Desert Bloomism: The Israeli myth that won’t spoil, wither, or die

on 54 Comments

“This tractor does two things – it turns the land and turns us off the land. There is little difference between this tractor and a tank. The people were driven, intimidated, hurt by both. We must think about this.”

- John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Chapter 14

“If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears.”

- Mahmoud Darwish

Last month, as the horrifying existential and delegitimizing threat of a few small boats and dozens of courageous peace activists (including a bunch of old folks, a Holocaust survivor, and a Pulitzer Prize laureate) armed with international law, an affinity for human rights, humanitarian aid, and scary potential papercut-inducing letters of support for Palestinian freedom and self-determination sought to challenge the illegal Israeli blockade, The New York Times‘ Ethan Bronner did his best to divert attention away from the suffering in Gaza by publishing articles showing how wonderful and luxurious life is in an besieged open-air prison.

On June 28, Bronner published a piece entitled, “A Bountiful Harvest, Rooted in a Former Settlements Soil.” The Times online header read: “Gaza Establishes Food Independence in Former Israeli Settlements.” Beyond the obvious agenda inherent in these banners, the piece itself peddles age-old Zionist tropes of historical revisionism, land redemption and blooming deserts.

Bronner begins:

Hundreds of acres of watermelons, orange saplings and grapevines stretch in orderly rows out to the horizon. Irrigation hoses run along the sand, dripping quietly. Apple trees are starting to blossom nearby. Avocados and mangoes are on their way.

Gaza, cut off by Israel and Egypt for the past four years and heavily dependent on food aid, is expanding an enormous state-run farm aimed at gaining partial food independence.

Most striking is that the project sits in the center of the coastal strip on the sites of the former Israeli settlements whose looted greenhouses and ruined fields became a symbol of all that had turned sour in the Israeli withdrawal six years ago.

What Bronner leaves out is the extent of the aid dependency and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Earlier this week, Chris Gunness, senior director at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), put it this way:

Let’s look at the basic humanitarian facts on the ground. Ninety five percent of water in Gaza is undrinkable. Forty percent of disease is waterborne, it’s caused by poor water. 45.2 percent of the labor force is unemployed. Eighty percent aid dependency. A tripling of the abject poor since the blockade. There’s clearly a crisis in every aspect of life in Gaza.

A recent report by the World Food Programme revealed that only 20% of Gaza’s population could be classified as “food secure,” while “the prevalence of Gaza household food insecurity remains very high at 54 percent with an additional 12 percent of households vulnerable to food insecurity.” The report also found that 38% of Gaza residents live below the poverty line, noting that “[w]ithout social and humanitarian assistance, nearly half of the Gaza population would be under the poverty line (48.2 percent).”

Bronner writes of Israel’s removal of “9,000 settlers and all of its soldiers from Gaza in 2005,” at which point “[t]he settlers’ high-tech greenhouses, which were bought for the Palestinians with $14 million in donations, were left unguarded and within days were stripped of computer equipment, irrigation pipes, water pumps and plastic sheeting.” He omits the fact that Gaza remains occupied territory, controlled externally on all sides – land, sea, air – and constantly under attack by the Israeli military. Bronner describes the economic siege and collective punishment of a civilian mundanely as “security procedures on exiting trucks” imposed by Israel after “an attack on the border.”

In truth, the result was a near total ban on exports which has devastated Gaza and made impossible any sort of economic recovery. The chart below, taken from a 2010 report by the Palestine Trade Center, shows annual export trends from June 2006 to July 2010.


Here are Gaza import and exports trends over the past decade:


Between November 2010 and May 2011, only 290 truckloads of exports were allowed to leave Gaza, despite the supposed “relaxation” of the siege in June 2010. These totals represent “only 5 percent of the pre-blockade export volume“, when more than 960 truckloads exited Gaza each month. Israeli human rights organization Gisha recently reported, “Between November 2010 and April 2011, Israel exceptionally allowed export of a minimal amount of strawberries, flowers, peppers and tomatoes from Gaza to European markets.” Gisha also revealed that “the average rate of export during that time was two truckloads per day” and that “since May 12, 2011, no trucks carrying goods for export have left the Strip.”

Bronner boasts of increased productivity, the rebirth of settlement areas, farms which are “expanding every year” and providing “jobs for 500 people, as well as fruits and vegetables for large segments of Gaza’s 1.6 million inhabitants,” as well as “100 tons of grapes and 23,000 tons of watermelons” produced and sold locally. He describes meetings held over “spiced coffee…slices of crisp apple and cucumber.”

Yet, even more alarming than Bronner’s denial of Israeli responsibility as an occupying power for the well-being of Gaza’s inhabitants (declaring that “in the past couple of years” Gaza has “struggled with its isolation and economic decline”, as if it were not deliberate Israeli policy and a clear contravention of international law) is his inversion of victimization and false equivalency:

For the former Jewish settlers, who began coming here in the 1970s, the loss of their livelihoods and homes when the Israeli Army removed them remains a source of trauma. The way they mourn and remember their loss bears at times a striking resemblance to the way Palestinian refugees mourn theirs.

At a small museum at the entrance to Jerusalem named for the former settlement bloc, Gush Katif, that loss is on display: the keys to a former synagogue hanging on a wall, a cup of broken glass from its windows nearby and color photographs of smiling farmers in their greenhouses cultivating yellow peppers and geraniums.

Farming was the core of the settlers’ lives here. They provided 10 percent of Israel’s agricultural output and 65 percent of its organic greenhouse vegetables, exporting $25 million worth of produce annually. Many of those settlers remain in transitional housing inside Israel and in West Bank settlements. The failure of the Israeli government to resettle them properly has been yet one more argument offered in Israel against settler withdrawals for a Palestinian state.

Former CIA official and current Georgetown professor Paul Pillar, reacting to Bronner’s obfuscations, responded eloquently in a post in The National Interest:

There is no moral or legal equivalence between the fate of refugees forced by a conquering army from homes their families had occupied for generations, and the status of settlers installed by a conquering regime that later pulls them out. Nonetheless, it is ironic that the Israeli government appears to be employing the same technique—of using displaced persons to support an argument about an international dispute—that Israelis have long accused Arab regimes of utilizing.

As if to add insult to injury for the poor uprooted colonists, Bronner also reveals that “what was the settlement of Gan Or, part of the fields ha[ve] been renamed Mavi Marmara” (he describes last year’s execution of nine peace activists as the result of “tussles onboard”) and sorrowfully reports that the synagogue of the illegal Gaza settlement of Gadid, a “six-sided structure dear to the hearts of many former settlers,” has suffered an even more unspeakable fate: “Today it is a mosque.”

Bronner quotes former colonial farmer Shlomo Wasserteil, founder and curator of the Gush Katif Museum in Jerusalem, echoing the line of desert-bloomism when recalling his arrival in Gaza all those years ago. “There was nothing but sand, not even a bird, like the Sahara,” Wasserteil says. “We produced the best tomatoes in the world. We revolutionized cultivation in sand and taught our neighbors in Jordan how to do it.”

The idea of land redemption and development was enshrined in Israel’s own unilateral Proclamation of Independence which declared, “Pioneers… and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.” (emphasis added)

That sentiment was reiterated last May during an Independence Day celebration by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who praised Zionist achievements this way: “We proved we can create a budding garden out of obstinate ground.”

And in late June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing the World Zionist Organization in Jerusalem, connected Zionist land redemption to the ongoing illegal colonization of the West Bank. “We are settling and developing the land – it is possible to see towns in Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion,” he said, “But we are also obligated to develop all parts of the country – the Galilee and the Negev.”

Israeli journalist and historian Meron Benvenisti has explained that such statements are the essence of classical Zionist mythology, reinforcing “the image of all Arabs as sons of the desert” and pitting “the barbarous desert against progress and development.”

Netanyahu’s own father, Ben Zion Milikovsky, revealed the depth of this ideology during an interview with the Israeli newspaper Maariv in 2009. When asked of his feelings about Arabs, the elder Netanyahu replied:

The bible finds no worse image than this of the man from the desert. And why? Because he has no respect for any law. Because in the desert he can do as he pleases. The tendency towards conflict is in the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His personality won’t allow him any compromise or agreement. It doesn’t matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay. His existence is one of perpetuate war.

In his seminal 2001 book, Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948, Benvenisti explains the purpose and consequence of such a narrative:

The Arab was “not only the son of the desert but also the father of the desert,” in the famous words of Major C.S. Jarvis – the British governor of Sinai – which were adopted by the Zionists. And thus the fallahin [non-nomadic Palestinians] – tillers of the soil for generation upon generation – could easily be transformed into “bloodthirsty desert savages,” who not only sought to annihilate the Jewish community but also were guilty of turning Eretz Israel – flowing with milk and honey – into desolate desert. In the textbooks for course in Knowing the Land, the Arabs are portrayed as being responsible for the ecological ruin of the entire country: they destroyed the ancient farming terraces, thereby causing soil erosion and exposing bare mountain rock; because of them the streams were blocked and the coastal valley became a land of malarial swamps; their goats ravaged the ancient forests that had covered the Land; with their violent feuds and their murderous hostility toward all agents of progress, they turned the Land into a perpetual battlefield.

Hence the Zionists did not rob the country’s inhabitants of their land; they redeemed it from desolation.

But the truth is that the Palestinian soil didn’t actually require expert Jewish agricultural know-how to produce fruits, vegetables, and the myriad other crops native to the land. Pre-Israel Palestine was not quite the barren dustbowl of Zionist fantasy – far from it.


In December 1945 and January 1946, a comprehensive Survey of Palestine was conducted and published by British Mandate authorities on behalf of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. The survey revealed that the land was rather prosperous for Arab Palestinians and Jewish famers alike.


During the 1944-1945 planting season, nearly 210,000 tons of grain were cultivated in Palestine, of which 193,376 tons were Arab crops, compared to 16,579 tons of Jewish crops. Almost 80,000 tons of olives were cultivated that year, over 78,000 tons of which were grown by Arab Palestinians. Of the over 244,800 tons of vegetables produced in Palestine that season, Arab farmers were responsible for more than 189,000 tons; of the 94,700 tons of fruit, Arab orchards produced 73,000 tons. Almost all of the region’s citrus groves were Palestinian owned and operated. Nearly 143,000 tons of melons were cultivated, over 135,600 tons of which were Arab-produced, while almost all of the more than 1,680 tons of tobacco grown were on Arab farms, as were 20,000 tons of figs and 3,000 tons of almonds. Eighty percent of the 40-50,000 tons of grapes and 4-5 million liters of wine were produced in Arab vineyards. The survey found that in Jericho, Tiberias, and in the central coastal plain, “about 60 per cent. of the area (nearly 8,000 dunums) planted with bananas is Arab owned.” The overall price of the Palestinian agricultural yield that season was more than £21,800,000. Jewish cultivation was responsible for nearly £4,711,000 compared with Palestinian Arab production of over £17,100,000, accounting for almost 80% of total value.

Less than two years later, in November 1947, the United Nations recommended that the indigenous Arab majority of Palestine (then consisting of about 70% of the population) establish a state of their own on 44% of its historic homeland, while the 30% Jewish minority (consisting mostly of recent immigrants from Europe) would get 56% of Palestine, despite the fact that the minority owned less than 8% of the land at the time. When that suggestion was understandably rejected by Palestinian representatives, a unilateral declaration established a Jewish State of Israel in Palestine and, in the ensuing war, Israel snatched an additional 22% of Palestine as its own.

In 1948, during what Israelis proudly refer to as their “War of Independence,” over 450 Palestinian towns were ravaged, abandoned and destroyed, including villages that had signed non-aggression pacts with their Jewish neighbors; over 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their own homes. Ethnic cleansing and land theft laid the foundation of the new state. Zionist resettlement began immediately.

Benvenisti tells us, “Even villages that had not been captured by Israel, and whose residential sections were situated in the (Jordan-held) West Bank, did not escape land confiscation. More than sixty villages located on the Jordanian side of the armistice lines lost large portions of their landholdings, which were on the Israeli side.”

“In fact,” he writes, “the takeover of land began shortly after its military occupation. By April 1948 Jewish farmers had already begun harvesting the crops that had ripened in the abandoned fields and picking the citrus fruit in Arab groves.” So much Palestinian farmland was seized by Israel through extra-legal means and retroactive absentee laws that “by mid-1949 two-thirds of all land sown with grain in israel was abandoned Arab land.”

For a colonial-settler state that often takes great pains to reiterate its historic connection to and love of the land it now controls, over the past six decades Israel has taken ever greater steps to destroy the very land it claims to value so much. Soon after the Nakba, Palestine’s famed citrus groves suffered “blatant neglect” as they “were not irrigated after the departure of their owners. Water pumps and pipelines were dismantled and stolen, and no one was interested in taking care of the trees.” As Benvenisti explains, “The Jewish citrus growers were barely capable of caring for their own groves once the cheap Arab labor on which they depended had left.”

Tragically, “the overwhelming majority of the 150,000 dunams of citrus trees – the most valuable agricultural crop left behind by the Arabs – remained untended” and “as a result, entire tracts of productive citrus trees, especially in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area, were earmarked for the construction of housing developments.” The same thing happened to abandoned Palestinian olive groves and pomegranate orchards, which were seen by the conquering Israelis as “an annoyance.”

“Pomegranates from the ancient trees are not fit for marketing,” writes Shmuel Dayan, one of the founders of the Moshav Nahalal, a leader of the Moshav Movement, and father of Moshe Dayan. “We shall have to lay out tens of thousands of pounds [old Israeli currency] to uproot them. The residents expect the trees to be uprooted, and will afterwards use the land for growing cattle fodder.” To Dayan, the only tried-and-true method of agriculture was that of the classic moshav, and the glorious pomegranate trees interfered with the production of fodder. Before long it became clear that agricultural planning based entirely on dairy cattle and chickens was wasteful. Large surpluses of produce (eggs, milk and dairy products, certain fruits and vegetables) occurred; the agricultural settlements needed to be heavily subsidized, and when subsidies were cut, the immigrant moshavim were thrown into a state of crisis. But the olive and pomegranate trees of the “primitive” Arab village were no more.

Tens of thousands of dunams of olive trees were uprooted and replaced by non-indigenous European field crops, which the Jewish settlers preferred, as cultivation required a smaller workforce and less irrigation. The deliberate destruction of fertile land and bountiful groves and orchards was also integral of the Zionist enterprise, which relied on denying Palestinians the right to return to their own land. Consequently, Benvenisti writes, “the stronger the international pressure for the return of the refugees (throughout 1949-50), the greater the efforts to destroy the agricultural infrastructure that might have made possible the absorption of the returning refugees.”

He continues:

The destruction of hundreds of thousands of dunams of fruit-bearing trees does not fit Israel’s self-image as a society that knows how to “make the desert bloom.” And the contention that the green Arab landscape had been destroyed because of the necessity of adapting crops to the agricultural practices of the Jews only underscores the conclusion that it was not the war that had caused this devastation, but rather the disappearance of the specific human community that had shaped the landscape in accordance with its needs and preferences. The destruction of vast areas of orchards did not attract the same degree of interest as had the demolition of the Arab villages, despite the fact that it perhaps had a more devastating effect on the landscape.

And yet, this past May, a Ha’aretz report was proud to announce that since the founding of Israel, “exports have soared 13,400% from $6 million to $80.5 billion.” Ami Erel, chairman of the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, boasted, “From an exporter of oranges in the early years, Israel has become a developed country.” Ha’aretz pointed out that Israeli “[a]griculture represented only about 2% of the country’s exports in 2010.”

The natural ecology of Palestine has further been altered by the Israeli obsession with planting artificial forests of pine trees. Max Blumenthal has written that “the pine trees themselves were instruments of concealment, strategically planted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) on the sites of the hundreds of Palestinian villages the Zionist militias evacuated and destroyed in 1948…The practice that David Ben Gurion and other prominent Zionists referred to as ‘redeeming the land’ was in fact the ultimate form of greenwashing.” Yet, these non-native species are not well-suited to the Palestinian environment. According to Blumenthal, “Most of the saplings the JNF plants at a site near Jerusalem simply do not survive, and require frequent replanting. Elsewhere, needles from the pine trees have killed native plant species and wreaked havoc on the ecosystem. And as we have seen with the Carmel wildfire, the JNF’s trees go up like tinder in the dry heat.”

The devastation continues. Israel and its colonial outposts in the West Bank consistently destroy what remains of Palestinian olive trees and wheat fields.

Indeed, Netanyahu’s personal contempt for the land of Palestine and the environment in his never-ending crusade to steal, colonize and Judaize every square inch, is the topic of a recent Ha’aretz article entitled “For Netanyahu, saving Israel’s deserts is all about settlements.”  The report, written by Zafrir Rinat, describes the Israeli Prime Minister as being “solid as a rock not only with regard to the right of the Jewish people to settle their land, but also in his insistance on seeing nature and landscape as no more than an obstacle to the realization of his settlement vision.”

Try as they may, Netanyahu and Bronner’s efforts to rewrite the history of Palestine are fruitless. The truth is sown in the soil.

This is how israel makes the desert bloom.

Nima Shirazi is a political commentator from New York City.  His analysis of United States foreign policy and Middle East issues is published at  Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima.

About Nima Shirazi

Nima Shirazi is co-editor of the Iran, Iraq and Turkey pages for the online magazine Muftah. His political analysis can be found on his blog,, where this post first appeared. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima.

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54 Responses

  1. gingershot
    July 13, 2011, 8:23 pm

    Bronner is one of the important handmaidens of Israeli Apartheid

    The calculated hasbara he feeds America, via the NYT, is nothing less than what I consider evil. Evil not in any kind of religious sense – but rather evil in a sociopathic and manipulative sense – he knows exactly what he hopes to accomplish in what he’s doing

    The sum total of his works are simply opportunities lost, time and space wasted

    • Mooser
      December 19, 2011, 1:28 pm

      If it wasn’t linked in the article, which I haven’t read closely yet (it takes me a while to focus beyond the end of my proboscis in the morning), I recognise those BW pictures from a great post at “Lawrence of Cyberia” which I frequently (okay, incessantly) link.
      Although it’s not germane to this particular post, as good as it is, if you click the link (there are more great pictures of pre-Zionist Palestine) scroll beyond the pictures to the transcript of the British Colonial Office reports pictured on yellow paper. There is a good record of early Zionist activities. Not how they made it bloom, but how they made room.

  2. Shingo
    July 13, 2011, 9:21 pm

    Brilliant piece Nima,

    In fact, the NYT even debunked the false allegations that the greenhouses had been looted and destroyed. 1 month later, they were operational.

    Sadly, it was the settlers who destroyed them as they left, even after being paid to leave them intact.

  3. Pamela Olson
    July 13, 2011, 9:27 pm

    It makes me boil with sad fury, the contempt Zionists have for the land they covet, and their endless destructive urge. It’s like a four-year-old with a Stradivarius.

  4. Bumblebye
    July 13, 2011, 9:40 pm

    Israeli turd-blossoms.
    Specially the last one.
    Like they pour on Palestinian crops so often.

  5. sky7i
    July 13, 2011, 11:38 pm

    I’m reminded of this post: link to

  6. Keith
    July 13, 2011, 11:48 pm

    “And yet, this past May, a Ha’aretz report was proud to announce that since the founding of Israel, “exports have soared 13,400% from $6 million to $80.5 billion.” Ami Erel, chairman of the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, boasted, “From an exporter of oranges in the early years, Israel has become a developed country.” Ha’aretz pointed out that Israeli “[a]griculture represented only about 2% of the country’s exports in 2010.”

    $80.5 billion in agricultural exports? 2% of total exports? 2% of slightly over $4 trillion in exports? Unless they are talking shekels, and unless shekels are on the order of a penny to the dollar, I seriously doubt these numbers. And if they are talking shekels, why the dollar sign?

    • NimaShirazi
      July 14, 2011, 12:11 am

      The Ha’aretz report was referring to all Israeli exports, not just agricultural. My apologies if that was unclear.

      The report states, “Over the decades Israel changed the basis of its exports from citrus and other fresh produce to advanced technology-based exports,” including “electronics, computer systems and software, silicon wafers, communications and medical instruments.”

      Furthermore, “the Israeli high-tech sector, including research and development services, generated about $28.5 billion in exports last year, representing about 35% of Israel’s total exports.” In 2010, agricultural exports accounted for only $1.3 billion.

      • Shingo
        July 14, 2011, 12:15 am

        The Ha’aretz report was referring to all Israeli exports, not just agricultural. My apologies if that was unclear.

        In any case, teh boasting by Israsl is pure hubris. Declassified US government documents describe Israel’s trade agreement with the US as being so distorted and one sided that it amounts to little more than a $10billion annula grant to Israel.

      • annie
        July 14, 2011, 12:40 am

        $10billion annula grant to Israel.

        that doesn’t include the 3 billion. or the charities for the idf and synagogues raising money for illegal settlements and ‘planting trees’ over stolen land or the christian zionists pouring money into “judea and sumaria”.

      • Shingo
        July 14, 2011, 12:59 am

        That include the billions in loan guarntees and suplemental appropriations.

  7. Chaos4700
    July 14, 2011, 12:30 am

    Those photos are just about enough to make me cry.

    • Shingo
      July 14, 2011, 12:35 am

      There’s plenty more where that came from Chaos.

      Check out the rest.

      link to

      • Sumud
        July 14, 2011, 1:39 am

        And another excellent post from Lawrence of Cyberia from 2010 mentioning the Survey of Palestine and the rubbish propaganda that Israelis made the desert bloom:

        Tell Me Again, Who Made The Desert Bloom?

      • NimaShirazi
        July 14, 2011, 1:55 am


      • annie
        July 14, 2011, 2:08 am

        i love those photos. here’s another photo i like.

      • NimaShirazi
        July 14, 2011, 2:14 am

        I think the photographs archived by Palestine Remembered are incredible.

      • RobertB
        July 14, 2011, 11:45 am

        Nima Shirazi… An excellent article indeed !

        I have found that the Matson Collection link to is an excellent website for extensive photos of Palestine from the 1900 , plus other Mid-East countries.

        One can type in almost any topic and/or city/town/village/area in Palestine … and get hundreds of great photos from the search collection.

        I just typed Jerusalem & clicked search…the result is => … 14883 results containing “Jerusalem photo”

        Hope that you & others will like this great website.

        link to photo&co=matpc&sg=true

  8. talknic
    July 14, 2011, 1:23 am

    Whether Israel made the desert bloom or not, has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the legal status of territories.

    Whatever Mark Twain wrote, not that you’ll ever hear his full quotations from Hasbara lips, is completely irrelevant to the rights of statehood.

    It’s another stupid non-argument, not even straw. It’s chaff dust for empty handed Israeli propagandists to blow out their collective rrrrrrs

    • Shingo
      July 14, 2011, 3:16 am

      Whatever Mark Twain wrote, not that you’ll ever hear his full quotations from Hasbara lips, is completely irrelevant to the rights of statehood.


      You and Hostage both deserve a medal for your copntributions to this forum. Your blog in particular, is an invaluable resource.

      • Sumud
        July 14, 2011, 8:11 am

        x2 Shingo!

        I hope that the fact that Israel has already declared it’s borders in 1948 and never legally annexed any land outside those borders becomes well understood. I think this is Israel’s deepest darkest secret and it is vital that it be told when discussing the Nakba.

        If there ever is to be a 2 state outcome the only legitimate borders would be those specified in the UN Partition Plan. Making war, ethnic cleansing and stealing should not be rewarded.

      • Mooser
        December 19, 2011, 1:35 pm

        “You and Hostage both deserve a medal for your copntributions to this forum. Your blog in particular, is an invaluable resource.”

        If they do strike that medal, I think they should do it in a series of, oh, maybe fifty, to start. Perhaps Hostage and talknic will get (and deserve) medals Nos. 1 and 2, but another large group would deserve them, too.

        Of course, I got two medals for commenting here, a big one and a small one. The small one was when I started commenting. The big one? That’s for stopping.

  9. annie
    July 14, 2011, 1:47 am

    excellent excellent article Nima Shirazi . it reminded me of something Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg aka Ahad Ha’am (known as the founder of Cultural Zionism) wrote in 1891 after his journey to palestine

    he warned against the ‘great error’, noticeable among Jewish settlers, of treating the fellahin with contempt, of regarding ‘all Arabs a(s) savages of the desert, a people similar to a donkey.’.[6][7]

    he published “A Truth from Eretz Yisrael” in 1891 (this essay can be found in Kol Kitve Ahad Ha’am, The Jerusalem Publishing House, 1953.):

    “We who live abroad are accustomed to believe that almost all Eretz Yisrael is now uninhabited desert and whoever wishes can buy land there as he pleases. But this is not true. It is very difficult to find in the land [ha’aretz] cultivated fields that are not used for planting. Only those sand fields or stone mountains that would require the investment of hard labor and great expense to make them good for planting remain uncultivated …… it is very difficult to find good land for cattle. And not only peasants, but also rich landowners, are not selling good land so easily. ” (quoted in Wrestling with Zion, Grove Press, 2003 PB, p. 14)

    “We who live abroad are accustomed to believing that the Arabs are all wild desert people who, like donkeys, neither see nor understand what is happening around them. But this is a grave mistake. The Arab, like all the Semites, is sharp minded and shrewd. All the townships of Syria and Eretz Yisrael are full of Arab merchants who know how to exploit the masses and keep track of everyone with whom they deal – the same as in Europe. The Arabs, especially the urban elite, see and understand what we are doing and what we wish to do on the land, but they keep quiet and pretend not to notice anything. …..

    About Jewish relationships to the native Arabs, a disappointed Ha’am wrote

    “We must surely learn, from both our past and present history, how careful we must be not to provoke the anger of the native people by doing them wrong, how we should be cautious in out dealings with a foreign people among whom we returned to live, to handle these people with love and respect and, needless to say, with justice and good judgment. And what do our brothers do? Exactly the opposite!

  10. seafoid
    July 14, 2011, 8:42 am

    I always think “Har Homa” looks like the Tower of Babel

  11. patm
    July 14, 2011, 8:56 am

    I’ve just begun Chapter 2 of Gabriel Piterberg’s “The Returns of Zionism” and found this quote from Mark Twain’s 1894 “Tom Sawyer Abroad”.

    Well, we went out in the woods on the hill, and Tom told us what it was. It was a crusade.

    “What’s a crusade?” I says.

    He looked scornful, the way he’s always done when he was ashamed of a person, and says:

    “Huck Finn, do you mean to tell me you don’t know what a crusade is?”

    “No,” says I, “I don’t. And I don’t care to, nuther. I’ve lived till now and done without it, and had my health, too. But as soon as you tell me, I’ll know, and that’s soon enough. I don’t see any use in finding out things and clogging up my head with them when I mayn’t ever have any occasion to use ‘em. There was Lance Williams, he learned how to talk Choctaw here till one come and dug his grave for him. Now, then, what’s a crusade? But I can tell you one thing before you begin; if it’s a patent-right, there’s no money in it. Bill Thompson he–”

    “Patent-right!” says he. “I never see such an idiot. Why, a crusade is a kind of war.”

    I thought he must be losing his mind. But no, he was in real earnest, and went right on, perfectly ca’m.

    “A crusade is a war to recover the Holy Land from the paynim.”

    “Which Holy Land?”

    “Why, the Holy Land–there ain’t but one.”

    “What do we want of it?”

    “Why, can’t you understand? It’s in the hands of the paynim, and it’s our duty to take it away from them.”

    “How did we come to let them git hold of it?”

    “We didn’t come to let them git hold of it. They always had it.”

    “Why, Tom, then it must belong to them, don’t it?”

    “Why of course it does. Who said it didn’t?”

    I studied over it, but couldn’t seem to git at the right of it, no way. I says:

    “It’s too many for me, Tom Sawyer. If I had a farm and it was mine, and another person wanted it, would it be right for him to–”

    “Oh, shucks! you don’t know enough to come in when it rains, Huck Finn. It ain’t a farm, it’s entirely different. You see, it’s like this. They own the land, just the mere land, and that’s all they DO own; but it was our folks, our Jews and Christians, that made it holy, and so they haven’t any business to be there defiling it. It’s a shame, and we ought not to stand it a minute. We ought to march against them and take it away from them.”

    “Why, it does seem to me it’s the most mixed-up thing I ever see! Now, if I had a farm and another person–”

    “Don’t I tell you it hasn’t got anything to do with farming? Farming is business, just common low-down business: that’s all it is, it’s all you can say for it; but this is higher, this is religious, and totally different.”

    “Religious to go and take the land away from people that owns it?”

    “Certainly; it’s always been considered so.”

    • MHughes976
      July 15, 2011, 6:37 am

      It’s interesting that the proto-Zionism that Twain satirises is one that attributes the Holy Land to Christians as much as to Jewish people and uses medieval terms like ‘paynim’. This fits in with Piterberg’s view that Zionism really arises from a secularised form of Christianity.

      • Mooser
        December 19, 2011, 1:50 pm

        “This fits in with Piterberg’s view that Zionism really arises from a secularised form of Christianity.”

        Now hold on a minute there MHughes976! Jes’ hol on a goldarned minute!
        If “Zionism really arises from a secularised form of Christianity” why, that makes the Zionists the most fervent assimilationists the Jews ever produced! That can’t be! So let’s look at the facts: Declaring that your ethnic-religious faction has a religious-ethnic commitment to obtain and hold a certain piece of ground once possibly, legendarily, taken from you, and treating the people currently on it as lesser beings, to be pushed out of the way or worse, is an original Jewish idea! No one else has ever done it! It’s “inherent in Judaism”, just ask Witty and the rest.
        What’s so dangerous about your idea, Zionism coming from Christianity, is this: If we allow others to take the credit for original Jewish ideas, non-Jews will doubt our originality and intelligence, and start to dislike us! On the other hand, how could anybody do anything but love and admire the originators of the idea of Zionism and and the execution of program like Zionism!
        You gotta watch that kind of things, Hughes. Your idea could make people anti-Semitic. I know you wouldn’t want that.

  12. Richard Witty
    July 14, 2011, 9:06 am

    On the desert blooming, I prefer the analysis of water income and export.

    When Israel (or Palestine) exports peppers, cucumbers, oranges even, it is exporting water.

    Better that the water be used optimally, to provide for basic hydration needs.

    Peppers, oranges are great water storage devices for domestic use, free from parasites, relatively durable.

    The ecological perspective, and the service perspective, not the raging political.

    • Shingo
      July 14, 2011, 9:26 am

      On the desert blooming, I prefer the analysis of water income and export.

      What analysis might that be Witty? Since when has Israel ever exported water?

      When Israel (or Palestine) exports peppers, cucumbers, oranges even, it is exporting water.

      Whatever it is you’re drinking today Witty (or whatever medication it is you’re one) put it away. You’re sounding completely derranged, even by your standards.

      Unless peppers, cucumbers, oranges are labelled as water products, and used as a source of water by the client, then no Witty, none of these contitute a water product.

      The Palestinians were major exporters of oranges before the Zionist colonists came along and stole their orchards.

    • Chaos4700
      July 14, 2011, 9:47 am

      “Basic hydration needs?” You mean like Israeli swimming pools? Or lawn care?

      So you didn’t read the article AT ALL? You just came here to spout random justification or equivocation for Israel without concerning yourself with the finer details of what’s going on?

      I’ll bet you’re still baffled on why people treat you like you’re an idiot.

    • NimaShirazi
      July 14, 2011, 10:48 am

      So, if I understand you correctly, Richard – and I really think I do – what you’re saying is that you can no longer sit back and allow Palestinian infiltration, Palestinian indoctrination, Palestinian subversion and the international Palestinian conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids?

      If this is the case, Richard – and I’m with you on this – then god willing, we will prevail, in peace and freedom from fear, and in true health, through the purity and essence of our natural fluids.

      Please know that tonight I will raise a glass of grain alcohol and rainwater in your honor.

      • Chaos4700
        July 14, 2011, 8:50 pm

        to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids?

        LOL! I think you just won the Witty Anti-Twit Award for today.

      • Richard Witty
        July 15, 2011, 4:47 am

        It would be wonderful if posts were allowed through.

        You customarily did not hear or inquire further into my comment.

        The “water income” is the perspective articulated by many dissenters against the system-wide sum total of what Israeli (and Palestinian former) agriculture looks like.

        Namely, that in the consumption of very finite water from aquifers, the water is used to produce oranges, peppers, cucumbers that generate a small amount of income, generate a small improvement in the communities’ well-being, but do consume a great deal of very finite and very necessary resource, and then export that necessary resource (water) to places that already have an overabundance of water.

        You, typically for you sadly, shoot first, ask questions later. Rather than state, “I’m not sure if you mean …. or if you mean ….” you went into your “bodily fluids” dismissal.

        Its a good method to distinguish “us” from “them” (as all tribalism is, whether national or political sensitivity or ideological or religious). Its a bad method to facilitate thought, communication, mutual acceptance.

        The self-fulfilling dance of the ideologues.

        The contrasting perspective to dogmatic views (“ours” or “theirs”) is the view “its all us”.

        Single state efforts (“we are all Israel/Palestine”, not just some of “us”). But, it takes actually thinking in those terms for the assertion in advocacy of a single democratic state to be sincere.

        I don’t see that view from you. I see the distinction of who is “we” from who is “them” mostly.

      • Shingo
        July 15, 2011, 5:18 am

        The “water income” is the perspective articulated by many dissenters against the system-wide sum total of what Israeli (and Palestinian former) agriculture looks like.

        Where did you come up with the term “water income” Witty and why are you putting it in quotes?

        Namely, that in the consumption of very finite water from aquifers, the water is used to produce oranges, peppers, cucumbers that generate a small amount of income, generate a small improvement in the communities’ well-being, but do consume a great deal of very finite and very necessary resource,

        Compared to swimming pools, pine trees and European grass Witty? The Palestinians were able to grow those crops in abundance and still conserve water.

        You, typically for you sadly, shoot first, ask questions later.

        Yeah, he must have thought he was an IDF soldier for a minute there.

        The contrasting perspective to dogmatic views (“ours” or “theirs”) is the view “its all us”.

        Now I get it. The fixation with oranges, peppers, cucumbers is all about your word salad.

        I don’t see that view from you. I see the distinction of who is “we” from who is “them” mostly.

        That looks like the makings of an omlette.

        What’s for desert? Air and chocolate?

      • Richard Witty
        July 15, 2011, 6:03 am

        Try some meeting of minds, rather than only attacking Shingo, please?

        This was another example of agreeing to a large part of your analysis (of the exploitation of water), but being attacked for it.

      • Shingo
        July 15, 2011, 8:47 am

        I have no desire to meet your mind Witty. I have seen it and it’s a truly saddistic, macabre, delusional place that I have no interest in visiting.

        You lost any credibility or semblance of sanity on this blgo a long time ago. Don’t mistake refuttion of your abismal talking points as a dialogue with you.

      • Chaos4700
        July 15, 2011, 9:44 am

        Abridged Witty:

        “We’re talking about Israelis? Well, you need to look at both sides of the equation! Condemning Israel’s policies is a violation of Jewish self-determination and it may even be anti-Semitic. What are you interested in? Peace? Or justice?”

        “We’re talking about Palestinians? Well, Israel has to protect itself from the terrorist state that Palestinians represent! Everything will be great if the Palestinians are finally willing to recognize Israel on the 1967 lines… minus Jerusalem… and Hebron… and the Jordan River Valley. The Palestinians can have the sovereign state simple enough — all they have to do is turn over full military authority and control of their borders, waters and air space to Israel. What, you don’t agree with me? Why do you support Hamas?”

        (And that’s about as abridged as I can make Witty. No joke. I really tried.)

      • Richard Witty
        July 15, 2011, 11:23 am

        I guess there is no hope of communication then.

        My “talking points” are my sincere observations.

        Millions of genuinely liberal American and Israeli Jews share my sentiments.

        They are plausible, actually sincerely seeking good.

        Do you agree with the stated BDS goals of seeking to end the occupation of only 67 borders? Or, does the term “ending the occupation” mean something else to you?

      • Mooser
        July 15, 2011, 12:28 pm

        Witty you’ve started doing it again. Using spurious quote marks, that is. You just can’t stop, can you?

      • Mooser
        July 15, 2011, 12:32 pm

        Never mind, Witty, I just read your comments more closely. Your problems with English go much, much further than just a completely dishonest use of quote marks.
        Witty, you could single-handedly demolish all that deconstructivist Derrida nonsense, who needs it? Your stuff just falls apart on its own.

      • Chaos4700
        July 15, 2011, 7:31 pm

        Your talking points are repeated, outright lies. Don’t sit there and pretend like you’re some kind of martyr, Witty. You’re not. You’re a pariah.

        There’s a reason why so few people read your blog and why nobody seems to like you. Catch a clue.

      • Mooser
        December 19, 2011, 2:02 pm

        “I guess there is no hope of communication then.”

        What’s going on? Are you feeling alright, Richard? This is not the Richard Witty we know and love! Don’t let these machers grind you down, Witty! Now you listen to me: You go right to your own blog, where this kind of kapos you don’t have, and write the cogent, well referenced, sublimely readable, and impeccably reasoned kind of response I know you are fully capable of. The kind of response that will go viral across the Web, and leave Mondoweiss, cold, naked and shivering in its shadow.
        I know why you haven’t done so; you (and it speaks well of you, Richard, very well) wanted to give us a chance to correct our views, to be if you will, “reeducated”, and perhaps you hoped, in your simple, kindly way, that an apology would be forthcoming, and reparations made. But even you, compared to whom Job was, like, totally ADHD, can see that is a forlorn hope.
        I’ve been waiting for this moment, Richard. Now that you have made your “generous offer” and we, out of our “culture of resentment” have turned it down, you are free to give us the rhetorical and intellectual hiding we so richly deserve.
        One thing tho, Richard: Don’t go away mad…

      • Mooser
        December 19, 2011, 2:10 pm

        “Try some meeting of minds, rather than only attacking Shingo, please?”

        To any new readers: Any commenter’s complete comment archive (at least back to 2009) can be accessed by clicking their name above a comment.
        Since Witty has written over 11,000 comments, you’ll get a good look at the mind he wants Shingo to meet.

      • Sumud
        July 15, 2011, 6:57 am

        LOL! I think you just won the Witty Anti-Twit Award for today.

        And an award for the skillfully weaved Dr Strangelove reference. I’m just glad you stopped short of referring to Richard Witty’s essence.

      • NimaShirazi
        July 15, 2011, 3:34 pm

        Ha! I actually had the reference there originally, then cut it out right before posting after I threw up in my mouth a little bit.

    • Kris
      July 14, 2011, 9:52 pm

      Thank you, this is probably the most bizarre statement I’ve read in quite a while.

  13. eljay
    July 14, 2011, 9:27 am

    >> Peppers, oranges are great water storage devices …

    So are wells and cisterns. Maybe Israel could stop destroying them? Or will that only happen if the Palestinian victims lie perfectly still and allow for “enough rape” to be achieved?

    Peace and cucumbers, but not “justice”!

    • Shingo
      July 14, 2011, 9:31 am

      Don’t forget about air and chocolate too Eljay.

      • Chaos4700
        July 14, 2011, 8:50 pm

        Oh well now you’re just being fascist.

      • eljay
        July 14, 2011, 9:53 pm

        >> Oh well now you’re just being fascist.

        Yeah, but at least he’s not being “dissent” or Hamas. :-)

  14. DICKERSON3870
    July 16, 2011, 3:28 am

    RE – “Desert Bloomism: The Israeli myth that won’t spoil, wither, or die” ~ NIMASHIRAZI

    FROM “Kissing Cousins: Nationalism and Realism” , By John J. Mearsheimer, University of Chicago, 05/05/11:

    (excerpt)…People not only take great pride in their own nation, but they usually view it as superior to other nations. One’s own nation is said to be unique and special in the most positive ways and therefore deserves to be privileged over other national groups. The views of the German nationalist, Johann Fichte, capture this perspective: “The German alone … can be patriotic; he alone can for the sake of his nation encompass the whole of mankind; contrasted with him from now on, the patriotism of every other nation must be egoistic, narrow and hostile to the rest of mankind.”11
    It is hardly surprising that some nations – the United States included – view themselves as God’s “chosen people.” To make the case that they are exceptional, nations invariably have to invent heroic stories about themselves. As Stephen Van Evera notes, “Chauvinist mythmaking is a hallmark of nationalism, practiced by nearly all nationalist movements to some degree.” Those myths, he argues, “come in three principal varieties: self-glorifying, self-whitewashing, and other-maligning.”12 Of course, those myths are directly linked to the nation’s understanding of its history, which is why Renan said that “historical error is an essential feature in the creation of a nation.”13 …

    • 11 Quoted in Anatol Lieven, America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 34.38
    • 12 Van Evera, “Hypotheses on Nationalism and War,” p. 27.
    • 13 Renan, “What Is a Nation?” p. 45

    ENTIRE PDF – link to

    • patm
      July 16, 2011, 8:06 am

      “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

      Samuel Johnson made this famous pronouncement on the evening of April 7, 1775.

      • DICKERSON3870
        July 17, 2011, 4:46 pm

        “War is the tool of small-minded scoundrels who worship the death of others on the altar of their greed.” – John Cory

        “No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots. ” – Barbara Ehrenreich

  15. Cliff
    December 19, 2011, 12:51 pm


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