Break the silence. This happens to be the name of a group of women artists from California who painted murals on the West Bank in honor of the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. It might also describe a small but growing willingness among Americans to have the Palestinians treated not as demonic "terrorists" who see heroism in each defeat but as an abused and dispossessed people entitled to their own state.
An unusual number of new books on the Palestinians and their uprising, or intifada , might be considered a measure of this new mood. If you are an American Jew loyal to Israel, if you think you do not care about this old mess in the Middle East, if you cannot understand the tragedy, test yourself by looking at only a few pages in "Palestine: A Photographic Journey."
Look on Pages 52 and 53 at the fine, wracked face of an 87-year-old Palestinian (photo above) forced to live in a rusting school bus when his house is demolished. It is the face of ancient grief. In a brief interview, he says he was given an hour to vacate the old house, which belonged to his great-grandfather; the Israeli soldiers said they were punishing him because a nephew was suspected of a crime. See Page 114 with its startling frieze of agitated women struggling to rescue one of their own held in a circle of soldiers. See Page 79: A young woman in a doorway watches as Israeli troops conduct a house-to-house search--silent, staring at one, sending him a curse with her face.
Authored by a man of great gifts who has spent nearly a decade on assignments photographing the most sorrowful places in the Middle East, this exceptional book features an introduction of great merit by a professor of political science, short interviews, and some lines written by three Palestinian poets: Fouzi al-Asmar, the revered Mahmoud Darwish and Fadwa Tuqan.
In a valiant and engaging effort to lead us into the lives of the Palestinians living in Nahalin, on the West Bank near Bethlehem, the journalist Helen Winternitz is an endearing guide in "A Season of Stones: Life in a Palestinian Village." She learned so much by living there: how to speak Arabic, how to convince villagers that she was not an Israeli spy, how to wrap grape leaves around rice, how to pick olives, how to embroider so the village women will approve her work, how onions cut the effect of tear gas, how a family makes yogurt from sheep milk, how to survive without privacy, and how to persist in so carefully observing and understanding the lives and customs and anxieties of rural Palestinians.
Hardly a hotbed of radical activity like Gaza or Nablus, Nahalin still had its shebab , the makeshift militia who throw rocks and stones at the "enemy." But the confrontations were never bloody. No one dreamed, least of all the intrepid author who was elsewhere, that the village would be attacked by troops of the Border Police who advanced from the ravines and valleys, north and south, opening fire in a brutal and puzzling operation. It is a pity that Winternitz does not give the date in her meticulous account of the tragedy. Now Nahalin has entered a million memories.
There seems to be little reason for hope these days, so great are the grievances that must be endured by Palestinians and so profound are the fears and suspicions of the Israelis. This makes it astonishing to read "No Trumpets, No Drums: A Two State Settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" by two men who are natural antagonists. They are Mark Heller, a Jew with the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian intellectual and nationalist who has taught philosophy.
Each writes a personal statement in the beginning of the book, memorable for their truthfulness and the authors' apparent pain in agreeing to such an arduous collaboration.
Heller does not want Israel to have to relinquish land, yet he knows there must be a two-state settlement. He is not a bigot. He writes: "To assume that intense Palestinian hatred of Israel will endure forever, regardless of the circumstances--especially whether or not the conflict has been resolved by mutual agreement--is to assume that it is part of some genetic code. There is no basis for such an assumption."
Yet the two men worked their way, with brilliance and reason and remarkable persistence, through the old problems that have provided such a deep and septic wound in the Middle East for decades. Their proposals are too serious and important to be easily summarized, but the chapter headings suggest the magnitude of their achievement: Security Arrangements, The Demarcation and Meaning of Borders, The Refugee Problem, Settlements, Water, Jerusalem, Regionalization and Internationalization and Implementation of the Agreement.
Sari Nusseibeh read the final proofs of "No Trumpets, No Drums" in a tiny cell in an Israeli prison where he was detained for three months. It was alleged that he had acted as a human guiding system for Iraqi Scud missiles that landed in Israel during the Gulf War. A lesser man might have destroyed the proofs to show his own despair.
For an excerpt from "No Trumpets, No Drums," see the Opinion section, Page 2.