BBC 2024-02-27 16:31:43

Israel-Gaza war: Follow a day in the lives of Gazans as war nears five-month mark

We’ve just had another update come through from Aseel Mousa, the 26-year-old journalist in Rafah:

Before the war at this time, I used to be coming back from work to my home, and then I would relax on my bed and talk to my mum about my day. Now, it is not just boredom. It’s anxiety, tension all the time.

Now we will prepare lunch, which will be canned peas, because there is nothing fresh. We only really eat tinned food. We don’t even have snacks.

Israel Gaza: Biden hopes for ceasefire by next week

US President Joe Biden says he hopes to have a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza by Monday.

His comments come amid reports of some progress in indirect negotiations involving Israeli and Hamas officials.

It would involve aid deliveries to Gaza and the release of more hostages taken during the 7 October Hamas attacks.

Israel has not commented and Hamas officials have indicated the two sides are not as close to a ceasefire deal as Mr Biden suggested.

Qatar, which has been mediating in the talks alongside Egypt, said they were “pushing hard” for a deal and felt “optimistic”, but had nothing to announce.

Israel launched a large-scale air and ground campaign in Gaza after Hamas gunmen killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel.

The attackers also took 253 people hostage, a number of whom have since been released.

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip says at least 29,878 people have been killed in the territory since then – including 96 deaths in the past 24 hours – in addition to 70,215 who have been wounded.

According to Reuters news agency, quoting an unnamed source close to the talks, Hamas is still studying a draft framework, drawn by France, which would include a 40-day pause in all military operations and the exchange of Palestinians held in Israeli jails for Israeli hostages, at a ratio of 10 to one.

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“We’re close,” President Biden told reporters in New York on Monday. “We’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.”

On NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers” which was broadcast later, the president said Israel would be willing to pause its assault during Ramadan if a deal was reached.

The Islamic holy month begins around 10 March.

“Ramadan’s coming up and there has been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out,” Mr Biden said.

However, a Hamas official told the BBC: “The priority for us in Hamas is not the exchange of detainees, but the cessation of the war.

“It is not logical, after all this loss of life and property, to accept any offer that does not lead to a complete ceasefire, the return of the displaced, and the reconstruction of Gaza.”

Last week, the US – Israel’s main ally – was widely criticised for vetoing a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Instead, it proposed its own resolution for a temporary ceasefire “as soon as practicable”, which also warned Israel not to invade the southern Gazan city of Rafah “under current circumstances”.

Israel has faced mounting international pressure not to launch an offensive in Rafah, where about 1.5m Palestinians are sheltering, most having fled fighting further north in the territory.

“There are too many innocent people that are being killed,” Mr Biden said on Late Night With Seth Meyers. “And Israel has slowed down the attacks in Rafah. They have to. And they’ve made a commitment to me they’re going to see to it that there is ability to evacuate significant portions of Rafah before they go and take out the remainder of Hamas.”

On Sunday, the Israeli prime minister’s office said it had received plans from its military to evacuate civilians from areas including Rafah.

Mr Netanyahu said in an interview with CBS on Sunday that Israeli forces would eventually launch an invasion of Rafah regardless of any agreement for a temporary ceasefire, insisting: “We can’t leave the last Hamas stronghold without taking care of it.”

“If we have a deal, it’ll be delayed somewhat,” he added. “But it’ll happen. If we don’t have a deal, we’ll do it anyway.”

In a separate development on Monday, Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh resigned along with his government, which runs parts of the occupied West Bank.

President Mahmoud Abbas accepted his decision, which could pave the way for a technocratic government.

Mr Abbas is under pressure from the US to reform the PA so it can govern Gaza after the Israel-Hamas war ends.

Last week, Mr Netanyahu presented a vision for the territory that made no mention of any role for the PA.

Daniela Klette: Alleged Red Army Faction member held after 30 years

Alleged Red Army Faction (RAF) fugitive Daniela Klette has been arrested by German police after more than 30 years in hiding.

The 65-year-old was tracked down on Monday evening in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg, traditionally known as a left-wing stronghold.

Ms Klette is renowned for allegedly being part of the far-left armed group which terrorised Germany for decades.

She is accused of attempted murder and a string of serious robberies.

Tabloid headlines about “RAF Rentner” or in English – the “Red Army Faction pensioners” – make the robberies between 1999 and 2016 sound like a TV sitcom about an elderly grandma on the run. But the now-disbanded RAF – sometimes referred to as the Baader-Meinhof Gang – was violent.

Thirty-four people were killed between 1971 and 1993. The group targeted political figures and business leaders and among its victims were an attorney general and a Deutsche Bank chairman.

More than 200 people were injured.

Officials allege Ms Klette was part of the RAF’s so-called third generation, which was active in the 1980s and 1990s.

It allegedly killed the Deutsche Bank boss in a roadside bomb, and shot dead a centre-left politician, tasked with privatising business in former communist East Germany, in his home.

In 1991 the group launched a gun attack on the US embassy in the western city of Bonn. No-one was injured, but traces of Ms Klette’s DNA was later found at the site.

Two years later, the group bombed and partly destroyed a new prison which had just been built.

The Red Army Faction grew out of the 1960s radical student movement. It’s aim was to undermine West German capitalism, and the group had links to Middle Eastern guerrillas.

Still today, the RAF is sometimes revered in certain radical-left wing circles. The gang’s symbols occasionally crop-up on clothing, regularly sparking anguished debates in Germany about whether left-wing extremism and violence is glamorised, rather than taken seriously.

  • Who were Germany’s Red Army Faction militants?

The RAF officially disbanded in 1998 and some members, including Daniela Klette, went underground. Since then she and two other former RAF members allegedly survived financially by carrying out armed robberies of supermarkets and cash transporters. It is thought they raked in millions of euros in total.

Police wanted posters, saying “these people could be your neighbours”, show grainy 1980s photos of the trio as shaggy-haired students.

More recent police photos of Ms Klette’s two accomplices show grey-haired middle-aged men. But she appears to have avoided being spotted or photographed and police photos simply show a reconstructed image of what she might look like aged 65.

On 14 February, a state prosecutor called for information from the public on national TV during a true-crime documentary series, and hundreds of people called in with possible leads.

Somehow Daniela Klette managed to stay in the shadows and undetected for half her life as the search for her went nowhere for decades.

Until now.

Gen Alpha want what their millennial parents have

The youngest consumers can’t yet drive themselves to the shops. It won’t stop them from buying like their millennial parents.

When I was 13 in the late 2000s, finally old enough to be dropped off at our local mall in Delaware, US, there was only one place I wanted to shop: Limited Too. The store, founded in 1987, was a younger offshoot of adult clothing brand The Limited, and was a tween fashion destination filled with logo tees, floral sundresses, plaid skirts, denim vests and plenty of sparking accessories.

Limited Too was among many stores of the time that catered to the in-between age – Wet Seal, Delia’s, The Body Shop, Lush, Charlotte Russe – where young people were playing with ideas of who they could become. But by 2008, Limited Too’s retail locations had vanished, many having merged with the tween store Justice, which, as of 2020, also shuttered all physical locations. 

Today’s tweens have few retail spaces to frequent, not because their generation isn’t interested in shopping – quite the opposite. Gen Alpha, born between 2010 and 2024, is more brand-aware than ever, but they have few dedicated spaces or brands targeting their specific needs. Instead, Gen Alpha want to enter directly into the brands of adulthood, preferring to shop where their millennial parents shop: Lululemon, Sephora, Walmart, Target. 

Mature brands are ready to welcome these young shoppers – and for good reason. As an estimated 2.5m Gen Alphas are born weekly, the demographic’s economic footprint is expected to reach $5.46tn (£4.32tn) by 2029 – almost as much as the spending power of millennials and Gen Z combined. By setting their sights on the youngest consumers, adult brands can secure the loyalty of the next generation by simply expanding the offerings they already have. 

The end of the tween branding space 

The concept of a “tween” is largely a North American term, and wouldn’t exist were it not for advertising. Short for “tweenager”, one of the word’s first appearances was in 1964 as a size designation in a New York Times article about shopping. By the late 1980s, the term had taken firm hold, with tween shopping habits for things like Polaroid cameras and video games making frequent headlines.

“No, not teen-ager. Tween-ager,” a 1988 USA Weekend article reads, per the Oxford English Dictionary. “She’s that nine-year-old suddenly dressing to the nines. He’s that 10-year-old buying Benetton instead of baseball cards. They hang out at the local tween mecca – the shopping mall.”

Other languages have their own designations, such as “teini” in Finland; and the Arabic “sin el morahqa”, which translates to “age of getting closer”. Tween shopping has similarly gained an international foothold. There was Tammy Girl, a haven for UK tweens in the ’90s that shut its doors in 2005, and Pull&Bear, a streetwear-casual store for young people founded in Spain in 1991. It’s still going strong. American tween brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister have also found success abroad, with stores in Asia, Europe and South America. 

But recent attempts by adult brands to target the tween demographic – like Franki, the younger version of the women’s mall-brand Francesca’s, and Project Gap, a category within the larger Gap brand – come nowhere near the top of Gen Alpha’s favourite stores. According to US advertising and media company Razorfish, that honour goes to Amazon, Apple, Nintendo, Target and other places on a typical adult’s gift list. The same goes for the UK: Smyth’s Toys, Sports Direct and Tesco top Performance Marketing World’s list of “coolest” brands for kids.

“Because this cohort is so brand mature, you have to be very aware of the authenticity of your brand,” says Josh Campo, New York-based CEO of Razorfish. “I do think that that’s part of the reason that you see their affinities not towards the typical kid brands. It probably doesn’t have the same authentic feel because it’s almost like you’re patronising them.”

Brand audiences are also no longer defined by narrow demographics: everything is for everyone. Razorfish reports Gen Alpha and Gen Z share all but two of the same top 10 favourite brands. And millennials are likely to share the same Stanley tumbler as their kids.

“Trends these days are not age specific,” says Casey Lewis, who writes the youth consumer analysis newsletter After School. For example, instead of creating a new line of clothes specifically for tweens, brands have simply expanded the size range of their current lines. “Women’s clothing comes in smaller sizes,” explains Lewis, so it’s easier to start wearing at a young age. “Young girls are wearing baggy jeans and flared leggings, and so are millennials, so there’s really less of a distinction.” 

But while Gen Alpha may have strong preferences in their shopping choices, they don’t yet have independent spending power. The reality of what kids wear, buy, and apply to their faces is still, for the most part, down to their parents’ purses. As of now, Gen Alpha has an additional $300bn (£237.3bn) in spending power through parental influence, which is why brands continue to market to adults, even if their consumers are getting younger. If you’re wondering why $45 (£35.50) products with retinol and exfoliating acids are appearing in 10-year-olds’ shopping carts, look at who’s paying for it. “Millennial habits are trickling down to their own kids,” says Lewis.

Online habits and offline experiences 

These habits were built online throughout the past decade, first on Instagram, where millennials learned to lead photogenic lifestyles; and then on TikTok, where Gen Z and Gen Alpha have learned to “get ready with me” by listing off the brands they consume in a morning.

By associating with these brands, tweens can participate in online culture. Trends popular with multiple generations, such as “face-baking” and “pimple-patching”, are based entirely on trying and reviewing different products. 

The relentless appearances of certain products across Instagram Stories, YouTube haul videos and TikTok For You Pages has elevated them to cult status. They do more than serve their functional purpose. The possession of certain brands also grants the tween immediate acceptance into an elite community of multigenerational tastemakers. Purchasing a certain brand has become the new entry into adulthood. 

Perhaps this is just what happens when three generations that span nearly 40 years share the same digital space: 43% of Gen Alphas in the US had tablets before the age of six, and 58% received their first iPhone by age 10.  

“What we see is not so much as the targeting of Gen Alpha, it’s the overlap of where content gets consumed between Gen Alpha and Gen Z and older generations more generally,” says Razorfish’s Campo. “It is leading them to have a far more sophisticated brand maturity than we would’ve expected.”

You go into a Sephora and it’s like an amusement park for make-up. It really is sort of a free-for-all for adults and kids alike – Casey Lewis

“The rise of the ‘shelfie’, a photo of what’s in your bathroom shelf, has been a game changer for our brand,” Marc Elrick, who launched the global skincare brand Byoma in 2020, told Business Of Fashion. “This demographic is collecting skincare and it helps if your brand is aesthetically pleasing and fun.”

There are brands creating and marketing with Gen Alpha in mind, mainly focused on price point and visual appeal. While trending skincare brand Drunk Elephant’s best-selling products land somewhere between $30 to $80 (£23.70 to £63.75), the UK skincare brand Bubble – which markets itself towards Gen Z and Gen Alpha – keeps its individual products under $20 (£15.80), while also remaining age-appropriate for their skin.

Other brands hope to target the younger generation by emphasising their values. Sustainability is already a value important to Gen Alpha, reports Razorfish, and Australian clothing store Ziggy Zaza secures the loyalty of environmentally-minded kids and their parents by manufacturing using sustainable and renewable materials. London-based What Mother Made has a similar ethos, but hopes to attract children and their parents by offering handmade, zero-waste clothing products for both.

But more often, the “tween” designation works the other way around – that items from brands designed for all ages end up getting an unintended “tween” designation, thanks the demographic’s enthusiasm. At the end of 2023, Lewis rounded up the most popular Christmas presents for teens, based on TikTok haul videos. The gifts included Stanley tumblers, mini-platform Uggs, Dyson hair gadgets and Birkenstock clogs – all items adults can buy for themselves, but also purchase for their kids.

“If you, 10 years old, saw that Drunk Elephant serum on TikTok and then you talk to your mum about it and your mum does a little research, she’s like, ‘Huh, this is actually well reviewed on Sephora’,” says Lewis. “So, then you end up buying that Drunk Elephant. Kids have always had tons of purchasing power even before having the money, but I do think… because Gen Alpha and Gen Z are so digitally native, this group of young consumers will have even more purchasing sway over their parents’ decisions.” 

A tween playground 

While Gen Alpha might lean into adult tastes, they still want a place to play. “The thing with tweens is there are fewer spaces specifically for them now,” says Lewis. Physical retail has seen a decline in recent years, with US malls closing at a rate of 15 to 20 per year, according to real-estate advisory firm Green Street Advisors. Overall, the US saw the closure of at least 2,800 retail stores in 2023.

Yet Gen Z increasingly prefer to shop in person. Malls that remain, like New Jersey’s Garden State Plaza, have seen their occupancy rate rebound to pre-pandemic levels, and sales at malls increased more than 11% between 2021 and 2022. And the places that are the most popular are those that feel like a place to play. “You go into a Sephora and it’s like an amusement park for make-up,” says Lewis. “It really is sort of a free-for-all for adults and kids alike.”

Big-box stores such as Walmart and Target, two of Gen Alpha’s favourite brands, also offer a similar kind of retail playground. But this is not without growing pains: malls like Garden State Plaza have been so overrun with young shoppers that they’ve begun instituting curfews for minors due to a rise in unruliness. Unaccompanied minors must be picked up outside by 17:00, or in the case of a Los Angeles mall, be required to wear lanyards with their names and parents’ phone numbers.

There is also the potential that adult brands granting Gen Alpha early access may run the risk of alienating their adult consumer base – think the ongoing Sephora teen panic, in which older customers have complained about a surge of misbehaved young shoppers. “I don’t really want to have to elbow my way through a gaggle of 10-year-olds to get some blush,” says Lewis. But with $5.46bn and an even longer lifetime of brand loyalty on the table, it’s a risk brands are willing to take. 

The medieval French town luring book lovers

Set in a stunning location near the Pyrenees mountains, the tiny village of Montolieu is home to roughly 800 people and has no ATMs, but it boasts 15 bookshops.

Light rain was falling as I drove through the foothills of the aptly named Montagne Noire (Black Mountain), a mountain range in the southern French Occitanie region characterised by dark forests of oak and pine. As the rain softened to mist, a rainbow appeared, illuminating Montolieu’s medieval Saint-André church. It seemed like a promise that something magical awaited. And for a bibliophile like me, it did.

Montolieu (population: 833), is home to no fewer than 15 independently owned second-hand bookshops, making it southern France’s only official Village du Livre (Book Village).

Montolieu isn’t the only book town in the world. Wales’ Hay-on-Wye, home to more than 20 bookshops, was first recognised for its bibliophilia in 1963; Belgium’s Redu, which once counted 26, earned the status in 1984. Montolieu isn’t even the only book town in France; Brittany’s Bécherel became the country’s first in 1989 and has since been joined by seven more, including Montolieu in 1990. But France’s second-oldest official book town stands out for a simple reason: unlike its sister villages, Montolieu’s focus was never meant to be on the sale of books, but rather on their creation.

Bookbinder Michel Braibant first dreamed up this booktopia in the 1980s: a village that would double as a conservatory for bookmaking arts.

For the past 35 years, Montolieu has been synonymous with books (Credit: Alamy)

“It was [a] completely off-the-wall [idea],” said Gaëlle Ferradini, the new director of Montolieu’s Musée des Arts & Métiers du Livre, a museum devoted to the art and craft of bookmaking. That it worked, she says, is a credit to Braibant himself. “People tell me that he was the kind of person you went along with, in his projects.” 

Today, the museum is home not only to exhibits on writing systems and machines like a Heidelberg printing press but also to regular three-hour workshops, taught by 12 visiting Southern French artisans who come to share their mastery of marbling paper, engraving or Latin calligraphy. Bookbinding is taught by Camille Grin, perhaps Braibant’s most direct successor. An artisan-in-residence, Grin operates her workshop out of the museum’s second floor, taking full advantage of the antique machines, many of which came from Braibant’s personal collection, to exercise her craft. 

“I tell myself he’d be happy to know that in this museum – which was never really meant to be an aesthetic museum, but really a living space – there’s an artisan, working,” she said. 

Montolieu’s unique status helps it stand out from its neighbours in this sleepy corner of France near the Pyrenees. While the tourist season officially opens with a massive Easter weekend book market, and summer sees the 18th-Century textile factory at the bottom of the village transformed into a cultural centre that hosts concerts and art exhibits, even on a February Friday, the village streets were filled with life. People sipped pints in the brisk sunshine outside the cafe or lunched at one of six restaurants flourishing along the cobbled medieval streets. They dipped in and out of artisan boutiques, as painters, fashion designers and even a potter have set up shop in the village’s many half-timbered buildings. And while there are no ATMs in Montolieu, you can purchase groceries with the push of a button: two local farms fill refrigerated vending machines with organic produce daily, including some of the sweetest, juiciest apples I’ve ever tried.

Montolieu is a tiny village filled with artisan boutiques, restaurants and – of course – books (Credit: Alamy)

And of course, people shopped for books. Montolieu’s bookshops may not have been the original focus of Braibant’s dream, but they certainly draw tourists today. In the early 1990s, Braibant and other members of the association he had founded reached out to booksellers, tempting them with the promise of picturesque storefronts, which then lay mainly empty following years of rural exodus. Concentrated chiefly around the rue de la Mairie, they boast creative signage, often offering a hint as to the bookseller’s specialty. L’Art et la Manière focuses on art books; the shelves at Mamézon are chock-a-block with comics and manga. Contes et Gribouilles‘ colourful storefront evokes its dedication to books for children “from 0 to 99 years old”. 

I began my discovery at the slightly more exocentric Au Temps de Jadis, with its inviting scent of old paper and shelves crammed with leather-bound tomes. A slightly taciturn shopkeeper introduced himself as Jean, but the moment I asked what he was reading, he thawed, showing off his periodicals and satirical journals, not to mention a 1670 copy of Les Pensées de Pascal, its pages as thin as a butterfly’s wings. It turns out Jean-Noël Ortis’ specialty is books on philosophy and history, particularly Napoleon III and World War Two. “But of course,” he said, “when you like history, one could say you’re curious about everything.” 

One might think that the sheer quantity of bookshops in a village so small would invite competition, but Ortis assured me this is far from the case. On the contrary, he said, most booksellers are happy to send clients to their colleagues in search of a specific tome. “That way, everyone’s happy,” he said. “It creates harmony among us.” 

This community-minded outlook was evident as I entered La Rose des Vents‘ bright pink storefront to find no bookseller, just a tumble of tomes dedicated chiefly to sciences and artisan crafts and a sign saying, “I’m upstairs, I’ll be right down!” A few moments later, owner Marie-Hélène Guillaumot appeared as though conjured – which she was, she told me, thanks to a motion detector that switched on the radio in her flat upstairs, where she occupies herself during lulls by carrying out her bookseller’s tasks – such as covering books in plastic – as well as “making soup or ironing”.

La Rose des Vents is filled with mountains of old books (Credit: Emily Monaco)

Rob Kleiss, my host for the night, also spent more than a decade living above his bookshop, Abélard. His former abode is now home to a plethora of books in various stages of well-loved battery, waiting to be restored or shipped; he lives across the way in a building he purchased in 2017, transforming it into a book-lovers’ bed and breakfast. My loft-like room on the second floor was awash with light, illuminating the leather-bound books atop the mantle and on shelves built into nooks and crannies. Antique caricatures decorated the bathroom walls, and from the window, I glimpsed the aptly named Chapters restaurant, still bustling at 21:00. At the other end of the room, a cosy chair was placed before a window revealing the Black Mountain in the distance, the sky awash with starlight. 

These views were part of what brought Englishman Adrian Mould to Montolieu. After more than a decade working for the trade union of the tiny local Cabardès wine appellation, known for is unique combination of Mediterranean and Atlantic grapes, Mould opened his wine cellar in 2011. “I have a very regular and loyal local clientele,” he said. “Generally, booksellers like wine.” 

The village is saddled between two rivers, the Dure and the Alzeau, which Mould says, “bring it a lot of energy”. Indeed, the power of the water made it a 19th-Century textile centre, and at one point, six paper mills dotted the banks of the Dure. The 300-person village of Brousses-et-Villaret, a 15-minute drive away, is home to the last one still in use in all of Occitanie, and the morning after my stay at Abélard, I drove into the fog-shrouded hills and trekked along the surging river to the mill, where Sabine Durand-Hayes was waiting. 

Durand-Hayes is part of the seventh generation of the Chaïla family, which has produced paper and then cardboard here since 1877. When her grandfather retired in 1981, it seemed the family trade would be lost, until Braibant’s widow implored Durand-Hayes’ uncle, André Durand, to take up the torch, which he did in 1994. Today, Durand-Hayes is responsible for many of the mill’s administrative tasks, joking that she works “in paperwork, but not the same kind”. She knows her family’s ancestral trade well enough to lead enlightening guided tours, which the mill offers in addition to frequent paper-making workshops.

Durand-Hayes is a seventh-generation papermaker who leads demonstrations in the nearby village of Brousses-et-Villaret (Credit: Emily Monaco)

“We don’t call ourselves a museum,” she said, noting that theirs is a living, working production site. “We’re perpetuating a craft here.” 

The enduring presence of Montolieu’s mills are a reminder that this small village has long drawn outsiders, notably thanks to its textile factory, which reached its peak of 257 workers in 1812, producing cloth exported as far as China. The tiny village retains a rather cosmopolitan atmosphere today. “At one point, we had 17 nationalities,” Guillaumot said. 

The village’s openness may have cemented its bookish destiny. After all, Braibant initially proposed the idea of creating a book village in his then-home of Saissac, located 9km away from Montolieu. Yet, Guillaumot told me, “In spite of the esteem that people had for [Braibant], they found [his idea] ridiculous.” But here in Montolieu, they were willing to take a risk on what Ferradini termed “a different kind of tourism”. 

Braibant passed away in 1992, his dream barely realised. But today, his legacy lives on in this little town, a hidden paradise for book lovers, ready to welcome anyone who seeks it.


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