It may seem surprising that a lengthy exploration of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians could be entertaining. But Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Ben Cramer manages to pull off just such a feat while sacrificing neither the gravity of the situation nor the intricacies of a political and religious war that seems to grow perpetually more bloody and intractable. He argues that Israel is being slowly destroyed by their continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, which is in turn destroying the Palestinians' hopes for a homeland of their own. Cramer's book is divided into four questions about the conflict ("Why do we care about Israel?", "Why don't the Palestinians have a state?", "What is a Jewish state?", and "Why is there no peace?") modeled after the questions asked at a Passover seder. It's tricky to bring fresh insight to the situation in the Middle East since the cycle of attacks and subsequent retaliations is so depressingly perpetual. But Cramer ! strikes just the right tone to spark reader interest: irreverent without being inappropriate, blunt and direct without oversimplifying, and passionate without being biased. He's at his best in the book's final chapter, offering advice for hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ("Give back the land - the West Bank and Gaza") and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ("bring one actual lawyer and someone to talk English on TV"). And while the history lessons provided in How Israel Lost
are worthwhile, particularly to those whose knowledge of the conflict doesn't reach past the morning papers, it's Cramer's personal anecdotes of the human beings in the middle of the crisis and his own experiences covering it, combined with his lively writing, that make this such a compelling read. --John Moe
From Publishers Weekly
If ever a book on Israel and the Palestinians was a good read, it's this introduction to the half-century-long conflict. Cramer, who won a Pulitzer in 1979 for Middle East reporting, divides his book into four parts, dealing with four questions on the model of the four questions asked by children at the Passover seder. He blends up-to-the-minute events of the Palestinian uprising with memories of his time as a Middle East correspondent in the late 1970s and early 1980s for the Philadelphia Inquirer
. Cramer is great at telling an anecdote, whether about his visit as a correspondent to an Arab village where he learns about both hospitality and honor, or about a recent visit to an Israeli family that he finds instructive regarding Palestinians' inability to reconcile themselves to a Jewish presence. When it comes to prognosis, Cramer shoots straight from the hip in giving advice to both sides. He's of the "plague on both of their houses" school ("I should have told [the mother of a dead Palestinian militant] the same thing I would have told Sharon: ...you can't make a nation... based on whom you hate, or how many of them you kill"), and he's equally dismissive of Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, although he seems to come down harder on the Israelis for failing to recognize the Arab world's need for honor. Many will find this a welcome personal introduction to the conflict, but those looking for a more measured tone would be better served with David Horovitz's Still Life With Bombers
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