Thursday, December 30, 2010

See everyone in two to three weeks. Happy New Year

I'll be back with some exciting new reviews once I get my computer problems solved. I'll probably be offline for the next two to three weeks until I either get my computer fixed, or get a new computer.

Happy New Year from snowy Sapporo, Japan,

George Polley

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hatim Kanaaneh: A Doctor in Galilee


Hatim Kanaaneh is the kind of physician I enjoyed working with in my career as a mental health professional: compassionate, humorous and committed to bringing quality medical services to the people of his community which in his case, was in spite of incredible odds. The government agencies that ought to have helped him because their help would have contributed to the health of the entire district put up roadblock after roadblock to frustrate his efforts and discourage him. But the guy just never gave up, and that is something I admire.

After receiving his medical education at Harvard University (M.D. and a Master’s Degree in Public Health), he returned to his native village of Arrabeh to work as a physician. This is what he has to say about his first six years: They “had proved to me beyond any shadow of a doubt the enduring hostility shown by ‘my’ state towards the one in five citizens who are not Jewish but the natives of the country, its Palestinian minority.” At the end of those six years he and his family moved to Hawaii, where he worked as a family physician for a year, then returned to Israel. Not only were conditions unimproved, “there had been new and troubling developments. One of the most concerning was a shortage of drinking water in many Arab communities in the Galilee.” In Arrabeh, the Israel National Water Company turned off the water supply for most of each day … while in Yodfat, “the Jewish settlement next door, never lacks water for its cattle, cotton fields and green lawns”. “It was enough to instill despair in my heart – or redouble my commitment.” It redoubled his commitment.

In his chapter on tribal politics (Chapter 12), Dr. Kanaaneh asks an important question: “Is it possible that Israel could ever attune itself  to the health and development needs of its Arab citizens and start according them the same level of benevolent attention it does to newly arrived Jewish immigrants? Of course not – as long as it is committed to its identity and character as ‘the state of the Jews’. With that as its founding idea, no room is left for true empowerment of the Palestinian minority” (page 139). I will take that idea a step or two further: In any state, excluding any group from the health and development needs (one of which is education) is a self-destructive act carried out upon the state as a whole. No state can remain healthy when it denies essential services, such as health and education, to a part of it. It’s like denying care to your feet and devoting all your resources to your hair and looks. Eventually the gangrene in a toe kills you and it’s your fault, not the toe’s. t Trying to tell that to someone who is determined to not hear it is an exercise in futility. And that is what Dr. Kanaaneh faced his whole career.

Is this a good book? Oh yes, definitely. And Dr. Kanaaneh is a fine, courageous man. Retired now, he lives with his wife Didi and an ancient olive tree in Arrabeh, the Galilee. He is a man I would enjoy sitting down with over coffee and sweets and talking about the years and our experiences of the wonders and the immense follies of those who deem themselves powerful. 

A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel, with a Foreword by Jonathan Cook was published by Pluto Press in 2008

Friday, December 10, 2010

A master story teller's masterful story about loss and love and mystery

Garth Stein: Raven Stole the Moon, Harper, 2010.

Raven Stole the Moon, Garth Stein’s first novel, first published in 1998, was released in a new edition earlier this year, and I couldn’t be happier, because I love this novel. I was immersed in it from the first sentence … no, from before the first sentence … it was the word Akákoschi! (Tlingit for “See”) that caught my eye on a page I almost missed. From that I was hooked until the very last word 441 pages later.

Raven Stole the Moon is the story of Jenna Rosen and her haunting, poignant search to understand her son’s drowning in Thunder Bay, Alaska two years earlier so she can put it behind her and move on with her life. Was it her fault? Was it her husband’s fault? Was there something else involved? It’s is an obsession that her husband doesn’t understand and wishes she’d get over and get on with life, because it’s driving him crazy and tearing them apart. So one night she drives away and takes a ferry to Wrangel and begins her search for answers and for understanding. Along the way she meets a mysterious old Indian woman, falls in love, is chased through the woods by a Tlingit spirit called a kushtaka, is rescued by a dog that chases the kushtaka away, meets a shaman and finally … well, buy the book, jump in, find out for yourself and enjoy the adventure.

Raven Stole the Moon is a wonderful read. It’s rare that I read a novel that breaks into my dreams, but this one did – a dream with a shaman and spirits and the smell of rain and mist, forest, sea and fish. Garth Stein is that kind of story teller.

His next novel, by the way, is a Pacific Northwest ghost story. I have no idea when it’s to be published, but as soon as it is, I’ll definitely buy a copy and lose myself in it.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Breakthrough: Transforming Fear into Compassion in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Breakthrough: Transforming Fear Into Compassion, a new perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Insight Press, Albuquerque, NM, November 2010. Paperback. Richard Forer is a certified practitioner of the Meir Schneider Self-Healing Method.

I met Richard Forer during a conversation he was having with a blogger about the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Learning that he had just finished writing a book about it, I asked him to let me know when the book was published, which he did. It arrived in the mail about a week ago. It is one of the most powerful books on the subject I have read to date.

“It is difficult to overestimate the emotional attachment of American Jews to the State of Israel,” Anna Balzer writes in her Forward. “Zionism, in the words of Baby Boomers like Jewish psychologist and author Mark Braverman, has been the ‘mother’s milk’ to Jews in the United States and around the world. Unconditional support for Israel is not so much an intellectual choice as a deeply rooted component of Jewish identity. Indeed, in many Jewish circles today it has become more important to believe in Israel than to believe in God. Criticism of Israel feels like a personal attack, a challenge not of a state but of who we are.”

Like Richard Forer, she knew where her allegiance lay. “I saw Israel as a victimized country that simply wanted to live in peace but couldn’t because of its aggressive, Jew-hating, Arab neighbors.” This was also true for Forer until his mid-fifties when he was encouraged by a close childhood friend named Sam to take a closer look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He listened, he says, because his friend was Jewish, because he wasn’t judgmental of his viewpoint, and because he gave him the space to question his beliefs without threatening his identity.

In his transformational journey of self-discovery, Richard Forer discovered the main reason behind Zionism’s and Israel’s poisonous relationship with Palestine’s non-Jewish population: “A reasonable need for safety … had been transformed into an irrational fear that could be satisfied only by incapacitating or destroying the objects of that fear.”[1] Safety, the Zionists believed, would come from creating a homeland where Jews would be forever protected from persecution because, it would be for Jews alone in spite of the fact that it told the world in its Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel that it would “foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants … irrespective of religion, race or sex” and would “be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” 

Truth lies in behavior, not words. Throughout its history, Israel has persecuted its non-Jewish citizens, treated its non-Jewish neighbors in the Occupied Territories like vermin, and routinely violated every single principle of the UN’s Charter. The question is why. Where does such malignant behavior
come from? As Forer points out it comes from fear and resentment born of centuries of persecution and pogrom that culminated in the cataclysm of Hitler’s resentments and fear of Jews and other “outsiders” (homosexuals, mental patients, the mentally retarded and Gypsies). As I learned in my years of clinical practice as a mental health professional, fear and resentment left to fester turn into abusive behavior towards others who are perceived as threatening. For the Zionists and their followers after World War II that was everyone who was not Jewish.

When the Zionist forces began their push to establish Israel, their goal was to remove Palestine’s Arab population and replace it with Jewish immigrants from Europe and elsewhere. Every act of resistance was met by a withering fury of violence that has continued unabated in large and small ways for over sixty-two years. It is this deep-seated, pathological fear and resentment that drives Israel’s abusive behavior and the steady stream of denials and lies about it.

“Resentment”, a wise client told me years ago, “is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die.” The cruel irony is that resentment of past persecutions has led Israel’s leaders to create a State that mirrors in its behavior the horrors of the pogroms and the holocaust and subject its Palestinian Arab victims to the persecution and murder for over sixty-two years. This is classic abusive system behavior in which a beaten child becomes a child-beater in its turn. One of the values of Breakthrough is that it shows how unexamined emotions and beliefs prevent us from seeing and living in reality, and how examining them honestly leads to the kind of awakening the author experienced in 2006 when he began to examine and question his beliefs.

“If we look … carefully,” the author asks, “who is the enemy and who is the righteous? The enemy is the righteous mind that sees everything in terms of us against them, [and] calls forth death upon the other.”[2] It is this more than anything else that lies behind Israel’s mindless violence and the massive propaganda campaign that seeks out and attempts to destroy anyone who dares question Israel’s behavior and motives. Forer is not afraid of revealing how he was deceived by a belief system that consisted of antagonists and protagonists that saw “one part of the world as represent[ing] sanity and the other insanity” and enabled him to support “indiscriminate and massive destruction; in a word, insanity.”[3]

Forer does a masterful job of deconstructing denial with example after example of naked and incontrovertible facts, showing time after time behavior on the part of Israelis that is unspeakable in its sadism and beastliness. Where people like Alan Dershowitz and Abraham Foxman don't want to see, Forer deconstructs their arguments so they must look away not to see. Denial is a powerful mechanism of defense; when fear becomes malignant and blocks one’s natural ability to look, to see and to feel.

“Hope is something we will never give up,” says Ali, a young Palestinian college student the author interviewed. “My people want the world community to give us more support. They don’t have to be pro-Palestinian; they just need to be pro-human rights. We don’t want to replace or be replaced, and we don’t want to treat the Israelis the way they treat us. We just want peace and equality.”[4]

In the chapter about the “purity” of Israel’s IDF (Chapter 8, “Purity of Arms”) the author includes this revealing comment by Israeli general Yigal Allon: “If we accuse a family – we need to harm them without mercy, women and children included.”[5] In this statement and others, truth is revealed and one either looks and sees, or denies and looks away; there is no middle ground. There is story after story of horror that is born of resentment, fear and denial, revealing a horrifying, malignant self-righteousness that leads fundamentalist parents to teach their three year old children to throw stones at Palestinian babies, and an Army officer to snatch a man’s three and a half year old son from his arms and throw him onto a cactus. Any society that permits and encourages such behavior ultimately destroys itself in a nightmare of emotional and behavior problems that causes the society to collapse.

Reading Breakthrough is not comfortable, nor should it be, especially for someone like me who is the citizen of a country (the U.S.) that, as Israel’s primary source of financial and materiel aid, has been complicit in its crimes every step of the way. Two things are eminently clear about America’s relationship with Israel: in denying Israel’s behavior. We support it and in our denial are led around by Israel like a bull with a ring in its nose.

In my opinion, Breakthrough is a major contribution to the creation of genuine peace between Israel and the Arab population in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza because it explores the emotional issues that block peace and prevents people from seeing. “Where a man cannot look,” Forer writes, “he cannot feel; and where a man cannot feel, he has not really looked. Without both he will never understand.”[6] Without understanding there will never be peace.

“There are many books that detail Israel's oppressive treatment of the Palestinians,” the author wrote to me in a recent email. “I think my book's strength in that regard is the logic I bring to it, how I show that the arguments that Israel's defenders make are projections [that] should be applied to Israel far more than to the Palestinians. The primary contribution of my book, in my opinion, is the deconstructing of the mind that creates a world of internal oppression and then projects it out into the world onto appropriate scapegoats (Palestinians) who are the objects of their blame. Equally primary is my suggestion that the root problem is a spiritual one, of identity, more so than land or religion as the root cause. If people can begin to intuit their connection to all beings and to life my book will have been effective.” 

I agree. Once we are able to intuit our connection to all beings and to life itself, there will be no need to engage in persecution and war. And isn’t that the real end we seek in this so far endless conflict?

Breakthrough is available from the author at for $19.95 plus postage. It will be available from within the next month.

[1] Page 35.
[2] Page 66.
[3] Page 36.
[4] Page 128.
[5] Page 134.
[6] Page 87, chapter about Abraham Foxman and Jimmy Carter.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Empire for Liberty

Revised review of Richard Immerman: Empire for Liberty: A history of American imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz. Princeton University Press, 2010.

From the standpoint of understanding America’s recent history, Empire for Liberty is an exciting book. American exceptionalism, manifest destiny, liberty, American expansion from a collection of thirteen British colonies to the greatest empire the world has ever seen (though some will argue that point) – all of those things that are so prominent in today’s political maneuverings and pundit rants – are shown to be deeply embedded not only in the American psyche, but in American history. Though some will argue that the U.S. has never sought empire, historian Richard Immerman shows that, in fact, it has been a part of our thinking from Benjamin Franklin and his compatriots to the present day.

What seems to bother its critics is that liberty and empire fit together like oil and water. The notion of empire seems to subvert the whole idea of liberty which, in fact, it does. Yet they are the engine that has driven American commercial, military and political expansionism and dominance from the beginning. The progression and dominance of the American empire have been steady and unyielding from the day the Pilgrims landed on what became the Massachusetts Colony. Anyone standing in the way has been removed, shoved aside or, where possible, assimilated.

Thomas Jefferson, for whom the idea of liberty was of central importance, found it difficult to reconcile liberty and empire. As the American empire expanded, he came to think of it as an empire that would promote America’s concept of liberty around the world. It would be an empire for, not of liberty. And therein lays a major contradiction: Empires have to do with security, prosperity, and the projection of power and greatness; liberty has to do with freedom. America’s claim that it is preserving and promoting liberty leads to conflict when liberty and freedom are defined in American terms and America’s security concerns become paramount, which happened at the beginning of the Cold War when Eisenhower’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles established what Immerman calls an “Empire for Security” to confront the Soviet Union and Communist China that Dulles thought of as empires of evil. From there the U.S. road led to what Immerman calls “the collision of empire and liberty at Abu Ghraib and Guantànamo.”

When an empire promotes liberty it is inevitably paternalistic, dominant and intended to be accepted by others “because it is the best,” which unavoidably leads to confrontation and conflict. As we saw at Abu Ghraib and Guantànamo, it also leads to violations of human rights and excusing (or ignoring) the blatant human rights violations of allies, as the U.S. has done with Israel for over sixty-two years. Both have badly damaged America’s reputation in the world, and both are inexcusable; yet Guantànamo remains unresolved, and Israel continues its predatory treatment of the non-Jewish population of the Occupied Territories without a word of disapproval from the Obama administration, calling our commitment to liberty into question.

It is the chapter on Paul Wolfowitz that is the most revealing in relation to current U.S. history and politics. In his mind there is a dichotomy between America those who are perceived as “evil” (Iran, North Korea and Saddam’s Iraq). Those who are “good” represent America’s politics of liberty, those who are “evil” stand in the way of them. These are defined in terms of America’s missionary impulses of exporting her concepts of liberty and her national interests, which are seen as identical. In Wolfowitz’ mind, “the United States must remain engaged … until it had ridded the world of all those tyrants who [hold] in contempt the values and liberties that the United States [stand] for. Monsters cannot be contained… They [have] to be defanged before they [can] bite. Wolfowitz became a convert to preemption.”[1] “[T]he United States must support constructive policies and programs that [co-opt] potential opposition and [generate] a tidal wave of support for American leadership.”[2] “Destroying monsters” in Wolfowitz’ mind “was the prerequisite for establishing an American empire and an American empire was the prerequisite for an Empire for Liberty[3] No interference was to be permitted.

Wolfowitz’ missionary zeal, combined with his myopic vision quickly became an arrogance that bordered on the delusional. As Immerman says, it “led to what may turn out to be the greatest strategic blunder in U.S. history, a blunder that could prove fatal to the American empire.”[4] The blunder was the decision to invade Iraq, decapitate its leadership, and free its people who, in Wolfowitz’ mind, would welcome the Americans much as the French had done in Paris at the end of World War II. There was no need to plan for an occupation, as the newly-freed Iraqis, grateful for their freedom, would create an American-style democracy to replace Saddam’s dictatorship. Our military would be in and out in six weeks’ time. I still remember Defense Secretary Rumsfeld gleefully chortling about it.

Reality has proven to be quite different. The fragile fabric of Iraqi society exploded in internecine warfare and terror, terrorists swept into the country, thousands of American lives were lost, over a million Iraqis were killed and millions more uprooted and injured. Over seven years later (not six or seven weeks) American troops and installations are still there, though no longer in a combat role. It was an enterprise born of the ignorance of arrogance, an ignorance that blinds its afflicted with the inability to see. Most, if not all of American leadership still doesn’t see it.


[1] Immerman, page 216.
[2] Page 217.
[3] Page 221.
[4] Page 225.