Friday, June 19, 2009

From Beirut to Jerusalem - Book

“Why can’t the Israelis and the Palestinians stop fighting and just get along?” I used to wonder from the comfort of my couch in America, when violent images and news from the BBC World Service about that part of the Middle East disturbed my suburban peace.

I am quite sure that I am not the only one guilty of such simplistic thinking. Tom Friedman’s book, “From Beirut to Jerusalem” tells us why.

It is a book of his 10 years living in and reporting from Lebanon and Israel. It was written exactly 20 years ago, but is still just as relevant today.

Once in a long while, a book about a place comes out which is better than even going to that place. FBTJ is definitely one such book. Less than a year ago, I was in Israel and we visited Jerusalem and the West Bank. But there is no way that wandering about as a tourist for 10 days can compare with the writings of an insightful journalist who’s spent years there.

Friedman is a three time(!) Pulitzer-winner, and he won the National Book Award for this book. With a newspaperman’s eye for telling anecdotes and a novelist’s ability with visual metaphors he makes this book very readable, though it is not light reading by any means. In the book, we meet the frustrated Palestinian young woman who says “Arafat is the stone we throw at the world,” and the top Israeli officer who is so worried about the possible consequences of the intifada that he privately admits, “The sooner the Palestinians return to terrorism, the better it will be for us.”

The book helped me understand how the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have different goals from the Palestinians in Lebanon and Jordan and Syria and from the Israeli Arabs. (I will go so far as to say that this book should be made mandatory reading for college students who study the Middle East.)

I realize that not everyone has the time to read a 570 page book. I read a few pages a day in several places in India, and in trains and it took me a long time to finish the book. If you are really pressed for time, you should still consider borrowing the book from your library and read just the chapter titled ‘Faultline.’

In this very skillfully written chapter, Friedman has us angry at the Palestinians for the ways in which they make Israelis' lives uncomfortable, and a couple of pages later, we are fuming about the way the Israelis treat the Palestinians. Throughout the chapter, Friedman does this over and over, and we are disabused of our ideas that any simple solution would work and we realize how complex and layered the problem is.

For those who want to learn about the region, I highly recommend this book.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, this is one of the best written books about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.