Monday, December 21, 2009

It's Easier to Reach Heaven than the End of the Street; A Jerusalem Memoir

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It’s Easier to Reach Heaven than the End of the Street:
A Jerusalem Memoir
by Emma Williams

 “This book must be one of the most honest accounts of those terrible years. It's proportionate, subtle and comprehensive… biased towards nobody but the voices of moderation and hope.” —The Guardian
 “This intelligent, incisive account…and Williams’ cool analysis of the humanity and hypocrisy at the heart of the Israeli/Palestinian fighting is striking.” —The Times
 “A reader only vaguely aware of the reality behind the headlines will find much that is observant and saddening in her vivid portrait of this tribal dispute.”—The Independent
“…notable for the depth of observation and insight and for the vividness of the descriptions of particular events and people… a moving and beautifully written book...  It will certainly help outsiders to better understand both sides and their struggle.”—Brian Urquhart, New York Review of Books

In August 2000, Emma Williams arrived with her three small children in Jerusalem to join her husband and to work as a doctor. A month later, the second Palestinian Intifada erupted. For the next three years, she was to witness an astonishing series of events in which hundreds of thousands of lives, including her own, were turned upside down.
Williams lived on the very border of East and West Jerusalem, working with Palestinians in Ramallah during the day and spending evenings with Israelis in Tel Aviv. Weaving personal stories and conversations with friends and colleagues into the long and fraught political background, Williams’s powerful memoir brings to life the realities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. She vividly recalls giving birth to her fourth child during the siege of Bethlehem, and her horror when a suicide bomber blew his own head into the schoolyard where her children played each day.
Understanding in her judgment, yet unsparing in her honesty, Williams exposes the humanity, as well as the hypocrisy, of both sides. Anyone wanting to understand this complex and seemingly intractable dispute will find her unique account a refreshing and illuminating read.
Emma Williams studied history at Oxford, and medicine at London University. She has worked as a doctor in Britain, Pakistan, Afghanistan, New York, South Africa, and Jerusalem. She wrote for several newspapers and magazines about Palestinian-Israeli affairs and was a correspondent for the Spectator from 2000–2003. She now lives in New York.

It’s Easier to Reach Heaven than the End of the Street: A Jerusalem Memoir
by Emma Williams
Olive Branch Press, an imprint of Interlink Publishing Group, Inc.
Memoir/Middle East 6” x 9” 448 pages • maps  
ISBN 978-1-56656-789-3 • paperback • $16.00

Praise for the British Edition of
It’s Easier to Reach Heaven than the End of the Street:
A Jerusalem Memoir
by Emma Williams

One of three books ‘You Really Must Read.’  Our choice of the best recent books... Williams is an excellent recorder of dialogue on both sides of the political divide. Her purpose is to illuminate the plight of each community… It makes grim reading, but it is all true.” —Sunday Times
“Notable for the depth of observation and insight and for the vividness of the descriptions of particular events and people…  Emma Williams’s affection and feeling for those people and her doctor’s dedication to healing has caused her to produce a moving and beautifully written book which I hope will find a US publisher soon.  It will certainly help outsiders to better understand both sides and their struggle.”Brian Urquhart, New York Review of Books
Brilliant and moving... one of the best of recent books about Israel and Palestine… [U]nusual mixture of memoir and journalism, [Williams’] experience … will be welcomed by anyone who wants to understand the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…, Williams’s own voice seeks truth, moderation and dialogue.”—New Statesman
“…brilliant memoir…she succeeds like few others in her ability to view the situation through the eyes of Jew and Arab… sensitive, compassionate and superbly written.  …more illuminating and instructive than many a pundit’s tome.”—Theo Richmond, The Spectator
Superb memoir… If Williams is as fine a physician as she is a memoirist, I would entrust my own innards to her any day of the week. Splendidly crafted and passionately engaged, this is the most artistically delectable way of boning up on the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle that one could wish for.” —Terry Eagleton, Times Literary Supplement
“I recommend Emma Williams’s expatriate memoir of Jerusalem in the second intifada as an initial exposure to the dispiriting reality behind the propaganda, theirs and ours… an engrossing exploration of what that means.” —Eric Silver, The Jewish Chronicle
“One of the most honest accounts of those terrible years. It's proportionate, subtle and comprehensive… biased towards nobody but the voices of moderation and hope.”—The Guardian
“A clever book, in the best sense of the word… a valuable, highly readable contribution.”—The Australian
“Many books have been written about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… What makes Emma Williams’ memoir unique is the honesty of her observations on ordinary life: what it is like to live with occupation and suicide bombers…The beauty of this book is that, as the author’s political awareness grows, so does that of the reader.  She explains the conflict in simple terms, without getting bogged down by the tedious chronology that weighs down other Jerusalem memoirs…I plan on giving this book to people who ask me: ‘what is going on over there?’  Williams answers that question, and so much more.”—Daily Telegraph
“This intelligent, incisive account…and her cool analysis of the humanity and hypocrisy at the heart of the Israeli/Palestinian fighting is striking.” —The Times
Compelling… extraordinary and insightful account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”—Harpers Bazaar
“On one level, it is a personal memoir… On another level, it strikes in a more profound way, keeping at front and centre the people afflicted by the conflict and making tangible the fear to which many are condemned.”—Financial Times
“A careful and accessible explanation of the background to ‘the situation’…Williams manages to be scrupulously even-handed about one of the most contentious situations in the world.” —The Scotsman

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ordinary Lives by Rania Matar

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Lebanese Photographer Rania Matar takes us through the tragedy of the Palestinians in Lebanon and the tragedy of Lebanon itself in a array of brilliant black and white photographs. The gallery of images are offered with only a very brief explanation of context, very general context devoid of the political narratives that so often cloud conflict and tragedy. The reader is left to appreciate the message of the images themselves, the faces of the subjects from young to old. With some poetry and writings from Palestinian Lisa Suhair Majaj, the book features, at the end, a moving and compelling essay by Pulitzer Prize winning Lebanese American journalist Anthony Shadid.

In an interesting format, at the end of the collection, Matar offers details and thumbnails of the photographs at the end of the book allowing you to appreciate the images and later learn about those that might strike you with impression.

It's a beautiful presentation of tragedy and hope.

For more information, visit
Distributed by W.W. Norton & Company

Fatal Embrace by author Mark Braverman

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Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land
By Mark Braverman

This is a fascinating perspective on the Middle East conflict by a Jewish American author with much experience in the Middle East. Braverman has the courage to argue that it is not anti-Semitism to criticize Israel nor is it anti-Semitism to defend the rights of the Palestinian people.

Braverman articulates his perspective eloquently and in an easy-to-read writing style. Although he suggests support for the "one state" agenda, which supporters argue is the only just solution and many moderates view as the longterm imprisonment of Palestinians in an occupation-apartheid purgatory, his book addresses American Christians to break free from their limited understanding of the Middle East conflict and see past the propaganda to understand the truth of Palestinian justice.

I enjoyed reading it although I may disagree with some of the notions offered. It certainly engages your understanding or the lack of understanding of this very complex conflict.

-- Ray Hanania

Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land
By Mark Braverman
Synergy Books
Austin, Texas
$16.95, 416 pages

Here is some information on the book from the author's web page at

The State of Israel was established as a safe haven for the Jewish people, but its expansionism and treatment of the Palestinians have made the prospects for peace in the Holy Land recede further and further. In Fatal Embrace, author Mark Braverman shows how the Jewish quest for safety and empowerment and the Christian endeavor to atone for centuries of anti-Semitism have united to suppress the conversations needed to bring peace. Tracing his own journey as a Jew struggling with the difficult realities of modern Israel, Braverman delivers a strong message to Jews and Christians alike: it is not anti-Semitic to stand up for justice for the Palestinian people.  Describing the spiritual and psychological forces driving the discourse in America, in Israel, within the Jewish community, and within the church, Braverman turns to the prophets’ cry for justice and to Jesus’ transformative ministry to show the way forward.


Fatal Embrace:
Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land

Mark Braverman
Israel-Palestine is the longest-running problem on the world stage. The conflict pulls all who try to solve it into a quicksand of contradiction and enmity.  A civil war has broken out between those American Jews who staunchly defend the Jewish State against all critics and those who fear for its very soul.  A powerful, well-organized system of American Jewish institutions — synagogues, Jewish Philanthropic Federations, political lobbying organizations — move quickly to suppress or neutralize any possible criticism or threat to that support.  The Pastor who opens his or her church to a conference on Palestinian human rights faces protests and editorials from Jewish organizations charging anti-Semitism.  Powerful Christian Zionist organizations join with the pro-Israel Lobby to support the U.S. administration’s unconditional support of the Jewish State.
Meanwhile, sputtering efforts at a “peace process” to resolve the conflict between Israel and its Palestinian subjects appears increasingly futile to a growing number of stakeholders on all sides.  Indeed, the entire effort to achieve a “settlement” appears to be based on a massive, collective self-deception:  While appearing to hold Israel to account, the world powers actually give Israel free rein to pursue policies that breed popular resistance among Palestinians and promise only to prolong the conflict.
This book presents the struggle of an American Jew to come to terms with the dilemma of modern Israel.  It presents an approach to solving the conflict through an understanding of the origins of Zionism and the contemporary Christian reaction to its own anti-Jewish past. Through a discussion of issues of faith deeply embedded in our Western culture, the book addresses two fundamental questions: (1) Why are Jews pursuing a course in Israel which, far from fulfilling the goals of the Zionist movement, is actually heightening the threat to Israel’s security and serving to isolate us in the world?  and (2) Why is the Christian world enabling Israel’s tragically flawed policies rather than holding us to a faithfulness to our shared tradition of justice?  In addressing the first question, I explore the tension in Judaism between the universalism inherent in our monotheistic creed and ethical code, and the particularism so deeply embedded in our cultural identity and history.  I argue that the Jewish quality of exclusivism enshrined in the concept of election is being enacted in the current self-defeating policies of the modern State of Israel.  In taking up the second question, I review post-Holocaust revisionist Christian theology.  I discuss the attempts by contemporary Christian theologians to rehabilitate Judaism through a revised Christian theology and world view in order to atone for the horrors of  anti-Semitism.  I show how this effort, although courageous and commendable, has now resulted in the uncritical legitimization of Zionist strivings as well as a suppression of any honest interfaith dialogue on the issue of the State of Israel.  It has and continues to give Jews license to establish and pursue a nationalist, colonial political agenda in Israel that violates principles of justice as well as international law, and which presents a formidable obstacle to peace. I show how even those Christian thinkers most committed to a social justice agenda struggle with a profound ambivalence toward the Jewish people’s right to a tragically flawed political project.  This ambivalence runs counter to their principles and continues to lend support to those political elements that would block holding Israel to account and that impede progress toward peace.
It’s a fatal embrace:  together, these two powerful, deep-seated forces combine to keep us stuck in Israel-Palestine. I argue that the persistence and power of these beliefs – the more powerful because they are unrecognized, unexamined and even denied – play a major role in thwarting progress toward a peaceful settlement of the political conflict.  I believe the key to a political resolution lies in the initiation and strengthening of a broad-based movement within the major Christian denominations in the U.S., and my book will include a call to action directed at them, as well as to other groups.
Fatal Embrace should be at home on both the Religion and Current Affairs shelves of the bookstores.  A deep exploration of the religious issues is fundamental to understanding the political situation in the Holy Land as well as the social and political forces in the U.S. that exert such a profound influence on Israel’s politics.  There is an excellent literature that covers Zionism from historical, philosophical, and sociological perspectives, and the book reviews some of these writers.  However, the topic has not been approached from the perspective outlined here.  The literature on the question of Zionism and Israel, from Christian and Jewish writers alike, in the fields of politics, history, sociology and religion, are devoted either to defenses of or critiques of Zionism.  Furthermore, I do not believe that anyone has yet addressed the phenomenon of the Zionism – implicit and explicit – to be found in mainstream Christian thought and practice.
In the course of the book I return again and again to my personal journey.  I have deep family roots in Israel, grew up as a religious Jew in the U.S., and in the past several years have become deeply involved in social and political activism with various Jewish and interfaith organizations working for peace and justice for all peoples of the region.  My family background, my experiences growing up Jewish in postwar America, and my encounters with Israelis, Palestinians and Americans since my first visit to the West Bank in 2006 form the scaffolding for the book’s chapters.
I have written the book primarily in order to influence the minds, hearts and actions of Christians in the West today and to lend support to those Jews who are working to salvage our people’s moral standing in the world.  I believe that only in this way can we create a future for the people of the State of Israel as well as for the Palestinian people.  My hope is that by exposing the unexamined assumptions and unacknowledged strivings that are in part responsible for the failure to resolve the conflict, and by helping Christians overcome their fear of being perceived or labeled as anti-Semitic, the book will enable a more open, productive dialogue within the Christian community as well as between the faiths.  I also directly appeal to the church to embrace and pursue actions that will advance the cause of peace in the Holy Land based on justice.  I present specific actions that will advance the emerging broad social movement needed to change Israeli and US policy in the region.