UPDATED | This Always Makes America’s Political Leadership Lose Their Senses | VIDEO

Debt Supercommittee What NextI know — LOTS of things do! Like the accrual of power and influence, the smell of money — big money, and of course the fear of not being re-elected. But this thing is unimaginably powerful. It’s strong enough to cause scores of U.S. senators and representatives — probably one or more of yours — to propose legislation that is clearly unconstitutional, seeking to impose severe criminal penalties for the free exercise of commerce and, by implication, for exercising the First Amendment right of free speech. What is this thing that makes our leaders go crazy?

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Posted in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Occupied Territories, Palestinians, Politics, U.S. Foreign Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

UPDATED | What’s an Arts and Crafts Retail Chain Doing Dabbling in Antiquities???


Hobby Lobby To Forfeit Smuggled Iraqi Antiquities

by RICHARD GONZALES, NPR / July 5, 2017

Hobby Lobby, the Oklahoma-based chain of arts and crafts retail stores, has agreed to pay a $3 million fine and forfeit thousands of ancient clay tablets and clay bullae that were smuggled into the United States with improper labels.

The announcement by the Justice Department says Hobby Lobby bought over 5,500 artifacts, such as clay tablets and blocks with cuneiform writing, and cylinder seals for $1.6 million. The artifacts were shipped to the company from Iraq through the United Arab Emirates and Israel with labels that described them as “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles (sample).”

In a statement, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green said the company “was new to the world of acquiring these items, and did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process. This resulted in some regrettable mistakes.”

“We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” he said.

But the Justice Department prosecutors say the company should have realized that its acquisition of the artifacts “was Continue reading

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Through the American Colony Lens: A JERUSALEM FOURTH

AC 4th of July ca 1910_00062v

Fourth of July pageant at the American Colony, ca. 1908. (John D. Whiting Collection, US Library of Congress.)

People or communities who intentionally transplant themselves on foreign soil for any length of time usually experience a certain tension: the need to maintain links to “home” and their native culture versus immersing themselves unreservedly in their new surroundings. In this regard, the American Colony, it’s fair to say, usually managed to strike a balance, one that well served both their own members and the diverse peoples of Jerusalem. Within this mix, however, the Colony leadership for many years clung tenaciously to one particular tradition — the mounting of colorful, spirited displays of American patriotism on the 4th of July!  

The first two images (above and below) seem to date from the first decade of the 20th century, and probably depict the same occasion, a Fourth of July pageant held on the grounds of the American Colony’s “Big House” north of the Old City. These particular photos Continue reading

Posted in American Colony, Fourth of July, Jerusalem People, Modern History, Photography, PHOTOS | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Lies Behind (and Beneath) Israel’s JNF Forests? Nine minutes with Jonathan Cook | VIDEO

JNF “blue box”. In the 1920s and ’30s perhaps one million of them could be found in Jewish homes and institutions worldwide.

JNF, the Jewish National Fund, an international Zionist charity that today holds semi-governmental authority in Israel. Among the very earliest of Zionist entities, it was founded in 1901 for the purpose of buying and developing land for Jewish settlement in Ottoman-Turkish (later British Mandate) Palestine. For many decades the JNF collected donations, especially from European and North American Jews, in its small, iconic Blue Boxes, telling donors their money would help to “make the desert bloom”.

It is well known that the founders of the young State of Israel were heavily invested, through archaeology, in uncovering the traces of the country’s ancient civilizations. What is not so well known is that, at the same time, they were also busy covering up the remnants of its recent history. In short, the 1950s and ’60s saw wide swaths of the country planted in JNF pine forests, partly in an attempt to enforce and conceal war crimes carried out in the founding of the state.

Many people would be surprised to know that one of Israel’s major national parks, Sepphoris/Tzippori — along with the adjacent Israeli moshav of the same name and the surrounding forested tracts — represents just such a place: Until 1948 it was the thriving Arab-Palestinian town of Saffuriya, (and here), home to some 5,000 souls.

Saffouriya _1930

Saffouriya (Tzippori/Sepphoris) ca. 1931

In the featured VIDEO, our host is Jonathan Cook, the UK-born, Nazareth-based independent journalist, author and guide. Cook stands just outside the national park’s fenced boundary and describes to a group what once existed here, and in hundreds of places just like it, and how seemingly innocent afforestation projects both cover the traces of people’s former life here and help insure they can never reclaim what was lost.

Be advised: Cook unapologetically uses the term “war crime” for the intentional expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arab-Palestinians in the course of the 1948 War, for Israel’s refusal to repatriate the refugees after the hostilities had ceased, the systematic destruction of 500-plus of their former towns and villages, and the state-sponsored theft of the resultant “absentee” lands. Really, in the light of international humanitarian law– the Geneva Conventions, there is simply nothing else to call such things. Watch and learn…  


Explore further —  Related posts by Jonathan Cook:


Erik Ader

Photo: Copyright Jonathan Cook

DISCOVER WHY a former Dutch diplomat feels the Israelis, and particularly the JNF, cynically exploited his family’s name and reputation. At issue is their planting of a forest back in the 1960s in honor of his father, one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” who died at the hands of the Nazis in 1944 after helping many Dutch Jews escape the Holocaust. In a story that spans more than 70 years, Erik Ader began to discover nearly a decade ago the truth about the now-forested tract. His shock has led both to expressions of outrage and, now, to Ader’s symbolic acts of apology and solidarity. These include include the planting of an equal number of trees — olives, not pines — in a small Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank, one that has been the target of repeated attacks from present-day Israeli settlers. Go HERE


ANOTHER POST tells the story of Canada Park, a JNF-forested area built illegally by the State of Israel on land occupied by them in 1967– and on the ruins of three Palestinian villages which were forcibly depopulated and then destroyed in the immediate wake of that war. Vindictive and thoroughly reprehensible, this episode stands as a reminder, if one were needed, that the Nakba, the Palestinian “catastrophe”, did not end in 1948. I feel some small connection to Canada Park, and to its dark secrets, since it’s a place I myself have hiked and explored. Today, few people travelling between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on busy Road 1 would realize — and even fewer would care, I suppose — that the area around Latrun Junction which they pass through is in fact Occupied Territory from 1967, and that a shameful chapter of Israeli history was played out very nearby.

Latrun Salient

The “Latrun Salient” (left) containing the now-destroyed villages of ‘Imwas, Yalu and Bayt Nuba. Detail of 1944 British Survey of Palestine map, marked with proposed 1948-49 armistice lines.

Posted in Galilee, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Modern History, Palestinians, VIDEOS | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Following the Road to Emmaus (before it’s too late)

It was the first Easter, two thousand years ago. Two confused, disheartened disciples are on their way out of Jerusalem, encounter a stranger on the road, and quickly find themselves as students in the infant Church’s first Sunday School class! — taught by the risen, but as-yet unrecognized, Jesus no less! That never-to-be-forgotten encounter — as “he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” — captivates us, as it has believers down through the ages, with both its mystery and immediacy, in a way that we easily imagine ourselves there!

But where is — or was — the Emmaus of Luke 24? From the recorded beginnings of Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land at least 1700 years ago, it has remained one of the classic conundrums of sacred geography, with at least four sites being identified over the centuries. With a little effort, we can discern how the vexing confusion arose.  For various reasons — because certain places can flourish and then disappear over the span of a few centuries, because the names of places change over time, and common place-names (like “The Springs”) are sometimes affixed to different locales — the church fathers as early as the 4th Century may have gotten it wrong. One of them apparently even altered the gospel text slightly to comport with what they thought they knew!

And what about the Roman road itself, the other focus of this post? Well, the remains are still there, descending from the western outskirts of Jerusalem — if one knows where to look. (In all my years in Jerusalem I never had a good fix on the location, thus never ventured out in search of them.) What’s interesting, too, is that this stretch of ancient roadway “works” as the road to Emmaus for most of the various places identified over time as the site of the NT village.

Emmaus Road remains

Western outskirts of Jerusalem, near Road 1. The pink shading indicates where traces of the Roman road can still (with difficulty) be found. (Map: Jerusalem Perspective)

My real purpose here is to point you to a fine new article published on-line by David Bivin and the folks at Jerusalem Perspective. (Most JP content is by subscription — well worth digging into — but this piece has been made available to all, free.) Bivin Continue reading

Posted in Antiquities, Easter, Jerusalem Antiquities, Josephus, New Testament, Roman Period, VIDEOS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Netanyahu’s Laugh

Did you see it, and hear it? I did, and thought I could forget it, but I can’t. So here I am.

The scene is the joint press conference held by President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister in the East Room of the White House on February 15th, 2017. In response to a question, Trump is blathering on about one state/two state, formulating U.S. foreign policy on-the-fly as if such things hold no more importance than what he might order for lunch: a turkey sandwich or, no, maybe the corned beef, or whatever…  God help us.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.  (Laughter.)  I’m very happy with the one that both parties like.  I can live with either one.

I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two.  But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians — if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.

And “Bibi” is laughing. Benjamin Netanyahu, in his public persona, is not known particularly for displays of jocularity, so when he lets loose an unscripted laugh during our president’s frighteningly inane comments on Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects — a realm fraught with issues of justice, human rights and international law — perhaps we should pay attention. It was unnerving, and chilling, for what it portends.

Here’s what it looked and sounded like [click on image below for a 19-second out-take— but promise to come right back]:

press conf Trump + Netanyahu


If you want to view the entire 26-minute press conference, or just want more context, go HERE (the key segment starts at 10:45)– but come right back!

So, my first thought was Continue reading

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UPDATED | The Bars Come Down! Restoration of the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre nears completion

After many months of painstaking, professional restoration work, the Edicule of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — the 19th-century monument enclosing remnants of the original bedrock Tomb of Jesus — has finally been freed from its protective cage of iron girders. That bracing, installed by the British in the 1940s, provided much-needed reinforcement to the distressed 1810 structure, which is built largely of marble.

The Edicule represents the centerpiece of the ancient church and serves as a focal point for the devotion of Christians worldwide. Now, following the thorough reconditioning, both structural and aesthetic, the Edicule’s original beauty is revealed once again — and the view of it wonderfully unobstructed.

restored edicule

The restored Edicule, viewed from the northeast. Here, a barrier screen still keeps visitors at a safe distance; throughout the work actual pilgrim access inside was interrupted only briefly, however.

See the story as reported by NPR, from CBS News (with more photos), and from Reuters.

For background, see my previous posts tracking this project HERE and HERE.


UPDATE / 26 March 2017

Good news / bad news: A day or two after my post (above), the barrier screens seen above were removed and an official ceremony was held marking the completion of the restoration project. At about the same time, the project’s director made the striking announcement that the Edicule was still at risk of “catastrophic” collapse unless an additional multi-million dollar program of stabilization is carried out on the surrounding sub-floor areas.

edicule ceremony MAR 2017

The dedication ceremony for the restored Edicule, March 2017. Photo: Reuters, via dailymail.com

The full story, from the National Geographic web-site, including several brand new photos, is here:


Now, a 5-minute VIDEO report from the Franciscans‘ Terra Santa News about the March 22nd ceremony, which included representatives of all of Jerusalem’s Christian communities (no mention of the needed follow-up stabilization) :


Posted in Architecture, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, JERUSALEM | Tagged , | 1 Comment