Cutting through the bullshit.

Friday 23 August 2013

Rocking the foundations

If you read this blog and are unfamiliar with the Green Bans, or if for some reason you've missed seeing Rocking the foundations, you're in for a treat.

I've been trying to track down a copy of this inspiring classic documentary for decades. It doesn't appear to have been available in any format. But just last month one sam wallman posted it on Youtube. Onya, Sam!

For background, here are a few paragraphs from Linda Kearns's review of Meredith and Verity Burgmann's book about the NSW Builders' Labourers' Federation (BLF)
The NSWBLF is particularly interesting since construction workers are so typically seen on the liberal left as the epitome of racism and sexism in the working class.  Yet this was a union which fought for the right of women to work in the construction industry, which vigorously supported abortion rights and other demands raised by the burgeoning women’s liberation movement and which backed up its support by turning out for marches on these issues.

Long before it became fashionable, the NSWBLF also supported gay rights, went on gay rights marches and used its industrial muscle, for example by placing a ‘pink ban’ on building work at a university where a gay student had been thrown out of a hostel.  And in a society in which anti-Aboriginal prejudice was rampant, the union was forthright in its anti-racist politics long before such views became fashionable.
The union also organised on a very democratic basis.  There was a high degree of rank and file control, including over all agreements.  Most of the officials had worked in the building industry.  All officials, even publications editors, had to come from the shop floor, and officials had to return there after six years in full-time positions in the union.  Officials’ pay was tied to award rates, an important measure in preventing them from becoming a self-serving elite connected more to the bosses than to the workers they represented.

...Perhaps what the NSWBLF was most known for, however, was ‘green bans’.  The construction workers risked their jobs to place bans on indiscriminate development which was tearing down much of inner-city Sydney and evicting working class people from their homes, as well as over-running parks and bush.  These campaigns were carried out in conjunction with local residents’ committees, forging an alliance between organised labour and the local community which made it especially hard for the bosses, the state and the media to isolate militants or push through the ‘re-development’ plans.
Watch it! I insist!

h/t Linda Kearns via Philip Ferguson via Marxmail

Tuesday 23 July 2013

A broken skateboard

Jeremy Ben-Ami must have missed my last post, because he's sent me another email, claiming 'Secretary of State John Kerry’s tireless efforts to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have created an historic opportunity which must not be missed.'   


congratulates Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on their decision to resume talks and urges them to come to the negotiating table with a serious and solemn intent to make the compromises necessary to achieve peace based on a two-state solution.

Of course he's not alone in his nonchalant reference to the unelected Capo of Area A as 'Palestinian President'. Nor in assuming that 'both sides' must make painful compromises, as if relinquishing 78% of their land wasn't compromise enough for the Palestinians. Nor in the cavalier conceit that a patently unjust and unsustainable partition can 'achieve peace'.

'Such an agreement', he goes on,

is also the only way to secure Israel’s future as both a democracy and a Jewish homeland and would provide Palestinians with a vehicle in which to fulfill their self-determination and national aspirations.

It never ceases to astonish me that otherwise seemingly lucid people can entertain the delusion without embarrassment that Israel can be both 'a democracy' and 'a Jewish homeland', at least the kind of Jewish homeland Israel insists upon. The very same people would be the first to screech with indignation if, say, the US were to declare itself 'a white homeland' and extend rights to white folks in Krakow and Dunedin that they denied to the members of ethnic minorities who actually live there, including, notably, the indigenous people.

The vehicle metaphor Jeremy deploys sparks the imagination. I can just see Bibi telling abu Mazen, 'We'll take this fleet of 747s and you can have this broken skateboard to fulfill your self-determination and national aspirations. And by the way, we don't have room for these 1.2 million extra Arabs, so they can ride with you.'

Wednesday 17 July 2013

A buzzsaw of negativity

Last week, I received another email from Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J-Street, 'the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans'. It seems he's peeved. So what's he got his knickers in a twist about?

Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts aimed at jumpstarting diplomacy to reach a two-state solution are running into a buzzsaw of negativity.

It's not me he's pissed off at, though.

I’m not surprised when the negativity comes from opponents of a two-state solution. They don’t see ending the conflict as either an existential necessity for Israel or an American national interest.

But he's got me all wrong. I think it's quite possible that 'ending the conflict', by which he explicitly means partitioning Palestine to preserve a Jewish ethnocracy on 78% or more of the land, could very well be 'an existential necessity for Israel'. But that's not why I oppose a Two State Solution. Au contraire, I oppose it precisely because it preserves a Jewish ethnocracy. As for the 'American national interest', even if I considered such a thing possible, why would anyone outside the 1% care about that?  

It's 'when the intense negativity and cynicism comes from those who purport to share the Secretary’s end goal, it irks me'.

Maybe Jeremy's confused about the 'end goal'. Is it the 'diplomacy'? Or the 'two-state solution'? Certainly to all appearances Israel's objective is to prolong fruitless negotiations, hemmed about with 'preconditions' that even the quisling abu Mazen could never accept. If they ever agree to partition Palestine, it will be along the lines Jeff Halper suggests, which accords with the views Israelis reveal in opinion polls. 

I don’t know of anyone familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – across the board – who sees in the Kerry initiative anything other than an attempt to impose on the Palestinians a Pax Israeliana. In fact, neither Kerry nor his Israeli partners bother to deny it. For his part, Kerry’s main contribution to this latest incarnation of the long-moribund “peace process” is a vague $4 billion package of “incentives’ – part of what Amira Hass calls hush money – that bears a striking resemblance to the “economic peace” Netanyahu and Peres have been trying to peddle for years. Otherwise, Kerry is merely pressing the Palestinians to accept Israel’s preconditions for negotiations and its version of a two-state solution: no end to settlement construction, land expropriation, house demolitions (28,000 Palestinian homes demolished since 1967, and counting) or displacement; recognition of Israel as a “Jewish” state; the imposition of the Clinton Parameter’s on East Jerusalem (“what is Jewish is Israeli, what is Arab is Palestinian,” thus eliminating completely any kind of coherent urban entity that might serve as the Palestinians’ capital); Israel’s retention of at least six major settlement “blocs,” strategically placed to fragment the West Bank into disconnected and impoverished cantons while isolating what remains of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank; long-term or permanent Israeli military control over the Jordan Valley and Palestine’s borders with Egypt and Jordan – well, the list goes on: Israeli control over Palestinian airspace, over their electromagnetic sphere (communications), etc. etc. etc.

This is apparently not the Two State Solution Jeremy has in mind. According to this post on the J-Street site, 

The outlines of an agreement are by now well-known and widely accepted: Borders based on the 1967 lines with agreed reciprocal land swaps allowing Israeli incorporation of a majority of settlers, as well as Palestinian viability and contiguity; a sharing of Jerusalem that is based on demographic realities establishing the capitals of the two states and allowing freedom of access and respect for all holy sites; robust security arrangements; and an agreed upon resolution of the refugee issue that resettles refugees outside of Israel.

It should, but apparently doesn't, go without saying that contiguity is literally impossible if the Palestinian state is to incorporate both the West Bank and Gaza without dividing Israel, as any map of the area will attest. Whether such a state could be economically viable is open to question. But in light of the vulnerability of any corridor connecting the two enclaves and Israel's history of preventing intercourse between them, not to mention the likely influx of refugees if Israel and their current host countries won't take them, I have my doubts. What J-Street might have in mind by 'robust security arrangements' is doubtless best known to them, but they probably mean that the Palestinian state would be 'demilitarised' – anathema to Palestinians in opinion polls – and possibly annexation of the Jordan Valley. If it weren't so banal, J-Street's cavalier approach to the plight of the millions of refugees – that after languishing in refugee camps for 65 years, someone they haven't even had a role in electing is empowered to negotiate away their right to return without so much as 'by your leave'. But then, Israel has consistently rejected any responsibility for the refugees since 1949. After all, their return would erode the Jewish majority that they were expelled to achieve in the first place.

There is a widely held misconception that Israel's creation of 'facts on the ground' since 1967 have rendered The Two State Solution™ impossible, as intended, or soon will. Four years ago, former US National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and other luminaries warned that there was only a "six to twelve month window" before all chances for peace evaporated. In May 2012, long after the Scowcroft window had slammed decisively shut, J-Street itself emphasised 'The Urgency of a Two-State Solution' without setting a deadline, but insisting that 'the window of opportunity for achieving a two-state solution is rapidly closing...We no longer have the luxury of waiting for a riper time to pursue peace; now is that time' and quoting with approval Obama's proclamation a year earlier, '[T]he current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination…'

In reality, whether there is a Two State 'Solution' depends entirely on the problem it is to solve. If the problem is that millions of Palestinians are stateless and subject to Israeli military occupation, some for 46 years and the rest for their entire lives; that millions more in the diaspora are stateless, some for 65 years and the rest for their entire lives; and that over a million more live as twelfth class citizens, principally in isolated enclaves always facing the threat of relocation or house demolition, then the TSS solves little for the first group and nothing for the others.

If, on the other hand, the problem is 'With the Jewish and Arab populations between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea at near-parity, demographic trends preclude Israel from maintaining control over all of Greater Israel while remaining a democratic state and a homeland for the Jewish people', then the TSS really is a solution and will remain a solution, unless, of course, in Ehud Olmert's immortal words, 'we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished'.

One of the things Jeremy, or whoever wrote 'The Urgency of a Two-State Solution', has missed is that Israel has in fact controlled all of Greater Israel™ since 1967 without allowing the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip the right to participate in electing the government of the state that controls every aspect of their lives. So there is no prospect whatsoever of Israel 'remaining a democratic state' – it has not been recognisably democratic for the last 46 years. Another is that if Israel Proper™ is 'a homeland for the Jewish people', then it is not a homeland for the indigenous Palestinian people, who have endured racial discrimination since 1948, hardly the mark of a democratic state.

While I'm digressing, another popular misconception among advocates of the TSS is that ongoing encroachment by Israeli settlements, bypass roads and the rest of the 'matrix of control' will reduce the eventual rump Palestinian state to a series of discontiguous bantustans. While not actually false, this view misses the point that a Palestinian state was never going to be anything other than a bantustan, or more likely two discontiguous bantustans, even if it comprised the full 22% of Mandatory Palestine in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Yet a third is that Israel will become an apartheid state when the non Jewish population between the Jordan and the Mediterranean exceeds 50%, which is likely to occur within the next few years. If they want to join the other hasbaristas in defining apartheid strictly as the system of racial segregation against indigenous Blacks applied in South Africa until 1994, the issue is moot. But The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court identifies apartheid as a 'crime against humanity' and defines it as: 

inhumane acts...committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.

Significantly, it is irrelevant which racial group is in the majority.

Returning to Jeremy's missive, he's 'had enough of the skeptics and critics – particularly those who claim – even as they criticize the Secretary for his efforts – to recognize the importance of reaching peace and a two-state solution.' They seem to him to be undermining Kerry's project just because they think it's too hard. He's concerned about the consequences of inaction:

if the Secretary were to simply walk away, and the Palestinians headed to the International Criminal Court and other international bodies, seeking recognition of their rights and international action against Israel.

Clearly, he imagines that it would be a disaster for Palestinians to seek recognition of their rights. And they would suffer, too.

Congress has threatened to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority (and maybe to the UN bodies who accept them), the Israelis could be expected to launch a new wave of settlement construction (E-1, anyone?), and Palestinian tax revenue could again be withheld.

In other words, if Kerry fails to get the Israelis to come to the party and make the fabled 'painful compromises', his own government will punish the Palestinians for it, as will the Israeli government, by violating existing agreements. He writes of these things as if they were a force of nature that Kerry and the Israelis have no control over.

With the Palestinian Authority already struggling to make ends meet, what happens when it can’t?...If the PA stopped collecting garbage, does Israel resume full responsibility for West Bank services?

Well, yes. Why wouldn't the Israeli government take responsibility for providing infrastructure and services in the area that they actually control? Indeed, why don't they now? And while they're about it, they might just extend suffrage to the still stateless Palestinians under their jurisdiction.

Furthermore, 'demonstrations might break out and we could be on the road to a third intifada'. And not a moment too soon.

But from those who seem to be saying it’s not even worth trying – much less trying hard – I want to know what they would have said to those who tackle the great challenges of human history? That it’s not worth trying to invent a way to fly? There’s no way to find a cure for cancer? We can’t possibly stop global warming so why try?

So prolonging the lifespan of The Jewish and Democratic State is now one of ' the great challenges of human history'! But unlike curing cancer, this would not alleviate human suffering, it would exacerbate it. In much the same vein, redefining chutzpah, he asks,

What would they have said to the Martin Luther Kings, to the Nelson Mandelas, to the Gandhis? Don’t bother; the forces you’re up against are too powerful? Don’t waste your time?

Writing on Mondoweiss, Estee Chandler of Jewish Voice for Peace, finds grounds for hope that Jeremy refers to her heroes. But if those Jeremy is addressing support partitioning the area of Mandatory Palestine into a state for Jews and a state for Arabs, as he does and Kerry purportedly does, the obvious thing to say to King, Mandela and Gandhi is, 'Stop it!' After all, they devoted themselves to the struggle against racism, colonialism and apartheid while Jeremy and his 'liberal Zionist' cronies are committed to perpetuating them.

Thursday 11 July 2013

Reporting the unreported

In this morning's Algemeiner, Zach Pontz reports on a new report compiling unreported reports of 'Violent Attacks Committed Against Jews in Israel'. The report, reportedly comprising 17 pages, is the work of one Yehudit Tayar, spokeswoman for Hatzalah Yehudah veShomron ('Judea and Samaria Relief'), 'a volunteer emergency medical response organization that works along with the IDF and Israeli security forces throughout Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley'. Accordingly, the 'Jews in Israel' are all located in 'Yehudah and Shomron', aka 'Judea and Samaria', or the occupied West Bank, as it is known here on Earth.

Unfortunately, the Hatzalah Yehuda veShomron page makes no mention of the report and the only report of the report apart from Pontz's is on this 'myrightword'blog, which doesn't link to the original 17 page report, but provides this 'simmary':

Of the 5635 'terror incidents', no fewer than 91% (5144) were stone throwing incidents. Presumably, the actual report, if it exists, would answer questions that might allow a reader to make sense of the 'statistics' it provides, like what is the source of the reports summarised in Tayar's report? What is the definition of a 'terror incident'? An 'attack'? A 'rock'? A look at an earlier 'Tayar Security Report', however, suggests that I may presume too much. I'm particularly curious whether lobbing a tear gas canister back where it came from constitutes a 'terror incident'.

In that report, for 13-26 May, she provides 'a partial summary of the hundreds of attempts to murder innocent Jews during the past week [sic]'. Curiously, among the innocent victims are soldiers and cops. It is also astonishing that 143 of the 611 Molotov cocktail attacks over six months (23%) occurred in that one week (or fortnight by the conventional calendar – who'd know?).

Apparently unaware that B'tselem does report on attacks on Israeli civilians, at least the ones that actually cause injury, Tayar 'told The Algemeiner that the reason behind her efforts was the fact that news of violence against residents in the area wasn’t reaching a wider audience'.

For some reason, Tayar omits to report the many house demolitions, home invasions and abductions innocent Jews in Judea and Samaria suffer at the hands of their terrorist neighbours every week. Nor the 5144 projectiles innocent Jews innocently fling at terrorist schoolchildren in Hebron every day.

Sunday 16 June 2013

Below average

The other day, this meme cropped up on Facebook.

I surmise that the intent is to ridicule the innumeracy of those who would consider such a revelation shocking when in reality it is a perfectly banal observation. What could be more obvious than that it's the nature of an 'average' (presumably the median – see here if you were absent the day they taught averages) that half will be above it and half below?

Or is it?

First of all, the assertion assumes that we know what 'intelligence' means. In reality, the only rigorous definition I've encountered is in terms of performance on intelligence tests. It may be circular, but that's what I'll assume the meme is talking about.

In a population with an odd number of observations, the median is the one exactly in the middle of the distribution when ranked from highest to lowest. So in a population of five with intelligence test scores ('IQ') of 120, 110, 105, 90, 85, the median is 105, and clearly 50% are not 'below average' – 40% are. In such populations, the proportion 'below average' is always going to be less than 50%, even if there are over 316 million observations and the difference is slight.

When the number of observations is even, however, the median is the arithmetic mean of the two observations in the middle. So in a population of four, with IQs of 110, 100, 90, 85, the two central observations – 100 and 90 – average to 95 and in this case, exactly 50% really are below average. But what if their scores were 110, 100, 100, 90? The two observations to average are both 100, so the median is 100 and only 25% are 'below average'. Since IQ scores are deliberately calculated to conform to a normal distribution, it is, if I'm not mistaken, inevitable that there will be a cluster exactly in the middle of the range and there will never be 50% below average because a proportion, probably a plurality, will always be 'average'.

Even if there were some possibility that not one of the 316,044,000 Americans had an IQ of exactly 100, it transpires that intelligence test scores are grouped into ranges and the range 90-109 (sometimes 85-115) is, uncoincidentally, denominated 'Average'. About 50% of the population fall into the 90-109 range and 68% into the 85-115 range, so only 25% in the first case and 16% in the second would be 'below average'.

If it were true that a study showed 50% of Americans 'have below-average intelligence', then, that really would be a shocker.

Thursday 13 June 2013

What's 'metadata'?

[Note: a few additions, 2013 06 16]

When I first read about the NSA collecting 'metadata' about telephone calls, I thought it was an unconventional use of the term. But on reflection, if you regard the actual substance of a phone call as the data of interest, then the details pertaining to the call are, in fact, metadata.

But this is deceptive. The 'metadata' the NSA collect are crucial to understanding the data they pertain to – the actual content of phone calls and messages that they are purportedly not capturing. A message stating 'The bomb goes off in 48 hours' would be useless if you didn't know when it was sent, among other things. Under the circumstances, they are treating the 'metadata' as data and analysing it as such.

At another level of analysis, those metadata are themselves data and are only meaningful when viewed in light of their own set of metadata. That is what I think of as metadata.

The record of a telephone call is probably represented as a string of characters. The metadata would specify what they mean. First of all, it would tell you that the unit of enumeration – what each record describes – is a 'Phone call', which would be defined to include or exclude SMSs, MMSs, video calls, etc. If it included more than one type of call, there would be a 'Call type' field with a code indicating what kind of call it was. The first 20 characters of the record, then, might be a sequential call record identifier. The metadata would then specify that the field is named 'Call record id' and comprises 20 numerical characters. There might then be a code for the date of the call, which would tell you that it is an eight character numeric field and link it to a particular time zone. Similarly, the metadata for 'Time of call' would say that the field is four numeric characters and the applicable time zone, and define its content as the time the call is answered (or perhaps when dialling was completed). The next three characters might represent the country code of the originating phone, which would be called, for example, 'Originating country code', be 3 numeric characters long and associated with a table of valid country codes (a classification), linking each with the relevant country; etc. The 'classification' associated with the fields for actual phone numbers would effectively be a reverse telephone directory. Other fields could include codes for the phone towers, satellites and nodes the call passes through, with times, details of the receiving number, and so forth.

The metadata pertaining to survey data would include definitions of the concepts purportedly collected, the wording and sequence of the questions asked to elicit data supporting those concepts, how such data are classified, a definition of the units being measured, the time the data apply to, the sampling methodology, and so forth. So a record in a labour force survey would include data like 'Dwelling id', 'Household number', 'Person number', 'State' or other geographic indicators, 'Sex of person', 'Age of person in years', 'Marital status of person', 'Labour force status of person', 'Hours actually worked by person during reference period', 'Hours usually worked by person', 'Status in employment of person in main job', 'Occupation of person in main job', 'Industry of person in main job', additional comparable fields for second, third, fourth... jobs, 'Duration of unemployment of person', etc. The metadata for records like that would name and define each field, stipulate its length and the type of characters allowed, and associate it with any relevant classification. The classification could be quite simple. A classification of 'Sex of person' might look like this:
0    Undetermined
1    Female
2    Male
3    Other
while classifications of 'Occupation' and 'Industry' fill large tomes. Sometimes, of course, a number is just a number, 'Age in years', for example. But even these can be classified by grouping them into ranges. For the record, it's never a good idea to collect age in ranges, as that can make it impossible to compare the data with other data collected or output in different ranges. So if you are interested in the population aged 18-22 years, for example, and ask respondents whether they are in that range, you could never compare your data with data collected in standard age ranges: 15-19, 20-24... If you're developing a survey, I urge you to collect age last birthday in single years.

To digress, it's worth pointing out that there's more than one way to define a concept. For most purposes – when defining a word, for example - it's probably best to identify the core of the concept and acknowledge that speakers will vary in how far from that core something can be before they'll call it something else. When defining statistical concepts, however, it's crucial to demarkate the outline of the concept so that there is little or no possibility of ambiguity. Each unit either fits into a category or not. I hasten to add that statisticians are not always as careful as they need to be about defining terms and that standard definitions may not accurately reflect the concept as it is actually collected.

Similarly, not all classifications are the same. In a statistical classification, categories have to be defined to be mutually exclusive so that every unit in the population to be enumerated fits into one and only one category. And the classification must be exhaustive, so there's a category to accommodate every unit to be classified, even if the category is just 'Other'. Again, not all statistical classifications are entirely 'fit for purpose' or even internally coherent. And even when they are, they are often applied in contexts they were not designed for. So a classification of industries, for instance, that may (or may not) be perfectly serviceable in classifying the commodities each industry produces can obscure similarities and differences among industries when applied to workplace safety. 'Agriculture, forestry and fishing' captures the industries that produce food and timber, but the hazards encountered in abalone diving are quite different to those in the dairy cattle farming industry, which in turn might be similar to those in the beef cattle farming industry.

Finally, a generalisation like 'The mean number of completed calls originating from phones within the 50 states is 7.8 per day' is not really metadata. It's just another way of presenting the data. The applicable metadata would include definitions of 'Completed call' (including or excluding SMS, etc.) and 'Within the 50 states' (including or excluding diverted calls, global roaming, etc.).

Tuesday 2 April 2013

The promise

Anybody who's read this blog will know that I tend to be highly critical of anything I see about Palestine. While my principal concern seems to be deconstructing hasbara 'arguments', bogus 'definitions' of antisemitism and so forth, I have also criticised the Two State 'Solution, expressed scepticism of the one and no state solutions, and cast doubt on BDS. So it's a big deal when I find something that offers so little to criticise as Peter Kosminsky's 2011 four part Channel Four series, The promise. I gather from Cecilie Surasky's 22 February Muzzlewatch post (which ironically has the comments facility disabled) that many in North America have not seen this important series. To the best of my knowledge, it has never been broadcast either free to air or on cable in the US or Canada and the DVD only appears to be available coded for regions 2 and 4, but you know what to do about that, and there are torrents available, as well. I recommend that you make a point of securing a copy and a box of tissues and read no further, as there will be a few spoilers.

The story begins in 2005 when Erin, an English girl who has just finished school, and her mother, Chris, visit her grandfather, Len, in hospital. He is intubated and can't speak or move. In the next scene, Erin and Chris are clearing out Len's house and Erin discovers his diary hidden behind some other books. She asks Chris about it and is instructed to 'bin it', as 'it's private', which is sufficient to ensure that Erin recovers it from the trash and takes it. She then divulges that her closest mate, Eliza, an Israeli dual national who has done her schooling in England – her father is an English oleh, has to return to do her military service and has asked Erin to come with her. Furthermore, she is leaving in a few days' time. Eliza's motivation is not really clear. She will be in training five days of the week, leaving Erin to lounge by the pool at her parents' luxurious Caesaria house and hang with her at the weekend. On the flight, Eliza dozes in her first class seat while Erin starts reading the diary, depicted in flashbacks, in which she learns that Len had served in the force that liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The flashback includes a few minutes of gruesome holocaust footage.

The balance of the series follows Len's experiences in Palestine after the war interspersed with Erin's adventures as she attempts to find the family of Mohammed abu Hassan, the chaiwallah employed by Len's unit who Len had befriended. Erin is utterly clueless and quite aware of her cluelessness. Although Claire Foy, the actress who plays her, was in her mid 20s when the series was filmed, she appears even younger than her character's 18 years. She wanders into situations that she knows must be dangerous without a qualm and never hesitates to request extravagant favours from people she doesn't know that will on occasion place them in mortal peril. Indeed, the fate of Omar, an Israeli Palestinian, veteran of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and fellow member of Combatants for Peace with Eliza's elder brother, Paul, is left unresolved. Presumably to keep Len's and Erin's narratives in parallel, Erin does not finish reading the diary before she sets out on her adventures. Or perhaps that's just an indication of how unprepared she was.

My principal criticism of the series is that, consistent with the narrator's point of view, it is couched entirely within the trope of the beneficent British army's valiant attempt to keep the colonised Jews and Arabs from tearing each other apart – 'the meat in the sandwich', as the intelligence officer puts it in a briefing. Len, himself, a sergeant in command of some 40 other soldiers, is scrupulously fair to everybody, but then it is his diary. And as a matter of fact, it's not really a criticism. One of the charms of the series, the usual accusations of antisemitism notwithstanding, is that it airs a healthy range of perspectives. Len has an affair with Clara, a Holocaust survivor employed by the Haifa City club to entertain British troops (an institution, by the way, that I had been unaware of), who is also a member of the Irgun. Erin meets Eliza and Paul's maternal grandfather, another Irgun terrorist enjoying what appears to be a decidedly comfortable retirement, who is proud of his involvement in the July 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel where the mandate authorities were headquartered, which killed 91, including 17 Jews. Coincidentally, Len has a meeting there and arrives just in time to witness the attack, but is not badly injured. Len often hears radio broadcasts by the Jewish resistance. Paul and Eliza's father articulates traditional 'liberal Zionist' views, while Paul himself, who served for three years in Hebron, is antizionist and seldom enunciates anything I'd differ with. In the course of her travels, Omar takes Erin to Ein Hawd, where survivors of the Nakba get to tell their stories.

Through plot devices that sometimes seem a little contrived, Len's story takes the viewer through a number of historical incidents, including the King David Hotel bombing and the Deir Yassin massacre, while Erin survives a suicide bombing in a Tel Aviv bar, witnesses the harassment of schoolchildren and others in Hebron and a house demolition in Gaza.

There are a few apparent inconsistencies and anachronisms. In the first episode, for instance, Eliza drives herself and Erin, alone in the family's Mercedes convertible, to her first day of training. It is not clear how she aims to return the car to her home when Erin, who we already know to be epileptic, can't drive. When Len is patrolling one night in 1945 or 1946, he uses a torch that looks suspiciously like a Maglite, which was only invented in 1979. Observant viewers familiar with military paraphernalia can probably spot other such anachronisms. Perhaps most disturbingly, in the final episode, Omar and Erin enter Gaza through a tunnel. As far as I know, the tunnels into the Gaza strip connect Rafah with the Egyptian side of the border. It seems inconceivable that a tunnel entrance within Israel could go undetected. But there's no indication that they flew or snuck into Egypt to access the tunnel.

Quibbling aside, I think The promise provides a dramatic and easily digested introduction to some of the historical events and current issues in Palestine and I make a point of showing it to whoever will sit still for six hours.

Thursday 28 February 2013

Buy Israel!

The Jewish National Fund, my 'voice in Israel', was kind enough to inform me that 'The week of February 25 - March 3 is Buy Israel Week!' Who knew? It goes without saying that Arabs need not apply. 
JEWISH NATIONAL FUND - Your Voice in Israel
But of course they're not really trying to sell Israel off. They want me to 'Combat the BDS movement by supporting our Israeli partners and buying their goods and services.'

Yeah, right!

Political synergy

Writing in yesterday's Algemeiner, Adam Levick excoriates 'professional Israel hater, anti-Semite whisperer', Ben White. His crime? 

Whilst it’s unclear if White consented to being cross-posted by Al Qassam Brigades or not, the decision by an official Hamas propagandist manning the site to promote his anti-Zionist, post-colonial agitprop represents a perfect example of the political synergy between the British anti-Zionist left and the Islamist reactionary right (what’s known as the Red-Green Alliance).

highlights an “infographic” purporting to demonstrate the number of attacks in Gaza since the ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel in November – data which, per White, “lay bare the daily reality for Palestinians and the power imbalance between the occupier and an occupied, colonised people fighting for their basic rights.” 

It doesn't 'represent' any kind of 'political synergy' whatsoever. The 'official Hamas propagandist manning the site' thought the data presented in the infographic useful. And I agree. I linked to it on Facebook. As for 'what’s known as the Red-Green Alliance', it's a figment of his imagination. Principled antiracists like Ben may agree with 'the Islamist reactionary right' that Zionism is not a good idea, but there is no evidence of any alliance, even on the reasons for opposing Zionism.

There's no need for Levick to contest the content of the infographic, which shows that over the three months since 'Operation Pillar of Cloud', Israeli has launched 106 attacks on the Gaza Strip, killing 4 and wounding 91, while only two mortar shells and no rockets were launched from Gaza. Over the same period, Israel killed 6 and wounded 618 in the West Bank.

After all,

...such antisemitic, misogynistic, homophobic and anti-democratic Islamist movements like Hamas don’t give a damn about political “power imbalances” or “basic [human] rights”, but are often willing to cynically employ tropes which evoke such Western values when it suits their purposes.

In contrast, by implication, Israel, 'the only democracy in the Middle east', would never resort to such antisemitic actions as corralling millions of Jews into a tiny ghetto in the Levant, or purporting to represent all Jews; it would never tolerate women being relegated to the back of the bus; it couldn't imagine returning Palestinian gays seeking asylum to the families who want them dead; and it certainly wouldn't discriminate in housing or education or anything on the grounds of ethnicity. The argument, therefore, amounts to 'Don't criticise Israel. Somebody else did something worse.' You wouldn't accept such an excuse from a four year old child, but when it comes out of the mouth of the hasbara establishment, it's supposed to make sense.