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Richard Ben Cramer

     ... Middle East reporter. Having won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Middle East in the 1979, Mr. Cramer returns to the subject in How Israel Lost. His writing has appeared in “Time,” “Newsweek,” “The New York Times Magazine,” “Esquire” and “Rolling Stone.”  Mr. Cramer’s book, What It Takes:  The Way to the White House is considered a classic of modern American politics, his Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life was a bestseller.


Israel's occupation of Palestinian land is ruining Israel, says Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Richard Ben Cramer. Why is there no peace? Because the status quo is enormously profitable both to the Israelis and to the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Cramer reports.  He answers three additional pressing questions in his book, How Israel Lost. The 35 year occupation, he says, has coarsened Israel’s society, undermined its political life, corrupted the country and produced an entirely new kind of Jew who does not share the ancient ethos for which Judaism is rightly celebrated. The conflict itself, Mr. Cramer says, is also what keeps both Sharon and Arafat in power. Fortunately for the prospects of peace, Mr. Cramer says, this is NOT a religious conflict, in spite of Israel's dramatic departure from its secular heritage.

Peace is inevitable, Mr. Cramer is clear, but the two sides will get nowhere without help from the United States, he says, convinced it's really American Jews who must help Israel make peace.

Peace is also very much in America’s self-interest, Mr. Cramer says. While the situation has bedeviled and affected the U.S. every day for decades, peace in Israel and the occupied territories is all the more important to the U.S. now that America is in Iraq, Mr. Cramer says. Why this focus on the power and interest of the United States? Because The U.S. is the financier of Israel and of all of the countries that surround it, Mr. Cramer says -- more than half of U.S. foreign aid showers the land for a couple of hundred square miles around Tel Aviv, he observes, finding it a curious way to make the desert bloom.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cramer cautions the United States to be aware of the dangers of what the U.S. is learning in what he calls the grim lab of Zion.  He points out that the C.I.A. is learning how to run a proper assassination from Israeli secret police and America's Abu Ghraid prisoner manipulators were trained by the Israelis. Mr. Cramer further worries that the ancient idea of the Jewish people as a light unto the world may turn out to be a mercury vapor security light. And he is particularly eager as America is now an occupying force in Iraq for the United States to be clear about how occupation corrodes and diminishes the occupier. On the positive side of Mr. Cramer's ledger, since the United States IS in Iraq, the U.S. now has an interest in peace in Israel, on which all can build.

Start, Mr. Cramer says, by understanding that there are two people on this land, that they’re all human beings, and they are both nations who deserve a place on the planet to live. Once Americans begin to insist on peace, Mr. Cramer believes that the Israelis very soon will get the idea that it is in their national interest to get it done and get it done in a hurry. And, he says conclusively, it CAN be done, and is particularly hopeful because, he reiterates, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- like the conflict in Iraq -- is NOT about religion.

[This Program was recorded May 21, 2004, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Richard Ben Cramer explains for Paula Gordon and Bill Russell why most Americans’ knowledge about the Middle East is just plain wrong.

Conversation 2

Americans fail to grasp the importance of Arabs having lived in Palestine for centuries before Israel was created, Mr. Cramer says. This conflict was NEVER a religious war, Mr. Cramer says, presenting indisputable historical facts about Palestine. He describes how Israel occupying the land it took from the Arabs in 1967 has changed Israel absolutely. Recounting his own long experience among both Israeli Jews and Arabs, he describes how important American Jews have been to Israel. This occupation is ruining Israel, he declares, convinced American Jews must help end the occupation.

Conversation 1 RealAudio9:01


Conversation 3

Describing growing carnage, Mr. Cramer recounts experiences with Ariel Sharon, then describes being a reporter. The United States, like Israel, finds itself as an occupying power and in a war some want to characterize as religious, he says -- but in both Iraq and in Israel, insists it is NOT about religion.  Like the U.S., Israel was founded as a secular state where people could live according to their own beliefs, he says, describing dramatic deterioration. Iran and Israel are morally equivalent in terms of their draconian and medieval religious restrictions, he reports, then reiterates -- the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis is NOT fundamentally religious.

Conversation 4

Holding on to the Palestinians’ territory has changed Israel forever, Mr. Cramer laments, eroding Israel’s many excellences.  Describing the country he loves as scared and distrustful because they are occupiers, he answers his question about who wants this occupation to continue: leadership classes on BOTH sides, he says, detailing how tremendously both profit from the status quo. The only deal Israel has to legitimize their occupation, Mr. Cramer explains, is with Yasser Arafat and his P.L.O., then expands on Arafat as the lynch pin of the status quo which is making leaders on both sides rich.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:30


Conversation 5

Mr. Cramer demonstrates how money drives the continuing Israel occupation of Palestinian territories. The Palestinian Authority is about money, he says, regretful that Israelis are increasingly connected to the sleazy business of the territories. Choosing to be “America’s little buddy” dramatically changed the nature of Israel, he says, mourning fine qualities lost in the process. Explaining what sent him back to Israel, Mr. Cramer describes “a new kind of Jew,” disintegration of community among Israelis, growing domestic violence in Israeli homes and the loss of their freedom-loving ethic. He describes how the conflict keeps both Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat in power.

Conversation 6

Israelis are teaching the U.S. grim lessons, Mr. Cramer worries, from how to perform assassination and manipulate Abu Ghraib prisoners to how to be a “security” state. Peace is inevitable, he says, convinced America MUST have a role, especially since now that the U.S. occupies Iraq, it is in America’s interest to have a solution in Israel.


We have enormous admiration for Mr. Cramer’s courage and his commitment to telling us what he’s found, no matter how far afield his observations might be from the politically correct. In an era when most American mass media have profoundly debased their own currency -- to the detriment of the citizens of the United States and of the world -- Mr. Cramer exemplifies the very best attributes of both “reporter” and “journalist”  We are grateful.

Related Links:

How Israel Lost is published by Simon & Schuster.

In an earlier discussion with Richard Ben Cramer, we explored our current notion of “heroes” in the context of his book about Joe DiMaggio The Hero’s Life.

In his book and television series Walking the Bible, Bruce Feiler looks closely at the physical reality, the land, that is the “holy land.”

Sandra Mackey has lived in and written extensively about the political-social-cultural-historical complexity of the Middle East and about the rise of fundamentalism around the world.

Both a Nieman and a Guggenheim Fellow, Geneive Abdo lived and reported for a decade from the Middle East, principally Cairo. She is the author of No God But God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam.

A former member of the National Security Council, Robert Pastor is a Professor at and Founding Director of the Center for North American Studies at American University. Much of his work revolves around the challenge of building and sustaining democratic goverment in challenging environments.

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