Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land

Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land

by David K. Shipler


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The expanded and updated edition of David Shipler's Pulitzer Prize-winning book that examines the relationship, past and present, between Arabs and Jews

In this monumental work, extensively researched and more relevant than ever, David Shipler delves into the origins of the prejudices that exist between Jews and Arabs that have been intensified by war, terrorism, and nationalism.

Focusing on the diverse cultures that exist side by side in Israel and Israeli-controlled territories, Shipler examines the process of indoctrination that begins in schools; he discusses the far-ranging effects of socioeconomic differences, historical conflicts between Islam and Judaism, attitudes about the Holocaust, and much more. And he writes of the people: the Arab woman in love with a Jew, the retired Israeli military officer, the Palestinian guerrilla, the handsome actor whose father is Arab and whose mother is Jewish.

For Shipler, and for all who read this book, their stories and hundreds of others reflect not only the reality of "wounded spirits" but also a glimmer of hope for eventual coexistence in the Promised Land.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553447514
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/10/2015
Pages: 768
Sales rank: 615,369
Product dimensions: 9.20(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

DAVID K. SHIPLER reported for the New York Times from 1966 to 1988 in New York, Saigon, Moscow, and Jerusalem before serving as chief diplomatic correspondent in Washington, D.C. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for Arab and Jew. He shared a George Polk Award for his coverage of the 1982 war in Lebanon and was executive producer, writer, and narrator of two PBS documentaries on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is the author of six other books, including the bestsellers Russia and The Working Poor. Shipler, who has been a chair of the nonfiction Pulitzer committee, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has taught at Princeton University; at American University; and at Dartmouth College. He writes online at The Shipler Report.

Read an Excerpt


War: Earth of Brass

But if ye will not hearken unto me,

and will not do all these commandments . . .

I will break the pride of your power;

and I will make your heaven as iron,

and your earth as brass.

—Leviticus 26:14, 19

Spring is a fleeting season in Israel. Fresh from the winter rains, hills and pastures are cloaked in a lushness that passes quickly. Wild flowers burst into a riot of color, then vanish, and the desert, momentarily brushed with a tint of green from wisps of new grass, lies burnished again by a relentless sun. The sky takes on its summer tone of cloudless, pastel blue. Not a drop of rain will fall again until November.

In the spring, Israel marks a double holiday divided by a dramatic shift in moods, two days in a row fixed in the Hebrew calendar to observe the sorrow of war and the joy of rebirth. First comes the Day of Remembrance to honor the country’s fallen soldiers, a solemn, moving, mournful time. Then, at sundown, the sadness is cast aside and the streets come alive in a festive air as Independence Day begins; the Israelis who have spent the daylight hours in cemeteries form circles in the streets and dance into the night. The main thoroughfares become great promenades for strolling couples and clusters of teenagers; parking lots are floodlit and bathed in music; across makeshift counters, grilled Middle Eastern delicacies and games of chance are offered. And the next morning many go into the brief abundance of spring for picnics and songs and story-telling with their old army friends from the 1948 War of Independence, the 1956 Sinai Campaign, the Six-Day War of 1967, the War of Attrition with Egypt in 1969–71, the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the Lebanon wars of 1982 and 2006, or the Gaza wars that began in 2008.

Nearly 25,000 Israeli deaths from a dozen wars and intifadas have scarred the landscape of this ancient land. The gravestones on Mount Herzl, the military cemetery at the edge of Jerusalem, are marching down the terraced hillside, cutting into the forest that was planted by Jewish pioneers as a gesture of reclaiming faith and return. 

This hillside is where the journey into Arab-Jewish attitudes must begin, for war is the soil that nourishes those tangled weeds of hatred. All that happens in men’s minds here happens on the ground of war--all the toughness, all the gentleness, all the fear, all the longing, all the shrinking back in anger, and all the reaching out in hope. War has hardened and softened, embittered and mellowed. Even during peaceful intervals its presence can be felt, scratching at the soul of Jerusalem.

For both Jews and Arabs, war has produced its own sorrow and glorification. The Jews have confronted it mostly through combat, mourning their dead, nursing their wounded, extolling their heroes, praying for peace and victory. The process of war has become a business with budgets and economists and scientists; it brings serious pleasure to some and provides an outlet for cruelty. Battle has its thrills as well as its regrets. But somehow war has not generated the lust in Israeli Jews that it has among some other peoples at other times. When it comes, it does not arrive with the clamor of stirring oratory or the jingoistic exhortations to conquer all. It comes instead with a quiet strain of melancholy.

War has not been precisely the same experience for the Arabs. In those countries that have sent their armies against Israel again and again, the battle has not consumed the entire nation as it has for the Jews: Each Arab country has been large enough to absorb defeat. But the dead have included many more civilians than in Israel; Arab industry has been wrecked more thoroughly by a skillful Israeli air force, etching deeply in Arab minds the image of Israel as a rabid juggernaut bent on grinding up and taking over Arab lands. In addition, the battle has been given religious connotation through the Islamic concept of jihad, or holy war against the infidel. And as Israeli peace activists lament, the Arab side has lacked a parallel peace movement. War, it seems, is integral to the conduct of human affairs. To speak or to act against it requires the courage of an Anwar Sadat, who then pays the price of his life, or the subtlety of a King Hussein, who survives as long as he takes only half steps.*

For many of the Palestinian Arabs who live, or once lived, between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, war has meant something else: displacement from their home villages. That has been their central experience of war; except for those who have been struck directly by Israeli planes or naval vessels while in refugee camps in Lebanon or in the Gaza Strip, for example, most have not been touched by actual combat. War has come to them not as a clap of thunder, suddenly destroying, but as a corrosive cause that eats within. Their sorrow and glorification follow a different formula--a sorrow in defeat and a glorification in resistance. A young lad from a West Bank refugee camp who goes off to join the guerrillas of the Palestine Liberation Organization stirs mixed feelings among his family and friends--a dread of loss to his parents in many cases, a heroic portrait among his peers.

The enormous impact of war on Arab and Jewish perceptions of each other and of their own positions in the conflict was documented by a 1981 study of eleven-year-old children in Israel and the West Bank.1 Although both groups of youngsters expressed intense patriotism and loyalty to their own sides, the Palestinian Arabs saw their struggle in an idealistic, romantic light, whereas the Israeli Jews gave war a pragmatic connotation. Nearly all the Arab children--94 percent--said that war was good if you defeated your enemy; the Jewish youngsters were divided, with 53 percent agreeing that war was justified by victory. Among a sample of American youngsters used as a control group, only 35 percent saw virtue in war. 

More accord between the Arab and Jewish children was revealed on other points, however. A large majority within both groups believed that war was always necessary (81 percent of the Arabs, 71 percent of the Jews, and 54 percent of the Americans). High levels of anxiety were found among both the Arab and Jewish children, with the Jews fearing terrorist attacks, that “father will be called up for reserve duty,” and that “father won’t return home.” The West Bank Arabs expressed the worry that their fathers would be arrested or their houses demolished by Israeli authorities, a standard technique used against the families of those branded as terrorists.

At eleven o’clock on the morning of the Day of Remembrance, sirens sound to honor the dead, and all of Israel comes heavily to a halt. Downtown in West Jerusalem, cars pull over, their drivers and passengers climb out and stand at attention, pedestrians stop in their tracks, storekeepers pause behind their counters, and the man who sells newspapers at the corner of King George and Ben Yehuda Streets interrupts his lilting call, falling silent while the sirens wail. In classrooms, children stand at their desks. In offices and factories, in fields and hospitals, Israelis are joined for two minutes in suspended reflection and homage, a rare moment of concord in a common grief.

On Mount Herzl, thousands of mourners move slowly through the cemetery gates in a broad river of sadness, their faces sculptures of suffering. They carry wreaths, bouquets, or small clusters of wild flowers they have picked along the way. They or their fathers have come to this place from Poland and Yemen, Morocco and Greece, Argentina and Belgium, India and the United States--scholars with soft hands, farmers with hard hands, wealthy and poor, men who pray and men who don’t, mothers and fathers and brothers and sons and sisters and wives and friends of those who lie in the graves. All of Israel is here, every piece of the mosaic. There is an old, weathered man who saw the earliest days before the state. There is a delicate girl in army uniform sitting on an old gravestone, touching it with her hand, weeping without tears for a father she scarcely knew. There are small children who abandon their frolicking amid the heaviness, not knowing exactly why. 

When the sirens sound, the flow of mourners shuffles to a stop, and the people stand in dignity and sorrow, held in their private thoughts, their flowers by their sides, as the sirens’ solemn note holds high, then slides and wails down and dies. And the people move forward again, dividing as they go along the pathway into the sections of the cemetery devoted to their respective wars. A salute is fired, a bugle sounds, an army rabbi moves from grave to grave to chant the melancholy prayer for the dead. A weeping mother stretches facedown on the long tombstone of her son; she clutches at it and cries some mangled words as if grabbing and calling to him to come back. The father stands stooped, then bends to put a hand on her shoulder.

In the newest section, the graves and the grief are as fresh as the turned earth. The mourners cluster among the gravemarkers, and at the far end, two cleanly dug rectangular holes stand open, waiting for the victims of warfare in Lebanon. Elsewhere, in the sections for the older battles, the survivors’ agony is less raw, more subdued, scarred by time. There, at the grave of Yaacov Walzer, who was saved from the Nazis in Belgium at the age of two and killed in the fighting for Jerusalem at the age of twenty-seven, a small group of middle-aged adults stand, composed. Yaacov’s brother Aryeh and sister Nellie Kremer raised him practically as parents after their mother and father disappeared from their home in Belgium into the Auschwitz concentration camp. The three children were taken in at great risk by a Christian family, which hid them for two years.

“He was two years old, and I was twelve,” his brother says. “He was a boy who didn’t understand anything, who didn’t understand why, when Nazi troops came to search, he couldn’t make any noise, couldn’t say anything. I had to push a cloth into his mouth because he wanted to laugh, and I kept it there until he started to turn blue, then just at the last moment I took it out. From then on he knew. In 1948 we came to Israel. He went to Hebrew University, prepared for a doctorate in physics. He was a brilliant student. He had work published in an American physics journal. It’s difficult to explain. We remained three children, three orphans. But we brought him up as a little child. He was our pride. We did everything to make it possible for him to continue his studies. I saw in him what I’d like to be, but I couldn’t because of the circumstances. So my sister and I did everything possible so he could be somebody. He was so near to the goal. And in the Six-Day War he fell in Jerusalem. You can see here the destiny of a Jewish child who was saved by Gentile people who risked their lives to save Jewish children. Afterwards he came to his homeland, Israel, and here he fell in the liberation of Jerusalem.” The liberation of Jerusalem, the conquest of Jerusalem.

The mourners stand among the graves, talking softly, filling cups and jars with water for the fresh flowers. Rivka Fass sits weakly on the stone of her son’s tomb, stroking it, kissing it. Another Yaacov, he died in Sinai in 1967. Now hard-won Sinai is given back to Egypt. “We are all afraid of war,” says Yaacov’s sister Hanni Zalmona. “We had these awful experiences. We don’t have any sentiments for Sinai. We have sentiments for peace. He died for peace.” A man approaches, Yaacov’s best friend. He shakes hands with the father, silently, the way men do when they are at the edge of tears. He goes to the mother and embraces her. No words are spoken.

The impact of war looks simple from a distance. It should twist emotions into straightforward anger, weld hatred into the bones, seal off understanding. Not always so. At close view, war nurtures a somber complexity. An honest man who goes into battle confronts himself. His doubts gnaw; he broods on his fears; his pleasures enjoy a revived freshness. Sometimes he reaches out and touches. 

Where Syrian and Israeli troops faced each other across a narrow ravine in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley a year after the hard battles of the 1982 Lebanon war, they occasionally called and waved and sang to each other. Once, when the Israelis were lounging around without helmets or flak jackets, a state of relaxation contrary to regulations, the Syrians, who held slightly higher ground and could see well behind the Israeli position, started jumping and waving and yelling to get the Israelis’ attention. The Syrians shouted in Arabic to Arabic-speaking Israeli soldiers that a high-ranking Israeli officer was driving up in a jeep. Well warned, the Israelis scrambled for their equipment and got into complete battle dress by the time their superior arrived.

In Sinai after peace was signed between Egypt and Israel, soldiers from the two sides visited each other routinely at an isolated checkpoint, greeted each other warmly, threw parties for each other in their tents, and simply became human beings in the vastness of the wilderness. The Israelis took water to the Egyptians, whose army was inefficient about supplies; the Egyptians, grateful but nervous about getting into trouble for having such friendly relations, asked that their names not be mentioned or their faces shown when we photographed them with Israeli troops.

Near the Strait of Tiran in Sinai the morning of January 27, 1982, a sturdy, muscular man in khaki shorts, a white T‑shirt, and sandals drove his dusty white Saab through a twisting desert track that wound among old mine fields marked by tumbled barbed-wire fences. He pulled up to the wreck of a Mustang P-51, a propeller plane that had crashed three wars ago and had been made into a monument of sorts by encircling it with low posts. The plane still had a yellow stripe on the wing; the blue Star of David had faded to white, and the number “73” was still faintly visible after the years of bleaching sun and blowing sand. The man, his wife, and their three children got out of the car and looked at the wreck. From another direction, a tour bus full of Israeli girls lumbered up. Their teacher, a young man, had them gather around while he told the story of this lonely ruin in the desert.

* Only after the PLO signed the Oslo accord and Israel began relinquishing occupied territory in the West Bank and Gaza Strip did King Hussein feel secure enough to sign a formal peace treaty in 1994. He died of cancer in 1999.

1. Raija-Lena Punamaki, a Finnish psychologist, surveyed 185 Israeli Jewish and 128 West Bank Arab children in 1981. Initially published in Finland under the title The Children of the Conflict: The Attitude and Emotional Response of Israeli and Palestinian Children, the results were summarized in Haaretz, May 3, 1985.


Excerpted from "Arab and Jew"
by .
Copyright © 2015 David K. Shipler.
Excerpted by permission of Crown/Archetype.
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"The best and most comprehensive work there is in the English language on this subject." - Walter Laqueur, The New York Times

"A rich, penetrating, and moving portrayal of Arab-Jewish hostility, told in human terms." - Newsday

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