Tech in the Netherlands and Shabbat in Zimbabwe: The Week in Global-Affairs Writing

The highlights from seven days of reading about the world

Farmworkers work in Dutch tulip fields
Farmworkers work in Dutch tulip fields in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, on April 24, 2010. (Michael Kooren / Reuters)

This Tiny Country Feeds the World
Frank Viviano | National Geographic
“The Netherlands is a small, densely populated country, with more than 1,300 inhabitants per square mile. It’s bereft of almost every resource long thought to be necessary for large-scale agriculture. Yet it’s the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass. How on Earth have the Dutch done it?”

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Shabbat in Zimbabwe
Andrew Harris | Roads & Kingdoms
“The Sephardim in Rhodesia quickly established themselves as indispensable to their new homeland’s commercial and cultural fabric. Two of the best-known shopping malls in contemporary Harare were founded by Sephardic Jews in the community’s heyday: Sam Levy’s Village and Avondale Shopping Centre, which was founded by Hanan’s father, Sam. Some of the only surviving textile mills and factories in modern Zimbabwe, employing thousands in a country with few opportunities for formal employment, were built by the Sephardim. The last major Sephardic population shift began in the 1970s, as many Rhodesians fled home during the increasingly violent Zimbabwean War of Independence. Most of them ended up in Cape Town, South Africa, where they established a Rhodesli synagogue. Others migrated to Australia, Belgium, the U.S., and the U.K.

Ladino is a dying language among global Sephardic Jewry everywhere. In Harare, Hanan tells me, meaningful conversation in Ladino is rare. So the food and the flavors of Ladino have become Hanan’s primary medium for transmitting and preserving her family’s history and telling her people’s story.”

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How Do You Make a TV Show Set in the West Bank?
David Remnick | New Yorker
“Fauda, an Israeli series in Hebrew and Arabic that premièred in 2015 and streams in subtitled translation on Netflix, takes its title from the Arabic word for chaos; it’s also the Mayday code word used by the Israeli special forces when a mission goes belly up. A disguise has been seen through? Fauda! The getaway van stalls? Fauda! The story centers on Doron Kabilyo, a saturnine special-forces soldier who, as the series begins, has retired and gone off to live on a small vineyard, where he plays with his two kids, scowls at his wife, and, sometimes, makes wine. When his former commander visits and tells him that a notorious Hamas terrorist whom Kabilyo thought he had killed is, in fact, alive and planning more operations, Kabilyo rejoins his old unit. It’s an unfinished-business, one-last-mission plot. Set in the West Bank, “Fauda” makes a promise to go beyond the usual ingredients of the thriller series—intelligence gathering, interludes of violent action, and bouts of lugubrious reflection and splenetic recrimination. The setting is the flashpoint of a fifty-year-long occupation, and the show’s creators believe that they have made not only a deft work of entertainment but also a drama that gets at the political dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

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The Chechens of Syria
Vera Mironova and Ekaterina Sergatskova | Foreign Affairs
“Before the Syrian conflict, there was little talk outside of the former Soviet Union about the fighting prowess of Chechens. But with the advent of the Islamic State (ISIS), Chechens, or shishani in Arabic, have developed an international reputation as some of the toughest fighters in the world. The rise of one, Abu Omar al-Shishani, to ISIS’ highest military position reinforced this public image, and according to recent interviews in Mosul, Chechens in ISIS were among the foreign fighters most feared by civilians. But those who fight with ISIS are just one group of Chechen forces currently operating in Syria.”

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On the Brink
Evan Osnos | New Yorker
“The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, so there is no embassy in Washington, but for years the two countries have relied on the “New York channel,” an office inside North Korea’s mission to the United Nations, to handle the unavoidable parts of our nonexistent relationship. The office has, among other things, negotiated the release of prisoners and held informal talks about nuclear tensions. In April, I contacted the New York channel and requested permission to visit Pyongyang, the capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The New York channel consists mostly of two genial middle-aged men: Pak Song Il, a husky diplomat with a gray brush cut; and his aide-de-camp, Kwon Jong Gun, who is younger and thinner. They go everywhere together. (The North Korean government has diplomats work in pairs, to prevent them from defecting, or being recruited as spies.) Under U.S. law, they can travel only twenty-five miles from Columbus Circle. Pak and Kwon met me near their office, for lunch at the Palm Too. They cautioned me that it might take several months to arrange a trip. North Korea periodically admits large groups of American journalists, to witness parades and special occasions, but it is more hesitant when it comes to individual reporters, who require close monitoring and want to talk about the nuclear program.

A few days after the July 4th missile test, Pak told me that I could book a flight to Pyongyang. I submitted a list of people I wanted to interview, including diplomats and Kim Jong Un himself. About the latter, Pak only laughed. (Kim has never given an interview.) After Pak stopped laughing, he said I could talk to other officials. I wanted to understand how North Koreans think about the kind of violence that their country so often threatens. Were the threats serious, or mere posturing? How did they imagine that a war would unfold? Before my arrival in North Korea, I spent time in Washington, Seoul, and Beijing; many people in those places, it turned out, are asking the same things about the United States.”