Note: This post has been reprinted, with permission, from Rabbi Andy Bachman's Brooklyn Jews blog.
If you’ve followed his writing in the New Yorker these past several years, then you’ll certainly enjoy his new book.
Jeffrey Goldberg, Washington correspondant for New Yorker Magazine, has written our generation’s first great book on Israel, Prisoners: A Muslim and A Jew Across the Middle East Divide.
The emblematic voice of the post-Boomer writer is in full force–the unencumbered realism of a terrible conflict; utopian hopes filtered through sarcastic recollections of a jaded youth on Long Island; terrible and terrifying dilemmas in service to Israel; and a clear-headed ability to describe the humane and indivuated dream for a way out of the hatred and war through the powerful metaphor of the title of the book: for those who are left who care about Israel, we begin with the premise that we’re prisoners of the conflict.
Maybe it’s the first post-modern American Jewish memoir about Israel, where ideology is broken down as soon as its built up: the Jewish kid escapes the shallow and stupid anti-semitism of his Long Island suburb; briefly finds comfort in the Zionist youth movement; is immediately brought back to earth by the reality of immigration to Israel; and, finally, attempts to make sense of the war between Jew and Arab in the fundamental values of family and friendship. Diplomacy and killing have failed: why not try removing the divide with simple, consistent contact?
The book opens where it closes–with a friendship that Goldberg developed with a Palestinian named Rafiq while doing his Army duty serving in Ketziot, an Israeli prison set up in the biblical Wilderness of Zin, near Kadesh Barnea, areas of the post-Exodus desert where our ancestors got bogged down, as it were.
Goldberg the soldier and Rafiq the prisoner meet with a fence between them and their connection transcends, ultimately, a conflict that has made them both prisoners. And fully aware of how pathetic it is, the redemptive gesture of hope comes from the fact that by the end of the book, where Goldberg visits Rafiq in Abu Dhabi. There, dramatically, they can admit their friendship with one another:
“We were having coffee. I had been thinking, in the most rational way, that if Rafiq and I could allow friendship to triumph over anger, then it wasn’t impossible to believe that the rest of Isaac’s children, and the rest of Ishmael’s children, could stop their long and dismal war.”