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Surfing the Middle East: Deviant Journalism from the Lost Generation [Kindle Edition]

Jesse Aizenstat , Zack Suhadolnik , theBookDesigners , Donna Beech , Brookes Nohlgren

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Book Description

Major in political science. Graduate with honors. Fail to find a job. Go surfing in the Middle East. Rogue journalist and self-admitted California wave junky Jesse Aizenstat couldn't find a real job after college. But his two passions, Middle East politics and surfing, seemed like a good fit for a freelance gig. What the hell? Why not surf from Israel to Lebanon? His Jewish background may have earned him a free flight to Israel, but it wouldn't give him a pass to surf in Hezbollah-controlled South Lebanon. Even navigating the tangled towns and streets of his ancestral homeland wouldn't be a cakewalk. But then again, this dyslexic writer with a maddening lust for annoying truths wasn't looking for easy, he was looking for real. From Day One, the signs of violent conflict are everywhere: rocket craters, barbed wire, tear-gassed protesters, gunfire, and night patrols. But finding a shoreline touched by the best swell in the Med proves a welcoming counterpoint to the tension. Trouble is, peace, like riding a perfect wave, never lasts long. Turns out you can't just surf from Israel to Lebanon. You gotta take an air/land route. Over an inland desert. Through freaking Syria. Other than hatred, the same surf report, and the desire to blow each other to smithereens, Israel and Lebanon seem to share little else. Like Aizenstat, they are political, cultural, and generational misfits in search of control over their identities and destinies. The author calls 'em like he sees 'em, and goes along for the ride. It gets a little deviant, a little insane, a little frightening, but in the end is fully satisfying. You couldn't ask for a better ride.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3793 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Casbah Publishing (5 Jun. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0089QT5Z8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,527,052 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Outsider's Inside View of the Crises in the Middle East 3 Aug. 2012
By Grady Harp - Published on
To start, Jesse Aizenstat may be a young writer (and according to his own statements a dyslexic one at that), but he is a journalist in the finest sense of the word - and unfortunately journalism of this sort is sadly becoming extinct. When a journalist has the courage to step into the middle of a situation in order to feel it, see it, smell it, interact with it, even take the chance of dying for it all with the goal of reporting to the world from an eyewitness stance, that is the kind of information for which we are hungry. It is one thing to be a snazzy commentator on the television screen, a person with distance and a staff of writers and photographers to create a view of a situation: it is another to have the information from the living in the moment source.

Less the reader gets the idea from the above that this is another serious examination of the ongoing eternal crisis in the Middle East, then that is only part of this delicious memoir. Jesse Aizenstat is a young stud surfer from Santa Barbara, CA who after completing college in 2009 with a major in political science finds it impossible to find work. He had been to Israel and surrounding countries before, but his intense interest in Middle Eastern politics and shenanigans gave him the idea of combining his passion for surfing with his desire to return to the Middle East: his gimmick was to surf from Israel to Lebanon and the only magazine to whom he pitched his idea that would take him on was the Surfers Journal (!), and off he went via Birthright transport (his `in' by being Jewish) to Israel to begin his self-designed assignment. `Second to the American job economy, the other reason I embarked on this adventure was the cold hard fact that for most of my schooling life I'd been dismissed as a hopeless dumbass. From a very young age I was fond of learning about the world but grew restless in the classroom and wanted to go out to experience the world for myself. Dyslexia and my struggles in school were a mixture of jangled thoughts and emotional whippings....I learned to become responsible for myself and fight twice as hard as the people around me to pass the same green light.' So now we love this guy, but that is only the beginning of this journalistic travelogue and we have yet to appreciate the humor and jollity Aizenstat injects into his travails of successfully surfing from Israel to Lebanon.

Along the immensely entertaining story we meet the fellow surfers and the young men of journalism - Lee (a fellow surfer in Haifa), As-Salibi (a WASPy Texan reporter), Jared (an American Jew who got to Israel from the same Birthright trip but ended up working for a Palestinian news agency), and others who accompanied Jesse and Che (the name he assigns to his ever-present surfboard) - as they encounter unusual circumstances in the Middle East. `Traditionally, empires ruled the Middle East. They would rise like a wave from the depths, building to a crest so powerful its explosion would take everything that lay in its path. But like all waves, these empires eventually rolled back, leaving only a wet shore as proof of their past existence. And that is Jerusalem - a withered maze of ancient empires, built literally atop on another.'

Jesse et al face the paradox of the Israeli Palestinian conflict in a memorable Friday Protest Day along the Wall in West Bank and from these encounters we are allowed to see both sides of the struggle: Aizenstat conveys the sentiments and the realties of the ongoing struggle about land and heritage that the Israelis and Palestinians continue to fight over who owns or belongs in the disputed land. There are some very tender moments as Jesse meets a wise old wheelchair-bound protestor and observes directly the faces and attitudes of both sides of the implacable territorial argument. From this entertaining book, complete with photographs of the encounters and more important the people Jesse shares, we learn more about why the conflict in the Middle East is likely unsolvable and why.

But keep in mind that Jesse Aizenstat is not only a fine observer and reporter and has been through some rather terrifying and life changing moments during his `surfing venture', but he is also one hell of a writer and comedian. This book reads easily and well on so many levels that it should shoot up to the best seller list soon. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, August 12
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Story Written from a Unique Perspective 31 May 2012
By Nicholas A. Heras - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Jesse Aizenstat's "Surfing the Middle East: Deviant Journalism from the Lost Generation" is a great book written from a unique perspective. Aizenstat's writing style combines the best elements of travel writing found in the works of authors such as Robert Kaplan with a Hunter S. Thomson-esque attention for detail and situation that is reminiscent of the "Rum Diary" and "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved." He very effectively describes the situations that his journeys present to him with both wry humor and a good grasp of the underlying social, cultural, and political realities of the countries that he visits.

Aizenstat has a gift for edgy description and for capturing the good ol'-fashioned irony that he encounters throughout his trip. Importantly, he is not above an honest appraisal of himself, his actions, and his interpretations of the behavior of the people with whom he encounters, allowing the reader to more fully appreciate the manic quality of his travels. The resulting story is both humorous and educational, with characters who are larger-than-life, but not easily dismissed as simple caricature.

This book is a must-read for students of the Middle East, international relations junkies, and people who simply love a great story with a wonderful narrative. Highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Worthwhile Read 14 Aug. 2012
By CSB - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
This e-book is a truly unique, interactive experience all on its own, the story entirely set aside. The images and layout only serve to enhance the superb story telling that Aizenstat brings to the table.

As far as the writing itself, Aizenstat's approach represents something both new and old--it is an example of fast-paced, gripping guerilla journalism, something fit for new media formats such as blogs and e-books. It is raw, and adventurous without embellishment, giving readers a chance to read and experience Aizenstat's travels and learn something real about this part of the world. In addition, however, it holds true to the timeless practice of simply keeping a journal of one's travel and adventure, and of traveling not as a tourist propped up by a thick wallet and an English-speaking guide but as a young man full of curiosity, determination, and boldness.

As someone who has traveled to this part of the world before, I can confirm that Aizenstat has captured reality in his writing. He brings the reader the real experience and gives a valuable insight on the region that definitely deserves our attention. And besides, he went through the entire experience dragging along a surfboard, which makes an already interesting trip just that much more interesting!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surfing Near the Siege 24 Sept. 2012
By Joseph Madia Jr. - Published on
Surfing the Middle East is a book of endless dicotomy. Subtitled "Deviant Journalism for the Lost Generation," Aizenstat's diary and depiction of his two trips to the Middle East is equal parts eye-opening participant journalism in the tradition of Sebastian Junger and V.S. Naipaul's Among the Believers (the best book I have ever read about the tangled weave of cultures and belief systems in the Middle East) and an at times over-the-top homage to the Gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson (as evidenced most obviously by the opening quote from the good doctor and more subtly by the rampant use of his signature words: "savage," "swine," "fiend," and his metaphorical device of linking drug-tripping adjectives with his on-site experiences).
To be fair to Aizenstat--whose idea to surf in Israel and Lebanon while immersing himself in the Gordian knot of what is happening "over there" as an American Jew was as excellently executed as it was extremely evocative in concept--I have spent the past eight years reading everything I can find written by or about Hunter S. Thompson (indeed, as I was reading Surfing the Middle East I was also reading Hey Rube, so the Doctor's typical dialogue and devices were foremost in my mind). Thompson's appeal is his intense Uniqueness, and any attempt to borrow from or otherwise emulate what he so carefully cultivated rubs me the wrong way. It's like trying to paint like Jackson Pollock and pass it off as in any way your own. I have watched with no small sorrow as Johnny Depp sinks into a not-so-subtle cartoon echo of his fallen hero. Sad.
Aizenstat--a self-professed "smartass"--succeeds best when he is caught with his guard down, letting the waves of misery, injustice, absurdism, and poor policy that is the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict wash over him like some rogue wave. These moments--which happen with more frequency and greater intensity as he gets deeper into the Reality of things--like a Nor'easter moving into the mid-Atlantic coast where I spent my youth--make this book a must-read for anyone who cares at all about what is really happening among the flying rhetoric and rockets.
Of course, like any successful story arc, the main character, fictional or not, has to start from somewhere far from where he ends, and watching Aizenstat's armored plates of wise-cracks and playing the couldn't-care-less California surfer-dude crack and fall away as he attends fire-flinging political rallies on both sides and sees first hand the Andersonville-esque squalor of the refugee camps in Sabra and Shatila one cannot help but invest in his pain and disbelief.
The book is abundantly filled with quotes penned by everyone from social commentators like Mary Shelley and Mark Twain to absurdist/existentialists like Albert Camus and Joseph Heller and is richly illustrated with nearly a dozen indispensible maps and a section of provocative color pictures. [I was doing a series of workshops for eighth graders in the West Virginia Capitol Complex on the Constitution and Bill of Rights while reading the book and the inside cover shots showing the disturbing dicotomy between the war and the western shore opened more than a few lost and jaded eyes]. There is also an ipad app [as well as a blog and numerous YouTube videos], illustrative of the hip and happening mode that feeds the surfing metaphors that are Aizenstat's own coin of the realm. I was quickly reminded that what we think of almost without fail as an unmitigated desert-scape actually has a considerable coastline that provides page after page of apt comparisons between the surfer's unpredictable dance with the swells and daily life in the camps, bombed out neighborhoods, checkpoints, and mosques and temples in Israel and Lebanon.
Like the metafiction of the Beats, Surfing the Middle East boasts a compelling cast of characters: Jewish and Muslim surfers; attractive and flirtatious female border guards; no nonsense Israeli soldiers; wealthy Palestinian playboys living the club life; and an on-the-edge journalist from Texas nicknamed As-Salibi ("The Crusader") who clandestinely gathers stories for a Palestinian news agency are just some of the many people that serve to educate and escalate Aizenstat's transformation.
This is not to say that at the start the author is in any way vacuous or not in tune. Despite his put-on surfer persona and failure to pass the Foreign Service Exam (the precipitating incident that started him on his journey--what Joe Campbell would identify as the hero's "Call to Adventure") his writing demonstrates an impressive knowledge of geography, mythology, foreign affairs, Middle Eastern history, and human psychology. In that regard, he is very much like Hunter S. Thompson, who, thru the drug and booze-fueled madness that mark his writing and his life, was a brilliant analyst whose political and pop culture predictions more often than not came true.
And Aizenstat definitely knows enough about the nuances of surfing to thread them through the multi-colored, multi-textured Middle Eastern tapestry that he weaves.
As I said at the start, Surfing the Middle East is about nothing if not Dicotomy. I've explored several in this review--the serious journalist vs. the smartass surfer; the Israelis and Palestinians; the war and the western shore. These could be considered the macro-dicotomies. But dig a little deeper [stick around as the sun starts to set for that one last perfect wave] and you can mine the riches of the micro-dicotomies: the Sunni vs. the Shia; the blood-lusting militant vs. the old man struggling to feed his family in a quiet corner of a bombed and burned out world after being chased from his home by a roving gang of those blood-lusting militants; the shortest distance between two points vs. the realities of traveling in such a divided, border-guarded land; and perhaps the most compelling of all--the Jekyll and Hyde nature of organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas, and the PLO and many of the so-called leaders on both sides. The deeper you go--the longer you ride the tide--the more you want to know and the less you can ignore.
So what about the non-Jew, the non-Muslim, like myself? What is our role in all of this? Because we most certainly have one. If you know nothing about the history and horrors of this area of the world, let this book be your passport, your circumventing navigational tool, your entrypoint to the rallies and the temples and the mosques.
And when you're done, just try and forget what you have read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It Will Change Your World 1 Sept. 2012
By Tracy Riva - Published on
Surfing the Middle East presents the ultimate dichotomy, a Californian surfer of Jewish descent making his way through the volatile regions of Israel, Palestine, Jordon and Lebanon. Along the way, he meets Israeli soldiers, fellow surfers in both Israel and Lebanon and realizes the goal he set out to accomplish, to surf the Mediterranean from Israel to Lebanon. What makes Aizenstat's journey so remarkable is the political commentary, and the political activities Jesse becomes part of.

He talks frankly of the Palestinian situation. He explains it in terms Americans, Jews and the world can understand.

I am Jewish, so at first I was taken aback by Aizenstat's tale. Sure, I liked his story of hanging out with Jewish surfers who were just like him, but when he talked of his time in Nablus and the terror the late night Israeli raids had caused him, both back then and in the present, I was taken aback. Here was a person of Jewish descent sympathizing with the Palestinians. As the story went on though, I found myself seeing his perspective more and more. I saw on the page, through his eyes the Palestinians who face off weekly, unarmed, against the IDF. They are protesting the seizure of their farmland. They even took the case to the Israeli Supreme Court and won the return of their land, but the military refuses to allow them back into their land, so every week they gather at the fence to protest and to try to take down one layer of the double-layered fence that separates them from land that is rightly theirs. Weekly they are gassed with a tear gas in powder form by the fully armed IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). It is criminal.

Through Jesse's eyes, I saw the refugee camps filled with Palestinians who are still living in Lebanon. Camps that were meant to be temporary have instead been filled with generations of refugees being born and dying there in abject poverty.

I have to say Aizenstat's book was an eye-opening experience for me. I don't know what the solution in Palestine/Israel is, I'm not an advocate of the two nation idea, but perhaps it truly is the only reasonable, right and humane solution to an untenable situation. I thank Aizenstat for deciding to surf the Middle East, and open my eyes to a situation I was willing not to see for religious reasons. Now that very same religious conviction tells me, it is time for a change.

Surfing the Middle East isn't all politics and protests, in fact that is actually the tale of the minority of the story. It is instead a story of how simple things, like surfing can unite people across the world in a way that humanizes all of them because they are no longer defined by nationalistic, or religious stereotypes but rather by the common humanity and love of life that binds us all.

*I received a copy of this book from the author in return for my honest, unbiased review.
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