Iranian women's soccer team accused of fielding a man (& Teaching Israeli poetry in Gaza)

November 18, 2021

British actress Helen Mirren is to play one of the world's first female Prime Ministers, Israel's Golda Meir. Yesterday the first image of Mirren from the forthcoming biopic "Golda" was released (above). The cast of the film also includes French "Call My Agent" actress Camille Cotin. The filmmakers say that the thriller, set during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, will explore the "intensely dramatic events, high-stake responsibilities, and controversial decisions" faced by Meir.

Mirren praised the "formidable, intransigent and powerful leader" and said it was a "great challenge to portray her at the most difficult moment of her extraordinary life. I only hope I do her justice."



[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach four "human interest" articles.

This passage from the fourth article below, about the Palestinian professor who teaches English literature at the Islamic University in Gaza City, stood out to me:

While Shylock and Fagin, two complex characters who have spurred debate for centuries but are widely considered antisemitic caricatures, might seem like odd choices to teach Palestinians about empathy, Mr. Alareer encourages his students to empathize with them as victims of a bigoted society.

Perhaps the most moving moment of Mr. Alareer's teaching career, he wrote in an essay in 2015, "was when I asked my students which of the characters they identify with more: Othello, with his Arab origins, or Shylock the Jew. Most students felt they are closer to Shylock and more sympathetic to him than to Othello."



1. "Iranian women's soccer team are accused of playing a man as a goalkeeper" (Daily Mail, Nov. 17 2021)
2. "In Israel, Miss Universe says no place for politics as contestants face pressure to boycott pageant" (Associated Press, Nov. 18, 2021)
3. "Booster shots put a halt to Israel's COVID delta wave. Can they do the same in Europe?" (Haaretz, Nov. 17, 2021)
4. "In Gaza, a Contentious Palestinian Professor Calmly Teaches Israeli Poetry" (New York Times, Nov. 17, 2021)




Iranian women's soccer team are accused of playing a man as a goalkeeper
By Ross Ibbetson and Kieran Jackson
The Daily Mail
Nov 17 2021

Iran have been accused of playing a man as a goalkeeper for their women's national team against fierce rivals Jordan who have demanded a 'gender verification' probe.

Zohreh Koudaei, 32, saved two penalties during the 4-2 shoot-out victory over Jordan in Uzbekistan on September 25, meaning the Iranian women's team qualified for its first ever Women's Asia Cup.

The President of Jordan's FA, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, on Sunday tweeted a letter 'requesting a gender verification check' on Koudaei from the Asian Football Federation (AFC).

The Iranian team manager has denied the allegations, claiming that the Jordanian team, who were heavy favourites, were seeking an 'excuse' for losing the match.

The Jordan Football Association (JFA) has called on the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to launch an investigation to determine the sex of Koudaei.

Jordan also alleged that the Iranian women's team 'has a history with gender and doping issues', and called for 'due process' to be followed.



In Israel, Miss Universe says no place for politics as contestants face pressure to boycott pageant
The Associated Press
Nov. 18, 2021

The reigning Miss Universe said Wednesday the long-running beauty pageant shouldn't be politicized, even though its next edition is being held in Israel amid pressure on contestants to drop out in solidarity with the Palestinians.

The 70th Miss Universe pageant is being staged in the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat in December. Dozens of contestants from around the world will arrive there in the coming weeks to compete in national costumes, evening gowns and swimwear. They'll also have their public speaking prowess tested with a series of interview questions.

But the pageant is in the spotlight for being held in Israel amid boycott calls against the country over its treatment of the Palestinians. At least one country has already called off their participation.

"Everyone with different beliefs, with different backgrounds, with different cultures, they all come together and when you are in there you forget about politics, about your religion," Andrea Meza, the current Miss Universe, told The Associated Press ahead of a tour of Jerusalem's Old City. "It's just about embracing other women."

Meza, 27, represents Mexico and was crowned in May, during a COVID-delayed ceremony in Florida, where contestants accessorized their sparkling gowns with face masks. She hands over the crown in Eilat on December 12.

Hosting the show is a coup for Israel, which for years has been confronting a grassroots Palestinian-led international campaign calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions. Israel hopes the pageant will help draw tourists and project an image of Israel as a safe destination during the pandemic.

Paula M. Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization, has said Israel has been on the shortlist of host countries "due to its rich history, beautiful landscapes, myriad of cultures and appeal as a global tourist destination."

But contestants are facing pressure to boycott the event and set aside hopes for the crown to make a political statement.

PACBI, a Palestinian activist group and founding member of the boycott movement, called on contestants to "do no harm to our struggle for freedom, justice and equality by withdrawing from the pageant."

Citing COVID, Malaysia has announced it won't send a contestant. And South Africa's government said it was withdrawing support for the country's representative over her participation in the event.

"The atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians are well documented," the government said in a statement, adding that it "cannot in good conscience associate itself with such."

Both countries are strong supporters of the Palestinians.

Israel's Foreign Ministry declined to comment and requests for comment to the country's Tourism Ministry, which hosted Meza's visit to the Old City on Wednesday, were unanswered.

The boycott movement's impact has been a mixed bag. It has notched a number of successes over the years, with major artists like Lorde and Lana Del Ray cancelling appearances because of Israel's policies. But big stars still have made stops in Israel and major events like the Eurovision song contest - which included a performance by Madonna - have been held in the country despite high-profile boycott calls.

The Miss Universe pageant will draw contestants from Morocco and the United Arab Emirates - Arab countries that recently normalized ties with Israel.

The boycott movement, known as BDS, promotes boycotts, divestment and sanctions of Israeli institutions and businesses in what it says is a nonviolent campaign against Israeli abuses against Palestinians.

Israel says the campaign is an effort to delegitimize and even destroy the country, and claims its motives are anti-Semitic. BDS leaders deny allegations of anti-Semitism, saying their campaign is against Israeli policies.

Meza said she didn't fault women who wanted to sit out this year's contest, but she said she had no problem with the competition being held in Israel.

Wearing a flowing, full-length dress with flat sandals, Meza meandered through the mostly empty cobblestoned alleyways of the Old City, stopping to peek into shops as a media scrum followed. Vendors, unaccustomed to seeing throngs since the onset of the pandemic, stared and wondered aloud about the attention Meza was drawing.

Meza, who is a software engineer, said she was "just a girl," from a small town in Mexico who was not a "perfect and flawless" beauty queen. She said she had worked hard to become Miss Universe and that the competition wasn't only about parading women in bikinis but also about testing their intelligence.

Asked if she could offer a solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, she said she didn't believe in violence and that communication was key.

"People have to make compromises and I really hope that we can make this through talking and conversation," she said.



Booster shots put a halt to Israel's COVID delta wave. Can they do the same in Europe?
By Sam Sokol
Nov. 17, 2021

Large parts of Europe are currently experiencing a massive COVID-19 outbreak, prompting a number of countries to impose lockdowns and other major restrictions. What can these countries learn from the experience of Israel, which experienced another wave of the pandemic over the summer and is now almost back to normal -- amid minimal restrictions and an open commercial scene?

Israeli experts who spoke with Haaretz this week emphasized the importance of Israel's booster vaccination campaign, which began in August just as the fourth COVID wave in the country was beginning to spike. Israel managed to bring down the case numbers without a national lockdown.

The fourth wave in Israel began in July as the delta variant spread. By that point, most Israelis had received two vaccine doses, but the effectiveness of the doses was waning. Since Israel was one of the first countries to initiate a massive and swift vaccination campaign, it was also early in witnessing the waning of protection from the vaccine -- something that became apparent among many Israelis some six months after receiving their second dose. The ebbing immunity led to a jump in severe coronavirus cases among vaccinated Israelis.

Israel's health authorities then decided to recommend a booster shot -- a third dose of the vaccine, offered at first to Israelis 60 and over and later to all those 12 and over. Three weeks after the booster campaign began, a clear shift was apparent in the country's COVID data. The number of cases among vaccinated people began to drop. And by contrast, despite representing just 15 percent of those eligible for vaccination, the unvaccinated became a majority of the severe COVID cases.

In other words, COVID had become a pandemic of the unvaccinated in Israel once the boosters began kicking in. By September, overall case numbers were beginning to trend downward. Throughout this period, and unlike the three prior waves of the coronavirus, Israel's government didn't impose a lockdown on the country and didn't shut down schools, retail activity or cultural events.

Israeli experts now see Europe encountering the same problem that Israel faced over the summer, prior to the Israeli booster campaign. Europeans who received their second vaccine dose months ago are beginning to experience waning immunity. About 65 percent of the population of the European Economic Area -- which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway in addition to the European Union -- have received two doses, according to figures from the European Union, but the pace of vaccination has slowed in recent months.

Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, who heads the school of public health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, said Israel's experience in dealing with the delta variant proves that "waning immunity after the second dose is now already established and occurs in all age groups."

The current increase in European infection rates can be attributed to "a combination of the delta variant and waning immunity," he explained, adding that beyond booster campaigns, more needs to be done to reach out to under-vaccinated populations.

Norway, which so far has only administered a third dose to those 65 and older, is gearing up to offer it to everyone 18 and over, the government said on Friday. As of December 1, Italy will be offering a third dose to people 40 and over. And on Monday, British officials said the government would extend its booster shot campaign to people between the ages of 40 and 49.

Prof. Eyal Leshem, the director of the Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv, said the most important lesson that Europeans can learn from Israel's experience is that the protection provided by the vaccine wanes. Countries with high vaccination rates "may have been able to prevent the current wave of infections by offering the booster to the entire population rather than focusing on the elderly," he added.

The booster shot is being touted not only by Israeli experts, but also by leading American health officials. Over the weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview that Israel's campaign proved the impact and importance of providing a third vaccine dose to those already vaccinated with two doses.

Reuters contributed to this report.



In Gaza, a Contentious Palestinian Professor Calmly Teaches Israeli Poetry

On social media, Refaat Alareer rages against Israel. In the lecture hall, he studiously analyzes the work of some of its leading poets ? and surprises some of his students.

By Patrick Kingsley
New York Times
Nov. 17, 2021

GAZA CITY ? Forty-five minutes into his first seminar of the morning, a Palestinian professor at Islamic University in Gaza City had a question for his 70 literature undergraduates: Who had written the unsigned poem they'd spent the class reading?

To the students, all women, the poet's identity, or at least background, was obvious.

This was a text about Jerusalem, a city that they, as young Palestinians unable to leave Gaza for most of their lives, had long cherished but never visited. And the poem was written from the perspective of a wistful onlooker who, like them, loved but could not enter the city.

Its English translation begins like this:

On a roof in the Old City
laundry hanging in the late afternoon sunlight
the white sheet of a woman who is my enemy,
the towel of a man who is my enemy

Sondos Alfayoumi raised her hand. The poem was by a Palestinian, gazing from a distance at an Israeli's laundry, reckoned Ms. Alfayoumi, 19. "It shows a man who cannot get access to something that belongs to him," she said. "A man working in the occupied territories."

The class nodded in agreement. Only a Palestinian could have written with such warmth about Jerusalem, a second student said.

But the professor, Refaat Alareer, had a surprise waiting. "The poet of this really beautiful piece is actually not a Palestinian," he said.

There was a hubbub of murmuring as it dawned on the class what this meant. Someone gasped, and Ms. Alfayoumi suppressed a shocked laugh.

"He's an Israeli poet," Mr. Alareer continued, "called Yehuda Amichai."

It was a moment that added nuance to two contrasting narratives: That embraced by the students themselves, many of whom knew someone killed or injured by Israeli missiles, and whose interaction with Israel is often limited to airstrikes; and that of many Israelis, who often assume the Palestinian education system is simply an engine of incitement.

Here was an appreciation of one of Israel's best-loved poets from a Palestinian professor at a university co-founded by the former leader of Hamas, the militant group that runs the Gaza government, does not recognize Israel, and was responsible for dozens of suicide attacks on Israelis. Experts say the study of Israeli poetry in Palestinian colleges is rare, though not unheard-of.

What Mr. Alareer admired about the poem, "Jerusalem," he told his students, was the way it blurred divisions between Israelis and Palestinians and implied that "Jerusalem can be the place where we all come together, regardless of religion and faith."

"When I read this," he added, "I really was like, 'Oh my god, this is beautiful. I've never seen something like this. I never thought that I would read it.' And then I realized: No, there are so many other Israeli people, Jewish people, who are totally and completely against the occupation."

Mr. Alareer, 42, is not an obvious champion of Hebrew poetry.

The Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza has stymied his academic career, at times stopping him from studying abroad. He has relatives in Hamas, and his brother was killed during the 2014 war with Israel. He has served as co-editor of two books of essays and short fiction about the struggles of life in Gaza.

And on social media, he frequently writes furious barrages that describe Israel as a source of evil, posts that led to the suspension of his Twitter account. In one post he wrote: "No form, act, or means of Palestinian resistance whatsoever is terror. All Israelis are soldiers. All Palestine is occupied."

But in the lecture theater, Mr. Alareer has a milder academic approach. As part of a course for undergraduates about international literature, he teaches work not only by Mr. Amichai but also Tuvya Ruebner, another prominent Israeli poet. He introduces students to "The Merchant of Venice" and "Oliver Twist," and encourages his classes to empathize with the texts' Jewish characters, Shylock and Fagin.

While Shylock and Fagin, two complex characters who have spurred debate for centuries but are widely considered antisemitic caricatures, might seem like odd choices to teach Palestinians about empathy, Mr. Alareer encourages his students to empathize with them as victims of a bigoted society.

Perhaps the most moving moment of Mr. Alareer's teaching career, he wrote in an essay in 2015, "was when I asked my students which of the characters they identify with more: Othello, with his Arab origins, or Shylock the Jew. Most students felt they are closer to Shylock and more sympathetic to him than to Othello."

His students had interpreted Mr. Amichai's poem as a depiction of Palestinians cut off from Jerusalem by a wall built during the 2000s. But the revelation of the poet's identity was a reminder of how Jews were blocked from the city's ancient center when Jordan controlled the Old City of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967.

In the sky of the Old City
a kite
At the other end of the string,
a child
I can't see
because of the wall.

"As Palestinians, do we have any problem with Jews, as Jews?" Mr. Alareer asked his class. "No, it is a political kind of struggle."

Mr. Amichai died in 2000. His widow, Chana Sokolov, and son, David, later said that while they disagreed with the content of Mr. Alareer's social media posts, they were inspired by his use and interpretation of the poem.

"My father would probably be very pleased to hear that people are using poetry to see the humanity on the other side," said David Amichai, who researches antisemitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "It is very moving that he uses this poem to try to teach about Israeli society," Mr. Amichai added.

For some of Mr. Alareer's students, the poet's Israeli identity came as a minor epiphany.

"Maybe this changed something in my mind about their experience," Ms. Alfayoumi said. "It's like we share things. We relate."

But then she stopped herself. There was a limit to how much empathy she felt for a nation whose warplanes had bombed Gaza for 11 consecutive days earlier in the year.

To Israelis, Hamas was the instigator of the fighting in May: War broke out after Hamas fired several rockets at Jerusalem, and continued to aim thousands more unguided missiles toward many Israeli cities.

But to Palestinians like Ms. Alfayoumi, Hamas was responding to Israeli actions in Jerusalem, including raids on the Aqsa Mosque. And the final death tolls were asymmetric, with Gaza suffering nearly all of the more than 260 deaths of the conflict.

"In the end, the gap in our experiences is huge, when you compare their losses to ours, and compare their luxury life to ours," Ms. Alfayoumi said. "We may relate and share things ? but at the end of the day they have to admit what they have done."

Another student said she couldn't believe an Israeli had actually written the poem, even after Mr. Alareer had revealed who he was.

"I still insist that this is Palestinian," said Aya al-Mufti, 19, citing the use of the phrase "the Old City," which she believed only an Arab would use.

Mr. Alareer said that was her right: The meaning of any text was open to the interpretation of its readers. But he still bristled slightly, and gently hinted that she hadn't absorbed the main point of the class.

"If you want to occupy the poem," he said, with a flash of sarcasm, "good for you."

(Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting.)


* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you "like" this page on Facebook

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