An Israeli Jew Walks in Palestinian Shoes. BOOKS
MY ENEMY, MY SELF By Yoram Binur, New York: Doubleday, 215 pp. $18.95
AMERICANS are among the best informed peoples in the world on current events. Not coincidentally, reports in United States print and broadcast news media are eagerly consumed abroad.
That said, there are many important issues about which Americans are uninformed, or misinformed, or both.
Unfortunately, on one of the most important, complex, and dangerous crises facing the world in early 1989, Americans are both uninformed and misinformed: the ``Palestine Problem.'' Many in the US have recently been puzzled at the vehemence and the persistence of the uprising, or intifadah, in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza.
There's certainly been enough coverage of the intifadah - some would say too much - but it has tended to focus upon what was happening, and not why. Here lies the value of Yoram Binur's book, ``My Enemy, My Self.'' Using a technique similar to that employed by John Howard Griffin in ``Black Like Me,'' Binur, an Israeli Jew and a journalist, has examined Israeli-Palestinian relations from the ``other'' side.
Instead of blackface, Binur donned the Palestinian kaffiah headdress, brushed up his already fluent idiomatic Arabic, and went among Muslims and Jews in both Israel and the occupied territories. The result is a volume filled with powerful, illustrative anecdotes.
The book is picaresque in its construct - Binur poses as a Palestinian laborer in a Tel Aviv restaurant and a garage, entering Ben Gurion International Airport, volunteering on a kibbutz, visiting Jewish settlements in the West Bank, staying at a Palestinian refugee camp in Gaza. His encounters along the way are presented in an easily readable narrative. The writing is spare and clean, reflecting Binur's journalistic training.
Binur is scrupulously honest about the deceptions involved in his method, sometimes almost to a fault, as when he agonizes at length about the ethics of becoming a ``Palestinian'' lover to a young Tel Aviv Jewess. He is candid as well in explaining the limitations imposed upon his project by legal considerations.
When challenged by Israeli police and security forces, he was obliged by law to produce his valid Jewish ID papers, thus ending his pose before he could experience the full treatment such officials bestow daily, in all parts of greater Israel, upon ``real'' Palestinian Arabs. In describing this treatment graphically, Binur is even careful to recall his own experience on the other side of the truncheon, when as an officer in an elite Israeli Army parachute unit, he himself physically abused Palestinians.
It is precisely Binur's honesty, however, which validates his observations and conclusions about the conditions he encounters. He describes in detail, for example, the elaborate system by which Israeli employers exploited Palestinian laborers in the name of ``security'' before the uprising brought this system crashing down.
Wearing the keffiah and working with his hands, Binur comes to understand why Palestinians have ceased to cooperate in their own oppression.
In its concluding chapters, ``My Enemy, My Self'' steps back from the anecdotes and analyzes the transition in Palestinian resistance that occurred suddenly in December 1987. Sumud, or survival in place, became intifadah, or the active ``shaking out'' of the abhorrent foreign presence in the occupied territories.
Israel's official reaction to this development has been to treat the demonstrations, boycotts, tax revolts, and self-imposed shop closings as a law-and-order problem, which could be resolved by brute force. Binur criticizes this reaction from the perspective of an avowedly leftist journalist, but also as an Israeli Jew and former army officer.
As he puts it in one of the book's concluding passages: ``My most definite conclusion is that a continuation of Israel's military presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip threatens to change Israel into a place which some people, myself included, will find unliveable.''
``My Enemy, My Self'' will nettle some of its American readers, shock some and puzzle others. But it is a useful addition to the growing literature on this subject because of the insights it provides into today's headlines, and tomorrow's as well. In the not very distant future there is going to be a Palestinian Arab state in the Middle East. If you'd like to understand why, read this book.