BookBrowse Reviews Palestine by Jimmy Carter

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Palestine

Peace Not Apartheid

by Jimmy Carter

Palestine by Jimmy Carter X
Palestine by Jimmy Carter
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2006, 264 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2007, 288 pages

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A challenging and provocative insider's view of the Israel-Palestine conflict

Former President Jimmy Carter clearly wrote Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid with the intention of providing a counterbalance to the usually one-sided pro-Israeli media coverage that Americans tend to hear about the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, a number of expert commentators feel that his presentation of events from the opposite side of the fence is just as, if not more, distorted than the usually pro-Israeli media coverage in the USA.

Unsurprisingly, Jewish groups are up in arms, with the Anti-Defamation League taking out large advertisements in major newspapers last year, when the book was first published in hardcover, accusing Carter of propagating "myths like Jewish control of the government and media" and taking particular offense at the use of the word 'apartheid'. Even Carter appears to contradict the use of that so emotive word during the course of the book - early on he describes the barrier that Israel is building along the West Bank as an "imprisonment wall" and an indication of Israel's apartheid leanings; but later he states that the driving force for the wall is not racism, but the acquisition of land (whereas, the Israelis see it as a defensive measure to protect them from suicide bombers). In between he rages that the security fence is a crime against Christianity, ravaging "many places along its devious route that are important to Christians."

Which brings up the question of the role that Carter's own faith plays in forming his opinion. Early on he tells a story that causes some to question the role that his own religious beliefs play in his political stance. During his first visit to Israel in the early 1970s, when he was governor of Georgia, he met with Prime Minister Golda Meir (one of the founders of the State of Israel and its fourth prime minister between 1969 and 1974). Carter, a born-again Christian, reports that he told her that he had "long taught lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures and that a common historical pattern was that Israel was punished whenever the leaders turned away from devout worship of God." He asked Meir if "she was concerned about the secular nature of her Labor government." Meir merely shrugs, perhaps the politest thing she could do in the circumstances; but Carter expresses himself pleased with his own temerity - so much so that, 30 years later, he includes this little contretemps in his history of the conflict.

Carter appears to view the politics of the Middle East through a very narrow lens. Without doubt, if Israel and Palestine had been living in harmony for a generation or two the Mullahs would have one less very large ax to grind, but to imply that if Israel had "refrained from colonizing the West Bank" there would be comprehensive peace across the Middle-East now seems too sweeping a judgment (as can be seen by Yaroslav Trofimov's The Siege of Mecca, reviewed in the hardcover section of this ezine). Looking at more recent events, he ignores the fact that many in Israel are ready to give up the bulk of their settlements in the West Bank - in fact it was one of the election platforms which got current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert elected.

The Israel-Palestine situation is enormously complex with many gray areas. Carter's book was a bestseller last year in hardcover, and looks to be doing well in paperback, because American readers genuinely want to understand this conflict. The controversy has been extensively debated in other countries from both points of view, but in the USA it has been shown to be political suicide to express negative comment against Israel (as was ably illustrated in CNN's recent special reports, "God's Warriors" presented by Christiane Amanpour), and even the major newspapers and magazines exercise similar constraint; so the opportunity to hear the other point of view should be welcome.

There is much in the book that is of value, such as the chapter devoted to the humiliations of every day life for the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, the confiscation of farm produce, unfair competition from Israeli goods, the withholding of foreign donations, leveling of houses without legal recourse, and so on and so forth; and the fact does remain that Israel is in violation of key U.N. resolutions. However, whereas Carter goes out of his way to cite examples of Israeli bad faith frequently, he allows many apparently hollow statements and arguable misrepresentations by Israel's enemies to pass into print with little in the way of counter-argument or even comment.

There will always be people ready to criticize any book written about the Israel-Palestine conflict, especially one from a pro-Palestinian viewpoint; but it seems a great pity that Carter, one of the highest-profile authorities on the area, has left himself open to such easy pot-shots with what, at times, comes across as an unnecessarily unbalanced account of the conflict.


Interesting Link: The BBC's comprehensive resource of current and historic information about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

This review first ran in the October 4, 2007 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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