Richard Ben Cramer

"How Israel Lost: The Four Questions"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie NOV 7 , 2004)

How Israel Lost by Richard Ben Cramer

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Richard Ben Cramer, has committed a courageous but relatively unpopular act by writing this book. He does not seem to fear sacred cows. Cramer dares to discuss Israel's activities in the occupied territories and the viability of an independent Palestinian State, and by this very act, he impacts the boundaries of the Israeli Palestinian discussion. American Jews are concerned, primarily, with the preservation and security of Israel. But are Israeli leaders as concerned with the principles the state was founded on - the principles I believed in while growing up? "We shall be like a light unto the nations of the world," is what I was taught. Israel was to be a beacon of hope and democracy in a hostile world. Cramer, through personal observation and challenging arguments, questions whether the Israelis, and Jews who support them, have forgotten their original high standards and goals. Are we failing ourselves as a people, as a nation? Cramer's narrative revolves around four questions, a modification of the Four Questions asked during the Passover seder: "Why do we care about Israel? Why don't the Palestinians have a state? What is a Jewish state? Why is there no peace?"

Cramer believes that Israel, as the occupier, has become just as much a victim of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as the Palestinians. He argues that the enduring occupation has corrupted and corroded both Israeli and Arab societies. And he asks, is Israel losing her very soul? I don't know if Mr. Cramer is saying anything here that hasn't been discussed before. All I know is that he has consolidated many of my own thoughts and clarified various issues which have weighed heavily on me for over 30 years. The rise of the Knesset's right wing coalition is discussed at length. The Israeli Supreme Court is taken on for its failure to issue injunctions against demolitions, security checkpoints, land expropriations, torture and assassinations that impact the lives of dozens of innocents along with those targeted. How is it possible for a just and humane society to treat the Palestinians so harshly? And, yes, I can ask this while understanding the violence the Israelis have been subjected to for more than half a century.

Cramer paints an extraordinary realistic portrait of the two societies, highlighting people and situations with his wonderful humor and humanism. He is at his best when giving advice to Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat. His writing and observations are startlingly clear, and his ability to work well with languages lend vigor and flair to the blunt, honest narrative. His anecdotes and personal observations are what make this book so compelling.

This is journalism at its best and bound to spark conflict and controversy. I, myself felt, and continue to feel, conflicted about the issues discussed here. I grew up in a secular, Zionist household - Zionism meaning, (to me), "a political movement holding that the Jewish people constitute a nation and deserve a national homeland - a return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel." The joining of Jews of all persuasions, left and right, religious and secular, to work together toward tangible and spiritual goals. On the one hand, the author articulately expresses some of my complex feelings and emotions about the Jewish State - many of the problems and paradoxes confronting it - the terrible malaise afflicting it. I relate to his disillusionment. On the other hand I am the first to argue, to defend, to blame the violence, the Intifadas, etc., for the actions of the Israeli government.

In Cramer's words, "To me, it's an open-and-shut case: You can't ask two generations of your boys to act in the territories as the brutal kings of all they survey ('Break their bones,' was the order to his troops from the sainted Yitzhak Rabin, during the first Intifada -- six years before he became Israel's martyr to peace) -- and then expect those boys to come home, and live in lamblike gentleness as citizens, husbands, dads."

A must-read for anyone interested in this major issue which so strongly impacts the today's world.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 66 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from How Israel Lost: The Four Questions at SimonSays.com



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About the Author:

Richard Ben CramerRichard Ben Cramer grew up in a suburb of Rochester, New York where he was editor of his high school newspaper. He attended The John Hopkins University, where is also editor the student newspaper. After earning his master's degree from Columbia University, Cramer began his professional career at The Baltimore Sun, where he covered police, city hall and state politics. In 1976, he took a job with the Philadelphia Inquirer and was soon appointed the paper's New York correspondent.

A little more than a year after starting at The Inquirer, Cramer was sent to Egypt for two weeks to cover the Middle East peace talks. Those two weeks turned into a year as Cramer stayed through the talks and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. His reporting from the front lines won him the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting and earned him a six-year stint as a correspondent for The Inquirer in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

In 1984, Cramer returned to the U.S. and went to work in New York as a freelance writer for various magazines. His work appeared in Rolling Stone, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Time, and Newsweek.

Cramer lives on Maryland's Eastern Shore with his wife and daughter.

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