“In discussions of the Israel-Arab conflict, it has become increasingly acceptable to pretend that only one character truly exists: Israel, a country peopled with Jews struggling with their history and their demons as they act out a great moral drama against a backdrop of deserts, camels and Arabs.
Israel’s neighbors are present in this narrative as inanimate objects or, at most, as children. Their actions barely warrant analysis, so understanding the story does not involve looking at the complex interactions of Israel and its surroundings but rather dissecting Israel’s flaws.
A variant of this one-man show exists on Israel’s right: In this narrative, the Arabs are uniformly and unalterably malevolent, and the story is Israel’s failure to shed its Diaspora weakness and respond with enough force and ethnic pride. In the version accepted on Israel’s left and abroad, on the other hand, the Arabs are passive bystanders and victims, and the story is the Jews’ abuse of force, their repetition of the crimes once perpetrated against them. In my years covering Israel as part of the international press corps, I came to understand that this latter view has become the default framework in which the story is covered for foreign audiences, shaping the way it is seen by millions of people.”
These are just the first three paragraphs of Matti Friedman’s excellent review of Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country – and Why They Can’t Make Peace, by Patrick Tyler (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012). As nicely summed up in the subtitle of Friedman’s review: “Written with more antipathy than knowledge, a new book by a prominent US journalist is a disturbing example of what passes for learned comment on Israel.”