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Belgian artist's 'portable oasis' creates COVID-free bubble for one

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When governments around Europe told people to create a "bubble" to limit their social contacts during the COVID-19 pandemic, this was probably not what they had in mind, write Bart Biesemans and Clement Rossignol.

Alain Verschueren, a Belgian artist and social worker, has been strolling through the capital Brussels wearing a "portable oasis" - a plexiglass mini-greenhouse which rests on his shoulders, cocooning him in a bubble of air purified by the aromatic plants inside.

Verschueren, 61, developed the idea 15 years ago, inspired by the lush oases in Tunisia where he had previously worked. In a city where face coverings are mandatory to curb the spread of COVID-19, his invention has gained a new lease of life.

"It was about creating a bubble in which I could lock myself in, to cut myself off a world that I found too dull, too noisy or smelly," Verschueren said, adding that he has asthma and finds breathing within his contraption more comfortable than wearing a facemask.

Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while performing in a street, saying he wanted to be in his bubble in the middle of the city, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium April 16, 2021. Picture taken April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while performing in a street, saying he wanted to be in his bubble in the middle of the city, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium April 16, 2021. Picture taken April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while performing in a street, saying he wanted to be in his bubble in the middle of the city, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium 16 April. REUTERS/Yves Herman

"As time went by, I noticed that people were coming up to me and talking to me. This isolation became much more a way of connecting," he said.

Onlookers in Brussels appeared amused and confused by the man wandering between the shops - mostly closed due to COVID-19 restrictions - encased in a pod of thyme, rosemary and lavender plants.

"Is it a greenhouse? Is it for the bees? Is it for the plants? We don't know, but it's a good idea," Charlie Elkiess, a retired jeweller, told Reuters.

Verschueren said he hoped to encourage people to take better care of the environment, to reduce the need to protect ourselves from air and noise pollution.

Belgium

Israel’s ambassador to Belgium lashes out at the Belgian government reaction, calls it ‘hypocrisy and cowardice’

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Israel’s ambassador to Belgium Emmanuel Nahshon (pictured) lashed out at the Belgian government reaction to the events in Israel and Gaza. “Friendly countries,  the US, Germany, the UK, all support Israel in an unconditional and clear way. We have the right to defend ourselves against these attacks. When it comes to the Belgian reaction, unfortunately what comes to mind is the word hypocrisy and the word cowardice,’ he said, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

Speaking in an interview with Belgian tv channel LN24, the ambassador was reacting to comments made by Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès on the conflict. She spoke of a ‘’very difficult situation, an escalation where the civilian population is affected’’.

For her, “the first thing we don’t do is point the finger at those responsible for the current situation. Hamas? The Israeli government? ”

She added, ‘’It’s a classic question, we always try to say who is responsible for what. When you want to be an ‘honest broker’ in the resolution of a conflict”, you have to avoid pointing the finger of blame.’’

“There are things happening (on the ground) that are difficult to accept on both sides. We are convinced that launching hundreds and hundreds of rockets (at Israel) is not likely to calm the situation,’’ she said, calling on the parties to show ‘’restraint.’’

She expressed the hope for a European initiative: ‘We have to use diplomacy, but with 27 countries, with the EU, it is always difficult to have a single position. So we need a coherent approach to the discussion’, she said.

Within the Belgian government, the Greens and Socialists are pushing for a firm stance on the escalating violence between Israel and the Palestinians, even calling for sanctions against Israel.

“I hear people asking for sanctions. But we are not the first to do that, we must first initiate dialogue, first force a ceasefire,’’ the Belgian Foreign Minister said.

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Brussels

Portugal foreign minister calls on ‘all parties’ to de-escalate the situation in Jerusalem

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Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva: "Violence is the enemy of peace. We need all the moderates to try to take control of the situation and to avoid and combat any kind of violence."

Israel’s foreign ministry has issued a statement regarding the years-long land dispute in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. “Regrettably, the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian terror groups are presenting a real-estate dispute between private parties as a nationalistic cause in order to incite violence in Jerusalem. The PA and Palestinian terror groups will bear full responsibility for the violence emanating from their actions,’’ the statement said, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva (pictured) has called on all parties in Jerusalem to de-escalate the situation. ”I make an appeal to all parties in Jerusalem to de-escalate, to avoid any kind of violence.Violence is the enemy of peace. We need all the moderates to try to take control of the situation and to avoid and combat any kind of violence,’’ he said upon arrival at a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels. Portugal is currently chairng the EU Council of Ministers.

The unrest continued in Jerusalem on Monday (10 May) with Arab riots on the Temple Mount and in the Old City. They hurled rocks and other objects at Israeli police who responded with stung grenades. In an effort to lower the flames in the city, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai had ordered earlier on Monday that Jewish worshipers be barred from entering the Temple Mount compound for the day.

“The Israel Police will continue to enable freedom of worship, but won’t allow disturbances,” the police said in a statement. On the last Friday evening of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (7 May), Palestinians threw rocks and bottles at Israeli police officers on the Temple Mount following Muslim prayers. 17 police officers were hurt and half were hospitalized, with one taking a rock to the head. Video from the scene showed pitched battles, with Palestinians throwing chairs, shoes, rocks and bottles, and shooting fireworks, while chanting “Allahu Akbar”, and police responding with stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Israel’s foreign ministry has issued a statement regarding the years-long land dispute in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. “Regrettably, the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian terror groups are presenting a real-estate dispute between private parties as a nationalistic cause in order to incite violence in Jerusalem. The PA and Palestinian terror groups will bear full responsibility for the violence emanating from their actions,’’ the statement said.

On Sunday (9 May), Israel’s Supreme Court decided – at the request of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, to postpone a hearing on the possible eviction of several Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem and will set a new date within 30 days in the decades-long legal case. What is the Sheikh Jarrah legal dispute ? Sheikh Jarrah is an Arab neighborhood that developed outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem in the 19th century. According to Israel’s Supreme Court, the land in question was purchased by the local Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities from its Arab owners in 1875, primarily because of the area’s religious significance in housing the tomb of “Simeon the Just”.

The property was registered in the Ottoman land registry as a trust under the name of rabbis Avraham Ashkenazi and Meir Auerbach. A small Jewish community lived there peacefully in co-existence with the local Arab community until 1948, when the War of Independence broke out. The Jewish owners had tried to register ownership of the property with the authorities of the British Mandate in 1946. When the War of Independence broke out in 1948, the Old City of Jerusalem and its surrounding area—including Sheikh Jarrah—was captured by Transjordan (now Jordan) and the Jewish families were forcibly evicted. Custodianship of the property was transferred to the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Properties.

In 1956, the Jordanian government leased the property to 28 families of Palestinian “refugees,” while maintaining ownership of the property. After the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel regained control of Jerusalem, it passed a law allowing Jews whose families were evicted by Jordanian or British authorities in the city prior to 1967 to reclaim their property, provided they could demonstrate proof of ownership and the existing residents were unable to provide such proof of purchase or legal transfer of title. In 1973, ownership of the property was registered by Sephardic Community Committee and the Knesset Israel Committee with Israeli authorities pursuant to the above law. Subsequently, in 2003, the owners sold the property to Nahalat Shimon an Israeli NGO that seeks to reclaim property for Jews evicted or forced to flee as a result of the 1948 War of Independence.

In 1982, the Jewish owners (Sephardic Community Committee and the Knesset Israel Committee) sued the Palestinian families residing in Sheikh Jarrah and demanded their eviction on the basis that they were squatters on the property. The Magistrate Court determined that the Palestinian families could not demonstrate their ownership of the property, but that they enjoyed Protected Tenant Status. As protected tenants, they would be able to continue living on the property as long as they paid rent and maintained the property. This arrangement was agreed upon mutually in agreement signed by the parties, in which the tenants recognized the trusts’ ownership in exchange for protected tenant status. Beginning in 1993, the trusts began proceedings against the residents based on their non-payment of rent and of illegal changes to the property.

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Belgium

Police break up Brussels anti-lockdown party

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Police fired water cannon and tear gas in a Brussels park on Saturday (1 May) to break up an anti-lockdown party of several hundred people designed to defy coronavirus social distancing rules. The crowd of mostly young people responded to a post on Facebook announcing the unauthorised party. It took place a month after police cleared 2,000 people who gathered in the same Bois de la Cambre park for la Boum (the party), an event that had begun as an April Fool's joke.

The follow-up Boum 2 event on 1 May, a traditional day for demonstrations, was held a week before the Belgian government allows cafe and bar terraces to open and lets groups of more than four people meet outside in a relaxation of COVID-19 rules.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo urged Belgians on Friday to stay united and not "fall into this trap". Facebook also took down the Boum 2 post on Thursday (29 April) after a request from Belgian prosecutors, who warned partygoers they risked being detained or fined.

A man is doused by a water cannon during clashes as people gather at the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos park for a party called "La Boum 2" in defiance of Belgium's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) social distancing measures and restrictions, in Brussels, Belgium May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman
A man is doused by a water cannon during clashes as people gather at the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos park for a party called "La Boum 2" in defiance of Belgium's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) social distancing measures and restrictions, in Brussels, Belgium May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman
A police officer detains a man during clashes as people gather at the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos park for a party called "La Boum 2" in defiance of Belgium's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) social distancing measures and restrictions, in Brussels, Belgium May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Police said several hundred people still attended.

Emile Breuillot, a 23-year-old dental student, said he had come to see people enjoy themselves and to defend their rights to gather.

After a calm start with groups chanting "freedom", the police announced on social media that attendees were not observing public safety measures and that they would intervene. Many people were not wearing masks, a requirement anywhere in public in the Belgian capital.

Hundreds of people also marched in central Brussels and through the eastern city of Liege demanding a relaxation of coronavirus measures.

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