North Africa, West Asia

It's raining, it's pouring and a book review

Days after the Jordan, Israel and Palestine water agreement is signed, rain falls in abundance. Efraim shares his experience in the Negev and how he took advantage of the time spent in confinement to read "The Dictators Handbook".

Efraim Perlmutter
17 December 2013

I ended my last contribution to this forum with "Let us all pray for rainy weather in the Negev this winter." Someone seems to have a direct line to the deity as immediately thereafter we were blessed with abundant rain in the Negev and across the rest of the country as well as major parts of the Middle East. The rain gauge in my garden registered more than 100 millimeters while some places not far away registered more than twice that amount. To give you an idea of what that means, the average annual rainfall in our village is 170 millimeters and we haven't achieved even that for the past few years. Just about all of our fields are irrigated and we have a yearly water allocation of about 2,000,000 cubic meters. We were looking at the prospect of running over the limit of our allocation in December, the last month of the year. However in this last rainfall approximately 300,000 cubic meters of rain water fell from the heavens to irrigate our fields. This means that we will end the year with a surplus rather than a deficit in our water accounts.

Because of the inclement weather, classes in some schools were cancelled, including the Bedouin school where I teach. My wife and I drove around our area to see the overflowing wadis (valleys). Our excursion was cut short because some of the highways were flooded out and closed.

Efraim Perlmutter. All rights reserved.

However, I managed to get a few photos of rapidly flowing water in what looks like respectable rivers now but in the summer months will revert to their natural state as dry riverbeds.

Efraim Perlmutter. All rights reserved.

Having a long weekend and not being able to work on the farm because of the rain, I had a chance to read a book that, in my opinion, can change one's views about how the political world works. The book is "The Dictators Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics" by Bruce Bueno De Mesquita and Alastair Smith. In the interest of total disclosure I should report that Bruce and his wife Arlene were our best friends in graduate school. He went on to a very successful career in academia while my wife and I devoted ourselves to growing tomatoes in the Negev. We kept a tenuous connection over the years and recently took advantage of a short trip back to the States to visit with Bruce and Arlene in New York. He gave me a copy of his latest book and I had the chance to read it on my rain-enforced vacation weekend.

The central thesis of the book is that the main goal of political leaders is to remain in office and that they act accordingly. The thesis is used to analyze the behavior of numerous political actors ranging from the city manager and city council of Bell California and the miscreant behavior of the Board of Directors of the Enron Corporation to Sergeant Doe, of Liberia and the Green Bay Packers; with other numerous examples drawn from contemporary events as well as ancient, modern and biblical history along the way.

I was particularly impressed and depressed by chapter seven, the analysis of the impact of foreign aid. A couple of decades ago a young Dutch fellow, named Bert, worked as a volunteer in our village. He went on to work in an institution for mentally disabled children in Be'er Sheva. Bert decided to see Africa and took a year off to travel down that continent from Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa. He passed through our village on his way back to Holland and I asked him what he had concluded from his travels. His response was that all foreign aid should be stopped because it was not being used to help the populace but rather to enrich the corrupt leaderships. "The Dictator's Handbook" takes this observation one step further and argues that foreign aid has been used mainly to keep the corrupt dictators in power. Considering the gazillions of funds that have come from the USA, France, Great Britain, Russia, China and elsewhere that have been used to oppress numerous populations, I must conclude that foreign aid has been, in the main, a crime against humanity.

Though a thoroughly depressing work, "The Dictator's Handbook" does make a positive point that is appropriate for a forum named "openDemocracy". It is that while not perfect, democratic systems of government, run by leaderships whose main goal is to stay in power, do, in fact, act in ways that increase the available wealth and spread it around to wider portions of the population while authoritarian regimes do just the opposite. This is the case no matter what the self-proclaimed ideologies of either type of regime happen to be. This may be self-evident to some but I fear that it is not apparent to many.

Appropriately, on the morning that the rain stopped and the sun came out, I read a news report about an agreement signed by Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority cooperating on a water producing and sharing project. (For commentary see this piece.) 

Back in the 1950's President Eisenhower sent a water expert to the Middle East to develop a water sharing plan between Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel. There was no Palestinian Authority then as the West Bank was occupied by Jordan. The plan was created to benefit the populations of each state but it was rejected by the Arab States who would do nothing for their own people if it also benefited Israel. As it happened, both Jordan and Israel carried out their parts of the plan independently while Syria took action to disrupt both of their neighbors' water supply. A lot of blood and water has flown under the bridge since then and perhaps the political leadership of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority see their staying in power as being tied to the increased welfare of their people. This would be considered a positive development by the authors of "The Dictator's Handbook". The current authoritarian Syrian regime is acting pretty much as expected. 

On second thought rather than praying for more rain in the Negev, let's all pray for me winning the national lottery. Of course it might help if I bought a ticket.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData