Open up the cracks!

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

We are living in dark times.

We are reaping the consequences of three-and-a-half decades of neo-liberalism – economic policies which have made a few people extremely rich (in material terms) and many people poorer.

In Britain and many other countries children have been taught little about democracy and the rule of law. They have grown up to be adults who think that “human rights” is a dirty word and who believe that climate change is some sort of con-trick. They are now taking every opportunity to thumb their noses at the elite which has imposed austerity and cut public services to the bone. It is understandable that they should prefer unscrupulous demagogues who promise to help them out of their misery rather than democratic politicians who can only offer more of the same.

So we have Donald Trump soon to be president of the United States of America. I doubt whether he understands the concept of the rule of law. And I fear that he wouldn’t hesitate very long in launching one or two nuclear weapons – at Iran, for example. Just as worrying as the possibility of a conflict going nuclear, is the now more likely prospect of the world’s governments failing to take sufficient action to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. This would be a tall order at the best of times.

And we have the United Kingdom heading for a “hard Brexit”. The British people cannot have their cake and eat it, whatever David Davis might think. If Theresa May and her government insist on limiting the free movement of people between the EU and the UK, the UK will have to leave the single market. Most people in Britain are only just beginning to understand the dire economic consequences of leaving the single market. They had better learn quickly. Otherwise they will be in for a rude awakening in a couple of years’ time.

Yesterday I took a Belgian visitor for a walk around Siegburg, the town near Bonn where I live. Our first stop was the Jewish cemetery. Unfortunately the gate was locked, probably to prevent vandalism. But through the gate I could just about read a display board which told the history of the Jewish community in Siegburg. The first documentary evidence of a Jewish presence here dates from the thirteenth century. So far as we know, the first Jewish family settled in Siegburg in 1287. The history of the Jewish community ended with Kristallnacht (“the Night of Broken Glass”) in November 1938, when the synagogue was destroyed by fire, and the deportation of the Jewish population to concentration camps.

This morning in the protestant church around the corner we sang a well-known Advent hymn by Jochen Klepper, a protestant theologian who married a Jew. He composed the hymn, Die Nacht ist vorgedrungen”, in Advent 1937. It is one of my favourite hymns alongside Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben”. Jochen Klepper was inspired by Paul’s words to the Romans: “The night is nearly over, day is almost here. Let us stop doing the things that belong to the dark, and let us take up weapons for fighting in the light.” (Romans 13:12) I should dig out my translation of Jochen Klepper’s hymn. I can only remember a couple of lines: “The night is nearly over. The dawn shines from afar. So let us raise our voices to greet the morning star.”

Those were dark times in the thirties, not only in Germany. The Great Depression was brought to an end by massive public spending – on weapons and military infrastructure.

What we need now in these dark times of today is a major programme of public spending, not on weapons, but on new technology and infrastructure to replace fossil-fuel intensive manufacturing and transport. Germany is at the forefront of the transition to a low-carbon economy. New legislation is paving the way for investment in renewable energy and demand reduction through increased efficiency.

There are cracks letting in the light. One such instance is the success of the Liberal Democrat candidate in the recent bye-election in Richmond Park, overturning a Conservative majority of 24,000. This was helped by the Green Party, led by Caroline Lucas, deciding not to field a candidate and encouraging voters to support the Liberal Democrats. Only a broad progressive alliance, including the Labour Party as well as the Lib Dems and the Greens, can stand up against UKIP and the right-wing Tories who are driving Britain towards a hard Brexit.

There is light on the other side of the Atlantic as well. A US-American friend of mine told me a few days ago that he has a nephew who works for a city in North Carolina. The city has a strong policy on combating climate change. Cities, counties, and states across the USA can do what needs to be done to combat climate change regardless of what is going on (or not going on) at the White House. The local and state jurisdictions just need plenty of support and encouragement from all the citizens whose dream is of a democratic, open, tolerant, and sustainable society.

Advent hymns exhort us to “Open up the gates!”, “Open up your doors!” “Open up wide for the new coming king!”

Leonhard Cohen sang:

Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

Let us open up all the cracks. And let the light into our hearts, our communities, and our nations.


From Ramallah to Jericho

Having been based near Ramallah for the past week or so, our Quaker Voluntary Action group travelled today via the Mount of Temptations, Jericho, Hisham’s Palace, and a spring near the village of Auja to the Auja Eco Centre.

It is rather hotter in the Jordan Valley than in Ramallah. And it was a fairly steep climb up the Mount of Temptations, said to be the place in the wilderness where Jesus fasted for forty days and was subjected to temptation. There is a monastery perhaps about two-thirds of the way up the mountain. I walked up the path to the monastery in silence. Inside the monastery there are a couple of small chapels. One of them is just a small cave with a low entrance. I had a few moments alone in that little cave, but was very conscious of other people wanting to follow me inside. The chapels were all rather crowded and few people were entirely silent. It was not conducive to prayer or meditation. I was reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem:

I have desired to go

Where springs not fail,

To fields where flies no sharp or sided hail

And a few lilies blow.

I have asked to be

Where no storms come,

Where the green swell is in the havens dumb

And out of the swing of the sea.

Jericho is noticeably greener than the large bustling city of Ramallah. We found a small café/restaurant for lunch, before going on to Hisham’s Palace, which was built during the first half of the eighth century and largely destroyed by an earthquake only five years later, though it was subsequently occupied.

Our next stop was at the end of a road up a narrow steep-sided valley. The hillsides are barren, but we walked a little way on up the valley to where tall rushes were growing along a small stream. Several of us removed our shoes or sandals and found rocks to sit on with our feet in the deliciously cool water. The stream from the spring used to provide a plentiful supply of water to the village of Auja, which used to grow an abundance of melons and other fruit. Now the spring water is extracted for use, mainly for irrigation, in nearby Israeli settlements. The stream has dried up for all but a few winter months, so the land is dry and unproductive. The residents of Auja have to go and work for low pay in the nearby settlements and/or sell some of their own land to Palestinians from Ramallah or Jerusalem who can afford holiday homes.

Our base for the next two days is the Auja Eco Centre. This is a project of Friends of the Earth (FoE) in the Middle East, which has offices in Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, and Amman. Fadi, the director of the Eco Centre explained that FoE in the the Middle East, which has members in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, supports the claims of the Palestinians to a viable independent state, which would require the dismantling of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Fadi told us about some of the consequences of the unfair distribution of the region’s water resources. Because of excessive extraction upstream, the lower Jordan River is seriously depleted. It is also polluted by untreated sewage. Old artesian wells are becoming saline as the water table sinks. Extraction from existing wells by Palestinians is metered and controlled by the Israeli water authority. The Palestinians are allowed water for domestic use only. They are frequently unable to obtain permits to repair water infrastructure in Area C, which is under Israeli control.

Fadi told us about the Centre’s “Good Water Neighbours” scheme, which fosters cooperation between neighbouring Palestinian and Jordanian villages. In these villages there are “water trustees” who teach children about the importance of water conservation. Unfortunately Israeli settlements, which consume the lion’s share of the water, are not involved in such cooperation. This is because FoE in the Middle East has a policy of non-cooperation with people or organisations who do not recognise the rights of Palestinians.

Such non-cooperation is a classic form of nonviolent struggle or the use of “goodness-power”. (“Goodness-power” will be the subject of a future blogpost.) However, if non-cooperation also means a refusal to talk to opponents, in this case the residents of Israeli settlements, I feel rather uneasy. The sooner opponents talk to each other and begin cooperating to resolve a problem, the sooner the problem will be resolved. Not so long ago I read H. W. van der Merwe’s autobiography. “Harvey” was the director of the Centre for Intergroup Studies in Cape Town. He did much to bring members of the ANC together with members of the Apartheid administration. As a Quaker he made a point of being willing to talk to anyone and everyone.