Individual, Masse and Mass

Individual becomes Masse

Value Religion Racism Price Neoliberalism and consciousness.

We should be worrying about questions of value where value is absolutely distinct from price.

This is because neoliberalism both embellishes some values whilst hiding others behind a screen. It fools us, makes us feel aware even while we only have an imaginary relation to our real existing conditions, value is hidden, and values are manipulated behind an apparent democratisation of decision making based on price, numbers, and in the name of rational choice. The felt value and the stated price are two very different things.

To fight the deception and destructive effects of this we must realise that values can only be felt by us and shape us as if true if they are effects of conceivable practical consequences for the individual (to paraphrase Pierce).

If we can’t conceive it or imagine it it can’t be true.

Neoliberalism is a mask for the obfuscation of felt values, and is a filter that drains human value, and life, and agency, and retains only the compliant automaton, who ‘stupidly’, dehumanised, tries to calculate his or her way through decisions – not knowing how the dice have been loaded, how the individuals health is being stolen for the market. Individual become Masse – raw material, under a totalitarian ideological pragmatic philosophy of pure selfishness. Where the measure of truth is personal satisfaction and personal prejudice at the expense of the ‘totality of facts’.

Supporting Israel, is supporting a totalitarian neoliberal ideology of selfishness, identical to the ones we face ‘back home’ – in the U.K., Canada, USA, etc.

As Kurt Tucholsky put it, who in 1933 warned against totalitarianism under Hitler, whose un-German books were burned, and who probably committed suicide in 1935: “A country is not just what it does, it is also what it tolerates.”

And it was surely ironic to read these words in the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem yesterday August 2017. Where even the holocaust becomes a propaganda tool spreading fear amongst Israeli Jews in order to support Zionism and a Jewish, ethnocentric and inevitably racist apartheid state.
The Jews in Israel face exactly the same problem we face in the U.K. and the USA. The congregation in the liberal re-constructionist synagogue in Jerusalem, with their songs, fellowship, face the same problem. But, does religion offer a kind of seductive but false ‘hope’ that after the darkness God will fix things in the end? The talk of God, as Opioid, Tylenol for the masses. How do we resist the power of the neoliberal elite most effectively today. Israel is surely one of neoliberalism’ weakest spots because here the contradictions of neoliberalism, the brutal oppression of millions of Palestinians through colonisation, are most visible. What is the most effective response? Organise? Educate? Write? Publish?
Religion might offer the most personally satisfactory solution to life’s inherent paradoxes but that does not make it true. Even just as the arch pragmatist the American William James persuaded young minds to believe in God, using neoliberal arguments, his economised religious pragmatic form of belief devalues our own consciousness and increases our vulnerability to becoming disciples of false Gods, Gods of racism.

Scary EBM rationality is beyond care

Care is required because the EBM methodology and rationale reinforces the maximalist mindset

It is natural and makes sense to want to improve medical practice.  And it seems to make perfect sense to want to intensify the application of the scientific method and EBM methodology to the problem of misdiagnosis. However, isn’t the sheer rationality of this quite scary, quite inhuman, as if beyond care?

 

This positivist EBM methodology has the same rationale that has led us from Halstead’s mastectomies, to national breast cancer screening programmes to Oncotype DX.   And it is this EBM methodology and rationale that produces more interventions for the market.   This reinforces the maximalist mindset that functions for capitalism to increase the economic productivity of life itself.  But what is the aim of this EBM rationale today? Is EBM derived innovation aimed at reducing levels of iatrogenic harms already in existence, a damage limitation exercise, or to provide care that is harmless, or to make us live longer?

 

Remember that the policies of national screening, early referral, and predictive diagnostic interventions are aimed at prolonging, or to use the rhetoric, saving, life. They are the biggest cause of misdiagnosis and harm and, like austerity, are a matter of politicised choice. This preventive medicine is imposed upon the well.  This kind of care goes beyond care.  It is not the imperative, must do, kind of care for the present day suffering of the already unwell.

 

There are ways to use EBM to reduce iatrogenic harm and improve care.

 

Firstly, would be to actively identify and disinvest in flawed EBM practices, and not only, but especially, the least cost-effective.(Culyer et al, 2007)  Flawed EBM practices would be those that fail to reach a much higher imposed burden of proof of benefit than currently exists. No longer imposed on the basis of possibilities, as with e.g. the UK NHS breast cancer screening programme (Baum, 2013), but instead ‘not commissioned til proven beneficial beyond reasonable doubt’.

 

This would, secondly, increase the options available to re-invest in re-commissioning care that works (e.g. mental health services for the young, palliative care etc) and for practitioners to communicate with people.

 

Thirdly, the pressure to do this will be helped by insisting the teaching of EBM always includes a real world module on ideology and biopolitical theory.  This would be Real Education for Real EBM, teaching the student practitioners about the way ‘the social’ interacts with real EBM’s most crucial object, namely, the diagnosis, and how capitalist ideology creates the maximalist mindset (Horton, 2017).

 

Baum, M. (2013) The Marmot report: accepting the poisoned chalice. British Journal of Cancer (2013) 00, 1-2, 00: 1-2.

Culyer, A., McCabe, C., Briggs, A., Claxton, K., Buxton, M., & Akehurst, R. (2007) Searching for a threshold, not setting one: The role of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. Journal of Health Services Research and Policy, 12(1): 3.

Horton, R. (2017) Offline: The Donald Trump Promise. The Lancet, 389(10087): 2360.

Diagnosing Healthcare Harms and Mis-diagnosis

Here is an analysis of the underlying causes of healthcare harms and misdiagnosis from Juan from the EBM mailbag discussion list yesterday, and below my attempt to re-phrase this in terms of processes:

-yes, Owen, apparently, EBM has only benefits without harms

-but, how can we “believe” in the application of EBM in the consultation room, in front of the clinico/statistical tragedy 1/ many doctors do not understand health statistics http://library.mpib-berlin.mpg.de/ft/gg/GG_Helping_2008.pdf

2/ many doctors do no know about their patients’ culture, expectations and values http://pubmedcentralcanada.ca/pmcc/articles/PMC4484696/

and 3/ many doctors ignore the principal/agent theory and how to stand in “another’s shoes” so they practice “defensive medicine” (“offensive” from my point of view)

-we need to be more critic with guidelines that have, as in this example, only 9–12% based on the best  quality (Grade A) evidence https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4245184/

-EBM is a god that justify anything in its implementation

 

Juan,

 

Your very useful analysis points us towards some of the most important processes that are contributing to healthcare harms and misdiagnosis.

 

I paraphrase your analysis here as key processes and possible key sites of intervention:

 

1) the education of healthcare workers,

2) the political (de-)regulation of harmful healthcare interventions (the ‘weak’ guidelines as they are euphemistically called), and

3) the power of, and use of rhetoric by, experts (including e.g. GPs) to impose these on unsuspecting patients.

 

The belief of experts in the implementation of EBM is underpinned and dominated by a dominant rational positivist empiricism with a hat tip to ‘values’ (Howick, 2011). Because of this EBM has become a means of production for capitalism. And it is this, ideological, process that produces the predominantly maximalist and technologist mindset described by Groopman. This is the mindset that produces so much harm and misdiagnosis.

 

I suggest that EBM’s fatal flaw, the crisis of EBM, is the failure to consider that ideology in capitalism may be the site of formation of the mindsets, and therefore the values and beliefs, of both experts and patients (Greenhalgh et al, 2014; Kelly et al, 2015). And that it is the mechanisms of ideology in capitalism that requires analysis. But there is a kind of mental block resisting this.

 

Greenhalgh, T., Howick, J., & Maskrey, N. (2014) Evidence based medicine: a movement in crisis? BMJ, 348.

Howick, J. (2011) The Philosophy of Evidence Based Medicine. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Kelly, M.P., Heath, I., Howick, J., & Greenhalgh, T. (2015) The importance of values in evidence-based medicine. BMC medical ethics, 16(1): 69.

Evidence Based Medicine, Mindsets, and The Donald Trump Promise

Here is an excerpt from an editorial in the Lancet this week.  It is an unusual admission from corporate media that it is our mindsets that determine healthcare practice and influence behaviour. And it is a tacit invitation to ask why our mindsets can be so dominated by  Donald Trump’s Promise. Is this ‘mindset’ the same as consciousness? If so, and it varies, what of the unconscious?

Evidence-based medicine (EBM) has been a powerful influence on clinical practice. But one book should make even the most ardent EBM advocates pause. That book is How Doctors Think, by Jerome Groopman (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Groopman, an oncologist, drew on the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (before both were made famous by Kahneman’s own bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow). Groopman used his clinical experience to show how easy it was, despite the very best evidence, to be misled by multiple personal biases—most notably the bias of “availability”. Clinicians will often make diagnoses or decisions based on the mental availability of particular pieces of knowledge, including what might be considered as “best evidence”. Groopman punctures easy assumptions that high-quality evidence alone can improve the quality of medical care. Unless doctors are aware of their own informational biases, the possibility of false reliance on “evidence” is not only conceivable, but likely. How Doctors Think should be required reading before any prospective physician is allowed to lay a hand on a patient. Last week, at the annual Rambam Summit in Haifa, Israel, Groopman, together with Pamela Hartzband, deepened the scepticism with which we should approach EBM. …

…  Doctors are educated to believe in their scientific appreciation of evidence. But we may not have educated ourselves to appreciate the mindsets that interpose themselves between evidence and our interpretations of that evidence. Based on extensive interviews with physician colleagues, Groopman and Hartzband identified three dimensions of the medical mindset that any doctor (and patient) should be self-consciously aware of as they make clinical decisions. The three mindsets each have two extremes—maximalist/minimalist, naturalist/technologist, believer/doubter. Ask yourself. Are you the kind of doctor who wants to go as far as you can with the latest technology and who believes in the power of that technology to make a difference to the patient? Or are you the type of doctor who thinks that less is more and who is inherently sceptical about claims for new discoveries? Groopman readily admitted to being a maximalist-believer, which probably influenced his decision in the 1970s to choose haematology as a career when bone-marrow transplantation became popular. Hartzband, by contrast, is a self-confessed minimalist-doubter. Their point was that most clinical decisions lie in a grey zone—there is no single right answer for everyone. The important step is less to adhere to some abstract notion of EBM, but rather to think hard about what kind of medical mindset you have. Whether you are a maximalist-believer or a minimalist-doubter will have a larger effect on your clinical decisions than the result of any single systematic review or randomised trial. We see these mindsets at play all the time in today’s scientific, evidence-informed medicine. There have been at least four US expert committees ruling on the safety and efficacy of screening mammography—with four different sets of recommendations. There have been three expert committees reviewing the evidence on screening for prostate cancer using PSA—with three different conclusions. So much for science. So much for evidence. What matters more are the mindsets of those “experts” reviewing the scientific evidence.

Here is The Donald Trump Promise, according to Groopman and Hartzband. Modern scientific medicine promises the right doctor prescribing the right treatment and the right procedure for the right outcome. It’s just impossible.

In very brief format: my argument is that

The formation of our mindsets is achieved through language. Language is made meaningful, and turned into speech, through master signifiers.  These organically bind the meaning of language to our bodies.  These master signifiers or objets-à, provide objects of desire for the fantasy of immortality and sustain the authority of capitalist regulators to continue to exploit the many for the few. 

So, to take this more slowly:  Hortons’ editorial is a timely  invitation to  reconsider the mechanisms by which ideology forms our values and prompts us to ask ‘How is our mindset determined?”

Three of the  extremes of the dimensions of the mindset conceptualized by Groopman are consistent with the three elements that make up the fundamental  structure of the ideology we call capitalism. These are, a) the faith in b) technological innovation to create c) surplus value.  And these are paraphrased by Groopman under the dimensions of:  belief, technology and maximalist.

However, instead of being spread out evenly along these dimensions the capitalist system tends to polarise these mindsets in one direction only. And, therefore, individuals’ values and mindsets aren’t each just spread along the axis evenly, but are instead also polarised. In capitalism the polarity is driven by its logic: the belief in technology to take life ‘to the max’.   This is a description of how the structure forms our mindset, where it is not only surplus profit that motivates but, as we know, also the drive to surplus-life.  It is this structure  that dominates the mindsets of the experts/industrialists/politicians controlling what is produced by science, and what is marketed, and consumed.

As we know, the clinical decision at patient level is increasingly dominated by, so-called Evidence Based guidelines which, as a rule, mostly command compliance and defensive medicine.    Therefore, individual clinicians or patients, when compared to the guideline producers, can only have limited impact on these decisions .  So, therefore, it makes sense to focus more attention on the marketisation of innovation, the production of guidelines and the intensification of e.g. prevention and screening programmes. At the same time we could be more sceptical at individual level, but in order to fend off and  resist demonisation and medico-legal sanctions this would require some solidarity and collective action.

A form of resistance, and its mission, might ask for more ‘sceptical healthcare’ characterised by:  a) less belief in expert appraisals (much more rigorous standards of proof of e.g. lack of harm as well as benefit, b) less reliance/emphasis on innovation (whilst not denying its potential), and c) less emphasis on maximalist goals for life (especially longevity) and more emphasis on life-lived (today) and, d) increased ambiguity about compliance with guidelines.  But in the end  how much difference can we make as individuals?

Important questions become then: How can we challenge the power of scientific practice and industry to continue enforcing the de-regulation of marketisation and the destruction of the public heathcare systems through privatisation?

Continue reading “Evidence Based Medicine, Mindsets, and The Donald Trump Promise”

Reflections on the Zionist Mentality and the Globalisation of Security in 2017

Thoughts following a study tour to Israel and the West Bank 2017

This paper emerged out of my time on a study tour in Israel and the West Bank 2017.  It is also, in part, a response to the thoughts provided by two authors. Firstly Ruchama Marton the founder of Physicians for Human Rights Israel who wrote ‘Forced Existence’ and who we met on the tour. Hers is a psychoanalytic account of the Israeli psyche as being formed through the transference of guilt for weakness in the Holocaust into aggression. Secondly another psychoanalytic treatment by Martin  Kempe on the apparent Western ‘collusion’ with Zionist atrocities as also deriving from guilt, this time due to historical antisemitism. However I think these may only be a partial account, as will be seen.  

This paper is also a theoretical analysis and attempt to understand the psychosocial mechanisms that sustain the Israeli state oppression and occupation.    It is in two parts.  The first is a more general appraisal.  The second is a much more theoretical and  more detailed, and technical analysis, drawing on Tomšič’ ‘The Capitalist Unconscious’ which uses Marx’ theory of the commodity and Lacan’s theory of language.  The theory may at times seem overly obtuse.  It is at times a complex story, however, and I hope that the analysis may help to prevent  oversimplification of the problems faced.

For example, it is said (by Jeff Halper at the ICAHD conference today, 13th May 2017)  that many Israelis do not ‘hate’ the Arabs, suggesting that the Israelis are now more ‘ready’  (to accept a political concord with the Arabs) than ever before,  and that all they want is ‘personal security’.  But this seems to be an oversimplification because indifference to, defined as not-hating, the Arab, implies a lack of caring ‘for’ the fate of the Arabs. But does it also mean that Israeli Jews don’t fear the Arabs and the potential  actions of the Arabs?  So, although, for example, we might also be indifferent to, in the sense of not caring for the life or welfare of a snake. This doesn’t mean that we don’t see the snake as dangerous and would do virtually anything to eliminate the threat it poses.

To summarise very briefly therefore, I suggest that the somewhat depressing complication masked by Jeff’s “The Israelis just don’t care about the Arabs” is that the Arab for the Israeli (and the UN) is ‘Beyond Care’.  This can be explained in part through  the logic of an immunitary mechanism. This is  a logic in which we we have a kind of paradigm in which the Arab provides the source of contradiction which is incorporated into the Israeli identity and is necessary for the preservation of ‘Israeli Life’ even as it destroys it from within.  This means the Arab signifies ‘mortal threat’ to Israeli Life Itself, not to any individual’s personal life but to Jewish Life itself , part of the deep meaning of Zionism for Zionists. But this immunitary logic also requires the support of a logic of fantasy, the promise of eternal security for Jews through ethnic cleansing of the Arabs. 

The UN is also relevant to Palestine’s fate  – the UN was set up to protect the lives of those within states from oppression by other states – it fails, because its practice is also ‘beyond care’.  It too has an identity that requires the othering of a people, an othering that provides the contradictory antigenic stimulus that provides the very justification for its continued existence, even as it undermines itself. This is an example of Esposito’s immunity paradigm, a so-called negative dialectic based on the principle of supplementarity.

I hesitate to attempt to correct Jeff with his insider view as an Israeli Jew and dissident activist himself. However, I’m suggesting here that the Israeli Jewish social psyche is formed through the construction of an identity that doesn’t hate the Arab, but instead fetishises the Arab as mortal threat, as if a deadly poisonous snake. This snake isn’t hated, the Israelis are indifferent to it, but only  on condition, that it is kept secure, far away, caged,  or even exterminated.  This fetish is provided and its value renewed continuously by the zionist government of Israel. The government, and zionism abroad,  produces the discourse of danger, an always increasing danger, from Arabs or Religious Islamic extremists. This enemy is characterised as desiring the destruction of the Jewish State.  This is the identity, and   the Israeli collective needs an identity, and at the moment the is founded on threat and security.  Indifference is not enough to provide change in this identity.  What will be needed is sufficient reassurance that the Arab is not a mortal threat, that Israel is secure. The model of a bi-national state, with equal rights, that will allow the emergence of a new society, may be one mechanism to achieve such assurances. The narrative of threat needs to be countered.  Clearly very difficult.

PART ONE

These are further thoughts on what drives the intensification of intimidation by the Israeli state. And further thoughts on the mechanisms used by the Israel State to disintegrate Palestinian society.

This disintegration of Palestinian Society in particular affects the Palestinian nuclear family. And this takes place through its deliberate infection, by Israel,  with two ‘viruses’ and a disabling strategy.  One virus is the virus of distrust suspicion within society, and  within families and villages.  The second is the virus that beheads the family and leaves it unprotected and the father humiliated. This is the one that decapitates the family, through the repetitive and ritual humiliation of the father in front of his wife and children.  There is a third wound inflicted.  This is another amputation or beheading, this time of the symbolic `name-of-the-Father, of the political leadership.  In this strategy Palestinian society has also, in effect, been infected, or perhaps better, beheaded through its betrayal by the Palestinian Authority which, since the Oslo accord, has collaborated with the Israel State, and is being paid to brutalise its own people.  In a later paper I will explore the implications of this for the Palestinian psyche and identity, and the risks of the emergent vacuum which may be filled by a  surrogate Name-of-the Father  in a turn to more ‘Religion’ in some unpredictable but possibly more extreme form.

However, for now, in this paper I focus on the mechanisms that form the psyche of the ZIC, the Zionist Israeli Collective, a term coined by Ruchama Marton, an Israeli Jewish psychiatrist and founder of the Israel Physicians for Human Rights, medical-political organisation.

The thesis here is that although there is a collusion between the West and Israel, this was, and ultimately is, a collusion between the Israeli Jewish nationalist state  and the imperialist capitalist system.  This collusion originally emerged from the coming together, in the  early twentieth century, of several social forces:   political zionism, British imperialism, a benign view of the concept of settler colonialism, and a liberal Enlightenment. And all this became manifest in the 1917 Balfour agreement. I argue that this specific collusion is founded on the mutual, shared geopolitical and economic interests of a) Zionism and b) the imperialist capitalist USUKNato pact. I also argue that it is based upon the same biopolitical logic of fantasy that underpins the authority of capital itself, as described by Marx and Lacan, and as well described by Tomšič in ‘The Capitalist Unconscious’, and Kordela in ‘Being, Time, Bíos’.

This argument is based on the following four claims: a) this is a synergistic collusion between, on the one hand, a lack, and on the other a productivity, b) the lack is in the Israeli Zionist Jewish collective (ZIC) that was left without an identity after the Holocaust, c) the production of an identity  through the ZIC’s productive labour-power required for the specific imperialist political enterprise of zionism, and d) the object of the intensifying securitisation of the Jewish State Israel against the mortal danger from the Palestinians.

The ZIC Logic

One of the lessons from my recent tour was that the ongoing trauma for the Palestinians is persistent. pervasive, non-stop, and intensifying.   The Israelis are masters at psy-ops, massive intimidation and humiliation.

To challenge this it is important to understand the rationale, the logic they follow,

This is a principle guiding the work of Military Watch: to fight the Israeli State and the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) by identifying its logic and predicting their reactions, and next steps. The people are living 24/7 in fear and humiliation with hope but no optimism. A key element necessary to relieve this suffering, as for any abused subject, is to find a safe place. But there is no safe place. So, where do we turn next if we wish to help? Solidarity, BDS, international publicity and pressure, legal challenge, financial and material support are all valuable.

But what about the Zionist Israeli Collective (ZIC)?

We know that virtually the entire Israeli Jewish civil society has participated in inflicting the brutal occupation on the Palestinians for the past two and a half generations.  What is the mentality of a population that is able to participate in this process as if it is ‘normal’? Can we understand the psyche of the ZIC? Does it have an underlying logic?

This paper suggests that there is an origin and mechanism by which the ZIC is induced to accelerate their own path to self-destruction through self-dehumanisation, self-imposed hysteria and, increasingly, unbearable fear. And this mechanism involves a logic of fantasy, a neurotic repression of ongoing traumatic knowledge of atrocities, and a consequent fetishisation of the erasure of the fantasmatic ultimate threat to the Jewish States existence: the Palestinians.

On the tour I began to think about the psyche of the ZIC, and the relative contributions to its militarised machine state made by religion, the Holocaust and Zionism.

Both Marton and Kempe, in their different papers,  argue that a collective guilt and unresolved post traumatic stress has led to both silence on the part of the West as well as to the transference of aggression onto the Palestinians on the part of the Zionist Israeli Collective (ZIC).  Kempe claims the West feels guilty because of its history of antisemitism, leading to silence which he describes as collusion. Marton argues the ZIC responds to its own inadequacy and lack of legitimacy by transferring aggression onto the Palestinians. However, I use the idea that subjectivity is not the result of a collective consciousness – as if the emergence of a self consciousness is entirely the work of the subjects of the collective. Instead using the work of Marx and Lacan in particular I argue that subjectivity is produced as a result of both a desire for identity and the production of a Master Signifier that provides the object of desire that provides a specific set of targets for the search for identity.

According to both Marx and Lacan capitalism works through a structure of fantasy that provides the subject with an identity through his/her imaginary relations to his/her real existing conditions. By identifying the Master Signifier and the fantasy narrative that supports the capitalist enterprise we might be able to expose the inherent dehumanising slavery imposed on the ZIC by zionism.

This opens possibilities for making current ZIC objectivies no longer sense-making, and for shifting the specific focus of desire for the ZIC identity to something more emancipatory for both the ZIC and the Palestinians. That is to promote change.

As we have seen, capitalist systems provide the Master Signifier (the object lost and desired) that is the basis for the fantasy that sustains the authority of capital, thademands repetition and surplus. The Master Signifier for the ZIC is provided by the fantasy narrative produced by the capitalist system of labour production and the commodity form.

We can now try to apply these constructs to the ZIC and zionism. After the Holocaust, the Jewish Europeans had lost certainty about their identity, as full humans, having been dehumanised. The zionists, as capitalists, personified capital, and as such sought effective labour-power to secure the land of Greater Palestine for the Jews. The Holocaust and the end of the Second World War provided a stimulus to the zionists. The European Jews were available to freely sell their labour to the zionists. And at the same time the zionists were wanting to secure labour, Jews to work for zionism by offering an identity for the Jews through the Master Signifier ‘National Security’.

This would take the form of the securing, for a people without a land, a land without people. As labour-power, the Jews, so recently dehumanised, desired identity, and so were especially ready to desire that which was presented to them as something they had lost, the objet à, identity through ‘national security’. The readiness of the Jews, to recognise the call for an identity, attracted the promise for the provision of such an identity. And the zionists imposed this promise as part of their endless pursuit for surplus wealth through the formation of a nation state to be run by an already wealthy elite – providing land, more land; war, more war; wealth, more wealth. The desire for what is lost becomes, for the ZIC, a subjectivity that is responsible for a form of National Debt, a sensual suprasensual precarity in the form of the fetishisation of existential threat from ‘the other’. This debt imposes what is felt as a moral duty to dehumanise and to annhilate the other through the repetitive destruction of specific threats and that creates surplus security.

Two features of this process are important here. One feature is that the debt never actually decreases since each act of destruction provides a positive impetus to the quantitative scale of threat felt by the ZIC. The other feature is that in order to meet the increasing sense of precarity, and to continue to match this with surplus security, requires an increase in the productivity of the labour-power through both increased fear of the threat as well as through innovations in the techniques of destruction, physically and psychologically. And, in passing, it is useful to notice that Israel now markets, globally, its world leading innovations in techniques to destroy the other, as techniques that make possible the Security State, to other Nations across the USUKNato regimes and elsewhere eg Australia.

Today then it is possibly not so valid to postulate the continuing importance of a collective guilt as suggested by Marton and Kempe – a guilt due to the persistence of the effects of an unresolved post traumatic event. Perhaps instead, increasingly, the Israeli Jewish psyche has become alienated – by the production of lack as it is objectified as labour power that eliminates threat, and the production of surplus – the appearance of surplus security.

Finding an identity – nomadic options 

Israel’s main commodity is the ‘Arab Threat’ that contains use-value (genuine Arab aggression) and exchange-value (in the increased sense of threat or precarity felt and created by rhetoric of crisis, and exaggerated military response, demolitions, detentions, humiliations. incursions, water deprivation etc).  Security as the universal equivalent and means of exchange. This provides a nationalist identity based on security accumulation – which functions as both the universal desire in the form of the non specific and insatiable desire for ‘total’ security, the impossible aspiration, and the universal equivalent means of exchange, or currency, for the consumptions of threats (involving dehumanisation and consumption through annhilation).

Israel provides this identity for the ZIC, who are, and were, already primed to seek and recognise a subjectivity that renders and validates them as full members of the Zionist Israeli community. This establishes for them the role of a moral justified victim forced to seek surplus security by dehumanising and eliminating the Palestinians. This enrolls them in a structure that provides surplus jouissance (lustgewinn). This is, after Freud, the pleasure-gain, ‘pleasure that is not felt as such’. This role, to generate surplus security, increases libidinal tension (in the form of fear), and objectifies the ZIC as labour-objects for the state in a capitalist perversion that is a repetition of the trauma experienced in the Holocaust of Europe and the Naqba and ongoing ethnic cleansing today. This is a repetition compulsion necessary because of the insatiable nature of the desire for more security which both serves to sustain the post traumatic search for a moral identity for Jewish nationals as well as providing surplus power, wealth, land and war for the Zionist Israeli imperialist and capitalist elite and its western USUKNato allies. The repetition requires the continued multiplication of identifiable sources of threat from the Arabs that materialises as the ongoing intensification of oppression through massive intimidation by the security and continued ethnic cleansing, as well as the geographical extension of the source of threat to other countries such as Iran and groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Ruchama Marton: in ‘Forced Existence’

Marton suggests that the post traumatic sense of victimhood justifies all acts of wrongdoing against the other, as in so-called ‘defensive marriages etc.  She blames the unforgiving guilt (or should it be embarrassed shame under the imagined gaze of the Name of the Father : zio_nism) for collective weakness or emasculation in the Holocaust – it is as if having been humiliated and slighted by the world, for all to see, the reaction is to transform this embarrassed shame or guilt into an aggressive paranoiac reaction – and the identification of the victim with power (such as the power the Nazis).

However – is this ‘guilt’ sufficient to explain the barbaric behaviour of the ZIC collective? Zionism, a corporate political goal for the Jewish State existed long before the Holocaust. So, might we find in Zionism the roots of other ideological narratives that persist today? As well as the shame transferred into hatred of the weak and oppressed, what about the role of imperialist and capitalist ambitions shared by Israel and the western coalition of the US, UK, and NATO, to dominate the Middle East for wealth creation through energy security in the natural oil and gas reserves.

There may be a synergism here with the intensification, that has taken advantage of this post traumatic state of unforgiving guilt transferred into aggressive hatred, with the intensification by discourse of Netanyahu’s ‘Life Itself’ under existential precarity using the imagined ‘truth’ of the Just Return to the Jewish State supposed to be immortal – that functions to create a reality as ‘appearance’ or representation that signifies a) the logic of dehumanisation: the Palestinians as inhuman threats intent on destroying Israel and driving out all the Jews, and b) the desire for ever more ‘security’ through the logic of elimination. These imperialist fantasies sustain the potential for the elite to make surplus value out of Land and the perpetual war with its industrial military business. This occurs through the ZIC, as both discursive symbolic producers of surplus threat and the means of securitisation of the threat.
The ZIC, as Marton calls it, has been primed to respond to the imperialist capitalist inspired discourse of threat as commodity form, measured in arrests, intimidation, disintegration of families, land – dunum by dunum, goat by goat – and it is the imperialist who has something to gain here – domination of the Middle East and its surplus profit reserves. The Holocaust memory is oft commemorated, repeated and refreshes the guilt and hence the antagonism. The comparison of Israeli actions with the Holocaust provokes hysterical outbursts – as if to even hint that the Holocaust was just another genocide might weaken the guilt reaction, and weaken the transference of aggression to their victims the Palestinians, might weaken the imperialist mission to accumulate surplus wealth and power.

The sense of threat also forms part of a fantasy structure. I think it remains a moot point – the relative influence of a collective sense of victimhood due to the Holocaust in relation to the mediated discourse of Palestinian threat. So where does life itself fit in as a signifier? And indeed religion; another set of fantasy structures. The Chosen People. The City of David. Jerusalem. All religiose tropes.

“The ZIC victim views present reality through the prism of the past” unacceptable knowledge is denied, or a victimhood identity becomes a motif of ‘the most moral army in the world’, the entire ZIC is in the military family. The mechanism of denial is I suggest based on a fantasy structure such that the present reality is refracted through the prism of the past, as Marton suggests, but is also discursively created and reproduced daily to sustain imperialist power and authority. The origins of Zionism predated the Holocaust / the imperialists took advantage of the Holocaust and still do; even being encouraging antisemitic behaviour abroad to drive Jews to this new State.

From the perspective of the Jew ‘hysteric’ Zionist, “supposed to desire the immortality of the Jewish People and the Jewish State named Israel”: the Palestinians are either just waste, to be left ‘to rot’ (Chomsky and Pappé) or in certain symbolic forms, ‘the woman with knives at a checkpoint’ they are useful as productive raw material from which ‘threat’ can be produced and consumed by security in exchange for surplus security S – T – S’, (the same structure to be found in the exchange of the capitalist commodity form) e.g. by mediated military style discourse, such as:

“In a separate incident on Friday, Israeli security forces arrested a Palestinian woman in possession of two knives at the Qalandia checkpoint north of Jerusalem. The suspect was taken in for questioning.”

(28/04/2017 Times of Israel)

However, this should be read alongside a potential ‘hole’ in the formal Israeli logics (of dehumanisation and elimination, Pappe), a contradiction for the Israeli Jews: so, this is created when, sometimes, Palestinians do actually resist the military occupation, incarceration, more or less violently, in ways that are felt directly by Jewish people in Israel. And, this may have two effects on Israeli consciousness: a) it reinforces the narrative (of the structure of the logic of fantasy) that the ‘threat’ is real sustaining the authority of the Israeli military junta – but b) it introduces the potential contradiction through the question ‘Why?’ ‘Why do they (appear to) want to destroy us?’ With four possible answers – a) the whole world is anti-Semitic (cite the Holocaust), b) revenge for imagined harms, c) revenge for actual harms, and d) to resist intolerable oppression of a fully human people .

But there is a complication. These answers also suggest the possibilities of ‘revenge for actual harms’ or ‘to resist intolerable oppression’, so that the Palestinians aren’t just non-humans to be eradicated, instead they may appear to have agency and intention, and crucially, in addition, ‘just cause’ – unlike the inhuman snake. But indoctrination of Jewish Israelis starts as soon as they are born (Pappe) and we cannot expect too much of this contradiction.

So, we can see that the Palestinians function as raw material, as ‘risk’ in the Israeli fantasy, and psyche.  But in another, Palestinian, symbolic network, they are also labour-power, a People, fully human, with agency, generating material and symbolic threat, through acts of resistance important to, perhaps, a fantasy based on ‘hope without optimism’, and ‘samud’ – steadfastness, resilience, the hope for future generations (Eagleton).  This actual real threat is minor compared to the threat imagined by the ZIC, its neutralisation would represent mere use-value, much less than the enhanced exchange value of the imagined value of threat produced by the ZIC.

Should we be asking what sustains our active support (USUKNATO) of Israel and not just our ‘silence’ – instead of passive silence the opposition to Zionist apartheid activities are actively silenced, boycotts are ‘criminalised’, weapons are sold and security bought.

Tony Greenstein provides a Marxist analysis but contradicts Moshe on his use of the concept of class consciousness that theorises that the Jewish working class would revolt against its right wing imperialist government and its genocidal activities against the Palestinians ‘if’ they were to be promised a separate Hebrew state. Greenstein argues against this saying that where nationalism and imperialism are concerned the Jewish working class see themselves as having power over the indigenous Palestinians in Israel. The Jewish working class labour under a nationalist fantasy that masks but sustains their real role as Israel’s Jewish-Hebrew working class as a proxy working class for the Israeli/western imperial ruling class.  In general this sustains Israeli elite and western interests (so far anyway) profitably for eg the USA and U.K. powers, in the Middle East.

I argue that It isn’t guilt functioning here, as much as an imperative to produce surplus – surplus power, security, wealth, meaning for life, existential survival, land and life itself. This surplus is promised through the fantasy of the consumption of the objet à, the Palestinian terrorist (or Hamas, Hezbollah, Iranian nuclear weapons, Syria etc) supposed to be identified and consumed as a ‘threat’ commodity, like a viral pandemic.  This viral threat is everywhere and nowhere, any consumption never enough, because the desire for the objet à persists, surplus value is demanded and mere destruction isn’t enough. Repetitive destruction and expansion in the name of erasure is required.
It is the repression of the knowledge of the Palestinians as a fully human people into the collective unconscious that enables the ‘truth’ of Zionism ‘The Jewish State – for a people without land a land without people’ to act as support for Zionist ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing is reframed as security measures to protect The Jewish State because it makes any understood ‘meaning’ for its actions as ‘apartheid’, racist and a crime against humanity, actions comparable to the Holocaust, ungraspable, and therefore impossible.
How far will this go before built in contradictions cause it to blow up in its face is impossible to say?

One possibility is the breakdown of imperialism in the supporting nations first, rendering continued support for Israel impossible.

Kempe’s conception of collusion due to guilt implies knowledge known i.e. as meaningful – and collusion implies a ‘letting something happen’ as if by default or by silence – a passive involvement. But the UK’s involvement was active: the British Mandate, the Arab revolution ?1917, partition and the Balfour declaration. So silence is not because of a defence against the guilt of antisemitism but because of a continuing active partnership of an Imperialist Capitalist drive for not just land or wealth but ‘more’ – a gain of any kind is never enough – and the master signifiers of the illusion are in the form of ‘accusations of anti-semitism against the anti-imperialists’ and of ‘attribution of terrroist existential threat to the Arabs, Palestinians and Shia Muslims’.

Religion

Lenin suggested imperialism is the ‘highest’ form of capitalism: and the difference between imperialism and colonialism is that colonialism is one mechanism for imperialist power, for capitalism. Israeli colonialism is therefore part of the imperialist capitalist ideology of Israeli state power. As such Imperialist Israeli ideology could have different drivers, and, as well, different fantasy structures, that sustain the authority for those drivers. Each driver may represent a desire of the desire of the Other: and the illusion may represent a driver for settler colonialism that in its turn supports a different illusion that represents the driver for imperialism.

So, for example, the religious fantasy of settlers about Zion and the return of the Messiah could operate with a transcendent God external to the immanent master-slave or university discourse of capitalism – and at the same time the imperial/capitalist fantasy of state/corporate sovereignty (and the state of exception) would benefit from and encourage this religious illusion as an internal construct of its capitalist fantasy of limitless economic growth; running alongside its imperialist/capitalist fantasy based on limitless biosecurity.  This is symbolic of  limitless ‘life itself’ for the Jewish people (defined in Zionism as all Jews globally), to be secured by the exchange of objets à.

The specific objets á are  in terms of, a) limitless supplies of a commodity ‘threat’ provided by Palestinians,  ‘terrorists’ by definition, b) a barred Other, so that this threat always fails to be met so that so the nation is constantly neurotically anxious and c) the consumption of the commodity ‘threat’ by its attempted but always impossible erasure.

Security is lost, at the same time as the threat, the object à to be erased, is provided or discursively produced . The logic is of erasure, (and dehumanisation) and not just of a defence against and proportional to the guilt for the nakba, and the continuing ethnic cleansing today. Although each atrocity adds to intensify guilt which adds to denial.

But, is it possible that more important than denial of guilt is the role of a positive search for erasure, ethnic cleansing, even genocide? These aren’t just two sides of a coin.  To feel guilt implies that the actions committed have some meaning for you, but what if the imperialist/capitalist fantasy structure has made the exploitation of the Palestinians as the source of the commodity ‘threat’ actually meaningless, through the repression of their humanity into a collective Israeli unconscious, and therefore invisible so that there is no guilt, and no meaningful memories of the atrocities, as they are made unconscious through a psychic process that could operate through a university discourse.

Kempe in ‘Collusion’:

The ‘wilful blindness’ mooted by Kemp as a defence against guilt is more likely a non-intentional rendering of the guilt from the erasure of the Palestinians as ungraspable as meaning.   They ‘know’ it (intellectually) but unknow it at the same time (emotionally) – not in any defence of the ego, but as a necessity to sustain the illusion of the fantasy of Zionism – everlasting Jewish ‘life itself’.  This fantasy requires continuous nourishment through the necessary continued creation of mythical terrorists and their ‘threat’. The threat is most productive for ‘life itself’ when most fearsome and the most fearsome enemy must be met by the most ferocious and inhumane attack – aimed at the heart of the emotional bonds of Palestinian families – through covert techniques of mass and massive intimidation. The need to increase productivity as a competing global security state requires intensifying intimidation and innovative weaponry. There is also ‘a curious copulation’ ( as with Lacan’s phrase applied to science and capitalism) between religion and Zionism. And Zionism has its roots in a Central European wealthy capitalist elite that despised the Eastern European Jews – and that saw Greater Palestine as a capitalist opportunity for wealth creation for that elite.

As a state Israel and the USA/Britain/UN are sometime uneasy partners in a battle for global military-industrial corporate domination, and require continuous war to sustain both the illusions of Zionist immortality – life itself- and wealth creation. Capitalism plays its role in shaping the consciousness of civil society in Israel – the erasure of the Arab threat is the objet à, (the object produced by capitalism that simultaneously creates the sense of loss for that object at the same time as the desire for it) that sustains the illusion of Zionist immortality – the surplus life that is the fantasy of secular capitalism / where life cannot have meaning in terms of working simply to sustain a mortal life – this certainty is foreclosed as we foreclose consciousness of the exploitation of the labour that is known very well to be mortal and only paid enough, or often less than the, wages necessary to sustain and reproduce labour) – the un-humanised palestinian is the exploited labour made bare life, that creates the space/territory/power/land as commodity that sustains the secular capitalist fantasy of immortality. The Palestinians are made un-human; like animals, uncanny, threatening. Living dead – like the inhabitants of concentration camps in the ‘grey zone’.

 

PART TWO: ALIENATION (dehumanisation) – SURPLUS PRODUCT (threat) – SURPLUS VALUE (security)

The Zionist Israeli Collective (ZIC) consciousness and a logic of fantasy

Norman Finklestein’s recent thesis (2016) is that, to paraphrase : Now every Israeli citizen is a soldier, a participant, a killer ‘inured’ to the humanity of the ‘other’, part of the conveyor belt that is brutalising the Palestinians in ever more horrific ways …. ‘all’ citizens have to be loyal, and remain recruited to the cause,  in order for the State to maintain political power and control (where there are only 8 million Israelis – a small country, compared to over 4 million Palestinians).

He acknowledges that there is a very small number of exceptions to this participation, and these exceptional people themselves acknowledge they are exceptions.

But does this mass brutalisation of the Palestinians function through a capitalist logic of fantasy? How can or could we tell? If it does, and we can identify the fantasy objects, then this may point to critical pathways for resistance. And this may provoke change. We can argue, following e.g. Kordela’s biopolitics, that our historical block is based upon a secular capitalist fantasy of immortality. Does surplus security act as an object desire for immortality? And does this impact on the Israeli psyche in relation to the ‘other’?  We should ask ‘cui bono?’.

Perhaps there are two reciprocally dependent elements that ‘benefit’, a) the enablement of a neurotic repression necessary as a reaction to an inflicted and unbearable objectification (in two ways both through being dehumanised as victims in the Holocaust, and also through the historical and ongoing universal Israeli objectification as a killing labour-object : i.e. Zionist Labour-Power, since 1948) that b) both incites, and is made possible by, a sovereign power, the Zionist state.

But how would it be possible to neurotically repress the loss of one form of human identity? One possibility would be to reconstruct an identity, a process that represses the ZIC’s knowledge of the Israeli subject’s role as cog in a genocidal machine, an identity imagined instead as a source of immortal security for a Jewish state. This identity is a contender for the self consciousness of the ZIC. This is a form of alienation that can be explained by the formation of a split subject, the unconscious knowledge of the murderer within and the conscious ‘fantasy’ as ‘security for the life itself of the state. To believe one thing whilst intellectually knowing another is a process well described by O. Mannoni. It requires a fantasy structure : and this structure is the same as the structure described by Marx, which is homologous to Lacan’s University discourse.

This structure demands surplus – here, in the fantasy the desire is based upon the exchange of commodities in the form of threats produced out of ‘risk’ – this is the raw material that is embodied by Palestinians (and Israel’s enemies in Iran, Syria, Lebanon etc.). These ‘threat’ commodities are a quantifiable threat – quantifiable in terms of the security risk posed, and measured in terms of the scale of the oppressive ‘security response’ – the money required to neutralise the threat.

The threat is also measured in e.g. numbers of people, houses, land area, demographics – and form an autonomous signifying chain.  This chain demands repetitive consumption to produce surplus jouissance in the form of surplus security – simple ‘security’ alone is never enough, this is renounced and the accumulation of a security-wealth is the aspiration, but is impossible to satisfy.

The threat signifying chain functions autonomously because the creation of surplus security seems to happen ‘as if’ independently of the objectification and employment of the Israeli citizenship as a killing machine. The objectification and exploitation of ZIC labour as labour-power is covered over.  So then, the apparent self-valorisation of security makes each threat, commodity, appear to have a value in itself and not to only have a value that relates it to other threats. This decentres the zionist psyche as part of a constitutive alienation, in which the zionist becomes a personification of security, just as the capitalist is the personification of capital.  The zionist is a cog in the security machine.

So, for example, a Palestinian is not in actuality as big a threat as he/she is valued to be by the ZIC. The value is in part enhanced because it is produced by Israeli labour (the political, military, legal, and media industries that identify Palestinians as extreme existential threats). The enhanced value is achieved by relating threats to each other through such quantifiers as demographic proportions. numbers, houses, villages, or land area. Paying for the threat to achieve security provides a stimulus to the production of more threat perception. The commodity ‘threat’ contains congealed (ZIC) labour power.  It has cost less than it is now worth, because of exploitation of labour objectified as labour power.

The ZIC (through e.g. political, media, legal discourses) manufactures surplus value in the threat commodity by e.g. symbolising the threats as more threatening than they actually are, e.g the danger from the so called ‘rockets’ fired from Gaza into Israel.  In this way the ‘risk’  embodied in Palestinian people and land, is used to make ‘threat commodities’ that are fetishised as in Marx’ theory of the commodity fetish in capitalism. This generates surplus value in the threat which creates the imperative to neutralise the threat with security (S) – the military response in all its guises. This security S generates further risk which feeds back into the machine to make even more threat and therefore an imperative for more, i.e. surplus security.

This is an endless cycle, and it runs as if independently of the exploitation of the ZIC security activity which continually creates and uses more security than is actually needed to survive.  Thus, security makes more security through – just as in capitalism wealth creates more wealth.   This is based on the illusion that producing security is necessary because security is critically threatened and Israel will cease to exist unless continually innovative ways of producing more security are invented and commissioned.

The Master Signifier here is Mortal Danger – or, less succinctly, ‘The critical threat to Israel’s existence posed by the Palestinian people and non-Israeli territory in ‘the region’ (what was Greater Palestine). This Master Signifier is the object of the fantasy that sustains the authority of the sovereign power (the zionist state) which has been incited by, and provides the sense-making for, the identity of the ZIC as security enablers. Which covers over the real trauma of their lost identity through a historical and ongoing dehumanisation as both a) Holocaust victim for older generations and b) as participants in a genocidal military machine over the last two and a half generations. The sovereign power retains power and the authority to continue to wage permanent war, to steal land, to buy and sell security/military technology, creating surplus financial wealth for an already wealthy elite. The fetishisation of threat accomplishes the neurotic repression of traumatic loss of human identity for the ZIC, but it carries, within the psyche of the ZIC the knowledge of the real horror of the ZIC’s participation.  This persistent trace of dehumanisation  has effect as a residual monument to the dehumanisation that is itself still dehumanising the ZIC .

This remnant makes itself manifest in aggression turned in on the ZIC itself by the ZIC, eg in the increasing violence and racism within Israeli Jewish society itself. This is a part of the progressive self destruction of Israeli Jewish Society, the ZIC – but it in turn incites ever more brutalisation of the Palestinian peoples. More destruction on both sides lies ahead with an unknown ultimate outcome.

Finally – has this admittedly speculative analysis of theorisation helped to identify any critical pathways for resistance?

Perhaps.   I think there must be significance, and contradiction, in continued Western (especially United States) support because of its shared geopolitical and financial interests with Israel – and this is under appreciated.  There are gains for the West in terms of e.g. security technology sales as well as securing access to energy resources in the region and the incapacitation of non-western puppet states like Syria and Iran. This has been achieved in a politically intentional process, by spreading anarchy and chaos as per Iraq and Libya, and now as attempted in Syria. There are links between US and Western support for anarchisation of the Middle east, increasing global insecurity, and e.g the refugee crisis.  But it is difficult to see how these links can be made to become more conscious for the public.

From the ZIC perspective perhaps it is worth focussing on the falsity, illusory nature,  of the surplus threat being extracted from the Palestinians. As Ruchama Marton has pointed out Israelis military power is unimaginably massive compared to any enemy forces that would make possible any Palestinian armed resistance. The battle remains discursive and for now the dominant narratives are controlled by the elite. But public opinion is important and digital social media has the power to metastasise both within and outside Israeli society. The upsurge in western right wing nationalist populism suggests however that at the moment the media battle is being won by the Zionist/USUKNato alliance (aided and abetted by the Wahabist Islamic sect dominated by Saudi Arabia.)

The outlook remains pessimistic, more public support through BDS may inspire Palestinian non violent mass protests, as with the ongoing hunger strike by prisoners. In the short term, unfortunately this will mean more suffering before any tide is turned.

 

 

Cycling Palestine 2017 by Louise and Owen

Israel and PalestineTour 22nd December 2016 – 8th January 2017

Motivated by the dual desire for an adventurous time away and to be less ignorant about the history and political/humanitarian situation in Israel/Palestine, we embarked upon an 18 day trip over the  Christmas and New Year of 2016-2017 that involved a 10 day cycle through Israel and the occupied West Bank.

Days 1,2,3

Tel Aviv – Old Jaffa Hostel

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There was a very pretty Christmas tree by the clock tower in the centre of old Jaffa. We walked along along the sandy shore and  as an exercise in relaxation distracted ourselves by making a Christmas tree on the beach from sea glass.

We thought about the Israeli cultural appropriation, or perhaps more accurately the devastation and ethnic cleansing, of Jaffa during and following the  1948 Nakba. This place is really beautiful and interesting but: “How should we ‘be’ here?”

In the hostel itself, we met a friendly lone Irish man on a bicycle, or at least planning a solo cycle tour, lets call him Declan, (we’ll meet him later too, remarkably). On Christmas eve there was a Hanukkah celebration put on with jelly doughnuts, champagne, soup, resident dogs and cats, Hebrew prayers and, as if to balance the books,  an American woman spontaneously saying a  Judeo-Christian blessing over the Rabbi. All quite surreal, neither of us could fathom the place or the culture.

 

“May the Lord bless you and keep you.

May the Lord make his face to shine upon you,

and be gracious to you.

May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,

and give you peace.”

The hostel decor, with  interesting artwork and old photos, had an obviously Arabian inspired interior, Moroccan in a way, and with its multiculturalism should have felt serene but in the ghostly shadow of its past, an Arabic past overcome by an Israeli present, something felt amiss.

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The flea market quarter shabby chic  ‘heaven’ and hell, supercool shaded hipsters in cafes and Budapest style ruin bars, petit pedigree pooches and ice cream parlours, creamy old walls of ancient dwellings, juxtaposed with modern graffiti on crumbling plaster, it felt fragmented.

Already, perhaps, we were experiencing disorientation due to a kind of disconcerting disconnect with society there, as we seemed to be immersed in a fractured environment – but hard to put a finger on why – was it just imagination?  New meets Old should create an optimistic aura but here the New hadn’t met the Old it had conquered it in a bloody ethnic cleansing.

Day 4

The next day, Christmas day, we caught the  train to Nahariya, we had done some  recce work the day before to locate the station, not that easy, then after a short 45 minute or so trip we cycled to the  airbnb on the Geysher Hasif Kibbutz (at this stage we had no idea airbnb was on the BDS list of no nos), we did appreciate that travelling in Israel sends out mixed messages but our mission was to see for ourselves.  There was, by some odd miracle, some Baileys. for Louise, in the cupboard, the house was very basic, with a utilitarian prefab feel and relatively untouched since the 1950s.

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At about 9 PM there was a knock on the door and a young couple from next door, Asif and  Alon, invited us for hospitality with a friendship candle circle and singing. Asif the apprentice shaman and Alon an aspiring ‘spiritual’ tour guide. We each lit a candle in turn and then were invited to say or sing something about abundance.  This was their personal traditional ceremony, and we joined in.  This was genuine hospitality for the stranger in their land and we felt very welcomed as well as somewhat taken aback and out of our English comfort zone, but we embraced the moment and their kindness, as an opportunity for fellowship  – Louise particularly felt a significant leap of inspiration and sang, to their surprise,  a Hebrew song ‘Shalom’ that had lain dormant in dusty memory banks for many years. We heard about Asif’s shamanic journey.

The next day a 7am departure as we had a long way to go.  Louise feeling nauseated and headachy.  It was cold, rainy, very foggy, very hilly, and would be a very long day indeed.

Shalom my friend, shalom my friend, shalom, shalom.

The peace I have, I give you today,

Shalom, shalom.

Day 5 – to Tsfat

Our first cycling day.  Tsfat or Zfat, or Safed, a town of Jewish mysticism  or Kabbalah, a town of violent events over many years: we  were asked (he had an American accent),  “Where are you from? … You chucked us out of England in 1156 … well, we all make mistakes”  – annoying considering Israel’s activities in that place over the past 60 odd years.  A hilly sad place in the dank weather – we trudged up the last steep climb and arrived in the dark, wet through, and cold.

A warm welcome though at Safed Inn, chatty and very hospitable proprietress about our age we guess, she had lived there since the age of  13 and still had a USA accent, not unusual for Safed we understand.  Homemade and clearly prized walnut liqueur offered free gratis, and lemon biscuits presented on a tray by hubby, fresh out of the oven.

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A young and slightly shy  Italian woman, Eleonora, shared our room. Warm shared bunk room, welcome hot shower and radiators to dry kit. Then, from a still feeling unwell and very tired Louise:  “Let’s not head any further north, please. Let’s go to the Sea of Galilee and the Mount of the Beatitudes”. Louise had nurtured no little ill feeling towards Owen as he had relentlessly cycled annoyingly far ahead up the hills on and on and on forever, over 5000 feet of ascent, up over the Lebanese mountains. Sometimes these trips can be tough and draining and Louise had had a very draining day: “I’m never going on holiday with Owen, ever, like ever, again.”  We agreed, not without some reluctance on Owen’s part it must be admitted, to head South the next day. It’s an important skill to know when to change plans …. Louise has it, Owen hasn’t.

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We had cycled 62.5Km 5,200ft of ascent, thats a lot; 8.5 hrs non stop.

Day 6 – to  Afik in the ‘annexed’ Syrian Golan Heights

An Israeli breakfast in Tsfat,  and the helpful husband, chef,  goes over possible routes on the map, but says “Don’t go that way”, pointing to Jenin on the map: “that’s the West Bank, that’s dangerous …. if you go there and get into trouble the Israeli government can’t protect you”,  “OK” we replied disingenuously, as that was precisely where we intended to go.   Today, we started to descend, but a very cold, very wet, and foggy start and Owen had a first puncture repair, in a bus shelter, and discovered his spare tube was useless, oops.

On the way to the Syrian Golan heights we called by the Mount of the Beatitudes. Louise wanted to be beaten by nuns for reciting Mt. 5: 1-12. Alas, the Franciscan nuns were unexpectedly friendly, and no thrashing to be had. We bought wedding wine of Canaan souvenirs x2 miniatures.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth,

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied,

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God,

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs ins the kingdom of heaven,

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward shall be great in heaven.

We looked across the Sea of Galilee and tried to imagine Jesus going about his ministry. Louise tried walking on water, but couldn’t, not for long anyway.

It was a bit commercialised there, with a few restaurants selling St. Peters fish and chips. The commodification of God or Cod. And then the sun began to shine. “So pleased we didn’t go any further north.” unspoken of course.

We arrived up another steep hill in a rather bedraggled damp state in the dark, again, to a somewhat depressing concrete jungle, on the Golan Heights. Giv’At Yoav, or  Afik kibbutz, on territory annexed by the Israelis from Syria in 1967, had a desolate soulless new town feel,  but to our relief we were given a warm welcome to the Genghis Khan Yurt camp on the edge of ‘town’.  It was very cosy, peaceful, relaxing & comfortable.  We spread out and dried a lot of very wet kit. Another long cycling day, but less unremitting. Louise’s nausea and headaches were still present.

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The cognitive dissonance and a feeling of guilt by association persisted,  as we accepted most warmly given hospitality from our hostess, a German woman, a dairy farmer now, who had been there over 25 years, since its inception, but knowing historically that this place was the consequence of very recent conquest, destruction and even ethnic cleansing. We were given route instructions to the remnants of a destroyed Syrian village Fiq,  destroyed less than fifty years ago, “At the time of its depopulation in 1967, the city had a population of approximately 2,800” part of the ethnic cleansing of the Golan heights, of over 100 villages, and over 150,00 Syrians, after the 1967 six day war.  There was an apparent pride in the local biblical and Roman archaeology which sat uneasily alongside our knowledge of the recent oppression of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.  Should we have been there? But we were anyway.

That day we cycled  63.4Km, 1,384 ft ascent. 8.5 hrs.

Day 7 – to Umm el-Aghanam

From Afik, we cycled on a track down to the Sea of Galilee.

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The weather was, by now, very pleasant. Along this track were numerous signs warning of mines, another reminder of the recent bloody past, the 1967 war.  Louise had her first puncture, and my puncture repair failed twice … we needed a bike shop, but none in sight.  Not even in the outlandish naff retail park, Mall Kinneret, with its Aldo’s ice cream, piped muzak and MacDonalds.  A surreal place .. a Californian style boulevard.

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We arrived at Umm al-Ghanam – (Mother of Sheep) at our second air bnb. Lovely mum. . We got lost in the village and ended up being chaperoned by a mischievous lad on a noisy motorbikes. We got directions from a friendly  woman who told us she had been offered a place at the University of Leeds to study international relations but instead she studied …. at Nazareth University?

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It was very basic accommodation, and our host’s mum had very limited English, but was very hospitable. Our host was the son who was in Budapest, ” …but don’t tell mum”. We prepared soup in her kitchen and we were given cheese and salad.  Upstairs was minimal and cold.

Today we cycled 54.3Km, 1781 feet of ascent and 7.5 hrs.

Day 8 – to Jenin “Be careful … its dangerous.”

We were brought a very skimpy and expensive breakfast and the  son wanted 10£ for it,  so we had to tell mum “no way”, a difficult conversation, but later we gave the son some constructive feedback on line, which he took well. Owen had another puncture  repair fail, repaired in the kitchen, Louise improving.

On way to Jenin further deflation of the same puncture repair on Owen’s bike, it fails for the third time and the spare tube is duff, bad mistake, big problem looming.  But against the odds a great Bike shop in Afula (not easy to find) saves the day as 4 punctures not mending and no spare tube.  We tell them we’re going to Jenin and receive another negative:  “its dangerous, be careful”.

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Somewhat unsure about what to expect as we spot the Jamallah check point and a queue of cars ahead- a bit nervy as we’re waved over by young soldiers wielding machine guns. Would they even let us through, or search our bags and phones, the trip could end here quite easily?  So much power in the hands of such young people. Surreal.  First check point encounter. “Where are you going?” “Jenin” “When are you coming back?” looking at his watch, “We’re not … we’re going to Jericho, Bethlehem, Jerusalem.” A pause and the radio or phone  comes out, and we wait .. only about 5 minutes though “OK go on but be careful, its dangerous”.

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Jenin felt edgy and a bit inhospitable or at least unfamiliar even for a Middle East town. Busy streets, and we stood out like sore thumbs. We looked for the cinema, the one we’d read about. Its another story, but briefly, the restoration of the cinema was the focal point of a campaign to re-vitalise Jenin inspired by the death of a child, shot by an Israeli soldier.  This story was made into a film, ‘The Heart of Jenin’, which was the first to be shown at the cinema in 2010.  The Cinema Hostel was to be our bed for the night, but where was it? We were at a bit of a loss, no English speakers. Then we saw it, hidden opposite the bus station, and adjacent to a big gap where the recently demolished cinema used to be, a mall in the making. Sad ending to hopeful story, and allegedly the cinema had been frowned upon by conservative elements in the town and so it became non-viable in the end.  Although it was winter, December, the hostel had an air of abandonment about it. Without the cinema, presented as the symbol of hope of the future of Jenin,  would the hostel survive?  We were welcomed anyway, the only guests, with the whole place to ourselves. Various piles of detritus from the cinema were scattered around the foyer area, cigarettes and popcorn vending machines, tea shirts, posters, random and dusty. There was an air of tragedy about the place.

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the old cinema hostel Jenin

Jenin’s closest link to Israel is the al-Jalamah check point closed since the al_Aqsa intifada (uprising) and the Jenin refugee camp massacre in 2002 but reopened a few years ago since when business has allegedly been picking up.  The check point still operates a back to back system for moving goods out of Palestine  – which means transporting goods from one lorry to another, and many Palestinian goods can’t be exported because they ‘fail’ certain Israeli set ‘standards’ of quality.  The road past the check post had a motley collection of stalls similar to stalls near borders we’ve seen in Cambodia/Thailand.

Jenin was busy, lots of bored looking young men hanging around on the streets. There was a group of heavily armed Israeli soldiers and police patrolling and questioning stall holders.  The atmosphere was tense subdued and expectant. Eyes flickering briefly towards them, the soldiers appeared brazen.  We found a characterful restaurant but they weren’t serving food so we had a coffee. With the hostel to ourselves, we cooked soup for tea. Louise was still feeling unwell but Owen was still hungry. A group of soldiers appeared for some fast food,  and were served before us by older men who appeared to be edgy but presenting a kind of false cheerfulness, an unnatural interaction. Perhaps they felt intimidated.  We heard gunfire and a loud explosion during the night and felt insecure about what might happen next,  what we might we have to do if ‘the situation’ seemed to escalate.  All at sea without a paddle.

Days 9 and 10 – To Nablus

Porridge for breakfast followed by a cycle to look for the Jenin Freedom Theatre in the refugee camp. In our naivety we were’t sure what a refugee camp would look like but we found the theatre in a neighbourhood of walled off buildings/habitations that must have been the camp itself.  We found several children, snotty,  one just perhaps a year old, playing with spent bullet cases, in a sand pit outside the theatre.  No toys just spent bullet cases, a reminder of lives being lived with violence on their doorstep and of a very recent past.  In Jenin we found an immaculate shop selling beautifully made Alhijaz chocolate, and were offered free tasting but without any pushiness. We were spoilt for choice and had to be disciplined as the panniers were already full– we bought almonds in white chocolate. How could such amazing chocolate be made here? However, we know why this chocolate isn’t being exported and wasn’t for sale at the airport.

 

On cycling into Nablus  on the outskirts of the city, with hillsides covered in white houses towering above us, we were waved down by a couple of men who wanted to chat and offered us orange juice, pretty soon we were being welcomed to join a family party for a prison release homecoming, their family member, 23 yrs old,  had been 3 years in an Israeli prison in the Negev desert, we don’t know what for.

We were soon engulfed by the occasion.  Louise had to go with the women, ushered to the kitchen and was made to feel welcome with much dancing laughter and selfie taking. Louise felt treated like a guest of honour. Owen’s experience was slightly different, ushered into a room full of older men in armchairs smoking. An interesting discussion followed in which I was clearly suspected of being a middle class European doctor just touring through for the hell of it, fair enough.

The men wanted to know what I thought of Palestinians, but difficult to not appear naive at this point … ‘hard to generalise … err, of course there must be good and bad on both sides’. But “So you think we’re uncivilised?” Bit of a non-sequitur, and loaded question as I realise now, as this had been the way the zionists had painted the sophisticated Palestinian culture, as uncivilised  to make it easier to excuse the Nakba, and whitewash their crimes. ‘Of course not.’  “Why are you here, … are you a wealthy doctor and a tourist, ….  are you doing research,  …. are you a communist?” ‘Yes i guess so.’ Best to say “Yes, I’m researching political theory and capitalism, Israel is terrible, and I am a communist” all reasonable, after all, and seemed to get me by. Maybe they thought I was a spy, its possible. “We’ve nearly all been to prison ….  it’s an honour in our family to be imprisoned by the Israelis.”  The 1967 border or green line may have been violated but what mattered here was the right to return.  Little did we appreciate then that the ‘right of return’ for refugees is one of the rights refugees have under international law, (re-settlement and integration the two other choices, … to be made freely …).

“Would you be happy for us to find an Imam to convert you to Islam so that you can go to Paradise?” Not an offer easy to refuse I’m sure you can see. “Sure, that’d be just fine”. there was an enthusiastic Imam smiling at me.  Other young men were intermittently tense, cross with me for taking photos,  and then laughing: “I’m Daesh ..” slapping me on the back, “Only kidding ..” very funny.  But an English speaking Imam to convert Owen could not be found. Restless young men become more agitated  because Owen took a photo of the women ( he had asked permission outside earlier)   Louise meanwhile was not having a political vivabut was being entertained by the women and children in the back room. Childs 8th birthday cake, shaving foam, loud music and dancing and being forced to eat too much food . Veil on, veil off, synchronised with, sliding door open, sliding door closed.

“He’s my husband and we have six children”, “She’s my girlfriend.” Oops. Needed to get our story straight. We are married with six children and we liked the name Joe so much that we called two of our sons by that name.

Al-Istiqal Hostel-  not highly recommended if ever you are there, cheap but showers … well.  Very basic shared room with hitch hiking couple from Czech Republic, no hot water, no working shower.

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So, we bailed out second night to stay at all singing and dancing Al Yasmeen Hotel for New Yeas Eve, separate rooms 😦  But hot shower and hair dryer. We met Louise & Charles from Paris in the Old City , in Kanafeh chaos, (cheese, sugar syrup, pistachio, rose water, wheat noodle thread pastry. They were lovely and had a very interesting story about their medical school friend, who became a nun in Jerusalem after a religious experience instructing her to  walk with a donkey from Paris to Jerusalem.   They invited us to join them on a visit to Aksa refugee camp with Nasser, via Jacobs Well.

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Jacob’s well was in a stunning church where a priest, Archimandrite Philoumenos, venerated as a martyr and saint by the Orthodox church, had been murdered by zionist settlers in 1979.

“They burst into the monastery and with a hatchet butchered Archimandrite Philoumenos in the form of a cross. With one vertical stroke they clove his face, with another horizontal stroke they cut his cheeks as far as his ears. His eyes were plucked out. The fingers of his right hand were cut into pieces and its thumb was hacked off. These were the fingers with which he made the sign of the Cross. The murderers were not content with the butchering of the innocent monk, but proceeded to desecrate the church as well. A crucifix was destroyed, the sacred vessels were scattered and defiled, and the church was in general subjected to sacrilege of the most appalling type.”[6]
The piecemeal chopping of the three fingers with which he made the Sign of the Cross showed that he was tortured in an attempt to make him renounce his Orthodox Christian Faith.[note 6][4]

Nasser described how the Israeli soldiers block the roads twice weekly so that settlers on the hill overlooking the church, can go to nearby Joseph’s tomb, forbidden to Muslims, under IDF guard.

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Nasser described the fortitude of the people of one of the oldest refugee camps, 60 years old – how as a people they had no official refugee status still, but they refused to be moved because this would nullify their claim to a right to return to their homes in Greater Palestine. Nasser said he knew who was living in his old home in Jaffa, a Russian family. The right to return still burned strong for Nasser, it’s a camp motto across the West Bank symbolised by the key over the entrance to the camps.  The camp is under Israeli military control and there had been an ‘incursion’ the day before when a house had been forcible entered and soldiers had stayed there for several hours. The soldiers restrict access to police and healthcare services which  makes it very hard for them to govern their own society there.  Drugs, over crowding, poor sanitation, unemployment, poverty, all a problem.  It was a shock to our systems, Louise felt as if she could barely speak, so emotional  – and we guess it is some of these experiences and feelings that we have had to absorb only to try and deal with later. It adds to our perceptions of the cruelty of the occupation, and our anger.

Back in Nablus old City, an atmospheric warren of narrow alleyways and tunnels, we bought soap (8 soap factories) for our six children, and perfume (Jasmine and Amber) from a very friendly, attentive  and emotional young male shopkeeper, whose dad he misses as he lives in America. Lots of coffee on the go stalls but we were grateful to be guided for a sit down coffee at a sock shop by the fresh juice stall holder

 

 

We had cycled, 48.8Km, ascent 2936ft ascent for 7 saddle hours

Days 11,12 to Jericho

We decided to cycle slightly North and eastwards towards the Jordan valley.  It was desert like and hilly terrain with a few small villages, and then scattered by the side of the road a few Bedouin encampments, with their livestock and tents  – there were a few signs of farming  – tractor ploughing, but more signs and gates saying ‘Military Zone – Keep Out’ – the land under occupation not easily accessed by the Palestinians.  The Jordan Valley annexed illegally according to the UN, in 1967, has one major road, coaches, fast cars, and views across to the Jordan mountains a few miles away.  In between there is much greenery and agricultural activity in this fertile valley – a fertility no longer accessible to the Palestinians that once lived here.

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We stayed the Auberge Guest House – The House of Eggplants,  with a Work Away volunteer from Germany and by an amazing coincidence we meet up with the friendly lone Irish traveller with bicycle we had first met in Jaffa, day 1; he shared an epic tale of his one and only day of cycling. He was wryly regretful of his lack of research and his tortured cycle on the uphill motorway from Tel Aviv to jerusalem in the cold and rain, and a puncture to boot (we were yet to sympathise but later having cycled it downhill we felt for him). He was a keen solitary traveller and had visited Allepo the year before, before the Syrian war had broken out there.

We decided to stay in Jericho for two nights and the next day we walked for two hot hours along the Wadi El Qelt to a Greek Orthodox monastery set into the rock, to find the monastery door closed. We knocked, only to be turned away by a pious priest who decided to close 45 minutes earlier than the sign indicated on the door as it was a ‘holy day’ and they ‘had already started praying’. ‘Poor Form’ priest. At the gates, we met a large friendly Irish/Palestinian family from London who were visiting their daughter studying Arabic at the university of Nablus. The son who spoke fluent Arabic also knocked on the monastery door to try to persuade the priest to let us in but there was no reply. Oh well, the journey is the thing and the valley had been quite spectacular with deep gorges, two deer scampering up a rocky slope and a few marmots staring at us.  There were a few monk like cells sculpted into the hillside with precarious overhanging steps as means of access. We wandered back along the road, thirsty and hungry , we found a little shop and bought crisps and chocolate, bliss.

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That night however there was no room at the Auberge Inn, but there was a silver lining as we were then able to experience  Sami’s Hostel in Aqbal Jaber refugee camp, watched Incredible Hulk in smoky lobby and met International Solidarity Movement  volunteer who downloaded some books onto our  camera memory card and shared his thoughts and theories with us. He predicted that Trump wouldn’t make it to his inauguration as president, but he was wrong. We would recommend this place.

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We had cycled 105.1Km, 1502 feet of ascent, 7.5hrs in the saddle.

days 13, 14 to Bethlehem

We had freshly cooked Falafel breakfast wraps at the kiosk in the refugee camp in Jericho before setting off for the climb to Bethlehem.

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By this stage we were increasingly aware of,  and oppressed by the sheer fact of, being in a militarily (as well as illegally)  occupied land. On the main road (towards Jerusalem) our eyes were drawn repeatedly to the settlements on the crests of the sandy hillsides. They reminded us of prisons with their high walls, brutal architecture and barbed wire.  Maybe the inhabitants feel imprisoned? They also struck a dull chord of an alien presence in that landscape.

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As the initial thrill of the adventure was wearing off the deeper purposes of our journey began to emerge.  We journeyed together into the unknown and wrestled with questions of purpose and calling. Each day on the road we felt the burden of our hearts, we must find a way to allow this journey to shape our lives.

Once off the Jerusalem Road and heading towards Bethlehem we came across  a hostile reception at a check point.  As we approached feeling somewhat apprehensive, machine guns were pointed straight at us by a young male soldier whilst a young female told us abruptly that we couldn’t cycle through or go any further, it was ‘cars only’. We said that we had been told we could travel this way by soldiers at the Nablus checkpoint (we hadn’t) and so, just as abruptly she said OK go through , just this time … she let us through, this time. Bullying and intimidating behaviour is deeply worrying and totally unacceptable and unjustifiable. How on earth the Palestinian people put up with this and worse, on a daily basis, is beyond our scope of comprehension. Of course others claim their purpose is to protect the Israelis from Palestinian terrorists. Equally of course it is clear the Israeli state is extending its occupation, and the Palestinians have nothing to fight or to defend themselves with. The check points are there to maintain the occupation and oversee its completion.

We then faced with a dramatic hill ahead, this was to be the long and unremitting climb up the Wadi Al Nar. The smell of burning brakes, the whoops and hollers from those in passing cars who seem to think we were deranged but who also seemed to be enjoying the spectacle.   We persevered, sweating, climbing.  Louise felt a little fatigued and found the ultra steep gradient incompatible with her hard core gear ratios.  It was a long climb. By a crazy coincidence we had a message later from a friend in England, Mike, whose friend Hamed had seen us up the Wadi, as it were, and that Louise had been making slow progress.

After a slight navigational cock up, involving more hills,  we managed to find the House of Hope, and Sami the warden.  Sami was the epitome of a kind and solicitous host. This residential facility for the blind had a guest house, which was rather chilly but Sami was very hospitable and the kitchen had a well stocked fridge.

We cycled to the Tent of Nations farm on the outskirts of Bethlehem on the Israeli side of the Green Line. We refuse to be enemies is the code they abide by and is written on a stone by the entrance. We were greeted by Dahir, one of the farmers and invited to plant, almond stones in rocky ground. Also helping out were Hannah the vicar’s daughter from Manchester (musical chatterbox), two Swedish girls Sophie and Anna, and a French woman called Miriam. As we dug holes and placed the almond stones, we chatted about the situation, all the time conscious of the presence of the settlement opposite. It was Hannah’s third stay on the farm as a volunteer and she told us how activity on the farm is monitored and a Israeli helicopter occasionally hovers over to survey which is quite intimidating.  In plain view 500 metres away on a hill is a huge settlement with a prominent space age type dwelling, apparently owned by a Russian ‘artist’, and a large building site where an ultra orthodox religious school is under construction, more indoctrination of the young. This was truly a shocking concrete example of oppression, sanctioned by the Israeli state and helped of course, by the USA, UK and other European countries.

After lunch, Daoud gave  us a talk in one of the caves. This was a very moving story of dogged resistance, of not backing down from the Israeli authorities who seek to occupy their land and evict them.  We were amazed by how they had been able to sustain resilience, the Arabic name for this steadfastness in the face of overwhelming odds is   sumud – we now think this represents a kind of hope without optimism (to paraphrase Terry Eagleton) that maintains a level of dignity and humanity through the struggle.  One of the key things was the fact that they’d had to face innumerable challenges from the courts about their rights to even be on the land. But unlike many they did have the original deeds from when Daoud’s grandfather bought the land 100 years ago. Despite this they are still having to go to court on a regular basis. The settlers seem determined to get rid of them, they have even blocked the road to the farm causing them to take a huge detour and have even uprooted and buried whole plantations of apricot and olive trees. The farm itself has a cave at its centre where the grandfather, his brother and their families lived and even now, there are only fairly rudimentary buildings. They are continually refused permission to erect any structures including water tanks. They have no electricity.

We had cycled 21.7Km, and 1190ft ascent

The following night we stayed at House of Bread, (Issa & Diana), friends of Mike. Through a miscommunication, we were locked out until 9pm, but wandered up to Manger Square and met shopkeepers Jack and Mary who told us about the Siege of the Church of the Nativity which lasted from April 2 to May 10, 2002.

In 2002 the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) occupied Bethlehem and tried to capture suspected Palestinian militants. Dozens of people fled into the Church of the Nativity and sought refuge. There were 200 monks resident in the church and many Palestinians who had arrived at the site for different reasons. The Franciscan order maintained no hostages were held, while Israeli sources claimed the monks and others were being held hostage by gunmen. Bethlehem was in lock down and the shops only opened for two hours each day. Electricity was cut off and drinking water was scarce. After 39 days, an agreement was reached, according to which the militants turned themselves in to Israel and were exiled to Europe and the Gaza Strip.

We bought seven Bansky fridge magnets and a map. It was humbling to hear from this elderly couple about some of the experiences they had been forced to endure during the Bethlehem lock down.

Eventually we met Issa and Diana but we were cold and tired. We had a short discussion about, which church we attended, whether we had accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour and if we had been filled with the Holy Spirit. Owen explained that he disagreed with organised religion and had been raised as a Roman Catholic which had given him quite a negative view. Louise shared some of her story about becoming a christian at 15.  And then in walked Mr Hugh(ie), bright and bustling and charming, he appeared a bit surprised to see us but sat down on the sofa and we had a lively conversation.  Mr Hugh had been visiting Issa and Diane every Christmas or the past 30 odd years and was now in his late 70s.  He was very entertaining with his tales and was very reminiscent of the character Neil Baldwin in the film Marvellous,  which is a compliment. Mr. Hugh was from Luton – and had 30 Christmases in Bethlehem under his ample belt.   He told us of his mother with a shop full of microscopes, telescopes….. “my mother was mean spirited – I never married – but God has been very kind to me since my mother died – here’s my testimony   .. the Queen has a copy”. Mr. Hughie collects wigs, guitars, clarinets, microscopes, telescopes and vinyl records in his one bedroom flat and Diana has visited it. Louise commented that it sounds like Aladdin’s cave and he said that is what Diana had also told him when she had visited his flat!

Phone – phone – phone – phone – phone!” was the refrain from Mr Hughie in an obviously well rehearsed routine  as Diana’s mobile went off.  “Its alright she’ll be here in a minute…”Phone – phone – phone – phone” … “Mr. Hugh, you’re making me laugh!” – (understatement).

Owen was asked to examine Issa after breakfast whilst Louise chatted with Mr Hughie. Unfortunately Issa’s BP was 230/50, pulse rate about 32, Blood Sugar 14, not good.  He had seen his own Dr recently and so we  advised another GP appt. asap. On leaving it was Pay As You Feel…..Issa prayed that Louise finds her faith again ….Owen, that he would find faith through the power of the holy spirit. Owen was given his first bible…. and a conversion of Saul DVD.

We had cycled 48.8Km, and 4727ft ascent in 6.5 hrs,a tough climb.

Days 15, 16 – Jerusalem

The day began  with a puncture  repair before we’d even got on our bikes for the short cycle to Jerusalem.  We were relaxed by this stage but weren’t sure what check points we would encounter.  The wall covered in graffiti was just obscene, its physical massiveness, the barrier, spoke volumes about Israels’ attitude to their near neighbours.

The cycle was on busy roads, mostly uphill, and we were there within half an hour.  We arrived at Jerusalem Old City, and initially struggled blindly into the the Muslim quarter thinking we’d probably find a way to the hostel near Jaffa Gate. The steps, and crowds made progress impossible and we turned back to find another way.  There was an army surveillance point – as usual very young men and women, slouched and armed to the hilt, standing guard by the Damascus gate. We found Jaffa gate and the Hostel, and a very basic but adequate room for us and the bikes.

We spent time as flaneurs, noticing the contrast between the different quarters. the obvious polished wealth of the jewish quarter, then the more arabic quarter with its souk like atmosphere, the Armenian and Christian quarters were less remarkable, with cafes and souvenir shops.

We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with the  stone of unction on which Jesus is said to have been washed after the crucifixion.

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At the Western Wall (Wailing Wall)  we saw a mixture of Jews praying with their various styles of dress. The Jews are deeply affronted by the Muslim jurisdiction over the dome which the Jews still regard as their holy site. If the Israeli government annex East Jerusalem there could be violence ahead.  The Al Aqsda area where the dome of the rock is situated was closed off.

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We felt very much like outsiders as we passed through the security gates. The Western Wall is a place of segregation and barriers. It seemed like we were in an ‘after yet before time’ as if we had stepped back several hundred years. Oozing exclusivity and oppression, we felt uneasy, like intruders, voyeurs. We were not sad to leave this place, a site of religious conflict. The hat display was impressive, particularly the Shtreimel hats.

The prayers on paper stuffed into the cracks in the western wall struck us as somehow symptomatic of a religious fervour, beyond our frame of reference.

We were on a mission to find some embroidered coasters from Sunbula crafts, for Revd. Tom Lusty (St. Chads, Headingley)  this proved to be a bit of a wild goose chase of no stock and closed shop but we enjoyed the walking, particularly along the Nablus road.

Our impression of New Jerusalem was of a soulless shopping mall with fast food restaurants, bereft of any creativity.  We did however find a Georgian restaurant in one of the back streets and enjoyed a good meal.

Leviticus 19: v27 “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard”.

Leviticus 19:v33 -34 “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.…”

We cycled 12.7Km, 892ft ascent

Days 17,18 – Tel Aviv

We took the road out of Jerusalem and headed towards the motorway, as the most direct route, following the tram line for quite a while.  It was the Sabbath, so the roads were quiet.  The motorway was quiet but unpleasant cycling, mostly downhill but by no means flat.  We were pulled over by one policeman who indicated we should get off the road, which didn’t surprise us, or even change our plans. So, as we had no other real options, we let him drive on and then just carried on in a spirit of defiant optimism, on the motorway, but admittedly slightly anxious, partly lest we be stopped again, and partly because of the sheer speed of the traffic. However after a hair-raising spin, we arrived back at the familiar Old Jaffa Hostel in time for breakfast, after a very quick run.

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We felt relieved to have that leg of the journey over with, and to be still in one piece, and could fully relax, with a day ahead of us in the sun.  We enjoyed watching a stormy sea.

We cycled 65Km, 1138ft ascent, 3hrs

 

The next day we called our previous taxi driver, as the one the hostel had ordered was going to be too small to take the bikes despite our explicit instructions. Transport for bikes is often a slight issue on trips like these.

Ben Gurion airport was a mixture of tedious irritation and some stress as they insisted on cutting open the bike boxes for a cursory look inside, we then had to re-tape them, but we had the foresight to have some spare tape to hand.  Flight home, job done.

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Total cycle 518km/321miles 6,700m/21,900ft ascent

Endings

It felt as if the trip as a cycle adventure was counter-cultural, i.e. unusual for that part of the world, in terms of customs, terrain and security. We met no other tourers, and we couldn’t recommend it freely as it came with some hazards and unpredictability. And we felt the ambiguity of the juxtaposition between adventure, a voyeuristic poverty-tourism, and hope for some socio-political awareness.  It must be impossible to travel here without this conflict or dissonance. But, despite our unease, and we think partly because we were unguided, in the end it did feel like an awakening from a kind of stupor to the after effects of war and the oppressive occupation.  Unfortunately the right wing zionist nature of the Israeli government and its intention to annexe the entire West Bank is likely to trigger even more violence in the near future.  We have a feeling of perplexity and shame to be associated with such a nationalist UK government so supportive of the Israeli state.  In the meantime the corporate media continues to wilfully silence the  voice of the Palestinians. The Palestinians are not a problem to be solved, but a people to join with in solidarity with their sumud.