Today is the European Day of the Righteous. In our village, we have a garden dedicated to this same idea, though the local initiator of the project, Prof. Yair Auron, prefers to use a different name, "Rescuers", because he thinks "righteous" sounds overly religious. The day honours those who help to save the lives of others, especially those normally regarded as "the enemy", in times of war, genocide or natural disasters.
We commemorated the day earlier, on Thursday, and this year honored two organizations, Médecins sans Frontières and Physicians for Human Rights or PHR - a local Israeli organization) for their contemporary work in saving lives, without regard to citizenship, national origin, or other factors. Both organizations work extensively in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in very difficult conditions and do their utmost to enable free medical care for all. The doctor in our village who volunteers with PHR couldn't be at the ceremony because he was again in Gaza.
During the morning I was reading about plain text and about the use of RTL languages. There's a good, if rather dogmatic, website about the use of plain text in emails. To speak in the manner of Stallman, I find plain text "more convenient" for basic communications, i.e. the majority of my email. But I would not use it for sending out email newsletters, for example. I think one of the mail clients I previously used - either Kmail or Evolution, had the option to receive and compose in "simple html", which sounded like a reasonable compromise.
Whenever I have to write in Hebrew, I always switch to html, because plain text has no solution for right-to-left languages. The words will be right-to-left but the paragraphs will be aligned at the left margin, when received in Gmail (unless they receive the message in Thunderbird or some mail client that knows how to handle right-to-left plain text.). It would be disingenuous to say that they should therefore be using Thunderbird. The whole point of plain text email is for it to be accessible in any email client. There is more on on Right to Left languages at the following links:
In the morning, the son's wife's parents came over and we went to have a look at the progress on the new home being built. They've reached the stage of the upper floor of the building shell, and it's looking good; a lot more impressive than our own house.
In the afternoon, went for a walk in the woods with grandchildren. It was a perfect day, with a deep blue sky and clear views across the coastal plain.
This was just the most egregious of recent stories of misogyny coming out of India. Or maybe the story of the father beheading his teenager with an axe and carrying the head to the local police station was.
This evening I'm feeling a bit world-weary. The news sites are full of such terrible stories. Sometimes I look at the National Geographic map on my wall and wherever I rest my eyes there are authoritarian regimes, wars, protest movements being crushed, a growing darkness, and that's without even considering the climate crisis that is threatening all of us.
The village's UK friends association organized an excellent talk by Bishop Rose Hudson Wilkin. She titled it "My story is your story" and it touched on many things. One of the inspiring parts of it touched on the real purpose of education. She said that when she had visited the Auschwitz death camp, one thing that struck her was that the whole enterprise was so state of the art; built by the best engineers, planned by the best doctors, etc. She asked, rhetorically, when we choose a school for our kids, how many of us have the idea that besides a commitment to providing "a good education" the school should produce good human beings and not just skilled professionals.
I suppose some parents might say that these are qualities the children should provide at home, but I think that if we are honest, most of us do feel influenced by our schools and our teachers. Without them, our world would be very narrow.
In the case of my partner and I, we found the village when we were looking for a suitable place to raise our children, and we liked very much that the village had its own education system where the children would be exposed to both Hebrew and Arabic, and that their schooling would be multicultural, in a natural way. At a certain stage, when I had considered leaving the country due to the possibility of being drafted into the army, I tried to find alternative communities in other countries. This was the late 1980s, and there were many such communities. But very few of them had managed to create their own schools, so I came to appreciate what we had managed to do in Wahat al-Salam - Neve Shalom.
The village school went up only to the age of 12. When, a few years later my daughter became disenchanted with her high school, I checked the possibility of enrolling her at the Krishnamurti school in Brockwood Park. We went for an "experience week" there and it looked like a great school. It would definitely qualify as the kind of education that Bishop Rose was talking about. But unfortunately it is outrageously expensive, strictly for rich kids; they didn't offer scholarships for the first year, and there was no way we could afford it.
If the Israeli army had not accepted my bid to be exempted as a CO, the best place for us would have been Auroville, which even then had its own schools. But I didn't know about Auroville then; this was all pre-internet, and obtaining information required a lot of letter-writing.
In the morning I took part in a Zoom conference on crowdfunding led by a woman from Shatil who seems to have mastered the art of using this effectively. Despite my cynicism regarding the various platforms that extract their pound of flesh from those who are obliged to use their services, one has to acknowledge that they tap into or shift a stream of money for good purposes. I should see what are the more ethical platforms for crowdfunding.
I spent a lot of time trying to reach tech support for that computer I was trying to fix yesterday, and restored another computer to factory condition (which means of course Microsoft Windows condition) for the new person who has been appointed to administer our educational institutions (or something like that).
I wrote to Nava suggesting that they create a historical timeline for the School for Peace, in order to avoid confusion on the part of some of our friends associations on the sequence of events there. I heard back from her quickly. She said she wanted to gift me her recent book, since it has some of what I'm looking for. I told her I'd never read any book about the village, and that reading one in Hebrew would be too much work for my few paid work hours. For the timeline I just need a simple table of what happened when.
Curating the history of a small village is a significant task. Much of it is stored in people's heads and, if one isn't careful, dies with them. Does it matter? Do any of our lives matter? It's a question of perspective. There is no unequivocal answer. They may have importance sometimes. For example, communities are intrinsically interesting because they are comparatively rare in our modern world. Many of them fail quickly. What factors are involved in their success or failure, and what can be learned from them.
Sculpture at the art gallery
On our afternoon walk we stopped by at the art gallery, to speak with Dyana who, on a mostly voluntary basis, is responsible for it. Across from the gallery entrance there is a bare rock face that the builders had sheered out when they built the library building. Today Dyana got some local sculptors to work on that rock wall. On one corner, one of them had sculpted from the soft limestone an entire Palestinian village. Really lovely. Another artist had turned a large stone into a dove and attached it to a rock. I think the real quality of artists, particularly sculptors, is to see the creative potential locked up in our humdrum reality, and liberate it. Art is hopeful in that way.
Watched "Aznavour, le regard de Charles", which D. had ordered in the framework of the DocAviv, Tel Aviv's springtime documentary film festival, delayed till now due to the pandemic, and still presented just online. I told her it might not hold my attention, but in the end she was the one to fall asleep in the middle.
Aznavour, it turns out, was quite an avid cameraman, constantly filming his travels and the women he loved. Eventually, he amassed a trove of Super-8 video films, which he rarely looked at, but kept stashed "in a secret room of his house." He tells the film maker that, unlike his songs, he has never revealed these to anyone, but perhaps she "will know what to do with them." To the archival film material of the resulting hour-long film, is added a voice-over narration taken from his writings and journals, and, of course, many of his songs.
The product is a very poetic odyssey, full of a particular kind of nostalgia. I don't know much about the man, but the film expresses his humanistic vision; a song critical of the war in Algeria "that was instantly banned"; a trip to Hong Kong, where he expected to revel in an Asian Manhattan, but ended up seeking and filming the poor people in the city's overpopulated back streets and waterways. Wherever in the world he travels, he seems to find intimations of himself. Perhaps he's the ultimate egotist. In the end he says that it is as if we are the ones looking over his shoulder through the camera, and perhaps it is so.
In 2017, just a few months before his death, he visited our village. Prof. Yair Auron had invited him to his Garden of Rescuers and wished to honour him for his family's assistance in rescuing Jews from the Gestapo in wartime Paris. I think he wasn't in such a good mood, because he had just come from a meeting with Ruby Rivlin, and the President had promised no concessions on recognition by Israel of the Armenian Holocaust as a genocide. Aznavour, in the voice of the film's narrator, mentions his visit to the village, saying "I spent a moment in a "kibbutz" where Palestinians and Jews lived together, and that is what I would like to see everyday."
Resistance to WhatsApp
There's a lot of pressure being put on me to get on WhatsApp lately, because that's what everybody else is using. They will complain that it's so so difficult to send me pictures and videos. But I am not sure that I need to be responsible for their ignorance. I tell them that the use of WhatsApp is against my principles, and if they want to reach me, they should adapt, and not me. Of course, if I was being paid a full-time salary, I might have to agree, but, as things are, I'm pretty much working voluntarily much of the time, so I think they will need to accommodate to my particular way of working.
Pretty much everything about Facebook and its sub-companies stinks. Regarding Facebook, I do have an account, in order to post news for the Village. But my account has no friends, and nobody knows about it. I do not enjoy my interaction with Facebook at all. The user interface is horrible. Using Hubzilla is several times easier, and I don't think it is thanks to a staff of thousands of high salaried Hubzilla developers. I enjoy creating posts on Hubzilla. Creating a post on Facebook is a hit or miss affair. Will it accept my photos? Will it use my links properly?
It reminds me of my experience when I had to use Microsoft programs. Even when they worked well, I never really felt in control. Sometimes what I wanted to do required extra $$$ for features that weren't available on a regular plan. I think that's still true of much of the software available under Windows or Macs. Sometimes formats or entire applications were obsoleted. The last time I had to access some files in early versions of MS Word or Works document formats, the only way I found was to use LibreOffice because Microsoft had stopped supporting them.
Another busy day for me, translating and editing posts following those two arson attacks on the village. Then a bit of graphics work as we are organizing a "human chain" solidarity event for Friday. I found on Pixabay a couple of possibilities for representation of a human chain, but my first few attempts to use these in GIMP were failures.
This one was no good because it looks like the coronavirus
This one was no good because I didn't notice it had a woman soldier in it. We don't need a soldier there.
Samah didn't like the black:
Getting closer - no coronavirus:
After a couple more attempts, ended up with this, with the painting by Sliman Mansour more prominent.
I have no memory at all for the effects I want to achieve in the GIMP, and it's only thanks to the excellent How-Tos plastered all over the web that I manage to do anything. But I do try to keep a record in my CherryTree notes of procedures that work.
Last night there was a second arson attack on our village; not as bad as the first, because the sprinkler system actually worked. It isn't clear who is attacking our educational institutions. In the case of right-wing hate crimes, the perpetrators are usually brazen enough to take responsibility, and this time they haven't. But it still seems to be the most likely direction.
Lots of work, attending meetings, writing and translating website articles and social media posts. Hope tonight is quiet.
He's a very good writer, with excellent values., and a history of good work behind him. I can't quite get my head around his theosophical belief that we will be saved by the coming of Maitreya, the next World Teacher. We have seen many amazing spiritual teachers in our era [everyone can insert their favourites here], but actually none of them have been able to change humanity's course towards impending disaster. It depends on us, unfortunately. It's not like we are lacking in knowledge or sources of wisdom.
Jacky , at the office, has been interviewing people for a project that she calls "Humans of Wahat al-Salam - Neve Shalom", a take on the famous "Humans of NY" website/book/facebook page. She asked me to read through the interviews for typos and mistakes, which I did. Met, along the way, some really beautiful people in the village who I've never actually had a conversation with - especially young people who I remember as kids but who are now in their 30s. (Sometimes that's how I remember them, and don't always recognize them these days when they pass me on the street.)
Communities are always full of disadvantages - sometimes village politics hardens the relationship between people and so they barely talk to one another. Sometimes there are disappointments, like N. today screaming, crying and banging on her desk at me today that nobody was coming to her assistance after the fire. But for all of that, I think I would never trade the experience of living in a community for living the life of an individual, in complete anonymity.
All my life I have gravitated towards communities. They ease so many difficulties in life, and, especially for a foreigner living a strange country, they provide a ready sense of identity and allegiance. And even for an ordinary person, they give a richness that would otherwise be missing in their life. One of the interviewees in Jacky's book said something like "The community is me - I made it - and I identify with it totally". It's a sense of identity that is much more problematic with larger units, such as countries. I have always felt alienated towards all the nations in which I have lived, including the one where I was born. I'm deeply cynical of all nations; their myths and their militarism.
Most communities are organized around some sense of common identity, such as ethnicity, religious or ideological identity. Monasteries, ashrams, cults, kibbutzes, kolhozes, ideological communes, etc. Ours is rather unusual in that it is binational, bilingual, and based on mutual respect for our differences. It's fairly loose though; more like a village with some commonly owned projects.
I do the village website in SPIP, an ancien French CMS, since, in the early 2000s when I updated the site, it seemed like the most practical system for multi-lingual sites. I liked especially that it could handle right-to-left languages, which even today in WordPress can be a headache, depending on the theme. (With one of the more popular WP options, "Elegant Themes", four or five years ago on another site, I had a really hard time with that, and only partially resolved it with lots of help from their technical support.)
Anyway, a few months ago I updated the SPIP site and included some NivoSlider slideshows. With SPIP sometimes, because all the documentation is in French, I miss some things. So yesterday I was wondering how to create links from the slides - I thought I would have to hack it. But, by chance, I discovered that just adding a URL to the photo's description creates the link. Amazing. I was really happy about that.
Fire at the School for Peace
In the morning we learned that during the night the old wooden building that is part of the U shaped quadrangle of the School for Peace had burned down in the night. Awful photos. Firefighters were here for two or three hours, though I didn't hear a thing. It isn't clear who did it, though it's highly suspicious that it happened on the night before the school year started. The School for Peace isn't the Primary School, but, since 1979, an informal institution for Jewish-Palestinian dialogue.
The fire was in the main building of the School for Peace, used for classrooms and as an observation room for teaching the annual facilitator training course. When I first came to the village, the building was being used as the community's main administration building. It was an old Swedish wooden hut, reassembled from disused materials obtained for free. Eventually, when the building was old and beyond repair we mostly replaced it with new materials, but, wanting to keep the old look, we kept the same appearance.
Now, it seems to be ruined beyond repair.
There was one previous attack on the village by right-wing extremists, but that was in 2012. They slashed tires and daubed "Death to Arabs" all over the school entrance, but they wrote also their "calling card", "Hi from Havat Gilad (an Israeli outpost settlement in the occupied West Bank)". This time there was nothing; we will have to wait for the police report to see whether this was arson.
Nevertheless, the school year started. I don't know what will happen regarding the children who were rejected by the School administration just before the start of the year (see earlier post). My grandchild, coming from Italy,and entering 3rd year, seemed very happy, though she cried at the beginning when she realized she was with a bunch of children she didn't know, and the teacher was speaking in Arabic, which she doesn't understand yet. My other grandchildren went into the kindergarten and nursery, where they already know lots of the children.
I don't have Waze and am trying to avoid Google Maps in favour of OsmAnd for driving directions. It's pretty usable in our area. I like the interface, but not everything is perfect, at least in my set up.
I still haven't figured out a way to make the map face in the same direction as the driving. It would be easier to read if it would switch itself around.
In our area at least, it doesn't recognize street numbers.
It's a bit hard for me to read all the information. I think it's time to get multi-focals!
Openstreetmaps political bias?
Looking again at my address coordinates, I see that Openstreetmap is guilty of a political bias. The majority of the village is actually in what Israelis term a "no-man's land" (שטח הפקר) between Israel and Palestine (formerly Jordan), whereas the presentation in Openstreetmap shows us as being well within the Israeli territory.
The status of this buffer zone has never actually been decided. It was not, like East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, unilaterally annexed by Israel. Google Maps and other mapping companies do show the no man's land area, but it has not been added to Openstreetmap. I don't know how to edit there, but perhaps I should write to them. I imagine that, like Wikipedia, Openstreetmap is a hotbed of political dispute, and the omission is not by chance.
Our village school opens the school year tomorrow with a bit of a dispute. We were set to have 2 fairly balanced first grade classes, but then parents of 11 Jewish children withdrew their registration, citing a need for their kids to learn closer to home while the pandemic continues. This caused a rumpus in the parents committee, as some of the Jewish parents from outside the village were scared their kids might find themselves at a disadvantage among many Arab children. The school management decided to solve the problem by reversing the registration of 13 Arab children 2 weeks before the school year. The parents of those children are up in arms, justifiably. Most of the people here in the village - both Jews and Arabs - very much agree with them. However the school formally belongs to the education ministry and there isn't much we can do, it seems.*
There'll be a demonstration tomorrow in front of the school gates: "Hey first grade: we are missing 13 children" --- the residents of Neve Shalom protest this shameful decision"
Budgie on my Linux
I must say, I'm quite happy with the Budgie desktop environment on MX Linux (19.2). Usually a distro's native desktop works best, but I grew frustrated with a couple of things in XFCE and switched. I like that it docks applications; and can pin them to the panel. I think that any modern windows manager should have that feature built in by now. It also does a better job of suspending and waking up from suspension. Under XFCE on MX, if one suspends by closing the laptop lid, the login screen will be missing, when the lid is reopened. (One can still blindly type the password in order to log back in.). Actually, in Budgie, there's a login bug as well. If, when suspending the Hebrew keyboard has been active, it is impossible to change the language and log back in with the Latin keyboard. (My work-around is not to use alphabet keys in the password). Finally, Budgie does a better job of managing multiple displays than XFCE. Sometimes under the former, if I would just unplug a display, I'd be left without a primary display. Budgie is attractive, light-weight and works better for me.
Y. came to visit, bringing a German friend. Y, from Haifa, has both Jews and Palestinians in her family, and grew up with an aversion to Zionism and the myths that most people of her generation imbibed. She taught for a while in our school, but has always had a personality and intelligence that makes most people wary of her, so someone eventually ejected her from her position and she left the village. But we have stayed in contact with her throughout the years. She lives in Jerusalem and is about to retire. In recent years she became interested in Krishnamurti and Buddhism. She visited K's center Brockwood Park, near Oxford, and spent a few months at the Intersein Buddhist retreat center in Bavaria.
Y's friend Cornelia was visiting us for the second time, though I had completely forgotten her or her first visit a couple of years ago. She is working for a German public development bank on various projects in the West Bank, while living in Sheikh Jarakh in East Jerusalem, so her contacts are mainly with Palestinians. During the pandemic she returned to Germany for a few months, but returned to complete her 3 year tour of service. Before visiting us, the two had been at a concert in Beit Jimal, the Salesian monastery near Beit Shemesh - purportedly the burial place of St. Stephen. They brought some nice beer from the nearby boutique brewery in Srigim and we talked about German politics and the vagaries of the country's reception of refugees.
We went for a late afternoon walk down to the corner of silence, where the dome has recently been repainted a brilliant white. From experience, I know that it will quickly darken again. I wish they'd paint it the colour of the earth and trees surrounding it. Near the Garden of Rescuers I noticed for the first time the sycamore fig tree (ficus sycomoros) because it is currently full of its red fig-like fruit. The tree is comparatively rare in modern Israel, and the fruit are not harvested commercially. I once heard that they are popular in Gaza. There is still an avenue or two of huge sycamores in Tel Aviv. It's quite like Eitan to have remembered to plant one of these trees in the village.
Thoughts on another lecture by Harari
Listened to another YouTube video of Yuval Noah Harari, This one was a lecture at Google in 2015 and is about "new religions of the 21st century." I have read only the first of his books, and listened to various interviews. He lives not far from here, practices vipassana meditation, is strictly vegan, firmly on the left, anti-nationalist, and deeply influenced by Buddhism. The video is chiefly about the increasing power of the algorithm in undermining our currently dominant religion, which, as he says, is humanistic liberalism.
I was thinking his talk about the "new religions of the 21st" century would be about the discovery of our interdependence with nature and of the impossibility that the human race will survive the coming centuries while maintaining its existing speciesism.. At a point in the talk he asks a rhetorical question about the main scientific discovery of the 20th century? (the response: there are so many of them that it is hard to say), and then what was the main discovery in the same period from the faith religions ("the religions that believe in God"). The response he gives is that it is hard to decide, because we can't think of any. But I don't think that's strictly true. There is a discovery or re-discovery, of one of them core teachings of all religions, of altruism and the need to overcome our inherent egoism for the good of the whole. It isn't exclusively the domain of religion, and the dominant religions have themselves contradicted this message to disastrous effect. Yet the belief, or understanding, that there is a deep connection, or even a fundamental unity, between our own existence and consciousness and that of the universe, is both at the heart of religion, and is the key message of our times. "Key" because it is key to our survival as a species. Like the power of the algorithm, this understanding challenges humanistic liberalism and individualism, as Harari defines it. But unlike our new faith in algorithms to address the issues of our times, the earlier message that we can, and need to, transcend our egoism is at the heart of the human condition. It predates humanistic liberalism by tens of thousands of years and can be felt when viewing the art of the first humans on cave walls. And it will supersede our present stage of evolution, if we are to survive at all. It's a truth with which we have grappled from the beginning, but which rises to paramount importance in an era when we have the power to destroy both our species and the delicate symmetries that make all of life on earth possible. Eventually logic may lead us to the same conclusion. Indeed, we may already have enough scientific knowledge to emphatically confirm it. But if we don't grasp, at a deep level, and quickly, that in order to survive we must stop destroying the biosphere for selfish reasons, it won't be very helpful if this understanding remains confined to the rational level. Understanding has always been a matter more for the heart than for the intellect.
Listening to Zaarbi e-rast of Zarbang, from my Emusic collection.
D. complains that I didn't update our music collection for the past several years, which is true, and anyway she wouldn't like my choices. However I suggested she will probably find something on Spotify, though I've never actually used it. Quickly downloaded through snap their Linux player for the old, outdated Ubuntu media PC we have in the living room. I guess it sounds all right..
Mostly I still listen to tracks I downloaded years ago from Emusic; nothing mainstream. Sometimes lately I've been supplementing this with stuff suggested to me by YouTube - ethnic, house. Indian classical or bhajans that I can listen to while doing other things.
When I first traveled through the Middle East in the 1970s, cassettes were in vogue. Young people in Turkey got me interested in their Halk Musik (folk music). In Konya I bought some sufi instrumental music - strange stuff. In Afghanistan, you could still wander into a tea shop and find people playing traditional instruments; though cassette players were beginning to take over. Back home I would hunt for rare stuff like Tibetan monastery music , Indonesian gamelan gong music and medieval madrigals on Nonesuch Records. I wonder if the label still exists?