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Monday, July 19, 2010

Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978

Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978

This is a pretty interesting memoir. His parents were "arabists" with the Foreign Service for his entire life. He talks about he and his family knowing Salem, the brother of Osama bin Laden (apparently polar opposite), living for a time in the same neighborhood as Zarkawi, knowing both the old and the divided Jerusalems. What he has to say about all of these subjects and people is intriguing. He grew up with a knowledge of the suffering and injustice of the Palestinians that most Americans then and now don't have. Not long before meeting his Jewish American future wife, though, he notes his "...passion for the plight of the Palestinians was already tiring." That's the other interesting fact, that his wife is Jewish American daughter of Holocaust survivors. An interesting mix, as no story of either the Nakba or the Nazi Holocaust can avoid discussion of Palestine and Israel and vice versa.

He has an interesting insight as a Foreign Service child before meeting his wife and entering journalism. He seems a bit embarrassed about his early sympathy for Palestinians and acknowledges Palestininan propaganda and referred to that period as a time when he was a partisan. He rightly condemns Palestinian violence and Nazi violence and again, rightly is disgusted by it. He also makes clear his opposition to comparing the Holocaust with the Palestinian experience, which Finklestein would take issue with, but that's another book. In the careful retelling of his wife's parents' and grandparents' ordeals in the Holocaust, he is very detailed. The telling of the arrival of Jews to Palestine and Jewish terrorist groups' murder of Palestinians and immediate takeover of their homes is not really given as much detail, care or disgust. I realize the Holocaust was on a bigger scale and he has more connection to this narrative by marriage, but the crimes were savage and Palestinians didn't deserve to be kicked out. I guess there are only certain times when a journalist may break with the code and condemn criminals- the Holocaust and 9/11 being two biggies; the Nakba clearly not being one.

He does observe many many times where peace could have been achieved between Israelis and Palestinians, but Israelis were the ones who missed the opportunity. In the usual American or Israeli telling, Barak offered the Palestinians a generous offer to which they refused and so this is why Palestinians are in such a mess now; Bird at least doesn't abandon support for Palestinians for the far right narrative of "making the desert bloom" and "there is no such thing as Palestinians." Also revealed are many times we could have stepped in to help, but failed. In fact, we stepped in to help royal families (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and in Egypt we supported anti-Nasser influences supposedly to combat Communism that led to the Muslim Brotherhood's strengthening, not to mention Iran...) more often - which also led to negative developments in that country and the Israel/Palestine issue.

Today, the notion of Israel as a secular, democratic and possibly binational state is still controversial, but strangely even more taboo. You can be called an anti-Semite, Holocaust denier, or condemned for calling for the destruction of Israel if you dare talk about the possibility of Israel and Palestine that way. Bird describes how the Jewish voices who wanted a multicultural, secular state lost to the messianic Zionists who by their own admission consigned themselves to constant state of war. This was rather interesting as I had assumed Jews were fairly united in wanting a Jewish state in particular.

a quote:
As Avishai observes in his deeply incisive book The Hebrew Republic: "You cannot live in Hebrew and expect no repercussions from its archaic power. You cannot live in a state with an official Judaism, in addition to this Hebrew, and expect no erosion of citizenship. You can, as most Israelis do, speak the language, ignore the archaism, and tolerate the Judaism. But then you should not expect your children to understand what democracy is." (p369-370)
A very truthful take on the matter.

One state was considered at the beginning and I still see this as the best way for all to have rights and live in peace.


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