November 10, 2006

Peace being sown among olive tree

Jewish volunteers help Palestinians harvest crops

by John Murphy, Sun Foreign Reporter

The day is hot and dusty on this West Bank hillside, but 53-year-old Fuad Amer moves with the energy of a man half his age, stripping the fruit from his olive trees in giant handfuls, plucking others from the high branches with a surgeon's care.

His enthusiasm is understandable. This is the first time in four years that Amer has been able to harvest his olives.

Last year, he says, Jewish settlers set fire to his olive grove and destroyed his harvest. Before that, gun-toting settlers forced his family from the grove when they started picking. Israeli authorities, trying to avoid further confrontations, ordered him to stay away, Amer says, and the settlers helped themselves to his olives.

But this season, an Israeli high court decision granting Palestinian farmers protection from settler violence means that Amer will be able to harvest the olives from his 60 trees.

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers and police are patrolling stony hillside groves near Jewish settlements in the West Bank, vowing to keep the peace. Palestinians, usually fearful of Israeli authorities, are welcoming their presence.

"We are happy that the army is here. We feel like we're being protected," said Amer, who has been harvesting his olives within shouting distance of the hilltop settlement of Bracha. So far, he says, there have been no problems.

Since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in 2000, conflict, destruction and fear have hurt the annual harvest. Jewish settlers from hilltop communities in the West Bank have attacked and harassed pickers and cut down olive trees. Several Palestinian farmers have been killed by settlers.

The Israeli army and police have done little to stop the violence, critics say. Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization, reported that 90 percent of cases of settler violence against Palestinians go unsolved. While police closed most cases, citing lack of evidence, in many instances officers failed to conduct an investigation or lost the case files, the study said.

In 2004, after Jewish settlers prevented many Palestinians from picking their olives, several Palestinian villages and two Israeli rights groups - the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Rabbis for Human Rights - filed a court petition to enable farmers to harvest their crop.

In June, Israel's high court ruled unanimously that the army must grant Palestinian farmers access to their olive groves at all times and protect them from settlers.

"Our policy is to allow Palestinians to get every last olive from every last tree, even if that tree is in the middle of a settlement," said Capt. Adam Avidan, a spokesman for the Israeli military's civil administration in the West Bank.

Still, this year has not been without problems. In recent weeks settlers set fire to two olive groves, Palestinian farmers say, and Israeli police arrested 10 settler youths - carrying knives, saws and brass knuckles - suspected of attacking and beating Palestinians harvesting olives, according to an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Some Palestinian farmers have turned to Israeli groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights for help. The group organizes Jewish volunteers who harvest the olives and serve as intermediaries between Jewish settlers and Palestinian farmers.

In Jit, a Palestinian village in the West Bank, a half-dozen volunteers picked olives alongside a Palestinian farmer just down the hill from the Jewish settlement of Kedumim. When an armed guard from Kedumim arrived and ordered everyone to leave, the volunteers stepped in, refusing to budge. They said the farmer had permission from Israeli authorities to harvest.

The settlement guard fumed.

"I decide where you can go," he said, vowing to return with the Israeli army to remove them.

But the Israeli army confirmed that the farmer and the volunteers were allowed to harvest.

Zakaria Sada, a Palestinian villager from Jit who works with Rabbis for Human Rights, recalls when families would gather in the fields near the settlement to picnic and pick olives. It was a time to relax, he said. But no longer.

"Now you are afraid when you pick the olives. You always have to look behind you to see where the settlers are," he said.

Settlers say it is necessary to keep Palestinian farmers far from their communities for security reasons. Palestinians say that the settlers' true goal is to push them off their land. Keeping the peace between the parties is a complicated task.

In Kfar Qalil's olive groves, it appeared as if a military operation was under way. Police patrolled the road leading to the hilltop settlements. Israeli soldiers arrived to keep an eye on farmers. Volunteers picked olives and gave regular updates by mobile phone to their organizations about any disturbances.

On a recent afternoon though, all was quiet.

Ahmed Kenna, 17, stood at the top of a ladder tugging at branches heavy with olives. It was his first time back in his family's fields in four years. Last year, his family was chased and his grandmother beaten, he said.

Working beside him was Joshua Corber, 24, a yeshiva student and volunteer for Rabbis for Human Rights.

"I think it's very important to show Arabs that there are Jews who sympathize with their cause," Corber said, as he tugged olives from the branches. "It's an important step for coexistence."

For Rabbi Arik Ascherman, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, scenes of Jews and Arabs working together are the beginning - not only of a more peaceful harvest, but perhaps a greater understanding between two peoples.

"I call it the dialogue of the olive groves," Ascherman said. "There are fancy, high-paid junkets that go abroad to bring Palestinians and Israelis together in dialogue. They're important, but it's a much deeper dialogue when average Israelis and average Palestinians spend a day together, shoulder to shoulder, harvesting the olives."


Blogger pointer said...

alien abduction
"...despite the fact that we humans are great collectors of souvenirs, not one of these persons [claiming to have been aboard a flying saucer] has brought back so much as an extraterrestrial tool or artifact, which could, once and for all, resolve the UFO mystery." Nessie SFIMC

"Aliens, if an when we find them, could be so alien, so different from humanity as to undermine the meaning of any exchange we might have, or even make such exchange impossible." --Nessie SFIMC

by Angie

There is a widespread belief that alien beings have traveled to Earth from some other planet and are doing reproductive experiments on a chosen few. Despite the incredible nature of this belief and a lack of credible supportive evidence, a cult has grown up around it. According to a Gallup poll done at the end of the twentieth century, about one-third of Americans believe aliens have visited us, an increase of 5% over the previous decade.

According to the tenets of this cult, aliens crashed at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. The U.S. Government recovered the alien craft and its occupants, and has been secretly meeting with aliens ever since in a place known as area 51. The rise in UFO sightings is due to the increase in alien activity on Earth. The aliens are abducting people in larger numbers, are leaving other signs of their presence in the form of so-called crop circles, are involved in cattle mutilation, and occasionally provide revelations such as the Urantia Book to selected prophets. The support for these beliefs about aliens and UFOs consists mostly of speculation, fantasy, fraud, and unjustified inferences from questionable evidence and testimony. UFO devotees are also convinced that there is a government and mass media conspiracy to cover up the alien activities, making it difficult for them to prove that the aliens have landed.

It is probable that there is life elsewhere in the universe and that some of that life is intelligent. There is a high mathematical probability that among the trillions of stars in the billions of galaxies there are millions of planets in age and proximity to a star analogous to our Sun. The chances seem very good that on some of those planets life has evolved. It is even highly probable that natural selection governs that evolution (Dawkins). However, it is not inevitable that the results of that evolution would yield intelligence, much less intelligence equal or superior to ours. It is possible that we are unique (Pinker 1997: 150 ff.).

We should not forget, however, that the closest star (besides our Sun) is so far away from Earth that travel between the two would take more than a human lifetime. The fact that it takes our Sun about 200 million years to revolve once around the Milky Way gives one a glimpse of the perspective we have to take of interstellar travel. We are 500 light-seconds from the sun. The next nearest star to Earth's sun (Alpha Centauri) is about 4 light-years away. That might sound close, but it is actually something like 24 trillion miles away. Even traveling at one million miles an hour, it would take more than 2,500 years to get there. To get there in twenty-five years would require traveling at more than 100 million miles an hour for the entire trip.* Our fastest spacecraft, Voyager, travels at about 40,000 miles an hour and would take 70,000 years to get to Alpha Centauri.

Despite the probability of life on other planets and the possibility that some of that life may be very intelligent, any signal from any planet in the universe broadcast in any direction is unlikely to be in the path of another inhabited planet. It would be folly to explore space for intelligent life without knowing exactly where to go. Yet, waiting for a signal might require a wait longer than any life on any planet might last. Finally, if we do get a signal, the waves carrying that signal left hundreds or thousands of years earlier and by the time we tracked its source down, the sending planet may no longer be habitable or even exist.

Thus, while it is probable that there is intelligent life in the universe, traveling between solar systems in search of that life poses some serious obstacles. Such travelers would be gone for a very long time. We would need to keep people alive for hundreds or thousands of years. We would need equipment that can last for hundreds or thousands of years and be repaired or replaced in the depths of space. These are not impossible conditions, but they seem to be significant enough barriers to make interstellar and intergalactic space travel highly improbable. The one thing necessary for such travel that would not be difficult to provide would be people willing to make the trip. It would not be difficult to find many people who believe they could be put to sleep for a few hundred or thousand years and be awakened to look for life on some strange planet. They might even believe they could then gather information to bring back to Earth where they would be greeted with a ticker tape parade down the streets of whatever is left of New York City.

abduction and rape?

Despite the fact of the improbability of interplanetary travel, it is not impossible. Perhaps there are beings who can travel at very fast speeds and have the technology and the raw materials to build vessels that can travel at near the speed of light or greater. Have such beings come here to abduct people, rape and experiment on them? There have been many reports of abduction and sexual violation by creatures who are small and bald or are white, gray, or green; have big craniums, small chins, large slanted eyes, and pointed or no ears. How does one explain the number of such claims and their similarity? The most reasonable explanation for the accounts being so similar is that they are based on the same movies, the same stories, the same television programs, and the same comic strips.

The alien abduction story that seems to have started the cult beliefs about alien visitation and experimentation is the Betty and Barney Hill story. The Hills claim to have been abducted by aliens on September 19, 1961. Betty first "remembered" her abduction during a series of nightmares, which she told Barney about. Barney claims the aliens took a sample of his sperm. Betty claims they stuck a needle in her belly button. She took people out to an alien landing spot, but only she could see the aliens and their craft. The Hills recalled most of their story under hypnosis a few years after the abduction. Barney Hill reported that the aliens had "wraparound eyes," a rather unusual feature. However, twelve days earlier an episode of "The Outer Limits" featured just such an alien being (Kottmeyer). According to Robert Schaeffer, "we can find all the major elements of contemporary UFO abductions in a 1930 comic adventure, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century."

The Hill’s story has been repeated many times. There is a period of amnesia following the alleged encounter. There is then usually a session of hypnosis, counseling or psychotherapy during which comes the recollection of having been abducted and experimented on. The only variation in the abductees’ stories is that some claim to have had implants put in them and many claim to have scars and marks on their bodies put there by aliens. All describe the aliens in much the same way.

Whitley Strieber, who has written several books about his alleged abductions, came to the realization he had been abducted by aliens after psychotherapy and hypnosis. Strieber claims that he saw aliens set his roof on fire. He says he has traveled to distant planets and back during the night. He wants us to believe that he and his family alone can see the aliens and their spacecraft while others see nothing. Strieber comes off as a very disturbed person, but one who really believes he sees and is being harassed by aliens. He describes his feelings precisely enough to warrant believing he was in a very agitated psychological state prior to his visitation by aliens. A person in this heightened state of anxiety will be prone to hysteria and be especially vulnerable to radically changing behavior or belief patterns. When Strieber was having an anxiety attack he consulted his analyst, Robert Klein, and Budd Hopkins, an alien abduction researcher. Then, under hypnosis, Strieber started recalling the horrible aliens and their visitations.

Hopkins demonstrated his sincerity and investigative incompetence on the public television program Nova ("Alien Abductions," first shown on February 27, 1996). The camera followed Hopkins through session after session with a very agitated, highly emotional "patient". Then Nova followed Hopkins to Florida where he cheerfully helped a visibly unstable mother inculcate in her children the belief that they had been abducted by aliens. In between more sessions with more of Hopkins' "patients", the viewer heard him repeatedly give plugs for his books and his reasons for showing no skepticism at all regarding the very bizarre claims he was eliciting from his "patients". Dr. Elizabeth Loftus was asked by Nova to evaluate Hopkins' method of "counseling" the children whose mother was encouraging them to believe they had been abducted by aliens. From the little that Nova showed us of Hopkins at work, it was apparent that Mr. Hopkins encouraged the creation of memories, though Hopkins claims he is uncovering repressed memories. Dr. Loftus noted that Hopkins did much encouraging of his "patients" to remember more details, as well as giving many verbal rewards when new details were brought forth. Dr. Loftus characterized the procedure as "risky" because we do not know what effect this "counseling" will have on the children. It seems we can safely predict one effect: they will grow up thinking they've been abducted by aliens. This belief will be so embedded in their memory that it will be difficult to get them to consider that the "experience" was planted by their mother and cultivated by alien enthusiasts like Hopkins.

John Mack

Another alien enthusiast was the Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Mack (1929-2004), who wrote books about patients who claim to have been abducted by aliens. Many of Mack’s patients had been referred to him by Hopkins. Dr. Mack claimed that his psychiatric patients were not mentally ill (then why was he treating them?) and that he could think of no better explanation for their stories than that they were true. However, until someone produces physical evidence that abductions have occurred, it seems more reasonable to believe that Dr. Mack and his patients were deluded or frauds. Of course, the good doctor could hide behind academic freedom and the doctor/patient privacy privilege. He could make all the claims he wanted and refuse to back any of them up on the grounds that to do so would be to violate his patients' rights. He could then publish his stories and dare anyone to take away his academic freedom. He was in the position any cheat would envy: he could lie without fear of being caught.

Dr. Mack also appeared on the Nova "Alien Abductions" program. He claimed that his patients were otherwise normal people, which is a debatable point if his patients are anything like Hopkins' patients who appeared on the program. Mack also claimed that his patients have nothing to gain by making up their incredible stories. For some reason it is often thought by intelligent people that only morons are deceived or deluded and that if a person's motives can be trusted then his or her testimony can be trusted, too. While it is true that we are justified in being skeptical of a person's testimony if she has something to gain by the testimony (such as fame or fortune), it is not true that we should trust any testimony given by a person who has nothing to gain by giving the testimony. An incompetent observer, a drunk or drugged observer, a mistaken observer, or a deluded observer should not be trusted, even if he is as pure as the mountain springs once were. The fact that a person is kind and decent and has nothing to gain by lying does not make him or her immune to error in the interpretation of perceptions.

One thing Dr. Mack did not note was that his patients gain a lot of attention by being abductees. Furthermore, no mention was made of what he and Hopkins have to gain in fame and book sales by encouraging their clients to come up with more details of their "abductions". Mack received a $200,000 advance for his first book on alien abductions. Mack also benefited by publicizing and soliciting funds for his Center for Psychology and Social Change and his Program for Extraordinary Experience Research. Dr. Mack, by the way, was very impressed by the fact that his patients’ stories were very similar. He also believes in auras and has indicated that he believes that some of his ex-wife’s gynecological problems may have been due to aliens. Harvard kept him on staff in the name of academic freedom.

Monday, February 11, 2008  

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