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Nonagenarian dude

16 November 2012


DORIAN "Doc" Paskowitz is not your average surfer dude. Not every Californian beach bum would pack up his surfboard - 15 boards, in fact - travel to the frontier of Israel and Gaza, and argue with the army guards for the right to deliver his boards to needy Palestinian surfers. And all of this at the age of 90.

Recollecting the effort of that journey, Dr Paskowitz broke down during his interview on The Gaza Surf Club (Radio 4, Monday of last week), a quirky look at the Palestinian situation from the point of view not of helicopter gunships, but the sand and the waves which form a more pleasant boundary to Gaza than the Israeli one.

Palestinians in Gaza cannot travel; they are hemmed in, besieged: but, on the waves, they can, in Dr Paskowitz's words, experience one of the Zen moments where the mind vanishes. That Dr Paskowitz is Jewish, and in 1956 introduced young Israelis to surfing for the first time, lends his actions today an even greater resonance.

Apart from the sense of liberation that surfing in troubled waters must bring, the Gazan surfers experience this in a very different way from Western thrill-seekers. As Matt Olsen, the son of a US diplomat who founded the club of young Palestinians, explained, Western surfing is an essentially selfish pursuit. Etiquette demands that there be just one surfer per wave. Yet, off the Gaza coast, young men are not just sharing the waves, but holding hands as they do so; and all of this accompanied by a clamour of exuberant whistling.

Mr Olsen and Dr Paskowitz have a new dream: a "Paddle for Peace", which would involve Palestinians and Israelis swimming beyond the coastal boundaries of their respective territories, and, in international waters, creating a circle of friendship. I would not be surprised if Doc manages this triumph as well.

Most of us have probably found ourselves in the position of wanting to recount the contents of a talk, but, when we try to re-articulate the argument, it all crumbles. It is like trying to recall a vivid dream. In the same way, I try to recall last week's Analysis: Labour and the Catholic Left (Radio 4, Monday), and cannot now identify any feature of it that made any real sense, beyond its own interior discourse.

I look at my notes, and find scribbled lines such as "human dignity, the common good, solidarity, and subsidiarity", and, more ludic still, "the We in Me and the Me in We", and wonder what on earth Matthew Taylor and his experts were trying to tell us - beyond, of course, the palpably obvious point that politicians are interested in engaging with traditional Roman Catholic values of what the Labour peer Maurice Glasman calls "reciprocity".

That these ideas apparently go back to Aristotle via Aquinas demonstrates not that this is a remarkable development in British politics, but quite the reverse - that this is as old as the hills. And what of those tiresome Roman Catholic injunctions on individual moral behaviour? Lord Glasman's circumspection on this topic was heroic. Catholic social teaching is like a gift that, once received, must take its place in the recipient's house along with all the other gifts: another CD in the philosophical CD collection.

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