Watching “Friends” in Gaza as first ever Palestinian soap opera is postponed

September 14, 2008

* Photos of Blair’s sister-in-law happily shopping in fully-stocked Gaza stores
* BBC charity funded jihad propaganda
* Saudi girl has tongue cut out for becoming Christian
* Eight-year-old Saudi girl wants to divorce her 50-year-old husband

This dispatch contains various short “cultural” items.



1. Blair’s sister-in-law: Gaza is “world’s largest concentration camp”
2. Paul McCartney resists pressure to scrap Israel concert
3. First ever Palestinian soap opera postponed “for not being sufficiently anti-Israel”
4. Watching “Friends” in Gaza
5. “Zohan” banned in Egypt

6. Sudanese man divorces wife for watching soap opera
7. Eight-year-old Saudi girl wants to divorce her 50-year-old husband
8. Saudi academic gets 600 lashes for “phone relationship” with female pupil
9. Saudi girl has tongue cut out, then killed for becoming Christian

10. Saudi women preach hate in leading British mosque
11. Why is the BBC refusing to make such programs?
12. BBC charity funded jihad propaganda
13. Another 30 bodies wash up on Yemeni coast
14. Iran wheelchair basketball team quits Paralympics over match against Israel


[All notes below by Tom Gross]


In an appalling insult to Holocaust survivors everywhere, British journalist Lauren Booth said last week that the situation in Gaza was just like a “concentration camp,” and added that the “humanitarian crisis in Gaza is on the scale of Darfur.”

Booth’s brother-in-law, Quartet envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair, does not share her views. Her sister, Tony Blair’s wife Cherie Blair, once made comments appearing to justify Palestinian suicide bombs against Israeli school buses, but later apologized for the remarks.

Lauren Booth was recently issued a Palestinian passport by Hamas. Here is a photo from AFP (Agence France Presse) of Lauren Booth shopping in a grocery store in Gaza a few days before she made her Israeli “concentration camp” comments. Does it look like Auschwitz, or Darfur?

Here she is again in Gaza last week.

And here she is meeting Hamas terrorist leader, Ismail Haniyeh, who presents her with a special Palestinian “diplomatic passport”.

Booth writes for several British newspapers, including the Daily Mail, New Statesman, Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Times, and is often a guest on the BBC.



This is a follow up to an item in the dispatch “Italy admits it shielded Palestinian terrorists; & al-Jazeera apologizes to Israel” (Aug. 26, 2008).

Former Beatles star Paul McCartney said he will not succumb to the pressure being applied on him to cancel his performance in Israel later this month. “I was approached by different groups and political bodies who asked me not to come. I refused. I do what I think, and I have many friends who support Israel,” McCartney said in an interview with Israel’s Yediot Ahronot, which was reported on in other papers including the (London) Daily Telegraph and The Washington Post.

Far left and pro-Palestinian groups are trying to force academics and prominent cultural figures to boycott Israel. Jewish groups have said that singling out Israel, and Israel alone, for boycott, is a form of anti-Semitism.

Some prominent cultural figures, such as author Arundhati Roy and musician Brian Eno have endorsed such sanctions, while others, including soul artist Macy Gray, hip-hop group The Black-Eyed Peas and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters have all refused to boycott the Jewish state and performed there in recent months.



The Palestine Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) has postponed the scheduled airing of a new TV series, “Matabb” (which means “speed bump” in Arabic), which was being billed as the first homemade Palestinian soap opera. Officials at PBC said that the German-funded series would be postponed until certain “offensive” scenes were changed.

The series was meant to be shown this month to coincide with the Ramadan festivities. The producers hoped for high ratings as Muslim families gathered at their homes each evening to break the day’s fast. But PBC officials charged that there were not enough anti-Israeli scenes in the program, according to the German press agency DPA (Deutsche Presse-Agentur), and some scenes therefore needed to be filmed again.

The program was jointly funded by Germany’s Goethe Institute and the European Commission, in an effort designed to encourage coexistence between Israel and the Palestinians.

Members of the Palestinian production team said the cancellation came as a complete surprise. They said they were told the series was “too liberal for official Palestinian state television.”



Extracted from a 3000-word article by Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times:

At the New Sound store in the middle of Gaza City, metal shelves bulge with dusty audiotapes extolling Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad.

Alongside them are DVDs of not-yet-officially-released movies like “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” the Adam Sandler comedy about a Mossad agent turned hairdresser in a Palestinian-owned New York City salon, and pirated DVDs of American TV shows “24,” “Prison Break,” and “Friends.”

Do Gazans living under Hamas buy much Western music or Western movies? “Of course,” answered the owner, Amer Kihail.

Culture is a central battleground for control of Gaza. Gazans may loathe Israel but have worked there, and they’ve experienced Western life as many other Arabs haven’t.



Tom Gross adds:

While pirated versions are popular in Gaza, government censors in Egypt have blocked the release of the comedy “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.” Although it signed a peace treaty with Israel three decades ago, Egypt’s regime will still not allow the showing of an American film with a fictional Israeli character who befriends a fictional Palestinian one.

“The film must be banned because it may be Israeli-slanted,” said prominent Arab critic Rafiq el-Sabban, who admitted he hadn’t actually seen the film.

Salah Issa, chief editor of the Egyptian culture ministry’s al-Qahira newspaper explained the ban by saying “any provocative film would just drive Egyptians crazy and may stir public unrest.”

But the columnist and playwright Ali Salem, who is known for enthusiastically supporting the normalization of relations with Israel, said “public unrest is only the imagination of the culture ministry and some intellectuals.” Salem asserts that “Egyptian people are not the least concerned with the issue of normalization, neither are they against it.”

Last month, the Israeli film “The Band’s Visit” was shown in a private screening arranged by the Israeli embassy in a Cairo hotel under tight security to an audience of 100 cultural and diplomatic figures, including 30 Egyptians. Even though the romantic comedy concerns an Egyptian police band, the film was not allowed to be shown at the Cairo international film festival last year.



Al-Watan reports from Khartoum that a Sudanese man has divorced his wife after returning home to find her watching the Turkish soap opera “Nur and Muhannd,” rather than carrying out household chores and preparing him lunch. His wife reportedly told him that she had already watched the preceding episode and was “desperate to see what happened next.” The husband then pronounced she was divorced according to Islamic law.

The wildly popular Turkish soap opera with Arabic voiceover is being broadcast into staunchly Islamic Sudan on a satellite channel.



An eight-year-old girl, who is married to a man in his 50s, has filed for divorce at a Saudi court, the Saudi newspaper al-Watan reports.

She is believed to have been assisted by child-protection groups, who say young children are often given away in return for hefty dowries. There has recently been a spate of marriages involving the very young.

In another case in April, a Yemeni court annulled the marriage between an eight-year-old girl and a 28-year-old man. (See: Bahrain set to appoint Jewish woman as its ambassador to the U.S. (& Yemeni girl, 8, gets divorced) (April 29, 2008).

According to human rights activists, these marriages violate international agreements Saudi Arabia has signed. Some prominent Saudi preachers, including the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, have also spoken out recently against old men taking young children as wives. He warned parents against marrying their young daughters to men who are “older than them by 50 and 60 years or more.”

However, in a recent Lebanon TV interview, a Saudi marriage official, Dr. Ahmad Al-Mu’bi, said: “The Prophet Muhammad is the model we follow. He took Aisha to be his wife when she was six, but he had sex with her only when she was nine.”


Here is another unusual headline, from the BBC website last month: “Nigerian Advises Against 86 Wives.



Arabic satellite TV station Al-Arabiya reports that a Saudi court has sentenced a chemistry professor to 600 lashes and 8 months in jail for engaging in a series of phone calls with a female student. The student was sentenced to 350 lashes and 4 months in prison. The academic, who worked in a teaching hospital in the south of the country, said the phone calls were innocent and concerned studies. He added that he hopes human rights groups will take up his case before the excruciatingly painful lashes are carried out.



A young girl in Saudi Arabia was brutally executed by her Muslim father last week after he learned his daughter had converted to Christianity.

Middle East business news website reported that the man, who is a prominent member of a “virtue committee,” first cut out his daughter’s tongue and then held a one-sided religious debate with her. He then burned his daughter alive.

Radical Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammed ordered that Muslims who convert to other religions must be killed, often in an extremely brutal fashion.



Hardline female preachers are radicalizing Muslim women at one of Britain’s most influential mosques, according to British news reports. The Saudi preachers were secretly filmed ordering women to murder homosexuals and ex-Muslims. The film was shown last week on Britain’s Channel 4 TV “Dispatches” program.

Undercover reporters recorded the lectures in the women’s section of Regent’s Park Mosque in London. An unnamed Saudi woman is seen mocking other religions, labeling Christianity “vile” and an “abomination.” Another woman claims Britain is a “land of evil.”

The female investigative reporters attended lectures for two months at the mosque, which had promised a clean-up after another “Dispatches” probe just 18 months ago exposed it for spreading extreme Islamic views.

During one sermon, a woman called Um Amira says: “He is Muslim, and he gets out of Islam. What are we going to do? We kill him, kill, kill. You have to kill him, you understand. This is Islam.”

These punishments, the preacher says, are to be implemented in a future Islamic state. “This is not to tell you to start killing people yet,” she continues. “There must be a Muslim leader, when the Muslim army becomes stronger, when Islam has grown enough.”

Regent’s Park Mosque is one of the biggest and most prestigious Islamic institutions in Britain. Opened in 1944 by King George VI, it can hold up to 5,000 worshippers. The Times of London recently called it “one of the most respected centers for moderate Islam in western Europe.”

The man in charge of the mosque, Dr Ahmed Al Dubayan, is Islamic Affairs attaché to the Saudi Embassy in London. “Dispatches” claims the mosque has links to the Saudi government, which is accused of spending billions of dollars to spread the Wahhabi message worldwide.

A TV reporter also visited the bookshop attached to the mosque and found books and DVDs still on sale, promoting extremist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic and intolerant messages. Unbelievers (“kuffaars”) are described in one DVD as: “Evil, wicked, mischievous people. You can see the evil in their face.” It says Jews “have abominated, filthy, disgusting beliefs. Their time will come like every other evil person’s time will come.”



Some British commentators are asking why independent channels like Channel 4 are making programs like the one described above, while the much more lavishly funded state-owned BBC is not.

Last week, British Sikhs and Hindus accused the BBC of “pro-Muslim bias” after a report revealed that since 2001 the BBC had made nine times more programs on Muslims than on Hindus. There are roughly even numbers of Hindus and Muslims in the UK. Hindu and Sikh leaders said most of the BBC programs on Muslims ignored Muslim extremism and painted a rosy picture about Muslim leaders.

Since 2001, the BBC made 41 faith programs on Islam, compared with just five on Hinduism and one on Sikhism.

Ashish Joshi, the chairman of the Network of Sikh Organization’s (NSO) media monitoring group, said “We are also BBC license-fee payers and we want to know why this has happened. The bias towards Islam at the expense of Hindus and particularly Sikhs is overwhelming and appears to be a part of BBC policy.”



The Times of London reports that “The BBC’s Children in Need charity donated £20,000 to an organization that funded the propaganda activities of the July 7 bombers.”

The July 7 Islamist suicide attacks on London killed 52 people in 2005.

The BBC’s Children in Need charity donated around £20,000 to the Leeds Community School, Yorkshire, between 1999 and 2002 which went towards funding the activities of the terrorists behind the July 2005 attacks.

The school funded and shared premises with the Iqra Islamic bookshop where the suicide bombers Muhammad Siddique Khan and Shezhad Tanweer regularly met. Khan and Tanweer attempted to radicalize youths by showing propaganda films at the bookshop, including to Jermaine Lindsay, who went on to become the King’s Cross bomber.

They also produced a leaflet in the wake of September 11 blaming the attacks on a “Jewish conspiracy.”

The school also received large sums from other public bodies.

Martin Gilbertson, an IT technician who worked at the school and bookshop, said that he had been concerned about the activities of Tanweer and Khan. “They blamed everything on the ‘Jewish conspiracy‚’ they hated Western culture; it was like living with jihad on a daily basis,” he said.

David Ramsden, chief executive of Children in Need, said: “I’m incredibly concerned that we did make an award to Leeds Community School ... and any funding we’ve given to any project has been misused and not used to change the lives of disadvantaged children and young people makes me concerned and very sad. I can reassure the British public that we are very careful in who we fund and this allegation is a very rare one for us, but one that causes a great deal of concern.”


The BBC – which is under a British legal requirement to be impartial or risk lose its public funding – is also being criticized for not reporting on the beginning of the Russian invasion of Georgia last month, but instead leading its news bulletins that day with the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

Rival British TV stations ITV and Sky News led their bulletins with breaking news of the war on Europe’s southeastern boarder with Asia, but not the BBC, which never hesitates to highlight even the slightest incident involving the Israeli army.



In the latest tragedy in the Gulf of Aden last week, at least 30 bodies washed up on the Yemeni shoreline. It is believed more than 100 refugees were forced from a small boat that was making its way from Somalia in the Horn of Africa to Yemen. Hundreds of Africans heading to the wealthy Arabian Peninsula in search of a better life have died recently, as have dozens washed up on the shores of Italy and Spain.

Tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing Somalia and its neighboring countries because of war, but are often forced from their boats by sailors who first take their money. Unseaworthy boats also regularly capsize with dozens of people aboard.

There is extraordinarily little international media reporting about these tragedies.

(See also this item “Roma girls dead on a beach in Italy, ignored by sunbathers”.)



The International Wheelchair Basketball Federation has announced that the Iranian team has pulled out of the ongoing Paralympics tournament “due to their dissatisfaction with the schedule,” the Australian Broadcasting Company reported yesterday.

Iran’s withdrawal from the competition, held within the framework of the Paralympic Games for disabled athletes in Beijing, is believed to be because of the possibility that the Iranian players would face the Israeli team should they advance to the next round. Iran had already beat South Africa, Sweden and Japan in the preliminary round, and after its next game, was due to play the winner of the Israel-Canada match.

At the Beijing Olympics last month, Iranian swimmer Mohammad Alirezaei pulled out of a 100-meter breaststroke heat that included an Israeli competitor, citing illness. The International Olympic Committee said no violation had been found.

“We take both the athlete and the national Olympic committee at their word on this,” Olympic spokeswoman Giselle Davies said.

At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Iran’s judo world champion and gold medal favorite Arash Miresmaeili refused to compete against an Israeli opponent, publicly stating he wouldn’t appear alongside an Israeli. Iranian government officials were quoted in state media as congratulating him for pulling out.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.