A number of years ago my mom and I visited a rummage sale across the street from my old high school. Nestled among the stacks of dog-eared mass marketed paperbacks, cheap thrillers and old back issues of National Geographic one particular book caught my eye. Picking it up for closer inspection, I could see that despite its apparent age, it was nevertheless in fine condition and obviously had been well taken care of by its previous owner(s). Inspecting it even closer, I noticed that the book, entitled Jerusalem, Jerusalem: A Memoir of War and Peace, Passion and Politics, appeared to be the memoir of a British Jew who lived for a number of years in Israel, chiefly in Jerusalem. Being a sucker for a good memoir, not to mention books in general dealing with the Middle East, I bought it. And then, unfortunately like many of the books I buy, it sat languishing away and unread in my personal library for years. Then, one evening, probably inspired by Helen’s Middle East Reading Challenge I picked it up and started reading it. And thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so I felt like kicking myself for not reading it sooner.
It is the memoir of British-born international correspondent, (and now author of the blog The Accidental Theologist) Lesley Hazleton fondly recalling her years as a thoroughly engaged and observant ex-pat living in Jerusalem. Similar to Saul Bellow in his memoir To Jerusalem and Back, Hazleton, while technically an outsider, is nevertheless a Jew. To me, this helps gives writers like her and Bellow a kind of “insider’s/outsider’s” perspective on life in the Jewish Sate. Like other Middle East memoirs I’ve read over the past year like Kai Bird’s Crossing Mandelbaum Gate and Lucette Lagnado’s The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, Hazleton’s 1987 memoir describes a Middle East of yesterday, which is not only fascinating to read, but essential to understanding the Middle East of today.
Speaking of which, even though Hazelton’s memoir was published 25 years ago and recounts her life in Israel from 1966 to the mid-80s, I found many of her observations and much of her commentary incredibly prescient. Hazelton’s concerns about the political and social polarization of Israel’s Jewish population I found particularly interesting, not to mention the lingering questions of how to resolve the occupation of the Arab West Bank and the Golan Heights and also the role Israeli Arabs deserve to play as full citizens of a Jewish and democratic Israel. She also recalls the first use of suicide bombers to attack Israeli occupation troops in Lebanon. Originally employed by Lebanese Shia in the 80s, the practice would eventually be adopted by the Sunni Al-Qaeda and other like-minded groups and individuals and employed throughout the globe.
Lastly, I’m happy to report that Hazelton’s memoir is well-written and therefore a joy to read. I’m sad I waited so long to read her book. Don’t be put off by its 1987 publication date. Give it a shot. I wholeheartedly recommend it.