Wednesday, April 20, 2011

[ePalestine] The Jewish Post & News: Palestinian Sam Bahour reviews "Fatal Embrace"

The Jewish Post & News 
Winnipeg, Canada

Palestinian Sam Bahour reviews "Fatal Embrace" 

Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land
By Mark Braverman
with Foreword by Walter Brueggemann
Synergy Books: Austin, Texas; $16.95, 416 pages
www.SynergyBooks.net
Reviewed by SAM BAHOUR

Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land by Mark Braverman is a courageous book, filled with urgency and hope. In the expanding library of literature that seeks to shine a rational light on the ever-deteriorating situation in Palestine and Israel, Braverman’s contribution has a very particular and useful focus. It speaks personally and intimately to Jews and Christians about the interconnectedness of the roles of their respective faith communities (the “fatal embrace”) in the evolution of the ghastly mess in the Holy Land and in what needs to be done to repair it. Along the way, the author demolishes the claim that facing up to the devastation wrought by the Zionist enterprise is somehow anti-Semitic.  

The book is remarkable for its deft interweaving of the personal and the political in Braverman’s account of his journey of understanding, an account which moves forward or backward in time as required but remains coherent and clear. The author does not lecture at us; he recounts, and describes, and discloses, and considers-and gradually disarms us. He shares vivid accounts of the people he has met in Palestine and Israel as well as key insights from books he has read and conferences he has attended; we meet theologians and activists and farmers and historians and politicians and journalists he has talked and prayed and wept with. We see and hear how these encounters cumulatively functioned to change his understanding of the issues. He gently but inexorably deconstructs, along with his own developing insights, many common misconceptions about Israel and Palestine, Zionism versus Judaism, post-war Christian theology and the still-developing Jewish-Christian dialogue, the dynamic of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and the grim realities on the ground. He covers topics that have been addressed before in various ways, yet this is an unusually moving book. I attribute its powerful impact to Braverman’s compassionate yet rigorous mode of analysis and his refusal to be cowed into glossing over the realities he observes with his own eyes in order to appease or comfort any of the usual stakeholders in the discourse on this subject. 

Practising Christians and observant Jews will find Fatal Embrace extremely helpful thanks to its in-depth treatment of the nuances as well as the broad landscape of Christian-Jewish relations since World War II and the implications for the Holy Land, then and now. The book’s analysis of the interplay of religion and politics in the context of policy formulation and decision-making about Israel and Palestine, in the USA and elsewhere, will also interest secular readers and those who are neither Christian nor Jewish. 

Braverman is unequivocal in his judgment that Israel’s ongoing destruction of Palestine, which he portrays throughout with brutal honesty, is also destroying Israel itself. His urgent call for more effective interfaith and diplomatic intervention from outsiders is clearly aimed at rescuing Israelis as well as Palestinians. Just one example, quoting from something he wrote in 2008: “Israel’s policy, remarkably consistent and relentless…, to obtain complete political and economic control of all of Palestine, is killing Israel-its young people, its economy, its soul, its very future.” In the book’s final chapter, “A Call to Action,” he recounts a brief story about a Palestinian colleague’s eight-year-old daughter who, gazing at the towering concrete separation wall by the side of the road she was driving along with her mother between Jerusalem and Ramallah, turned to her mom “and asked, ‘Mommy, why do they make the Jews live behind that wall?’”

The other remarkable quality of this book is the extent to which Braverman, while never stepping out of his Jewish selfhood, is able to enfold and integrate Christian scripture and the works of Christian thinkers and synthesize from all those thoughts and texts one moving insight after another, which he then shares with us in his own, personal and Jewish way: 

“If Israel is to survive, it must change… [and we] outside of Israel who are locked in this embrace with the Holy Land must change also. The path to that change is articulated in the Gospel of Mark: ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister.’ This powerful principle is echoed by Israeli peace activist Nurit Peled-Elhanan: ‘My people are those who seek peace.’ If Israel is to survive-if, indeed, the Jewish people itself is to survive-we must decide to join the community of humankind” and cease clinging to our chosenness as God’s elect, he concludes. 

His bottom line: “There is no viable future for the Jewish people unless and until we can acknowledge the suffering that we have caused and open ourselves to sharing the land with the Palestinians. It is the path that beckons us if we are to escape from the prison of our separateness and self-absorption… [The] Palestinian people represent the other that we must join with in order to join humanity” and come out from behind our wall. 

In his recap of the book’s main thrust, Braverman itemizes as follows: “solving this conflict and [achieving] a stable, lasting peace” is “a just, moral, and urgent cause”; “peace will not come without justice”; “politics have failed to bring about such a resolution”; and “it is time to reframe the interfaith dialogue” because inaction is not an option. The book offers a thoughtful selection of useful resources and links in the appendices, plus a list of references and an index. 


Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business development consultant from Youngstown, Ohio living in the Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994) and may be reached at sbahour@palnet.com.

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