Once in a great while, a book comes along that not only discusses a topic of interest, it changes the boundaries of that discussion forever. This is such a book. In How Israel Lost Richard Ben Cramer analyzes the four questions that have bedeviled Israel and Palestine for almost forty years:
I. Why Do We Care About Israel?
II. Why Don't the Palestinians Have a State?
III. What Is a Jewish State?
IV. Why Is There No Peace?
With personal observation and sharp and challenging argument, Cramer insists that Israel is losing her soul by maintaining her occupation of the lands conquered in the Six Day War. Israel has become a victim of that occupation no less than the Palestinians, who must have a nation of their own. Cramer makes clear for the first time why the occupation endures and how it corrupts and corrodes the societies of both Arab and Jew.
Cramer's portrait of those societies is both up to the minute and timeless, enlivened at every step by his trademark humor, by humane understanding of the people caught in the conflict, and by his astonishing gift for language, theirs and ours. Both his observations and arguments are drawn with startling clarity, informed by the fierce and fearless reporting that won him the Pulitzer Prize for Middle East coverage twenty-five years ago.
The result is a book destined to produce both heat and light -- it is both shocking and a delight to read. This is journalism so sharp that it will change the story it set out to tell.
If ever a book on Israel and the Palestinians was a good read, it's this introduction to the half-century-long conflict. Cramer, who won a Pulitzer in 1979 for Middle East reporting, divides his book into four parts, dealing with four questions on the model of the four questions asked by children at the Passover seder. He blends up-to-the-minute events of the Palestinian uprising with memories of his time as a Middle East correspondent in the late 1970s and early 1980s for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Cramer is great at telling an anecdote, whether about his visit as a correspondent to an Arab village where he learns about both hospitality and honor, or about a recent visit to an Israeli family that he finds instructive regarding Palestinians' inability to reconcile themselves to a Jewish presence. When it comes to prognosis, Cramer shoots straight from the hip in giving advice to both sides. He's of the "plague on both of their houses" school ("I should have told [the mother of a dead Palestinian militant] the same thing I would have told Sharon: ...you can't make a nation... based on whom you hate, or how many of them you kill"), and he's equally dismissive of Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, although he seems to come down harder on the Israelis for failing to recognize the Arab world's need for honor. Many will find this a welcome personal introduction to the conflict, but those looking for a more measured tone would be better served with David Horovitz's Still Life With Bombers (Forecasts, Jan. 26). Agent, Philippa Brophy. (May 12) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Simon & Schuster
August 31, 2005
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Excerpt from How Israel Lost by Richard Ben Cramer
Chapter 1: Why do we care about Israel?
Why do we care about Israel? An eyelash of land around the eastern Mediterranean shore, in some spots the nation isn't ten miles wide. North to south, you can drive it in half a day -- if you don't get stuck behind some Polish geriatric squinting through the steering wheel of his first automobile, putting to a new test (at thirty-two miles per hour) his life's talent, which is survival. In fact, our care must be more for that turtle-ish Jewish survivor than for the land he drives. Even if the world called the question tomorrow and awarded to the Jews, or to the Arabs, every dunam of land in Palestine -- every hill, vineyard, olive grove and old stone house, every grain of difficult soil that's been fought over for a hundred years -- the whole ball of wax wouldn't match in mass, in fecundity or natural wealth, a quarter of a province of the Congo.
No, it isn't a great rich place, nor gloriously old as a nation-state -- fifty-years-and-change it has stood. Its apologists and ideologues tend to start their histories in the mist of Bible-time, to enforce an air of eternity, inevitability, permanence. But there's another story in what the Zionists called "the facts on the ground." There are still thousands of houses whose land records go back exactly for those fifty-years-and-change, and then their histories stop, blank and glaring, like the screen when a film snaps in the projector. These are the properties of "absentees" -- Arabs who ran away or were chased away in Israel's birth-war of 1948. Still, there are thousands of old men in refugee camps who will show you the keys to those houses -- keys they will pass on to their sons as prize and burden. And still there are the old Jewish fighters, whose preternatural vigor shows why the Arabs ran. On a research visit in 2003, I was privileged to tour the old Negev battlefields with Itzhak Pundak, a brigade commander from the '48 War. He marched me from a wrecked railroad bridge, around the Jewish sniper posts, onward to Egyptian artillery bunkers, from time to time regarding me narrowly from under handsome silvery brows. "Is this too much?" asked the eighty-nine-year-old. "Do you need a rest?"
We have never cared about Israel for her political influence -- she never held sway in what Bush the Elder called The New World Order. In the U.N., for example, you wouldn't go out of your way to win Israeli approval -- unless for some strange tactical reason you need an implacable majority of third-world nations against your proposal. Whatever Israel is for, most of the world opposes. This is one of the few truths embraced with satisfaction by both Arab and Jew. The Palestinians see Israel's unpopularity as confirmation of their cause. (They wuz robbed! They are victims! Their rights must be restored!) The Jews see it as confirmation of a tenet even more deeply held: the whole world is against them -- no matter what they do.