‘There are very strong formulas’: Footy songwriters offer their advice on what the Tasmanian theme should sound like

As the countdown continues towards the Tasmanian Devils joining the AFL in 2028, answers to the questions surrounding this much-anticipated new team are gradually trickling in.

We now know where the team will play, what colours it will wear, and who its CEO will be

But one question that remains could be one of the more challenging to answer.

What will they sing?

Crafting a club theme song is a minefield of creative decision-making for whoever chooses to accept it, not least because you have 18 other songs, which a hyper-partisan fanbase is waiting with baited breath to compare it to.

ABC Sport asked two artists who recently took on the challenge what they thought a Tasmanian club theme song should have.

‘What the hell is this?’

The AFL’s most recent club theme song is also among its most recognisable.

Greater Western Sydney’s tune is the first in a minor key, which creator Harry Angus said is what gives it that Eastern European feel.

But he said in other ways, the Giants song sticks closely to tradition.

“Because my background is in old-time Jazz and brass instruments, I have a real interest in that early era of recorded music, and I knew how to arrange it and record it in a way that slotted in with some of the classic team songs,” Angus told ABC Sport.

“All the old VFL club songs come from ragtime hits, so that’s what I brought to it.

“That would be my advice to the Tassie (club song) songwriter — there are very strong formulas, so as long as it fits that formula it kind of feels right.”

Collingwood and Carlton’s songs were written by players in the early 20th century, while Fitzroy player Bill Stephen used the French national anthem as the basis for his club’s song in 1952.

AFL club song census:

– Six are in the key of G major

– Nine are based off early-20th century tunes

– Four have brass hooks before the words begin

– Two have banjo in them

– Three are power ballads

– One has a key change mid-song

Input from the Giants’ first playing group was also crucial to the success of Angus’ song, and he said their advice was informed by the experience of fellow expansion side Gold Coast.

“When the Suns finally won a game, they didn’t know the song very well, and they kind of weren’t prepared to give it that rousing post-game chorus down in the rooms,” he said.

“I met with the players and the coaching staff and they were pretty keen that when they won a game, they’d be able to belt it out.”

Harry James Angus wrote the GWS club theme song drawing on player feedback and his expertise in early 20th century Jazz and ragtime.

Angus said the Giants requested words in the song that they could shout. This is how the syncopated “we will never surrender” line near the end came to be, a line he famously plucked from Winston Churchill.

“I think it was (then-Giants assistant coach) Mark Williams who said we needed a ‘yellow and black’ moment, like in the Richmond song when the whole crowd yells it,” Angus said.

“Kevin Sheedy also had a number of interesting things to say about it. He wanted the song to be based on Road to Gundagai, which is the most common football song that hasn’t been used in the AFL. But we ran out of time.

“To their credit when they did win a game, (GWS players) absolutely smashed it out of the park. You’d think they’d been singing the song for a hundred years.

“A lot of people when it first came out thought ‘what the hell is this?’, but after a while everyone got what I was trying to do.” 

The creative process

It is also common for alterations to be made to existing club songs or unofficial club songs to sit alongside the offical ones. 

The “premiership’s a cakewalk” briefly disappeared from Collingwood’s song in the 80s, while Geelong introduced “the Cat Attack” in the 90s to sit alongside We Are Geelong.

In 2011, Fremantle cast off the last vestiges of the Russian folk tune its song is built on, and St Kilda has flirted with “I do like to be beside the seaside”, and a Mike Brady original.

The Lions did away entirely with the lyrics and tune of the Brisbane Bears’ “Dare to be the Bear” after the merger with Fitzroy.

Most recently, West Coast reworked its team song, enlisting local songwriter and lifelong fan Ian Berney to create some verses around the “We’re Flying High” chorus.

Berney remembers fondly the Eagles’ first premiership when he was five, and the feeling of excitement that he might meet Chris Mainwaring every time he went to his local takeaway.

The song was just as much a part of his childhood.

A man with dark blonde hair and a moustache smiles into a webcam. He has a yellow and black shirt.

Perth songwriter and bassist Ian Berney added female voices and an Indigenous pneumonic when he reworked the West Coast Eagles song in 2020.(ABC Sport: Alexander Darling)

“The original version of the West Coast theme song had the theme of ‘you’ve taken all our players for years’. It was a big ‘stick it’ to the east coast clubs saying, ‘now we’ve got our own club and we’re gonna show you how it’s done’,” he said.

“It’s really fun, and (I was) trying to reconnect that feeling.”

The Eagles also asked Berney to include the recently built stadium and the distances the team has to travel to play its east coast matches.

“When we say we’re proud of our isolation, that is kind of West Coast winning their four premierships in a relatively short span of time, and we’ve had to cross the nation every time to do it,” he said.

Berney was also inspired by a different sport in what he came up with — specifically the Australian cricket teams’ renditions of Under the Southern Cross I Stand by Banjo Patterson.

“I really liked that visceral sound that the players had, so we built a chant out of the verses which the club kicks off with now if they win,” he said.

A fan’s touch

In recent months, Tasmanians have been making the case that one of their own should write the Devils’ song.

It’s a call that makes sense to Angus, who hopes the finished product sounds like it’s been around for 100 years.

“I think it would be awesome to see an Indigenous Tasmanian musician write the song,” he said.

“It would be super cool for the song to pay tribute to the cultural history that already exists in Tasmanian football, and maybe it will be drawn from an older club song.”

Berney said the fact he’s an Eagles supporter made all the difference to the lyrics he’s proud of.

“The line about ‘the colours that we share are the West Coast sky’. I didn’t think about that growing up, that blue and yellow as a reflection of the sun going down over the seas, which is a very different experience (compared to) the east coast of Australia,” he said.

“So I wanted to put that into the lyrics, because they had the foresight to make those the colours of the Eagles.”

[Tasmanian Devils photo]

What is a club song meant to achieve?

Whoever writes Tasmania’s song will also use history to draw on as Berney did for the Eagles. The state has been playing Australian rules since the 1860s, with unique native animals, landmarks and a list of football alumni that speaks for itself.

Berney expects that whatever the Tasmanian Devils are given to sing when they win, it will have a “love and hate” element.

“If you do a masterpiece that’s great, but it’s all just fun and about trying to bring people together,” he said.

While Berney’s song references the club’s history, Angus’ song is itself part of GWS history.

The song had its moment in the sun leading up to the Giants playing the 2019 Grand Final, popping up in memes and internet remixes.

“I wish I could talk to as many journalists as I do when the Giants get into a final as when I release new music,” Angus said.

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But the most special feedback has come from the club itself.

“I’ve had people from the club come back to me and talk about how much the whole idea of ‘Never Surrender’ — which they requested — has become part of the club’s architecture and their psychological approach to the game,” he said.

“I don’t really know how I got there, I just did it, but it made sense in the end.”

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Taiwan’s new president: Five things you need to know about William Lai

TAIPEI — Forget Xi Jinping or Joe Biden for a second. Meet Taiwan’s next President William Lai, upon whom the fate of U.S.-China relations — and global security over the coming few years — is now thrust.

The 64-year-old, currently Taiwan’s vice president, has led the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to a historic third term in power, a first for any party since Taiwan became a democracy in 1996.

For now, the capital of Taipei feels as calm as ever. For Lai, though, the sense of victory will soon be overshadowed by a looming, extended period of uncertainty over Beijing’s next move. Taiwan’s Communist neighbor has laid bare its disapproval of Lai, whom Beijing considers the poster boy of the Taiwanese independence movement.

All eyes are now on how the Chinese leader — who less than two weeks ago warned Taiwan to face up to the “historical inevitability” of being absorbed into his Communist nation — will address the other inevitable conclusion: That the Taiwanese public have cast yet another “no” vote on Beijing.

1. Beijing doesn’t like him — at all

China has repeatedly lambasted Lai, suggesting that he will be the one bringing war to the island.

As recently as last Thursday, Beijing was trying to talk Taiwanese voters out of electing its nemesis-in-chief into the Baroque-style Presidential Office in Taipei.

“Cross-Strait relations have taken a turn for the worse in the past eight years, from peaceful development to tense confrontation,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Chen Binhua said, adding that Lai would now be trying to follow an “evil path” toward “military tension and war.”

While Beijing has never been a fan of the DPP, which views China as fundamentally against Taiwan’s interests , the personal disgust for Lai is also remarkable.

Part of that stems from a 2017 remark, in which Lai called himself a “worker for Taiwanese independence,” which has been repeatedly cited by Beijing as proof of his secessionist beliefs.

Without naming names, Chinese President Xi harshly criticized those promoting Taiwan independence in a speech in 2021.

“Secession aimed at Taiwan independence is the greatest obstacle to national reunification and a grave danger to national rejuvenation,” Xi said. “Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland, and seek to split the country will come to no good end, and will be disdained by the people and sentenced by the court of history.”

2. All eyes are on the next 4 months

Instability is expected to be on the rise over the next four months, until Lai is formally inaugurated on May 20.

No one knows how bad this could get, but Taiwanese officials and foreign diplomats say they don’t expect the situation to be as tense as the aftermath of then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in 2022.

Already, days before the election, China sent several spy balloons to monitor Taiwan, according to the Taiwanese defense ministry. On the trade front, China was also stepping up the pressure, announcing a possible move to reintroduce tariffs on some Taiwanese products. Cases of disinformation and electoral manipulation have also been unveiled by Taiwanese authorities.

Those developments, combined, constitute what Taipei calls hybrid warfare — which now risks further escalation given Beijing’s displeasure with the new president.

3. Lai has to tame his independent instinct

In a way, he has already.

Speaking at the international press conference last week, Lai said he had no plan to declare independence if elected to the presidency.

DPP insiders say they expect Lai to stick to outgoing Tsai Ing-wen’s approach, without saying things that could be interpreted as unilaterally changing the status quo.

They also point to the fact that Lai chose as vice-presidential pick Bi-khim Hsiao, a close confidante with Tsai and former de facto ambassador to Washington. Hsiao has developed close links with the Biden administration, and will play a key role as a bridge between Lai and the U.S.

4. Taiwan will follow international approach

The U.S., Japan and Europe are expected to take precedence in Lai’s diplomatic outreach, while relations with China will continue to be negative.

Throughout election rallies across the island, the DPP candidate repeatedly highlighted the Tsai government’s efforts at diversifying away from the trade reliance on China, shifting the focus to the three like-minded allies.

Southeast Asia has been another top destination for these readjusted trade flows, DPP has said.

According to Taiwanese authorities, Taiwan’s exports to China and Hong Kong last year dropped 18.1 percent compared to 2022, the biggest decrease since they started recording this set of statistics in 1982.

In contrast, Taiwanese exports to the U.S. and Europe rose by 1.6 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, with the trade volumes reaching all-time highs.

However, critics point out that China continues to be Taiwan’s biggest trading partner, with many Taiwanese businesspeople living and working in the mainland.

5. Lai might face an uncooperative parliament

While vote counting continues, there’s a high chance Lai will be dealing with a divided parliament, the Legislative Yuan.

Before the election, the Kuomintang (KMT) party vowed to form a majority with Taiwan People’s Party in the Yuan, thereby rendering Lai’s administration effectively a minority government.

While that could pose further difficulties for Lai to roll out policies provocative to Beijing, a parliament in opposition also might be a problem when it comes to Taiwan’s much-needed defense spending.

“A divided parliament is very bad news for defense. KMT has proven that they can block defense spending, and the TPP will also try to provide what they call oversight, and make things much more difficult,” said Syaru Shirley Lin, who chairs the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience and Innovation, a Taipei-based policy think tank.

“Although all three parties said they wanted to boost defense, days leading up to the election … I don’t think that really tells you what’s going to happen in the legislature,” Lin added. “There’s going to be a lot of policy trading.”



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‘A lesson for Taiwan’s coastal defence’: How France’s ill-fated 1884 invasion is remembered

from our special correspondent in Taiwan – The Taiwanese military regularly holds drills on what it calls “red beaches” – coastal areas deemed vulnerable to large enemy landings. As Beijing threatens to seize the island by force, Taiwanese historians and military planners are looking at past invasion attempts. Some say that a daring French amphibious attack on Tamsui, north of Taiwan, still has valuable lessons for the country’s defence planners despite taking place 140 years ago.

The sound of crashing surf almost covers the noise of airplanes landing and taking off every few minutes from Taoyuan international airport, the main transport hub to get into Taiwan. Fishermen on the Zhuwei beach throw their lines, staring at the horizon under thick, dark clouds. This stretch of sand on Taiwan’s northern coast looks deceptively normal, but it’s at the centre of sophisticated war games by Beijing and Washington.

These simulations often include an attempt by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to land troops there in a bid to capture Taiwan’s main airport as well as the port of Taipei, whose cranes are clearly visible from the beach. Both infrastructures, which would be critical in case of an invasion to bring in reinforcement, are within a 10km radius. The centre of Taiwan’s capital with its presidential office and government institutions is only 35km away.

The port of Taipei is visible from Zhuwei’s beach. Taiwan’s main international airport is located a few kilometres from where this picture was taken. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

Taiwan is a rugged island with deep jungles and high mountains, geography that military planners describe as a nightmare for invading forces – similarly to the gruesome battles between US and Japanese soldiers on small Pacific islands during World War II. The relative proximity of government headquarters to the coast has made the option of a “decapitation strike” very enticing to military planners considering invading the island throughout its history.

An old bunker on a beach near Taoyuan airport. There are no signs of recent defensive structures on this so-called
An old bunker on a beach near Taoyuan airport. There are no signs of recent defensive structures on this so-called “red beach”. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

Among the last to have actually tried it were French forces in the late 19th century, during the heyday of European gunboat imperialism. The battle of Tamsui saw about 600 French marines landing on a beach 25km east of Zhuwei at the mouth of the Tamsui river, which flows right into Taipei.

The attack came as part of the wider Sino-French war, while another group of French troops was bogged down near Keelung, a port in northeast Taiwan. France’s strategic objective was to seize Taiwan as a bargaining chip to obtain the withdrawal of Chinese troops from northern Vietnam. China was then an empire ruled by the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

‘Decapitation strike’

“The landing in Tamsui was the operation that Chinese communists have been dreaming of: a daring military raid aimed at quickly penetrating into Taipei,” professor Shiu Wen-tang, a retired researcher from the Institute of Modern History at Academia Sinica, told FRANCE 24.

Shiu Wen-tang shows Qing-era cannons in a fort overlooking the mouth of the Tamsui river. Back in 1884, the French had superior artillery power, but the Qing infantry forces pushed them back to sea
Shiu Wen-tang shows Qing-era cannons in a fort overlooking the mouth of the Tamsui river. Back in 1884, the French had superior artillery power, but the Qing infantry forces pushed them back to the sea. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

“The topography hasn’t changed much. Military planners in Beijing know the island very well, thanks to their satellites. They’ve sent thousands of secret agents and corrupted Taiwanese generals … They are aware that the hills around are bristling with missiles,” he adds.

Chinese god offering help

The raid didn’t end well for the French. After successfully going ashore in the early hours of October 8, 1884, French marines faced tough resistance from Qing soldiers when they tried to move inland. Despite heavy covering artillery fire from their gunships, the invading forces were forced to retreat after a few hours of fighting.

View on Shalun beach, where French marines landed ashore in 1884. The landing itself went well, but they were quickly ambushed as they moved inland.
A view of Shalun beach, where French marines landed in 1884. The landing itself went well, but they were quickly ambushed as they moved inland. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

Professor Shiu shows us several small memorials commemorating that rare Qing victory over Western invaders. Some are classic murals depicting battle scenes with historical notes. Others look a bit more strange, at least to Western eyes. An engraved artwork in a temple shows a Chinese divinity hovering over Qing troops as they repel French soldiers.

Details of the engraved artwork in the Qingshui temple representing the French assault on Tamsui.
Detail of an engraved artwork in the Qingshui temple representing the French assault on Tamsui. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

On the shore of the Tamsui river, a sculpture of a bird painted in the colours of the French flag sits atop yellow naval mines.

“This is where Qing forces operated their line of naval mines, which prevented enemy gunboats from going up the river into Taipei. The French failed to approach this location by sea. That’s why their commanders sent the marines. They got pretty close but, in the end, they didn’t reach the mines,” says Shiu.

This memorial is located where the Qing engineers controlled a line of naval mines preventing French ships from sailing into Taipei.
This memorial is located where Qing engineers controlled a line of naval mines preventing French ships from sailing into Taipei. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

As Taiwan prepares to defend its “red beaches”, does the failed French invasion hold lessons 140 years later? The country’s defence establishment is certainly aware of this historical battle, says Jiang Hsinbiao, a policy analyst at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research.

“One of the lessons for Taiwan’s military is that it is necessary to destroy the enemy’s landing ships while they are still travelling at sea to prevent their soldiers from landing,” Jiang told FRANCE 24.

A porcupine bristling with missiles

This fits with the “porcupine” doctrine that Taiwan’s armed forces have been working on, given that the military balance is tipped in favour of the PRC’s forces, far superior in number. Instead of investing in expensive but vulnerable kit – ships, jets or tanks – the new doctrine suggests a focus on asymmetrical warfare.

The porcupine metaphor encapsulates a fundamentally defensive strategy, with a large number of widely dispersed missile launchers playing the same role as the animal’s coat of sharp spines.

“Taiwan is currently implementing its ‘porcupine’ doctrine by stockpiling Patriot and Tien Kung surface-to-air missiles, as well as anti-ship ammunition like the Harpoon and Hsiung Feng [missiles] (…) Missile launchers have been spread all over the island to deter the enemy,” says Jiang.

Landing vehicles drive on a beach during a military drill in Taoyuan on March 23, 2023.
Taiwanese landing vehicles drive on the beach during a military drill in Taoyuan on March 23, 2023. © Sam Yeh, AFP

There are only a dozen or so “red beaches” across Taiwan, which allows defense planners to better determine potential invasion routes. Most of the island’s coastline is too rugged for large military landings, according to military analysts. The Taiwanese military regularly conducts anti-landing drills with drones, tanks, and mechanised infantry.

“The width of a typical ‘red beach’ is such that only one battalion (between 600 and 800 soldiers) can land at a time. If the subsequent landing troops echelon cannot land in time, the enemy will not be able to consolidate their beachhead. They would be easily annihilated by the defence forces,” says Jiang. “The PRC’s military will not be able to attack Taiwan by amphibious landing only; it will be accompanied by airborne warfare.”

A screengrab shows a simulated Chinese attack on Taiwan conducted by Major Maxwell Stewart for the Centre for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) in June 2023.
A screengrab shows a simulated Chinese attack on Taiwan conducted by Major Maxwell Stewart for the Centre for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) in June 2023. © CIMSEC

Invasion simulations have resulted in different outcomes, some showing PRC troops being repelled with the assistance of US forces, others showing the fall of Taipei only 31 days after the establishment of a beachhead near Taoyuan airport.

‘A contest of will’

As we walk on the very spot where French marines landed, Shiu Wen-tang says that the 1884 failed invasion still holds valuable political lessons. Overconfidence was clearly a major factor in the French defeat. Landing only 600 marines to fight thousands of entrenched troops was an outright mistake. The PRC’s military is expected to use their superior numbers but they could well underestimate their Taiwanese rivals on other aspects.

Shiu Wen-tang reflects on the ill-fated invasion of Tamsui on Shalun beach, where French marines landed in 1884.
Shiu Wen-tang reflects on the ill-fated invasion of Tamsui from Shalun beach, where French marines landed in 1884. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

A key political lesson for the Taiwanese side is that it must rely on a strong level of civilian-military trust to withstand the first invasion shock without falling into chaos. Eleven years after the French defeat, Japanese forces conducted their own amphibious landing near Keelung in northeastern Taiwan. Qing defenders were then demoralised. Law and order quickly broke down, and the Japanese invaders seized the island with limited casualties.

“This stands in sharp contrast to the Battle of Tamsui, where the Qing imperial administration had efficient leaders who were trusted by the local population,” notes Shiu. “In the end, war is always a contest of will. If a people is not willing to resist, then they have already lost.”

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Was there really a Star of David on Palestine’s official flag back in 1939? Nope.

Pro-Israeli social media users have been claiming, wrongly, that Palestine’s official flag before 1948 featured the Star of David, a Jewish symbol. The spread of this false information online has picked up momentum since the start of the latest round of conflict between Israel and Hamas in October 2023, which has inflamed questions about the history and geopolitics of the contested region. An image of the flag that has been circulating appeared under the entry for “Palestine” in a 1939 edition of the French dictionary Larousse. However, our team spoke to several historians who said that this flag was only ever used by the Zionist movement which wanted to start a Jewish state in Palestine.

Issued on:

5 min

If you only have a minute: 

  • Pro-Israel social media users have been claiming that the Jewish symbol, the Star of David, was featured on Palestine’s flag long before the state of Israel was founded. This enables them to claim that there was always a strong Jewish presence in the contested region. As proof, these social media users have been sharing an image of a blue amd white flag published by the French dictionary Larousse in 1939.

  • However, our team spoke to several historians who said that this flag was not the official flag of Palestine. It was actually a flag used by Zionist movements which hoped to found a Jewish state in Palestine. 

  • Meanwhile, in the context of the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, there has been a resurgence of criticism about how the nation of Israel was created in 1948. 

The fact check, in detail: 

Was there really a Star of David on the Palestinian flag in the 1930s? Since fighting broke out between Israel and Hamas on October 7, 2023, bringing new attention to the long-contested region, a number of pro-Israel social media users have claimed that Palestine’s official flag featured this symbol of Judaism at least a decade before Israel was founded in 1948. 

“Here’s the Palestinian flag in 1939. […] How can people still say that Israel is a coloniser?” wrote French publicist Frank Tapiro in an Instagram post from last November featuring the image of this blue and white flag decorated with the Star of David. 

This image was picked up in late December by X users who wanted to prove that Jewish people had a presence in Palestine before Israel’s founding in 1948. “The Palestinian flag prior to 1948. Enough said,” says this tweet from December 29 that has been viewed more than 200,000 times.

This tweet claims that this blue and white flag featuring the Star of David was the official flag of Palestine back in 1939, nearly a decade before Israel was founded. © Twitter

Images of this flag were already circulating online years before conflict broke out between Israel and Hamas on October 7, 2023. For example, this Tiktok video, posted in English back in 2022, claims that this same flag used to be Palestine’s official emblem. It has since garnered more than eight million views. 

A flag ‘sometimes used by Zionists’

However, all of the historians contacted by our team said that this flag was never the official emblem of Palestine during the British mandate that lasted between 1920 and 1948. Historians interviewed by other media outlets, like Reuters, agreed. 

Back in 1939, Palestine was under British mandate and had been since 1920. This status – accorded by the League of Nations, the first global intergovernmental organisation and precursor to the United Nations – ended when the Jewish state was created in May 1948. 

“This flag was not the official flag of Palestine under mandate,” said Vincent Lemire, a professor of history at the University of Gustave-Eiffel in Champs-sur-Marne who specialises in the history of Jerusalem. 

“This flag was sometimes used by the Zionist movement to represent the future flag of the future Jewish state that they were calling for.” 

Henry Laurens, a historian who specialises in the Arab world and a professor at the Collège de France research institute, agreed. Laurens said that, while Palestine was under British mandate, its flag actually featured the colours of the United Kingdom.

This was the official flag of Palestine under British mandate.
This was the official flag of Palestine under British mandate. © Wikipedia

News agency Reuters also interviewed experts about this flag in late November. They spoke to Tamir Sorek, a historian at Penn State University, as well as Salim Tamari at the Institute of Palestine Studies. Sorek and Tamari agreed with our experts. 

“This flag appears to be an unofficial flag that sometimes appeared on Jewish-owned ships during the mandatory period when the official English name of the country was still Palestine,” Shay Hazkani, an associate professor at the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Program and Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, also told Reuters. 

A flag featured in the 1939 edition of the Larousse dictionary 

So where did this misinformation come from? While it is hard to determine the exact source, a number of social media users have used photos allegedly taken of an edition of the French dictionary Larousse from 1939, which wrongly presents that flag as the official flag of Palestine. 

Photos and videos of this edition of the dictionary have been shared since 2015 on different pro-Israeli sites and platforms, which use these archive images as “proof” that this flag was the official emblem of Palestine.

This is a screengrab of a video that was posted on Facebook in 2018 by a pro-Israeli web radio channel showing the 1939 edition of the illustrated Larousse featuring an image of the blue and white flag with the Star of David, presented as the official flag of Palestine.
This is a screengrab of a video that was posted on Facebook in 2018 by a pro-Israeli web radio channel showing the 1939 edition of the illustrated Larousse featuring an image of the blue and white flag with the Star of David, presented as the official flag of Palestine. © Facebook

So why did Larousse represent Palestine with this flag? Our team contacted Larousse, but they have not responded to our inquiries. 

Criticism of the legitimacy of the creation of the state of Israel

This flag and the claims that go with it have started circulating against a very specific backdrop. In light of the war between Hamas and Israel, people have been looking into the history of the region, which frames the current conflict. Some people have stated to criticise how the state of Israel was created back in 1948. 

As we mentioned, in 1920 – shortly after World War I – a British mandate was imposed on Palestine. This ended when Israel was created in May 1948. 

During the era between the two world wars, the Jewish population in Palestine increased. The Zionist movement, created in the 19th century by Theodor Herzl, aimed to create a Jewish state in Palestine and inspired a wave of Jewish immigration, especially from Eastern Europe. By 1939, Jews represented a third of the total population of Palestine, according to numbers reported by the British authorities at the time.

Unlike today, the name “Palestine” was once used by both Jewish and Arab communities. 

“This name didn’t have a specific connotation at the time,” said Vincent Lemire. The word took on new significance when Israel was created in 1948 and 750,000 Palestinians were kicked out of the territory, losing their historic homeland. 

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Of love letters and distant galaxies: Uplifting stories from 2023

It was a turbulent year from start to end, but 2023 was not just about devastating wars, natural disasters and the cost-of-living crisis. The past 12 months also saw the approval of a revolutionary new malaria vaccine, a sharp drop in the deforestation of the Amazon, and an historic victory for the LGBTQ+ community in Nepal. FRANCE 24 lists the top good news stories of the year.

  • Euclid telescope sheds light on distant galaxies

The Euclid blasted off into space in July on the world’s first ever mission to investigate dark matter and dark energy. Four months later, the European Space Agency released the first five images captured by the telescope – and they were as stunning as they were enlightening.

One of the telescope’s observations, for example, depicted the Perseus Cluster, a massive and distant collection of more than a thousand galaxies. In the background, more than 100,000 additional galaxies were visible. Some of them are estimated to be some 10 billion light years away and had never before been seen before. The images also included a nebula resembling a horse’s head, part of the Orion constellation.

ESA chief Josef Aschbacher described the pictures as “awe-inspiring” and a reminder of why it is so important for humans to explore space.

This undated handout obtained on November 2, 2023 from the European Space Agency shows an astronomical image of a Horsehead Nebula taken during ESA’s Euclid space mission. © ESA via AFP

  • Breakthroughs in treatment of Parkinson’s disease

The year was also marked by several breakthroughs in the detection and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. In April, a team of researchers presented a new technique they said could identify the build-up of abnormal proteins associated with Parkinson’s. This build-up is the pathological hallmark of the illness, and its detection could help diagnose the condition long before symptoms appear. Up until now, there have been no specific tests to diagnose Parkinson’s.  

“Identifying an effective biomarker for Parkinson’s disease pathology could have profound implications for the way we treat the condition, potentially making it possible to diagnose people earlier, identify the best treatments for different subsets of patients and speed up clinical trials,” said Pennsylvania University’s Andrew Siderowf, who co-authored the study.

There was more good news in November, when a long-term Parkinson’s disease patient who had long been confined to his home was given a neuroprosthetic and regained his full ability to walk. The implant comprises an electrode field placed against the spinal cord as well as an electrical impulse generator under the skin of the abdomen, which stimulates the spinal cord to activate the leg muscles.

Marc Gauthier, a 61-year-old Parkinson's patient, walks again thanks to a neuroprosthesis.
Marc Gauthier, a 61-year-old Parkinson’s patient, walks again thanks to a neuroprosthesis. © Gabriel Monnet, AFP

  • WHO-backed vaccine raises hopes of ‘malaria-free future’

In October, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced it had approved the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine –the second malaria vaccine to be cleared by the global health body and the first to meet its goal of a 75 percent efficacy.

“As a malaria researcher, I used to dream of the day we would have a safe and effective vaccine against malaria,” said Doctor Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general, for whom the vaccine will help “protect more children faster, and bring us closer to our vision of a malaria-free future”.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that claims around half a million lives around the world every year, mainly in Africa. The disease mostly affects children under the age of five, and pregnant women.

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by doses, is already lined up to make more than 100 million doses a year and plans to scale up to 200 million a year. Available supplies of the other WHO-approved vaccine, RTS,S, are limited and more expensive.

A health worker vaccinates a child against malaria in Ndhiwa, Homabay County, in western Kenya.
A health worker vaccinates a child against malaria in Ndhiwa, Homabay County, in western Kenya. © Brian Ongoro, AFP

  • Endangered antelopes, seals and squirrels fare better

When the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) issued its annual Red List of threatened species in mid-December, the typically alarming report also featured some surprisingly good news.

Prospects for the scimitar-horned oryx, for instance, improved over the year thanks to a reintroduction programme in Chad, and the antelope’s status was moved from “extinct in the wild” to “endangered”. Meanwhile, the previously “critically endangered” saiga antelope, found mainly in Kazakhstan, was reclassified as “near threatened” thanks to local anti-poaching measures.

Things also improved for the monk seal and the red-bellied squirrel, while the African rhinoceros population grew 5 percent to more than 23,000.

Une jeune antilope Saïga dans la steppe à la frontière des régions d'Akmola et de Kostanay au Kazakhstan, le 8 mai 2022.
A newborn Saiga calf lies in the steppe on the border of Akmola and Kostanay regions of Kazakhstan on May 8, 2022. © Abduaziz Madyarov, AFP

  • Dinosaur fossil rewrites bird evolution theory

A tiny half-bird, half-dinosaur fossil found in the Fujian province in southeast China was presented to the public in September in what scientists described as a small revolution for bird evolution theory.

The creature, named Fujianvenator Prodigiosus, is believed to have lived during the Late Jurassic Period, 148 million to 150 million years ago. Its discovery bridges a gap in fossil records pertaining to the origin of birds, which diverged from two-legged therapod dinosaurs during the Jurassic Period.

Bird evolution theories had previously been based largely on the “oldest known” bird, the larger Archaeopteryx, that was discovered in 1860. Discovery of the Fujianvenator Prodigiosus, which dates from the same period as the Archaeopteryx but has very different features, implies that there may have been not just one, but a variety of different dino-birds around the world at the same time.

Birds survived the asteroid strike that doomed the non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Un fossile d'Archaeopteryx, considéré comme
A 150-million-year-old fossil of an Archaeopteryx, considered the world’s oldest bird, pictured in 2010. © AFP

  • A much-needed respite for the Amazon

When Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva succeeded Jair Bolsonaro as the country’s president in January, he pledged to end the catastrophic deforestation of the Amazon – once known as “the world’s lungs” – by 2030. While that goal is still far off, the incoming government’s efforts have already started to pay off.

In July, the national space agency INPE’s annual deforestation tracking programme reported that deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil had dropped by as much as 22.3 percent year-on-year, reaching a five-year low.

According to the Brazilian government, the deforestation decrease prevented the emission of some 133 million tons of CO2, which accounts for around 7.5 percent of the country’s total emissions.

La déforestation de l'Amazonie a diminué de 22,3 % en un an en 2023 pour atteindre son niveau le plus bas depuis cinq ans.
Deforestation in the Amazon fell by 22.3% year-on-year in 2023 to its lowest level in five years. © Michael Dantas, AFP

  • COP28 launches ‘historic’ loss and damage fund

The COP28, hosted by the United Arab Emirates this year, started out with a historic announcement: the establishment of a loss and damage fund that will compensate vulnerable nations for disaster damage or irreversible losses linked to climate change.

The West and the United Arab Emirates immediately pledged money for the fund, racking up a total of $655 million. Although it is far from enough, it can at least be perceived as a good start.

“The launch will finally help populations affected by the worst impacts of climate change,” said Fanny Petitbon, spokeswoman for the environmental advocacy group Care France.

Le président de la COP28, Sultan al-Jaber annonce le vote de l'accord final mentionnant les énergies fossiles, le 13 décembre 2023, à Dubaï.
COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber applauds as delegates reach an agreement at the climate summit in Dubai on December 13, 2023. © Giuseppe Cacace, AFP

  • LGBT+ rights progress in Japan and Nepal

LGBT+ rights progressed in at least some parts of the world this year.

Japan’s supreme court issued a historic ruling in July condemning restrictions imposed by the finance ministry on a transgender female employee as to which toilet she could use. The ruling came on the heels of landmark legislation to promote understanding of LGBT+ minorities and protect them from discrimination.

In Nepal, the authorities recognised the country’s first ever same-sex marriage, uniting a transgender woman who is legally recognised as male and a cisgender man. The couple, who had married in 2017, were helped by a supreme court decision in June that allowed same-sex couples to register their marriages.

“The fight for rights is not easy. We have done it. And it will be easier for future generations,” said one of the grooms, Ram Bahadur Gurung. “The registration has opened doors to a lot of things for us.”

Ram Bahadur Gurung, femme transgenre et Surendra Pandey, lors d'une conférence de presse après avoir officialisé leur mariage, le 1er décembre 2023, à Kathmandou, au Népal.
Transgender woman Ram Bahadur Gurung and her partner Surendra Pandey hug each other after their wedding in Kathmandu, Nepal, on December 1, 2023. © Navesh Chitrakar, Reuters

  • Love letters to French sailors finally opened, 250 years on

“I could spend the night writing to you … I am your forever faithful wife.” These lines were written by Marie Dubosc to her husband Louis Chamberlain, the first lieutenant of the French warship the Galatee, in 1758. But Chamberlain never received them.

Dubosc’s letter, along with dozens of others, was confiscated when the British Royal Navy captured the ship and its crew en route from Bordeaux to Quebec during the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France. It remained unopened in British archives until history professor Renaud Morieux of the University of Cambridge finally unsealed the missives.

The historian said the letters provided a rare insight into the lives of sailors and their families in the 1700s.

Une lettre d'Anne Le Cerf à son mari, rédigée au 18e siècle, a finalement été ouverte et lue plus de 250 ans plus tard, en 2023.
A letter from Anne Le Cerf to her husband, written in the 18th century, was finally opened and read more than 250 years later, in 2023. © The National Archives via AFP

  • Ancient Egyptian mummies are exhumed

Two golden-laced mummies were found several metres underground in the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, south of Cairo, at the start of the year.

The mummies, estimated to have been buried some 4,300 years ago, are among the oldest in the world and were discovered approximately one month apart in the Saqqara necropolis.

Saqqara was used as a burial site for more than 3,000 years and is considered one of Egypt’s most important historical sites, serving as the burial grounds for Egyptian royalty. The vast burial site stretches over more than 20 kilometres and contains several hundred tombs. The latest finds underscored the many ancient Egyptian treasures that are yet to be discovered.

Deux momies ont été découvertes à un mois d'intervalle, plusieurs mètres sous terre, dans la nécropole de Saqqarah, dans la région de Memphis, en Égypte.
Two mummies were discovered a month apart, several metres underground, in the Saqqarah necropolis in the Memphis region of Egypt. © Khaled Desouki, AFP

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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Ukraine needs a government of national unity

Adrian Karatnycky, a senior fellow of the Atlantic Council and the author of the forthcoming book, “Battleground Ukraine: From Independence to the War with Russia” (Yale University Press).

In recent weeks, discourse about the war with Russia has turned deeply pessimistic in Ukraine.

A difficult Ukrainian counter-offensive, with lesser results than anticipated, has fueled deeply dark discussions about a deadlocked and bloody long-term war with Russia. Meanwhile, analysts and politicians have started to snipe at Ukraine’s military and political leaders, blaming them for the war effort’s failure and even speculating about defeat.

Further feeding this atmosphere of pessimism is evidence of tension between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the country’s military command, as well as delays in military aid from the United States. And these pressures now need to be addressed.

Clearly, the period of euphoria propelled by major Ukrainian military victories and territorial advances is over. So, too, is the period of grandiose promises by Ukrainian officials.

Last winter, an official spokesman for the president had proclaimed he expected to spend the next summer in Crimea. No less extravagant a promise was echoed by the head of military intelligence, who predicted Crimea would be liberated within six months, bringing official promises of a major spring counter-offensive with significant territorial gains along with it.

Early battlefield success also contributed to near universal approval for Zelenskyy among Ukrainians. Despite slow Russian advances in the Donbas and scant Ukrainian victories later on, happy talk on the state-dominated TV “marathon” — joint programming produced by the bulk of the country’s main television networks — continued to promote frontline success, helping Zelenskyy maintain his popularity.

All this changed, however, when Ukraine’s 2023 counter-offensive stalled. The massive loss of fighters amid meagre gains and a slow-moving positional war eroded public trust in the president and his team for the first time since the war began.

A subsequent mid-November poll gave Zelenskyy a trust rating of only net 32 percent plus — meaning two-thirds of Ukrainians trusted the president, while a third now did not. This was a steep decline from polls earlier in the year, and far below the trust ratings of the armed forces and their commander, General Valery Zaluzhny.

A later poll conducted for the President’s Office and leaked to the Ukrainska Pravda news site showed Zelenskyy was neck and neck with Zaluzhny in a hypothetical race for president. Moreover, Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party — which currently holds over two-thirds of the seats in parliament — would see its presence shrink dramatically if elections were held today.

And as Zelenskyy’s support weakens, Ukraine now faces a number of challenges and difficult decisions. These include a deadlock on the front, a rapidly depleting supply of munitions, some erosion of support from Europe, and an impasse in the U.S. Congress over a bill to provide for the military needs of both Ukraine and Israel. His star power notwithstanding, Zelenskyy faces new difficulties in maintaining high levels of military and financial support for Ukraine both in North America and in Europe.

Additionally, the ranks of Ukraine’s armed forces — initially populated by experienced military professionals with combat experience and highly motivated volunteers — have suffered mass casualties during these brutal two years of war. Аs a result, military recruiters — now called “people snatchers” — are scouring cities and villages in search of males aged 18 to 60 for military service. Sometimes, these recruiters are not merely using coercive tactics against draft dodgers but detaining and pressuring those not called or exempt from service into signing on. And such tactics are contributing to justifiable public anger toward the authorities

In addition to such unpopular tactics, Zelenskyy will soon likely need to need to dramatically widen the national military mobilization and shift social spending toward military expenditures, if only to hedge against any decline in, or interruption of, financing from key allies. Both moves will be highly unpopular.

All this doesn’t mean Russia will prevail. Indeed, Ukraine has basically fought Russia to a standstill. Taking minor territorial losses in the Donbas, while gaining modest territory in the south and forcing Russia’s navy to the eastern reaches of the Black Sea, it has effectively restored freedom of navigation for commercial vessels in the sea’s west.

Zelenskyy has also been a courageous and successful wartime leader. But much of this was dependent on steadfast public support. Near-universal domestic approval gave him political carte blanche to shape policy and strategy. But while Ukrainians remain united in their aim of defending the country, unqualified support for Zelenskyy and his policies is declining. And the embattled democracy is subsequently witnessing a revival in national politics.

Zelenskyy’s team itself has contributed to this politicization. After Zaluzhny soberly spoke about the difficulties of Ukraine’s war effort, while providing a road map that could ensure victory, his public comments were shot down by officials from the President’s Office.

In early November, Zelenskyy’s foreign policy advisor Ihor Zhovkva went on national television to assert that Zaluzhny’s statement “eases the work of the aggressor” by stirring “panic,” adding there should be no public discussion of the situation at the front. Zelenskyy himself then chided the general in an interview, warning the military not to engage in politics.

Deputy Head of the Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence Maryana Bezuhla piled on, alleging Zaluzhny had ignored U.S. General Mark Milley’s recommendations to mine Ukraine’s border with Russian occupied Crimea back in 2021 — an act of negligence, she implied, that cost Ukraine large swaths of territory in the south. However, Zelenskyy is unlikely to seek Zaluzhny’s dismissal, as it would instantly launch the soldier on a political career.

And that’s not all. On the heels of this kerfuffle, Zelenskyy’s allies in parliament then blocked a visit to Poland and the U.S. by former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The ostensible reason behind this was a report from Ukraine’s security service suggesting Poroshenko’s trip would be exploited by Russian propaganda. Of particular concern was a planned meeting between Poroshenko and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The idea that a seasoned leader like Poroshenko, whose tenure as president earned Western praise for his diplomatic skills, could be manipulated is, on the face of it, preposterous. And it later turned out that Zelenskyy himself would be meeting Orbán and didn’t want to be preempted.

These clear fractures need to be dealt with now.

Furthermore, as importantly, as domestic support erodes, Zelenskyy’s term in office is due to formally expire in May 2024, while the parliament’s four-year term expired in October. New elections are well-nigh impossible with millions of voters outside the country, a million engaged at the front and millions more internally displaced or under Russian occupation. Elections amid bloody combat and constant missiles and drone attacks on urban centers are unlikely, and would require both legislative and constitutional changes.

This issue of expiring mandates would be moot were the ratings of Zelenskyy and his party unassailable, but polls show a creeping disenchantment with both.

In this context, the time is ripe for Ukraine’s president to consider establishing a broad-based government of national unity. Opening the government to opposition and civil society leaders in this way would instantly provide legitimacy to the leadership team, reduce opposition criticism and widen the circle of voices that have the president’s ear.

There are compelling precedents for such a step too. For example, as World War II began, Conservative Prime Minister Winston Churchill understood Britain faced an existential threat that required sustaining national unity and created a broad-based coalition government. Churchill installed his main rival — Labour leader Clement Attlee — as deputy prime minister, and added Labour’s Ernest Bevin, a former trade union leader, to the national unity cabinet.

Similarly, this practice was followed most recently by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who offered opposition party leaders a place in a unity government after Hamas’s brutal October 7 attacks. The proposal was accepted by centrist Benny Gantz.

Since the beginning of his presidency, Zelenskyy has relied on an exceedingly narrow circle of trusted advisors. But while he meets with his top military command, intelligence officials, visiting Western leaders and the media, he has largely shut himself off from civic leaders, political critics and rivals — including some with important foreign policy, national security and economic experience.

Their inclusion in leadership posts would offer Zelenskyy additional input on policy options, allow for discussions of alternative tactics and contribute to new approaches when it comes to external relations. With national unity showing signs of fraying, a government that includes the opposition would truly give it a boost.

The only questions are whether Zelenskyy is flexible enough to overcome his contempt for most opposition leaders, and change his style of governing from highly centralized decision-making to more broad-based consensus-building.



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Making water the engine for climate action

Much progress has been made on water security over recent decades, yet for the first time in human history, our collective actions have pushed the global water cycle out of balance. Water is life: it is essential for health, food, energy, socioeconomic development, nature and livable cities. It is hardly surprising that the climate and biodiversity crises are also a water crisis, where one reinforces the other. Already, a staggering four billion people suffer from water scarcity  for at least one month a year and two billion people lack access to safely-managed drinking water. By 2030, global water demand will exceed availability by 40 percent. By 2050, climate-driven water scarcity could impact the economic growth of some regions by up to 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product per year.

Meike van Ginneken, Water Envoy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Right now, the world’s first Global Stocktake is assessing the progress being made toward the goals of the Paris Agreement and global leaders are convening at COP28 in Dubai to agree on a way forward. We have a critical opportunity to catalyze global ambition and recognize that water is how climate change manifests itself. While wealthier, more resilient nations may be able to manage the devastating impacts of climate change, these same challenges are disastrous for lesser developed, more vulnerable communities.

Rainfall, the source of all freshwater, is becoming more erratic. Changes in precipitation, evaporation and soil moisture are creating severe food insecurity. Droughts trap farmers in poverty, as the majority of cultivated land is rain-fed. Extreme drought reduces growth in developing countries by about 0.85 percentage points. Melting glaciers, sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion jeopardize freshwater supplies. Floods destroy infrastructure, damage homes and disrupt livelihoods. The 2022 Pakistan floods affected 33 million people and more than 1,730 lost their lives, while 2023 saw devastating floods in Libya among other places.  

Now more than ever, it is urgent that we work together to make water the engine of climate action. Already, many countries are investing in technology and climate-resilient water infrastructure. Yet, we need more than technology and engineering to adapt to a changing climate. To advance global water action, we must radically change the way we understand, value and manage water with an emphasis on two necessary measures.

First, we need to make water availability central to our economic planning and decision-making. We need to rethink where and how we grow our food, where we build our cities, and where we plan our industries. We cannot continue to grow thirsty crops in drylands or drain wetlands and cut down forests to raise our cattle. In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.

In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.  

Second, we must restore and protect natural freshwater stocks, our buffers against extreme climate events. Natural freshwater storage is how we save water for dry periods and freshwater storage capacity is how we store rainwater to mitigate floods. 99 percent of freshwater storage is in nature. We need to halt the decline of groundwater, wetlands and floodplains. But our challenge is not only about surface and groundwater bodies, or blue water. We also need to preserve and restore our green water stocks, or the water that remains in the soil after rainfall. To reduce the decline of blue water and preserve green water, we need to implement water-friendly crop-management practices and incorporate key stakeholders, such as farmers, into the decision-making process.

Addressing the urgency of the global water crisis goes beyond the water sector. It requires transformative changes at every level of society. National climate plans such as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans are key instruments to make water an organizing principle to spatial, economic and investment planning. Much like the Netherlands did earlier this year when the Dutch parliament adopted a policy that makes water and soil guiding principles in all our spatial planning decisions. Right now, about 90 percent of all countries’ NDCs prioritize action on water for adaptation. NDCs and National Adaptation Plans are drivers of integrated planning and have the potential to unlock vast investments, yet including targets for water is only a first step.

To drive global action, the Netherlands and the Republic of Tajikistan co-hosted the United Nations 2023 Water Conference, bringing the world together for a bold Water Action Agenda to accelerate change across sectors and deliver on the water actions in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement. To elevate the agenda’s emphasis on accelerating implementation and improved impact, the Netherlands is contributing an additional €5 million to the NDC Partnership to support countries to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce water-related climate vulnerability and increase public and private investments targeting water-nexus opportunities. As a global coalition of over 200 countries and international institutions, the NDC Partnership is uniquely positioned to support countries to enhance the integration of water in formulating, updating, financing and implementing countries’ NDCs.

One example showcasing the importance of incorporating water management into national planning comes from former NDC Partnership co-chair and climate leader, Jamaica. Jamaica’s National Water Commission (NWC), one of the largest electricity consumers in the country, mobilized technical assistance to develop an integrated energy efficiency and renewables program to reduce its energy intensity, building up the resilience of the network, while helping reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. With additional support from the Netherlands, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with Global Water Partnership (GWP)-Caribbean, the government of Jamaica will ensure the National Water Commission is well equipped for the future. Implementation of climate commitments and the requisite financing to do so are key to ensuring targets like these are met.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world. We are committed to providing political leadership and deploying our know-how for a more water-secure world. As we look towards the outcomes of the Global Stocktake and COP28, it is essential that we make water the engine of climate action. 



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The longer Israel thinks, the more time Washington has to calm its wrath

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe. 

BEIRUT — “Once you break it, you are going to own it,” General Colin Powell warned former United States President George W. Bush when he was considering invading Iraq in the wake of 9/11.

And as the invasion plan came together, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blocked any serious postwar planning for how Iraq would be run once the country’s ruler Saddam Hussein had gone. As far as he was concerned, once “shock and awe” had smashed Iraq, others could pick up the pieces.

British generals fumed at this. And General Mike Jackson, head of the British army during the invasion, later described Rumsfeld’s approach as “intellectually bankrupt.”

That history is now worth recalling — and was likely on U.S. President Joe Biden’s mind when he urged the Israeli war cabinet last week not to “repeat mistakes” made by the U.S. after 9/11.

Despite Biden’s prompt, however, Israel still doesn’t appear to have a definitive plan for what to do with the Gaza Strip once it has pulverized the enclave and inflicted lasting damage on Hamas for the heinous October 7 attacks.

Setting aside just how difficult a military task Israel will face undertaking its avowed aim of ending Hamas as an organization — former U.S. General David Petraeus told POLITICO last week that a Gaza ground war could be “Mogadishu on steroids” — the lack of endgame here suggests a lack of intellectual rigor that disturbingly echoes Rumsfeld’s.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told lawmakers Friday that the country didn’t have plans to maintain control over Gaza after its war against Hamas had concluded, saying Israel would end its “responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip.” Among other minor matters, this raises the issue of where the coastal enclave of 2.3 million people will get life-sustaining energy and water, as Israel supplies most utility needs.

Israeli and Western officials say the most likely option would be to hand responsibility to the West Bank-based Palestinian National Authority, which oversaw the enclave until Hamas violently grabbed control in 2007. “I think in the end the best thing is that the Palestinian Authority goes back into Gaza,” Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said last week.

But it isn’t clear whether Mahmoud Abbas — the Palestinian Authority president and head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is dominated by his Fatah party — would want Gaza on those terms, or whether he has the power to do much of anything with the enclave in the first place.

Abbas is already struggling to maintain his authority over the West Bank. He’s an unpopular leader, and his government is seen to be not only appallingly venal, but is perceived by many as ceding to the demands of the Israeli authorities too easily. 

Israel now controls 60 percent of the West Bank, and its encroaching settlements in the area — which are illegal under international law — haven’t helped Abbas. Nor have Israeli efforts to hold back the West Bank from developing — a process dubbed “de-developing” by critics and aimed, they say, at restricting growth and strangling Palestinian self-determination.

In West Bank refugee camps, Abbas’ security forces have now lost authority to armed groups — including disgruntled Fatah fighters. “It is unclear whether Abbas would be prepared to play such an obvious role subcontracting for Israel in Gaza. This would further erode whatever domestic standing the PA has left,” assessed Hugh Lovatt, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

But it isn’t only Gaza — or the West Bank — that risks breaking in the coming weeks.

Neighboring countries are watching events unfold with growing alarm, and they fear that if more thought isn’t given to Israel’s response to the savage Hamas attacks, and it isn’t developed in consultation with them, they’ll be crushed in the process. If Israel wants the support of these countries — or their help even — in calming the inevitable anger of their populations once a military campaign is launched, it needs their buy-in and agreement on the future of Gaza and Palestinians, and to stop using the language of collective punishment.

Lebanon, where the Iran-backed Hezbollah — Hamas’ ally — has been intensifying its skirmishes along the border with Israel, is currently the most vulnerable. And Lebanese politicians are complaining they’re being disregarded by all key protagonists — Israel, the U.S. and Iran — in a tragedy they wish to have no part in.

Already on its knees from an economic crisis that plunged an estimated 85 percent of its population into poverty, and with a barely functioning caretaker government, the Lebanese are desperate not to become the second front in Iran’s war with Israel. Lebanon “could fall apart completely,” Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam said.

But the leaders of Egypt and Jordan share Lebanon’s frustrations, arguing that the potential repercussions for them are being overlooked. This is why Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called Saturday’s Cairo summit of regional and international leaders.

El-Sisi focused the conference on a longer-term political solution, hopefully a serious effort to make good on the 2007 Annapolis Conference’s resolution to set up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Egypt has much to lose if the war escalates — and the country’s officials are fuming at what they see as a careless attitude from Israel toward what happens to Gaza after Hamas is subjugated, potentially leaving a cash-strapped Egypt to pick up some of the pieces.

More than that, Egypt and Jordan harbor deep suspicions — as do many other Arab leaders and politicians — that as the conflict unfolds, Israel’s war aims will shift. They worry that under pressure from the country’s messianic hard-right parties, Israel will end up annexing north Gaza, or maybe all of Gaza, permanently uprooting a large proportion of its population, echoing past displacements of Palestinians — including the nakba (catastrophe), the flight and expulsion of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians in 1948.

This is why both el-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II are resisting the “humanitarian” calls for displaced Gazans to find refuge in their countries. They suspect it won’t be temporary and will add to their own security risks, as Gazans would likely have to be accommodated in the Sinai — where Egyptian security forces are already engaged in a long-standing counterinsurgency against Islamist militant groups.

And both countries do have grounds for concern about Israel’s intentions.

Some columnists for Israel Hayom —a newspaper owned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close friend, American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson — are already calling for annexation. “My hope is that the enemy population residing there now will be expelled and that the Strip will be annexed and repopulated by Israel,” wrote Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. intelligence analyst who served 30 years in prison for spying for Israel before emigrating.

And last week, Gideon Sa’ar, the newly appointed minister in Netanyahu’s wartime government, said that Gaza “must be smaller at the end of the war . . . Whoever starts a war against Israel must lose territory.”

Given all this, there are now signs the Biden administration is starting to take the risks of the Gaza crisis breaking things far and wide fully on board — despite widespread Arab fears that it still isn’t. By not being fast enough to express sympathy for ordinary Gazans’ suffering as Israel pummels the enclave, Biden’s aides initially fumbled. And while that can easily be blamed on Hamas, it needs to be expressed by American officials loudly and often.

In the meantime, the unexplained delay of Israel’s ground attack is being seen by some analysts as a sign that Washington is playing for time, hoping to persuade the country to rethink how it will go about attacking Hamas, prodding Israel to define a realistic endgame that can secure buy-in from Arab leaders and help combat the propaganda of Jew-hatred.

Meanwhile, hostage negotiations now appear to be progressing via Qatar, after two American captives were freed Friday. There have also been reports of top Biden aides back-channeling Iran via Oman.

So, despite Arab condemnation, the Biden administration’s approach may be more subtle than many realize — at least according to Michael Young, an analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center. He said it was always inevitable that Washington would publicly back Israel but that a primary aim has been to “contain Israel’s reaction” to the Hamas attacks, while seemingly deferring to the country.

And time will help. The longer Israel thinks, the more opportunity Washington has to reason, to calm, and to explain the trail of cascading wreckage Israel risks leaving behind if it is unrestrained and fails to answer — as Biden put it — “very hard questions.”

But that might not be sufficient to prevent everything spinning out of control. Israel morally and legally has the right to defend itself from barbaric attacks that were more a pogrom, and it must ensure the safety of its citizens. There are also others — notably Iran — that want the destruction of the Jewish state, and even a scaled down response from Israel may trigger the escalation most in the region fear.



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Why we need to improve heart health in Europe

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the number one killer in Europe. They cost the EU an estimated €282 billion in 2021, larger than the entire EU budget itself.[1] Sixty million people live with CVDs in the EU, while 13 million new cases are diagnosed annually.[2]

Behind this data are individual stories of suffering and loss, of lives limited and horizons lowered by, for example, heart attack and stroke. These diseases directly affect every community in every country. And they strain our health services which must respond to cardiac emergencies as well as the ongoing care needs of chronic CVD patients.

Sixty million people live with CVDs in the EU, while 13 million new cases are diagnosed annually.

Cardiovascular health is a priority not just because of the scale of its impact, but because of the scope we see for significant advances in outcomes for patients. We should take inspiration from the past: between 2000 and 2012, the death rate from CVDs fell by 37 percent in the five largest western European countries (France, Germany, the U.K., Spain and Italy).[2] This progress was achieved through a combination of medical innovations, and supported by a mix of health care policies and guidelines that propelled progress and improved patients’ lives.

New treatments can now help prevent strokes or treat pulmonary embolisms. Others can delay kidney disease progression, while at the same time preventing cardiovascular events.

Despite progress, this downward trend has reversed and we are seeing an increase in the CVD burden across all major European countries.

And the research continues. Precision medicines are in development for inherited CVD-risk factors like elevated lipoprotein(a), which affects up to 20 percent of the population.[3] A new class of anti-thrombotics promises to bring better treatments for the prevention of clotting, without increasing the risk of bleeding. New precision cardiology approaches, such as gene therapy in congestive heart failure, are being investigated as potential cures.

Despite progress, this downward trend has reversed and we are seeing an increase in the CVD burden across all major European countries.[4]

Getting the definitions right

This year’s World Heart Day, spearheaded by the World Heart Federation, comes amid the revision of the EU pharmaceutical legislation. The European Commission’s proposal of a narrow definition of unmet medical need, which could hamper innovation is causing deep concern across stakeholders.

Instead, a patient-centered definition of unmet medical need taking the full spectrum of patient needs into consideration, would incentivize more avenues of research addressing the needs of people living with chronic conditions. It would provide a basis for drafting the next chapter in the history of cardiovascular medicines — one that we hope will be written in Europe and benefit people in the EU and beyond. Not only would this inspire advances that help people to live longer, but it would also improve quality of life for those at risk of, and affected by, cardiovascular events.

Unmet medical need criteria currently included in the draft Pharmaceutical Legislation would do a disservice to patients by downplaying the chronic nature of many CVDs, and the importance of patient-reported outcomes and experience.[5] And many of the advances seen in recent decades would fall short of the narrow definition under consideration. This limited approach disregards incremental innovation, which might otherwise reduce pain, slow disease progression, or improve treatment adherence by taking account of patient preferences for how therapies are administered.

Much of the illness and death caused by CVD is preventable — in fact, 9 out of 10 heart attacks can be avoided.

At this moment it is unclear how the unmet medical need criteria in the legislation will apply to these and other situations. Policymakers should create a multistakeholder platform with the space to discuss patients’ needs, getting expert views from medical societies, patients and industry to better understand the innovation environment. The European Alliance for Cardiovascular Health (EACH), a multistakeholder network comprised of 17 organizations in the CVD space in Europe, stands ready to inform policymakers about the CVD burden and the pressing needs of patients. [6] EACH not only supports the EU´s endeavor to develop more policies on CVD, it also supports and promotes the idea of an EU Cardiovascular Health Plan to work towards better patients’ health care across the EU and more equal health standards. So far, structured discussions with such stakeholders do not sufficiently take place, and we risk missing those opportunities, and lose in both patient access as well as R&D attractiveness of the EU.

Primary and secondary prevention

As well as driving future innovation, Europe must also make the best possible use of the tools we have now. We must do what works — everywhere.

At the heart of this approach is prevention. Much of the illness and death caused by CVD is preventable — in fact, 9 out of 10 heart attacks can be avoided.[7] Primary prevention can dramatically reduce rates of heart attack, stroke and other CVDs. Secondary prevention, which includes screening and disease management, such as simple blood tests and urine tests, as well as blood pressure and BMI monitoring, has a key role to play in containing the burden of disease. [8]

Joint cardiovascular and diabetes health checks at primary care level, taking an evidence-based approach, would help diagnose and treat CVD before the onset of acute symptoms.[9] By following current treatment guidelines and protocols, health care professionals across Europe can help to prevent complications, improve health outcomes for patients and save health care costs. Also here, a multistakeholder approach is key. Policymakers should not miss out on listening to the CVD multistakeholder alliances that have already formed — at EU and at EU member countries level, as for example EACH. These partnerships are great ways for policymakers to better understand the needs of patients and to get the experts’ views.

Research-driven companies exist to meet the needs of patients in Europe and around the world. We need to create an environment that enables companies to embark on complex and unpredictable trials. That means having the rights incentives and clarity on the regulatory pathway for future treatments.


[1] https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/Price-tag-on-cardiovascular-disease-in-Europe-higher-than-entire-EU-budget

[2] https://iris.unibocconi.it/retrieve/handle/11565/4023471/115818/Torbica%20EHJ%202019.pdf

[3] https://www.acc.org/Latest-in-Cardiology/Articles/2019/07/02/08/05/Lipoproteina-in-Clinical-Practice

[4] https://www.efpia.eu/about-medicines/use-of-medicines/disease-specific-groups/transforming-the-lives-of-people-living-with-cardiovascular-diseases/cvd-dashboards

[5] https://health.ec.europa.eu/medicinal-products/pharmaceutical-strategy-europe/reform-eu-pharmaceutical-legislation_en

[6] https://www.cardiovascular-alliance.eu/

[7] https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/STROKEAHA.119.024154

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331469/

[9] https://www.efpia.eu/news-events/the-efpia-view/statements-press-releases/because-we-can-t-afford-not-to-let-s-make-a-joint-health-check-for-cardiovascular-disease-cvd-and-diabetes-happen/



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Nagorno-Karabakh evacuations begin as Armenia warns of ‘ethnic cleansing’

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KORNIDZOR, Armenia — The first convoys of civilians have left Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia following an Azerbaijani military offensive amid growing warnings that a mass exodus could be on the cards.

On Sunday, humanitarian organizations and the Armenian government said that dozens of people had been evacuated after Azerbaijan agreed to open the Lachin Corridor that links the breakaway territory to the country. According to the Ministry of Health, the Red Cross escorted 23 ambulances carrying “seriously and very seriously wounded citizens of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Meanwhile, other civilians say they had begged the Russian peacekeepers to take them across, after Karabakh Armenian leaders on Tuesday accepted a surrender agreement following just 24 hours of fierce fighting and shelling.

At a checkpoint near the village of Kornidzor, on the border with Azerbaijan, a steady stream of civilian cars is now crossing over — many laden down with bags or filled with loose bedding and other possessions.

At the border, POLITICO spoke to Artur, a Karabakh Armenian who had been stranded by the 9-month-long effective blockade of the region. Awaiting news of his relatives after Azerbaijani forces launched their offensive, he received a call from his sister to say she had been evacuated with the Russian peacekeepers.

After an hour of waiting anxiously, he was reunited with 27-year-old Rima. Sitting in the back of an SUV, she cried as her two children — aged three and one — unwrapped bars of chocolate, a luxury they have done without amid severe shortages of food and other essentials. “We’ve arrived,” she said.

Marut Vanyan, a local blogger, said many others were planning to follow suit. “People right now say everyone is leaving. In Stepanakert, there is no second opinion, everyone is trying to find a few liters of petrol and be ready any time, any second, for when we are going,” Vanyan said, speaking after being able to charge his telephone at a Red Cross station in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto capital.

At a Red Cross emergency aid point, one elderly man asked the camera crews and journalists why they had only taken an interest once the situation reached crisis point. “Where were you when we were in Karabakh? You want to film? Here are my legs,” he said angrily, raising the ends of his trousers to reveal bandaged, bruised shins.

At a Red Cross emergency aid point, one elderly man asked the camera crews and journalists why they had only taken an interest once the situation reached crisis point | Gabriel Gavin/POLITICO

Meanwhile, Armenia’s prime minister warned that, despite assurances from Russia, “the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh still face the danger of ethnic cleansing.”

“If the needs of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh are not met [so that they are able to stay] in their homes, and effective mechanisms of protection against ethnic cleansing not put in place, then the likelihood is increasing that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will see expulsion from their homeland as the only way out,” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan predicted.

At the same time, Pashinyan said Armenia would welcome its “brothers” from the exclave — inside Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders but held by Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population since a war that followed the fall of the Soviet Union.

The prime minister’s stark warning comes just two days after Pashinyan said he “assumed” Russia had taken responsibility for the fate of the population, after Karabakh Armenian leaders accepted a Moscow-brokered surrender agreement following almost 24 hours of fierce fighting with Azerbaijani forces. The embattled prime minister, however, said he believed there was a genuine hope that locals would be able to continue living in Nagorno-Karabakh.

A steady stream of civilian cars is now crossing over — many laden down with bags or filled with loose bedding and other possessions | Gabriel Gavin/POLITICO

Shortly after Pashinyan’s address, the official information center for the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic issued a statement saying “the families of those left homeless as a result of recent military action and who expressed a desire to leave the republic will be transferred to Armenia accompanied by Russian peacekeepers.” Officials will provide information “about the relocation of other population groups in the near future,” according to the statement.

According to Azerbaijan’s foreign policy adviser, Hikmet Hajiyev, the government will “also respect the individual choices of residents.”

“It once again shows that allegations as if Azerbaijan blocked the roads for passage are not true,” Hajiyev told POLITICO. “They are enabled to use their private vehicles.”

Dozens of trucks carrying 150 tons of humanitarian aid, organized by the The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Russian Red Cross, gained rare access to the region via a road controlled by Azerbaijani troops on Saturday. Speaking to POLITICO, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s foreign policy adviser, Hikmet Hajiyev, said the guarantee for humanitarian aid access “once again shows the good intentions and seriousness of the Azerbaijan government to meet the needs and requirements of Armenian residents and also to ensure a safe and decent reintegration process.”

“People right now say everyone is leaving. In Stepanakert, there is no second opinion, everyone is trying to find a few liters of petrol and be ready any time, any second, for when we are going” | Gabriel Gavin/POLITICO

Azerbaijan has said the Karabakh Armenians can continue to live in the region if they lay down their weapons and accept being governed as part of the country.

However, in an interview with Reuters on Sunday, David Babayan, an adviser to the Karabakh Armenian leadership, said that “our people do not want to live as part of Azerbaijan. 99.9% [would] prefer to leave our historic lands.”

Accusing the international community of abandoning the estimated 100,000 residents of the besieged territory, Babayan declared that “the fate of our poor people will go down in history as a disgrace and a shame for the Armenian people and for the whole civilized world. Those responsible for our fate will one day have to answer before God for their sins,” he said.

Pashinyan has accused citizens with close ties to the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership of fomenting unrest in the country, with protesters clashing with police in the capital of Yerevan as criticism of his handling of the crisis grows.



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