Israel’s ‘Unmaking’


No book review I’ve written for The Jewish Journal has prompted as much feedback as the one I wrote about “A New Voice for Israel” by Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder of J Street. His argument that Israel must make uncomfortable compromises and take dire risks in order to secure peace with the Palestinian Arabs is clearly unsettling to a great many Jews, both in Israel and America.

But Ben-Ami will find a kindred spirit in Gershom Gorenberg, an Israeli author (“The Accidental Empire”) and journalist who comes to some of the same conclusions in “The Unmaking of Israel” (HarperCollins: $25.99), which he describes as “a selective and personal journey through Israel’s past and present, for the purpose of presenting an argument: that Israel is unmaking itself, and must put itself back together.” Gorenberg provides a deft but penetrating and highly nuanced account of the recent history and current politics of Israel, and he offers a prescription for curing the ills that afflict the Jewish state.

“Zionism, understood from within, is the national liberation movement of the Jews,” Gorenberg begins. But the land on which a Jewish homeland was to be built was also the homeland of an Arab community. “Seen from the shores of Palestine, Zionism was a movement of foreigners coming to settle the land, to colonize it.” The struggle between these contending points of view must be put aside, he writes, if we hope to find a path to peace.

What’s at stake, according to Gorenberg, is nothing less than the character and destiny of Israel itself. “[A]t the moment of its triumph, Israel began to take itself apart,” he writes, referring to the history-changing victories of the Six-Day War. “Long-term rule of Palestinians was a retreat from the ideal of democracy. … The settlement enterprise was a multi-pronged assault on the rule of law. … [T]he government’s support of settlement has fostered the transformation of religious Zionism into a movement of the radical right.” Above all, Gorenberg insists, all of these trends “now threaten Israel’s democratic aspirations and its existence.”

The current crisis, as Gorenberg demonstrates, can be seen as an accident of history. He reminds us that the founders of Israel lived in a world where the exchange of populations was one of the tools of geopolitics, and “it should be no surprise that Zionist leaders thought about transfer.” Hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled from Israel during the War of Independence, a kind of de facto population transfer. By 1967, however, an even greater number of Arabs were back under Israeli rule. Thus began the “unmaking” of Israel, as Gor-enberg puts it.

The dilemma, of course, is that Israel cannot remain both Jewish and democratic for very long if its population includes a substantial and growing number of Arabs. Then, too, Gorenberg points out that Jewish settlement in the West Bank was undertaken by what he calls a “radical religious culture” that was itself a danger to democracy.

“A new generation of settlers has come of age, as radical or more in its theologized politics, alienated from the institutions of the state that have so assiduously fostered its growth,” he writes. “The meaning of these changes is a democracy in greater danger, a state that is weaker and less capable of ending the occupation.” Indeed, he puts it even more bluntly: The radical fringe of the settler movement “barbarized Judaism” by encouraging the kind of violence that ultimately took the life of Yitzhak Rabin.

Gorenberg warns that the growing role of observant Jews in the Israeli army is itself an obstacle to peacemaking. Only 9,000 settlers were removed from Gaza by the Israel Defense Forces, but no fewer than 65,000 Jews — and possibly many more — would need to be removed from the West Bank under even the most grudging version of an Israeli withdrawal. “The army would have to confront a young generation of settlers determined not to repeat the ‘shame’ of Gaza,” he points out. “Yet since 2005, the army’s dependence on soldiers coming out of the Orthodox academies … and other yeshivot aligned with the theological right has increased.”

Gorenberg is quick to characterize himself as “a religious Jew” and “an Israeli by choice.” He issues a heartfelt and heart-rending plea for the repair of the Jewish democracy: “I write from an Israel with a divided soul,” he writes. “It is not only defined by its contradictions; it is at risk of being torn apart by them.”

“For Israel to establish itself again as a liberal democracy, it must make three changes,” he concludes. “First, it must end the settlement enterprise, end the occupation, and find a peaceful way to partition the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Second, it must divorce state and synagogue. … Third and most basically, it must graduate from being an ethnic movement to being a democratic state in which all citizens enjoy equality.”

Gorenberg does not provide us with much reason for optimism that any of these things will happen soon, or at all. But he seems to embrace the old Zionist aphorism — If you will it, it is no dream — and he sees something uniquely Jewish in the argument that he hopes to provoke in Israel and throughout the Jewish world.

“This, perhaps, is the best definition of a Jewish state,” he concludes, “the place where Jews can argue with the least inhibition, in the most public way, about what it means to be Jews.”

An insider’s view of also being an outsider


Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t a variant of Gresham’s law at work in the arts and letters of the digital age: Is bad writing driving out good? The sheer volume and velocity of the blogosphere, for example, seems to hide the moments of discernment and reflection.

Now and then, however, we are offered a reading experience that reminds us of the gold standard in literature, and one such book is “Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere” by André Aciman (Farrar Straus and Giroux: $25). Aciman, who teaches at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, first attracted attention and praise with a memoir of his childhood in Alexandria, “Out of Egypt,” and then with two novels, “Eight White Nights” and “Call Me By Your Name.” He aspires and deserves to be called a writer’s writer.

His new book is a collection of 18 essays, most of which previously appeared in various distinguished journals, ranging from The American Scholar to Condé Nast Traveler. The subtitle suggests that “Alibis” is a book about the experience of exotic locales, and it’s true that he writes about not only Alexandria and Rome but also Paris, Venice, Tuscany and Barcelona, among other places. But it is not a travel book, or perhaps I should say it is not just a book about travel.

“One reason I think I make a terrible travel journalist is that, as soon as I visit a place, I am totally unable to write about it,” Aciman writes of himself in an essay titled “Temporizing.” “If I want to write I must pretend to remember.”

So “Alibis” is more accurately described as a book about the intricate workings of memory in the mind of a writer. Aciman is the editor of “The Proust Project,” and he shares with Proust an ability to plumb the depths of memory and meaning in the observed details of ordinary life. In the essay titled “Intimacy,” for example, he writes about a return visit to the street in Rome where he had lived four decades before, and he reflects on the power of writing to crack through the numbness of the experience itself.

“Writing might even bring me closer to this street than I’d been while living there,” he muses. “Writing wouldn’t alter or exaggerate anything; it would simply excavate, rearrange, lace a narrative, recollect in tranquility, where ordinary life is perfectly happy to nod and move on.”

Aciman is describing here the writerly craft whose tool marks can be detected in each of the essays in the collection. My favorite example is “Reflections of an Uncertain Jew,” which opens with Aciman’s ruminations on a series of formal portraits of famous figures: Freud, Einstein, Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt. Ostensibly, he is deconstructing the inner meanings of the portraiture, but he is also working his way toward “a disquieting question, which reflects my own very personal worries and anxieties, not Freud’s or Einstein’s. Didn’t they know they were Jewish?”

The essay suddenly turns confessional. He likens the struggles of these famous European Jews to make sense of their Jewishness with his own family’s experiences in Alexandria, and the lens of observation suddenly becomes a mirror. “I am a provisional, uncertain Jew,” he writes. “I am a Jew who loves Judaism provided it’s on the opposite shore, provided others practice it and leave me to pursue assimilation, which I woo with the assiduity of a suitor who is determined to remain a bachelor.”

Indeed, “Alibis” includes what is, for a writer, an intimate and shattering confession. You will find it in the essay titled “Rue Delta,” which appears toward the end of the book and serves as a kind of climax, and I won’t spoil the experience for Aciman’s readers by revealing it here. Once again, he is pondering the tension between memory and imagination, the choice between an empty truth and an artful lie, and he allows us to see how he has resolved the inner struggle.

“The Egypt I craved to return to was not the one I knew, or couldn’t wait to flee,” he writes, “but the one where I learned to invent being somewhere else, someone else.”

Indeed, the whole book can be seen as an exercise in dialectics. “I was born in Alexandria, Egypt,” Aciman writes in an afterword to the collection. “I am African by birth, everyone in my family is from Asia Minor, and I live in America. Unlike my ancestors the Marranos who were Jews claiming to be Christians, I enjoy being a Jew among Christians as long as I can pass for a Christian among Jews.”

Aciman resolves the contradictions that he embodies — “This feeling of being cut off from oneself or of being in two places at the same time” — with a simple credo: “Art is nothing more than an exalted way of stylizing distortions that have become unbearable.” The statement surely applies to his own book, a work of alchemy that turns lead into gold.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs on books at

The Jewish story behind 264 netsukes


Memoir has come to be regarded nowadays as a highly corrupted literary form, but we are reminded of how rich and meaningful a memoir can be in “The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance” by Edmund de Waal (Picador, $16.00). First published in 2010 to great critical acclaim, the book is now available in a handsome paperback edition, and it’s nothing less than a treasure trove between covers.

The book begins in contemporary Japan, where the author’s aging great-uncle regales him with family stories set in Vienna in the years before World War I.  “Growing old in Japan is wonderful,” says Uncle Iggie Ephrussi. “Living the longest is hard.”  When Iggie dies in 1994, the author inherits his uncle’s collection of 264 netsuke figurines and, in a real sense, the old man’s archive of memories, too.  “How an object is handed on is all about story-telling,” muses de Waal. “There is no easy story in legacy.”

De Waal embarks upon a journey through time and space to reconstruct the history of Iggie’s netsuke collection and soon finds himself composing a chronicle of the Ephrussi family, which originated in Odessa and sent its scions to the great cities of Europe in the 19th century to expand their grain-export business.  “They were Jews with their own coat of arms,” explains de Waal. “And each deal struck with a government, each venture with an impoverished archduke, each client drawn into a serious obligation with the family would be a step towards even greater respectability, a step further from those wagons of wheat creaking in from the Ukraine.”

The author leads us from Odessa to Vienna to Paris, all the while conjuring up the experiences of his distant relations in prose so resonant that it achieves a kind of musicality.  Yet the book is also highly decorated with the findings and leavings of an old family — businesses and careers, marriages and love affairs, the things they acquired and the things they lost.  De Waal pauses now and then to reflect on what his research reveals, as when he learns that his relative, Charles Ephrussi, the founder of the netsuke collection, conducted an affair with a married woman: “I want to be bourgeois,” he confesses, “and ask how you find time for five children, a husband and a lover?”

Above all, de Waal is attuned to the powerful inner experience of the collector of objects. As Charles begins to purchase Japanese arts and crafts, the author sees in them “an air of eroticized possibility, evoking not simply the shared encounter of lovers over a lacquer box or ivory bibelots” but also “props for dressing up, role-playing, the sensuous reimagining of the self.”  And he quotes de Maupassant on the subject: “The bibelot is not only a passion, it is a mania.”

Charles collected far more than netsuke.  He owned 40 Impressionist works, and he was important enough as a patron of the arts to earn a place in a Renoir painting, “The Luncheon of the Boating Party.” He even caught the eye of Proust, who describes the figure in the painting as “clearly out of place” because he wears a top-hat, but de Waal insists that “Charles Ephrussi — or at least the back of Charles’s head — enters art history.”

When Charles sends the netsuke collection as a wedding present to a cousin in 1899, the gift provides an opportunity for de Waal to travel to the Palais Ephrussi in Vienna, “certainly not a house for a wandering Jew.”  We’ve already seen that anti-Semitism afflicted the Ephrussi family in Paris, but now it takes on an even uglier aspect and even for Jews like the Ephrussis, who have been raised to the nobility and are now known as “von Ephrussi.”

“In 1899, the year that the netsuke arrived in Vienna,” de Waal points out, “it was possible for a deputy in the Reichsrat to make speeches calling for Schussgelder — bounties — for shooting Jews.”

Now the possession of valuable objects begins to take on new and different meanings. “To get food, you part with more and more,” the author writes of the worst days of First World War. “Objects are loosened from your home and become currency.” Yet a daughter of the Ephrussi family, at the age of sixteen, is permitted to get her own books bound in “half-morocco with marbled covers” — “a rite of passage, a way of marking that her reading is significant.” But times are not good for the Jews, as de Waal allows us to see, and especially not for wealthy ones.

“Loud-voiced people were arriving from all parts of the world to buy banks, factories, jewels, carpets, work of art or landed estates,” complained one observer in post-World War I era, “and the Jews were not the last ones to come.”

Worse is to come, of course. Uncle Iggie now re-enters the story, a young man starting out in the banking business in Frankfurt in the early 1930s — an inauspicious time and place for a Jewish banker — but ending up as a fashion designer in Paris and New York.  “It was only when I found his design of cruise-wear based on US Navy signal flags that I realized how much fun Iggie was having,” writes de Waal. “It shows girls dressed in shorts and skirts being run up the rigging by magnificent swarthy sailors, while the code helpfully informs us that the girls are wearing signals for ‘I need to have personal communication you,’ ‘You are clear of all danger,’ ‘I am on fire,’ and ‘I cannot hold out any longer.’”

Back in Vienna, however, the Ephrussi family has fallen into the ungentle hands of the Gestapo, and its property is “Aryanized.”  Now the author shows how possessions can take on life-and-death implications, and the pleasure that he has previously taken in making inventories and providing lush descriptions of the beautiful things that the Ephrussis owned turns into a Kafkaesque horror.

“[E]very single drawer is wrenched open, the contents of every cupboard pulled out, every single ornament is scrutinized,” writes de Waal. “And all these things, a world of things – a family geography stretching from Odessa, from holidays in Petersburg, in Switzerland, in the South of France, Paris, Kövecses, London, everything – is gone through and noted down. Every object, every incident, is suspect. This is a scrutiny that every Jewish family in Vienna is undergoing.”

And what of the netsuke collection?

The author omits the collection from the inventory of goods that are looted from the Ephrussi family by the Nazis, and these precious objects disappear from our view.  At the end of the book, however, the mystery of their disappearance is solved. I won’t reveal it here except to observe that history has provided de Waal with a poignant and unforgettable ending to his saga — “a resistance to the sapping of memory,” as he writes in a phrase that elegantly sums up all that he has accomplished in “The Hare With Amber Eyes.”

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs at www.jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve and can be reached at books@jewishjournal.com.

Summer reads in all varieties


Some beloved and celebrated authors will hit the road in support of their latest books as this summer begins. Here are a few of the most intriguing titles and some of the places where their authors will be reading and signing their books in Southern California:

Lisa See, author of “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” (now a motion picture) and other recent best sellers, continues the tale she began in “Shanghai Girls” by chronicling the further exploits of the characters — the sisters Pearl and May, and May’s daughter, Joy — during the tumultuous 1950s in China and other exotic locales around the world in “Dreams of Joy” (Random House: $26). “Looks like another hit,” predicts Publishers Weekly. A reading group favorite, See works her magic yet again in a tale that shows how the intimate experiences of life play out amid the great events of history. See’s national book tour will bring her to Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, on Thursday, June 2 at 7 p.m. and, as a sign of the times in the publishing industry, she will also sign books at Costco, 6100 Sepulveda Blvd., Van Nuys, on Friday, June 3, at 1 p.m.


Former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi first came to national attention by putting Charles Manson and the Manson Family behind bars — an experience he chronicled (with Curt Gentry) in “Helter Skelter” — and he went on to write about other notorious people and events in “And the See Will Tell” (with Bruce Henderson), “Reclaiming History” and “The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder.”  Now Bugliosi tackles the biggest and oldest question of all in “Divinity of Doubt: The God Question” (Vanguard Press: $26.99). As he surveys the arguments for and against the existence of God, he directs our attention to “the uniform thread of common sense in the evidence,” which is, he asserts, “my only master.” The verdict? Bugliosi is neither a believer nor an atheist, but a principled agnostic. He will appear at Book Soup, 8188 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, on Tuesday, June 21, at 7 p.m.


Comedian Paul Reiser, among those first-generation stand-up comedians who reinvented themselves as sitcom stars, made a third career for himself on the best-seller lists with his chatty and lighthearted humor and advice books, “Couplehood” and “Babyhood.” Now he completes the trilogy with “Familyhood” (Hyperion: $26.99), a likable look at the aspirations and realities of family life. He confides that he chronicled his own family of origin in a list titled “Things I’m Not So Crazy About in My Family,” and he is just as frank about the family he belongs to now. Reiser will appear at Barnes & Noble at The Grove at Farmers Market in Los Angeles, on Wednesday, June 15, at 7 p.m.


Paris has the Eiffel Tower, London has Big Ben, and we’ve got the Hollywood sign, an artifact that is explored and explained in compelling color and detail in Leo Braudy’s “The Hollywood Sign” (Yale University Press: $24).  The story that Braudy tells is all the more surprising for the fact that we see the sign every day, and he reveals what we don’t know about it — how and why it was built, the scandals associated with it and the powerful role it has come to play in popular culture. Braudy will be featured in conversation with another Los Angeles institution — Kevin Roderick, founding editor of L.A. Observed (laobserved.com) — in the ALOUD series at the Los Angeles Public Library, on Thursday, July 21, at 7 p.m.


Long before “Twilight” and “True Blood,” there was “Dark Shadows,” a groundbreaking variant of the standard American soap opera featuring a cast of vampires and a young actress named Kathryn Leigh Scott as the much-preyed-upon ingenue.  She recalled her experiences in “My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows,” a memoir that launched her parallel careers as both an author and a publisher. Now Scott conjures up a thriller of her own — and something of a roman a clef — in “Dark Passages” (Pomegranate Press: $14.95), which depicts the various kinds of bloodsuckers who haunt the set of a ’60s-era soap opera. Scott will be feted at a publication party for her new book at Diesel Books, Brentwood Country Mart, Santa Monica, on Sunday, Aug. 7, at 3 p.m.


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs at jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve and can be reached at {encode=”books@jewishjournal.com” title=”books@jewishjournal.com”}.

A skeptic looks at why we believe


Based on firsthand experience, I can say that if you find yourself in a room with Michael Shermer, he’s likely to be the smartest guy present, and I do not mean in the Enron sense.  Shermer, author of “Why People Believe Weird Things” and “The Science of Good and Evil,” among other books, is the founder of Skeptic magazine, and a fearless and tireless advocate of rationalism in the face of extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds. And he brings a scalpel-sharp and laser-focused intelligence to his work as America’s arch-skeptic.

“When I call myself a skeptic I mean simply that I take a scientific approach to the evaluation of claims,” he writes. “Science is skepticism and scientists are naturally skeptical.”

Shermer’s latest book is “The Believing Brain: From Ghosts to Gods to Politics and Conspiracies — How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths” (Holt: $28), a wholly fascinating account of how our brains are hard-wired to turn raw data into true belief. Indeed, Shermer argues that the brain is a “belief engine,” and he shows us exactly how and why the capacity to believe may be the most important distinction between homo sapiens and all other forms of animal life. 

“Here I am interested in more than just why people believe weird things,” he explains, “but why people believe anything at all.”

Shermer offers a bit of personal background to frame his inquiry. He was raised in a nonreligious home, briefly embraced born-again Christianity as an adolescent, then put aside childish things to devote his life and work to science. “For a materialist such as myself, there is no such thing as ‘mind,’ ” he insists. “It ultimately reduces down to neurons firing and neurochemical transmitter substances flowing across synaptic gaps between neurons, combining complex patterns to produce something we call mind but is actually just brain.”

That’s not to say that Shermer dismisses the power of belief. Quite to the contrary, he shows how our beliefs, whether true or false, shape not only our own lives but also the world we live in and even our destiny as a species. A rustle in the tall grass on the plains of prehistoric Africa might have been understood as a gust of wind, or the breath of God, or a tiger preparing to attack, and evolutionary biology favored the hominid who entertained the belief that it was a tiger. “[P]eople believe weird things,” he writes, “because of our evolved need to believe nonweird things.”

As he drills down ever deeper into the fundamentals of human brain function, Shermer offers a wealth of surprising information and insights — why we love sweet foods and rich foods even though they make us fat, why a 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio is sexually attractive, why incest taboos are genetically imprinted and why we are hard-wired to see faces in photographs of distant moons and planets. None of these characteristics were bestowed upon us by an Intelligent Designer, he argues, but we are here today because all of them favored the survival of the fittest among our far-distant progenitors.

But he also shows how the wiring of the human brain provides the “cognitive basis” for a whole range of beliefs that can be seen as barriers to reason, including not only “shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritualisms,” but also alien abduction, astral projection, conspiracy theories, the search for UFOs, telekinesis and much else besides, all of which he dismisses as “superstition and magical thinking,” and even plain madness.

For anyone who cares about religion, whether as an artifact of human civilization or a source of moral instruction or even a divine revelation, “The Believing Brain” will be challenging but also illuminating and enriching. “Why do so many people believe in God?” Shermer ponders. “Your culture may dictate which god to believe in and which religion to adhere to, but the belief in a supernatural agent who operates in the world as an indispensable part of a social group is universal to all cultures because it is hardwired into the brain.”

That’s not to say that Shermer reduces all of human experience to biochemistry and evolutionary biology. The fact that he does not believe in a supernatural deity or an afterlife only sharpens his appreciation for life in the here and now: “If this is all there is, then how meaningful become our lives, our families, our friends, our communities — and how we treat others — when every day, every moment, every relationship, and every person counts. …”

To which even a skeptic can say: Amen!

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs on books at books@jewishjournal.com.

Victim of violence calls for peace


If there is a Palestinian Arab who deserves to feel aggrieved, surely it is Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. Three of his daughters and a niece were killed by a shell fired by the Israel Defense Forces during the fighting in Gaza in 2009. Yet Dr. Abuelaish has refused to resort to recrimination and struggles instead to make sense of these tragic deaths.

“If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis,” he told an Israeli medical colleague, “then I could accept it.”

Dr. Abuelaish speaks for himself in “I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity” (Walker & Company: $24.00), a remarkable memoir by a remarkable man.  He was born in 1955 in Gaza and witnessed the Six Day War at close quarters: “Israeli tanks rolled right onto our street,” he recalls. “It happened right in front of my eyes, and it looked like the end of the world to me.”  And he grew up in hardship in the Jabalia refugee camp: “We were everything that the word refugee stands for: disenfranchised, dismissed, marginalized, and suffering.”

Still, as a gifted child whose promise was recognized early in life, Abuelaish found a way out of the suffering. He earned a medical degree in Cairo, a diploma in obstetrics and gynecology through a joint program of the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health and the University of London, and a master’s degree in public health at Harvard. He completed a residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the Soroka Medical Center and served as a senior researcher at the Sheba Medical Center, both in Israel. “All of my adult life I have had one leg in Palestine and the other in Israel,” he writes, “an unusual stance in this region.”

As a medical professional working in Israel, he writes, “I did my share of pushing the envelope for coexistence” by inviting his Israeli colleagues to tour the Jabalia refugee camp and to join his Palestinian friends for coffee and conversation.  “Although I wore a name tag with a Palestinian surname and spoke Hebrew with an accent, no one seemed to object,” he writes. “Disease doesn’t recognize borders.”  But peace-making on a personal level was one victim of the second intifada that began in 2000. “How can you help these Jewish women to have babies?” he was asked by his colleagues in Gaza. “They will grow up to be soldiers who bomb us and shoot us.”

Dr. Abuelaish describes a medical career that took him all over the world, from one “conflict zone” to another, and he shares the terrible loss that his family suffered when his wife died of leukemia. But nothing quite prepares us for the fateful day in December 2008 when Israel launched an attack on Hamas fighters in Gaza. “[A]ll hell broke loose in Gaza,” he recalls. “Israeli rockets, bombs, and shells came from every direction.” Tragically, a cease-fire seemed within reach in the early days of 2009 but not before a tank shell struck the apartment where Dr. Abuelaish and his family were sheltering.

“To this day I’m not absolutely certain about who was killed when,” he writes in a horrific account of that day. “There was a monstrous explosion that seemed to be all around us, and thundering, fulminating sound that penetrated my body as though it were coming from within me.”  When the smoke cleared, three of his children and a niece were dead. “All I could think was: This is the end. This is the end.”

Dr. Abuelaish describes how his fellow Arabs cried out for revenge and reprisal.  “What about the soldier who fired the deadly volleys from the tank?  Didn’t I hate him?”  But, like the lamed-vovnik that he truly is, Dr. Abuelaish rejected yet another round of bloodshed. “[T]hat’s how the system works here: we use hatred and blame to avoid the reality that eventually we need to come together.”  In a real sense, then, “I Shall Not Hate” is Dr. Abuelaish’s earnest effort to repair not only the wounds that he and his family have suffered but the troubled world in which both Arabs and Israelis find themselves.

So Dr. Abuelaish offers a cry of conscience in “I Shall Note Hate”: “The catastrophe of the deaths of my daughters and niece has strengthened my thinking, deepened my belief about how to bridge the divide,” he writes. “I understand down to my bones that violence is futile. It is a waste of time, lives, and sources, and has been proven only to beget more violence.”  But, at the same time, he insists that Israelis and their supporters must open their eyes to the suffering that is the breeding-ground of extremism. Among the many eye-opening moments in “I Shall Not Hate,” for example, is a glimpse of the “facts on the ground” in Gaza, something that is mostly absent from the sporadic news coverage. 

“This is my Gaza: Israeli gunships on the horizon, helicopters overhead, the airless smugglers’ tunnels into Egypt, UN relief trucks on the roadways, smashed buildings, and corroding infrastructure,” writes Dr. Abuelaish. “There is never enough – not enough cooking oil, not enough fresh fruit or water. Never, ever enough.”  He points out that “it is sometimes hard to know who is in charge, whom to hold responsible: Israel, the international community, Fatah, Hamas, the gangs, the religious fundamentalists.” As a result, he warns, “Gaza is a human time bomb in the process of imploding.”

Above all, Dr. Abuelaish pleads with the reader to consider how the plight of Gaza residents feeds into the “vicious cycle” of violence and counter-violence and prompts what he calls “parasuidical behavior” like rocket attacks and suicide bombings. “The acts of violence committed by the Palestinians are expressions of the frustration and rage of a people who feel impotent and hopeless,” he explains. “The occupation and oppression of the people in Gaza is like a cancer, a disease that needs to be treated.” And he concludes: “I am arguing that we need an immunization program, one that injects people with respect, dignity, and quality, one that inoculates them against hatred.”

To which his readers can only say: “Amen.”

Note to the Reader: Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, author of “I Shall Not Hate,” will appear in conversation with Washington Post journalist Laura Blumenfeld in the ALOUD at Central Library’s Interfaith Series at the Los Angeles Central Library, 630 W. Fifth Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071, on Wednesday, January 12, 2011.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs on books at