There is a tendency for news headlines to be dominated by acts of violence. ‘If it bleeds, it leads’, so the saying goes. And insofar as the Middle East is concerned, this saying seems to be spot on.
In Syria for example, we all know that millions of people have fled the country because of the violence of Assad and ISIS.
But less coverage is given to the parts of Syria controlled by neither of these groups, where Syrian people (who have never lived under a democracy) have been establishing democratic councils in order to govern themselves.
Israel and Palestine is another example. Significant spikes in violence make headlines around the world: the Israeli military offensives that destroy homes, hospitals and schools in Gaza, or the recent spate of knife attacks in which Palestinians have targeted Israelis.
But we are less likely to hear about the nonviolent Palestinian activism that echoes South Africa’s anti-apartheid campaigns, nor the Israeli soldiers-turned-whistleblowers who speak out about what enforcing Israeli occupation on a day-to-day basis actually entails.
Whilst it is of course critical that the news covers acts of violence and their fallout, somteimes there is neither the air-time, nor the column inches, to place these events in a wider context. And if we form our understanding of the region without this context, our understanding might be misrepresentative.
For us, travelling to the region and working with our partners provides this context.
But so too does social media. Each day, countless voices collectively articulate the region's diversity. Some of these voices we find ourselves returning to again and again, and we'd like to share some of them with you. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, if you’d like to get to know the Middle East better, these are some great places to start:
MIDDLE EAST EYE
One of the most comprehensive online sources of news, comment and analysis on the region. Diverse contributors, absorbing analysis, accessibly-written. You could do a lot worse than to bookmark their homepage.
MEDICAL AID FOR PALESTINIANS
‘MAP’ are a UK-based charity who work to bring health and dignity to Palestinians living under occupation, or as refugees. They are an invaluable resource not only for understanding how Israel's occupation impacts the health of Palestinians, but also for providing practical ways in which all of us can contribute to building a better political reality.
BREAKING THE SILENCE
An organisation of former Israeli soldiers who speak out about their experiences serving in the occupied Palestinian territories. These compelling and disturbing accounts of what enforcing Israel's occupation entails are often must-reads. Here is one such story.
YEMEN POST NEWSPAPER
As well as being the poorest country in the Middle East, Yemen is in the midst of a conflict that Medecins Sans Frontieres have called the “worst they have ever seen”. The Yemen Post Newspaper is an invaluable news source on this “forgotten war” and its devastating impact upon the Yemeni people.
KHARTOON! BY KHALID ALBAIH
A Sudanese cartoonist living in Qatar, Albaih became influential in the region during the Arab Spring. He manages to distil the region’s political complexities into simple images, with both poignancy and humour.
Lara is a Palestinian photographer who lives in the Gaza Strip. In a territory shaped by a crippling blockade and the ever-present threat of renewed military violence, she captures the beauty, the trauma and the ordinary of everyday life in the Mediterranean enclave. These portraits of Syrians who have fled to Gaza are a fine example of this.
While ambassadors aren't ordinarily household names, during Fletcher’s tenure as the British ambassador to Lebanon (2011-2015), he became a popular public figure right across the country’s diverse ethnic and religious groups. Even after his departure, his blog and twitter feed remain a good way to keep up with Lebanon, the wider region, and diplomacy in general. This farewell letter to Lebanon, written on his departure last year, is beautiful.
Yachad is a movement of British Jews who support Israel, but oppose its occupation. By organising trips for British Jews to visit Palestinians living under occupation, they are bringing dialogue and understanding to a situation where both are often absent. Here are the thoughts of one British Jew upon his return from one such trip.