Permaculture Technology: Greening the Desert

Greening the Desert Project: Jordan September 2018

Geoff Lawton (2018)

Film Review

This short video is a brief update of the Greening the Desert project Australian permaculture guru started in 2010 in the Dead Sea Valley in Jordan. His goal is to demonstrate the success of permaculture techniques in restoring barren desert to food production with minimal irrigation

As Lawton describes in the video, he began by planting native spiky acacia to condition the sandy soil and produce a continuous supply of mulch. He then added a series of legume, mulch producing and fruit trees. The legume trees add nitrogen to the soil while the mulch producing trees are an ongoing source of carbon. All are an essential source of shade to prevent water loss in the dry season (there is no rain at all between March and September).

In addition to trees, the project employs reed beds to recycle waste water from hygiene, laundry and dishwashing and passion fruit and Singapore daisy vines for additional shade and ground cover.

Workers are already harvesting dates (date palms help fix soil phosphate) and guava from the food forest Lawton helped them create. They will harvest their first citrus crops at the end of winter. They have also planted olive, pomegranate, papaya, kumquat and neem trees. The highlight of the film is when Lawton discovers a snail (which only breed in damp conditions) in a neem tree.

Workers have just planted their veggie garden in anticipation of rain over the winter months.

The winter rain will be collected in rain tanks and swales.* In addition the compound harvests municipal tap water, delivered a few hours a day three times a week. They also have water tanked in for drinking, hygiene, laundry and dishwashing, which they recycle through the reed beds.

They only use irrigation to start their veggie seedlings.

Four years ago Lawton proposed a similar solution for southern California, but local officials have yet to adopt his recommendations: A Natural Solution to Drought

Hidden History: The 1973 Arab-Israeli War

The War in October

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

The War in October is a three-part documentary series about the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War – aka the Yom Kippur War. What struck me most about the series is how markedly it differs from what we read in the Western media (which was embedded with Israeli troops) and what Americans are taught in school.

Part I provides the background of the war – an agreement by Syrian ruler Hafez al-Assad’s (Bashar’s father) agreement with Egyptian ruler Anwar Sadat to simultaneously attack Israel to reclaim territory each had lost to Israel (the Syrian Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula) in the 1967 war.

Part 1 reveals that both Syria and Egypt came close to reconquering their lost territory within the first 24 hours of their attack. They both failed, mainly owing to Assad’s and Sadat’s refusals to follow their generals’ advice.

Part 2 covers the major reversals Syria and Egypt experienced following the full mobilization of Israeli reserves. Israeli troops seized territory within Egypt to within 100 km of Cairo. Their tanks also penetrated deeply into Syria, until they were beaten back by reinforcements from Iraq and Jordan.

Part 3 is the most interesting, as it covers the role Henry Kissinger played, not only in providing Israel with critical military hardware, but in encouraging them to disregard two ceasefires ordered by the UN Security Council.

After the Soviet Union threatened to enforce the second ceasefire militarily, Kissinger (and Israel) eventually capitulated.

However the most effective tool in the 1973 war was the oil embargo launched by all Arab oil producing nations. International pressure forced Israel to withdraw from Egyptian and Syrian territory and accep deployment of UN peacekeeping troops in buffer zones east of the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights.

In a side agreement, Sadat agreed to release 230 Israeli prisoners of war in return for Kissinger’s pledge to negotiate a treaty leading to Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai. Signed in 1979, the treaty resulted in full withdrawal of Israeli troops in 1982 – a year after Sadat’s assassination.

Israel Independence and the Forced Eviction of 700,000 Palestinians

Al-Naqba: The Palestinian Catastrophe Part 4

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

Zionist leaders proclaimed the independent state of Israel on May 14, 1948, the day British occupation of Palestine ended (see Brits Look On as Jewish Terrorists Ransack Palestinian Villages). By July, more than 400,000 Palestinians had been forcibly evicted from their homes. This final episode of the Al-Nakba documentary includes poignant testimony from Palestinian refugees whose families lived in the open for months without access to food or water. One man describes his mother feeding the family a mixture of hay, oil and onions.

The Swedish mediator the UN appointed to negotiate a peace settlement called the plight of Palestinian refugees a humanitarian disaster. He also put forward a peace proposal granting Palestinian refugees the right of return and was promptly assassinated by the Stern Gang.*

By the end of 1948, more than 700,000 Palestinians had been driven from their homes. Despite a UN Security Council resolution calling for Israel to guarantee their right to return to their villages, Ralph Bunche, the new UN mediator omitted this requirement from the separate peace agreements he negotiated between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria in early 1949.

Based on these peace accords, the West Bank of the Jordan River was annexed to Jordan and Gaza to Egypt. In this way, Israel succeeded in their goal of totally erasing Palestine from history. The European and US media fully colluded in this endeavor.

In the end, only 15% of Palestine’s 1.3 million Arabs were allowed to remain within Israel’s borders. Owing to its strong link with the Vatican, the Arab population of Nazareth was allowed to remain.

Israel offered Christian and Druze Arabs the right to remain in Galilee. Instead, standing in  solidarity with Muslim neighbors who had been evicted, they opted to emigrate.

At present six million Palestinian refugees (and their descendants) live outside Israel. Two million if them still reside in desperate conditions in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. Approximately 8.3 million live in Israel proper (1.8 million) or the Israeli occupied West Bank (4.5 million ) and Gaza (2 million).


*The Stern Gang was a prominent Jewish terrorist/paramilitary organization formed during the British occupation of Palestine. See1947: British Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine

The Crusades: Europe’s First Imperialist War of Colonization

The Crusades: An Arab Perspective

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

The Crusades is a fascinating history of a subject that was quite new to me, as Americans rarely study the Crusades in school. Despite the title, the expert commentators represent a balance of French and English historians, as well as Muslim scholars from various Middle Eastern universities. Most of the documentary series consists of historical re-enactment of papal enclaves, battles, sieges, treaty signings and other historical events. The filmmakers use a series of maps to plot the progress of European occupation of Jerusalem and the Levantine* coast, as well the eventual liberation of these territories in the 13th century.

The documentary leaves absolutely no doubt that the Crusades were an imperialist campaign of colonization – and not religious wars, as is commonly claimed. Whenever European crusaders conquered a specific city or region, they indiscriminately slaughtered most of the inhabitants, whether they were Muslims, Jews or fellow Christians. The entire fourth Crusade (1203) was devoted to sacking the greatest Christian city in the world (Constantinople), whose residents were mainly Byzantine Greeks.

Part 4 is my favorite because it focuses on the role of the Crusades and Muslim influence in facilitating the European Renaissance of the 14th-15th centuries. When the Crusades began in 1085, the vast majority of Europeans (99%) were illiterate, whereas Middle East cities enjoyed an advanced flourishing civilization (as did India, China, Africa and North and South America prior to European colonization). When occupying crusaders were finally defeated and forced to return to Europe in 1291, they took with them advanced knowledge of Arab military tactics and agriculture, sugar cultivation, medicine, algebra, glass manufacturing and Greek philosophers ( whose work had been translated and preserved by Muslim scholars.

Part 1 – covers the role of Pope Gregory and Pope Irwin in instigating the disastrous Peoples Crusade and the first Crusade (1086-1099), resulting in the sacking and occupation of Jerusalem (lasting nearly 200 years).

Part 2 – covers the fragmented Muslim resistance to the expansion of European occupation, hindered by both religious (Sunni vs Shia) conflict and tribal rivalries. It’s during this period (1100-1127) the term hashshashin (origin of the English words assassin and hashish) came into usage, owing to the Shia assassins hired to secretly kill Sunni military commanders. Between 1127-1143 a Muslim revival led to the liberation of numerous crusader strongholds, and the launch of a second crusade by Pope Eugene, Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany.

Part 3 – describes the rise of Salah Ad-Din (known in in Europe as Saladin), who unified rival Muslim armies and by 1187 retook all crusader strongholds except Jerusalem. This led to the launch of the third Crusade by Philip II (France), Frederick I (Germany) and Richard the Lion Hearted (England) This was followed by the fourth Crusade, which sacked Constantinople; the failed fifth Crusade (1213); the sixth Crusade in which Frederick II (Germany) retook Jerusalem by treaty and the failed seventh Crusade, led by Louis IX of France (1248). In 1244, Muslim armies retook Jerusalem, which remained under their control until it became part of the British protectorate of Palestine with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire.

Part 4 – in addition to outlining the cultural riches Europe gained from the Crusades, Part 4 also explores how Europe’s medieval colonization of the Middle East laid the groundwork for the eventual European colonization of North Africa and the Middle East (in 1917), with the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 representing a major milestone in this re-colonization.


*Levantine – a term describing a region on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea north of the Arabian Peninsula and south of Turkey, usually including the area of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria.

Third World Mental Health Initiatives Put US to Shame

People and Power – Out of the Shadows

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

Out of the Shadows celebrates the hard work of third world activists who have dedicated their lives to bringing mental health care to their countries. It presents a striking contrast to the neglect and abuse the mentally ill experience in the US.

Globally half a billion people suffer from mental disorders, such as depression, bipolar illness and schizophrenia – more than all AIDS, malaria and TB cases combined. Yet owing to profound stigma, publicly funded mental health services are virtually non-existent in many third world countries. India, for example, spends less than 1% of their health budget on mental health. And in Togo, mentally ill men and women are chained to trees.

The documentary highlights activist-created programs providing free mental health services (funded by private European and Canadian donors) in India, Benin, Ivory Cost, Burkina Faso and Jordan.

Are Women Better at Getting Out of Poverty?

Solar Mamas: Why Poverty? (2012)

Directed by Mona Eldaief and Nehane Nonjaim

Film Review

Solar Mamas is about the Barefoot College in Rajastan India and the struggles of a Jordanian woman to overcome the sexist attitudes of her husband and other men in her Bedouin village.

The Barefoot College is a non-governmental organization which has training rural women from the developing world to become solar engineers since 1997. The program serves the dual purpose of electrifying poor rural villages and helping these villages out of poverty. After completing a six month training program, the women return to their home countries to train other women in solar installation.

The documentary concerns the first two women selected by the Jordanian Minister of the Environment to attend the Barefoot College. The women come from a village of 300 where all the adults are “unemployed” and the women do all the work (collecting firewood, doing laundry, cooking, cleaning and looking after children). Women with young children receive welfare benefits, which is why the Jordanian government is keen to subsidize their attendance at the Barefoot College.

As the Jordanian women speak no English, their training is based on hands-on assembly experience, aided by a book of color-coded circuit diagrams. Both women are illiterate, as it’s considered shame for Bedouin girls to remain in school past age ten.

Are Women Better at Getting Out of Poverty?

The film focuses on the younger of the two women, who’s forced to discontinue her training after her husband threatens to divorce her and take her children away. Rafea’s mother is caring for her four children during her absence. The husband threatens to take them to another village to be raised by his first wife (he has two).

Rafea returns, tearfully. A month later, despite her mother’s opposition and continuing threats from her husband, she overcomes her fear of her husband and returns to India to complete her solar training.

Towards the end of the film, the Minister of the Environment explains why the Jordanian government only selects women for solar training: they can’t count on men (who often have other wives) to remain in their home village.

If Rafea’s village is anything to go by, I suspect the real reason is that the women develop a stronger worth ethic in looking after their children. The men, in contrast, are bone idle and lay around on mattresses all day.

Below is a presentation by Bunker Roy, founder of the Barefoot College, about its history: