A View from the Eye of the Storm; Terror and Reason in the Middle East by Haim Harari

Wesley Burnett

The book turns into one of the three basic types of literature dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the pro-Israeli diatribe.

A View from the Eye of the Storm

Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 222
Subtitle: Terror and Reason in the Middle East
Price: $24.95
Author: Haim Harari
US publication date: 2005-04
Amazon affiliate

Haim Harari, a prominent physicist, is an Israeli whose roots in the Holy Land go back six generations. He begins his book with the proposition that something has gone fundamentally wrong among the Arabs and that Israel, though a convenient scapegoat, isn't responsible for all of it. The problem, he says, is that a substantial proportion of the Arab population has gone mad and plunged the world into what could soon become the Third World War, if it isn't that already.

With this as his start, I had hopes of something new, but alas it didn't happen. The book turns into one of the three basic types of literature dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the pro-Israeli diatribe. The other types are the pro-Arab diatribe and the supposed factual, balanced assessment. This third type is generally irrelevant because nobody agrees on or cares much about the facts. It's emotions that matter. As a man of science, Harari assures us he'll reason with the facts. But out of kindness, he'll spare us the nuisance of documenting those facts. And at that point the reader has reason to get nervous.

Harari admits that Israel has made a few mistakes and done some bad things. But, it's generally good, generous, wise and pure even if the rest of the world reviles it. The UN is a let-us-hate-Israel club, and the press universally misrepresents the truth about Israel.

He's not entirely wrong. Nobody can accuse the UN of being pro-Israeli though America's extreme right wing often does exactly that. The English language edition of Al-Jazeera and such western oriented on-line newspapers as the Jordanian Times are certainly and predictably anti-Israeli though they maintain a modicum of sanity. But most Arabs don't read the English language newspapers, and one cringes to think what goes on in Arabic. It would be nice to dismiss that kind of journalism as the ravings of the lunatic fringe, but it isn't, and Harari is right that a constant diet of invective creates a popular culture of hate and paranoia. The subject of Arab fulmination is Israel while America and the West generally are just adjuncts. Or so, until 9-11, we liked think. That day it came home to us that the miscreants really are out to get us, and now we wonder why we didn't catch on sooner. Harari wonders when Europe will catch on at all.

But his accusation that the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune are consistently anti-Israeli simply contradicts experience and intuition. It demands careful documentation. Is it only a couple of stories and an editorial here and there? Or has he evidence of a general conspiracy? I'd like to know how he came to know the facts he claims are true. He's not telling. You have to trust him; he's a man of science. But his evidence is anecdotal and that's not science. He also admits to being angry and well he might be, but an angry man telling anecdotes isn't acting as a scientist, he's acting as an angry man telling anecdotes. They are a dime a dozen.

He really tests our credulity, for example, when he claims that the world media never explained the truth of the April 2002 siege at the Church of the Nativity. Oh? As Harari explains the facts, they accord well with my memory, and my only source would have to be the world press stories of the time since I've had access to no others. A syndicated columnist, Robert Novak, wrote about the Church of the Nativity at the time, and these editorials seem to be the basis of Harari's claim that the world press is out to get Israel. But Harari never mentions Novak. Novak is adamantly anti-Israeli and specializes in dubious reasoning and ambiguous facts. Reading him makes decent people want to take a bath, but Novak is not the same thing as the world press.

So this is another tedious pro-Israeli rant. But that doesn't mean Harari's wrong. Yes, we are dealing with madmen, suicide bombers prove that, and no matter what their legitimate complaint, nothing justifies deluding someone into acting as the trigger of a bomb intending murder and mayhem among children, women and the old. And he's absolutely right that contending with terrorists tests our fundamental concepts of justice and human rights. He's also right that Americans must stop confusing arguments about abortion, tax subsidies to the rich, the Ten Commandments in public places, and evolution in our textbooks with the serious work of killing terrorists and liberating people and countries from the tyrants who provoke terrorism. Nice thought, but he fails to understand that when it comes to religious lunacy, America is an emporium.

Harari tries to be optimistic. Someday the Middle East will be at peace. Why that should be isn't clear since the Holy Land hasn't had a calm day in the last 3000 years, and Lord knows what lies between here and tranquility. I first met the facts in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in college in 1964. The instructor went on to argue that all that history really isn't important because Israel is a reality, the fact that matters. And when all is said and done, the Arabs and Israel need each other too much. So, he argued, it's time to cool it and get on with life. But, damn, 40 years later and they're still at it, and worse than ever.

Maybe Harari's wrong. Maybe there isn't a solution. A problem that can't be reasoned through to an acceptable solution is an anathema to science and the positivism of American popular culture. We don't want to believe such things exist. But this may be one. And the reason is that irrational emotions run so deep that fact and reason really don't carry much weight. Harari may intend to reason with the facts, but like so many authors on the subject, he drowns in the emotions provoked by Israel and Palestine.





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