.
   "The five organizations are no longer engaged in terrorism or terrorist activity and do not retain the capability and intent to do so," the department said.
   Still, the department said, "These revocations do not seek to overlook or excuse the terrorist acts each of these groups previously engaged in or the harm the organizations caused its victims."

Sinjar’s Yazidis, Once Again Displaced, Fear Ongoing Insecurity

by Alessandra Bajec | May 18, 2022

Iraqis in the Yazidi-majority town of Sinjar, still traumatized by memories of ISIS’s brutal assault, were displaced for a second time following hostilities between the Iraqi army and a local militia group at the beginning of May. They are now calling upon the local governments and the international community to find a resolution.

Many Yazidis fled their homes for the first time after ISIS seized Sinjar in summer 2014, but they returned in recent years to rebuild their homes.
(Photo by Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Heavy fighting erupted on May 1 in the Sinjar district in northern Iraq when Iraq’s military launched an offensive to clear the area of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) forces. The YBS has ties with Turkey’s banned separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and is mostly comprised of minority Yazidi Muslims. Iraqis from the town of Sinjar, most of whom are Yazidis, were forced to flee north to the Kurdish-run region and now fear for their lives.

Iraqis from the town of Sinjar, mostly Yazidis, were forced to flee north and now fear for their lives.

The clashes that took place in the sub-districts of Dugri and Sinuni escalated on May 2 and 3, leading as of May 5 to the displacement of more than 10,000 people from Sinjar and its surrounding areas, according to a local official in Duhok. The Iraqi Department of Migration and Displacement and Crisis Response (DMCR) confirmed the same figure.

Most of the displaced are now spread across camps in the Kurdistan Region, near Duhok province.

As of May 4, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Iraq recorded 135,703 people, mainly Yazidis, sheltering in 15 camps in the governates of Duhok and Nineveh, as well as some 195,000 additional internally displaced persons (IDP) living independently in the area. The total estimated displaced Yazidis in the Kurdish region are around 330,000.

Many fled their homes for the first time after ISIS seized Sinjar in summer 2014, but they returned in recent years to rebuild their homes. The latest wave of displacement has reminded them of those days, causing feelings of fear and helplessness and evoking the trauma of ISIS’s genocidal campaign of killings, abductions, rape, and enslavement.

“After years of displacement, recent returnees are once again forced to flee their homes due to current armed clashes in Shingal,” Yazidi genocide survivor and activist Nadia Murad said, reacting to the escalation, calling on the international community to protect civilians in the district.

“The fighting today in Sinjar is totally unacceptable.”

“The fighting today in Sinjar is totally unacceptable. Regardless of political/military affiliation, there should be no attacks against Yazidi[s] from Sinjar by anyone at any time,” tweeted the Free Yezidi Foundation in response to the assault on the Yazidi minority’s hometown.

The UN mission in Iraq condemned the latest violence and declared, “Sinjaris’ safety and security should be front and centre. They’ve suffered enormously in the past and deserve peace under state authority.”

With ongoing insecurity in Sinjar, mostly connected with the presence of several armed forces, families have been prevented from returning to their homeland.

The PKK-affiliated YBS has controlled much of Sinjar since 2015 when, with the help of PKK fighters, it drove out ISIS from the district two years before the extremist group was defeated in 2017. The local force has since remained there, expressing mistrust of the federal government forces deployed to protect the area. Neither the YBS nor the Iraqi military have succeeded in providing a real sense of security for the population in the Yazidi heartland.

The Iraqi army has attempted on repeated occasions to retake the town from the YBS militia with limited success. Armed clashes between the group and government troops broke out on April 18, when the latter reportedly tried to seize a checkpoint controlled by Ezidxan Asayish, a security force affiliated with the YBS.

Under the October 2020 Sinjar agreement between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG), PKK-affiliated forces were to withdraw from the area and the federal government was to be put in charge of establishing a new local security force. However, the deal was rejected by the PKK and its proxies and criticized by members of the Yazidi community for its lack of involvement in the process.

[Nadia Murad’s Extraordinary Courage to Live and Fight ISIS]

[Rising Oil Revenues Are Not Enough to Salvage Iraq’s Economy]

Absent implementation of the agreement, thousands of residents of the northern Iraqi province remain displaced in camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, unwilling to go back to Sinjar due to the unstable situation.

People of Sinjar held peaceful protests across several towns.

In the days that followed the hostilities, people of Sinjar held peaceful protests across several towns, asking for better security and local governance in their region and demanding that the armed groups keep the conflict away from the civilian population. The protesters continually rallied, blocking several roads to armed units and insisting that all forces –– except for local police and national security ––withdraw from the populated areas.

Yazidis have been calling for their inclusion in their own governance and security for years. Abid Shamdeen, director of Nada’s Initiative which advocates for Yazidi survivors, tweeted, “In 2014, Yazidis were abandoned & left to face a genocide. This is the reason they don’t trust any Iraqi or Kurdish security forces with their security anymore unless that force includes Yazidi fighters.”

Farhad Barakat, a Yazidi activist from Sinjar, witnessed the displacement of hundreds of residents from the town after the skirmishes in early May. Two of his cousins living in the Sinjar mountains, close to where the fighting had taken place, temporarily took refuge in his family home.

“We don’t know exactly what will happen, but we’ve seen things are not stable in our town,” the activist told Inside Arabia on the day when the ceasefire was announced. “People are still scared. The situation is very volatile.”

“People are still scared. The situation is very volatile.”

He estimated that half of the Sinjaris who fled the violence in the preceding days to find shelter in the Kurdish region were among the same people who had returned from IDP camps between 2016 and 2017 toward the end of ISIS’ rule.

As for himself, like other Yazidis, Barakat decided not to leave his hometown no matter what.

“Sinjaris have suffered a lot. We want to live peacefully,” he said, while hinting that Yazidi people are skeptical about the agreement on joint management of Sinjar. “We call on all sides to leave the towns and not endanger people’s lives.”

Murad Ismael, co-founder and head of the educational initiative Sinjar Academy, fears that the lack of security will lead to more problems. “The most realistic scenario is that the status quo continues with sporadic clashes that will cause more partial displacements,” he told DeutcheWelle.

Although the government forces and the YBS group reached a ceasefire on May 5 amid reassurances from the Iraqi army that it had re-established order in the area, Yazidis are reluctant to return to their homeland after witnessing recurring violence and subsequent displacement.

They think fighting could resume at any time and are demanding that the governments of Erbil and Baghdad, along with the international community, find a radical resolution to their region’s suffering.


Alessandra Bajec is a freelance journalist specializing in the Middle East and North Africa. Between 2010 and 2011 she lived in Palestine, she was based in Cairo between 2013 and 2017, and she is now based in Tunis. Her articles have appeared in Middle East Eye, The New Arab, TRT World and among others. @AlessandraBajec
Lebanon: The Sailing Shipwreck

The Lebanese people have persevered through endless hardships with an impenetrable dedication to their culture and community, but, with no light at the end of the tunnel, it is unclear how much more they can take.

The Lebanese people have proven their grit in the face of their attempted demise yet again. (AFP) - Photo Courtesy of BBC

by Inside Arabia | May 21, 2022

Picture a ship carrying a nation’s worth of passengers. A large boat sailing in the middle of an ocean of others, which suddenly starts taking significant blows. An incredible number of hits aggravate its condition until it’s wholly submerged. However, although underwater, the vessel has not yet sunk. It continues to slowly move forward, often stopping and never reaching the bottom –– all under the surface. Now think of Lebanon as that ship, with all its citizens aboard. And like this ship, Lebanon has taken on as much water as it can but refuses to sink to the seafloor. And like any item freefalling into the abyss of the deep blue, the bottom is out of sight.

How do you explain to a sailor from another ship that your captain has repeatedly attempted to throw you overboard? Or that your ship does not have permanent power or a freshwater source? Or that your captain has one day informed you that your life savings had just disappeared into thin air? Or that you survived the largest non-nuclear explosion coupled with a global pandemic and one of history’s worst-ever economic recessions, all at once? And that you protested for reforms, but were met with violence and oppression?

The Lebanese people are aboard a ship experiencing constant and imminent collision.

Our ship is unlike all other ships –– in the worst way possible. The Lebanese people are aboard what can only be described as a ship experiencing constant and imminent collision, extreme weather, damaged stability, engine breakdown, fire at sea –– and any other possible marine emergency you can imagine, orchestrated by a ruling class of warlords, bent on keeping a tight grasp of their captaincy.

Media outlets worldwide have, since early 2020, recorded dozens of headlines detailing the scuttling of our ship. Except we have not sunk, not yet, at least. A lawless vessel that continues to descend towards deeper waters piloted by commanders that refuse to abandon ship. Instead, they have turned into dead weight, planning on taking the ship and everyone down with them. So why has the ship not sunk?

This resistant force refusing to evacuate –– the only remaining fighting figure pulling away from the deepest depths of the sea –– is the very passengers. The Lebanese people have proven their grit in the face of their attempted demise yet again. For those in Lebanon, it is our hope-filled lungs that keep our ship from plummeting deeper. For the Lebanese diaspora, it is the lifelines that they continue to throw in an attempt to pull the ship back to the surface. The very essence of Lebanese society, culture, and identity is one of resilience, support, and togetherness –– an essence that lives on in the people all aboard this ship, flaring their hopes and dreams of a better Lebanon, like emergency beacons signaling rescue.

These beacons live among us –– they are us –– whenever able and often when unable too. This unparalleled desire to once again resurface has been passed on by generations –­– by the people, for the people –– no matter how desperate and dire the situation. I was lucky enough to witness and experience some of the purest forms of the Lebanese culture in what can only be described as the most desperate time for the Lebanese in history. I share these narratives and personal accounts to depict a small part of the reality on the ground.

This unparalleled desire to once again resurface has been passed on by generations.

The purest embodiment of this notion of offering something you don’t have is Adib (uncle in Arabic). Adib is a homeless old man stationed under a bridge outside my place of work. I greet him daily and often ask if he needs anything, but I always receive his usual answer, “I cannot ask for more than your daily greeting.” A few months later and mid-Ramadan, I was staffing a later shift and would finish around iftar time. One night I was leaving just as the call for prayer signaled iftar, and I passed by Adib, only to find him still fasting. I informed him that the call for prayer had started and that he could break his fast. He answered, saying he had heard it but noticed I was finishing at this exact time and that he was waiting to share his donated meal with me. And he did so for the entire month of Ramadan. Every day, this man would wait for me to come down before he broke his fast, waiting to see if I wanted to share his donated meal with him. A man with nothing, sharing everything.

[Prospects for Real Change are Still Dim in Lebanon]

[Lebanon Crisis Leaves the Elderly Particularly Vulnerable]

Adib was not alone in giving something he didn’t have. Sometime during 2020, gasoline shortages hit on the eve of what I thought would be one of the most important meetings of my lifetime. I spent the night looking for a gas station to fill my car that was already running on fumes, but to no avail. The morning of, I left the house two hours before my meeting in search of gas. After an hour of franticly searching, I found an open station, but with a very long queue. Thirty minutes before my meeting, my turn finally came. As I approached with less than a kilometer left on the dashboard, the gas jockey lifted the gas pump nozzle, turned it upside down, and pulled the latch – nothing came out. The station had run out of gas –– I panicked.

Noticing my desperation, the gas jockey looked at me and asked me to turn my car on and follow him. We drove down the street and parked near a residential building. He asked me to get a screwdriver and an empty water bottle. He rushed up to the building and fetched what seemed to be a gallon of gas he had stored away in anticipation of a shortage. He sliced the bottle in half, put the screwdriver halfway into the bottle to clamp the valve open, and poured in the whole gallon. In disbelief, I started thanking him and reached inside the car for my wallet. When I had returned, he was already on his bike, driving off. I ran after him, requesting to pay him for the gas, but he didn’t stop and simply yelled back, “The people for the people. Pass on the blessing and help whoever comes your way.” I was speechless. There was no rhyme or reason for his generosity. I am sure there was someone who probably needed the gas more than I did.

“The people for the people. Pass on the blessing and help whoever comes your way.”

This very notion of the “people for the people” was most evident after the Beirut Port Explosion on August 4, 2020, when life in Lebanon ceased to exist for nine seconds. The very day after the blast tore through Beirut, Lebanon’s entire population, from all corners of the country, poured into Beirut. Armed with brooms, gloves, hammers, nails, and broken hearts, everyone came to the rescue of their fellow citizens. Streets filled with hundreds of thousands of volunteers –– cleaning, rebuilding, and supporting residents of the affected areas. A basecamp combining people of all backgrounds and expertise came into existence: organizing the distribution of supplies, documenting the damage, and allocating donated resources and construction teams to rebuilding homes –– all without the help or presence of the government. One particular house we helped stood out among others to this day. My friends and I were assigned to a top-floor apartment that had been completely torn apart and belonged to an old man who had barely escaped death. We spent over twelve hours cleaning and repairing all the damage. As we were finishing, the old man asked to show me an old picture. It was an image of him and his high school best friend –– someone he thought I shared a bizarre resemblance with. It took him a few minutes before he remembered his name, which quickly filled my eyes with tears. The old man was pictured standing beside my late grandfather back in high school. “He must have sent you to help me; he knew I would need you,” he said to me, crying his heart out.

There are too many stories that depict this unparalleled solidarity and commitment to our community, which has become the very identity of our culture. And this has been proven to be the case far outside and beyond Lebanon’s borders, just as recently as in the parliamentary elections. The Lebanese government played its dirty games to discourage people from voting by making the process more difficult, changing polling stations without notice, or locating them too far to reach. But we knew how important it was to vote them out, and the Lebanese diaspora was nothing short of incredible. People drove insane distances in multiple countries to get to the polling stations, stood in voting lines for hours under scorching heat, and flew to other cities to vote –– all to stop the corruption from gaining a tighter grasp.

We are part of something bigger –– for the first time in a long time.

We almost don’t have a choice. No one in Lebanon can do it alone. No one can survive. Perhaps the very reason we’ve been able to stay standing –– or more like crawling –– is because of how much we support each other. We are part of something bigger –– for the first time in a long time. And everyone knows it.

Perhaps sinking is necessary to rid ourselves of the ruling anchors dragging on the bottom of the seabed and start anew. Instead, we continue to adapt and grasp for more air or jump overboard to other ships and throw more lifelines. Adapt till when? Where and when is our breaking point? How much worse can it get? And how much more can we take? The Lebanese culture and identity have proven their expandability in depth and breadth, but are we really helping ourselves? Perhaps our culture’s very resilient aspect is also the enabler of our demise. How have we allowed ourselves to continue to take on so much, and why?

I am no expert to provide these answers. Still, when you live in a country where 78 percent of the population now lives under the poverty line, yet unattended bread crates delivered outside shops and restaurants go untouched or stolen, something does not add up. The reality is that the Lebanese identity –––the very essence of our culture –– cannot be killed. It cannot die. You can kill people, but you cannot kill an idea or an identity. It lives on, and it will live on. And it will continue to do so far after being supportive becomes a choice instead of a necessity. One day our ship will resurface – beaten, bruised, damaged, and destroyed –– but never sunk. Until then, “We are all for each other, and for [our] homeland” [كلنا لبعض و للوطن].

Israeli settlers cut down 20 Palestinian olive trees in Masafer Yatta raid

The settler raid took place in Masafer Yatta, an area of the occupied West Bank where over 1,000 Palestinians face expulsion from their homes.

The New Arab Staff
19 May, 2022

Over 1,000 Palestinians in Masafer Yatta, located near Hebron, are threatened with expulsion
[Matan Golan/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty-file photo]

Palestinian olive trees and crops were allegedly hacked at by illegal Israeli settlers in the expulsion-threatened Masafer Yatta area of the occupied West Bank on Wednesday.

The settlers raided Palestinian property, cutting down 20 or more olive trees, Protection and Steadfastness Committees in Masafer Yatta coordinator Fouad Al-Amour said. Olive trees have great financial and cultural meaning for Palestinians and are often targeted by Israeli settlers.

The incursion falls within a pattern of ongoing assaults by Israeli forces and settlers against Masafer Yatta, Al-Amour said.

It comes as an Israeli Supreme Court decision this month opened the door for over 1,000 Palestinians there to be expelled from their homes.

Jessica Buxbaum

Around 20 structures – including homes and barns – were levelled by Israel on Wednesday last week.

The Israeli army considers Masafer Yatta, an area near the city of Hebron comprised of 12 Palestinian villages, to be a firing zone.

The Israeli Supreme Court deems that Palestinians were not permanent residents of the area in the 1980s, the time when the army claimed the area as a firing zone. Locals and Israeli human rights organisations dispute this.

They maintain that there were Palestinians permanently living in Masafer Yatta prior even to 1967, when Israel began its illegal occupation of the West Bank, and view any expulsions as violating international law.