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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Prisoners- book review and comments

Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide
by Jeffrey Goldberg

First off, the title is a bit misleading. It should be renamed Jeff Goldberg and Jeff Goldberg across the Middle East Divide because it is far more autobiographical than about a conversation or friendship of Muslim and Jew. The title implies more history and insights from the Muslim than we get, which is next to nothing comparatively. He tells how he was hated by Christians growing up who called Jews Christ killers. He tells of being obsessed with reading about the Holocaust and listening to older relatives tell about it. He was enchanted by Kahane and other militant terrorist types at one point (and still can’t fathom why Palestinians would want to do the equivalent!). He went to Zionist socialist summer camps and longed to live in Israel for about a decade before he fulfilled the dream. Once there, he tried a kibbutz and the army before becoming disenchanted and returning to America. His time in the army at Ketziot prison during the first intifada is where the book takes place. Rafiq is the Muslim in the title and at that place they strike a tentative, cautious, tenuous, almost-friendship. Jeff is extremely critical of Palestinians, Islam and constantly suspects Rafiq of mal intent, notably when Rafiq gives him a clock and some other things to take back to America for a friend at the University and Jeff breaks into a cold sweat at night and smashes the clock to be sure it isn’t a bomb. Jeff doesn’t give us nearly the amount of history and insights on Rafiq as he does himself; I don’t think Jeff did him justice compared to the treatment in the title.

Jeff talks about a Jewish soldier who hates Arabs, but he justifies it in his mind because he got his arm blown off by a rocket. He doesn’t ever say the same of Palestinians- their rage is unjustifiable no matter the circumstances. He also shares (some stated, some my impression) his feeling about Arabs- they are dirty, stupid, guilty, want to kill Jews, all in prison are guilty, etc. He thinks Palestinians should try Gandhi and King’s methods, yet doesn’t say anything about Israel’s terrorist beginnings and if he thinks those are equally as appalling, wrong, criminal, immoral, etc. He spent his childhood longing to be an Israeli Jew with a gun instead of a weak Diaspora Jew and still can’t understand why Palestinians turn to violence to resist and survive. It makes no sense. He makes the assertion that Palestinians would have had a state had they tried Gandhi and King's methods. This is ridiculous for two reasons. First, Israelis who say this seem to forget how their state was formed- not by lessons from Gandhi- they looked more to Hitler. Second, Palestinian nonviolence was and is met with brute force, military crackdowns and death; if more engaged in it, I’m sure the death toll would mount and prisons would again fill up with those guilty of such horrors as waving a flag, praying, painting a slogan, etc and the US would give them more money to “put down the rebellion”.

He tells the story of a Jewish settler friend whose son was killed by Arabs and says he’s ready to give up that land for peace even though it would mean moving the gravesite. He wants to find a Muslim who thinks that way and says he hasn’t yet. I’m thinking it might have something to do with the amount of high level terrorists he has as contacts for his job. He talks to these guys about religion and can’t find a moderate. Go figure. He spent time at a Pakistani madrassa, did award winning pieces on Hezbollah, talked to Sheik Yassin and a ton of others. He also goes to talk to ex-prisoners, not all of whom are quite as forgiving as Rafiq about having started their lifetime prison careers for doing nothing but waving a flag or throwing a rock, without being charged for even that.

Jeff says he’s in search of a Muslim who wants peace more than to hate or kill Jews, but what he really wants is to find a Muslim to acknowledge Jewish suffering and 2000 year exile and triumphant return while ignoring the consequences of said return- al Nakba- massacres, unjust, unnecessary imprisonments (which ironically turned many from kids to revolutionaries and sometimes terrorist operatives), occupation, collective punishment that continue to today.

Not to mention, in addition to ignoring al-Nakba, we are to ignore the part of the Bible where the land promise is conditional upon obedience and the Israelites indeed were scattered, had famine, war, and pestilence visited upon them. My second problem is how after 2000 years of intermarriage with Europeans and other goyim, they are still considered Israelites returning from exile. My third would be how Jews exist after the coming of the Messiah, but I’m getting into theology now.

Jeff did not agree with punishing an individual for something he clearly did not do and took a stand in the prison on one occasion. He also stops a “friend” from beating an Arab he’d arrested to death. This is admirable, yet when it comes to admitting that Israel in fact frequently punishes those that have done nothing or dishes out punishments far in excess of the crime- he cannot fathom it.

nstead, you should read:
Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question by Edward Said - this is very comprehensive, but reads like a textbook and isn't what I'd call an easy read. Informative, though.

Drinking the Sea at Gaza by Amira Hass is enlightening.

Jimmy Carter's Palestine Peace Not Apartheid is good and short. It puts a lot of importance on his admin and US at the time of his presidency, though.

Queen Noor's book, Leap of Faith, has some good history in it, though it is baised toward Jordan. She leaves out how Jordan also screwed the Palestinians, but other than that it is a great book overall and has several passages about the major conflicts.

The Lemon Tree is a good one. It is the story of a 1948 Palestinian refugee who eventually meets and talks to the family that moved into his house weeks after his family was forced from it. This one is fairly balanced, though there is a ton about the Holocaust- probably due to the fact that the author is a Holocaust scholar. I was struck by how similar the Jewish march to trains to death camps were to the Zionist Jews killing and forcing Palestinians from their homes in 1948...

A Season of Stones: Living in a Palestinian Village by Helen Winternitz is good.

Gaza: A Year in the Intifada : A Personal Account from an Occupied Land by Gloria Emerson

Children of the Siege by Pauline Cutting

Days of Honey, Days of Onion: The Story of a Palestinian Family in Israel by Michael Gorkin

By Way of Deception: The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer
by Victor Ostrovsky

Norman Finkelstein, Paul Findley, Ghada Karmi, Noam Chomsky, Rashid Khalidi, John J. Mearsheimer are also good authors on this subject.

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