How Israel Lost – The Four Questions by Richard Ben Cramer (2004)

Readers looking for books about the Israel-Palestine “conflict” will find a whole slew of them written on one side or the other, but I’ve found very few that I consider truly holistic (do I dare say “balanced”?) and genuinely infused with an honest assessment of both sides — Palestinian and Israeli. Cramer’s book “How Israel Lost” is one such book.

how israel lost

Richard Cramer, an American Jew who grew up in Rochester, New York, attended Sunday school in the Temple every week. He was steeped in the Zionist messages about Israel from an early age and says all of his lessons “locked together in the end, neater than Legos – a land without a people for a people with no land.”

He was a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer (the New York Bureau) when he was sent to Cairo in December 1977 to cover Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s visit to Egypt. Begin was returning the overture of peace extended by the Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat. Cramer admits that the only thing he knew with any certainty back then was that “Jews were the good guys; and the good guys always win.”

The author spent the next 7 years in the Middle East, living among the Jews in Israel and also had many Arab friends. Travel between the two sides was much easier then. He wrote about the people on both sides. His editors at the paper back home didn’t tell him that his pieces about Palestinians upset subscribers, so he just kept on writing.

In 2002, he decided to return to Israel to see what had changed over a quarter century. Four questions shape the book’s stories, and there are many stories of real people on both sides.

  1. Why do we care about Israel?
  2. Why don’t the Palestinians have a state?
  3. What is a Jewish state?
  4. Why is there no peace?

If I had to sum up what I thought I knew — twenty years ago, after seven years’ contact with Israel — I would have called it “a nice little socialist country, with one problem.” The problem, of course, was the Jews’ relations with the Arabs—inside the country, in occupied lands, and in the nations nearby. . . . Now, I’d say, the “one problem” (which Israelis refer to in shorthand as “the conflict”) has eaten up the rest of the country.

What happened to Israel? Cramer says the standards changed and begins by sharing the assassination of Salah Shehadeh, leader of the military wing of Hamas. On July 22, 2002, at almost midnight, an American-made F-16 dropped a one ton bomb on his apartment in Gaza. Israel succeeded in killing Shehadeh, and also his wife and daughter and 13 other innocent civilians. More than 150 people were wounded in the attack.

General Halutz (Israeli Air Force) admitted that the military and the government knew Shehadeh’s wife and other innocents were in the apartment but decided to drop the bomb anyway.

In the early years, the Israeli military had a tradition called “Purity of Arms” which the author describes as:

the Israeli army’s tradition of morality in warfare. It goes back to the Haganah, before the state was established, and encompasses a number of ideas, including protection of civilians, humane treatment of prisoners and the use of the minimum force required. The tradition also includes the right and duty of every Jewish soldier to refuse (and report) all illegal, immoral or indecent orders.

By 2002, the IDF admitted it was no longer following the tradition of “Purity of Arms”. A former government press officer said Israelis lost “booshah” or shame.

Cramer’s book was published a decade ago (2004) when I first visited Israel and Palestine but, sadly, it’s still as relevant today. Not much has changed.

The corruption on both sides is still pervasive, the occupation is still the elephant in the room, and peace remains just as elusive.

Cramer met with Abu Ramsi, a professional consultant in sulha, the Arabs’ traditional method for resolving disputes—about making peace. Aby Ramsi said:

“What the Jews do not understand is, first, they have to apologize—for taking the land, for dispossessing the Arabs and brutalizing the Palestinian people. Because without the restoration of honor, then you cannot move on to the division according to rights.”

Israel has a problem, Cramer notes, and it’s “not a little pisher, but a big-league crisis.” The demographic time-bomb. Some day soon, if not already, the Arabs will be the majority. So when you come down to it, Israel has only 3 choices. They can give up the territories – “kiss the land and its Arabs goodbye”. They can hold on to the land, “and try to kill or expel some Arab millions—which is a tad Nazi-ish, and a hasbarah nightmare.” . . . “Or they can hang on to both the land and its people, and control by force, with a system of Apartheid—i.e., with a majority that have no political rights.”

Israel — its government and its people — have selected option #3 by default.

In 2004, when his book was published, Cramer wasn’t hopeful for any just resolution.  Reading between the lines, I sensed the author’s sadness for the pain and injustice on both sides.  One reviewer noted “the book is a passionate love letter to Israel, albeit one written by a disillusioned, distant and bitter lover.” I wonder if Cramer were asked again today (2014), with the growth of the BDS movement and the global disapproval of Israel’s occupation, if he would feel the same.

I highly recommend this book. In the past, I have jealously guarded my books because I never knew when I might want to refer back to them. But I’m going to mail this book to my Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham because I think it’s a very good introduction to the history and the people. I hope she’ll find time to read it.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s