Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dare to Disagree

"Understand, testifying to Congress is a bit like speaking to a senile aunt. They may hear you, but they just mutter something like "Whatever you say, dear," and go back to their soap opera"

Two years ago a TED Talk by Margaret Heffernan garnered 1,819,512 views, and well it should. Heffernan began her story by telling about a person whose acquaintance we shared, Dr. Alice Stewart (1906-2002)

Our first experience with Alice goes back to 1977, when she testified before a House Committee that was looking into the health effects of radiation from nuclear power plants. The Rogers Committee and had called Alice, her co-worker George Kneale and Dr. Thomas Mancuso to testify about their epidemiology study of the Hanford plutonium workers.

Also testifying that day were Drs. Rosalie Bertell and Irwin Bross, who conducted the Tri-state Leukemia Survey that linked in utero x-rays to childhood mortality and Dr. John W. Gofman, one of the co-discoverers of U-233, whose funding at Livermore National Laboratory was suspended when he revealed the world about the likely cancer and genetic consequences of the nation's rush to nuclear power.

All of these people would become friends of ours, some closer than others, but we took the opportunity while in Washington to bike down Constitution Avenue and attend the testimony Alice gave later that same day to the National Academy of Sciences.

Understand, testifying to Congress is a bit like speaking to a senile aunt. They may hear you, but they just mutter something like "Whatever you say, dear," and go back to their soap opera. Stewart, Kneale and Mancuso were received politely by the Congressmen, but apart from making a public record for the sake of history, nothing would come of it.

Down the road at the NAS it was a different story. The knives were out as soon as Alice had finished her opening statement. She was making waves not just in the world of electric power generation, but in the world of medicine and science. She was prepared to demonstrate, and to defend, strong findings that at even the most infinitesimally small doses, exposure to ionizing radiation carries an inexorable risk of mortality. There is no safe dose. She knew it. She could prove it.

The reason Alice Stewart was not afraid was because she had George Kneale.

George was completely ill-suited for the role he found himself thrust into that day; sitting beside Alice before both Congress and the NAS. A tall and heavy-set Brit resembling an unkempt Stephen Fry in a second hand suit, he gave us the impression, when we first spoke, of being marginally autistic, a savant perhaps, but a man who would not hold your eye and would much prefer he were somewhere far away.

Tom Mancuso, a full professor at the University of Pittsburgh at the time, was more like a pugnacious, union shop floor boss, someone who was not afraid to tussle for the rights of his workers if it came to it. Stewart, the medical doctor of the three, seemed weary, as if this experience had happened too many times before, and she knew it was all a colossal play for time — purchased at the cost of real children's lives, in very large numbers.

According to Stewart's telling at the Right Livelihood Awards ceremony in 1986, Kneale had two major contributions to biostatistics while he was still a young man advancing his degrees at Oxford. The first was to discover a way to isolate the confounding variable of death from pneumonia or other secondary infections by way of an impaired immune system (which is more than 300 times more likely to be fatal in children exposed to radiation) from death by leukemia within 5 years following radiation exposure.

Kneale's second achievement, some years later as he began studying radiation workers, was his proof that resistance to cancer from radiation is exceptionally high in men at 20 years of age, but by 50 years it may be no greater as it was shortly before birth.

Stewart first came to prominence as the first woman admitted to the UK Association of Physicians and the youngest ever admitted to the Royal Academy. During World War II she investigated the effects on workers of exposure to TNT in munitions factories, the effects of carbon tetrachloride, and the mysterious prevalence of tuberculosis among workers in the boot and shoe industry.

Heffernan tells Alice's story this way:
[Alice] was unusual because she was really interested in a new science, the emerging field of epidemiology, the study of patterns in disease. But like every scientist, she appreciated that to make her mark, what she needed to do was find a hard problem and solve it. The hard problem that Alice chose was the rising incidence of childhood cancers. Most disease is correlated with poverty, but in the case of childhood cancers, the children who were dying seemed mostly to come from affluent families. So, what, she wanted to know, could explain this anomaly?
Now, Alice had trouble getting funding for her research. In the end, she got just 1,000 pounds from the Lady Tata Memorial prize. And that meant she knew she only had one shot at collecting her data. Now, she had no idea what to look for. This really was a needle in a haystack sort of search, so she asked everything she could think of. Had the children eaten boiled sweets? Had they consumed colored drinks? Did they eat fish and chips? Did they have indoor or outdoor plumbing? What time of life had they started school?
And when her carbon copied questionnaire started to come back, one thing and one thing only jumped out with the statistical clarity of a kind that most scientists can only dream of. By a rate of two to one, the children who had died had had mothers who had been X-rayed when pregnant. Now that finding flew in the face of conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom held that everything was safe up to a point, a threshold. It flew in the face of conventional wisdom, which was huge enthusiasm for the cool new technology of that age, which was the X-ray machine. And it flew in the face of doctors' idea of themselves, which was as people who helped patients, they didn't harm them.
Nevertheless, Alice Stewart rushed to publish her preliminary findings in The Lancet in 1956. People got very excited, there was talk of the Nobel Prize, and Alice really was in a big hurry to try to study all the cases of childhood cancer she could find before they disappeared. In fact, she need not have hurried. It was fully 25 years before the British and medical — British and American medical establishments abandoned the practice of X-raying pregnant women. The data was out there, it was open, it was freely available, but nobody wanted to know. A child a week was dying, but nothing changed. Openness alone can't drive change.
So for 25 years Alice Stewart had a very big fight on her hands. So, how did she know that she was right? Well, she had a fantastic model for thinking. She worked with a statistician named George Kneale, and George was pretty much everything that Alice wasn't. So, Alice was very outgoing and sociable, and George was a recluse. Alice was very warm, very empathetic with her patients. George frankly preferred numbers to people. But he said this fantastic thing about their working relationship. He said, "My job is to prove Dr. Stewart wrong." He actively sought disconfirmation. Different ways of looking at her models, at her statistics, different ways of crunching the data in order to disprove her. He saw his job as creating conflict around her theories. Because it was only by not being able to prove that she was wrong, that George could give Alice the confidence she needed to know that she was right.
It's a fantastic model of collaboration -- thinking partners who aren't echo chambers. I wonder how many of us have, or dare to have, such collaborators. Alice and George were very good at conflict. They saw it as thinking.
So what does that kind of constructive conflict require? Well, first of all, it requires that we find people who are very different from ourselves. That means we have to resist the neurobiological drive, which means that we really prefer people mostly like ourselves, and it means we have to seek out people with different backgrounds, different disciplines, different ways of thinking and different experience, and find ways to engage with them. That requires a lot of patience and a lot of energy.
And the more I've thought about this, the more I think, really, that that's a kind of love.
Because you simply won't commit that kind of energy and time if you don't really care. And it also means that we have to be prepared to change our minds. Alice's daughter told me that every time Alice went head-to-head with a fellow scientist, they made her think and think and think again. "My mother," she said, "My mother didn't enjoy a fight, but she was really good at them."
So it's one thing to do that in a one-to-one relationship. But it strikes me that the biggest problems we face, many of the biggest disasters that we've experienced, mostly haven't come from individuals, they've come from organizations, some of them bigger than countries, many of them capable of affecting hundreds, thousands, even millions of lives. So how do organizations think? Well, for the most part, they don't. And that isn't because they don't want to, it's really because they can't. And they can't because the people inside of them are too afraid of conflict.
Because we are the kind of species we are living in the world we inhabit, ethical choices are absolutely incumbent upon us, every day. Our larger task, as sentient life-forms, is to steward that which is placed in our care, nourish it if it is well, restore it to health if it is ill, and then safely pass it along to responsible successors in the next generation.

We are, by virtue of our genetic heritage as herd animals, required to look out for our kin. As we allow our consciousness to expand, as it must, we extend the definition of kin out to all our relations; those with two legs, four legs, eight legs, wings, fins, shells, roots in the ground and taxa beyond number. All our relations. We need them, they need us. It is because they have worth that we have worth.

This is something Alice and George understood very well. They knew they would not be welcome in the lions' den. They knew their seminal works would be challenged on the size of their statistical sample, on the unorthadoxy of a superlinear dose response curve (lower doses are more deadly than higher because they mutate rather than kill cells) and, far worse, go unheeded while thousands perished from lax regulations of these insidious new poisons.

Alice knew John Gofman was right that nuclear power would kill millions of people from legally permitted emissions, even with no accidents (although accidents happen every day). She knew Rosalie Bertell was right about the cause of a childhood epidemic in x-ray-caused leukemias in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She knew all of that could have been prevented if people like those who sat across the table from her at the National Academy — those whose decisions set the standards — would have the courage to choose to act.

It is not as thought they just sat, though. Those who listened to her two public talks that day in 1977 and had authority to take action did. They cut her research funding. When she received the Right Livelihood Award in 1986 she used the small amount of money that came with that to restore funding to yet another of her studies that was being defunded, an investigation into the potential health damage caused to fetuses by ultrasound.

Before she died in 2002, Stewart told The Guardian:
"'Good people are seldom fully recognized during their lifetimes, and here, there are serious problems of corruption. One day it will be realized that my findings should have been acknowledged.'"

"'Plants get all their energy from the sun and so should we,' she would say. Then she would smile wistfully, for she knew how very long that learning curve might be."

Given this pattern of lopping the heads off anyone who tries to warn of danger, it is a wonder why anyone bothers to speak up the way Alice and George did. We know the territory all too well from working on chronically underfunded but incredibly significant projects, and having done so for most of our lives. Occasionally some allies take notice and help us down the path a bit further. Other times we just have to tough it out or hole up until we find the support to make it to next stages of our research.

This week we published a collection of our essays that appeared on this site from 2008 to 2014 and were selected by our readers as most popular. These are our biggest hits. They are now a free download for members of Kindle Unlimited, and $1.99 to everyone else. It is our hope that the collection will generate enough sales to get us to our next stop, which is the North American Permaculture Convergence in Minnesota over Labor Day weekend. We have been invited there to speak on the subject of the state of permaculture in 2014, but they don't provide expenses or honoraria.

Our feelings about permaculture is that it is a useful framework, a multiplier for energy efficiency, but all by itself does not pay the rent. It may be ethical but it is not always economic, and therein lies its greatest challenge — macroeconomic reform to account for neglected externalities like coral reefs, social justice and children with leukemia.

It's worth having that conversation. We are hoping enough others agree to make it possible. So far, enough people have bought our new book, Pour Evian on Your Radishes,
in the first 24 hours to push it to the ninth best seller of Kindle's collected essays category.  

The last image in the book is a photograph of a handmade protest sign. In a dusty rural village in Mexico we happened upon this, stapled to a picket fence. The wind was blowing, so we had to reach out and hold it to the fence while we took the photo. 

The sign says, "If you want justice, don't have fear. If you want peace, don't be of faint heart."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mr. Toad in Union Grove

"Kunstler is teaching us patience, an attribute that our digital world is trying hard to render obsolete. It is an essential skill for the turn that our collective sense of passing time is poised to make."

A History of The Future  

by James Howard Kunstler

Pulling a copy of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in The Willows off a bookshelf, Andrew Pendergast, without question James Howard Kunstler’s most autobiographical character in this series so far, sits at the bedside of his friend Jack Harron, who is recuperating from a deadly fight with an assailant bent on murdering them both.

“What’s it about?” Jack said when Andrew held up the cover.
“A rat and a mole and a badger and a toad who mess around in boats down by a little stream in the English countryside.”
“They all get along, all these different animals?” Jack said.
“They’re all friends,” Andrew said. “It’s a book about friendship.”

A History of The Future is a book about friendship. It describes another hard won Christmas season in the lives of the citizens of Union Grove, a Hudson Valley town that we have come to know and appreciate in previous installments of the World Made By Hand series. Back are many of the earlier characters, including some we have not seen for quite some time, and new and even more interesting refugees enter our circle of friends.

The novel is an exploration of the process of rebuilding a broken civilization, even as the old continues to decay and collapse in both expected and unexpected ways. Civil society cannot be rebuilt by solitary individuals, religious charismatics, wealthy aristocrats, or fascist dictators although all those find a place in this future world. It takes the whole lot — the rats, the moles, the badgers and the toads — struggling to cooperate as friends, to find common ground and stand a chance.

Kunstler is a moralist. His good guys win. The bad guys get what they deserve, or are just left to inhabit whatever Hell they’ve made for themselves. The tale, though, revolves around what a good guy has to do, just to survive.

The Yiddish word beshert refers to that which God has given. And, in Judaism — as in Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and probably every other religion — there has always been a heated debate about how much of fate is determined by higher authority — a monster in the sky, as Paul Erhlich says — and how much is the result of human choices — good and bad. To quote Maimonides,  “Every human being can be righteous or wicked, merciful or cruel, avaricious or charitable. There is no compulsion exerted upon one. A person chooses one’s way with one’s own determination.”

Maimonides, who lived in Spain at the end of the 12th century, also did not think of progress in terms of technological or cultural advancement, as cumulative. Maimonides said it was cyclical. This is the aboriginal view, and for someone in his time and place, or even now, it’s quite a radical notion. For Kunstler, we can foretell our future by simply surveying the contemporary milieu — global Ponzi economics, gas gauge on ‘E’, weather getting weird — but history is circular. After the cataclysm comes another Christmas.

We have often disagreed with Kunstler’s provincial view of the American South as it occasionally pops up in his nonfiction essays and books. Kunstler is such a devout Yankee that he has often portrayed New England wisdom and ingenuity as the sole province of the old Union; that below the Mason-Dixon Line there be nothing but Skol-chewing bubbas, hearing-damaged NASCAR fanatics, racial bigots and fried food junkies imprisoned by air conditioning.

The War of Northern Aggression, in our humble opinion, was, like most wars, all about energy. The North was rich in coal and the factories run by that magnificent jewel of fossil sunlight. Then, mid-18th century, Col. Drake discovered bubbling “coal oil” in Pennsylvania, a real game changer.

In contrast to these überpowerful energy slaves, the Southern states operated on the old economy, you know, the human and animal-powered one. The one that built the pyramids of Egypt and Mesoamerica, and Machu Picchu and the Great Wall. The Southern plantation economy was based on imports of African slaves. The North had the luxury of enough fossil energy slaves to afford emancipation of its human ones. The moral rectitude to actually do so gradually arrived, in fits and starts. Then they had to lord it over everyone else.

Until Texas and Louisiana discovered oil half a century later, the South had no such leeway. In the epic 19th Century contest between machine power and humans, the machine won. A region of the United States that was militarily superior in the acumen of its Generals, the skill of its cavalry and the esprit of brotherly men in arms was occupied and enslaved, then punished for more than a century, reduced to the lowest echelons on every index of human welfare, and finally addicted to talk radio, NASCAR and air conditioning. But don’t count them out.

Surprisingly, Kunstler doesn’t. He takes a more generous tack in A History of the Future. The South, while enthralled by Christian bigots, has established itself as a rival government to what is left of the federal sovereignty, rumored to be somewhere up in the Great Lakes. The center of this rival government is at Franklin, Tennessee, a town with which we are personally very familiar — Old Highway 31S is a route we’ve bicycled.

Franklin today embodies much of what Kunstler-the-non-fiction-expert-on-urban-design lauds. It revitalized its pedestrian downtown by moving traffic out to encircling corridors; enshrined its landmark buildings; in-filled the broken teeth on Main Street with antebellum vernacular; and revived the local arts, theater and music scene. While it has become for now a tony bedroom community for wealthy Nashville commuters, it is a perfect setting for a national capitol in a more austere and decentralized future. In many ways, Franklin Tennessee is Union Grove, only hotter.

The World Made By Hand series gives only short glimpses of the changes in weather that lie in store for any future history. There may be a shortage of wheat or a ruined season for other crops, but Union Grove still gets snow in winter. Sacramento is still above water and apparently no one has died of insect swarms or clathrate flares. Changes in climate, which are almost certain to radically alter our lives in the next 50 years, are not really part of this story.

In any science fiction yarn that becomes a series a writer has to be alert to the danger of revealing too much backstory lest new narrative choices are straightjacketed in with the old, or worse, the details he describes are so ludicrous in light of actual events that his work later falls into ridicule.

In his first two novels, much of Kunstler’s imagined history remained cloaked in mystery and conjecture. As the dust jacket tells the casual browser, “The electricity has flickered out. The automobile age is over. The computers are all down for good. Two great cities have been destroyed. Epidemics have ravaged the population. The people of a little town named Union Grove, in upstate New York, know little about what is going on outside Washington County.”

The third novel gives a much larger sweep of the shocks that presaged the predicament in which the people of Union Grove find themselves. Our “messenger,” Robert Earle’s long lost son Daniel, arrives back on Christmas Eve, near dead from exhaustion and hunger, to tell the story of what he saw “out there.”

So gripping is his story that in the print edition, Grove Atlantic has set it apart with a change of font and format. It is a novel within a novel, and we would defy anyone to set it down for longer than it takes to refill a teacup. With Daniel’s story Kunstler has us in his grip, but he teases us with the intermittent resumption of the “real time” plots and subplots, leaving us hanging onto our curiosity as we wade through the needs of Union Groves’ badgers and moles for their part in the tale. Kunstler is teaching us patience, an attribute that our digital world is trying hard to render obsolete. It is an essential skill for the turn that our collective sense of passing time is poised to make.

When you walk from home to work, or to shop; when you sit out to watch the sunset instead of the television; when you spend a day teaching yourself bicycle mechanics, watercolor, or cheese making — you are once again present in the world. To the uninitiated, peering in at this scenario for the future, it all seems so very quaint. Hardly.

“I got forty-six highly motivated skilled men with good tools,” Brother Jobe tells Magistrate Stephen Bullock. “That’s my insurance. And, by the way, if you thought that was funny, it ain’t.”

This review originally appeared on Resilience.

Albert Bates is author of his own positive vision of the future, The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook (New Society Publishers 2006), and provided a practicable remedy for global carbon imbalance with The Biochar Solution (New Society Publishers 2010). When not giving workshops at Mother Earth News Fairs he teaches permaculture and natural building in an ecovillage in Tennessee, future capital of the New South.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

One Hundred Thirty Nine Square Miles of Sand, Part III: Denouement

"There is no peace through war. Peace only comes by being peaceful. There is no justice through violence. Justice can only be achieved by non-violence. Ultimately, there can be no peace without first finding a path to justice. It is that simple, and that difficult."

Francisco de Goya, No llegan a tiempo
Deir Yassin was like Black Kettle’s village on the Washita River. Gaza is Wounded Knee.

Before the current invasion, Yuval Diskin former director of Israel's internal security service Shin Bet, told Der Spiegel:

"They [Palestinians] will never accept the status quo of the Israeli occupation. When people lose hope for an improvement of their situation, they radicalize. That is the nature of human beings. The Gaza Strip is the best example of that. All the conditions are there for an explosion. So many times in my life I was at these junctions that I can feel it almost in my fingertips."

Francisco de Goya, It will be the same
The Israeli Cabinet, unable to decide mission or rules of engagement, turned the decision over to the IDF. Which is to say, in 2014, turned it over to the military industrial corporate world by which the IDF, like its US counterparts, has long been captured. The Masters of War decided IDF could spend a year’s defense budget, or five, if it wanted, on the Gaza campaign. It would all be replaced with newer, more advanced, and more expensive munitions over the next few contract cycles. What might 10 or 20 billion in ordnance do to one hundred thirty nine square miles of sand? Only time will tell. There are no restraints.

We keep hearing in the Western press that the current military offensive in Gaza is a reprisal for kidnapping and murder of three Israeli yeshiva students; and the later firing of rockets by Hamas militants in Gaza when an Israeli settler mob killed a Palestinian child and Israeli police severely beat another. But we have to ask, in all honesty, really?

The military decision had nothing whatsoever to do with these prior events. It came at the end of one of the most tranquil periods in many years. Those events were pretext for what had already been planned — “mowing the grass” as the commanders called it. 

Missile strike on Gazan farm, Unosat image by NY Times
At first glance it seems an impossible task. Israel's strategy in the twenty-first century against hostile non-state groups, such as Hamas, and even moderate two-state initiatives, is disengagement, subversion and brutal reprisal for any offense. Israel and Palestine thus find themselves in a protracted intractable conflict. The use of force in such a conflict is not intended to attain political goals, but rather to debilitate or ridicule the opponent.

The Gaza operation’s army code-name is “Protective Edge” in English, but the original Hebrew is more revealing: Tzuk Eitan, or “solid cliff.” That, the army seemed to feel, is where Israel is headed.

The western press likes to frame the story “as if Palestinians and Israelis were fighting each other on an equal level playing field,” says Mnar Muhawesh, a journalist who lived in Jerusalem (and, in 2009, the first US reporter to wear the hijab to anchor/report the news).

“It was framed as Muslim versus Jew, and the Palestinians were referred to as terrorists or militants in most media coverage. However, the majority of our neighbors in Jerusalem were Palestinian Christians suffering from the same military occupation as their fellow Muslim Palestinians. This was no Muslim versus Jew fight.”

Francisco de Goya, May 3rd
As in Deir Yassin, the Christian churches of Gaza, which seem to be untargeted at the moment, have given shelter to displaced families. At least one pastor has said that Islamic prayers in his church are welcome.

Israel has been surprised by the resistance but, actually, it only helps Israel, not Palestine, when rockets are fired from Gaza. As Israeli peace activist Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote recently, Hamas rocket attacks are “the best friend of the Israeli settlers, right-wing Israeli extremists, and the Netanyahu government.”

“Netanyahu's recent statement essentially confirming that he will never accept an independent Palestinian state show how foolish the US’s calls for ‘more negotiations’ are, because the US just adds fuel to the fire by simultaneously asserting that it supports Israel's right to defend itself when in danger. Israel’s legitimate fear of ISIS, Iran, and fundamentalist forces in the Middle East, does not excuse the state from confronting those of us who argue that the strategy of ‘power over’ is not one that will strengthen Israel in the long run—it will weaken it.


Hamas’s demands all seem quite reasonable to most Palestinians, and really make sense: free the newly arrested Palestinians who were doing nothing but sitting in their homes when Israeli troops invaded looking for the three kidnapped Israeli teens (a complete sham since the Israeli top leadership knew [for 18 days] that those teens had already been murdered the very night they were kidnapped), stop the blockade of Gaza and allow Gazans access to the Mediterranean sea for fishing purposes, and end the targeted assassinations of Palestinians and the drone strikes that have caused an average of 2-3 children to die every week for the past eight years (something that most Israelis and most Americans don't know or can't grasp).”

Clashing Perspectives

In much the way that Hamas short-term goals strengthen the hand of Israeli NeoCons, so continued unfettered financial aid plays into the hands of Arab militant groups and those who would rather Israel simply ceased to exist. As Joel Bainerman, publisher of Tel Aviv Business, wrote for Middle East Quarterly:

“In the debate over U.S. aid to Israel, politics has always taken precedence over economics: supporters of Israel in the United States see money as a means to express commitment to Israel. But this is a mistake. … Unless Israel's supporters see the wealth-generating capability of the Israeli people and their thriving industries, the Jewish state will remain relegated to economic and political dependency, no matter how high its per capita GDP or how large its economy.”

Gaza Main Power Station July 30, photo by @Farah_Gazan
Israel is the only country to receive nearly all of its economic aid in the form of a cash payment. By spending a mere tenth of one percent of the defense spending budget it receives from the United States on elections of Congressmen and Senators in the United States (with no restrictions because of the U.S. Supreme Court), Israel can choose whom it wishes to win any US (or UK, or EU, or Ukrainian) election and whom it wishes to lose. This political truth is clear to anyone running for national office, as can be readily seen from any of their public statements. This is the Balfour legacy: a pox on the governments that divided Transjordan. They are now captives of the devil they knew.

Perhaps we should be grateful. In the Tea Bag era, foreign aid is perhaps the least popular budget item but Israel is easily the most popular recipient of funds. Its presence is often the only thing that makes it possible to pass a bill assisting victims of tsunamis, drought, war and AIDS.

And over that dark cabal — the militaries, the elected officials, the economies that control the citizenry by enclosing the commons — is one ring to rule them all — the ring of corptopcracy; the plutocrats, gold parachutists, vulture capital lenders and banksters. Gaza is being reduced to rubble because there are profits to be made.

Israel had a chance to de-fang Hamas by endorsing the coalition government and all of the concessions Hamas made to get that to happen. It did the opposite, condemning the coalition. Israel had the chance to follow the roadmap to a Two State Solution and instead continued to colonize the West Bank with illegal settlements. We could go on ad nauseum, and can readily acknowledge the Palestinians cannot claim clean hands or clear conscience either. 

Always attracted by its natural beauty and heroic inhabitants, we have returned to Israel and Palestine often since 1991. We have visited scores of kibbutzim and lived in two of them for a time. We have stayed in the Palestinian West Bank, where today we sponsor a Peace thru Permaculture project at a farm near Nabluus. We went with our Muslim friends to morning and evening prayer, learned to make hummus and pita, and picked fresh olives.

We have also shared a Shavuot banquet out in the moonlight on kibbutz under a canopy of lights, and listened to the kuddish recited over a glass of wine, eaten apple slices dipped in honey, and broken challah on Rosh Hashanah in Tel Aviv. These cultures should not be at war. They are very similar; brothers and sisters under the skin. They worship one God, revere desert traditions, and share a common love of the same birds, butterflies and flowers.

Until the political duels of great powers spilled into their region in search of oil, they lived together in peace and prosperity.

For Israel today, it is whack-a-mole. Even if Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or other groups could be terminated, the alternatives are draconian: Israeli occupation rule; risky elections with the possibility of even more radical groups; or continuing civilian bombings like Gaza. To the policymakers, there are no good choices.

But actually, there are.

Peace never comes from the barrel of a gun. It comes from willingness to be peaceful in seeking fair and just solutions, even when outrages surround you.

16 March 2003, Rafah, Occupied Gaza. Rachel
Corrie holds a megaphone and pleads with the
IDF soldier who is about to kill her.
It takes courage. We remember with tears in our eyes 23-year-old Rachel Corrie, of Olympia Washington, who, in 2003, placed herself in front of an IDF bulldozer to protect a Palestinian family, and was mowed down in plain view of the driver, who then reversed and backed his blade back over her limp body. 

We think about that young Israeli soldier in 1991, about Rachel Corrie’s age, standing guard in his iron tower at Gaza Beach and thinking how idyllic the scene was. Turning around, he looked down the barrel of his Uzi at 1000 Palestinians, most of them boys of 14 or 16, arrested and imprisoned for life for throwing stones, or because another boy, under hideous torture, named a friend or rival as an accomplice whether it was true or not. That boy wrote: 
“We too, in our way, are the victims…. I realize that the problem is the division of labor—the labor of evil. This division makes it possible for evil to take place apparently without evil people.
Francisco de Goya, Prisoner III
After all, the people who voted ‘Likud’ aren’t evil. And the ministers who sit in the Likud government aren’t evil. They don’t hit children in the stomach with their fists. And the chief of staff is not evil. He carries out what the elected government obliges him to carry out. And the commander of the internment facility is not evil—really not. And the interrogators—well, after all, they are doing their job. And it is, they say, impossible to govern the territories unless they do it. And as for the jailers, most of them are not evil either. 

Yet in some magical way, all these not-evil people manage together to produce a result that is very evil indeed. Worse: a result that is evil itself. And evil is always greater than the sum of its parts. Or the sum of those who contribute to it. 

That is to say: despite our Schweikian exterior, our clumsiness, our pathetic petty-bourgeois ways, we are the evil in Gaza. Only this evil of ours is an evil in disguise. A cunning evil. For it is an evil that happens, as it were, apart. The responsibility is no one’s.”

We would not venture so far as to say the responsibility is no one’s. We play our part every time we pay our taxes or vote for another fawning lapdog politician. Every young Israeli who chooses to serve instead of becoming a conscientious objector takes responsibility. Every Palestinian who hurls a rock or votes for Hamas must take responsibility.

Sarah Vardi spent 3 years in prison for her beliefs, photo by Judy Rand
And then there is Sahar Vardi. Her Israeli father went to prison as a sarvanim—a conscientious objector. When Sahar was a young girl she would join her father with Ta’ayush, a coexistence group of Israelis and Palestinians. She went to work with Palestinian villagers planting trees and tending crops. She witnessed first-hand what few Israeli children ever see: abuse from teenage soldiers whose powers are unchecked; 1000-year-old olive trees bulldozed; taunts and insults from militant immigrant settlers; the slow, random, meaningless bleeding deaths in ambulances stopped for hours at checkpoints.

She recalls that “[t]he shock was not from the brutality of the occupation or of a specific soldier, but from witnessing the ordinary day-to-day situation of going through checkpoints, fearing the demolition of their homes and knowing that every 18-year old soldier has the power to control their life.”

Sahar is now 21 years old.  In addition to her on-going work as a conscientious objector to military service, Sahar now also actively protests the eviction of Arab Israeli families from their homes in order to make way for Jewish settlements. She is working with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement.

There is no peace through war. Peace only comes by being peaceful. There is no justice through violence. Justice can only be achieved by non-violence. Ultimately, there can be no peace without first finding a path to justice. It is that simple, and that difficult.

Boycotting Apartheid

On July 9 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice declared Israel’s Wall in the Occupied Territories (OT) illegal, Palestinians called upon people of conscience all over the world to launch broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives, and to demand sanctions against Israel until Palestinian human rights are restored. 

The campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is shaped by a rights-based approach and highlights the three broad demographics of the Palestinians: the refugees, those under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians in Israel. The call urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by:

  • Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;
  • Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  • Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

Peace Protest in Tel Aviv
The BDS  strategy is unifying many who used to argue. It is now endorsed by over 170 Palestinian political parties, organizations, trade unions and movements. And, it is going global.

We had intended to close this 3-part series with a link to a new crowdfunding campaign, but that did not turn out as we expected. Our Palestinian partners felt it would be unethical and unseemly to turn the groundswell of world sympathy for Gaza to their benefit. 

Moreover, as one of our partners, a Palestinian woman in Jerusalem, pointed out:

My main concern with this is the abuse of the peace concept especially on an environmental level. The BDS movement is growing and becoming strong and after many discussions we had with many permaculturists in Palestine, there seems to be an agreement to follow the BDS guidelines when it comes to permaculture work or environmental work in general. Therefore, any campaign that calls for peace is highly criticized unless it is with partners that are officially acknowledging occupation and are working to a just peace and an end to the control of land and resources. Unfortunately, no Israeli permaculture farm is willing to do that and especially not [green kibbutzim].

Still, to walk the long walk to peace we have to exchange each other's shoes.

So, for example, Noam Chomsky makes the point  that “the United States should also be condemned and punished for providing the decisive military, economic, diplomatic and even ideological support for these crimes.”  We wholly concur. Indeed, true justice dictates that the US should get out of North America and pay reparations to the continent’s original inhabitants, as well as restoring their lands, forests, soils and animals.

Irish Protest, Aug 1
That said, even we would have great difficulty adopting a boycott of all US-made products and services to accomplish that end. There is no way we could still remain living here in Tennessee and adhere to such a boycott. Perhaps that is the point with respect to the Boycott National Committee's position towards Israeli peace activists — they should first acknowledge the occupation and then adopt BDS. Easy enough for outside permaculturists to endorse BDS. Not so easy for Israeli permies, or even Palestinian permaculturists living inside Israel.

Permaculture brings peace by achieving food sovereignty, decolonizing our food systems and supporting local producers. It restores the natural world that makes human life possible, even in the desert. People care/Earth care. This is as true in a war zone as anywhere.

Our Palestinian friend concluded:

“I also firmly believe that through permaculture, we will achieve and regain our dignity, sovereignty and power to make the occupation and the government that designed it obsolete — and not merely a peace opportunity.”

We do what we can. Using our website and tax-exempt number, we channel donations directly to  permaculture projects inside both Israel and the OT.  We support the peace flotillas. We recommend especially worthy crowdsource campaigns.  We urge anyone who can, to go there and get a personal experience. Apprentice or take a permaculture course. Volunteer to work alongside Sahir Vardi, wherever she goes. Get on the right side of history.

Lord Balfour may have had the best of intentions, but what he created is something no one should have to endure. If the British had wanted it to be over quickly, they should have gone with Uganda.


The situation may take a sharp turn very soon in any event. Sweltering temperatures and a rising sea will place more demands on an already precarious water supply. Keeping all those high-rise buildings air-conditioned will take a lot more energy. Electricity? There’s a gap of 100 to 150 billion cubic meters between what Israel’s Natural Gas Authority says will be needed by 2020 and what can be produced. Moreover, Israel’s geologists are warning that its natural gas, now one of its major exports, is unlikely to last much longer.

Canadian analyst Michel Chossudovsky has estimated that the amount of natural gas BP has in proven reserves just off Gaza could make Palestine as gas-rich as Kuwait, to the tune of $4 billion at current world prices. That assumes a lot, such as the willingness of Palestine’s government to sacrifice life on Earth by bringing that gas up and selling it (for the value of a one year in public and private US aid to Israel). 

If Gaza ceases to exist as part of Palestine, however, that decision would fall to Israel. It would have to choose between the political truth of air conditioning demanded now and the physical consequence of human extinction a century or more from now. And, when that gas is gone — and the sun is beating down hotter than before — what then?

Take away natural gas, electricity or international aid and what do you have left? If the Cuban Special Period was a preview for what is coming globally, Israel should be preparing for the possibility all its major donors might suddenly be forced to pull the plug on their aid. Philanthropy is already running through a gauntlet of calls for boycott. Nations will too.

If the national electric grid runs out of gas and oil, the supply of food in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will be gone in just a few days. What then?

Israelis will suddenly realize that those thousands of agricultural kibbutzim that used to support the economy, and did so amazingly even before modern petrochemical farming, are no longer there, and you can’t eat bullets, helicopter parts and drone software.

In the collapse scenario, who’s the biggest loser? People living in high rises in urban areas, the ones that have moonlight jazz bands on their patios. Who wins? Rural farmers with solid family connections to tribal village support systems. Who are they? Palestinians, by and large.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

One Hundred Thirty Nine Square Miles of Sand, Part II: The Road to Zion

" Gaza is the largest and oldest contiguous Arab enclave in Palestine, but it has become a concentration camp — 139 square miles of sand — where 1.8 million Palestinians have been herded into a cul de sac to make way for Zion."

Buchenwald survivors arrive in Haifa, 1946 (source: Life)
“If a path to the better there be, it begins with a look at the worst.” — Thomas Hardy

In the months leading up to the end of British rule, in a phase of the three-way civil war known as "The Battle of [the] Roads," the Arab Liberation Army fired at buses and blocked major roads in an effort to isolate the Jewish communities from each other.

Parenthetically, this is an actual definition of “terrorism,” not the bland and overbroad definition used by Homeland Security (“the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal laws of the United States for purposes of intimidation, coercion or ransom”). The function of terror is to deprive civil society of life worth living. Terrorists can be those who shoot at buses, or those who attack children playing on beaches or funeral parties in cemeteries with missiles and drones.

By March 1948, the Tel Aviv road was cut off and Jerusalem was under siege. The British wanted nothing to do with it. Nary a soldier amongst them wanted to be the last to die in a lost cause.

On April 6, in an effort to secure strategic positions, the Haganah and its elite strike force, the Palmach, attacked al-Qastal, an Arab village overlooking the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.

Radical Jewish gangs, or underground militias as they referred to themselves, put bombs on public buses and market plazas in Arab cities, causing horrific civilian casualties. Among these “irregulars”  were splinter factions of the Stern Gang known as the Irgun and the Lehi gangs.

In the pre-dawn hours of April 9, 1948 these gangs cast a shadow that lingers still. Two kilometers south of al-Qastal was the quiet town of Deir Yassin.

Under the UN Mandate, Deir Yassin was to have become part of greater Jerusalem; neither Arab nor Jewish, just protected territory. Its 144 houses held from 400 to 1000 Arab residents and it was relatively prosperous because of a nearby quarry and the reputations of its residents for fine stonecutting.

Just across the valley lay a Jewish Orthodox community, Givat Shaul. At the start of 1948 the villagers of Deir Yassin met with the villagers of Givat Shaul and made a peace pact. Deir Yassin would inform Givat Shaul should Palestinian militiamen appear in the village by hanging laundry — two white pieces with a black piece in the middle. In return, Deir Yassin residents were guaranteed safe passage on the way to and from Jerusalem.

The leader of the Arab village, the mukhtar, was summoned to Jerusalem to explain to the Arab Higher Committee what the village's relationship was with the Jews. He told them they lived in peace. On February 13, an armed gang of Arabs arrived to attack Givat Shaul, but the Deir Yassin villagers came to their aid and drove them off. That night the gang returned and killed all the Deir Yassin sheep.

The success of the Haganah’s road-clearing campaign emboldened the Jewish thug element. They wanted to hit another village to show the Arabs that Jews intended to fight. Irgun and Lehi gangleaders approached David Shaltiel, the Haganah commander in Jerusalem, for permission to attack Deir Yassin.

Irgun had more credibility with Haganah than Lehi because it had been responsible for the bombing of the King David Hotel on July 22, 1946, which is widely credited with causing the British to hand off Palestine to the UN.

Shaltiel was aware of the village’s peace treaty and suggested the gangs hit Ein Karem instead. The militias said that would be too dangerous for them. An officer with the Palmach, the Haganah's strike force, after watching Shaltiel reluctantly give his consent for the Deir Yassin raid, forwarded objections to the Chief of Intelligence in Jerusalem, who appealed to Shaltiel to reconsider. Shaltiel commanded the gangs to warn the villagers ahead of time and to allow them an escape route to safety. Any who remained could then be considered militants.

The raid did not go as planned. The gangs sent a truck with a loudspeaker to alert the village, but the loudspeaker didn't work and the truck mired in mud. The attackers were by all accounts ill-prepared, untrained, and inexperienced. Instead of arriving during the night, they arrived at 4:45am when it was getting light.

The residents failed to run even if they had the chance. They hid in their houses. The Irgun's commander issued orders to go house-to-house throwing hand grenades through doors and windows, a couple of grenades per house. The force of the explosions destroyed entire parts of houses, burying whole families.

A Palmach unit from the Haganah arrived with armored vehicles and mortars and lent a hand. The fighting was over by about 11:00 am. Estimates of civilian casualties range from 107 to over 1000. Eleven had confirmed weapons. An Irgun fighter testified years later that Irgun and Lehi men had killed 80 prisoners after the fighting was over.

Many of the eyewitness accounts come from Haganah officers. One, who arrived at the scene on April 10, said "I have seen a great deal of war, but I never saw a sight like Deir Yassin."
"The dissidents [Irgun and Lehi] were going about the village robbing and stealing everything: Chickens, radio sets, sugar, money, gold and more.... Each dissident walked about the village dirty with blood and proud of the number of persons he had killed. Their lack of education and intelligence as compared to our soldiers [i.e., the Haganah] was apparent.... In one of the houses at the centre of the village were assembled some 200 women and small children. The women sat quietly and didn't utter a word. When I arrived, the "commander" explained that they intended to kill all of them."
Another Haganah officer described beatings, looting, and the stripping of jewelry and money from prisoners. He wrote that the initial orders were to take the men prisoner and send the women and children away, but the order was changed to kill all the prisoners. The mukhtar's son was killed in front of his mother and sisters. The Haganah did not intervene on behalf of the Arabs but supported the gangs. When they ran out of ammunition, the gangs were resupplied by the Haganah.
The hundreds of women and small children huddling in the school were saved by their Jewish neighbors. A Palmach officer said,
“[A] crowd of people from Givat Shaul, with peyot (earlocks), most of them religious, came into the village and started yelling ‘gazlanim’ ‘rotzchim’ (thieves, murderers) — ‘we had an agreement with this village. It was quiet. Why are you murdering them?’ They were Chareidi (ultra-orthodox) Jews. gradually approached and entered the village, and the Lehi and Irgun people had no choice, they had to stop.”
Jacques de Reynier, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Palestine, wrote that he had encountered a "cleaning-up team" when he arrived the village the following day.
The gang [the Irgun detachment] was wearing country uniforms with helmets. All of them were young, some even adolescents, men and women, armed to the teeth: revolvers, machine-guns, hand grenades, and also cutlasses in their hands, most of them still blood-stained. A beautiful young girl, with criminal eyes, showed me a head still dripping with blood; she displayed it like a trophy. This was the "cleaning up" team that was obviously performing its task very conscientiously. 
I tried to go into a house. A dozen soldiers surrounded me, their machine-guns aimed at my body, and their officer forbade me to move ... I then flew into one of the most towering rages of my life, telling these criminals what I thought of their conduct, threatening them with everything I could think of, and then pushed them aside and went into the house. 
... I found some bodies, cold. Here the "cleaning up" had been done with machine-guns, then hand grenades. It had been finished off with knives, anyone could see that ... as I was about to leave, I heard something like a sigh. I looked everywhere, turned over all the bodies, and eventually found a little foot, still warm. It was a little girl of ten, mutilated by a hand grenade, but still alive....
After his inspection, the Irgun asked him to sign a document to say he had been received courteously and thanking them for their help. When he refused, they told him he would sign it if he valued his life. "The only course open to me was to convince them that I did not value my life in the least," he wrote.

The Arab emergency committee appealed to the British army to intervene, to no avail. The British were not keen to take on the Irgun and Lehi, who unlike the Haganah, would have fought back if attacked. In 1949 the town was cleared and its buildings torn down to make way for a new Jerusalem subdivision.

The attack on Deir Yassin in 1948 marked the start of what is called by Palestinians in present times, an Nakbah, “The Cataclysm.”

In 1947, foreseeing what was coming, 100,000 Arabs from the urban upper and middle classes in Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem, and also Jewish-dominated areas, had fled their homes. Some escaped abroad to Europe, many more to neighboring Arab countries. The refugee crisis caused the US to withdraw support for the UN plan, but Golda Meir raised millions in donations from sympathizers in the United States and Josef Stalin decided to support the Zionist cause, too. Haganah imported armament stockpiles left from the war in Europe and David Ben-Gurion directed advancement of the Jewish army's tactics and logistics.

Beginning in 1948, every Jewish man and woman in the country was required to receive military training. Objectors were imprisoned. In the Palestinian communities, people packed what they owned and took to the roads, seeking escape.

Israel, 1948 (source: CIA)
When Haganah opened its anti-British offensive, Tiberias, Haifa, Safed, Beisan, Jaffa and Acre fell, and more than 250,000 Palestinians tried to flee the war zone. The situation pushed the leaders of the neighboring Arab states to intervene, but the British weakened the will of King Abdullah I with promises to permit annexation of Palestine to Jordan, and the Arabs failed to assemble sufficient forces to protect the Palestinians who remained.

On May 14, 1948, as the last British forces departed, David Ben-Gurion read the Israeli Declaration of Independence, establishing a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel. Truman and Stalin both immediately endorsed. The new state gained UN recognition. Haganah became the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

By July Israel had conquered some of the territory promised to Abdullah, wresting it from Jordanian, Syrian and Lebanese forces. A ceasefire was declared in November. On December 1, King Abdullah announced the union of Transjordan with Arab Palestine west of the Jordan River, and a new state called the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Only Britain recognized the annexation. The new map looked like this:

By then 711,000 to 726,000 Palestinian Arabs had fled or were expelled from their homes — 80 percent of the estimated Arab population at that time. In the parts of Palestine reserved to Arabs by the UN Mandate, 50 percent were gone.

These numbers are important, because one of the perennial stumbling blocks of peace negotiations has been the Palestinian insistence on a “right of return.”

We could now launch into a voluminous study of Israel between 1948 and 2014. The highs, the lows — depending on which side you take: Suez campaign of 1956, Six Day War, Munich, Yom Kippur War, Entebbe, the First Intifada, Sabra and Shatila, the Second Intifada, Gaza. That is not the purpose of this essay.

Jews, tracing their historic experience through centuries of persecution, pogroms and eventually the Holocaust, in 1948 had their Zion and would do whatever it took to defend it. Palestinians — a hodge podge of ethnicities, religions and backgrounds, including some families that could trace their heritage there for thousands of years — were on the wrong side of history. Their choice was to get with the program or suffer the consequences. Or both.

After 1948, the population of Israel rose from 800,000 to 8 million. Periodic military attempts by Arab coalitions to oust Israel from Palestine failed. Given the firepower and intelligence prowess of modern Israel, these attempts at violent revolution from within or military intervention from without are merely pathetic.

Legal appeals to the UN, even for minimal humane treatment of Palestinians, have also come to naught, blocked by the one-state-veto of the US at the UN Security Council.

Palestinians — even the peaceful ones — are seen as a threat and regarded by Israeli police and courts as people to control and punish, not citizens to protect.

Operation Protective Edge, 2014
Since 1985, the United States has provided $3 billion in grants annually to Israel ($3.15 billion per year from 2013-2018), with another $1 billion coming from US private philanthropy. The U.S. also loans Israel cash and material not only interest free, but often with implicit waiver of repayment. Since 1976, Israel has been the largest annual recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, and is the largest cumulative recipient since World War II, receiving nearly a third of all US foreign aid.

The US is not Israel’s largest donor, however. That would be Russia. The US supplies only 21% of Israel’s $15 billion defense budget annually. Israel plays all sides of the petrowars.

All this foreign aid, and no need to pay for its own defense, has provided Israelis the highest standard of living in the region, with an average life expectancy of 82.1 years. On our most recent trip there in 2012, we enjoyed a moonlit swim in the Mediterranean while listening to a jazz band playing on a patio of a nearby highrise hotel. We saw flashes in the sky out to sea and heard what sounded like distant thunder. Just down the beach, in Gaza, relatives combed through rubble looking for parts of family members shattered by Israeli rockets in the lead-up to Operation Pillar of Defense.

In the West Bank, we saw long lines at the barbed wire checkpoints for Palestinians commuting to work or trying to shop. City buses had two stops at each corner. The first was for Israelis. The second was for Palestinians. If the bus was full it did not stop at the second stop.

The “A” word Jimmy Carter used, drawing much huffing and puffing in Washington — apartheid — was a warning, and he was just repeating what Israeli political thinkers were saying could happen if these trends continue. But it has already happened. The map of Palestine is a map of Bantustans, designed to exploit distressed labor without the burden of infrastructural support. Work cards don’t matter. Innocence is irrelevant. None of the rules for humane treatment within occupied territories in times of war apply here.

Gaza is worse than Soweto. It is the Warsaw ghetto. As the largest and oldest contiguous Palestinian enclave, it has become a concentration camp — 139 square miles of sand — where 1.8 million Palestinians have been herded into a cul de sac to make way for Zion. It is now being slowly squeezed, used as a practice range for the latest modern weapons, constantly pounded into rubble, deprived of food, water, medicine, sanitation, employment, help, witness. Gazans have their back to the ocean, but even the fishermen are not allowed to pass out to sea. By land, they are walled in by Israel and barred from Egypt. Their tunnels to obtain urgent supplies are now being targeted by GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators, 5,000-pound smart bombs that can blow through 20 feet of concrete.

In our next installment of this three-part series we will describe a pathway forward, out of the mire, that will likely occur whether anyone advocates for it or not.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Operation Protective Edge: One Hundred Thirty Nine Square Miles of Sand, Part I

""Mr. Balfour, supposing I was to offer you Paris instead of London, would you take it?" He sat up, looked at me, and answered: "But Dr. Weizmann, we have London." "That is true," I said, "but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh.""

Operation Protective Edge, 2014
Events in Gaza fill us with deep sadness. We have friends in both Israel and Palestine who are swept into this conflict without wanting it. To them, as to us, it seems a doorless, windowless room. There is no escape, no illumination, no good reason for being there and no way to leave.

To get out of this room, we have to understand how it was built and why it is here. We have to cut a window to let some light in, and then build a door from the inside out.

When we first visited Israel, in the summer of 1991, Gaza City was much like the other ocean-front cities of the Mediterranean — stone buildings and winding streets, a long seawall, lovely beaches. Even though it had just been through the 1987 Intifada, it retained the charm of Jappa and Haifa. Fishermen gathered before dawn and shoved out with the tide, returning at midday with their catches. Shopkeepers sold antiques and fine needlework from stores below their homes. Apart from the tanks, barbed wire and ubiquitous IDF soldiers, Gaza Beach was a tranquil paradise.

In 1991 a young guard assigned to the Gaza Beach internment camp wrote for The New York Review of Books,  “One day, if there is a state called Palestine, its government will no doubt lease this piece of ground to some international entrepreneur who would set up a Club Med Gaza Beach.”

In 1948, Gaza City, and the “Gaza Strip” became the refuge of people fleeing war after their homes, olive groves, barns and villages were destroyed, their cattle and goats machine-gunned, and their water, sewage and electricity cut off. Then, in 1967, tanks arrived at the beach, and there was nowhere left to flee. Some lucky enough to escape went to Egypt, and when Egyptians were no longer willing to feed, house or employ the growing tide of refugees, they closed the border. Even then, Gazans dug long tunnels, or tried to cross by boat.

In 1991 that young Israeli prison guard wrote:
In Gaza it’s all straightforward and clear. There’s no place to hide. And I think: What if someone were to sneak a hidden camera in here? If only Robert Capa were alive. If only Claude Lanzmann were to make a film here. He would see a bored soldier who sits and solves crossword puzzles chewing on his pencil, under the apparently innocent sign: “Compound Number 1,” while another soldier, one or our charming Sabra types, a youth from a Tel Aviv suburb, walks around with a wreath of handcuffs over his shoulder.
Then he might turn his camera on the forty-one prisoners whom we shove into the narrow filthy detention cell in the government building in Gaza. They are awaiting trial. Because they have no room to move, because they are squeezed one against the other from morning until noon like cattle, they press ever more tightly up against the bars on the door to the detention cell so as to gulp in a little air. And because the door is too narrow for them all, some collapse, and some crawl under the legs of others. And the seven or eight who are caught on the bars appear, without intending or knowing it, as a kind of living statue, a mute poster of protest against imprisonment and oppression.
In that summer of 1991, near Dagania, the first kibbutz (1909), we laid wildflowers on the tomb of Theodor Herzl, the conceiver of Israel, and placed a small stone on the grave of Rachel, the country’s first Poet Laureate. We walked with elderly IDF veterans to see the foxholes they had dug at the Jordan River in May of 1948. We immersed ourselves in the history of this place, visiting the chapel on the Mount of Olives and the archaeological dig at Capernaum. We stood upon the rock from which the young Jesus of Nazareth was said to hail the fishermen in the Sea of Galilee, telling them to cast their net on the other side of the boat.

Back in 1894, a Jewish lieutenant in the French Army, Alfred Dreyfus, was tried for treason. He was wrongfully accused, which soon became apparent, but with the anti-Semitic right-wing having taken power in Paris, and the French public inflamed, the Army feared public accusations of Jewish favoritism if Dreyfus was tried and acquitted. Dreyfus was scapegoated — summarily convicted and sentenced to prison.

In Paris to cover the trial for the Vienna News Free Press, Theodor Herzl was shocked at the open anti-Semitism he witnessed. If anti-Semitism could flourish in the most tolerant and progressive country in Europe, Herzl reasoned, Jews would only be safe in their own state. If they had to design a nation, what might it look like? Herzl imagined a socialist paradise — no poor, no ruling class, food and shelter for everyone. He wrote a bestselling book, The Jewish State, promoting his ideas, which eventually went viral as Zionism. Herzl’s reaction to the right wing excesses in France gave birth, half a century later, to the utopian dream of Israel.

In the late 19th century, facing growing persecution in Eastern Europe and pogroms in Russia, Jews began flowing to Palestine for refuge. Near Jaffa an agricultural school, the Mikveh Israel, was founded. Russian Jews established the Bilu and Hovevei Zion ("Love of Zion") movements to assist settlers, who created self-reliant experimental agricultural communes that sought to get beyond the utopian “Holy Cities” of the Ashkenazi-Jews and not rely on donations from Europe.

The hardy arrivals, mostly from Russia — the First Aliyah, some 35,000 between 1882 and 1903 — revived the Hebrew language, developed drip irrigation, and greened the desert. They blended into and got along with the complex mix of Druze, Bedouin and Christian and Muslim Arabs. By 1890, Jews were a majority in Jerusalem. In 1909 residents of Jaffa established the first entirely Hebrew-speaking city, Ahuzat Bayit (later renamed Tel Aviv).

We have previously written of the seminal role of Lady Evelyn Balfour in the creation of organic gardening and the founding of the first Soil Association. We have not previously mentioned her very interesting uncle, Arthur James, First Earl of Balfour, British Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905.

Lord Balfour is also known for his noble mien — the Balfourian manner. A journalist of his time described it this way:
“This Balfourian manner, as I understand it, has its roots in an attitude of mind—an attitude of convinced superiority which insists in the first place on complete detachment from the enthusiasms of the human race, and in the second place on keeping the vulgar world at arm's length. It is an attitude of mind … of one who desires rather to observe the world than to shoulder any of its burdens.”

"The truth about Arthur Balfour," said George Wyndham, "is this: he knows there's been one ice-age, and he thinks there's going to be another."

We are fond of Balfour, not just because he was apparently a protocollapsenik, but also because in his later years he argued that Darwin’s premise of selection for reproductive fitness cast doubt on scientific naturalism — the belief that there are no supernatural entities or processes — because human cognitive facilities that would accurately perceive truth would be at a disadvantage against competing humans genetically selecting for evolutionarily useful illusions.

While Balfour tilted towards the supernatural as a boon to humanity, his thesis goes a long way to explain the great smoldering track of the Advertising Age through our species’ inate common sense and our presently diminished capacity to survive the coming Anthropocene extinction.

Long evolved discriminatory abilities that assisted distant future pattern recognition and might have helped our survival are being bred out by twerking, gangsta rap, and The Shopping Network, leaving only the comfort of our illusions.

Despite his belief in the futility of action, Balfour, in his manner, could not resist the urge to meddle in world affairs. Like a child with an anthill and a magnifying glass on a sunny day he found special interest in Zionists. Meeting Chaim Weizmann, a wealthy British Zionist, in 1906, Balfour asked Weizmann what he thought of the idea of a Jewish homeland in Uganda, a British Protectorate.

According to Weizmann's memoir, the conversation went as follows:
"Mr. Balfour, supposing I was to offer you Paris instead of London, would you take it?" He sat up, looked at me, and answered: "But Dr. Weizmann, we have London." "That is true," I said, "but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh." He ... said two things which I remember vividly. The first was: "Are there many Jews who think like you?" I answered: "I believe I speak the mind of millions of Jews whom you will never see and who cannot speak for themselves." ... To this he said: "If that is so you will one day be a force." (Weizmann, Trial and Error, p.111, as quoted in W. Lacquer, The History of Zionism, 2003, p.188).
Flash forward 8 years to November, 1914 and the retired Prime Minister is now British Foreign Secretary as his country is at war with the Ottoman Empire over oil and the Berlin-to-Baghdad railroad. A fellow cabinet official, Herbert Samuel, circulates a memorandum entitled “The Future of Palestine” to his colleagues. The memorandum begins with "I am assured that the solution of the problem of Palestine which would be much the most welcome to the leaders and supporters of the Zionist movement throughout the world would be the annexation of the country to the British Empire.”

This prompted a letter from Alfred, First Earl Balfour to Walter, Second Baron Rothschild, a prominent funder of the first kibbutzim. Balfour wrote:
“His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Mosul-Haifa pipeline reaches the coast in 1938
The overarching aim of Balfour was to gain support of both the Americans and the Bolsheviks for British aims in the Middle East. The Transjordan coast was strategically important as a check to Egypt at the Suez Canal, and there were already thoughts of a Mosul-Haifa pipeline to transport oil from Kirkuk. Two of President Woodrow Wilson's closest advisors, Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter, were avid Zionists. Several of the most prominent Russian revolutionaries, including Leon Trotsky, were also. The Foreign Secretary wanted to keep both the USA and Russia in the war and used the potential separation of a Zionist state from Transjordan as bait.
“The gradual growth of considerable Jewish community, under British suzerainty, in Palestine will not solve the Jewish question in Europe. A country the size of Wales, much of it barren mountain and part of it waterless, cannot hold 9,000,000 people. But it could probably hold in time 3,000,000 or 4,000,000, and some relief would be given to the pressure in Russia and elsewhere. Far more important would be the effect upon the character of the larger part of the Jewish race who must still remain intermingled with other peoples, to be a strength or to be a weakness to the countries in which they live. Let a Jewish centre be established in Palestine; let it achieve, as I believe it would achieve, a spiritual and intellectual greatness; and insensibly, but inevitably, the character of the individual Jew, wherever he might be, would be ennobled. The sordid associations which have attached to the Jewish name would be sloughed off, and the value of the Jews as an element in the civilisation of the European peoples would be enhanced.
"The Jewish brain is a physiological product not to be despised. For fifteen centuries the race produced in Palestine a constant succession of great men - statesmen and prophets, judges and soldiers. If a body be again given in which its soul can lodge, it may again enrich the world.”
The Future of Palestine

In November 1918 the large group of Palestinian Arab dignitaries and representatives of political associations forwarded a petition to the British authorities in which they decried the hubris of the declaration. The document stated:
“[W]e always sympathized profoundly with the persecuted Jews and their misfortunes in other countries... but there is wide difference between such sympathy and the acceptance of such a nation... ruling over us and disposing of our affairs.”
Winston Churchill sided with the Arabs, saying in 1922, “I do not attach undue importance to this [Zionist] movement, but it is increasingly difficult to meet the argument that it is unfair to ask the British taxpayer, already overwhelmed with taxation, to bear the cost of imposing on Palestine an unpopular policy.

Arthur Balfour and his Declaration
The British Mandate of Palestine was confirmed by the League of Nations in 1922 and came into effect in 1923. The boundaries of Palestine initially included modern Jordan, which was removed from the territory by Churchill a few years later. The United States, whose Senate refused to join Wilson’s League of Nations, signed a separate endorsement treaty.

Between 1919 and 1923, 40,000 Jews arrived in Palestine, mainly escaping the post-revolutionary chaos of Russia and Ukraine (the Third Aliyah) where over 100,000 Jews had been massacred. These immigrants were called halutzim (pioneers) because they were experienced in agriculture and quick to establish self-sustaining frontier towns. The Jezreel Valley and the Hefer Plain marshes were purchased through foreign donations, drained and converted to agricultural settlements. A socialist underground militia, the Haganah ("defense") sprang up to defend the outlying settlements.

Despite Palestinian Arab rioting in 1920 and 1922, 82,000 more Jewish refugees had arrived by 1929 (the Fourth Aliyah), fleeing pogroms in Poland and Hungary and rebuffed by the anti-Semitic United States Immigration Act of 1924.

The British governors of Palestine rejected the principle of majority rule or any other measure that would give the Arab population, who formed the majority, control over Jewish territory. The United States, whose strategic objective (oft quoted by comedian Robert Newman in A History of Oil) was “to bring democracy to the Middle East,” supported this policy, and still supports it today.

Following World War II, oil interests in the Middle East tilted western allies towards the Arabs. In an effort to win independence, underground Jewish militias waged a guerrilla war against the British. From 1929 to 1945, 110,000 Jews entered Palestine illegally (Bet Aliyah). Between 1945 and 1948, 250,000 Holocaust surviving Jews left Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia for refuge in Palestine. Most of these refugees were intercepted by the British and interred in squalid camps in Cyprus. Finally, under pressure from their Arab oil partners, the British had enough, and referred the whole matter to the United Nations.

The UN, looking at the status quo on the ground, drew this map, which is probably the worst partition ever conceived.

On November 29, 1947, in Resolution 181 (II), the UN General Assembly recommended a plan to replace the British Mandate with separate "Independent Arab and Jewish States" and a "Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem administered by the United Nations."

Neither Britain nor the UN took any action to implement the resolution and Britain continued detaining Jews attempting to enter Palestine. The British withdrew forces in May 1948, but continued to hold Jews of "fighting age" and their families on Cyprus until March 1949, anticipating what was about to happen.

What was about to happen was the delivery of the promised utopia to the Jews and a catastrophe for the Palestinians.

To be continued




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