Rafik Halabi is in the difficult and unenviable position of being an Arab assigned by Israeli television to cover the West Bank. It so happens that Halabi, a member of the Druse sect and not a Muslim, is also an Israeli--born in Israel, fluent in Hebrew, educated in Israeli schools and a reserve officer in the Israel Defense Forces.
These are particularly difficult days even for Jewish Israeli journalists who take seriously their professional responsibility to report the news, no matter how ugly it is or painful for the audience to hear. Jewish reporters in Israel lately have had their loyalty to the state questioned after reporting some particularly unpleasant event or situation. Israeli television, which is state owned and directed, has come under particularly heavy fire for being aggressive, resourceful and at moments courageous in reporting events in the West Bank. And Halabi, who has been at the eye of the hurricane during the most difficult days of the past few years, deserves much of the credit--many Israelis would say blame--for what has been shown on Israeli television concerning developments in the West Bank.
For Halabi, no contradiction exists between being an Arab and being loyal to Israel. He states his personal commitment and dedication to Israel throughout the compelling book he has written about the Israeli-occupied West Bank. At the same time, though, Halabi's personal position is doubly difficult. His criticism of Israeli policies toward Arabs in Israel and in the West Bank increases the suspicion with which many Israelis view him. His firm public support for the Jewish state has led some Arabs to label him a collaborator and even a traitor. "I was and am convinced," he writes in his own defense, "that in serving the cause of free, objective journalism I am serving the best interests of my country and of the people in the territories."
Halabi's book is a first-person account of his own experiences and association with developments in the West Bank since Israel took control of it in the Six-Day War in June 1967. As a statement of the problem--both for Palestinian Arabs and for Israelis--Halabi's book does very well. He presents rather eloquently and with a minimum of histrionics the reasons why Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is bad for a just and democratic Israel--the kind of Israel that Halabi believes in.
As a descriptive book for the uninitiated, however, Halabi's work is somewhat less successful. It might have helped, for example, to give a fuller account of the internal Arab political forces at work there. More explanation and analysis of the Israeli political situation might also have helped our understanding of the conflicting forces struggling over the land (which is roughly the size of Delaware). As it is, the book suffers from having been written for an Israeli audience and then translated into English. There's nothing wrong with that as long as the author doesn't assume too much about his audience's knowledge along the way. In some spots Halabi might have done well to flesh out the background for his foreign readership.
When Halabi comes to discuss the situation of the Arab in Israel proper--as opposed to the West Bank--he makes his strongest, best-organized case, perhaps because he appreciates from firsthand experience the conflicting forces pulling on the loyalties and emotions of Israeli Arabs. He quotes a former Arab member of the Knesset who, during the Six-Day War, summed up the dilemma of Israeli Arabs: "My country, Israel, is at war with my people, the Arabs."
Despite widespread suspicion of Israeli Arabs by Israeli Jews and rather harsh security measures taken against Israeli Arabs from time to time, they have been persistent in their loyalty to the state. Halabi makes it clear that the mainstream of Israeli Arabs, who are moderate and loyal, continue to see their futures bound up with that of a democratic, Jewish Israel.
Halabi argues convincingly, however, that Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has increased the strain that Israeli Arabs feel between their political and national loyalties. The younger generation of Israeli Arabs now identifies strongly with the aspirations of Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank who want a state of their own, even though Israeli Arabs might not want to live in such a state. As a result of policies the Israeli government has pursued within Israel proper as well as in the West Bank, Halabi says, "Today it is hard to find an Arab in Israel who does not define himself as a Palestinian in one way or another; when the PLO is mentioned at mass rallies, the crowds moan with delight."
His book is not likely to be warmly received here among supporters of Israel any more than his reporting makes him popular in Israel. Despite the shortcomings of this work, however, Halabi has written an intelligent, reasoned critique of the policies Israel is pursuing and their potential consequences. His position deserves to be taken seriously.