Front­line re­ports

The mis­ery of the Pales­tini­ans and the blood­shed in Iraq have in­spired two very dif­fer­ent ac­counts, finds LouisaWaugh

The Herald - Arts - - Books -

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.

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