Arab and Jew

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 9)

David Shipler, who is neither an Arab nor a Jew, served as the Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times from 1979 to 1984; in 1982, he covered the war in Lebanon. This fascinating and powerful book is the result of five years of intensive study of the mutual images and stereotypes that have developed between Arabs and Jews in present-day Israel. The areas he studied include the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the annexed portions of Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. His often contradictory conclusions are the result of wide-ranging interviews and an intensive study of the history, literature, films, school textbooks, and newspapers of the region. This is a portrait of two peoples living alongside one another whose history has been shaped by the conflicts of war, terrorism, religion, and nationalism. They occupy a tiny, but vital piece of land that is a cradle of civilization and of vital concern to the peace of mankind. His subjects include Jews, Muslims, and Christians, moderates and extremists on both sides, religious and secular people, and those who wish to further understanding.

As the subtitle indicates, the book is a study of hurt feelings and bodies and of the reasons for these wounds. Some of the mutual perceptions are the result of hard realities, others of misunderstanding and ignorance, still others of a failure of communication. Shipler explores these mutual perceptions and misperceptions in three dimensions. First he surveys those forces that have contributed to aversion and tension. Then he describes the multifaceted range of images and stereotypes that Arabs and Jews have of one another and the range of their interactions, from open hostility to grudging respect. The book ends with a brief, but moving account of attempts at reconciliation.

Shipler examines the problem from an impressive number of vantage points that include the effects of war and terrorism, class divisions and personal contacts, relations between Judaism and Islam, sexual fears and intermarriage, popular aspirations, and the effects of the Holocaust on the conflict between Jews and Arabs. The result is not only a richly informative study but also a refreshing and a deeply caring book.

The time frame of Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land is limited mainly to the generation of Jews and Arabs that has grown up since June of 1967; that is, a generation that has known mainly war and conflict. It is in this period that Israel has become a storm center of world events. Every chapter of this work reflects the drama and significance of this area.

The author sets the tone of his book by remarking on the passionate frankness and amazing diversity of the troubled democracy that is Israel. This country that is the size of the state of New Jersey is a land of conflicting opposites—Jews and Muslims, desert and farm, sea and hills. Had the Arabs accepted the partition of Palestine in 1947, says Shipler, Israel would be far tinier than it is today. Instead, a series of wars led to the conquest of the West Bank, the Golan Heights, part of Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

In the streets and alleys of Jerusalem, Jews and Arabs walk past one another quickly, pretending not to acknowledge one another’s presence. “Zionist” is a fearsome word in the Arab vocabulary, while “Palestinian” conjures up similar emotions in the Jews, for each word attacks the other’s aspirations and legitimacy. Though Shipler maintains that Jerusalem is safer than New York City (one of many comparisons with America), Palestinian terrorist attacks and Jewish retaliation feed on each other and erode human decency. They make otherwise stable people irrational while expanding and hardening political extremes. Even those Israelis who advocate toleration for the Arabs fear and mistrust the Arabs because of terrorist incidents.

The power of ideology is an important theme of this book. In the Middle East, nationalism and religion have reinforced each other, and the result is an explosive mix. Islamic and Jewish fundamentalism are on the increase. The right-wing Jewish movement of Meir Kahane that seeks to expel Arabs from Israel and the “born again” Jewish settlers on the West Bank are gaining in appeal. On the other side are the Muslim brotherhoods that...

(The entire section is 1755 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 9)

Booklist. LXXXIII, September 1, 1986, p. 4.

Chicago Tribune. September 7, 1986, XIV, p. 33.

Christian Science Monitor. LXXVIII, October 2, 1986, p. 25.

Kirkus Reviews. LIV, August 15, 1986, p. 1279.

Library Journal. CXI, November 15, 1986, p. 101.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 26, 1986, p. 2.

The New Republic. CXCV, November 10, 1986, p. 38.

The New York Times Book Review. XCI, September 28, 1986, p. 1.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXX, August 1, 1986, p. 63.

Washington Post Book World. XVI, October 26, 1986, p. 4.