Wednesday 1 November 2023


 I had never heard of Palden Jenkins before meeting Juliet. She is the young woman making a spiritual journey, walking from London to the Penwith peninsula in Cornwall and then returning back to London. Juliet gifted the Marazion Quakers the copy of 'Pictures of Palestine' which the author, Palden Jenkins, had given her a few days earlier when Juliet met him at the centre which is his home here in Penwith, last month.

A Palestinian demonstration in London on Saturday 21 October saw up to 300,000 on the streets - (the British media and police acknowledged only 100,000). A week later, 500,000 were demonstrating (official figures said 250,000). We have a problem in this country - actually that's my litotes. 

It has been for me an absorbing and rewarding encounter, learning about Palestine - and about Palden Jenkins. He is about my age - mid seventies, born shortly after the end of World War Two - and we both were the beneficiaries of a secondary education in a grammar school and then a university. He describes himself as 'a Sixties veteran who never quite gave up'. I can identify with that. Thereafter, Palden's life-choices were different and led to the acquisition of a range of life-skills I do not have. He has learned the skills of a healer. He is also familiar with martial arts. He is a web-master and book-editor. He is a published authority on astrology. He is also the author of a scholarly book about the ancient landscape around the festival site at Glastonbury - and his next book which is due out very soon will be a study of the ancient Penwith landscape in Cornwall. And then, of course, there have been the years as a volunteer for humanitarian causes, not least his work which started in the 1990s at the Hope Flowers School on the edge of Bethlehem in Palestine. 

Palden Jenkins

This review, as is becoming my way, takes the form of a series of bullet points that I hope will provide you with a full sense of the value of the book - and encourage you to borrow a copy from the library or buy your own. All our lives are being touched by the horrors of the mass slaughter of Jews and Palestinians in Israel and Gaza in this month of October - the picture of Palestine that Palden portrays

reveals so much that helps explain these appalling events. 

  •  Palden Jenkins' Introduction references what he says is 'a big statement for our day': Edmund Burke's message, "For the triumph of evil, it is necessary only that good people do nothing". Absolutely.
  • He further explains: 'My own country, Britain, has for centuries played a major role in ramping up conflict worldwide and its forces fight in foreign lands today, so I feel a strange sense of personal responsibility to do something'. 
  • Palden acknowledges that Israeli feelings of existential threat arise from deep-seated and justified feelings of vulnerability following the Jews' terrible history in Europe - but he argues that Israel acts against its own long-term best interests by 'pushing its case uncompromisingly, thus creating enemies... Its reliance on force, bombing, assassinations, land-grabs, ill-treatment and dehumanization of Arabs builds up new, avoidable problems, fostering new generations of opponents'.
  • The Hope Flowers School started as a kindergarten in 1984 and by 2004 had become an adult-oriented Centre for Education and Community Development. The centre does teacher-training, professional training for people working with the effects of conflict, empowerment courses for disadvantaged women and youth and micro-business training, helping people to get to a level where they can take charge of their own lives. 
  • At intervals within the book, Palden feeds in the history of the Middle-East in general and Israel and Palestine in particular with Palestine's population split between Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Much I knew already, but he provides a focused explanation for the how and why from which I learned much - he is a fine historian. 

A visual reminder of the Palestinian plight

  • He is also a vegetarian and tells this story of how he explained his diet to the meat-eating Palestinian cafe-owners one lunchtime: he said simply 'I believe humans treat animals just like Israelis treat Palestinians'. They got the message and straightaway served him falafel and treated him as a honoured guest.
  • Palden argues the case for 'transforming resistance'. 'Resistance' is more than hating and fighting Israelis. It's about strengthening Palestinian culture from within - 'a content, confident, united and motivated nation is difficult to subdue'. And Palestine is heading in that direction. Palden observes a number of times within the book that Palestinian society, despite all that it endures, is happier than Israeli society appears. Palestinians have responded to the Israeli refusal to allow them their own state and government by adapting in a way that has strengthened their family, clan and neighbourhood ties and community values.  
  • Since the 1980s Israeli society has changed fundamentally, shifting rightwards. It avoids resolving key issues, 'united by sharing one enemy [the Muslim/Arab/Palestinian] and by a deep-seated cultural agreement to stick together as Jews... Israel must progress and prevail - this is the basis of Zionism. The end justifies the means'.
  • Yet Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 and Hamas in Gaza in 2009 broke the invincibility-magic of Israeli forces who failed to destroy them. All Israeli's opponents have to do is to remain firm and survive and so undermine Israel's sense of security and activate worldwide public disgust at the scale and violence of Israeli assaults. This is the story of David and Goliath in reverse, with the Palestinians as David and Israel as Goliath. 
  • New Israeli settlements on the West Bank make the issue of land rights even more of a nightmare - and from the Israeli perspective this is helpful, obstructing any unravelling of the settlement project that restores land to Palestinians. From Palden's perspective, all people must have a fair deal, with equal access to and responsibility for the space and resource of the Earth. If we cannot learn to cooperate in the 21st century, all humanity will suffer, Israelis included.  
  • However, there is 'an influential Israeli minority that wants Palestinians simply 'transferred' to Jordan, or anywhere, as long as they're gone... God's promise was the land from the sea to the river Jordan'. So 'Israeli Arabs become potential traitors, Gazans are seen as sub-human, and West Bankers as obstructing Jewish destiny'. [[Palden wrote these words nearly a decade and a half ago; the events in this month of October 2023 show how much more influential this minority has become.]  
  • Palden writes that 'It is often said that Hamas wants to eliminate Israel, yet it is pragmatic and it really wants a return to the pre-1967 borders. Only once there has been protracted peace to calm tempers will it be able to convince its radical Islamic elements to agree to this... arguably Israel has maintained the Gaza siege since 2006 to keep extremism alive in Gaza, thus justifying its own tough strategy'. What is needed for peace to happen is 'calming'. Palden believes that the only way the deadlock will be broken is the arrival of new factors - the Arab Spring was a start; perhaps an unforeseen crisis that can be catalytic; if it is further conflict, anything can happen - Israel is unlikely to win outright because its military strength has its limits. 'The international community might at last be forced to help Palestine because the cost of not doing so would be higher.'
  • Palden identifies what he describes as 'a momentous error' that was made in 2006 by Israel and the West. They decided to have no truck with the new democratically-elected Hamas government in Gaza. Hamas was labelled a terrorist organisation. The West failed to see that Hamas was also a social reform party with a history of charitable and welfare work. They had a militia wing which had taken part in suicide bombings during the intifada uprisings but they had a leadership which was quite progressive, uncorrupt, and sought reform without the community breakdown and inequality and subservience to Israel they associated with the whole Western capitalist package. Hamas militants advocated eliminating Israel but the party's centre accepted its existence; instead it wanted a return to the pre-1967 territory of Palestine with a capital in East Jerusalem - nothing less. 
  • Palden emphasizes that Palestine remains an occupied country. The Israelis like to do the deciding but it will be the Palestinians who will judge whether and when peace and justice have genuinely arrived. It may take another 25 years but the sacrifices that Palestinians will then have to make can hardly be any greater than those they have already made, so they might just be worth it. Palestinians need to force the issue - to make the most of changes in the geopolitical world that are inevitable as the climate crisis becomes ever more apparent.  

I hope I have given you a taste of Palden Jenkins extraordinary book through these bullet-points. Wonderfully, he remains a man of hope - for people in general and Palestinians and Israelis in particular.

Louise Donovan's entry in the Birmingham NEC International Quilting Exhibition in 2015 - 'Gaza' - inspired by a photo of ruin and devastation in Gaza with one piece of red fabric trapped in the debris.  


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