On Media / Pop Culcha

Jewish World Review August 8, 2002/ 30 Menachem-Av, 5762

Robert Leiter

Maybe they should change their name to "Glamoyr"

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- What does it mean when a major fashion magazine like Glamour turns its attention to one of the most significant and seemingly intractable problems in the world today - the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Has some corner been turned? Or is this just a bid for topicality or a bit of seriousness to balance the fluff?

"Will Violence Make Them Enemies?" appears in the August issue, and is an attempt by Sheila Weller, a senior contributing editor for the magazine, to look at the situation through a very specific lens: the friendship of a Palestinian woman and an Israeli woman who grew up together in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam.

Both names mean "oasis of peace," and as the author states, this village is the only one in Israel "where Palestinians and Israelis live together in cooperative peace." The experiment in communal living began in 1972 and marked a change in general Israeli life, since most Arabs and Jews prefer to live in separate cities and towns. The village is located midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Shireen Najjar, the Palestinian, was born in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam; Shai Kremer came there at age 2. They "lived almost like sisters," and despite the fact that Kremer thinks the conflict does terrible things ("At 18, we become killing machines - soldiers or terrorists."), it would seem that they check in with one another after every tragedy.

Still, this checking in appears to consist of little more than Najjar ranting about the barbarity of the Israelis and Kremer silently acquiescing. Najjar offers what seems the obligatory condemnation of suicide bombings, then goes on to justify them as the only avenue open to such an oppressed people. Kremer appears to agree.

So, despite its earnestness, the article has a number of problems, starting with a thumbnail and rather skewed history of Zionism. Weller writes that the strict self-segregation that rules everywhere in Israel except Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam "reflects the ongoing conflicts in Israel."

"In 1947," the author continues, "the United Nations partitioned the region of Palestine into two countries: The larger one would be the Jewish state for which a group of European Jews (called Zionists) had lobbied since the end of the 19th century and to which many of the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust would emigrate after being liberated from the concentration camps. The smaller country would be Palestine."

Anyone interested in seeing how wrong all that is should read a standard history of Zionism, even one with a Labor Party bias.

But the larger problem is that Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam is a much too specialized focus to tell this complex story. There are some powerful and well-rendered moments in the article - the discussion between the two families as they wait out a Scud attack during the Persian Gulf war, for one - but the unreality of the place, and the general liberal bias of the Kremers, makes this story only a tiny facet of the whole picture.

More worrisome is that some readers of the magazine might base their entire perception of the conflict on this unrealistic patch of land, and not delve more deeply into the ironies, contradictions and tragedies of life in Israel today. Perhaps that's too much to ask, but otherwise stories like these, which seek to tap into topical themes, are fraught with their own kind of danger.

JWR contributor Robert Leiter is Literary Editor for the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. Comment by clicking here.


© 2002 Robert Leiter