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If the prophets of ancient Israel such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Malachi and Amos were alive today, Benjamin Netanyahu would accuse them of anti-Semitism for daring to describe his government as a travesty of what the Mosaic covenant was all about. A common thread running throughout the Jewish Bible – Christianity’s Old Testament – was to criticize kings, the wealthy and corrupt courts for violating the Mosaic commandments to create a fair and equitable society protecting the poor from the economic oppression of debt bondage, and loss of their land. If the prophets were summoned to give judgment today, it is Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party and the steeply unequal economy of Israel that would be condemned as violating the most basic laws of Biblical Judaism.
Prophet after prophet described the Lord as being so displeased with Israel on so many occasions for deviating from his commandments that he withdrew his protection and condemned the land to which Moses had led his followers to be conquered as punishment. The Biblical prophets attributed Israel’s defeat by Sargon in 722 BC to the Lord’s punishment for its falling away from the covenant the Lord had offered. Israel’s punishment fit the crime: Just as its wealthy creditor elite had dispossessed their brethren from the land, so the ten tribes of Israel were deported to Mesopotamia and Media, and Judah’s size was reduced to only the region surrounding Jerusalem.
Ezekiel, the great prophet of the Exile, was taken to Babylonia in 597 BC as a military hostage. He became the leading influence on Ezra and the priestly school that edited the Torah’s early sources into a version that was finalized when the Jews returned from Babylon and wrote the Babylonian concepts of economic justice into the Mosaic Holiness Code. In an apocalyptic tone Ezekiel 7 announces: “The word of the Lord came to me: … ‘The end is now upon you and I will unleash my anger against you. I will judge you according to your conduct and repay you for all your detestable practices,’” citing the polarization of wealth by the wealthiest Jews, corrupting the law courts and violating the original covenant with the Lord.
Were the prophets self-loathing Jews? Are those who criticize today’s right-wing politicians abolishing the land’s courts of justice, urging the mass murder of civilians and destroying an entire society’s infrastructure anti-Semites? Does commenting that October 7th did not occur “in a vacuum,” as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres did – even indeed after characterizing it as an atrocity – make one an anti-Semite?
What I find most amazing is that no religious scholars are pointing out that Netanyahu’s claim to be following a Biblical covenant as his excuse for committing genocide to seize Palestinian land and destroy its existing population is a travesty of what actually is written in the Bible.
By a sleight-of-hand like that of a stage magician trying to distract the audience’s attention from what really is happening, Netanyahu has evoked what he claims to be a Biblical excuse for Israeli genocide. But what he pretends to be a covenant in the tradition of Moses is a vicious demand by the judge and grey eminence Samuel telling Saul, the general whom he hopes to make king: “Now go and smite Amalek [an enemy of Israel], and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (1 Samuel 15:3).
These were not the Lord’s own words, and Samuel was no Moses. And there was no blanket promise to back the Jews regardless of their behavior. And indeed, in following Samuel’s demand for conquest – as a means of making Saul popular enough to be made king – Saul broke the Lord’s commandments about proper religious ceremonial and dietary behavior. One would have no idea from Netanyahu’s celebration of the compact between Samuel and Saul to become popular by military conquest. Saul’s misbehavior led Samuel himself to rebuke him, telling him that the Lord had decided that another man must be found to be king of Israel.
It was not the Lord offering that command to destroy Amalek, but a prophet anxious to place a king on the throne. Invocation of such a command is prima facie evidence of an intention to commit genocide. But that seemed less important to Netanyahu than pandering to the desire for revenge amongst Israelis. Netanyahu makes no mention of the fact that Saul disobeyed the Lord’s commandments and the Lord rejected him as king. Nor does Likud acknowledge the context, a few chapters earlier in I Samuel 12:15, describing the corrupt rule of judges and Samuel’s warning that “if you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you.” The Lord’s warning that “if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away” should have rung loudly for Netanyahu.
The Jewish Bible is remarkable in criticizing the kings who ruled Judah and Israel. It is in fact a long narrative of social revolution, in which religious leaders sought – often successfully – to check the power of a selfish and aggressive oligarchy that was denounced again and again for its greed in impoverishing the poor, taking their land and reducing them to debt bondage. (My book “… and forgive them their debts” [Dresden 2018] describes this history.) The Jewish kings, wealthy families and corrupt courts led the Lord repeatedly to abandon them in the face of Assyria, Babylon and lesser opponents when they lapsed into selfish and oppressive behavior.
What was the covenant at Horeb near Mount Sinai? Simply put, the Lord gave Moses the Ten Commandments, which had a moral focus on economic justice, and made a bargain binding all future Jews to obey these commandments (Exodus 19-23 and Deuteronomy 5:2 and 28:43). From the very beginning the Lord threatened to punish the Jews if they broke this covenant. The prophets are quoted as citing the many ways in which succeeding generations broke it.
Reference to that context of fair rule was the role of a prophet (both ancient and modern): to awaken the people – and to be despised by those in power, especially by oppressive oligarchies. Judea, in accordance with the commandments, was supposed to provide mutual aid and protect the poor, not let creditors take the land for themselves.
So Judea lost battles to foreigners, whom the prophets described as used by the Lord as his instrument to punish the Jews for their transgression against the economic and other moral laws that the Lord had laid down. Does one doubt that today’s greater Israel [the land over which it exerts total control, including Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem] is economically polarized and unequal both financially and in terms of human rights?
Deuteronomy 28:21-25 warns that if the Jews fail to obey the Lord’s commandments, “The Lord will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess,” and “will cause you to be defeated before your enemies.” Deuteronomy then (29:24-25) reminds the Jews that if the Lord does to them as he had done to Sodom and Gomorrah, Admath and Zeboiim, “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt.”
The prophets described what obeying the covenant meant. Isaiah 5:3 and 8 cited economic inequality as the greatest woe, blaming the elders and leaders for taking “plunder from the poor into your houses.” He declaimed: “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field, till no space is left alone in the land.” That is exactly the fate that is befalling the Palestinians driven off their land by today’s Israel as a settler state.
Isaiah 10:1-3 declaims: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and rob my oppressed people of justice, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar?” And in 29:13-15: “The Lord says: ‘These people come to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. … Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord.”
Sound familiar? Isaiah 48:1 and 8 says, “Listen, O house of Jacob, you who are called by the name of Israel … and invoke the God of Israel – but not in truth or righteousness. … Well I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth.”
The next prophet, Jeremiah 2, accuses Israel of abandoning the Lord and thus breaking the covenant, bringing disaster upon itself with its “wickedness and backsliding” and becoming “a corrupt, wild vine.” Calling Israel unfaithful (3:8 and 20-21) the Lord “gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away,” and Judah was just as bad. The Lord again threatened (17:3-4): “Through your own fault you will lose the inheritance I gave you … for you have kindled my anger and it will burn forever.”
In a move that has failed to shock or dismay conservative Christians, the United States has become modern Israel’s protector and lord, while Israel’s economy (like that of the United States) is polarizing along the same lines that the Biblical prophets denounced, such as when Ezekiel 7 and 16 repeated the Lord’s anger at unfaithful Jerusalem, saying metaphorically (16:13) that “you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute,” not heeding the poor and needy. And in 34:2: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves” but plunder their flock.
Amos 2 accuses Israel of numerous sins: “They sell the righteous for silver, and … trample on the heads of the poor … and deny justice to the oppressed.” And Micah 7:3 declaims: “Woe to those who plan inequity, to those who plot evil on their beds … because it is in their power to do it. … Therefore, the Lord said, ‘I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves’” when the wealthy join up as “the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire – they all conspire together.”
Today’s modern Zionism is at odds with the Jewish Bible. That is understandable given that its ideology comes from a very secular group despite its recent takeover by self-identified orthodox Jews. The rhetoric used by Netanyahu is a travesty when one notes how the Jewish Bible proclaimed that wealth and property were to be distributed equitably, not concentrated in the hands of an oligarchy. Exodus 23:1 and 9 give the following insight into how aliens – the Palestinians of their day – were to be treated: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong,” but “lay down the law of justice and mercy: Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.”
Is it justice and mercy to shut off water, food, medicine and fuel to an entire population and level or damage half of its buildings and most of its critical infrastructure including entire swarths of homes? Is it justice and mercy to force hospitals to shut down, bomb ambulances, and drop six 2,000 pound bombs on a refugee camp?
While billions around the world witness the super-Kristalnacht carnage in Gaza and blatant pogroms on the West Bank, “serious” Western journalists warn that an existential threat is posed by refugees with hang gliders but no planes, tanks or artillery pieces. The same journalists ignore the time-proven truism that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the faith” and that killing thousands of innocents immediately and many thousands in the chaos that follows will not weaken but strengthen a resistance movement. It was that same reaction in the wake of Nazism that turned today’s Zionist leaders into haters.
In the final lines of the Jewish Bible, Malachi 4 speaks of the Lord’s emphasis that Israel’s covenant with God had a strong contractual quid pro quo as a condition for his support: “‘All the arrogant and every evil-doer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the Lord Almighty. … ‘Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.’” If these laws continued to be disobeyed, the Lord threatened, “I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
It seems that this curse has now come, in the form of most of the world’s population so appalled at the self-righteous genocide being committed by two secular governments claiming (to the discredit of Western religions) divine sanctification, Israel and the United States, just as the Western non-Soviet economy created in 1945 in the wake of World War II is breaking into two parts.
We are living in secular times. The United States has become modern Israel’s protector and lord, and it itself has become corrupt along the same lines that the great prophets denounced. American evangelists, like the Israeli government, have excluded the message of the Biblical prophets and Jesus’s social message, selecting only the Covenant as a deed of conquest and promise of a ticket to heaven without any behavioral quid pro quo involved.
The broad spectrum of Judeo-Christian religion has been secularized as today’s world differs so fundamentally from that of classical antiquity. American TV evangelicals make a travesty of Jesus’s attempt to restore the Mosaic Jubilee Year cancelling the debts that threatened ancient populations with bondage and led to the loss of their means of self-support on the land. The “Prosperity Gospel” has replaced Jesus with Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and Frederick Hayek.
Already in the 4th and 5th centuries, almost as soon as Constantine made Christianity the Roman State religion, Augustine changed the translation of the Lord’s Prayer and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount by replacing debt cancellation with the non-economic idea of original sin inborn from Adam. To cap matters, the new interpretation replaced Jesus’s call for debt cancellation with Church demands for monetary contributions to obtain indulgences and forgiveness. Subsequent Christianity became so pro-creditor that it defended the sanctity of debt, not its cancellation. To finance the Crusades in the 13th century, the popes excommunicated Christian clergy and secular reformers who opposed paying usury – which was re-defined as “interest” and permitted as long as it was Christian bankers who were making the loans.
Israel may have a convoluted legal right to shoot Palestinians coming over its wall in an attempt to defend land that settlers have seized illegally from them. But as an occupying power it does not have the sanctimonious right to disregard virtually every international law regarding war and collective punishment simply for revenge and to demonstrate to Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Iran what it will do to them with American support if they join in the fray. Netanyahu’s actions and claims for religious sanctification for them are the antithesis of the original Judaism. His Likud government rejects the ethic of the Jewish Bible as much as America’s Christian evangelists reject the message of Jesus.
Hi and good morning, I am aware (albeit sketchy) of Irish history and its struggles, including the great famine.
I’m 73 and born and raised in England and Earlier this year my wife and I did a 45 day motor home tour of southern Ireland.
Our lasting impression was a beautiful welcoming country. Such breathtaking countryside and warm and friendly people.
One of our stops on that trip was at Portumna, whilst there we visited the Irish workhouse centre.
To see the Dark shadows exhibition, very thought provoking and I guess it prompted me to want to know more. I have put together a short YouTube video based on what we saw. Here is the link… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IoPRnPaBgLI
I really would like to know more and fell across ‘This Land Is Ours’ which mentions Black 47, I will see if I can find a copy to watch.
What I am really keen to learn is what was Southern Irelands journey, from those dark days to the beautiful country and people we experienced last summer. Our impression was of warm and welcoming experience, coupled with a much higher standard of living than we have in England
Can you please suggest any documentaries/films or other media that could outline the journey from the great famine till now. For me it is equally important to understand how Southern Ireland got to this point in time, from the terrible famine to a prosperous nation
Many thanks’ in advance Tony & Margaret Glass St Osyth England.
‘We’ve been treated like criminals’: Families left desperate and homeless as no-fault evictions soar
A record number of families are being evicted from their homes through no fault of their own.
Victims of Section 21 eviction claims, ITV News Investigations Correspondent Daniel Hewitt spoke to some of vulnerable families being left with nowhere else to go
The number of no-fault evictions taking place in England has risen to its highest level in seven years, as an ITV News investigation finds families being made homeless with nowhere else to go.
Ministry of Justice data shows the number of Section 21 eviction claims – otherwise known as ‘no-fault’ evictions as the landlord does not have to state a reason – have jumped by 38%.
Between July and September 2023, 8,399 Section 21 eviction claims were taken to court by landlords, compared to 6,092 in the same period last year.
The number of bailiff repossessions also jumped by 29% to 2,307, the highest since before the pandemic.
The government has promised to scrap Section 21 evictions since 2019, but Housing Secretary Michael Gove has cast doubt on whether it will happen before the next general election – after promising to reform the court system in England before bringing in a ban.
Increased mortgage rates have seen landlords increase rental prices, or in other cases decide to sell their properties. Landlords also point to changes to the tax system which have made renting out properties less lucrative.
Under reforms to the private rental sector currently going through Parliament, landlords will still be able to evict their tenants if they can prove they wish to sell their property.
The issue for many families is the lack of affordable housing to move to.
An ITV News investigation has seen first-hand the impact on families evicted through Section 21.
In Northampton, Carol, her daughter and two grandchildren have privately rented their home for almost a decade. They have never missed a rent payment and have been good tenants.
They were notified earlier this year that the landlord wanted to sell the property and were given eight weeks to leave. Despite both working, Carol and her daughter couldn’t find anywhere affordable to rent, and were told that the local council had no properties for them.
They went to court, but they lost their case. Right now, the law is on the landlords’ side.
On the day of their eviction, with the bailiffs waiting outside, Carol told me the family had nowhere to go once they handed back the keys.
‘I wake up some mornings and wish I had died in my sleep,’ Carol told ITV News Investigations Correspondent Daniel Hewitt that her life cover would help her loved ones escape homelessness
At 10am, the bailiffs walked through the door. They didn’t even knock – the property was theirs to take.
The moment Carol and her daughter walked out – the home they’ve lived in for nearly a decade with two little boys aged three and five – the locksmiths moved in. It is a swift and brutal process.
An increasing number of Section 21 evictions are ending up in court, driven in part by a chronic shortage of affordable housing – both in the private sector and in social housing.
ITV News has seen evidence of councils advising tenants who receive a Section 21 to not leave after eight weeks – as stated in the eviction notice – and instead go through the court process all the way through to a court-ordered bailiff repossession.
In Luton, Charlotte, her husband and three sons have privately rented the same home for 10 years, but received a Section 21 notice stating the landlord wanted to sell the house.
Like Carol, they can’t find anywhere they can afford on the private rental market, and the council have told them they will only consider them for housing once they have been evicted.
Charlotte’s husband works full-time, so they don’t qualify for legal aid, but they also can’t afford a solicitor. It means Charlotte has no choice but to represent herself in court.
‘I have nowhere to go, I don’t know what I’m going to do’: Charlotte has been told she has just six weeks to find a new home with her husband and two children, or bailiffs will be sent to evict them
We met her after her case was heard. Like Carol in Northampton, she lost.
The law does not protect tenants against no-fault evictions.
Housing charities insist the government must ban Section 21 before the next election, and say renters are living in fear of eviction.
“It beggars belief that this government is prepared to use cynical tactics to delay the banning of no-fault evictions, while record numbers of renters are being removed from their homes without cause,” said Polly Neate of Shelter.
“Renters have waited four long years for the government to come good on scrapping Section 21, to make that now dependent on unspecified court reforms taking place is ludicrous.
“Renters shouldn’t have to live for one more day with the fear they can be evicted from their home for no reason, knowing that once that notice lands on their doormat, there is nothing they can do.”
A government spokesperson said: “Our landmark Renters Reform Bill offers better protections for tenants and gives them greater security to challenge poor conditions in their homes.
“We are abolishing section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions and the Bill passing through Parliament will see this happen.”
If you or someone you know is homeless, facing eviction, or want to get in touch with us about your housing issue, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
One family told to leave their home every 8 minutes in England
Carol has lived in her home for 10 years. Today she waited as bailiffs evicted her, her daughter and two grandchildren.
Carol has lived in her home for 10 years. Today she waited as bailiffs evicted her, her daughter and two grandchildren. Credit: ITV News
Hull City Council’s ‘right to grow’ motion on unused council land is a UK first
Taken from The Guardian:
Hull set to allow ‘right to grow’ on unused council land in UK first
City councillors pass motion to let community groups, charities and neighbours cultivate fruit and veg
by Patrick Barkham, The Guardian
Monday 16th October 2023
Hull is set to become the first city in Britain to give people a “right to grow” on unused council land. Community groups, charities and even small groups of neighbours would be able to cultivate fruit and vegetables on suitable council land in what campaigners say will provide healthy local food, boost mental health and revive neglected spaces. Hull councillors unanimously passed the “right to grow” motion that means the council will produce a map of suitable land it owns and help those who want to grow food on it overcome practical obstacles such as insurance or provision of water for the plants. The motion, which will first go before the council scrutiny committee, follows a burgeoning local and national campaign for a “right to grow” on neglected urban land.
The waiting list for allotments in England has risen by 81% over the past 12 years as more than 150,000 people seek a place to grow fresh food.
“It will benefit Hull in many ways,” said Gill Kennett, a local councillor who backed the motion, which received cross-party support. “We are a deprived city and we do need cheap food. In terms of mental health benefits, growing food gives people something to do, it gives them confidence, it ticks so many boxes.”
Incredible Edible, a grassroots network of more than 150 community growing groups, is calling for a national “right to grow” law obliging all local authorities to keep a register of land that could be used for growing, and which people could apply to.
Campaigners say councils can meet the growing demand for places to grow in urban areas by stripping away bureaucratic obstacles such as growers requiring public liability insurance, which could be provided under councils’ existing insurance. Even land earmarked for development that sometimes lies unused for years could be cultivated for one or two harvests.
Pru Elliott of Incredible Edible said: “We need to see a change of rules and a change in the way land is used. If communities are given a right to grow they will use it. We just need to get rid of the red tape. If Hull can bring this to life I hope it will be an example for councils around the country that it’s something really tangible that they can run with. It’s about letting go of control a bit and trusting communities.
“It’s producing healthy food, it’s benefiting mental health, it’s reducing crime and antisocial behaviour – we’re seeing that councillors in more deprived areas get it. They recognise all these extra benefits that come with something as simple as people growing food in the local community.”
The Create Streets thinktank, whose chair is an adviser to the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, recently produced a report calling for a “right to grow” as part of a greening up of British cities.
In Hull, the motion came about after Hull Food Partnership – a collaboration between local people, businesses, charities and the council – devised “food hustings” at the local elections, where councillors discussed how Hull could address local food issues from food banks to “food deserts”. Anna Route of Hull Food Partnership said: “Everyone should have the ability to access good quality locally produced food regardless of their background or income, and we want to remove as many barriers to feeding people well as possible.”
Darren Squires of Rooted in Hull, a social enterprise that grows food on former industrial land in Hull, said the benefits of growing food in urban spaces included providing fresh, healthy produce for food banks, boosting mental health, growing low-carbon food, and also providing wildlife-friendly green corridors in the city.
“People do want to grow but we don’t have the opportunity to unlock that land normally,” he said.
Squires said he hoped the motion would result in the council providing groups with public liability insurance under its own umbrella as well as practical help such as connecting up growers with sources of water for dry spells, whether harvested from nearby roofs or via mains pipes.
“I grow in a small yard and I can eat salad all summer and it costs me a few pounds rather than a few pounds every couple of days from the supermarket,” he added.
“There are some veg that no amount of money will get you the same quality as something you get when you pick and eat it the same day. You’ve not eaten French beans until you’ve eaten some you’ve grown.”
Empty mansions in abandoned HS2 ghost village ‘taken over by squatters, dealers and religious cults’
Empty mansions in abandoned HS2 ghost village ‘taken over by squatters, dealers and religious cults’
The homes in Whitmore Heath were purchased by the government for the line that will now never be built
A HS2 ghost village in the West Midlands is full of abandoned mansions that locals say have been taken over by squatters. Whitmore Heath’s beautiful and pricey homes once made it a thriving community – but now squatters, drug dealers and even religious cults have allegedly moved in.
HS2 purchased 35 properties in the rural hamlet. The average property price was £600,000, but houses were compulsorily purchased by the government because the train line was set to pass under several multi million-pound mansions in the area.
Now that plan is in tatters – even though other parts of the line are still being built, some near Coventry, amid much local anger. PM Rishi Sunak announced at the Tory Party conference that the West Midlands to Manchester line would be scrapped.
Yet because people have moved out, remaining residents say the the empty homes are now trouble-spots with squatters living in the houses.
Edward Cavenagh-Mainwairing, 61, is the 33rd generation of his family to live in the Staffordshire village. He said three properties are now used as cannabis farms – and warned there is no longer a sense of community in the area.
Mr Cavenagh-Mainwairing said: “When you walk around the area, it’s a bit sad to see it all locked up and three houses are now used for cannabis. There was a sense of community, but now there isn’t.
“HS2 has strengthened us all together in a way – because we are all suffering from it. But hearing the news about it being scrapped made me feel numb, it’s still not a victory because it’s confirmation that it was a really bad decision.
“It should have been stopped earlier. A lot of people’s lives should have not been upset to the degree they have been.”
One security guard, who asked not to be named, said they had been hired to guard the home as squatters have previously lived there. They said they had even seen cults ‘trying to break in’ to the house.
What’s more, they said a religious group had even tried to arrest security guards. They said: “We’ve had cults trying to break in.
“They would even try and arrest you.” However, some residents actually like living in the village – and they are confident more people will return to the area.
Chris Shemilt, 65, moved there around five years ago with his wife, although he is in the process of moving away. Yet he has said he ‘doesn’t see anything wrong’ with the area.
He believes the homes bought by the government will go back on the market. Chris said: “I don’t see anything wrong with it myself.
“I think people will move back to the area, I think a lot of them were bought by the government – who bribed people to sell them.
“I suspect they will go back on the market.” Chris said the costs of HS2 were ‘way too high’ for it to have ever been completed as planned.
The financial advisor said: “As far as I’m concerned, the costs were way too high for them to do it. Quite simply – all they’ve got to do is run the train to Birmingham on the same line they’ve already got – which is quite a good line anyway.
“If they slightly improve that line, then they can go straight through to Manchester.”
Rishi Sunak has defended scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester line. He said: “We’re going to take every penny of that £36 billion and we’re going to spend it on transport across the country – on bus, on road, on rail, on all the forms of transport that you use every day.
“We’re going to deliver it far quicker so that you can see the benefits faster. We’re going to see it across more parts of our country.
“I think that is the right thing to do for the long term.”
Veteran British film director Ken Loach nominates the 17th century radical pamphleteer and and leader of the Diggers, Gerrard Winstanley.
Born in Wigan in 1609, Winstanley began writing religious pamphlets after his cloth selling business in London went bankrupt and he was forced to move to the country. There his ‘heart was filled with sweet thoughts … that the earth shall be made a common treasury of livelihood to all mankind’, for ‘the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury… for Man had Domination given to him, over the Beasts, Birds and Fishes; but not one word was spoken in the beginning, that one branch of mankind should rule over another.”
Winstanley began to dig a nearby wasteland, calling on others – rich and poor -to join him in the digging, which he believed would start a revolution and feed the poor. His ideas were radical, communal, spiritual and deeply challenging. Within a year the Diggers had been aggressively expelled from their site of occupation.
The late Tony Benn called the Diggers, ‘the first true socialists’, but Winstanley has also been claimed by anarchists and environmentalists.
With Emeritus Professor of Early Modern history, Ann Hughes. Presented by Matthew Parris and produced for BBC Audio in Bristol by Ellie Richold
Or buy via the BFI – Winstanley – A powerful story of the 1649 St George’s Hill commune inspired by the visionary leadership of Gerrard Winstanley. 1649. With poverty and unrest sweeping England, a group of impoverished men and women, known as the diggers, form a settlement on St George’s Hill, Surrey. Inspired by the visionary leadership of Gerrard Winstanley, the commune’s tireless, yet peaceful attempts to assert their right to cultivate and share the wealth of the common land, are met with crushing hostility from local landowners and government troops. With Winstanley, filmmakers Brownlow and Mollo (the creators of It happened Here) have produced an astonishingly authentic historical film, and a powerful, moving story of one extraordinary man’s vision. Special features New restoration by the BFI National Archive. New filmed interview with Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo (38 minutes) It happened Here Again (Eric Mival, 1976, 48 minutes) the making of Winstanley 9 Dalmuir West (Kevin Brownlow, 1962, 12 minutes) Fully Illustrated 32-page booklet with contributions by Marina Lewycka (author of A Short History of tractors in Ukrainian), Eric Mival, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Tom Milne, and David Robinson; plus biographies and credits. Dolby Digital 2.0 (320kbps)
Winstanley is a 1975 British black-and-white film made by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo and based on the 1961 David Caute novel Comrade Jacob.
The film details the story of the 17th-century social reformer and writer Gerrard Winstanley, who, along with a small band of followers known as the Diggers, tried to establish a self-sufficient farming community on common land at St George’s Hill (now a private gated estate, the ‘Beverly Hills’ of Britain) near Cobham, Surrey.
The community was one of the world’s first small-scale experiments in socialism or communism, and its ideas were copied elsewhere in England during the time of the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, but it was quickly suppressed, and in the end left only a legacy of pamphlets and ideas to inspire later generations of socialist theorists.
English and Scottish walkers meet in mass trespass to call for greater public access to land in England and Wales, like the more generous laws of Scotland
Flag-waving activists for land reform have expressed their demands for greater freedom to roam in England and Wales by staging a symbolic trespass through farmland on the Scottish border.
In a bid to highlight Scotland’s far more generous rights of access to the countryside, around 40 campaigners tramped through boggy, dense woodland to arrive at an earth dyke north of Carlisle which once marked the medieval border.
They lined up on the Scots Dyke, built in 1552 to fix the English-Scottish border in a largely lawless district then known as the Debatable Lands, where Jon Moses, an organiser of the Borderlands rally, stood on the bank with one leg in England and the other in Scotland.
“My left leg is lawful; my right is unlawful,” he said, referring to the substantial differences in right-to-roam laws on either side of the border. That message was echoed by the activists, who sang and danced to an ironic version of the hokey cokey in a static congo line along the dyke.
They were met at the dyke by Scottish activists, including Andy Wightman, a land reform expert and former Scottish Greens MSP, and Dave Morris, former chief executive of Ramblers Scotland. They had legally walked there across land north of the border owned by the Duke of Buccleuch. The southern contingent had technically trespassed over a farm track and private woodland to arrive at the dyke, before staging a ceremony in a Scottish field which was symbolically doused with Newcastle Brown Ale and Scotch whisky.
The Borderlands event was arranged by the Right to Roam campaign, bidding to replicate Scotland’s statutory freedom to walk, row or swim across the vast majority of open land, farm fields, woods and waterways in England and Wales.
Scotland’s longstanding traditions of free access, subject to restrictions to protect private gardens and work such as forestry, were enshrined in law by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003; the protest at Scots Dyke was intended to mark the act’s 20th anniversary.
In England and Wales, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 is far more restrictive. It provides “strikingly limited” rights which are also starkly unequal, argues the Right to Roam campaign.
The act allows free access to only 8% of England and Wales, chiefly along defined paths or designated open land such as national parks. But that leads to hugely unequal levels of access for people to their local areas. While 72% of the Peak District has open access, that falls to 0.6% in Kent.
Recent analysis by the New Economics Foundation and the Ramblers shows deep social inequalities regarding access to designated rights of way in England and Wales; people in the richest areas have 80% more paths, and in the whitest areas have 144% more.
The England and Wales act also prevents free access to around 97% of England and Wales’ lakes and rivers, unlike Scotland’s legislation, which allows kayakers, swimmers and rowers the statutory right to use nearly all open water.
The Right to Roam campaign is pinning its hopes on Labour following through on its recent pledges to replicate Scotland’s access laws for England and Wales if it wins power at the next election.
Nadia Shaikh, a Right to Roam organiser, told the protesters the Scottish legislation allowed English activists “to remind ourselves this is absolutely possible; it is absolutely achievable”.
But there are splits in the English access movement: the Ramblers group believes the English act can be enhanced to include access to watersides (but not on to the water), to woodlands and some downlands. England’s very large number of rights of way makes Scotland’s model unsuitable and unnecessary, and would undermine the “trust and consensus” built with landowners, they argue.
In a brief ceremony at the Scots Dyke, Wightman handed over a mocked-up land reform bill for England and Wales – modelled heavily on Scotland’s legislation – to 11-year-old Shafag Elnour, the daughter of Sudanese refugees now living in Newcastle.
“I just think that we should have a right to roam,” said Elnour, carrying a small green banner she had made with the slogan “right 2 roam” in her hands.
“It is just stupid that all those people buy lots and lots of land and do nothing with it.”
Her father, Mohaned Ahmed, a human rights lawyer and consultant present at the event with Elnour’s two brothers and mother, said being a black refugee added additional barriers to enjoying the English countryside.
“I think it is inhuman that land is for a handful of people, not for everyone,” he said.