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The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine

por Ben Ehrenreich

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724290,028 (4.41)3
A brave and necessary immersion into the lives and struggles of a group of everyday Palestinians. In cities and small villages alike, men and women, young and old, a group of unforgettable characters share their lives with Ehrenreich and make their own case for resistance and resilience in the face of life under occupation. Ruled by the Israeli military, set upon and harassed constantly by Israeli settlers who admit unapologetically to wanting to drive them from the land, forced to negotiate an ever more elaborate and more suffocating series of fences, checkpoints and barriers that have sundered home from field, home from home, they are a population whose living conditions are unique, and indeed hard to imagine.… (mais)
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Rating: 4.5 ( )
  Steve_Walker | Sep 13, 2020 |
This book has revised my way of thinking about some of the issues involved in the Middle East, particularly those involving Israel and the Palestinians. The author, an accomplished journalist, lived with his subjects during a 3-year-period so he knows firsthand about the subject. It is too easy to forget what life is like when one is living under the rule of another, especially when that other abuses their power. I can’t even imagine trying to live under the conditions the Palestinian people have endured for so long – the abuses of the Israeli military, the settlers stealing their land, poverty because everything they owned and valued has been stolen from them, their constant humiliation and degradation, not being able to travel freely even in their own areas and the horrors of having loved ones jailed and killed for none or minor infractions. This book has decimated my respect for Israel and its military and increased my respect for the people of Palestine. ( )
  Susan.Macura | Jan 8, 2017 |
Ben Ehrenreich

This has turned out to be the hardest book I have ever had to review—and I only have to because I said I would. No one will hurt me if I don't. Already that feels strange: the book is all about people being hurt for no good reason. I won't get hurt either way. I've never been hurt, never been threatened; yet somehow my entire life from the age of five or six has been attached to empathizing with people who do get hurt. First it was Roman subjects in the Levant when I was taught about Jesus, then it was blacks I learned about through fanatical sports reading, and native Americans I learned about from westerns that had stopped lying about them. Then it was the Vietnamese, Guatemalans, Chileans, Cubans, Nicaraguans—I mean I went to college.
So I became a protestor, an enemy of a state that did not recognize its internal enemies any longer, having understood that in that way we had no power. Throughout the 1980s I endured my fecklessness with chin up, mingling with the other dozen or so protestors at a variety of events, slowly coming to realize that the people of the nation had changed if the nation had not. In the US we are raised to feel superior in a way that somehow works, far more effectively than the Nazis were able to brainwash their people. Somehow in the face of a genocidal trek cross country, expading into a two ocean nation that had decimated every people in its way or swallowed them perhaps—a third of Mexico remains within US borders, so I guess decimated doesn't work. Yet people in the US felt so damn good to be what they were taught they were they could not tolerate the truths leaked by Nixon, Kissinger, and hearings about assassinations—so that very quickly what was shocking and made for riveting television became that which we save for the night-time of forgettable dreams. Here is the psychological secret to the Reaganization of the United States. We were not raised to feel bad about ourselves and the need to do so would have destroyed us. And if there is one thing to know about the US empire it is that it will not be destroyed.
So in the 90s I became a political recluse and in 2001 became an exile. Apparently at the same time I relinquished all rights to be a successful writer. A promising start to a career ended. My agent ditched me. He did not understand anything written about the world outside US borders. But I kept writing. I even wrote some rather funny books involving politics and history. I wasn't a mere dabbler.
But then this summer I read Rodolfo Walsh's Operation Massacre. This masterpiece of defiant hammerblows was written in 1957 about an Argentina that remained as ugly when Walsh was assassinated in 1976. Within the first twenty pages I was a changed man, a changed writer. A faucet had been turned on. Here I was, a 57 year old man, and I wondered if everything I had ever written had been utterly inutile, ultimately the work of a lumpen-dilettante. I should have devoted my writing life to non-ficitonal journalism attacking the powers that caused misery throughout the world. I hsould have take C. Wright Mills' The Power Elite and run with it.
Fuck it. Such thoughts inevitably go away. Except that I had already 'pre-ordered' Ben Ehrenreich's The Way to the Spring, which arrived before I could exorcise Walsh. I will never be the same.
I knew Ehrenreich's book would be very good, for I had read some of his journalism about Palestine as well as his novel Ether. This was a great writer. But lots of journalists are quite good, and besides, what did I not know about Palestine? About ten years ago I gave a couple lecture to geography students about Palestine and the idiocies we have all been forced to swallow. How a land filled with people had become a land without people for a people without land. How the nomads of the Negev had been told to move—and never return, of course, move along for good--along so the permanence of nuclear weaponry could remain. How after the horrors of the Holocaust, no horrors perpetrated by Israelis could be internationally sanctioned. (You can imaging how long that paragraph could be.)
The first error was thinking I knew what I was talking about. Ehrenreich's book added more than a dozen surprising facts to my eastwest bank of knowledge. And I was impressed at his approach, not the often lauded admission he makes that the book is going to take a side, rather his means of refusing to remove himself from the book at the same time he refuses to inject himself into his book. It was on page 22 when he was discussing his beliefs with one of his friends made during his times in Palestine, when he wrote 'I might even have said that I believed that God was struggle...', ending the paragraph a couple lines later with, 'Whatver I said, Bassem nodded, and never brought it up again.' I knew then that, on the deepest possible level, I was reading an honest book.
And thoughout the book I came across instance after instance of superb writing of all kinds. In such a journalistic book, the narrative cannot get lost in the mastery of the writing, but what is the point of writing if one is going to refuse the quest for mastery? Ehrenreich is a master. I will provide but one example, because I am so impressed by it that it ranks with the many lines I have noted throughout my reading life that I half-wish I had written: “Most of them looked happy, or if not happy, at least excited and relieved, like people gulping hungrily at poisoned air.”
And reading the book you will get more than your quota of horror stories about what happens to powerless people ruled by monsters, instance after instance of injustice, dehumanization, casual brutality. Post-Holocaust Zion become the free zone for a Utopian Lord of the Flies. And after all, there is the spirit of the matter: a people of extraordinary faith—and what good is that, one may now fairly ask—an ancient people of highly evolved morality—that we forget like all moralities may rapidly devolve, something well known in the prisons of Odessa and beyond—that the spiritual under the greatest of trials is indeed easily defeated: for all your tales of faith and courage, the genre of Holocaust survival tales, even if only an idea survived, for all these tales you have one basic countering fact: the state created to balance an historical wrong is among the most barbaric and morally corrupt we have ever seen on the planet…Not so surprisingly given iron lung support by the only country that rivals Israel in barbarity, hypocrisy and corruption, the land of a thousand broken treaties…
So what then? I think Ehrenreich would say that the struggle continues as it must. And he is certainly not wrong. But what do I do? What have I ever done? Nothing, really, and it’s too late to do anything effective besides think and write and tell the truths, leave behind mole turds where Walsh and Ehrenreich left behind fine spices and herbs. Yet no, maybe there is one thing I can do after all, and I will try to do it. I will try to find the question that is not being asked, the question that might some day change the farcical play at dialogues. I’m beginning to form that question even now: I have a sense that questions of such import are always very well hidden, and where would I hide a question about Israel? Easy: among the unspeakables. In the box one is strung up (or jailed a la Vanunu) for opening. It has been opened before and all who did so have been labeled lunatics—probably because they were: I hope they fell short of establishing a genre, these holocaust deniers. But there may be something else in the box that needs adjusting, and maybe that is the thought that the Holocaust as a unique event is an absurd and even by now a pathetic survival need for those who not only have survived but have moved on to mimic their persecutors. Holocausts, genocides, whatever the fuck they are called today, tomorrow, as they are in process, are not at all unique, nor any of their victims more noble than any other. The Nakba, of course, is a Holocaust, big fucking H, but so are all the expansionist slaughters of indigenous peoples, so are nuclear tests on atolls, so are mass and complete removals of people from British Islands for US military use as at Diego Garcia, so even in their disorganization and halting natures the many assaults during the years of the USSR on the stans of today and the confusions of the Caucusus, so, for that matter, is perhaps the worst the nibbling and perpetual genocide perpetrated from time beyond recall by man against woman…
One must end all arguments against Israeli atrocities with some sort of apologia. I don’t think Ehrenreich stooped to that. I don’t remember and don’t know how far back I would have to read to be sure he did not. So nor will I. Israel is a rogue nation practicing appalling acts that need to be stopped as soon as possible. The concern, of course, is that Israel’s enemies have long refused to recognize Israeli right to nationhood. Perhaps they have yet to demonstrate that they deserve to be considered worthy of belonging among that small group of nations that deserve to be recognized as such. ( )
8 vote RickHarsch | Sep 11, 2016 |
Ben Ehrenreich is a writer and journalist who spent three years in the West Bank, staying with Palestinian families and listening to their stories, which he shares in this important book.

We are into painting with broad brushes these days. For many people, Palestinian means terrorist, in spite of the small proportion of these men, women, and children who actually merit the label. But thanks in large part to the media, the equation of “Palestinian” with “terrorist” has eroded sympathy for their truly horrific plight.

Tragically, the Israeli government also does not distinguish between the two. In the summer of 2014, for example, during Israel's "Operation Protective Edge" in Gaza, the UN reported that at least 2,104 Palestinian died at the hands of the Israeli army, including 1,462 civilians, of whom 495 were children and 253 women. An Israeli government official told the BBC, however, that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had killed 1,000 "terrorists" during the assault.

Whether the occasion is a peaceful protest over land appropriation, the recitation of a protest poem by a little girl whose best friend was killed by soldiers, or little boys throwing rocks in defense of their villages, the Palestinians are considered legitimate targets for tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and sometimes live bullets, imprisonment without charges, house raids, land grabs, and numerous measures to make their lives difficult, such as the closure of schools and hospitals.

What the Israelis have done to the Palestinians is unconscionable.

Unfortunately, the fact that “Israeli” is also conflated with “Jew” doesn’t help get a discussion going. How the Israelis act has little to do with the life of a Jewish grocer in France, or with a Jewish daycare or synagogue in the United States. As the Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace recently wrote in an opinion piece for "The Washington Post":

"It’s not discrimination to hold a state accountable for its violations of international law and human rights abuses. The state of Israel is not the same as the Jewish people."

Nor does it help that Israel was set up (largely by Britain) as a place for Jews to go to escape the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe because no other country wanted to take them. [In the U.S., between 1933 and 1945 the United States took in only 132,000 Jewish refugees, only ten percent of the quota allowed by law, because of anti-Semitism in the State Department, in Congress, and among the public. Even children were denied sanctuary, on the theory that, as the wife of the U.S. Commissioner of Immigration said at a party, they would all grow up to be ugly adults.]

But the British even restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine. Still, enough came to create a conflict with the people already residing on the very small piece of land.

No matter the difficulties of talking about it, though, ignoring the situation will only keep the fires burning in the Middle East and hurt us all. What happened to Jews before cannot justify what is happening to Palestinians now. But the rise once again of right-wing, exclusionary movements around the world (including inside the state of Israel) makes it hard to believe in a solution that will benefit all sides. More awareness is at least a step in the right direction.

Evaluation: Read this book and weep, for the cruelty that has begat cruelty, and the lack of easy answers. I wanted to stop reading, because it was so painful to hear. But that’s not the right answer. If you take away nothing from this book but the very complex nature of the issues in the Middle East, that will be a start. And maybe that understanding can lead someday to the salvation of people who have suffered for so long.

The author writes in his preface:

“I do believe that this book is a work of optimism, and of hope . . . because even in their despair, with no reason to hope, people continue to resist. I cannot think of many other reasons to be proud of being human, but that one is enough.”

The hardcover book includes a list of Dramatis Personae, a glossary of Arabic terms, maps, photos, and extensive footnotes. ( )
2 vote nbmars | Jul 17, 2016 |
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A brave and necessary immersion into the lives and struggles of a group of everyday Palestinians. In cities and small villages alike, men and women, young and old, a group of unforgettable characters share their lives with Ehrenreich and make their own case for resistance and resilience in the face of life under occupation. Ruled by the Israeli military, set upon and harassed constantly by Israeli settlers who admit unapologetically to wanting to drive them from the land, forced to negotiate an ever more elaborate and more suffocating series of fences, checkpoints and barriers that have sundered home from field, home from home, they are a population whose living conditions are unique, and indeed hard to imagine.

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