Posts Tagged ‘Cyprus’

Book on the Plight of the Embattled Christians of Palestine

April 13, 2019

Said K. Aburish, The Forgotten Faithful: The Christians of the Holy Land (London: Quartet 1993).

Aburish is a Palestinian, born in Bethany, and the author of several books about the Arabs and specifically the Palestinians and their persecution by the Israelis – A Brutal Friendship, Children of Bethany – The Story of a Palestinian Family and Cry Palestine: Inside the West Bank. In The Forgotten Faithful he tackles the problems of the Christians of Palestine, talking to journalists, church official, charity workers, educationalists, businessmen and finally of the leaders of the PLO, Hanan Ashrawi. Christians used to constitute ten per cent or so of the Palestinian population before the foundation of Israel. Now they’re down to one per cent. Much of this decline has been due to emigration, as educated, skilled Christians leave Israel to seek better opportunities elsewhere, and the indigenous Christian future in the Holy Land, the in which Christianity first arose, is uncertain.

Said states clearly the issues driving this decline early in his book – persecution by the Israelis, and particularly their attempt to wrest the lucrative tourism industry from them on the one hand, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism on the other. He writes

Twenty-five years of Israeli occupation have been disastrous for Palestinian Christians. In addition to the widely known closures of schools, imprisonment and torture of children, deportation of dissenters and activists, the expropriation of land owned by individuals and church-owned property, the Christians’ primary source of income, tourism and its subsidiary service businesses, have been the targets of special Israeli attempts to control them. In other words, when it comes to the Israeli occupation, the Christians have suffered more than their Muslim countrymen because they have more of what the Israelis want.

Furthermore, the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism is confronting the Christians with new problems against most of which they cannot protest without endangering the local social balance, indeed their Palestinian identity. Muslim fanatics have raise the Crescent on church towers, Christian cemeteries have been desecrated, the statues of the Virgin Mary destroyed and, for the first time ever, the Palestinian Christians are facing constraints on their way of life. In Gaza a Muslim fundamentalist stronghold, Christian women have to wear headscarves and long sleeves or face stoning, and Christian-owned shops have to close on the Muslim sabbath of Friday instead of on Sunday. 

These combined pressures come at a time of strain between the local Christian communities and both their local church leadership and the mainline churches of the West. The mainline churches in the West are accused of not doing enough to help them financially or drawing attention to their plight, for fear of appearing anti-Semitic and to a lesser degree anti-Muslim. The local church leaders are caught between their parishioners’ cry for help and the attitude of their mother churches and have been undermined by their identification with the latter. In addition to problems with the mainline churches, Christian evangelist groups from the United States, Holland and other countries support the State of Israel at the expense of local Christians. The evangelists accept the recreation of Israel as the prelude to the second coming to the extent of ignoring local Christian rights and feelings, a fact overlooked by Muslim zealots who blame the local Christians for not curbing their insensitive pro-Israeli co-religionists.

Two subsidiary problems contribute towards closing the ring of helplessness which is choking the local Christian communities of the Holy Land. The suffering inflicted on them by others and the direct and indirect results of the neglect of outside Christianity still haven’t induced their local church leaders to cooperate in establishing a common, protective Christian position. The traditional quarrel, alongside other disputes between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, continues and its stands in the way of creating a constructive Christian front. Furthermore, the Israelis make the appearance of favouring them against their Muslim nationals, a divide-and-rule policy which contributes towards inflaming the feelings of ignorant Muslims who do not understand the reasons behind the Israeli actions and use them to justify whatever anti-Christian feeling exists. (pp. 2-4).

The Palestinian Christian community has largely been middle class, assimilated and patriotic. They have provided the Palestinian people with a large number of businessmen and professionals, including a significant part of the membership and leadership of Palestinian nationalism and the PLO, as well as the civil rights lawyers working to defend the Palestinian people from persecution by the Israeli state and military. They have also been active establishing charities to provide for the Palestinians’ welfare. Said visits one, which specialises in rehabilitating and providing training for people physically injured and mentally traumatised by the Israeli armed forces. Visiting a Palestinian hospital, he also meets some of the victims of the IDF wounded and crippled by the IDF, including a young man shot by a member of the Special Forces simply for spraying anti-Israeli graffiti on a wall.

This isn’t an anti-Semitic book, as Aburish talks to sympathetic Israeli journalists and academics, but he describes very clearly the violence and bigotry that comes not just from the Israeli state and army, but also from Jewish religious fanatics. In the first chapter he describes a group of Israeli soldiers sneering at Christian Palestinians, and how he deliberated placed himself between a group of Jewish schoolboys and an elderly Ethiopian nun going through one district of Jerusalem. The boys had first started insulting her, and then began throwing stones at her and Aburish before the local, Jewish inhabitants rushed into the street to drive them away. The churches and monasteries in that part of town are close to an area of Jewish religious extremists. They’re not usually physically aggressive, but they make it very clear they don’t like Christians being there.

Nor is it anti-Muslim. The Christians community itself sees itself very firmly as part of the Palestinians. Many Christian men have adopted the name Muhammad in order to show that there is no difference between themselves as their Muslim fellow countrymen. And historically they have been fully accepted by the Muslim community. Aburish talks to the headman of a mixed Christian-Muslim village. The man is a Christian, and historically Christians have formed the headmen for the village. The Christians also point with pride to the fact that one of the generals of Saladin, the Muslim leader who conquered Palestine back from the Crusaders, was a Greek Orthodox Christian. Aburish is shocked by how extremely religious the Muslim community has become, with Friday services packed and one of his aunts traveling to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to pray. This, like the less obvious religious revival among the Christians, is ultimately due to Israeli pressure and the failure of secular Palestinian politicians. There is no truth in politics, so they seek it instead in Islam and the pages of Qu’ran. And behind this rise in Islamic intolerance are the Saudis. Aburish recommends better Muslim-Christian dialogue to tackle this growing intolerance.

Aburish hears from the Palestinians how their land is seized by the Israelis for the construction of new, Israeli settlements, how people are shot, beaten, injured and maimed, and the attempts to strangle Palestinians businesses. This includes legislation insisting that all tourist guides have to be Israeli – a blatant piece of racism intended to drive Christians out of the tourist business through denying them access to the many Christian shrines, churches and monuments that are at the heart of the industry. Christian charities and welfare services don’t discriminate between Christian and Muslim, but they are oversubscribed and underfunded. And the churches are more interested in defending their traditional institutional privileges than in helping their local flock. They look west, and are more interested in promoting and defending the churches’ response to the worlds’ problems as a whole, while the Palestinians are also being pulled east through their Arab identity. Senior Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox clergy are often foreigners, who cannot speak Arabic and may be to a greater or lesser extent indifferent to the needs and problems of their congregations. The Palestinian Christians are also hampered by the fact that they don’t want to acknowledge that they have specific problems as a minority within the wider Palestinian nation, partly for fear of further antagonising the Muslim majority.

Nevertheless, some Palestinian Christians choose to remain, stubbornly refusing to emigrate while they could get much better jobs elsewhere. And all over the world, expatriate Palestinian communities are proud of their origins and connection to the land. Aburish even talks to one optimistic Palestinian Christian businessman, who believes that Cyprus provides the model for a successful Palestine. There local people have built a thriving commercial economy without having the universities and educational institutions Palestine possesses. And some Palestinian Christians believe that the solutions to their crisis is for the community to reconnect with its oriental roots, reviving the traditional extensive Arab family structure, which has served Arabs so well in the past.

The book was published a quarter of a century ago, in 1993, and I’ve no doubt that things have changed since then. But not for the better. There have been recent magazine articles by National Geographic, among others, that report that the Palestinians are still suffering the same problem – caught between the hammer of the Israeli state and the anvil of Islamic fundamentalism. Christian Zionism, however, has become stronger and exerts a very powerful influence on American foreign policy through organisations like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. Netanyahu’s vile Likud is still in power, and Israeli politics has lurched even further to the right with the inclusion of Fascist parties like Otzma Yehudat – Jewish Power – in the wretched coalition. And some British churches maintain a very determined silence on the problems of the Palestinians. According to one anti-Zionist Jewish blog, the Methodist Church has passed regulations at its synod preventing it or its members officially criticising Israel. Because of the church’s leaders was friends with members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

I am very well aware of the long, shameful history of Christian anti-Semitism and how real, genuine Nazis have also criticised Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and claimed that they’re just anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to provoke further bigotry against the Jewish people. But Israel is oppressing the Christians of Palestine as well as the Muslims, but we in the West really don’t hear about it. And I’m not sure how many western Christians are really aware that there is a Christian community in Palestine, or how its members largely identify totally as Palestinians. Certainly Ted Cruz, the American politico, didn’t when he tried telling a Middle Eastern Christian group that they should support Israel. He was shocked and disgusted when they very firmly and obviously didn’t agree. He made the mistake of believing they had the same colonialist attitude of western right-wing Christians, while Middle Eastern Christians are very much the colonised and know it. Hence the fact that according to Aburish, many Palestinian Christians look for theological support to South American Liberation Theology and its Marxist critique of colonialism. And they also supported Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, as a secular Arab state that would allow them to maintain their religious identity and culture.

The book’s dated, and since it was written the Christian presence in the Holy Land has dwindled further. Aburish describes in strong terms what a catastrophe a Palestine without indigenous Christians would be. He writes

The growing prospect of a Holy Land Christianity reduced to stones, a museum or tourist faith without people, a Jerusalem without believers in Christ, is more serious than that of a Rome without a Pope or a Canterbury without an archbishop. It is tantamount to a criminal act which transcends a single church and strikes a blow at the foundations and the very idea of Christianity.

I thoroughly recommend this book to every western Christian reader interested in seeing an alternative view of the religious situation in Palestine, one of that contradicts the lies and demands of the right-wing press. Like an article by the Torygraph’s Barbara Amiel back in the 1990s, which quoted a Christian mayor as stating that the Christian community welcomed the Israeli occupation. His might, but as the book shows, most don’t. Or that scumbucket Katie Hopkins telling us that we should support Israel, because it represents Judaeo-Christian values and civilisation, a claim that would outrage many Jews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hypocrite Brextremist James Dyson Abandons Britain for Singapore

January 23, 2019

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece reporting that James Dyson, the multimillionaire inventor of the vacuum cleaner that bears his name, has abandoned Britain for Singapore after strongly promoting Brexit. He was one of the leading industrialists in Britain supporting the ‘Leave’ campaign, and when they won, he told the rest of us that leaving the EU’s single market would liberate the UK’s economy and allow us to make other trade deals with the rest of the world. He also said that we should leave the EU without worrying about an interim deal, because ‘uncertainty is opportunity’, and that they would come to us if we just walked away.

Dyson has shown how much faith he has in the British economy now that they’re due to leave the EU and the possibility of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit is unfortunately all too strong: he’s decided to abandon his present headquarters in Malmesbury for Singapore. He hasn’t any, and Mike’s article on this has a series of tweets from people criticizing him for his decision. One of those is ‘Shop Steward’, who tweeted

“The thing is he’s a multimillionaire so he could stay here and still make a profit In fact he could stay here, improve workers pay & conditions, and still make a profit …but greed won’t allow that. No, profit must be maximised at all costs because enough is never enough.”

Quite. Another commenter, Paul Bernal, asked how many other Brexiters have to leave the UK, either personally or just their businesses, before voters realise they were being conned. Gavin Esler, who I remember was the name of one of the Beeb’s foreign journalists, reported that P&O has just re-registered its UK fleet to Cyprus before Brexit.

Deeply Unhelpful Shelly responded to this with the observation that are probably very many others, who won’t make it public because they fear being attacked by the ladies and gentlemen of the media. Mike also observes that while P&O didn’t promote Brexit, they are sending a message to other businesses that they should get out while they can.

As for Dyson, Mike says

Dyson is on record, not just as a Brexiteer but as a Brextremist, and his decision reeks of the worst kind of hypocrisy.

He supported Brexit; he influenced other people to support it; and now he is abandoning us to the consequences while he scarpers, taking his business and any benefit it has for the economy with him.

Make no mistake: This man is toxic.

He has helped inflict economic ruin on the UK, both by encouraging us into Brexit and by taking his business out of the country before it happens.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/01/23/taking-vac-control-how-many-brextremist-bosses-will-leave-before-we-realise-weve-been-conned/

I’m not surprised that Dyson has run off to Singapore. He has previous on this. Here in the West Country, Dyson was regarded as one of the great molten gods of local business. Following the success of his vacuum cleaner, he appeared several times on the local news programme in the Bristol/ Somerset/Gloucestershire/Wiltshire are, Points West, whenever there was an item about local authority initiatives to boost business. But as I reported in a previous article, Dyson has moved his business out of Britain before. A few years ago he demanded that Bath council should allow his factory in the area more space to expand. The council told him they couldn’t. So Dyson picked up his ball like a grumpy child unable to get its way, and went elsewhere. I think he moved his business to Indonesia, or somewhere else in the Far East.

He didn’t have to do that. His business was perfectly profitable here in the UK. If there wasn’t enough space for it to expand in the area around Bath, he could have moved it elsewhere in the West Country or Britain. There would have been plenty of other places in Britain which would have been delighted to have him bringing work and jobs, particularly in the depressed areas of the North.

But Dyson didn’t take that option. He went to the Far East, where he knew he could make even bigger profits through exploiting the lower wages and poorer working conditions in the Developing World. This is the logic of neoliberalism. It’s done to allow capital to move their businesses around the world in order to reduce wages and take advantage of lower taxes in these countries. Just as Jacob Rees-Mogg has part of his money invested in Far Eastern companies through his capital management firm. And you can bet that the wretched authors of Britannia Unchained, who also believe that Brits should work longer hours for less pay in order to compete with the Developing World, are likewise also ready to run out on Britain the moment it suits them.

Dyson is a massive hypocrite, but he’s just one of many rich, Brexiteer businessmen, who promise that Brexit will bring prosperity and jobs to Britain, but realise only too well that it won’t. They’re now running off to the real low wage, low tax havens in the rest of the world, whose people they really want to exploit.

He’s toxic, and so are the rest of them. And they’re determined to wreck Britain. His attachment to Britain and the West Country was always questionable. We’ve lost nothing by his departure, but we should never have listened to him and those like him in the first place.

Neve Gordon on the Double Standards of British Government’s Anti-Semitism Legislation

December 18, 2016

Last week, the British government used its new definition of anti-Semitism to ban National Action, a vile neo-Nazi ‘youth organisation’, whose members have openly called for another Holocaust in Britain against the Jews. Hope Not Hate, one of the anti-Fascist, anti-religious extremism organisations, cautiously welcomed the ban, but said they could not understand why it could not have been done much earlier using existing legislation.

I wondered when it was introduced whether it could be a first attempt by the government to legitimise a piece of problematic legislation by using it to ban a group, about whom there is little controversy, before using it to ban more problematic organisations. I said in my blog post that there seemed to be nothing controversial about the definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the British government, but was suspicious about how the legislation would be used.

It now seems I was right to do so.

Neve Gordon, an Israeli activist, who fights for the rights of the Palestinians to civil rights and their own independent state, has written a short piece in this weekend’s Counterpunch criticising the legislation. She begins by stating that anti-Semitism is on the rise globally and needs to be tackled. But she states clearly that the working definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the British government is hypocritical and dangerous, as

says that anyone who subjects Israel to ‘double standards by requiring of it behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation’ is an anti-Semite.

She then goes on show how the British government uses double standards all the time when criticising human rights abuses by China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. These could be used to show that the British government was Islamophobic, and, in the case of Sudan, guilty of ‘another type of racism’. She concludes

The definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the British government is itself a manifestation of a double standard, since it treats Israel differently from every other country in the world rather than as a nation among nations.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/16/anti-semitism-double-standards/

From this it appears to me that the purpose of the anti-Semitism legislation to criminalise criticism of the state of Israel, under the guise of tackling ant-Semitism. This was, after all, the reason behind the anti-Semitism allegations in the Labour party in the summer. Those slandered of anti-Semites were not. They were in most cases principled men and women, with proud personal histories of campaigning against racism, including anti-Semitism. What they were guilty of was standing up for the rights of the Palestinians against decades of horror by the Zionist state. They were also terribly guilty of being historically well informed. Jackie Walker, who is half Black and half-Jewish, with a Jewish partner and daughter, was condemned as an anti-Semite because she dared to state that the Holocaust, horrific as it was, was not a unique event and was comparable to other cases of ethnic cleansing and persecution, such as the slave trade in the case of Black Africans. She also discussed the way many Jews were also active in the slave trade, while recognising that the overall responsibility for it lay with White Christian nations. And Ken Livingstone was attacked and suspended because he was entirely accurate about the way the Zionist settlers had co-operated with the Nazis in the colonisation of Israel before the implementation of Hitler’s revolting Final Solution.

The Israel lobby vehemently attacks any criticism, no matter how warranty, with accusations of anti-Semitism. The definition of anti-Semitism enunciated by Benjamin Netanyahu explicitly links it to anti-Zionism. Critics of Israel are also smeared as anti-Semites by the allegation that they are especially critical of Israel, more so than any other nation. Mike, over at Vox Political, had just this accusation thrown at him by a commenter to one of his blog posts about Israel and the anti-Semitism accusations. This commenter claimed that Mike was hypocritical in attacking Israel for human rights violations, while tolerating the behaviour of the Turkish government in Cyprus. Mike responded by pointing out that he didn’t agree with that, either. Now it seems Theresa May has passed legislation that would allow her to smear and prosecute people like Mike using the new legislation by making the same allegations, no matter how demonstrably false and risible they are.

While there are Nazis and anti-Semites, who do use anti-Zionism as a cover for their real Jew hatred, the reason why left-wing critics of Israel, including many Jews and Israelis, like Neve Gordon, is because Israel is a western country. And its persecution of the indigenous inhabitants, the Palestinians, is exactly like the way other western nations, like Britain, treated the indigenous peoples of the countries they colonies. Such as the genocide of the Native Americans, the Aboriginal Australians, slavery, segregation in America and apartheid in South Africa, and the Nazi Holocaust and extermination of other groups, such as the mentally handicapped and ill, Gypsies, and Poles and Russians. And I have absolutely no doubt that very many of the same people are also concerned about human rights violations in the rest of the world, like Communist China and its treatment of Tibet, dissidents and people of faith, the rise of Hindu extremism and the persecution of Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Hindu dissidents and moderates by Modi and his wretched BJP. Nor are they complacent about the brutality and thuggery committed by the various African kleptocrats and despots.

They criticise Israel and its brutal treatment of the Palestinians, because Israel has not been subject to the same criticism and isolation as many of these other nations.

It also seems to me that the new legislation follows similar laws passed in America, which are designed to prevent the American state or local authorities from supporting the BDS movement. This is the movement that encourages people to boycott and divest from Israeli companies operating in the occupied West Bank. So far 30 per cent of the companies located there have been forced to move out. It is dangerously successful, and many, especially younger, American Jews are becoming increasingly indifferent or critical of Israel and its brutality towards its indigenous people.

Hence this malign piece of legislation, which is intended to protect a vicious, intolerant regime while claiming to protect Jews from vicious intolerance.

It also show the mendacity of the British press and media. The piece of the legislation that was cited in the I newspaper made no mention of criminalising criticism of Israel. It just followed the standard definition of anti-Semitism as hatred of Jews for being Jews. There was no mention of Israel. Now it may be that Neve Gordon is wrong, but I honestly don’t believe this. This government has lied again and yet again, without any qualms. And when it has not lied, it has attempted to defend itself by withholding information and official documents. And the media has also shown itself consistently mendacious about the anti-Semitism smears in the Labour party, endlessly recycling the lie that those smeared were anti-Semites when the opposite was true. The silence on this part of the legislation shows how little the British media really values free speech and journalistic independence.

Neve Gordon is right. Anti-Semitism is on the rise globally. You can see amongst the Alt-Right Nazi goons that turned up a few weekends ago at the Ronald Reagan room to scream ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race!’ It’s there in the Jobbik party in Hungary, and other viciously racist parties across eastern Europe. And its there in Britain, with Jack Renshaw and the other junior storm troopers of National Action. They’ve been banned. But the purpose of the legislation wasn’t to criminalise them. It was to close down free speech. Their ban was simply to make it all seem respectable.

Mark Steel on the Press’ Hypocrisy over Polish Immigrants

April 4, 2016

Much of the debate about immigration is now dominated by concerns about the mass influx of asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East, rather than about migrant workers from the rest of the EU. However, concerns about the rise in immigrants from eastern Europe were extremely prominent a few years ago, and my guess is that the same fears are still present and underlie much of the debate about Brexit, although on the surface much of the argument is about the potential harm to the British economy and industry.

I found the following piece by Mark Steel attacking the British press and media for stirring up fears about EU migrants, and specifically the Poles, in the collection of radical tracts and writings, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport, edited by Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove (Edinburgh: CanonGate 2013). It’s taken from his weekly column in the Independent for 9th September 2009.

The Poles Might Be Leaving But the Prejudice Remains

Over the last few years it’s become one of our quaint English traditions that on any day following the announcement of immigration figures, certain newspapers display headlines such as ‘TEN MILLION OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT POLES TO SWARM INTO BRITAIN LIKE PLUMBING LOCUSTS!!! And they plan to BUGGER OUR KITTENS!!!’

These newspapers would compete with each other until they seemed to insist the number of Poles coming was more than the number of Poles in the world, but even then they’d have replied, ‘Yes-well, that’s because they[‘re planning to bring ten million of their dead, to make use of our soft-touch spirit welfare scheme.’

But the latest figures, released yesterday, have spoilt this game becaue it turns out half the Poles who came here have gone back to Poland. Presumably these newspapers will get round that by screaming ‘Poland on brink of disaster as it’s invaded by millions of Poles!!!’

‘Our hospitals simply can’t cope with the numbers coming in,’ said an unnamed doctor. ‘I’m not racist but we’re already full up.’

Like all panics about immigration, the anti-Polish version has created an almost artistic level of irrationality. A landlord of a pub in Lincolnshire who seemed otherwise charming and eloquent told me, ‘The trouble with Poles is they walk in groups of four on the pavement, so you fall in the road trying to get round them.’ I said, ‘I’m sure just as many English people walk in groups of four on the pavement.’ He said, ‘Yes, but at least they do it in a language I can understand.’ Which at least is an original way to be annoyed, to snarl: ‘I don’t mind falling in a puddle, as long as it’s with the right mix of vowels and consonants, but when it’s with three or even FOUR Zs it’s time we took a stand.’

Now that more are leaving than coming, the anti-immigration newspapers have to revert to more traditional complaints. For example, one paper told us that, ‘One immigrant is arrested every four minutes.’ But they must have been short of space, because they left out how the average for the whole population is one arrest every THREE minutes. Now they’ll print a story that: ‘Immigrants are refusing to adapt to our way of life by only being arrested once every four minutes. If they don’t want to follow our customs they should go back to where they came from.’

Even then it turned out these figures were taken disproportionately from London, where the immigrant population is higher than across Britain, and anyone arrested for murder who didn’t fill in the box marked ‘nationality’ was assumed to be an immigrant. Because say what you like about a British murderer, at least they have the manners to complete a form in full afterwards.

But the most peculiar side of the obsession with foreigners coming over here disturbing our population figures is they have little to say about the British citizens living in other countries, the number of which has now passed five million. And yet they often have features about finding the perfect retirement home abroad: ‘Judith and Roger eventually settled on their delightful rustic cottage in the heart of the Loire, complete with two acres of arable pastures and a goat, from where they could suck dry the overstretched resources of the long-suffering local council. “I’m a stranger in my own bleeding village,” said one fed-up neighbour.’

There are 760,000 of us living in Spain, one-twelfth of the population of Cyprus is now British, five per cent of New Zealand and so on. And we can hardly claim that on our travels we ‘adopt the customs of the local community’, unless the travel companies claim: ‘Our popular party game of seeing who’s first to drink a bottle of absinthe and puke in an egg cup topless is not only lots of fun, but also a tribute to an ancient fertility ritual here in Crete, and as such enhances the tourists’ understanding of regional history and culture.’

Most of the apocalyptic warnings of Eastern European takeover could be traced back to the organisation MigrationWatch, quoted uniformly by the most hysterical anti-immigration papers. But now the Poles are going the other way: Instead of issuing a statement reading, ‘Whoops, sorry,’ they’ve declared the UK population is still destined to rise to an unsustainable 80 million in the next forty years, because millions are coming here from Africa. That’s it – Africa, BILLIONS of them, and they’re bringing Mount Kilimanjaro because of our soft-touch summit payments, and all their giraffes and the Sahara desert…’

This is very relevant, because the papers that do report the migration crisis in such terms are exactly the same that have encouraged their readers to travel abroad and buy homes there. And while it seems to have died down recently, it is a serious problem. I read a piece a little while ago – I’m afraid I can’t remember where from – but it said that there was a problem with rich people from northern Europe buying homes and colonising the poorer areas in the south, such as Greece. And thirty years ago, when I was at school, I can remember reading a story in the Sunday Express about protests in either Greece or Crete about the way Brits were buying up the available homes there. The local politicians were objecting to it and attempting to pass measures against it on the grounds that it was more British imperialism. I haven’t heard of anything like that since then, but if it did recur, then they would certainly have a point. As opposed to the Express, the Heil and pretty the whole of the right-wing press, which has long ago lost any decent reason for its existence. Except possibly to provide sources of outrage and comedy for writers and broadcasters like Mr Steel.

Peace, Love and Lebanese Rockets

October 22, 2014

The Lebanese Rocket Society

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige
Soda Film + Art
Arabic with English, French and Arabic subtitles
Running time 95 minutes.

Lebanon Rocket 1

With the news full of the horrors of ISIS and their genocidal war in Iraq and Syria, I thought I’d turn to a far more optimistic and inspiring episode of recent Middle Eastern history: how a group of Lebanese students in 1962 were inspired to join the nascent space race and begin building their own rockets. It’s a piece of history that has been all but forgotten. The film not only documents the rise and fall of the Lebanese space programme, but the film makers’ own attempts to jog people’s memories of it on Lebanese radio. They then turned the rocket programme into an art project, constructing a full-scale statue of one of the rockets, which they presented to the Lebanese Armenian college at the centre of the rocket programme. They also made their own version of the Golden Record, the disc containing the sounds of Earth, which was carried into space on the Voyager 2 probe destined to leave the solar system for the depths of interstellar space and possible contact with aliens. In the hands of the film’s producers, the record held the sounds of Lebanon.

They also created an animated film, by Ghossein Halwa, depicting what Lebanon might be like in 2025, if the programme had continued. In Halwa’s film, the Lebanon of the near future is a prosperous, bustling space age state. Space technology has given the country security by allowing it to guard its borders against foreign invasion. It has also contributed to the country’s material wealth by discovering oil reserves off its coast. Beirut and its suburbs are a true, futuristic city like the vast megalopolis’ in Japanese manga films and the SF classic, Blade Runner. Vast space craft, Arab versions of the Space Shuttle, are launched to explore the depths of space. But it’s also a fun a place, where you can trip the light fantastic in zero-gravity nightclubs.

Lebanon Rocket Cartoon

One of the new generation of spacecraft from the alternative Lebanon of 2025.

The Founder, Manoug Manougian

The programme was the brain child of Manoug Manougian, a professor of mathematics at Haigazian college, an Armenian college in Lebanon. Manougian’s interest in space travel seems to have been sparked, like many a child’s, by reading Jules Verne. Now teaching maths at university in Tampa, Florida, he says during one interview that it may not be accident he ended up there. Verne made it the location for his astronaut’s journey into space in his Voyage to the Moon as it was at the right latitude for launching a flight to the Earth’s companion world. Inspired by the achievements of the Americans and Russians, Manougian was inspired to begin his own experiments. He and a group of his students began making and launching a series of rockets. At first these were tiny ‘baby rockets’, not much larger than fireworks and about the same size as some of the model rockets hobby rocketeers enjoyed by hobby rocketeers. The rockets became increasingly larger and more sophisticated, until they reached the end of what could legally be built. The fuel used by the rockets was strictly limited to the armed forces. Furthermore, there was a problem with funding as any further increase in size would make the rockets prohibitively expensive for a small, civilian project. Manougian’s group had caught the interest of the Lebanese army under Captain Wehbe, who stepped in to give the young rocketeers the money and equipment they needed.

Involvement with the Army

The alliance with the army brought its own problems, however. Manougian and his students were only interested in peaceful research. The college’s founder, a Protestant pastor, was very much afraid that the rocket would be used as a weapon, and was initially strongly opposed to the research. He resolved to put a stop to it when he saw his own 12 year old daughter come out of one of the campus’ laboratories, her forearms grey from mixing the rocket fuel. He decided to go round and tell Manougian to put a stop to it.

He was persuaded otherwise by the massive publicity the programme was giving Lebanon and his college. The newspapers were full of stories about Manougian and his band of space cadets. Other, similar groups sprang up elsewhere in Lebanon. One such was a group of 13-15 year old boys, who launched their own baby rockets. The Lebanese also received international assistance and co-operation from France and America. Col. Wehbe attended a course on rocketry and the American space programme in Florida. He also attended the launch of a French experimental rocket in North Africa.

International Tensions and War

The programme was doomed by the political tensions in the Middle East. The film makers point out that the 1960s was a period of tension and conflict between the superpowers, America and Russia, and their allies and clients in the Arab world. Against them was Arab nationalism, led by the Egyptian president Abdel Nasser, which briefly resulted in the union of Syria and Egypt, and the anti-imperial forces. Lebanon was buzzing with spies and political intrigue. One of the speakers recalled how one frequent drinker at a hotel bar in Beirut was none other than Kim Philby, the notorious British traitor. The Lebanese’s success in building larger and more sophisticated missiles attracted attention and alarm from other nations. Their last missile was to have a projected range of 500 km, bringing into range Cyprus, Syria and Israel. Manougian’s rocketeers received a sharp message from their diplomatic staff in Cyprus. The British authorities were understandably annoyed after they made a mistake with one of their rocket’s trajectory, so that it almost landed on a Cypriot fishing boat.

Other Arab nations were also keen to acquire Lebanon’s success and expertise. Manougian recalled how he was approached at an official party by another Armenian, whom he didn’t know. The man asked him if he was looking for funding. When Manougian said he was, the unknown man replied that he knew someone who wanted to meet him. And so Manougian found himself driving through Beirut with the man at 2.30-3.00 O’clock in the morning, before ending up at hotel, in front of which was a crowd of people. He was then approached by the heir of one of the other Arab states, who asked him if he’d like to come and do the same in his country as he’d done for Lebanon. Manougian states that he felt it would have been impolite to refuse the offer, and so simply replied that he’d have to think about it. He then fled back to Texas to complete his education, explaining that at the time he only had a B.A., and not even an M.A.

The Army’s Takeover and End of the Project

With Manougian absent, the rocket programme began to experience a series of disasters. Three of the rocketeers were badly burned in an accident when the perchlorate rocket fuel being mixed exploded. The College decided the rocket programme was too hazardous, and so had them removed from campus. it was then gradually taken over by the Lebanese army. Manougian, Joseph Sfeir and the other leading rocketeers were peaceful visionaries, but the army made it clear that they had always been interested in developing it as a weapon. They just didn’t tell the project’s civilian leaders. Well, said one of the officers, if you told Manougian it would be all over Haikazian college, and if you told Sfeir, it would be all over his home province. Under the army’s control, the tests became more secret and closed to the public, unlike the earlier launches. Eventually the project was closed down due to international pressure. One of the rocketeers identified the French as responsible. Another recalled how he knew the then-president personally, and asked him, which country was responsible. ‘Was it from the north?’ he asked. ‘From the north, from the south, and elsewhere’, came the reply. Clearly Lebanon’s success at creating such a missile had made a lot of people understandably very nervous.

The film laments how very, very few Lebanese now remember the programme, despite the massive publicity it had at the time. They feel that the 1967 War and the losses of Arab territory to Israel and subsequent conflicts have blotted out all memory of the programme, and made Arabs afraid to dream and strive for utopias. There is very little Science Fiction in the Middle East, they opine, because there’s always the danger that someone in the future will consider it subversive.

Peaceful Idealism

What actually comes out of the film, in contrast to the militarism and political intrigue, is the peaceful idealism and patriotism of the projects leaders and founders. Manougian states that Lebanese Armenians are very loyal to their adopted country for taking them in after the Armenian massacres that occurred throughout the Turkish Empire and the Middle East. It’s a situation the film’s producers strongly sympathise with. One of them has an Armenian grandparent, while the other is part Palestinian. They see the space programme as what their country, and the Arab peoples themselves, can achieve if only they dare to dream and look for utopias. The film was made in 2009-10, during the Arab Spring, which they hail as the Arab people once more daring to dream of better societies without tyrants or despots. As for Manougian, he is still very much a visionary and campaigner for peace. He’s active in a project, ‘Peace through Education’. The film makers hoped by making the film they would restore its memory. The sculpture of the rocket was painted white to show that it wasn’t a real missile, and taken through the streets of Beirut to Haikazian College to show what Lebanon had achieved peacefully, through idealism.

The Lebanese Rocketeers – The Arab ‘Mice that Roared’

The film and its rocketeers remind me somewhat of the Ealing comedy, the Mouse on the Moon. This was the successor to the comedies about the minuscule state of Little Fenwick, an English village that manages to gain independence from the rest of the UK, Passport to Pimlico and The Mouse that Roared. The Mouse on the Moon chronicles the events as Little Fenwick joins the space race, rushing to land on the Moon ahead of the Americans and Russians. Apart from well-known Ealing stars like Margaret Rutherford, it also has Bernard Cribbins, known to grown-up children of a certain age as the narrator of The Wombles, and to a new generation of children as one the friends of David Tenant’s Doctor. It shows what small nations and ordinary people can do with skill, vision and military backing. Sadly, from the perspective of 2014 the film’s optimistic embrace of the Arab Spring seems misplaced. The despots throughout the Middle East have either successfully clamped down on the civil rights movements, or else the dissident movements themselves have led to the raise of dangerous and unstable Islamist militias. Egypt’s brief experiment with the democracy and the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood has collapsed, and the country is once more under the control of the army. Nevertheless, for a brief moment another world of peace and freedom seemed possible.

Human Progress Made when Peoples and Cultures Come Together

The other point that comes out of the film is the amazing advances in science and civilisation when difference peoples and cultures come together in peace to try to learn from one another. Lebanon was known as the Switzerland of the Levant. It’s a mosaic of different peoples and religions, including Christians, Muslims and the Druze, a highly unorthodox form of Islam. Islam was able to make great strides in science in the Middle Ages, because the early caliphs were keen to draw on the knowledge and expertise of their empire’s subject peoples. The caliph Al-Ma’mun founded a bayt al-hikma, or House of Wisdom dedicated to science and medicine. They drew on Greek, Persian and Indian science and mathematics, and employed Christians, Zoroastrians and Hindus, as well as Muslims, to translate scientific and medical works into Arabic. Al-Ma’mun himself sent a scientific mission of scholars, including the pioneering mathematician al-Khwarizmi, who gave his name to word ‘algorithm’, to acquire scientific knowledge and texts from the Byzantine Empire, the Greek Empire of the East. Western science, in its turn, because massively enriched from the 12th century onwards when European scholars acquired copies of the lost Greek classics and Arabic scientific and medical texts. Peaceful contact between nations and cultures, and the great advances they could make by learning from each other, is now threatened today by the rise in militant xenophobia and, in the Middle East, by the genocidal Islamism of groups like ISIS.

Bill Hicks’ Vision – ‘We Can End World Hunger and Colonise Space’

This film shows the opposite, of what can be achieved through peaceful co-operation. It goes some way to proving the point the late comedian, Bill Hicks, used to make at the end of his gigs. Hicks used to state that if the world spent the amount of money it spends on arms instead on developing, we could feed the world. ‘Not one person would starve. Not one. And we could go and colonise space, in peace, together.’

Bill Hicks sadly died of cancer, but the dreams lives on.

Here’s the great man in action, taken from Youtube.

King David and the Foundations of Solomon’s Temple

September 12, 2013

Yesterday’s reading was 1 Chronicles 29:1-9. This describes how David gave some of his own great wealth to the Temple, and encouraged his leading courtiers, generals, and the wider Israelite people to do the same.

King David ruled from 1000 to 965 BC. According to the Bible, he established an empire stretching from the Negev in the south to the Euphrates in the north, comprising most of Palestine, transjordan, with the exception of the Philistine cities on the coastal strip, parts of Syria and some of the Phoenician coast. No contemporary texts exist for this period of Israel’s history apart from the Bible, and the archaeological evidence is sparse. It is difficult to date precisely buildings or objects to the beginning of the 10th century, and some of the buildings attributed to him may have been built by his son, Solomon. As a result of this, some of the Biblical minimalist historians have claimed that King David was either mythical, or if he existed at all, then he and Solomon, were merely pastoral clan chieftains rather than the rulers of a rich and impressive kingdom. This view was discredited by the discovery of the Tell Dan stele in 1993 and the decipherment of part of the inscription on the Moabite Stone by the French linguist, Andre Lemaire, in 1994. The Tell Dan stele had been put up by King Hazael of Damascus to commemorate his victory over northern Israel. In it Hazael claims that he defeated ”[Jeho]ram king of Israel and kill[ed Ahaz]yahu son of (gap) [I overthr]ew the house of David”. The Moabite Stone was put up by King Mesha of Moab to celebrate his successful rebellion against Israel’s king Ahab, during which Mesha had sacrificed his own son to the Moabite national god, Chemosh. The Stone was broken up into small fragments by the bedouin, who found it in order to gain more money from European archaeologists. Studying a 19th century copy of the text before it was smashed, Lemaire found a reference to the ‘House of David’. Literary examination of the Biblical texts shows that much of this was written either in David’s or Solomon’s time, and so represents a reliable witness to the events of their reigns. Although the archaeology does not support the image of King David as the founder of a great empire, it is consistent with Biblical accounts of his reign, which do not describe him as engaged on any great building operations.

The philistine town of Megiddo, stratum VIA and the Canaanite town of Tell Qasile stratum X were destroyed by fire, possibly by King David. The first half of the 10th century BC saw the Israelites establishing an urban culture. A number of small village sites have been attributed to David’s reign. There was a roughly circular settlement at Khirbet Dawara defended by a casement wall. Stratum VII at Tell Beer-Sheba consisted of several dwellings built around an open area. New types of pottery also appeared at this time, with different shapes and a distinctive hand burnished red slip.

David also conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites in 995 BC. Jebusite Jerusalem was situated on the hill of Ophel, between the Kidron Brook and the Tyropoeon valley. Excavations on the eastern slope of this spur above the Gihon spring revealed a ‘stepped structure’ with walls surviving to a height of 16.5 metres (c. 49 1/2 feet). This may have dated to the tenth century. It supported a monumental structure, which has not survived. The Israeli archaeology Yigal Shiloh showed that this was built on top of ruins dating from 1300 to 1200 BC. The ‘Stepped Structure’ itself dates from the 10th century BC. In 2005 another Israeli archaeologist, Eilat Mazar, ,discovery a large stone building at the top of the Hill of Ophel associated with the ‘Stepped Structure’. Pottery found with this building dated to the 10th century BC or earlier. This indicated that the building may have been the ‘Fortress of Zion’ occupied by King David after he took Jerusalem.

David appealed to the Israelite people to donate to the Temple’s construction, not because it needed more money, but so that as many people as possible would be involved in its construction. This truly made the Temple of the Jewish people, rather than a place built purely for the service of the monarchy. It was a practical demonstration that God’s call is not just for the few, but to all.

The Temple later built by King Solomon was a massive rectangular structure of 50 x 100 cubits, about 25 x 50m. This is larger than any known Canaanite or Phoenician temple. It was also very tall, at 30 cubits in height. Its walls were 12 cubits in width, similar to the Middle Bronze Age temple at Shiloh. The interior was divided into three sections: a porch, ulam, the sanctuary, hechal, and the Holy of Holies, debir. The entrance to each of these was along the Temples central axis. On either side of this was a series of auxiliary chambers, which probably acted as the kingdom’s treasury. In its plan and interior decorations, the Temple was similar to other, pagan temples in Palestine and the Ancient Near East, particularly those at Ebla, Megiddo, and Tell Mumbakat and the Bit Hilani palace and its attached temple, the last two both in north Syria. The use of cedar wood was similar to the Philistine and Canaanite temples at Lachish and Tell Qasile. The Temple’s cult objects included the sacrificial altar and and the ‘molten sea’. This was a huge bronze basin supported by 12 bulls. These can be reconstructed finds and depictions from Phoenicia, Cyprus and Palestine. The Temple’s two columns, Jachin and Boaz, are similar to column bases at the Late Bronze Age temple at Hazor and those on the pottery model of a similar shrine found at Tell el-Far’ah. The cherubim which sat above the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies were very different from our modern view of cherubs. Instead of chubby, cute babies, these were sphinx-like, with the body of a lion or bull, wings of an eagle and head of a man. This was a well-known figure in Canaanite, Phoenician and Syrian Bronze Age art. The Temple was also decorated with palmettes, network designs, fringes and chains. These also appear in Phoenician images of the 9th and 8th centuries BC. Many art historians consider the 10th century BC a Dark Age in the art of the Ancient Near East. The only example of monumental arat from this period is the sarcophagous of Ahiram, king of Byblos, in modern Lebanon. The Bible’s description of Solomon’s Temple is thus important evidence for the existence of monumental art in the 10th century BC.

Sources

James K. Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Oxford: Lion 2008).

Kathleen Kenyon, Archaeology in the Holy Land, 3rd Edition, (London: Ernest Benn Ltd 1970)

Amihai Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible 10,000 – 586 B.C.E. (New York: Centre for Judaic-Christian Studies/ Doubleday 1990)