About the Author
Anthony David, historian and biographer, teaches creative writing at the University of New England's campus in Tangier, Morocco.
Dennis Ross, American diplomat and author, has served as the Director of Policy Planning in the State Department under President George H. W. Bush, the special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama and as a special adviser for to the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He is The Washington Institute's William Davidson Distinguished Fellow.
Read an Excerpt
Prologue: Hope Is a Security Asset
Until I turned off my cell phone around midnight, it had been buzzing nonstop with friends and complete strangers calling to give me a piece of their mind. The prime-time interview I had given earlier that evening on the Channel Two news program had scandalized many of the one million viewers. “What the fuck were you thinking?” one particularly indignant fellow asked.
Who could blame them? It was late October 2000, and Israelis were reeling from a resurgence of terror attacks. The day before, a mob in Ramallah had murdered two
Israeli reservists with metal bars and knives. Had I been a peacenik who denied our right to defend ourselves, with lethal force when necessary, people wouldn’t have minded what
I said because they wouldn’t have listened. But for the former director of the Shin Bet, or
“Shabak” — the Israeli mash-up of the FBI, the CIA, and the Secret Service — to express the slightest empathy for our enemies was like spitting on the country I had served since I
was an eighteen-year-old sea commando.
Instead of calling for Palestinian heads on pikes, I had come out with the unalloyed truth: PLO leader Yasser Arafat, the man Israelis loved to blame for all the mayhem, couldn’t have stopped the bloodletting even if he’d wanted to. His people would have lynched him had he tried. My experiences in and out of the Shabak interrogation room — along with the friends I’ve buried and enemies I’ve killed —
shattered my lifelong preconceptions about Palestinians. If we wanted to end terrorism,
we couldn’t continue regarding them as eternal enemies, and we needed to stop dehumanizing them as animals on the prowl. They are people who desire, and deserve,
the same national rights we have. The people who lynched our two soldiers had lost hope that the Israeli government would ever end the occupation and allow the Palestinians to be free. “And we’ve given them little reason to trust us,” I concluded.
I’ve always been a strange bird, an outsider to the society I served, and I lost no sleep over people’s recriminations that night. The following morning at around six, my wife Biba and I set out on an early walk with our two dogs from our home in Kerem
Maharal, a moshav, or cooperative community, on the southern slopes of Mount Carmel.
After passing through the high white security fence the government erected around our home during my years at the Shabak to prevent a potential assassin from getting a clear shot at me, we headed down a dirt path to tend our olive grove. If you look around our moshav — and for years I was too blinkered to do so — you’ll find traces of the past at every turn. The newer part of our house was built in the early 1950s to shelter Holocaust survivors from Czechoslovakia; the much older part, made of quarried stone, once belonged to an Arab family who built it when Kerem Maharal was still the prosperous
Arab village of Ijzim, the second largest in the Haifa District, home to doctors and teachers and to the farmers who tended the fields that now belong to us. Whoever owned our house fled when Israeli forces took the town during the 1948 war.
On the right side of the dirt path is another Arab-built house with trees growing from cracks in the walls, and at the end of the path, just past the stables, is an old farm building with a lock still hanging from a broken front door. I can imagine someone showing the rusty key to his grandchildren in a refugee camp in Gaza or Lebanon while retelling the story of their loss of Palestine — what they call the Nakba. The Catastrophe.
History is everywhere in a country where you can’t dig a hole without turning up some trace from eight strata of time. Canaanites, Israelites from the First and Second
Temple periods, Persians, Greeks, Byzantines, Arabs, and Ottomans all established settlements in our area, and a Roman road leads up from our valley to a hilltop, from which you can see the Mediterranean several miles away.
But I didn’t have the luxury of contemplating ancient history that morning. In the fields, just as we began pruning branches, my cell phone buzzed with a call from a man whose name I recognized, Aryeh Rutenberg. I didn’t need a secret police file on him to know he was a big shot in Israel’s media and advertising world, a man adept at branding banks, yogurt, rock stars — and politicians: He was one of the pundits who helped the
Labor Party’s Ehud Barak beat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party in the elections a couple of years earlier.
Without explaining why, he asked to see me in person, so I invited him to my cramped office in Tel Aviv where I worked as chairman of a drip irrigation company, the job I took after retiring from the Shabak.