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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Stop Land Grab at Beit Sahour

I just received word from Playgrounds for Palestine about an Israeli attempt to confiscate private and community land in Beit Sahour in the West Bank, including a park where one of their next playgrounds is to be built. I've whittled the information down to fall well within the green zone on's "impact meter," as follows:

As a supporter of Playgrounds for Palestine, I am disturbed by news of an Israeli land grab against the community of Beit Sahour in the West Bank. As described by town residents, Ha'aretz, Ma'an News, and other sources in recent days, Israeli soldiers and bulldozers arrived on February 10 at a family recreation park in Beit Sahour and declared it a closed military zone, for the stated purpose of building a watchtower.

Included in this swath of land is the treasured Oush Grab Peace Park, which serves as a community space, park, and recreational facility where Palestinian families gather daily and was to be the site of one of PfP's next playgrounds.

I urge you to call and write to Israeli officials to protest this action, call upon them to stop the construction of the watchtower, stop settler attacks on the park, and cease any idea of building a settlement on the site.

I've already sent this to Senator Specter and will shortly send it to my other representatives. The full text of the message from PfP is copied below. Although the original call to action comes from a Christian group, it should resonate with any humanist.

Eric Hamell

From: Playgrounds for Palestine <>
Date: Saturday, February 27, 2010, 5:19 PM. . . helping children reclaim their childhoods

February 27, 2010

We are sending out this CALL TO ACTION to alert our supporters about a troubling development in the Oush Grab Peace Park, the site designated for a 2010 PfP playground installation. The Israeli military is trying to implement a decision to confiscate community and privately held property belonging to the community and families in the Palestinian Christian town of Beit Sahour.

Included in this swath of land is the treasured Peace Park, which serves as a community space, park and recreational facility where Palestinian families gather daily and was to be the site of one of PfP's next playgrounds.

We ask you to call and write to Israeli officials in order to protest this action, call upon them to stop the construction of the watchtower, prevent settlers from attacking the park, and cease any idea of building a settlement in the site.

Follow the link and enter zip for to contact local congressmen -

Call the Israeli ambassador 202 364 5500 or email

Email the Consulate General of the US, Jerusalem -

Call the Israeli consulate in Philly 215 977 7600

Contact the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Near East Affairs - Jeffrey D Feltman 202 647 7209

Injustice in Beit SahourA Statement by Kairos Palestine

(Jerusalem 20.03.2010) As described by town residents, Ha'aretz,Ma'an News, and other sources in recent days, Israeli soldiers and bulldozers arrived on February 10 at a family recreation park in Beit Sahour – a town slightly east of Bethlehem in the West Bank, and the site of the former army base Osh Grab, which was abandoned by the IDF in 2006 – and declared it a closed military zone.

KAIROS Palestine condemns this action and calls upon churches worldwide to advocate for the Christians and all residents of Beit Sahour and intervene in the damage, present and projected, wrought upon their home.

Since 1967, Beit Sahour, one of the last Christian majority towns in the West Bank, has repeatedly lost land to the Jerusalem municipality and to the nearby settlement of Har Homa. Much of the remaining land was occupied by an Israeli military base, Osh Grab. After the army evacuated the base in 2006, the Beit Sahour municipality regained control of the land – largely private plots and some public ones. (That said, all of the land remained part of what Israel calls Area C, keeping it under harsh regulation by the Israeli State.) The municipality renovated the public land, built a recreational park and playground – the "Peace Park" – and was planning to build a hospital as well.

Over time, fanatical Jewish settler groups have often threatened to take over the site, protested there as part of their aggressive claim as its "true" owners, and even physically vandalized the park, as they did last month. As it stands, Israel's stated intention is to build a new watchtower: a troubling reassertion of a military presence in Beit Sahour. The other worry is that this could pave the way for a new settlement, which nearby settlers have been demanding for years. As Amira Hass writes in Ha'aretz, "The Beit Sahour residents have no reason to doubt either the settlers or the Har Homa neighborhood committee chairman, who declared that 'This could become a reality, just as Har Homa spilled beyond what was planned and expected.'"

Either way, this new display of control on the part of the State – arriving with bulldozers, excavating the site around the park, prohibiting the entry of the Beit Sahour residents and various internationals who came to protest, declaring the land a closed military zone – is a grave affront. It is painful and unjust for some reasons of specific import to Christians (who form 80% of Beit Sahour); others are simply questions of humanity and legality, crucial for both Christians and Muslims.

First, the park area lies between two sacred sites: "Shepherds Field" and the place, as told in the Bible, where Boaz fell in love with Ruth. These are places of immense spiritual significance, and the State's commandeering of the land is profoundly distressing. (As we wrote in the Kairos Document, "freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security.") Second, the takeover is yet another example of the way Israeli occupation displaces us, divorces us from our basic rights of mobility and autonomy, and enforces a divisive view of human interaction that perverts the Word of God and the love and compassion it calls us to.

We request the solidarity of churches in the international community: to support us, to intervene in this latest encroachment on Beit Sahour and prevent it from continuing, and to speak out against the occupation in all such instances. We ask individuals and communities worldwide to contact Israeli officials and condemn their actions, to write the mayor of Beit Sahour and express support, and engage in other such forms of outreach and network-building.

As we make these requests, we quote again from the KAIROS Document itself to remind ourselves and each other of what is at stake and what we must call for: "Our connectedness to this land is a natural right. It is not an ideological or theological question only…[w]e suffer from the occupation of our land because we are Palestinians."

And finally: "We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God…and distort [s] the divine image in the human beings living under both political and theological injustice."

Please join KAIROS Palestine in condemning these oppressive actions in Beit Sahour and working to restore the justice that is both our calling and our right.

We ask you to call and write to Israeli officials in order to protest this action, call upon them to stop the construction of the watchtower, prevent settlers from attacking the park, and cease any idea of building a settlement in the site.

Please make appeals to:

[Ehud Barak] Minister of Defense, Ministry of Defense, 37 Kaplan Street, Hakirya, Tel Aviv
61909, Israel Fax: +972 3 691 6940 Email: Salutation: Dear Minister

Israeli Ambassador in your respective country

Copy to: the Mayor of Beit SahourEmail:
Kairos Palestine: Email:

KAIROS Palestine is a group of Palestinian Christians who authored "A Moment of Truth" – Christian Palestinian's word to the world about the occupation of Palestine, an expression of hope and faith in God, and a call for solidarity in ending over six decades of oppression – and published it in 2009.

From our board member, Nathan Dannison, more information –

Here is a great background video re: the site: more background information from decolonizing architecture:

Here are two articles regarding my non-violent protest and its result:

Here are some photographs of the event: (scroll forward to see more)

Here are my relevant blog entries:

Here is some troubling information regarding the current state of affairs:

Also – Photos of popular resistance including tearing down the apartheid fences in Bilin

Beit Sahour: a new struggle by Ben White - 21 February 2010 11:49, The Newstatesman

This message was sent from Playgrounds for Palestine, 132 Pennsylvania Ave, Yardley, pa 19067.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Review: Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism

Today I finished reading this book by Robert Jay Lifton, originally published in 1961 and sometimes called the "bible" of the cult awareness movement.

By comparing the accounts of a number of people of varying backgrounds who were subjected to Maoist "thought reform" in the early Fifties, Lifton develops much insight into the processes and mechanisms by which coercive persuasion is attempted and sometimes accomplished, as well as some ideas about the possible motives of the reformers (including non-rational motives) and the kind of historical context that can give rise to such practices.

It was interesting to read about the personal backgrounds of some of the subjects and recognize similarities to elements of my own early life. This provided some insight into why I have had some susceptibility to totalism, as well as successful resistance to its most destructive potentialities. And I became quite engaged by the concluding discussion outlining his idea of "open personal change," as contrasted with the totalistic sort. This seemed very relevant to my own current struggle to find a comfortable balance between engagement and autonomy. I wish Lifton could have gone into greater detail on this topic; perhaps he's done so in subsequent writings.

I was also challenged by the fact that one of his Chinese subjects had come to the conclusion that the methods of thought reform were compatible with and rooted in Leninism, not a deviation from it as he'd assumed before studying Lenin. Although I'm no longer calling myself a Leninist, I'm still resistant to the notion that there's a continuity between Leninism and Stalinism. I'll have to look up the writing cited in the book so that I can make my own judgment.

Update 11 March: I skimmed through the book but couldn't find the citation from Lenin I'd thought I remembered — just an epigram attributed to him at the opening of the section on thought reform of Chinese intellectuals: "We must become engineers of the human soul." But when I try GoodSearching the Web for the source of this quote, I can't find it. Instead, I find the source for a similar statement by Stalin, in which he called writers "engineers of the human soul." On at least one occasion a representative of Stalin also used this expression at a conference, reportedly in reference to all cultural workers. So it appears the phrase is misattributed in Lifton's book.

Of course this doesn't explain why one of his subjects came to the conclusion he did, but it doesn't leave me much to go on; he may have simply been making an incorrect conflation of ideas that really are different.

It did occur to me a few years ago that the tension between the two sides of the democratic centralist formula — "freedom of discussion, unity in action" — would tend to create cognitive dissonance issues for any member of a Leninist group who finds timself in the minority; and I was forced to acknowledge the implications of this when I saw it discussed in Dennis Tourish's paper "Ideological Intransigence, Democratic Centralism, and Cultism." In brief, even relatively loose versions of DC will put such people in the position of appearing to assent, if only by their silence, to positions they don't really hold, and this will produce in them a feeling of insincerity that will bother their conscience. There are two ways of resolving this: adapting to the majority's position inwardly (which may become an automatic habit if done repeatedly), or else leaving the group so as no longer to be bound by its discipline. This rather neatly explains why the one thing Leninist groups are derided for more often than cultism, is serial splintering.

But with all that said, this cognitive dissonance problem alone falls far short of being all the essential elements of thought reform. The other element treated as centrally important in Tourish's paper, ideological intransigence, he sees as more essential to Trotskyism than to Leninism. In fact a quote from Lenin that is sourced — and with which I happen to be acquainted because it appeared for years on the inside front cover of Bulletin in Defense of Marxism, journal of the Fourth Internationalist Tendency to which I belonged 1986-92 — suggests a spirit quite contrary to that of thought reform:

All members of the party must begin to study, completely dispassionately and with utmost honesty, first the essence of the differences and second the course of the dispute in the party.... It is necessary to study both the one and the other, unfailingly demanding the most exact, printed documents, open to verification by all sides. Whoever believes things simply on someone else's say-so is a hopeless idiot, to be dismissed with a wave of the hand. -- "The Party Crisis," 19 January 1921.
The objection may be made that this quote refers to an inner-party struggle and doesn't necessarily apply to non-members. But if internal differences are regarded as legitimate and not necessarily the expression of "the bourgeoisie inside the party" as Maoist doctrine would have it, it's difficult to see how the same allowance would not be made for the views of non-members which may, after all, echo those that some members also hold.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Economics and Ideology — Redux

I have to wonder: do the commentaries on Marketplace have such a predominantly neoliberal tilt because of the producers' own bias? Or does it just reflect what they think their listeners want to hear?

The latest is by one Susan Lee, who recently shared a stage with the Archbishop of Canterbury. She says this is because she has a degree in theology as well as one in economics, but she sounds indistinguishable from any capitalist apologist. On one side, she says Canterbury's (admittedly fuzzy) definition of an ethical economy is met by "capitalism in the U.S." Although she only speaks of capitalism in general subsequently, she thereby creates the impression that her arguments justify the particular choices made in this country, ignoring the evidence that different choices — choices not reflecting the priorities she argues for — actually produce better results in human terms.

On the other side, she doesn't offer any coherent description of what Canterbury stands for, defining his position only by the assumptions of hers that he doesn't share. This results in what looks like a cartoonish caricature of whatever his real position might be. This is what I wrote in response on their comments page:

Mind-boggling. Lee speaks as if the United States had the world's only functioning economy. Can she really be unaware that most developed countries actually function better by human criteria — average longevity, infant mortality, illiteracy? And that these better-performing economies are based on different social choices, with less inequality of wealth and income?

This is only logical since, as any economist should know, the more equally income is distributed the larger the proportion that will be invested in necessities rather than luxuries, with beneficial consequences for the species.

And as any biologist knows, what nature ultimately cares about is not accumulation but reproduction. So if an economic system is based on democracy and transparency, the most productive individuals will be correctly identified and rewarded with greater reproductive opportunities, which is all the incentive anyone needs. For further discussion of these concepts, see the essay "Making the Right to a Job More Than a Slogan" on my blog Gondwanaland.

The last paragraph is responding in particular to the most overtly neoliberal part of Lee's commentary, where she accuses Canterbury of believing in "work without incentives, enterprise without income inequality, investment without market-rates of return." Where, in other words, she assumes implicitly that the only kinds of incentives possible are the kinds that exist under capitalism.

Eric Hamell

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Hunger Project Gets Free Ride on The World

PRI's The World had a story today about a family that sold their home and gave half the proceeds to The Hunger Project. THP got a lot of good press without any mention of its controversial nature. I sent The World this letter:

Ironic that in the same program in which you reported in such detail on the cultlike practices of the Pakistani Taliban, you also gave free, unrebutted advertising for another cult-related group, The Hunger Project.

THP was founded by Werner Erhard of Erhard Seminars Training (est) and several of his followers, and did not end (formal) ties to that group 'til 1991. It has quite recently been accused of trying to suppress critical information about itself. See, for instance,

I also find it objectionable that those you interviewed, in praising THP's stated emphasis on helping people sustainably overcome hunger, spoke as if it were unique in this respect. Even if it is true that this is really their practice now (and they've been accused of misrepresenting their activities in the past), they are hardly alone in this. To name just one example, Oxfam is also known for emphasizing development aid over handouts.

Eric Hamell
Philadelphia, PA, USA

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