Humbled by such people

This year I feel there is a rather exceptional Queen’s Birthday Honours List. There are the usual suspects, if you like, but also a rather impressive roll call from the arts and sciences, and that is so good to see.

Let me single out one because I happen to have known her.


That’s Dorothy McRae-McMahon on the left, and Jeannie Kelso on the right, at South Sydney Uniting Church in 2008  – Jeannie was long a member but by then had moved to South Australia and was visiting.

JEANNIE Kelso stops playing her keyboard and gently chides the rows of choristers gathered before her.

“You didn’t come in when you should. Wake up!” she says.

Like every Friday morning, about 40 people, including many from nearby boarding houses, have gathered at St Bede’s Church Hall at Semaphore to fill it with song for an hour.

They finish with a stirring rendition of John Farnham’s That’s Freedom, complete with actions.

Ms Kelso founded the Hope and Harmony Choir in 2008, two years after retiring from a 20-year career in Sydney with the Australian Opera and returning to Adelaide. The 71-year-old had been inspired by her friend Jonathon Welch, who successfully ran the ABC’s Choir of Hard Knocks for disadvantaged people.

“When I saw the Choir of Hard Knocks on the television, I realised I could do that,” she says. “I felt terribly lost at the start (of retirement) but this choir grounds me and makes me feel part of the community.”

The choir, which performs regularly at events such as Anzac Day ceremonies and the opening of the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Appeal, is open to all and attracts many members of locally-supported residential facilities.

“Nothing’s asked of people except that they turn up to rehearsal so we get a good standard when we go out singing,” Ms Kelso says.

The Osborne resident also directs a singing group at the Stepney Women’s Centre and regularly plays for services at the Le Fevre Uniting Church. She also does regular solo performances and teaches individual students.

In Sydney, she was a character role and chorus member on the Opera House stage and a regular solo performer at Sydney City Council events…

A very lovely woman.

Watched Mabo last night

Did you? It lived up to the hype well and truly. Also humbling.

Shudders at the very thought of Joe B-P…. Gone, thank God, and may the spirit of that one stay dead.

See also Frank Brennan (2002) and “It’s justice, it’s law, it’s the vibe…” (#Mabo).

Director Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae, First Australians, One Night The Moon) and writer Sue Spencer (Bastard Boys, RAN, Brides of Christ) consulted with the Mabo family extensively and deliver us a story rich with love – Eddie for his wife Bonita; Eddie for his people; and Eddie for his birthplace. Mabo is deeply attached to his home on Murray Island – the islands and waters around them. When he learns after his father’s death that he does not have a right to their land, he knows something must be done. He seeks help and challenges it in the Queensland Supreme Court and thus begins the battle to overthrow the principle of terra nullius, and a claim of native title. Perkins offers particular deft touch with some of the sequences throughout the story including Mabo’s dance on the train tracks.

The casting of Bani and Mailman is perfect. He swaggers on-screen as a youthful Mabo and commands attention the entire film while her electric presence draws the eye each time she’s in frame. Their performances are considered and deft, and while Mailman is known for her skill as a character actor it’s a joy to anoint Bani in the same manner. A leading couple so direct and reflective of the characters they play we’re yet to see. The supporting cast are no slouches either, with a who’s who of the Australian acting fraternity in Colin Friels, Miranda Otto, Rob Carlton, Ewen Leslie, Tom Budge, Felix Williamson and Leon Ford delivering solid performances in their moments in and out of the courtroom.

Rachel Perkins is the daughter of the famous Charlie Perkins. See also Blackfella Films.

Still reading and delving…

… as noted here.

As a lapsed Presbyterian Buddhist Agnostic I find the Abrahamic tradition problematic because it is just so damned parochial! Does the ancient Near East really matter all that much in the context of the facts of WORLD history? Really? Has the creator of the universe not only dedicated him/herself to playing favourites but made the salvation of all humanity depend on this rather odd divine quirkishness? Isn’t the idea of God’s Chosen People the most arrogant thing you can ever imagine? How ungodly! How unOlympian! How only too human!

So one of my problems comes about simply when I contemplate this:



Not to mention here in Oz where people – not Chosen Ones – lived generation after generation before Abraham was even dreamt of, let alone – a very dubious possibility – he even existed.

So yes, I have issues, and we haven’t even started on geological time yet or what we now know about the universe.

But I do have faith: that God, whatever that means, is not to be confined in any one tradition, that much that we have had handed to us really is nonsense, albeit sometimes beautiful nonsense, but that paradoxically this nonsense has also done a lot of good in the world.

I also have faith – or hope – that God is not a psychopath, even if he quite often appears so in the Abrahamic traditions…

Weird isn’t it? Here we are replicating the discussions that have echoed through Europe and now beyond for 400 and more years – since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment – and no matter how cool we think we are today very little of substance seems to me to have been added to the debate since the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

So you can get people like fundamentalist apologist Steve Copland challenging skeptics in this 21st century with utterly bonkers arguments like this:

And what of Satan? This world was now his world, indeed the Bible calls him the ‘god of this world’3 because all human beings since Adam and Eve have chosen to follow him. Satan now had extreme power; indeed the word dynamite comes from the word used to describe his power in the Bible. He wasted no time at all in dominating his own influence on this world, and as we shall see the result was that evil became the way of the world. God also had a warning to him concerning a child who would be born in the future. The Lord prophesied in Genesis 3:15 that this child would crush Satan’s head, a reference to destroying his authority. From this time on Satan was looking for this particular child, and doing all in his power to prevent the birth of a person with that kind of power.

And the snake: Well, it was cursed to crawl upon the ground forever. Does this mean that snakes once walked around on legs? Interestingly, recent fossil discoveries have found that ancient snakes had a pelvis, attached to their vertebrae. Sebastian Apesteguía, a researcher with the Argentine Museum of Natural Science, says a new fossil, named Najash rionegrina, is the earliest limbed snake ever found in a fully terrestrial deposit. N. rionegrina was discovered in Argentina’s Rio Negro province, about 700 miles (1,130 kilometers) southwest of Buenos Aires. Many living snakes, such as pythons, have the vestiges of legs that are not attached to the backbone and simply hang from the body. However, Apesteguía discovered that in Najash the hip was connected to the vertebrae, so it has a sacrum. The sacrum is the bony structure that connects the spine to the hips in vertebrates, including humans.

Were snakes once creatures that walked as humans walked? I do not know the answer to this question, but it would seem that it is quite possible.

… along with the flying pigs, no doubt.

Why not just accept that this is nothing more or less than folklore?

For entertainment value I do commend Are there Toilets in Heaven? by Gil Gaudia.


So my nephew, Terry, is coming for a visit.  I haven’t seen him for over fifteen years and I have always loved the kid.  He’s the youngest of the six children (“the Cousins”) that my brother and I have had (Two for me, four for him.). Now he’s a grown man and a Christian.  His part of the family and ours have had our periods of estrangement, and his upcoming visit was about to take place in the aftermath of a crisis which had resulted in a rapprochement.  He was coming to see his old aunt and uncle, who had had a small part in the successful resolution of the problem, and his father, mother and the Cousins were all happy about it.

Terry was never really part of the events that caused the repeated rifts among me, my brother Mikey, and one of Mikey’s daughters, Terry‘s sister, Lorna, a born-again Christian. He was too young to be involved, and after he turned eighteen he moved far away from everyone in order to strike out on his own.  Maybe he was fed up with the problems. Anyway, he always had great affection for Jeanne and me.

The “rifts” were repeated and severe, and over several different issues, but this time, well, let’s just say that my being an Atheist did not increase the camaraderie in the family.  Terry’s sister, Lorna, felt that I had insulted her “Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”  I swear that I never met the man.  Actually, she was referring to the publication of my sacrilegious novel, “Outside, Looking In,” in which I had my main character (based upon my own belligerent personality) frequently attacking god, religion, the Bible and Christianity.  After reading the book, Lorna wrote me a blistering attack which, following  a page of insult and vitriol, declared that I would burn in Hell, and had better repent and open my heart to her god.  Needless to say, not only did I spurn her advice, but I answered with a brief counterattack which silenced both our pens to this day.

Now, when Terry arrives, we’re going to have to put him up on the sofa-bed in the room we call my “office” in our small apartment, where most of my reading materials lie around on the desk and other horizontal surfaces.  They include copies of American Atheist Magazine (AAM), and books by Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Victor Stenger, with their inflammatory titles on the covers that scream out “The End of Faith;” “God is Not Great;” “The God Delusion,” and “God The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does not Exist.” Reading them aloud, they could sound like they were placards carried by protesting nonbelievers outside the Vatican during the announcement of a Papal encyclical condemning birth control. In reality, they were just some paper objects lying innocently around a small room in the apartment of a retired senior couple.

This is not the first time we’ve faced the issue…

Happens that South Sydney Uniting Church is having a relevant series of Bible studies. I can’t attend but I have downloaded the PDF readings.

Thinking of Dorothy — and other miscellaneous things…

I have been having fun with the eBooks, as you’ll have noted. In among the 1,600 so far are many works that enable me to review my path from teenage Calvinist and absurdly young Elder in the early to mid 60s through the years to my current status as a member in good standing – though less often there – of South Sydney Uniting Church, albeit really a lapsed Presbyterian Buddhist Agnostic – as I told Dorothy McRae-McMahon some five or six years back.

Not an atheist, you will note. I haven’t enough faith for that.

I won’t bore you yet with details about how my reading/time travel is going, but I have found an oldish – 1919 – book that I respect a lot, and it originates in the US Deep South.


As far back as I can remember, I understood the Bible to be the word of God, every word of it, from the first word in Genesis to the last "Amen" of Revelation; that it was all divinely inspired, verbatim et literatim, just as it appeared in the old King James version; that it was God’s revelation to mankind, beside and outside of which there never was, and never would be any other; that every word of it was literally, and infallibly true, just as it read. Such a thing as figurative, or allegorical interpretations I never heard of until I was a grown man, as we shall see later.

This, of course, meant a literal six-day Creation, an anthropomorphic God, a literal physical heaven, and likewise a literal, physical hell, a personal devil, the absolute, literal, truth of the story of Eden, the original perfection and fall of man, total depravity of the race, vicarious atonement and the eternal damnation of all mankind, individually and collectively, who did not accept the prescribed creed of the church of my parents, as the only means of escape.

My first conception of God was that of a great big good man sitting high up in heaven on a great white throne, whence He would judge the world; that heaven was a great city somewhere up in the skies, with streets of gold and walls of jasper; that hell was a literal burning lake of fire and brimstone somewhere down under the world, and that it was presided over by the devil and was made to burn people in who were not good, or who had not believed in Christ as a personal Savior. As a little child I was taught that if I was not a good boy, when I died, the devil, usually spoken of as "the bad man," would get me and burn me in this hell forever and ever; and that I never could burn up or die, and if I called for water he would pour melted lead down my throat. Many a time I would think over this horrible torture that I might inadvertently fall into by doing some bad thing when at heart I really meant to be good, and sincerely wish I had never been born.

In my night visions I could see the devil with his tea-kettle of melted lead, pouring it down the throats of the helpless little ones, writhing in the tortures of the never ending fire!…

Having thus changed my church relations, and feeling that I had a greater field of usefulness open to me, my zeal for efficiency and success increased. I had a sincere and consuming desire to "save men’s souls." And believing my creed to be as infallible as the Bible upon which it was based, I studied to make myself efficient and able in its defense. By following the ordinary methods of interpretation, I soon found no trouble in doing this. Does the reader inquire here what are the "ordinary methods of interpretation"? Taking a chapter, or verse, or paragraph of the Bible here and there, thru the whole book, from Genesis to Revelation, and weaving them together as a connected whole, regardless of whether there is any natural connection between them or not; then disposing of all contradictory passages as either "figurative,"—with unlimited latitude on the interpretation of the "figures,"—or as pertaining to those "great and mysterious, unknowable things of God’s divine revelation,"—mysteries too great for man to know! This method of interpretation is the common practice, to a greater or less extent, of every church in Christendom that accepts the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible, and looks to it as its sole and final source of authority in religion. There is not a creed in Christendom today, and never has been, that cannot be supported and proved to be conclusively correct from the Bible by this method of interpretation. By the same method the Bible can be made the defense—and it often has been—of war, murder, slavery, polygamy, adultery, and the foulest crimes known to humanity, and these all made the divine institutions of God. And these are exactly the leading methods of interpretation of the Bible that are being followed today, and have been since Christianity first began to divide into sects and parties…

As I have said quite often in the past ten years one thing I am sure of is that there are NO infallible “authorities” on God, and God has never written a book… Or dictated one…

Someone else labouring under a tradition of God the Writer is Irfan Yusuf. But it is his own writing he addresses after a long hiatus on his blog.

It feels like ages since I last visited this blog. I haven’t had anything published since late 2011 when I ventured into the contentious issue of gay marriage. After that, a heap of family, work, personal and health issues took over.

This blog represents a difficult time of recovery. There is stuff here I’m somewhat embarrassed to read. There is also stuff that was noticed by editors and producers and lots of readers, stuff which I am proud of.

If it wasn’t for this blog, I’d never have ventured into my humble attempts at opinion journalism. I’d never have had sufficient writing practice to write an 85,000 word manuscript.

But believe it or not, writing is tiresome. Write now, I’m trying to gather energy to write some more. But I’m finding it hard. Writers’ block isn’t the problem. It’s more like writer’s fatigue.

So what should I do? Someone suggested I should return to blogging. So I’ll give it a go and see what happens…

Plus many editors couldn’t understand why I was so offended when they would publish anything I wrote about Islam and/or Pakistan and/or the Middle East but nothing I wrote about subjects that really interested me e.g. Australian politics, the law or workplace relations. They must have thought my allegedly unpronounceable name made me an expert on all things exotic but a novice on anything more familiar…

I mentioned Dorothy McRae-McMahon above. That’s her on the right. See also Instead of the Friday poem: Dorothy McRae-McMahon, "A Life of Unlearning – a journey to find the truth", Christianity’s coats of many colours, So this Sunday…, Floating Life’s Books and Ideas: Still reading Dorothy’s autobiography.

I am sad to read this on the South Sydney Uniting Church site.

South Sydney Uniting Church mourns the passing of Alison (Ali) Blogg, partner to Dorothy and friend to us all. A funeral service for Ali will be held Tuesday April 17 in the Camellia Chapel at Macquarie Park Cemetery (Delhi Road, Macquarie Park), commencing 11.30am. Refreshments will be served from 12.45pm.

Ali had been ill for some years now with cancer.

My thoughts are with Dorothy and everyone up there in South Sydney.

Ali was the main photographer on the South Sydney Herald.  Here she is in August 2010.


BLOGG, Alison Elizabeth
Late of Lilyfield.
Passed away peacefully on April 5, 2012. Beloved partner of Dorothy McRae-McMahon. Loved sister of Kevin, Val, Terry and Catherine. Ali will be sadly missed by all her family and many friends.
Aged 65 years
She lived life to the full with authenticity and courage, giving so much to so many people. No matter what the future brings, we will always hold her near to us and our love will have no end.

More on “Tony Abbott was right: we really should move on”

See my posts Tony Abbott was right: we really should move on and Back to my post “Tony Abbott was right: we really should move on”.

There have been so many viewpoints expressed about this – even, if not surprisingly, in a homily last Sunday at South Sydney Uniting Church. By the way the 100th South Sydney Herald is now out. Get a copy!

But today I want to commend an article in The Guardian by Tom Keneally, which was republished in today’s Illawarra Mercury.

In saying that I have conflicting views about the hustling of Julia Gillard, the prime minister, to her car through a cordon of Aboriginal demonstrators and police on Australia Day last month, I am merely reflecting a genuine confusion many of us feel. The protesters later said that their anger was directed at the opposition leader, muscular, all-surfing, all-bicycling, former Catholic seminarian (like me) neocon (unlike me) Tony Abbott. Yet I have to say Abbott’s remarks about the determinedly ramshackle Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, founded 40 years ago, did not seem to me racist or wild.

I assert this though I am not an admirer of Abbott’s. The idea of his winning the prime ministership from the unpopular Labor leader, Gillard, makes me fantasise about political asylum in Scunthorpe. But this is what Abbott said about the Tent Embassy: "I think a lot has changed for the better since then [the setting-up of the Embassy]. I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian … I think it probably is time to move on from that."

I don’t utterly agree with him, but his is an arguable opinion. When the Tent Embassy was founded outside federal parliament in 1972, it was established by four Aboriginal leaders planting a beach umbrella in the turf. There they stood to protest the refusal of a conservative government then in power to recognise Aboriginal land rights claims. When that brave beach umbrella was raised, the obscene doctrine of terra nullius was still accepted as Australian common law; a legal fiction that Australia was land belonging to no one. This made seizure of Australia – and the continuing possession by settlers – utterly legal…

One Aboriginal leader I have had something to do with is the formidable Lowitja O’Donoghue. She is a former nurse who – on her merits and not on the basis of sentiment – would have been a frontrunner for president had we become a republic in the late 1990s. Her present programme is to do away by referendum with a clause in the Australian constitution she calls "potentially prejudicial" to Aboriginal rights. O’Donoghue seeks a 2013 referendum to eliminate it, to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples as original occupiers of the continent, and to express the duty of the commonwealth to attend to the advancement of indigenes. Sadly, shock-jocks, exploiting what happened on Australia Day, might defeat her dream.

Just as Abbott’s remarks, though untactful, are defensible as free speech, there is an obvious case for the right of Aboriginal activists, wisely or not, to retain the Tent Embassy on the same basis. Even if it does not represent majority Aboriginal opinion, and even if it might annoy more people than it persuades, it stands for justifiable complaint.

Aboriginal deaths in custody are still not unknown. The death of Mulrunji Doomadgee on a cell floor in Palm Island in 2004 remains the focus of endless inquiry and racial bitterness in Queensland. Aboriginal life expectancy is still 20 years behind that of non-indigenous people. Nearly one out of two Aboriginal males is dead by the age of 65. Aboriginal people account for just under a quarter of jail inmates though they are only 2.5% of the population. In the past decade one-quarter of indigenes in the cities have completed high school, and fewer than one in 10 in remote Australia. Fewer than one in 10 urban Aborigines achieves a university degree, and fewer than 3% of those in remote Australia. The figures are improving but so far by small increments…

…The Australia Day Council, led by the former Test cricketer Adam Gilchrist with considerable imagination and competence, emphasises immemorial Aboriginal occupation as one of the elements of the day. But this anniversary of the founding of the penal settlement in Sydney Cove, of modern Australia’s extraordinary beginning as an Eden for pre-fallen and pre-condemned Adams and Eves, was also the beginning of what proved a tragic dispossession of Aboriginal peoples.

So nothing will finally allay hostility until Aboriginal equality is achieved by white goodwill and, above all, by indigenous education, political skill and leadership. Until then, the mourning and the howling continues.

Lovely Sunday

South Sydney Uniting Church, Waterloo.

Our Artist in Residence, Johnny Bell, has been working hard on a set of paintings for his show this month. It’s been a tough year for him and his family – many worries. And yet Johnny paints joyful scenes – couples dancing, people laughing and singing. There’s a reframing here. Last week we took delivery of Johnny’s paintings all beautifully framed. He’s even asked that the framer frame the works in such a way that Johnny can easily remove the images and do a little more work on them before we reframe them and hang them. My first picture of joyous anticipation is Johnny with invitation cards for his family and friends – Johnny with cards to herald his first solo show in more than 10 years. – Andrew Collis




Then with Sirdan and B – Trinity Bar Surry Hills for lunch, then Midnight Shift in Oxford Street – the VERY LAST Sunday as Sirdan moves to Queensland next Wednesday.


FotoSketcher - P1080006


Central Station – waiting for the 5.30 train.

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…