Dreams of Unity and Stability: a long-lost Biblical vision for the Holy Land

As the world awaits the next eruption of violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the prospects of a lasting settlement in the Holy Land appear remarkably faint. Questions over statehood, territory and security remain unsolved and the map of the Middle East remains a permanent state of flux.

Things were not always so complicated…at least the holy books would have you believe. The below map comes from Martin Waldseemüller’s pioneering first modern atlas, published in 1513. It shows the Holy Land divided neatly between the Twelve Tribes of Israel, as described in scripture.


Each one of the Twelve Tribes is said to have descended from one of the sons of Jacob, the patriarch of the Israelites. They inhabited the three kingdoms of Galilee, Samaria and Judea between the 10th and 8th centuries BCE.

Whilst the map suggests equality and stability, in reality (or at least Biblical reality) it was not so straightforward. Surrounded by Assyrians, Philistines and countless other tribes, the Israelites always faced a struggle for survival.

Yet the status quo lasted for some three centuries, despite territorial encroachment, religious disagreement and ambitious outsiders. With a situation not too dissimilar today, one can only dream of such longevity.

A blood-stained prayer book after the Jerusalem synagogue attack



Little Precedent for Abandoning the Nuclear Dream: America’s Toughest Assignment

Only thirteen states have ever possessed nuclear weapons (including North Korea, whose potential nuclear arsenal is still very much an unknown quantity). Of these thirteen, only four have ever given up their nuclear status, and of these only one had an independent nuclear programme anyway.

Few have possessed the expertise and resources to pursue a nuclear weapons programme
Few have possessed the expertise and resources to pursue a nuclear weapons programme

This latter state is South Africa, whose Apartheid government assembled six nuclear weapons after several decades of research partly indebted to American scientific expertise. Whilst there is no concrete evidence that South Africa ever conducted any nuclear testing, the 1979 Vela Incident – in which a ‘double flash’ of light typical of such experiments was detected by US monitors – is thought to have been a joint test between South Africa and Israel.

South Africa voluntarily dismantled its nuclear stockpile in 1989 for what it considered to be an essential reason; the Apartheid regime was failing and the black-majority African National Congress (ANC) was almost certain to take power within the next few years. To concede their country was one thing for the Afrikaners but to give their black successors nuclear capabilities was unthinkable.

The RSA-3 missile, a South African design capable of carrying a 700kg nuclear warhead
The RSA-3 missile, a South African design capable of carrying a 700kg nuclear warhead

The only other states to have given up their nuclear weapons are Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine. All of these countries had been part of the Soviet Union and on independence in the early 1990s found themselves with a nuclear stockpile. Under pressure from Russia, these weapons were returned to the ‘motherland’ and were, in essence, not indigenous designs, just as the American nuclear warheads stored in Europe today aren’t.

So South Africa is the only country to abandon its indigenous nuclear programme in history. Without the eventual success of the anti-Apartheid movement, the Nationalist Party would surely not have given up such a precious deterrent and status symbol.

Therefore to think that Iran will turn its back on its own nuclear development is almost unthinkable. Sanctions may hurt yet when it comes to nuclear power economics often go out of the window. Look at North Korea, or even Pakistan for that instance. They are two nations who cannot really afford a nuclear arsenal and still consider such technology essential for their self-preservation.


Global leaders have long voiced concern over the possibilityty that North Korea – a state that will almost certainly implode one day – will acquire credible nuclear weapons and the same fears should be applied to Iran. This is not a stable nation, with great fissures between the conservative political and religious hierarchy and the reformist beliefs of some younger politicians and pro-democracy activists.

The P5+1 group has to take a tough stance and recognise that, in all probability, Iran will continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons. This will raise the stakes in the Middle East still further and may prompt Israel to make the decisive move in breaking the uneasy status quo.

When that day comes, the whole world will sit up and take notice.

Charles Manson, Prisoner Marriage and Conjugal Visits: what’s wrong with punishing offenders?

Mass murderer Charles Manson has inexplicably been granted a marriage license to wed 26-year-old Afton Elaine Burton. It is just the latest example of California’s generous prison laws, which make a mockery of the idea that incarceration is supposed to be some form of punishment.

The marriage has outraged the families of Manson's victims
The proposed marriage has outraged the families of Manson’s victims

Burton, not the first woman in American history to suffer from Hybristophilia where Manson and other psychopaths are concerned, is not entitled to a conjugal visit with her soon-to-be-spouse because he is a life prisoner. Yet California is one of only four states remaining in the USA that retain the delusion that conjugal visits are an acceptable concept in the prison system.

In America it began in Mississippi where, in 1918, James Parchmann, the warden at the State Penitentiary, introduced conjugal visits to inspire the inmates to work harder. For a plantation penal colony high productivity was crucial and therefore, Parchmann reason, any incentive to boost economic output was worthwhile. Any notion that access to sexual relations was a privilege forfeited by the criminal fraternity obviously did not enter his mind.

Conjugal visits at Mississippi State Penitentiary were initially reserved for black convicts who, it was believed, had a greater need for sexual release
Conjugal visits at Mississippi State Penitentiary were initially reserved for black convicts who, it was believed, had a greater need for sexual release

A study of the conjugal visit at Mississippi State Penitentiary by Columbus Hopper in 1962 questioned the merits of the system. Unsurprisingly Hopper noted the prisoners’ favourable response to the policy and the staff too were consistently positive about it:

as a highly important factor in reducing homosexuality, boosting inmate morale and…comprising an important factor in preserving marriages.

Still, there was scant proof that it improved productivity and, indeed, there were arguments that conjugal visits heightened tensions within the prison. Single prisoners would not reap the potential benefits, it was suggested, and this in turn could lead to jealously and violence towards married inmates.

One of the prisoners interviewed spoke of the rehabilitative powers of the conjugal visit yet complained that ‘better facilities’ for the visits were required because ‘the present situation shows some disregard for feelings’.

This view is problematic and was echoed by inmates in the documentary Russia’s Toughest Prison:The Condemned about a Siberian jail holding only murderers. Allowed conjugal visits, some of the prisoners had had children during their incarceration and were still resentful that they were rarely allowed to see them or spend ‘proper’ time with their wives and lovers.

Prisons should be, first and foremost, places of punishment. Without this deterrent, crime will continue to proliferate, particularly when the economic realities of the modern world are too much to bear for many people and prison looks like an easy way out. Sex and marriage are an indelible right of the free. They should not be made available to any criminals, just as decent meals and excessive recreational opportunities should not be.

Facilities for conjugal visits are another expense for the prison authorities
Facilities for conjugal visits are another expense for the prison authorities

Mississippi, the place where it began, ended conjugal visits this year. Hopefully other states and nations will follow a similar path.

Next to abolish? Marriage for inmates. People like Charles Manson – a man culpable of the murder of a pregnant woman – should not be granted such sanctity, even if it is to be shared with a woman of a dubious mental equilibrium.


Hopper, C.B., ‘The Conjugal Visit at Mississippi State Penitentiary’, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (Volume 53, Issue 3)