Wednesday, March 25, 2020


Wednesday, March 25, 2020.
Israel, its History and its Prospects


 فلسطين   ישראל 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Israel, its History and its Prospects. Since its beginning with the proclamation of  nationhood by David Ben Gurion in 1948, followed immediately by the recognition of the new state by President Harry S. Truman, Israel's history has been filled with continual opposition by the Arab nations which surround it, and the Palestinians who were displaced, as well as those who still live there.  Britain, which had held a colonial over former Palestine, objected to nationhood, recognizing that this would stir up a hornet's nest. Israel, in between fighting wars with its neighbors, has turned desert land into fertile orchards, and created a modern state with a population of over 8 million, mostly Jewish, gathered in the ancient Jewish homeland from all over the world. [Suggested by Jason Shaw] 

This meeting will be held via

Morris, Benny, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict, 2009, New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press. 240 pp.

            Americans have followed the drama of Israel since its creation in 1948, and Benny Morris does a good job of filling in some of the blank spots, at least in this reader’s understanding. 

            Although Morris wants us to get an impartial view, this Professor of History at Ben Gurion University in Israel does not give us anything which might approximate the Arab point of view.  I have had Arabs and friends of Arabs try to give me their point of view before, and I was unable to take it on board.  I found that the whole matter of deciding upon a place for a home for the Jews was one that was doomed to cause conflict no matter where it ended up.

            Arabs don’t agree, but the Jews have a pretty solid prior claim to the Land of Milk and Honey, going back over 6000 years.

            Morris tells about the first gathering of Zionists in 1882, which began the drive to find a national homeland. The assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 set off a wave of pogroms in Russia and led to the idea of a Zionist organization. Alexander had been a very liberal tsar, freeing the serfs and allowing Jewish merchants in certain areas (that is the “Pale of Settlement”) to join guilds, and some Jewish children could attend schools.

           Alexander was assassinated by an anarchist, atheistic group called “The People’s Will”, but one of the assassins had Jewish heritage.  

             After centuries of being abused and murdered, with large and small pogroms, the Jews were fed up with always being a minority in any setting. 

            The Arabs in Palestine first developed a national consciousness as Palestinians in the early 1920s.  Up to then, the Arabs who lived in Palestine were simply Arabs.  They were the majority in a land with a significant minority of Jews (800,000 to 160,000 in 1928).

            The extermination of some 6,000,000 Jews by Hitler in World War II created an international impetus to find a home for the Jews.  Britain, which had captured Palestine in World War I, had been leaning toward Palestine as a national home for the Jews since then.  The final decision to bring Jews displaced from Europe fell to President Harry Truman, with agreement of Great Britain, and approval of the United Nations. 

            The central question in this book is whether the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean which was set aside for the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs would be One Nation or Two, whether there should be a Jewish nation alongside a Palestinian nation, or one nation, partitioned. 

            That is the question that has swirled about since 1948.  The Jews knew what it was like to be the minority.  They had done that for ages, and they would not permit that.

Being a Jewish minority with a majority of Arabs?  They would be exterminated.

            The Arabs bitterly resented having the Jews land in Palestine, and they fought it, resisted it, hated it, in every way, from the start until now.

            Could there be a Palestinian state existing in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Israel?  Palestinians have bitterly objected, and have never relented in their demand for ejection of the Jews and “the Right of Return” to the homes from which they had been removed when the Jews arrived. 

            Morris details the many discussions and agreements, or semi-agreements or non-agreements that have tossed around various peace arrangements.  There was the United Nations General Assembly partitioning of November 1947;

The Six-day War of 1967 which resulted in huge loss of territory by the Arabs;

The Allon Plan of 1967-68 giving back some land to the Arabs, but retaining a strip along the Jordan;

            And there was the infuriating meeting hosted by President Clinton at Camp David in July 2000, that ended with Yasser Arafat not agreeing to anything. 

            The Palestinians have steadfastly opposed any plan that gives them land, including part of Jerusalem, most of the West Bank, etc., etc. as long as the Jews are still around. 

            I was reading about the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in Siberia that Stalin created in 1934. The administrative center is the town of Birobidzhan, population 176,000 in 2010. Of all those, only a little over one percent are Jews.  Some prominent anti-Semites have suggested petitioning Putin of Russia to accept resettlement of all the Israeli Jews there.

            The British and Americans did a heroic thing in making the way for Jews to build Israel.  I’m sure all Muslims, especially Arabs, think that move was Satanic.  Some Americans think it was, as well.

            As I finished this book, I asked myself: What will it take to have peace between Palestinians and Israelis?

Sam Coulbourn

Rashid Khalidi, The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017 Metropolitan Books, 2020.

Rashid Khalidi was born to write The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017, as well as his many other books and articles on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  On his father's side he has a long mutigenerational Palestinian lineage.  His great, great, great uncle, Yusuf Diya, sought and obtained a European education.  Later, Yusuf filled various roles as an Ottoman government official, including serving as mayor of Jerusalem.  Yusuf Diya was also an accomplished scholar whose books and letters are in the Khalidi Family Library in Jerusalem.

That Rashid Khalidi comes from an historically influential Palestinian family with strong roots in Jerusalem casts a particularly interesting perspective on the Palestinian people and their roots in the Middle East..  Khalidi himself grew up and was educated in the United States while his father worked at the United Nations.  His university degrees are from Yale and Oxford.  Thereafter, he began to establish a career as a university professor in Middle Eastern studies.  In 1976 he moved to Beirut and taught for seven years at American University where he became a strong supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization during a time of intense conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.  During these years which encompassed Israel's invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon, Khalidi served as an off-the-record source of information about the PLO and its activities for Western journalists.

Khalildi returned to the United States in 1983 where his teaching and scholarship remained entwined with Palestinian politics and especially the future of the Palestinian people in their ever more difficult relationship with Israel.  His most important book is Palestinian Identity: the Construction of Modern National Consciousness which he published in 1997.  In 2003 he moved to Columbia University where he is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies and director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia..  He is a strong partisan of the Palestinian cause who has been an extraordinarily prolific scholar and author. 

The Hundred Years' War on Palestine was published only a few months ago.  Its primary argument is that the modern history of Palestine beginning in 1917 can best be understood as a colonial war waged by the European Zionist movement against an indigenous Palestinian population.  The objective was to force the Palestinians to relinquish their homeland to another people against their will. In achieving their objective, Khalildi tells us, the Zionists had powerful allies in the West, most pointedly Great Britain which ruled Palestine with a League of Nations mandate.

Khalidi focuses on six turning points in the struggle over Palestine, beginning in 1917 with the issuance of the Balfour Declaration which decided the fate of Palestine, to Israel's siege of the Gaza Strip and its intermittent wars on Gaza's population in the early 2000s.  The most significant event in Khalidi's view was the crushing repression of the Great 1936-39 Arab Revolt against British rule, during which 10 percent of the adult male population was killed, wounded, imprisoned, or exiled. as the British employed a hundred thousand troops and air power to overwhelm Palestinian resistance.

Meanwhile, a massive wave of Jewish immigration as a result of persecution by the Nazi regime in Germany raised the Jewish population in Palestine from just 18 percent of the total in 1932 to over 31 percent in 1939.  This provided the demographic critical mass and military manpower that were necessary for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine following World War II in 1948.  The expulsion then of over half the Arab population of the country, first by Zionist militias and then by the Israeli army, completed the military and political triumph of Zionism.

Except the Palestinians have not given up.  They are an extraordinarily resilient people, Khalidi explains.  He is critical, though, of Palestinian leadership from Fatah and Hamas.  He says both are ideologically bankrupt.  Dynamic new strategy is needed to dislodge the Palestinian cause from its current state of  stagnation and retreat.  What he is looking for is grassroots political and informational work to make its case to civil society across the world.  Especially inside the United States.  Also in Europe, Russia, India, China, Brazil, and nonaligned states the Palestinian cause can find support.  In the Arab world he says the Palestinians need to resurrect the PLO's former strategy of appealing over the heads of unresponsive regimes to sympathetic Arab public opinion.  Finally, he writes that a forgotten but essential element of the Palestinian political agenda is work inside Israel, specifically convincing Israelis that there is an alternative to the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians.

Khalidi ends on a positive note.  Perhaps such action will allow Palestinians, together with Israelis and others worldwide who wish for peace and stability with justice in Palestine, to craft a different trajectory than that of oppression of one people by another.  Only such a path based on equality and justice is capable of concluding the hundred years' war on Palestine with a lasting peace, one that brings with it the liberation that the Palestinian people deserve.

Richard Heuser

Ari Shavit, My Promised Land: Triumph and Tragedy of Israel  2013

Ari was born in Israel in 1957.  He takes us on an historical journey from the beginning of the Zionist movement up to 2013. He does this through interviews with people who made Israeli history. Some are friends, Holocaust survivors, politicians, generals, business leaders, and artistic leaders. The major problem of this book is what parts of the history Ari failed to mention.

Ari begins with his great grandfather, Herbert Bentwich’s 1897  Zionist pilgrimage to Palestine. Ari writes a great travelogue about the territory of Palestine. Usually all of these Zionist pilgrims came from Eastern Europe because the Jewish people were constantly facing pogroms, indiscriminate killing of Jews, from the Christian rulers of the nations of Poland, Russia, or Romania.

Bentwich is a respected gentleman from London. Most of the pilgrims with him are the same. The journal reads like these pilgrims are on a safari to this land of Arabs, deserts, and agricultural products. They arrive in Jaffa. This  is the only port in Palestine and it is run down and poor.
Ari fails to see these Zionist trips are a cover for the goal of reclaiming the ancient Jewish homeland. Ari never mentions the religious reasons the Zionists want to settle in ancient Israel. He keeps saying that his great grandfather never sees the Gentiles who carry his luggage and tents. He never sees the Arab villages on the mountains.

Ari is setting up the reader to see that religion is the evil reason current Israel is in trouble with the Zealot settlements in  the conquered West Bank from 1967. Ari is a clever manipulator of the entire story.

Ari is trying to take the reader away from the religious Zionist reasons. He does tell us the settlers organizing the Jewish refugees to Palestine are told to purchase the land in a proper way and then start a colony to settle the land in a more productive way. These colonies become the socialist, communist Kibbutzim. He goes into great detail how these settlers change the land by draining the swamps and stopping disease. How these settlers make the land more productive.

Ari never tells us about the history surrounding this part of the world. Why Ari omits this history is puzzling to me.

Ari never mentions how the Zionists chose Israel specifically because the leadership knew they could persuade the British to help them if the allies won the war.  Ari mentions how major changes take place with Jewish settlement during World War I.

By 1917 the Zionists receive the Balfour Declaration from the British. Interestingly, it is the year the United States joins the Allied Powers. This declaration promises the Jewish people will have a right to settle in Palestine, part of the Ottoman Empire, and this led to a permanent Jewish homeland.
In the World War I peace treaty, the Ottoman Empire is broken up into sections called mandates. England will rule Palestine until a democratic government can be formed by the inhabitants.
The British Palestine Mandate from 1919-1948 allows thousands of Jewish refugees to enter Palestine and settle into local agricultural communities named Kibbutzim.

From 1919-1930’s a trickle of Jewish refugees arrives. Once Hitler gains power in 1933, this turns into a  flood. By the end of World War II, the world learns about the Jewish Holocaust. The Nazis exterminated six million Jews in Europe. Now the Jewish people migrate in the hundreds of thousands.

Ari does a great job of telling us the story of how the Israel Kibbutz settlers formed the Israeli army in 1947 when the partition idea failed and the British army left. He details the Israel Army war crimes of  killing innocent Palestinian villagers. Then after, forcibly removed all to the West Bank, Syrian, and Jordanian refugee camps.

Ari fails to talk about how Israeli leaders formed underground terror groups that bombed and killed Arab Palestinian leaders and British soldiers from the 1930’s to 1948. Ari does go into great detail about the  Holocaust and how Eastern European and Arab nations' Jews start to fill up Israel. As this happens other Israelis are trying to convince the British to leave Palestine. Before they leave the new United Nations develops a partition plan between Israel and Palestine. This plan redraws the former British Palestine mandate into two parts.

 After both sides reject the partition, the first of four Arab Israeli wars starts.

By 1948, Israel’s army defeats all Arab armies. The Israelis force all Palestinian Arabs from the state of Israel. In May 1948 the United Nations declares Israel a nation.

After a few years of peace, Egypt seizes the Suez Canal in 1957 with the Sinai desert from the Palestinian Arabs. Israel joins the fight and gains the Sinai territory.

From 1957-1967 Israel enjoys 10 years of peace and growth. Because the Palestinian Arabs are forced to live in refugee camps in Arab countries, the Arab nations with Soviet help grow their armies and plot to attack Israel. This time Israel learns about the attack and strikes first. In the 1967 war lasting only six days, Israel defeats the Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinian Arabs, and Jordanians. Israel takes the Golan Heights from Syria, the Gaza strip from Egypt, and the West Bank to include the City of Jerusalem from the Palestinian people.

 Ari claims that Israel fundamentally changed as a nation from 1967 to the present. Now Israel became an occupier of the Palestinian Arabs territory. Naturally the Arab nations around Israel’s boarders prepared for another war. By 1973 on a Jewish religious holy day it began. Israel was surprised and lost many killed. Finally United States help gave Israel military equipment and the Israel military won.

After Israel began to colonize the West Bank with the settlement movement. [?] This was led by Jewish religious Zealots. They built permanent homes next to long time Arab towns. This angered the Palestinian Arabs and they turned to local and world wide terrorism led by the PLO. Ari interviews these leaders and finds out the Israel government at first stopped the Zealots, but after a new conservative government takes power, they allow these settlements to continue. Ari once again fails to explain the this religious reason. He dismisses this as a major reason why a conservative government supports these settlements.

By the 1990’s these West Bank, Zealot settlements cause the  suicide bombings throughout Israel. The answer by Israel is to build walls between the settlements and the Palestinian Arabs. Ari says walls never stop a problem, they just put off a long term solution. One wonders toward the end of the book what side Ari is on.

Ari says that this constant warfare has made Israel a place that is always at war. To relieve this pressure many young Israelis turned to drugs, sex, and head banging music in the1990’s. The contrast of Ari’s annual reserve military service at a Gaza Israel prison with his contemporaries at wild sex and drug  crazed night clubs, makes Israel a changed nation. No longer a beacon for democracy and freedom. Ari never mentions how Arab Israeli citizens are discriminated against in the Israeli courts, schools, and jobs they are allowed to work.

Ari fears that Israel’s future is in jeopardy. He interviews a leader of the Palestinian Arabs. He tells them a two state solution is now impossible unless the Zealot settlements are destroyed. He also tells Ari that the number of Palestinian Israelis is growing faster than the Jewish Israelis. Ari fears this outnumbering more than anything.

After a two year book tour in the United States promoting this book, Ari concludes the liberal American no longer support an occupier Israel. He fears for the future of Israel and goes back to the 1948 war crimes and realizes the Arabs want to expel the Israelis just like Arabs were expelled in 1948.

Ari explains in detail the American Jewish community is now not as religious as before and is in danger of disappearing. Ari fails to tell us the real miracle of Israel is the American and world wide Jewish support that provided the money for the growth of Israel and the military industrial complex that makes Israel exist.

Ari concludes this book by summarizing the factors that need to be changed if Israel is to continue as a democratic state that attracts world wide appeal and continued support from the United States. Without this support from a growing liberal Western world, Israel will become an Arab nation with the minority being Jewish.

My conclusion is that Ari wants us to look at his book as a way to admit your war crimes and pay restitution to the Arabs and all will be good. This forgiveness for past wrongs is unrealistic.
If Israel starts to allow all citizens to vote, equal accesses to education, and true democracy, the future for  Israel will not be a tragedy. Interestingly Ari never mentions this solution. He, like the current Israeli leadership, feels the Arabs will never forget, much like the Israelis themselves.

William Tobin

McCann, Colum, Apeirogon: a Novel; New York: Random House, 2020; 463 pp.

            This is a novel, but is so filled with the story of life in Israel and Palestine today, that I came away feeling as if I had just returned from several weeks driving along high-speed Israeli highways, and worrying about being delayed for hours at checkpoints in occupied Palestine.

            You quickly see the two worlds: the clean, tidy world of Israelis and the dirty, ragged world of checkpoints, strip searches and blown-up cisterns of Palestinians.

            It is the story of two men who lost their daughters because of the terrible situation of “The Occupation”. 

            Rami Elhanan is an Israeli, whose 13-year-old Smadar was killed by Palestinian suicide bombers in 1997.

            Bassam Aramin is a Palestinian, whose 10-year-old daughter was killed by a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli border guard ten years later, in 2007.

            The title is taken from the mathematical term for an object of an “observably infinite number of sides”, a shape that serves as a model for a fresh way of thinking about a conflict that is too often reduced to simple, opposed positions.

            Bassam was imprisoned by the Israelis at age 17 for throwing hand grenades at Israeli troops; he spent seven years in prison.

            Rami fought as an Israeli soldier in the three wars. 

            Bassam studied the Holocaust and began to understand the depth and breadth of the Jewish experience; Rami and his wife Nurit are both highly critical of “The Occupation” that treats Palestinians worse  or as poorly as blacks were treated in Post-Civil War America[SC1] .

            Apeirogon begins to show its infinite sides when you encounter many of the 1001 “tales” dedicated to the many colorful species of birds who travel through Israel on their world-wide flyways…. Or to historical accounts of exploration of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea…. Or to Mexican bats used by the Americans to drop incendiary bombs on the Japanese in World War II.

            The stories come left and right, high and low, fast and slow.  Some are parts of the story of these two men and their families, and of the work they have been doing for years to spread the appeal to create a real peace in their land. The others somehow connect to help to tell this story.

            McCann’s telling of these stories is aimed at untying us from the stereotypes that we may cling to about “Palestinian terrorists” and “persecuted Israelis”. Yes, the Jews have suffered mightily over the centuries, and the Holocaust really did happen. 

            But much more needs to be done to right the wrongs that were done in the 1948 War for Israeli Independence, and which continue to be done to the Palestinians.

            Bassam and Rami are at the forefront of this quest for peace in a land that has not known much peace since Jesus walked its roads. They are the featured speakers at gatherings around the world, but here at home they are often reviled as traitors or collaborators.

            This book, as it twists to show the infinite sides to this story, may help to show the world how important it is to help the cause of peace in the Holy Land.

Sam Coulbourn


Wednesday, April 29, 2020. The Effects of Colonialism in the World. Colonialism

can be about the whole idea of advanced nations landing in less advanced nations and colonizing them, to spread a religion, to allow the colonizing nation to plant colonies of its people where they can thrive, and to mine mineral resources, take advantage of fertile soils and favorable climates to grow crops, etc. Colonizers have often exploited the host land, enslaving its people or exploiting them in other ways.  And the "advanced" nation has often brought its diseases to the foreign shores with disastrous results.  There have also been very positive results.

When you think of colonizers, remember the Romans, Mongols, Greeks and Arabs, who started this many centuries ago. Romans colonized Britain, Spain and Portugal,

who later colonized the rest of the world. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Russia since the end of Communism. Look at the seeds for replacing communism and the prospects for a new order. Oligarchs. Corruption. Democratic movements. Former republics.  Russian seizure of Crimea, attacks on Donbas. Georgia and So. Ossetia and Abkhazia. A new superpower?

Wednesday, June 24, 2020. A History of Alcohol. Men have been fermenting fruit and grain and honey for many thousands of years.  The Babylonians, Greeks and Romans had gods and goddesses and there have been marvelous Bacchanalian feasts and tales of the dreadful effects of too much alcohol.  There have been anti-alcohol drives, temperance marches, Prohibition. Cultural and health effects of alcohol usage. [Proposed by Janos Posfai] 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020. China from 1900 to today. China has traveled a long way from the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901 when western nations felt free to wander all over the vast country. Sun-Yat-Sen and the last Qing emperor…Military wardlordism ..Chiang Kai-Shek…War against Japan… Mao Zedong and the Communist Revolution, founding of the People’s Republic…”Great Leap Forward” and The Cultural Revolution…World’s No. 2 Economy, on the verge of becoming No. 1. [Proposed by Jason Shaw] 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020.