Culture Trips

Fra Angelico’s Annunciation: Sexual clues in a barred window

To heighten the effect of rigging the work’s perspective, Angelico has gone further still to situate the fresco’s vanishing point to a spot that lies tantalisingly just beyond the bars of a small window in the back of the painting. As one climbs the stairs towards Angelico’s Annunciation, in other words, their eyes are simultaneously lured into and barred from entering this semi-permeable boundary that separates the world we can see from one that lies just outside it. By establishing an exit for our eyes and at the same time frustrating our access to it, Angelico has subtly raised the stakes on looking. The predicament of his painting, which compels us to pass through its world while forcing us to remain in it, is one to which any soul can relate.

Angelico’s contemporaries would have instantly recognised his employment of the barred window, beyond which lies a secret and unreachable garden, as a version of the hortus conclusus – a recurring symbol in Christian art and literature of the era. Meaning “enclosed garden”, the hortus conclusus was a complex metaphorical device that recalled, on the one hand, the loss of paradise, and, on the other hand, the Mary’s own immaculateness. To educated Medieval eyes, the window’s bars symbolised the Virgin’s own inviolable purity. To impel us towards that obstructed aperture, Angelico was dabbling in religiously risky and audacious choreography – luring us to contemplate, however subliminally, a penetration of the impenetrable.

Remove that escape route from the work, and the impact of Angelico’s fresco would be infinitely diminished. The barred window, which hovers in the sightline of the fresco’s two protagonists (further amplifying its importance), creates an invigorating tension in the work. Remove it from the blueprint of his fresco, shutter it completely, or draw heavy drapes across it, and the painting closes down. Its optical magic collapses. Angelico has meticulously measured just how much a glimpse of paradise we need to keep going. And nothing more.

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Middle East

Time to end deadlock and agree new Lebanese government – Middle East Monitor

Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement said on Wednesday it was time for politicians to make concessions to agree a new government that must rescue the country from financial crisis, Reuters reports.

Lebanon’s financial meltdown is posing the most serious threat to stability since the 1975-1990 civil war, but politicians have been unable to form a government for months.

“Everyone must know the country has run out of time,” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah, said in a televised speech.

He said there were “serious, collective efforts” in recent days to ease a political standoff that has obstructed cabinet talks for months.

Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri and President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, have been at loggerheads since October.

“It is time…If someone is still waiting for something, wants something or expects it, we have to put these matters aside and move seriously towards a real, rapid solution,” Nasrallah said.

Hariri has said Aoun is trying to dictate cabinet seats in order to gain veto power, while Aoun’s party accuses Hariri of trying to orchestrate a majority for himself and his allies.

A new cabinet will have to implement reforms if it is to unlock much needed foreign aid for Lebanon.

READ: Lebanon’s political stalemate may lead to civil war

Top Cities

‘American Jobs Plan’: Potential Sea Change for Federal Infrastructure Spending – Blogs

The Biden administration revealed the “American Jobs Plan” earlier today, posting the plan on and holding a press briefing to reveal details of the plan.

The plan is smaller in cost than had been previously reported (coming in closer to $2 trillion than the $3 trillion and even $4 trillion reported earlier), but at first glance, the spending package marks a significant departure from the federal government’s traditional approach to infrastructure, especially on proposed spending related to transportation priorities and climate change but also by adding issues like housing and care facilities into the discussion about infrastructure.

As evidence of the broad scope of the plan, the fact sheet posted on lists the following as primary goals:

  • Fix highways, rebuild bridges, upgrade ports, airports and transit systems.
  • Deliver clean drinking water, a renewed electric grid, and high-speed broadband to all Americans. 
  • Build, preserve, and retrofit more than two million homes and commercial buildings, modernize our nation’s schools and child care facilities, and upgrade veterans’ hospitals and federal buildings.
  • Solidify the infrastructure of our care economy by creating jobs and raising wages and benefits for essential home care workers.
  • Revitalize manufacturing, secure U.S. supply chains, invest in R&D, and train Americans for the jobs of the future. 
  • Create good-quality jobs that pay prevailing wages in safe and healthy workplaces while ensuring workers have a free and fair choice to organize, join a union, and bargain collectively with their employers.

The plan would spend $2 trillion to rebuild 20,000 miles of roads and repair 10,000 bridges, according to the count of Jim Tankersley, who was among the first to report the details of the new plan. Tankersley also notes a key innovation in this plan compared to spending plans implemented by the Obama administration after the Great Recession:

The spending in the plan would take place over eight years, officials said. Unlike the economic stimulus passed under President Barack Obama in 2009, when Mr. Biden was vice president, officials will not in every case prioritize so-called shovel ready projects that could quickly bolster growth.

Another article by Ella Nielsen explains more about the thinking behind the long-term approach of the American Jobs Act: “Biden plans to argue that revitalizing American infrastructure will create millions of well-paying jobs, lower the country’s carbon emissions, and help the US compete on the world stage, especially with China.”

Getting down to brass tacks, Nielsen also offers more details on how the spending package breaks own by sector:

The plan includes $621 billion in infrastructure spending dedicated to rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges, ports, and rail systems. It also contains $300 billion to bolster manufacturing, $213 billion for affordable housing, and a collective $380 billion for research and development, modernizing America’s electricity grid, and installing high-speed broadband around the country. The plan also includes $400 billion for home- and community-based health and elder care.

President Biden is expected to give a speech outlining more on the plan in Pittsburgh later today. Meanwhile, planning Twitter is already parsing the numbers and searching for insight. Angie Schmitt live tweeted the press conference earlier today, sprinkling in some commentary along the way.

Yonah Freemark has also tweeted insight useful to an initial understanding of the plan.

White House Spokesperson Katherine Bedingfield this morning highlighted the $85 billion in the plan for transit as a major increase in spending for public transit (the final amount for transit included in the American Rescue Plan, approved earlier this year, was $30 billion). Transit agencies are still struggling to find their financial footing after ridership has evaporated—with fare revenues evaporating along with riders.

The plan’s stated intention to fix auto-oriented transportation infrastructure rather than launch a major new road building program (i.e., the “fix it first” approach supported recently in statements by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg) is another significant from previous infrastructure planning efforts, seemingly providing a positive response to the work of advocates to leverage this plan to move the country away from the auto-oriented status quo. Freemark notes that the American Jobs Plan does not include whatever transportation spending is approved when Congress reauthorizes the five-year federal surface transportation bill—work on that bill is already underway. “That legislation, which is expected to be renewed this fall, is funded by other sources and would likely add $60b/year, or $300b/5 years, for surface transport,” according to Freemawk on Twitter.

Another article by Scott Detroit and Tamara Keith provides additional details on how the American Jobs Plan would tackle climate change (beyond slowing the federal government’s ongoing investment in auto-oriented transportation infrastructure). “Embedded within the plan are efforts to build out U.S. clean energy infrastructure that, by itself, would rank as one of the most ambitious initiatives ever by the federal government to lower the country’s greenhouse gas emissions,” according to the article. One of the proposals in the plan that would help achieve an ambitious climate change agenda is a “New Deal-inspired Climate Conservation Corps to work on conservation projects and environmental justice efforts…”

The package includes $74 billion for the advancement of electric vehicle infrastructure, although the effect of electric vehicles on greenhouse gas emissions is very much still up for debate. “Biden wants to spend billions on rebates and tax incentives to encourage Americans to purchase electric vehicles, and he proposes paying for the transition of thousands of transit and school buses from diesel to electric. At the same time, he wants incentives for state and local governments to build electric vehicle charging stations to power those new cars and buses,” write Detroit and Keith.

All of the articles cited here devote attention to the matter of how to pay for the American Jobs Plan, a point which is likely to create friction for the plan as it moves through Congress. Here’s how Nielsen explains the funding component of the plan—itself a series of major policy changes:

The White House estimates the infrastructure plan will be paid for within the next 15 years, if Biden’s newly proposed “Made in America” tax plan is also passed. That tax plan would raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent to pay for infrastructure and close a number of loopholes to prevent corporations from stashing their money in offshore banks to evade taxes. It does not, however, raise the capital gains tax — an idea Biden initially floated during his presidential campaign.

Nielsen’s conclusion based on the substance and scope of the plan: the Biden administration is fundamentally rethinking the role of the federal government. If approved by Congress and adopted as law in all its various manifestations, that assessment of the American Jobs Act is likely to be true.

Culture Trips

‘People believed it’: the rise and fall of WeWork, a $47bn unicorn | Documentary films

It’s almost by requirement that Hulu’s WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn, a documentary on the spectacular over-inflation of the company that coated shared offices in a soft-lit shell of capitalistic spirituality, starts with Adam Neumann (in business terms, a unicorn is a private company valued at over $1bn).

WeWork’s charismatic, erratic founder, who pitched the simple concept of leasing sub-divided office space into a multibillion-dollar investment darling backed by Saudi money and a reclusive Japanese billionaire, was a virtual movie-ready character, from weird quirks (barefoot, long hair, Kabbalah, keg-filled parties) to messianic vision (Neumann was a fan of preaching “work, work, work” with pop star-style face microphones). When he appears in the film’s first scene, in outtakes from an attempted public video statement before the company’s disastrous, and ultimately aborted, initial public offering in August 2019, Neumann’s Teflon-like sunny veneer appears to be cracking, finally reflecting the disarray behind $2.9bn of losses in the prior three years.

Standing astride a sunlit common room styled for dislocated, permalancing millennials – low-slung couches, bright colors, abundant plants, the decor of indistinguishable, forced cheeriness replicated across hundreds of co-working spaces – Neumann stumbles of his words and loses his lofty train of thought. It’s a cringeworthy attempt to spin financial disaster, the point where justified derision of WeWork and particularly Neumann’s practices – weed-filled private jets, dubious earnings reports, dropping the “Work” from the name after the company bought the trademark for “We” from Neumann himself for $6m – meets painful spectacle. Within six weeks of the footage, Neumann was out as CEO with a $1.7bn golden parachute; the company is now worth $9bn, a fraction of its $47bn private valuation by SoftBank Group in 2019.

Neumann was both the singularly bombastic face of a glorified real estate company, which he and Miguel McKelvey founded in Soho in 2010, and an emblem of eccentric, over-hyped tech CEOs who lap up investments in exchange for inflated promises or outright scams. But the success of his grandiose pitches and purpose-filled pablum (“do what you love” emblazoned everything from WeWork mugs to key cards) also owed to larger, more mundane systems: incentives for wealthy investors to value pixie dust promises and the allure, for tenants and staff in a frenzied, atomized world, of Neumann’s oft-professed vision for a “capitalist kibbutz”.

The WeWork saga asks “a question for all of us: why does the system that we all participate in keep producing Adams, keep producing Elizabeth Holmeses, people who we think are going to save us?” the film’s director, Jed Rothstein, told the Guardian. (Full disclosure: Guardian US operated out of WeWork for a period.) “Is there a way to tweak the dials so that you still incentivize people to dream big and have big visions but that it doesn’t always seem to end up with socialized losses and privatized profits?”

But as Hulu’s documentary points out, through numerous interviews with former WeWork staff and members of its ill-fated, high-rise commune attempt WeLive attest, the WeWork promise was seductive: a sense of community and belonging for a fast-paced, information-saturated generation further atomized by the gig economy. “Everyone is kind of permalance, freelance, it’s very hard to find these work communities that are a cherished part of our lives,” Rothstein said. Making the film entirely during the pandemic heightened the importance of those loose, peripheral connections. “It’s one thing to talk to your best friend or your family, it’s another thing to have people that you enjoy a relationship with on a different level – coworkers, people who you ask about each other’s lives but we’re not quite as invested in, that’s part of our human fabric,” said Rothstein.

The film stitches together interviews with several early WeWork staff, including the company’s first female employee, a former assistant, a former lawyer and Joanna Strange, who first leaked details of WeWork’s colossal losses (by 2018, $100m a week) to the press in 2015; explanations from several journalists who skeptically covered the WeWork saga in real time (it does not include writer Reeves Wiedeman, whose book on Neumann, Billion Dollar Loser, was published in October); and footage from the company’s heyday, particularly its booze-filled, attendance-mandatory Summer Camps whose concerts, colored lights and impassioned sermons about work resembled an evangelical revival for capitalism. (It also discusses how the company’s adjacency to so-called “wellness” culture, from in-house fruit water to a promise to heal the world, was propelled by Neumann’s wife, Rebekah, a cousin of Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow.)

Photograph: Hulu

“It had this kind of spiritual aspect to it,” Rothstein said of the company’s appeal, especially to single, early career millennials looking for larger purpose. “People believed they were part of something bigger. They believed it partly because Adam told them that they were part of something bigger, that they were going to change the world, that they were going to change the way we lived and worked and dealt with one another.”

That lofty ambition, as corny as it may play in 2021, was crucial to WeWork’s self-styling as a revolutionary tech company rather than a risky leaser of existing real estate, preying on a desire to harness one’s purpose; yoking to that belief system was powerful enough that Neumann’s former assistant, Megan Mallow, discusses in the film the therapy required to “unwarp” her brain. If the pitch had been “come work for some faceless real estate company”, or “we’re going to make as much money as we can”, said Rothstein, “I don’t think it would’ve been as appealing for a lot of the people who went to work there, and I don’t think they would’ve worked as hard or for the rates that they did without the feeling that they were part of something bigger.”

Photograph: Hulu

The question thus arises: who to blame? Neumann was “certainly was the face of it, and he was the charismatic center of it, and legally he really controlled the company to an enormous extent, which is somewhat unusual”, said Rothstein. “But these venture capital firms, the Vision Fund – when you invest that kind of money, you’re pushing for enormous returns.” Masayoshi Son, SoftBank’s CEO and the billionaire creator of the so-called Vision Fund, promised Neumann $4bn of investment with the directive to “go crazy”. The Hulu film may focus closely on Neumann’s appeal and abuse (of trust, of finances, of emotions, according to several female employees), but the ultimate blame, said Rothstein, falls on “this incentive structure where you’re just signing as many deals as possible and growing as fast as possible, and it’s like building a rocketship as it’s flying”.

It’s unfortunate, Rothstein said, because WeWork did, in theory, propose to answer a question only heightened by the ongoing pandemic: “How can we build more sustainable communities in the context of this crazy globalized, capitalist world that are more nourishing to us and that are not just engines of greed?” That promise was long exposed as dubious and unsustainable, scaffolded by Saudi oil wealth at the whim of a far-off billionaire, and predicated on a barely concealed mantra of work until you die. But to many, the promise of changing the world was still magnetic. “The whole thing was sold as doing everything differently,” said Rothstein, “but in the end it was just doing everything exactly the same as the most rapacious companies had been doing it.”

Middle East

Majd Barbar released after 20 years in jail, re-arrested by Israel – Middle East Monitor

Friends and family of Majd Barbar are cheerfully welcoming him back

READ: Israel re-arrests previously jailed Palestinian-Belgian man

Top Cities

No, We’re Not Getting a Federal VMT Tax (But Maybe We Should) – Streetsblog USA

Secretary Pete is walking back a statement that some thought suggested the U.S. could switch from a gas tax to a mileage tax as part of the next infrastructure package — but he’s already sparked a conversation about the future of the innovative funding mechanism that’s unlikely to die down soon.

In a rapid-fire interview with CNBC last week, Buttigieg said that a vehicle miles traveled tax (or VMT tax, as it’s casually known) “shows promise” among a range of potential solutions to the challenges of funding our roadway network during the rise of electric vehicles, echoing the enthusiasm for the concept he displayed when he made pay-as-you-drive a central element of his presidential campaign platform. Journalists quickly seized on the comment as a sign that the tax might feature in Biden’s impending infrastructure bill, a hopeful assumption that was quickly doused by the White House and then Buttigieg himself.

But as the Biden administration hints that taxes on corporations and the wealthy will likely finance many of our roads and transit networks in the coming years, advocates are wondering whether public support for VMT taxes might be on the rise — and whether they might find a place in our transportation landscape, at least at the state level.

The concept of a VMT tax has long captured the imagination of safe streets advocates for a simple reason: it’s one of the few funding strategies that at least attempts to reflect the costs that excessive driving itself poses upon U.S. roads, as opposed to the societal costs of excessive gasoline consumption alone.

Many advocates argue that while taxing fuel might seem like a good way to charge drivers proportionately to their impact on the planet, it doesn’t fully account for the costs of the roughly 38,000 lives lost to traffic violence in America every year. In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that car crashes cost taxpayers $836 billion annually — but that was based on 2010 fatality rates, which were about 10 percent lower than they are now. Those costs could conceivably rise even more, especially if deadly-yet-green vehicles like hybrid SUVs or the forthcoming EV Hummer become increasingly popular.

Add in tumbling oil prices and the fact that our federal fuel excise hasn’t been increased in 28 years — according to many experts, it may never be increased again — and our default funding mechanism does little to disincentivize the purchase of even the dirtiest cars, much less driving those cars literally everywhere. Americans set all-time records for SUV and pick-up purchases last year, despite sharp economic downturns and historic travel drop-offs caused by pandemic lockdowns. Meanwhile, gas taxes failed to adequately fund the Highway Trust fund even in the 12 years prior to the pandemic, forcing Congress to borrow from general funds provided by all taxpayers to subsidize the maintenance of roads almost exclusively intended for drivers.

Source: Tax Policy Center
Source: Tax Policy Center

A VMT tax, by contrast, would finally flip the myth that motorists pay for the roads they use — at least if it’s deployed with care.

“In the long term, a mileage tax makes the most sense to fund infrastructure,” said Ethan Elkind, director of the climate program at UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment. “As we move toward more fuel efficient and electric vehicles, revenues from gas taxes won’t support basic maintenance. And there’s a fairness principle that people who drive more should pay for more of the road upkeep, although we have to be careful about equity impacts for rural residents who have to drive more, and possibly consider additional factors like vehicle weight, since heavy trucks cause most of the road damage.”

Of course, experts are divided on whether rural residents actually drive all that much more than their urban counterparts, as well as whether or not those travel patterns are changing. But equity for high-mileage drivers isn’t the only reason experts caution against treating the concept of a VMT tax as a silver bullet.

Some environmentalists have been wary of the funding mechanism because it could flatten incentives to buy fuel-efficient cars and give gas-guzzlers a kickback, unless the tax is tiered to charge the drivers of heavy, dirty cars a little more. In a survey conducted by the Mineta Transportation Institute last year, 49 percent of  respondents said they’d support such a “Green VMT” system, compared to 45 percent who said they’d support a flat mileage fee on all vehicles regardless of fuel efficiency.

Others have questioned the potential costs of switching over to a per-mile charge. Because a VMT tax would require installing mileage counters, sourcing smart phone data, or otherwise tracking the distance travelled by every car in America, the Federal Highway Administration estimated that between 5 and 18 percent of revenues from a national pay-as-you-drive program would be spent on collection alone, compared to the relatively cheap overhead of taxing a handful of gasoline wholesalers. (One study even estimated that replacing the fuel tax “could result in collection costs of more than $20 billion annually – about 300 times higher than the federal fuel tax,” though it should be noted that the study was funded by a group heavily associated with the trucking industry.)

Taken together, some experts think these two challenges are more than enough to damn any national VMT program in the short run; instead, they recommend a combination of indexing the gas tax to inflation and total fuel consumption, as well as assessing annual fees based on the miles-per-gallon-equivalent rating for EVs.

But while experts like Elkind say that a mileage tax “may not quite be ready for prime time at the national stage,” states are already ironing out the kinks in smaller programs. Oregon, Utah and California have all embarked on pilot projects to study pay-as-you-drive taxes, and the next infrastructure bill could empower more communities to try out the innovative idea.

“I’d like to see any federal infrastructure bill leave the door open to a mileage tax, through funding for more state pilots,” Elkind added.

No matter how we collect our transportation taxes in America in the coming years, most sustainable transportation advocates will probably agree one thing: we definitely need to stop spending all that money on infrastructure that only benefits drivers. 

“The current climate, equity, and aging infrastructure challenges are critical to the funding discussion of any transportation legislation,” said Deron Lovaas, senior policy advisor for the National Resources Defense Council. “Congress should invest in clean mobility choices including public transit, walking and biking and EV infrastructure, and consider fixing what’s actually broken with the federal gas tax.”


Construction on New Cruise Ship You Live In Starts in 2022

Storylines has announced that MV Narrative, a new cruise ship that is selling condos that you live in, will be built at the Brodosplit shipyard in Croatia.

Construction on the new cruise ship is expected to begin next year. The ship will feature fully furnished residences ranging from 237 sq. ft. to 2411 sq. ft., priced from $300,000 to more than $8 million for a premium two-level penthouse suite. One of the pools will open up directly on the water for a truly unique experience.

Owners and invited guests will have the opportunity to live a sustainable life of luxury and freedom while at sea. Owners have the option to make their unit available through the Storylines rental program.

Positioned as the greenest cruise ship in the market, Storylines MV Narrative utilizes LNG fuel along with innovative reusable energy technologies and energy storage and recovery systems. The ship also includes a waterfront marina, microbrewery, art studio, hydroponic gardens, and more.

Sponsored Links

The ship building industry was hit particularly hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and industry-wide delays and cancellations have been inevitable,” said Storylines founder and co-CEO Alister Punton. “However, there has been a silver lining with having had a few extra months to adapt to changing Covid-related regulations and to include some additional features that our residents requested such as additional work spaces,” he continued.

Brodosplit is currently building two polar expedition cruise ships and is one of Europe’s leaders in polar vessels.

Culture Trips

YouTube rejects internal request to censor rapper YG over robbery lyrics | Rap

YouTube has rejected a proposal from within the company to remove a video by successful Los Angeles rapper YG, which features lyrics about targeting Asian neighbourhoods for robbery.

Employees had requested the 2014 track, Meet the Flockers, be removed, following the 16 March shooting in Atlanta that killed eight people, six of them Asian women, as well as a wider wave of anti-Asian hate crime in the US.

The track begins with the lines: “First, you find a house and scope it out / find a Chinese neighbourhood, cause they don’t believe in bank accounts.”

In an internal email reported by Bloomberg, two executives wrote: “Our hate speech policy prohibits content promoting violence or hatred against protected groups, for attributes like race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and expression … In this case, this video receives an EDSA [Educational, Documentary, Scientific or Artistic] exception as a musical performance.”

The executives, anonymised by Bloomberg on security grounds, said they “find this video to be highly offensive and understand it is painful for many to watch … especially given the ongoing violence against the Asian community,” but wanted to “avoid setting a precedent that may lead to us having to remove a lot of other music on YouTube”.

YG, who has scored five US Top 10 albums since 2014, has not commented on the decision.

The track has previously been criticised by Jane Kim, a San Francisco politician who called for it to be banned in 2016.

Middle East

The Palestine Book Awards and resisting the falsification of history – Middle East Monitor

The gap between the Arab people and their governments has never been greater and deeper than what we are currently experiencing regarding Palestine. At a time when some governments have rushed to declare their normalisation of relations with the racist colonial state of Israel, the Palestinian resistance is becoming entrenched, and popular anti-normalisation campaigns are spreading. International solidarity campaigns and the boycott movement have gained traction around the world.

The governments’ submission to blackmail and political pressure, as well as their justification of normalisation for the sake of “peace” and ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, are both unacceptable. Moreover, the claims that they have the aspirations of a new Palestinian and Arab generation at heart are invalid. Palestinian Land Day, commemorated at the end of March annually, for example, is part of the collective memory that they are trying to erase. Resistance to the settler-colonial occupation now varies thanks to the initiatives of the new generations who are continuing the struggle of their predecessors, both within and beyond Palestine. They are carrying the torch of resistance, in all its forms, individually and alongside Palestine solidarity activists around the world. They still see and believe in the justice of the cause.

WATCH: Winners of 2020 Palestine Book Awards announced

A number of international initiatives focus on the cultural aspect of resisting the occupation, and for the Palestinian narrative to be a tool for preserving memory and combatting the falsification of the historical narrative and, indeed, history itself. In order to convey the Palestinian narrative to the widest possible audience, Middle East Monitor (MEMO) launched the Palestine Book Awards in 2011 to celebrate the achievements of writers, wherever and whoever they are, in writing about Palestine and its people. According to Dr Daud Abdullah, MEMO’s director, the awards were also launched to encourage publishers to publish books on Palestine. While the awards began with a simple idea, they have grown over the past ten years as a result of the dedication of a team that believes in Palestine and the importance of books. Led by the activist and journalist Victoria Britten and my colleague Dr Ibrahim Darwish, I have had the honour of being part of that team from the 2012 awards to date.

How do we even begin to evaluate the ten years of the Palestine Book Awards? Gradually, they have attracted the attention of publishing houses, universities, and independent authors around the world, who started to submit their books on Palestine that met the criteria for consideration. Such books must, of course, be about Palestine, and be in English, published during the year before the awards being made. If the number of books submitted is any measure of success, then it is worth noting that twenty books were submitted in the first year, while in recent years the number is fifty, covering politics, economics, human rights, novels, poetry, memoirs, children’s books, drawing, photography, and cooking. As for the authors, they are from different nationalities and countries, including the new generation of Palestinians inside Palestine and in the diaspora. They are united by their principled commitment to the rights of the Palestinian people, and their belief, as writers, academics, poets, and artists, in resistance to the occupation by spreading knowledge about Palestine and its people and challenging the blatantly misleading Israeli propaganda, while maintaining standards of originality and creativity.

The awards have become an annual event with status within British literary circles. Interested individuals look forward to attending an evening event usually held in London the day before the winners are announced, where they can listen to the short-listed authors and ask questions. The only exception to this tradition was last November when the nominated books were discussed and the winners were announced online due to the pandemic restrictions.

Dr Rima Khalaf was the guest of honour for the 2020 awards. It is well known that she resigned as Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in 2017 when she refused to withdraw a report about the suffering of the Palestinians under Israeli rule. The report presented compelling evidence that Israel has established an apartheid regime that oppresses and controls the Palestinian people as a whole, wherever they live. She is currently a founding member and president of the Global Organisation against Racial Discrimination and Segregation.

In her speech during the event, Dr Khalaf discussed the reasons why the awards are distinguished, including their focus on a subject that, until recently, was under siege in most Western countries. For many, trying to publish a book about Palestine in the West, especially one critical of Israel was thwarted, if not frustrating.

WATCH: Noura Erakat’s address at Palestine Book Awards 2019

She provided examples illustrating the extent to which publishers in Britain fear publishing books that they think might offend Zionists, and thus expose themselves to organised boycotts of all of their publications. The late journalist and writer Alan Hart (1942-2018) was forced to self-publish the first edition of his 2005 book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews. It is also equally difficult to translate books into English if they contain anything that is likely to tarnish Israel’s carefully constructed image.

A programme for the coming months has been posted on the Palestine Book Awards website to celebrate the 10th anniversary. This includes interviews with winning authors, as well as activists and Palestinians, and others who support the project. This is in addition to the production of a video telling the story of the awards. During the year, a book of the speeches of guests of honour will also be published, alongside paintings and selected poems.

The fact that nearly 400 books about Palestine have been submitted for consideration over the past ten years is evidence of the growing interest in what is a just and inalienable cause. The latter refutes the false claims of those calling for normalisation with the occupation under the pretext of “peace”. The issue of the Palestinian people is not one of war in the “normal” sense; it is an issue of legitimate resistance against racist, settler colonisation; of right against wrong. Normalisation is nothing less than the implementation of the colonialist plan by tyrannical Arab governments.

Palestinian’s culture and heritage is the best weapon against the Occupation – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The books written about Palestine and its people are a tool for cultural, cognitive creation, and memory preservation, whether they are on the shortlist or not. They are part of the struggle towards the real solution, which is to end the occupation and ensure that justice underpins life with dignity and equality.

The broader lesson learned from the relative success of the Palestine Book Awards is that there is an ability to change the narrative imposed by the dominant colonial and Zionist policies in the intellectual and cultural space. Change can be achieved through ongoing activism to bring an end to the deliberate falsification of history, especially that which relates to the so-called “war on terror”. The most important example of this is the criminal invasion and destruction of Iraq and the way that this has been distorted to suit the Western narrative. Lies were used to justify the war, a process which reflects the history of colonialism in third world countries in general, and in occupied Palestine in particular. Hence the importance of initiatives like the Palestine Book Awards.

Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 29 March 2021 and edited for MEMO.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

Top Cities

D.C.’s Watermark luxury apartments receive LEED Gold certification

Washington, D.C.’s Buzzard Point, a post-industrial stretch of waterfront at the intersection of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, is getting a new lease on life with the recent opening of Watermark, the area’s first luxury apartment building that is also LEED Gold-certified. Designed by Antunovich Associates, the project began with the renovation of a 1970s 11-story office building — formerly home to the U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Protective Services — into a 600,000-square-foot mixed-use development with approximately 24,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and eight floors with 453 luxury apartment units. A new curtain wall system, operable windows and water-saving systems have helped the adaptive reuse project achieve high levels of energy efficiency.

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Located at 1900 Half Street, SW in Washington, D.C., the Watermark site was purchased in 2003 by Douglas Development Corporation for redevelopment and just recently welcomed its first residents in fall 2020. The luxury apartment complex offers studios to three-bedroom units priced from $1,500 per month up to the mid-$5,000s. In addition to direct access to the Riverwalk Promenade, the Watermark offers a suite of community amenities that include a rooftop infinity pool, grilling stations, a state-of-the-art fitness center and work out studio, two large courtyards and more; resident access is currently limited to certain amenities because of COVID-19.

Related: LEED Platinum GWU building helps people make healthier choices with smart design

white outdoor sofas on patio
series of high-top tables and chairs on roof facing a river view

In adapting the former office building to residential use, the architects reconfigured the floor plates to ensure optimized light and views from every unit and to create space for the two large public courtyards above the retail podium.

large indoor gym in apartment complex
large outdoor swimming pool

“We are honored Watermark has been recognized as a LEED-certified building, as we placed great weight into the environmental impact of this project and how to best foster the health of its occupants,” said Nicholas Pantuliano, Chief Operations Officer at PTM, a co-developer of the project. “LEED is a transformative tool that is revolutionizing our built environment and allowing projects like Watermark to become socially responsible spaces to live, work and play.”

+ Antunovich Associates

Photography by Helen Kozak via Antunovich Associates

large glass building near river at dusk