Dear reader,

Today, we have a wonderful addition to our line-up of Earth essays, “Lessons from Green Circle Eco Farm: honouring a diverse, biocultural community”, by Ethel Pang, first-time Jom contributor. 

But I’d like to start by discussing Israel and Palestine. In last week’s newsletter, I spoke about one of the hardest topics we’ve had to deal with thus far, as a year-old, indie media outfit: the loss of innocent Israeli and Palestinian lives. Faris, our history editor writing in his weekly blurb, and I, writing in this newsletter, deliberately wanted to centre the civilians killed by the other side, while also contextualising the conversation within a Singapore frame.

In doing so, there may have been insufficient historical and situational detail. There’s only so much we can do in a limited space and, well, of course we can always do better. I was reminded this past week of the moment 18 months ago when Charmaine, Jean, Waye and I were conceptualising Jom’s values. One of them is: “Humility. We believe that the quest for truth is never-ending and that our next story can always be better than our last.”

This week, as we contend with fake stories and videos around the conflict, and as we try to make sense of which side bombed the hospital, I feel it’s good to think about the first bit of that. The quest for truth is never-ending, more so with this intractable issue, which pains our hearts and affects us deeply, than any other.

We received several letters and comments from readers. Faris and I spent a lot of time discussing their criticisms of our work, and responding to them with our positions. Many seemed to misrepresent us, perhaps unintentionally, which led to discussions with them about our framing and word choices. We decided to publish one letter on Jom’s letters page

We’re grateful to this reader, who’s chosen to remain anonymous, given the online vitriol. Indeed, one person on Instagram smeared Faris with terms that I shan’t repeat. Please don’t do that. We had to delete the comment. I hope the person reads the above letter to get a sense for the kinds of conversations we’re trying to foster. 

Several readers also suggested a proper Jom long-form essay on the issue. We’d love to do that, and will aim for something deep and considered, perhaps for mid-2024. “There are major paradigm shifts happening in this current eruption and it’s better to wait until the dust settles, when people are less bombarded by unfolding headlines, and can take a longer-term view,” Faris told me.

In the meantime, one foreign piece I enjoyed was The Economist’s briefing last Friday, which described the suffering of ordinary people amid serious miscalculations from both sides’ leaders. One local one was this Instagram post by Walid Abdullah, assistant professor at NTU. (Disclosure: Walid endorsed Jom in our first ad campaign.) Among other things, Walid name-checked K Shanmugam, home affairs and law minister, for this comment: “It is possible to deplore how the Palestinians have been treated over the years. It is possible to deeply sympathise with the plight of the Palestinians, and yet still unequivocally condemn the terrorist attacks carried out in Israel.”

It is a rare day that I find myself nodding in agreement with dear Shan. Thankfully, the recent decision by the police and NParks to prohibit any gathering related to the conflict, including a peace rally at Hong Lim Park this Sunday, permitted me a return to form. It’s a poor decision, in my view, borne of overblown fears. It’ll prevent Singaporeans from having mature dialogues and from finding solace in our shared grief—things we so desperately need at a time like this. We write about this in “Singapore This Week”, alongside blurbs on community libraries, whistleblower protection, a culled croc, the 26th German Film Festival, and much more.

What made for more soul-nourishing editorial work this week was Ethel’s essay, in which she profiles Evelyn Eng-Lin, a Singaporean farmer with a unique approach to working the land. 

“...the moment you step onto the grounds of Green Circle Eco Farm, you are enveloped by foliage. Trees tower above, with climbing vines forming hedges that frame your vision. Tendrils snake at your feet, and birdsong rings overhead.

Visitors often remark on the ‘disorderliness’ of the farm, or marvel at the ‘flourishing verdant oasis of edible vegetation.’ Each urbanite’s choice of words reflects their level of comfort with the wilderness. But the point is that Green Circle resembles less a conventional commercial farm than a forest…”

It is a story of hope, resistance, and also the power of language. A reminder for us to keep talking, and to keep trying to find the right words.

Jom cakap,
Sudhir Vadaketh
Editor-in-chief, Jom

p.s. We had almost 200 people in the room this past Monday at our second “Jom Cakap” event, featuring Shibani Mahtani of The Washington Post, Karishma Vaswani of Bloomberg Opinion, and Sue-Lin Wong of The Economist. Young students and journalists, among others, shared rave reviews of the three speakers with me. It’s early days for our Jommunity, but as several of you told me, it’s nice that we’re all feeling a growing sense of belonging to it.

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