Friday, October 10, 2014

Book review: "The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine" by Miko Peled


I liked this book very much despite some unevenness in the narrative.  Read it! Please, please read it. Forgive its long introduction where the author describes his family background in detail--the real narrative begins somewhere in the middle. Just read it. It gives me hope.

In my experience, the only folks who would normally use "Palestine" to describe today's West Bank or Gaza Strip would be Palestinians themselves.  I can only imagine the courage it has taken the author, an Israeli with roots firmly in Zionism, to become an outspoken peace activist willing to befriend, talk to, and visit with his Palestinian counterparts.

In the 1990's, Miko Peled was raising a family in California, running his own martial arts dojo, when back in Jerusalem his sister's 14-year-old daughter died in a suicide bombing.  Instead of desiring revenge, this tragic event caused the author to search his soul and call for dialog between former enemies.   This was at the time unheard of.  As Mr. Peled started his own small steps toward such dialog on a personal level, he recounts feeling physically nauseous when realizing that some deep-seated views he had been raised to believe were simply untrue.

I can relate to the nausea and disorientation of realizing things are not what I believed.  I too have felt an utter resistance to changing my views.   Back in the 1990's, I had a co-worker from Palestine who befriended me.  Over lunches and after intense work meetings (which he led), he talked to me, somewhat against my will, about conditions on the ground in Palestine (a word I had never heard outside the Bible in modern times).  He refused to call the West Bank, where he had been born, "Israel".  At first, I did not believe some of the things he told me.  I had never heard of "settlements" and I began to look into what they were.   As a result of my enquiries, I began to suspect that Palestinians living within Israel were ill-treated minorities without full political or economic rights, and Palestinians living in the areas immediately surrounding Israel (i.e., especially Gaza and West Bank) are being forced to live in increasing impossible circumstances.

It has worried me deeply that, since those 1990's when I first met my Palestinian friend, an entire generation of Palestinian youth has grown up in increasingly desperate, make-shift straits.

I believe that the free press in our own country has been afraid to talk about these sticky-wicket issues.  As happened to me on a personal level, any attempt to enquire about Jewish settlements, and the possible zealotry behind them (these guarded enclaves situated right in the middle of Palestinian communities, which permanently chop up the land so that Palestinians cannot travel even short distances without making circuitous detours), would lead me to be accused to anti-semitism, would lead my very questions to be shouted down and me to be shamed and shunned or verbally attacked.  In such an environment, I had given up any hope of talking about the situation in Israel with any of my many, many Jewish friends and acquaintance.  I felt helpless and frustrated about it, and that had been my situation for years, as I read the mainstream news spun typically to a pro-Israeli-military slant.   Then there was my classmate at Penn who was a former military policeman in the Israeli army, whose presence on more than one occasion actually physically scared me, such was the intensity of his persona.

Enter this book.  First, the things it talks about are seldom talked about without heat, as they are in this book.  Second, the author has walked the walk and talked the talk, so he has the public credentials to speak on these matters.  Third, what he says confirms what I had feared to be the (unspoken about) situation.

Until people turn from violence, it cannot stop.  Until people can even talk about turning from violence, it cannot stop.  It has been, for decades, impossible to talk about it.  But the importance of a man who has walked across the divide to speak with, and learn to understand, his supposed enemies, should not be discounted.  This book should be read, even if it is to be criticized.

About Gaza, Miko Peled writes: "The situation is so severe in Gaza that it makes domination of the West Bank seem practically benign.  Israel's restrictions on travel and movement and the import and export of goods, plus the occupier's complete control over land and sea, have created a siege that is choking one and a half million people, including 800,000 children.  Gaza has essentially been turned into an enormous concentration camp.  On top of that, Israela military incursions have left countless civilians, including children, maimed and traumatized, both physically and emotionally, and usually without access to treatment."

Further: "None of this was caused by a natural disaster.  It was caused because Israel deliberately created these conditions, and on one in America says a thing."  That is because they are not allowed to.  The thought police will not allow any dialog to take place.

I know for sure only that it's very complicated.  I wish the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories might be explored more calmly, past mistakes admitted and all options explored (even if eventually debunked).  As it stands, the empasse only grows worse because people are afraid to question anything.

This is a fairly short book.  It will only take you a few hours.  Please read it.

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