Tag Archives: Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Sadness Is a White Bird: A Novel

  • By Moriel Rothman-Zecher. Atria Books. 288 pp. Hardcover $26.00.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict comes to life in this devastating tale of friendship and tragedy.

Searing in its beauty, devastating in its emotional power, and dazzling in its insights, Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s debut novel, Sadness Is a White Bird, is, I promise you, like nothing you’ve ever read.

If I’m wrong, you’ve been luckier than I have. His particular vision of today’s Israel, told through a coming-of-age story, will break your heart.

Has this author named himself, or has he grown into his name? After the hyphen, the name translates (from Hebrew) into “memory”; the first name into something like “God is my teacher.” There is something in a name.

The book’s protagonist and narrator, Jonathan, has returned to Israel in his late teens. He looks forward to joining the Israel Defense Force, in part to honor his freedom-fighter grandfather. His life undergoes a radical change after he meets and becomes intimate with Laith and Nimreen — dynamic Arab-Israeli brother-and-sister twins with whom he shares his deepest thoughts.

The three are inseparable. Their closeness offers a hint of hope for the remaking of Jewish-Arab relations. Indeed, for the remaking of Israel, almost by osmosis, as a peaceful, co-national state.

Can you love and admire people so deeply that the barriers between you are conquered? Will the real world even allow it?

The closer Jonathan comes to his military induction date, the more his various strands of identity are stressed. How can he become a soldier who will be at war with his dear friends’ people? How can he become an agent of their disgrace and humiliation?

For all of their ease with the Israeli brand of Western culture, Laith and Nimreen are, at a deep level, strangers. This is true even though they are the children of Jonathan’s mother’s friend.

Moriel Rothman-Zecher

The story, told by Jonathan, is presented as if he is addressing Laith. Sometimes, it seems as if he is rehearsing or imagining the conversation; at other times, it’s as if it’s really happening. Occasionally, it’s as though he’s addressing a dead person.

There is almost nothing of Laith responding, yet there are other scenes in which these friends are engaged in three-way conversations that are amazingly revealing.

Jonathan wavers somewhat before fully committing to his required military duty. And he wavers again when pressed into putting down a potentially dangerous demonstration. In the aftermath of the skirmish, Jonathan is imprisoned by his superiors.

The novel sings out in the distinctive voices of Rothman-Zecher’s characters, in their almost palpable presence, and in their hopes and hesitations. The authenticity of the voices is especially strong in the scenes populated by Jonathan’s friends, all serving in or inevitably bound for the IDF.

Rothman-Zecher shows great skill in portraying different neighborhoods, not only in terms of physical characteristics, but also through capturing the cultural and atmospheric dimensions. As an author/narrator, he seems to be on familiar ground. One wonders to what degree the novel is rooted in direct, if transformed, experience. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here: Sadness is a White Bird. 

This review was reprinted, by permission, in the July-August 2018 issue of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Greater Naples), and the July 2018 issues of L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee).

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TO THE GATES OF JERUSALEM

James G. McDonald; Norman J. W. Goda, Barbara McDonald Stewart, Severin Hochberg, and Richard Breitman, eds.

Indiana University Press, 2014. 320pp. $30.00.

 

Perhaps no one had a better ringside and inside seat at the deliberations that eventually led to the United Nation’s actions paving the way to Israel’s 1948 declaration of statehood than James G. McDonald. His dogged and dexterous work as a key member of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry was positioned between two more notable posts: the League of Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees in the 1930s and the first U. S. Ambassador to Israel from 1949-1951. Gates of Jeruslem

The Committee had the double charge of proposing solutions to the enormous problem of Jewish refugees at the close of WWII and to the academically separate but finally inseparable issue of the British Mandate for Palestine’s eventual resolution. McDonald’s diary entries throughout the entire work of the Committee constitute a unique primary source of information about the progress of the Committee on its way to its ultimate recommendations. . . .

To read the entire review, as it was posted to the Jewish Book Council web site on February 24, 2015, click here: To the Gates of Jerusalem: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald

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Interview with Yossi Klein Halevi

Yossi Klein Halevi’s first book, Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist, was first published in 1995 and was reprinted in fall 2014. At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for Hope with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land appeared in 2001. His latest book, Like Dreamers: The Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation, won the Jewish Book Council’s 2013 Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award and was released in paperback in fall 2014. Halevi is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. Philip K. Jason recently spoke with Yossi about his writing and his current project.

Philip K. Jason: In the course of your research and interviews for Like Dreamers, what were your most surprising discoveries?

Yossi Klein Halevi: I was constantly amazed at the intensity of life in Israel, from the very founding of the state. I kept wondering how one small country could contain so much history. One of the characters in the book, Arik Achmon, participated in every one of Israel’s wars, beginning in 1948. Where else does life make such demands on the citizens of a nation? Sometimes it seemed to me as if we were trying to compensate for centuries of Jewish life without sovereignty by cramming as much experience into our national life as possible.

I was struck too by the manic depressive nature of the Israeli experience. In 1967 we were euphoric with victory; in 1973, only six years later, we were in despair. And yet, militarily at least, the Yom Kippur War was in some senses more impressive than the Six Day War.

One pattern emerged in the post-67 story of Israel that has particular relevance today, and that is this: When Israelis feel that the international community is against them, they retreat into hardline positions. When they feel more accepted, they are ready to take risks for peace. The Oslo process was launched in an atmosphere of growing acceptance of Israel, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the first Gulf War. By contrast, the settlement movement became mainstream in the weeks following the 1975 UN Zionism-Racism resolution. Israelis pushed back by embracing the settlers.

PKJ: In Like Dreamers, you position yourself as a centrist, someone who is obligated to listen to both (or all) sides – perhaps more than listen. Has this stance helped you gain you access as a journalist?

YKH: Being open to hearing opposing voices gave me emotional access – allowed me to empathize with opposing camps. I moved to Israel at the beginning of the first Lebanon War in 1982, when Israelis were literally shouting at each other on the streets. That was the first time that war had failed to unite the country – worse, the war itself was dividing us. As a new immigrant I had two choices. I could either choose a camp, or learn to listen. I chose the second option and forced myself to listen deeply to what all of Israel’s political and cultural and ethnic groups were really saying. What were the fears of left and right? The visions of Israel being expressed by secularists and religious Zionists and ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis? I not only tried to become absorbed into Israeli society, but to absorb Israel, in all its complexity, into my being. That’s how I became an Israeli.

These exchanges are just the beginning of a hefty, provocative interview that appears in full on the Jewish Book Council blog. Click here: Jewish Book Council Interview With Yossi Klein Halevi. The interview also appears in Jewish Book World, Spring 2015, Vol. 33 no. 1. It was republished, with permission in the May 2015 issues of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota / Manatee).

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Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned against Israel

 by Joshua Muravchik. Encounter Books. 296 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

At once impassioned and clear-headed, this abundantly researched discussion of Israel’s decline in world public opinion is necessary reading for all who care about this highly vulnerable country. How is it that an innovative, democratic, peace-seeking nation keeps losing the propaganda war? Murovchik shows us how in a series of well-crafted chapters.

The author begins by reminding readers of the high esteem with which Israel was gener­ally regarded in the first decades following its declaration of nationhood. To some measure, that esteem grew out of how the tiny new nation had overcome seemingly insurmount­able odds—and continued to do so.

Over time, however, various forces dimmed the luster of the glorious David. The chapter entitled “The Arab Cause Becomes Palestinian (and ‘Progressive’)” outlines the story well, exploring the psychological warfare in Arab and Muslim politics that slowly repositioned David and Goliath. Israel was positioned not as threatened by the Muslim masses, but as the demonical usurper of Palestinian rights. Losing underdog status in world opinion was a major blow.

Terrorist assaults on Israel did one kind of damage, constantly diverting resources. Assaults on Jewish institutions in Europe weakened the moral fiber of European nations and also released latent anti-Semitism. On top of this, Arab countries were able to use the petroleum weapon to make Europe cower. The message was clear: If you want oil, detach yourself from Israel in every possible way. . . .

To read the entire review, at it appears on the Jewish Book Council web site and in the Winter 2014 issue of Jewish Book World, click here: Making David Into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel 

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Tel-Aviv, the First Century

A splendid critical celebration of Tel-Aviv’s first hundred years, this collection of essays reads like a spirited conversation across academic disciplines and across ideologies. While the primary focus is on the shaping of Tel-Aviv up until the founding of modern Israel in 1948, there is also a satisfying amount of  attention paid to the changed conditions after 1967 and even into the twenty-first century. Most people are not aware of the fact that an independent municipality of Tel-Aviv existed during the British Mandate period. Like so much else in the Yishuv years, the Zionist enterprise was in the business of institution-building long before the declaration of statehood. The planning and nurturing of the first new Hebrew-speaking city was an important part of that agenda. . . .

Okay, you’ve read the teaser. Now for the entire review as it will appear in Jewish Book World, click here: Tel-Aviv, the First Century. Visions, Designs, Actualities

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Palestine: a fictional vision of the near-future

The following review appears in the October 2011 issues of the Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County) and L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte County).

Palestine, by Jonathan Bloomfield. Silver Lane Publishing. 472 pages. $14.95.

This military-political thriller confronts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict head on, mixing fact, fiction, and persuasive speculation in an engaging, and downright frightening narrative. What if the forces arrayed against Israel have conceived their ultimate plan for the annihilation of the Jewish State? What if they have operatives in Israel with whom Gaza-based and other Arab forces could quickly connect? What if these forces have nuclear weapons? What if Israel’s chief of security has knowledge of the plan and yet can’t convince the prime minister to take action? What if he stages a coup? What if Hammas has been infiltrated by an Israeli agent who has gained a major position and is feeding information to Israeli forces?

All of these things happen in Palestine, and much more. Bloomfield establishes several points of focus in the Palestinian and Israeli camps; then he alternates episodes and vantage points so that we see the war that has broken out not only from both sides but also from various factions and perspectives on each side. Bloomfield offers us characters at different points in the chains of command with the corresponding contrasts of rank and responsibility. He offers us Muslims who can see around the corners of the Islamic extremists’ rewriting of regional history. He offers us the courage of blind hatred and the courage of facing harsh, unavoidable truths. He offers insights into the traditional and contemporary cultures of the people whose communities and lives are at stake. 

Jonathan Bloomfield also provides a battlefield scenario that details meticulous planning and execution. He provides a blueprint that might very well become a reality. For all the carnage in the short run, he offers hope for a regional future in which peace, cooperation, and mutual benefit can arise.

He even offers some romance.

One of the challenges Bloomfield faced was integrating quite of a bit of education into a page-turning, high stakes adventure. Most of the time, he solves this problem well enough with plausible dialogue that addresses the historical facts that underpin his vision of the Middle East’s past and future. Only on a few occasions does the dialogue lose spontaneity and sound like a classroom lecture.

Recognizing that too much exposition and fact-rehearsal will interrupt the fast-paced action that readers will expect, Bloomfield relegates a portion of his fact-based arguments to an Epilogue and a series of Appendices that follow the novel’s main action. These add-ons, which comprise 120 pages of the book, are without doubt useful for information and contemplation. Readers will differ about whether or not they undermine the esthetic impact of the narrative.

Is Palestine merely Zionist propaganda dressed up as thriller fiction? Some will say so. However, the arguments made both in the fictional narrative and the appendices are compelling, containing as they do a mountain of hard historical facts.

Bloomfield imagines a future in which an Israeli educational system detoxifies the generations of thought control that has left millions of actual and alleged Palestinians living lives of more and more noisy and violent desperation. Deprogramming decades of Islamic extremist brainwashing would be an enormous task, even given the opportunity to try. But Bloomfield rather convincingly makes the point that some such process is absolutely necessary.

Whether read for entertainment, insight, or both, Palestine is worth your time.

Note: We can provide no photo of the author because as a result of this novel and related activities, Mr. Bloomfield finds his life in jeopardy.

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