Why Apple was wrong to pull iPhone app at Israel's behest

The US computer giant removed the "ThirdIntifada" app under Israeli pressure.

The Arabic word intifada -- literally meaning "to shake off" but usually translated as "uprising" or "resistance" -- has strong political and historical connotations in the Arab world. The First and Second Intifadas were two popular Palestinian uprisings over the past three decades against the Israeli occupation.

That Apple attempted to capitalise on the social turmoil of these events by launching an iPhone application under the name "ThirdIntifada" is thus not the smartest move the company has ever made. The Arabic-language app was released a few days ago, and provided consumers with news reports and editorials, as well as details of upcoming protests and nationalistic Palestinian material.

Unsurprisingly, the Israeli government has been quick to take the offensive, and Apple has since removed the app at the request of the Iraeli state.

But this small and seemingly benign episode raises questions about Apple's political entanglements, and the extent of Israeli influence.

Israel recently appealed personally to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to take down a Palestinian Third Intifada page that had attracted more than 350,000 fans. After initially refusing, Facebook, too, complied.

Arguably, Apple should not have agreed to publish the app in the first place -- or at least changed its name to something less politically volatile. The company enforces stringent guidelines for the applications it approves, and has previously rejected or blocked apps that it considers offensive or inflammatory. Earlier this year, Apple pulled an app offering to "cure homosexuality" after more than 100,000 people signed a petition calling for its removal.

While the Intifada app may indeed be deemed offensive by some Zionist groups, it seems unlikely that such a fuss would have been made for a similar app detailing the Egyptian or Tunisian protest movements -- or, for that matter, the recent protests in Britain against government spending cuts.

The question here is not just about Apple's murky politics, Palestinian antagonism or Israel's far-reaching influence, but about the role of a state -- any state -- in pressurising an international organisation to withdraw one of their products. Two wrongs, as the saying goes, don't make a right.

Whichever way you look at it, this example sets a worrying -- if not wholly unexpected -- precedent for future dealings between Palestinians and the Israeli state.

Emanuelle Degli Esposti is a freelance journalist currently living and working in London. She has written for the Sunday Express, the Daily Telegraph and the Economist online.

Emanuelle Degli Esposti is the editor and founder of The Arab Review, an online journal covering arts and culture in the Arab world. She also works as a freelance journalist specialising in the politics of the Middle East.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear