Based on a 43-minute radio documentary that Tolan produced for "Fresh Air," this volume pursues the story into the homes and histories of the two families at its center through the present day. Their stories form a personal microcosm of the last 70 years of Israeli-Palestinian history.
The story is about a Palestinian Arab who travels back to his childhood home, from which he was forced to flee in 1948. There he meets a young Israeli woman who graciously takes him through the house. They begin a decades-long relationship — difficult to call it a friendship but maybe that is what it is — in which they have many discussions to try and find a way they can live with each other and each have a place they call home in the land of Palestine. I got into this beautifully written story looking for something to give me a direction, a road towards peace in the Middle East.
I am sorry to say this book did not give me much hope that a solution to the conflict between Arab and Israeli Palestinians can be found. Bashar and Dalia talk for decades without resolution. Her view is compromise in which the Palestinians establish a state at the pre-1967 border. His is the departure of Jews that arrived before the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the establishment of a secular state. I have my own opinions, which have changed over the years, on how to do that but I don't see anything constructive happening any time soon. The book is beautifully written and brings out the anguish and loss felt by both Arabs and Jews during times of persecution and displacement. I recommend it highly, with the reservation that I don't know how accurate the details are. I have found one website saying it is not, but others say differently. I am too emotional about the subject to know the truth. For that reason, I think I will leave it unstarred for now.
Worth reading unless you cannot put aside your own prejudices about this topic.
Overall, I think Tolan did a good job being pretty even-handed, or as balanced as can be expected given the inherently vitriolic divisiveness of the Isreali-Palestinian conflict. I think he could have done a better job explaining the U.S.' interests in the region when relevant, but then again I also understand that wasn't the purpose of this book.
Regardless, this is a good introductory read about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or at least it was. Of course, so much has happened since 2006, when the book was published, I would also recommend brushing up on current events from them before forming any political opinions based on this book alone.
In the end, however, Tolan offers an accessible, well-researched and well-written glimpse into the humanity that drives both the conflict and the potential for peace in the region.
The story of a kind of friendship between a Palestinian resistance leader, Bashir, and an Israeli Jew, Dalia, who grew up in the home he was evicted from in 1948. They first meet in 1967, in the aftermath of the six-day war. In this odd period of low security and low violence Bashir takes a bus to his old home, knocks on the door, and Dalia, a teenage Israeli soldier, answers and invites him in.
Tolan documents their story as way of covering the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He is meticulous with his facts and documentation. He remains impartial (kind of, as Dahlia is not an Israeli equivalent of Bashir, she is just a regular citizen) and manages to sympathetically cover the Palestinian perspective without neglecting the Jewish one.
Unfortunately the reading experience gets kind of dull. There is so much history that is just sort of wedged in there and there is not all that much to say about Bashir and Dalia's friendship other than a few interesting conversations and an important open letter.
The overall affect is thought-provoking. I found it quite moving to imagine this young idealistic Israeli girl just after the six day war trying to reason with a Palestinian, and this young man talking to her, listening and stating his case while, without her knowing, he is deeply involved in the resistance. Two idealistic young people with clashing misunderstandings in civil affectionate discussion. And then there is the after - some 40 years later Bashir has spent most of his life in prison and there is no reconciliation. This is not Northern Ireland. Nothing has been resolved - or even learned. That is sad and worth thinking about.
This was an interesting book that gives a face to those on either side of the conflict. Tolan's research seems impeccable. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to understand that area of the world.
The idea of telling the story of the creation of the State of Israel via the 2 families who lived in the same house is commendable. In practical terms though, there is so much history and politics to explore that the story sags under its weight. It's obvious the author has done painstaking research in writing this non-fiction biographical account of life in Israel.
Having said that, I learned a lot about the creation of the State of Israel and the tragic decades that followed. Although I'm fully aware of the enmity between Palestinians and Israelis, I never realized the extent and duration of their hostility.
Initial hope turns into despair and rage on both sides and the prospect of Peace is pretty much non-existent.
Blame can be laid in many directions: the perfidious British, the revolving door of alliances of the world powers with Egypt and Israel, Jordanian ambitions, and the weak actions of UN.
Finally, both Jews and Arabs must look to themselves in this Gordian Knot which is impossible to unravel. I despair of any meaningful solution in the near future if feelings and actions remain as they are.