A State’s ‘right’ to exist?

Abstractions cannot have rights.  States are abstractions.  States therefore cannot have rights.  At first blush, this may seem no more than a quibble, or an excursion into constructing a syllogism simply for the pleasure of it.  In terms of the subject I want now to address, it is neither.

Before proceeding, it’s worth stating an opposite but positive proposition:  Rights adhere to, and are embodied in, people. People have rights, States do not.  These are important distinctions, ones that are foundational when considering, and reaching positions on, for example, the Palestinian/Israel conflict.

Qualified Support

There are significant indications that there are increasing numbers of non-Jews and Jews critical of Israel’s policies and actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and towards Palestinians within Israel itself.  More and more people are finding the wanton shamelessness with which Israel pursues and promotes its institutionalised racist policies and practices hard to stomach.  Israel, we might say, gets away with murder, so it barely registers surprise when the Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, proclaims there are ‘no innocent people’ in Gaza, a statement presumably designed to justify the killing of (as at 25 April) forty Gazans and the wounding of 5,511 protestors, including children.  This is the nature of Israel’s response to essentially peaceful protests on the Gazan side of the border fence.  Yes, that’s right, Israel shoots through and over the fence to wound and kill protestors on the Gaza side.

And yet…..

Support but unease

And yet, despite the institutionalsied and calculated brutality of the Israeli State,  I get the sense there are many people – whose natural sympathies and political commitments revolve around respect for fundamental human rights – who hesitate to offer more vocal and active support for the Palestinian cause.  One aspect of this hesitation, the one I want to tackle here, is concern and even dismay at the reluctance or refusal of some Palestinian political entities to recognise the right of the Israeli State to exist and, in particular, the refusal to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State.  Though note that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) recognised Israel, rightly or wrongly, to its benefit or not, in 1988.  Yet the issue of recognition remains, and is likely to remain, a salient one for some time to come.

A first and necessary step to unpicking this is to take a conceptual leap and perhaps an emotional one too, and hold fast to the understanding that States, in principle, have no rights.  It follows that Israel has no more right to exist than does, say, the United Kingdom, a proposition adequately demonstrated by the political movements – the broadly accepted legitimate movements – promoting Scottish and Welsh independence.  This recognition of the legitimacy of the movements says nothing about the rightness or wrongness of the proposed constitutional changes, but, in affirming the legitimacy of the pursuit of independence, one is at the same time granting the legitimacy of the potential dismantling of the UK State.  And such projects are, in principle, permissible.

There is a further move to be made: notwithstanding the status of any State, for those committed to universal human rights, these are indivisible, and in principle transcend national boundaries. In the UK example, irrespective of the structure of constitutional arrangements, that is, whether people are citizens of a United Kingdom or of a future English, Scottish or Welsh State, each individual retains their universal rights. From a human rights’ perspective, it is the State that is or should be the protector and promoter of those rights.

And here we come to the first difficulty in ascribing legitimacy to the current Israeli State, for it neither protects still less promotes the human rights of all those within its borders. The Israeli State is formally founded on an opposing principle: the denial of human rights to, in particular, Palestinians, asylum seekers, and foreign workers.

Note that my concern in this particular article is not to delve into the various political moves and strategies, whether historical or current, of the contending parties. Rather, I am attempting to peel back the layers of propaganda, the standardised tropes – e.g. charges of antisemitism deployed as a shield to protect Israel from criticism – that obscure, and are specifically designed to obscure, questions of principle.  And that principle is that a State that does not protect the rights of all those within its borders has by its own actions raised questions as to its legitimacy. Note further that raising questions about the legitimacy of a State has no bearing on, nor does it dilute, the indivisible rights of all those who live within its borders, this extending without qualification even to those who promulgate and implement the rights-denying policies and practices.

I turn now briefly to the relatively recent call by Israel that it should be recognised specifically as a Jewish State. I have discussed this in an earlier post. Suffice to say that to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a specifically Jewish State is to recognise and grant legitimacy to a formally constituted Apartheid State.  To grant such recognition would be the same as endorsing as legitimate the South African Apartheid State. No State, organisation or person should find this a tolerable proposition.  That Israel does, or at least the current political leadership of Israel does, again raises questions as to the current Israeli State’s legitimacy.  It is already an Apartheid State. It should be morally and politically impermissible to formally embrace it as such.

The line of argument advanced thus far seems to me to raise questions as to the merits of what has come to be called the ‘Two State Solution’, meaning one Palestinian State, the other, a Jewish State.  As I understand it, a Palestinian State would raise no particular ethical issues provided it accorded to all those residing within its borders individual human rights, and all citizens having equal rights and obligations irrespective of, for example, religion or ethnic background.

However, a difficulty arises once one starts thinking about what a specifically Jewish State might entail, not least because 20% of Israel citizens are Palestinians. (Cautionary Note: as detailed in an earlier post, the Israeli State’s version of ‘citizenship’ does not denote a condition of equality between ‘citizens’. Rather, along with the category ‘nationality’ it is the vehicle for the systemic, institutionalised discrimination of those not Jewish, in particular, Palestinians.)

I cannot see how a two state solution could be radically different from the discriminatory State that currently exists.  No doubt were such a ‘solution’ – when is a ‘solution’ not a ‘solution’? – to be implemented various strategies would be devised to ensure an embedded demographic imbalance in favour of the Jewish population, this designed to reduce the existential anxieties of those Jews who fear they will be outnumbered at some point by Palestinians.  But pity the nation that weaves fear, neurosis, exclusion and discrimination into its fundamental constitutional arrangements – though this may be apt description of the current state of affairs.

Conflation

I have suggested that there has been a conflation of incompatible ideas and concepts, namely, not drawing proper distinction between support of and commitment to individual human rights no matter the race, religion, sexuality, culture of an individual, and the misplaced notion that a State has rights. This conflation, I have suggested, serves to obscure, and in my view is designed to obscure, the nature of the current Israeli State and to legitimise its discriminatory regime.  ‘Rights’ as deployed in this context is a very loaded word, one deployed to direct attention away from the nature and actions of the Israeli State.

Distinction between a Regime and a State

My argument leads me back to the UNESCWA (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) report  ‘Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid’, referred to in an earlier post.

The UNESCWA report drew attention to an important distinction: that between a State and a Regime. Although the distinction of itself provides no easy pathway to resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli State conflict, at the conceptual level at least, noting the distinction helps counter the tendency – propagated by the Israeli State – to automatically equate the ending or evolution away from a discriminatory political Zionist State to a different dispensation as necessarily the ‘destruction of Israel’. In the words of UNESCWA report:

‘…identifying apartheid as a regime clarifies one controversy: that ending such a regime would constitute destruction of the State itself. This interpretation is understandable if the State is understood as being the same as its regime. Thus, some suggest that the aim of eliminating apartheid in Israel is tantamount to aiming to “destroy Israel”. However, a State does not cease to exist as a result of regime change. The elimination of the apartheid regime in South Africa in no way affected the country’s statehood.’

 Another type of State is in principle possible.

STOP PRESS: WE FAILED

In my 27 March post ‘Nineteen days and counting to Israel’s destruction of another Palestinian village’ I reported that the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran was under threat of demolition by Israel. Those nineteen days have now elapsed and Israel has not been persuaded to relent.

This from a report by the Israel Campaign Against House Demolitions UK (ICAHD UK):

‘After years of harassment by the authorities and endless demolition orders, after the village’s resident, math teacher Ya’akub Abu Al-Qi’an was killed by the police and falsely accused by a government minister of being “a terrorist” – Bedouin village Umm al-Hiran finally  yielded.

Threatened with Israeli demolition and forced displacement, the inhabitants signed an agreement with Israeli authorities to leave their homes “on their own accord” and move to the town of Hura…’

Adalah, the legal centre for Arab minoroty rights In Israel, which represented Umm Al Hirran’s residents in courts for 15 years, compared Israel’s behaviour in Umm Al Hirran to South Africa’s Apartheid regime:

‘Adalah sees the demolition of Umm al-Hiran and forced displacement of its residents as an act of extreme racism, embodying Israel’s colonialist land policies with the backing of the entire Israeli court system. Israel is moving forward with the destruction of Umm al-Hiran in a plan – reminiscent of the darkest of regimes such as apartheid-era South Africa – to build a new Jewish-only town on its ruins.’

ICAHD UK Conference 19 May 2018

The two-state solution is gone buried under Israel’s ‘matrix of control’, the confiscation of Palestinian land, its Kafkaesque laws and Israeli Supreme Court rulings ignoring international law. Israel continues to act with impunity and no Western government or international body is calling it to account.

The time has come to start actively campaigning for one-state.

Palestinians and Israelis have joined together to form the One Democratic State Campaign which seeks to provide leadership, direction and a viable way forward.

However, with obstacles and difficulties that impede engagement and communication between Palestinians and Israelis:

  • How can they come together for a one-state solution?
  • How can Israelis, living in a militarized society where Arab are demonised change their view of the Palestinians?
  • How can the Palestinians living under a brutal military occupation that traumatized their society heal, and be able to share statehood with their oppressor?

Speakers (more to be announced):

  • Dr Jeff Halper, Co-Founder & Director of ICAHD (Jerusalem), Professor of Anthropology, activist & analyst, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee; author of An Israeli in Palestine, War Against the People & Obstacles to Peace
  • Dr Nadia Nasser Najjab, Research Fellow, Exeter University formerly at Birzeit University
  • Daphna Baram, Director, ICAHD UK, analyst, journalist, author of Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel.

 

 

I thought I’d tell you a story

I thought I’d tell you a story. A true story. Or as true as a told story can be.

I think it may be a tale about the perennial wrestle between pragmatism and principle, but I may be wrong.  If you read on, you can decide for yourself.

The story is about events that took place sometime in the late 1980’s, may be the early the 1990’s. I can’t be any more exact than that, but the date is not really of any consequence.  Or, it occurs to me, perhaps it is.  The way one thinks about things can be quite time or era-specific.

So:

There once was an Urban Farm in the London Borough of Wandsworth.  It was called Elm Farm. I don’t know why it was named that, for I can recall no Elm trees in the vicinity. But I may be wrong. Perhaps there were some Elm trees nearby.  But it doesn’t matter, the story is the same with or without Elm trees.

Although on a very small patch of land, it was quite a successful farm.  It had goats, a cow, chickens, geese, rabbits.  And lots of local, regular human users. Kids loved it, and many busied themselves with farm-type tasks, including smelly, mucky ones.

Animals were born on the farm, and some were killed there: the chickens were for food and eggs, so some got the chop on a regular basis; and some continued to lay eggs – and lived as long as they performed their duty in that regard.  The goats were also sent for slaughter, also on a regular basis, their meat coming back to the farm for sale locally.  You could say that the circle of life and death was played out here. Continue reading

Nineteen days and counting to Israel’s destruction of another Palestinian village

Umm Al-Hiran Village: In 19 days this village will be demolished by Israel

In nineteen days’ time, that is from today the 27 March 2018, five hundred Bedouin men, women and children, residents of the village of Umm Al-Hiran in the Israel Negev desert, will see their homes destroyed, their school, community facilities and mosque razed to the ground, their livelihoods liquidated. The villagers will then be forcibly moved to the nearby Bedouin township of Hura, one of the poorest in the country. Already severely overcrowded, it lacks sufficient services, housing plots and infrastructure even for its current residents.

In addition to the injustice of an entire village population being uprooted against their will, the move would also trigger a profound, disorientating change in the economics, culture and meaning of the villagers’ very sense of themselves as an agricultural-based community now to be forcibly inserted into an alien, over-crowded, unfamiliar and unwanted urban life.

Umm Al-Hiran at present

Continue reading

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