Month: April 2014


For many Westerners, Middle Eastern woman are thought of as marginalised, male-dominated, and oppressed, yet this does not seem to be the case in the Kurdish regions of Syria. A Kurdish People’s Defence unit, made up of 35 women, train and live together. These women are taking up arms against the Islamist fighters and Bashar al-Assad. In this unit women are taught military tactic, for example how to ambush an enemy fighter. As ‘ordinary’ girls they would have had no value and would have been subject to their husbands wishes, yet as fighters they are respected. A male member of the Syria army stated that the sex of a soldier doesn’t matter, they would both fight side by side.

A sobering aspect of these women’s choice of becoming a soldier is that they are consciously choosing a life without a husband, children, or family. Once they become a soldier they are a member for life. As a consequence of their family’s death, some women have joined the People’s Defence unit to redress the wrongs done to them.

Yet Kurdish women have long been taking up arms in conflicts in the Middle East, in the 90s women soldiers were known for their zeal in launching suicide bombings. Despite being an integral part of the current rebellion women soldiers are still seen as an anomaly in Syria’s male dominated rebellion.

Of the Kurdish soldiers in the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, 20% of them are women. Kurdish women are breaking from their Arab counterparts in taking prominent roles in security and police task units and in guarding checkpoints and strategic buildings from jihadists and radical Islamists.

An interesting concept of freedom is repeated in some of the articles that I read, as two of the articles quoted women describing the fighting as ‘liberty for women’ and a ‘liberating experience’ yet one can’t help but wonder; is it fighting for a greater good, that is liberating or being treated as an “equal”, just another soldier, in a male dominate rebellion?

Members of the all women Syrian militia



Lebanon is no ‘Laughing grass’ matter

Security forces destroying hashish crops.

In a country that is prone to civil wars, assassinations of political figures and political subterfuge, it is of no surprise to discover that Lebanon is fast becoming the Middle East’s main hashish exporter. In the Bekka Valley, which stretches 75miles long and nearly the length of Lebanon itself, the cannabis trade is booming. In the last year vast quantities of land in the valley has been used to cultivate the cannabis. Hashish was banned in 1926 under the French mandate, yet it is still grown by the local farmers for want of a better produce.

As the cultivation of such a plant is illegal, the government every year orders its security forces to uproot the crops, causing the farmers to lose profit. According to the farmers in the valley, they are more than willing to grow another crop, however the government has not offered them an alternative solution, and so they continue to grow hashish as it thrives in the valley’s environment and needs little in terms of care. The issues has caused the farmers to strike out at the security forces and on various occasions both sides have engaged in conflict with the other.

Another reason why hashish is still grown is due to the collapse of the state. With no central authority overseeing such a large territory and conflict, drug cartels have ‘taken over’ the cultivation of the crops. Crooked politicians have ensured that these cartels are kept running due to the money that the cannabis brings in.

According to a farmer, an acre of hashish can be cultivated for US$100 and sold for US$4000, where as a crop of potatoes the same size is cultivated for $400 and makes a profit of only $100. It is evident as to why the farmers continue with the cultivation of hashish.

Hezbollah also has an issue with the drug trade and they have tried to persuade the government to destroy the crops. A member of Hezbollah was interviewed and insisted that Hezbollah did not use money made from the drug trade as it is against Sharia Law, and the group only uses drugs as a tool for security purposes and bribes.

In this instance, the perpetrator is not clear, if it is the farmers, the security forces, or Hezbollah for their inability to stop the trade. Either way it is a dominant issue within domestic and international politics and the government needs to address this issue, or perhaps an independent organisation needs to intervene and prevent further grievances.

The Peace in the Conflict

The latest news articles of Palestine seem to only focus on the Palestine/Israel peace talks. Indeed the two words almost seem synonymous. Yet what is rarely seem in the media is the ‘good’ aspects of the Palestine/Israel relationship.

When researching for last week’s blog post I came across an interesting website – Oasis of Peace. In 1972 this organisation created a community where Arabs and Jews were offered the opportunity to come together and share their living and life experiences in a hope that the dominant stereotypes would be reduced and that a peace between the two could be possible.

While some may be sceptical of this idea, and even the organisers admitted that they were naïve to an extent, the idea had some merit. The thesis of the organisation was that it was a conflict between two peoples rather than individuals and so with a few trial and errors the organisation came to offer an opportunity for two national identities to meet and identify with their group.

The organisation and community are such a success that the School of Peace is internationally recognised and has hosted 45,000 students and adults and the community has grown to 55 families. The school itself has 500 students and educates them in a bilingual bicultural environment.

This goes to show that not all citizens of Israel and Palestine are in conflict with each other and that there is hope that the two peoples are able to live together…eventually.

Oasis of Peace – Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam

ABC easy as 123?

One of the more complex issues of the middle-east is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. While the conflict is usually portrayed as a physical one through various media outlets, it is also evident on an educational level. A report by the Human Rights Watch (2001) on the school systems of Israel deduced that the education system discriminates against Palestinian citizens.

The Israeli government implements two different school systems, one for Jewish citizens and another for Palestinian citizens. Under international law the Israeli government may offer separate education and curricula systems for linguistic and/or religious purposes while still ensuring that they do not discriminate in the process, yet this does not seem to be the case in Israel.

According to the HRW report, Palestinian schools lack funding and equal curricula in comparison with the Israeli Jewish schools. Yet this inequality does not stop at just lower schools but also reaches into the university domain. All Palestinian students from the beginning to the end of their school lives are subjected to a lower level of:

  • Budgets
  • Curricula
  • Hiring practices
  • Teacher training
  • Physical conditions
  • Education psychologists
  • Counsellors, and
  • Special education

Palestinian Arab curricula has been structured so as to limit individual motivation and to ensure that the Palestinian minority is ‘submissive’ to the Jewish majority. Despite a ‘promise’ from the Director General of Israel’s Minister of Education to remove the larger gaps between the school systems in a year, the Israeli government was still allocating less money per Palestinian than Jewish school children in 2004.

While Palestinian teachers are having to make do with larger class sizes, a lack of resources and text books their Jewish counterparts enjoy smaller class size, better basic facilities such as, libraries, laboratories and recreational spaces. For Palestinian children the drop-out rate is three times more than that of Jewish children, with Palestinian children being less likely to pass the national matriculation exam to achieve their high school certificates. These discrepancies are also seen in university entry numbers, with only a small number of university students being of Palestinian decent.

One major difference of the school systems in terms of subjects, was that Palestinian children are taught in Arabic while Jewish children are taught in Hebrew. For the Palestinian children Hebrew is taught as a second language yet Jewish schools do not require their students to learn Arabic at an educational level.

Yet this discrimination does not stop at the school children but also extends to the teachers, as Palestinian teachers are required to undergo a security test – without their knowledge- and a Shin Bet stamp (General Security Service) before they are able to be hired.

These discrepancies are evident, yet the Supreme Court of Israel has never found the educational system, in cases of discrimination against a Palestinian student, to be guilty of a violation of the international law.

Palestinian school children