Gaza… What the f***!!!

I can’t help seeing merit in Gaza Bleeds as Israeli Right Wing Prepares for Elections. Yes, written by Zainab S Khan on The Platform. So? Alan Dershowitz is more objective? You jest, surely… According to Khan:

So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”

Obama’s speech at the Cairo University, Egypt (4 June 2009)

With these words echoing throughout the Middle East, the world was made a promise four years ago – a promise of ‘change’ and ‘freedom’. As we got sucked into the euphoria of the inauguration and momentarily turned our gaze, Israel took the opportunity to disable Gaza, bringing its people once more to their knees.  By December 2008, Operation Cast Lead was in full effect. The three-week Operation strategically bombed schools, hospitals and urban areas resulting in the deaths of 1,417 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, compared to three Israeli civilians. The people of Gaza looked to the newly elected President, only to find that his earlier sentiments had withered away with power.

As of 14 November 2012, Israel – yet again – launched a systematic attack on the largely defenceless population of Gaza. Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’ has reportedly killed 45 Palestinians, including a pregnant woman and 12 children, and has caused over 400 casualties. The American response followed its usual course, as it has largely done for decades – of unwavering support: “the United States’ support for Israel’s right to self-defence in light of the barrage of rocket attacks being launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians”. The hypocrisy of Obama’s words in Egypt are further highlighted as the people of Gaza once more face continuous bombardment, with no electricity and declining food and medicine. Gaza’s right to exist is again denied.

Writing this, I am left asking myself the same questions as I did four years ago. How long will Israel maintain the facade of self-defence to justify the mass slaughter of a besieged population, and what are the real reasons behind Israel’s aggression?

Israel’s disproportionate attacks have sent their PR team into overdrive…

Paul McGeough in the Sydney Morning Herald sees such a  pattern too.

We don’t have a clue how it will end, except there is a growing sense that even by regional standards, it will set a new benchmark in ugliness and that it has a special ability to draw in the rest of the region. Might be a time to tread lightly – yes?

So with all that in mind, it was courageous – in the Yes, Prime Minister meaning of the term – for Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to decide that he absolutely had to go to war against Gaza this week.

Still testing its footing after the tectonic shifts of the Arab Spring, Israel might have opted for a less aggressive test of its ”cold peace” alliance with Egypt, which, after years of dictatorship, has an Islamist administration that is required to respond to its people’s massive and heartfelt sympathy for the Palestinians.

Could Netanyahu be so cynical as to stage-manage this show of force, because he faces re-election in a matter of weeks? That’s what some commentators say. Even as he threatens war on Iran and contends with the Syrian conflict on his doorstep, might he have hit Gaza in the hope of showing the world what a bad lot the Palestinians are – on the eve of a Palestinian bid for greater recognition at the United Nations?

It has to be said that for a conflict that can cause so much pain to so many people, it may well be the leadership aspirations of a handful that drive this current chapter – and not just on the Israeli side…

He also notes today that Obama has to factor Arab Spring into reaction to Israeli-Hamas crisis.

Absolute support has been the default position of American politics for decades. But might this President see that the geopolitical reconfiguring of the Middle East in the past two years makes that historic position untenable?

The Arab Spring was a bolt from the blue – an event that most who monitor the Middle East didn’t see coming. But in it, millions of defenceless Arabs found the courage to rise to meet and to grasp the soaring rhetoric of Obama’s famous Cairo speech delivered in June 2009.

It was brilliant stuff. You remember the lines – ”I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”…

In Haaretz Khaled Diab begs: “Israelis and Gazans: Don’t buy your leaders’ rhetoric!”  Chemi Shalev notes “For Israel’s PR war on Gaza, it may be all downhill from here.”

I took the photo above in January 2009 in Sydney. It is linked to the relevant entry. See also A rabbi on Gaza from that time. And on this blog Tread warily in the graveyard called Palestine/Israel among other posts tagged “Israel”.

This letter in today’s Sydney Morning Herald is truistic but nonetheless totally relevant.

My Facebook friends include people with more or less partisan views on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a result, in recent days I have had many graphic colour pictures appearing on my wall, some showing bloodied Israeli civilian casualties, others showing bloodied Palestinian civilian casualties.

What all these pictures demonstrate is that the colour of the spilt blood of innocent Israelis is exactly the same as the colour of the spilt blood of innocent Palestinians.

Paul Norton Highgate Hill (Qld)

Some great TV tonight

Of course I watched the ABC Schools Spectacular.

spect11

I watch it every year with great pride in the achievements of the NSW Department of Education state schools. Wollongong schools were well represented in it.

It was as enjoyable as ever but did lack variety compared to earlier years.

The real event for me, however, was the final extremely moving episode of the Channel Four series The Promise on SBS. I can’t think of a better starting point for something like a sane discussion of the Palestine/Israel tragedy. See also:

Better than a thousand pundits and all their learned articles

That is my feeling about Khaled Hosseini’s second novel A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007). smiley-happy005smiley-happy005[3]smiley-happy005[5]smiley-happy005[7]smiley-happy005[9]

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years—from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to the post-Taliban rebuilding—that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives—the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness—are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

I was irritated by this New York Times review.

In the end it is these glimpses of daily life in Afghanistan — a country known to most Americans only through news accounts of war and terrorism — that make this novel, like “The Kite Runner,” so stirring, and that distract attention from its myriad flaws.

My attention was so distracted that I am convinced the “myriad flaws” exist more in the reviewer’s mind than in Hosseini’s novel, which is not to say the book is perfect but it is pretty bloody good. If it had been published in Australia it would probably be up for the Miles Franklin or something. I think it has suffered from being the SECOND novel after the phenomenon that was, deservedly, The Kite Runner.

t’s the whistling," Laila said to Tariq, "the damn whistling, I hate more than anything."

Tariq nodded knowingly.

It wasn’t so much the whistling itself, Laila thought later, but the seconds between the start of it and impact. The brief and interminable time of feeling suspended. The not knowing. The waiting. Like a defendant about to hear the verdict.

Often it happened at dinner, when she and Babi were at the table. When it started, their heads snapped up. They listened to the whistling, forks in midair, unchewed food in their mouths. Laila saw the reflection of their half-lit faces in the pitch-black window, their shadows unmoving on the wall. The whistling. Then the blast, blissfully elsewhere, followed by an expulsion of breath and the knowledge that they had been spared for now while somewhere else, amid cries and choking clouds of smoke, there was a scrambling, a barehanded frenzy of digging, of pulling from the debris, what remained of a sister, a brother, a grandchild.

But the flip side of being spared was the agony of wondering who hadn’t. After every rocket blast, Laila raced to the street, stammering a prayer, certain that, this time, surely this time, it was Tariq they would find buried beneath the rubble and smoke.

At night, Laila lay in bed and watched the sudden white flashes reflected in her window. She listened to the rattling of automatic gunfire and counted the rockets whining overhead as the house shook and flakes of plaster rained down on her from the ceiling. Some nights, when the light of rocket fire was so bright a person could read a book by it, sleep never came. And, if it did, Laila’s dreams were suffused with fire and detached limbs and the moaning of the wounded.

Morning brought no relief. The muezzin’s call for namaz rang out, and the Mujahideen set down their guns, faced west, and prayed. Then the rugs were folded, the guns loaded, and the mountains fired on Kabul, and Kabul fired back at the mountains, as Laila and the rest of the city watched as helpless as old Santiago watching the sharks take bites out of his prize fish.

Excerpted from A Thousand Splendid Suns copyright 2007 by Khaled Hosseini. Published by Riverhead Books.

People in Immigration should make this mandatory reading for all staff dealing with Afghans. Anyone thinking or writing about Afghanistan or asylum seekers should read this book.  You will understand the place more deeply than if you waded through a thousand pundits and their one-dimensional analyses and learned histories.

In a similar way The Promise, the Channel Four miniseries currently running on Sunday nights on SBS, takes you into the tragedy that is Israel/Palestine and especially the too little known events between World War 2 and 1950 that gave birth to the State of Israel. Based on all my reading in the past and on my experiences at school with the sons of the Holocaust generation and  later at Masada College with a cross-section of Israelis and Jews, I find the program deadly accurate and impartial in the very best sense. It is quite admirable, which is why partisans on all sides hate it.

Last night’s episode didn’t disappoint. Definitely one of the best things on TV in what has been in many ways a very good year. smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[14]smiley-happy005[16]smiley-happy005[18]smiley-happy005[20]

Also on SBS last night was a rather fascinating episode of The Bible: A History. Now this series has in some respects disappointed me, because it isn’t what it says it is. Rather, it is a series of reflections, more or less worth listening to, by a number of people on aspects of the Bible. A systematic history it is not. However, getting Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams to reflect on Jesus was actually quite inspired, if confronting.

As a supporter of the people of Palestine, I believe the security of the people of Israel is tied inextricably with the Israeli government’s need to acknowledge and uphold the rights and security of the people of Palestine. When I have visited the Palestinian territories before, I have been saddened by the awful, visible evidence of occupation and injustice, particularly the failure of the international community to encourage a peace settlement.

This time my visit was non political but the tragic irony was sharpened by my new and growing knowledge of the ancient history of the place. What would Jesus, the Palestinian do?

I came away from this programme more aware of the relevance of Jesus’ message in these modern times. Not just in terms of forgiveness or peace making but also in social and economic issues. Jesus is about equality, the poor and the disadvantaged.

One thing is for certain. The core message of Jesus is relevant in today’s world. It retains the ability to motivate countless billions of people two thousand years after his execution.

If adhered to there would be no conflict, no hunger and no poverty in the world today. No wonder they crucified him.

While I don’t doubt Adams’s sincerity and acknowledge much that is good in him, especially in what he has done in recent years, I don’t entirely buy his justification for what happened in earlier days.

See this review.

There are obvious responses to such a programme. The first is to throw your hands up in horror, to curse and fulminate at what might be seen as the arrogance, hypocrisy or self-delusion of a man who, as a former spokesman-in-chief for IRA terrorism, can here, when asked if he has blood on his hands, blithely reply: “No, I don’t.”

Another, more simple, response is to switch off the television.

Then again, there is what could, in the phrase of that other great peacemaker of our time, Tony Blair, be called the third way. To sit down, watch, and see if one can actually glean something meaningful from it, however offensive it may be.

To choose this option was to be genuinely baffled at how Adams can see anything in the Christian message that corresponds with his own actions. Despite being a regular Mass-goer he always rejected the Catholic church’s condemnation of IRA violence, and refused to see the Troubles as a religious, rather than purely political, conflict.

Here, his trek through Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the West Bank, was less a spiritual journey than a history lesson on the Roman occupation of Judea. He seemed to regard his conversations with historians and theologians as opportunities for self-justification and political point-scoring (when Barabbas was described as a terrorist, he interjected “or freedom fighter”) as much as for understanding.

More than anything, his insistence that he could accept or reject whichever elements of Christian belief he likes, and still be a Christian – because “we all do it” – was revealing of a mindset that, fundamentally, sees only what it chooses to see.

Perhaps most revealing was Adams’s constant return to the only Christian themes he seemed to have any genuine interest in: forgiveness and redemption…

Well worth a look for its own sake and for what it says about this series is Mark Goodacre’s New Testament blog. “This is Mark Goodacre’s academic blog. It focuses on issues of interest on the New Testament and Christian Origins. I am Associate Professor of New Testament in the Religion Department at Duke University.”

Off to The Shire again today

For my uncle’s funeral.

Picture0014

Fortunately it’s a lovely day and the trains are running again.

Last night I watched The Promise. I get extremely annoyed with BOTH sides in the Israel-Palestine issue. I really don’t want to go into it again either – but see these posts if you really want to know. I am finding The Promise truly excellent – a must see, much more worth bothering with than bloody Charles and Sebastian again! I love it for its recognition of complexity, its having an attention span longer than the past week, and being unafraid of urgers and lobbyists on all sides.

… It’s a common misconception that the conflict between Jew and Arab in the region has its roots in Biblical times. Our research suggests that the two communities lived in relative harmony until the 1930s, intermarrying and speaking the local vernacular – Arabic. The burgeoning of Zionism as a concept coincided with the attempted extermination of Ashkenazi Jews in Central and Eastern Europe. Jews in their tens of thousands started arriving at ports in Palestine, often having made the journey from Europe in overcrowded, insanitary and unseaworthy vessels. These survivors of massacred families, some still skeletal in their concentration camp uniforms, were determined to carve out a homeland where they could be safe from further persecution and to oppose, with violence if necessary, any attempt to dislodge them.

Initially, it seems that British soldiers had nothing but sympathy for the plight of the refugees. Some, like our Len Matthews, had taken part in the liberation of a German concentration camp. Others had heard rumours, seen graphic newsreels, spoken to those who had witnessed the atrocities with their own eyes. When British Tommies were ordered to corral newly arrived refugees in cages, strip search and question them, then ship them back west to internment camps in Cyprus, many were deeply uncomfortable. Their behaviour was too obviously redolent of Nazi brutality; the Jews didn’t deserve this further degradation.

Forced to hold the ring between the arriving Jews and Arabs who had lived in the region for generations, Britain enforced its Palestine immigration quotas strictly. Jews fought back with ferocity and cunning. In many ways the Brits bore the brunt of Jewish determination never again to remain passive in the face of an enemy. British soldiers who had fought the Germans for six long years now found themselves branded Nazis, a particularly bitter pill. A large conscript force, they presented an easy target for a highly motivated Jewish guerrilla army, many of whose leaders had been trained in insurgency tactics by Britain for use behind enemy lines in the recent war. Slowly, British sympathy for the plight of the Jews waned, as squaddies out on the town found themselves increasingly falling victim to kidnappings, bombings and shootings, often in broad daylight. In one disturbing incident which we dramatise, described in a report written in December 1947, three soldiers were shot at close range in a busy commercial street by gunmen who melted away into the crowds. The soldier describes how he lay bleeding on the ground but no one moved to help him. Life continued around him as if nothing had happened. Eventually, he dragged himself back into his Jeep and, clutching his stomach wound, drove himself to hospital. One of his comrades had to work the pedals as he began to lose the use of his legs. It was incidents like this which ensured that, by the time they left Palestine in May 1948, the attitude of the average Tommy had undergone a complete change. The truth is, many of them felt hurt by the hostility of the Jews, which they found incomprehensible, ungrateful. “They were happy enough to accept our help in the war,” one said.

At its simplest level, in telling this story in drama form, I’m just responding to a suggestion written in a letter over a decade ago. But, in imagining a character based on the veterans of the Palestine campaign, in interviewing old men still brooding half a century later on those three dark years of their lives, I’ve found myself moved and incensed in equal measure. In 1945, while Britain was focused on postwar bankruptcy and independence for India, these men traded a demob suit and family reunions for a bitter conflict in Mandate Palestine. They were carrying out British policy, even if it’s a policy we would now like to quietly forget. They deserve our gratitude, our respect and, above all, their national memorial.

Peter Kosminsky on The Promise, his drama about Palestine

PB110304

I watched Rageh Omaar on Abraham last night (SBS) …

See also On being in Surry Hills yesterday and finding Nick Jose’s anthology remaindered for last week’s episode.

I wasn’t disappointed, even if I was left wanting to know more. And let me preface by saying I admired the way he ended with those wonderful souls in Israel/Palestine who are genuinely for peace and reconciliation – for example:

Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel builds peace, coexistence and equality through a network of integrated, bilingual schools for Jewish and Arab children. Founded in 1997, Hand in Hand’s success and longevity demonstrate that children, families and entire communities of Jews and Arabs can live and work together with mutual respect and friendship.

On the other hand how tragic that this land and its living people are so cursed by origin myths that just refuse to die. How sad were the images of Hebron. In Omaar’s own words:

Following Abraham’s story takes you from one war zone to another; from Iraq to Israel and the Occupied West Bank, where there are more Abrahamic echoes in the current conflict. The best known and most shocking part of Abraham’s story is the attempted sacrifice of his son. In the Jewish and Christian Bible, it’s Isaac he tries to sacrifice. In the Koran, it’s Ishmael. Yet all three faiths share an admiration for Abraham’s willingness to go through with the sacrifice, only to be stopped at the last minute by divine intervention. Is not sacrifice one of the key elements in the Middle East conflict, the idea that future generations must be willing to sacrifice themselves for the land? There have been so many times in my career, when I have interviewed political leaders, militants, settlers and soldiers, where I have written down the word “sacrifice” alongside the words “future generations”.

Even Abraham’s reputed resting place is one of ugly, primal prejudice and violence. Hebron, in the West Bank, is one of the most uncomfortable places I have ever reported from. It oozes barely suppressed violence and raw hatred.

The centre of the town is home to 170,000 Palestinians. High above the centre are two Israeli settlements, home to 800 Jewish settlers who throw down garbage, soiled nappies and rocks on the Palestinians below. The settlers have to be protected by the Israeli army. In the middle is the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Jews and Muslims believe Abraham is buried. But it is divided, with a Muslim side to Abraham’s tomb and a Jewish side. The streets around the tomb are completely segregated; Palestinians are not allowed to walk on the Jewish side of the pavement.

Even in death and veneration, it is the Abraham of division that has been brought to the fore. Whatever he must think of his descendants, the best we could do is stop invoking his name and legacy to our modern day political disputes. To do so is to pour fire on the flames.

The story of Abraham is interesting in the same way that the idea Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus is interesting. Trouble is it is also about as true as that story.

As an Australian partly descended from our First People I find some things very odd: that the “Near East” (nowhere near here of course) mattered so much to God is just one absurdity. Consider:

 30,700 years ago  Underground oven shows continuity, Lake Mungo, NSW

30,000 years ago  Evidence of bread making, oldest in the world, Cuddy Springs, Western NSW

22,000 years ago  Occupation site at Wentworth Falls, NSW

16,000 years ago Hearths, stone and bone tools, Shaws Creek near Yarramundi, NSW

5,000 years ago  Occupation site, Penrith Lakes, NSW

And then about that last time, apparently, God made a real estate deal with a pair of geriatrics from Ur of the Chaldees via Haran.

Really? Seriously?

You mean you’re not joking?

I could rant more, but I won’t. I have ranted before, most recently in August.  You might add to that another consideration of where real historical study might lead you by reading Myth and Memoricide: Shlomo Sand’s “Invention of the Jewish People”.

Read Historical Issues in the Pentateuch by John McDermott, author of Reading the Pentateuch: A Historical Introduction. Paulist Press, 2002.

The first problem in investigating the historicity of Abraham, Sarah, and the other ancestors is determining when they are supposed to have lived. The simple answer would be to say that Exodus 12:40 gives 430 years as the length of time the Israelites were in Egypt, and 1 Kings 6:1 gives 480 years from then until Solomon built the temple. Therefore, if Solomon ruled sometime in the 10th century BCE, the last generation in Genesis must have been in the 19th century BCE. But there are contradictions in the biblical chronology. The events reported in the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings—from the time in Egypt up to the building of the temple—take more than 550 years, not 480 years.

    Comparing the stories in Genesis with extra biblical evidence also provides no definite answer for when they might have lived. While some scholars have claimed that some of the names, such as Isaac, Ishmael, and Joseph, and some of the customs, such as inheritance, are similar to those found in texts from the early second millennium, others have pointed out that they can also be found in later periods as well. Also, there are anachronisms in the story; it has Abraham encountering Philistines (Genesis 21:32-34), but the Philistines and other Sea Peoples did not arrive in Canaan until well after Abraham would have lived.

    The stories of the ancestors of the Israelites do not come from any one period but developed over time. It is best to see the ancestors as composite characters. Stories from the Shasu (nomadic people mostly south and east of Canaan), Apiru (gangs closer to the Canaanite cities), traders who traveled throughout the region, and residents of the Canaanite cities were passed down among the people who became the Israelites. The most important male characters in the final story—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph—were likely revered ancestors or legendary figures of different groups of Israelites. The story makes them all part of one family as a way of strengthening Israelite unity.

Follow that with Educating fundamentalists by Susan Jacoby.

From the Channel Four site for last night’s episode see Abraham’s Inheritance:

In Abraham Al-Jazeera, journalist Rageh Omaar interviewed Dr Stavrakopoulou about the father of the faith’s role in the Old Testament. In this article she focuses on the biblical claim that God promised Abraham the land of Canaan, the land now claimed by Israelis and Palestinians today.

Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou is a senior Lecturer in the Department of Theology at the University of Exeter. Her research is primarily focused on ancient Israelite and Judahite religions, and portrayals of the religious past in the Hebrew Bible.

… The ideological dynamics of the biblical biography of Abraham are directly related to the period in which it was written. All scholars agree that the biblical stories about Abraham were written several centuries after the period they seek to describe, and many scholars now pinpoint the time of composition to the period of the exile in the sixth century BC, when the Israelites were conquered by the Babylonians, and their elites and religious leaders were taken captive to Babylon in Mesopotamia.

A blueprint for the future?
At this time of national catastrophe, the story about an ancestor who was similarly located in Mesopotamia but given a homeland in Canaan and a multitude of descendants was perceived as an ancient blueprint of God’s plan for his people in Israel. It demonstrated that God would act again in bringing Abraham’s descendants back to the land he had given to their ancestor, and ensure that the nation wouldn’t die out, but would continue to thrive for generation after generation. Just over a century later, the descendants of these exiles returned to the land, just as they believed their ancestor Abraham had done, and this was taken as ‘proof’ of God’s enduring promise of a homeland for Abraham’s descendants.

This biblical tradition has left a powerful legacy: today, many Jews, Christians and Muslims claim Abraham as their ancestor and assert their exclusive right to the land on this basis. The fact that most scholars agree that he is unlikely to have existed seems irrelevant in the face of the land conflicts afflicting the people living in the territories identified as Abraham’s…

Next week a total nutter looks at Moses and the Ten Commandments. 

Prepare by listening to some very reputable scholarship in these podcasts:

The author, Steve Wiggins, is Religion Editor, Routledge NY and until recently Part Time Lecturer, Rutgers University, Department of Religion. He is a Doctor of Philosophy, University of Edinburgh, 1992 on Ancient Near Eastern Studies and Old Testament.

Needless to say Koranic fantasies about Ishmael and Mecca fall into the same category of interesting myth and legend. Not to die for!

Tread warily in the graveyard called Palestine/Israel

Last Sunday afternoon the Al Jazeera documentary Al Nakba (2008) was screened at South Sydney Uniting Church. It is in fact a four part TV series so it s rather long. I wasn’t there for the screening, but I did download the entire thing so I have now seen it.

Yes, we need to know about what really happened and we need to go beyond Zionist propaganda on these matters. Unfortunately, there are some disturbing features about the Al Nakba documentary. For a start, its history of Zionism had uncomfortable resonance with the conspiracy theories the Nazis made infamous but which circulated much more widely than that and still do in the Muslim world, and of course in the KKK and Stormfront. No-one mentioned the evil and fallacious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but I couldn’t help thinking they weren’t far away. The reference to Napoleon was both gratuitous and irrelevant. There was no Zionist movement in the age of Napoleon.

Again the account of Jewish immigration into Palestine in the 1930s didn’t actually mention what was happening in Europe at the same time. That is more than an unfortunate omission.

The account of Harry Truman and the foundation of the State of Israel forgot the same Harry Truman wrote things like this:

6:00 P. M. Monday July 21, 1947

Had ten minutes conversation with Henry Morgenthau about Jewish ship in Palistine [sic]. Told him I would talk to Gen[eral] Marshall about it.

He’d no business, whatever to call me. The Jews have no sense of proportion nor do they have any judgement on world affairs.

Henry brought a thousand Jews to New York on a supposedly temporary basis and they stayed. When the country went backward-and Republican in the election of 1946, this incident loomed large on the D[isplaced] P[ersons] program.

The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D[isplaced] P[ersons] as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog. Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I’ve found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes.

Look at the Congress[ional] attitude on D[isplaced] P[ersons]-and they all come from D[isplaced] P[erson]s.

And this:

I received about 35,000 pieces of mail and propaganda from the Jews in this country while this matter was pending. I put it all in a pile and struck a match to it — I never looked at a single one of the letters because I felt the United Nations Committee was acting in a judicial capacity and should not be interfered with.

In my view the BBC documentary The Birth of Israel is much better.

I think that is extremely judicious, but unfortunately this is a minefield and a graveyard of a topic, as I noted in many posts in the past: Is objectivity about Israel and Palestine possible? for example, almost exactly two years ago,

You can play documentary tag as well. Greg Lauren does in his Levantine Times. Greg was “born in the Ukraine. Grew up in the US. Now living in Israel. International relations junkie, amateur Torah scholar, and wannabe DJ/Producer. Started this blog for the purpose of following the shenanigans of : Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, Venezuela, and any other Ennemi du Jour. “  And fair enough too.

Ever wonder why Western media never talks about the mass expulsion and persecution of Jews from Arab lands? Mind you, these people never staged any kind of intifadas, flotillas, BDS campaigns or burned the flags of their former countries.

The Forgotten Refugees is a 2005 documentary film that explores the history, culture, and forced exodus of Middle Eastern and North African Jewish communities in the second half of the 20th century. Using extensive testimony of refugees from Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, and Morocco, the film weaves personal stories with dramatic archival footage of rescue missions, historic images of exodus and resettlement, and analyses by contemporary scholars to tell the story of how and why the Jewish population in the Middle East and North Africa declined from one million in 1945 to several thousand today….

At the same time I bless Jewish Voice for Peace:

At Jewish Voice for Peace, we cannot participate in celebrations that erase both the history and modern-day injustices experienced by Palestinians. It is precisely this rendering invisible of Palestinian experience and claims for justice that makes reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians impossible. We choose instead to remember, to know, and to work towards justice and self-determination for both peoples. As Jews and Palestinians, our pasts are intertwined, and so too are our futures.

Today, because much of the world has forgotten, we remember that:

  • In April, 1948, the same month as the infamous massacre at Deir Yassin, Plan Dalet was put into operation. It authorized the destruction of Palestinian villages and the expulsion of the indigenous population outside the borders of the state.
  • On May 22, 1948, Jewish soldiers from the Alexandroni Brigade entered the house of Tantura residents killing between 110-230 Palestinian men.         
  • On October 28, 1948, in the village of Dawayameh, near Hebron, Battalion 89 of the 8th Brigade occupied the village. Israeli soldiers said of the massacre thatbabies… skulls were cracked open, women raped or burned alive in houses, men stabbed to death. 145 men, women and children were killed. Over 450 went missing, of which 170 were women.

Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every person "has the right to   leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."  Israel has never accepted the legitimacy of this basic human right as a basis for peace negotiations, whether by return, compensation, or resettlement.  Surely it is now time to acknowledge the narrative of the other, the price paid by another people for European anti-Semitism and Hitler’s genocide.  As the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said emphasized, "Like it or not, this is the historical reality. We must better understand them, and they must better understand us. We must make clear the link between the Shoah (the European Jewish Holocaust) and the Nakba (the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948). Neither experience is equal to the other, and neither should be minimized."

Many of us will not celebrate as long as Israel continues to violate international law, inflicts a monstrous collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza, and continues to deny to Palestinians their human rights and national aspirations.

We will celebrate when Arab and Jew live as equals in a peaceful Middle East.

See also Two Views on Mideast Peace by Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh.

… The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a tragic struggle between two victims of Europe—the Arabs were the victims of imperialism, colonialism, repression, and humiliation. The Jews were the victims of discrimination, persecution, and finally of a genocide without parallel in history. On the face of it, two victims, especially two victims of the same oppressor, should become brothers. But the truth, both when it comes to individuals and when it comes to countries, is that some of the worst fights break out between two victims of the same oppressor. The two sons of an abusive father will each see in his brother the face of his cruel father. And this is the case with the Jews and the Arabs—each of us sees the other in the image of the former oppressor. The Arabs look at Jewish Israel and do not see it as it really is—a half-hysterical refugee camp. Instead, they see it as the long, arrogant, oppressive, and exploitative arm of European colonialism. We Jews look at the Arabs and instead of seeing them as our fellow sufferers, we see the persecutors of our past—the Cossacks, the antisemites. Nazis who grew moustaches and got suntanned, but who are still eager to slaughter us.

The core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a clash between right and right, and often it is a clash between wrong and wrong…

– Amos Oz

And immerse yourself in the bracing questioning of Shlomo Sand, as I did recently.

See more in Gilad Atzmon’s blog.

I do believe that Sand’s book is a ‘must read’. It is probably one of the most important exposures of the Jewish nationalist lethal fantasy…

Tel Aviv University historian, Professor Shlomo Sand, opens his remarkable study of Jewish nationalism quoting Karl W. Deutsch:

“A nation is a group of people united by a common mistake regarding its origin and a collective hostility towards its neighbours.”(1)

As simple or even simplistic as it may sound, the quote above eloquently summarises   the figment of reality entangled with modern Jewish nationalism and especially within the concept of Jewish identity.  It obviously points the finger at the collective mistake Jews tend to make whenever referring to their ‘illusionary collective past’ and ‘collective origin’. Yet, in the same breath, Deutsch’s reading of nationalism throws light upon the hostility that is unfortunately coupled with almost every Jewish group towards its surrounding reality, whether it is human or takes the shape of land…

“The Invention of the Jewish People" is a very serious study written by Professor Shlomo Sand, an Israeli historian. It is the most serious study of Jewish nationalism and by far, the most courageous elaboration on the Jewish historical narrative.

In his book, Sand manages to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the Jewish people never existed as a ‘nation-race’, they never shared a common origin. Instead they are a colourful mix of groups that at various stages in history adopted the Jewish religion.

In case you follow Sand’s line of thinking and happen to ask yourself, ‘when was the Jewish People invented?’ Sand’s answer is rather simple. “At a certain stage in the 19th century, intellectuals of Jewish origin in Germany, influenced by the folk character of German nationalism, took upon themselves the task of inventing a people ‘retrospectively,’ out of a thirst to create a modern Jewish people.”…

Bracing, as I said, but not unconvincing. For a thorough introduction go to The Invention of the Jewish People.

And what we honestly think about the Bible really is relevant too. I commend Beyond Labels: What Comes Next? by  Emeritus Professor Philip Davies of the University of Sheffield.

… “historicity” really is a non-issue. It has been accepted for decades that the Bible is not in principle either historically reliable or unreliable, but both: it contains both memories of real events and also fictions….

the majority of biblical historians now accept that the story of Israel’s origins in Genesis–Joshua is not history (and that includes even the twelve-tribe “nation” called “Israel,” as distinct from the kingdom of that name).

This situation—if partially anticipated by earlier critical studies on the patriarchal and conquest “traditions”—arose directly from the work of Israeli archaeologists from 1968 onwards which identified the prehistory of Judah and Israel in Iron age hill-farming populations, contradicting the biblical stories. The so-called “minimalists” did not invent the data or the conclusions, but rather took the obvious step of asking what the implied fictionality of these stories meant for understanding how, why, and when they were created. But the invention of the label “minimalism” (and some other nastier labels) and the most vitriolic reactions to it came mostly not from conservative evangelicals but from archaeologists. For it seems that rather than a “minimalist-maximalist” debate we now had a confrontation between two “archaeologies,” one following the theory and practice of the discipline as generally acknowledged elsewhere, the other continuing the established agenda practice of biblical archaeology—defending the Bible. Some practitioners were apparently confused enough to do both—decry “minimalism,” accept a high degree of biblical non-historicity and yet still “defend the Bible.” Both Dever and Cline, for example, still entertain their audiences by “illuminating” the Bible with a (decreasing) bill of “correspondences” with “history.” But this theme is pointless and irrelevant: there is nothing in principle to be proved or disproved, and there never was, once fundamentalism lost control of biblical history (fifty years later in America than in Europe). Only a few archaeologists have realized that the contribution of archaeology to understanding biblical narrative is to illuminate the time in which they were written, whenever that was (notably Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman). And while Finkelstein denies being a “minimalist,” he follows exactly their agenda of looking for the historically realistic contexts of what are accepted as fictions. The context itself, whether Josianic or Persian, makes no difference to the principle. Apart from the well-funded (and fundamentalist) “biblical archaeologists,” we are in fact nearly all “minimalists” now. There remain vigorous debates about the historicity of David and Solomon, but opinions range over a spectrum and there is little or no disagreement about how to go about answering the question. The real distinction is between those who are willing to accept the label and those who aren’t. So why not abolish both the label and the distinction—and the ridiculous posturing that goes with it—and get on with the common task of making sense of the archaeological and biblical data?…

But something else needs to be clear. To acknowledge as imaginary the “Land of Israel” and many of the stories set in it does not mean that the Bible is “jettisoned … as so much excess baggage.” Nor is it (an absurd slander) “anti-Semitic.” Not even anti-American! In the concluding section of a recent volume on archaeology and history, Israel Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar agree on precisely this: the biblical stories and their identity-forming power are more important to modern Israel’s identity than any reconstructed history.

The power of such stories can be both good and bad. Stories are essential to our own identity-formation, personal, corporate, social. They define us, distinguish us and motivate us: they can shape the contours of our future. What is Judaism without its stories of the past—or Christianity? But these stories, however essential to our own cultural identity (“our Western cultural tradition”) should not be mistaken for fact. Biblical historians are not the “professional custodians” of the Bible, but professional custodians of the past—and it is our responsibility to reconstruct the past in ways that conform to our knowledge…

Only in that way will multi-cultural, multi-identity and so multi-storied societies live harmoniously with each other. It’s actually not such a difficult accomplishment: it’s what many non-religious believers (and indeed many religious believers as well) already do when they recollect the stories of Pesah and Christmas. William Dever also wrote, “There can be none of what I have called ‘nostalgia for a biblical past that never existed’”4—a statement that goes well beyond what I personally feel. I have an enormous amount of nostalgia for the biblical stories. I can happily enter their world and yet I would like some of them to have been true, I do not believe they are history and I would not insist that anyone else should…

Quietly being contentious…

The blog has been even more visual than ever over the past few days, and today is no exception. Let me share with you yesterday in Wollongong Mall:

P8120397P8120398

P8120399

There are local government elections soon, and let’s hope the usual suspects – mainly real estate agents, developers and their stooges – don’t win. Otherwise Crown Street Mall will be history. Yes, it could do with a bit of TLC – but generally I love it!  I think most people do.

I did enjoy Phillip Adams today too – and the images above do relate to what he said in my mind.

IS future shock all that shocking? Less like a stun gun, it’s more akin to the tingle betwixt fingers and doorknob. Mainly because our turbocharged tomorrows are subject to the gravitational pull of the past…

…Though lost in amplified instrumentation in what passes for pop, old-fashioned singing, which predates Bing Crosby by some millennia, can still be heard in opera and churches. Churches? There’s that old gravitational pull.

People still whittle. Still whistle. Still waltz. Ballet, which developed from deportment classes in royal courts, still pulls a crowd. To watch women totter on tiptoe and men mince in bulging tights. And despite the iPod there are still audiences for live orchestras where dozens of musicians, beaten into submission by a martinet waving a stick, pluck, toot and boom in unison, replicating scores written centuries ago. Not only our museums are museums….

For all the seductions of technology, for all the miracles of Google, the future struggles to stay ahead. In any case, it so quickly becomes the past, with millions of computers as landfill, with the Space Shuttle retired to the Smithsonian. Already the moon landings seem as remote as Agincourt. As does the invasion of Iraq, soon to be joined in ancient history by that of Afghanistan. Thus the accelerating pace of change has its benefits. Like his nemesis bin Laden, George W. Bush is already a fading memory. Or perhaps a repressed one.

Now. In the nanosecond since I typed those three letters Now, in all its urgency, has become Then. A part of the past. In the municipal tip of memory. Which is not, as L.P. Hartley told us, a foreign country where they do things differently. Because for much of the time we choose to live there.

There are serious concerns down here in The Gong, however: BlueScope black hole: jobs cuts, $1 billion loss flagged and Fears BlueScope blast furnace to close.

Fears are growing BlueScope Steel is heading for further grim times and that it may cease production at one of its two Port Kembla blast furnaces.  The Illawarra business community is bracing itself for the flow-on effects of a major reduction in steel production and significant redundancies. Many steelworkers are fearing the worst as concern spreads that recent cuts to long-serving staff and contractors could be the tip of the iceberg.

BlueScope may be forced to shut down production at the No 6 blast furnace in a drastic move to cut costs, a steel industry analyst from investment bank Credit Suisse has predicted.

BlueScope is cutting production as it battles a high Australian dollar, high iron ore and coal prices and weak domestic demand…

The report also forecast BlueScope’s mill at Western Port in Victoria would be closed, at least temporarily, and BlueScope could leave the export steel business altogether. It questioned whether a 20 per cent workforce reduction could be achievable. BlueScope had exported about 60 per cent of about five million tonnes of steel it produced at Port Kembla last year, much of it into loss-making contracts under a high Australian dollar.

Closing one blast furnace would halve production and bring output more into line with profitability. The human cost to Illawarra families who rely on steel jobs could be immense.

BTW, the carbon tax is no longer a great issue for Bluescope, the deal done being acceptable to them. But it appears their somewhat anomalous place in the world market is really biting at the moment.

Meanwhile too I have been carefully reading a contentious history in a field where rational discussion in next to impossible: Israel and Palestine. The book is The Invention of the Jewish People (Hebrew: מתי ואיך הומצא העם היהודי?‎, Matai ve’ech humtza ha’am hayehudi?, literally When and How was the Jewish People Invented?) is a study of the historiography of the Jewish people by Shlomo Sand, Professor of History at Tel Aviv University.

I have almost finished, and I have to say, as a long-time Bible reader, former teacher of Ancient History in a Jewish school, and interested reader that much of what he says is convincing. It does say something good about Israel that he can ask his questions.

For some ideas about the book see Shlomo Sand: an enemy of the Jewish people? by Rafael Behr (The Observer 17 January 2010), Shlomo Sand’s ‘The Invention of the Jewish People’ is a success for Israel by Carlo Strenger (Haaretz 27 November 2009), New York Times on Shlomo Sand and Jewish Origins.