Jericho’s hidden gem.

I found out last night that at a ceremony held at Hesham’s Palace, the Ministry of Tourism unveiled the floor mosaic of the great bath in the palace. This is the biggest intact piece of mosaic in the world (827 square meters)! Hopefully, through a huge donation from the Japan government, the big bath will be roofed and then special walkways would be arranged so people can see this masterpiece when they visit the historical site. The unveiling is to celebrate the commencement of this new project. The mosaic contains 38 panels and 21 warm colors. These are a few photos to give you a glimpse of this marvelous piece of our history, art, and culture.

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GOD BL S OUR HOME

Throughout her life, my grandmother produced hundreds of masterpieces of Palestinian authentic embroidery pieces. Functional and decorative and ranging from small napkins to dining table covers. However, what has become my favorite piece from all her works is an uncompleted piece that I found laying in the bottom of one of her drawers.

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I remember as a child, and after her eye sight became weaker, transposing embroidery patterns for her on square grid paper. Everyday she would have some time set aside to work on her latest piece. My guess is that this piece is one of her latest works where she made a mistake in calculating how much space is needed for BLESS. I’m not sure why she didn’t attempt to correct it? However, with her needle still there I would guess it maybe her last piece.. which makes it so precious and so dear to me.

She was the blessing of our home and not a day goes by that I don’t miss her, her smile, and the blessings she brought into our lives. RIP Tata Badia’a.

–Jack Rabah

Jack’s Palestinian Comfort Food: Snack Attack!

For those days when nothing seems to work right, I usually turn to food to distract my mind. It’s no wonder that, with the times we are going through, I can’t seem to lose any weight no matter what I try.

Like many around the world, diving into a tub of ice cream often does the trick, especially when it’s Ramallah milk-white ice cream made with gum arabic. Although this type of ice cream is part of Syrian and Turkish traditions, Rukab Ice Cream and Baladna, later on, have become main destinations on Ramallah’s Main Street for locals and foreigners alike. But if you don’t want to consume so many calories, a few slices of watermelon with salty Palestinian white goat cheese works too!

I guess what counts for me as comfort food changes with the season, or with what I can find inside our fridge late at night. During cold winter days, or when I end up catching a cold, my absolute favourite is a nice bowl of chicken soup. Not just any chicken soup, but my favourite is simple Palestinian soup made from natural chicken broth. Quite often the simple things in life are the most rewarding. What makes this soup so special for me is also quite simple: a bunch of white rice and a good sprinkle of freshly and coarsely chopped parsley leaves. Finally, a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice makes it just perfect.

To make this wonderful soup you start with preparing chicken broth. You don’t want to cut any corners here if you want to get a thick soup full of flavour. Preparing the broth is fairly straightforward. Drop a about 1 kg of cleaned and cut chicken pieces with bones into a cooker with 3 litres of water, a pealed whole onion, a few black peppercorns, a cinnamon stick, a couple bay leaves, and salt to taste. Slowly bring to a boil; reduce heat. Skim foam. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. Set chicken aside until cool enough to handle. Remove meat from bones and discard the bones; save meat for another use. Strain broth, discarding vegetables and seasonings.

To prepare the soup, pour the strained broth back into the cooker. You can add the chicken pieces if you like. Bring the broth to a boil then add half a cup of rice. Cook until the rice is ready. Just before you turn off the stove, add two tablespoons of coarsely chopped parsley. This will make sure the parsley stays green and fresh looking. Serve hot with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice on top.

Watching the news of our brothers in Gaza taking shelter at the schools; the difficult conditions of refugees in Iraq and Syria due to ISIS attacks, I can’t imagine how even the simple comforting from a home cooked meal is out of reach! I pray for all this craziness to end so they can return safely to their homes.

Here’s another simple hearty recipe I enjoy on evenings when I feel like having a light snack: I pour a good amount of Palestinian slightly sour yogurt into a bowl, cover it with a layer of extra virgin Palestinian olive oil, and sprinkle some salt on top. I toast a piece of Palestinian taboun bread and use it to scoop up the yogurt and olive oil. A cup of tea with fresh mint leaves is just the icing on top of the cake.

If I keep going I won’t be able to stop! There are just too many of these simple, yet amazing snacks to write about in one piece. I guess this is my motivation to write more columns for This Week in Palestine.

— Jack Rabah

ps. Appeared in This Week in Palestine magazine Sept, 2014 issue under TWIP Kitchen column

Tell Your Story Today!

As humans, starting thousands of years ago, we used narrative and stories to communicate. From people in the streets to prophets, stories were one of the most effective ways religion was preached to the masses. As I look back, I find that the most influential people in my life are all good storytellers. No matter what the story is about, good stories—and the people who tell them—stick with you for a lifetime. From my early childhood days I enjoyed stories: stories I heard, stories I read, and stories that took place around me. Little did I know that this simple yet completely human means of communications would dominate media thirty years later.

Storytelling is a natural way to communicate and engage the public, which is why corporations around the world—with varying degrees of success—have been attempting brand storytelling. Corporations that manage to connect stories with their brand’s core values are reaping the biggest rewards.

Given these new revelations in the world of marketing and communications, social media marketing provides a practical and cost-effective solution. Social media marketing is taking centre stage as corporations hire brand evangelists to tell their story rather than marketers to sell their products or services.

Social media provides the best tools for storytelling including social interaction on Facebook, microblogs on Twitter, photo stories on Instagram, videos on YouTube, and virtual reality experiences. There are so many social media tools out there that we can put to our use as long as our target audience is using them. Take a look at the following table for a small subset of the social media tools out there and their classifications:

Social Media Classification

Classification Sample Sites
Social Networking Facebook, Google+
Publishing WordPress, Blogger
Photo Sharing Flickr, Instagram, Pinster
Audio SoundCloud, iTunes
Video YouTube, Keek, Vimeo, Google Video
Microblogging Twitter
Livecasting Live365
Virtual Worlds Second Life
Gaming EverQuest
Productivity Applications Google Drive, Office 365, SurveyMonkey, zoho
Aggregators Digg, Reddit
RSS Google FeedBurner, RSS 2.0
Search Google, bing, Yahoo!
Mobile BBM, WhatsApp, Tango, SMS, iMessage
Interpersonal Skype, FaceTime
Check-In (Marking) Foursquare

Source: The Social Media Bible (2nd Ed.) by Lon Safko

Firms that are following a digital business model approach social media marketing strategically in contrast to other firms that are still using social media as an alternative for offline soft marketing. A key issue which is still unclear to many is how to measure the success and the return on investment (ROI) for their social media marketing efforts. Many objective and subjective methods are being put to use starting with counting “likes” and all the way to tracking real leads and/or actual sales generated. However, this part of social media marketing still needs much more development and research.

A Local Perspective

When considering the applicability of social media for marketing or even storytelling as a branding approach in our local Palestinian context, a number of questions come up: How much is the local consumer ready for this new era? What about the businesses? What about the infrastructure?

I would like to share some figures below from a recent telephone survey I conduced of 616 Palestinians, age 18 and above, from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem. I hope it will shed some light on this issue.

In recent years, the basic telecommunications infrastructure has significantly improved in Palestine, and this is noticeable from the results (see Figure 1). While 86% own a mobile phone, 73% have Internet at home or work, and about 63% use the Internet. On the other hand, we notice that there is still some more development needed to improve e-commerce in Palestine as only 16% of respondents have credit cards.

Figure 1: Access to telecommunications infrastructure 

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Furthermore, we can see in Figure 2 that while Palestinian consumers like to engage in online conversations and comment on others’ posts (78%), most have fears about purchasing online (47%), and only 5% have ever purchased anything online using a credit card.

As for Palestinians’ perceptions of social media marketing we notice that Facebook advertising could be the most effective social media marketing tool in Palestine, with 77% who claim to click on advertisements on Facebook. Furthermore, half of them actually bought a good or service after seeing its adverting on Facebook, compared to only 9% who bought a good or service after receiving advertising via email.

With 20% having already purchased something online, it is an encouraging indicator that there will be a stronger future for e-commerce and social media marketing in Palestine.

Figure 2: Profiling the Palestinian Consumer

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As for local businesses, an extensive online study of around 300 local businesses indicates that about 62% of the companies investigated have a website, although most need updating and activation with fresh content and tools. As for social media tools, companies with an active Facebook page (23%) constitute a small percentage of the companies investigated. In addition, other social media tools are used even less, with active twitter accounts at 6% and active LinkedIn pages at 7% (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Palestinian Private Sector Usage of Social Media Tools

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As for the type of content local businesses are publishing on social media, we notice that it is an assortment ranging from trivia and contests to promotions and offers. There are limited serious attempts to engage audience through a well-planned social media strategy. As for storytelling, there is definitely a chance to make a unique mark in this area, as it is quite underdeveloped.

On a professional level, I have been toying around with storytelling for some time now. One of the accomplishments I am proud of is the creation of the Amti Tooteh character, who as of last year become the voice of the Birzeit Heritage Week. Amti Tooteh became the storyteller of Heritage Week, announcing the program, driving the bus to bring our Palestinian brothers from Golan, and calling upon our youth to return from abroad and join in preserving our heritage and developing rural Palestine. Amti Tooteh reminds us of the importance of our heritage, of our traditional costumes, and of our beautiful traditional songs.

On a personal level, I have been experimenting with storytelling as a means of sharing bits of our Palestinian heritage and culture.  I have been writing a number of short pieces and publishing them on my personal blog. Visit the blog if you want to know why one of the lions in Al Manara Square is wearing a watch, or why you should go visit the Dar Al Tifel Palestinian Heritage Museum in Jerusalem if you can get there!

A final note of encouragement: there is great potential for storytelling in Palestine and in the Arab world in general. For centuries, the Arabs have been the sources of legends, fables, and tales of the adventures of kings and warriors. For generations, the tradition of oral storytelling was a powerful medium for narrating the drama inherent in these tales. Finally, the storyteller who represented the collective genius and fantasies of his people would, with his way with words, breathe life into the heroes of history, bringing a piece of the past to life for his avid listeners. So, what are you waiting for? Start telling the story of your brand today!

— Jack Rabah

This article was first published in the August, 2014 of This Week in Palestine periodical.