Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Israel Defence Force’

Avi Shlaim’s ‘Israel and Palestine’

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 31st December, 2009

As Thomas Friedman once aptly commented, commenting on the Middle East tends to be an intellectual desert, in which ‘charlatans and ideologues, hucksters and holymen, regularly opine and divine, unencumbered by facts, history or statistics’. So it is with considerable relief that I can recommend as my Book of 2009 Avi Shlaim’s Israel and Palestine (Verso, London, 2009), a brilliant exposition of the last 40 years of the Middle East tragedy that mixes academic rigour with literary fluency. An Iraqi-born Jew, Dr Shlaim is a Professor of International Relations at Oxford University and the author of a number of books on the Middle East, including a biography of the late King Hussein of Jordan. His new book is in fact a collection of essays, articles and book reviews written over a number of years, but it has been woven more or less seemlessly together and is full of insight as well as compassion. The writer belongs to the small but important revisionist school of Israeli history, which rejects much of the Zionist narrative, while accepting the right of the modern state of Israel to exist, in security. There is a wealth of telling detail — not least direct quotations from various Israeli Prime Ministers — and by the end of the book, one is not surprised that Dr Shlaim is horrified by the disproportionality of the Israel Defence Force’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza (‘an eye for an eyelash’), which, he writes, ‘makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with an “utterly unscrupulous set of leaders”… Israel’s real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighybours but military domination.’ If you only have time to read one book on the modern Middle East, I recommend that you read this one.


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The Agony and the Ecstasy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th July, 2008

Walking down Fetter Lane in the City of London earlier today, I thought I was dreaming as I heard a — clearly live — performance of Chopin, brilliantly played. But no, my senses were not deceiving me. Round a corner, in New Street Square, the gifted young Polish-Canadian pianist Berenika Zakrzewski was playing in the open air a grand piano, as part of the City of London Festival. Dozens of City workers, caught as unawares as I had been, stood around and bathed in the ecstasy of it all.

I had to tear myself away, to go to the Summer Party of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), on whose governing board I sit. Their headquarters in the Arab-British Centre overlooks Dr Johnson’s house in Gough Square, one of those curious nooks and crannies of 18th century London that have survived unscathed. As a backdrop to the event, slides of CAABU’s work were being projected, and I was jolted by a shot of Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer, whom I had last seen in that very room but a few weeks ago, and who is still in pain from the obscene and vicious beating he received at the hands of the Israel Defence Force when he crossed back into the West Bank from Jordan on his return from collecting the Martha Gelhorn Prize.

Politicians from all three main political parties are represented on CAABU’s Board, and the organisation’s work has never been as much in need as it is now, when there so much misinformation and fear in Britain about the Arab world and the agony some people on both sides of the Israel/Palestine side are suffering. I have recently been called ‘naive’ and even ‘anti-Semitic’ by some critics for my highlighting the injustices borne by many Palestinians as a result of some Israeli government policies, but that will not silence me. Just as accusations from some Islamic militants that I am a ‘closet Zionist’ because I champion the work of liberal and artistic Israeli Jews will cut no ice with me. I am pro-people and pro-peace (which is why in my student days, shortly after my first visit to the Middle East, I became a Quaker). And I judge people accordingly.

This is also why I am such an enthusiastic supporter of the work done by the Argentinian-born Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, who has taken Palestinian citizenship to further his concern for peace and reconciliation in the region. I have only met him once, but was deeply impressed. Similarly, with the legacy of the late Soviet Azerbaijan-born cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who is the one 20th century figure I never met who I would invite to one of those fantasy dinner parties one is sometimes asked to construct.


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