Connecting It with Palestine or Breakfast with Mordechai Vanunu

I’m having to create a sort of “educational autobiography” for the class I am helping teach this fall. I’ll post the slideshow presentation I’ve been working on to go with it sometime soon. I bring it up because I’ve been thinking about several of the moments from my political education when I might have come away more conscious– more “woke,” in the naive sense– or “radicalized,” as Atlantic contributor Derecka Purnell put it in a recent discussion hosted by Haymarket Books. I have had a few of these moments. Certainly, over a decade living outside the U.S. as a white, cis-male, English-speaker from a middle-class Protestant background has been eye-opening.

Before moving to Hiroshima, Japan in 2008, at the age of 24, I had only left the southeastern U.S. a handful of times. The first time was a month-long stay in Australia accompanying my father, who was a software engineer. The second and third were Caribbean cruises with my high school band and my family. The fourth was my junior year at Duke University with the student Christian congregation I was active with there. A group of us went on a 10-day “study pilgrimage” to Jerusalem, Israel, and parts of the West Bank including Bethlehem. We read scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths, including Gnostic books, and other historical texts that would shed light on the pre-Biblical and indigenous cultures of the so-called “Holy Lands” of Israel and Palestine: the West Bank and Gaza. We also read United Nations pamphlets and and informational booklets distributed by Amnesty International about the political history and ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region. But nothing could prepare me for what we would see in East Jerusalem– 30-foot concrete barriers sprayed with “Bush built this wall!”– a reference to then-President George W. Bush’s support for the barrier variously referred to as, “Apartheid Wall,” or “Security Fence” on TV (depending on your news source).

I was there in the days before the election of Mahmoud Abbas as President of Palestine in the wake of Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004. On two memorable occasions I witnessed Israeli Military harassing civilians in East Jerusalem. One old woman, wearing a head covering and carrying a grocery bag was chased down a hill away from a section of the concrete wall that had been built down the center of the road in front of a small convenience store in a suburb. On another occasion, near an entrance to the Old City, a handful of armed Israeli soldiers passed through the crowded market street brandishing their assault rifles and shouting for people to get out of the way. I was obviously witnessing a kind of bullying. But this was not the schoolyard. These bullies had the full force of two of the world’s most brutal imperial armies to back them up.

Near the end of our “study pilgrimage,” my fellow pilgrim-students and I had the opportunity to stay with a group of Bedouin people in the Negev desert. The Bedouin are a nomadic indigenous group who are among the lesser-known victims of American-Israeli policies in the region, as their camel- and goat-herding lands are further and further reduced, polluted by, among other sources, nuclear waste from the Dimona nuclear reactor and the Negev Nuclear Research Center.

I remember very vividly the troubled night’s sleep I got in that tent out in the desert. The midnight walkabout. The perfect darkness of the land illuminated only by starlight. These people, our hosts were not Muslims, nor Christians, nor Jews, but had a complex of beliefs and traditions all their own. Yet they were drawn in to the cycles of suffering produced by Israel’s policies just as deeply and consequentially as their Muslim and Christian and Jewish brothers and sisters. They represented to me the margin of the margin of the margin of society.

I was having a crisis of faith because I felt that Christianity in the forms I was used to it being practiced, simply offered no answer for the Bedouin or the Palestinians I was meeting and interacting with; there was only a desert purgatory, no state, no rights, just poor landless people brushed to the side again and again. I think I saw my religion then more truly than I had to that point, as an instrument of the pain and oppression that I had ostensibly come on this pilgrimage to learn how to begin to eliminate in the first place! WTF!?


I don’t remember the exact timing– It may well have been the very next day– when one of our group leaders leaned over to me and said in a hushed tone at breakfast, “That guy over there is Mordecai Vanunu, the Dimona whistle blower!” I had no idea who Vanunu was at the time. I humored my group leader who seemed kind of starstruck, and followed her over to chat with my breakfast tray. Vanunu, a political prisoner, I later learned, for leaking proof of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, had just finished serving the last year of his original 18-year prison sentence, but had essentially been placed under a kind of house-arrest on the campus of St. George’s College, where I was staying with my group from Duke.

Photo of Vanunu (center) with Ali Kazak, a Palestinian diplomat and Anglican Bishop Riah Abu Assal. I was honored to meet both Vanunu and Bishop Abu Assal around the time this photo was taken.
(2005, by Ali Kazak on Wikipedia)

He was a quiet man, an Israeli convert to Christianity, who seemed desperate to escape Israel and go to work at a university somewhere– “maybe M.I.T.,” I remember Vanunu offering. But Vanunu remains in Israel, a prisoner of conscience, as identified by Amnesty International, denied even the use of a computer or mobile phone since 2015, according to

Vanunu was and is a symbol for me of a powerful and powerfully human revolutionary praxis, one which does not rely on religious fervor alone for fuel and inspiration, but which is equally sourced in empirical knowledge of the grave dangers and environmental impacts posed by even the so-called, “peaceful,” nuclear programs like Israel’s. And Vanunu has more or less stoically endured his harassment, imprisonment, and torture, including a brutal 11-year stint in solitary confinement!

Martyr is a highly politically charged word these days with religious extremists of all stripes dominating the mainstream narratives of history unfolding in the Middle East. Indeed, as a student of these issues, and an official graduate of my own “study pilgrimage” I have often avoided such words as means of avoiding miscommunication or deepening felt division. Righteous and peaceful as his actions were, Vanunu must have imagined the consequences he would face; and yet he acted. I see Vanunu’s bravery and conviction, matched daily by comrades in prison around the globe, those prisoners of conscience who are denied their right to free speech, to free movement, and to associate freely with whomever they choose, as equivalent to those of the martyrs and chivalrous knights and crusaders who populated my moral imagination from such a young age.

Mordechai Vanunu is nothing if not a powerful symbol of the consequences of empire run amok: American and Zionist Israeli empire in all its brute force. His story is a painful reminder of the injustice of prison as an institution, and states’ use of violence to silence dissent. When our paths crossed in early 2005 at St. George’s College in Jerusalem, it seemed like a coincidence. But the ensuing fifteen years have shown how central social justice activism, especially nuclear non-proliferation, would become in my personal consciousness and in my professional life as a teacher.

I have only just recently made my way back to the Imperial Core, the United States, after twelve years abroad in Japan and Canada, and this first experience of radicalization, the beginning of my grasp of the problem at the root, as Professor Angela Davis has it, of the cruel habit of Empire: Capitalism.

Going Native

Indians, the original possessors of the land, seem to haunt the collec­tive unconscious of the white man and to the degree that one can iden­tify the conflicting images of the Indian which stalk the white man’s waking perceptions of the world one can outline the deeper problems of identity and alienation that trouble him….Underneath all the con­flicting images of the Indian one fundamental truth emerges-the white man knows that he is an alien and he knows that North America is Indian-and he will never let go of the Indian image because he thinks that by some clever manipulation he can achieve an authenticity that cannot ever be his.

-Vine Deloria, Jr., “American Fantasy”

I’ve begun reading Huhndorf’s book, which I found somewhere I think through the UW library. It’s a nice pdf of the full text of the book. Something tells me I’ve read part of this book before, specifically the chapter that covers The Education of Little Tree and the Asa / Forrest Carter Hoax. But for now, I’ve only listened to the introduction and part of the first chapter, which deals with the combined spectacle of some important mass entertainment events like the American Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia.

Decolonizing Historical methods are still so new a topic to me that I really feel like I ought to become more familiar with in the next months both on my own in individual study or through courses at UW. One introductory course that I am taking for my program has only one reading listed on the website so far, but it’s a doozy: Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s classic, Decolonizing Methodologies. So, I went ahead and ordered that one. I think I’ll do a quick skim and short write-up here if I have time. And then, over the course of the term, I’ll be able to grapple with and or digest this one at greater length.

For now, I’ve done a rough rendering of this pdf into a simple text format which my mac will read back to me at what I’m finding is a mostly intelligible speed and cadence.

Ursula Le Guin from “Taoing”

The way you can go
isn’t the real way.
The name you can say
isn’t the real name.

Heaven and earth
begin in the unnamed:
name’s the mother
of the ten thousand things.

So the unwanting soul
sees what’s hidden,
and the ever-wanting soul
sees only what it wants.

Two things, one origin,
but different in name,
whose identity is mystery.
Mystery of all mysteries!
The door to the hidden.

Micro Review of “Teacher Unions” from Ross and Mathieson, 2008, Battleground Schools.

“Teacher Unions” from Ross and Mathieson, 2008, Battleground Schools.

One of the most useful pieces I’ve had the pleasure of reading all summer. I don’t know why I didn’t think about it earlier, but after briefly reconnecting with the author and editor of this piece last week, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the article within this interesting handbook of various school controversies that have been fought out over the past century or so in the United States. I had been looking for a pithy summary of teachers unionism in America. And here I’ve found one, practically right under my nose!

The timeline in this entry and elsewhere in Battleground Schools are a boon for a newcomer to union history like me. Major figures, their biographies and their contributions to the arguments at hand appear frequently in these pages to make this an engaging survey. The story begins with a Texas school board member and former US Secretary of the Department of Education, Rod Paige, who in 2004 called teachers’ unions terrorist organizations. Then it flashes back to Ella Flagg Young, the first woman president of the NEA; and finally to Albert Shanker, President of the United Federation of Teachers and harbinger, for Ross, of the new “company unionism” that has begun to dominate all corners of American education sector labor.

A very interesting thread that I want to pick up on is what Ross identifies as Labor Imperialism, or the tendency for powerful labor unions to ally with national interests in government as well as industry in order to carry out imperialist projects on educational fronts. This idea would seem to converge with or reiterate in some respects Phillipson’s Linguistic Imperialism. And indeed, this is an idea that might be worth drawing out through further research. But I wonder how these conflicts that seemed to involve unions played out for instance, in Arizona where powerful economic interests were variously allied with or at odds with government in the formation of the schools there. What indeed was the role that teachers played in the early days of Arizona’s schools? Were there demonstrations in solidarity with the revolutionaries to the south in Mexico, who boasted of plans to liberate those lands stolen in the wake of America’s early devastating colonial war with Mexico?

Anyway, this is a great essay, which I easily imagine using in teacher ed., or as a yardstick for my own research into the history of education across the United States and beyond!

Jonathan Fisher

August 24, 2020

from Free Will Astrology Newsletter by Rob Brezsny

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): The rapper named Viper has released over
1,000 albums. In 2014 alone, he created 347. His most popular work is
You’ll Cowards Don’t Even Smoke Crack, which has received over three
million views on Youtube. According to The Chicago Reader, one of
Viper’s most appealing features is his “blatant disregard for grammar.” I
should also mention that he regards himself as the second Christ, and uses
the nickname “Black Jesus.” So what does any of this have to do with you?
Well, I’m recommending that you be as prolific, in your own field, as he
is in his. I’m also inviting you to experiment with having a fun-loving
disregard for grammar and other non-critical rules. And I would love to
see you temporarily adopt some of his over-the-top braggadocio.

Micro-Review of Chapter 4: Why Have School? An Inquiry through Dialectical Materialism by Rich Gibson

DeLeon & Ross, Eds. Critical Theories, Radical Pedagogies, and Social Education (Sense Publishers, 2010).

Gibson’s sweeping “Inquiry” into the titular question of this chapter is an interesting, if sometimes irreverent, or perhaps purposefully playful look at schooling in the U.S. in 2010 from a variety of angles. Gibson is a professor at San Diego State University whose writing I have become familiar with through a possibly now defunct online periodical known as the Rouge Forum. But Gibson has also contributed to magazines like CounterPunch, which I frequently read as well. Also, an essay of Gibson’s about Paulo Freire– actually a sort of “critical intellectual history” I think he called it, has really shaped how I think about liberation theology in education and Freire’s “Critical Education” movement as well.

The title of this chapter alone should reveal much of Gibson’s theoretical critical framework. Gibson affixes the beam of Marxist critical inquiry firmly on the institution of education: its past and present rooted in “capitalist democracy,” a term, which he then thoroughly deconstructs as part of his inquiry, and a potentially violent revolutionary future.

Among the most useful sections in this chapter to me were Gibson’s overview of teachers unionism in the United States at present, by the numbers, and also episodically to illustrate the pervasiveness of corruption that Gibson says is the hallmark of these large unions, which are themselves among some of the largest unions in the country. I will be able to go deeper with my teachers union history with a piece that Wayne Ross and Sandra Mathieson published around the same time as this one I believe. Stay tuned. Likewise, this volume I got from Wayne, which focuses broadly on radical social studies pedagogy, should have a bunch of other good essays to look at maybe later this week.

Another Hiroshima is Coming…Unless We Stop It Now –

When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. More

Source: Another Hiroshima is Coming…Unless We Stop It Now –

The first half of this piece is some of the most lucid reportage I have heard. They comprise vignettes from this journalist’s visits to a handful of “ground zeros” including Hiroshima in the 1960s, as well as the Marshall Islands in 2015.  John Pilger wisely centers the danger of supposedly “peaceful” nuclear tests, and links them with the far more well known attacks in Japan.

Then in the second half of this essay, Pilger highlights the Trump Administrations making everything much worse.  Personally, the first part of this story is more important I think.  The whole world knows of Trumps incompetence, as well as his greed and dictatorial flourishes.  But what even the Obama Administration worked at odds with often was a conception of the immense danger of even retaining a nuclear status-quo.


My Mom Is 55, Black, and Just Returned to Work in a Doctor’s Office in New York City. That’s Why I’m Scared (from T74)

My quarantine boredom is turning to anxiety as states begin reopening after months of pandemic-related lockdowns. Closer to home, my mother returned to the front lines on May 28. She is the practice manager of a pediatrician’s office in Manhattan, New York City, one of the hardest-hit COVID-19 hot spots in the world. She is […]

Source: My Mom Is 55, Black, and Just Returned to Work in a Doctor’s Office in New York City. That’s Why I’m Scared

I have not read writing about the pandemic with this much clarity and sense of purpose than these high school diarists.  Really brilliant!  Raw, real emotions.  As dire as the situation seems, these teenagers bring the perspective to motivate the work that may bring about the changes they themselves proscribe, with such pin-point accuracy almost innocence perhaps, but never naivete!  Kudos to T74 for this great idea.

Why Seattle educators demand cut to police budget– Jesse Hagopian in the Seattle Times

We can create safe and thriving communities by joining the growing number of cities who are re-appropriating funds from a punishment-based system and re-aiming them towards a new system that builds thriving communities.

Source: Why Seattle educators demand cut to police budget

I was unfamiliar with the work of Seattle teacher and activist, Jesse Hagopian before reading this opinion piece he wrote for the Seattle Times last week.  The story of his personal involvement with police violence and the lawsuit he won against the Seattle Police Department is important background for this piece too.  A quick Twitter search reveled this gif of the author being maced by SPD as he was trying to make a phone call.  WTF?