Lifestyle

Masafer Yatta: the Palestinian cave dwellers of Firing Zone 918 (photos)

Green Prophet - February 18, 2014

Many environmentally aware people from the global middle and upper class choose off-grid living, though that lifestyle is usually supplemented with solar panels and other accoutrements. But for the 1,300 Palestinians who call Masafer Yatta home, living with almost nothing is no longer a choice.

Argentinian photographer Eduardo Soteras compiled Interstice, a beautiful series of black and white photographs that chronicles the lives of the Palestinian cave-dwellers caught in “the space between” – an unforgiving land in the south hills of Hebron cut off from the rest of the West Bank by a string of illegal Israeli settlements.

The people eek out a meager living raising goats and sheep, and coaxing vegetables and fruit from the ground. But they have no running water, no electricity, and no roads, which makes day-to-day life exceedingly difficult – a lifestyle they would happily leave behind, according to Soteras.

Granted, Masafer, which means either “traveling” or “nothing” dates back to the Ottoman era, when debt collectors would find a vast strand of emptiness as the locals fled to the caves that they had carved into area rocks, caves which still shelter the people who live in a string of villages just outside of the city Yatta, to avoid paying taxes.

But today the people of Masafer Yatta have little control over their own fate.

Albeit officially administered by a committee appointed by the Palestinian National Authority’s Ministry of Local Affairs, the cluster of villages part of “Area C” is under Israeli civil and military control. What’s more, in the 1980s, the region was designated a military training zone called Firing Zone 918.

Forced deportation to clear the area for Israeli soldiers is on the cards, though it is uncertain if or when it will actually take place.

And while this may sound like a blessing, people who have nothing will struggle to build new lives elsewhere. Yet the people of Masafer Yatta remain mostly forgotten – not only by the greater community, but even by their own people.

“Some say that the days of this lifestyle are counted,” writes Soteras in his poetic introduction to his photographic series. “Others say that everything will remain as it is.”

:: Eduardo Soteras, Interstice

Categories: Lifestyle

Msemmen, Moroccan multi-layered pancake recipe

Green Prophet - February 17, 2014


It’s still chilly in the Middle East – still the season for comfort food. Try driving the cold away with msemmen, a flexible, square-shaped skillet cake, easily pulled apart into layers so you can stuff it.

Msemmen is similar to the Emirati Khameer bread (recipe here), which isn’t surprising, as they are both Berber in origin.

Msemmen is hard to pronounce, but delicious to eat. This is how you say it: Miss-i-men.  It means greased, or oiled. And this is how you eat it: hot, with honey, between sips of mint tea.

Alia of the Cooking with Alia blog offers this recipe, with a YouTube video (below). It does take a bit of work, which reflects the old-fashioned tradition of hand-made food. Manipulating the dough with oiled hands, and layering it with a mixture of oil and butter, makes a unique skillet bread that’s a cross between rough puff pastry and a pancake.

The video below is less than six minutes long. It’s worth watching how Alia kneads the dough and then stretches it out by hand. It’s the sort of thing that takes practice, but once you know how to do it, you never forget. I was surprised at how little extra flour is needed to keep the dough from sticking – it’s the oil/butter mixture, which is incorporated at the last, unlike in Western bread recipes where all liquid ingredients are added at the beginning.

Below is Alia’s recipe. Comments in italics and edits are Green Prophet’s.

Msemmen, Berber Pancake

Ingredients:

2 cups of flour
1 cup of semolina
3/4 cup of oil
3 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of dry yeast
1-2 cups of warm water (depending on the quality of absorption of your flour)

Mix all the dry ingredients.
Slowly add water and work the dough until you are able to create a ball with the dough.
If you are kneading the dough by hand, use energetic and quick strokes. Knead for 20 minutes while adding water until you get an elastic dough.
You can use a kneading machine (mixer or food processor)  to speed up the process. Put the dough ball in the machine and automatically knead for the next 10 minutes while adding water.
Make small balls with the dough (the size of golf balls) and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. The resting period is important; don’t skip it.

Note: the amount of water needed depends on the quality of absorption of the flour you are using. The goal is to obtain an elastic and malleable dough. if your dough is too sticky add some flour; if it is too hard add some water and continue kneading it.

Steps for folding the Msemmen:
Mix the melted butter with the oil.
Spread some of the oil/butter mixture on a flat surface. Take one dough ball and flatten it with your hands. Gently keep stretching the dough until you get a thin circle of dough. Fold the circle into a square as shown in the video.

Steps for cooking the Msemmen:
Gently spread the dough square with your fingertips until you get a thin dough square.
On low heat (in a skillet), cook the Msemmen 5-10 minutes in each side.

Notice how Alia gently pushes the pancake down to break up any bubbles created when the first side was cooked.

Click here to view the embedded video.

More flavorsome Middle-Eastern breads on Green Prophet:

Image of msemmen via Shutterstock.

Categories: Lifestyle

Retro biker chicks from Morocco in photos

Green Prophet - February 17, 2014

If you thought that women from the Middle East and North Africa all wear drab black blankets over the head and stay home to cook dinner, these colorful photos by Moroccan-born artist Hassan Hajjaj might challenge that notion.

Based in London but heavily influenced by his roots and the reggae scene in his adopted country, Hassan Hajjaj created a series of images that show a side to Muslim women and North African culture that rarely makes mainstream news.

Kesh Angels, a collection that is currently on show at the Taymour Grahne Gallery in Tribeca, shows Marrakech “biker chicks” wearing bootleg Chanel and Louis Vuitton Abayas.

Contrary to the depressing images most commonly associated with (oppressed) Muslim women, these photos show women sporting polka dots, funky shoes, a lot of makeup, heart-shaped sunglasses, and all kinds of good-natured attitude.

(Related post: ‘Eco-Hijabs’ on the rise)

Many of the women depicted in Kesh Angels are friends of Hajjaj, a master photographer who frequently designs the clothing that his models wear in shoots.

Hajjaj is a versatile artist whose repertoire includes portraiture, installation, interior designed (including recycled furniture made from recycled Coca-Cola crates and aluminum cans), but this is the first time that he has had a solo show in New York.

Founded by the same art collector behind the blog Art of the Middle East, which celebrates the unique creative talent bursting from the MENA region, the Taymour Grahne Gallery will showcase this fantastic series through 8 March, 2014.

:: The Guardian

Categories: Lifestyle

Moving Red Sea fish farm cages shows positive eco results: new study

Green Prophet - February 17, 2014

Aquaculture, or fish farming at sea and in land based ponds, has been practiced successfully by Israelis for many years. While most fish farming produces freshwater fish like carp, tilapia and trout in fresh water ponds, salt water aquaculture has also been “successfully” practiced in the Mediterranean Sea.

A new study looks at what happened to the Red Sea marine environment when fish cages were moved to the Mediterranean Sea.

The ecological viability of raising sea bream in underwater fish cages in the Gulf of Aqaba-Eilat at the Red Sea has been a controversial one that ended in the fish farms being removed and relocated to the Mediterranean in 2008.

The Eilat fish farms were located offshore there for more than 20 years, and their removal came after they caused severe damage to natural marine life in the areas where the fish cages had been placed. See the photo above.

In order to determine the long-lasting affects of the Eilat fish farms studies were made by research teams led by Dror Angel, a marine researcher at the Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences at the University of Haifa.

In an interview with Green Prophet, Beverly Goodman, a marine life researcher who also lectures at the Leon Charney School of marine Sciences, gave Green Prophet an indication of what has happened to the Red Sea region after the fish cages were removed in 2008.

One of the research project’s tasks involved taking core sediment samples of the sea bed directly underneath the areas where the fish cages were located.

On the subject of “nutrification”  from excrement and fish food from the farm the having a greater impact on the marine environment, she said that the presence of the cages was “causing significant changes to the marine environment in the Gulf of Aqaba-Eilat. A marine biology agreement for a monitoring program with data just didn’t exist for two decades while the fish cages were in place,” says Goodman, an underwater archeologist and climate change specialist for the marine environment.

The marine environment of the area where the fish cages had been for so long has been monitored for the past several years since the cages were removed.

The initial studies in which Goodman was involved (she came to Eilat after the decision was been made to relocate the fish farms to Ashdod, she says:  ”very few life forms were found where the cages had been.”

Initial sediment samples from the fish cage areas found that the sea bottom was “dead” with little life remaining. What life forms there were, were “hanging from above the seabed,” she tells us.

Later studies found that marine life has slowly returned to the area; including species of sea grasses that are important to a number of marine life species. The studies are trying to determine if the area will eventually return to what it was prior to the introduction of the fish farms.

A national monitoring program concluded that a “positive recovery trend” was being made in the area of the fish cages.

Another factor affecting marine life in the Gulf of Aqaba-Eilat was the dumping of raw sewage into the sea, which occurred regularly until the 1990s.

As for the fish farms now located in the Mediterranean near Ashdod Port, Beverly Goodman told Green Prophet that the Mediterranean marine environment is much different as it is a larger body of water with various currents not found in the Gulf of Aqaba-Eilat.

There are also additional environmental factors though, including pollution from Ashdod Port and pollution from very polluted nearby streams that flow into the Mediterranean. She added that as far as she knows, no studies have yet been made on the situation concerning the fish farms near Ashdod.

“We simply need more information on these  new fish farms,” she says.

More on fish farming issues affecting Israel and Palestinian Gaza:
Aquaponics is Farming With a Fishing Rod in Israel
Israel eases Distane Limit for Gaza Fishermen; But Need for Fish Farming is Evident
Eilat Fish Cages; Out of the Frying Pan and Into Ashdod Harbor

Fish farming in Eilat by Prof. Yosi Loya; fish cages at sea from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Walking architecture envisions a built environment based on human motion

Green Prophet - February 16, 2014


Daydreams can catalyze real change. Look to the far-reaching influence of designers who choose to work in the hypothetical, where unrestricted creativity is unfettered by cost, resources, and environmental impact.  If only most of the Middle East’s fantastical architecture stayed imaginary. 

Digital animation “Walking Architecture” (clip above) pays homage to a 1960′s design group while pushing the boundaries of their conjectural vision.

UK-based multimedia studio Universal Everything developed a slowly evolving “video sculpture” that changes form, gradually morphing through an array of architectural structures that include geodesic domes, perforated lattices and pixilated building blocks.  Meanwhile, its core motion, the act of walking, remains constant.

Matt Pyke of Universal Everything based the animation, entitled Walking Architecture, on the futuristic imaginings of 1960s architectural group Archigram; they envisioned a city as a living organism whose purposely stride is undeterred by its changing size and form. The title of the video is a reference to Archigram’s “Walking City”.

The original project, conceived by British architect Ron Herron, imagined massive robotic structures, each with its own intelligence, freely walking to wherever their owners wanted or wherever their resources or manufacturing capabilities were needed.

Archigram envisioned an entire series of walking cities, interconnecting when need arose to form enormous walking metropolises, and then dispersing when their concentrated power had served its purpose. Individual buildings could also be mobile.

“The language of materials and patterns seen in radical architecture transform as the nomadic city walks endlessly, adapting to the environments she encounters,” said Pyke. (Note that he recognizes Architecture as female.)

This movie starts with a structure whose massing and proportions are similar to those of a human body.  Over the next seven minutes, it gradually abstracts, transforming into varied shapes that include a cluster of pixilated cubes and a striated mound.

The figure ultimately returns to its original form, poised to begin the transformation anew.

Unlike their contemporary Buckminster Fuller, who worked to build more with less material (recognizing that most matter is finite), Archigram’s fantastical designs assumed a future of limitless resources. Never constructed, their schemes stimulated others to incorporate aspects of their designs into real bricks-and-mortar structures.

Often, hypothetical architecture sparks innovation that catapults significant developments in building materials and technologies. Dream on.

All images from Universal Everything

Categories: Lifestyle

This is what Jesus Christ’s “selfie” would look like

Green Prophet - February 16, 2014

If Jesus had a Facebook account, this could be his profile picture.  So says Richard Neave, a medical artist famed for reconstructing legendary faces from antiquity.

With a team of Israeli archeologists and British scientists, he recreated what they claim is the most accurate image of Jesus.

For Christ’s sake, is this for real?  Short, black, kinky hair wrapped around thick features? A swarthy man looking awfully well fed?

Western culture paints a far different picture of a tall, slim man with flowing locks threaded with golden highlights.  He has light-colored eyes set in a pale face that sprouts wispy facial hair. It’s a look rocked by 1970′s musicians, think Neil Young, George Harrison, even Frank Zappa.

And he’s scrawny like Russell Brand, not brawny like Russell Crowe.

That’s not only an industrial-age Western view – the mosaic portrait below is from Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia.

 

“The fact that he probably looked a great deal more like a darker-skinned Semite than westerners are used to seeing him pictured is a reminder of his universality,” Charles D. Hackett, director of Episcopal studies at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, told Popular Mechanics, “And [it is] a reminder of our tendency to sinfully appropriate him in the service of our cultural values.”

The New Testament doesn’t describe Christ’s appearance, no contemporary drawings of him have ever been found. But there are clues.

Recall the Gospel of Matthew: when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, Judas Iscariot had to point him out because the soldiers couldn’t tell him from his disciples. It’s logical that he would have looked like the Galilean Semites of his era, and not a white-boy rock and roller.

Neave and his research team started with Semite skulls from near Jerusalem, where Jesus lived and preached. Tapping into forensic anthropology – the same scientific toolkit used to solve crimes – Neave used special software to determine the thickness of soft tissue at key areas of the face, making it possible to re-create the muscles and skin overlying a representative Semite skull.

Results, verified against anthropological data, were used to digitally reconstruct the face. Next, researchers cast a skull, applying layers of clay matching computer-specified facial tissue, topped with simulated skin. The nose, lips and eyelids were modeled in accordance with underlying muscles.

Neave’s team turned to drawings found at archeological sites dated to the first century to determine Christ’s hair and coloration.  Clues indicated that Jesus had dark eyes and hair, and that, in line with Jewish tradition, he was bearded.

Analyzing skeletal remains, archeologists established that Christ’s contemporaries averaged a smidge taller than 5 feet and weighed about 110 pounds. They theorize that after years of outdoor work, this most famous carpenter would have been muscular with a weather-beaten face.

Neave emphasizes that his re-creation is simply that of an adult man who lived in the same place and at the same time as Jesus. Alison Galloway, professor of anthropology at the University of California in Santa Cruz, told Popular Mechanics, “This is probably a lot closer to the truth than the work of many great masters.”

Images of Christ in order of appearance from Popular Mechanics; Christ from Hagia Sophia mosaic; Wikipedia; Catholic Tradition; and Wikimedia Commons

Categories: Lifestyle

Will burning birds shut down Brightsource, world’s largest solar thermal power plant?

Green Prophet - February 16, 2014


The switch was flipped this week as California’s Ivanpah solar thermal power plant went live. The 392 megawatt concentrating solar plant (CSP) is now delivering renewables to power the equivalent of 140,000 homes in California. After a long journey lasting decades of development, fighting regulations, manoeuvring around turtle conservationists, burning birds may be the latest problem.



According to environmentalists, the heat focused from the 350,000 garage-door sized mirrors is incinerating birds that fly in the pathway of the sun’s concentrated rays. State energy officials have put out photos of birds with singed feathers from flying into what is being called the hot ‘thermal flux’ around the towers, with temperatures that can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Like the solar death rays in London.

The plant is located on five square miles of the Mojave Desert, near the California / Nevada border, and is the largest CSP plant of its kind in the world. According to news reports some dozens of birds have died since the plant was turned on. I am yet to substantiate these findings with a source. But I have something to say about it. Listen up bird lovers.

Maintaining animal habitats is important for renewable energy projects but it shouldn’t be the only concern. If that same area of land were turned into homes, I can guarantee you that multiples more of songbirds would be dying from neighbourhood cats who prey on them for play.

Or if that same amount of energy was produced by the oil industry, the effects of a spill or the consequences of the industry (with leaks, fumes, greenhouse gas) would be much worse. I am not saying that we can’t learn something from this renewable energy advance, I think it’s time that we understand that there is no perpetual motion machine that is going to supply endlessly clean energy. Everything we do to feed our power needs will have a consequence and we have to weigh the pros (clean energy with the cons (singed birds).

If you want to follow the story, start here with compliance documents that Brightsource submitted last year (links to PDF).  If you jump down to the wildlife section you’ll find some quite remarkable considerations for wildlife, certainly care and regard you would NEVER EVER find in the Middle East.

 

::Brightsource (hat tip Nicky Blackburn)

Categories: Lifestyle

El Gouna: Egypt builds MENA’s first carbon-neutral city

Green Prophet - February 15, 2014

El Gouna, a resort city on Egypt’s Red Sea Riviera, is set to become the first carbon-neutral city in that nation, in Africa, and likely the entire Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. Masdar City, in continuing development in Abu Dhabi, initially targeted zero-carbon status, but has yet to hit that goal.

The ambitious development agreement was signed last week by the Egyptian Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs, the Italian Ministry of Environment and El Gouna City.

Dr. Laila Iskandar, Egyptian Minister of State for Environmental Affairs, told Trade Arabia, “This agreement will help the Egyptian government to achieve a significant breakthrough in the fields of environment and tourism, enhancing Egypt’s global image and opening the door for Egyptian tourism projects and cities to rank among the leading carbon-neutral entities.”

El Gouna is already hailed as Egypt’s most environmentally-friendly vacation destination.  It’s captured Green Globe and Travelife certifications and was selected as the pilot location for the Green Star Hotel Initiative (GSHI).

Launched in 2007, GSHI is a cooperative effort between public and private sectors, the Egyptian and German tourism industries, and supported by key technical consultants.  They promote use of environmental management systems and environmentally sound operations to improve environmental performance and to increase competitiveness of the Egyptian hotel industry.

Priority projects include conservation of natural resources such as clean beaches, healthy marine life and protected areas, which are the backbone of the Red Sea Riviera and the nation’s eco-tourism market.

Mr. Hisham Zaazou, Egyptian Minister of Tourism, told Trade Arabia, “We will also be working on implementing this project in other Egyptian cities.”

Image of El Gouna from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

BrightSource’s Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar thermal project, is live

Green Prophet - February 14, 2014

It has been a long, controversial and expensive road for BrightSource Energy, but their 392 megawatt concentrating solar plant is now finally delivering renewable energy to the California grid and it is the largest plant of its kind in the world.

Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS), which is comprised of 350,000 garage door-sized mirrors that reflect sunlight onto boilers atop 40 foot towers, is jointly owned by NRG Solar, Google and BrightSource Energy – a company that started out at Luz International in Israel.

In addition to offsetting roughly 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year, the massive solar facility located roughly 50 miles northwest of Needles, California, will deliver solar power to roughly 140,000 homes via California utility companies PG&E and Southern California Edison.

Despite this enormous boost for solar energy, BrightSource Energy has taken a lot of heat from environmentalists and social activists for their five square mile solar project in the Mojave desert.

It took months to resolve the issue of relocating desert tortoises that call the desert home, to make way for thousands of concentrating mirrors, and Native Americans complained that the project destroys sites that are sacred to them.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the towers, which reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, have scorched an astonishing number of birds.

The paper also notes that the energy produced at Ivanpah will cost four times as much as natural gas and boasts a smaller generation capacity to land ratio than conventional plants. In other words, CSP projects like ISEGS require more land than fossil fuel plants.

Despite these downsides, the $2.2 billion plant will produce one third of all solar thermal energy in the United States, and potentially pave the way for similar projects to take flight as well.

:: WSJ

Categories: Lifestyle

Burj residents sweat over developer threats to cut A/C and elevator services

Green Prophet - February 13, 2014

Residents of the world’s tallest building in Dubai are being punished over unpaid maintenance fees – some of them unjustly. In order to pressure property owners who have defaulted on their annual payments, developers Emaar warned residents that air-conditioning and elevator service would be cut until they receive their money.

Roughly 80 percent of the one to four bedroom apartments on floors 19 through 108 of the Burj Khalifa are occupied.

A one bedroom apartment can cost as much as $55,000 to rent per year, but landlords of apartments at the “prestigious address” are also required to pay an annual maintenance fee that is used to ensure that common facilities remain in good working order.

Shared facilities and services include gyms, elevators, swimming pools, air-conditioning, and waste disposal services (however dubious they may be.)

“The service charges for residents go to the management and maintenance of the common areas, for the overall and long-term welfare of all residents,” an Emaar spokesman told The National.

Emaar charges owners of a four bedroom apartment up to $60,000 per year to perform these services, a sum that many landlords simply refuse to pay.

Unfortunately, threats to cut services to make the owners cough up their maintenance fees affect renters (who have mostly paid the money they owe) more than the landlords, who may not even live in the soaring 163 floor building. And then there are landlords who have paid their fees, who are punished for the misdeeds of others.

“It is unfair because this is not the tenants’ fault, they have paid their rent and it is not fair they suffer,” a landlord with more than 10 paid-for Burj properties told The National.

Although Emaar threatened to cut air conditioning and lift service over the weekend, they didn’t, because legally they can’t – according to a lawyer who spoke with The National.

“Owners and tenants cannot be legally prevented from entering their property,  Devanand Mahadev told the paper. “The building facilitator cannot shut down need-to-have facilities like electricity, water and access to the lifts.”  Only the service provider, in this case DEWA, has that ability.

While Emaar works out this dispute with owners who have not paid their fees, many residents will be denied access to luxury amenities; consequently, some have expressed a desire to seek new, more secure accommodation. 

:: The National

Burj Khalifa image / Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Softwheel uses inner suspension arms to re-invent the wheel for bikes and chairs [video]

Green Prophet - February 13, 2014

Considering all of the technological advances made in bicycles, cars and trains; the humble wheelchair hasn’t advanced very much since the first one was invented for King Philip II of Spain in 1595. An Israeli startup SoftWheel is about to change that with a bike and wheelchair wheel that is more comfortable and more efficient.When an unfortunate accident left Gilad Woolf  with a broken leg and dependent on a wheelchair, the farmer had first hand experience of how uncomfortable wheelchairs can be for the millions of people who rely on them for everyday transportation indoors as well as outdoors.

 

In fact, this varied terrain is one of the factors contributing to wheelchair discomfort and inefficiency. A wheel designed for the smooth floor inside a house or a public building is completely inappropriate for traveling on a rocky field or bumpy road.

Daniel Barel, the CEO of SoftWheel, told the Jerusalem Post that his company’s new suspension technology is an integral part of the wheel that is selective and symmetric.

 

It remains static on standard floors or smooth pavements but shifts to an active response mode when the wheel encounters obstacles. The wheel’s hub symmetrically expands or shrinks to absorb the transmitted shock.

This active suspension preserves more of the forward motion energy that would normally be lost as the suspension allows the wheelchair to bob and sag. It also allows the wheelchair to ride over curbs and bumps that might have stopped traditional wheelchairs, giving users better access to places where ramps haven’t yet been installed.

Watch the video to see Softwheel’s “Acrobat” wheel in action:

Click here to view the embedded video.

The new company has financial backing from the RAD BioMed Accelerator group and is in collaboration with the Ziv-Av Engineering group. They are initially designing these wheels for wheelchairs, city bicycles and aircraft landing gear but the company says the technology would be used for other wheeled vehicles.

This is not to be confused with the Israeli designer Ron Arad and his Soft-Wheel invention from 2011. He’s invented, though probably not for commercial reasons, a bike wheel that will never go flat. See below.

::Softwheel 

Categories: Lifestyle

Driverless car partnership emerges between Tesla and Israel’s Mobileye

Green Prophet - February 12, 2014

A decade from now, Tesla is expected to have a suite of driverless vehicles on the road – a feat that wouldn’t be possible without collision avoidance technology. Which means its reported partnership with Jerusalem-based Mobileye is pretty much a no brainer.

Consider what it takes for a car to drive down the road without input from a driver: it has to be able to change lanes, stay in the center of its own lane, preferably avoiding crashing into pedestrians or other objects , and it needs to stop at traffic lights.

Artificial vision safety systems like those for which Mobileye is known are essential to the success of automated vehicles. Cameras located on different parts of the car synchronize with the vehicle’s navigation system to automatically perform the various functions that the driver would normally take care of.

In the case of a driverless vehicle that the Israeli company and Tesla are said to be developing together, there will be five cameras – two in front, one in the back, and one on either side of the car, according to TheMarker and Ha’aretz.

Their system, which has already been tested on cars made by Opel, Audi, Toyota and Nissan, will allow vehicles to cross intersections not moderated with traffic lights and switch lanes on busy roads without hitting neighboring cars.

But it won’t allow drivers to tune out and take a nap, says Mobileye Founder Prof. Amnon Shashua.

“This is not automatic driving in which the driver types an address and goes to sleep,” Shashua told TheMarker. ”The system allows control to be given to it for a limited period. You can read a text message or change the radio station and give temporary control to the cameras.”

Until now, Tesla’s appearance in the Middle East has been limited – apart from a roadster spotting in Dubai, but this budding partnership suggests that the EV and driverless vehicle market could potentially explode in the region.

It’s also interesting to note that a technology developed in Israel should feature so ubiquitously, but relatively silently, in driverless vehicles produced by multiple automakers.

:: Ha’aretz

Categories: Lifestyle

Why 2.5% of Israelis have gone vegan

Green Prophet - February 12, 2014

There’s a huge new movement in Israel. Not politics. Food. Specifically, veganism. Of a country totalling eight million people, an estimated 200,000 are now declared vegans (see Karin’s post about the growing movement here). That’s roughly 2.5 percent of the population.

Influential  American animal-rights activist Gary Yourofsky’s recent visits to Israel,  and his videos, tipped the balance towards veganism for many. Another factor is cruelty to animals in slaughterhouses and poultry farms, exposed on the consumer-awareness Kolbotek program in 2012 (link to the animal abuse video in Israel here).

An undercover reporter posing as a slaughterhouse worker filmed animal abuse at a Beit Shean slaughterhouse.  Kolbotek also exposed the frozen fish scandal, which we reported on here – covering the problems of fish from China.

Following widespread public protests and threatened boycotts, the slaughterhouse manager and workers involved were fired, and cameras installed at the location for ongoing inspection.But for many Israelis, the damage was done. Stimulated by Yourofsky’s fiery brand of activism, thousands of vegan-curious and hesitant Israelis have committed to a totally animal-product-free diet in the past two years.

Vegan groups like Vegan Friendly have levered the new vegan popularity into menu choices at restaurants. The Greg chain of cafes now proudly features a vegan-friendly menu, and the Domino’s pizza chain has a pizza with soy cheese. Here’s the Israeli Vegan Dining Guide from the website of Ori Shavit. Vegan Friendly also certifies vegan-friendly eateries with a sticker to place on their windows as a signal to passing hungry vegans. The demand for vegan products is even manifesting in supermarkets, where soy and grain-based milks are on the shelves and tofu cheese sits comfortably next to milk cheeses.

Israel’s cuisine already shines with delicious dishes that contain no animal products, although no one has thought of them as “vegan” until the trend appeared in the country. Muhamarra red pepper spread, ful and humous, baba ganoush and spicy sambusak turnovers are just a hint of  traditional Middle-Eastern foods that would make any vegan feel comfortable in Israel. How about a sweet potato and lentil salad?

More on veganism in Israel:

Image of  woman with fresh vegetables via Shutterstock.

Categories: Lifestyle

Lebanese inventor makes “alive” app for war-torn regions

Green Prophet - February 11, 2014

“I’m alive.” I’ve made that call, maybe you have too. That surreal statement instantly erases panic in whomever’s on the other end of the line.  It reconstructs a momentarily unglued world.

When I made that call, mobile phones were in their infancy, and landlines were choked by overloaded phone networks. Now a Lebanese woman has developed an app to let you get that most urgent message out loud and clear, “Hey, I am alive!”

Bombings are a frequent reality in Lebanon, and Syria, and Egypt, and Iraq. Sandra Hassan, a Lebanese-born graduate student studying abroad in Paris heard about a car bomb in a Beirut suburb; and the idea was hatched.

“It was a little bit frustrating that, in Lebanon at least, we’re living in a situation that makes such an application necessary or useful,” Hassan told National Public Radio in a recent interview. “My way to express that frustration was to publish this app, kind of as a statement against what was happening, a statement of discontent if you will.”

Lebanon was bombed several times in January, and Hassan said it was stressful trying to contact family and friends to check on their safety. So this student of public health decided to develop an app that allows users to quickly get the message out. With one click, using the internet and avoiding potentially disrupted phone networks, they can instantly tweet the message: “I am still alive!” using with the hashtags #Lebanon and #LatestBombing.

The app is based on Twitter, but Hassan plans updates so that it is compatible with Facebook and could work like an instant messaging independent of social media; a single click to update everyone who wants proof that you are okay.

“I am hopeful that this application can actually help people, not only in conflict zones, but also be used in times of crisis as a result of natural disasters,” Hassan says. “I’ve been getting a lot of requests by people who have seen the application, to make it more international, to remove the hashtag Lebanon and to make it usable by people all over the world.”

She was surprised the app got so much attention, with journalists buzzing on sites like Muck Rack.  There hasn’t been a bombing since the app launched, so the next explosion will be its first live test. Oh what times we live in.

Image of of teenage girls from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Raanan Stern’s tiny Tel Aviv artist studio boasts stellar space management

Green Prophet - February 11, 2014

Square footage comes at a premium in Tel Aviv, as it does in New York and many other global cities, so designers Raanan Stern and Shany Tal are particularly well adept at making the most of what they have. But the team have turned space management into an art form with this this tiny artist studio in the heart of the city.

The studio has been carefully measured to creatively store an artist’s special collection of 2D objects. The collection, made up of pieces from the 1940s to today, was organized according to groups, sizes and artistic connections in four different proportions.

Every cell, cupboard and drawer, all of which are finished in a lightweight birch with just a dusting of a clear coating that doesn’t cover up the wood’s natural grain, has been crafted to fit these proportions.

(Related post: Foot-stomped compost furniture from Israel)

Designed as a showcase and a space that can be shared with fellow artists, the studio is deliberately modular, which allows the artist to shift furniture around, open draws or even remove them, depending on the activity du jour.

The real treat happens when the drawers made from recycled shipping pallets are opened and the collection inside is revealed. Or when the pieces are displayed with sticks that are pushed through holes in the exterior surface of the drawers and cells.

Like the closets and other organizational units, white birch has been used for the flooring. The light color helps to aggrandize the 200 square foot studio apartment while giving it a clean, bright finish.

Lastly, a folding bed is built into the back of the study door, an ideal accoutrement that allows the artist to embrace those sudden fits of inspiration that last well into the night.

A stellar example of creative space management that is not material intensive, this Tel Aviv studio also acts as a private gallery that can be shared with other creatives.

:: Designboom

Categories: Lifestyle

8 green Valentine gifts that won’t put you in the red

Green Prophet - February 11, 2014

A year has passed since I penned a sampler of how Valentine’s Day goes down in the Middle East. Tempus fugit, baby, that treacly holiday is back in Jordan with a vengeance and I’m seeing red. Red balloons, red banners, red signs in restaurants urging early bookings. Tone down that redness with a healthy dose of green – here are eight do-it-yourself gift ideas that express your burning ardor without scorching your wallet.

1. 52 Reasons Valentine Deck of Cards: For couples who haven’t yet uttered the “L” word – the “52 Reasons why I LIKE You” is a heartfelt Valentine with training wheels.  Grab an old deck of cards (image above) and some glue, and tuck into this easy tutorial (link here).

2. Sea Salt Caramels: Sweets for the sweet is a classic Valentine strategy. A simple recipe for a decadent treat is explained in this short, clear  video (link here). Substitute kosher salt or Dead Sea salt for the final topping, giving your caramels a Middle East flavor.

3. A Year of Pre-planned Dates: Dream up twelve things that you want to do with your honey-pie. Write them on some stiff paper (use cut up cereal boxes, etc. to increase the up-cycle ante), connect them with a ring or loop of yarn, and hand them over with a hug.  Advance planning leaves you free to enjoy the moment and each other. (Instructions can be found at this link.)

4. Peanut Butter Truffles: Reese’s peanut butter cups are impossible to score in Jordan, but these promise a close second. The alleged aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate are pinned on two chemicals it contains. Tryptophan is a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal, and phenylethylamine is a stimulant released in the brain when people fall in love. The science may be dicey, but the taste is good .  Recipe link here.

5. Sweet Pomegranate Syrup: Rich, dark, and smoky tasting pomegranate syrup is a staple in most Middle Eastern cooking. But its intense flavor and molasses-like consistency can make it a tad medicinal ( I recently swallowed a tablespoon to quell a hacking cough).  Lighten it up as a simple syrup and expand its versatility. Added bonus, it’s the color of love!  Link here.

6. Make the Tiniest Book of Love: Good things do come in small packages, especially those that can be whipped up in about an hour.  Decorate a matchbox (or not); and fill it with a handwritten love letter.  Unlimited opportunities to personalize this; add some candy or keys to a new car.  Link here.

7. Can Money Buy Love? Cash remains the greenest of gifts.  Stow some coins and bills in an empty candy box, especially thoughtful if it relates to upcoming travel where different currency is used.  Doubt you need further instructions, but the link is here.

8. Bottle Bouquet: This idea can be replicated with many different themes to suit the specific tastes of your love – make a movie bouquet, with DVDs. popcorn and theater candies, or a music bouquet, with CDs, new ear-buds and maybe tickets to a live show (link here.)

All images taken from referenced internet links.

Categories: Lifestyle

Pushing on for the sodium ion battery, in Nature

Green Prophet - February 10, 2014


One of the most pressing problems of modern society is how to convert and store energy. Lithium ion batteries have been the main energy storage medium for mobile applications for the past 20 years. But there are significant drawbacks for using lithium ion batteries. A new storage batter for electric cars and renewables is on the horizon.

Consider first of all the particular the low availability and high cost of lithium, coupled with the environmental impact of extracting and disposing of this highly reactive ion.

There has been growing focus on sodium-ion batteries (NIBs), in particular as an energy storage solution for larger applications, such as electric vehicles and for stationary storage for renewable energies.

NIBs are attractive due to their lower cost and larger abundance of sodium (Na). Still, one of the main obstacles to the commercialization of NIBs is the limited choice of anode materials that can provide high capacity, good stability and high-rate performance to the battery.

Now Yissum, the commercial arm of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, introduces a novel anode for NIBs, which enables the production of a battery with high capacity, excellent rate capability and good cycle performance. The new anode, which was invented by Professor Ovadia Lev together with colleagues from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and The Russian Academy of Science, Moscow, is based on coating graphene with antimony sulphide (stibnite) nanoparticles.

The findings have been recently published in the prestigious publication Nature Communications.

The novel anode is based on a new coating technology, also invented by Prof. Lev together with Petr Prikhodchenko, which enables coating of graphenes with a thin film of nanoparticles at low cost. Prof. Lev and Denis Y.W. Yu, along with Sudip K Batabyal from the Energy Research Institute @ Nanyang Technological University (ERI@N) and their teams optimized and tested the battery’s performance. Tests conducted at NTU showed that the novel composite material performs extremely well as an anode for the new sodium-ion batteries.

The material provides more than two times the capacity of hard carbon, retains its charge capacity even at high current rates, and exhibits a charge and discharge time of 10 minutes. This would allow fast charging of NIBs in the future, which will enable utilization in applications such as electric vehicles. In addition to the excellent rate capability, the material also shows stable cycle performance, with capacity retention of more than 95% after 50 cycles.

“The battery market in the US alone is estimated at $14 billion, and is projected to grow to $17 billion by 2017. The novel anode will no doubt help propel the integration of NIBs into this market, and Yissum is now looking for potential partners for further development and commercialization of this invention,” said Yaacov Michlin, CEO of Yissum.

Image of green energy from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

The mailman is a drone in this Middle East country [video]

Green Prophet - February 10, 2014


Some countries like Canada are trying to say goodbye to human-delivered postal mail forever. But a new initiative from the United Arab Emirates puts a little 21st Century technology into the old mail carrier.

Video of drone mailman in pilot run

According to Reuters the Emirates will upgrade its government services by using drones, unmanned flying vehicles to deliver official packages and papers. The oil-rich Gulf state is home to about 8 million people and plans on test running the drone delivery system over the next six months. The hot climate and heavy sandstorms will be a major obstacle for the drone delivery.

“This is the first project of its kind in the world,” said Mohammed al-Gergawi, minister of cabinet affairs.

What will they be used for? Probably for delivering identity cards, driving licenses and other documents.

Measuring about 1-1/2 feet across, the drones will use will use fingerprint and eye-recognition technology for security purposes.

Amazon announced that they would be delivering goods by drones this last Christmas season.

I personally like the old fashion way of slow mail – a system that employs people and keeps the old ways of connecting us through hand-delivered goods.

Showmanship is very much part of the Emirati culture, where bling and mega-buildings and artificial islands are meant to outshine and outsize. This is where you’ll  find white-gold Mercedes and the world’s tallest tower; it’s a place where princes keep wild animals as pets (see this video on the prince who keeps a white tiger cub).

Drones are just another way for the UAE to keep up with the “droneses” from America, I suspect.

Categories: Lifestyle

No “Balls” allowed in Iran’s female soccer league

Green Prophet - February 10, 2014

Here in the Middle East, the mash-up between religious beliefs and human rights can be breathtakingly surreal.  Take, as example, baffling contradictions within modern Iranian culture that rigidly restricts gender co-mingling, yet supports gender transitioning.

Footballers in Iran’s professional women’s league are being forced to undergo gender tests to verify that they are “all woman”.

Iran’s football governing body will perform random checks after it was discovered that “several leading players – including four in the national women’s team – were either men who had not completed sex change operations, or were suffering from sexual development disorders.”

Teams must now establish their players’ gender before signing them on, Ahmad Hashemian, head of the Iranian football federation’s medical committee, said in a statement to the state news agency IRNA. Seven players have already had their contracts terminated under the gender test directive.

“If these people can solve their problems through surgery and be in a position to receive the necessary medical qualifications, they will then be able to participate in [women’s] football,” said Hashemian, as reported by Britain’s Telegraph. Those unable to prove female status will be barred from women’s leagues until they complete medical treatment.

Sex change surgery is legal in Iran, in accordance with a religious edict issued by the late Ayatollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Football is widely popular among Iranian women, but religious rules ban them from stadiums during male matches. Iran has five athletes performing in the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, but it’s too soon to tell if they’ll send a women’s football team to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero.

Want to learn more about sex in the Middle East? Read Karin Kloosterman’s thoughtful article on Middle East mores regarding LGBT lifestyles (link here).

Image of Iranian footballers from Al Arabiya News

Categories: Lifestyle

5 ways and recipes to eat iron-rich foraged nettles

Green Prophet - February 10, 2014

Why would anyone want to eat plants that sting? And raw nettles do sting. But nettles are a tasty, nutrient-dense food. People have been eating them since antiquity, and probably since pre-history. Their easily-metabolized iron content is so high that nettles tea is a natural remedy for anemia.

Their protein content is among the highest of all vegetables. And, like wild chicory,  they’re free. See Karin’s take on wild garden edibles here.

Nettles are in season now in the Middle East. I go nettle-foraging every day, roaming the neighborhood empty lots and neglected gardens with a pair of scissors and a bag to put  the green goodies in. When I bring my harvest home, I rinse the leaves, shake off as much water as I can and then gently roll them in kitchen towels. Part of the nettles stay out for cooking right away. Mostly, though, I hang them up by their stems in my laundry area, where I’ve hung an old broomstick up for that purpose.

My harvesting method is to snip the stems off and not open the scissors until I’ve deposited the plant, head-down, into my bag.

My legs are protected with a long denim skirt and my arms, with a long-sleeved blouse. All the same, the dedicated forager must resign herself to getting stung at least a few times, even if she wears gloves. A sensible precaution in the field is to take note of where mallows or dock grow, usually close to the nettles.

Gather a few leaves; crush them between your palms and apply the crushed mass to the inevitable sting. At home, kitchen gloves provide protection while rinsing and sorting the fresh nettles.

I’ve been collecting nettles for so many years, I don’t even wear gloves anymore. The sting is oddly welcome. There may be something to the old theory that nettles sting relieves arthritic pain; certainly it encourages blood circulation.

Nettles should not be picked after they’ve fruited. Their green seeds are fine to eat, but the mature fruit, and older leaves, contain a substance that can irritate the kidneys. The photo below nettles gone to flower. Its stringy, leggy, stringy condition indicates old plant.

Nettles are delicious cooked these ways:

1. Nettle Soup: Make one liter – 4 cups – vegetable stock. Add add 500 grams – 1 lb. of chopped fresh nettles 15 minutes before serving. Blend. For a hearty soup, make sure your stock has a chopped potato in it. For a creamy dairy soup, add 1 cup of sour cream to blended soup, stir well and heat the soup once again, without boiling, before serving. A more detailed nettles soup recipe here.

2. Omelet for Two: Saute a small onion in olive oil. Add a small, chopped tomato. Add herbs to taste: za’atar is very good and so is basil. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped fresh nettles; cook over medium heat until they wilt. Beat 2 eggs and add to the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Flip the omelet over to cook top side; or finish cooking it the way you’re used to.

3. Nettles in rice. Serves 4. Rinse and drain 1 cup rice. Fry in olive oil until heated through and coated with oil – about 3 minutes. Add 2 cloves crushed garlic. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped fresh nettles; stir again to distribute. Season with 1 tsp. salt. Add 2 cups boiling water. Cover the pot and cook over low heat until rice is cooked – 15-20 minutes for white rice, 30-40 minutes for brown rice.

A variation: cook quinoa with nettles the same way, using 1-1/2 cups water per cup of quinoa.

4. Puff pastry pie filled with nettles and potatoes: Make a filling of diced potatoes, onions, a touch of garlic and plenty of nettles, all fried in olive oil until potatoes are cooked through but still firm. Season. Roll puff pastry out into a rectangle and cut it in half. Place pastry in a greased or parchment-lined pie dish. Spread potato/nettles mix on top. Place second half of puff pastry on top and crimp edges together.

Brush top of pastry with a beaten egg. With a sharp knife, cut a few slits in the crust. Bake at 350 F – 180 C for 45 minutes or until the crust is a rich golden brown and a smell of done-ness fills the house. May be made dairy by mixing a container of sour cream and an egg into the vegetables before spreading on bottom crust (check for seasoning again).

Replace spinach with nettles in any recipe. The taste is not like spinach; nettles have their own, characteristic flavor. It’s earthy and herby and rather dark.

5. A medicinal nettles tea: 1 teaspoon dried, or 2 teaspoons fresh nettles per cup of boiling water. Cover and allow to steep 4 hours – overnight is better. Strain and drink. May be sweetened to taste. Dose for children: 1/2 cup three times daily. Dose for adults: 1 cup three times daily. Because of its easily-metabolized iron content, nettles tea is especially recommended for tired adolescent girls, pregnant women, and women after birth.

More on foraging and eating wild things:

Photo of Nettles Soup and  photo of  flowering nettles via Shutterstock; photo of nettles drying by Miriam Kresh.

Categories: Lifestyle
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