Saturday, January 29, 2011

This Burning Land (and I don't mean chemo)

I promised a 3rd book recommendation and this one you must pre-order on Amazon just as soon as you finish reading this posting.
The kids like to joke that the above cover is a picture of me carrying Annalise on my way to the grocery store when we lived in Jerusalem - M-16 slung over my shoulder. Very funny. Actually, that's a picture of an Israeli settler - M-16 slung over HER shoulder - and that's not Annalise as a baby, though it could have been. This is the book that Greg and I co-wrote about our time in Israel and the Palestinian territories covering the Intifada from 1999-2007. It was the era of suicide bombings. Both our girls were born at Hadassah Mount Scopus in a delivery room with a plate glass window overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem and the golden Dome of the Rock - the ultimate room with a view. When Amelia was born it was on the eve of the invasion of Iraq and when we left the hospital we were given a gas mask tent to put over the baby's crib in case of a chemical weapons attack, a reminder that Israelis prepare for war from the day they are born. We write about this and other experiences covering the conflict for Fox News and the New York Times. We like to joke that we are the Mary Matalin and James Carville of the Middle East. At dinner parties people will literally turn their backs to one of us depending on their politics and whether they are NYT readers or Fox News viewers. It got to be laughable as they would heap one of us with praise and insult the other. We laughed because we covered the news straight down the middle. "Just the facts, Ma'am" to quote Joe Friday. No one believed us.

So the book is called "This Burning Land: Lessons from the Front Lines of the Transformed Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." Published by Wiley and written by Greg Myre and Jennifer Griffin, but Greg deserves most of the credit. It was his baby.
It is available starting March 27 but can be preordered online and if you are in Washington, DC on Sunday, March 27 please stop by Politics and Prose on Connecticut Avenue because we are doing a reading at 5 pm.

The reason I am particularly proud of this book is that Greg and I did not get divorced while writing it. In fact, one of Greg's favorite things to do during chemotherapy was to bring his Toughbook laptop and sit just far enough away from me so that I couldn't reach him (to strangle him) when he would then start peppering me with questions about what I remembered about this or that episode during our seven years covering the war in the Middle East. Yes, while burning chemotherapy agents seared through my veins from a mainline drip, Greg and I wrote this book.

The book opens with the lines: "The phone rang with urgent news from the Gaza Strip, and I immediately grabbed my two most essential items: my flak jacket and my breast pump...." I guess I should have known that I would end up with breast cancer. How oddly strident I must have been to insist on nursing my babies while traipsing down to Gaza to interview the head of Hamas or the mother of a suicide bomber. I did both times. And sometimes the milk curdled when the Israeli soldiers didn't let us pass through Erez crossing quickly enough. It was a Medela Pump in Style. Can you picture me in Gaza, head and hair covered to do my interview with Sheikh Yassin and a Medela Pump in Style slung over my shoulder. I was much too attached to my breasts and in fact I was never that modest when it came to them (now I feel such detachment that they are literally an object but in those days they were still functional.) I remember the time that I was still pumping and had closed the door to my office and we were there really late for a Fox Report hit (around 2 in the morning) and an intern came barging in the door to deliver something to me. I think he was so shocked that he became paralyzed and instead of turning on his heals he simply stayed there and continued talking to me and I said, "Avi, I'm pumping." I don't know why I worried so much about breast feeding my girls. I sometimes wonder if I hadn't breastfed Luke if I would have found this cancer (my 9 cm tumor) a little earlier. But no need to go there. Justin and I had some of our best news scoops at the Pentagon because I would kick him out of our booth to wander the halls while I pumped.

"This Burning Land" is really a quote from two poets: one Israeli and one Arab. My favorite chapter is: "What To Do When Friends Are Kidnapped." Unfortunately, too many of ours were. (It's one of the reasons we moved back to the U.S.) In this chapter I describe in first person the kidnapping of my Fox colleagues Olaf Wiig and Steve Centanni. "The Palestinian men greeted one another with kisses on both cheeks. We were invited to sit under a tin-roofed garage attached to the apartment building. The chairs were arranged in a circle, and all of the major Palestinian factions were represented. It was pitch black because there was no electricity in the neighborhood. Israeli war planes had knocked out Gaza's power supply in the recent weeks of fighting. The headlights from the pickup trucks were turned on and provided the only light...."

But it is the conclusion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - the last lines of the Afterword - that I find most compelling. "It can at times feel like a perpetual war, but life goes on. It is never an easy lesson to digest but one that I had already learned: some battles must simply be managed." The same can, of course, be said about cancer.

Preorder here, if you'd like: