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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2007, pages 63-64


Burning Issues: Understanding and Misunderstanding the Middle East: A 40-Year Chronicle

Edited by John Mahoney, Jane Adas and Robert Norberg, Americans for Middle East Understanding, 2007, 439 pp. List: $16.95; AET: $12.50

Reviewed by Andrew I. Killgore

BURNING ISSUES is an anthology of 19 superb articles about Israel, Palestine and the United States. Most of them come back to the miserable and destructive U.S./Israel relationship, from the piece by Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,executive editor Richard H. Curtiss, “U.S. Aid to Israel: The Subject No One Mentions,” to “Epiphany at Beit Jala” by Donald Neff, former Time Magazine correspondent in Jerusalem and author of five major books on the Arab-Israeli wars. This volume was published with the aid of John Goelet, board member of American for Middle East Understanding (AMEU), headed by John Mahoney, which publishes The Link, a solid 40-year-old bi-monthly. The pieces collected in Burning Issues are excerpts, some updated, from previous issues of The Link.

Any readers with warm, fuzzy feelings for Israel will be bitterly disappointed, and Zionist ideologues will find no bright spots in these articles. A small and extremely rare measure of satisfaction for honest people, however, is found in Neff’s narrative. Self-described as “something of an unwitting Zionist” when he arrived in Jerusalem, he was nevertheless bothered by a routine Israeli term for Palestinians, “Filthy Arab.”

The Time Magazine reporter personally confirmed in 1978 that Israeli soldiers at Beit Jala near Bethlehem had for no reason broken the leg and arm bones of Palestinian teenagers and roughly cut off their hair. Neff’s all-Israeli staff angrily refused to believe the story, but he finally was able to cable it to Time in New York, where the weekly news magazine gave it prominent play. Neff was practically ostracized in Israel as he prepared to leave his assignment. Then, miracle of miracles: Ezer Weizman, then Israel’s defense minister, found Neff’s story to be true, and fired the military governor of the West Bank for abusing the Palestinians.

Dick Curtiss details the tricks Washington, Israel and the media play on the American public to conceal the heavily disproportionate financial aid from the U.S. to Israel. Readers will learn how gifts are made to appear to be loans, and how these loans are “forgiven”—i.e., cancelled.

James Ennes’ harrowing account of the deliberate Israeli attempt to sink the intelligence ship USSLiberty in the 1967 Arab-Israel War is heartbreaking. The Liberty, gravely damaged, managed to stay afloat, but 34 men were killed and 171 wounded while U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, on orders from President Lyndon Johnson, called back planes from the American Sixth Fleet which had been launched to the rescue of the stricken Liberty.

Israel’s “tragic accident” explanation is not really believed by anyone, but Israel’s clout in Congress has so far prevented a congressional investigation. The insistence by Israel and its apologists that theLiberty affair has been investigated is a plain lie.

Burning Issues is filled with really first-class articles that provide an overall picture of a duplicitous Israel. Jane Adas’ “Lest we Forget” begins in September 1953 with Israel’s illegal division of the waters of the Jordan River and ends, 91 examples later, in September 2006, with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert authorizing the construction of 690 housing units in the occupied West Bank, counter to peace plans supported by the United States.

Yet another excellent piece is John Mahoney’s “Political Zionism,” detailing how Zionism and Israel came into being. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French army officer, was framed for selling French military secrets to Germany. His travails were covered by an Austrian Jewish journalist, Theodor Herzl, who concluded that the only answer for Jews was a Jewish state—and that conclusion was the beginning of today’s Israel.

Other contribuors to Burning Issues include Tom Hayes, Alison Weir, Grace Halsell, Michael Prior, Yvonne Haddad and Audeh Rantisi. Michael Prior’s “Confronting the Bible’s Ethnic Cleansing” is a deeply analytical work of Israeli ethnic cleansing looked at in light of Biblical accounts of the most brutal ethnic cleansing. Prior stated his conclusion in a lecture forum at Bethlehem: that “Zionism [is] one of the most pernicious ideologies of the 20th century, particularly evil because of its essential link with religious values.”

Audeh Rantisi’s short article “The Lydda Death March” is all the more painful because of its brevity. The brutality of the Israeli soldiers—including cold-blooded murder—herding Palestinians out of Palestine is profoundly shocking. And Israelis still pretend today that their leaders urged the Palestinians to stay.

Finally, “Timeline for War,“ by Jane Adas, John Mahoney and Robert Norberg, begins with a draft by then-Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz arguing in March 1992 that the U.S. might be faced with taking pre-emptive military action to prevent the use or development of WMD. It ends more than a hundred entries later in September 2006 with 16 intelligence agencies inside the U.S. government concluding that the Iraq war has made the overall threat of terrorism worse, not better, since 9/11.

“Timeline for War” is a new reminder of the neocons’ role in getting the U.S. into the disastrous Iraq war.

Andrew I. Killgore, a retired foreign service officer and former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, is publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.


The Seventeen Traditions

By Ralph Nader, HarperCollins Publishers, 2007, 151 pp. List: $19.95; AET: $16.

Reviewed by Donald Neff

EVER SINCE HE burst on the national scene 42 years ago, barely in his 30s, with his exposé of greedy practices by the auto industry, the face of Ralph Nader has been a familiar one to Americans—somber, serious, unsmiling. It was a fitting visage for a man of such varied and numerous accomplishments, including three runs for the presidency, the founding of Naders Raiders and many other consumer advocacy groups, and the writing of numerous articles and books, including his 1965 groundbreaking exposé, Unsafe at Any Speed.

Nader reveals another face, however, in The Seventeen Traditions—a softer, carefree face of an exuberant youth growing up in the small town of Winsted, Connecticut. Nader has described his small memoir as a “long song to my Mom and Dad.” It is that and much more. A lyrical evocation of his youth, his book offers readers a surprising and delightful view of Nader as a boy reveling in the sounds and smells and mysteries of nature and, most important, the wisdom learned from his Lebanese immigrant parents.

Describing a summer vacation with cousins in Canada, he remembers days “shaped by our closeness to the water, by afternoons spent swimming on a beachfront just down from the cottage, by boating, fishing, hiking, picking berries, games of hide and seek in the woods.”

There were “the sounds of the primeval woods and fields, especially the long howling winds as they swirled through hills and valleys, swaying the trees and bending the tall grasses.

“There were other songs that rang true to my ears. The daily mooing of cows on the hilly outskirts of town reminded us that soon the daury farmers would deliver their fresh milk. The splashing and gurgling of nearby brooks and streams seemed as though it had been ongoing for thousands of years. As I sat by these flowing waters, waiting to see a fish here or a tadpole there, my schoolboy’s patience paled in comparison with those eternal waves.”

Such bucolic delights sometimes brought with them insights that lasted him for a lifetime. One summer when he was around 10, Nader noticed that a “carnivorous beast” was raiding the family’s little garden. It turned out to be a rabbit. Nader grabbed a rock and chased the rabbit until it froze in a crouch with the young Nader only four feet away. “For a few seconds I just stood there, breathing hard from the run, my hand suspended overhead,” he recalls. “I saw those wide-open eyes, and the crouching bunny to whom they belonged.” Nader realized he did not want to kill the rabbit, and it hopped away. “Looking back at that moment today, I know that’s when I realized I would never be a hunter....”

As important as his solitary discoveries was Nader’s family, which gave Nader his passion for the truth and delight in intellectual combat. His father, Natra, migrated to America when he was 19, with the proverbial $20 in his pocket and no connections. After he finally settled down in Winsted to open a restaurant/bar, he returned to Lebanon to bring back as his bride Rose, a schoolteacher. Together they created for Nader and his three siblings, two sisters and a brother, what Nader came to see as the 17 traditions of his youth.

These traditions, recounted lovingly and sentimentally by Nader, ranged from the “tradition of education and argument” to the “tradition of the family table,” a place of pedagogic conversation and gourmet delights. In fact, his mother later wrote a book tantalizingly titled It Happened in the Kitchen: Recipes for Food and Thought.

Nader’s brief memoir is similarly tantalizing, tasty fare for all readers.

Donald Neff is author of the Warriors trilogy on the 1956, ”˜67 and ”˜73 Arab-Israeli wars, Fallen Pillars: U.S. Policy Towards Palestine and Israel Since 1945, and Fifty Years of Israel, all available from the AET Book Club.