Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

How Israel Lost: The Four Questions

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

How Israel Lost: The Four Questions

Article excerpt

How Israel Lost: The Four Questions By Richard Ben Cramer, Simon & Schuster, 2004, 307 pp. List: $24; AET: $18.50

In the interest of avoiding charges of bias, let it be noted at the outset that among the many resources cited in Richard Ben Cramer's "Author's Note and Acknowledgments" is this magazine-along with the Electronic Intifada, the Foundation for Middle East Peace and other proponents of justice for Palestinians. But all the wideranging reading in the world is of no avail without an open mind. Despite passing on some widely held misconceptions, however-such as that "in 1967, Israel was forced into war" (when, in fact, Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1982 described the Six-Day War as a "war of choice")-Cramer's lack of an agenda is refreshingly rare. And there's no question that he is a writer who calls them as he sees them.

As The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jerusalembased Middle East correspondent from 1978 to 1985, Cramer writes, "What I had to learn first was the depth of my ignorance." In so doing, he met and befriended not only Jews, but Palestinians-whom he describes as "hospitable, dignified, rational, articulate and oppressed. But," he recalls, "the true astonishment was, simply, they were here."

Cramer returned to Israel/Palestine in 2002 to learn what had caused the world-even The New York Times!-to temper, if not abandon, its unadulterated admiration for the Jewish state. How Israel Lost is the result.

Himself an American Jew, Cramer answers his first question, "Why do we care about Israel?", by noting that it is not the land or the state itself that so concerns America, but "that turtle-ish Jewish survivor." The Israelis-"no dummies"-have worked diligently over the years to foster the impression that "they are like us." Cramer describes as Israel's "first growth industry" the concept of "hasbarah-which literally translates as 'explaining/ but we might call it propaganda, or spin."

In discussing the ways in which, as a result of its post-1967 occupation, Israel has lost much of its original character, Cramer provides useful insights into the Israeli mentality. He notes on p. 3, for example: "Whatever Israel is for, most of the world opposes. The Palestinians see Israel's unpopularity as confirmation of their cause... .The Jews see it as confirmation of a tenet even more deeply held: the whole world is against them-no matter what they do."

Cramer is not a self-hating Jew, however (although he undoubtedly has been called one since writing this book). He "utterly loved" Israel, he explains, and writes passionately of Jews' "earnestness about examining life"-the loss of which he laments, along with a coarsening of national standards, in "the grim lab of Zion."

In posing his second question, "Why don't the Palestinians have a state?", Cramer notes that, unlike the Israelis, the Palestinians failed to "take control of their own national narrative"-the result being that, three decades after the nakba, journalists such as himself did not realize that, prior to the arrival of European Zionists, Palestine was, in fact, a land with people.

He proceeds to describe bluntly and unequivocally life under occupation, and its effect on a society based on honor and kinship. Cramer speculates that Israel's occupation is designed precisely to "attack the grace and glue of Palestinian society, which is honor." He goes on to argue that that very sense of honor is "one reason there is no peace. …

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