Tag Archives: Israel

The best words in the English language?


The best words in the English language?

If you’re thinking about beauty of sound, I’ve heard people praise some multi-syllable words with sibilant sounds like “luminescence” or “crepuscular”.

When I was young I loved “criteria”, because it was a plural which did not end in the usual “s” and it defined an idea which was rather subtle and nuanced.

In relation to meaning rather than beauty, when the genius in John McGlashan’s cartoon of the same name around 1980 was striving to create a new language based on numbers rather than an alphabet, he said that the word which should correspond to number one should be… “money”.

What about “compromise”? A strong case can certainly be made for the importance of its meaning.

When artists use the word, they are usually being pejorative. You are diluting or modifying your creative vision or ideals, frequently for expected commercial benefits.

In politics and government, too, it has often in the past been identified as a weakness. The Irish diplomat Terence states “compromise” in international affairs is “fatal” in the wartime film The Halfway House – although the mysterious innkeeper Rhys counters gently “(but) the English have a genius for it”.

An Irish-American in another film, the retiring mayor Frank Skeffington in The Last Hurrah, describes the act of compromise as “man’s greatest friend”,  although he is criticised as much as praised for his own practice of it.

In real life, at the time of one successful peace negotiation, the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland in 1998, Bono of the band U2 coined his own (or perhaps copied someone else’s) effective phrase that “compromise is the best word in the English language”.

About another political issue which has certainly not been settled, between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the writer and academic Amos Oz emphasised  that it could only be settled by “compromise”, because it is “a clash between right and right”, both Israelis and Palestinians having an equally strong desire, and an equal right, to have exactly the same land for their respective homelands.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Costa-Gavras and “Hanna K.”



A view approximately east of the walled city of Jerusalem, from near the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu.


Costa-Gavras  is one of those veteran film directors who came to prominence in the 1960s and whose work does not enjoy the audience it once did. In his case, it  might demonstrate how a younger generation of both producers and audiences are squeamish about liberal or left-wing perspectives on political topics in cinema, theatre and TV.

Costa-Gavras’ first big success was Z, a political drama set in his native Greece at the time of its military dictatorship, which won a Best Foreign Film Oscar. A few years later, in 1982, Missing, about an American journalist kidnapped in Chile, won a screenplay Oscar and  acting nominations for Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek, and was a commercial success. (It was part of a trend for films about Western journalists in combat zones, like The Year of Living Dangerously, Under Fire, The Killing Fields and Salvador).

I knew that Costa-Gavras had made more films in Hollywood and it was coming across one of these on TV recently which brought his name back to mind.  Mad City stars Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta and deals with the often questionable priorities of 24 hour TV news. It made me think again particularly of the film which he made directly after Missing.

That film was Hanna K. I saw it  in Toronto when I was working there in 1983, but, returning, I never saw it advertised either in a British cinema or on British TV. Later still, when I first became acquainted with film fans’ online bible, Internet Movie Database, the film was not even listed among Costa-Gavras’ works. I almost began to wonder whether I had forgotten the film’s full title, or key parts of its narrative.

These days, happily, Hanna K is listed on imdb.com and until recently it was available to watch on Daily Motion.



Jerusalem, near the Jaffa Gate.


Its story centres around Hanna Kaufman, an Israeli lawyer, who defends a Palestinian, Salim Bakri. She is first assigned his case to provide a routine defence against terrorism charges, but, later, she represents him in a more substantial action to reclaim possession of his family home which had been lost either in 1948 or 1967.

We see Kaufman visit Bakri’s home village. Its former Arab name has been changed as it has now become an Israeli settlement, and very few Arabs still live in the neighbourhood.

Her superior at her law firm, a conservative Zionist, states clearly that the state of Israel must be defended against its Arab enemies, even if it means treating others as badly as the Jews were themselves treated in the past.  He says, “Do you want us to be a minority in a sea of Arabs, create a new ghetto?…Now we have a country, an identity, we must defend it…if necessary (by refusing the rights of Palestinians)”.



The Western Wall in Jerusalem.


The trial of Bakri gains publicity and leads to Palestinian bombings in protest. The authorities are keen to conclude the trial. They suggest that that Bakri be granted South African citizenship and apply anew for ownership of his property. The trial is settled out of court and Bakri is sentenced to the minimum prison sentence of 8 months.

Kaufman’s perspective of Israeli-Palestine politics is criticised  by her District Attourney lover Joshua Herzog as “romantic, abstract, impassioned… idealistic”. When Kaufman learns that Bakri is undergoing a hunger strike in prison, she  arranges for his parole and lets him stay in her own house, to the particular disapproval of Herzog. Bakri voluntarily departs at the end.

The film is fatally weakened by the dilution of its political theme with another of female independence, which Hollywood was embracing at that time in such varied films as Julia, The Turning Point, An Unmarried Woman, The Rose and  Nine to Five. Jill Clayburgh’s starring role in An Unmarried Woman may have led to her rather unsatisfactory casting here. Kaufman is pregnant at the start of the film but she refuses to marry her lover Herzog, staying friendly with her French husband Victor Bonnet. Later, she is seen embracing Bakri but it is not made clear whether he becomes her lover also.  Insisting that she does not want Herzog involved in her new-born child’s upbringing, she comments rather unpleasantly, “Such a fuss over a few drops of sperm”. Finally, she seeks a divorce from her husband as she wants to re-establish her own identity – “because I don’t know who I am anymore”.



On the road north from Judea into Galilee.


The final scene does at least re-assert the political theme. When both Herzog and Bonnet have left her house, sent away by Kaufman, and she is preparing to take a symbolically cleansing bath, there is a ring at the door. A crowd of armed policemen are there – as alerted earlier by Herzog to arrest Bakri.

There is no doubt that Hanna K is a flawed film, full of confusion and compromises. However it is at least a drama where the issue of Palestinian human rights is depicted fairly and where the Israeli position is put under scrutiny. At least some of the filming took place in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel. It is most telling that this curio is the best effort on the issue which mainstream US cinema has managed in 30 years.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Different seashores


Last year, on the Radio 4 series Publishing Lives, Antonia Fraser said that one of her first writing commissions, when employed for the publisher George Weidenfeld, was a book of stories based on the legends of King Arthur.

My own first experience of the King Arthur stories was from a similar book,  one of the many I read by that now under-appreciated writer of the past, Enid Blyton.

One of the most memorable Arthurian stories, of course, is the quest (not search nor hunt, I immediately noticed) for the Holy Grail. From memory, Blyton’s version included a reference to some knights’ journey to “the seashore”. This destination sounded far more mysterious and exotic than anything that I might see near my home town on the west coast of Scotland, and helped to sharpen my appreciation of her version of the story.

Here are some different seashores :  first of the River Clyde near Seamill and Largs,






one from further up the west coast of Scotland, on the island of Iona,




and one of the more exotic Sea of Galilee.





Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Jerusalem the Easter city


In the same way that Bethlehem is the Christmas town, Jerusalem is for Christians the city of Holy Week and Easter.  The story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection, as originally told in the New Testament, and the later subject of writing, films, and many factual and fictional TV programmes, takes place in and around Jerusalem.

The  Gospels of Mark and Luke both say that it was around the town of Bethany that Jesus’ disciples  obtained the donkey which would carry him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday,  and Matthew and Mark both agree that it was in Bethany that Jesus spent that Sunday night. The town features earlier in the Gospels as the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and Jesus’ raising of Lazurus from the death is commemorated by a church designed by the Italian Antonio Barluzzi.



The mural of Jesus raising Lazarus to life inside the Church of St Lazarus in Bethany.


Matthew and Mark both record that Jesus was also staying in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper when he was anointed with ointment by a woman, thus foreshadowing his death. John also records this event but says the anointing was carried out by Mary at their home in Bethany.  

Bethany is only a short distance from Jerusalem (four kilometres or about two and a half miles) but the construction of the separation wall has made a visit much harder for the modern pilgrim.



Part of the separation wall outside Bethlehem.


En route to Jerusalem, according to Luke, Jesus wept over the city’s future fate. The location where this took place is marked by the Dominus Flevit church, another of Barluzzi’s several churches in the region.



Through the window of the Dominus Flevit church can be the seen the Moslem Dome of the Rock on the Mount of Olives.


After the Last Supper on Holy Thursday,  Jesus went to pray quietly at the garden at Gethsemane, but this is now one of the least quiet pilgrim sites in modern Jerusalem. 



This view of the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane gives a hint of its popularity. The name of this Barluzzi church apparently relates to its international funding but might also hint at its varied architectural influences.


There is still a small garden where some olive trees may date from the time of Jesus. One more modern one has significance as having been planted by Pope Paul VI in 1964, the first pope since the Middle Ages to visit the Holy Land.



The one olive tree in Gethsemane whose provenance is clear and identified: the sign says that it was planted in 1964 by Pope Paul VI.


When Jesus was arrested, he was first taken to the Jewish high priest Caiphas. According to tradition, the site of Caiphas’ palace is below the present-day church of St Peter in Gallicantu. There are dungeons where early Christians were imprisoned and where, according to tradition, Jesus was also detained before being taken to Pontius Pilate.



The church of St Peter in Gallicantu. The name means “cock crow” in Latin and refers to Peter’s denial of Jesus while the latter was under arrest in the early hours of Good Friday.



Information about the dungeons below St Peter in Gallicantu.



The view into the dungeons.


Outside the church, there is a set of  steps, called the Maccabee Steps, which certainly date from two thousand years ago, and along which, tradition says, Jesus walked as he was transferred from the custody of Caiphas to Pilate.



The Maccabee Steps.


The Gospels recount how, on Good Friday, after having been condemned to death by Pilate,  Jesus carried the cross on which he was to be crucified through the streets of Jerusalem to the place of execution on Mount Calvary. Although the exact route of Jesus’ journey is not known, tradition has dictated the particular route of the Via Dolorosa through today’s narrow, busy cobbled streets. 



Crosses left by some pilgrim groups at the end of the Via Dolorosa.


The whole area of what is believed to be the site of Mount Calvary, where Jesus was crucified, and  the tomb nearby in which he was buried, is actually now enclosed within the 12th century Church of the Holy Sepulchre.



The chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which marks the site of Calvary.



The rear view of the shrine which marks the site of Jesus’ tomb.



The entrance to the shrine, built in this form by the Orthodox church in 1810. A long queue invariably precedes any visit to the shrine.



In the courtyard outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Reference :

Baldwin, David (2007)   The Holy Land : A Pilgrim’s Companion   London : Catholic Truth Society


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The little town which casts a big shadow


Christmastide continues until early January, and Bethlehem is the place where, it’s often said, it’s Christmas every day of the year. It is the place where, Christians believe, Jesus Christ was born, in a cave or stable which is marked by a shrine in the Church of the Nativity.


One evening in Bethlehem, October 2012 – Manger Square is located just beyond the buildings in the centre.



According to tradition, this silver star in the Grotto of the Nativity marks the place of Christ’s birth.


Once a year, at Christmas, Bethlehem seems to belong to everyone, the one time of the year when it’s given attention by all of the world’s media. The Washington Post  pointed out that, this year,  both Israeli and Palestinian authorities had  released video messages to attract the world’s Christians.

In grimly apposite fashion, the great Christian basilica in Manger Square which commemorates Christ’s nativity is actually looked after by three separate faiths : the Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox church and the Armenian Apostolic church. The church where the Christmas Midnight Mass is celebrated so publicly, as in 2012, is actually only one part, the Church of St Catherine.

At other times of the year, Bethlehem is very much part of the embattled Palestinian territories, surrounded by Israeli settlements and separated from Jerusalem by the infamous separation barrier. The town has high unemployment and little economic development and is heavily dependent on the tourists who come to visit the site of the Christian Christmas story.


One of the separation wall checkpoints which travellers from Bethlehem to Jerusalem must pass through.


In Bethlehem, with one of the many Israeli settlements nearby.


The UN’s vote to raise the Palestinians’ status to that of non-member observer state has been welcomed by the people themselves, and so can be seen as a clear step forward in their international fortunes in 2013. Perhaps US President Barack Obama will draw energy from his re-election to push forward the stalled peace process. One definite drawback for international understanding was the closure last August, mostly for commercial reasons apparently, of Bitter Lemons, the news and analysis website run jointly by an Israeli and a Palestinian – although some of their excellent content remains available for the time being.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized