Book Review: Broken Promises, Broken Dreams by Alice Rothchild

One of the nastiest, most volatile debates in our country today, and perhaps around the world, is the one regarding Israeli-Palestinian relations. There is no safeground, no amicable middle. When engaging in the perilous landscape of the fate of the West Bank or the Gaza strip, a single misstep could result in the “anti-semite” label being stamped on your forehead. Travel too far a different path, you are an oppressor.

What is saddening about this is that this treacherous terrain that faces any and all that attempt to enter the Israeli-Palistinian debate has resulted in an environment wherein no true good progress can exist, any peace that does exist would be tenuous at the very best.

It was in this context I sought out Alice Rothchild’s Broken Promises, Broken Dreams. I wanted a better understanding, a better context.

My initial expectations of this book were far from what I actually expected. I had expected an academic look at the conflict, a judicious study loaded with stats and policy proposals, or at least a scholarly deconstruction of policies that have failed in the past.

Happily, sometimes when we find something we weren’t searching for, this new discovery is a greater treasure than we could have ever imagined. What makes Rothchild’s work so poignant is that it is not, as a rule, a scholarly work. It’s not intended to be.

It is a personal journey. The cumulative effect of a Jewish-American doctor who had spent years in Israel trying to understand the conflict, to understand both the Israeli Jews and the Palistinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza.

In so doing, the reader is treated to not a cold hard list of facts, nor necessarily a radical screed, but instead a very touching and intimate trek, a story of epiphany and understanding as one woman reaches across the boundaries, borders, and walls to do something so few seem willing to do; understand the other side.

That’s not to say the journey is flawless. The reader should understand the book is biased, this is not an equal display of all the arguments on the table, and if I were to provide a criticism of Rothchild’s work it is that she does not represent enough all sides of the debate.

But this does not take away from the overall value of the book. Dr. Rothchild masterfully constructs a carnival funhouse of perspective, watching the Israeli Jews through the eyes of Palestinians as an American Jew. And in the end, one’s eyes can’t help but to be opened.

What makes the narrative so effective is the sheer honesty of it all. Rothchild puts everything in context so we know that this is not the ramblings of a Jew out of touch with her Israeli cousins and the zionists, but instead the result of an arduous journey, one in which faith has been challenged and previous conceptions of the world shattered.

It is through these eyes we can understand the full gravity of a woman who prematurely delivers birth at a checkpoint, an occurance that ends in disaster. It is through these eyes that we can with integrity begin to understand the other side of the separation walls, and understand that the Israeli government is not without flaw.

It is through these eyes through which we can see the world today through a more honest lens:

I understand the recent election of Hamas is partly a response to the gross inadequacies of the Fatah government. It is also a result of Israeli military destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes, the disproportionate killing of Palestinian civilians, the bulldozing of olive orchards, the checkpoints, the appropriation of land for settlements, bypass roads, and the separation wall. Palestinian violence and militant resistance occurs in a context that cannot be ignored, and much to my own disappointment and despair, that context is the outcome of Israeli governmental policies.

It is biased, and even I found myself balking at some of the ideas put forth in the book, but overall, the narrative is engrossing, the message of understanding significant, and the hope of peace promising.

You owe it to yourself to read this book if for no other reason than to see the world through a very different lens and grow wiser for it.

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