Category Archives: Travel

10 Middle Easterners muscling for a seat on the mission to Mars!

Nearly a quarter million people (202,586 to be precise) have applied for a one-way ticket to Mars, with candidates from the Middle East making serious headway in the race to become a modern-day Martian!

The flight won’t launch for another 11 years, but competition for those four first seats is fierce. (You have far better odds of being hit with lightning — estimated as a chance of one in 3,000 over your lifetime!)

Mars One is the inspired (or insane?) global initiative to establish a permanent human settlement on the red planet. An unmanned mission is scheduled to depart in 2020, with the first human crew starting its one-way journey in 2026. Subsequent crews will depart every 26 months, each with new research and development tasks. That’s a lot of people to pick, and the screening process is arduous.

The third selection round has concluded, narrowing the field to 100 hopefuls. “The large cut in candidates is an important step towards finding out who has the right stuff,” said Bas Lansdorp, co-founder and CEO of Mars One.

What further challenges will these candidates face? Remaining selection rounds will focus on creating teams that can endure all the hardships of a permanent Mars settlement — emphasis on “permanent.” They’ll be subjected to a battery of psychological and physical testing and trained in an earth-bound replica of the Mars Outpost.

Candidates who were not selected to continue will have a chance to reapply this year in a new application round. Meet ten would-be space pioneers from the Middle East!


A toy bear, left by a friend who moved away, sits with Israeli Elad Eisen in his video. “I couldn’t let that poor teddy wander Tel Aviv. I promised I would never leave it alone. This is why he’ll go to Mars, we’re doing it together.” He’s hopeful that by the time the mission happens, technology will have evolved so they can return to Earth.


Sadeqh Modarresi is an irrepressibly upbeat biologist! The 30-year-old Iranian says,”I think people have to pursue their interests and never give up. I am so optimistic and excited about this mission! Mankind is showing strong will in achieving superior goals as a superior species.” He also plays a mean table tennis.


  Iraqi Najeeb Waleed is a computer engineer and software developer currently pursuing a PhD degree. When not at school, the 38-year-old likes to learn more about himself, the world and humanity in general. And, of course, space.


Saeed Qandehari is a physicist with two master’s degrees in politics. The 34-year-old Iranian lives in New Zealand and describes himself as a specialist in international affairs and human rights. He’s a talented handyman, can farm and hunt, and is skilled at “hijama” — the Persian traditional medicine of blood-letting!


Israeli Jonathan Vasquez is motivated by his own desire to advance mankind, “so that the next generation will not experience the same pain and hardships.” The one-way ticket doesn’t scare him: “It inspires me to know that my fellow astronauts would be as dedicated as I am,” he says.


  Iraqi Dina Masodi is a computer scientist now living in America. When she left her family in Iraq, she knew it was forever. She feels it would be the same experience as going to Mars. Asked if she thinks a person has to be crazy to agree to go to Mars, she replied, “It’s only as crazy as getting married, having kids and dying.”


Israeli Nadav Neuman sees Earth racing to extinction. “Unless we find a new place to settle — we can say bye to the human race,” he told Ynetnews. And like the others, he’s unfazed by the idea of leaving. “I have loved ones here, but as the possibilities of space travel improves, we could see each other whenever we want,” he said.


 “I would be crazy not to be afraid, but I think that all decisions worth making are scary,” Israeli Yair Maimon said. He thinks that making a conscious decision to leave everything you love behind is the most intimidating decision a person could make, but one that’s necessary in order to answer, “What next?”


  Elaheh Nouri is a 22-year-old Iranian architecture student who says she “fell in love” with cosmology at age 16. She views Mars One as her opportunity to find her important purpose in life, a dream for herself that will be useful for all mankind. Her hobbies include learning about astronomy, jumping from heights, and playing the harmonica.


32-year-old Egyptian Mohammed Sallam was an IT trainee for six months, a sports marketer for six years, and is now a financial planner. “I’ve been trying to find what I really want to do with my life, but as you can see it just did not add up,” he said in his bio. As a kid, he dreamed of being an astronaut, so why not go back to that?


The occupation of Jerusalem (Burak Bekdil, Hurriyet)

View of Jerusalem from southeast, showing city...
View of Jerusalem from southeast, showing city walls, the Dome of the Rock, and al-Aqsa mosque. 1 photographic print : gelatin silver ; 21 x 56 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(EoZ)In the Hurriyet Daily News, in an op-ed that starts off criticizing Israel for its reaction to Günter Grass’ poem, Burak Bekdil notes something very important:

Hardly a day passes in the Islamic world (or in the western intellectual world) without people standing up against and decrying the occupation of “al-Quds” (otherwise known as Jerusalem). In this column I have often argued otherwise: A counter-occupation is no occupation.

Now, dear Islamists, I have a “witness” whom I guess you could hardly refute. Forget my words and listen to what Turkey’s top Muslim cleric, Professor Mehmet Görmez, had to say just last week: “After the Prophet Omar conquered al-Quds he was invited to pray at a church (since there were no mosques in Jerusalem). But he politely refused because he was worried that the (conquering) Muslims could turn the church into a mosque after he prayed there.”

Now, read that line once again, or a thousand times if you wish to: “After the Prophet Omar conquered al-Quds…” And think about why there were no mosques in Jerusalem at the time of the conquest. Still no clue? Allow me to explain: Because Jerusalem was not a Muslim city. And now you claim it back because it is under “Jewish occupation!”

The refusal to pray at the church was very noble of the Prophet Omar. I personally do not expect you, dear Islamists, to behave as virtuously and gallantly as the prophet, but at least you can do something easier: Stop fighting for a city that belonged to other faiths before your ancestors conquered it. And please recall my witness when you flood my inbox with more hate-mail tomorrow. Or is Professor Görmez, too, an infidel like me?

Notice that this shows that even Islamists know that there was no “farthest mosque” (“Al Aqsa“) in Jerusalem when Mohammed had his flying horse dream. They just say that there was to justify their own occupation of the city.

Israel, Palestinians and Water Libel

By Jack L. Schwartzwald //On December 13, 2011, the French National Assembly issued a 320-page report entitled, The Geopolitics of Water, which dedicated 20 pages to an alleged “water war” between Israelis and Palestinians.  Employing the incendiary terms “apartheid” and “water occupation,” the report’s lead author, Jean Glavany, accused Israel of usurping Palestinian water sources and showing favoritism to 450,000 “colonial” settlers who purportedly “use more water than [the West Bank’s] 2.3 million Palestinians.”

The report won immediate praise from Palestinian Water Authority Director Shaddad Attili (who made similar allegations in a 2011 Jerusalem Post op-ed).  Harper’s Magazine likewise reviewed it favorably, as did the ever-reliable Counterpunch, which proposed the delusional hypothesis that Israel’s security barrier “closely follows the line of the Western Aquifer” as part of a sinister plot to divert “Palestinian” water to Israel.  (Just for the record: (i) the Western Aquifer discharges most of its water beneath Israeli territory, where it has been readily accessed since the 1920s; (ii) the “line” Israel’s security barrier most “closely follows” is that separating would-be Palestinian terrorists from their intended Jewish victims; and (iii) Jews living behind this barrier, but beyond the 1949 Green Line, get their water from Israeli — not Palestinian — sources.)

The mendacious French report is hardly the first word on this subject.  In May 2008, National Geographic gave two thumbs down to Israel’s life-sustaining desalination plants, pointing out that fossil fuels are needed to run them (thereby threatening the planet), that they produce water that is “too pure” (thereby threatening the integrity of water pipes) and that they are vulnerable to terrorist attack (not to give anyone any bright ideas).  Far worse was a 2009 Guardian “exposé” entitled, “Who will save Gaza’s children?” wherein Victoria Brittain claimed that Israeli water policy had exposed Gazan newborns to toxic levels of nitrates, thereby causing an “exceptionally high” incidence of “blue baby syndrome.”  In fact, the number of cases of “blue baby syndrome” — the lethal form of the medical condition “methemoglobinemia” — stands at zero.  (Although mild, non-lethal cases of methemoglobinemia have occurred in Gaza, the high nitrate levels that cause them are attributable to flawed Palestinian fertilizing methods, not to Israeli water policy.)

Collectively dubbed the “water libel,” by Jerusalem Post blogger, Petra Marquardt-Bigman, the above reports are unified by their devil-may-care attitude towards established facts. Relying on Palestinian Water Authority and Joint Israeli-Palestinian Water Commission documents, Visser and Shaked have wholly debunked Shaddad Attili’s accusations.  For example, Attili claimed that Israelis consume four times more water per capita than Palestinians.  The reader will reach the same conclusion — provided he uses Attili’s calculus, which (a) overestimates Israeli usage per capita by nearly 100% (280 cubic meters annually versus 150); (b) underestimates Palestinian usage by more than 50% (60 versus 140) and (c) grossly overestimates the Palestinian population by counting 400,000 Palestinians living in Israel (where they use Israel’s water supply), as well as another 400,000 living abroad.

As for the French National Assembly report, it turns out that Monsieur Glavany systematically evaded essential facts with an aplomb not seen in his country since the second Dreyfus trial.  Moreover, he interpolated a number of venomous inaccuracies into the report at the 11th hour without notifying his co-authors, all of whom disavowed his claims on reviewing the final text.

So what precisely are the facts?  A useful starting point would be to mention that under Jordanian rule prior to 1967, only 1 in 10 West Bank households were connected to running water, and that today, owing to Israeli water policy, the figure stands at 96% (and will soon rise to 98.5%.).  Secondly, Palestinians steal Israeli water (not the other way around as alleged by Attili and Glavany), while Israel exports volumes to the West Bank greatly in excess of what is mandated by the Oslo Accords.  (Israel does so primarily to compensate for the Palestinian Water Authority’s repetitive failure to implement approved water projects and its substandard maintenance and security procedures, which result in the loss of an estimated 33% of the Palestinian water allotment annually.)Mainly because it doesn’t waste time on such mundane tasks as developing and maintaining its water resources, the PWA and its director have abundant time to level false charges against Israel.  And mainly because Israelis aren’t doing any of the things of which they stand accused, they’ve had abundant time to work on the region’s very real water crisis.  Indeed, they’ve been working on it since before Israel was a state.  It was the Jewish community that drained the swamps of Mandatory Palestine’s coastal plain in the 1920s in order to access springs from the Western Aquifer which lay beneath.  In 1937, this same community founded the Mekerot (or national water company).  Since that time, they’ve attacked the water problem from multiple angles.  For example, “drip irrigation” methods pioneered by Israel in the 1960s, deliver water to plant roots with an efficiency approaching 80% (double the rate seen with open irrigation), and newer “sub-surface irrigation” techniques do even better.  Because the country is mostly arid, Israel built its National Water Carrier (1964) to transport water from areas of higher rainfall near Lake Kinneret to the parched Negev, thereby transforming desert areas into productive agricultural land.  Israel recycles 75% of its wastewater (6x the rate of its nearest competitor), and employs the recovered water in agriculture.  They have developed airborne drones that detect leaks in water pipes via water meter alarm systems and a “curapipe” process that seals “pinhole” leaks before they are even detectable.  Hi-tech “SmarTap” faucets reduce household water consumption by 30% with patrons scarcely noticing.

Israel’s most ambitious program, however, is its “Desalination Master Plan.”  Initiated in 2000, its goal was to build state-of-the-art “reverse osmosis” desalination plants along the Mediterranean coast capable of producing 400 million cubic meters of potable water annually by 2005.  (By 2020, the figure is projected to be 750 million cubic meters).  The first reverse osmosis plant — then the largest of its kind worldwide — opened in Ashkelon in 2005 with a capacity to produce 100 million cubic meters annually at a cost of 52 cents per cubic meter.  (Natural drinking water actually costs more since it must be processed.)   A second plant opened in Hadera in 2010, and when the Soreq and Ashdod plants go on-line in 2013, Israel’s desalination plants will account for 85% of Israel’s household water consumption and turn the state into a water exporter.

Abroad, Israeli technology companies have built more than 400 desalination plants in 40 countries.  India has embarked on a pilot project relying on Israeli expertise, and China has signed a deal with Israel’s IDE technologies to build a “Green” desalination plant that desalinates via evaporation and condensation.

While Palestinians blame Israel, Israelis work on innovative solutions.  This March, the Palestinian Water Authority petitioned the World Water Forum to fund a $450 million desalination plant in Gaza.  Within 24 hours, Israel offered to lend its expertise to the project.  Perhaps an Israeli-Palestinian “water war” is occurring – but it isn’t being waged by Israel.

Jack Schwartzwald is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Brown University and author of Nine Lives of Israel (McFarland, 2012).

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