This Burn­ing Land: Lessons from the Front Lines of the Trans­formed Israeli-Pales­tin­ian Conflict

Greg Myre and Jen­nifer Griffin
  • Review
By – November 1, 2011
Greg Myre and Jen­nifer Grif­fin arrived in Jerusalem in fall 1999, he a cor­re­spon­dent for The New York Times, she for Fox News. After fif­teen years of cov­er­ing con­flicts across Africa, the for­mer Sovi­et Union, and Afghanistan, the cou­ple found Israel an island of secu­ri­ty and com­fort. Israelis and Pales­tini­ans min­gled at work and at leisure. The bor­der was not marked on most of their maps, and the Israeli sol­diers often lounged on the side of the road as the cou­ple toured the coun­try and passed through the infre­quent check­points. 

With­in a year the entire land­scape had changed, and over the next sev­en years Myre and Grif­fin, with their two young daugh­ters, learned to live nor­mal” lives in a place of con­stant con­flict. It is this expe­ri­ence — wak­ing up, tak­ing chil­dren to school, going to work, shop­ping, all the time aware that vio­lence may erupt at any moment — that Myre and Grif­fin so effec­tive­ly record in this com­pelling and per­son­al book. At the same time, they bring their pro­fes­sion­al abil­i­ty to observe, large­ly with­out bias, both sides of the con­flict and the unremit­ting hos­til­i­ty beneath it.

Intre­pid reporters, Myre and Grif­fin trav­el to out­posts where intense­ly devout Jew­ish young­sters set up unau­tho­rized set­tle­ments, to the 3:00 a.m. rush hour at the Gaza cross­ing where Pales­tini­ans line up to get to work in Israel, to a cramped and sweaty shel­ter in Kiry­at Shmona where a fam­i­ly of eight reg­u­lar­ly hud­dles for days dur­ing rock­et bar­rages. They inter­view an Israeli Nobelist who explains that sui­cide bombers are ratio­nal and a for­mer Fatah wannabe who believes they are not. They talk with an Arab informer and an Israeli activist who are fight­ing the legit­i­ma­cy of many set­tle­ments. They dis­sect the sub­tleties of mil­i­tary euphemism and both sides of the pub­lic rela­tions war. 

As vet­er­an war reporters, Myre and Grif­fin can tes­ti­fy to the futil­i­ty of mil­i­tary supe­ri­or­i­ty in today’s incon­clu­sive wars and to the inter­na­tion­al crit­i­cism it often brings in its wake. Israel can con­trol almost any aspect of Pales­tin­ian life, but it can’t con­trol the abil­i­ty of the Pales­tini­ans to just fight on. Is there a solu­tion to this longest of unre­solved con­flicts? Myre and Grif­fin list ten major obsta­cles to its end. Num­ber 10 states flat­ly, The Israelis and Pales­tini­ans hate one anoth­er.” This is an eye-open­ing and heart­break­ing book. After­word, chronol­o­gy, index, map, notes, photographs.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions