Slouching Towards Gaza

Vincent Di Stefano

This post offers a fifth anniversary commemoration of Operation Cast Lead, the tragic and highly destructive assault of the Israeli military on the people of Gaza which commenced on the 27th December 2008 and ended on the 18th January 2009. It offers an account of pivotal events in the history of Israel/Palestine from 1947 to the present through the reflections of a number of informed and articulate commentators. — Vincent Di Stefano [IA]

And What Rough Beast Slouches Towards Gaza? - Operation Cast Lead and the Dismembering of a People


On the Wisdom of Duration

Vincent Di Stefano

Every artist, musician and scientist worth their salt knows that the only way to make anything of worth truly their own is through repetition. Archers, footballers, sabreurs and chess players also know this to be axiomatic. Meditators, dancers, surgeons and healers all understand that without constant repetition, one’s level of focus, attention and skill inevitably drop away.

Yet the present time conspires to have us all believe that transience is the new value by which we are to live. This is reflected in the acceptance of inevitable obsolescence in virtually all the fruits of technology; in the seamless daily media reports of crisis after crisis with little or no reflection, reconsideration or remembrance of the waves of influence that both create and reverberate from such crises; and in the obsession with speed and curtness of delivery that characterises our newly developed forms of electronic communication.

Mobile phone texting is creating new lexicons and grammars, while email has reduced textual communication to verbal transactions phrased in minimalist vocabularies. We have become travellers on an ocean of information that endlessly washes and occasionally storms through our lives. And if we are to accept conventional wisdom, it is all relevant. For today, at least. Tomorrow will bring its own new waves of relevance, and today’s relevancies will be forgotten.

One of the consequences of this popular enshrinement of transience and ephemerality is a deepening loss of connectedness with our own origins and even with the definitive experiences of our age. Some school teachers still take it upon themselves to transmit a remembrance of the profound calamity that befell Europe during the Second World War in the hope that their students will come to realise the undermining and overturning of all values that occurred under Hitler’s Third Reich. Yet for so many young people, Vietnam, Cambodia, Timor and Lebanon are simply names of distant places. Something happened in Gaza five years ago, and something else happened there around this time last year, but that was way back then.

Without consciously cultivating a sense of memory and duration, we too easily fall into a soporific drifting through time. We shrug our shoulders at the hopelessness of it all, disconnect ourselves from the lived realities that assail others and are benumbed to the images of pain and calamity that daily irrupt into the popular media.

Restoring a Ruined Earth. The Heroic Mission of Thomas Berry

Vincent Di Stefano

Thomas Berry wanted to shift the focus of religion to-
wards care of the Earth.

Industrial civilisation has changed everything. At the dawn of the petrochemical age in 1750, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide were estimated to be 280 parts per million (ppm). In 1960, they were around 360 ppm. Last month (May 2011) levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide were over 394 ppm.

The oceans of the earth are presently becoming more acidic at ten times the rate that preceded the last mass extinction event at the end of the Cenozoic era tens of millions of years ago.

And while Arctic sea ice cover has been steadily declining in recent years, NASA scientists have confirmed that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at a rapidly accelerating rate.

There are many who have read the warning signs. Half a century ago, Rachel Carson alerted us to the damaging consequences of industrial methods of agriculture on ecosystems everywhere. Soon after, Fritz Schumacher urged us to rethink economics in view of the rapacious influence of corporate globalisation. And both Rosalie Bertell and Helen Caldicott have long warned of the silent, slow and spectrous death emanating from the nuclear industry.

The UN Climate Conferences at Copenhagen in 2009 and Mexico City in 2010 were effectively neutered by the influence of mining and energy companies acting through Western governments, notably the US and Canada. Closer to home, both Liberal and Labour parties are desperately outreaching each other in promised tax cuts while arguing about how best to lower carbon emissions by a sad 5% by 2020.

Meanwhile, 250 million tons of coal - over 10 tons for every man, woman and child living in this country - and 10,000 tons of yellow cake - uranium oxide - continue to be shipped out of Australia each year as part of a non-negotiable assault on the earth, felicitously described as a "mining boom", that has replaced the sheep's back on which the Australian economy was once carried.

Those who have understood the magnitude of the environmental situation that presently confronts us are faced with a two-fold task. The first is to clearly identify the nature of those forces that have brought us to where we are. The second is to envision the changes needed - both in our thinking and in our actions - that might reverse the dangerous situation within which we find ourselves, or at the least, prepare future generations for living on the earth in a very different manner.

One of the most articulate and visionary allies in this task is the late Thomas Berry, theologian, mystic and cultural historian. Berry combines prophetic clarity with a penetrative erudition grounded in the intellectual and spiritual traditions of both West and East.

His vision was slowly formed through many decades of studying the wisdom traditions and through observing the effects of industrial civilisation on the earth's ecosystems during the twentieth century. Thomas Berry offers a truly heroic vision to counter the pathologies of distraction and trivialisation borne of the post-modern enthralment with transience and distaste for grand narratives.[1][2]

Leopold Kohr. Gentle Messenger of Community, Fellowship and Celebration

Vincent Di Stefano

Our times are not entirely graced by an abundance of wisdom in those who would rule. We are all now engulfed in the consequences of decisions made in the offices of politician-economists, investment bankers and corporate technocrats.

The rule of philosopher-kings remains a distant ideal that periodically resurfaces from the time it was first given voice by Socrates and Plato in the fifth century BCE. It found some expression in the Chakravartin king Ashoka who renounced war and conquest while at the height of his powers in third century BCE India. And it was thwarted in the attempts of the noble-hearted Boethius to reform the decadent politics of a corroded Roman empire during the sixth century CE.

Regardless, we are where we are, and it is probably useful to continue to actively seek out those rare and occasional carriers of the wisdom that would guide us towards a more equitable world, a more peaceful world, and a more sustainable world than that which we presently inhabit.

Leopold Kohr was professor of economics and public administration at a number of universities in North America, Puerto Rico, and the United Kingdom from the early 1940s to the 1970s. As a younger man, he spent time in Spain as a journalist, sharing an office with Ernest Hemingway, and a friendship and many conversations with Eric Blair, who was later to publish his own writings under the pen name of George Orwell. Even then, Kohr's sharp pen thrust at the Fascism of Franco, the Nazism of Hitler, and the Communism of Stalin.

Shocked by the destruction occurring in Europe at the hands of the great powers of the time, he began to focus his thoughts and marshal his powers of concentration in 1941. Over the next ten years, he gave them form in a manuscript entitled The Breakdown of Nations, which was completed in 1951. Throughout that time, Kohr lectured in economics at the University of Toronto and contributed occasional editorials to the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.


Vincent Di Stefano

Remembering Rongelap

While the colours of the rising sun were beginning to play over the skies of a still Pacific morning on the first day of March 1954, a second sun suddenly and furiously erupted from Namu Island in the Bikini atoll. It was the fiery fruition of the determination of Hungarian physicist Edward Teller to gift the world with a weapon as powerful as the sun itself, a weapon based on the fusion of hydrogen atoms.

Within one second of that infernal detonation, an immense fireball 7 kilometres in diameter had formed. In less than a minute, the fireball had risen to a height of 14 kilometres. Eight minutes later, the fiery cloud had billowed out to a height of 40 kilometres and had spread out over a distance of 100 kilometres. Even so, it continued expanding outwards at a rate of more than six kilometres a minute. Beneath this unearthly fury, the Bikini atoll had been riven in two by a gaping crater two kilometres wide and 60 metres deep.

The clever men who had worked so hard to create such a weapon were well pleased. The 80,000 inhabitants of the Marshall Islands, in which the Bikini atoll was situated, were to suffer for generations to come. And the world was thereafter blighted by a new destructive energy that was to be claimed by powerful military establishments around the world.

And What Rough Beast Slouches Towards Gaza? - Operation Cast Lead and the Dismembering of a People

Vincent Di Stefano

In early January 2009, two lone voices braved the Australian media to offer a differing view to that given by Government spokespersons regarding Operation Cast Lead, the 22-day assault of Israel on Gaza that began on December 27th 2008. The first was that of Greens Leader, Senator Bob Brown. He urged Julia Gillard to speak out against the "violent and disproportionate action by Israeli leaders." More pointed were the comments of Julia Irwin, Federal MP for the NSW seat of Fowler. In an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald at the time, she used metaphor to draw our attention to the travesty that was occurring in Gaza:

"It all reminds me of an old story from the days of the Roman Empire. The emperor Nero was upset that his prized lions were being distressed by Christians, who ran away from them in the Colloseum. Nero ordered that at the next circus, a Christian was to be buried up to his neck in the sand to make things easier for the lions. When the lions entered the ring, the biggest and the meanest saw the hapless condemned, swaggered over and stood astride the Christian’s head, roaring for approval from the crowd. At that moment, the Christian craned his neck and bit off the lion’s testicles. The crowd was shocked. "Fight fair! Fight fair!" they yelled."

Israel’s attack upon Gaza was met with a curious indifference by most of the so-called leaders of Western nations. As acting Prime Minister of Australia at the time, the ill-informed Julia Gillard refused to criticise, let alone condemn the actions of Israel. Supposedly speaking on behalf of the Australian people, she said: "Australia recognises the right of Israel to defend itself." That comment was made on the third of January 2009, by which time it was widely known that 430 Gazans had already been killed and 2,300 wounded in 750 individual strikes carried out by air and by sea over the previous five days.

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