Writing with fierce honesty, Jennifer Miller has created an extraordinary synthesis of history, reportage, and coming-of-age memoir in Inheriting the Holy Land. Her groundbreaking perspective on the conflict is presented through interviews with young Israelis and Palestinians and conversations with some of the most influential officials involved in the Middle East, including Shimon Peres, Yasir Arafat, James Baker, Benjamin Netanyahu, Colin Powell, Ehud Barak, and Mahmoud Abbas. This book will open eyes, open hearts, and open minds.
Miller grew up in an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C., surrounded by the chaotic politics of the Middle East. Her father was a U.S. State Department negotiator at the Oslo and Camp David peace summits, and dinnertime conversation in the Miller household often included discussions of the Middle Eastern conflict. When Miller joined Seeds of Peace, a program that brings Middle Eastern kids to Maine for intensive sessions of conflict resolution, her real experience with the Middle East began. As she befriended young Palestinians, Israelis, Egyptians, and Jordanians, Jennifer came to realize that their views were missing from the ongoing debate over the Holy Land. By helping these young voices be heard, she knew she could reveal something vitally new and deeply challenging about the future of this torn region.
Miller, however, learned fast that it was one thing to hang out at the idyllic Seeds for Peace camp in Maine and quite another to confront young people on their own turf-in the alleys of East Jerusalem, behind the armed gates of West Bank settlements, in the teeming refugee camps of Gaza. Friendships that had blossomed in the United States withered in the aftermath of yet another suicide bombing. Big-hearted teens on both sides of the conflict shocked Miller with the ferocity of their illusions and the twisted logic of their misconceptions. But she also found rays of hope in places where others had reported only despair-surprising open-mindedness among the ultra-religious, common ground shared by those who had lost loved ones to the violence, a yearning for peace amid the rubble of refugee camps and the shards of bombed cities.
A deft writer, she interweaves her startlingly candid interviews with the vibrant realities of life in the streets. Just as Jennifer Miller was forced to confront her biases as an American, a Jew, a woman, and a journalist, in Inheriting the Holy Land, she similarly challenges readers to reexamine their own cherished prejudices and assumptions.
Though only 24, Miller, the daughter of a U.S. State Department negotiator and a mother active in the leadership program Seeds for Peace, is something of a veteran of Middle Eastern matters. Her own involvement with Seeds for Peace, which primarily helps Arab and Israeli students learn the delicate arts of negotiation and conflict resolution, begins in 1996, and it is the intensity of her first experiences with the group--which took place in the hopeful period between the Oslo accords and the rise of the second intifada--that inform her fundamentally optimistic point of view. But the past half-decade has been hard for such optimists, and Miller's ambitious, personal exploration of the conflict (especially its ruinous effect on the youth of the region) is often conflicted and raw, angry and impatient. Her best diplomatic instincts don't preserve her from disgust at much of what she hears and sees from everyone from Arafat to Powell, from a settlement mayor to the denizens of a Ramallah pizza joint; she is even prepared to condemn her own father's "watery evasions." Miller's passionate advocacy of fairness and clarity can seem at times na�ve, but her commitment to the process of peace comes through at every point.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 18, 2006
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Excerpt from Inheriting the Holy Land by Jennifer Miller
An Unusual Friendship
It was the largest Star of David I'd ever seen suspended from someone's neck. I was in Maine for the first day of the Seeds of Peace Camp 2003, and the bus carrying the Israeli delegation had just opened its doors. I was there to observe and select some of the Israelis and Palestinians who appear in this book. I wanted to include both the students I knew from my years as a camper and some of the new kids who were attending Seeds of Peace in the middle of the second intifada. One by one, they were getting out, catching their first glimpses of the lake. And suddenly, there it was: a Jewish star the size of a silver dollar swinging over a blue T-shirt. "Now that's what I call bling-bling!" someone behind me said. It was true; I'd seen plenty of Israelis strutting their stars down the camp road, wearing their chains like rappers, though this one was the most eye-catching. "So you're a tough guy?" I silently asked the skinny kid with the outrageous star. "This is Seeds of Peace, not South Central."
That was before I knew Omri, before he knew me, and before I had any insight into his politics.
Omri, fifteen, is dark and skinny with large, searching eyes. He is Israeli to the core and clearly has the jewelry to prove it. The six-pointed Star of David (which he got as a promotion from his favorite Israeli rapper) is both a Jewish symbol and a national Israeli emblem. Omri also wears his father's army tag, which he keeps in a dark green canvas pouch. For him, the tag symbolizes his love of the army. He swiped it from his father's dresser one day and was afraid his dad would get angry. Instead, his father was honored. I imagine this scene: Omri pulling up his shirt, showing off the tag on his bony brown chest, perhaps puffing up to look more manly. I imagine the pride in his father's eyes.
One afternoon in the camp dining hall, I asked to see the tag, and Omri placed the silver rectangle on the table with great care, like a jeweler appraising his diamonds. For Omri, Israel is forever.
Omri is a Mizrahi Jew--a Jew of Middle Eastern descent. His mother was born in Turkey and his paternal grandparents are from Yemen. His family was part of the Jewish community that flourished throughout the Arab and Islamic world. Many of these Middle Eastern Jews were deeply integrated into their respective societies and had been for decades. The events of 1948, however, came as a revolution for these Jewish communities, as it did for the entire Middle East.
From the end of World War One until May of 1948, a British mandate had governed Palestine. The British made various unsuccessful attempts to map out a viable political future for the Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine. In 1947 the United Nations suggested a partition plan that would divide Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states with Jerusalem as an international district. Despite a great deal of internal opposition, the Jewish leadership endorsed the plan. The Arabs, however, rejected it, saying they opposed the Jewish claim to a state in Palestine.
When the 1947 partition plan failed, Britian withdrew its forces. The Jewish community in Palestine declared the independence of the State of Israel, and the next day, armies of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Iraq attacked the nascent Israeli state. The Israelis were highly organized in comparison to the uncoordinated Arab forces, and though the Arab soldiers outnumbered the Jews, Jewish forces had the upper hand in some of the most strategic battles. By the war's end, Israel had signed cease-fires with each country. These were armistice agreements, not treaties; the Arab countries refused to acknowledge Israel's legitimacy.
Israel captured all of historic Palestine excluding the Gaza Strip, which remained part of Egypt, and the land west of the Jordan River, today known as the West Bank. (Israel did not capture the West Bank and Gaza until a second Arab-Israeli war in 1967.)
The war of 1948, which Israel calls its war of independence and the Arabs call al-Nakba, "The Catastrophe," resulted in the creation of over 700,000 Palestinian refugees. These were Palestinian Arabs who fled to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria as a result of Jewish-Arab hostilities. Some of these refugees fled believing they could return to their homes at the war's end; others were intimidated into leaving by reports of Jewish atrocities. Many of these stories were fiction, but others, such as the infamous massacre of Arab civilians in the village of Dir Yassin, were true. Finally, the Jewish forces forcibly expelled Arabs whose land was necessary to built a contiguous Israeli state.