exodus?

A film called Patterns of evidence was shown last Monday in a number of theaters across the country, and is showing again this Thursday Jan 29, at the Regal Santa Cruz Theater on Pacific. Cost is $12.50, just enough for a decent bottle of evanescent spirit and a little manna but no quail.

The film claims to be a documentary and examine “scientifically” the evidence for the story of the exodus in the Bible, together with its related stories of Abraham, Joseph, Joshua. As in the disastrous discussions on evolution vs creation(ism), it sets things up—a debate!—as if there are only two sides, and the public can decide for themselves what the evidence means! There is indeed a pattern, that of bamboozling the public. The on-going “debate”, if the public falls for it, should make a little money for its promoters.

I was alerted to the existence of this film a few weeks ago and tried to know a bit more. I looked at the links and watched a few snippets. Very interesting attempt, in terms of modern transformations of religious minds, to go back to a kind of history where facticity and dates are taken to be unproblematic and the real history of the writing of the exodus story never has a chance to be told. It’s another effort to pretend to meet archaeologists’ and historians’ objections to the notion of a historical exodus located sometime in the second millenium: if not in Ramses II’s time (to accommodate the figures given in the Bible), then even more improbably in the Hyksos period (1720 to 1550 or so). It doesn’t ask itself any question about the writing of the story: when was that done, by whom, in what circumstances, and for what purpose? The story of that writing is much more interesting as well as intellectually and theologically more demanding than the tons of suppositions attempting to prove that it happened as told in the book of Exodus.

The language used by the authors of this film and those behind them (I don’t know what the groups are: certain evangelical Christians?) is devious. They speak of “skeptical scholars” who “contend it never happened.” I myself am not skeptical and I don’t contend it never happened. With most scholars, all I say is that there is no evidence whatsoever matching the exodus story as told in the Bible. All kinds of insuperable problems arise if you try, beginning with attempts to isolate and date the “event”.

I’ll give a tiny example of the silly problems one encounters when analyzing “evidence.” It has to do with the supposition regarding an eastern wind that would have helped to dry a shallow body of water then used by the fleeing Hebrews (that word is a problem too). Is there a dry eastern wind (or a western wind for that matter) that blows that way in northern Egypt? I couldn’t find evidence for it in northern Egypt. It is however a well known phenomenon in Palestine. Did the writer(s) at the tail end of the Israelite and Judaean monarchic period (i.e. 7–6th c. BCE) assume the conditions of their own locale for those of northern Egypt? Probably so, but this needs to be argued, very much like it needs to be shown how this text, a book of Exodus, arose at a time of extreme tensions with empires in the eighth to fifth c. BCE (Assyrian > Babylonian > Persian), when Egypt itself collapsed under them (not without rebelling repeatedly, however). Etc…

marching in France

These are some of my impressions and thoughts on what went on yesterday in the whole of France, not only in Paris. The media in the US, and I’m talking about centrist media such as NPR or the NYT, were getting it wrong this morning in their “shows” or “stories” or on the printed page. They framed the demonstrations only and narrowly as a response to terrorism. Half wrong in the case of the NYT whose top title this morning was: In Paris, Huge Show of Solidarity Against Terrorism. These demonstrations were much more than that. The spirit of these demonstrations was that of solidarity but certainly not narrowly set as being “against terrorism”. It was much broader than what even the participants could imagine, it seems to me and to the family and friends I talked to. The marches were above all a referendum on the need to go beyond social and religious divisions. How is one to do that? Clearly, no one knows exactly what to do in schools, communities, political parties, or even religious institutions. The integration of large impoverished populations in a gloomy economic and ideological landscape, when all -isms have collapsed and religion is the only glue left standing for many, is a daunting project. And is it still a project? The demonstrators were saying yes. They were expressing their hope, their profound desire for the sort of unwritten future Ross Douthat wrote about recently in the NYT. So, the solidarity and unity they were showing in these demonstrations was not primarily or only a brave collective reaction to terrorism. That is straight-jacketing them into a much narrower purpose than the participants expressed yesterday. It conveniently and unthinkingly makes them part of the catastrophic, all-out rhetoric and war on terror the US has been waging since 2002–3.

I speak of a referendum and the expression of a hope as well as a statement on fundamental values of the republic, because huge, unheard of, demonstrations were held yesterday not only in Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, or Lille, but in hundreds of medium-sized and small French cities. For instance, Lannion, a small city of ca. 20,000 people in northern Brittany, had 20,000 people marching. Rennes, a city of 210,000, had 115,000 demonstrators. The tally so far: about 1.5m in Paris, perhaps a total of 3.7m in the whole country, according to the wiki on the “Manifestations des 10 et 11 janvier 2015”.

The testimony by the brother of Ahmed Merabet catches much better than my words above how deeply felt is the need to go beyond violent solutions. Ahmed Merabet was killed Wednesday as he lay on the ground, wounded. I translate his brother’s moving message to families and to the world:

French of Algerian origin, of Muslim confession, very proud to bear his name, Ahmed Merabet, to represent French police and defend the values of the Republic, liberty, equality, fraternity. By sheer determination, he got his diploma of police inspector and was soon to leave the beat. His colleagues describe him as a man passionate for his work. Ahmed was a man of commitment and had been taking care of his mother and family since his father’s passing twenty years ago. Pillar of his family, his responsibilities didn’t keep him from being a protective son, a whimsical brother, a doting uncle, and a loving companion. Devastated by this barbaric act, we share the suffering of all the victims’ families. I speak now to all racists, islamophobes, and antisemites, that one must not confuse extremists and Muslims. Mad men have no color or religion. I insist on one more point: Stop amalgamating everything, stop triggering wars, burning mosques or synagogues. You are attacking people. It will not return our dead or give peace to families.

Many people are critical of the absence yesterday of Obama, Kerry or Biden, side by side with the marching forty-four leaders of European and other countries. I think it is fortunate that the US was only represented by its ambassador and that even Eric Holder, the attorney general, who was in France for police work, was not at the demonstration. The fact that Obama, Kerry, Biden, or god forbid the Clintons, were not there, gives everyone in Europe a better chance to understand the demonstration as a broad and historical statement of belief in freedom, equality (justice), and fraternity, not as a narrow, negative, mirror response to terrorism. The US let itself being sucked into a rhetoric of global war on terrorism as an end-all. The demonstrations in France remind me of the huge US demonstrations against mindless war at the end of 2002 and beginning of 2003. The media at the time tried not to report on them or on their spirit, which was very similar to that of yesterday’s demonstrations. Publications like even the NYT did their best to pull everyone towards war. They succeeded all too well in dragging the US into an unwinnable war. Yesterday’s demonstrations are a call and a reminder that war-mongering is not the solution. The absence of the US heirs and managers of an endless war against terrorism gives Europeans a chance to reexamine the path they are to take. The criminal fanatics who decided upon the attacks of last Wednesday in Paris are expecting more division and violence. It remains to be seen if people, communities, parties, and policy makers will give them satisfaction.

Je suis Ahmed

Among the victims of the Paris criminal attack was an officer of North-African origin, Ahmed Merabet. Soon, there was a new hashtag in circulation, Je suis Ahmed, more politically clear than the “Je suis Charlie” one. Charlie-Hebdo continued an old tradition of satire that struck many as often playing with fire. A family member who practices Islam tells me he was offended by what Charlie-Hebdo did in its mockery of that religion. He adds there are many ways to express disagreement, and that many Muslims now worry about the reactions of the public.

A large demonstration is planned in Paris for Sunday. I hope the demonstrators, speakers, thinkers, and media will be able to show how much they value both freedom and inclusiveness. Perhaps they will avoid the rhetoric of war and exclusion. I hope they will not fall for what may have been the main goal of those who ordered the crimes at Charlie-Hebdo‘s headquarters and at the Hyper-Cacher store, and that is: to radicalize the situation. I hope especially that France will reject the deeply misleading rhetoric of terrorism and the failed all-out-war stance adopted by the US and its allies (including France in Syria). See Edgar Morin’s reaction in Le Monde.

Je suis Charlie

In the middle of the night, BBC reports of the armed attack on Charlie-Hebdo‘s Paris office. Twelve dead, among whom well-known collaborators who were participating in the weekly editorial meeting: Char(bonnier), Wolinski, Cabu, Tignous, Honoré, Maris.

I’m very moved to hear about these deaths in Paris because I grew up reading Pilote with my brothers. Pilote was one of the first steps in being weaned away from the Catholic youth press (Fripounet when I was little, then Cœurs Vaillants) and the discovery of irreverent forms of discourse that had a strong impact on us in the backwaters of my Catholic, left-leaning, Breton-speaking, Brittany: Hara Kiri, later Fluide Glacial, and finally Charlie-Hebdo. Not to mention Le Canard Enchaîné for many years. Among our heroes in the political and artistic sense were Reiser (died in the 80s) and those killed today and whose names bear repeating: Wolinski, Cabu, and later, Char, Tignous, and Maris (“Oncle Bernard”), an economics professor and journalist (commentator on economic matters: “J’ai tout compris à l’économie” on France-Inter radio). Cabu had long been drawing for Le Canard. I always looked forward to his strip.

I am trying to understand why I react so strongly to this planned attack on a satirical, in-your-face newspaper that was in great financial difficulties (not for the first time). Aside from the attachment one forms in youth (my brother and I couldn’t wait for Thursday when we would get Pilote and negotiate the sharing of the reading), there is the sense that the huge catastrophes that have been happening for a very long time in Irak, Iran, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Mali, without forgetting the big problems in France, are intimately tied to this attack on the freedom to think, speak, and draw. There is also the overwhelming feeling of being embarked or dragged along in a much longer story in the making since the sixteenth century, of slow, often monumentally tragic separation of religious and political or rational discourses. A story and history in which the fear triggered by the sound and fury may drive away the brave, hidden, fragile hope that a fuller life lies ahead in the will to share resources and make peace without submission or humiliation. This belief and hope in a broader and deeper use of reason or ratio, including its caustic use, seem exclusive. Indeed, I opt for reason and suspend or reject religious revelation as being a handy, often venerable, and wrong shortcut to authoritarian allocation of goods. Yet I remain confused because I also feel that the deployment of reason is partly a luxury. A splendid power that was hard earned from within the crucible of religious conviction, and that has all too quickly been narrowly turned at the service of self-satisfied conquering greed.

Many demonstrations are planned in French cities. See Charlie-Hebdo @ twitter where maps and times are available.

Charlie Hebdo

Militarized SC police?

At its December 9, 2014 meeting, the Santa Cruz city council voted 6 to 1—Micah Posner was the lone brave dissenter—to accept a $251,000 Homeland Security grant to buy an armored vehicle of the type Lenco sells to specialized agencies (one of the variants of the so-called Bearcat). It reflects an increasing militarization of local police. There were heated reactions. The audio and DVD file of this meeting are not yet available on the site. One can read about it in the Sentinel.

Unsurprisingly, the police argue the vehicle is purely defensive. A petition about the buying of this vehicle is circulating. It calls for public hearings about the militarization of the Police Department. I’m most concerned about the larger national dynamics. Homeland so-called Security is a PR agent and buyer for a heavily militarized economy. This is happening at the same time real security in jobs, health, pensions, is down. The SC city council caved in to powers that do not have our security at heart. The SC police department and chief do what they think is important in a job that is very hard and dangerous. But the larger issue is the militarization of our society. That is why I signed the petition and invite readers to do the same.

TeX for U

Open source software is an extraordinary resource for textual work. I use MacTeX for typesetting, TeXShop as editor, BibDesk for bibliographies, and TextMate as another editor. The last one has been open sourced but is proprietary. Texts and presentations using complicated writing systems and coding become part of text creations. They are free! free of the kind of rent that all proprietary systems are exacting, free of forced formatting that we don’t control, free of automatic data gathering many paid programs resort to. I love the beauty of TeX typesetting, the freedom it gives in writing, the archival possibilities it offers, and the sense of participating in a large community. There is also the techie factor, I confess, or is that the geek factor. I am a member of the TeX Users Group and urge readers and friends to become members themselves: check the membership form.

torture

Eric Fair, now professor at Lehigh University, wrote in his testimony for today’s New York Times: “I was an interrogator at Abu Ghraib. I tortured.” When he realizes a younger generation doesn’t even have a memory of the images of Abu Ghraib and he could try to escape or at least dress up his memories, he doesn’t allow himself the tempting comfort of forgetfulness. Partly because oblivion is not possible for someone who can still smell the odors of the building where he participated in state-ordered torture and can’t help to remember certain events that I don’t even want to imagine? He doesn’t “move on,” or let time “heal,” as the magic invocations go. Forgetting is not forgiveness. Neither is rationalizing. To know that others did it and that it was ordered by state agencies and political leaders doesn’t help either. Some of the latter, perhaps even the New York Times editors who pushed for war in 2002 and 2003, are now in partial remorse mode. Grand bien leur fasse. But how can Eric Fair be forgiven? How can I who draw much comfort and peace from our economically and socially pervasive military machinery?

president 2016

In 1992, I would have voted for Hillary Clinton rather than Bill. I didn’t care for Bill’s willingness to sacrifice her to the wolves of the health insurance and medical industry, or his unwillingness to spend some real political capital. But in 2016? The bank and security industry wants her, the defense industry has no objection, the neo-cons are getting ready to work with her, the pro-Israel right thinks she is a new Cyrus the Great. See the Intercept. It’s already done, a fait accompli, unavoidable. Conclusion: no need for me to go and vote for her.

state of Palestine

Now that the midterm elections have sent a more reactionary House and Senate to Washington, the Israeli right and its US supporters couldn’t wait to resume their dance with the US representatives. They share a loathing of Obama and his administration, mostly because of his early attempts to take his distances from damaging Middle-East policies of previous US governments that they favor, and his later vain efforts to get real negotiations going between Israeli and Palestinian representatives. So, various openings are quickly being made, for instance in the shape of an opinion in last Friday’s NYT by Naftali Bennett, Israel’s minister of the economy and leader of the right-wing Ha-bayt ha-Yedudi, The Jewish Home party. He proposes to do away with the idea of a negotiated settlement between the two peoples. No UN, no resolution, no Oslo agreement, no pursuit of a two-state solution, no Palestinian people.

The urgency has deeper reasons than the occurrence of a new political situation in Washington. Here are three main reasons that, in my opinion, guide the intensity of the right wingers’ agenda regarding Palestine and the fate of Palestinians.

  1. The major reason is that the core of the zionist religious right’s enthusiasm is the continuation of the classic zionism’s national dream on a re-energized religious basis. It creates difficulties because it blurs the separation of religion and state on which the modern state of Israel was based, though it was not formalized by a constitution. It claims ownership of the whole area on the basis of divine will revealed to Abraham and putative successors. It is a messianism and often a temple-centered messianism (witness Feiglin and Yehuda Glick recently). This messianism has been developing in the recent months, according to Vincent Lemire (see links below). It is the mirror image of the Muslim fervor surrounding the Haram esh-sharif, a fervor that Hamas may also have an interest now in exacerbating and turning into a central piece of its religious politics. Not that this will bother conservative US representatives who wish to do the same blurring here in the US and furthermore share at least superficially the messianic beliefs of the Israeli religious right. It remains to be seen whether our house representatives and senators will be willing to push things along these messianic lines or prudently back off. An incorrigible optimist bets on the latter.

  2. Secondly, an international movement of recognition of Palestine is spreading. Sweden has just recognized the state of Palestine and was the 135th country to do so according to today’s Le Monde debate on the topic. About twenty countries still refuse to do so, most importantly the remaining superpower, the USA. Various parties in these twenty countries are contemplating a recognition. This international movement of recognition of the state of Palestine is seen as most dangerous by the Israeli right because it moves towards giving the same legal basis to the state of Palestine as the UN gave Israel on 29 November 1947. M. Abbas and the Palestinian authority have long been pursuing a policy of legitimate authority founded on international law. The US refusal to budge on this matter will not remain tenable much longer.

  3. Finally, there is the demographic evolution in Israel and Palestinian territories. See the wiki on the demographics of the Palestinian territories.The case of Jerusalem is paradigmatic. The status of Jerusalem and the return of the refugees are two tightly linked issues that need to be negotiated in future final status negotiations.

    The population within the municipality of Jerusalem is now at circa 800,000: 500,000 Israeli Jews and 300,000 Palestinian Arab inhabitants in East Jerusalem, including 35,000 in the old city. Since 1967, the Arab population of Jerusalem has grown by a factor of 4, that of the Jewish population by a factor of 2.5 (figures given by Vincent Lemire, historian, see his interview in Libération and the Open Jerusalem Project). The distribution of the population of the old city by religious affiliation is: 26,000 Muslims, 6,000 Christians, and 4,000 Jews. Most religious Israeli Jews don’t live in the old city. But many of them in turn (of various obedience), faced with the demographic resistance of the Palestinian population in Jerusalem, increase the pressure on Arab quarters just outside the old city: Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah. The belt of colonies just beyond the city perimeter of Jerusalem expands and thickens: Maalei Adumim, Har Homa, Pizgat Zeev, etc.

Given these reasons, there is an internal consistency to what a representative of the religious extreme right suggests in his NYT article. It is a logic that has catastrophic consequences. The article rejects the notion of a state of Palestine and replaces it, unsurprisingly, with the logic of a greater Israel.

What of Gaza under Hamas? Bennett asserts that “It cannot be a party to any agreement.” It can remain the biggest open-air prison in the world. The systematic debilitation and sub-human status of 1.6 million people, almost half of whom are under 15 if I believe the statistics, will continue.

For the West Bank, Bennett uses the security and terror rhetoric that is accepted nowadays by so many people (not only Republicans). Notice that he doesn’t use Biblical names in this article directed to a non-religious readership and calls “West Bank” the Palestinian areas that go also under the post-Oslo letters A, B, and C. His letter advocates a land grab under the general claim of security that he knows has a good chance of getting the US house and senate—including many democrats—on his side, at least for a moment. He writes that “for its security, Israel cannot withdraw from more territory and cannot allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.”

So, he proposes four measures regarding the West Bank that will further demean Palestinians in their aspirations to freedom and self-government and will continue a massive enforcement of the open-air prison characteristics in that area. His suggestions are the following:

  1. “We would work to upgrade Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank in the areas already under Palestinian control.” This refers to areas A and B, as was made explicit in the e-version of the article that reads: “First, we would work to upgrade the Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank, in the areas largely under Palestinian control (known as Areas A and B, according to the Oslo Accords)”. These areas were defined by the Oslo II agreement, a process whose viability according to Bennett has been upended by “the new reality in the Middle East.” He relies upon it as a weapon against Palestinian aspirations. Areas A and B happen to have about 90-95% of the West Bank’s Palestinian population. See the maps and details. In terms of territory, however, area A has about 3% of the West Bank—exclusive of East Jerusalem—and area B has 23-25% of the West Bank, with about 440 villages and no Israeli implantations. Together with the other suggestions by Bennett, this would be left to the “Palestinian entity.” No state. No independence. Hardly any territory, but a reservation where the population would have to make do with whatever the Israel government grants it. A subhuman existence not unlike that of Gaza, given the security measures likely to develop in response to any violence.
  2. A “huge upgrade of roads and infrastructure, as well as the removal of roadblocks and checkpoints throughout the West Bank.” Exactly where? In area C? Will these roads continue to be penetration roads? Will there be strict control of the Palestinian population living in areas A and B, that is, will the roadblocks and checkpoints be moved between area C—annexed by Israel—and areas A-B? I suppose that’s the idea.
  3. “economic bridges of peace between Israelis and Palestinians:” that is, more industrial zones in illegal colonies. This idea presumably would concern area C.
  4. “Lastly, I propose applying Israeli law in the part of the West Bank controlled by Israel under the Oslo Accords. (Palestinian who live there would be offered full Israeli citizenship).” This is Area C, as made explicit, once more, in the electronic version of this opinion piece: “Lastly, I propose applying Israeli law in Area C, which is the part of the West Bank controlled by Israel under the Oslo agreement.” This assertion of “national sovereignty” is illegal land grabbing. What is Area C? It constitutes at least 61% of Palestinian territories East of the 1967 Green Line as of now (disputed question: actually almost 75% of the West Bank). It conveniently has about 5% of the Palestinian West Bank population only at the moment, for all kinds of reasons (previous land occupation especially). See the map and articles on B’tselem.org site.

Bennett concludes by mouthing platitudes on “new realities” that have “brought an end to the viability of the Oslo peace process.” Obama may have been hated by the right and the not-so-right. Imagine, he had the audacity to visit Arab countries at the beginning of his first mandate. Even worse, he and his government mentioned again, after a long hiatus, the language of just, negotiated settlement on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 242, with swaps. Anathema of course, because it is the only basis for some semblance of just settlement.

Now, with Bennett and other tenors of the religious extreme right, not even a two-state solution is advocated as part of a hypocritical discourse that the present Israeli government has kept up for a while under US pressure. The little pressure there was is gone. Nothing for Palestinians. On the contrary, the measures proposed by Bennett spell a new era of increased repression. The hope of the extreme right wingers: continue the annexation of area C—60-75% of the whole area conquered in June 1967— and “give up” all of areas A and B, while making sure it becomes another Gaza=open air prison.

Do our new representatives and senators want to be part of this injustice and what it spells for the whole area?

Gildas Hamel