I very much enjoyed David Shipler’s The Working Poor, so I figured if anyone could explain the Middle East to me, then he could. And he does in this, his revised and updated version of his Pulitzer Prize winner. To judge by his additions and footnotes, though, not much has changed. This is a thoroughly discouraging book. The centerpiece of this comes about halfway through this almost 700-page book. (The only reason it’s hard to read because it’s bleak; Shipler is a good writer.) An Israeli mother (and even that term comes up for discussion) laments to Shipler that there are two Arab children that have joined her son’s kindergarten and she wants them out. She’s alarmed that if her own children say they want to play with the Arab children that her personal feelings will weaken her political resolve. At that point, I may have screamed, “Isn’t that the *&^^%( point?”
Shipler tries to find hope in such encounters. He cross cuts a narrative of an organized encounter session with his commentary on current events (and there are some promising elements in the medical field), but this too, because of the lack of support for the program and – and this seems to be the key – Israel’s requirement for military service – ends up leaving Shipler (and the reader) hopeless.
I’ve long since abandoned the notion of peace talks. I know “co-existence talks” don’t have the same ring, but I think that is the most we can even think about trying for, and that, like this book, makes me sad.
Shipler tries to be balanced, and I think he does a fairly good job. But as a Jewish reader, I place more of the responsibility on Israel. We’ve allowed ourselves to become that which we loathed, and that’s more than sad – that’s a disgrace.