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Prisoners-A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide by Jeffrey Goldberg - History

Prisoners-A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide by Jeffrey Goldberg - History


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Jeffrey Goldberg's the Prisoners is a personal memoir that describes Goldberg's journey from Long Island New York to the Ketziot prison in Israel's Negev where he served as a guard. In the second half of the book he searches, in the years that follow, for a thread of hope that permanent peace is possible between the Israelis and Palestinians. In the course of his service at Ketziot, Goldberg is forced to come to grips with the reality of how self-destructive any occupation can be. At the same time we see how deep the hatred that most of the prisoners held for Israel and Jews. Much of the rest of the book is framed by his attempt to turn the acquaintance he made in prison, a Palestinian from Gaza by the name of Rafiq, into a true friendship. Rafiq, who was a statistician but also one of the leaders of the prisoners, goes on to receive a PhD in statistics in Washington; by the end of the book Rafiq is living in the UAE as a Professor. The book ends with Goldberg and Rafiq after many years of tribulation determining that they have a true friendship. Goldberg considers this a major triumph and ends the book with a hint of optimism. Previous reviews of the book have tended to pounce on that small piece of good news to determine that the book is truly optimistic in nature.

I, however, found the book one of the most pessimistic that I have read. Goldberg left Israel after finishing his service in the army and has devoted his time to trying to better understand the conflict as well as attempting to locate Muslims who are willing to accept Israel's existence. That search was largely in vain. Along the way he learned how anti-Semitic fundamental Muslims are. On his travels to Pakistan, Goldberg asks the Pakistani terrorist leader why Bin Laden's fatwa, which the terrorist leader had signed, was against crusaders and Jews; his response was that Jews are from the devil. Goldberg spent time in the famous fundamental madras Haqqania. When he arrived he was told that the Muslims do not have problems with Christians, only with Jews. When he told them he was Jewish, in keeping with the Muslim tradition of hospitality, he was welcomed to study. During the studies he heard much about the inferiority of the Jews and the need for Jihad. He asked one of the leading teachers-if, according to Islam, Jews were twice cursed by God-he answered, Yes the first curse has already befallen your impious people. It happened in ancient times when the Babylonians destroyed your cities and enslaved your ancestors. The curse is coming he said. He finishes saying Allah in his magnificence will wipe the stain of Israel from the clean face of the earth; this is the promise of Islam. Goldberg ran into A.Q Khan who is the father of the Pakistani bomb and the one who spread the technology to other countries. Khan, Goldberg was surprised to hear, considered it important that Pakistan have the bomb not to confront India, but rather for the Muslims to have something to confront crusader Israel with. In Cairo he met with the film producer of a mini series called the Matzah of Zion. He asked the producer if understood that the series was anti-Semitic and he was told, How can the truth be anti-Semitic?

When Goldberg met the moderate Sareb Erekat soon after the failure of the Camp David summit, Erekat stated, I have never seen any proof that there was Jewish temple on Haram al ÐSharif. The Haram must be Muslim in its entirety.

Goldberg attended the funeral of a 16-year-old Palestinian who was shot during the second Intifadah by Israelis. At the graveside Marahan Bargouti (who is considered to be very moderate) spoke and referenced the Jews of Khaybar as those who were slaughtered by Muhammad's army when they would not accept Islam. When Goldberg ask Bargouti why he referenced the story Bargouti answered, It's a Jewish story.
Goldberg then asked: Are you fighting against settlements or are you fighting against Jews?
We're fighting to Free Palestine Barghouti stated.
Didn't you once tell me that peace was irrevocable? Goldberg asked
Bargouti answered, It all depended on the Israelis, I know what your going to say Barak offered 90 percent of this, 70 percent of that, I don't care; we can't take less than 100 percent.
If you get it will you put an end the conflict? asked Goldberg.
Bargouti laughed and said, Then we could talk about bigger things.

Goldberg attended a Hamas initiation ceremony for the youth in Gaza. There he heard the young recruits being told that the moral consequences of existence on earth were unbearably burdensome for true Muslims and that only the grave provided absolution, that God would never forgive them if they do not kill the Jews. It is clear that most of this book was completed before the Hamas was elected; Goldberg spent time with Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who was one of the leaders of Hamas. Hamas, more than any other group, has transformed the dispute that existed between Arabs and Israelis to one between Muslims and Jews. In Rantisi's world there is nothing called Israeli but rather there is umma which represents lightness, and the Jews who are darkness. Rantisi states that the Quran says that Jews are behind violence and wars everywhere. Rantisi told Goldberg that the Jews will lose because they crave life, but a true Muslim loves death. On the day of the interview an acquaintance of the Goldberg's was killed in the suicide bombing at the Mt Scopus campus of Hebrew University. Goldberg's comment as he reflected on meeting with Rantisi was that The humiliation of the checkpoints did not cause Marla Bennetts death. She was killed by the followers of Moloch; the pagan god whose bible demands the lives of Jerusalem's children. Rantisi was assassinated by the Israelis soon after.

Goldberg's short update at the end of the book is pessimistic. He refers to Ehud Olmerts as someone who may be more inclined to compromise the Sharon but less equipped as he is a mere politician and not one of Israel's founders. He states that the removal of every last settlement in return for peace would be a bargain but even that would not satisfy the Hamas. He briefly touches on the true existential threat from a nuclear Iran stating the Iran's president seems to be possessed with the spirit of Berlin in 1938 and that it was not wise to take his threats to eradicate Israel as mere threats. He recounts toward the very end a conversation he had in Teheran with Ramdan Shallah, the leader of the Islamic Jihad, who stated that his friends among Iran's Mullahs wished more than anything to bring about the eradication of Israel; We shall show the Jews a black day and we will not stop until we're finished.

Goldberg's main storyline is supposed to be about a Muslim and a Jew across the Middle East. What makes this book a must read is how the book displays just how deep that divide really is.


Goldberg is Jewish and was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Ellen and Daniel Goldberg, [2] whom he describes as "very left-wing." [3] [4] He grew up in suburban Malverne on Long Island, where he recalled being one of the few Jews in a largely Irish-American area. Retroactively, when describing his first trip to the Israeli state as a teen, Goldberg recalled his youth being among pugnacious youth of a different ethnicity. He found the Jewish empowerment embodied by Israeli soldiers exciting, "So, I became deeply enamored of Israel because of that." [4]

He attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he was editor-in-chief of The Daily Pennsylvanian. [5] While at Penn he worked at the Hillel kitchen serving lunch to students. He left college to move to Israel, where he served in the Israeli Defense Forces during the First Intifada as a prison guard at Ktzi'ot Prison, a prison camp set up to hold arrested Palestinian participants in the uprising. There he met Rafiq Hijazi, a Palestine Liberation Organization leader, college math teacher, and devout Muslim from a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, whom Goldberg describes as "the only Palestinian I could find in Ketziot who understood the moral justification for Zionism". [5]

Goldberg lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Pamela (née Ress) Reeves, and their three children. [2] [6]

Goldberg returned to the United States and began his career at The Washington Post, where he was a police reporter. While in Israel, he worked as a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and upon his return to the US served as the New York bureau chief of The Forward, a contributing editor at New York magazine, and a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine. [7] [8] [9] In October 2000, Goldberg joined The New Yorker. [7]

In 2007, he was hired by David G. Bradley to write for The Atlantic. Bradley had tried to convince Goldberg to come work for The Atlantic for nearly two years, and was finally successful after renting ponies for Goldberg's children. [10] In 2011, Goldberg joined Bloomberg View as a columnist, [11] and his editorials are also syndicated online, often appearing on such media sites as Newsday. [12] Goldberg concluded writing for Bloomberg in 2014. [13]

Goldberg was a journalist with The Atlantic before becoming editor-in-chief. [9] Goldberg wrote principally on foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East and Africa. [7]

On May 23, 2019, Goldberg delivered the commencement address for the Johns Hopkins University graduating class. [14]

Michael Massing, an editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, called Goldberg "the most influential journalist/blogger on matters related to Israel," [15] and David Rothkopf, the CEO and editor of the FP Group, called him "one of the most incisive, respected foreign policy journalists around." [16] He has been described by critics as a neoconservative, [17] a liberal, [18] a Zionist [19] and a critic of Israel. [20] The New York Times reported that he "shaped" the magazine's endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 United States presidential election, only the third endorsement in the magazine's 160-year history. [9]

"The Great Terror", The New Yorker, 2002 Edit

In "The Great Terror", Goldberg investigates the nature of the Iraqi Army's chemical attack on the Kurds in Halabja in 1988. [21] [ non-primary source needed ] The attack resulted in the deaths of between 3,200 and 5,000 people and injured 7,000 to 10,000 more, most of them civilians. [22]

"The Great Terror" won the Overseas Press Club's Joe & Laurie Dine Award for international human rights reporting. [ citation needed ] In a March 2002 CNN interview, former CIA director, James Woolsey said, "I think Jeff Goldberg's piece is quite remarkable, and he and The New Yorker deserve a lot of credit for it." [23]

"In the Party of God", The New Yorker, 2002 Edit

In October 2002, Goldberg wrote a two-part examination of Hezbollah, "In the Party of God." [24] Part I recounts his time in the village of Ras al-Ein, located in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, meeting with Hezbollah officials, including Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, Hezbollah's former spiritual leader, and Hussayn al-Mussawi, founder of the now-defunct pro-Iranian Islamist militia Islamic Amal in 1982. [24] [ non-primary source needed ] Part II examines Hezbollah's activities in South America, specifically in the area known as the Triple Frontier, a tri-border area along the junction of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil." [25] [ non-primary source needed ]

In 2003, "In the Party of God" won the National Magazine Award for reporting. [26] [ non-primary source needed ] [27] [ dead link ] [ failed verification ]

"The Hunted", The New Yorker, 2010 Edit

In April 2010, Goldberg published "The Hunted", a New Yorker article on Mark and Delia Owens, a conservationist couple based in Zambia, who resorted to vigilantism in an effort to stop elephant poachers in North Luangwa National Park. [28] Goldberg chronicles the Owens’ attempts to counter the poachers’ activity in Zambia in the 1970s/80s, which began with creating incentives such as bounty programs for the park's scouts, but as the poaching continued, the Owenses methods turned more confrontational. The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat praised "The Hunted", noting that “Goldberg builds an extensive, persuasive case that the Owenses' much-lauded environmental activism in the Zambian hinterland led to at least one murder, and maybe more.” [29]

"The Point of No Return", The Atlantic, 2010 Edit

In September 2010, Goldberg wrote the cover story for The Atlantic, which examined the potential consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. [30] Based on his interviews with high level Israeli and American government and military officials, including, Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, Ephraim Sneh, Ben Rhodes, Rahm Emanuel, and Denis McDonough, Goldberg writes, "I have come to believe that the administration knows it is a near-certainty that Israel will act against Iran soon if nothing or no one else stops the nuclear program and Obama knows—as his aides, and others in the State and Defense departments made clear to me—that a nuclear-armed Iran is a serious threat to the interests of the United States, which include his dream of a world without nuclear weapons." [30]

After reading the article, Fidel Castro invited Goldberg to Cuba to talk about the issue. [31] Goldberg published a series of articles on their interviews, including Castro's views about anti-Semitism and Iran, [31] Soviet-style Communism, [32] and theories on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. [33] When asked by Goldberg if the Soviet-style Communism was still worth exporting, Castro famously replied that "the Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore." [32]

"The Modern King in the Arab Spring", The Atlantic, 2013 Edit

In April 2013, Goldberg published an article on the Jordanian King Abdullah and his government's approach to reform in the wake of the 2011 protests around the Arab world. [34]

In discussing a meeting between the King and the Jordanian tribes, Goldberg quotes the King as saying "I'm sitting with the old dinosaurs today." [34] This quote garnered controversy when published, and the King's Royal Court issued a statement claiming the article contained many "fallacies" and that his words "were taken out of their correct context." [35] However, in defending the accuracy of his quotes, Goldberg later tweeted, "I just spoke to a top official of the Jordanian royal court. He said they are not contesting the accuracy of quotes in my Atlantic piece." [35]

"Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?", The Atlantic, 2015 Edit

In April 2015, Goldberg published "Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?". Goldberg's essay explores the state of the Jewish communities across Europe, in light of the resurgence of anti-Semitism and attacks against Jews in Europe. [36] [ non-primary source needed ]

Historian Diana Pinto, who is of Italian Jewish descent, wrote a rejoinder to Goldberg's article in The New Republic, arguing that his article is excessively dire. She wrote: "If a plaster cast may be permitted to speak, I would say that Goldberg and his colleagues aren’t describing my reality the world I come from isn't already destroyed and the story of the Jews in Europe isn't yet ready to be relegated to museums or to antiquarian sites like Pompeii." [37]

President Barack Obama Edit

President Obama Interviews (2008, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016) Edit

Goldberg has conducted five interviews with President Barack Obama since 2008. [38] [39] [40] [41] [42] Goldberg's interviews have centered around President Obama's views on U.S.-Israel relations, Zionism, the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and other issues concerning U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa. [38] [ non-primary source needed ]

Peter Baker, the White House correspondent for The New York Times, recommended Goldberg's interviews with President Obama, writing, "For much of his time in office, President Obama has been having sort of a running conversation about the Middle East with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, one of the premier writers on the region based in Washington. In this latest interview, Mr. Obama defends his approach to the war against the Islamic State, warns Arab leaders not to pursue nuclear programs to match Iran and discusses his feud with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Along the way, Mr. Obama and Mr. Goldberg hash over the nature of the sometimes turbulent Israeli-American relationship." [43]

"The Obama Doctrine", The Atlantic, 2016 Edit

In April 2016, Goldberg published "The Obama Doctrine", which was featured as The Atlantic ' s April 2016 cover story. This essay covers many foreign policy issues, including his views of the U.S. role in Asia, the Middle East, ISIL, Russia, and Europe, focusing on the nature of American leadership in these different regions and the relative power that the United States wields in developing and executing policies that reflect American interests abroad. [38] [ non-primary source needed ]

Goldberg's "The Obama Doctrine" was praised [ by whom? ] for its detailed accounting of the president's foreign policy views and sparked a debate about Obama's foreign policy legacy. Brian Katulis, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, wrote in The Wall Street Journal, "Jeffrey Goldberg's analysis of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy ("The Obama Doctrine") is required reading for those looking at the big picture on U.S. national security." [44]

In a response piece in The Atlantic, Martin Indyk praised the article, writing, "Jeffrey Goldberg’s fascinating article taps into President Obama's thinking about foreign policy and reveals its wellsprings. In that sense, he does more to help the president define and explain 'the Obama Doctrine' than previous efforts by the White House itself, captured in those memorable lines 'don’t do stupid shit' and 'leading from behind', which do not do justice to a doctrine that is both complicated and far-reaching in its implications for American foreign policy." [45]

Other interviews Edit

"Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are 'Losers' and 'Suckers ' ", The Atlantic, 2020 Edit

In September 2020, Goldberg published "Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are 'Losers' and 'Suckers ' ". According to Goldberg's article, in cancelling a 2018 visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial in France, which contains the remains of 2,289 U.S. service members killed in combat in World War I, President Donald Trump privately said, "Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers." He also reputedly referred to the more than 1,800 U.S. Marines who lost their lives at the Battle of Belleau Wood as "suckers" for getting killed. [60]

CNN reported that Goldberg's article "immediately became a massive story, with Democrats—including Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden—rushing to condemn Trump for his alleged behavior and the White House rallying an aggressive pushback against the article, including the President himself." Trump tweeted, "The Atlantic Magazine is dying, like most magazines, so they make up a fake story in order to gain some relevance. Story already refuted. " [61]

Referring to Goldberg's "blockbuster revelation," the Intelligencer said "The scope and intensity of the pushback was nuclear." It added, "While it's impossible to directly prove any of these allegations, there is an impressive amount of corroborating evidence. Almost all of it supports Goldberg's reporting," which the Associated Press, The New York Times, Fox News, and The Washington Post "quickly confirmed." [62]

Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide (New York: Knopf, 2006), describes Goldberg's experiences in Israel working at the Ketziot military prison camp as well as his dialogue with Rafiq, a prisoner whom Goldberg would later befriend in Washington, DC. [63] [64] [65]

The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times named it one of the best books of 2006. [66] [67] [68]

The Los Angeles Times critic wrote, "Realization of the humanity of the ‘other’ is at the heart of New Yorker magazine correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg's sharply observed and beautifully written memoir." [69] The New York Times critic wrote, "Mr. Goldberg, a talented and ambitious writer for the New Yorker . takes an engagingly personal approach to the issue in his story of a quest for mutual understanding with a Palestinian activist who had been his prisoner . For the bittersweet complexity of that moment, offered in the context of all that has preceded it, this is a genuinely admirable book." [70]

The Washington Post review of the book noted, "Prisoners is Jeffrey Goldberg's sensitive, forthright and perceptive account of his years as a soldier and journalist in Israel—and of his long-running conversation with a Palestinian whom he once kept under lock and key. It is a forceful reminder of how rewarding, and how difficult, discourse between Israelis and Palestinians can be." [71] CBS News critic wrote, "There is no shortage of histories, polemics and policy manuals about the Middle East. An honest but complex story, from what happens to be a personal perspective that many Americans can at least conjure, is a rarer opportunity for insight. And that is what Jeffrey Goldberg, a reporter for The New Yorker, delivers in Prisoners. To those of us who have followed Jeffrey Goldberg’s reporting on the Muslim world, the publication of his first book is cause for real pleasure. because his writing on the subject has always been exceptional: wise, unpretentious, and at times, unexpectedly funny." [72]

Boris Kachka, a contributing editor for New York magazine, interviewed Goldberg in October 2006 about Prisoners in addition to other issues pertaining to journalism and the Middle East. [73]

In 2002, Goldberg's "The Great Terror" published in The New Yorker argued that the threat posed to America by Saddam Hussein was significant, discussing the possible connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as well as the Iraqi nuclear program, averring that there was "some debate among arms-control experts about exactly when Saddam will have nuclear capabilities. But there is no disagreement that Iraq, if unchecked, will have them soon . There is little doubt what Saddam might do with an atomic bomb or with his stocks of biological and chemical weapons." [21] [ non-primary source needed ]

In a late 2002 debate in Slate on the question "Should the U.S. invade Iraq?", Goldberg argued in favor of an invasion on a moral basis, writing, "So: Saddam Hussein is uniquely evil, the only ruler in power today—and the first one since Hitler—to commit chemical genocide. Is that enough of a reason to remove him from power? I would say yes, if 'never again' is in fact actually to mean 'never again. ' " [74] [ non-primary source needed ]

Glenn Greenwald called Goldberg "one of the leading media cheerleaders for the attack on Iraq", claiming Goldberg had "compiled a record of humiliating falsehood-dissemination in the run-up to the war that rivaled Judy Miller's both in terms of recklessness and destructive impact." [75] In 2008, in an article in Slate entitled "How Did I Get Iraq Wrong?", Goldberg explained the reasons behind his initial support of the Iraq War and wrote that he "didn't realize how incompetent the Bush administration could be." [76]


An attempt to bridge the divide between 2 men and 2 peoples

`Fundamentalism is the thief of mercy," Jeffrey Goldberg writes near the beginning of his newsworthy memoir, "Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide." "The thinking of scriptural fundamentalists seems, to the secular-minded, or even to the sort of person like me who feels the constant presence of God in his life but does not believe Him to be partisan in His love, as lunacy on stilts."

We know quite well that we are reading something a little less objective than standard journalism, perhaps even more subjective than the first-person journalism of Gay Talese or Joan Didion. But because Goldberg--a Zionist American Jew who grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and joined the Israeli army in early adulthood--has let readers know where he stands, we feel his narrative is trustworthy.

"Prisoners," then, is a book that will make purists and other fundamentalists squirm, even if many of us dream of a neat and tidy world, or a world with solutions ("I believe in the catechism of solutionism," Goldberg declares, "the American national religion, which holds that for every intractable problem there is a logical and available answer."). This book is an attempt at building a bridge, interpreting, quieting the conflict within and without.

And so Goldberg goes out to find a structure upon which to hang a messy story, the story of a friendship he strikes up with a prisoner he meets while working as a guard at Ketziot, an Israeli camp for Palestinian prisoners of war. That structure seems to echo the one used in "The Arabian Nights," as Goldberg opens up story within story, reveals mystery within mystery, keeping the reader moving deeper into personal and world history.

The Palestinian Muslim who becomes an unlikely friend is Rafiq Hijazi. "There was something unusual about Rafiq," Goldberg writes. "He was charming and placatory, which made him stand out in a prison of embittered mayhem-makers. He had a round face, padded cheeks, and alert, clear eyes. He appeared older than his twenty-one years . . . and there was a stillness to him that was uncharacteristic of the younger inmates, who were kinetically twitchy, which I imagined was a symptom of extended confinement."

What motivates Goldberg to become close with Hijazi?:

"I wanted to make Rafiq my friend. I felt this keenly, almost from the moment we met. It was something I believed was actually possible. I sensed the presence between us of the enzymes of friendship. I believed that he liked me. He thought I was kind, for a Jew, and I thought he was smart, for an Arab."

Clearly, they have a lot of hurdles to jump.

The "divide" referred to in the title is not just a geographical or territorial one, but one of hearts and minds. After introducing the seeds of his friendship, Goldberg goes back to his own youth in a section of memoir that is at turns fascinating, hilarious, terrifying and sometimes bizarre. He describes his growing interest in Zionism after taking a trip to Israel to celebrate his bar mitzvah at the Wailing Wall. He decides to forego the standard summer-camp experience when he returns to the States and chooses a camp in upstate New York called Shomria, "an outpost of the international socialist Zionist movement." Besides the standard sports, swimming, and arts and crafts, "We also did things other camps didn't do. We played, for instance, a game called `Warsaw Ghetto Upris-ing.' " Goldberg describes playing endless rounds of basketball on a court with the state of Israel painted at the center. If all this doesn't seem odd enough, there was an even more-radical Zionist camp down the road whose members stole into Shomria at night and painted in the West Bank and Gaza on the basketball court.

Soon after college, Goldberg tries to help Soviet Jewish refuseniks and finds himself followed and harassed at every turn. This only hardens his resolve to become a fighter of the good cause, and soon after, he joins a kibbutz in Israel, where he thinks he will become one with the land. Unfortunately, he is nearly bored to death cleaning a machine that processes eggs in an industrial henhouse, and he is unhappy with the consumer-driven nature of life on the kibbutz. So he joins the Israeli army, a brutal experience described in brutal detail.

By the time Goldberg is stationed at the Ketziot prison camp, he is ready to find a friend from the other side. He disgusts his fellow guards, who "thought I was suffering from some kind of reverse Stockholm syndrome, in which the captor identifies with the captive." But Goldberg shows us the Palestinian mindset, too, which is detailed in the way Hijazi has grown into his own belief in Islam. The book, then, is about two conflicted men in conflict with each other, trying to become friends. The journey is riveting and well wrought in a book that makes clear the confusing mess that is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, without oversimplifying or buckling to the religion of "solutionism." The friendship leads down a dangerous path, and then Goldberg is made a prisoner too.

Goldberg's ability to write well, with a prose style that is colloquial, revealing and, at turns, painfully and hilariously honest, makes this story that much more important. Readers will find no quick solutions or closures in these pages, but setting upon this journey comes with a promise: In this direction, the direction in which Hijazi and Goldberg travel, more will be revealed.

Brian Bouldrey teaches writing at Northwestern University. His travel memoir, "Honorable Bandit: A Walk Across Corsica," is to be published in 2007.


Prisoners: A Muslim & A Jew Across the Middle East Divide

Jeffrey Goldberg, Washington correspondent of The New Yorker and author of the book Prisoners: A Muslim & A Jew Across the Middle East Divide, spoke to an audience of how his personal experiences, particularly as a former Israeli prison guard, led him to embark on a journey of discovery of the "other side," the premise of his newly released book.

This journey, which has its roots in Goldberg's childhood, began upon his joining the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the late 1980s, while the first Intifada was simultaneously occurring on the ground, hoping to fulfill his envision as a liberator. However, much to his dismay, Goldberg discovered that his services were needed in an Israeli prison as a prison guard, although he humorously remarked that the official Hebrew translation was "prisoner counselor."

An Israeli prison in the middle of a barren desert was not where Goldberg was anticipating working for justice for all deserving peoples, a universalist notion which was ingrained in his childhood upbringing and which led him to embrace the social Zionist movement. Nonetheless, he decided he would make the best out of the situation he was placed in to by getting to know the people on the other divide, the Palestinians. Goldberg's optimistic beliefs were firmly rooted in the idea that if he could build relations with the Palestinians, the mutual portrayal of humanity to the "other" could possibly lessen existing tensions.

Goldberg discussed one particular Palestinian prisoner, 19-year old Rafiq, whom he writes about extensively in his book. Rafiq, like Goldberg, was able to see "the absurdity of prison. and had a sense of detachment, [as well as the] capacity for self-criticism." The more Goldberg's acquaintance with Palestinian society grew, the more questions he was inclined to have answered. Having heard about many "nasty killings" among Palestinians themselves, Goldberg's inquisitiveness led him to wonder what a Palestinian would do if given the chance to kill him. After many refusals to respond to the question when asked, Rafiq later told Goldberg, "If I killed you, it wouldn't be personal," which to Goldberg, portrayed the existing power imbalance.

Goldberg returned to the West Bank, eight years after having completed service in the IDF, on a search for many of the prisoners he had befriended from the other side of the divide. He was successful in re-connecting with Rafiq in Gaza, shaking hands with him for the first time. Rafiq was faced with the same question he was asked while in prison, to which he vaguely answered that unlike his parents, who always taught him he was from Ashkelon (a city in present-day Israel) and that one day, the Palestinians will be victorious, Rafiq is now willing to lie to his children and tell them they are from Gaza, if it is for the sake of achieving peace. This hopeful optimism that many Palestinians share is what fuels Goldberg's staunch conviction that it is not too late for reconciliation, because as a Palestinian father once responded to his son contemplating a suicide bombing, ". I forbid you. When heaven wants you, it will take you. [But in the meantime, there is much to work for now in order to fix the imperfect life we have on earth.]"

David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, painted a far bleaker picture of the reality of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Astonished by Goldberg's "obsession with people who hate him, [as well as] his continued belief that it is possible to reach across barriers," Brooks believes that conversations and dialogue are less likely to be fruitful between different groups with varied "cultural inheritances." In his view, culture is what shapes institutions, rather than institutions shaping cultural values- the Middle East is certainly no exception. This has formed Brooks' more pessimistic outlook about the ability to achieve reconciliation across different cultures.

Walter Reich, Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Professor of International Affairs, Ethics and Human Behavior at George Washington University, echoed Brooks' questioning of Goldberg's hopeful optimism, portrayed through "Goldberg's gift of words [in his] moving book." While the conflict lends itself to widespread attention (there are more journalists in Israel than on the whole continent of Africa), Reich stated that we have been witnessing the same occurrences time and again. And while the Rafiqs, and other activists Reich has spoken to, exist among Palestinian society, they have been an exception. And so Reich, like Brooks, has had more cause to doubt a hopefulness that Goldberg has genuinely placed his faith in.

Middle East Program and Division of International Security Studies
Drafted by Joyce Ibrahim


About the Author

Top reviews from United Kingdom

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This is a very well written book that grips you from the start and makes you want to keep reading to find out "what happened next" in the manner of successful fiction. The events outlined display a considerable amount of courage on the part of Goldberg, who stayed a few weeks in a Pakistani Madrasa, and repeatedly entered the Gaza strip and was alone among what were, officially, his enemies.

While the author's need to see signs of hope as to the future of the Israeli-Palestinian situation via his friendship with his former Palestinian prisoner "Rafik" is constant throughout the book, many of the questions Goldberg raises throughout his journeys are destined to dead-ends because they are based on a perspective that has been subject to a considerable amount of editing. And, as the nature of any quest goes, if you don't ask the right questions, you don't get the right answers.

Whereas the author's pursuit of these signs of hope, even in hostile territory, is admirable, his premise is not as impassive as the synopsis of the book wants us to believe It tells us that, as a prison guard, Goldberg "realized that his prisoners were the future leaders of Palestine", hence "this was a unique opportunity to learn from them about themselves", but, when you get to that part of the book, Goldberg tells you that one of his tasks in prison (as a member of the military police) was to confiscate any and all signs of Palestinian national aspirations (flags, rocks in the shape of Israel, national songs). These were the pre-Oslo days, when a "Palestinian state" was unacceptable to Israel. And while Goldberg was genuinely curious to understand his prisoners, he did not think they'd be "future leaders" of any state, as confiscating any signs of such aspirations testifies. It is very interesting to note how taking such liberties in shuffling around elements of the time-line of events for the sake of a stronger pitch in the synopsis mirrors what happened with the larger picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One of the questions the reader is inevitably lead to upon reading Goldberg's accounts of such confiscations in prison is:

What drives one people to try and confiscate all signs of the identity of another people? Or, more accurately:

How can a people base the security of their identity upon the elimination of that of another?

In Goldberg's latest account of the conflict, covering the last few years, he presents it more as one that has its origins in religious intolerance and Muslim extremism. It is ironic that Goldberg quotes Israeli writer "Amos Oz" at some point in his narrative, because it was precisely Oz that repeated that this was not a religious conflict but a real estate one. While the rise of militant fanaticism in the Muslim world is an undeniable fact that is of considerable threat to many countries, recasting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as being caused by religious pathos is, again, a reshuffling of the story for the sake of a stronger pitch.

Anyone who is interested in knowing more about what is going on in that unfortunate part of the world could benefit from the account of "Susan Nathan", a British Jewess who lived in an Arab village in Israel, in her book, "The Other Side of Israel", or "Emma Williams", a British doctor who lived and worked in Jerusalem, in her book "It's easier to reach Heaven than the end of the street, a Jerusalem memoir". Both provide some parts of the picture that were edited out of Goldberg's story, courageous as he may be.

Some questions open doors to other questions that may well be very different from the ones the author intended, but which are the only ones that could bring the reader closer to an understanding of the real story.


Review

Book Description

Synopsis

"Prisoners" is a remarkable book: spare, impassioned, energetic, and unstinting in its candour about both the darkness and the hope buried within the animosities of the Middle East.

From the Inside Flap

Jeffrey Goldberg moved from Long Island to Israel while still a college student. In the middle of the first Palestinian uprising in 1990, the Israeli army sent him to serve as a prison guard at Ketziot, the largest jail in the Middle East. Realizing that among the prisoners were the future leaders of Palestine, and that this was a unique opportunity to learn from them about themselves, he began an extended dialogue with a prisoner named Rafiq.

This is an account of life in that harsh desert prison and of that dialogue―the accusations, explanations, fears, prejudices and aspirations each man expressed―which continues to this day. We see how their discussion deepened over the years as Goldberg returned to the States, to Washington, D.C., where Rafiq coincidentally became a graduate student, and the political landscape of the Middle East changed. And we see, again and again, how their willingness to confront religious, cultural, and political differences made possible what both could finally acknowledge to be a true, if necessarily tenuous, friendship.

Prisoners is a remarkable book: spare, impassioned, energetic, and unstinting in its candour about both the darkness and the hope buried within the animosities of the Middle East.

About the Author


Jeffrey Goldberg is Jewish

Original title of Jeffrey Goldberg’s book, one of countless public identifications of himself as Jewish

Tablet has published an attack on my piece about Jeffrey Goldberg’s ascension to the editorship of the Atlantic, in which I pointed out that the Atlantic announcement cleanses Goldberg’s resume, leaving out his moving to Israel to escape American anti-Semitism and serving in the Israeli army, his publication of a memoir about serving as an Israeli prison guard, his disastrous support for the Iraq war, his failed promotion of an Iran war, and his Jewishness. Tablet says my assertion that the Atlantic is leaving out Goldberg’s Jewishness is a proof of my anti-Semitism why does it matter whether Goldberg is Jewish or not? Jews shouldn’t have to wear a yellow star. The ADL has now joined in, calling us an anti-Semitic site.

The attack is absurd first because I mentioned Goldberg’s Jewishness in the very context that he has mentioned it again and again: We Jews support Israel. More important, it is hard to think of a writer in this world who has so identified himself as Jewish, and as a spokesperson for Jews. Goldberg’s one book put Jew in the very title: Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide (later changed to, A Story of Friendship and Terror).

Goldberg has repeatedly put himself forward as a spokesperson for “Jews and the Jewish lobby,” as he described his brief at this 2007 panel attacking the book The Israel Lobby at the Center for Jewish History:

this book represents the largest challenge to Jewish political enfranchisement we’ve seen since the days of Charles Lindbergh…. It is not up to a white person to tell a black person what is racist and what is not. And it is not up to a non-Jew to tell a Jew what is anti-Semitic. I think that cultural, political autonomy means that we get to define what we think is anti-Semitic.

This Washingtonian profile of Jeffrey Goldberg a couple of years ago noted Goldberg’s role as the judge of all things Jewish in one of its headlines: “Who died and made him Moses?” The piece emphasized that Goldberg had made his career through asserting his Jewishness:

Goldberg, as a matter of personal and professional identity, is proudly and insistently Jewish. This is, after all, a fellow who used to hang a paper on his office door at the Atlantic with the words the misunderstood jew, a sly reference to what certain irreverent wags call Jesus.

“I think journalism is a very Jewish profession,” he says in a podcast, “Life as a Jewish Journalist,” recorded for the Partnership for Jewish Life & Learning. “Jews are very interesting. I think pound for pound we are the most interesting people in the world.”

In that piece, Leon Wieseltier called Goldberg a Mashgiah, or supervisor of what is kosher:

He sees Goldberg not as gatekeeper to the pro-Israel tent but as a would-be, journalistic equivalent of the mashgiah. That’s the Hebrew word for the supervisor—a rabbi or someone else of impeccable credentials—who makes sure everything going out of the kitchen at a kosher restaurant is truly kosher. “Goldberg is a little bit in the business of deciding who is kosher and who is not,” Wieseltier says. The problem, he explains, is that Goldberg fails to qualify for the role: “He’s a blogger. He’s not an analyst, he’s not a scholar.”

Just a few years ago, it was in his role of mashgiah that Goldberg said of Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, MJ Rosenberg, Naomi Klein, Sara Roy, and myself, that we are “part of a tiny minority of Jews who believe that the destruction of Israel will bring them the approval of non-Jews, which they crave.” Later in the same role, screening Jews, for that “very Jewish profession” of journalism, he declared in the Atlantic that I am not a Jew a group of bloggers are “anti-Zionists-with-Jewish-parents.” What kind of person does that? A jerk, yes. But a jerk who regards himself as a Jewish leader.

Now I state that Goldberg’s Jewishness is central to his career, at a time when Goldberg is trying to pivot from that role and I’m evil. As I said, it’s laughable.

Rosenberg also made something of my Jew-counting. How many Jews are at the tops of publications. Sorry, folks, that’s the price of power. People are allowed to notice how many Catholics and Jews are on the Supreme Court (3, and 3-plus-Merrick-Garland) and even criticize it, if they want to. Peter Beinart made the same observation in Haaretz a couple years ago.

As a force in American journalism, we certainly have [arrived]. Jews edit The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Weekly Standard, The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Vox, Buzzfeed, Politico, and the opinion pages of The New York Times and Washington Post.

The insinuation of the attacks is that I’m saying a Jewish person should not have been hired for that job or that it makes Goldberg unfit. As Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL said, “thanks @Mondweiss, bc your attack on @jeffreygoldberg 4 his faith is a window into the warped pathology of #antisemitism on the xtreme Left.” That’s very unfair. I don’t care about Goldberg’s faith, but I do insist on talking about the politicization of faith, whether that’s Christian evangelicals or Islamic state supporters or expansionist Zionists like Goldberg. You might say that Goldberg’s whole career has been about politicizing faith. Now he shrewdly understands that his parochialism will not serve him in his new role and so he is pivoting from that Jewish, pro-Israel self-description. That’s news and that’s what I wrote about.

Discussing the constitution of power is as American as cherry pie, and as Jewish as an esrog. Yair Rosenberg is just going in for thought control and blacklisting. It won’t work with us.

So where are the Palestinian voices in mainstream media?

Mondoweiss covers the full picture of the struggle for justice in Palestine. Read by tens of thousands of people each month, our truth-telling journalism is an essential counterweight to the propaganda that passes for news in mainstream and legacy media.

Our news and analysis is available to everyone – which is why we need your support. Please contribute so that we can continue to raise the voices of those who advocate for the rights of Palestinians to live in dignity and peace.

Palestinians today are struggling for their lives as mainstream media turns away. Please support journalism that amplifies the urgent voices calling for freedom and justice in Palestine.


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Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide Hardcover – Import, 6 April 2007

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From Ch. 1, "The Thief of Mercy"

On the morning of the fine spring day, full of sunshine, that ended with my arrest in Gaza, I woke early from an uneven sleep, dressed, and pushed back to its proper place the desk meant to barricade the door of my hotel room. I unknotted the bedsheets I had tied together into an emergency escape ladder. Then I hid the knife I kept under my pillow, cleaned the dust from my shoes, and carefully unbolted the door. I searched the dark hall. There were no signs of imminent peril. Most people wouldn't be so cautious, but I had my reasons, and not all of them were rooted in self-flattering paranoia.

I was staying at the al-Deira hotel, a fine hotel, one of Gaza's main charms. On hot nights, which are most nights, it brimmed over with members of haute Palestine, that small clique of Gazans who earned more than negligible incomes. The men smoked apple-flavored tobacco from water pipes the women, their heads covered, drank strong coffee and kept quiet.

By day the hotel was mostly empty. The hotels of Gaza had been full in the 1990s, during the long moment of false grace manufactured by the Oslo peace process. In 1993, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn, and it seemed as if the hate would melt away like wax. At that moment, even a pessimist could envision an orderly close to the one-hundred-year-long war between Arab and Jew. But this was now the spring of 2001, and we were six months inside the Palestinian Uprising, the Intifada, the second Intifada, this one far more grim than the last. The land between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan was once again steeped in blood: Arabs were killing Jews, and Jews were killing Arabs, and hope seemed to be in permanent eclipse. Optimists, and I included myself in this category, felt as if we had spent the previous decade as clueless Catherines, gazing dumbly from our carriages at the Potemkin village of Oslo.

So the Deira did negligible business, except after a noteworthy killing or a particularly sanguinary riot, which is the specialty of the heaving, thirsty demi-state of Gaza. Then, the press corps would colonize the Deira reporters would come to catalogue the dead, and slot the deaths into whatever cleanly explicable narrative was in current favor.

The hallway was dim, and empty. I went downstairs to a veranda overlooking the Mediterranean, which shimmered in the early sunlight. Arab fishing boats spread their nets across the smooth water. An Israeli gunboat cast a more distant shadow. My breakfast companion was waiting for me. He rose, and we kissed on both cheeks. His nom de guerre was Abu Iyad, and he was an unhappy terrorist who I hoped would share with me illuminating gossip about Hamas—of which he was a member—and Palestine Islamic Jihad, two fundamentalist Muslim groups whose institutional focus is the murder of Jews. I bought him a plate of hummus and cucumbers.

Abu Iyad was a thin man, his face hollow and creased. His nails were yellow, and his hair was gray and thinning. I had known him for a dozen years. We weren't friends. We were more like companionable acquaintances I could not be a true friend of anyone in Hamas. He had been a bomb-maker earlier in his career, but he no longer submitted himself to the group's hard line. His personality wasn't that of the typical Hamas ultra. The average Hamas man tends toward narcis- sism and humorlessness, and projects the sort of preternatural calm organic to people who believe that what follows death is exponentially better than what precedes it. But Abu Iyad seemed, on occasion, free of certitude, taking a jaundiced view of some of his more strident colleagues. He only tentatively endorsed the notion, common among Hamas theologians, that the Jews live under a cloud of divine displeasure. He was well-educated -- Soviet-educated, but still -- and he was cultured, for Hamas. He was familiar with Camus and he was partial to Russian literature, though not to Russians. We often talked about books. Once, we spent an afternoon on the beach, near Nusseirat, his refugee camp, eating watermelon and talking about, of all things, the nihilism in Fathers and Sons.

It was a year before the second Intifada, our day at the beach. The strip of gray sand was the property, in essence, of Hamas each political faction ruled a stretch of Mediterranean seaside. The Hamas cabanas were rude concrete slabs, topped with green flags that read, "There Is No God but Allah," and "Muhammad Is the Messenger of God." A crust of garbage lay over the beach, which was frequently used as a bathroom by donkey and man alike, but a breeze pushed the smell of shit away from us. The few women on the beach sat separate from the men. They wore black hijabs of thick cloth, head-to-foot, and they boiled inside them like eggs. Even when the women went to the water, they went in hijab. They waded in, up to their knees, splashed each other, and giggled. I could tell from the eyes, and the turn of their ankles, that they were pretty. I steered my own eyes away, though even an innocent glance could have a terminal effect on me.

One of the men with us was a terrorist named Jihad Abu Swerah, a typically inflamed Hamas killer. He believed that the company of any women at all was an affront, even women who were serving us food. "Women by their presence pollute everything," he said. A real killjoy. He reminded me of something the Ayatollah Khomeini once said: "There is no fun in Islam."

Abu Swerah would eventually die at the hands of Israeli soldiers, who would find him in 2003 and cut him down in his Nusseirat hideout.

We tried to ignore him. Abu Iyad and I talked amiably on the beach that day with a few of his friends. The sky was soft blue and the water was gentle. It seemed to me an opportune time to throw an apple of discord into the circle. Just to make the day interesting, I accused Hamas -- and the Muslim Brotherhood movement that gave birth to it -- of succumbing to the temptations of nihilism.

ME: The Islamists believe in nothing except their own power. This frees them from the constraints of morality, allowing everything.

ABU IYAD: No, we believe in one surpassing truth, in tawhid, the cosmic Oneness of God. This is an overpowering belief. A nihilist, on the other hand, believes in nothing.

ME: This is true, in theory, the Islamist does believe in something. But that something is the supremacy of death, not the supremacy of God's love. No one, not even Turgenev's Bazarov is perfect in his nihilism. But Hamas comes close.

ABU IYAD: Jews fear death, Muslims don't. Death isn't even death. It's a beginning. Love and death are both manifestations of God.

ME: You can't murder people and say you've done them a favor.

ABU IYAD: Hamas does not target the innocent.

After the chastising Abu Swerah and his janissaries left, Abu Iyad allowed that the actions of Hamas bombers could be seen as nihilistic, which is why he said he opposed some of the more bestial manifestations of his group's ideology. The men of Hamas, he said, sadly, were not his sort of Muslim. It was a victory for me, Abu Iyad ceding the point.

Sometimes, I couldn't quite believe in his apostasy. His distaste for Hamas orthodoxy seemed real enough, but I sensed that it grew from some apolitical vendetta. Hamas, like any well-established terrorist group, is a bureaucracy, and, as in any bureaucracy, there are winners and losers, and I got the sense that he had lost—what, I didn't know.

There was something else, too: Every so often, when we talked, he would pare off the edge of his words, speak in euphemism, even deny what I knew he felt. The Shi'ites call this taqiyya, the dissimulation of faith, the concealment of belief in the interest of self-preservation, or temporal political advantage. Sacramental lying, in other words. I worried that the face of Abu Iyad I saw was only one in a repertoire of faces. He did, after all, kill a man once.

The man was a Palestinian, his own blood, but a "collaborator" with Israel Abu Iyad killed the man with a knife, in an alley in Nusseirat. Abu Iyad only remembered the man's first name, which was Mustafa, and he remembered that he was taller than most Palestinians.

But then there were times when I stopped watching Abu Iyad through a veil of distrust, when I thought him to be a decent man, content to search for imperfect justice, not the world-ending justice sought by Hamas.

In the early 1990s, he favored, in principle, the murder of Israelis, in particular soldiers and settlers. But in November 2000, a group of Palestinians detonated a mortar shell near an armored bus traveling between two Jewish settlements, not far from Gaza City. Two settlers were killed, and three small children -- all of the same family -- lost limbs. This was unacceptable to Abu Iyad.

"It's not the children who are at fault," he said, an uncommon thing to say in Gaza, where children are both victim and perpetrator. Abu Iyad did not believe, for reasons both expedient and theological, that the slaughter of Israelis in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem would be helpful to his cause, and he questioned whether God smiled on the self-immolating assassins of Hamas. "A person can't be pure and admitted to Paradise if he kills himself, is my belief. There is a lot of debate about this among the scholars."

He sensed, even then, at breakfast, that the second Uprising, which was just beginning, would end badly for the Palestinians.

"The Israelis are too strong, and they're too ready to use violence against us," he said.

Nonsense, I said. Things will end badly for the Arabs because it is the Arabs who see violence as a panacea.

We went in circles on the question: Which side in this fight speaks more fluently the language of violence? I argued for the Arabs, and cited, as proof, a statement made to me not long before this breakfast by Abdel Aziz Rantisi, one of the founders of Hamas. Rantisi was a sour and self-admiring man, a pediatrician by trade, but one so perverse that he would work his rage on children. "The Israelis always say, when they kill our children, that they are sorry," he told me. "When we kill Jewish children we say we are happy. So I ask you, who is telling the truth?"

And I mentioned to Abu Iyad something said to me by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the so-called spiritual leader of Hamas, when I saw him at his home a few days earlier. I asked the sheikh about the three Israeli children on the bus, their limbs torn from them by a Palestinian bomb.

"They shouldn't have been on holy Muslim land," Sheikh Yassin said, his calm unperturbed by the thought of bleeding children. "This is what happens. The Jews have no right to life here. Their state was created in defiance of God's will. This is in the Quran."

I had no patience for Yassin. The thinking of scriptural fundamentalists seems, to the secular-minded, or even to the sort of person like me who feels the constant presence of God in his life but does not believe Him to be partisan in His love, as lunacy on stilts. It is also cruel beyond measure. Fundamentalism is the thief of mercy. These men, I told Abu Iyad, feel no human feelings at all.

Don't be so dramatic, he said, in so many words. "The sheikh is just saying this because this is what reporters want to hear." Dream murders, he suggested, do not constitute policy. They are to be understood as the last refuge of men stripped of all dignity.

Abu Iyad asked, "It's the way you feel about the Germans, right?"

I didn't answer. I could have told him the truth: I was born, to my sorrow, too late to kill Germans. I could have said many other things, but I wasn't going to argue the point with a man who thinks the Shoah, the Holocaust, was a trifle compared to the dispossession of the Palestinians.

"Sometimes, I feel very satisfied when a Jew gets killed," he confessed. "I'm telling you what's in my heart. It gives me a feeling of confidence. It's very good for our people to know that they have the competence to kill Jews. So that is what Sheikh Yassin is saying."

So you build your self-esteem through murder?

You misunderstand me, Abu Iyad said. Sheikh Yassin, he explained, was not typical of the Palestinian people he succumbed to the temp- tation of violence too easily. The sheikh represented one side of the divided Arab heart, the side hungry for blood. The other side craves peace, even with the Jews.

Abu Iyad was a fundamentalist, hard where the world is soft, but he was also soft where the world is hard.

I am not the only Jew who divides the gentile world into two camps: the gentiles who would hide me in their attics when the Germans come and the gentiles who would betray me to the death squads. I thought, on occasion, that Abu Iyad might be the sort to hide me.

I was late for an appointment, and so I excused myself copiously. I did not want to offend Abu Iyad, who, like his brother-Palestinians, was as sensitive as a seismograph to rudeness.

It was not an appointment I was keen to keep. I was meant to visit a Palestinian police base that had been rocketed by the Israeli Air Force the night before. I was reporting a story, and the drudgery of reporting is the repetition, going back again and again to see things I had already seen, in the naïve hope that I would finally see something different, or, at the very least, understand it more deeply. But in the first months of the Intifada, I saw Palestinian cars rocketed by Israeli helicopters, as well as Palestinian police stations, government offices, and apartment buildings. I saw blue-skinned corpses on slabs in the morgue, and children whose jaws and hands and feet were ripped away by missiles. I was familiar with the work of Israeli rockets.

The base belonged to Force 17, the personal bodyguard unit of Yasser Arafat. My regular taxi driver, a man called Abu Ibrahim, delivered me there. Abu Ibrahim means "Father of Abraham." His given name was something else, which he seldom used since his wife gave birth to a son he called Ibrahim. He asked me once if I was father to a son. I said yes. He was relieved, on my behalf. I have two daughters as well, I said. But you have a son, he said, reassuring me. He could not pronounce my son's name, so he called me "Abu Walad," "Father of a Boy."

He wasn't much of a talker, in any case. He wouldn't tell me that he was a killer. Fifteen years before, he murdered an agent of the Shabak, the Israeli internal security service. He lured the agent to an orange grove, and there he killed him, with a grenade.

That's a great name you have, I told Abu Ibrahim once. There's peace in that name: Jews, Christians, Muslims, all of us are sons of Abraham. He just grunted.

He was a hard man. He never smiled, and his arms were roped with prison muscle. I don't think he cared about anything. Years before, I had learned from one of the chattier members of the Gambino organized crime family the expression menefreghismo, which means, roughly, "the art of not giving a fuck." Abu Ibrahim was an adept of menefreghismo its practitioners were scattered about in the occupied territories. Once, in Hebron, I watched a Palestinian man, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, approach an Israeli soldier and stab him in the chest. The cigarette stayed between his lips through the attack. That's menefreghismo.

Gaza City is a compressed jumble of four- and five-story concrete apartment buildings, built at illogical angles on streets that are sometimes paved and sometimes not. Suddenly, out of the tangle, the Force 17 base appeared. It was a modest place—a few barracks, a parade ground, single-story offices. Its entrance was guarded by a lifesize plaster statue of Arafat fixed on a battered plinth and gazing out over his ruined kingdom. The anonymous sculptor who created this homage to the Palestinian Ozymandias thickened the chairman's features, giving him the appearance of a fat-lipped Che Guevara. THIS CAMP WAS BUILT WITH FUNDS PROVIDED BY THE EUROPEAN UNION, a sign over the statue read.

Missiles had destroyed the base's communications room, a barracks, and a weapons warehouse. In the rubble were spent razors, shoes, cardboard containers of fruit juice, and the carcasses of rats.

I met a Palestinian reporter who showed me the damage, which was a testament to advances in the science of precision guidance. We were left with the impression that specific men were targeted. They were not hit, however.

"No one sleeps in the barracks anymore," a Force 17 commander told us. "We all sleep outside."

Force 17 -- the number refers, it is believed, to the first address of the group's headquarters in Beirut, at 17 Faqahani Street -- is divided into two operating units, an intelligence division and a presidential security division. It has, in Gaza and the West Bank, roughly three thousand men under arms. What these men do with their arms on their off-hours had been a subject of study by the Israeli security ser- vices, which reached the conclusion, early in the Intifada, that they were using these arms for no good.

I knew someone in Force 17, a colonel named Capucci. We hadn't seen each other in some months, and I was hoping to say hello. Capucci's actual name was Muhammad Hassanen, but he took his nom de guerre to honor a former Greek Catholic bishop of Jerusalem, Hilarion Capucci, who was convicted in Israel in 1974 of smuggling arms in the trunk of his Mercedes from Lebanon to Israel on behalf of the PLO. Hassanen and the bishop shared a cell for a while in an Israeli jail.

One of the Force 17 men ran over to us, holding a bent piece of metal in his hand, a piece of the American-made rocket that took apart the communications room. He delivered a pro forma lecture that began, "America says it wants peace, but it sends missiles."

Then I saw Capucci, in the distance, getting into a jeep. I smiled, and waved. He looked at me curiously, and waved back, but tentatively. Then he sped away. How odd, I thought.

I didn't realize quite how odd it was until an hour later. I was sitting in the Café Delice on Izzedine al-Qassam Street in downtown Gaza City. The café was a regular spot for me. It was shabby and neglected the yellow walls were water-stained, and a carpet of dust covered the shelves. But the café was well located, and there is not an extensive selection of cafés in Gaza City, in any case.

Izzedine al-Qassam Street is one of the main streets of Gaza City. It is named after an early leader of the Arab Revolt in Palestine, a proto-Arafat who murdered several Jews in the early 1930s before he was shot dead by the British. Hamas has named its terrorist wing after him. The street that honors his memory is potholed, without demarcated lanes, and is life-threatening. Braking is out of favor in Gaza, though honking is not. Officers of the Palestinian Naval Police were standing in the middle of the street, trying in vain to direct traffic. The Palestinian Authority has no actual navy, but it has a naval police. The white-washed walls of the Shifa Hospital, across the street from the café, were covered in graffiti, drawn in violent strokes. "We Will Die Standing Up," one wall read. Near this was a sloppily painted picture, in red and black, of a bus, emblazoned with a Star of David. The bus was depicted in mid-explosion, and stick figures of green-uniformed and dead Israeli soldiers were scattered about the margins of the painting. Another line of graffiti, written against a backdrop of bleeding knives and exploding hand grenades, included a passage from the Quran: "The unbelievers will wish that they had surrendered. Let them eat, to take their joy, and to be bemused by hope certainly, they will soon know!"

I was sitting at my usual corner table, underneath the café's dripping and gasping air conditioner, drinking coffee with an acquaintance. I chose the table, in Malcolm X fashion, because it gave me a wide view of the door and the street beyond. Not that it mattered. Three men, brooding in appearance, fantastically armed, and in a great hurry, burst through the open door and announced that I was under arrest.

The leader of the arrest party was a big man, his heavy shoulders straining against his brown suit coat. His brow was thick, and separated from the rest of his face by a single eyebrow. His cheeks were well padded, but he had a thin, elegant nose, not at all the nose one associates with Semites. He wore black shoes and white socks, and a gold bracelet on one wrist. He seemed to be about forty years old. The two other men, in their late twenties, were thinner at the waist. One of them carried an AK-47 the other a machine pistol. It was not at all clear which police apparatus these men represented, but this was not strange in Gaza, whose one and a half million people have been blessed with the protection of at least ten competing secret security organizations, not including the Naval Police.

The owner of the café, a small, soft-bodied man, maybe fifty, stood by the espresso machine. His expression suggested passivity in the face of superior firepower. I resented him just then, since he knew me, though I recognized that there was not much a seller of damp pastry could do to help.

One of the gunmen, the most ostentatiously menacing of the three—he kept his eyes purposefully narrowed, and he wore his black mustache thick, in the Ba'ath Party style—lifted me by my elbow, and pushed me to the door. He wore black pants and a black shirt. He said, in Hebrew, "Come with us." I feigned ignorance, and said, loudly, for public consumption, in Arabic, "I don't understand." He said, again in Hebrew, impatiently this time, "Just come with us." I waved my American passport in front of his face. "I'm an American!" I yelled. I had learned, in previous encounters with dyspeptic and well-armed Muslims, the tactical importance of behaving in the manner one associates with Steve McQueen, and so I resisted the urge to unleash, as I do in moments of tension, great gusts of words.

The man I was meeting followed us out of the café, onto Izzedine al-Qassam Street. A dark blue Jeep Cherokee idled by the curb. Its driver was smoking, and appeared unnaturally relaxed. My companion argued with the men, vouching for my good character. This had no discernible effect, which surprised me, since he was a leader of Fatah, Yasser Arafat's own political faction within the PLO.

I was maneuvered to the Jeep. Schoolboys in brown pants and white shirts were walking by, but only a few of them turned to watch Gaza children see many unusual things—Gaza is notable for its complete absence of normalcy—and this drama, though large in my mind, could not hold their interest.

My own taxi was parked across the street, outside the gates of the hospital. I looked up and down the street for Abu Ibrahim, without seeing him. I think he was napping in the backseat.

I was pushed into the Cherokee. The three men got in the chief in the front passenger seat, the two younger men on either side of me, in the back. They were so close I could feel their sweat on me. The driver pulled the Cherokee into the street and sped away. The four Palestinians looked out the windows, at the sky above. They feared, I guessed, the return of Israeli Air Force helicopters. It struck me, finally, that I was being arrested for spying. In the febrile imaginings of a Palestinian security agent, it would only make sense that an Israeli helicopter would be tracking my movements. I was not a spy, but that wasn't to say that I wasn't in trouble. I did have something to hide. Once, for a short time, I placed myself in the service of the people who hunted down men like these. This was something known only to a handful of people in Gaza. The men privy to my secret, I realized, included both Abu Iyad and Capucci.

The agent in the front passenger seat, the man in charge, turned around a few minutes into our trip. He said, in Hebrew, "Don't worry, this won't take long."

I again feigned ignorance. I said, in English, "Listen, I'm an Ameri-can journalist and I demand that you release me. Do you understand me? Do you speak English?" He turned to his companions in the backseat, and said, in Arabic, something like, "The Jew is playing games."

"What were you doing this morning?" the thick-browed man asked, in Hebrew.

"I'm sorry," I said in Berlitz Arabic, "I don't speak Arabic."

"Come on already, give me a break," he said. His Hebrew was colloquial, and fluid, but low, from the street. There are several places Palestinian men of his age could learn alley-boy Hebrew: in the kitchens of Tel Aviv restaurants, on construction sites in Jerusalem, on the road gangs that pave the highways, or in prison. This man would have been in his twenties during the first Intifada. Tens of thousands of Palestinian men passed through Israeli prisons during the original Uprising, and it was ex-prisoners who filled the ranks of the Palestinian security apparatus.

"I don't speak Arabic," I said again.

"Okay, okay," he said, and turned back around.

"I want to call the American embassy," I said, loudly, in order to convince them of my Americanness.

"I'm going to take out my cell phone from my pocket," I said. The man in the front seat turned around. In English, he said, "Give me the telephone." I did, without protest.

We drove around Gaza some more. I had to go to the bathroom. I caught a glimpse of myself in a side mirror. My face shone like a well-polished boot.

"I have to go to the bathroom," I said. They ignored me.

I tried to keep track of our route, which was not easy. Gaza City is colored solely in differing shades of dun, and the streets are laid out at arbitrary angles.

I am not brave, in the fuller meaning of the word, but I do have the ability to stay hinged in moments of physical peril. Several years earlier, in the eastern Congo, at a roadblock of burning tires, a group of Mai-Mai rebels, who were notable for their consumption of formidable quantities of marijuana, as well as for their love of pillaging, pulled me out of a jeep and placed their spears at my throat. I talked my way through the Mai-Mai checkpoint. I could, I believed, talk my way through this.

We were, I realized, driving in circles. When we reached our destination, it was familiar to me: the headquarters of Palestinian Preven- tative Security, the largest of the secret services in Gaza. We drove through a gate into a nearly empty courtyard. I was encouraged, because I knew the chief of Preventative Security, a man named Muhammad Dahlan, and I was reasonably sure he would bring this sorry episode to a quick end. I was sure he would even make these men apologize (and I would graciously accept their apologies). Dahlan was, during the 1990s, a favorite of the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as the Shabak. He was charged, during the peace process, with suppressing Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Gaza, which he did intermittently, but when he did it, he did it with iron. He was a greasy man, very Tammany Hall, but he was an effective security czar, and he was a pragmatist.

"Call Dahlan," I said in English, as I was helped from the Jeep. "He knows me." Never before had name-dropping seemed so urgently self-preservational.

The man in charge said in Hebrew, "This is not Dahlan's business." I said, again, "I don't know what you're saying."

I was led down a first-floor hallway and directed into an unadorned room, with two narrow windows set high on the wall. A thin-legged wooden table sat in the middle of the room, two chairs on each side. My captor, the most obviously malevolent of the three, instructed me, in Arabic, to stand against a wall, feet spread apart. I played stupid as long as possible then I did what he motioned me to do. I put my back against the wall. No, no, he yelled, and motioned me to turn. I did so slowly. He frisked me. His technique was well informed, though he performed his job with more enthusiasm than was necessary, giving my balls a savage squeeze.

Asshole, I said, in English.

He emptied my pockets: my wallet, a notebook, two pens, a miniature tape recorder, a packet of Pepto-Bismol -- Gaza presents me with acute gastric challenges -- 25 shekels in coins, my passport, several random business cards, folded newspaper clippings, gum, gum wrappers, balled-up pieces of paper containing scribbled notes, and the keys to my car, which I had left to cook in the sun on the far side of the Erez crossing, the main border between Israel and Gaza. I think my captors were astonished by the mass of junk that fell from my pockets. My tape recorder was taken away, but everything else was thrown onto the table. I was told to sit. The men left, and I stewed. I reached for my pad, and took notes on the events of the day. This had a calming effect on me.

The air in the room was still, but I could smell thistles and the sea air, and sweat.

I was left alone for quite a while. I assumed the goal of my captors was to provoke in me a neurasthenic crisis, to give me time to manufacture dire thoughts about torture, or at the very least, habeas corpus, which is not a cherished value of Arab security services. It was clever of them to leave me alone. It was my misfortune to be familiar with the many creative methods of torture employed by interrogators of the Palestinian services. The previous June a Palestinian in the custody of the Preventative Security was asphyxiated to death. Not long before that, a group of Palestinian students at Birzeit University, on the West Bank, were beaten and threatened with rape by other agents of Preventative Security. The crime of these students was to have thrown rocks at the visiting French prime minister. There were many stories of cruelty in Arafat's prisons. Two of the more common modes of torture were shabeh and farruja. In shabeh, a prisoner is bound in a kneeling position, his arms pulled back and tied to the ankles. The prisoner is then left hooded for several hours. This torture causes hellish pain in the joints, and it stimulates an overwhelming desire to die, according to people I know who have survived this treatment. In farruja, the prisoner is bound in similar fashion, but then lifted off the floor, suspended from a hook. (During the Inquisition, this was known as the "Queen of Torments.") Prisoners in Palestinian jails are often beaten -- usually on the soles of the feet, with rubber truncheons. They are sometimes hooded for long periods of time and burned as well, with molten plastic, or cigarettes.

On the other hand, this wasn't Syria.

Excerpted from Prisoners by Jeffrey Goldberg Copyright © 2006 by Jeffrey Goldberg. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.