During the first Palestinian uprising in 1990, Jeffrey Goldberg – an American Jew – served as a guard at the largest prison camp in Israel. One of his prisoners was Rafiq, a rising leader in the PLO. Overcoming their fears and prejudices, the two men began a dialogue that, over more than a decade, grew into a remarkable friendship. Now an award-winning journalist, Goldberg describes their relationship and their confrontations over religious, cultural, and political differences; through these discussions, he attempts to make sense of the conflicts in this embattled region, revealing the truths that lie buried within the animosities of the Middle East.
Not a light read, this memoir of the author, an American-bred Zionist, and his 15-year relationship with a Palestinian insurgent is bound to have detractors, in part because New Yorker Washington correspondent Goldberg is painfully honest about his dreams, limitations and anxieties. "I wanted to... have it all," he writes, "my parochialism, my universalism, a clean conscience, and a friendship with my enemy." Goldberg lived in Israel as a college student, sharpening the contradictory emotions shared by many of his American peers and eventually watching his former certainty crumble under the weight of military service at Ketziot, an Israeli prison. Grounded in his relationship with a prisoner, Goldberg's book travels from Long Island to Afghanistan as he struggles to understand Israeli-Palestinian violence. His honesty is itself high recommendation; the book is also marked by beautiful turns of phrase and a forthrightness that saves it from occasional self-importance. Some readers will argue with some of Goldberg's assertions (such as his reading of Israel's offer to Arafat at Camp David), and the author's halting recognition of the role despair plays in shaping Palestinian thought. Like the warring nationalisms it presents, his book is complex and deeply affecting.