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Tereza Coraggio

Third Paradigm is an out-of-the-box thinktank on community sovereignty and regenerative economics.

We look at how to take back our cities, farmland and water; our money, production and trade; our media, education and culture, our religion and even our God.

We present a people's history of the Bible and a parent's view on how to raise giving kids in a taking world.

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Past Shows


Plant Radishes for Hope: Palestine

June 7, 2009

3P-030 Show Information (includes MP3 download link)

Welcome to the 30th episode of Third Paradigm, which is titled Plant Radishes for Hope: Palestine. This past week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Phyllis Bennis, a fellow of the Institute of Policy Studies and authority on the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Listen to the interview here. Besides many other books and articles, she's written Understanding the Palestinian – Israeli Conflict: A Primer and Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the UN defy US Power.

I chose my title, Plant Radishes for Hope, after listening to Frances Moore Lappe on David Barsamian's Alternative Radio. In her talk, The Work of Hope, she says that the things that give her the most hope now, like Wangari Maathai's Green Belt across Africa, are things that she couldn't have imagined when she was young. If you had told her that apartheid would end, and a woman would initiate a planting movement that would result in millions of new trees in deforested areas, she would have said, "no way." And so she's concluded that it's not possible to know what's possible.

To Lappe, hope isn't based on faith. Hope is evidential; it's the constant process of planting seeds and seeing what happens. Positive change isn't motivated by fear or a perception of lack. It happens because you get a little hint of the unknown possibilities, which pulls you further to make this turn towards life.

As a novice gardener, I have to admit that I lacked hope. How can a barely–visible seed turn into a plant? It's absurd. So I planted six–packs of seedlings instead, and they still seemed incredibly scrawny. But they, behind my back, started conspiring to bust out of the boxes we'd built. I'd walk out in the evening and they'd have grown from the morning. I'd walk out in the morning and they'd have grown overnight. It's still incredible to me, but I developed a little more faith in the incredible. Life can't be contained, even by my ineptitude.

So with this newfound faith I started some seeds in the leftover boxes and flats – refuse, reuse, recycle. And Wangari Maathai has added a fourth R – repair. She means the earth, but I'd settle for someone who fixes cappuccino machines. I sent away for seeds, including slow–growing asparagus, which takes three years from seed to harvest. I planted things and waited, which is really what farming consists of, with a lot of demanding and strenuous work in the meantime so you don't get bored. My work as a gentleman farmer consisted of occasionally watering dirt in the pretense that something was going to happen.

But a friend up the street had given me seeds for easter egg radishes. I don't especially like radishes, but she said to plant them for hope. Sure enough, before I could second–guess the process, the radishes sprouted. Then a tray of wildflowers, then the rhubarb, sage, sunflowers, and zucchini. Now, each day brings a new fledgling. My hope is based on evidence, not faith.

How does this relate to Palestine? When Phyllis gave her talk, she asked if we wanted the bad news or the good news first. Of course we wanted the bad. So she talked about what hasn't changed, including the military budget for Israel. But then she talked about what has. In Cairo, Obama used words like colonization. He used the Islamic greeting. To Israel, he says that a good friend is honest, and the illegal settlements have to stop. These aren't the olive sprigs I was hoping for, or even the brussel sprouts. But they are evidence that something's at work underground. These radish sprouts from Obama aren't what I believe in, but I believe in the resiliency of life they represent. Something is happening that won't be quashed, even by Israel. I'll now read The Greatest Grandeur by Pattiann Rogers.

The Greatest Grandeur

Some say it's in the reptilian dance
of the purple–tongued sand goanna,
for there the magnificent translation
of tenacity into bone and grace occurs.

And some declare it to be an expansive
desert—solid rust–orange rock
like dusk captured on earth in stone—
simply for the perfect contrast it provides
to the blue–grey ridge of rain
in the distant hills.

Some claim the harmonics of shifting
electron rings to be most rare and some
the complex motion of seven sandpipers
bisecting the arcs and pitches
of come and retreat over the mounting

Others, for grandeur, choose the terror
of lightning peals on prairies or the tall
collapsing cathedrals of stormy seas,
because there they feel dwarfed
and appropriately helpless; others select
the serenity of that ceiling/cellar
of stars they see at night on placid lakes,
because there they feel assured
and universally magnanimous.

But it is the dark emptiness contained
in every next moment that seems to me
the most singularly glorious gift,
that void which one is free to fill
with processions of men bearing burning
cedar knots or with parades of blue horses,
belled and ribboned and stepping sideways,
with tumbling white–faced mimes or companies
of black–robed choristers; to fill simply
with hammered silver teapots or kiln–dried
crockery, tangerine and almond custards,
polonaises, polkas, whittling sticks, wailing
walls; that space large enough to hold all
invented blasphemies and pieties, 10,000
definitions of god and more, never fully
filled, never

~ Pattiann Rogers ~
From Firekeeper: New and Selected Poems

Rogers talks about wailing walls and that space large enough to hold all invented blasphemies and pieties. Which was the murder of Dr. George Tiller motivated by? Blasphemy or piety? Which of the 10,000 definitions of god ordered it? Should there be a space large enough to hold all things that come under the definition of religion? Religions have a protected status. We say that we believe in religious freedom. But who protects us from religion – not extremism, but the doctrine of god's inequality at the heart of each.

My daughter and her friends were just debating at what point they thought abortion should be legal or illegal. I changed the question. Should it be more illegal to kill a child than to kill a fetus? What about a really prolonged and painful death, should that be more illegal? Is it twice as wrong to kill two children as one? What about 100? 1000? At this point they were getting annoyed with me for asking stupid questions, so I cut to the chase. 1000 children die every day because of tax havens like Panama, Switzerland, and the Cayman Islands. The money that's stolen from third–world economies takes away a trillion dollars a year in tax revenue from food, education, and jobs. Not only is this murder of 1000 children a day legal, but Obama was willing to reward Panama with a free trade deal, if a grassroots movement hadn't stopped it. Good work, grassroots. Speaking up does work. In fact, if anti–abortionists spent the same time and energy organizing for a transparent global information exchange, they could save these 1000 children a day without spending a penny, much less shedding blood. These are children with parents who love them, who would do whatever they could to keep them alive. And if these activists are willing to go to prison for their pro–life stand, all the better! They'd be in good company around the world.

But that's different, one of the girls said. That's not about religion. Yes, I said, and why not? It's time to name it and shame it. Christianity, as it exists today, is not a pro–life religion. If it were, we'd be living in a different world, where stealing the lives of children for profit wouldn't be tolerated. The right to life doesn't end at birth. Let's break for a rough cut of David Rovics' brand new song, In The Name of God.

[David Rovics – In The Name Of God]

This is a somber week in the sovereignty news. On the positive side, 6500 delegates representing the indigenous peoples from 22 countries of the Abya Yala came together. Abya Yala means Continent of Life or the mature and wise continent in the Kuna language and refers to the land since before the arrival of Columbus. The Bolivian leader Takir Mamani says, "placing foreign names on our villages, our cities, and our continents is equivalent to subjecting our identity to the will of our invaders and their heirs." Their resulting declaration doesn't mince words, but witnesses to the deep crisis of a Western capitalism born from ethnocide, which is now carrying humanity to its own slaughter. It offers an alternative lifestyle against the civilization of death, bringing over 40 thousand years of maturity to the problem.

Their solutions include the principles and practices of balance, the defense of food sovereignty, and giving priority to native crops, domestic consumption, and community economies. They resolve to build Plural States based on self–governance, self–determination, and political representation as people without the interference of political parties. They're organizing the Minga, which means the communal collective, of a Global Mobilization in Defense of mother earth and the peoples against the commercialization of life and against pollution, including extractive transnationals, international financial institutions, GMO's, and the criminalization of social movements. They're organizing a Climate Justice Tribunal to put transnational corporations and complicit governments on trial. It demands amnesty for the fighters for freedom and for life who are in prisons in the US and around the world, and it demands trials of the governments of Colombia, Peru, and Chile. It mobilizes the struggle of the Amazon Indigenous People of Peru against the oil and gas plunder mandated by the US Free Trade Agreement. This is an unprecedented historical document and every person should google the Alliance for Responsible Trade, where the translation is called the Mama Quta Titicaca Declaration, named for the lake of the Grey Stone Puma where the summit was held.

Which brings me to the somber news. In response to 65 days of peaceful protest by the indigenous Amazonians, Peruvian dictator Alan Garcia authorized special ops police and military troops to start shooting from rooftops and helicoptors, into a crowd of 5000 men, women, and children. Alberto Pizango, the president of the indigenous community alliance, said, "They're shooting at us as if we're delinquents or animals." Pizango had been negotiating with the premier, who broke it off because Pizango spoke to him in Spanish but conferred on the phone with native leaders in his own dialect. Up to 50 people have been killed so far, with hundreds injured. A warrant has been issued by Garcia for Pizango's arrest, but the Abya Yala calls for Garcia's arrest. They ask for protests at Peruvian embassies around the world. In response to their call, the Alliance for Responsible Trade has organized solidarity protests on Monday the 8th in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles in front of the Peruvian Embassy and Consulate General. They urge others to protest at Congressional buildings or Federal offices.

To tie together the killing of abortion doctors to indigenous Amazonians to Palestinians, We'll now break for Big Country with Soldier of the Lord.

[Big Country – Soldier of the Lord]

That was Big Country with Soldier of the Lord, which is as relevant for Crusaders as Zionists. Related to this, in my interview with Phyllis Bennis, I asked her whether a Palestinian could decide to convert to Judaism: get circumcised, study the Torah, follow the rules on what not to eat. Then, would they enjoy all the privileges of a Jewish citizen? Phyllis supposed so but I don't believe it. They can't convert, because Judaism is a race, not a religion. A religion would be a belief system. But Jews in Israel believe all sorts of different things. Even if they don't believe in any God, they don't lose their rights. Why? Because Judaism is, like Mein Kampf, a document of racial entitlement. But unlike Mein Kampf, it's been enshrined as a religion, giving it protected status.

Another person I admire, who also misses the point about the connection between Israeli violence and Judaic scripture, is Uri Avnery. He writes a very articulate and positive article on Obama's Middle East speech, but it concludes, "The Israeli people must now decide: whether to follow the right–wing government towards an inevitable collision with Washington, as the Jews did 1940 years ago when they followed the Zealots into a suicidal war on Rome – or to join Obama's march towards a new world." Avnery is confused. Israel would be choosing to out–roman Rome, not to be zealots. The zealots sided with all of the oppressed, including the Samaritans and Egyptians, against Rome, not creating another victim. They formed an alliance of the excluded, as the Abya Yala does today, who resolves "to support the struggle of the peoples of the world against imperial powers, including the end of the embargo against Cuba, the Israel de–occupation of Palestinian territories, and in behalf of the collective rights of the Masai, Mohawk, Shoshoni, Same, Kurdish, Catalan and Basque peoples among others."

Is it suicide or pro–life for the occupied and oppressed to band together against the empire? For the zealots, it wasn't suicide but betrayal that led to their defeat – Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakkai who was smuggled in a coffin out of Jerusalem under siege. He left women, children, and the elderly to a fate worse than death while he groveled and cut a deal with Caesar's son, the attacking general Titus. He asked to live, so he could preserve the Jewish scriptures. What did Titus get in return? Access to the city to slaughter and enslave the children of Jerusalem? Or a scripture that worshiped Caesar under the name of Yahweh, and conferred privileges from this God to an elite patriarchy?

The Torah we have today is the product of this collaboration with Rome by Johanan Ben Zakkai, who deserted and betrayed the people's revolution. Israel is being true to a Torah that sided with Rome. They're claiming the land that Caesar gave to the patriarchal elite that agreed to worship him. They're taking it from the indigenous population who sides with each other in solidarity. The indigenous are the zealots, and their struggle is ours unless we choose to be also collaborators with Rome. We are all indigenous to the planet, so the choice is one of ideology, not birth. Are you on the side of empire or the people? It's not the zealots who were suicidal, but in the words of the Abya Yala, We are a diversity of thousands of civilizations with over 40 thousand years of history, which were invaded and colonized by those who, just five centuries later, are leading us to a planetary suicide." Which legacy do you choose?

This has been Tereza Coraggio with Third Paradigm. Thanks to Skidmark Bob for production and editing, and to Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies. Our last song is XTC with Dear God. But while we face up to the God we can't believe in, let's start imagining one we can. Then we'll know what to look for to find our own examples of evidential faith. Maybe they'll look like radish sprouts.

[XTC – Dear God]

* * * * * * *

Phyllis Bennis Interview

Tereza Coraggio interviews Phyllis Bennis

Phyllis Bennis is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow, and author of several books on Empire and conflicts in the Middle East.

She is the author of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer and Challenging Empire.

Listen to the Interview

Show Information (includes MP3 download link)

Thanks for listening.