on 25 August 2004
I had this book on my "to read" list for about a year, and then it sat on my shelf for five months after buying it before I finally got around to reading it. Now that I have finished the book I have to wonder what took me so long. The book is exceptional. From Beirut to Jerusalem is the story of Thomas Friedman and his analysis of the Palestine/Israel conflict. Friedman is a three time Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and this book presents and even handed and fair look at both the Palestinians and the Israelis. The book is broken up into three sections: Beirut, Jerusalem, and Washington.
Beirut is the story of the Palestinians. When Friedman was a young reporter, he was assigned a beat in Beirut (the newspaper made a point to assign a Jewish reporter to cover Beirut). Friedman does a good job showing exactly how the PLO came to power and the importance (and the flaw) of Yasir Arafat in the Palestinian movement. Despite being Jewish himself, Friedman does not present much of a bias against the Palestinians in his reporting. Friedman shows how there truly is no central authority for the Palestinians and how amazing it is the Arafat was able to unify the PLO into any sort of centralized body. The one thing that surprised me was how the Palestinians (and Beirut as a whole) was essential tribal politics. Beirut was an example of what can go right in having a disparate group of Christians, Jews, and Muslims live together in a Middle Eastern city. Beirut also ended up being a disaster of what can go wrong: everything. When push came to shove, the different groups split apart, formed militias and held fast to tribal lines. It was in Beirut that the PLO found a temporary home (at least until Israel pushed north).
Jerusalem is the story of the Jews. We all know the story of how after World War II the Jews were given a state in the Middle East and it was on their traditional homeland of Israel. This displaced the Arabs (Palestinians) that were living on the land at the time. Friedman discusses the Utopian vision that Israel is because of the religious context for the Jews. The interesting thing is that Israel was very nearly formed as a secular state for the diaspora Jews, and it was only the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jews that initially held onto their religion (rather than their culture). American Jews viewed Israel truly as the Promised Land, and the Christian world saw Israel through the tinted glasses of the Old Testament. Surrounded on all sides by Arabs who do not want the Jews in Israel, the nation has never truly been at peace and it is in this section of the book that Friedman shows just how difficult peace in the region is.
Washington is the end of the book and Friedman ties several things together. There was a very clear progression from Beirut to Jerusalem as Friedman was transferred over to Jerusalem, but at the same time I felt that Friedman presented enough material that I could begin to understand the context of Jerusalem. Thomas Friedman presents his thoughts on how diplomacy could possibly work for the Israelis and the Palestinians (using the Egypt/Israel peace as a model), and also further explains just how complex the relationships are in the Middle East. We get to see the attempts of the United States to broker peace deals, and how these succeeded and failed, and in some cases, why. Friedman discusses the role the United States does play, and perhaps should play in the region (at least as it affects Israel and Palestine).
This is an absolutely fascinating book. Obviously, this should be used as a primer on the subject and if one feels interested, should lead into further research into the region, but this was a very informative and interesting book and while I was confused at times by the complexity of the situation and shocked at the enormity of the problem, I also felt that I read a valuable book on the region. I thought this was an excellent book and it should belong on any "must read" list for books on the Middle East.
on 3 August 2001
Although fairly well-balanced for an American version of the Middle East (i.e., 80% biased in favour of Israel), the book provides little useful analysis of the Lebanese, Lebanon or the powers (internal, local and international) that have used it as a venue for their own selfish battles. Better read Robert Fisk's "Pity the Nation", although it errs on the side of hysteria occasionally.
on 19 December 2006
Coming from the Middle-East, I tend to be a bit sarcastic about Americans writing about Israelis and Arabs... Let's face it, they tend to not know what they are talking about.
Thomas Friedman is a different kind of Americans. He is a combination that doesn't happen so often. American Jew, fluent in Arabic, studied the Middle-East, and most importantly, lived in it long enough to know what he is writing about. I have lived between Syria and Lebanon almost all my life, and what I appreciate most about this book are the details Friedman can see in the lives of ordinary people there, and the understanding he demonstrates in the way they think. That is beside the historical accuracy and simplicity in which he puts his account.
It is one of the books everyone with interest in the Middle-East should read, alongside Robert Fisk's books...
Read it, and you will learn something