How Israel Lost: The Four Questions by Richard Ben Cramer | Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
How Israel Lost: The Four Questions

How Israel Lost: The Four Questions

by Richard Ben Cramer
     
 

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Once in a great while, a book comes along that not only discusses a topic, but also changes the boundaries of that discussion forever. This is such a book, analyzing the four questions that have bedeviled Israel and Palestine for almost forty years: Why Do We Care About Israel?; Why Don't the Palestinians Have a State?; What Is a Jewish State?; and Why Is There No

Overview

Once in a great while, a book comes along that not only discusses a topic, but also changes the boundaries of that discussion forever. This is such a book, analyzing the four questions that have bedeviled Israel and Palestine for almost forty years: 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? Richard Ben Cramer's portrait of the Middle East is both up to the minute and timeless, enlivened at every step by his trademark humor, by humane understanding of the people caught in the conflict, and by his astonishing gift for language. Informed by Cramer's Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism, this book is destined to produce both heat and light.

Editorial Reviews

Elena Lappin
Cramer's quick, anecdotal, very personal style puts an entertaining spin on an otherwise extremely painful reality. His forte is in capturing events by showing how they affect the lives of real people. Cramer is a collector of stories, which he then uses to support two theories about the Middle East: one, that the long occupation has damaged every aspect of Israeli society; and two, that no peace agreement can be reached as long as Israel does not understand and accept the Palestinian honor principle.
The New York Times
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 (Forecasts, Jan. 26). Agent, Philippa Brophy. (May 12) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The recent assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin has made this work both timely and essential reading for those wanting a clearer understanding of the issues that face this war-torn region. Cramer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for his reporting in the Middle East, has produced a memoir combining 25 years of experiences in the Middle East with both humor and common sense. Cramer organizes his discussion into four questions: Why do we care about Israel? Why is there no Palestinian state? What is a Jewish state? Why is there no peace? His frank analysis highlights the irony of a Jewish government that refuses the Palestinians the very rights that the Jews have been denied throughout their history. He concludes that many factors (e.g., culture clash, corruption, quest for power, and fear) have caused Israel to lose sight of its original purpose: the founding of a Jewish state. With both sides relying on their role in the conflict and corruptive influences (Arafat and Sharon) working to keep the status quo for their own purposes, Cramer paints an excellent case for the Palestinian root cause-a place for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Recommended for larger public and academic libraries.-Maria C. Bagshaw, Lake Erie Coll., Painesville, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Cramer writes beautifully, and with intention. He seeks to force his readers, no matter what their stance might have been when they opened his book, to examine the harsh truths behind U.S. policies in the Middle East."
-- John Nichols, The Progressive

"Told without fear, this is a story that could -- if read with an open mind -- stir a much needed and honest debate about the future of U.S.-Israel relations."
-- Bob Kerrey, former Senator from Nebraska and President of The New School

"Cramer presents a strong case. You might not agree, but it's impossible to read this book and not think."
-- Jeff Guinn, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"Cramer...marshals facts and vivid anecdotes to back up his case."
-- Barbara Slavin, USA Today

"How Israel Lost has many virtues: moving stories about Israeli and Palestinian suffering; shrewd reporting...and a street-smart attitude that cuts through the fog of government doublespeak and partisan myth."
-- Jonathan Dorfman, The Boston Globe

"Solid and irrefutable...Cramer's theme is the tragic predicament of the Israelis and Palestinians...funny and bitterly sad, shrewd and down-to-earth....This book is a powerful polemic that deserves to be read."
-- Amos Elon, The New York Review of Books

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780786269709
Publisher:
Gale Group
Publication date:
11/02/2004
Edition description:
Large Print
Pages:
377
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

How Israel Lost

The Four Questions
By Richard Ben Cramer

Thorndike Press

Copyright © 2004 Richard Ben Cramer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0786269707

Chapter One

Why do we care about Israel?

Why do we care about Israel? An eyelash of land around the eastern Mediterranean shore, in some spots the nation isn't ten miles wide. North to south, you can drive it in half a day - if you don't get stuck behind some Polish geriatric squinting through the steering wheel of his first automobile, putting to a new test (at thirty-two miles per hour) his life's talent, which is survival. In fact, our care must be more for that turtle-ish Jewish survivor than for the land he drives. Even if the world called the question tomorrow and awarded to the Jews, or to the Arabs, every dunam of land in Palestine - every hill, vineyard, olive grove and old stone house, every grain of difficult soil that's been fought over for a hundred years - the whole ball of wax wouldn't match in mass, in fecundity or natural wealth, a quarter of a province of the Congo.

No, it isn't a great rich place, nor gloriously old as a nation-state - fifty-years-and-change it has stood. Its apologists and ideologues tend to start their histories in the mist of Bible-time, to enforce an air of eternity, inevitability, permanence. But there's another story in what the Zionists called "the facts on the ground." There arestill thousands of houses whose land records go back exactly for those fifty-years-and-change, and then their histories stop, blank and glaring, like the screen when a film snaps in the projector. These are the properties of "absentees" - Arabs who ran away or were chased away in Israel's birth-war of 1948. Still, there are thousands of old men in refugee camps who will show you the keys to those houses - keys they will pass on to their sons as prize and burden. And still there are the old Jewish fighters, whose preternatural vigor shows why the Arabs ran. On a research visit in 2003, I was privileged to tour the old Negev battlefields with Itzhak Pundak, a brigade commander from the '48 War. He marched me from a wrecked railroad bridge, around the Jewish sniper posts, onward to Egyptian artillery bunkers, from time to time regarding me narrowly from under handsome silvery brows. "Is this too much?" asked the eighty-nine-year-old. "Do you need a rest?"

We have never cared about Israel for her political influence - she never held sway in what Bush the Elder called The New World Order. In the U.N., for example, you wouldn't go out of your way to win Israeli approval - unless for some strange tactical reason you need an implacable majority of third-world nations against your proposal. Whatever Israel is for, most of the world opposes. This is one of the few truths embraced with satisfaction by both Arab and Jew. The Palestinians see Israel's unpopularity as confirmation of their cause. (They wuz robbed! They are victims! Their rights must be restored!) The Jews see it as confirmation of a tenet even more deeply held: the whole world is against them - no matter what they do.

In the Arab world, where conspiracy theory is even more popular than Islam (as religions, they offer identical comfort: nothing happens without a reason), it's fashionable to see the West's care for Israel - especially America's fixation on Israel - as evidence of a grand scheme for global domination. Israel is assumed to be some sort of U.S. foot-in-the-door, behind which glistens the world's wealth of petroleum. There are a couple of problems with this type of theory. For one thing, adults in the region have by now borne witness to interventions, proclamations and general buttinski from two generations of "American experts on the Middle East" - Special Presidential Negotiators, Deputy Assistant Secretaries of State, Regional Ambassadors, Plenipotentiary Envoys.... Hell could freeze over before these guys dominate anything - some, you wouldn't let 'em change your tire. The second problem is conclusive: no one can explain how America's support for Israel brings the U.S. any leverage over Middle East oil. Sometimes it makes it hard even to buy Middle East oil.

It's also fashionable for Arabs (and for some Jews) to descry within the tapestry of American politics a controlling weft of rigid steel thread - which they call (depending on who's talking) The Zionist Lobby, AIPAC, the Jewish Money Men, the Hollywood Mafia, or most simply and mysteriously: Jewish Interests. Whatever they call it, they use it to explain why the U.S. government and U.S. public cannot seem to hear, or to remember, or take into account for two days straight, the plight of the Palestinian Arabs who lost their country when the Jews took over. In this type of "analysis," congressmen and presidents (no matter their names, their parties, or provenance) are thought to snap to attention, saluting the Israeli flag, whenever Jews show up with threats or the blandishment of their hefty checkbooks. This is also nonsense.

By what lever do these U.S. Jews lift the world? With the power of their massive vote? Maybe they're two percent of the voting public. (They used to be three but they can't even get it together to make Jewish babies.) And they are, by now, the least bloc-ish bloc. The children of reliable Democrats got richer and more Republican (just like white guys), and their children - today's young Jews - are like totally, kind of like ... way uninterested. The savants who whispered that Bush the Younger went warring in Iraq to do Israel's bidding (led by the nose - as half of them added - by that known Jew, Deputy-Pentagon-Panjandrum Paul Wolfowitz) failed to notice, or failed to point out, that the organizers of the big antiwar demonstrations were also Jews - who whipped up a fine anti-imperialist fervor with a speech by the last burning star of the radical kibbutz movement, Noam Chomsky. (They're everywhere!) ... And the notion that Bush has to dance for Jewish money ignores so many realities that they cannot all be listed. First and foremost, the present Bush - because he is present in the White House, and pro-business - can have for his reelection effort as many millions as he needs, or wants, or could dream of. The flashiest, most-talked-about "Jewish money" comes from Hollywood, where the only true religion is hating Bush. And even the quieter monied Jews of Wall Street look like homeless next to Bush's pals in the oil bidness - pals who would just as soon see Israel go away so they could more comfortably shrimp the toes of the Arabs.

If George W. Bush derives any benefit from caring about Israel, or trying to help Israel, it is not from Jews. (No matter what a president says or does about Israel, there is some group of Jews who'll denounce him as a Nazi.) The only plausible political gain comes from his fellow born-again Christians. The U.S. Christian right believes that the Jews are supposed to have the Holy Land - number one, because the Bible tells them so. The Bible says, too, that the second coming of Christ will require that the Jews be "ingathered" again in Zion, which will bring on Armageddon, which will cause Jesus to return. There's also a political meeting of the minds, going back to the days when the Christian right saw Israel as a brave anti-Soviet (more recently anti-Islamic) outpost of "Judeo-Christian values."

Curiously, it's this last fuzzy reason that comes closest to answering "Why do we care?" For in the end, there is no rational benefit in realpolitik - either internationally, or for campaigns inside America. There is no lobby or group in the U.S. that could pressure the government to make Israel the number-one recipient of American foreign aid - three billion dollars each year (plus a couple of billion in loan guarantees) - and that's before you start adding in special military credits, trade preference and other backdoor deals. The only other country that comes close is Egypt - we pay them two billion to act like they don't hate Israel. Altogether, almost half of the U.S. aid dollars for the world shower the land for a few hundred miles around Tel Aviv. (Talk about making the desert bloom!) ... And not just by dollars should our interest be measured. There is also the matter of attention we pay. We may spend more than five-billion-a-year in the currency of newspaper words and CNN chat; there are endless and more-or-less deep analyses in monthly magazines, in The New Yorker, the New York Review of Books and the quarterly Foreign Policy; it's no accident (and not without effect) that The New York Times covers Jerusalem better than Staten Island, or that Redbook, the ladies' mag, responds to its readers' new fear of terrorism by commissioning a personal essay from a mom in Israel (who also just happens to be the head of the Jerusalem office of AIPAC). The fact is, Israel sells. And we have sold ourselves on Israel. Why? Because in some measure we are all like those Christians who see and support shared values there. For decades, we've read and talked about Israel, we've backed and begirded Israel, we've paid for Israelis' first-world standard of living ... because we came to assume, somehow, they are like us.

The Israelis, no dummies, did what they could to foster this impression - from appointing a government spokesman who talked like he grew up in Detroit (he did), to allocating scarce shekels for the world (i.e., Western World) tour of the Israel Philharmonic. From '48 on, the most important resource of the young nation was the harrowing and latterly triumphal story of the Jewish people - which had elicited the sympathy of the world, and spurred the U.N. vote that made the Jewish state. And so, the first growth industry of Israel (even before tart Jaffa oranges found their market in Europe) was what the locals called hasbarah - which literally translates as "explaining," but we might call it propaganda, or spin.

From the moment a U.N. cease-fire ended the first war in the spring of '49, Israelis led the world in guided tours. Their new immigrants were living in squalid tent camps, the air force was maybe two banged-up bombers, but the government still bought fistfuls of boat and airline tickets, and hotel rooms and state-of-the-art buses, to put together freebie trips for eager Swiss or Swedish students, South African "opinion makers," Jewish "pioneer campers" from North America, young politicians and journalists from all over the world and, of course, rich Americans (who might fund the guided tours of the future with a generous gift someday). They had to get their story out - and the hasbarah industry attracted the best and the brightest. It wasn't just the friendly tour guides, who could explain - in their perfect Dutch or Danish, Walloon or Serbo-Croatian (language skills were the other great resource) - how the Arab armies shot deadly artillery from that hill, right there! (And those poor kibbutzniks who just gave us that wonderful lunch live under that threat every day, even now....) There were also the spokesmen, guides and greeters for every government department, every municipality, the big Histadrut national labor union, the Israel Lands Authority, the Jewish Agency - they were all making friends, "explaining." And these guys were good! ...

Long ago, I witnessed one tour of up-and-coming American poobahs - or poobahs-to-be - the Young Presidents Organization. And some wiseacre asked a sticky little question: Are Israelis going to have to pay compensation to the Arabs who ran away? ... Now, the fact was, and is, that Israel won't pay a nickel - but the first "explanation" was palliative: Yes, it's a complicated question ... now, a commission is studying the fairest method ... but you have to understand, land records under the Turks.... And then, as the tour moved on, the hasbarah man was walking next to that fellow, and issued this pained, confidential aside: "You know, it was a terrible shame - we begged them to stay!" ... which was a bold, but uncheckable lie. And that night at dinner (a slap-up dinner, on the cuff of course), having found out that his new friend hailed from Connecticut, the hasbarah professional inquired - just by the bye: Say, how's it going with those pesky lawsuits from American Indians - aren't they claiming that half the state is theirs?

Whatever the topic, the subtext was always the same: We are doing our best under impossible pressures. Imagine how you would feel - for we are like you. But the hasbarah succeeded better than even Israelis dreamed. By 1960, Paul Newman - no less - was larger than life on the world's screens in Exodus, as a Super-Panavision Jewish underground fighter, with the shiksa-goddess Eva Marie Saint as his home-from-the-holocaust honey. Israel was boffo! So, the message grew bolder. By the end of the Sixties, after the triumph of the Six Day ('67) War, the prime minister, Golda Meir, was asked a similarly sticky question about the rights of Palestinians. "What are you talking about?" she snapped. "There are no Palestinians."

Still, the big shift happened in the Seventies - and not from hubris but need - after the ('73) Yom Kippur War. The surprise, and surprisingly effective, attack by their Arab neighbors reminded Israelis they could be wiped off the map. The Israel Defense Forces, which to that point had seemed invulnerable, now suddenly looked hapless and needy. Israel dropped all her prior reserve and cast herself shamelessly as America's little buddy in the Middle East. She burrowed into every U.S. plan for the region - so deep that without her there wasn't any plan. She had to become indispensable - and the story line she put out to the Western public had to change, as well.

It had to be more than "they are like us." Now they wanted us to know that they were us - or standing in for us - surrounded, outnumbered (that much of the hasbarah stayed constant) ... hungry for peace, but determined to fight - as the Superman serial used to say - for truth, justice and the American way. Our view of the place had to change: it wasn't just an interesting little desert land (where more U.S. Jews would live, if they weren't so damn comfortable). Now, all Americans had to be stakeholders in the Holy Land, partisans in its conflict. And we were! (Those were American planes - TWA - that the PLO blew up ... and that poor Mr. Klinghoffer, who got shoved off the cruise ship in his wheelchair ... as usual, the Palestinians undermined their own cause with thorough efficiency.)

Withal, it was more than a Middle East friendship - our enemy was theirs. For there was, underneath, a real affiliation between the American public (between citizens and subjects all over the Western World) and this place - which had more or less launched their sense of self.



Continues...


Excerpted from How Israel Lost by Richard Ben Cramer Copyright © 2004 by Richard Ben Cramer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Cramer writes beautifully, and with intention. He seeks to force his readers, no matter what their stance might have been when they opened his book, to examine the harsh truths behind U.S. policies in the Middle East."

— John Nichols, The Progressive

"Told without fear, this is a story that could — if read with an open mind — stir a much needed and honest debate about the future of U.S.-Israel relations."

— Bob Kerrey, former Senator from Nebraska and President of The New School

"Cramer presents a strong case. You might not agree, but it's impossible to read this book and not think."

— Jeff Guinn, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"Cramer...marshals facts and vivid anecdotes to back up his case."

— Barbara Slavin, USA Today

"How Israel Lost has many virtues: moving stories about Israeli and Palestinian suffering; shrewd reporting...and a street-smart attitude that cuts through the fog of government doublespeak and partisan myth."

— Jonathan Dorfman, The Boston Globe

"Solid and irrefutable...Cramer's theme is the tragic predicament of the Israelis and Palestinians...funny and bitterly sad, shrewd and down-to-earth....This book is a powerful polemic that deserves to be read."

— Amos Elon, The New York Review of Books

Meet the Author

Richard Ben Cramer (1950-2013) won the Pulitzer Prize for Middle East reporting in 1979. His journalism has appeared in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, and Rolling Stone. He is the author of How Israel Lost: The Four Questions and the classic of modern American politics What It Takes: The Way to the White House.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Maryland
Date of Birth:
June 20, 1950

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