Having good intentions isn’t good enough anymore: people must realize that the situation in the Middle East is complicated and can’t be solved quickly with oversimplified solutions.
I’ve read a lot of books on the Middle East and its sorrows, but none quite like Lela Gilbert’s Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel Through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner (Encounter Books). Gilbert, an American who came to Israel for a visit and stayed for six years, is a writer of broad human sympathies whose compassion for the panorama of men and women she describes is obvious. Yet that compassion never causes her to lose her grasp of realities that cannot be denied. Such as, for example, the reality from which her book takes its title: the radical Islamist slogan, “On Saturday we kill the Jews. On Sunday we kill the Christians.”
Gilbert knows that what she calls the “Islamist culture of death” kills Muslims as well as Jews and Christians, and she grieves for her Muslim friends and their wretched political leadership. At the same time, she is a frank admirer of what the State of Israel has accomplished under unprecedented conditions. Her narrative concludes with a citation from an introduction to the collected letters of Col. Jonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu, who died rescuing hostages at Entebbe in 1976; the introduction was written by the distinguished novelist Herman Wouk and is worth pondering for all those who would be morally serious about the Middle East today:
Elliott Abrams’s study, Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Cambridge University Press), offers a detailed account of foreign policy-making as daily-grind-leavened-by-high-drama. It ought to be required reading for diplomats-in-training around the world—not excluding the men now studying at Rome’s Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the institutional incubator of those who will represent the Holy See in nunciatures and apostolic delegations in over 180 countries.
Throughout his service in the George W. Bush administration, Abrams pressed the strategic argument that the best thing the U.S. could do for Israeli-Palestinian peace was to disempower the men of terrorism while supporting those Palestinians who were building the civil society infrastructure of a future Palestinian state. For a while, that strategy seemed to win the day and a measure of progress was made. But then, in President Bush’s second term, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others who imagined that a “final status” agreement could be hammered out in relatively short order won the internal argument in the U.S. government—and failed, as all such attempts to accelerate a “peace process” will fail, absent a vital, vibrant and prosperous Palestinian civil society capable of sustaining a peaceful and democratic Palestinian state.
Abrams’s book opens a window into the human dimension of high-stakes diplomacy; biographers of George W. Bush, Ariel Sharon, and others will find in Tested by Zion a lot of material with which to work. Above all, however, Tested by Zion is a work of great moral and political seriousness by a morally serious man who knows that the meaning of “morality,” especially in world politics, is not exhausted by good intentions.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.
Here are some numbers:
- 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
- Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
- Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
- Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
- Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
- We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)
As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.
Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!