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Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege
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on February 28, 2009
This is a wonderful book. It is NOT a light or easy read. It is a lengthy, deep and profound work based on years of research, interviews and first hand experience by one of Israel's greatest journalists. The book is divided into chapters which cover different aspects of Gaza including the history of the current population (mostly refugees), the first Intifadah, the role of Hamas, the role of women, the Israeli economic strangulation. Although this book was first published in Hebrew about ten years ago it is still relevant. Just look at the subtitle "Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege". The main conflict and many of the principal forces and characters remain the same. There is a wealth of detailed economic analysis and statistics, much of it based on the excellent work of Sara Roy. There are also very interesting anecdotes and descriptions. Hass describes what it was like to be an Israeli Jew living in Gaza. What she recounts exposes many myths. This is a 'must read' work for anyone who wants to understand the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
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on October 28, 2016
Love her work ! This goes even deeper than the weekly articles in Haaretz.
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on November 8, 2013
Amira Haas is an Israeli journalist who by choice lives among the palestinians to see the occupation through their lives. It is informative and gives palestinians a human face.
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on April 12, 2013
This author has a direct language that is central to telling the stories of those who live in the contested lands of Gaza. She is openly sympathetic to these people who believe they are the victims of a cruel oppressor, but at the same time they are people who will do anything to avenge a percieved wrong, thereby continuing the cycle of violence. The plight of the youngest children of Gaza leads one to believe the future is bleak and pool of suicide bombers limitless.
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I first saw Amira Hass in a joint presentation with Ahdaf Soueif at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe, NM several years ago. It was almost a full house, most were in awe of the quiet demeanor of this most courageous and unusual woman. She was a reporter for the Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and a person of remarkable empathy for the dispossessed.

She conveyed her mother's memories of Sarajevo before the Second World War, "a tolerant city, almost idyllic..." where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together peacefully. Her book was for sale in the lobby after the lecture, and in it she explains her reason for choosing to live in Gaza, a place name many Israelis use interchangeably for "Hell." "In the end, my desire to live in Gaza stemmed neither from adventurism nor insanity, but from that dread of being a bystander, from my need to understand, down to the last detail, a world that is, to the best of my political and historical comprehension, a profoundly Israeli creation."(p. 7). Her approach is the antithesis of the "Big Man" theories of history, stating that: "... it has always been my conviction that history is made more in the currents of ordinary life than it is by rulers and their ceremonies."

She documents that ordinary life unflinchingly, in achingly painful detail. The daily humiliations that Palestinians endure in dealing with the Israeli bureaucracy she calls appropriately "Kafkaesque." For example, she says: "Israel's profound need to rewrite Palestinian history was evident in the identity cards issued to refugees born before 1948. If the card holder was born in the Gaza Strip, the space for `Place of Birth' was filled in with the name of a specific town or village, such as Khan Yunis or Jabalia. But if the card holder was born within the borders of what had since become the new Israeli state, then only one word appeared in that space: `Israel.' (p179). She describes the sadism that Yigal Amir, an Israeli soldier, practiced on the Palestinians, and which he eventually turned on Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister he assassinated. (p 23).

She is equally meticulous in documenting the economic inequalities and injustices committed on the Palestinians, the higher taxes they must pay compared to their Israeli counterparts, and the pitiful governmental services they receive in return. She explains the infamous "life" tax, even if you have no income, you must pay a tax for simply being alive - you must have income is the "reasoning" of the bureaucracy, otherwise you would be dead! She sums up these arrangements with that word that Jimmy Carter has also had the courage to use: "apartheid." (p148)

She lived in the Gaza for three years, never having her personal safety threatened. During this period, she also documented the corruption of the senior Palestinian leadership, which was a prime cause of the rise of various Islamic fundamentalist groups. It is even sadder to realize that this was during the "optimistic period" immediately following the Oslo Accords of 1993. Conditions today must be much worse than what she has described, and no hope is really in sight.

She deserves all the journalist and peace awards available for illuminating what she calls "terra incognita" for Israelis (but also for the world) "and easier now to demonize as a breeding round for terrorist intrigue and fundamentalism." (p342). This book should be read in every school, "war college," and diplomatic post.
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VINE VOICEon March 31, 2008
Written in the wake of the Oslo peace process, Drinking the Sea at Gaza vividly describes the unrelenting hardship that characterizes life in the Gaza Strip. Amira Hass, a journalist for the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz and a daughter of Holocaust survivors, shocked friends and colleagues when she became the first Israeli correspondent to live in the Strip. While there, she witnessed grinding poverty, the collective frustration that exploded into the first Intifada (uprising), and the hope instilled by the peace process, which gave way to desperation as it failed to assuage the suffering of the average Palestinian. "In the long run," Hass writes, "[Palestinians] will judge the Oslo measuring the breadth of their freedom as a people and as human beings." The book demonstrates how, ultimately, Oslo achieved neither, and Hass' account in many ways foreshadows the current crisis in Gaza.

Hass begins with an account of conditions under the Israeli occupation, ranging from the military presence, mass arrests, and curfews to the economic burdens of heavy taxation and decaying infrastructure. She describes the largely grassroots uprising that sprang from these conditions in December 1987 and the military reprisals, including the imprisonment of a large part of the Palestinian population. Hass does not feign objectivity. She condemns the occupation in no uncertain terms and clearly sympathizes with the Palestinian plight, although her characterizations of Israeli troops show both cruelty and kindness, from a soldier who beats a young boy to a prison guard who surreptitiously brings a cake for a prisoner.

Much of the book, however, deals with the aftermath of the Intifada and the peace process, focusing on the economic stranglehold caused by frequent border closures, long waits at checkpoints (causing worker absenteeism and the spoiling of exported products sitting for hours in the sun), and the practice of banning males under 40 from working in Israel (the only source of income for most Gazans). Besides the economic repercussions of Gaza's isolation, Hass describes the inability of many Gazans to access adequate health care (available only in Israel) and inability of students to travel to their universities in the West Bank.

The book does not overlook the internal problems within Palestinian society. Hass describes the pervasive gender inequality in Gaza and the plight of its women. She also discusses Arafat's widespread corruption and his suppression of dissent. Crucially for understanding the current crisis, she portrays the inverse correlation between hope and religious extremism. Though written a decade ago, this book sheds important light on the situation in Gaza and how it got to be this way.
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VINE VOICEon July 14, 2006
Amira Hass is an Israeli Jewish reporter living in Gaza with the Palestinians. When I first read this book about a few years ago, I became fascinated by this woman not only an Israeli Jew but the daughter of Holocaust survivors and her life in Gaza of all places by her choice.

Amira Hass helps us to understand the life in Gaza even as an outsider. She helps us to understand the Palestinians' life better than any other reporter or author. Of course, there is always politics and the war between Israel and Palestinans. But as of today where Gaza is under seige.

You begin to feel compassion for both sides and wonder when will there ever be peace. It's interesting that the author is an atheist or agnostic. Believe me, the book is the worth the read and the price. For all it's worth, the book is probably important to read more than ever.
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on January 15, 2001
It's well established that most child abusers were themselves abused as children. It's now apparent that the same cycle occurs on the national level. The Jews, having been abused for centuries and brought to the very brink of annihilation, now abuse millions of people with tactics and methods typically found in fascism. The fact that the government of Israel is not fascist does nothing to ameliorate the suffering of those within its borders whom it treats as refugees and prisoners of war and second class citizens.
Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist, has documented this appalling mess admirably. The ridiculous notion promulgated elsewhere on this page that "Drinking the Sea" is a Marxist tract "built on rage" has no basis in reality. Hass may or may not be a Marxist, but in 352 pages I saw nothing promoting communism or socialism--and I do look for that kind of thing. As for it's being "built on rage", one might as well sniff about Solzhenitsyn's work being "built on rage" or Elie Wiesel's or Harry Wu's. When it comes to the inhumanity described by these writers and by Hass, rage is not a bad thing. However, I did not see it in this book. To the contrary, I found her treatment of an outrageous subject very even-handed, almost blandly journalistic at times.
One shortcoming in "Drinking the Sea" was a the lack of a minimal background to place Gaza into an historic and demographic framework for those around the world who don't know Gaza from Giza. It could be easily done just by extending the chronology on page xv back about fifty years to the Thirties, when Jews began arriving in great numbers in Palestine, an unincorporated area roughly the size of New Hampshire or Belize. Already living in Palestine were roughly one million Muslims, who didn't claim any particular nationality for themselves. That number grew to about 1.3 million by the time Israel established itself in 1948. About 800,000 of them were driven out of their homes when the Arab states attacked Israel (note that the Arabs are distinct from Palestinians; the Palestinians have never had a military). Some of the refugees went to Egypt, some to Jordan, some to Syria, and some went to Gaza, a tiny strip of desert next to the Mediterranean. When Hass arrived there in 1993 to cover a story for an Israeli paper, it was home to close to a million Palestinians.
While ostensibly under the control of the nascent Palestinian state, Hass painstakingly explains how Gaza is in reality under the control of Israel, whose soldiers run it like a prison camp. I found it fascinating that within Gaza there are Palestinian roads and Israeli roads. The Israeli roads are for access to Israeli settlements within Gaza, and also for the Israeli army to patrol and shoot anyone who seems to be threatening said settlements. In other words, Gaza is to be under Palestinian control eventually, except for those areas that are settled by Israelis and those areas that the army needs to protects the areas settled by Israelis. In other words, Palestine is not to be a real state, but rather a well-guarded labor pool for Israel. And if the laborers get uppity in any way (rock-throwing, curfew violation, tax evasion, unauthorized movement), Gaza is "hermetically sealed".
Any house in Gaza suspected of harboring troublemakers (rock-throwers, pamphlet-writers) is destroyed. Young men are hauled away in the middle of the night to spend years in Israeli prisons. Men under the age of forty or unmarried men of any age are not allowed to cross into Israel to work. Those who try to build a business within Gaza are effectively crushed by the frequent sealings of the border. Produce rots before it can be released for shipment to export markets. Materials coming into Gaza must be inspected by Israeli officials, at their leisure. Storage fees must be paid by Gaza businesspeople while they wait, sometimes months, for the Israeli officials to inspect the shipments.
There is no justification for treating a people this way. Running off to Washington for meetings and photo opportunities is no solution. Tightening the vice on Gaza is no solution. The conclusion I draw from this book is that the solution lies in treating the Palestinians as the Jews would like to have been treated in Europe over the centuries: as a people entitled to the same dignity and humanity as those who wield the power.
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on December 28, 2000
Amira Hass is an Israeli citizen. She is the daughter of holocaust survivors. She is a reporter for the newspaper, "Ha'aretz".
In 1992 she became a resident in the Occupied Territories (OT) because as a resident "I learned to see Gaza through the eyes of its people, not through the windshield of an army jeep...". She was warned that her neighbors were savage, violent and hostile to the Jews. Her experience proved to be quite different. Everyone knew she was an Israeli Jew; still they welcomed her into their homes. Those Palestinians who spoke Hebrew spoke to her in Hebrew.
Palestinians in the OT suffer many indignities, harassments, and cruelties. The Israeli military, the IDF, is always present and watching. Palestinians are restricted to the OT and can leave only with permission. Obtaining a permit can be quite difficult. Even those with medical emergencies have been denied permits. Unmarried men and men under forty can not leave.
Making a living is onerous. If a Palestinian is able to find work in Israel he will work at a low end unskilled job for substantially less than an Israeli doing similar work--but he would still be making more than someone who works in the OT.
The Israeli military, the IDF, is constantly watching the inhabitants. People live in constant fear of arrest; being subjected to brutal, humiliating interrogations; being held for months, without seeing a lawyer, without being tried, without charges being brought against them, without being told their offense, without seeing members of their families. Homes have been demolished long before guilt or innocence has been extablished. The army, when searching for wanted men, will break into homes, usually in the middle of the night, and needlessly shoot, destroy and vandalize the contents. Mere suspicion will sometimes lead to long prison sentences, and those sentences will usually be accompanied by torture.
Even though they earn less than Israelis they are taxed more heavily. Typical tax rates on identical annual incomes for Israelis and Palestinians would be: no tax against 4%; and 7% against 15%. The Israeli economist Ezra Sada, a member of a right-wing party admits that the tax burden creates hatred and is onerous, oppressive and arbitrary. Unemployed Palestinians can be taxed on a hypothetical income--the `life tax' (if you're alive, you must have income). Disputing the tax is useless.
The bureaucrats claim they must raise a fixed sum to cover the civil administration's budget but Palestinians contend the money is not being used for benefit of the local population. The World Bank substantiates their claim. Israel's response, "Expenditures of Security"-- Palestinians benefited from money spent to suppress the uprising "Our taxes are paying for the bullets and the tear gas".
There is a rotting infrastructure-a lack of clean running water, paved streets, reliable electricity, and modern sewage systems. A West Bank economist found that between 1967 and 1994 Israel had invested an average of $15 per capita in the OT compared to $1000 per capita in Israel.
The settlements are a particular sore point. The Israeli settlers occupy one-fifth of the total area of the Gaza Strip. They comprise only one-half percent of the people who live within its borders. The settlers receive an average of 280 liters of good quality water per day while the Palestinians subsist on only 93 liters of poor quality--foul tasting-- irregularly supplied water.
The people hoped that the Oslo agreement would bring normalcy, peace and quiet. Those hopes did not materialize. The Palestinian Authority took over certain administrative functions-but the Israeli military government remained. Living conditions did not improve because the Authority responds to instructions from Israel.
The newly formed Palestinian State Security Court became synonymous with speedy secret trials, and judges with little or no legal training. Lawyers for defendants had no advance knowledge of their client's cases and no time to prepare. Families were not kept informed of proceedings and the accused themselves never knew where they were being taken when they were hustled out of their homes without warning in the dead of night. There was a continuous stream of arrests and releases and secret summary trials. An Amnesty International report criticized the State Security Court trials for violating minimum standards of international law, including: the right to a fair and public trial by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal; the right to have adequate time to prepare one's defense; the right to be defended by a lawyer of one's choice; the right to appeal to a higher court.
Reporters who dared transmit critical news were detained for long periods of time. One editor was arrested for an article on the economic monopolies; another editor was arrested for not printing a news item flattering to Arafat on his front page. Offices of an opposition newspaper were broken into and new machinery destroyed. An Islamic Jihad paper was shut down after it published an article exposing corruption. The message to all reporters: these subjects are taboo. What the papers don't print the people pass on by word of mouth.
With high unemployment, Arafat was able to create a local police force whose members felt a sense of loyalty and personal debt to him for the guaranteed monthly paychecks. Arafat exploited disagreements and personal rivalries so as to foster divisions within the opposition.
After the Palestinian Authority was installed, its elite profited extensively. Symbols of riches--gleaming new apartment buildings, lavish hotels, shiny king-size cars--contrast sharply with the economy's general deterioration. Monopolistic arrangements with several Israeli firms--on gasoline, diesel fuel, and cooking and heating gas--eliminated hundreds of Palestinian retailers, importers, and truck drivers. Consumers were adversely affected as prices rose.
These are just a few of the many facts that are exposed and explored in "Drinking the Sea in Gaza". Amira Hass is that rare journalist who is dedicated to the truth even when it conflicts with cherished beliefs, government policies, etc. She is set in the image of George Polk--the journalist for whom the George Polk Award was named (the Acadamy Award of Journalism). To learn more about George Polk try to get hold of an out of print copy of "The Polk Conspiracy".
If you have an open mind and suspect that the media has not presented this conflict with an unbiased perspective, read this book. You may come to believe, as I have, that resolution of this problem will take a long, long, long, long time!
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on August 22, 2004
This book is as extraordinary and inspiring as its author. Hass is an Israeli, a Jew, a woman and an atheist who, uniquely in Israel, has chosen to live among the Palestinian people she writes about. To most people this would be as fatal a combination of attributes as could be imagined. Yet throughout her book she tells only of the warmth, generosity and acceptance she is offered, in a region regularly described as among the most dangerous on the planet.

Many of the best, most relentless and devastating critiques of Israel's colonialism come from Israelis, and none more so than Hass. The most powerful passages are where she likens the lot of the dispossessed in Gaza to the experiences of her own family, Holocaust victims and survivors, in being uprooted by the Nazis from their ancestral homes in Romania. It was her mother's account of the indifference on the faces of the German women who watched as she and the rest of the human cargo were herded from the cattle train en route to Bergen-Belsen that convinced Hass that "my place was not with the bystanders".

This book is no hagiography. She savages the Palestinian Authority leadership for their corruption and brutality (while giving it the necessary context of "a land under siege"). She meticulously documents the inferior position of women in Gaza - their exclusion from the few positions of authority, their lives of domestic drudgery while their unemployed husbands and brothers sit idly by.

Hass gives voice, humanity and a history to a people who live wretchedly on the doorstep of the homes and the lands from which they were expelled barely fifty years ago; who must now accept that neither their own leadership nor the world at large any longer insists on their right of return.

If you are thinking of buying Joan Peters's preposterous From Time Immemorial - a systematic denial of the Palestinians' history and identity, built on misused statistics and fraudulent records - read Drinking the Sea at Gaza first. Then save yourself the money.
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