In Palestine's Eyes

Writings that side against Israel.


by Roane Carey (editor), Noam Chomsky (Verso, $20) TO UNDERSTAND the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is necessary to acknowledge one fact: The West Bank and Gaza Strip are formerly autonomous territories that have been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. The residents of some 227 areas nominally under Palestinian control are separated from each other by blockaded roads, government red tape, and the very reasonable fear of violence at the hands of Israeli soldiers. Thus peace discussions between Israel and Palestinian leaders of the occupied territories aren't negotiations between equals, but attempts to arrange a kinder, gentler military occupation. Once sufficiently enlightened, there is much the reader can learn from this collection of essays and articles on life in the occupied territories since the September 2000 Palestinian uprising. As socio-political critic Noam Chomsky explains in his introduction, the notoriously pro-Israeli U.S. media provides one side of the story. This book seeks to counter with its decidedly pro-Palestinian perspective. Don't expect any more than that: Suicide bombings are first mentioned almost 100 pages into the book, and even then only to dismiss the murders of Israeli mall shoppers as a poor political strategy. But while much of the writing is overly scholarly, this book isn't just for the professor of Middle East Studies. Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif's stirring account of her visit to the occupied West Bank (first published in The Guardian, a British newspaper) wouldn't win awards for objectivity, but her despair and fury at the treatment of the Palestinian population makes the piece both powerful and troubling. Supposedly seeking to interview "a righteous Israeli," the best she can do is arrange an audience with a settler—one of thousands of ultrareligious Jewish rightists who have relocated to the occupied territories to ensure that Israel never relinquishes its control. (He turns out to be a standard-issue religious fanatic and, consequently, a rather unpleasant fellow.) Equally compelling is a letter from a teacher and essays by his students describing an Israeli attack on the West Bank town of Beit Jala, a mostly Christian Palestinian community near Jerusalem. On the night of Nov. 15, 2000, shots were fired at a nearby Israeli settlement. The military guards responded by pouring heavy machine-gun fire and rockets into the nearest section of the town, injuring many civilians and killing Dr. Harry Fischer, a German physician tending to the wounded. Samar Hazboun, a friend of Fischer's teenage daughter, Raphaella, recalls ignoring his mother's advice and phoning her as soon as he heard the news. "I have never asked her 'How are you?' but this time I did," he writes. "'We are still alive, but my Dad passed away [was her response].' All words suddenly became meaningless, and not knowing what to say, I whispered 'Coming right away.'" THE MORE factual material in this book is also interesting but never as stirring as the few first-person accounts. Readers of pro- Israeli U.S. media pundits such as The New York Times' Thomas Friedman might benefit from this different perspective. Friedman often argues that the Palestinian leadership purposely encourages children to put themselves into the gunsights of Israeli soldiers, calling their deaths "a modern form of ritual sacrifice." Contrast this with Soueif's account of her meeting with Palestinian militia leader Marwan Barghouti, a man vilified by the Israeli press and one who lives under the constant threat of physical violence. During the interview a friend cuts in to note that Barghouti's 16-year-old son has been seen in the crowd of youths challenging Israeli soldiers at the town's barricades. "The man insists: 'You have to stop him.' And for a moment the militia leader looks helpless. 'I can't,' he says. 'How can I?'" Moments such as this impart far more than any hundred pages of academic political analysis.

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