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on 1 August 2005
I didn't know anything about the Israel/Palestine conflict before reading this book. It is a place that has been in conflict for so long. I knew there were disputes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as there have been since I was old enough to take interest in the news. However, I didn't understand the history of this region.
The author is a journalist who spent time reporting in both Beirut and Jerusalem in the late 70's and the 80's. He is a Jewish American and is therefore sometimes accused of bias. I have an open mind on the topic and personally didn't detect any bias. Interestingly he has been accused on occasions of bias towards the Palestians as well!
The book covers the history of Israel and Palestine and also explains a little about the civil war that took place in the Lebanon. It looks at the views of both the Israelis and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and the rationale for the actions taken by both of them. The author also discusses how strange it was to see people going about their ordinary way of life amid bombing and gunfire. He talks at about the interesting people he met while living in the Middle East and how their lives have been impacted by the conflict.
Thomas Friedman has a wonderful way of writing which makes this book very easy to read and absorb. It is interesting, educational and in many places very amusing.
As it is not a recent book, it only covers events up to the early 90s. However I think it is a great introduction to the subject.
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on 21 May 2000
A great achievement - this is indeed a good starting point and Friedman is at his best when he relates the horror of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacres of Palestinians in Lebanon. But there is a sense that he is trying to distil the Arab-Israeli conflict into easy nuggets for the reader - one needs to go much further than this. However he is refreshingly open about his own misconceptions and what he learnt from living in the region. Edward Said has a perceptive review of this book in his 'Politics of Dispossession'. For more depth on the Lebanon side, go to Robert Fisk's 'Pity the Nation'
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on 9 May 2012
I first read this book twenty years ago, when the events dscribed within were very much current headlines. Twenty years later, the events have faded from the foreground, although the background problem has hardly changed, unless it is for the worse. What remains fascinating is the personal story of Tom Friedman, showing the evolution of his attitudes towards the byzantine, impenetrable and cruel mess of Middle East politics and war. Many of Friedman's detractors (there are many) write him off as an unrepentant admirer and supporter of Israel, and insist that his work is not balanced. This seems to me to be rather missing the point, as it is a partial autobiography, reflected in the chaos surrounding him, rather than with Friedman himself as the centre of gravity. It is a personal view of the Middle East, rather than a polemic. It is very well written and is definitely still worth reading... even if at the end of it you, like me, like Friedman have no clearer understanding of the dynamics of the Arab Israeli conflict.
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on 27 October 2008
I first read this in the early 1990s,and then later in the 1990s visited both Syria and Lebanon,and found this a good read to carry round on long bus rides.Note-I have transported this book safely across the Turkish,Syrian,Lebanese and Jordanian borders without any trouble.
Friedman has lived widely in the Middle East(he mentions Egypt,Lebabnon and Israel)and speaks both Hebrew and Arabic,as well as having a master's in Middle East history.He writes well and fluently,and his experiences are fascinating-being one of the first outsiders to enter Sabra and Shatilla in 1982,being a visitor to Hama,Syria after Assad crushed an uprising there in 1982 with maybe 20 000 dead.
I feel that Friedman has tried to be impartial and accurate,but,as a US journalist,it's difficult not to be pro-Israel;otherwise you may well be unemployed in the near future.One story in the book is that,during the siege of Beirut in summer 1982,he protested against the editing of his reports with such force as to almost get himself dismissed.I'd say he is pro-Israeli about 60% of the time-an amazing feat for a US journalist.If you haven't got the energy for academic works,this is well worthwhile.
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on 1 April 2014
First published in 1989 I read the second edition published in 1995 detailing the time Friedman spent in Beirut and then Lebanon as New York Times bureau chief before moving back to the safer haven of Washington DC.

An American Jew pitching up to Beirut in the mid 80s sounds a disaster waiting to happen but the chronology provided by Friedman is well worth reading. Although perhaps lacking the detail to be a relevant source for academia I would recommend this to anyone else wanting an introduction to the history of the conflict and how it appeared soon after Rabin and Arafat shook hands, but before Rabin was assassinated.

It was interesting to read the different perspective of living in Beirut vs Jerusalem, but perhaps the most interesting was the suggestions towards the end for long-term peace. Much of his Friedman's expectation was surprisingly accurate!
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on 21 June 2014
There is no finer book ever written about the Middle East and all its problems than this one. I would go so far as to say I wish every politician on both sides of the Atlantic had read it from cover to cover before intervening in any of the countries but having done so would have understood that it could never have been anything else but a long haul with a heavy dosage of realism if we were ever going to make things better rather than worse. Illuminating at all levels not least the thousands of years culture of an 'eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth' of the Desert peoples as illustrated in Chapter Four's Hama Rules and the Bedouin story of the Old Man's Turkey. It is a truly 'must' read for us all if we are ever going to understand the culture of the Desert.
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... to raise that question using the much discredited phrase from Fox News. As many people know, Thomas Friedman is a long-time reporter, and now a columnist for the New York Times. This is his first book, published in 1989, based on his experiences living in both Beirut and Jerusalem during the `80's, as the aforementioned NYT reporter. I first read the book not long after publication, and was suitably impressed, with both the "balance," as well as the wealth of information that I had not previously read. Friedman is Jewish, and in the prelude to this book says that, in high school, "I was insufferable." Insufferable in regards to his fanatical pro-Israel stance. As he states, concerning his mother's response to some of his actions: "Is this really necessary?" So, it is all the more remarkable that I do think this book represents a fair report on one of humankind's more intractable political problems today.

Friedman and his wife first went to the Middle East in 1979, and for the next decade lived in the two cities that form the title to this book, splitting their time fairly evenly. As seems to be true of every 10 year period in the Middle East, it was tumultuous. "And all the news just repeats itself" is a line from a John Prine song, truer today than when he wrote it. Friedman has a chapter on the massacre in Hama, Syria, by the forces of the current ruler's father, which killed somewhere around 20,000 civilians. This was in 1982! And his account seemed to provide the first fair discussion of it. I was in Hama in 1989, and the "ghosts still talked, admittedly, sotte voce . Lebanon has always been one of the most complex cases in the area, and Friedman seems to select the perfect epigram for his chapter, from a fellow NYT correspondent: "There is no truth in Beirut, only versions." Friedman was there when Israel invaded Lebanon in '82, and presents a rather scathing indictment of their actions, particularly their denial of responsibility for the massacre of Palestinians by Lebanon Christians in the camps of Sabra and Shatilla. Specifically, Friedman says that Israeli General Amos Yaron knew through his Lebanese liaison officer of the plan to kill the Palestinians, and refused to halt the operation. Friedman had clearly moved a long way from "insufferable." He has a knack for coining phrases that convey the essence of the matter, and the chapter on America's own intervention into Lebanon is entitled "Betty Crocker in Dante's inferno." He faithfully reports that American naval authorities felt they had the right and obligation to use their cruisers and destroyers to casually shell Lebanese villages. The why oh why is never dwelt upon enough.

In 1984 he moves to Jerusalem, and it is at least as complex as the various versions of Lebanon, though the US media rarely presents that picture. Friedman can be scathing in his observations. Consider: In terms of the exemption the "ultra-Orthodox" Jews have from military service, he says: "I began to understand what an Israeli friend of mine meant when he said, `It is a lot easier to pray for the ingathering of the exiles than it is to live with them.'" Or: "When the racist Israeli rabbi Meir Kahane used to call for transferring all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to Jordan, he would always conclude his proposal by looking his Israeli audiences in the eye and declaring, `Remember, I say what you think.' There is a little bit of Kahane in every Israeli." Friedman depicts the intense conflict between the secular and religious Israelis, and I thought his epigraph to the entire section, a quote from the French poet, Paul Valery, was pitch-perfect: "The existence of neighbors is the only guarantee a nation has against perpetual civil war."

I've been dismayed by Friedman's trajectory since he wrote this book. He has been a constant cheer-leader for the glories of "globalization," lent his prestige to the so-called war on terror, and all the wonderful transformations that American power could make in the Middle East, and has actually recently written a column, NOT tongue in cheek, about how all Americans would have to be above average now. I also liked a lot of the earlier work of Christopher Hitchens, including The Trial of Henry Kissinger and Letters to a Young Contrarian. Both seemed to lose their way in later life: the cause is always one of the "usual suspects." The ombudsman for the New York Times reported, a few years back, that Friedman was a "brand unto himself", and commanded speaker fees of $75,000 per appearance. Alas, all that money seems to have dulled the acuity of his vision.

For this book though, as with those of the younger Hitchens, it merits 5-stars.
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on 17 October 2015
Told me so much that I didn't know about the fact that tribal loyalties are much stronger than national loyalties to the STATE. A very readable and informative account of a age old dispute that sadly looks as if it will go on for ever.
The horrors of war and the suffering of the civilian populations on both sides were told with an unbiased account of the inhuman attitudes shown by the leaders 'on all sides to the atrocities commited on the victims.KEN.B
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on 25 February 2001
Friedman grew up in the American Mid-West as a Jew inspired by the Six Day War. He came to the MIddle East and shed much of his emotional baggage along the way. His book is an exceptionally clear-sighted, detailed analysis which very refreshingly asks the reader to forget about history and consider how the mess can be sorted out. There is none of the usual anti-Israel rhetoric. He blasts the Isrealis for their misdeeds and praises them for their attempts to build a country out of such disaparte strands of Jewish identity. There are no utopias here, no fantasies about 'why can't they all just live together' or 'they stole the land they've got to give it back' - just a stubborn insistence on understanding two very different peoples and demanding that each of them shed the pathology of victimhood to create the future.
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on 2 August 2013
I enjoyed reading this book and felt it was overall a fair and accurate view of the situation in the region.

I do nonetheless disagree with Friedman's "analysis" and political solution at the end, as I felt it was more one sided. Does not really detract from the relevance of his reporting skills though.
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