Authors trace roots of Israel’s public relations problems

This Burning Land

BY REPPS HUDSON, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

If anyone still has questions about how Israel has lost the public relations campaign against the Palestinians, Greg Myre and Jennifer Griffin explain in non-judgmental prose what has happened since 2000 to isolate the Jewish state.

In the introduction of “This Burning Land: Lessons from the Transformed Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” (Wiley, 320 pages, $29.95), Griffin writes that Israel faces a conundrum: It has massive military might, as demonstrated when it won conventional wars against frontline Arab states, but it “… has increasingly found itself cast as the neighborhood bully, facing increasing international criticism from opponents who question the very legitimacy of the Jewish state.”

Myre and Griffin, who are married and wrote separate parts of this book, arrived in Jerusalem in 1999 and stayed until 2007. There their two daughters were born in Hadassah Mount Scopus Hospital. As Griffin noted, “… Arabs and Jews mixed easily in Israeli hospitals. No matter how tense the streets, hospitals were one of the few places, and at times the only place, where all were welcome.”

Here’s a positive symbol. One gains a glimmer of hope, despite the depressing stories told here, that if Israeli and Palestinians leaders with great courage and leadership skills can effect a peace agreement, two states can live side by side in peace and security.

For the eight years they lived in Jerusalem, Myre reporting for the Associated Press and then the New York Times and Griffin for Fox News, the conflict raged all around them. They explain, using many examples gleaned from their demanding daily reporting, how the conflict has been transformed over the last decade.

In their view – and in the view of many knowledgeable observers, as well as thoughtful Israelis and Palestinians – the conflict since the second Intifada erupted in 2000 has evolved into the hands of extremists on both sides: armed Jewish settlers in the West Bank and violent Palestinian militants represented by Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank.

Overshadowed by years of Palestinian bombings and rockets and Israel’s disproportionate use of force, moderates on both sides have lost control of whatever peace process existed.

The second intifada, which was pretty much spent by mid-decade, reflected the fierce frustration of Palestinians after the Oslo agreement of 1993 didn’t work out as they had expected, exploded a day after Ariel Sharon defiantly marched around on the Temple Mount-Noble Sanctuary.

Sharon, after all, was the Palestinians’ most reviled Israeli for his long history of striking them militarily and building settlements in the West Bank.

Myre and Griffin write in an even-handed way, using many sources on all sides. They do not assign blame; they tell human stories.

This effort cannot help in many cases but portray the Palestinians as victims of Israel’s asymmetrical use of military force as, for instance, when it destroyed blocks of homes of suspected terrorists, as in Jenin in the West Bank in 2002.

Parts of the book are enlightening, as when Myre writes about the positive efforts of Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister who is building up the institutions that could become the foundation of a Palestinian state. Compare his progress with the negative results of years of Hamas’ control of Gaza, and one can see why Israeli governments have backed the Palestinian Authority. (This book was written before the reconciliation between the PA and Hamas.)

Some vignettes are quite amusing, as when three members of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade kidnapped an Italian journalist in Gaza to win jobs with the Palestinian Authority security forces. Others are most revealing, as when Myre explains in considerable detail why certain Palestinians become informants and, in some cases, help Israeli forces target a particular car carrying a militant leader.

Repps Hudson is a freelance journalist and adjunct instructor of international affairs at Washington University where he teaches a graduate course in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Authors to speak at JCC

What: KMOX Radio’s Charlie Brennan will interview authors and Middle East correspondents Greg Myre and Jennifer Griffin as part of a Jewish Book Festival event

When: 9 to 11 a.m. Monday, May 13

Where: JCC Staenberg Family Complex – Arts and Education Building, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur

How much: Free and open to the public, but RSVPs requested

More info: An audience Q&A and a book signing will take place after the presentation. RSVP at www.kmox.com/events; for more information or to purchase a book in advance, call the festival hotline at 314-442-3299.

 

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