The misery of the Palestinians and the bloodshed in Iraq have inspired two very different accounts, finds LouisaWaugh
Books of reportage from war zones are all the rage these days, as hacks boost their income by tacking together news reports, usually their own, then churning them out as ground - breaking war commentaries. But amidst this self-centred trough of thinly disguised memoirs are a few real gems. David Pratt’s first book, Intifada, the Long Day of Rage is one of them.
The word Intifada comes from the Arabic nefada, to awaken or shake off. Palestinians use it to describe their violent rejection of the Israeli-ness that dominates their lives. This conflict has ground on for almost 60 years, and there’s a terrible inevitability about news from the frontline: someone’s always pulling the trigger, detonating a bomb, or dying in a dirty pool of blood.
David Pratt, foreign editor of the Sunday Herald, has been visiting Israel and Palestine for the last 20 years. In this book, he takes us on a frightening, intense journey through the Palestinian intifada and attempts to explain how both sides have come to hate and kill each other so much. He puts his political cards on the table from the outset, stating his belief that the state of Israel has a case to answer for “in its appalling treatment of the Palestinian people.”
From the Israeli funding of Hamas in the late 1970s, to the 400-mile long “apartheid wall” now choking huge tracts of the occupied territories, this is a passionate and intimate history of Palestine and Palestinians. In between there are searing details of humanity on both sides: an Israeli soldier with “I kill for fun” stencilled on his flak jacket; a Jewish settler with a myriad of Palestinian f riends; the horrific murder of 12-year-old Mohammed ‘Rami’ al-Durra that was broadcast round the world. Pratt does not pretend to be impartial, and this remarkable book is a testament to the power of an honest partisan.
The bloodbath of Iraq has also become a recent literary genre in its own right. Another Sunday Herald journalist, Neil Mackay, has written a polemic on the build-up to war and its consequences. This could have been a searing examination of political disinformation and expediency, and the price Iraqis are being forced to pay with their lives. But Mackay swaggers through his narrative, punch drunk with his own cleverness and insight.
“I hope you enjoy getting disgusted,” he says in his self-righteous introduction, swiftly followed by “This ought to make you sick,” and then, “It’s pretty disgusting, right? You know when I ask you that, that I’m going to tell you something even worse, don’t you? I am.”
Mackay has evidence to show how this illegal war was manipulated and executed by American andUKpoliticians and their age n t s . He a lso exposes the role of the UN, which acted as an American stooge for years before the invasion – and the frightening global aftermath of British and US self-interest.
But he seems completely obsessed with his own importance: and his overbearing macho rhetoric makes this important book incredibly difficult to engage with. With the exception of chapter 18, which is a lucid, unflinching commentary on torture, this is a squandered opportunity. Whilst David Pratt writes about the Palestinians he meets and what they think of their lives, Neil Mackay’s narrative is totally self-referential. Ordinary Iraqis barely feature, which makes it a hollow, self-centred manifesto for truth.