Rationally discussing the decades-long hostilities between Jews inhabiting Israel and Palestinians who resided on that land before creation of the Jewish state seems hopeless. Almost every educated person I know either believes that the Jews are cruel, militarized monsters when dealing with the Palestinians, or that the Palestinians spawn suicide bombers as part of a campaign to destroy Israel.
What novelist/journalist Ben Ehrenreich thought about the deadly hatred before 2011 is difficult to discern based on his new book, “The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine.” During 2011, he traveled to the disputed territory — much of the acreage between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea — on an assignment for Harper’s Magazine. A year later, he returned on a separate assignment for the New York Times Sunday Magazine. He developed contacts among Palestinians, then immersed himself by turns in three Palestinian locales more or less under Israeli military control.
By the time Ehrenreich started writing this heartfelt book, he had decided that Israeli political and military leaders were monsters, cruelly ordering Jewish troops and civil servants to harass, oppress and sometimes murder Palestinians day after day.
Much of Ehrenreich’s conclusion is based on what he observed directly. The remainder derives from a copious amount of interviewing, as well as archival research and extensive reading of contemporary texts.
(To state my own predisposition before reading this book — I have long believed that Israelis and Palestinians share the blame for the hostilities, with the Israelis’ behavior in recent years becoming increasingly cruel. I am well acquainted with half a dozen Israelis and one Palestinian who have supplied me with their firsthand experiences during face-to-face conversations.)
At times, Ehrenreich attempts to understand and explain the Israeli/Jewish perspective, but such passages in the book are rare. He did not intend to offer any sort of balance. Whether the intentional imbalance resulted in a necessary exposé or an emotional screed must be left with each reader.
Speaking only for myself, I am grateful to have absorbed Ehrenreich’s accounts of time in the activist Palestinian West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, the Balkanized West Bank city of Hebron and the relatively calm Palestinian West Bank locale of Umm al-Kheir. I feel as if I am well acquainted with many of the adults and children he spent copious time with in those locales.
In addition, Ehrenreich shares poignant experiences from stays in Ramallah and Jerusalem.
I wish he had provided more material from Israelis, but as a reviewer I must accept his decision to write the book as he chose to write it, to alleviate what he perceives as an imbalance.
Steve Weinberg is writing a biography of Garry Trudeau. He lives in Missouri.
The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine
By: Ben Ehrenreich.
Publisher: The Penguin Press, 428 pages, $28