Israel: Apartheid State?

This is the second blog that departs from my usual patch and addresses a subject that needs to be kept in the public eye.  This is my very minor contribution to aiding that purpose.  I speak of the Palestine/Israel situation. Postings on this topic will continue to form part of my blog, though I recognise that for many this will not be a subject of interest.

The particular prompt for extending the scope of my blog was the good fortune I enjoyed in being able to join an Extended  Study Tour of   Palestine/Israel. This gave me the opportunity to see for myself at least some aspects of  the situation on the ground, and to meet organisations and individuals affected by, and assiduously seeking to counter, the gross injustices perpetrated by the Israeli state. This by no means makes me an expert, and no such claim is registered here.

This post should not be necessary, but it is.   It should not be necessary because it should be common knowledge that the State of Israel is an apartheid State, as rigorous and focused in its pursuit of institutionalised racism as was apartheid South Africa.

I’m uncomfortable accepting this position, but it is unavoidable, this because the internal logic of political Zionism’s founding purpose necessarily entails the institutionalisation of a comprehensive, all-encompassing discriminatory regime.  Such a regime requires, first, the reduction of the Palestinian Arab population living within Israel’s borders (however defined) by virtually any means possible, this to maintain a significant Jewish majority within State boundaries; second, it requires the aggressive diminishment or full curtailment of Palestinians’ fundamental human rights.  The two aspects are of course interwoven.

My previous post on the subject gave some examples of what this ‘internal logic’ entails in practice. Sadly, it is probably the best bet you could ever make that there will be many, many more shameful, cruel, abusive and illegal acts carried out by the Israeli State in the hours, days and months ahead. There is no doubt about this – Israel, to repeat, is a State that, as currently constituted, has given itself no alternative but to pursue the internal logic of its own founding principles.  Contrary to the currently dominant cultural and religious tenets professed by Israel, this logic and practice is not directed by heaven, but summoned by man.

In this post I want briefly to show why the position is as I have characterised it. I want also to explain why it is simply false to characterise Israel a democratic State.  The claim is able to be made only by the deft use of smoke and mirrors. In plain sight the proposition is somewhere between risible and flagrantly deceitful.  I touch only on a few aspects of this ‘internal logic’.  Other agencies and organisations have documented the full extent of the institutionalised web of discriminatory law, regulation, policy and practice.  Some links appear at the end of this piece. Continue reading

Here we go again: No Risk, No Play

I’d forgotten, it was some time ago, but a series of tweets I saw reminded me that I had responded to an invitation to write an article for LA+ Interdisciplinary Journal of Landscape Architecture, published by the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. They wanted an article about – you guessed it! – ‘Risk and Play’. 

Truth be told,  I find it increasingly difficult to write anything on the subject, this because I find myself in a seemingly perpetual cycle of repetition such that anything I write on the subject feels over-worked, over-used.    No matter, I accepted the invitation in a spirit of self-entrapment – by committing myself, stuff would need to be written.  

The article below is as it appears in the journal save that I have reinserted twenty two words which, for whatever reason, did not make the final edit. (If you’re the sort of person who enjoys a quiz – a Christmas Quiz! – you may enjoy having a punt at which words have been reinserted.)

Speaking of Christmas, I wish readers greetings of the season, and more especially, a 2018 of peace and goodwill. On that latter wish, well, don’t hold your breath, but do what you can. Others are having a bash at it too.

Children and teenagers want and need to take risks. They do this ‘naturally’ in the sense that, left to their own devices, they seek out and create encounters that carry degrees of risk or uncertainty. This process of risk-taking necessarily entails exploration, discovery, and learning – about oneself, one’s capabilities, and the wider world. To take a risk is to assert one’s autonomy and power of agency. It is to learn by doing that actions have consequences. It is an aspect of moral education. Play and risk-taking are creative acts. A perspective to bear in mind as we briefly survey the scene.

Here’s a conventional playground: fenced, rubber or synthetic ‘safety’ surface, inert, uniform, dead. Inside the fence are metal swings, slides, and climbing frames. Climbing, swinging, and sliding are the only actions the equipment formally allows. But there are always renegades who will use equipment ‘wrongly:’ climbing on to the roof of play equipment that was not ‘meant’ for climbing; being upside down on a swing or slide. It’s simple really: children are exercising their sense of agency, their autonomy, their creative capacity to bend even seemingly resistant environments to their own purposes and interests. And the risks they take are generated by their choices, their imaginations, their creativity. Continue reading

Palestinian metaphor: mud bricks

This blog represents a departure from its usual hunting ground. It addresses a subject that I have been itching to speak about via this medium for some time. My reluctance to do so, until now, was based on my awareness that my understanding of the issue was based primarily on book-learning, newspaper/magazine articles and lectures, albeit over many, many years.  I speak of the Palestine/Israel situation.

What releases me now is that I was fortunate to join an Extended  Study Tour of   Palestine/Israel (1) that gave me the opportunity to see for myself the situation on the ground, and to meet organisations and individuals affected by, and assiduously seeking to counter, the gross injustices perpetrated by the Israeli state. This by no means makes me an expert, and no such claim is registered here. But I have given myself permission to write about it in what is, after all, my blog. 

Reader, you may wish to read on, or quietly depart, either before what follows, or after.

It’s a model of sustainability and the philosophy of ‘using what’s to hand’: once Israeli soldiers have knocked down the school room, the sophistication of the design, coupled to the nature of the building material – locally made mud bricks – ensure that it can be resurrected within hours by local Palestinians.  Which is just as well, for the Israeli army is quite likely to turn up again to repeat what I imagine they call an exercise.  Or they turn their attention to another village school there to demonstrate, once again, their capacity for wanton destruction.  Not to mention at the same time traumatising children and humiliating parents and teachers alike. Continue reading

Blog 39

Islington Play CEO

I know it has been a while since my last blog. I was waiting til I felt a bit more settled and knew what to say but I can see that this is not going to happen anytime soon so here I am.

I am feeling overwhelmed by social media and am a bit reluctant to add to the outpourings of very real emotion with my own thoughts. I guess if I feel like this then others do too.

I am struck once again at the sophistication needed by young people to be able to cope with the immediacy and rawness of social media. I have grown up and been used to my news being filtered through lenses that may have, to a greater or lesser extent, been relevant. I have spoken before about my dependence on the Guardian to provide my news with a slant that I find comfortable.

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BBC news story flagrantly manipulates statistics on school accident claims

Good, Tim. Needs nailing.

Rethinking Childhood

A major news story on the BBC website this morning uses false comparisons and basic errors to create a highly misleading picture about the sums paid out for accident claims in schools. Far from revealing a ‘claims culture’, the figures actually show that payouts make up a tiny proportion of education budgets, and are not on the rise.

Screengrab BBC News home page 7 April 2017 with school payout story circled

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For market friends

They have a pulse, a rhythm, a beat: markets.  No antiseptic aisles, no serried lines of check-out counters, no corporate branding.

A market cannot be reduced to the transactions that are its formal purpose. Rather, they are performance venues, an example of audience participation in informal theatrical production.

Markets:  places of manifestly human encounters- even fashionable foodie markets plying esoteric comestibles to the recipe-saturated, maintain something of the looseness, something of the boisterous waywardness of the long-established, local street market.  It’s all deliciously human.  Rough and ready, the wrinkles not smoothed out – blood running through its veins.

A market is both a community in itself, and part of a wider community; and a social space.  As recognised in a report[1] for the National Association of British Market Authorities:

Markets are places of social interaction

  • Used by all sections of society, markets are where people of different incomes, ages, genders and cultures can meet together and interact. They are the happy ‘third place’ of spontaneous interaction.
  • Markets facilitate community cohesion and social inclusion. Because of the ease of becoming a trader, markets have traditionally been attractive to new arrivals. They encourage newcomers to become part of the community and are spaces of diversity.
  • Markets are crucial to the distinct identity of a town or area. From Market Rasen and Downham Market to the ‘modern market town’ that Altrincham prides itself on being, markets are emblematic of many places.
  • They embody a community and set it apart from those without such an asset. They are a key part of the experiential identity of the place and enhance the city image.
  • Markets animate vacant or underused space. Whether in street, market place or vacant lot, markets create vitality and animation, drawing customers and onlookers. Their layout can encourage exploration and discovery.
  • Markets benefit disadvantaged communities. The presence of local markets offering affordable and fresh produce can increase choice for people in deprived areas and improve their quality of life and help address social problems.
  • Markets contribute to community development. The small business nature of markets, their entrepreneurial character and integration with the community promotes community development and connectedness.

Customer is not right

In a market the customer is, quite decidedly, not always right.   The trader is.  A trader: performance artist, scene-setter, animateur, wit, sometimes animated, sometimes, well, just pissed-off – it’s the trader who sets the tone and content of any transaction.  And, yes, you should buy what we’re selling.

But let’s get socio-political again, for there’s another aspect, too:  even employed traders – those employed by a proprietor-trader – they nevertheless retain their own persona, their own character, their own patter, manner and performance style.  Market traders are, manifestly, individuals.  Nothing corporate about them, strangers to the desiccated, formulaic ‘customer service’ served up by the staff – employees all – of supermarkets and globalised, branded stores.

But the corporates, currently, look as though they’re on the winning side. In true Darwnian survival of the fittest style, they adapt.  This from a CentrePiece article:

‘But the fall in the opening of big boxes [i.e. out of town superstores] did not coincide with a reduction in the total number of new stores, rather with a change in their size and location. In the years following the introduction of the reforms, [the planning reforms introduced in 1996 and reinforced in 1999] the major UK retail chains started to open more small stores on high streets and in city centres. Griffith and Harmgart (2005) show that since the late 1990s, the top four UK retail chains substantially increased the number of small convenience stores opened in town centres relative to investments in large stores in out-of-town locations.’

As the local, proprietor-owned shops and market stalls are relentlessly erased from the local ecology of neighbourhood life, replaced by the corporates, their branding promoting a masquerade of intimate connection  – ‘little Waitrose’ (note the insinuating lower case in ‘little’ – I’m small, I want to be your friend) ; ‘Sainsbury’s Local’ (note the ‘Local’); ‘Tesco express’ (note the lower case, italicised ‘express’ , for all you hurried-off-your-feet  people needing to ‘pop-in’ on your way home) – more and more people, young and old, are forced to become employees of  huge corporates that, certainly at the ‘customer-facing’ end, rely on the depersonalisation of the person, their staff.

This depersonalisation has as its logical end point the use of robots.  We’re almost there, with those self-service, check-out units increasingly prevalent.  So that’s technology as the handmaiden of social sterility and, presumably, enhanced company profits.  In this context – depersonalisation – there is the European Court of Justice’s recent judgment which found that, provided a company has a formal, general policy disallowing the display of any religious symbol – crucifix, headscarf, skullcap, etc – at work, then a company is within its rights to enforce a no religous symbol rule on its customer-facing staff because:

‘… an employer’s desire to project an image of neutrality towards both its public and private sector customers is legitimate notably where the only workers involved are those who come into contact with customers. That desire relates to the freedom to conduct a business which is recognised in the Charter.’

Putting to one side the wider merits or demerits of the ruling, consider this:  doesn’t the ruling pressage yet another, legally supported, step in the effacement – ‘image of neutrality’ – of employees’ character and individuality as, tethered to their check-out points, wearing the company uniform, they are forced to perform as customer-facing mechanicals replicating in anticipation the electronic voice message of the machines that will replace them.  So, as they say, ‘Have a good day’.


[1] Report by Professor Alan Hallsworth and Professor Cathy Parker and Simon Quin from the Institute of Place Management, Manchester Metropolitan University

Reforming play equipment and surfacing Standards: a few thoughts

I think it fair to say that within the broad community of play advocates – play designers, landscape architects, play provision providers, pedagogues – play equipment and surfacing Standards have not been a hot topic of debate or contention. For some they were, and continue to be, a form of assurance as to the ‘safety’ of a product; and, in addition, they may even be taken as a proxy indicator of that quasi-mystical quality: play value.

For others, Standards in their current form are a source of bemusement, if not irritation, seen as impeding the possibility of creating rich and varied play environments.

But what this diverse constituency  has in common,  is the shared sense that play equipment and surface Standards descend as from on high, are created via processes and people they know not, but whose pronouncements  have the force and authority of Holy Writ, to be adhered to, but not questioned.

That was then. Now is now.  

‘Now’ is marked by the steady growth, and the coming together, of a diverse  constituency of pedagogues, play advocates, academics, designers, individuals from within Standard-making bodies, all seized of the need to examine Standards, how they are formulated, who formulates them, their scope and their practical consequences ‘on the ground’.   And this constituency is growing. Continue reading