Jeffrey Goldberg has an extensive preview of today’s meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Obviously I agree with Jeff’s main message: for the good of Israel, the Palestinians, the United States, and the world, “the West Bank settlement project must be reversed.” A similar message came from (among a lot of other places) this fascinating URJ panel last week.
The question that distinguishes tactics from strategy, when you consider any move, is “how does this end?” What has made Netanyahu a tactical wizard in Israeli politics, and a strategic catastrophe (in my view) for his country’s longer-term prospects, is that there is no acceptable answer to the “how does this end?” question about his continual expansion of settlements.
And of course as soon as I mention Netanyahu’s mistakes or offenses, the stage is set for “but what about?….” What about the ways in which he feels the Obama administration has dissed him, as recounted in the NYT today? What about the times Israel has tried to make peace and found no “give” on the Palestinian side? What about the stubborn refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist? What about the current wave of urban stabbings, of Israeli civilians and police? And then back in reply, but what about the years of police and soldiers shooting Palestinians and demolishing their homes? And what about…
To be clear, I am explicitly not making a false-equivalence / “extremists on all sides” point. The forces are not symmetrical or equivalent. The equivalence I am suggesting is in the shared sense of victimization, vulnerability, and occupying the moral high ground. For any offense by one side, there is the “but what about?” predecessor on the others. The people on one side who can understand the other side’s fears and grievances — Mandela/de Klerk style, or like Sadat and Begin — could be the way out of the impasse, but they are not in sight, or in power.
This is by way of introducing the book whose cover is shown above, Descent Into Paradise, by an American businessman who is making his debut as a writer and is using the pen name P. Sinclair. Its effect is to portray, as symmetrically as possible, the senses of fear, grievance, justice, and injustice between Israelis and Palestinians.
Also to be clear, this book is not some pensive work of belles lettres. It’s an action novel. Lots of shootings and rescues, lots of intrigues and double-crosses, lots of hidden hand of organized crime and intelligence agencies, lots of sex. The author says that he had the works of Frederick Forsyth (Day of the Jackal) in mind, along with historical narrative on the model of O Jerusalem! by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. I would add a little touch of Tom Clancy.
I mention the book because its main impression on me, after the action and rescues and shoot-outs, was of portraying a tragedy in which all participants felt they were doing the right (brutal) things for the noblest reasons. The book ends with the burial of a heroic Israeli fighter, but before that we’ve seen heroic fallen Palestinians.
Last month by email I asked the author, who now lives in France, several questions about the book. (I know his real identity but had not met or dealt with him previously.) Here are his answers:
Q: Why this book, with these themes?
The book because I have long been fascinated with global politics. Having studied at great length the exodus of Jews out of Europe to set up their own nation following the war, one of the more intractable and interesting issues within that context has been the whole Palestinian/Israeli conflict and the subsequent emergence of the Islamic fundamentalists; the themes because I wanted to humanize the struggle in order to make the core issues easier to comprehend and the complexity of the conflict better understood. I also believe, although I have no proof, that the drug cartels are more intimately connected to international terrorism (as well as Mossad and the CIA) than most people realize, and I wanted to make that connection.
Q. What is your experience in this part of the world?
It started soon after my graduation from college. I was traveling with my roommate and went through the Middle East just prior to the Yom Kippur War [in 1973]. While we were in Beirut, we stayed with [a family friend who happened to work for the CIA at the time]. He arranged to get us into Shatila with a local escort. It was one of those experiences in life one does not forget. The hatred and despair etched on the faces of young and old will stay with me for the duration and clearly inspired me to write about the Camp in the book.
Q. I understand that this not meant as a politically polemical book. But if people were reading it as part of informing themselves on the Middle East, what (if any) political implications were you hoping to convey?
You are correct, there was neither intent, nor desire, to send any political message to anyone. There was, however, a desire on my part to portray a more balanced view of the conflict and to show the reader why the conflict has been so difficult to resolve (mainly all sides believe strongly that their cause is just, which then gives them moral justification for their actions).
I have tried to convey this through the characters themselves without lecturing or taking sides, but rather demonstrating there are multiple passionate issues in play.
Q. We are seeing now another descent into bleakness and violence. How is the current news connected to what you portray in your book?
I have tried to put the displacement of the Palestinians at the forefront of the reader’s mind through multiple small vignettes. For example, I have placed Shasa [the female lead character] in what I term the Netherworld; a full-blooded Muslim of Palestinian birth raised by Jewish parents in Israel. Her adopted Jewish father was directly responsible for killing her blood father and destroying her village in the Six Day War. She becomes a covert operator for Mossad to kill her fellow Palestinians. The conflicts she suffers from dealing with her conflicting loyalties to Religion, Country, family, and personal moral codes, etc. were all done deliberately by me to highlight the broader conflict on a human scale. (Page 41 has a good conversation on that subject). I highlighted this again using Simon, a senior Mossad operative, who tells Shasa about his experience moving to Palestine after World War II (Page 115).
I think you’ll agree the basic issues have not altered substantially from the time frame of this story to the present. I would only offer that just a few of my characters survived this vortex of violence, and those who did had to forgive and forget to be able to move on.
I said in an interview with Indie Books that I was not confident of any future [peace] agreements in that I didn’t feel either side was in a position, or frame of mind, to forgive and forget over 60 years of cumulative mutual atrocities. I truly can’t see a practical way out of this debacle after the carnage of the past. I hope the book portrays this in a meaningful way.
I would also bring to your attention the present chaos in Syria. Here is proof that Iran funded Hezbollah and now everyone can see the natural progression.
Q. Has the reception to this book, so far, been different in any significant way between European and North American audiences? I ask you as an American living in Europe.
Yes. In general, I would say the biggest difference has been that the Europeans are less sympathetic towards the Israeli viewpoint than the Americans.
Q. How did you learn about the military-tech aspects of the action scenes in the book?
Mostly through research although I did consult with my son in law who trains our Navy Seals.
A friend of mine who grew up in Israel read an earlier transcript of the book and shared it, without my knowledge, with a friend of hers who happened to be associated with Mossad. His response was, “Where in hell did your friend get this information, does he work for the CIA?”
I found his comment interesting in that I do believe, although again I have no actual proof, that the story, while simply a figment of my imagination, may very well contain elements that are not far removed from reality.
Speaking of reality, as a reader, I always enjoy a bit of historical fact mixed into the fiction to make the story more believable. I have tried to do that here, giving both sides some sympathy; the Six Day War being complimentary to Israel, and the 1982 invasion of Lebanon outlining the atrocities allowed inside the Palestinian camps, not so much.