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From both sides of the wall

"Make love, not walls" has someone written on Israel's separation wall in the occupied West Bank. The wall plays the lead in the balanced and enlightening book Mur.


Already in the preface of the book Wall The authors Nora Ingdal and Anne Hege Simonsen write the following: «This book does not deal with resolving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, nor is it an attempt to provide a 'balanced' or complete presentation of guilt and responsibility. Our starting point is that the wall must be understood both as a part of and a symbol of the oppression that Israel is responsible for in the occupied territories. "

Good, I think – two writers who try to have two thoughts and two wills in their heads at the same time.

A book is a book

Many who have taken a clear position in the conflicts in the Middle East also very often tend to launch solutions of various kinds. But if there is one thing a book cannot – nor should – then it is to resolve conflicts of this type. The conflicts in the Middle East are many, and as is well known, they still live on despite tons of books on the subject. Possible books can have a fever-reducing effect on an individual level in many cases, but if there is one thing that distinguishes good books, it is that they make readers uneasy. Books should not make the world easier or save the world, but on the contrary show that it is complex and more complicated than that.

Wall, the title of Ingdal's and Simonsen's book obviously refers to the Israeli wall in the West Bank, which is justified by the Israeli authorities' fear of Palestinian suicide bombings. Whatever the reason, whatever the view of this conflict, whatever the sympathies and antipathies: Walls have never created peace between people. Neither did the Berlin Wall, nor did any of the world's many prison walls. Locking people in – or out – does not solve any worldly thing. The word "wall" is related to the word "fence", an abomination it too, a device that helps to separate mine from yours, which helps to maintain one of the most fundamental and stubborn conditions for all the capitalist societies that most of our planet today lives under: The private property rights and the material desire that this social system is so dependent on.

The above reasoning is not the two authors', but my own, and an attempt to circle in some of the reflections such a title sets in motion. Although, irrelevant to the interpretation of the text in the book, my reflections are obviously not.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan should have said this in a slightly different way: "It is well known that good fences create good neighbors, but that is if you build the fence on your own land and do not interfere with the neighbor's life." It is obvious that Ingdal and Simonsen does not believe that Israel creates a good neighborhood with the separation wall on the West Bank.

Narrative journalism

In terms of genre, this book is close to an essay collection of ten chapters, possibly ten travel reports. The authors are very present in the text, most often as pure interviewers. Within journalism, this way of writing lies close to the now-soaring genre of "narrative journalism" or "literary journalism." This is still journalism where the claim to the facts is unavoidable, but the fiction and tools of the fiction are used, for example dialogues that are not necessarily the same as replicate exchanges between interviewer and interview object, between journalist and source. In narrative or literary journalism there is more talk of treating sources as individuals. People talk together, they don't talk to either journalist or reader. But if they never lie so much, they speak authentic and true!

That the authors of this book have sympathies with the Palestinian people is of course perfectly fine. Still, the texts are surprisingly balanced. Much of this is probably because the authors in many of the chapters (the essays, the reports) push people with different views and sympathies in front of them. They simply let a variety of people they have met out their frustrations. Though, choosing people (sources) is also a value choice.

The book's strength, at least for those of us who find this conflict extremely difficult to understand in depth and thus even more difficult to resolve, is that the authors are so "journalistic" in their approach to the subject and allow both parties – Israelis and Jews, Palestinians and Arabs – get to speak. Thus, the book becomes less suitable as a political manifesto or as a battle pamphlet, but all the more readable for those who in all the media's Middle Eastern noise want to keep their ears fairly clean.

In times when Kåre Willoch also assumes in his analyzes of the Middle East conflict that Israel is an occupying power, this position is hardly particularly controversial anymore. That this view is also taken for granted Wall neither bothers me nor weakens the book, a book which, by choosing this separation wall on the West Bank as the protagonist, also brings out the stories behind and thus helps to shed light on what the conflict is about.

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