Cities about to change dramatically

I just read an interesting article in the New York Times by David Carr. It talks about the “Unease Over HoloLens in Screen-Obsessed Lives”.
I enjoyed his article very much. We are a strange species for sure! One does indeed wonder why we seem so obsessed with creating an artifical world when we have the richness of a real world.
One thing I would have liked to have seen the article explore further is the explosion of change that I feel is about to change our cities forever.
I believe that in a very short time, this technology will turn our concept of the city upside down. (The current trend is for cities to grow).
This new technology will eliminate commuter rush hour.
Think about how much resources we spend in order to support our current city design.
We build multi million dollar office towers that require heating, cooling, and maintenance for twenty four hours a day and yet we only use them seven hours a day.
People spend several “hours” a day driving into the cities to then sit at a computer screen. The gas bill for that is enormous not to mention the cost of the extra car, time wasted and the enormous polution.
We also build billion dollar rapid transit lines that are used for one quarter of the day.
Add the cost of expensive multi level, concrete overpasses and the large tolls for bridges.
The costs are (((enormous)))).
I believe that our business world is the largest change about to hit our lives with this new emerging technology… and yet I don’t see people talking about it.
Even the forward thinker like David Carr only mentioned the possibility of doing “conferences” with this new 3D technology. He talked mostly about the games potential.
Our whole world is rapidly going through a major paradigm shift with this new technology.
My biggest concern is that we seem oblivious to the change about to happen and we continue to build larger parking towers in our cities. Even our universities are building larger parking lots. (Can you imagine? Our best thinkers still cram hundreds of students in a room and don’t even allow recording of the lecture! (Talk about being out of touch with the future of education:)
I believe that people will move to cheaper, larger homes in smaller communities and spend more free time with their children in the real world. Right now they are living in stuffy shoe boxes in large cities with their faces jammed into the computer screen everywhere they go.
Businesses are already making changes. Large offices are downsizing and moving a large chunk of their staff to cheaper, smaller offices in smaller cities. The next logical step and the real winners will be the businesses that can cut the cord completely and interact with their employees using this new hologram technology. They will save billions when they find the courage to make this change and will then run circles around their competition. Our children will be the ones to make this step. They already have friends around the world and spend hours playing in the artificial game world.
I find it so funny to see our current business executives still stuck in the horse and buggy mode.

Tony Blair: Fight war of ideas against extremism


I should be up front and say that I feel Tony Blair is an ignorant man who should be tried for war crimes. I know that sounds harsh but I truly believe that he made a catastrophic  mistake when he supported  George Bush in the invasion of Iraq. That invasion ignored international law and has largely led to the problems we have today in the middle east.

Having said that, I generally support his recent article “Fight war of ideas against extremism”,where he points out that the world should be looking at finding solutions to ISIS  other than simply trying to bomb them into submission. He points to education. You can read his article here.

However, I still feel that he hasn’t fully developed his thoughts on the subject. He clearly sees the problem as “their” problem. That somehow “they” need to change. “They need an education”. I agree that education will help with that. But Tony Blair is still totally oblivious to the fact that the west desperately needs to make major changes to how it conducts itself around the world. This is a huge ommission on Tony Blairs part and until leaders like him address this idea then all the wars and all the killing will continue and all the deaths in the past will have been for nothing.

The west needs to address the hypocrisy of ignoring internatioal law when it suits their interests as it did in Iraq. They need to stop participating in regime change which is also against international law and for good reason.

The west  has to stop interfering in other countries. The invasions and sanctions inflict  extreme  havoc on a countries stability. Millions of people fled Iraq after the first Gulf war. Millions spilled out during the crushing sanctions and fled to Jordan and Syria. These refugees caused enormous stress and damage to Syria and the region, helping create the tensions that led to the upheavel we see going on today.

When I spent time in Iraq during those sanction years, it was obvious that the entire region was festering with hate for the west. Entire families were reduced to scavaging. An entire generation of young men and women had no hope for an education or a real job. The suffering was  well reported at the time but Tony Blair ignored the reports coming in from many agencies on the ground in Iraq. UNICEF, for example, reported that several hundred thousand children died as a direct result of those sanctions. Can you imagine the hate that that alone would generate? No hope. No future. No education. And now Mr. Blair talks about how these people need to be educated. After he played a huge part in blocking it in the first place.

I expected blowback and we saw that with 911.  The unravelling of the middle east was predicted by many scholars at the time, but we see headlines by world leaders today saying that they never saw this coming.

My point is that Tony Blair and western leaders seem  oblivious to the death and destruction we have done. His article makes that clear. He sees the change needed as one sided. If only “those” people would get some education. When in fact, it should be both sides that need an honest reflection on what they are doing.

We saw this same one sided view with the fall of the former Soviet Union. The west smuggly patted itself on the back because it thought that our economic model was the best. But Gorbachev had pointed out in his book, Perestroika, that “both” sides needed to reflect on how we do business and structure our society. (we now have bank failures, debt and stagnation that is suffocating our children’s future)

Tony Blair is  the same fool that he was when he left political office.

I hope the west comes to it’s senses and makes radical changes to our policies of  bullying and pushing our weight around the world. The hate that we see aimed at us comes from the millions of lives that we  have extinguished . It comes from the millions of refugees that have had to gather up all their children and belongings and trudge across deserts looking for somewhere to rest and find food.

There was another recent article by, Jonathan Powell on CNN. (

He stresses the need to talk to terrorists. I certainly agree with that idea. We need to find out what it is these groups want and you can only do that by talking. As he says in his article, these groups are not unique or special. They will always pop up and you simply can’t kill every one of them. You need to know why they pop up and how they get support to exist in the first place.

I believe that the best way to defeat groups like ISIS is to knock the pins out of their support. Treat people with dignity and respect as you would expect to be treated. Speak out when you see countries ignore international law or ignore  UN mandates.

Pay the complete costs for rebuilding when you bomb them.

Better yet…..just stop bombing them.

Woodwynn Farms versus Central Saanich

I have been busy attempting to contact the Central Saanich council members because I want to try and understand why they would launch court action to shut down Woodwynn Farms, a therapeutic farm for the homeless.
I’m told by council member, Mrs Ounsted, that the legal action was supported by most if not all of the council members.
Mrs Ounsted tried to explain that the council members were acting out of frustration and that they had been left with no recourse but to file court documents to try to shut the place down.
Essentially she argued that the farm was not being used as a farm… examples that the farm was allowing people to live on the farm and that the farm operated a farmers market on the farm and that Woodwynn Farms did not conform to the regulations put down by the Agricultural land reserve.
I tried to point out to her that Woodwynn Farms was actually growing more crops for human consumption than in any other recent history.
The sad part of this story is that I believe that Central Saanich council members would have no problem if all Woodwynn Farms did was grow hay for  expensive show horses.
It is my opinion that the CentralSaanich council members might  save the taxpayers a lot of money in legal costs if they tried reaching out to Woodwynn Farms and worked with them.
If Mrs Ounstead and Central Saanich councilors care about the homeless as much as they claim, then why wouldn’t they have welcomed Woodwynn Farms into the community and  tried to make an application to ALR to have changes made that would allow the new farm model as a therapeutic farm. Local councils have the power to do that and yet Central Saanich has not looked at that option. I believe that it is an indication of the real mindset of council members.
Instead, we have watched as they slam Woodwynn Farms with what I believe to be , harassment tactics. For example: They insisting that the farm cut two feet off the composting toilet structure because it was two feet too long.
I can’t for the life of me understand why Saanich Council members haven’t tried to find solutions to this issue. We see other communities look to the future with new solutions in order to help our society function in better ways. I hear of farms expanding their use of the land in creative ways by including entertainment, farmers markets on the farm, inventive and exciting products, anything to help farms survive.
Our council members seem stuck in a regressive and punitive mindset. When I made some phone calls to council members a long time ago, I was essentially told that the local community simply was against this therapeutic farm and council was not interested in trying to find solutions.

Woodwynn Farms could become a world class model for everyone to be proud of. It could also create more business for the whole area.
My phone calls to Central Saanich Council members were largely ignored. I only heard back from a few.
The mayor of Central Saanich, Mr. Alastair Bryson, avoided media questions by going away on holiday after having the court papers left on Woodwynn Farms’ desk.
I believe that we need more courageous and better leadership than that.

I don’t want to step over or around the homeless anymore. I want to support Woodwynn Farms because they have a solution that can create the environment where these people can help lift themselves out of misery and sadness.It is not a handout. It is a place where work fills the day and the participants can grow  food for themselves and for others.

Please reach out and help in any way you can.

Woodwynn Farms and Central Saanich council

Woodwynn farms, a therapeutic farm for the homeless, has recently been served with a court order to shut down the farm by the district of Central Saanich.
The whole process and thinking is an example of the lack of innovation and exciting vision here on Vancouver Island as compared to other parts of the world.
In China or Dubai for example, one sees futuristic, mile high buildings that clean the air and generate power.
Victoria on the other hand,  looks backwards with little sense of forward thinking. We will spend a fortune on preserving forty cracked bricks at the same time we step over the homeless because apparently we have no money for that problem.
When a forward thinking place like Woodwynn Farms in Central Saanich comes along with an innovative plan to help people get off the streets, it feels grossly harrassed by the mayor and council members of Central Saanich.
For example: They tried to claim that the building that stores the hay is not structurally sound and yet when a building inspector checked it out he said it was in amazing shape. (It has been storing hay for close to a hundred years and the lines of the beams are absolutely straight which is a testiment to it’s excellent design).
The farm also has a very modest little farm market that one can find small items. Not all products are made on the farm and again the city council jumped on that. Can you imagine? Is it really such a terrible thing in this world that a farm might sell a jar of honey or maple syrup from somewhere else? Is this a sign of innovation in Central Saanich council members? Is it not possible for us to expand our minds?

It seems that the real agenda is to shut this farm down because the people in the area don’t want homeless people in their backyard.

Those are just a couple of examples, but Woodwynn farms is being crippled at the knees at every turn for thinking outside the box. It has held small music festivals in order to try and raise some extra opperating funds. it would like to create a small juice bar made from fresh crops. People could sit and enjoy a nice refreshing and healthy drink made from squeezed carrots for example as they watch workers in the field. Central Saanich has a problem with these kinds of ideas.

I would like to see the central Saanich councilors make a list of priorities for their community. Is it wise to use their tax payers dollars for expensive law suits in order to shut down a farm that simply wants to help the homeless by growing crops for people?
Is it really a priority to send three city workers out to a two hundred acre farm in order to force them to cut two feet off a beautifully built, composting toilet structure? Is this a pressing issue in Central Saanich?
Where is the innovation? Where is the humanity?
I have no connection to Woodwynn Farms other than being a volunteer and I would like to see this law suit dropped. I feel it would be much better to sit down and have a conversation with Woodwynn Farms and see where Central Saanich could help.
There has to be a better way to find a solution that will meet everyones interests including the people who live in the area of the farm.

Woodwynn Farms is not perfect, but any of the thousands of volunteers who have supported this farm will attest to the love and respect that this farm generates in everyones hearts. I ask the councilors and the mayor to please rethink the approach and try to find solutions instead of placing road blocks.

Mayor of Central Saanich, Mr. Alastair Bryson. 250 544 0668.
The council members can be reached at the following
Mr. Carl Jensen 250 858 6532
Mrs Ounsted 250 544 0622
Mr. Garrison 250 514 4217
Mr. Windsor 250 885 8539
Mrs A Cormier 250 893 5070
Mr. King 250 508 4645

Municipality of Oak Bay, Piano Painted by Deryk Houston (June 2014)


I am excited about doing this project for the Oak Bay municipality. It was organized by Barbara Adams.
After sitting looking at the piano for some time, I decided to change my original idea. I thought the design would work better to frame the landscape with abstract lines and colour variations. I wanted to play with the idea of peace and my thoughts turned to John Lennon’s “Imagine.
I painted some music in thin lines across the landscape image section, but I made a mistake with the spacing of the notes and as I reworked that portion it occurred to me that it might be good to just leave out the musical notes, allowing people to fill in their own music for the space in their imagination.
As I worked, students from the school would stop and ask questions. At the start of the project I was repeatedly asked why I was painting a piano. They seemed mystified that anyone would paint a piano because pianos were meant to be black. brown or white. As the work progressed The students became quite excited about the colours and stopped asking why I was painting a piano. They seemed more interested in where it would go and if they could play it. Some students asked if I would place their names on it and so I did. They were so excited to see their names as part of the painted piano and they would bring their friends around and show them. More names were added by request. (I didn’t use their last names.)
I placed nuclear formulas across the surface. Some for nuclear war. Some for nuclear medicine. It is about choices.
The colours and the decorative look reminded me of the Beatles Rolls Royce and so I emphasized and worked with that in mind.
I like the idea of taking something that has an expected quality or image and then transforming that into something more fun and less establishment. Making it more unusual. Not unlike the idea of finding a piano in the street or in a landscape where one would not expect it.
I take my art seriously. I have introduced several ideas into this work. I am interested in war and peace. Communication is difficult and it can lead to conflict.
In the art world, there are those who like the abstract and those who like more traditional works such as landscapes. They often have a lack of respect for each other. One easily dismisses the other. I’m fascinated by that because, like most conflicts, the two sides often have many things in common than they might realize.
That is why I have combined landscape with the abstract in this work.
I think they can work together well and I enjoy both.


photo 2
I am starting painting on the piano this coming week. The idea was presented to me by Barbara Adams who is co ordinating this project for Oak Bay.
I will post photos of the progress as it develops over the next few days.
My idea is to focus on the new series of works I am doing on Canada’s west coast. I want to create an iconic impression of our special coastline. I find it a challenge because obviously every sunday painter will do this imagery. The challenge is to do it in a way that goes beyond the cliche and create something that nails the image in a way that everyone can relate to in a new way, while at the same time latching on to that iconic idea. I don’t want to do a scene of a particular place. The imagery is from my own space. It is simply the feel or the spirit of our coastline as I have experienced it over the past fifty years since I arrived from Scotland.
I believe that our coastline merits a good study because it is our part of the world with it’s own history and beauty. It would be easy to dismiss it as too local. But I like challenges and I enjoy doing things that the establishment in the “artistic community” might dismiss.
I’ll never forget hearing a comment made by someone from a Public  Art Gallery. They said something to the effect….”if I see one more painting of a flower I’ll scream”.
The comment stood out for me because I found it very narrow in thinking. I would never close my mind to an idea. One never knows where it could lead.
It takes courage to “risk” being boring.
I think artists should take risks. That is why I am focusing on our coastline right now.

A Shameful Chapter written by Uri Avnery

BritishColumbiacoastlinePainting above: Title: “British Columbia Coastline” by Deryk Houston  (Canada) 60″X72″
The following article is written by Uri Avnery (I really enjoy his viewpoint and follow his writing as much as possible on the subject of Israel and Palestine)

May 3, 2014

A Shameful Chapter

HOW WOULD the US react to a declaration that the Palestinians would not conduct negotiations with an Israeli government that includes semi-fascist parties?

With outrage, of course.

How does the US react to an Israeli statement that Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas?

With full approval, of course.

FOR ANYONE interested in Israeli-Palestinian peace, the prospect of domestic Palestinian reconciliation is good news.

For years now we have heard Israeli spokespersons announcing that it’s no use making peace with half the Palestinian people and continuing the war with the other half. Mahmoud Abbas is a plucked chicken, as Ariel Sharon tactfully put it. It’s Hamas which counts. And Hamas is planning a Second Holocaust.

Under the recent Palestinian reconciliation agreement, Hamas is now committed to supporting an all-Palestinian government of experts agreed on by both parties. The Israeli extreme right-wing government is burning with rage. It will never, never, never negotiate with a Palestinian government that is supported by Hamas.

Hamas must first recognize Israel, stop all terrorist activities and undertake to respect all previous agreements signed by the PLO.

That’s OK, Abbas declares. The next government will be appointed by me, and it will fulfill all three conditions.

That’s not enough, Netanyahu’s spokespersons declare. Hamas itself must accept the three conditions, before we deal with a government supported by Hamas.

Abbas could respond in kind. Before dealing with the Netanyahu government, he could say, all factions in the Israeli government must declare their support for the Two-State Solution, as Netanyahu has done (once, in his so-called Bar-Ilan speech.) At least two parties, Naftali Bennett’s “Jewish Home” and Avigdor Lieberman’s “Israel our Home”, as well as a great part of the Likud, would refuse to do so.

One can envision a ceremony in the Knesset, in which every cabinet minister would stand up and declare: “I hereby solemnly swear that I fully and sincerely support the creation of the State of Palestine next to the State of Israel!” The Messiah will arrive first.

Of course, that is immaterial. The stand of individual parties or ministers is unimportant. It is the policy of the government which counts. If the next Palestinian government recognizes Israel, renounces violence and respects all previous agreements that should be enough.

WHY IS the Palestinian reconciliation agreement good news for peace?

First of all, because one makes peace with a whole nation, not with half of it. A peace with the PLO, without Hamas, would be ineffective
from the beginning. Hamas could sabotage it at any moment by acts of violence (a.k.a. terrorism).

Second, because by joining the PLO and eventually the Palestinian government, Hamas accepts in practice the policy of the PLO, which has long ago recognized the State of Israel and the partition of historic Palestine.

One should remember that prior to the Oslo agreement, the PLO itself was officially described by Israel (and the USA) as a terrorist organization. At the time of the signing on the White House lawn, the PLO charter was still in force. It called for the destruction of the illegal State of Israel and the return of practically all its citizens to their counties of origin.

For many years, this charter was denounced by Israeli politicians and academics as an insurmountable obstacle to peace.

Only after the Oslo agreement came into force, did the PLO National Council abolish these clauses of their charter in a festive ceremony, attended by President Bill Clinton.

Hamas has a similar charter. It, too, will be modified once Hamas joins the government.

It is one of the ironies of history that in the past, Israel covertly supported Hamas against the PLO. While all Palestinian political activity in the occupied territories was suppressed, Hamas activities in the mosques were allowed.

I once asked a former Shin Bet chief if he had created Hamas. His answer was: “We did not create them, we tolerated them.”

The reason was that at the time Arafat’s PLO was considered the enemy. Arafat himself was relentlessly demonized as the “Second Hitler”. Everybody fighting against Arafat was considered an ally. This attitude continued to prevail for a year after the outbreak of the first intifada, when the Shin Bet realized that Hamas was much more dangerous than the PLO, and started imprisoning (and later assassinating) its leaders.

At present, an undeclared state of ceasefire (tahdiya or “stillness”) prevails between Israel and Hamas. Clearly, Hamas has decided that its ambitions as one of the two major Palestinian political parties are more important than the “violent struggle” against Israel. Its main aim is to attain power in the future Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Like so many former liberation organizations around the world, including Begin’s Likud, it is transforming itself from a terrorist organization into a political party.

AS COULD have been foreseen, the US has followed suit and fully accepted the Israeli line. It has threatened the Palestinian Authority with what amounts to a declaration of war if the reconciliation agreement is carried out.

The American peace initiative has ground to a halt. The full truth about it can and must now be told.

It was doomed to failure before it even started. There was not the slightest chance of its bearing fruit.

Before the facts become buried under an avalanche of propaganda, let’s state clearly how it ended: not by Abbas joining international bodies, not by Palestinian reconciliation, but by the refusal of Netanyahu to fulfill a solemn and unequivocal undertaking: to release certain Palestinian prisoners on a certain date.

The release of prisoners is an extremely sensitive point for the Palestinians. It concerns human beings and their families. These particular prisoners, some of whom are Israeli citizens, have been in prison for at least 21 years. Netanyahu just did not have the strength of character to fulfill his promise and confront a wild campaign of incitement unleashed by the extreme Right.

He preferred to end the “negotiations”.

THE PERFORMANCE of John Kerry can only be described as pitiful.

It started with the appointment of Martin Indyk as the manager of the negotiations. Indyk had worked as an employee of AIPAC, the main lobby of the Israeli Right. AIPAC’S main task is to terrorize the American Congress, whose members – senators and representatives – quake at the very sight of its agents.

To install such a person as an impartial mediator between Israel and the Palestinians was just plain chutzpah. It told the Palestinians right from the beginning what was in store.

The second act of chutzpah was to start the talks without first obtaining from Netanyahu a list of the concessions he was ready to make. Throughout, the Israeli side refused to present a map of its proposed borders, even after the Palestinian side produced their own map.

This charade went on for nine months, in which not an inch of progress was made. The parties met and talked, talked and met. Apart from Netanyahu’s ridiculous demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people”, there was nothing on the table.

Tzipi Livni, a very minor politician, basked in the limelight on the glamorous international stage, and would have loved to go on forever without achieving anything at all.

The Palestinian representatives were also interested in continuing, even without purpose, in order to pass the time without an internal explosion.

The whole exercise revolved around one simple question: was President Obama ready to confront the onslaught of the united forces of AIPAC, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Republicans, the Evangelicals, the right-wing Jewish establishment and the Israeli propaganda machine?

If not, Kerry should not have even started.

THIS WEEK, in a private meeting, Kerry stated the obvious: that if Israel continues with its present policy, it will become an apartheid state.

There is nothing revolutionary in this. Former president Jimmy Carter used the term in the title of his book. In Israel, independent and left-wing commentators do so every day. But in Washington DC all hell broke loose.

The hapless Kerry rushed to apologize. He did not mean it, God forbid! The Secretary of State of the mighty USA asked for little Israel’s forgiveness.

And so the piece reached its shameful finale on a dismal fading chord.

A Hundred Years Later by Uri Avnery

written by:Uri Avnery
March 22, 2014

A Hundred Years Later

THERE IS an old Chinese curse that says: “May you live in historic times!” (If there isn’t, there should be.)

This week was a historic time. The Crimea seceded from Ukraine. Russia annexed it.

A dangerous situation. No one knows how it will develop.

AFTER MY last article about the Ukrainian crisis, I was flooded with passionate e-mail messages.

Some were outraged by one or two sentences that could be construed as justifying Russian actions. How could I excuse the former KGB apparatchik, the new Hitler, the leader who was building a new Soviet empire by destroying and subjugating neighboring countries?

Others were outraged, with the same passion, by my supposed support for the fascist gangs which have come to power in Kiev, the anti-Semites in Nazi uniforms, and the American imperialists who use them for their own sinister purposes.

I am a bit bewildered by the strength of feeling on both sides. The Cold War, it seems, is not over. It just took a nap. Yesterday’s warriors are again rallying to their flags, ready to do battle.

Sorry, I can’t get passionate about this side or that. Both, it seems to me, have some justice on their side. Many of the battle cries are bogus.

THOSE WHO rage against the annexation of the Crimea by the Russian Federation and compare it to Hitler’s “Anschluss” of Austria may be right in some sense.

I remember the newsreels of ecstatic Austrians welcoming the soldiers of the Führer, who was, after all, an Austrian himself. There can be no doubt that most Austrians welcomed the “return to the fatherland”.

That seems to be the case now in the Crimea. For a long time the peninsula had been a part of Russia. Then, in 1954, the leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian himself, presented the Crimea as a gift to Ukraine. It was mostly a symbolic gesture, since both Russia and Ukraine belonged to the same Soviet state and were subject to the same oppression.

But the main point is that the people of the Crimea were not consulted. There was no referendum. The majority of the population is Russian, and undoubtedly wishes now to return to Russia. It expressed this wish in a referendum that, on the whole, seems to be quite authentic. So the annexation may be justified.

Vladimir Putin himself brought up the precedent of Kosovo, which seceded from Serbia not so long ago. This may be a bit cynical, since Russia strenuously objected to this secession at the time. All the Russian arguments then are now contradicted by Putin himself.

If we leave out cynicism, hypocrisy and great power politics for a moment, and stick to simple moral principles, then what is good for the goose is good for the gander. A sizable national minority, living in its homeland, has a right to secede from a state it does not like.

For this reason I supported the independence of Kosovo and believe that the same principle applies now to Catalonia and Scotland, Tibet and Chechnya.

There is always a way to prevent secession without using brute force: to create conditions that make the minority want to stay in the majority state. Generous economic, political and cultural policies can achieve this. But for that you need the wisdom of farsighted leaders, and that is a rare commodity everywhere.

BY THE same token, Ukrainians can be understood when they kick out a president who wants to bring them into the Russian orbit against their will. His golden bathroom appliances are beside the point.

Another question is what role the fascists play in the process. There are contradictory reports, but Israeli reporters on the scene testify to their conspicuous presence in the center of Kiev.

The problem has confronted us since the Tunisian Spring: in many of the “spring” countries the uprisings bring to the fore elements that are worse than the tyrants they want to displace. The revolutions are started by idealists who are unable to unite and set up an effective regime, and then are taken over by intolerant fanatics, who are better fighters and better organizers.

That is the secret of the survival of the abominable Bashar al-Assad. Few people want Syria to fall into the hands of a Taliban-like Islamic tyranny. That is also the fate of Egypt: the liberal democrats started the revolution but lost the democratic elections to a religious party, which was in a haste to impose its creed on the people. They were overthrown by a military dictatorship that is worse than the regime which the original revolution overthrew.

The emergence of the neo-Nazis in Kiev is worrying, even if Putin uses their presence for his own purposes. If they are supported by the West, overtly or covertly, that is disturbing.

EQUALLY WORRYING is the uncertainty about Putin’s intentions.

In many of the countries surrounding Russia there live large numbers of Russians, who went to live there in Soviet times. Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Moldova, Kazakhstan and other countries have large Russian minorities, and even majorities, who yearn to be annexed to the motherland.

No one really knows Putin. How far will he go? Can he control his ambitions? Will he be carried away by his successes and the lack of wise policies in Western capitals?

Addressing his parliament about the annexation of the Crimea, he seemed restrained, but there was no mistaking the imperial trimmings of the event. He would not be the first leader in history who overestimated his successes and underrated the power of his opponents.

And on the other side – is there enough wisdom in Washington and the other Western capitals to produce the right mixture of firmness and restraint to prevent an uncontrollable slide into war?

IN THREE months the world will “celebrate” the hundredth anniversary of the shot in Sarajevo – the shot that ignited a worldwide conflagration.

It may be helpful to recount again the chain of events that caused one of the most destructive wars in human history, a war that consumed millions upon millions of human lives and destroyed an entire way of life.

The shot that started it all was quite accidental. The assassin, a Serb nationalist, failed in his first attempt to kill a quite insignificant Austrian archduke. But after he had already given up, he came across his intended victim again, by chance, and shot him dead.

The incompetent Austrian politicians and their senile emperor saw an easy opportunity to demonstrate the prowess of their country and presented little Serbia with an ultimatum. What could they lose?

Except that Serbia was the protégé of Russia. In order to deter the Austrians, the Czar and his equally incompetent ministers and generals ordered a general mobilization of their vast army. They were quite unaware of the fact that this made war unavoidable, because…

The German Reich, which had come into being only 43 years earlier, lived in deadly fear of a “war on two fronts”. Located in the middle of Europe, squeezed between two great military powers, France and Russia, it drew up a plan to forestall this eventuality. The plan changed every year in the wake of military exercises, but in essence it was based on the premise that one enemy had to be crushed before the other enemy had time to join the battle.

The plan in place in 1914 was to crush France before the cumbersome Russian mobilization could be completed. So when the Czar announced his mobilization, the German army invaded Belgium and reached the outskirts of Paris in a few weeks. They almost succeeded in defeating France before the Russians were ready.

(25 years later, Hitler solved the same problem in a different way. He signed a sham treaty with Stalin, finished France off and then attacked Russia.)

In 1914, Great Britain, shocked by the invasion of Belgium, hastened to the aid of its French ally. Italy, Japan, and others joined the fray. So did the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Palestine. World War I was underway.

Who wanted this terrible war? Nobody. Who took a cool-headed decision to start it? Nobody. Of course, many national and international interests were involved, but none so important as to justify such a catastrophe.

No, it was a war nobody wanted or even envisioned. The flower of European youth was destroyed by the sheer stupidity of the contemporary politicians, followed by the colossal stupidity of the generals.

And in the end, a peace treaty was concocted that made another world war practically inevitable. Only after another awful world war did the politicians come to their senses and make another fratricidal war in Western Europe unthinkable.

A hundred years after it all started, it is well to remember.

CAN ANYTHING like this happen again? Can an unintended chain of foolish acts lead to another catastrophe? Can one thing lead to another in a way that incompetent leaders are unable to stop?

I hope not. After all, during these hundred years, some lessons have been learned and absorbed.

Or not?

God Bless Putin – Written By Uri Avnery

Written by Uri Avnery
March 8, 2014

God Bless Putin

BINYAMIN NETANYAHU is very good at making speeches, especially to Jews, neocons and such, who jump up and applaud wildly at everything he says, including that tomorrow the sun will rise in the west.

The question is: is he good at anything else?

HIS FATHER, an ultra-ultra-Rightist, once said about him that he is quite unfit to be prime minister, but that he could be a good foreign minister. What he meant was that Binyamin does not have the depth of understanding needed to guide the nation, but that he is good at selling any policy decided upon by a real leader.

(Reminding us of the characterization of Abba Eban by David Ben-Gurion: “He is very good at explaining, but you must tell him what to explain.”)

This week Netanyahu was summoned to Washington. He was supposed to approve John Kerry’s new “framework” agreement, which would serve as a basis for restarting the peace negotiations, which so far have come to naught.

On the eve of the event, President Barack Obama gave an interview to a Jewish journalist, blaming Netanyahu for the stalling of the “peace process” – as if there had ever been a peace process.

Netanyahu arrived with an empty bag – meaning a bag full of empty slogans. The Israeli leadership had striven mightily for peace, but could not progress at all because of the Palestinians. It is Mahmoud Abbas who is to blame, because he refuses to recognize Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.

What…hmm…about the settlements, which have been expanding during the last year at a hectic pace? Why should the Palestinians negotiate endlessly, while at the same time the Israeli government takes more and more of the land which is the substance of the negotiations? (As the classic Palestinian argument goes: “We negotiate about dividing a pizza, and in the meantime Israel is eating the pizza.”)

Obama steeled himself to confront Netanyahu, AIPAC and their congressional stooges. He was about to twist the arms of Netanyahu until he cried “uncle” – the uncle being Kerry’s “framework”, which by now has been watered down to look almost like a Zionist manifesto. Kerry is frantic for an achievement, whatever its contents and discontents.

Netanyahu, looking for an instrument to rebuff the onslaught, was ready to cry as usual “Iran! Iran! Iran!” – when something unforeseen happened.

NAPOLEON FAMOUSLY exclaimed: ”Give me generals who are lucky!” He would have loved General Bibi.

Because, on the way to confront a newly invigorated Obama, there was an explosion that shook the world:


It was like the shots that rang out in Sarajevo a hundred years ago.
The international tranquility was suddenly shattered. The possibility of a major war was in the air.

Netanyahu’s visit disappeared from the news. Obama, occupied with a historic crisis, just wanted to get rid of him as quickly as possible. Instead of the severe admonition of the Israeli leader, he got away with some hollow compliments. All the wonderful speeches Netanyahu had prepared were left unspeeched. Even his usual triumphant speech at AIPAC evoked no interest.

All because of the upheaval in Kiev.

BY NOW, innumerable articles have been written about the crisis. Historical associations abound.

Though Ukraine means “borderland”, it was often at the center of European events. One must pity Ukrainian schoolchildren. The changes in the history of their country were constant and extreme. At different times Ukraine was a European power and a poor downtrodden territory, extremely rich (“the breadbasket of Europe”) or abjectly poor, attacked by neighbors who captured their people to sell them as slaves or attacking their neighbors to enlarge their country.

The Ukraine’s relationship with Russia is even more complex. In a way, the Ukraine is the heartland of Russian culture, religion and orthography. Kiev was far more important than Moscow, before becoming the centerpiece of Muscovite imperialism.

In the Crimean War of the 1850s, Russia fought valiantly against a coalition of Great Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia, and eventually lost. The war broke out over Christian rights in Jerusalem, and included a long siege of Sevastopol. The world remembers the charge of the Light Brigade. A British woman called Florence Nightingale established the first organization to tend the wounded on the battlefield.

In my lifetime, Stalin murdered millions of Ukrainians by deliberate starvation. As a result, most Ukrainians welcomed the German Wehrmacht in 1941 as liberators. It could have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but unfortunately Hitler was determined to eradicate the Ukrainian “Untermenschen”, in order to integrate the Ukraine into the German Lebensraum.

The Crimea suffered terribly. The Tatar people, who had ruled the peninsula in the past, were deported to Central Asia, then allowed to return decades later. Now they are a small minority, seemingly unsure of where their loyalties lie.

THE RELATIONSHIP between Ukraine and the Jews is no less complicated.

Some Jewish writers, like Arthur Koestler and Shlomo Sand, believe that the Khazar empire that ruled the Crimea and neighboring territory a thousand years ago, converted to Judaism, and that most Ashkenazi Jews are descended from them. This would turn us all into Ukrainians. (Many early Zionist leaders indeed came from Ukraine.)

When Ukraine was a part of the extensive Polish empire, many Polish noblemen took hold of large estates there. They employed Jews as their managers. Thus the Ukrainian peasants came to look upon the Jews as the agents of their oppressors, and anti-Semitism became part of the national culture of Ukraine.

As we learned in school, at every turn of Ukrainian history, the Jews were slaughtered. The names of most Ukrainian folk-heroes, leaders and rebels who are revered in their homeland are, in Jewish consciousness, connected with awful pogroms.

Cossack Hetman (leader) Bohdan Khmelnytsky, who liberated Ukraine from the Polish yoke, and who is considered by Ukrainians as the father of their nation, was one of the worst mass-murderers in Jewish history. Symon Petliura, who led the Ukrainian war against the Bolsheviks after World War I, was assassinated by a Jewish avenger.

Some elderly Jewish immigrants in Israel must find it hard to decide whom to hate more, the Ukrainians or the Russians (or the Poles, for that matter.)

PEOPLE AROUND the world find it also hard to choose sides.

The usual Cold-War zealots have it easy – they either hate the Americans or the Russians, out of habit.

As for me, the more I try to study the situation, the more unsure I become. This is not a black-or-white situation.

The first sympathy goes to the Maidan rebels. (Maidan is an Arab word meaning town square. Curious how it travelled to Kiev. Probably via Istanbul.)

They want to join the West, enjoy independence and democracy. What’s wrong with that?

Nothing, except that they have dubious bedfellows. Neo-Nazis in their copycat Nazi uniforms, giving the Hitler salute and mouthing anti-Semitic slogans, are not very attractive. The encouragement they receive from Western allies, including the odious neocons, is off-putting.

On the other side, Vladimir Putin is also not very prepossessing. It’s the old Russian imperialism all over again.

The slogan used by the Russians – the need to protect Russian-speaking people in a neighboring country – sounds eerily familiar. It is an exact copy of Adolf Hitler’s claim in 1938 to protect the Sudeten Germans from the Czech monsters.

But Putin has some logic on his side. Sevastopol – the scene of heroic sieges both in the Crimean War and in World War II, is essential for his naval forces. The association with Ukraine is an important part of Russian world power aspirations.

A cold-blooded, calculating operator, of a kind now rare in the world, Putin uses the strong cards he has, but is very careful not to take too many risks. He is managing the crisis astutely, using Russia’s obvious advantages. Europe needs his oil and gas, he needs Europe’s capital and trade. Russia has a leading role in Syria and Iran. The US suddenly looks like a bystander.

I assume that in the end there will be a compromise. Russia will retain a footing in the coming Ukrainian leadership. Both sides will proclaim victory, as they should.

(By the way, for those here who believe in the “One-State Solution”: Another multicultural state seems to be breaking apart.)

WHERE WILL this leave Netanyahu?

He has gained some months or years without any movement toward peace, and in the meantime can continue with the occupation and build settlements at a frantic pace.

That is the traditional Zionist strategy. Time is everything. Every postponement provides opportunities to create more facts on the ground.

Netanyahu’s prayers have been answered. God bless Putin.

Ariel Sharon

The Imperator – by Uri Avnery (Thank you Uri for your great insight)

IN THE middle of the 70s, Ariel Sharon asked me to arrange something for him – a meeting with Yasser Arafat.
A few days before, the Israeli media had discovered that I was in regular contact with the leadership of the PLO, which was listed at the time as a terrorist organization.
I told Sharon that my PLO contacts would probably ask what he intended to propose to the Palestinians. He told me that his plan was to help the Palestinians to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy, and turn Jordan into a Palestinian state, with Arafat as its president.
“What about the West Bank?” I asked.
“Once Jordan becomes Palestine, there will no longer be a conflict between two peoples, but between two states. That will be much easier to resolve. We shall find some form of partition, territorial or functional, or we shall rule the territory together.”
My friends submitted the request to Arafat, who laughed it off. But he did not miss the opportunity to tell King Hussein about it. Hussein disclosed the story to a Kuwaiti newspaper, Alrai, and that’s how it came back to me.
SHARON’S PLAN was revolutionary at the time. Almost the entire Israeli establishment – including Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres – believed in the so-called “Jordanian option”: the idea that we must make peace with King Hussein. The Palestinians were either ignored or considered arch-enemies, or both.
Five years earlier, when the Palestinians in Jordan were battling the Hashemite regime there, Israel came to the aid of the king at the request of Henry Kissinger. I proposed the opposite in my magazine: to aid the Palestinians. Sharon later told me that he, a general at the time, had asked the General Staff to do the same, though for a different end. My idea was to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank, his was to create it in the East Bank.
(The idea of turning Jordan into Palestine has a generally unknown linguistic background. In Hebrew usage, “Eretz Israel” is the land on both sides of the Jordan River, where the ancient Hebrew tribes settled according to the Biblical myth. In Palestinian usage, “Filastin” is only the land on the West side of the river. Therefore is quite natural for ignorant Israelis to ask the Palestinians to set up their state beyond the Jordan. For Palestinians, that means setting up their state abroad.)
AT THE time, Sharon was in political exile.
In 1973 he left the army, after realizing that he had no chance of becoming Chief of Staff. This may seem odd, since he was already recognized as an outstanding battlefield commander. The trouble was that he was also known as an insubordinate officer, who despised his superiors and his peers (as well as everybody else.) Also, his relationship with the truth was problematical. David Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary that Sharon could be an exemplary military officer, if only he could abstain from lying.
When he left the army, Sharon almost single-handedly created the Likud by unifying all the right-wing parties. That’s when I chose him the first time as Haolam Hazeh’s Man of the Year and wrote a large biographical article about him. A few days later, the Yom Kippur War broke out, and Sharon was drafted back into the army. His part in it is considered by many as pure genius, by others as a story of insubordination and luck. A photo of him with his head bandaged became his trademark, though it was only a slight wound caused by hitting his head on his command vehicle. (To be fair, he was really wounded in battle, like me, in 1948.)
After the Yom Kippur war, the argument about his part in that war became the center of “the battle of the generals”. He started to visit me at my home to explain his moves, and we became quite friendly.
He left the Likud when he realized that he could not become its leader as long as Menachem Begin was around. He started to chart his own course. That’s when he asked for the meeting with Arafat.
He was thinking about creating a new party, neither right nor left, but led by him and “outstanding personalities” from all over the political landscape. He invited me to join, and we had long conversations at his home.
I must explain here that for a long time I had been looking for a person with military credentials to lead a large united peace camp. A leader with such a background would make it much easier for us to gain public support for our aims. Sharon fitted the recipe. (As Yitzhak Rabin did later.) Yet during our conversations it became clear to me that he had basically remained a right-winger.
In the end Sharon set up a new party called Shlomtzion (“Peace of Zion”), which was a dismal failure on election day. The next day, he rejoined the Likud.
The Likud had won the elections and Begin became Prime Minister. If Sharon had hoped to be appointed Minister of Defense, he was soon disabused. Begin did not trust him. Sharon looked like a general who might organize a coup. The powerful new Finance Minister said that if Sharon became commander-in-chief, he would “send his tanks to surround the Knesset.”
(There was a joke making the rounds at the time: Defense Minister Sharon would call for a meeting of the General Staff and announce: “Comrades, tomorrow morning at 06.00 we take over the government!” For a moment the audience was dumfounded, and then it broke out into riotous laughter.)
However, when Begin’s preferred Defense Minister, the former Air Force chief Ezer Weizman, resigned, Begin was compelled to appoint Sharon as his successor. For the second time I chose Sharon as Haolam Hazeh’s Man of the Year. He took this very seriously and sat with me for many hours, in several meetings at his home and office, in order to explain his ideas.
One of them, which he expounded at the same time to the US strategic planners, was to conquer Iran. When Ayatollah Khomeini dies, he said, there will begin a race between the Soviet Union and the US to determine who will arrive first on the scene and take over. The US is far away, but Israel can do the job. With the help of heavy arms that the US will store in Israel well before, our army will be in full possession before the Soviets move. He showed me the detailed maps of the advance, hour by hour and day by day.
This was typical Sharon, His vision was wide and all-embracing. His listener was left breathless, comparing him to the ordinary little politicians, devoid of vision and breadth. But his ideas were generally based on abysmal ignorance of the other side, and therefore came to naught.
AT THE same time, nine months before the Lebanon War, he disclosed to me his Grand Plan for a new Middle East of his making. He allowed me to publish it, provided I did not mention him as the source. He trusted me.
Basically it was the same as the one he wanted to propose to Arafat.
The army would invade Lebanon and drive the Palestinians from there to Syria, from whence the Syrians would drive them into Jordan. There the Palestinians would overthrow the king and establish the State of Palestine.
The army would also drive the Syrians out of Lebanon. In Lebanon Sharon would choose a Christian officer and install him as dictator. Lebanon would make official peace with Israel and in effect become a vassal state.
I duly published all this, and nine months later Sharon invaded Lebanon, after lying to Begin and the cabinet about his aims. But the war was a catastrophe, both militarily and politically.
Militarily it was a demonstration of “the Peter principle” – the brilliant battle commander was a miserable strategist. No unit of the Israeli army reached its objective on time, if at all. The Israeli-installed dictator, Bachir Gemayel, was assassinated. His brother and successor signed a peace treaty with Israel, which has been completely forgotten by now. The Syrians remained in Lebanon for many years to come. The Israeli army extricated itself after a guerrilla war that lasted 18 full years, during which the despised and downtrodden Shiites in Israeli-occupied South Lebanon became the dominant political force in the country.
And, worst of all, in order to induce the Palestinians to flee, Sharon let the barbarous Christian Phalangists into the Palestinian refugee camps Sabra and Shatila, where they committed a terrible massacre. Hundreds of thousands of outraged Israelis protested in Tel Aviv, and Sharon was dismissed from the defense ministry.
At the height of the Battle of Beirut I crossed the lines and met with Yasser Arafat, who had become Sharon’s Nemesis. Since then, Sharon and I did not exchange a single word, not even greeting each other.
IT LOOKED like the end of Sharon’s career. But for Sharon, every end was a new beginning.
One of his media vassals, Uri Dan (who had started his career in Haolam Hazeh) once coined a prophetic phrase: “Those who don’t want him as Chief of Staff, will get him as Minister of Defense. Those who don’t want him as Minister of Defense, will get him as Prime Minister.” Today one could add: “Those who did not want him as Prime Minister, are getting him as a national icon.”
An ex-general, Yitzhak Ben-Israel, told me yesterday: “He was an Imperator!” I find this a very apt description.
Like a Roman imperator, Sharon was a supreme being, admired and feared, generous and cruel, genial and treacherous, hedonistic and corrupt, a victorious general and a war criminal, quick to make decisions and unwavering once he had made them, overcoming all obstacles by sheer force of personality.
One could not meet him without being struck by the sense of power he emanated. Power was his element.
He believed that destiny had chosen him to lead Israel. He did not think so – he knew. For him, his personal career and the fate of Israel were one and the same. Therefore, anyone who tried to block him was a traitor to Israel. He despised everyone around him – from Begin down to the last politician and general.
His character was formed in his early childhood in Kfar Malal, a communal village which belonged to the Labor party. His mother, Vera, managed the family farm with an iron will, quarreling with all the neighbors, the village institutions and the party. When little Arik was injured in a fall on a pitchfork, she did not take him to the village clinic, which she hated, but put him on a donkey and led him for several kilometers to a doctor in Kfar Saba.
When rumor had it that the Arabs in neighboring villages were planning an attack, little Arik was hidden in a haystack.
Later in life, when his mother (who still managed the farm) visited his new ranch and saw a low wall with holes for irrigation, she exclaimed: “Ah, you have embrasures! Very good, you can shoot through them at the Arabs!”
How could a poor army officer acquire the largest ranch in the country? Simple: he got it as a gift from an Israeli-American billionaire, with the help of the finance minister. Several dubious large deals with other billionaires followed.
SHARON WAS the most typical Israeli one could imagine, embodying the saying (to which I modestly claim authorship): “If force does not work, try more force.”
I was therefore very surprised when he came out in favor of the law dispensing with the military service of tens of thousands of orthodox youngsters. “How can you?” I asked him. His answer: “I am first of all a Jew, and only after that an Israeli!” I told him that for me it was the other way round.
Ideologically, he was the pupil and successor of David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, leaders who believed in military force and in expanding the territory of Israel without limit. His military career started for real in the 1950s when Moshe Dayan put him in charge of an unofficial outfit called Unit 101, which was sent across the border to kill and destroy, in retaliation for similar actions committed by Arabs. His most famous exploit was the massacre of Qibya village in 1953, when 49 innocent villagers were buried under the houses which he blew up.
Later, when requested to put an end to “terrorism” in Gaza, he killed every Arab who was caught with arms. When I later asked him about killing prisoners, he answered: “I did not kill prisoners. I did not take prisoners!”
At the beginning of his career as commander he was a bad general. But from war to war he improved. Unusual for a general, he learned from his mistakes. In the 1973 war he was already considered the equal of Erwin Rommel and George Patton. It also became known that between the battles he gorged himself on seafood, which is not kosher.
THE MAIN endeavor of his life was the settlement enterprise. As army officer, politician and successively chief of half a dozen different ministries, his central effort was always to plan and set up settlements in the occupied territories.
He did not care whether they were legal or illegal under Israeli law (all of them, of course, are illegal under international law, for which he did not give a damn).
He planned their location, with the aim of cutting the West Bank into ribbons which would make a Palestinian state impossible. Then he rammed it through the cabinet and the ministries. Not for nothing was he nicknamed “the Bulldozer”.
The “Israel Defense Army” (its official Hebrew name) turned into the “Settlers Defense Army”, sinking slowly in the morass of the occupation.
However, when settlements obstructed his plans, he had no compunction about destroying them. When he was in favor of peace with Egypt, in order to concentrate on the war with the Palestinians, he destroyed the entire town of Yamit in North Sinai and the adjacent settlements. Later he did the same to the settlements in the Gaza Strip, attracting the enduring hatred of the settlers, his erstwhile proteges. He acted like a general who is ready to sacrifice a brigade to improve his overall strategic position.
WHEN HE died last week, after lying in a coma for eight years, he was eulogized by the very people he despised, and turned into a shallow folk hero. The Ministry of Education compared him to Moses.
In real life he was a very complex person, as complex as Israel. His personal history is interwoven with the history of Israel.
His main legacy was catastrophic: the scores of settlements which he implanted all over the West Bank – each of them a landmine which will have to be removed at great risk when the time comes.