Sunday, 31 July 2016

Father Jacques Hamel died as a priest, doing what priests do

Giles Fraser                   Guardian/UK                  28 July 2016

The offer of love in return for hate, even to the point of death. This is the horrendous price that peace is sometimes asked to pay.’

When I was first ordained a priest, I would say my prayers every morning in front of three undistinguished stained-glass windows. And every morning, I would argue in my head with the theology those windows were promoting. On the left, Abraham held up a curly knife, preparing to cut the throat of his son who is strapped to an altar. In the middle, Christ hanging on the cross, dripping blood. On the right, a priest, in full liturgical kit, stood behind an altar, hands outstretched over bread and wine. The coloured glass was insisting that these three scenes were intimately connected, that the mass/holy communion/eucharist, whatever you call it, is essentially a sacrifice – and not just some stylised community get-together.

As Pope John Paul II put it in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the eucharist is “the sacrifice of the cross perpetuated down the age. This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ … left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there”. Catholic Christianity, like that of temple Judaism before it, is a religion of blood and altars.

Father Jacques Hamel’s throat was slit as he said morning mass, murdered by a teenager claiming allegiance to Islamic State. The sacrificial imagery is unavoidable. And soon after his killing, #JeSuisPretre – I am a priest – began trending on social media, employing the now familiar “I am” prefix as an expression of digital solidarity with yet another victim of global terrorism. It felt unusually fitting in this instance. “I am the bread of life,” says Jesus in the first of a series of eight so-called “I am …” passages in John’s gospel. And the bread of life was precisely what Father Jacques believed himself to be distributing that morning on the outskirts of Rouen. He died, as he believed, on his knees – not in supplication to his spotty murderers, but to the author of life itself to whom he was about to return.

Rouen itself is a town soaked in the blood of martyrdom. It was here that another 19-year-old, believing herself to have received visions from God, and believing God to have called her to war, was burned at the stake by the English as a heretic. To some, Joan of Arc was a witness to the one true faith. To others she was a deluded fantasist, using God to inspire acts of violence.

It’s not just Islam that has a problem with violence. Indeed, arguably, the Bible has more violence in it that the Qur’an – though I have never thought the presence of violence in the scriptures a problem per se, because I have never read my scriptures as an instruction manual from God. More a reflection of a historic real-world human struggle for faith, in which faith is discovered. And the difference between good religion and bad religion – like the difference between good and bad people – has little to do with who is right and who is wrong about God and absolutely everything to do with how each religious tradition manages its own propensity for violence.

And it is here that the language of sacrifice is especially tricky. I have no time for the idea that Jesus is sacrificed on the cross to appease an angry God. If that’s true, then God becomes the enemy of humankind and I am against him. No, Jesus absorbs the violence that comes from us not from God. He receives our blows, our punishments, our disdain. And, despite his innocence – or, rather, precisely because of it – he refuses to answer back in kind. No more an eye for an eye.

In other words, the sacrifice of the cross is the non-violent absorption of human violence. The offer of love in return for hate, even to the point of death. This is the horrendous price that peace is sometimes asked to pay. This is what makes the eucharistic sacrifice life-giving and not some historical death cult. And this is the sacrifice that Father Jacques was celebrating as he died. He died as a priest, doing what priests do. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

The Orange Man

Uri Avnery                  Gush Shalom                   30 July 2016

SO HERE we are. Either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be our next president. "Our"? I am not a US citizen, and have no desire to be one. But I live in a world in which the USA is the sole superpower, in which every decision of the US administration has an impact on the lives of every human being.

FOR ME AS a citizen of Israel, this impact is much greater than for most and much more immediate. I just saw a cartoon showing both Trump and Hillary crawling on the ground and licking the boots of an Israeli soldier. This is not too much of an exaggeration.

Both candidates claim to be unwavering supporters of "Israel". But what does that mean? Do they support all sections of Israeli society? Certainly not. They support one certain part of Israel: the ultra-right-wing government of Binyamin Netanyahu, which is supported by the American Jewish billionaires who contribute to their coffers.

Supporting Netanyahu and his even more right-wing coalition partners means acting against me and millions of other Israelis who can see that Netanyahu is leading our state to disaster.

I have a clear interest in this election. So I want at least to express my opinion. Right at the beginning, I wrote that Donald Trump reminded me in some ways of Adolf Hitler. Now, after all the primaries and conventions, I must repeat that terrible assessment.

Of course, there are huge dissimilarities. Different times. Different countries. Different circumstances. And, first of all, different media. Hitler was a product of the radio. It was his voice, a unique instrument, that conquered the German masses. Trump is a creation of the TV era. He dominates the small screen. He beat all his rivals on TV. He will easily beat Hillary on TV. If the battle were fought only on TV, it would already have been decided for good.

THE SIMILARITY between Trump and Hitler exists on a different level. In the center of Trump's entire campaign there stands one word, indeed one letter: "I". There is no "We". No normal ideology. No real program.

It is all about "I", about Trump. Trump will come. Trump will fix everything. That was the essence of Hitlerism, too. The man had no real program. This was also true of Mussolini, Hitler's teacher in many ways, who did not know the word "we" either. The absolute centrality of the Leader is the hallmark of fascism. Trump's program is Trump.

THIS BEING so, all of Trump's declarations and policy statements are totally unimportant. Statements are made on the spur of the moment because they suit Trump at that moment. They are forgotten the next, sometimes to be replaced by the opposite. This is why it is so easy to catch Trump uttering a lie. I have seen lists of dozens of them, one more blatant than the next.

There again we have the example of Adolf Hitler. In his book "Mein Kampf" ("My Struggle") he speaks about this openly. The book itself is quite boring, the product of a third-rate mind, but it includes several chapters about "propaganda" which are fascinating.

As a front-line soldier throughout the four years of World War I Hitler was immensely impressed by the British propaganda effort aimed at the German lines. Hitler admired the British slogans, which to him were a pack of lies. One of his conclusions was that the bigger the lie, the bigger its chances of being believed, since a simple person cannot imagine that anybody would dare to lie so much.

HILLARY CLINTON is a good, ordinary politician. You can, with fair assurance, imagine what a Hillary Clinton presidency would look like. She is dependable, predictable. More of the same, though without the charm of Barack (and Michelle!) Obama.

No one can predict a Trump presidency. Every prediction is a leap in the dark. One thing seems real: his admiration for Vladimir Putin. Though he is the very opposite of the cool, calculating, bold but cautious former KGB apparatchik, Trump seems to admire him.

There is not much evidence that the admiration is mutual, but it seems certain that today's successors of the KGB are interfering actively in the American election, doing their utmost to help Trump and sabotage Hillary.

A US-Russian rapprochement may be a good thing. The present American knee-jerk enmity towards everything Russian is a remnant of the Cold War and bad for the world at large. I don't see why the two powers cannot cooperate in many fields.

Towards the third power, China, the Trump attitude is the opposite. He wants to annul the trade agreements and bring the jobs back home. Even I, a non-economist, can see that this is nonsense.

And so forth. It's all like seeing a man about to jump from the roof out of sheer curiosity.

The Germans who voted in April 1933 for Adolf Hitler and his party did not dream about World War II, though Hitler was already resolved to conquer Eastern Europe and open it up for German colonization. They were hypnotized by Hitler's personality. I HATE the choice of the Lesser Evil. In twenty Israeli election campaigns (except the four in which I was myself a candidate) I have voted for parties I did not like very much and for candidates I did not trust at all.

But this is a fact of life. If there is no candidate you can root for, you take the one who can cause the minimum damage. In 1933 my father voted for a German conservative party, because he believed that they were the only ones who had a chance of stopping the Nazis. As Pierre Mendes-France once said: "to live is to choose".

I want to say to all my American friends: Go out and vote for Hillary, whether you like her or not. Liking does not really come into it.

Don't stay at home. Not voting means voting for Trump. Well, Hillary Clinton is not awful. She is an acceptable candidate. But compared to Donald Trump, she is an angel. [Abridged]

Monday, 25 July 2016

Theresa May is lying over Trident. Or at least I hope she is

Giles Fraser                               Guardian/UK                           23 July, 2016

In one of her first acts as prime minister,
Theresa May sat down to write to the commanders of our four nuclear submarines, laying out what she would like them to do in the event of a nuclear attack. These handwritten instructions are locked in the boats’ safes, only to be opened if an attack has knocked out all contact with government. No one has ever opened one.

Wednesday night, on Radio 4’s Moral Maze, Major General Patrick Cordingley DSO, commander of the Desert Rats during the first Gulf war – so no bleeding-heart liberal – said that he thought it would be the moral duty of commanders not to fire, even if Mrs May had instructed them to do so. It was astonishing to hear a senior military figure urging fellow officers to disobey a direct order from the PM.

The general was not being squeamish – he was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in Iraq. Rather, he was making the point that if Britain had been the victim of a nuclear attack, then the game was already up and there would be little left for us to defend. Firing in such circumstances would be tactically pointless. Indeed, it would be murderous revenge, nothing more. And who wants their last action on earth to be one of mass genocide?

Speaking in the House of Commons during the
Trident debate, Mrs May said she was perfectly prepared to order her commanders to fire. She has to say that, of course. There’s no point in having a deterrent if the PM indicates in advance that she wouldn’t use it. Even so, locked inside those safes, what the top-secret letters actually say is a totally different matter. Remember, the only reason to open them would be if deterrence had failed. And there would be absolutely no point in firing. In other words, given her commitment to the idea of deterrence, the only moral thing would be for Mrs May to tell the world she has written “fire” when, in fact, she has written something else entirely. And that, we might reasonably suppose from subsequent comments, is precisely what Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher did. It should come as no surprise: this is poker and everybody lies.

So parliament has just committed well over £100bn on a weapons system that we won’t use, that we mustn’t use, and that even the Russians know we won’t use. They know this because the only situation in which we would think about pressing the button would be precisely the situation in which there was no longer any point in pressing the button.

Tories voted for Trident out of some backward sense of patriotism, still pretending the UK is a big player in the politics of global power, and New Labour voted for it as an act of non-virtue signalling, still deliberately distancing themselves from the electoral kryptonite of those pacifist hippies of the 1970s.

The old argument for nuclear weapons during the cold war was simple. We didn’t have the conventional forces to resist the Russians if they drove their tanks into Germany. If they invaded, we could only stop them with tactical nuclear weapons. This nuclear option was primarily envisaged as a first-strike option. But does anyone seriously imagine that we would do the same today if the Russians invaded Latvia? MPs are still going on about a deterrent even though any plausible scenario for this to be employed has disappeared. Deterrent is an empty threat, a retro tactical theory, marooned by totally different geopolitical circumstances.

Sitting opposite General Cordingley in the Moral Maze studio was Michael Portillo, who used to be the hawkish secretary of state for defence before he retired to play with his trains. Like Cordingley, he too is against the renewal of Trident, seeing our few hundred or so nuclear warheads as irrelevant in a world in which the Russians and the US have several thousand nukes each. The world has changed since the cold war, but too consumed with internal politics, the House of Commons has failed to notice. [Abbrev]

Response to the Nice Attack

By Robert Fisk @indyvoices                        Independent/UK                   16 July 2016

The act was obscene. President Hollande’s description – “monstrous” – was adequate so far as it went, but created the old problem. What happens when three or four hundred innocents are killed by a murderer? Or five hundred? Does that become “really monstrous” or “very monstrous indeed”? But the political reaction to this crime against humanity in Nice was mundane to the point of lunacy. Hollande announced that France would “reinforce our action in Syria and Iraq.”

Sure, I get the point. If Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel of Tunisia had anything to do with Isis or Nusrah (and when he spoke, Hollande would not have known if this was true), then firing more French missiles into the burned sands of Mesopotamia or the desert around Raqqa in the hope of striking Isis would have no effect other than to reinforce the old “feel good” factor of biffing “world terror” for the sake of it.

Tunisia, of course, is well over a thousand miles from Syria, let alone Iraq, but one bunch of murderous Arabs is much like another to our foreign ministries and if Bouhlel turns out to have “Isis roots” – no matter how self-declared – then the bigger the bombs the better.

 Everyone who dares to point this out – and European leaders are always threatening Isis, just as Isis is always threatening the West – is immediately cast out of society as a “friend of terrorists”. There is, in fact, a whole vocabulary of abuse for anyone who says that there are reasons for these acts of mass murder which we need to know, however crazed they are. At present, the Isis/Western hate mail to each other is almost identical with King Lear: “I will do such things…what they are, yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth…”

Of course, I fear we are going in the coming hours to be inundated with painful repetitions of atrocities past: relatives who had "no idea" their son/brother/nephew/uncle might be a violent killer, neighbours who will attest that the attacker was always a quiet man (who probably “kept himself to himself”, as they say), Muslims who will again insist on the peacefulness of their religion. In addition to this, we will have politicians who will promise to stamp out “terror” and cops who will praise their brothers-in-arms for their courage.

And we will forget France’s fraught colonial history in Algeria and Tunisia, the 125th anniversary of its Tunisian “protectorate” this year – and the 70th anniversary of Tunisia’s independence – and the Islamist presence that has grown frighteningly within the body politic of Tunisia since the 2011 revolution. It is no good holding up this painful history as some sort of excuse or “root cause” of the mass murders in Nice. But at some point, we in the West are going to have to learn that if we intervene militarily in Mali or Iraq or Libya or Syria or interfere in Turkey, or Egypt, or the Gulf, or the Maghreb – then we will not be safe “at home”.

It’s an old story now. In the past, we could go on foreign adventures in Korea or Vietnam without worrying that North Koreans would blow up the London Underground or that the Vietcong would attack New York with airliners. Not anymore. Foreign adventures come at a terrifying cost. Claiming they do not – or pompously declaring that “their” bombs in London or Paris have nothing to do with “our” bombs in Iraq – is dishonest.  

At some point in history – though how far into the future, when we will have cut away the foundations of our own freedoms with our own new laws – we will probably have to re-think our relationship with the Middle East and with history. Yes, and with religion.

A BBC reporter was drawing parallels yesterday with the car-ramming Palestinians who have killed Israelis. But the last phone-video I saw which had any parallel of scale with Nice was a horrifying piece of footage during the Egyptian revolution of 2011 when an Egyptian army truck was driven at speed – and swerving wildly – into a crowd of peaceful protestors. Why didn’t we remember that after Nice? Because the killers were never caught? Because no-one remembers yesterday’s news? Or because the victims were Arabs involved in a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know – by and large -- nothing. [Abbrev]

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Ian Harris on loyalty

Otago Daily Times               July 8 2016

In a time of transition, is the timidity of the clergy killing the church? asks Ian Harris. Where does loyalty lie?

Why do so many ministers, retiring after a lifetime of service to their church, hardly ever go to church again? Not, usually, because they’ve lost their faith. Rather, they’ve come to feel out of sync with what they see happening there. Many lay people feel the same way. After loyally playing their part for years in parish life, they wake up one morning and ask themselves: “What exactly am I being loyal to? The church as an institution? A denominational heritage? A family tradition? The people of my parish? The minister or priest? The example of Jesus? Christ of the creeds?”

All these are worthy, but there’s a deep-down dissonance. The pieces don’t fit together as neatly as before. They don’t find church-going the energising, focusing, deepening experience it used to be. They hang on by their fingernails as long as they can . . . and then drop out. This malaise has been happening across denominations for decades, with Auckland Catholic Bishop Patrick Dunn last month highlighting the steady defection of New Zealand-born Christians as the “Kiwi drift”.

One used to hear people say they were subjected to so much religion while growing up that they were happy to break free of it as soon as they could. Winston Churchill was one such. He tells how at Harrow he attended three services every Sunday, plus morning and evening prayers through the week: “I accumulated in those years so fine a surplus in the Bank of Observance that I have been drawing confidently upon it ever since.”

That is not happening so much today, simply because so many parents decide not to introduce their children to church at all. Perhaps a reaction will set in one day when, as adults, a curious new generation begins to wonder what they have been deprived of. And perhaps not.

One major reason for the “Kiwi drift” is the churches’ failure to allow Christian faith to evolve in a changing world. They have clung to creeds, doctrines and practices that made excellent sense in light of the knowledge of former times, but which are crying out for a thorough-going re-interpretation in our 21st-century world.

I have had many letters reflecting that. After lifelong membership in her church, one woman writes: “What a pity the churches have kept silent and denied Christian people access to the thinking of modern scholarship. And how much pain its devotees could be spared as they are left to ponder their own apparently heretical views.”

Another, in her 80s and still attending church: “My faith journey has brought me to a place of questioning the dogma of the church . . . Sometimes it seems as though my efforts at finding a meaningful belief put me out on a limb, but now I realise that I am not alone.”

Their comments echo the views of ministers whose reading and thinking have taken them far from the point where their journey began. Together they are part of a far-reaching transition that is occurring within Christian thought, but not so much in regular church life – often the reverse as leaders dig in to resist substantive change.

Sometimes it is clergy who hold the church back. At the Napier Progressive Spirituality Conference in May, American United Church of Christ pastor Dr Robin Meyers declared bluntly: “The timidity of the clergy is killing the church.” Usually it is pastoral concern that deters them from offering contemporary insights on the Bible and faith, even when they would like to. But silence leaves people who would be open to such insights in limbo. 

Sometimes it is lay people who block progressive alternatives, believing any change to ancient formulations would be a sell-out. There could be some truth in the prediction that the last seven words of the church will be: “We’ve never done it like that before.”

For me, the future of Christian faith does not depend on loyally keeping fossils warm, whether fossils of creed, doctrine, church order, or anything else. It hinges rather on identifying what is core to our Judaeo-Christian heritage, and then working out how people at home in the modern world can relate to it and express it honestly in terms of today. Which happens to be just what Christians of the 4th, 12th, 16th and other centuries did in and for their own times.

That would unquestionably be loyalty – but loyalty to the Judaeo-Christian core and the quintessential religious process, rather than to interpretations which, in our secular understanding, are no longer tenable.

Let the transition roll on!

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Hatred Unlimited

Uri Avnery              Gush Shalom               July 9, 2016       

A PALESTINIAN youngster breaks into a settlement, enters the nearest house, stabs a 13-year old girl in her sleep and is killed. Three Israeli men kidnap a 12-year old Palestinian boy at random, take him to an open field and burn him alive.

These are the manifestations of a hatred so terrible that it overcomes all norms of humanity. THIS WAS not always so. A few days after the 1967 war, in which Israel conquered East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, I traveled alone though the newly occupied territories. I was welcomed almost everywhere. At the time, Palestinians did not dream of an eternal occupation. They hated the Jordanian rulers and were glad that we had driven them out.

Within a few years, all this had changed. The Palestinians realized that the Israelis did not intend to leave, but that they were about to steal their land, quite literally, and cover it with their settlements. Hatred is everywhere. The settlers terrorize their Arab neighbors, Arab boys throw rocks and improvised fire-bombs at passing Jewish cars on the highroads where they themselves are not allowed to drive.

BY NOW, the two peoples seem to live in two different worlds. A centuries-old Arab village and a new Israeli settlement, situated one mile apart, might just as well exist on two different planets. From their first day on earth, children of the two peoples hear totally different stories from their parents. This goes on in school. By the time they are grown up, they have very few perceptions in common.

In the Palestinian view, Jews ruled Palestine in antiquity for a few decades only. The Jewish claim to the country now, based on a promise given to them by their own private Jewish God, is a blatant colonialist ploy. The Zionists came to the country in the 20th century as allies of the British imperialist power, without any right to it.

Every Jewish child in Israel learns from an early age that this land was given by God to the Jews, who ruled it for many centuries, until they offended God and He drove them out as a temporary punishment. Now the Jews have come back to their country, which was occupied by a foreign people which came from Arabia. These people now have the cheek to claim the country as their own.

I AM convinced that it is in the vital interest of Israel to make peace with the Palestinian people, and with the Arab world at large, before this dangerous infection engulfs the entire Arab – and Muslim – world. The leaders of the Palestinian people, both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, are still comparatively moderate people. This is true even for Hamas, a religious movement.

I would suggest that for the West in general, supporting peace in our region is also of paramount importance. The convulsions now affecting several Arab countries do not bode well for them, either.

Reading a document like this week's Quartet report on the Middle East, I am amazed by their self-destructive cynicism. This ridiculous document of the Quartet, composed of the US, Europe, Russia and the UN, is intent on creating an equilibrium – equally blaming the conqueror and the conquered, the oppressor and the oppressed, ignoring the occupation altogether. Verily, a masterpiece of hypocrisy, a.k.a. diplomacy.

Absent all chances for a serious effort for peace, hatred will just grow and grow, until it engulfs us all. Unless we take action to stem it in time. [Abridged]

The Guardian view on war in Iraq: a country that we helped to ruin

Editorial                                     Guardian/UK                        4 July 2016 

We remember the Battle of the Somme as a futile and bloody disaster: around 300,000 men were killed over a period of six months. Casualties were almost evenly divided: 165,000 Germans may have died, and 145,000 English and French troops; all to shift the frontline six miles across the mud. The news of the latest car bomb in Baghdad, where at least 150 people were killed as they filled the evening streets for an Iftar meal in the middle of Ramadan, is reminder that the 13 years’ war that followed our invasion there has killed as many people as died on the allied side at the Somme.

This is not to relitigate the decision to go to war. There will be plenty of that later in the week. The point is that mistaken decisions to go to war have a more terrible cost than almost any other sort of mistake, and to remember the price that the people of Iraq have paid. The years of war pile on their heads like lime. The bomb in Baghdad appears to be a retaliation by Islamic State (Isis) for the loss of the third battle of Falluja. First it was taken by the Americans; then they were expelled by a Sunni uprising. Then they fought their way back in; then it was handed over to the Iraqi government. Two years ago, Isis recaptured it. Now the Iraqi forces, assisted by Shia militias, have recaptured the city again, but the surviving inhabitants are scattered into refugee camps in the surrounding desert.

In Baghdad, it was announced that the completely worthless fake bomb detectors sold to the security forces by a British businessman in 2012 – and based on a novelty golf ball detector – will no longer be used after this atrocity. But the same announcement was first made in 2013.

As both tragedy and farce repeat in an apparently unending cycle, it is tempting to ask whether the deaths in Iraq have led to any greater progress than did the slaughter on the Somme. In purely military terms, the answer is unpromising. Falluja it is only one part of a wider attempt to dislodge Isis from the cities that it overran two years ago, when the Iraqi army, supposedly trained and equipped at incredible expense, simply ran away as the enemy approached. The expense had been real enough, but it had all been translated into foreign bank accounts rather than training or equipment.

The decisive battle will come when an attempt is made to recapture Mosul. This was meant to have been started last year, and then again this spring. Now it seems to have been postponed again in the face of great military difficulties and dissension between the Kurdish and Iraqi forces, who are both fighting Isis together and manoeuvring against each other for position in the scarcely imaginable peacetime Iraq that must eventually emerge from all this horror.

The only consolation, and it is consolation of a very grim sort, is that there is now a clear war aim. Whatever else happens, the military defeat of Isis, and the annihilation of its self-declared caliphate, is a precondition for peace in the ruins. In the meantime, what Britain can do is to continue to supply aid, and see that it reaches the neediest. The war, along with sectarian cleansing, has made refugees of three million people. We need to remember our obligations to a country that we have helped to ruin.

(I must question strongly this continued commitment to a military road to peace. A.)

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Al-Hadidiya, Jordan Valley

Report by David Shulman                      Gush Shalom                 July 1, 2016

Four months away provide just enough distance to see the madness and the cruelty for what they are. Is it not mad to deliberately deprive human beings—families, children, the elderly– of water at the height of summer in a scorching desert? It was at least 37 or 38 degrees Centigrade, almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit, today in Al-Hadidiya. No running water, of course, and almost no water at all.

Once the sweet morning chill was soaked up by a white-hot sun, the world turned to flame. You could feel the liquid stuff of life being sucked out of you by the merciless sun-machine. As for us, wandering over the hills in search of the lost, ruined wells that once served Al-Hadidiya, we are drunk on the light, giddy with heat. Will I ever not be thirsty?

The Israeli settlement of Ro’i, half a mile away, has no dearth of water. Water flows freely through their pipes, some of which run through the grounds of Al-Hadidiya, and their swimming pool is, I presume, blue and beckoning and, above all, full of water. Drying out the Palestinians of Al-Hadidiya is a matter of policy, not a random affair. The Civil Administration knows what it is doing. Without water, they must assume, these people will either die or leave. We are speaking of ethnic cleansing.

Here is Abu Saqer, the strong-willed patriarch of this village who has lived all his life here among the rocks. He is at once calm, lucid, and embittered. It’s still early, around 7:30, when we sit with him in the tent as the terrible light comes flooding in, and this is what he says:

“The settlers and the Israeli state have committed many crimes and will commit many more, but the worse crime, a moral monstrosity, is denying us water. They have polluted our wells, filled them with rocks and dirt, dried them up by their deep drilling, and dried up the natural springs. I myself owned between 60 and 90 wells on the hills over there, and all of them have been destroyed. It happened already in the 70’s. At the same time, hundreds of cubic meters of water are being wasted on the settlers, on their lawns and swimming pools. Whole communities have been devastated, their people driven out, displaced by army camps and settlements. Once a hundred families lived here in Al-Hadidiya; only 14 are left. We have to bring water in tankers from far away, and often we are held up at the roadblocks for long hours, and we pay more than triple what any Israeli pays.

“In the late 80’s, at the time of the Oslo agreements, there was hope, but in the end the disaster became even more terrible. They are doing whatever they can to drive us out. We are simple people, in Al-Hadidiya. We want to graze our sheep, to feed our families, to educate our children. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the situation here should be frozen, and no more demolitions take place, but the soldiers pay no attention to the court’s ruling.”

Abu Saqer speaks slowly, weighing his words. But the story he tells is not only his. All Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley offer versions of it—the same litany of wrongs, of state terror, and, again and again, of unbearable thirst. They thirst for water as they thirst for justice. Saqer, his son, leads us over the hill. Every few minutes he stops to show us another well that has been stopped up, blocked with stones and dirt. We count twelve on a very rapid circuit. Suppose you want to build a pipeline for water—to be taken from well-known, legal Palestinian sources and paid for according to a water meter that you install—so that your tents and shacks would have the elementary happiness of running water. In theory, you could apply to the Civil Administration for a permit. Your application will be rejected. Almost all such applications are. Palestinians in the Jordan Valley cannot get water through pipes or wells by the standard bureaucratic procedures. In desperation, lacking any alternative, they may try to put a pipeline in place. They can be sure the Civil Administration will send its soldiers and policemen to demolish it and to punish them. It happened today at Al-Hadidiya. I saw it. [Abridged]

I walked from Liverpool to London. Brexit was no surprise

Mike Carter                           Guardian/UK                                  27 June 2016

Thatcherism devastated communities throughout industrial England that have never recovered. Their pain explains why people voted to leave in the EU referendum

On 2 May this year, I set off to walk from Liverpool to London, a journey of 340 miles that would take me a month. I was walking in the footsteps of the People’s March for Jobs, a column of 300-odd unemployed men and women who, on the same day in 1981, exactly 35 years previously, had set off from the steps of St George’s Hall to walk to Trafalgar Square.

In the two years after Margaret Thatcher had been elected, unemployment had gone from 1 to 3 million, as her policies laid waste to Britain’s manufacturing base. In 1981, we saw Rupert Murdoch buy the Times and Sunday Times. We witnessed inner-city riots, unprecedented in their scale and violence, in Liverpool and London. The formation of the SDP split the left. The Tories lost their first assault on the coal miners, capitulating over the closure of 23 pits.

My father, Pete Carter, was one of those who organised the original walk. My journey was an attempt to work out what had happened to Britain in the intervening years. What I saw and heard gave me an alarming sense of how the immense social changes wrought by Thatcherism are still having a profound effect on communities all over England. It also meant that when I awoke last Friday to the result of the EU referendum, I wasn’t remotely surprised.

I left Liverpool the week of the Hillsborough inquest verdict, flowers and scarves still adorning lampposts. The inquest had finally vindicated the families of the 96 killed at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, exposing the lies and cover-ups of the police, the media and the political class, who had spent over a quarter of a century traducing not only those fans, mostly working class, but also the city and its people. In fact, that demonising had found expression in 1981, too, when Geoffrey Howe suggested to Thatcher privately that, after the Toxteth riots, Liverpool should be subject to a “managed decline”.

I walked through Widnes and Warrington, past huge out-of-town shopping centres and through the wastelands of industrial decay. In Salford, down streets where all the pubs were boarded up and local shops, if you could find them, had brick walls for windows and prison-like metal doors, I found a home for sale notice. My host was selling her terraced house. I sat in her living room as the estate agent brought around potential buyers. They were all buy-to-let investors from the south of England, building property portfolios in the poverty, as if this was one giant fire sale.

“Is this a thing now?” I asked the agent. “It is,” he replied. In Salford, down streets where all the pubs were boarded up and local shops, if you could find one, had brick walls for windows and prison-like metal doors.’ On I walked. Through Stockport, Macclesfield, Congleton. The flag of St George flew, from flagpoles, from guttering. Leave posters were everywhere. I didn’t see a single one for remain.

Just before Stoke-on-Trent, I passed the immense workings of the Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, closed down in the 1970s. The mine, one of Europe’s largest, had become a heritage centre and museum. In 1993 even that had shut.

In Hanley, I started asking people what they thought about the referendum and if they wouldn’t mind telling me how they’d be voting. There was little reticence. “Out,” they would say. “No question.” “Why?” I’d ask. “Immigration,” would come the response. “We want our country back.”

The Potteries museum opened in 1981, the year of the People’s March. There I read about Stoke’s industrial heritage, the ceramics, the coal mines, the steel industry, employing tens of thousands of people. All gone now.

Stafford, Cannock, Wolverhampton. Different towns, same message: “There’s no decent work”; “the politicians don’t care about us”; “we’ve been forgotten”; “betrayed”; “there’s too many immigrants, and we can’t compete with the wages they’ll work for”. Nobody used the word humiliation, but that’s the sense I got.

In Wolverhampton, the Express and Star newspaper was reporting on the fury from Wolves fans at the football club’s new shirt sponsor. It was to be the Money Shop, a payday lender. In Walsall, where I went to college, I walked around a town centre unrecognisable from 30 years earlier. Everywhere there were betting shops, dozens of them, and right next door to every betting shop was a pawnbroker or payday lender. It was a ghoulish form of mutualism, or symbiosis, the “natural” market at its most efficient.

And there was another thing I noticed about all of these towns: the ubiquity of mobility scooters, and not all of them being driven by the elderly. Was this a manifestation of the established links between poverty and ill health?

I walked on. Birmingham glittered, a skyline of cranes and high streets of fashionable shops, a confidence, a bounce. But out of the city centre the familiar motifs returned: boarded up pubs and shuttered shops, leave posters in windows, and a proliferation of hand car washes. It began to make sense why these have blossomed in modern Britain: why invest in expensive automated machinery when labour can be sourced so cheaply.

Nuneaton, the home town of George Eliot and Ken Loach, had more charity shops in its high street than anywhere I’ve ever seen. And some of those charity shops had closed down. What does it say about a town when even the charity shops are struggling? ‘I started asking people if they wouldn’t mind telling me how they’d be voting. There was little reticence. “Out,” they would say. “Why?” I’d ask. “Immigration,” would come the response.

In Coventry, whose car industry is now mostly gone, there seemed to be a construction frenzy. These were mostly new buildings for the colleges and universities, competing not only for a bigger share of domestic students but also for the lucrative foreign student market. A friend doing an MA in the city told me that 90% of the students on his course were from overseas, and the majority of them Chinese.

As I moved south, I thought that the economic picture might change, but in Rugby, Bedford, Luton the high streets all had the by now familiar composition: betting shops, fast-food outlets, tattoo parlours. And the answer to the question “in” or “out” never changed either. “We’ve been left behind,” a white, middle-aged man told me at a bus stop as I rested in Hemel Hempstead. “Those politicians don’t care about us. Immigration has ruined this country.”

I walked into central London, through Chiswick, past people sitting at pavement cafes, shops selling expensive furniture, estate agents offering two-bedroom flats for a million pounds. Through Hyde Park and on to Wellington Arch, with all the pomp and puffery of empire, and then Buckingham Palace, as tourists lapped up the pageantry. I was in, literally and spiritually, another country.

In 1935, a young Laurie Lee set off to walk across Spain, from north to south. In the book the adventure would eventually lead to, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Lee describes a country riven by inequality, of communities in grinding poverty, and an out-of-touch ruling elite. The fascists and the communists both laid claim to the discontents, the rhetoric becoming increasingly polarised. The narrative resonated across the European continent. By the time Lee got to Malaga, in the summer of 1936, the Spanish civil war had begun.

I thought about Lee’s journey, about Europe in the 1930s and 40s, and thanked God for the 70 years of peace we’d had since. I walked up Whitehall. On 30 May 1981, Thatcher had refused to meet the marchers to accept their 250,000-strong petition. On 30 May 2016, I paused at Downing Street, all high fences and machine guns now, and spoke to one of the armed officers. He told me about the attacks on police pensions, about the terrible morale these days in the force.

A girl came up, spoke in faltering English. She was on a school trip from Belgium. She had a project to complete, she said. Could I help her? She held up a piece of A4 paper. “Can you tell me who this is, please?” On it was a photograph of Margaret Thatcher.