Palestine, Series 3 No.9

By David Constantine, Helen Constantine

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Seventeen notes and quotations having to do with Palestine

1. Something there is that does not love a wall. (Robert Frost)

2. The potency of the idea of the vendetta was clearly demonstrated in the opening act of the crusade, the ‘first holocaust’ of European Jews. The first acts of violent anti-semitism seem to have occurred in France shortly after the Council of Clermont [November 1095]. They then spread to Germany and eastern Europe, where they were associated with the first waves of crusaders leaving for the East in the spring of 1096. On 3 May the storm broke over the Jewish community at Speyer, where a south German army under Emich of Leiningen, the most merciless of the persecutors, had gathered. Emich proceeded to Worms, where the massacres began on 18 May, and then to Mainz, where he was joined by more Germans and by a large army of French, English, Flemish and Lorrainer crusaders. Between 25 and 29 May the Jewish community at Mainz, one of the largest in Europe, was decimated. Some crusaders then marched north to Cologne, from where the Jews had already been dispersed into neighbouring settlements. For the next month they were hunted out and destroyed. Another band seems to have gone south-west to Trier and Metz, where the massacres continued. Meanwhile another crusading army, probably Peter the Hermit’s, forced almost the whole community at Regensburg to undergo baptism and the communities at Wesseli and Prague in Bohemia suffered probably from the attentions of yet another crusading army, led by a priest called Folkmar.

These pogroms were attributed by some contemporaries to avarice, and the crusaders certainly made financial demands of the Jewish communities and despoiled them; indeed, given the demands of the journey they were about to make they were obviously obsessed with cash. But the Hebrew accounts ascribed greed more to local bishops, their officials and townspeople than to the crusaders, who seem to have been more interested in forcing conversions. Everywhere Jews were offered the choice of conversion or death, and synagogues, Torah scrolls and cemeteries were desecrated. The Jews feared that the crusaders intended to wipe Judaism out of the regions through which they passed. There is overwhelming evidence that uppermost in the crusaders’ minds was a desire for vengeance. They found it impossible to distinguish between Muslims and Jews and if they were being called upon, as they saw it, to avenge the injury to Christ’s ‘honour’ of the loss of his patrimony to the Muslims [their occupation of Jerusalem in 638], why, they asked, should they not also avenge the injury to his person of the Crucifixion – a far deeper disparagement of his ‘honour’ – particularly in the light of a popular legend circulating at the time in which Christ on the cross had called on the faithful to avenge him? […] Throughout the twelfth century every major call to crusade gave rise to pogroms against Jews.
(Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades)

3. There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
         Who died to save us all.

4. At the very centre of the Hereford Mappa Mundi (c. 1300) is Calvary.

This was a pleasant place
This was a green hill outside the city.
Who would believe it now? Unthink
The blood if you can, the pocks, the scabs,
The tendrils of wire. Imagine an apple tree
Where that thing stands embedded.

5. Father Zosimus crosses the Jordan and enters the desert. There he finds Mary the Egyptian entirely naked and burned black by the sun. She begs him to lend her his cloak, to cover herself. Then she tells him her story:
I was born in Egypt and at the age of twelve I went to Alexandria and there for seventeen years I gave myself over to public depravity. I never said no to any man. And when the men of that country were preparing to make the voyage to Jerusalem to adore the True Cross I begged the sailors who were conveying them to let me go too. When they asked me for the fare I answered, ‘Brothers, I have nothing to give you, but take my body as payment for the voyage’. On those terms they took me and used my body as their payment. We arrived together in Jerusalem and presenting myself with the others at the doors of the church to adore the True Cross I was suddenly repulsed by an invisible force. Several times I returned to the doors of the church, but in vain: each time I felt myself prevented while the others entered without difficulty. Thereupon I entered into myself and reflected that my numerous and filthy sins were the cause of my being repulsed. I began to sigh deeply, to shed bitter tears and to chastise my body with my hands. Examining the church door, I saw an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary and at once I began praying to her very humbly that she would forgive my sins and let me enter to adore the Holy Cross. And I promised her I would renounce the world and in future take a vow of chastity. Then I put my trust in the Blessed Virgin and this time entered the church without hindrance. After I had with great devotion adored the Holy Cross a man gave me three pennies with which I bought three loaves. And then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘If you cross the Jordan you will be saved’. So I crossed the Jordan and came into this desert where I have been for forty-seven years without seeing a man. The three loaves I brought with me hardened and have lasted me till now. My clothes went to rags and for the first seventeen years of my solitary life I suffered the temptations of the flesh but through the grace of God I conquered them all. Now I have told you my story and I ask you to pray to God for me.
(Jacques de Voragine, La Légende dorée)

6. O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark street shineth
The everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

7. Nothing is more difficult than to determine what a child takes in, and does not take in, of its environment and its teaching. This fact is brought home to me by the hymns which I learned as a child, and never forgot. They mean to me almost more than the finest poetry, and they have for me a more permanent value, somehow or other…

Each gentle dove
And sighing bough
That makes the eve
So fair to me
Has something far
Diviner now
To draw me back
To Galilee.
O Galilee, sweet Galilee
Where Jesus loved so much to be,
O Galilee, sweet Galilee,
Come sing thy songs again to me!

To me the word Galilee has a wonderful sound. The lake of Galilee! I don’t want to know where it is. I never want to go to Palestine. Galilee is one of those lovely, glamorous words, not places, that exist in the golden haze of a child’s half-formed imagination. And in my man’s imagination it is just the same. It has been left untouched. With regard to the hymns that had such a profound influence on my childish consciousness, there has been no crystallizing out, no dwindling into actuality, no hardening into commonplace. They are the same to my man’s experience as they were to me nearly forty years ago…

Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear,
It is not night if Thou be near …

That was the last hymn at the board-school. It did not mean to me any Christian dogma or any salvation. Just the words, ‘Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear’, penetrated me with wonder and the mystery of twilight. At another time the last hymn was:

Fair waved the golden corn
In Canaan’s pleasant land …

And again I loved ‘Canaan’s pleasant land.’ The wonder of ‘Canaan’, which could never be localized.

I think it was good to be brought up a Protestant: and among Protestants, a Nonconformist, and among Nonconformists, a Congregationalist. Which sounds pharisaic. But I should have missed bitterly a direct knowledge of the Bible, and a direct relation to Galilee and Canaan, Moab and Kedron, those places that never existed on earth. And in the Church of England one would hardly have escaped those snobbish hierarchies of class, which spoil so much for a child. And the Primitive Methodists, when I was a boy, were always having ‘revivals’ and being ‘saved’, and I always had a horror of being saved.
(D.H.Lawrence, ‘Hymns in a Man’s Life’)

8. The northwest town of Qalqilya (population 50,000) is totally surrounded by seventeen kilometres of the wall, with only one exit. The once bustling main street now ends in the wall’s waste land. The town’s meagre economy is consequently in ruins. A market gardener trundles a wheelbarrow of sand to distribute round some plants before the coming winter. Until the wall he employed twelve workers. (95% of Palestinian businesses have fewer than five employees.) Today he employs nobody. The sales of his plants – because the town has been cut off – have been reduced by 90%. He throws away instead of collecting the seeds from a heap of flowers. His large hands are heavy with the admission that henceforth here they have nothing to do.

Difficult to convey the sight of the wall where it crosses the land where there is nobody. It’s the opposite of rubble. It is bureaucratic – carefully planned on electronic maps, prefabricated and pre-emptive. Its purpose is to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. The aim of the sledgehammer. Since it began to be built three years ago, there has been no significant reduction in the number of kamikaze attacks. Standing before it, you feel as short as a cigarette butt. (Except during Ramadan, most Palestinians smoke a lot.) Yet, oddly, it doesn’t look final, only insurmountable. 

When it’s finished, it will be the 640-km-long expressionless face of an inequality. At the moment it’s 210 km long. The inequality is between those who have the full arsenal of the latest military technology to defend what they believe to be their interest (Apache helicopters, Merkava tanks, F16’s) and those who have nothing, save their names and a shared belief that justice is axiomatic. The stance of undefeated despair works like this.

It could be that the wall belongs to the same shortsighted repressive logic as the ‘sonic boom’ bombing that the inhabitants of Gaza are being submitted to every night as I write. Jet fighters dive very low at full speed to break the sound barrier, and the nerves of those huddling sleepless below with their axiom. And it won’t work.

Such a superiority of firepower discourages intelligent strategy; to think strategically one has to be able to imagine oneself in one’s opponent’s place, and a habitual sense of superiority precludes this. 

Climb one of the jabals and look down at the wall, way below, winding its geometric dividers’ course towards the southern horizon. Did you see the hoopoe bird? In the long-term view the wall looks make-shift.
(John Berger, ‘Undefeated Despair’, 2005)

9. And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic mills?

Blake wanted a New Jerusalem in which relations between men and women would not be spoiled by priests and there would be no more such injustice as he condemned in ‘Holy Thursday’. His Christ was a radical opponent of the old corrupt order of Church and Kings. And at the root of his famous battle hymn of the New Republic there may well be the encouraging legend that Christ as a child once came from Nazareth to England in the company of Joseph of Arimathea – the same Joseph who returned perhaps half a century later, over the flooded Somerset levels, by boat to Glastonbury, the Isle of Avalon, with Christ’s blood in the Grail. Once the Word had gone out, through the diaspora of the Apostles and through the translations done by Jerome (who settled in Bethlehem), countries far from Palestine wanted connection with that land. So the Three Marys landed in the Camargue, for example. And at Blake’s turn of the century, which was the age of Tom Paine’s Rights of Man and Mary Wollstonecraft’s Rights Of Woman, there blew into an England, then, as now, desperately in need of it, the new testament of liberty, equality and fraternity.

10. On the wall was written in chalk
They want a war.
The man who wrote it
Is already dead. (Brecht)

11. Paradise has, so to speak, been dispersed all over the earth and is for that reason no longer recognizable – Its scattered features want reuniting – its skeleton wants filling out again. The regeneration of Paradise. (Novalis)

12. During the nineteenth century fragments of Palestine, in the form of place-names, were scattered through Britain, sparsely in some regions, densely in others, by the builders of non-conformist chapels. They shine on maps, as they do in the verses of hymns, with a strange beauty and poignancy, for the hope and aspiration they represent.

Some have to do with water: Rehoboth, where Isaac dug a new well that no one would dispute or seek to rob him of; Siloam, where Christ gave sight to the man born blind (he spat in the dirt, rubbed the wet dirt in the blind man’s eyes and said, ‘Go wash in the pool of Siloam’); Bethesda, the pool, where ‘lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water’, where Christ healed the man who could never get into the pool when the angel came; and Bethania, which may be ‘Bethabara beyond Jordan where John was baptizing’, or, more likely, Bethany, the home village of Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus, the leper, whom Christ fetched back from the dead. These potent places! Transplanted into the locations of ordinary hardworking lives. Others have to do with vision and promise, they are the hills and mountains: Horeb, where God spoke to Moses out of the Burning Bush; Nebo, from where you could see the Promised Land; Hermon, where Christ was transfigured. Such naming must raise aspirations very high indeed. Carmel, for its fertility; Sharon for its legendary beauty; Beulah, a name that means marriage, so the wedding of people to a beloved native land. And Salem – the word means peace – taken by most commentators to mean Jerusalem itself, the New Jerusalem of peace and justice, built by believing men and women in a promising homeland. 

There are clusters of such names on the slate in Gwynedd: Carmel and Bethlehem by Bethesda; Carmel, Nebo and Nasareth in among the quarries of Nantlle. The workings are long since finished, the wreckage remains, as do the slate graveyards and in them the quarrymen dead of the dust. The light glints off the slate heaps as it does off a crow’s wings. Any footstep on them sounds with a clatter. But there is always a trickle, a whispering or a din of the surviving streams. Of the chapels themselves, giant survivals, too big for what commuity is left, many have gone to ruin or have been put to such modern uses as selling antiques. But I know of at least one Bethel – the name means house of God – with a smokey flue and flaking plaster where they act the Nativity every year with believing children and a real lamb. What miracles the choirs in unison sang for in their heyday! For health, prosperity, peace, the keeping of promises.

13. Palestinians now make up approximately 22% of the population of Israel. This is a larger percentage than was ever represented by a Jewish minority in any country in any period of history. The total number of Palestinians living within Israel and the occupied territories (that is, greater Israel for the Israelis or greater Palestine for the Palestinians) is already larger than the Jewish population […] Israelis and Palestinians alike should join me in taking dual citizenship – for we share one destiny.
(Daniel Barenboim)

14. The Emperor Constantine, become a Christian, sent his mother Helena to Jerusalem, to find the True Cross. Arriving in Jerusalem, she summoned all the Rabbis of Palestine. They were very alarmed. They guessed she wanted the Cross, whose whereabouts they had sworn never to reveal, not even under torture, since its discovery would mean the end of the Jews’ supremacy in Palestine. She asked, they refused to tell her, she ordered them all to be burned. This moved them. They delivered up to her a man called Judas (not Iscariot), saying that he might tell. She gave him a choice: tell me or die of starvation. Rather die, he said. But after six days going hungry, he relented, and led her to the place, on which stood a temple of Venus. Helena prayed, there came an earthquake and such a heavenly perfume that Judas was converted. Helena cleared the site of Venus’ temple and ordered Judas to dig. Twenty feet down he found three crosses. The True Cross was soon identified, for by its power a woman was restored to health or, some say, a man to life. Judas was baptized and became Bishop Cyriacus. Then Helena sent him to find the nails of the Cross. He did, they shone like gold. Saint Helena took them home to her son, who wore them on his helmet and bridle.

In Wales this Helena, the daughter of an English publican, has been confused with Elen of Caernarfon, a more attractive personage. She was the daughter of Eudwy, a Welsh chieftain who lived near the Roman fort of Segontium. She married Macsen who, as Magnus Clemens Maximus, was emperor in Britain, Gaul and Spain, and by him she had a boy called Constantine. Her story is told in the Mabinogion, in ‘The Dream of Macsen Wledig’. She was a magical builder of roads, the great Sarn Helen, which runs from Segontium (now Caernarfon) south through the length of Wales, being the best known of them. She is the patron saint of roadbuilders and a protector of travellers. And by confusion a traveller to Palestine and Inventor of the True Cross.

15. How are we doing? Glance at the FTSE. And what about the Rapture Index? 18 February 2008 it stands at 166. Good or bad? Depends on your point of view. But we should understand what the Rapture Index is.

The Rapture Index has two functions: one is to factor together a number
of related end-time components into a cohesive indicator, and the other
is to standardize those components to eliminate the wide variance that
currently exists with prophecy reporting. The Rapture Index is by no
means intended to predict the Rapture. However, the index is designed
to measure the type of activity that could act as a precursor to the Rapture.
You could say the Rapture index is a Dow Jones Industrial Average of
end-time activity, but you might do better to view it as a prophetic
speedometer. The higher the number, the faster we're moving towards
the Rapture.
Rapture Index of 100 and below: Slow prophetic activity
Rapture Index of 100 to 130: Moderate prophetic activity
Rapture Index of 130 to 160: Heavy prophetic activity
Rapture Index above 160: Fasten your seat belts

When calculating the Rapture Index forty-five variables have to be factored in, among them Leadership, Volcanoes, False Christs, Liberalism, Food Supply, Beast Government, Gog (Russia), Inflation, Drug Abuse, Satanism and the Peace Process. Not everyone wants peace in Palestine. Some want Armageddon. Come Armageddon, come the Rapture when the Elect will ascend to sit on the right hand of God. Jews, Muslims and the Wrong Kind of Christians, for all their killing and dying, are only the agents, they will not ascend. ‘Basically,’ writes Rabbi Richman, ‘we’re a doormat for them [the Rapturists] to get to their own eschatological culmination.’
Say what you like about President Bush, he has kept the Rapturists (some 15% of the American electorate) hopeful.

16. The rich want peace, the poor want justice. (Wayside pulpit)

17. Hier verlief die Mauer.
Sie war nicht von Dauer.
(Graffiti on a remnant of the Berlin Wall: Here ran the Wall./ It didn’t last.)

David and Helen Constantine
February 2008

David Constantine

David Constantine

David Constantine was born in Salford in 1944. For thirty years he taught German at the Universities of Durham and Oxford. He...

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Helen Constantine

Helen Constantine

Helen Constantine read French and Latin at Oxford. She was Head of Languages at Bartholomew School, Eynsham, until 2000, when...

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It could be that the wall belongs to the same shortsighted repressive logic as the ‘sonic boom’ bombing that the inhabitants of Gaza are being submitted to every night as I write. Jet fighters dive very low at full speed to break the sound barrier, and the nerves of those huddling sleepless below with their axiom. And it won’t work John Berger

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