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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Bridging the Divide: Must Read, Must Think - Book Review

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Bridging the Divide: Must Read, Must Think - Book Review


Bridging the Divide: Peacebuilding in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,
Edy, Kaufman, Salem, Walid and Juliette Verhoeven, eds.
Lynne Reinner, London and Bolder, CO, 2006.

If you are interested in peace or dialogue in the Middle East, Bridging the Divide is a must read. The title alone redeems this work. The authors' hearts are in the right place. The title makes it a much better book than Jimmy Carter's best-selling scribblings about Israeli "Apartheid" replete with mislabelled maps.

You won't buy a book because of its title, but the first chapter, by Edy Kaufman and Walid Salem, which chronicles the long history of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue efforts, is an essential resource. The only problem with it is that there is not enough of it. One would like to see a more detailed discussion of dialogue efforts that have been going on abroad as well, and a systematic discusson of various "Track II diplomacy" meetings that are mentioned in passing in various places in the book -- and others that were not mentioned. There are also important chapters by Tamar Hermann, a frank and peceptive joint chapter on Palestinian-Israeli activities by Mohammed Dajani and Gershon Baskin, and informative chapter by Menachem Klein and Riad Malki on Track II diplomacy that you won't want to miss, as well as other treats.

Riad Malki discusses the varieties of Track II diplomacy, pointing out the problem of definition that is bound to plague a new field, and also reminding us that it was the Israeli occupation in 1967 that made such contacts initially possible. Those who insist that the Israeli occupation was the beginning of the problem, should consider that it was in fact the beginning of the solution, and that the problem has a much longer history. The point about "Track II diplomacy," however, is that it is supposed to be unofficial and nonbinding. It is therefore revealing and disturbing that Malki complains that some of the supposedly information "Track II" Palestinian negotiators didn't know the official Palestinian policies and departed from them. Controlling the views of participants obviates the whole point of Track II diplomacy. No divide will be bridged if each side must stick to the official positions of their governments.

Bridging the Divide concludes with a handy appendix listing organizations involved in promoting Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

This book is not perfect. It suffers from the uneven-ness and lack of systematic coverage characteristic of many edited volumes. It is plagued by confusion over definitions of "civil society," so much so that we find one author insisting that the Hamas are part of "civil society." Armed guerrila groups are not part of civil society of course, and they don't have anything to do with bridging the divide.

Many of the faults of this book reflect the faults and foibles of peace and dialogue efforts. It would be unthinkable to list an organization that denies the rights of Palestinian Arabs to self determination as a "peace" group, and there don't seem to be any such groups in the listing in this book. However, many of the organizations listed are anti-Zionist.

A book that is trying to bridge the divide should not engage either in fiction or in incitement. Muhammed Abu Nimer tells describes the violent confrontations that broke out in September of 2000 this way:

Palestinians took to the streets and launched daily protests and other nonviolent activities. However, a few small Palestinian factions enaged in armed resistance that involved shooting at both Israeli civilians and soldiers. The Israeli response gradually escalated, and by March 2002 it launched its massive attack, Operation Defensive Shield, in which 500 Palestinians were killed and fifteen injured and the Palestinian Authority security and administrative offices were completely destroyed....

All of were were alive and sentient in the last six years, Dr. Abu Nimer. Anyone can know that Palestinian "nonviolent activities" began with throwing of large rocks from the compound of the Al-Aqsa mosque on Jewish worshippers. The "shooting" that you describe included daily machine gun fire on neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The "nonviolent activities" included suicide bombings in discotheques, pizza parlors and hotels. In the month of March 2002 alone, about 100 Israeli civilians were murdered in various suicide bombings and terror attacks. Do we need to list the "nonviolent activites" of the Palestinians? Here are but a few from the beginning of the "nonviolent" Intifada:

Sept 29, 2000 - Border Police Supt. Yosef Tabeja, 27, of Ramle was shot to death by his Palestinian counterpart on a joint patrol near Kalkilya.

Oct 1, 2000 - Border Police Cpl. Madhat Yusuf, 19, of Beit Jann, died of gunshot wounds sustained in a gun battle with Palestinians at Joseph's Tomb in Nablus.

Remember that Joseph's tomb was supposed to safeguarded for Israeli access as a holy place, a solemn undertaking of the Palestinian Authority and a symbol of the peace. It was overrun by a Palestinian mob. Likewise the joint patrols were symbols of the peace. The Palestinian police are not members of unimportant fringe groups. Here are some of the "nonviolent activities" that led up to operation defensive shield:

Mar 2, 2002 - Eleven people were killed and over 50 were injured, 4 critically, in a suicide bombing at 19:15 on Saturday evening near a yeshiva in the ultra-Orthodox Beit Yisrael neighborhood of Jerusalem. The Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade took responsibility for the attack.

Mar 5, 2002 - Three killed and over 30 people were wounded in Tel-Aviv when a Palestinian terrorist opened fire on two restaurants shortly after 2:00 AM. The Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mar 5, 2002 - One killed and a large number of people injured, most lightly, when a suicide bomber exploded in an Egged No. 823 bus as it entered the Afula central bus station. The Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mar 9, 2002 - Ten killed, 54 injured, when a suicide bomber exploded at 22:30 PM Saturday night in a crowded cafe in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mar 17, 2002 - Noa Auerbach, 18, of Kfar Sava was killed and 16 people were injured when a terrorist opened fire on passersby in the center of Kfar Sava.

Mar 20, 2002 - Seven dead and about 30 people wounded in a suicide bombing of an Egged bus No. 823 near Afula. The Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mar 21, 2002 - Three dead and 86 injured, in a suicide bombing on King George Street in the center of Jerusalem...The Fatah al-Aqsa Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mar 26, 2002 - Major Cengiz Soytunc of Turkey and Catherine Berruex of Switzerland, members of the TIPH observer force in Hebron, were killed in an ambush shooting by a Palestinian gunman near Halhul.

Mar 27, 2002 - 30 people were killed and 140 injured - 20 seriously - in a suicide bombing in the Park Hotel in the coastal city of Netanya, in the midst of the Passover holiday seder with 250 guests. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.

. "Those are but a few of the "nonviolent activities" of the "small Palestinian factions" -- Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Fatah, PNA police.

As all the world should know by now, and as verified by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, about 56 people were killed by the IDF in Operation defensive shield, the majority of whom were "resistance" fighters engaged in more such "nonviolent activities." Among the documents found in the Palestinian authority offices were documentation of Palestinian Authority Treasury disbursals of funds for suicide bomber explosive vests, and pay orders for terrorists signed by Yasser Arafat. So what part of Abu-Nimer's description is anchored in reality? What is worse, is that Professor Abu Nimer thanks the editors and others for comments on his manuscript. Apparently, this was a "collective effort." How did this diabolical confabulation get into a book about peace and dialogue?

Repugnant as it is, one chapter and one or two assertions do not disqualify an entire book. Read the book, learn from it, think about the questions it raises. Learn also from the errors and absurdities in it, and hope that the authors do the same in the future.

Ami Isseroff

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