Archive for the 'Palestine/Israel' Category

Drones and apostates

July 13 2015

The Drone Eats with Me. Diaries of the last Gaza war by Atef Abu Saif reviewed at Qunfuz.

Same site: Arabs without God.

I was driven this year in Cairo by an Egyptian who confessed to being an atheist, though he loved the medieval mosques. It will not surprise people who know Egypt to hear that he was in his seventies. If a young person said that, he would probably be from a privileged class.

An English investment adviser there told me on the same visit that one of the untold stories in the Arab world is that of Muslims who are embracing Christianity. It must be a very small number, and he may have been so attracted, charmed, by the phenomenon as to exaggerate it, but it happens.

On my to be watched list is Cheyenne Carron’s 2014 film The Apostle, about a French Muslim who becomes a Christian. It is hard to find or even to google, but it’s on iTunes. I have not heard either good or bad things about it yet.

Gaza pictures from Reuters. Hold cursor over images.

Gargano and Compostela

April 29 2015

… and the heart of Robert the Bruce

In taking up arms under the impulse of this homesickness for their pristine holy land, the Crusaders not only made for Christendom’s oldest and most sacred pilgrimage-resort as their ultimate objective; they also set themselves intermediate goals to draw their flagging feet forward along the intervening stages of their long war-path by throwing out, en route, new pilgrimage-resorts in advanced posts just beyond an expanding Western Christendom’s previous borders. Norman pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint Michael the Archangel on Monte Gargano, in the Apulian dominions of the East Roman Empire, were reconnaissances that became preludes to a Norman conquest of the bridgeheads of Orthodox Christendom and Dār-al-Islām in Southern Italy and Sicily, and French pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint James the Apostle at Compostela, in a Galician no-man’s-land between a Western Christian fastness in Asturia and the former domain of a dissolving Andalusian Umayyad Caliphate, provided successive new drafts of military manpower for the progressive conquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the joint efforts of Cispyrenean and Transpyrenean Frankish aggressors.

The perilous exposure of the shrine at Compostela on the fringe of a Medieval Western Christendom’s dār-al-harb [he uses a different style from the other Dār] had the same effect in spurring the Crusaders into making superhuman exertions as the desperate deed of a Scottish knight who, on an Andalusian battlefield where he had broken his pilgrimage in order to fight under a Castilian banner, turned the fortunes of a day which had been going against the Franks by flinging into the midst of the all-but-victorious Muslims a silver casket containing Robert the Bruce’s heart, and rushing forward after it to conquer or die for the sake of rescuing a treasure, entrusted to his safekeeping, which he had thus deliberately thrown into jeopardy as a last resort for calling out his own supreme reserves of vigour and valour. [Footnote: The tale is told by the writer’s mother, Edith Toynbee, in True Stories from Scottish History (London 1896, Griffith Farran Browne), pp. 90-91.] This incident was an omen; for the mission which the Bruce on his death-bed had charged his companion in arms, James Douglas, to fulfil had been to carry his heart to Jerusalem in order to bury it there in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the attainment of this Palestinian objective was sacrificed for the sake of a Frankish victory on Andalusian ground which was won by Douglas at the cost of the martial pilgrim’s own life; and this personal story repeated itself on an oecumenical scale. While the last of the Crusaders’ bridgeheads on the coast of Syria was lost within less than two hundred years of the Frankish invaders’ first descent upon Palestine [Jerusalem 1099 to Acre 1291], their conquests in the Iberian Peninsula, Southern Italy, and Sicily under the auspices of the far-flung shrines at Compostela and Gargano were the two abiding gains of territory that were made by Western Christendom in the Crusades at Dār-al-Islām’s and Orthodox Christendom’s expense.

Douglas died at the siege of Teba. His body and the casket containing the embalmed heart were found on the field. They were both conveyed back to Scotland by Sir William Keith of Galston. Bruce had been buried in Dunfermline Abbey. Douglas’s remains were interred at St Bride’s church in Douglas, Lanarkshire; Bruce’s heart in Melrose Abbey.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 19.32.15

Sir James Douglas Taking Bruce’s Heart to the Holy Land Is Diverted to Fight the Moors near Granada, what Victorian source?

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954


April 25 2015

The first victory of the Ottoman Empire was a defeat of the Byzantine army near Nicomedia, at Bapheus, in 1302. The defeat of British imperial and French forces on the Gallipoli peninsula, April 25 1915 to January 9 1916, was almost the last.

Gallipoli was also a landmark in the career of a Turkish general, Kustafa Kemal Atatürk. It was a dress rehearsal for the struggle to come.

It disgraced Churchill, who had ordered the naval attack.

During the Irish War of Independence balladeers sang “Twas better to die ’neath an Irish sky than in Suvla or Sedd el Bahr”.

Gallipoli helped to forge national consciousness in Australia and New Zealand, both newly independent and fighting their first war. Today is Anzac Day and the centenary of the start of the campaign.

The first Jewish fighting force – with a Jewish emblem and flag – since the defeat of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in AD 136 fought in Gallipoli. So, in a small way, this was a dress rehearsal for the wars of Zion.


The peninsula forms the northern or western bank of the Dardanelles, the strait that provided a sea route to the Russian Empire. Russia’s allies Britain and France launched a naval attack followed by a landing, intending to secure it and then capture Constantinople. The naval attack was repelled and after eight months’ fighting the land campaign was abandoned and the invasion force withdrawn to Egypt.

The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was formed in Egypt in 1915 and commanded by General William Birdwood. It was disbanded in 1916. Later formations.

What has been happening in Palestine during the War? Dr. Trietsch informs us that the Ottoman Government has been proceeding with the “naturalisation” of the Palestinian Jews, and that the “local execution of this measure has not been effected without disturbances […].” [My bracket, not AJT’s.] One significant consequence was the appearance in Egypt of Palestinian refugees, who raised a Zion mule corps there and fought through the Gallipoli campaign.

The Zion Mule Corps was formed in March 1915. It was the precursor of the Jewish Legion (1917-21), the unofficial name for the 38th to 42nd Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers, which fought against the Ottoman Empire. Jacob Epstein served in the 38th.

Casualties at Gallipoli:

Ottoman Empire (Turks, Arabs, others): 109,042 wounded and missing, 57,084 killed

Britain: 52,230 wounded, 21,255 killed

Australia: 19,441 wounded, 8,709 killed

France: 17,000 wounded, 10,000 killed (estimates), including an unknown number of Senegalese

New Zealand: 4,752 wounded, 2,721 killed

India: 3,421 wounded, 1,358 killed

Newfoundland: 93 wounded, 49 killed

Germans: a few fought with the Turks

The numbers vary greatly from one source to another. Allied numbers here are via, which gives its source as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Australia. It doesn’t say whether wounded includes missing. Ottoman numbers via Most sources give only the Allies. Have the Ottoman totals ever been broken down?

Anzac parade, London, date not shown:

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

The age of the pogrom

April 13 2015

Syrians and Armenians have been emigrating for the last quarter of a century, [but] during the same period the Jews, whose birthright in Western Asia is as ancient as theirs, have been returning to their native land – not because Ottoman dominion bore less hardly upon them than upon other gifted races, but because nothing could well be worse than the conditions they left behind. For these Jewish immigrants came almost entirely from the Russian Pale, the hearth and hell of modern Jewry. The movement really began after the assassination of Alexander II in 1881, which threw back reform in Russia for thirty-six years. The Jews were the scapegoats of the reaction. New laws deprived them of their last civil rights, pogroms of life itself; they came to Palestine as refugees, and between 1881 and 1914 their numbers there increased from 25,000 to 120,000 souls.

Written between the two Russian revolutions and before the Balfour Declaration. Progroms continued during the Civil War of 1917-22.

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

Semitic outliers

February 17 2015

Which Semitic language is written now in Latin script?

Answer: Maltese.

Which Semitic language is written now in a script that is not Hebrew, not Arabic and not Latin?

Answer: Amharic (Ethiopian). Main example.

Martin Gilbert

February 6 2015

Chronicler, factory.

Obits a week after Churchill and Holocaust anniversaries:




Main Churchill volumes (comment in old post).

Career ended February 2013 with cerebral haemorrhage.

2002 interview by Allan Gregg about the Jews in the 20th century:

William Dalrymple

December 31 2014

One of Dalrymple’s heroes is Leigh Fermor. WD’s a fine historian, but not PLF’s literary equal.


In Xanadu (1989), following the path taken by Marco Polo from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to the site of Shangdu, Xanadu, in Inner Mongolia, the summer seat of Kublai Khan. Posts here: Xanadu and JeholThe Silk Road and Summer capitals, summer palaces.

City of Djinns (1994), about Delhi, where he lives.

From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium (1997), about eastern Christianity. Posts here: Indian churches, Christians and Yazidi, and work back from links in latter.

The Age of Kali (1998), about trouble in modern India. Kali Yuga is the fourth age in Hindu cosmology.

Editor, Lonely Planet Sacred India (1999).

White Mughals (2002), about a love affair in early-nineteenth-century Hyderabad between James Achilles Kirkpatrick and a Muslim noblewoman, Khair-un-Nissa Begum.

Begums, Thugs and White Mughals – The Journals of Fanny Parkes (2002), an edition of the travel journals of Fanny Parkes, who travelled in India from 1822 to ’46 and wrote Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque.

The Last Mughal, The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857 (2006).

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (2009).

Return of a King – The Battle for Afghanistan (2012), about the first Anglo-Afghan War, 1839-42.

Editor, with Yuthika Sharma, Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857 (2012). After Aurangzeb.

TV, radio, journalism.


Links to podcasts this year in the BBC Radio 4 Point of View series, with my comments:

A Lenten reflection, April 4. About the discovery, by a British hunting party in 1819, of the painted caves at Ajanta, in the western Ghats in central Maharashtra. “Along with the frescoes of Pompeii, […] the greatest picture gallery to survive from the ancient world.” The caves were inhabited by Buddhist monks, but show the sensual life of the court in which the Buddha grew up, not the austerities of the religious life. They were probably painted in the 2nd century BC, with a later group from the 5th century CE. There was no conflict between the sacred and the sensual in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, says Dalrymple; he does not dwell on Hindu traditions of mortifying the flesh.

Later: Buddhist, Jain and Hindu carvings and fragments of paintings in caves at Ellora in Maharashtra. Buddhist and Hindu carvings in caves on Elephanta Island in Mumbai harbour. Erotic Jain and Hindu carvings at temples in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh.

The puritanical break in India, he suggests, came not with Islam, but with the British, with effects still felt today in a false reinterpretation of their history by Hindus. Africans and Muslims are doing the same thing with theirs. What is rejected as unMuslim and unAfrican is often nineteenth-century unWestern.

A classic instance in modern Western art of wild eroticism united with religious sensibility is Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. Its original inspiration wasn’t Indian, but its title is a composite of two Sanskrit words, turanga and lîla, which, apparently, roughly mean “love song and hymn of joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death”. How odd that Bernstein, who conducted the premiere in Boston, never returned to it or recorded it. Or is it kitsch?

A tale of two elections, April 11. About the 2014 elections in India and Afghanistan.

Travel-writing giants, April 18. About Peter Matthieson, who had just died, and Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Last year in the same series, we had Islamo-Christian heritage, December 20 2013, about the old sharing of sacred space in Egpyt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, India by Christians, Muslims and Jews. I quoted from it here.

Islam did not tolerate Christianity: it showed great tenderness towards it. Dalrymple quotes examples from Akbar’s abortive capital at Fatehpur Sikri. Mary is mentioned more often in the Quran than in the Gospels. Many apocryphal sayings of Jesus were and are current in Islam.

Contested sites and the failure to share: Jerusalem and Ayodhya, the Temple Mount and Ram Janmabhoomi. Though the Israeli occupiers of the Temple Mount do enforce a ban on prayer by non-Muslims at its Umayyad structures, a ban which some orthodox Zionists would like to defy and nearly all Muslims demand.

Dalrymple on Akbar and Christianity, New Statesman, December 19 2005. Post here mentioning Akbar’s attempt to start a new syncretic religion, the Dīn IIāhī.

The prisoners of Ezra

October 31 2014

The scribe and prophet Ezra was born in Babylon, but under the Persians c 480 BC after the exile was over. He moved to Jerusalem, where the Temple had been rebuilt, and reintroduced the Torah there.

In their attitude towards gentiles, Jews today are still the prisoners of the masterful Babylonian Jewish reformer Ezra. His objective was to make the Jews obey the Torah; and, as a necessary means to this end, he took drastic steps to segregate them from their gentile neighbours. “The general result of his policy was to draw a sharp line of division between Jew and gentile, and to make for the Jewish community a sort of enclosure in the midst of the gentile world.” This was an inevitable effect of enforcing the observance of the Torah as Ezra understood it. But the observance of the Torah as understood by Ezra and by his successors the Pharisees is not an inevitable accompaniment of the religion of Deutero-Isaiah [the exilic “second Isaiah”]. Ezra raised an issue. He did not settle it. And the debate that he started has been continuing in Jewish hearts and minds ever since.

The quotation is from R Travers Herford, Judaism in the New Testament Period, Lindsey Press, 1928. The passage also refers to his The Pharisees, Allen & Unwin, 1924.

A Study of History, Vol XII: Reconsiderations, OUP, 1961

Jewish legion

August 28 2014

Epstein at war, 1917. Silent Pathé clip. He served briefly in the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, aka the Jewish Legion. Did he fight in Palestine? Where is his reputation now? It seems uncertain.

Why is Jerusalem holy?

August 3 2014

A city can […] become holy through having been the scene of a transcendent spiritual experience, whether authentic or legendary. For instance, Jerusalem is a holy city for Muslims because the Prophet Muhammad believed that this was the place where, on “the Night of Power”, he had ascended into Heaven and re-descended to Earth. The most tragic of all possible events in a prophet’s life is martyrdom, and the holiness of the scene of a martyrdom is enhanced if the martyr has been buried in the same place. The crucifixion and burial of Jesus in Jerusalem are the two events in Jesus’s history that have made Jerusalem a holy city for Christians.


Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Muslims today? Because it was a holy city for the Prophet Muhammad; and it was holy for him because of its long-established holiness for Christians and Jews – “the People of the Book” who enjoyed religious prestige in Muhammad’s eyes in virtue of their having been previous recipients of divine revelation. This is why Muhammad originally instructed his followers to face towards Jerusalem when they were saying their prayers, and it is also why, in his mind, Jerusalem was the place from which he ascended to Heaven and to which he re-descended on “the Night of Power”.

Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Christians today? Because it was a holy city for Jesus. It was holy for him because he was an orthodox Jew, and he was observing the Jewish Law, as this stood in his day, when he went from his native Galilee to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover there in the year in which he was crucified and was buried outside Jerusalem’s city-wall.

Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Jews? Because King Josiah of Judah (circa 640-610 B.C.) [meaning reigned] centralized in Jerusalem all acts of worship in his kingdom and put all other places of worship there out of commission.

Moses and Joshua conquered Canaan, the Promised Land. The Hebrews were often subject to the coastal Philistines and were ruled by Judges until c 1000 B.C.

The prophet Samuel, florebat from c 1050 BC, was the last judge of Israel and the first of the prophets after Moses. His judgeship was dominated by war with the Philistines, who captured Moses’ Ark of the Covenant. In his old age he agreed, at divine request, to the establishment of a king; he thus anointed Saul and remained chief prophet during Saul’s reign. In this role he also anointed David, a shepherd, who was from the Jewish tribe of Judah.

Saul was succeeded by David and then by Solomon. After the expansionist reign of Solomon (c 970-928 BC), the kingdom broke up into two states: Israel in the north, established by Jeroboam, with its capital at Shechem, then Tirzah, then Samaria, and Judah in the south, under the house of David, with its capital at Jerusalem. Josiah was of the house of David.

When the “eternal” Davidic dynasty failed after four centuries, it formed the basis for the Jewish belief in the Messiah.

Why did Josiah carry out this act of cultural synoecism (to use an Hellenic term of constitutional art)? Because Jerusalem was the capital city of the Kingdom of Judah in Josiah’s day. Why was Jerusalem the capital of Judah? Because, at an early date in the tenth century B.C., David [of the united Israelite kingdom] had conquered and annexed the Canaanite city-state of Jerusalem and had made this city the capital of his kingdom, which included not only Judah but Israel. After the irruption of the Israelites and Judahites into Palestine circa 1200 B.C., this Canaanite city-state had maintained its independence for about two hundred years in between the Israelite invaders to the north of it and the Judahite invaders to the south.

The Judahites were one of the twelve tribes of the Israelites: he must be referring to the split that led to the formation of the two states. How did each of the twelve tribes align themselves in this?

It will be seen that the holiness of Jerusalem is paradoxical. It was the last piece of Canaanite territory to be acquired by the Judahite worshippers of Yahweh, yet it became the only place in Judah where the worship of Yahweh was allowed, and it acquired this cultural monopoly because, after its annexation to Judah, it had been made the capital of the Judahite state.

The two kingdoms were later conquered by expanding Mesopotamian states, Israel by Assyria (c 720 BC) and Judah by Babylonia (586 BC). The Babylonians destroyed the Temple at Jerusalem and held the Jews captive in Babylon.

Why is modern Israel called Israel, not Judah (House of David), when Jerusalem gained so much more prestige than Samaria?


The history of the City of Jerusalem since the liquidation of the Kingdom of Judah has been as kaleidoscopic as the history of Rome since the disintegration of the Roman Empire. When, in 538 B.C., the Babylonian Empire was liquidated in its turn by the Persians, Jerusalem became a non-sovereign temple-state [the Jews returned from their Babylonian captivity and the temple was rebuilt], and it retained this status under the successive Persian, Ptolemaic, and Seleucid regimes till the second quarter of the second century B.C. A Hellenizing party among the Judaean Jews then attempted to transform the Jerusalem temple-state into a city-state on the Hellenic pattern. This led to a domestic Judaean Jewish conflict between Hellenizers and conservatives, and to a consequent collision between conservative Jewish religious and political nationalists and the Seleucid Imperial Government. The break-up of the Seleucid Empire enabled the [anti-Greek] Hasmonaean leaders of the Jewish nationalist movement to turn the Jerusalem temple-state into a Palestinian Jewish miniature empire of the kind that Pope Martin V and his successors carved out in Central Italy in and after the fifteenth century of the Christian Era. The Hasmonaean Empire was cut back to the dimensions of its nucleus, the Jerusalem temple-state, by the intervention of the Roman war-lord Pompey in 63 B.C. The sequel was a head-on collision between the Palestinian Jewish community and the Roman Empire; the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70; the foundation, on the vacant site, of a Graeco-Roman city, Aelia Capitolina; and the eviction of the Jews from all parts of Palestine except Galilee.

Pompey conquered Palestine in 63 BC, but the state survived until 37 BC with a loss of autonomy. From 37 BC to AD 92 the Roman province of Judaea (Judea) was ruled by puppet kings of the Romans, the Herodian Dynasty, a Jewish dynasty from Idumea.

When the Jews revolted in AD 66, the Romans destroyed the Temple (AD 70). The foundation of Aelia Capitolina led to another revolt between AD 132 and 135, led by Bar Kokhba, which was also suppressed. Jericho and Bethlehem were destroyed, and the Jews were barred from most of Palestine.

At the moment of writing, in October 1969, a new Jerusalem, outside Aelia Capitolina’s western wall, was the capital of the post-Second-World-War state of Israel, while the Old City which contains the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holy places was a piece of Jordanian territory under the Israelis’ military occupation. Since 1929 it has looked as if the relations between the Vatican City, the rest of the City of Rome, and the Italian national state have become stabilized; but in 1969 the future of the two parts of the City of Jerusalem was still unpredictable.


The Muslim Dome of the Rock stands on the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem, territory which Israel re-occupied in 1967; it is the site where any Third Temple would be built

Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970

I have referred to a US edition.


August 3 2014


Palestine links

August 3 2014

Arab-Israeli conflict

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

History of the Arab-Israeli conflict

Palestinian people

Peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

One-state solution

Two-state solution

Israel and the apartheid analogy

East Jerusalem

West Bank

Gaza Strip

Golan Heights


History of Jordan

History of Lebanon

History of Syria

History of Iraq

History of Iran

History of Egypt

Mandatory Palestine

United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine

United Nations Special Committee on Palestine

1947-48 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine

1948 Palestine War

Plan Dalet

Israeli Declaration of Independence

Nakba Day

1948 Arab-Israeli War

1948 Palestinian exodus

Causes of the 1948 Palestinian exodus

List of Arab towns and villages depopulated during the 1948 Palestinian exodus

1948 Palestinian exodus from Lydda and Ramle

Palestinian right of return

Palestinian diaspora

Palestinians in Jordan

Palestinians in Lebanon

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194

Population displacements in Israel after 1948

Arab citizens of Israel

Arab Jews

1949 Armistice Agreements

Reprisal operations

Suez Crisis

Palestine Liberation Organization

Six-Day War

Israeli-occupied territories

Israeli settlements

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

War of Attrition

Palestinian insurgency in South Lebanon

Black September in Jordan

Yom Kippur War

Lebanese Civil War

Camp David Accords

Iranian revolution

Iran-Iraq War

1982 Lebanon War

Sabra and Shatila massacre

South Lebanon conflict (1982–2000)

First Intifada

Palestinian Declaration of Independence

State of Palestine

Gulf War

Second Intifada


Oslo Accords

Palestinian National Authority



Iraq War

Israeli disengagement from Gaza

2006 Lebanon War

Blockade of the Gaza Strip

Governance of the Gaza Strip

Gaza War (2008-09)

Temple Mount riots

Arab Spring

Syrian Civil War

Operation Pillar of Defense

Operation Protective Edge

Gaza Strip smuggling tunnels

Palestinian government of 2014


West-Eastern Divan

August 3 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 01.03.56

Click on the image. Royal Albert Hall, July 24 2012.

West-östlicher Diwan.


August 2 2014

One should resist jumping on bandwagons, even the current anti-Israel one. But the five posts preceding this one have links to posts by Robin Yassin-Kassab that are worth reading and thinking about.

“Eighty percent of people in Gaza are descendants of refugees ethnically cleansed from their villages and towns by Zionist militias in 1947 and 1948.” Gaza is five miles wide and twenty-seven miles long and contains nearly two million people. “The settlers of southern Israel do not have the right to live without fear of attack while the original inhabitants of southern Israel are herded into refugee camps.” Source.

“Whatever the Western media calls them, the illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank are very far from being outposts. They are connected to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv by fast, Jews-only motorways. Their villas have swimming pools and lawns (a settler is allocated eight times more water than a Palestinian). Even the most recent and far-flung of settlements are tooled-up enough to intimidate the Arabs on whose land they encroach.” Source.

Unless Jordan (or a lot more than Jordan) is redefined, the solution is one state. What an inspiring idea that is. All partitions are miserable failures. There is no realistically possible two-state solution in the occupied areas. And one state is impossible while religious fundamentalists rule in the US and in Israel. But there is hope, because Israel, now an ethnocracy, is a remarkable society. Y-K: “Jews and Arabs could be friends again, and more than friends.”

I know only two things about Palestinians from my personal experience, and if this wasn’t from personal experience it wouldn’t be worth repeating. They are careful about distinguishing between the Zionist state and Jews. They are not natural haters. This is not Ireland or the Balkans. Hamas is committed to the destruction of the Zionist state, not to exterminating Jews. And they do not incline towards religious extremism. But all slogans can be forgotten when a situation normalises.

This despite the pictures we had of them joyfully celebrating 9/11, and all their other signs of political immaturity, such as the love of conspiracy theories.

Israel needs to revise its propaganda manuals: the same words are used by every spokesman. They like to kill, we do not. Human shields.

Y-K hasn’t written much on Palestine recently. More on Syria and Iraq. He’s an Orwell. I once called his blog a university of the middle east. The best thing about it is that it often reminds us that Islam has sources of reform and renewal within its own past and in its present. (Jettisoning some of the dead weight of hadith might be a start.) It will not be hijacked forever, and isn’t being hijacked everywhere now, by barbarians who exploit the world’s ignorant and disoriented.

Reform and renewal not only of itself. It can offer the rest of us much too.

But this is a long way away. Why did I instinctively react against Simon Sebag Montefiore’s intermittently impressive Jerusalem, The Biography? The whole two-state camp loved it.

First, though I constantly praise (albeit with my slightly retro bias) intelligent popularising history, the book had a Time magazine feel. He is simply not qualified to write the whole story. Arnold Toynbee might have been. Few others. But good to have tried.

The problem was the readership. The readers were not qualified to read a book by a man not qualified to write it. The Clintons and Blairs, who took it as pretend, photo-op reading on their summer holidays, rejoiced to discover that the “region” had been the scene of massacres from the beginning.

Perhaps Y-K can recommend a better book. Montefiore seems not to notice, when quoting Stephen Graham, that Kyrie eleison does not mean Christ is risen.

Palestine: the four solutions

August 2 2014

Same writer (2009).

What Hamas should be doing

August 2 2014

Same writer (2008).

Israel and South Africa

August 2 2014

Same writer (2009).

Why mustn’t we support Hamas?

August 2 2014

Answers dissected by the same writer (2010). More (2007).

Where are the Palestinian Gandhis?

August 2 2014

Qunfuz’s answer (2010). More here (2009).

Five prophets

August 21 2013






Five portraits from the Holy Land. Clive Lawton, narrator, writer. Mark Savage, producer. BBC Radio 4, August 12-16.

Saul, David and Jonathan (old post).


August 15 2013


Chinatowns in Africa

Chinatowns in Asia

Chinatowns in Australia

Chinatowns in Canada

Chinatowns in Europe

Chinatowns in Latin America

Chinatowns in the Middle East, but are any real?

Chinatowns in Oceania

Chinatowns in the United States

Oldest. Anywhere: Manila. In Japan: Nagasaki. In Americas: Mexico City. In US: San Francisco. In Canada: Victoria. In Australia: Melbourne. In Europe: Liverpool. The oldest are never the largest.

Largest. In US: New York, followed by San Francisco. In Canada: Vancouver, followed by Toronto. In Japan: Yokohama, followed by Kobe, followed by Nagasaki (the three official Chinatowns). In Australia: Sydney, followed by Melbourne. In Britain: London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle.

In the Netherlands: Amsterdam, followed by The Hague, followed by Rotterdam. In Belgium: Antwerp (the only official one). In France: Paris, the main one in the 13th arrondissement.

The only official Chinatown in Korea is in Incheon. There are Chinatowns in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Jakarta’s is in a district called Glodok. The only real Chinatown in India is in Kolkata.

It is odd, in the case of Singapore, to have a Chinatown in a country that is ethnically Chinese. The word at least pays lip service to Singapore’s multiculturalism. There is no Chinatown in Tokyo.

Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo do not have well-defined areas. Buenos Aires has a small Chinatown. Moscow and Berlin do not have historic Chinatowns.

Many Chinatowns are in decline or are being replaced by China-themed malls. Flight of upwardly-mobile Chinese in US to the suburbs.

Chinese laundries in North America.


Chinatown cooks

Manhattan, Wikimedia Commons

Mystery religions

July 9 2013

Mystery religions – cults reserved to initiates – formed one of three types of Greco-Roman religion, the others being the imperial cult or ethnic religion particular to a nation or state, and the philosophic religions such as Neoplatonism. Mysteries supplemented rather than competed with civil religion. One could observe the rites of a state cult, be an initiate in one or several mysteries, and at the same time follow a philosophical school. In contrast to the compulsory public rituals of civil religion, initiation to a mystery was optional. The same gods could be worshipped inside and outside a mystery. Was Mithras mystery-only?

The Roman establishment objected to Christianity not on grounds of its tenets or practices, but because, unlike adherents of the mystery religions with which it was competing, Christians considered their faith as precluding their participation in the imperial cult.


Of the Eleusinian MysteriesDionysian Mysteries, Samothracian Mysteries and Orphic Mysteries, the first three may have been influenced by Thracian or Phrygian cults, but lasted, with whatever gaps in the Dark Age or at other stages, from the Mycenaean period until the end of paganism.

The Eleusinian Mysteries were annual initiation ceremonies held at Eleusis in Attica for the cults of Demeter and Persephone (Proserpina). Of all the ancient mysteries, they were held to be the ones of greatest importance.

The Dionysian (Bacchic) Mysteries were not connected with a particular place.

The mysteries on Samothrace in the northern Aegean predate Greek colonisation in the seventh century BC. The pantheon there included the Cabeiri and a Great Mother who is often identified with Demeter. Both may have originally been Phrygian. Samothrace formed a Macedonian national sanctuary during the Hellenistic period and remained an important site under Rome.

The Greek Orphic Mysteries (Orpheus) go back at least to the fifth century BC. When did they die out?


Some of the gods that the Romans adopted from other cultures came to be worshipped in mysteries – the Phrygian Cybele, the Thracian/Phrygian Sabazius, the Egyptian Isis, the Zoroastrian Persian Mithras. So did Adonis, who is related to the Mesopotamian Tammuz and the Egyptian Osiris.

The originally Phrygian cult of Cybele reached mainland Greece in the sixth century BC and, as a cult of Magna Mater, was officially adopted during the Second Punic War and again by Augustus.

The Phrygian cult of Attis, the consort of Cybele, reached the Greek world in the fourth century BC, if not earlier, and Rome in the first century CE.

The Phrygian cult of Sabazius entered the classical Greek world at an early stage and survived into the Roman Empire.

The ancient pharaonic gods Isis and her consort Osiris joined the Greek pantheon when Egypt was hellenised. The cult of Isis spread through the Roman Empire during the formative centuries of Christianity.

The Persian cult of Mithras entered the Roman world in the first century and was popular in the army. Wikipedia, citing Clauss, M., The Roman Cult of Mithras: “Soldiers were strongly represented amongst Mithraists; and also merchants, customs officials and minor bureaucrats. Few, if any, initiates came from leading aristocratic or senatorial families until the pagan revival of the mid 4th century [Julian]; but there were always considerable numbers of freedmen and slaves.”


Were Serapis and Sol Invictus ever worshipped as mysteries by initiates? Serapis was a god invented by Ptolemy I as a means of unifying the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. Ptolemy failed in his objective, but Serapis grew in popularity throughout the Roman period and often replaced Osiris as the consort of Isis in temples outside Egypt.

The cult of Sol Invictus from Aurelian to Constantine and beyond was perhaps a revival of the emperor Elagabalus’s cult of the Syrian sun-god from whom he took his name. What were the “oriental” and what were the “indigenous” elements in the Sol Invictus cult?

The malleus presbyterorum

June 7 2013

If the formidable authority conferred on the priests by their custody of tradition is to be challenged, the challenge can be delivered only by the word of God Himself as revealed in His prophet’s message; for, if that message is once recognized to be authentic, it must override the rulings of priests who are not God’s spokesmen but merely His ministers; and, though the winged words of God’s living human spokesman will be likely to have both a greater virtue and a greater effect than any written testament, dumb scripture has one decisive posthumous advantage over the living voice. Scripture can attain a longevity which, at second hand, will multiply a hundredfold the brief life-span of the prophet whose message this frozen echo perpetuates. Holy Writ that purports to enshrine prophetic revelation is thus a malleus presbyterorum that is a literal godsend to rebels against sacerdotal authority. The followers of the Prophets of Israel and Judah and of Zarathustra made effective use of this weapon against the priests of their day; the Scribes and Pharisees used it against the Sadducees; the Protestant Reformers used it against the Papal Church.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Foreign fields

June 3 2013

Anglican and partly-Anglican cemeteries in non-English-speaking countries:

Bangkok Protestant Cemetery

Bilbao British Cemetery

Bornova Anglican Cemetery, Izmir

British Cemetery, Callao

British Cemetery, Madrid

Cementerio Británico, Buenos Aires

Cheras Christian Cemetery, Kuala Lumpur

Christian Cemetery, Dhaka

English Cemetery, Florence

English Cemetery, Malaga

English Cemetery, Naples

First Cemetery of Athens

Gora Kabristan, Lahore

Feriköy Protestant Cemetery, Istanbul

Mount Zion Cemetery, Jerusalem

Old English Cemetery, Livorno

Old Protestant Cemetery, George Town

Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau

Protestant Cemetery, Rome

Protestant Cemetery, São Paulo

Yarborough Cemetery, Belize City

This, of course not complete, is everything relevant in a Wikipedia list of Anglican cemeteries generally. Apart from Lahore and Dhaka, it has nothing from British India, but it mentions the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia.

The rather user-unfriendly BACSA site says: “People sometimes think that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission [my link] cares for all graves in Britain’s former Empire, but in fact the Commission only deals with the graves of soldiers [of all Commonwealth countries] killed in World War One and World War Two. The graves of European civilians, and soldiers who died before World War One, and between the two World Wars, generally have no-one to protect them, or to record their inscriptions, which is where BACSA comes in.

“BACSA – the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia – was set up in 1977 to bring together people with a concern for the many thousands of British and other European cemeteries, isolated graves and monuments in South Asia. There is no one body or agency responsible for looking after these last resting places in the area from the Red Sea to the China Coast – wherever the East India Company and its rivals from France, the Netherlands and Denmark set foot. An estimated two million Europeans and Anglo-Indians – mainly British administrators, soldiers, merchants and their families – are buried in the Indian sub-continent alone. Without our support many of their graves and monuments – witnesses to centuries of European residence in the area – would disappear.

“We record the locations of cemeteries and monuments, and the inscriptions on headstones. We publish cemetery and church records containing names, inscriptions and biographical notes on individual tombs and gravestones. We support local people active in the restoration and conservation of European graveyards.”

It is run by volunteers and has a membership of 1,400 in the UK and elsewhere.

Another site,, “is attempting to preserve the images of graves and monuments before they disappear. It covers the area which used to be British India and includes present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Entries are not limited to British citizens. Monuments cover many nationalities. All information comes ad hoc from volunteers, therefore it is not an exhaustive and accurate survey.

“When I [John, site owner] started looking around cemeteries, I was shocked by the state of neglect of most of them. Monuments of British men, women and children, who had sometimes died in the most tragic ways, were crumbling into the dust. Some of the local people had a genuine interest in these cemeteries and were trying to get something done, but much of the money which is awarded for renovation work does not reach the people doing the work.

“The British Government, I was told, contributes nothing. [It does only in so far as it is a member of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.] If this is true, then it is indeed a disgrace.

“This site is a photographic record of those cemeteries and churches which I visited, along with transcriptions of the memorials and gravestones. They are not an exhaustive survey, as time did not permit. Since this site started it has continued to grow as contributions are sent in by other people.”

Quotations edited.

Old English Cemetery overview

The overgrown Old English Cemetery at Livorno

Hearth and hell

March 1 2013

The Russian Pale, the hearth and hell of modern Jewry.

Isaac Watts, A Fair Enquiry and Debate Concerning Space, Whether It Be Something or Nothing, God or a Creature: “It has a being like God, in heaven, hearth and hell, diffused through all […].”

Presumably there are etymological links between hearth, earth and hard.

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

Russians in Jerusalem

January 7 2013

On the morrow of the decisive Russian victory in the Great Russo-Turkish War of A.D. 1768-74, […] the sincerity of the Russian peasantry’s devotion to the Holy Land was attested by the volume of an annual pilgrimage-stream that used to roll through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles till it broke on the coast of Palestine after sweeping over the promontory of Athos. The aspiration to make the pilgrimage to their holy places came to play as dominant a part in the Russians’ life as in the Muslims’; and in the World War of A.D. 1914-18 an Imperial Russian Government at its last gasp obstinately vetoed all Western suggestions for establishing a Jewish National Home in Palestine on the ground that this would create an intolerable eye-sore for Russian pilgrims to Orthodox Christendom’s Holy Land. In A.D. 1917 the Tsardom had to fall on the 12th March before the Balfour Declaration could be published on the 2nd November.

And General Allenby entered Jerusalem on foot, through the Jaffa Gate, on December 11.

The Russian Compound.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Colonial Film

November 14 2012

“Welcome to Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire. This website holds detailed information on over 6000 films showing images of life in the British colonies. Over 150 films are available for viewing online. You can search or browse for films by country, date, topic, or keyword. Over 350 of the most important films in the catalogue are presented with extensive critical notes written by our academic research team.

The Colonial Film project united universities (Birkbeck and University College London) and archives (British Film Institute, Imperial War Museum and the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum) to create a new catalogue of films relating to the British Empire. The ambition of this website is to allow both colonizers and colonized to understand better the truths of Empire.”

Critical Muslim

June 19 2012

Newish Granta-format quarterly published by the UK-based Muslim Institute.

Editors: Ziauddin Sardar and Robin Yassin-Kassab.

International advisory board: Karen Armstrong, William Dalrymple, Anwar Ibrahim, Arif Mohammad Khan, Bruce Lawrence, Ebrahim Moosa, Ashis Nandy.

I worried about the title at first, but I suppose the implication is fair.

Issue 1: The Arabs Are Alive

Issue 2: The Idea of Islam

Issue 3: Fear and Loathing

Issue 4: forthcoming on Pakistan


Critical Muslim 3


May 22 2012

May 19. Arab village: ʿAsira al-Qibliya. Settlement: Yitzhar. Was the Palestinian killed in the second clip? There are three videos in the BBC report.

Bertrand Russell on Israel

May 14 2012

Bertrand Russell’s last public statement was dated January 31 1970. He died, aged 97, on February 2. The statement was read out at, and perhaps written for, an International Conference of Parliamentarians in Cairo on February 3. It was published in The Washington Post on March 2. (Nasser died in the following September.)

An apparently complete version, as read in Cairo, is here. This, on a quick glance, is identical to what is published at the end of Ray Perkins Jr, editor, Yours Faithfully, Bertrand Russell: Letters to the Editor, 1904-69 [various publications], Chicago, Carus Publishing Company, 2002.

A summary of Russell’s views on the Israel-Palestine conflict is here.

The bombing of Egypt to which he is referring was during the War of Attrition from 1967 to ’70, which ended with the frontiers unchanged. Israel did not withdraw from Sinai until 1982.

Imperial Messenger

May 12 2012

“Look, I’m a little confused. Do the math for me. You are wearing an Islamic head covering, you are obviously a religious person, but you were educated in an American university and now you are bringing the Internet to Kuwait. I don’t quite see how it all adds up.”

“A Russian journalist, circling the Coke machine, under the CNN screen, speaking Russian into a cell phone, in NATO headquarters, while Kosovo burned – my mind couldn’t contain all the contradictions.”

“The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened, making the world much flatter than it had ever been – but the age of seamless global communication had not yet dawned.”

Three Friedman quotations, I assume accurate, in a review at New Left Project by David Wearing of Belén Fernández, The Imperial Messenger – Thomas Friedman at Work, New York, Verso, 2012.

Risibly inane. Friedman is never deep, and he is prejudiced against Arabs even if he believes in their decency as potential Americans. But he is not always as bad as this. He is right about some things, like America’s obsession with al-Qaeda.

Other titles in Verso’s Counterblasts series: Jade Lindgaard and Xavier de la Porte, The Imposter – BHL in Wonderland, and Derrick O’Keefe, Michael Ignatieff – The Lesser Evil?

Recent posts on Friedman at Pulse.

Earlier post here.

The significant experience

April 11 2012

In the encounter between the world and the West that has been going on by now for four or five hundred years, the world, not the West, is the party that, up to now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the West that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit – and hit hard – by the West; and that is why, in the title of this book, the world has been put first.

The World and the West, OUP, 1953


March 8 2012

John F Guilmartin, review of David Abulafia, The Great Sea, A Human History of the Mediterranean, OUP, 2011, in The American Interest, March/April 2012. How it differs from Braudel.

The bay of Carthage

Braudel’s main works:

La Méditerranée et le monde Méditerranéen a l’époque de Philippe II, 3 volumes, 1949 (The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II; there is also a one-volume abridgement)

Civilisation matérielle, économie et capitalisme, XVe-XVIIIe siècle, 3 volumes, 1967, 1979, 1979 (Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century)

L’identité de la France, 2 volumes, 1986 (unfinished, posthumous) (The Identity of France)

Grammaire des civilisations, 1987 (a world history, posthumous) (A History of Civilizations)

Les mémoires de la Méditerranée, 1998 (posthumous) (The Mediterranean in the Ancient World)

“[W]hen I think of the individual, I am always inclined to see him imprisoned within a destiny in which he himself has little hand, fixed in a landscape in which the infinite perspectives of the long term stretch into the distance both behind him and before.” (The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World)

The World and the West

March 6 2012

This is from the first of the 1952 BBC radio Reith Lectures, given under the title The World and the West. I posted the fourth, The Far East and the West, here. Background on Reith Lectures here.

In writing both the world and the west into my title, and writing the two words in that order, I was doing both things deliberately, because I wanted to make two points that seem to me essential for an understanding of our subject. The first point is that the west has never been all of the world that matters. The west has not been the only actor on the stage of modern history even at the peak of the west’s power (and this peak has perhaps now already been passed). My second point is this: in the encounter between the world and the west that has been going on now for 400 or 500 years, the world, not the west, is the party that, up to now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the west that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit – and hit hard – by the west; and that is why, in my title, I have put the world first.

Let us try, for a few minutes, to slip out of our native western skins and look at this encounter between the world and the west through the eyes of the great non-western majority of mankind. Different though the non-western peoples of the world may be from one another in race, language, civilisation, and religion, if we ask them their opinion of the west, we shall hear them all giving us the same answer: Russians, Moslems, Hindus, Chinese, Japanese, and all the rest. The west, they will tell us, has been the arch-aggressor of modern times, and each will have their own experience of western aggression to bring up against us. The Russians will remind us that their country has been invaded by western armies overland in 1941, 1915, 1812, 1709, and 1610; the peoples of Africa and Asia will remind us that western missionaries, traders, and soldiers from across the sea have been pushing into their countries from the coasts since the fifteenth century. The Asians will also remind us that, within the same period, the westerners have occupied the lion’s share of the world’s last vacant lands in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and South and East Africa. The Africans will remind us that they were enslaved and deported across the Atlantic in order to serve the European colonisers of the Americas as living tools to minister to their western masters’ greed for wealth. The descendants of the aboriginal population of North America will remind us that their ancestors were swept aside to make room for the west European intruders and for their African slaves.

This indictment will surprise, shock, grieve, and perhaps even outrage most of us westerners today. Dutch westerners are conscious of having evacuated Indonesia, and British westerners of having evacuated India, Pakistan, Burma, and Ceylon, since 1945.

That was all the territory Britain had lost by 1952, except for Palestine and concessions in China. We lost none, except Sudan (which was an Anglo-Egyptian “condominium”) and a military base at Suez, between Ceylon on February 4 1948 (which completed our evacuation of the subcontinent) and Ghana on March 6 1957.

1952 was also a year of direct British and American interference in the internal affairs of Iran.

British westerners have no aggressive war on their consciences since the South African war of 1899-1902, and American westerners none since the Spanish-American war of 1898. We forget all too easily that the Germans, who attacked their neighbours, including Russia, in the First World War and again in the Second World War, are westerners too, and that the Russians, Asians, and Africans do not draw fine distinctions between different hordes of “Franks” – which is the world’s common name for westerners in the mass. “When the world passes judgment, it can be sure of having the last word”, according to a well-known Latin proverb. And certainly the world’s judgment on the west does seem to be justified over a period of about four and a half centuries ending in 1945. In the world’s experience of the west during all that time, the west has been the aggressor on the whole; and, if the tables are being turned on the west by Russia and China today, this is a new chapter of the story which did not begin until after the end of the Second World War. The west’s alarm and anger at recent acts of Russian and Chinese aggression at the west’s expense are evidence that, for westerners, it is today still a strange experience to be suffering at the hands of the world what the world has been suffering at western hands for a number of centuries past.

The lectures introduced ideas which would be developed in the eighth volume of the Study.

In the encounter between the world and the west that has been going on now for 400 or 500 years, the world, not the west […], has had the significant experience

is the most striking sentence. These views were shocking, as he says, to many listeners in 1952. They seemed defeatist.

I have taken this from a transcript on the BBC website, not from the printed book: there may be differences. The transcript probably shows what was printed in The Listener. I have made the use of upper case in references to world wars consistent.

The lectures were published in book form as

The World and the West, OUP, 1953

President Truman and Brother Juniper

January 15 2012

The Missourian politician-philanthropist’s eagerness to combine expediency with charity by assisting the wronged and suffering Jews would appear to have been untempered by any sensitive awareness that he was thereby abetting the infliction of wrongs and sufferings on the Arabs; and his excursions into the stricken field in Palestine reminded a reader of the Fioretti di San Francesco of the tragi-comic exploit there attributed to the impetuously tender-hearted Brother Juniper, who, according to the revealing tale, was so effectively moved by a report of the alimentary needs of an invalid that he rushed, knife in hand, into a wood full of unoffending pigs, and straightway cut off a live pig’s trotter to provide his ailing fellow human being with the dish that his soul desired, without noticing that he was leaving the mutilated animal writhing in agony and without pausing to reflect that his innocent victim was not either the invalid’s property or his own. [Footnote: Fioretti di San Francesco d’Assisi: “Vita di Frate Ginepro”, cap. 1: “Come Frate Ginepro tagliò il Piede ad uno Porco solo per darlo a uno Infermo”.] It must be added that the American repetition of this story included a sequel that was not to be found in the Italian original. In the Fioretti there is no indication that the sufferings of a victim of a holy man’s impulsive charity excited any human pity – for, when the owner of the unfortunate animal did eventually slaughter it, he was concerned, not to put a suffering creature out of its misery, but to atone, by making a feast for Brother Juniper and his brethren, for his own ungodly indignation at the damage done to his property – whereas, in the annals of the United Nations Organization, it is recorded that the United States Government took the initiative in relieving the plight of some 684,000 Palestinian Arab “displaced persons” by providing half the total sum that was estimated to be necessary for the purposes of first aid to these human victims of “Anglo-Saxon attitudes” [Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass].

A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954


January 3 2012

Which is an excuse for an unearned digression into Verdi. Lamberto Gardelli, Wiener Staatsoperorchester.

Numbers in the Babylonian captivity

January 2 2012

According to the Bible, there were three deportations of Jews of Judah to Babylon: in 597 BC, involving King Jeconiah and his court and others; in 587-6 BC, of his successor King Zedekiah and others, when Jerusalem was burned; and a possible deportation after the assassination of Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of what had become Yehud Province, possibly in 582 BC. The forced exile ended in 538-7 BC after the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus the Great, who gave the Jews permission to return and to rebuild the Temple. The second deportation is the one we usually remember.

Eduard Meyer [post here] estimates the numbers deported in 586 B.C. at something between 30,000 and 50,000 (Geschichte des Altertums, vol. iii (Stuttgart 1901, Cotta), p. 175). This estimate appears to be based on the record, preserved in the Book of Nehemiah, chap, vii, of the numbers that returned from Babylonia to Judaea in 538 B.C. after Nebuchadnezzar’s sentence of deportation had been rescinded by Cyrus. The total given in this document amounts to no less than 42,360 free persons and 7,337 slaves, and the figures are convincing, since they are the sum total of thirty-nine precise items, while there is also a note of one group that was of doubtful legitimacy and of another that was definitely rejected. All the same, Eduard Meyer’s estimate for the deportation of 586 B.C. seems hazardously high in the light of the information (fragmentary and ambiguous though it is) in the second Book of Kings and in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. Even in 586 B.C. Nebuzar-adan, Nebuchadnezzar’s captain of the guard, “left […] the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time” (Jer. xxxix. 10; cf. 2 Kings xxv. 12); and this statement means, on the face of it, that the agricultural population of Judah was not only left undisturbed, even in 586 B.C., but was given possession of the former property of the executed or deported notables. Even the deportation of 586 B.C. may have been confined to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot be certain that the urban population was deported en masse even on this second occasion. “Now the rest of the people that were left in the city, and the fugitives that fell away to the King of Babylon, with the remnant of the multitude, did Nebuzar-adan … carry away” (2 Kings xxv. 11; cf. Jer. xxxix. 9) has to be taken with a grain of salt considering that the same authority declares that Nebuchadnezzar had “carried away all Jerusalem” in 597 B.C. (2 Kings xxiv. 14). Moreover, a quite incompatible set of figures, on a far smaller scale, is given from some different source in Jer. lii. 28-30: 3,023 persons deported by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C.; 832 deported by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.; 745 deported by Nebuzar-adan in 581 B.C.; making only 4,600 souls in all.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Armenians and Algerians

December 22 2011

The French National Assembly, probably with the Armenian vote in mind for the presidential elections next year, has voted in favour of a bill that would make it illegal to deny that the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, mainly in Anatolia, during the First World War was genocide. The bill goes to the Senate next year. There was an earlier attempt, starting in 2006, which failed.

Countries which officially recognise the killings as genocide already include France (1998), Italy (2000) and Germany (2005), but not the UK, US or Israel. In the US, there have been resolutions in the House of Representatives and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and many at state level, but nothing signed by a president. As far as I know, no country before France has attempted to make denial a crime, unless it is a crime in Armenia.

Turkey’s reactions to all this usually have a third-world ring to them, though I avoid using the word genocide too glibly myself. Erdoğan, meanwhile, has counter-accused France of genocide in Algeria. There may well be justification for that, in relation to the settlers’ behaviour there from 1830 onwards: see this recent FT review of books on Algeria.

Toynbee was one of the people responsible for documenting the Armenian massacres in 1915 and brought them to the attention of the UK Parliament. There is a category here on them. Here is a post from last year.


November 18 2011

Occasionally (not necessarily here) there’s an old-fashioned Trotskyist sound to Robin Yassin-Kassab’s posts on the middle east (stock phrases from 1970s polemic, “Zionist” sometimes replacing “capitalist”) which might stop some people reading.

Here are links to a few recent entries on his blog. Links are mainly his. Headings are mine.

Syria update, July 27:

“Hizbullah used to be wildly popular in Syria because it was perceived as an organisation dedicated to fighting for the oppressed. Now that it’s taken to supporting the Syrian oppressors against the Syrian oppressed, Hizbullah is widely despised in Syria. Its own stupidity achieved what decades of Wahhabi-Saudi, Zionist and Western propaganda could not. Here’s an article by Hamid Dabashi on that.”

Interview with the Syrian opposition figure Burhan Ghalyoun by Ibtisam Azem, July 28:

“There is no danger for the Palestinian cause in the shadow of a democratic Syrian system. The Syrian people are closest to the Palestinian people, and they are more protective of the Palestinian cause, the Golan Heights, and Arab solidarity than the current regime whose leaders have made the country feudal and do not care for anything except for protecting their own interests and existence.” (Ghalyoun)

Syria update, August 6:

“Despite my disappointment with Hizbullah’s leadership, I still of course respect and admire their victories against Zionism. Look at this organisation, the first Arab organisation to confront and defeat the occupier: it succeeds because it is of its people, it fights for justice for its people, it arms its people. None of these things can be said for the Syrian regime, which arms against the people, and fears the people – which is why the Syrian regime will never confront and defeat the occupier.”

Hizbullah’s victory in 2006 was limited. He would like Muslims and Jews to live together with equal rights in a single secular state. In the meantime, the occupier is the Zionist regime.

Iran and Syria, including Asia Times article by Mahan Abedin, August 20:

“Iran banks all on Assad’s survival […] It is entirely conceivable that any diminution of Alawite political power in Syria (let alone the downfall of Assad and the ruling clique) will re-orient Syria towards the Sunni Arab political order at the expense of Iran. Under this scenario, even if the Iranian-Syrian alliance endures in one form or another, the Islamic Republic’s position on the eastern banks of the Mediterranean Sea will become increasingly vulnerable.” (Abedin)

The Israeli flag falls in Cairo, August 21:

Attack on the Israeli embassy.

Physical assault on the Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat, August 25:

“I’ve often used Ali’s cartoons to illustrate online pieces. His work has been the perfect choice – its tone is tragicomic; he never minimises the pain of the contemporary Arab situation even as he laughs at it. His pen, and his blessed hand, draw the catastrophes of dictatorship and occupation, of misogyny and class oppression, of bureaucracy, hypocrisy and ignorance. Ali is a valuable friend of the Palestinian people: I hope those fools who still believe the Syrian thug regime is a ‘resistance regime’ will note this well.”

More, same day:

“On the radio I said that the Syrian regime isn’t trying to be popular at present. Escalating its attacks on Syrian cities in Ramadan, increasing the gunfire at the dawn prayer and at the break of fast: these are not moves calculated to win popularity. Likewise, when regime torturers force the detained to pray to a picture of the dictator, and to repeat ‘There is no god but Bashaar’, they are not seeking approval. It’s much more basic than that. The message is: We can do whatever the hell we like. We can outrage you as much as we choose. We can shock you with our barbarity and then shock you again, because we are unimaginably strong.

“But they aren’t strong. They are very weak indeed, as we will all soon – insha’allah – discover.”

Passive tools, August 30:

“Somebody said to me recently, ‘The Libyans will soon be doing business with Israel, whether they like it or not.’ Here we go again: the assumption that the Libyans have no agency of their own, even after they’ve so dramatically taken the initiative to change the course of their own history.”

Sufis, September 19:

“I love [Sufism] for its symbolic, illogical, individualist challenge to literalism and the obsession with rules, and because it smiles, and for its openness and tolerance, and its music and poetry […]. […] But when Westerners assume the Sufis are automatically cuddly or, alternatively, progressive, they make a blanket mistake. The ‘Sufi’ Barelvis in Pakistan cheered the murder of Salman Taseer as much as the purist Deobandis. And there’s nothing progressive about hereditary holy men, backward superstition, or the false structures of authority that have adhered to some schools like rust to polished metal. There’s nothing good about the Islamo-hippies who wish for peace at any cost with Zionism […].”

Sectarianism in Syria, September 29:

“Alawis have a complex, esoteric religion that throughout history has been savagely denounced, and its adherents savagely oppressed. Ultimately it’s a matter of political interpretation whether or not Alawis are to be considered Muslims. The Ottoman Empire didn’t even consider them ‘People of the Book,’ which meant that unlike Christians, Jews, and mainstream Shiites, Alawis didn’t enjoy any legal rights. The ravings of the influential medieval scholar Ibn Taymiyya (who thought Alawis were ‘greater disbelievers than the Jews, Christians, and Indian idol-worshipping Brahmans’) contributed to their oppression and justified the theft of their lands around Aleppo and their forced retreat into the mountains. Until the 1920s, the Alawis were stuck in those mountains. Antakya (Antioch) was the only city where Alawis lived with Sunnis, and Antakya was gifted by France to Turkey before the independence of the modern Syrian state.” On which last point see my post about some recent Syrian history.

Malta, October 7:

“The language is Malta’s idiosyncracy: half Arabic in vocabulary, more than half in structure. The verbs, prepositions and pronouns are Arabic. The rest is mainly Italian. The air hostess asked us to store our bags ‘fowq raasikum’. When we landed she said ‘saha wa grazia!’”

The thousand lives and the one life, October 20:

Release of Gilad Shalit. “The Israelis are the ethnic cleansers and the occupiers. The Palestinians are the refugees and the occupied. Zionist propaganda constantly obfuscates these simple facts. The Palestinians are the first victims of the propaganda, but Israeli Jews are also its victims, as the future will demonstrate.”

Syria resources, October 29:

Links, including to a fully-annotated historical piece by Michael Provence and Jamal Wakim at, Colonial Origins of the Syrian Security State. Wonderful photograph at the beginning of that. But much more too.

After 42 Years, October 30:

The Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa reads After 42 Years – his reflection on the fall of Gaddafi.

Ahmz, November 1:

British-Syrian rap in both languages from Ahmz.

Marina Warner, November 12:

Review (positive) of Marina Warner, Stranger Magic, Charmed States and the Arabian Nights, about the Arabian Nights and its contexts, and its impact in the west.

“Warner quotes Jorge Luis Borges (a guiding spirit in her book) approving the belle infidele approach to translation. ‘I think that the reader should enrich what he is reading. He should misunderstand the text; he should change it into something else.’”

Fadwa Sulaiman, November 15:

Translation by Laila al-Attar of an interview on Jazeera with the Syrian actress Fadwa Sulaiman. Since then the Arab League has come out, belatedly, against the Assad regime.


October 2 2011

In the Old Testament the classic portrayal of the militarist’s self-contrived discomfiture is given in the story of Ben-Hadad and Ahab. [Footnote: The story is told in I Kings xx.] When King Ben-Hadad of Damascus is besieging King Ahab of Israel in his city of Samaria [reigned c 869-850 BC; his wife was Jezebel], the aggressor sends messengers into the beleaguered city to demand of his victim the surrender of everything that he possesses, and Ahab returns the soft answer: “My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine and all that I have.” But Ben-Hadad will not forbear from humiliating his humble adversary still further; so he sends a second message to inform Ahab that the conqueror’s servants will now come to search his house, and that, “whatsoever is pleasant in” Ahab’s “eyes, they shall put it in their hand and take it away”. Thereupon Ahab replies that he still accepts the first demand but rejects the second; and, when Ben-Hadad proceeds to breathe fire and slaughter, Ahab says to the bearers of this third message: “Tell him: ‘Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.’” Thereafter, according to Ben-Hadad’s will, and against the wishes of Ahab, the issue between the two kings is decided in a pitched battle; and in this battle the aggressor brings upon himself an overwhelming defeat. The story ends with a tableau in which the servants of Ben-Hadad come out – from the city in which they and their master are now being besieged in their turn – with sackcloth on their loins and ropes on their heads [round their necks], and plead with the victorious Ahab for mercy. And Ahab is not betrayed into making Ben-Hadad’s mistake by the giddiness of the περιπέτεια that has so swiftly inverted the two kings’ respective positions. To the message “Thy servant Ben-Hadad saith: ‘I pray thee, let me live’,” Ahab answers: “Is he yet alive? He is my brother.” And, when, on his instructions, Ben-Hadad is brought with honour into his presence, Ahab makes a treaty with his penitent opponent – on the extremely favourable terms which Ben-Hadad is in haste to offer him – and then straightway lets him go free.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

The Favour of Alexander Valas

July 30 2011

“I’m not in the least put out that my chariot wheel broke]
and I lost that silly race.
I’ll drink great wines the whole night long,
lying among lovely roses. Antioch is all mine.
I’m the most celebrated young man in town –
Valas’ weakness, he simply adores me.
You’ll see, tomorrow they’ll say the race wasn’t fair
(though if I’d been crude enough to insist on it secretly,
the flatterers would have given first place even to my limping chariot).]”


The Favour of Alexander Valas, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at Spelling anglicised.

Alexander Balas was a humble-born native of Smyrna, but pretended to be the son of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Laodice IV and heir to the Seleucid throne. His claims were recognised by the Roman Senate and Ptolemy Philometor of Egypt. He married Cleopatra Thea, Ptolemy’s daughter. In 150 BC he defeated Demetrius I (Demetrius Soter, ie saviour).

As king, he is said to have abandoned himself to debauchery. In 145 his Egyptian protector and father-in-law betrayed him and, with Demetrius I’s son Demetrius II, defeated him near Antioch. Alexander Balas fled for refuge to a Nabataean prince, who murdered him and sent his head to Ptolemy, who had been mortally wounded in the battle.

Lying among roses. Marlowe, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love:

“There I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle”

Elagabalus’s attempt to drown his guests in rose petals.

Painting in the National Galleries of Scotland by Botticelli of Christ sleeping by a rose bush adored by the Virgin.

Handel produced a quartet of patriotic or warlike oratorios after the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion: the Occasional Oratorio in 1746, Judas Maccabaeus in 1747 and Joshua and Alexander Balus in 1748.

Alexander Balus is a condensation of chapters 10 and 11 of the first Book of Maccabees set in Egypt. It is thus partly concerned with the Greeks’ relationship with the Jews. Jonathan Maccabaeus (Jonathan Apphus, or the Wary) is the anti-Hellenic Hasmonean rebel leader after the death of Judas Maccabaeus. Alexander has courted him and the Jewish rebels. He is invited to Alexander’s wedding.

Ptolemy falsely claims that Jonathan is behind the plot to overthrow Alexander. At the end, Cleopatra receives news of both deaths, her husband’s and father’s. Jonathan winds up the story, reminding the living that those who trust in other than the true God will always meet their fate.

Demetrius II does not appear in the oratorio, but in the biblical story Jonathan makes his peace with him.

Hyperion CD notes: “Handel’s finale is, perhaps not so surprisingly in view of the calamities that have befallen Cleopatra, unusually muted in its minor treatment of the traditionally lively Amens and Halleluias.” Here are Jonathan’s final words and the finale; performers not stated.

Jason – יסון

Dangerous borders

June 26 2011

Philip Walker,, June 24.

Sudan – Southern Sudan

India – Pakistan

Afghanistan – Pakistan

United States – Mexico

Cambodia – Thailand

Democratic Republic of the Congo – Angola

India – Bangladesh

North Korea – South Korea

Venezuela – Colombia

Chad – Sudan

Saudi Arabia – Yemen

China – North Korea

Israel – Syria